The Geomancer


June Author Round Table

Jon Sprunk
Kristine Kathryn Rusch
Andrew P. Mayer

Erin Hoffman

Welcome to another author round table! This month, we're joined by Kristine Kathryn Rusch (City of Ruins), Andrew Mayer (The Falling Machine), Erin Hoffman (Sword of Fire and Sea), and Jon Sprunk (Shadow's Lure).

-How much pre-planning do you do before you begin a book? Do you write to an outline, or more organically? In writing a series, how much of the series is planned before you begin?

Kristine Kathryn Rusch: Sadly (and I mean that for me), I write organically.  Stories come to me out of order. The end first, the middle last, part of the next book.  It's irritating--rather like putting a puzzle together--but it seems to work for me.

I know the general shape of a book and of a series, but I never know what happens.  For example, I wrote the opening two sections of Diving into the Wreck, then the opening section of City of Ruins, then a section about a character not in either book.  It took me nearly a year to figure out what order the story actually belonged in.  Eventually I did.

And lest critics pounce on this, saying some derogatory remark about how these books compare to other books of mine, let me say this: I write all of my books this way.  And I wish I didn't.

Andrew Mayer:  I do a ton of planning. I tried to write a number of novels when I was younger and never managed to finish them. It wasn’t until I started seriously outlining that I managed to completely move beyond short stories and a novella or two.

Building a strong outline allows me to figure out the story beats, and make sure that I have the requisite amount of character conflict, drama, action, and all that other good stuff. It also allows me to figure out major plotting problems without having to write thousands of words to uncover them.

And for me it’s just more motivating to be writing a story I already want to read.

Jon Sprunk: I outline extensively from start to finish, and it can take me as long as two months just to do that. But I only do that one book at a time. For the Shadow Saga, I had an idea of what books two and three would be about, but not the details.

Erin Hoffman: Embarrassing amounts of pre-planning. I start with characters and concepts, laying out the things that initially inspire the story -- usually fragments of world imagery or dialogue. From there I dig for theme, and that takes quite a while. There's a lot of research, and a development of ideas that probably has a lot more in common with philosophy than storytelling. Once I've nailed down the theme, I start drawing the story and plot from it. I get a bit more distance from the usually very personal thematic parts and hammer relentlessly until I have the spine of a plot I'm excited to write. Then there's a detailed synopsis, basically a short paragraph for every chapter of the book. This often reveals flaws or structural imbalances that I'll work on more and correct. Throughout this I pepper in paragraphs, key moments of the story, that get shoved in a file with that chapter's short paragraph description. In terms of series, I'll know where I want to go and usually have an idea of how long I want to take to get there, but it can and does change along the way. The outline is a series of signposts, but the space in between is a lot more organic.

-Conversely, how much editing do you do? What's your process to get from first draft to finished manuscript?

KKR: Once I figure out the story order, I put the book in order, add the bridge material, trim or fix details that are out of place, and that's all I do. My husband, Dean Wesley Smith, is my first reader, and he lets me know if something's missing.  (For example, in a recent romance novel, I got so caught up in the plot that I forgot the romance.  I fixed that after he read it.)

AM: Once I’m into the writing phase I like to be able to put most of my attention to voice and flow, and let the story form around the outline. 

I try to push through to a complete draft from start to finish running at about 1,500 to 2,000 words a day. I’ll jump around a bit if I have to, and sometimes I come up with something so inspiring that I need to go back and rework the outline to accommodate it. That can be painful, but never terribly so.

Once the first draft is complete I go back and take an edit pass on the whole thing from end to end. That can be a bear, as I’ll often find loose threads, or half-formed ideas that need completing. Stephen King says that he likes to cut from his books as he rewrites, but I’m the opposite. My drafts tend to grow in size. I probably add around 10% on the second draft.

And once that’s done I’ll read it through again. There’s usually less work this time, but I need to go in and see if broken scenes have really been “fixed”, or if I’ve managed to somehow make things worse. I’ll usually bring in readers at this stage. I don’t envy them much, because there are an infinite number of typos in this draft. I haven’t made any attempts to fix much beyond the tone and flow of the language, so there can be a lot of nonsense in there.

Then, the third draft is all about polish. To be honest there should probably be a second round of polish as well, but I don’t always have the time. That’s when I end up making the copy editor’s life miserable.

JS: I do a lot of editing. It's much more stressful than the actual writing. I put a lot of pressure on myself to get it right. I wish I could say I was 100% successful, but I'm lucky to have an excellent support network, including my beta readers, my agent, and Lou Anders at Pyr.

EH: Once I actually start writing, I try to write straight through. I make notes after every chapter, and throughout the process (I email ideas to myself constantly; my gmail account has 93 label categories), but this doesn't typically change the outline. They're moments to refine, minor things to change, realizations about particular motivations or world details. If anything major comes up, I come to a full stop and have to fix it before I can continue. This can be deceptive; there are times I thought I was just tired or stressed, but invariably if I'm having trouble going forward it's because my subconscious is telling me there's something wrong with the story. Once I figure it out and adjust the outline, it all starts to flow again.

-What does a typical writing day look like for you?

KKR: I get up, herd the cats, do my internet work, exercise, have a writing session, have lunch, more writing, have dinner, more writing, then read, then one hour of TV/movie, and sleep. The next day, I start all over again.

AM: I think my book days are more aspirational than typical.

Actual writing days are relatively easy, since they’re easily measured in pure numbers of words. Either I can park myself in a chair and write 2000 words or I can’t. I do find that meditating before I start usually means the work that will get done, but I can be surprisingly poor at that practice even though I know it’s going to end up a net win.

Editing days are a chapter or so a day. I can usually cover 3,000 words of rewrites. But if  I end up trying to pick apart a structural knot that can really slow things down, especially if it ends up being a point that crosses chapters. Also, sometimes scenes need to be completely re-done, so that can throw me back into writing mode for days.

And I’m a truly grass is greener kind of guy: When I’m writing I wish I was editing, and when I’m editing I wish I was writing.

JS: I write in the evenings, Monday through Friday. I have a bit more time on weekends. My goal is a thousand words per day. I try not to take days off.
EH: Oh man, I wish there were typical writing days. Someday there will be. I carve out time wherever I can, and so "typical" for me is about flexibility and, often, mobility. My "rituals" are pretty self-contained -- playlists (musicals, movie soundtracks, and lately a Pandora channel built from Victorian composers), software (PlainText -> DropBox -> Scrivener 2.0), tea, where available (just about any kind of full leaf, with extra points for good earl greys or pu-erhs). Other than that, I write everywhere -- on airplanes, in hotels, on the couch...  

-What are some television shows that you enjoy?

KKR: I love Stargate Universe and will miss it.  I love Doctor Who.  My "candy" show this year is  Hawaii Five-O.  I've been watching The Closer on DVD. But my favorite show has got to be The Big Bang Theory.  I know those people.  Some of them might live in my house. :-)

AM: Is anyone not watching Game of Thrones? It’s an amazing translation, and it’s really fun to watch fans of the book engaging with the necessities and shortcuts of television.

I also loved, loved, loved, the Spartacus series that’s on Starz. It’s a rare genre series that can pull out of a bad start the way that show did, but if you watch the first series it goes from good to amazing. The prequels are even better: a good prequel should re-contextualize what you think you “know” about the events that come after it, and Spartacus does that in spades.

Also, something that Spartacus does better than Game of Thrones is make sure that there are emotional stakes in all the sex scenes. It’s a trick worth paying attention to.

Breaking Bad is another amazing show. I tell people that it’s the best “origin of a supervillain” series ever made, and in a lot of ways it’s a non-genre genre story. It does some really breathtakingly brave stuff in terms of creating genuine peril for the “hero” of the show. 

JS: My wife and I are enjoying The Game of Thrones on HBO. We also watch Hell's Kitchen and Kitchen Nightmares. Otherwise, I just watch the news. Oh, and Southpark.

EH: I'm more of a movie type than a TV type, but it does seem like TV has gotten better and better over the last few years. I was blown away by Planet Earth, and I have an unhealthy weakness for documentaries about ancient Egypt. I've enjoyed what I've seen of Deadwood, and I think Babylon 5 is a masterpiece of serial SF. I didn't see Weeds until it was five seasons in, and then watched all five seasons in a couple of weekends with my husband. 

Thanks to all our authors for stopping by!

1 comment:

  1. Thank you for another interesting roundtable. :)

    I particularly find the differing approaches to series amongst the quartet interesting.