For two weeks, of which we are halfway through, I have been teaching Taos Toolbox with Walter Jon Williams in Taos, New Mexico. This is an intensive workshop in writing science fiction and fantasy. Last week’s guest lecturers were Carrie Vaughn and George R.R. Martin. George posed with us for this Red Workshop photo– after all, if you can have a Red Wedding, why not a Red Workshop?
I am delighted and honored to have won the Grand Prix de l’Imaginaire for a foreign story collection in translation for my collection Danses Aeriennes. It contains eleven stories, including one of my personal favorites, “Dancing on Air.” With my schoolgirl French, I can almost read the stories — although it helps that I already know what they say 🙂
The new issue of ASIMOV’S SCIENCE FICTION includes my novelette “Cost of Doing Business.” This story came out of a climate-change conference I attended at Arizona State two years ago (the conference also included Frankenstein under a loose subject umbrella–very loose). The novelette focuses on fossil fuels, and I had a lot of fun writing it.
I’m pleased that my story “Dear Sarah,” which appeared in Jonathan Strahan’s anthology INFINITY WARS, is on the ballot for the LOCUS award. I won’t be at the Locus Awards this year since I will be teaching Taos Toolbox, but still (all together now,): “It’s an honor just to be nominated.” So thank you to those who did.
At the risk of sounding like Fox News, the “fair and balanced” thing has been on my mind lately, although not in connection with politics but with fiction. I just finished a novella about an always controversial subject, GMO crops. One of the problems I have with a lot of science fiction is the Evil Bad Guy (sometimes it’s the Evil Bad Corporation or the Evil Bad Secret Organization). Pure evil, seeking to cause suffering for its own sake, exists in the world, but it’s rare. Most evil actions happen because the perpetrator has some twisted rationale (but there IS a rationale), or to maximize profits, or just from short-sighted stupidity. Those motives may still cause tremendous suffering, but they are more comprehensible (even when not forgivable). Thus, when I write stories, I try to understand why the antagonists are doing what they’re doing, besides merely “This will make the plot go.”
With GMOs, there are arguments on both sides of the issue (although not, to my thinking, equal arguments). This is not a question of good vs. evil, but it is a question of heated opposing viewpoints. So when I wrote “Sea Change,” I tried to keep that in mind. Doing so requires a lot more research, a lot more thinking, and a lot more nuanced characters than just a strawman villain, set up only to be easily knocked down. Ethics are always more complicated than T-shirt slogans.
When people ask, “What is your writing process?” I am often embarrassed to tell them because it sounds so mystical. I don’t outline ahead of time, or use Scribner’s to organize notes, or know the last sentence before I begin. Instead, a character and situation will occur to me together (What if people didn’t need to sleep because a child was genetically engineered like that?) and I write the first scene very quickly. Next, I stop to think, research the science, visualize the situation in greater detail, and figure out what might go wrong. Then, for the rest of the story (this is the mystical part) I try to become that character, fuse with her or him, almost like Method acting. I stop being Nancy and become The Character in thought and feeling to figure out what he or she might do next, and why.
This is not an efficient way to write. Sometimes it doesn’t work at all. I’m not recommending it. But it seems to be my “process.”
Walter Jon Williams and I have chosen our 2018 Taos Tolbox class from among many worthy submissions. Taos Toolbox is an intensive two-week workshop in writing science fiction and fantasy. It is held at Angel Fire resort, in the mountains of New Mexico near Taos. Guest lecturers this year are George R.R. Martin, Carrie Vaughn, and E.M. Tippetts. Here are George talking to last year’s class, the 2017 class, and the main lodge at Angel Fire. I am really looking forward to this.