Guest Post: Kelly Robson on the Writer’s Process Tour @kellyoyo

IMG_2509Kelly Robson attended the utterly awesome Taos Toolbox master class in 2007, and has two stories coming out next year, in Start a Revolution and The Exile Book of New Canadian Noir. She was tagged by Caitlin Sweet to do the Writer’s Process blog meme (as was I) and, as she’s not maintaining a blog of her own these days, it was suggested that she might post her answers here. What a brilliant idea! 

Kelly can be found online at Facebook, Instagram, and PinterestHere’s what she has to say:

I started the first draft of this Process Blog Tour post by waffling over whether I have enough real writer points to legitimately respond. But screw that. Cut cut cut. Then I delayed posting this because I felt superstitious — like if I posted it I’d never write fiction again. Dumb, hmm? But Caitlin Sweet tagged me because she’s interested in what I have to say, so let’s just do this. Protesting too much is boring. Delay is boring.

What am I working on?

Final revisions on a historical horror story set in 19th century Bavaria. Horror isn’t my thing at all, but I wanted to submit something to a particular anthology so I waded in. When I first started drafting, I got myself quite freaked out while conjuring the horrific elements (I have an overactive imagination). It’s okay now, though.

I was surprised to discover that horror seems to require huge amounts of sensory information, and I loved writing that. It was an excuse to get a little lyrical, where otherwise my writing tends to be quite straightforward.

On the novel side of things, two potential projects are battling for supremacy. One is an alternate-present fantasy and the other is near-future non-genre. Both have their pros and cons. I just need to decide which project will make me happiest — which pinata contains the most candy.

How does my work differ from others in its genre?

God, what a loaded question. First of all, I reject genres as anything other than marketing categories. Some people only read within certain marketing categories and that’s great if it works for them. I read the best (as I define it) across all categories. That goes for all media.

So I’ll redefine the question to: What characteristics does my work have that I think might be somewhat unusual?

I’m not interested in writing about characters like myself. To date I’ve mostly pursued male characters. Out of the three stories finished this earlier this year, one MC is a mentally disabled Viennese janitor, one is a potty-mouthed Australian winemaker, and one is an Enlightenment-era French slut. All men.

Maybe that’s because I’m mostly interested in characters who are absolutely convinced by the actions they’re taking and it’s easier to imagine men moving through the world with that kind of conviction. Women tend to be more ambivalent unless they’re pretty extreme outliers. But I’m not interested in extreme outliers.

However, the new historical horror has a lesbian MC. She’s backed into a corner physically, financially, and emotionally, so I hope she’s moving with conviction. I had trouble getting her there, and I’m afraid she might not be sympathetic enough.

Why do I write what I do?

Better to ask why I write at all. Because it would be better if I didn’t. All writers know that the opportunity cost for what they do is huge and the chance of it ever paying off financially is little to none.

I write because I’ve always wanted to — always — and getting the psychological permission to do it was one fuck of a battle that only started turning when I approached 40.

I write because it’s taken over 300,000 words to figure out how to write something I’m proud of. I’ve got great taste, and I can tell when something’s shit even if I’ve shat it out myself. So after learning how to please myself it would be a damn stupid waste to stop now.

I write because it’s mentally beneficial and controls my anxiety. Which is a way of saying that I really NEED to.

I write because finishing something and having people you respect like it, understand it, maybe even love it, is the best feeling in the world.

I write because many of the people I love and respect are writers, and I always felt like an outsider when I visited their playground. That wasn’t a good feeling. It also wasn’t a good way to achieve the recommended levels of mental health and self-love.

I write because I love fiction and can’t live without it, but I don’t love it unconditionally. I have high and exact expectations that are rarely met. So if I want to read something that pushes all my buttons, I have to try to write it myself.

How does my writing process work?

Output

I’ve tried the “quantity not quality” thing and it doesn’t work for me (it was a great way to learn though). It just makes a mess too awful to face cleaning up. Not very many people can write quickly and produce something worth reading. I think the quantity not quality orthodoxy is responsible for a lot of crap.

Some people can write a story in a weekend. That’s not me. For the previous two stories, seems like I’ve gotten a 5000 word draft in a month by working at least eight hours a week. Then finishing it takes huge amounts of revision — 30-40 hours. Maybe 100 hours per story total. I haven’t actually calculated it.

Process

I start a drafting session by grooming the last 1000 words or so to make sure I’m not headed off on a tangent. That means by the time I have a complete first draft it’s already been revised at least three times, except for the end. Which means the ending sucks. Then I rewrite several times before asking Alyx to weigh in on it. She’s wonderful at critique not only because she’s a terrific writer and experienced critiquer, but she also teaches writing so is very smooth at communicating her opinions and fixes. Rewrite again and get another crit from a friend. Then rewrite again and again. Maybe 5-10 revisions?

Revise, revise, revise. There is no other way.

Tools

My most unusual tool is an 11 x 14 inch sketchpad, which I use to doodle scene mechanics, story, and plot. If I’m spinning my wheels, the sketchpad will usually put me on track again. Scribbling has always helped me think.

Location

Our condo is too small for me to have a desk. My laptop lives in a drawer. But our condo building has a library with wifi, which is nice. Our kitchen table works too. Often Alyx and I will write in a coffee shop. The current spot is Jimmy’s on Gerrard, which has two upper floors with big tables.

I can draft on an iPad with a regular Mac bluetooth keyboard, which is great to haul around to the coffee shop. This setup is no good for revision because cutting and pasting and flying around a document with efficiency is impossible on an iPad.

Research and inspiration

I read a lot of non-fiction. Good, clear non-fiction primes my brain for the kind of writing I want to achieve. I actually think that Alan Bennett’s essay collections Writing Home and Untold Stories are magical in this way. I can’t recommend them highly enough.

Kirkus Review Blog and other commenters on CHS

keep readingMost of you probably saw me twittering about this elsewhere, but the Kirkus Reviews Blog (in the person of Book Smuggler Thea James) says some  very nice and gratifying things about my execution of portal fantasy in Child of a Hidden Sea.

Fewer of you may know that I keep a separate Facebook author page, for people who want to know about book and story releases, and who are perhaps less interested (if this is actually possible) in seeing pictures of my kittens, wife, regular coffee stops and new hometown.  If you don’t know this, it’s because I have never ONCE spamgested that You Like This Page!

Anyway, over on said author page, a fan who enjoyed the book–but wasn’t so sure about Sophie–wrote:

If you are planning a subsequent book and make this a series, DON’T get her (Sophie, that is) together with Parrish.

I mentioned this to author Charlene Challenger, via text, and she is pro… Sophish? Parrie? Sophland? She’s into the whole Sophie/Parrish thing. So, finally, here are her thoughts:

Child of a hidden sea comments

(If you are at all curious about Challenger’s new YA novel, The Voices in Between, here’s her Tumblr feed.

Watts it all about? Echopraxia and a look back at Starfish

photoI’ve been reading and revisiting the fiction of Peter Watts this month. I knew I’d be doing a review of Echopraxia, see, so I decided to take a look back at Starfish via the Tor.com “That Was Awesome” series. Peter and I are friends now, and we’ve even been published in the same Polish magazine. But I didn’t know him back in 2000 or so, when his first book came out and I reviewed it for Locus. The look back tells about how my not-entirely-positive review sparked our friendship. I won’t cover the same ground here. Instead, I give you the Cliff’s Notes: both books are excellent, but the newer one is better. Both will reward every second you spend on them. And if you want a taste first, try this Tor.com free short, which is a tie-in to Echopraxia. It’s called The Colonel.

Apocalypse, Canada Style

imageMy story “Snow Angels” is now out in Fractured: Tales of the Canadian Post-Apocalypse, edited by Silvia Moreno-Garcia and featuring stories by (among others) Claude Lalumiere, A.C. Wise, and Michael Matheson. The full Table of Contents is here; I looked for reviews, but haven’t found any yet.

“Snow Angels” may be the first story I wrote after I moved East. I had imagined the apocalypse as seen from British Columbia many times, perhaps most notably in stories like “Wild Things,” and as I accommodated to being here in Toronto I made a real effort to imagine something less Pacific Raincoast, more urban. As a result, this story may have more car per column inch than anything I’ve ever written.

I also wanted to play with the image of Canada and Canadians as quiet, low-key, even boring, while also steering clear of some of the standard end of the world hits–zombie infestation, atomic war, global warming. So the apocalypse in “Snow Angels” creeps in like an unrelenting fall of snow: cold, stealthy. A few flakes at first. Then, eventually it’s a silent, windless blizzard, a creeping not-quite-death that covers the world, a chilly colorless smothering blanket.

Here’s the beginning:

Lindy was elbow-deep in window glass when the tech started giving her hell about her Winkles.

“You haven’t been dusting.” He ran a rag over their faces. They were on a stretcher beside Lindy’s varnishing table: a boy, a girl, a something. Not kin, from their looks: the girl had Southeast Asian features and the boy was a mixed-race cherub with honey curls. “This one’s got cobwebs. You gotta take better care.”

“Who’s taking care of me?” Lindy had been fusing scavenged windshield shards, filtering out the surviving smartcrystals and printing a self-charging pane which drew power from the weak northern sun beyond her window.

“Red here’s got an elevated heart rate.” The tech meant the devil child, the one in the cheap Halloween costume.

Why Moving is Cool… (Toronto, day 466)

Last week I developed a sudden burning need to rewatch the first five minutes of “Mountie on the Bounty,” a Due South episode from about midway through the Ray Kowalski years. In Due South fandom, you are generally either RayK or a Ray Vecchio fan; I’m the latter, and didn’t acquire the DVDs after The One True Ray had left the building.

Youtube, however, has the opening of MotB, which sets Fraser and RayK atop a very tall building, in a gunfight which they’re losing, and midway through the process of maybe getting killed, Fraser comes up with the bright idea of jumping off the building and into what–since this is Chicago–should be Lake Michigan. They do it. Ray, who can’t swim, is Officially Unimpressed.

Anyway, I brought up the clip. Bang, bang, yell, yell, and… jump!

And there was something shiny and new! In a piece of television which I’ve probably watched… oh, hey, let’s not even guess the number of times. I recognized the building! Because the role of Chicago was, naturally, being played by the city of Toronto, and now that I live here I recognized the very tall building as one of my favorite photographic subjects, the Canada Malt silo on the shore of Lake Ontario.

And, yes! I am right. Proof!

I’d see so much more, I realize, if I dipped into a proper DS rewatch.

A-readin’, A-repairin’, A-Kithmetic

Last night I read at the regular ChiSeries event, along with Sarah Tolmie, Charlene Challenger, and Errick Nunnally. (I noticed, but forgot to say, that all of us but Errick read pieces that eventually took their characters to big empty rooms with mattresses on the floor, which seems an odd coincidence.)

I wasn’t sure how many people would make it, what with Worldcon just having ended, but a fair number of the usual marvelous suspects were there. Hugs were exchanged, socializing happened, the food and music were good and as usual Kari Maaren and Peter Chiykowski sang original genre-themed songs between the readers.

(This isn’t the song Peter sang last night, but it’s a good representation of what I’ve heard of him.)

Other things that have happened recently…

Two friendly, burly guys came by Monday, took our apartment door right off its hinges, and vanished with it to the parkade for an hour before reinstalling the thing. If you ever want to feel weirdly vulnerable, try out having no front door for awhile. All of this was in service of trimming the bottom of the door so that Kelly and I can get out and in reliably. (I can’t remember if I told you all about some of our recent adventures in having to have the door kicked in, OMG, on one occasion, and on another having our floor installer break in through a window when the door proved too mighty to be kicked.

The repair process isn’t quite complete–the jamb needs some work, too, it turns out. But it should be soon. Friday soon, is the plan. (And then there are other little things – a closet door, the dishwasher… ah, new homes.)

Anyway, it will be nice to not worry about getting trapped inside or outside the house sometime.

I gave in to curiosity and weighed Lorenzo this morning, and he’s 7.8 bristlin’ pounds to CinCin’s still-wide-eyed 4.7. He is all string and muscle and teen boy attitude, with no cush whatsoever. When he comes to me for love, he rolls off my upper body unless I brace him–he’s so taut he can’t melt into me. Imagine having a warm medicine ball, with whiskers, trying to make itself comfortable on your ribcage.

Me and the Kittens

He spent 20 minutes this morning trying out various poses, and eventually discovered that if he lay parallel to my collarbones and braced his weight against my throat, he could hang out for awhile. It was so delightful to be snuggled that I let him do it. What’s a little asphyxia when set against the goal of having cats who are abundantly physically affectionate, right?

Terms of endearment (the kittens’ many nicknames)

image
CinCin
Fairy Cat
Clownface
Clownfish
Urchin
CheeChee Feathers, or sometimes Mrs. CheeChee Feathers.

Runt (though she weighs over 2 kilos now, CinCin was definitely the runt of her litter. She got weighed on Wednesday during her abortive spay attempt. We haven’t tried to weigh Lozo lately,  but he’s at least a third bigger. And feels like warm, muscular concrete.)

Speaking of whom…

Lozo
Lozo Bambino
Lozo Magnifico
Larry
‘Renzo
Munchkin
Michelin Man – because he’s muscular and taut as an overinflated tire.

Either/Or/Both:
Flip and Flop
Fric and Frac
Thing One and Thing Two
i Bambini

I know you all needed, desperately, to know this.

We also need to come up with an alto part for the Parry Gripp song “Weiner Dog,” because CinCin comes running whenever we play the video or sing it ourselves, and I think hearing it in two part harmony would blow her tiny little mind. She likes things with soprano notes, go figure.

VWF, now with more me!

Alyx portrait 2014 smallI am extremely excited to announce that I’ll be appearing at the Vancouver Writers Fest, which takes place on Granville Island October 21 to 26th. I’ll be appearing in two events: the first is called Serial Success and is intended for high school students.
But the other event is all ages, all the time and will probably sell out fast so if you want to see me, William Gibson and Sebastien de Castell, don’t wait, don’t waffle, and don’t wonder. Tickets go on sale September 8th.
Probables and impossibles
What’s the difference between fantasy and science fiction? Fantasy can’t happen. Science fiction is something that hasn’t happened, but could. Two fantasy writers and one science fiction writer talk about the worlds of the probable and the impossible that they’ve imagined onto the pages of their new novels. William Gibson’s The Peripheral is his latest invention in a long string of inventive novels that have earned him rave reviews and a worldwide following over three decades.  Working in the world of the impossible are fantasy writers A.M. Dellamonica and Sebastien de Castell. Travel to Dellamonica’s Stormwrack, an ocean- based world on the other side of the portal. Or duck the barbarians at the borders of de Castell’s Tristia. Good thing these worlds are impossible—and very entertaining.
On the 28th, I’ll be moving on to the U.S. where I’m signing Child of a Hidden Sea (and of course my other books, if you happen to  be collecting) at the University Bookstore at 990 102nd Ave NE in Bellevue, Washington.
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