The Centropic Oracle Library
|The Posthumous Novel of Edward L. Heard|
#TuesdayTalk with Laura
Laura has spent her adult life working with the printed word, and she has a lot to share with our audience about those experiences - including working as an editor for PC World and Shimmer.
C: Good morning Laura, thank you for joining me today.
L: My pleasure Charly, thanks for having me.
C: Has writing in one form or another always been a focus of your professional life?
L; Well itís always been a focus in my life. I would say that Iíve worked more with fiction when Iím not writing non-fiction. When I had a journalism job I was doing a lot less with fiction. And I think that thatís simply because thereís only so much time someone can spend staring at a screen.
C: I can imagine. I donít think itís different for any other profession really.
L: I sometimes think that it would be really nice if instead of one job everybody had two part time jobs, so that our bodies would be more awake and we could get more experiences. So you could be a writer 4 or 5 hours a day and a carpenter another 4 or 5, things like that.
C: Thatís interesting, because it would probably also make us better at both of those jobs.
L: I like to think so, and I think everyone would have more interesting perspectives.
C: What would you say the key differences are between writing fiction and non-fiction?
L: I mean, I think that the clearest thing is that non-fiction has facts that absolutely have to be represented accurately. Some people have said- Neil Gaiman has said famously that ďfiction is the lie that tells the truth.Ē I think he may even have been quoting someone else when he said that. You donít have to be so factual, especially with the kind of fiction that I write, the speculative fiction. A certain amount of factual veracity certainly makes a big difference in making it credible, but itís not that thereís a human being whose words have to be represented exactly as they were said, or something like that, in non-fiction. Which is really a huge responsibility.
C: Would you say that it's different in how you approach the structure and pacing of a piece?
L: I think the structure and pacing of either fiction or non-fiction can vary a huge amount depending on the audience, and the subject matter, and the publication. I used to work for a computer magazine, PC World, and for a time it really was a magazine, a print magazine, and there was a website and then eventually the website completely subsumed the magazine. Writing for web and writing for print were different. For web we didnít have to do cuts and fills because the documents could flow. But we also discovered pretty quickly that people actually have shorter attention spans for reading electronically. So we had to get to the point faster and get as much into the first screen - what you would call ďabove the foldĒ.
C: What do you think is the key difference between reading on screen versus reading a book?
L: Boy, I think that thereís some different ones, and I would not be surprised to find differences generationally. People like me, you know, my parents had a computer that I could work on in junior high school, and that was kind of special. We had the amber on black instead of the green on black screens. Thatís my era. I obviously learned to read completely on paper, and kids now are learning how to read much more on screens. And people who are a generation beyond me, theyíre using computers now but a lot of them didnít use them until well into adulthood and have never become as comfortable. I think that one thing that I notice is that when you have a physical object, like a book or a newspaper, your eye can skip around more, whereas you really have to interact more with the screen to get it to respond to you. If you have a newspaper, you can lay the whole thing out - and I do subscribe to a newspaper - and all these things just jump out at you and you can read a paragraph without even trying to. Whereas it seems like a little more effort to me on a screen, and there's a lot more clicking through. So I do feel like things have to be a little catchier, a little grabbier, on a screen.
C: To kinda move onto the next topic a little bit, would you classify yourself as a fiction writer who wings it and then edits a story into shape, or a detailed pre-writing outliner, or somewhere in between? Or does it change based on what youíre writing?
L: Right. Iíve heard people describe that as pantsers versus planners. And if thatís the case I think Iím a plantser? Iím kind of in between. I canít make a whole outline. I probably could, but I think I would just get frustrated and just start writing. So what I try to do is I have some basic structure in my head. And as things occur to me that are important, I jot them down as notes. If I have a conversation or a paragraph or something and I know how I want it to go I put that in, and then I write the connective tissue in between those things. That works pretty well for short fiction. Iím not sure it's the best way for longer fiction, for novels. But it seems to be working okay for short things.
C: Gotcha, and do you approach it the same way when youíre writing non-fiction? Or do you need to be more structured for that?
L: I think it depends on the kind of non-fiction youíre writing. I was generally writing a lot of reviews and some news articles, and there is a very definite formula to those that has to be followed. Thereís a little bit of latitude, but in general, when readers are coming to you for information, your job is to present the information to them in a format that is going to be easy for them to digest and easy for them to understand and make a strong impact on them. So that was always very well laid out for how long you spend on this kind of thing.
C: What was your first short story piece to be accepted for publication?
L: The first thing I had published was in 1997.
C: Oh my
L: Yes, yes. I took a long time off from fiction while I was a journalist, about 10 years. It was in a magazine called Strange Fiction, which I think may have gone a few issues, but not more than that. And I canít find anything on them anymore, thereís no web presence left or anything. The story was my take on the Iphigenia myth. One of Agamemnonís daughters. Because thereís-- the story - which Euripides wrote in two completely plays in two completely different ways being Euripides because he could do that - and the idea was that she was supposed to get married to Achilles but their ship got calmed - their ships, I should say - got calmed. And so Artemis was angry because, I think, someone had hunted a stag that was sacred to her or something, and so Artemis somehow demanded that they sacrifice this teenage girl to her before she would let their ships go. Which I have always thought was an utterly bizarre thing for the one they call ďthe Virgin GoddessĒ to do. So I did my take on that to try to make sense of this, because I just didnít think it worked in the original versions that I read.
C: Do you remember how long youíd had it out on submission before it was accepted?
L: I donít have great notes from that era. I did actually keep pretty good notes, but that was several computers ago. So I canít even open the excel doc that was in. I think that that one went to probably 5 or 6 markets. Because even then I always started with the top tier, best known magazines with F&SF and all that, got my polite rejection letters as I worked down to the lower paying, less well known markets.
C: And I imagine back in that time you were probably hard copy mailing it out.
L: Yes, we had to send out SASEís (Self-Addressed Stamped Envelopes). And if we were shipping anything internationally we had to go and get those funny little coupons, international reply coupons or something? I donít remember what they called them at the post office? So that you could prepay the international postage? It was actually very nice because that enabled me to send to Canadian markets as well, and my second story did go into a Canadian market. But yes, it was much more expensive to send stories out for submission over time in those days. If you have to send it to several different places, it starts to mount up. It was literally possible to spend more on postage than you ended up getting back.
C: Do you have any pieces still that you never sold?
L: Oh yes, yes. I have a few that over time, just got enough rejections that I looked at them eventually and said ďmaybe this isn't what I want to be sending out anymoreĒ. And a few that I deliberately retired because they had sort of an, I donít want to say an expiration date exactly, but sometimes you write something thatís sort of Zeitgeist, and then things change and it feels so dated, that it doesnít make sense to keep sending them out.
C: Have you gone back to look at any of those pieces now, years later, and gone ďOkay, it may not have been working well timing wise a year after I wrote it but coming back 10 years later, it might be relevant againĒ?
L: Itís funny because that has sometimes happened with things for themed anthologies, because, I think that a lot of writers when theyíre starting out, especially, are like ďOkay, Iím going to write about the classic monsters and mythological characters and stuffĒ and there isnít a lot of market for those. And then someone comes out with an anthology of ocean stories or werewolves or whatever and suddenly, your story may actually have a more welcoming editor. So I have sold some things that, I think, were out of vogue by the time I wrote them, but ended up finding an audience eventually.
C: Gotcha. What influences would you say your non-fiction pieces have had on your fiction writing, such as concepts, or world building tools, or anything like that? Particularly considering that you were working as a journalist in computers.
L: I would say that there have been a few pieces I have written that have had to work a little bit with the kind of stuff I was covering. And some of the things that I wasnít necessarily covering myself, but that I found interesting in the area. Whatís kind of interesting is that I wouldnít say that my own non-fiction research has informed my fiction research very much. But I would say that itís made it easier for me to find good sources for my fiction research.
C: That makes a lot of sense. Doing your research on the Internet is an awful lot like drinking from a fire hydrant. Thereís just so much coming at you, how do you filter out what's - weíll call it reliable - versus pure conjecture?
L: And that is a very tricky thing, because there's some pretty bogus websites that now have pretty nice site design, pretty good writing. It is, as you say, a fire hydrant of information, and it is hard to tell if a dog has peed on it sometimes.
C: Do you pick just personality traits you need to fit a plot idea, and then mold that into a full character, or do you start with a fleshed out character that drives the plot?
L: I would say that depends partly on what Iím writing. Sometimes things just fit, sometimes you just say, ďI really want to write a character who has this kind of background, or this kind of name, or who really likes this particular thingĒ. And the rest of it just sort of comes. Sometimes you also have to say, ďShe needs to have a distant relationship with her family to explain why none of them are here when things are so weird.Ē
C: Short story writers seem to get their ideas in the strangest of places. Can you share some examples of where your story ideas have come from?
L: Hmm. Well Iíve had some things that have come up because Iíve had a weird dream, and I get an interesting image from that that I want to work with. Sometimes I get a turn of phrase and I think, ďOh, that would really be a nice title,Ē and I start to think, ďwhat would that story be?Ē Thatís pretty rare, but when it happens I really like it, because it gives me so much more focus. Sometimes I happen across an idea that I just want to explore, and that takes a long time sometimes. Sometimes it can literally be that somebody says, ďHey, what if such and such?Ē and I go, ďHmm, yeah, what if such and such?Ē That certainly happened with The Posthumous Novel of Edward L. Heard, and also with Bitter Perfume, which was the story that I wrote for the She Walks in Shadows anthology.
C: For myself, Iíll have an idea come from - I love the title of this television episode, or Iíll be reading an article and the last line will be this phrase that just sticks and I cannot let go of it, and then from there I can go all kinds of crazy places.
L: Itís true, and thatís a lot of what a writer does is just looking at something and saying ďWhat would I do with that? What kind of person would be in that situation? What kind of person would have a really interesting take on that situation? What would make this situation even weirder?Ē
C: Thereís that. I have done two different stories where Iím like, ďHow does a person think that?Ē or, ďWhy would a person think that? How do you get to that place, that you would feel that or that you would do that?Ē Sometimes Iíll really have to dig deep, and at that point I'm like, ďWell, why donít I write this out because thatís what I'm doingĒ and thatís why we read is to explore other perspectives and to learn more about our world and the people around that and the search for truth.
L: And the psychology of how humans react in improbable or impossible situations is fascinating to me. I especially enjoy the psychology of heroism, because I think that thatís not something that comes very easily to most of us. Standing up isnít necessarily an easy thing for a lot of people. It is sometimes easier to be quiet and somewhat uncomfortable than to face the adrenaline rush and the potential peril of standing up.
C: Because generally with standing up, there is a peril, as you put it, either socially or physically.
L: And there is a physiological response to that, whether itís a real danger or not, and most of us donít pursue that. I think that there are people who enjoy the high of that, and sometimes thatís what you see in heroic work, but I'm always more interested in the very measured heros, the people who are like ďBoy, this is really hard, but I have to do that.Ē The ones who really have to steel themselves to do it. One character I found really fascinating, although heís not strictly heroic, who I read recently is in M.R. Careyís The Boy on the Bridge. But one character is a 15 year old boy who is - not diagnosed as being on the autism spectrum, but it seems probable to me as a layman - and seeing him try to do the right thing when heís so intimidated by things like physical contact or looking people in the eye or telling lies, makes him so powerful as a character. I'm choking up just thinking about this little guy.
C: Which area would you say is your biggest challenge as a writer? Personally, for me itís pacing. What would you say would be your most difficult aspect of writing?
L: I would say itís pacing for me too.
L: I have a tendency to want to get a lot of information out, but I want to get it out in a way that isnít an info dump. I can have a really slow start and often what I have to do is go back and say, ďThese first five paragraphs that I still really like are just a warmup exercise and I have to take them out.Ē
C: Are you a person who does your first draft and then walks away, or maybe does a different story entirely, and then comes back to it? Or are you able to just come back to it the next day, or...?
L: Ideally, I write a first draft and it takes not too long, you know, a day or two, depending on how long it is. But often more. And I wake up thinking of things I need to revise for a few days after that. I have to go back and sort of pick at it for a while. But then I try to just leave it alone for about three weeks and do some other things because then I can come back to it fresh and see all the little things that are missing because they didnít make it from my head to my fingers, and all the things that came out that arenít really necessary anymore. Another thing that helps a lot with revising and editing is not starting at the beginning. You have to start at the beginning sometimes, but sometimes I think itís important to start in some other place and see how itís working in itself. If thereís a lot of unnecessary air in it.
C: So how much of an impact would you say that doing copy edit work for Shimmer has on your fiction writing?
L: Oh, I would say that it has had an impact. At PC World I was more of a developmental editor, but we had a really world class copy staff and I learned a lot from them. When I started doing copy editing for Shimmer, I realized how wonderfully liberating it is. Because I've always sort of known intellectually what a copy editorís job is. Itís not just fixing things to house style, although that is an element of it. Itís really about making it so that the authorís intent comes through more directly to the reader. And sometimes that means standardizing grammar and spelling and punctuation and things like that. And sometimes it's a little more nuanced than that, in fact often itís more nuanced than that, because you can say the same thing so many different ways, even with the same words. So thatís made me very aware of some of the intricacies of different ways to structure things. I have to let go of that a little bit when I'm writing so that I donít sit and obsess over a sentence. Thatís one of the reasons that when I do have a perfect sentence, I write it down so I can write to it.
C: Right. So you mentioned that with PC World you were a developmental editor. What exactly is that? Versus a copy editor.
L: Well thatís the editor who usually does the assigning, and who develops a piece to the way it needs to be. But thatís the bigger structural things. You know, ďThis piece in general is good, but focusses to much on this aspect, Iíd like to see this more brought outÖĒ That kind of question, more of the content related questions. In fact, we called ourselves ďControl EditorsĒ because we were in control of the piece. A copy editor is really much more of the nuts and bolts of style. We were trying to come up with some good metaphors for this on a panel and the developmental editor is like a contributing architect, I think we decided, and the writer is the builder, and the copy editor is finishing the drywall. You know, making sure that everything looks nice and you can go in and really get the feel for the space.
L: I really enjoy it because it really is about getting the words out of the way of the story.
C: Yeah, which can be hard, I think, for a writer to do because we know what is in our head.
L: And interestingly, that is sometimes the highlight of good writing. That when weíre really in flow, we just don't write down the article or the boring verb or something that needs to be there because weíre already onto the next part, and itís very easy to miss that. And so itís good to be able to put that back in as a copy editor.
L: And thatís one of the reasons that with copy edits in particular I often start in a random place so that Iím not completely in space and in love with the story and willing to forgive everything. I have to be able--
C: Well, and I think itís liberating, it is wildly liberating as a writer to trust that thereís someone whoís going to catch all that and I donít have to be perfect on the nitty gritties. I can focus on the vision and focus on creating a world and characters that are rich and deep, and that someone else will catch where Iíve-- that someone can bring my attention back to it.
L: There are certainly heavier edits and lighter edits, but thereís a certain amount of edits thatís always going to happen. If itís already really good, then the edits are going to be much more subtle refinements and also much deeper questions on the other end. You really get to think about how to make this piece exactly what it needs to be. And I love knowing that I have editors on my side doing that.
C: Do you use a beta reader?
L: Oh yes, absolutely. I really canít do without one. My husband reads everything I write. Heís not very critical though. I usually need to go to some other writers because we swap favours reading each otherís stories- and itís also fun. Sometimes if thereís something in particular that I really need - some element that I need a read on - Iíll go to somebody who is maybe not a writer, but has some understanding of the subject matter and ask them if they wouldnít mind doing me a favour.
C: I wrote a story, and it was the daughter of an addict, and my beta reader for it was a social worker.
L: Thatís a really good idea.
C: Sheís the one that comes into contact with these kids on a day to day basis, so she has a real understanding. If I say, ďIs she going to be this calculating? Does she plan, I need a new pair of shoes, so now itís time for me to go to group home because Iíll get new clothes?Ē and sheís like, ďYeah, thatís normal.Ē
You have attended a convention - at least one convention - as a writer panelist, and as editor panelist. Do you find that the questions from the audience have a lot of variety, or were some of the questions kind of similar between the two - one as a writer and one as an editor?
L: The convention where Iíve done this first was this year at FOGcon (fogcon.org), which is a local Northern California convention. I was on an editing panel, and I did a reading as a writer. So there was certainly some discussion about both sides of the craft. I think most of the people who were attending the editing panel were writers who wanted to know how to work with an editor. There were some people who wanted to get into editing, or were editing and wanted to see how other people were doing it. There were some very high powered people on that panel. Delia Sherman was there, Laurel Amberdine, and Sarah Stegall, Jed Hartman, who was at Strange Horizons for years was moderating and he did a fabulous job. I would say that most people wanted to know where the boundaries are between writers and editors over the ownership of the work. That is a really interesting question for me because I worked at a non-fiction magazine for years. There itís really the magazine that owns the work and the writer has the option of pulling something if they havenít been paid for it yet - depending on the contract - but itís really about what the magazine does. And sometimes I would have to go back to writers and say, ďYou write beautifully, this is great, this is great, but we canít have this kind of humour, we canít have this kind of generational referenceĒ, you know, some kind of thing that we had to tweak to make it appropriate for our audience. That didn't mean the original was bad, but if we were gonna publish it, it had to be what we needed. The same thing is true in fiction, but I think that the boundary is much more towards the writerís end. As editors, if we buy a story we generally buy something we think is pretty close to working already. There is some room for negotiation and thatís something that is a very scary gray space to new writers in particular. Wondering, ďHow much can I push back if I donít agree? Do I need to take everything that the editor says?Ē Because often the editor has more experience in it and the editor also knows what the readership wants, but then the writer also knows what theyíre trying to do. So there can be a little bit of back and forth. I know that Iíve done that both as an editor and as a writer. As a writer, sometimes Iíll write out, almost like my long copy edit notes. ďWell, what I was going for was this, and maybe we can try it some other way, like this, or like this, or like thisÖĒ
C: I know that you and I had that with Posthumous Novel of Edward L. Heard. YouĎd used a term in there that I had never heard of before with ďFilkĒ music.
L: Oh yes, filk music.
C: I was like, ďDid you mean folk?Ē We actually had a fair amount of back and forth on- because you had to explain to me what it was and Iím like ďIím a lifetime fan, and Iíve never even heard of this genre before ever, so I think we may need to explain it a little bit.Ē
L: And I think I was pretty insistent that we had to actually use the word ďfilkĒ because if we tried to write around it, it would be obvious.
C: Yes. And I think maybe too, youíre right- when it comes back to what new writers are so afraid of is that an editor is going to be unreasonable and say ďNope, thatís it. Change it.Ē and I donít think thatís fair to say that, because sometimes a writer is very specific about it and what itís supposed to mean, but if that message didnít come across then maybe we need to take that and expand it or explain it a little more.
L: Right, and it feels funny writing back those long explanatory notes because it feels very needy. And I very rarely outright say ďNo.Ē What I really want to say is, ďThis is important becauseÖ How can we make this work?Ē I don't think thereís ever been a time I can think of when it hasnít. Everyone always wants to make it work. Itís largely a question of how much time there is, because I am happy to go round after round of revisions if itís needed, and sometimes a publication does not have that kind of time. Sometimes Iíve gotten to the point that Iíll write back with some of them and say ďThis is what I was going for, we can cut it if that doesnít work, or we could revise it to this or to thisĒ and I may not see it again. So itís good to make sure that Iím not demanding more dialogue than the editor is gonna have time for.
C: Coming from the Centropic side of things, it's pretty rare that suggestions I make are negotiated or - and Iíve yet to have someone say ďNo, I donít want to change it at allĒ, but usually itís a ďOkay, Iím not terribly attached to thatĒ, but I think thatís probably because I try to keep my edits as minor as possible, just to make sure that itís clear.
L: Right. And youíre also looking at a lot of reprints.
C: Not as many as you would think, but I would say probably a third of what we get is reprints. Generally with reprints, thereís very little that needs doing.
L: Itís already been done.
C: When a new writer comes on board, they pepper us. Itíll be submission after submission, to the point where I recognize this time because Iíve seen it ten times in the last two weeks. That makes me think they were sending their entire trunk.
L: Right. And I think thatís why - everyoneís guidelines are different, but Iíve notice that I see guidelines - not infrequently - that say ďWill accept one per reading periodĒ or ďAfter youíve sent us something, give us this length of time before you send us something elseĒ and I think that is partly for their own sanity and partly to encourage people to cherry pick their own work and send what they believe to be their best.
C: Or most appropriate anyways.
L: That is such a funny thing to me, because in the days when you had to write and buy sample copies, it was harder. It took a lot longer to know what markets are appropriate. But now, so many things are online so itís a lot easier than it used to be to get a real feel for what a publication is like. And youíve gotta read the guidelines. Itís funny because I think that as a beginning writer, I would sometimes read guidelines and wonder why they were being so picky. And then I did a little editing and I did some slush reading way back in the day, and I realized that if you donít put that stuff in your guidelines, you end up getting it all. If you really just are not going to handle zombie fiction, then someone should not send you the best zombie fiction they have because itís just not for you and your audience. And I think that thatís something thatís easy to lose sight of starting out. It also takes a while as a new writer to know where your work belongs.
C: And to balance that against self-rejection.
L: I tend to look at the guidelines a little more. Because sometimes editors know what they donít want more than they know what they want. But if they say ďno mermaid storiesĒ, just donít send them your mermaid stories. Itís a waste of your story. And thatís just a waste of everybodyís time. Thatís what I find so funny, is that every time you send out a story itís kind of like a job application. If the job says, ďYou need to know these programming languages for this programming job,Ē and you write to them: ďI am an excellent pianistĒ. What are they supposed to do with that?
C: Have you ever tried your hand at novel writing?
L: I have. I am working on a novel now. It is very different. What I was saying about my writing chunks and then weaving back in, Iím not sure quite how well that works for a novel, so weíll have to see. Thereís just so much more material to wrangle, it seems to take much longer than writing the equivalent word count in short stories. And I also have to make a lot of notes as I go because sometimes I start with this and Iím like, ďYou know what, this character is doing something with her hands, she might as well be left handed.Ē But then that means I have to make a note somewhere so that her watch is always on her right wrist, and she picks up things with her left hand, stuff like that. It is a lot of fun, I hope that the novel works out. It is a young adult paranormal science fiction story with a bunch of teenagers who are on a ship that is bringing some humans and a great number of human ghosts to a new planet. Theyíve gotten some help from some benevolent aliens who have noticed that Earth is not looking great, but they regard ghosts as the final part of a life cycle. So theyíre aghast at how we treat our ghosts and rather than let us continue in what they regard as unenlightened elder abuse, they tell us weíve gotta pack them up and take them somewhere safer. And it is so much more complicated than the idea sounds to produce.
C: Novel writing is challenging.
L: Yes. Have you done it?
C: Yeah, yeah I have a historical fiction - historical fantasy fiction piece, and I got myself all bogged down in the research.
L: I love doing research, but it gets hard for me after awhile because at some point my brain starts to fill up and I need to start writing something. I have a story coming out, probably later this year, I think, and I decided that the monster would be stalking in a knitting shop. I am not a knitter, personally, I crochet the same scarf over and over in different colours, so I've never been to one of these knitting circles. But I have friends who have, and so I had to ask them a lot of questions to make sure that I was representing accurately, that these things could happen and certain things wouldnít. I ended up with such a wealth of stuff that it was almost paralyzing and I started to put in way too many minor characters. And then Iím like, ďI have to take these out, I have to take some of these characters out, because - theyíre great characters, maybe I can use them somewhere else - but theyíre not really furthering the story, theyíre just cementing the setting more.Ē
C: Do you find it easier to remove than to add? Or is it the other way, you find it easier to add elements in than it is to take them out?
L: Well, the kind of writer I am, I tend to have to remove more than I have to add, because I just tend to write a little bigger. So I would say that taking out is harder. Itís always wonderful when I can find a section that can just go. But that doesnít happen a lot because if Iíve been doing my job at all, that section doesnít completely stand alone. If it does, then I know it has to go, because if it doesnít play into the rest of the story somewhere, thereís just no point. So the hardest part for me is making sure that I excise all of the artifacts.
C: If not excise it completely, then at least integrate it.
L: Thatís the same to do with adding things. If suddenly my character is left handed or whatever, I have to make sure that sheís left handed everywhere. I know that that is a tricky thing for me with large casts of characters, and that I have to just sit down and write notes for myself for all the things that make them different from one another so that a conversation between any two characters isnít the same conversation that another two characters would have. Not just in their direction of it, but they way they will put things, andÖ itís a lot of work for me to try to put that in later, so I try to get a pretty clear picture ahead of time of the things that matter about the characters.
C: Itís interesting how different writers approach it differently, because I'm the opposite. I find it much easier to write all the characters with the same dialogue voice and then go back and find those characters and give them their own voice.
L: I was talking to another writer friend, Miriam Oudin, who is a beautiful, fluid writer, and I'm much more goal oriented with my writing, Iím much bossier with my characters, and her writing is so much more of an exploration. Which you wouldnít really know as youíre reading because it certainly feels focused, it knows where itís going by the time sheís edited it down, but she just allows so much more randomness into it as sheís going. But I find that itís so much more work to fix things than it is to try to get them right in the first place for me, and itís a little harder to make sure that everything is right, so I really try to have that in hand. Sometimes that also means that I make a lot of notes and donít use a lot of them.
C: I think every good writer does that, where you do ten times the research that shows up in your work.
L: And one thing I really like to do, if I have a lot of characters, is not over-describe them physically. They might need a characteristic or two, just for readers to latch onto something, but I donít want someone to come to something Iíve written - especially if Iím writing something for a younger audience - and to feel completely shut out. Obviously thatís gonna happen for some people anyway, but I donít want to over-describe everybody to the point that nobody feels like they have any latitude. When Iím really happy is when I have some characters written and thereís enough that I feel like you could hand the descriptions to a casting director, or a comic book artist, or several comic book artists, and they could come up with completely different looking casts of characters who still do the jobs they need to do.
C: Yeah, itís fun. Thereís certain writers who do that well, and then thereís other writers who are very specific and do that well.
L: But I'm concerned about being overly specific and just because of my own ignorance or unconscious bias, boxing somebody out. And I think that weíre seeing a lot of that now, as weíre seeing characters who are being cast as a race that they werenít in the original work - or at least not called out as being in the original work. Weíre seeing that with Hermione, in the Harry Potter books, and with Roland, the main character from Stephen Kingís The Dark Tower.
C: Oh, Iím so excited for that, I cannot wait.
L: Well who is not excited to see Idris Elba in anything, right? But there are some people who are not excited because heís been described as having blue eyes in the books. And I think that the writers are just - at this point - saying, ďYou know what, didnít occur to me at the time, but yeah, sure. These characters are black.Ē I guess, as a writer, thatís what Iíd like to be able to convey is what is important about the character. Which usually is not the colour of their eyes.
C: In closing, would you share your earliest memory of telling or sharing a story that you created?
L: I think that I may have had one of the most fortunate early collaborations anyoneís ever had. Which is that when I was small and not yet really writing, my mother would take typing paper and write books that I could illustrate. Sometimes she would take ideas from me, but I got to be a part of story creation on paper from a very young age, probably three or four. Itís such an incredible gift, I really canít thank my mother enough for that. Iím not going to pretend that that means Iíve been writing every moment since, and that Iím fabulous. When youíre a child and youíre making a book, itís such a powerful thing. Even now, the idea of making a book is daunting for adults. How many people are writing the great American, Canadian, wherever theyíre from, novel and not finishing it? And so the fact that we were able to make books, books on typing paper, books stapled together that never left our family, but they were books. That was really a very powerful thing, Iím really happy that I got to do that. And my mom is still one of my most supportive readers.
C: Thank you very much for joining me today Laura, it was lovely chatting with you.
L: Been lovely chatting with you. Thank you so much for the call, itís really great to be able to talk about writing with you.
You have been listening to The Centropic Oracleís interview with author Laura Blackwell. You can visit her website, www.pronouncedlahra.com or follow her on Twitter: @PronouncedLahra
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