q & a

In addition to my answers to the following questions, The Offing conducted an interview where I addressed a little of what it’s like to write as a trans person. Meanwhile…

Where do your ideas come from?

My ideas come from my own experiences, but I don’t feel obligated to make everything actually about my own experiences, because that would get repetitive. If I just wanted to write about myself, I’d write a long autobiography. I suppose I get writing ideas from a few basic starting points:

  • Daydreaming. What-ifs. Not necessarily speculative fiction style, à la “what if there was a planet where everyone had three heads!”— though that’s always fun. Anyway, I ask myself “what if” in some sense, and then I realize it would be easier to answer my own question through a long narrative than through some neat little self-contained statement, and then I realize I don’t think anyone’s actually done this thing in a narrative yet, so why shouldn’t I.
  • I have this gigantic ongoing list of Concepts That Have Been Overdone But Would Be Great If Someone Just Did Them Like This For A Change, and then Stories I Really Liked But Would Like Even Better If They’d Gone This Direction, and then Stories I Really Hated Because The Author Should Have Done This To Make Everything Amazing And Didn’t, and then Adaptations And Interpretations That Got The Source Material Woefully Wrong. To this extent, some of my writing can wind up derivative, but I hope that’s in terms of themes and allusions, not in terms of characters or plot.
  • As mentioned elsewhere, I have a seasoned history of text-based roleplaying, using original characters, so sometimes I wind up writing a character in one of those environments whom I love to write so much that I decide I should throw them into a story of their very own. That new story may or may not have a direct resemblance to a plot that this character already belonged to, but I do avoid replicating those plots if I don’t have either permission or participation from the other people who wrote their original scenes with me.
  • For the first novel I actually completed, I did have a several-year life experience that was so traumatizing I couldn’t write anything else ever again unless I wrote something about those events to exorcise that experience from my body. I’m hoping this is the only time I have that particular compulsion.

All that assumes we’re talking about prose fiction or drama. For poems, I don’t write them much at the moment and I feel like they’ve gotten bad since I reached my mid-twenties. I can’t offer an explanation for what prompts them besides a highly emotional moment of some kind. For non-fiction, I usually churn out some absurd essay when I’ve already been considering a philosophical/political/etc. question for ages, i.e. when I am only going to give myself or other people an answer to it by codifying some theses rather than providing some aimless, oral ramble.

If anyone is wondering whether I also write fan fiction (it’s common enough among writers of my age, though not just us), the short answer is that I do not. My opinions of fan fiction are too complicated to bother explaining unless I published enough in a market that would actually get me my own fans; that’s a hilarious hypothetical at this point. For now, let it suffice to say that some of my writing has been fanfic in a highly obscure manner, but I am not motivated to write anything overt, and I almost never read any, though I find the phenomenon interesting and I’ve seen some genuinely creative writing in the examples I have encountered.

How did you become a writer?

Nobody “becomes” a writer in any sense besides becoming a person who writes after not having been that sort of person. And “writing” itself is not a matter of frequency, skill, publication status, or what have you. It’s purely a matter of how integral writing is to your existence. I am a writer because I express myself best through the written word, I have a lot to express, and if I had the time to spend all of my working hours writing, I would do so without question.

I probably became that sort of person as soon as I learned to read. I’ve lately come to suspect myself of having a psychological condition akin to what some doctors call hyperlexia. As for how I have tried to make writing a more central focus of my life— if that’s what “become a writer” means— I don’t consider myself an expert on how to make a living as a writer, since I currently make pennies. Here is what I know has worked in my favor for making writing a practice.

I do find it easy to just put fingers to keys (or pen to paper) and produce something I regard as complete, without sacrificing preliminary planning. I have challenges like seasonally affected depression and needing to work 35 hours a week at an office, so I rarely uphold a writing regimen or expect myself to have energy on a consistent basis; but presuming time and energy at all, I rarely find myself with actual writer’s block. If that sounds glamorous compared to the trope of the writer who always gets stuck overthinking things, I promise you that it’s likely just as unpleasant to constantly know where I’m going next and then to constantly run up against the brick wall of 24 hour days. Therefore, I am slowly but surely working on ways to let myself write more, and I’m proud that by the age of 26 I did manage to complete my first novel. In that vein, I am extremely grateful for having a husband and a couple of close companions who help me as very wise beta readers.

What are your favorite books or kind of books?

I’m a perfectionist in what I read, probably even more than in what I write, so while I enjoy the act of reading, statistical likelihood of me loving whatever’s popular or unpopular is low on either count. I hate to say it, but it’s the truth. I also worry about endorsing any title, author, genre, or what have you too wholeheartedly, because this might suggest I love those books uncritically. I love almost no book uncritically. That said, the books that I hold the most dear are the ones that I really do idolize, even if it’s for very specific reasons and even if they otherwise have massive problems.

There might be some trends in what I do like, but genre itself is a poor predictor. Many of my favorite books qualify somehow as science fiction, fantasy, etc. or belong to a broader speculative vein. Many of my favorite books also fall squarely within what some people love to call just plain “literature.” Some books are obviously in other common market genres. I am not going to do my rant about these divisions right now. For whatever it’s worth, I’d consider the following to be most of my all-time favorite reading experiences, fictional & non-fictional alike:

  • T. S. Eliot’s entire poetic œuvre pre-conversion (and some post)
  • Victor Hugo, esp. Les Misérables (even with a host of complaints)
  • Ursula K. Le Guin, esp. The Left Hand of Darkness and several short stories
  • China Miéville, esp. Perdido Street Station and Embassytown
  • Jean-Paul Sartre, esp. Being & Nothingness, The Flies, and some other plays
  • William Shakespeare
  • Frankenstein, Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley
  • Dylan Thomas
  • J. R. R. Tolkien (in a massively complicated way)

Other books and writers that have undeniably influenced me— though I often have criticisms— are Lloyd Alexander, William Blake. e. e. cummings, Philip K. Dick, Emily Dickinson, The Divine Comedy, Fyodor Dostoyevsky, Arthur Conan Doyle, Alexandre Dumas, The History of White People, William James, Pyotr Kropotkin, Homer, H. P. Lovecraft, George R. R. Martin, Friedrich Nietzsche, Edgar Allan Poe, Carl Sagan, Tom Stoppard, Watership Down, Oscar Wilde, Mary Wollstonecraft, Virginia Woolf, and 1984.

I will say I am disappointed by the number of old dead white guys, and I am on a quest to change the demographic balance.

You’re a multimedia artist; what otherwise inspires you? Any recommendations?

I like lots of movies. Arguably I’m less discriminating about them than I am about books. Compiling a list of recommendations would take forever. If you want to understand something about me as a person, about what I aspire to as an artist, etc., or if you just want some all-time favorites, I’ll namedrop the following:

  • Alien
  • Children of Men
  • Gattaca
  • Hellraiser
  • Mad Max: Fury Road
  • Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World
  • Requiem for a Dream

I also like TV as a medium, though then I become more discriminating again. I can’t watch something for season after season if it doesn’t have truly amazing dialogue, character concepts/development, or direction— or if it’s just intellectually lazy. The unequivocally greatest TV show I’ve ever seen is Deadwood, bar none, but other favorites include Black Mirror, Twin Peaks, a few other HBO dramas, and the complete mess constituting It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia. I have lots of essay-length quibbles about Game of Thrones.

Musically, what I’m listening to changes all the time, and it’s easier to list genres than specific people. Ultra-favorite artists include Beast in Black, David Bowie, Dead Can Dance, Judas Priest, Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds, Nine Inch Nails, Queen, and The Sisters of Mercy. Beyond that, I’m most often drowning myself in metal (death/black/folk/power/speed/you name it), darkwave, goth rock, industrial, neofolk, ambient, and anything else synth, plus a large helping of classical music.

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