As I work on the latest years-long writing project, much of my professional literary life hangs in a kind of stasis. I’m still finding a better home to situate promotional activities; if nothing else, this blog is no longer that place. However, I’m leaving up a condensed form of the site’s original Q&A, since some of what I said there is worth saying somewhere. I’ve also made some modifications.
Where do your writing ideas come from?
I try to straddle the line between writing what one knows and exploring what one doesn’t. I have much in my own life that I feel compelled to express in words or other symbolic manners; but I also believe I have some obligation to feature perspectives and experiences that go beyond mine. My hope is:
- to tell what I need to tell
- to tell what the nature of the story needs me to tell
- to not tell what I cannot tell well.
With that basic premise, my ideas for prose are usually a blend of:
- daydreaming: an unusual question or image that demands to be explored in a long, creative format
- reworkings of cultural memory: tropes that could be improved with a key change, narratives that didn’t quite reach the conclusion I sought, narratives where the concept was right but needed different execution, or adaptations that misinterpreted their sources
- collaboration: text-based roleplaying games with original characters who need their own universe to grow further within
- catharsis: experiences and obsessions that have to be exorcised.
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. I would like to commit to recovering my original poetic gifts, somehow.
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.
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 exhibited hyperlexia. So as for how I’ve 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 to commit 36 hours a week to a paying job, and more hours to domestic responsibilities, etc.; but presuming time, I rarely find myself with actual writer’s block. While I live with generalized anxiety and atypical depression, getting to write or do other creative activities usually helps my symptoms alleviate. 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’m 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. As I’ve been working on another, much longer novel, I’m attempting to manage 20,000-30,000 words per month.
For better or worse, the covid pandemic has helped with this goal. But in a better vein, I’m also extremely grateful for my husband and a couple of close companions, who all 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:
- Ursula K. Le Guin, esp. The Left Hand of Darkness and several short stories
- China Miéville, esp. Perdido Street Station and Embassytown
- Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley’s Frankenstein
- T. S. Eliot’s entire poetic œuvre pre-conversion (and some post)
- J. R. R. Tolkien (in a massively complicated way)
- Victor Hugo, esp. Les Misérables (even with another host of complaints)
- Jean-Paul Sartre, esp. Being & Nothingness, The Flies, and some other plays
- William Shakespeare
- Dylan Thomas
Other books and writers that have undeniably influenced me—though I again have criticisms—are Richard Adams’ Watership Down, Lloyd Alexander, William Blake. e. e. cummings, Philip K. Dick, Emily Dickinson, Fyodor Dostoyevsky, Arthur Conan Doyle, Alexandre Dumas, Homer, William James, Pyotr Kropotkin, H. P. Lovecraft (though I wholeheartedly reject and revile his white supremacism), George R. R. Martin, Friedrich Nietzsche, George Orwell’s 1984, Nell Irvin Painter’s The History of White People, Edgar Allan Poe, Carl Sagan, Tom Stoppard, Oscar Wilde, Mary Wollstonecraft, Virginia Woolf.
This is an anglo/eurocentric, less than contemporary, and fairly white collection of voices. I do read other material, and I hope I will reach a point where I can honestly describe myself as influenced by a wider array of people.
What otherwise inspires you, outside of books?
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:
- Children of Men
- Mad Max: Fury Road
- Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World
- Requiem for a Dream
This list is embarrassingly reductive, so please don’t rely on it for anything important.
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. My two favorite shows are Twin Peaks and Deadwood. Aside from those, I’ve typically followed a number of HBO dramas, various series involving vampires, and the wild mess constituting It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia. Don’t ask me about Game of Thrones if you don’t want an angry dissertation.
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, Ghost, 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, synthwave, dungeon synth, anything else synth, plus a decent helping of classical music.
In addition to my answers to all these questions, a few years ago The Offing conducted an interview where I addressed a little of what it’s like to write as a trans/nonbinary person.