How I Got Here (and to writing SF)

My very talented fellow sci-fi writer J.W. Alden reminded me of something important with his latest post: that blogging about your honest interests as they pertain to writing, however wild they may be, is a very good thing. Because it comes from a real and immediate place within you, and the passion translates. And blogging is nothing if it’s not about creating a sense of community where people can relate and join forces.

This really hit home with me, because I’ve been pondering blogging about my… let’s say ‘uncommon’ interests for a while now, but I was frankly too chicken to try. I was worried I might come across as a weirdo, lose the interest of the writerly readership that might be looking for writing tips & posts about the turmoils of the fiction writing craft and life.

But know what? J.W. is right. ‘People: Uncut’ are way better than just ‘Plain Writing 101’. So I’m gonna flip off my queasiness and just do this bit by bit every week (in addition to blogging about writing & such), and maybe I’ll find out more about all of your interests and how you bring them into your writing, and that would be totally awesome! So here goes.

*takes deep breath and eases her foot slowly into the water*

 

How I Got To Write Science-Fiction

I didn’t suddenly wake up one day and decided “Hey, let’s squeeze this brain lemon real hard and squirt out a sci-fi novel!” Nope.ย It was a long and windy road of discovery, filled with discomfort, angst and surprising realizations, both about myself and my interest in writing. It pretty much twisted me like a pretzel and forced me to change a lot about my life and my priorities.ย To say it wasn’t easy is an understatement. It was freaking skull-crushing hard! *look at my scars!*

But I got through it, and then I came here, and then I got here, and here I am! I know exactly what I want to do and how to do it, and I’ve never been happier in my entire life!

So how did this happen?

Well, it started rather inconspicuously. I wanted to share a story. I had a pretty clear idea of what I wanted the story to be about, and the core story-problem hasn’t changed until today. But all the rest around it? Ha. Nothing like what I initially imagined.

First time I attempted to write this novel I went for “normal” realistic fiction, happening in the here and now, in our world. I went into the novel for about 20K, but then it got uncomfortable. I couldn’t push it further, and I had no idea what was wrong with it. It felt like a pair of shoes that was two sizes too small. And made of stone. And I felt like a dumb camel trying to wear them.

I had not ventured into the wide and rich online writers world at that time, so I had no clue there were countless other people dealing with similar problems with their stories. Thus, I was also not aware of any solutions. To me the story was a dead fish, so I dropped it.

Time passed, and the monster inside of me started chewing at my synapses again. This time I investigated my options and came upon Holly Lisle’s amazing writing advice blog. Needless to say this radically changed my perspective! I now had all these awesome, incredibly logical tools and techniques to figure out how to make my story work. And, Holly being a fantasy writer, the spark of possibility for my story to tread into Genre Land was bright and fresh.

So I started again.

Three years and four additional false starts later I’m finally where I want to be. My story feels damn right! And the difference from where I started? It’s grown to be adult science-fiction, made out of all my deepest passions, darkest nightmares and strangest interests, and it couldn’t have happened any other way. Even though it’s neither easy nor fast to write, I’m more in love with it than ever, and I’m patiently building it up bit by bit until it’s ready. And every day I wake up with a tingle in my hands and a grin on my face, and can’t wait to get writing.

I don’t come from a background of science-fiction fandom. In fact, my mental database of science-fiction novels is still painfully and shamefully limited. I’m working on it. I’m also not a scientist, which has its own pros and cons, but there’s not much I can do about that. However, my decade-long and practically obsessive interest in theoretical physics, cosmology, neuro-psychology and psychiatry come quite in handy in writing the kind of fiction I want to read. It’s these interests that were missing from my initial equation, and they are now represented in full. That and, uhm, insects, parasites, invertebrates and viruses. Yeah… But, you know, bringing all this into my writing made all the difference to me!

Did it take me longer to realize what I’m “meant” to write than it took most other people? Probably. Do I care? Not one puny bit.

Does it matter that I’m not an expert in science-fiction trivia and haven’t read all of the big namesย yet? It doesn’t mean a thing to my desire to write.

But there’s sooo much to learn, so much that needs to be done… Is that cold sweat dripping down my temple? You betcha. Do I still want to do this? Oh hell yeah! Where do I sign?

The only thing I care about is writing the story that lives inside of me, in such a way that it can feed off all my passions and everything I know, and come to life on the page as well—and maybe others might even like it! How cool would that be! I had to first understand how prose works (before, I only wrote and published poetry and philosophical essays) and I started on what I now know is a life-long journey of learning the craft. But I love every minute of the way, love every word that goes into my story and every word I cut out, and I can’t imagine doing anything else—or writing in any other genre.

The decision to pick science-fiction was not one based on my familiarity with the genre, and it most certainly wasn’t related to what was “hot” (as I was completely oblivious of literary trends in the western society at that time). It was the organic result of several difficult attempts to write a story I loved deeply, and it has grown to be the most important and most beautiful choice of my writerly path so far. There’s nothing I’d like to change about how I got here.

So what about you? How did you guys come to your genre and how do you bring your interests to it? I’d love to know!

 

26 Replies to “How I Got Here (and to writing SF)”

  1. I think science fiction carries way too much baggage, and not enough fun. Years ago, when I set out to write my first science fiction stories, wise old fans told me which anthologies and novels to read before I typed a single word. They were concerned I might come up with a ‘new’ idea which had been done before. I do have a bit of a science fiction background, but only what I could lay my hands on at school and at the local library: Asimov, Clarke, and so on. Not enough to absorb 40 or 50 years of history to ensure I didn’t accidentally copy something.
    Then I thought ‘screw this’, and I just started writing. At the time I was submitting to mags, and if I came up with a well-worn plot someone smarter than me would recognise it and reject the piece.
    Science Fiction really needs lower barriers to entry. Fans can’t complain on the one hand that Fantasy is outselling SF, and on the other tell all new writers they need a 15-20 year ‘education’ in the SF classics before setting fingers to keyboard. Let people write, and publish, and bring new readers to the genre

    Like

    1. That was my first impression also, that science-fiction was a really tough genre to break into. So many people take it so damn seriously, that it had me wonder if I need a doctorate and an own government-funded observatory to be allowed to write about other planets. But just like you said, after a while of sweating and shaking in my boots at the sheer immensity of what I “had to know” beforehand, I shot it to heck and just started writing.

      Once the few couple of barriers were shattered, things just started growing and evolving and taking on a natural vibe — and that’s what really matters. That’s what makes science-fiction so appealing to me (to read, watch and write in), that feeling of breaking out of the limitations we have now and go on a whole new breed of adventure.

      Thank you very much for stopping by and taking time to share your experience, Simon! It means a lot to know that even successful sci-fi writers such as yourself weren’t born with The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction stapled to their forehead. ๐Ÿ™‚

      Like

    1. Mainstream sounds rather slippery to me, I’m sure it’s not an easy thing to pull off either. But nothing worthwhile is ever easy. ๐Ÿ˜‰

      Like

  2. It took me a while to make the decision to toss as much of myself into my blog as I felt like, but I’m glad I have. I don’t know if I’ll cook up another perfect viral storm like that Bruce Lee entry, but at least now I know there’s no need to bury myself too deeply into my pigeon hole.

    It’s great to read about your journey into sci-fi. I was surprised to hear that you didn’t start there, considering how much you champion the genre! Glad you broke through the intimidating barrier at the gates of SF–sounds like you landed in the right place. I wish more writers would ignore the old guard and dive in. You don’t need a physics degree or a lifelong devotion to the genre to tell a good story with scientific elements. Damn near everything has been done already anyway, regardless of genre. When you get right down to it, we’ve been telling the same stories for centuries–it’s the angle of attack that counts.

    Thanks for the shout out, Vero. Glad I could give you a little nudge! Looking forward to seeing more of your own personal weirdness woven into your already-excellent blog. ๐Ÿ™‚

    Like

    1. It’s so true that the angle of attack is all that counts in making a story stick with readers. It’s the personal umph that every individual writer brings to the story that makes it unique, and the more courage you have to screw the boundaries of old, the better that umph becomes.

      Thanks for everything James! The door to weirdness is open, and it’ll stay this way. ๐Ÿ˜‰

      Like

  3. This is awesome, Vero! It’s nice to “get to know you better” too. Being online opens up the opportunity for all kinds of connections, but we are still operating from behind the screen.

    Genre is a tricky one. I’ve paddled in different pools looking for a match for my words. It’s interesting, because last year I began to explore what genre I was writing in (for?) so that I could query the right agents when the time came. And guess what? I could not fit it into one box. *shrugs*

    I love mysteries and my WIP will slide into the paranormal-mystery genre. Yet someday, I’d like to head into fantasy. (I have an idea percolating… one I REALLY like.) We’ll see. ๐Ÿ™‚

    Like

    1. Thanks, Tracy. Opening up ain’t easy, but it’s very gratifying, and finding your own genre is very similar. It takes a lot of honesty (and a solid pair of cojones) to push through the initial instinct of playing safe and conforming.

      Hope you’ll give that story a try! ๐Ÿ™‚

      Like

  4. I write fantasy. Want to know how many fantasy books I had read before I started on my current WIP? A big fat ZERO. Nada. Zilch.

    As a matter of fact, I fought with the idea of writing fantasy like a cat with tape on its paws, leaping and jumping, “NO! That’s not ME! I love Sci-Fi!!!”.

    It’s quite ridiculous when you think about it, writer’s fighting with themselves; but then again, we fight with fictitious characters we create from the ether between our ears, so maybe it’s not so ridiculous.

    Either way I have a very hard time ‘researching’ my genre as most fantasy is long winded and excruciatingly boring, or all about saving a princess or slaying a dragon. My stories are about corruptions of the soul and learning to slay the inner dragon, all while gallivanting around an alternate dimension with dragons and wolves and princesses.

    The ether between my ears can create some crazy shit, and I struggled for years with whether or not I would even TELL anyone about my story, let alone write it down. I eventually got over the fear, after much soul searching (including a rather infamous ‘am i gay?’ episode because my characters are) and finally decided I would rather live in harmony with my story, than be tormented by its seclusion.

    I still fret that dragons consuming a mother’s body to Bond with the newly born child’s soul won’t go over well with some folks, but to hell with them. It’s my story.

    Like

    1. Tell me about damn hard research! I totally understand your frustration with finding stories that are similar to what you want to write, especially when the theme defies the commonly “accepted”. And yes, struggle with admitting what you’re actually writing about—know that, hate that. There has to be less self-damaging and more ass-kicking in the writerly world! ๐Ÿ˜€

      And oh my gawd your story sounds freakin awesome!! Write that shit down or else!

      Like

      1. 44,500 and counting! Now if I could just keep my characters from wandering off and doing their own thing….

        Like

      2. Wow! That’s great, Aubrey! Oh, and there’s a remedy against feisty characters — it’s called the Authorial Mallet. Point their noses into the script and remind them who’s paying their bills. ๐Ÿ˜€

        Like

  5. I’ve been lurking here for a short while, but this is a good time as any to speak up, since you put your honesty out there like that.

    My sister, who is 10 years older than me, has been a big influence in my life. I’ve loved science for as long as I could remember, especially astronomy, and she encouraged that. When I was about six or seven years old, I drew the constellations from star guides I had. I was fascinated with stars and space. At one point, I wanted to be both an astronaut and an astrophysicist.

    When my sister went away to university, I found her copy of Dune in her room. That changed my life.

    I wanted to be a Bene Gesserit so bad. I couldn’t get enough of Dune. Whenever my sister came home from college, she encouraged me to write sci-fi. My first story (which wasn’t very good) was about two astronauts going to the Moon. One wanted to stay, the other wanted to go back to Earth.

    As I got older, writing sci-fi stories just didn’t seem to be working out. I majored in Rhetoric with a Creative Writing focus at university, switched to literary fiction, and made my first sale. That stalled too, though. Eventually, I went back to sci-fi, but by then I was intimidated by it. I didn’t feel confident writing it because I didn’t know the science to go with it.

    I started writing fantasy, which I never, ever thought I’d write, and even horror stories. I haven’t yet gone back to writing pure sci-fi, though. My stories are often spec-fic with sprinkles of sci-fi mashed hard with fantasy, horror, or straight up weird stuff.

    I just can’t bring myself to write a straight up sci-fi story. I need to just say, screw it, and do it. But I can’t, yet.

    Like

    1. Nice to meet you, Malon! Thank you for stepping out of lurk-hood. ๐Ÿ™‚

      Genres that require thorough research can be very intimidating, since they seem to be piling tons of work on top of the already hard labor of writing a novel. I believe this feeling of inadequacy and reluctance to write science-fiction comes from the assumption that the respected writers of the genre actually master the sciences they employ in some fashion. But truth is, they don’t! Probably less than 10% of them have actual backgrounds in sciences, the rest of them just fake it really well.

      There’s nothing you can’t accomplish with some decent research, diligence and the courage to fake it convincingly. It’s not about “writing what you know”, it’s about (how Les Edgerton said somewhere) “writing what you can make readers believe you know”. Fake it well enough, and make the story gripping, and no one will even care about the rest. ๐Ÿ™‚

      Thanks for the honest comment, Malon, and I wish you lots of fun re-discovering sci-fi for yourself!

      Like

    2. Dune changed my life too! I was reading it in the library and after several hours of sitting motionless, totally engrossed in Herbert’s world, I took a quick bathroom break. When I went to wash my hands I found myself totally freaked out by how much water was coming out of the faucet! There wasn’t that much water on the whole planet in Dune! That’s effective writing.

      Like

  6. Great post!

    I’m not sure that reading every sci-fi (or whatever genre you’re in) book out there is necessarily beneficial. One thing that I found when I started writing was that I erected too many barriers around myself based on what other people had written. “I can’t write that because so-and-so wrote something similar” or “I need to write more like so-and-so”. It’s easy to let the norms of a genre box you in. If you’re going to read, do so for the love of it, not for research. That’s my advice.

    Like

    1. That’s very sound advice, Adam. Though it is important to have a broad understanding of what’s been done and what not, what works and what doesn’t, we shouldn’t let any work of fiction written by another limit us in our imagination and desire to write.
      Thanks for stopping by and commenting! ๐Ÿ™‚

      Like

  7. I agree it’s so important to write who you are. Since I write mostly observational humor, it’s ALL about who I am and how I think. It helps me feel a connection to other people when they react to my writing in a similar way.

    But most of all, I think we are at our creative best when we are relaxed and are true to ourselves.

    Like

    1. That’s so true, Cindy. Being relaxed and open about who you are makes all the difference. I’ve discovered this the hard way, but it’s been the most wonderful discovery — in writing prose and blogging!

      Thank you for commenting! ๐Ÿ™‚

      Like

  8. “Vero uncut” makes for a fascinating and engaging read. If having a fascination for “insects, parasites, invertebrates and viruses” makes you a weirdo, then my advice is to embrace that inner weirdo like she’s the long lost twin sister you’ve been searching for all your life. (And, no, my genre isn’t “soap opera.”)

    Frankly, whatever genre you choose to write is going to be a genre I choose to read. I like your style, whether you’re hammering out blog posts or sharing snippets of your WIP, and style is what yanks me in to any story.

    Some of the conversation above re: how much you need to have read in a genre before you start slinging your own version of that genre made me think about that book by Pierre Bayard, “How to Talk about Books You Haven’t Read,” in which he makes a cogent argument for developing informed opinions about books without actually having read them. I think some of Bayard’s observations pertain here:

    “A book is an element in the vast ensemble I have called the collective library, which we do not need to know comprehensively in order to appreciate any one of its elementsโ€ฆ The trick is to define the bookโ€™s place in that library, which gives it meaning in the same way a word takes on meaning in relation to other words.”

    AND:

    “A book is an element in the vast ensemble I have called the collective library, which we do not need to know comprehensively in order to appreciate any one of its elementsโ€ฆ The trick is to define the bookโ€™s place in that library, which gives it meaning in the same way a word takes on meaning in relation to other words.”

    Just a little food for thought. ๐Ÿ™‚

    Like

    1. Thank you so much for your support, Kern! It means a damn lot to me.

      Pierre Bayard’s take on developing informed opinions is brilliant, and much like what I’ve discovered as well. It’s not absolutely necessary to have assimilated a humongous quantity of material in a field to be able to understand what that field is about, how it works and what it can give you. I found this applies to sciences for laymen, but it’s true — it applies to literature and genres too!

      That’s great and very encouraging advice, thank you! ๐Ÿ™‚

      Like

  9. I’m writing fantasy, though my reasons for getting into are different than most fantasy writers. It was the late 1970s, and I loved to read action. But at the time, women and girls were primarily depicted in books as either love interests or to be rescued — if there were present at all. Then there was Star Trek. Everyone’s favorite character seemed to be either Kirk or Spock. Mine was Uhura, because she was in such an important role and got to do more than be a doorstop. By the 80s, Marion Zimmer Bradley came out with Sword and Sorceress — good roles for women characters, and they got action too! Just what I wanted!

    But I ended up staying away from fantasy for some time because of a separate problem: World building. It seems like most fantasy writers get into fantasy because they like building the world. I was interested in action, not world building. Plus I’m a pantser and not detail-oriented. So when I kept seeing references to world building that involved getting a three ring binder, tabs, and creating languages and maps and whatnot, I decided not for me. That would have instantly made it not fun to write.

    But I revisited in the last few years with contemporary fantasy. I’m still wrestling with the world building and have to struggle to get enough of it in.

    Like

    1. Hi Linda, nice to meet you and thanks for sharing your experience! ๐Ÿ™‚

      World-building is definitely a big part of writing fantasy and science-fiction (yeah, alright, other genres too, but much much less). It can be overwhelming when you have to start from scratch and build an entire world. I know, it made me break a sweat more than once.

      Urban fantasy has less of the “world”-building and focuses more on an added society with own rules to an already existing one (ours). I can see how that is more appealing if you’re not hot on world-building, and prefer the action. I love action, there’s nothing like high stakes and high speeds! ๐Ÿ˜€

      Oh, and my favorite female Star Trek character of all times is Kira Nerys from Deep Space Nine (incidentally, my favorite sci-fi series of all times!). She kicks major ass!

      Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s