How did you get started writing fantasy and science fiction?
I began writing stories around fourth grade but did not do so seriously until the late 1970s, when I made my first professional sale to the debut volume of Sword & Sorceress. For the next decade or so, when my children were small, every year I wrote one or two short stories every year, which Marion bought for her anthologies or fantasy magazine, and one unpublishable novel. But slowly my writing craft improved and I sought out different editors and markets. My stories garnered critical acclaim and award nominations. Eventually, in no small part thanks to a rigorous writer’s critique group, I sold a science fiction novel to DAW — Jaydium — and then another, Northlight. Eventually, my novel length work shifted more to fantasy, although I still write science fiction shorter work.
Do you have any advice for beginning writers?
Writing is both craft and art. You already have the dream. Now you have to learn the craft. As exciting as the prospect of publication is, if you’re in this for the long haul, be patient. It takes time and work to achieve excellence. There are so many aspects of success you’re powerless over, but the quality of your work is one you do have control over.
Read voraciously, and read the best writing you can lay your hands on.
Pay attention to what lights you up inside.
Study everything besides writing. History, astronomy, human biomechanics, African languages, oceanography, ancient runes, Balinese music, ballet, medicine, fashion design, dog training, walrus training, platypus training, whatever strikes your fancy. Once you have something to write about, something you care passionately about, then pay attention to the craft.
Write every day, even if it’s crap. A crappy manuscript can be revised and edited, but a nonexistent one will never become better.
If you want to know more about my vision of a writing life, check out my series of essays about nurturing yourself as a writer as you wrestle with the skills, called Ink Dance: Essays on the Writing Life. At Book View Cafe, Amazon.com, Barnes & Nobl, Kobo.
How did you get to write Darkover(R) novels? How did you meet Marion Zimmer Bradley?
I am frequently asked how I came to work with Marion Zimmer Bradley and to continue her Darkover series after her death. Senior author-junior author dual-bylines are not unusual these days, but each partnership has its own story. In this case, the answer centers around our long-established professional relationship.
To begin with, I met Marion by writing her a letter. This was back in 1980 and I had no idea fandom existed, but I felt so moved by her work that I wanted to let her know. Marion wrote back, three pages of single-spaced typewriting. We began a correspondence, and I must confess to a certain giddiness that my favorite author had taken the care to write to me.
Marion had read a little of my Darkover fiction for the fanzine she edited for Friends of Darkover, so when she began work on the first Sword and Sorceress, she invited me to send her a story for consideration. She bought that story and many others over the years, although she occasionally sent back stories with requests for revision.
Toward the end of her life, Marion suffered a series of strokes, which made it difficult for her to concentrate on novel-length stories. I was one of the writers Marion considered because she had watched me develop from a novice to an established professional.
We began work together as we had begun our relationship, first in correspondence, then in person. We’d settled on a time period and general story arc when I visited her for the last time. When I arrived at her home, she had been resting, on oxygen, but insisted on sitting up to talk. I knew she had been very ill, but seeing her made her condition so much more vivid for me. One of my best memories of her was watching her “come alive” as we discussed character and hatched plot points. Her eyes “glowed as if lit from within,” to use one of her favorite descriptions, and energy suffused her whole being. I asked question after question and then sat back as she spun out answers. It was as if she had opened a window into her imagination and invited me to peek inside.We never got a second visit. She died a month later.
Note: Darkover (R) is a registered trademark and may not be used except by permission of the Marion Zimmer Bradley Literary Works Trust.
How do you budget your time?
When I had a day job, I set aside specific times in my week for writing. I got up 10 minutes early and opened the file for the chapter I’d last worked on. I’d read it over and usually add another paragraph or so. Then on my lunch break, I’d walk and work out the next few scenes in my head. I don’t work well at night, but often I could at least jot down notes from lunch. When I took my daughter to appointments (like piano lessons), I’d always have my laptop or a notebook and I’d use that hour to write like mad. On my days off, I put a priority on solid writing time. If I was drafting a novel, I’d set page quotas because they’re easily measurable. Typically these would be 5 to 10 pages a day. Once, on a week’s vacation, I wrote 75 pages in 5 days, but I can’t maintain output like that – it’s insane! Revision, which I still do a lot, is different because it’s hard to measure productivity. Instead I ask, “Did I work well today?”