Shrill: Notes from a Loud Woman
Shrill: Notes from a Loud Woman by Lindy West
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

So how do you get a notoriously slow reader to rip through a 260-page book in under a day, in the midst of a busy week planning for a birthday and a party and putting the finishing touches on a mile-long, post-move to-do list?

I guess you write like Lindy West does.

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Signal to Noise
Signal to Noise by Silvia Moreno-Garcia
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

If you’re thinking about reading this book, the first thing I recommend is that you check out either this Spotify playlist (created by your humble reviewer), and/or this YouTube one and familiarize yourself with some of the songs featured in the novel. In fact, you should probably do that even if you’re not going to read the book because it’s a very good soundtrack.

Anyway, the reason for the homework is that Ms Moreno-Garcia’s coming of age fantasy novel is set in part against the mixtape-and-vinyl music scene in the 80s. The book doesn’t require a comprehensive knowledge of the songs mentioned within (and you can tell from the length of the playlists that there is a lot of music featured), but certain scenes will make more sense if you’re familiar with key tracks. Being familiar with “En Algun Lugar” by Duncan Dhu, for example, will give a better insight into protagonist Meche’s state of mind during the 80s flashback sequences that take up half the novel. Knowing the melody and lyrics of Procol Harum’s “A Whiter Shade of Pale” will speak volumes about the relationship between Meche’s parents and crystalize a particular scene late in the novel. That sort of thing.

Because music in the book isn’t just a bunch of pop cultural references tossed in to give Meche a memorable quirk, it informs the book’s magical element. Once Meche learns she can use records and dance and music to cast spells, she draws her two outcast friends Daniela and Sebastian into a growing obsession with overcoming their teenage difficulties. This arc is the basis for the 80s sequences, all of which inform and tie into the present (or recent past I suppose, as it’s set in 2009) where Meche finally returns to Mexico City after a long absence to attend to her father’s funeral. It’s worth noting that neither the 1988-89 nor the 2009 segments are necessarily stronger than the other. Sometimes in split timeline novels one or the other will be more interesting which gives the other a filler quality where the reader is impatiently waiting to get back to “the good part.” Not so with Signal to Noise.

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by Ron Gibson, Jr.

after Maggie Nelson

This cursor blinks its steady pulse: birth pangs of the universe.

Once we were a void. Once we were beautiful.

Where once a beautiful void, big rigs now knife down the interstate between frosted hills, under a blue period, a finality I cannot dispute, redistributing the future without you.

*

When we read books together, we would wear the author’s skin for a time. The fresh scars, the humility, the beauty. Their story became our story.

For weeks after Maggie Nelson’s ‘Bluets,’ blue dealt blows to the senses, it intoxicated. It made me question my relationhip with the world around me, and made you question your relationship with the world within you.

*

Humans have difficulty understanding evolution, difficulty understanding what we do not see. We do not see slowly moving changes to our world.

*

When I looked at you, through you, you became more haze than you. Each day you became more blue. Each day the hue deepened, and soon you were a fossil to record, a footprint to cast, only our words left tripping over snow-falling asterisks on blue screen, lost.

This cursor still blinks steadily: product of an event beyond our control.

Void

Jan Kraus via Creative Commons


Ron Gibson JrRon Gibson, Jr. has previously appeared in Noble / Gas Quarterly, Pidgeonholes, Maudlin House, The Vignette Review, Ghost City Review, Cease Cows, Spelk Fiction, Ink in Thirds, Gravel Magazine, etc. And can be found on Twitter at @sirabsurd.

 

 

Oryx and Crake
Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

After I finished The Handmaid’s Tale, I was impressed with Margaret Atwood’s writing. Having now finished Oryx And Crake, I’m falling in love with her storytelling.

To a certain extent, this is a parallel to The Handmaid’s Tale, wrapped in a similar framework of intersecting flashbacks all building toward the action set in the post of a post-apocalyptic (or post-dystopic in the case of Handmaid) world. Where Handmaid fretted about gender roles, Oryx fusses about environmental concerns and genetic/pharmaceutical research gone awry, but they’re really two means to the same end. They show a world not too distant from our own right before everything falls apart and then they show the aftermath. The effect in each case is deeply affecting and grim.

Where Oryx And Crake is, I think, a better book, is that the story is more compelling. The central mystery of how the pieces presented in the flashbacks come to result in the Robinson Crusoe-like existence depicted in the novel’s opening chapter is deepened by the conflicts that twist around each other like DNA backbone. The central characters of Snowman, Crake, and Oryx are all rich and fascinating. The way the whole thing converges into such a magnificent climax where all the pieces—past, present past, present future, and future—collide is like a master class on How It’s Done. It doesn’t feel forced that these three are pivotal to everything, it feels right.

Granted, as with Handmaid, the ending is abrupt to the point of absurdity. Unlike the earlier novel, Oryx has a couple of sequels so hopefully at some point there is a real resolution. But it’s not a complaint, it’s more like a promise.

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Who Fears Death
Who Fears Death by Nnedi Okorafor

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I mentioned a little while ago that I was making a conscious effort to read work from a more diverse sampling of authors. Particularly I noted that my personal literary canon over the past couple of years has been rather lily white. The thing about that kind of sampling is that the cultural underpinnings that inform North American/European white authors gets reflected in their settings and characters as a default. For example, most fantasy novels authored by white writers are set in some riff on medieval Europe, presumably because that’s where the fairy tales and other genre standards originated, but also I think because that period gets a lot of attention in white-majority primary schools.

So when you read a novel like Nnedi Okorafor‘s Who Fears Death, the cultural sameness of a lot of white-authored books becomes very plain. This is a book set in a sort of post-apocalyptic, magical realism Africa. Even though it’s probably not all that divergent from modern Africa (in the sense, for example, that The Road is not that divergent from modern America), just that fact alone makes it feel like this very remote, fascinating place to someone, like me, with limited literary horizons. Ms Okorafor crafts this world with a tender but unflinching hand. The world building is deft, typifying the novel as a whole being, by turns, lush and raw and gorgeous and devastating and ugly and remarkable.

This is not an easy book. There are no light, fluffy sections, no gentle fades to black when the ghastly truths of the setting come about. It follows the tale of Onyesonwu, a child born from the rape of her mother. Her mother’s attackers are Nuru; she is Okeke; the results of such violent couplings are distinctive, lighter of skin, freckled, and many superstitions surround those like her. But Onyesonwu is a survivor. She has strange abilities and she longs to find a sense of purpose for those talents such as shapeshifting and healing powers, as much as she longs to find a place in the world that does not accept her.

The fact that Onyesonwu is an outcast both from her parentage and her abilities, the violent assault on her mother, the local coming-of-age custom that involves female circumcision, the oppressive brutality of the setting and the antagonist, even the darkness inside Onyesonwu herself, these things make for grim reading. But what really worked about Who Fears Death is that Ms Okorafor never quite lets it feel bleak. Onyesonwu is fiery, sharp, stubborn. She is rarely self-pitying or whiny, despite having to deal with a great deal of angst. The supporting cast are wonderful foils for the protagonist, the pacing of the action is perfectly pitched to give Onyesonwu and the Okeke the right amount of triumphs amid the setbacks and tragedies to make the ending a genuine question. In most fantasy or hero’s quest tales the victoriousness of the ending is basically pre-ordained. But because the world in Who Fears Death is so grim and unsentimental, there is a genuine tension regarding the outcome.

There are so many little details about this book that made it gripping for me to read. The relationships, the fascinating blend of science fiction and fantasy, the characterizations, the breadth of the plot without having to resort to being “epic” (in the pejorative sense), the raw humanity on display at all times; it was all just so tightly woven. The book exhausted me somewhat, emotionally. I don’t know that I finished it thinking, “I’d love a sequel to this.” But I did finish it wanting to know more about the world Ms Okorafor had created, even if it meant having to make the harrowing trip back.

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A few things converged recently to get me thinking about physical spaces, in particular the spaces that we spend the most time in. The first is that I read Marie Kondo’s “The Life-Changing Magic Of Tidying Up“, in which a Japanese tidying consultant suggests her method for getting rid of clutter in one’s home. The second was that I purchased a new eReader, and the third was that I had a series of home storage-based issues crop up during an extended period where I was away from work.
Bookshelf

David Orban via Creative Commons

The core of Kondo’s approach is to get rid of everything you own that you don’t absolutely love. She has some specific ideas about how one should go about this, but the idea is to drastically decrease one’s possessions so that what remains are things that are, in a manner of speaking, indispensable. Her criteria is that only those things that “spark joy” should be kept. I kind of like this idea, although as some critics have pointed out, it’s pretty tough to describe the feeling one gets for, say, a spatula as anything even in the neighborhood of joy. And yet, throwing out every spatula in the house might not be prudent no matter how much space it might save.
But I get the sentiment at the heart of Kondo’s regimen: all that stuff everyone has “just in case” or because it was a gift or because “what if…” is just crowding the things that are actually valued in our surroundings. The picture she paints of having a sparsely decorated and ornamented living space full of only things that facilitate simple joys is, to me anyway, very compelling.

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d-221 books

az via Creative Commons

It took me over nine and a half months to get through a single novel this year. To put that in perspective, I read 59 books last year, and 44 the year before.

To be fair, I did spend the first four months of the year unemployed and looking for work. Just as I began to zero in on a job prospect, my wife gave birth to our second daughter. So for a lot of the year I’ve been busy and somewhat sleep-deprived. And then there is the fact that I’ve been reading a ton of short fiction. Some has been for research purposes as I comb through samples of various magazines and sites that accept unsolicited submissions; some has just been because most of what I’m writing these days is short fiction and it feels worth it to study the form. And I recently became aware of a big gap in my literary headcanon as I have little to no exposure to poetry, so I’ve read a bunch of that lately, too.

But none of this quite explains my sudden decline in reading books.

I think a big part of it has been that I’m very routine-oriented when it comes to some things. Over the past few years I did a lot of commuting on public transportation, and it became a reading haven for me. Once I no longer had that job, reading needed to be carved out of different time periods. Other activities like writing, exercising, chores, they all competed with reading. It isn’t easy for me to adjust activities from one niche in my day to another, especially when a previous slot seemed to really work. Ask me how good I’ve done at exercising since I stopped being able to squeeze it in alongside my lunch break at work.

Another part of it may be that I tried to tackle two large novels right around the time my regular reading time disappeared. One was Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander, which I picked up because I wanted to read a romance novel to expand my horizons and I thought some of the speculative elements I’d heard about in the series might make it easier to digest. And I was enjoying it, but it didn’t have that stay-up-all-night-reading hook to it. I gave it too long before dropping it. Then the other was the fourth book in the Song Of Ice And Fire saga, George R. R. Martin’s epic fantasy series. The first three books, despite being rather hefty in size, took me a month or so each. But this book is a slog. It’s not bad, necessarily, but it’s kind of a series reboot and it ignores a lot of my favorite characters from previous books and adds a bunch of new ones I have a harder time caring about. So it’s been tough to get into the groove with it, and I still haven’t quite given up on it, mostly because it’s hard enough to keep all the characters in my head when I read a chapter a week. I’m afraid if I tried to come back to it, I’d never finish.

And really that is the thing that has kept me from finishing books, and it’s a lesson I had learned a few years ago. The more aggressive I am at putting books down that don’t hold my interest, the more I read.

The book I finally finished was John Scalzi’s Redshirts, which I listened to on audiobook while I did chores around the house. It’s a neat trick, but it turns out it only works for a certain kind of breezily-paced book. I’ve been trying to do the same with Michael Chabon’s “The Amazing Adventures Of Kavalier and Clay” and while I’m very much enjoying the book (and the narration!), its literary style and fairly somber tone and pacing makes it less effective at helping me simply pass the time.

Hopefully I’ve broken the seal, though. A couple weeks after finishing Redshirts I tore through Octavia Butler’s Dawn and decided to give A Feast For Crows one more push and I actually made pretty significant progress. Maybe I’ll finish it and somehow this year won’t be a huge reading disappointment after all.

I received the following challenge from a writer pal of mine:

But Twitter is a terrible medium for such an undertaking, so I thought I’d post my response here. Note that I’m interpreting “moved” here to be any book that caused a strong emotional response from me, excepting a strong dislike for the book or a particular part of it. I could probably fill another list with books that have annoyed or frustrated me in some grand fashion, but that’s not what I’m discussing right here.

almost crying

Paula Silva via Creative Commons

  1. The Fault In Our Stars by John Green
    Yeah, okay, it’s maybe a little hokey for a thirty-something person to be crying over a book about teenage cancer patients. But I blame the remarkable talent of Kate Rudd, who read the audiobook version I listened to. Her vocal characterizations of Hazel Grace and Augustus Waters brought those characters to life. By the inevitable tragedy toward the end of the book I realized I had handed each and every one of my heartstrings to Ms Rudd, who then let Mr Green’s words yank on all of them with both hands. I regret nothing and I feel no shame.
  2. Where The Red Fern Grows by Wilson Rawls
    Granted, I read this book in fifth grade and haven’t gone near it since, so saying it’s the only other book (aside from TFiOS) that actually caused me to cry is maybe over-selling Red Fern a bit. But this book did a stealth move on me because it was an assigned reading book that I expected to hate, found myself wrapped up in, and did not see the end coming until it was too late. Whatever it was, it worked on me at the time.
  3. The Sense Of An Ending by Julian Barnes
    This slim novel covers so much ground and draws such a gripping portrait of adulthood versus childhood in the context of just a few remarkably well realized characters, I spent days after finishing it trying to get others to read it so I’d have someone to talk to about it. This book stayed with me, and continues to inform the way I think about memory, truth, the effect of my actions and decisions on others, and the craft of a story. The process of reading the book felt very emotional, but not in an obvious wiping-away-the-tears fashion. I finished the book with a sense of awe and thoughtfulness, both for Mr Barnes’s talent and the ideas that frame the remarkable story inside.
  4. Beloved by Toni Morrison
    This book was moving to me because it was the first experience I ever had that brought a level of humanity to the abstract horror of slavery. And I mean that in the downward direction, in the way it highlighted the necessary self-deception and surrender to a base and selfish cruelty for a person to treat another human like an animal or a non-entity. Beloved is a profound and powerful book that pulls absolutely zero punches. The rewards are like hard-learned lessons. This isn’t candy-coated emoting, it’s abrasive and scarring. But it’s also beautiful in a sickening manner, and impossible to forget.
  5. The Omnivore’s Dilemma by Michael Pollan
    A non-fiction book that explores food and the food industry from a journalistic and historical perspective. The way this book affected me was less on an emotional level (although a lot of the discussion of the treatment of animals on corporate-run farms was upsetting and disturbing) than on an intellectual one. It prompted me to try vegetarianism, made me shop differently, and altered my perspective on how food is thought about and discussed in this country.
  6. The Last Lecture by Randy Pausch
    Wise, uplifting, funny, and incredibly touching with such a pitch-perfect finale, this transcribed lecture is even better on video, but the messages are clear and the point Pausch makes about time being the only thing we really need to be concerned with is sobering.
  7. Cannery Row by John Steinbeck
    It’s not really a novel full of a lot of heavy emotion, but I’m being a bit literal here when I say this book transported me into its setting. I live relatively close to Monterey, and it’s one of my favorite places to visit. My wife and I have spent quite a few of our anniversaries in Monterey. So maybe I was predisposed to liking this book, but I fell in love with the characters, the low poetry of Steinbeck’s prose, and the titular place he brings to life in these pages. It’s a short, easy read, but one I never wanted to end.
  8. Let’s Pretend This Never Happened by Jenny Lawson
    I laughed myself to the point of tears so many times while reading this book. Unfortunately, I did a lot of reading of it on public transportation, so a bunch of strangers got to watch me struggle to retain my composure while Lawson riffs on her eccentric family and assorted tales from her life, all told with her switchblade wit.
  9. Mistborn by Brandon Sanderson
    If you can consider being pulled to the last centimeter of your seat’s edge “being moved,” then this book has to be on the list. Sanderson’s metals-based magic system is clever and cool by turns, and his action, pacing, and sense of conflict are hitting on every cylinder in this book. However, it’s the strength of the characters he draws that makes this heist-novel-in-a-fantasy-world book really work. It’s certainly escapism, but it’s the kind that makes you care to the point where you’re practically cheering the victories and shouting warnings to the pages when things get grim.
  10. The Shining by Stephen King
    I like other books in King’s catalog better, and there are specific parts of several other books (not all by King) that scared me more, but The Shining managed to drown me in its atmosphere of paranoia and mystery better than any other book so that I was constantly on edge the whole time I was reading this. Now, some of it may be that I was in eighth grade when I read it, but it’s still the book I think back on and remember trying to read it late at night and deciding, “you know what, I better just put this down and try again when it’s light outside.”

NaNoWriMo 2013

I’ve been trying to write a post to provide some updates for various happenings in the past month or so. But my efforts to make such a post informative and clever have run up against my decided lack of cleverness. Therefore I will leave the frills behind and simply info dump a few assorted tidbits.

  • I had a piece set for publication last month (it was Lost And Found, if you’re curious). Then a week or so before the issue it was to appear came out, the publication shut down. It was disappointing, but from talking to some of my other writer buddies, this happens a not-insignificant amount of the time.
  • So, while that temporarily kept me in the land of the unpublished, I’m hopeful that my next acceptance will actually see print. The wonderful folks at Buffalo Almanack picked up my story, From The Blog Of Exceptional-Man, and its issue should drop in a mere five days. @BuffaloAlmanack has been tweeting about it (and the other intriguing-sounding stories in the issue) for a little while now so I’m pretty excited. I should mention here that based on the ironsoap.com ratings system, had this been published here I would have rated it R for strong language. It deals with angry Internet postings, so if you spend any time online it’s not something you don’t see a thousand times a day. Still, fair warning.
  • I participated in, and completed, NaNoWriMo last month. They call it “winning” in the sponsoring organization’s materials, but I don’t really like the idea of referring to it as such. The implication is that the people who attempted it and did not complete are somehow losers. In any case, I made it to 50,000 words on a novel I titled Lessons In Necromancy. I intend to have a much longer post about the experience, but on the very real chance I won’t get to it, I wanted to at least highlight the accomplishment once.
  • One of the side effects of the madness that accompanied my efforts to finish NaNo was that I totally dropped the ball on Aspiring Voices for a couple of weeks there. If you’ve been enjoying the series, I’m sorry for the interruption. But, in addition to slipping on the posting schedule, I’ve also been falling behind on the in-progress interviews as well, so I may run into a position where I don’t have any completed ones in the next couple of weeks. Tomorrow you’ll see my interview with the fascinating and unique mind that is Alexander Chantal. Following that, though, there will be a break which we’ll call the holiday break until the new year. I have some great young and working authors lined up, too, so look for 2014 to start off strong.
  • However, while we’re on the subject of Aspiring Voices interview subjects, I thought I’d put out a wider call for additional volunteers and/or recommendations and requests. If there is someone you’d like me to interview, or if you’re a writer working to break in and would like to be featured in the series, add a comment to this post or drop me a line at paul@ironsoap.org. For Aspiring Voices, I have a loose guideline that the subjects should be writers who do not write full time (i.e. their income is not entirely earned through writing). It’s my site and my feature so I can make exceptions if I want, although in some cases I’d be happy to interview people who are more well established, it just may not be posted under the Aspiring Voices banner.
  • I also slipped and goofed a bit on the 200 CCs schedule over the last couple of months. Planning for the future is hard. Anyway, I had originally thought I was set through November (the idea being I didn’t want to have to worry about pumping out two flash pieces per week on top of my NaNoWriMo word count), so as of earlier this month I finally burned through all my backlog of 200 word stories. So when I sat down to write some more I thought back to earlier stories I had done and, recalling Deep Carolina, thought it might be fun to do something else in that vein. So I came up with the Fifty States Of Crime sub-series. Basically I’ll do one 200 word crime story for each of the 50 US states. Sometimes the state-specificity may not be all that heavy. This is intended to be an exercise in quick research and thematic variation, not an effort to capture to the true essence of a bunch of places I’ve never been. As with all my 200 CCs posts, I expect them to be hit or miss. I do these quickly with minimal editing and almost no outside feedback. They’re basically my writer’s scratchpad to try new things and flex my creativity a bit. But I think this will be fun detour. As always, if you see any of these you particularly like, I’d truly appreciate a retweet, Facebook like, Tumblr share, Pin, whatever suits you. They take a few seconds to read and the exposure of getting my work in front of new readers is invaluable.

The Aspiring Voices Contest

The bullhorn poet speaks to the horizon.

lau via Creative Commons

So, while we’re on the subjects of social media and site features, to compensate for the slippage in posting and the sort of unplanned holiday break on the interviews, I thought I’d take a minute to look back on the wonderful guest writers I’ve had the pleasure to talk with and take the opportunity to try and spread the word a little as well as get these amazing writers’ words in front of some new people. I am going to need your help, but I’m willing to game it up a little to make it worth your while.

I’m running a contest with the astoundingly original name The Aspiring Voices Contest. I’ve asked each of my guests so far to tell me about the best book they’ve read recently. They had some fantastic recommendations. I’m going to give away a copy of one of those recommended books to anyone who promotes an Aspiring Voices interview on social media between now and December 31st.

There are some minor stipulations. One is that you have to be able to prove you promo’d the article. This means the easiest way to enter is to promote on a public network and post the link in the comments. You may also promo interviews on private networks (I’m thinking here of Facebook shares behind privacy settings), but you’ll have to provide a screenshot or some other method of showcasing the signal boost. In any case you must comment on this post with a point of contact, the name of the author whose interview you are recommending, the method/network used, and some kind of verification to be eligible. The post must include a direct link to the interview and be an original coming from you (i.e. retweeting someone else’s promo does not count, you have to post it yourself). Also, maybe it goes without saying, but you must be complimentary to the featured authors. I’m not going to reward you for bashing one of my fellow writers. And you don’t have to promote the interview where the book you want is recommended, but I think that adds a nice bit of synchronicity to the deal.

On January 1st I’ll select one verified signal boost from the qualifying entries and ship them a copy of the book that looks the most interesting to them from the following list:

Anma NatsuPride of Baghdad by Brian K. Vaughan

George WellsSpark: A Creative Anthology, Vol. II by Various

Callie HunterImpulse by Ellen Hopkins

Maggie GilesBefore I Go To Sleep by S. J. Watson

Lea GroverThe Year Of The Flood by Margaret Atwood

ED MartinStrange Pilgrims by Gabriel Garcia Marquez

Noel AshlandGrave Mercy by Robin LaFevers

Alexandra LynwoodMacRieve by Kresley Cole

Melanie DrakeMagic Rises by Ilona Andrews

Krista QuintanaA Tangled Web by L. M. Montgomery

Alisia FaustJapanese Tales Of Mystery And Imagination by Edogawa Rampo

Sam WittBad Games by Jeff Menapace; Wool by Hugh Howey

Note that these are just the available prize titles. You may promote any Aspiring Voices interview that is posted between now and the end of the contest. Also, there are 13 instead of 12 because Sam cheated and recommended two titles. That scoundrel. Personally, I think any of these books would be a great choice, so I don’t envy you trying to choose.

So get posting and win yourself a free book!

 

 

We’re back after a short break with a new installment of Aspiring Voices. This week I’m happy to welcome Susan Stuckey to the interviewee seat. She talks about the spirited inspiration that keeps her writing, the challenges of staying on track with your vision, and highlights the importance of teachers.
Fire

master.blitzy via Creative Commons

Paul: What would you say was the catalyst for making the pursuit of writing a priority for yourself? 

Susan: Back when i first started writing I was told by a member of a writing group I belonged to that i would never write anything worth reading. I decided to prove that statement wrong.

Paul: That’s an incredibly positive response to such negativity. Have you found a different (hopefully) better in-person writing group, or did that experience kind of turn you off from the whole scene?

Susan: There aren’t any “in-person” writing groups anywhere nearby, and feedback is important. I searched for on-line groups. Tried several of them. Found one that was tolerable (better than the others in most ways).

Paul: Is there a part of writing that you find particularly difficult?

Susan: Motivation

Paul: Describe your process a little. Do you plan and outline extensively? Do you discovery-write?

Susan: I think that is has become part of the motivation issue. When I first started I was a pantser. All I knew when I started writing was the beginning and the ending – and the adventure was finding out what came between those two points. Then I was convinced by others that I should outline. I tried. I really, really tried, but discovered I couldn’t work with an outline. But I think the damage was done and the stall induced by trying to outline just continues now fed by my own self-doubt.

Paul: What would happen when you tried to write with an outline? Did the structure get in the way of your process? What are you doing now to try and overcome that doubt?

Susan: With an outline it means you know it all already – you have point “X” beginning & point “Y” and everything inbetween. So where’s the adventure, the fun of discovery? So I wrote nothing. After I realized the issue, I tossed out the outlining and and now trying to recapture my old “pantser” fun (and frustration when the writing heads down a sidetrack).

Paul: So when you discovery-write, do you have any idea of the ending or are you taking the journey along with the characters, as clueless as they are where it will lead? You mentioned the sidetracks that pantsing can sometimes lead to. How do you identify when a discovery-written story has gone off the rails and what do you do to bring it back?

Susan: I know the beginning and a general ending. The “off track” is either discovered in editing – or when a block is reached and I’m trying to figure out why the story won’t progress. Usually those scenes/chapters etc that are off track are snipped out and put in another file. They sometimes become another story.

Paul: What was the first story you remember writing where you finished and thought, “Yeah, there’s something here”?

Susan: I wrote a ghost story in high school. I kinda thought it was “cute” but the English Teacher called me into her office to talk about it. You have to understand this English teacher was demanding, strict, and didn’t believe in false praise. I was scared to death (knees quaking, hands sweating etc) as I made my way to her office. She totally floored me because she loved the story and told me I had talent and from now on she wouldn’t accept anything but the best from me.

Paul: This is a nice flip side to the writer’s group thing. Was this teacher instrumental in shaping your interest for writing? Have there been other teachers that helped ignite that fire to write?

Susan: Just the one about writing, but there were several who encouraged and ignited the “fire” to always do one’s best.

Paul: Tell me about the best book you’ve read recently.

Susan: Wheel of Time: A Memory of Light. The book has been discussed to death by people. Suffice it to say that I thought it was an amazing conclusion to the fourteen book series and very well done.

Paul: Were you familiar with Brandon Sanderson when he took over the series after Jordan passed away? What did you think of his handling of the series’ end? Did you notice a distinct shift post-Jordan?

Susan: I had no idea who Sanderson was before the announcement. I thought the books he wrote from Jordan’s notes were some of the best of the series.

Paul: Have you read any of his solo books? I actually gave up on the Wheel of Time before Sanderson took it over, but I’ve read a couple of his Mistborn books and found them to be really great. 

Susan: I’ve read his Mistborn Trilogy. I started the first book of another series he wrote, can’t remember the name of the book now, but I couldn’t finish it then. I’ll pick it up again one of these days and try it again.

Susan StuckeyAlways an avid reader, Susan wrote her first fantasy story on an Apple 2E – and lost it when the computer died. She resumed her affair with writing when the “nest” emptied and has continued writing (off and on–usually off) until the present day.
Check out her blog, follow her on Twitter @SusanStuckey3, and like her Facebook page.