Blogs by L.T. Suzuki
3/22/2011 6:52:12 AM
Speculative Fiction author Christie Yant discusses her latest publication and the writing life!
LTS: For today’s guest blog, I’d like to introduce you to speculative fiction writer, Christie Yant. Not only is Christie a published author, she is also an assistant editor, amongst other things. I’d like to begin by having you share a little information about yourself with our readers, Christie.
I know you were raised in Santa Barbara, California, what else would you like to share?
CY: Yes, I had the sheer luck to be raised in one of the most beautiful cities in the world. It's a great town with a real dedication to the arts. I was adopted into my Santa Barbara family when I was two months old. When I was twenty I sought out and found my birth family in Colorado. Overnight I went from being an only child to having three sisters and a brother! I love them all and am incredibly proud to claim both families as my own. My adopted family is full of accountants, architects, and artists; my birth family is full of musicians, writers, and social workers. Nature vs. nurture will likely be an emerging theme in my writing!
Hm, what else…well, I went to boarding school for a year--about as far from Harry Potter as it is possible to get—no uniforms, lots of hiking and horses. For physical education that year I took "vaulting," which is gymnastics on horseback, like one would see in the circus. (I still can't believe I did that.)
In addition to writing, I work for Lightspeed Magazine, co-blog, and sometimes narrate. I have two amazing daughters, and as of last Thursday, an equally amazing fiancé.
LTS: Writing has always been a part of your life in one form or another, but was becoming a published author a life long dream?
CY: As with so many writers, it was a life-long dream that I had abandoned in favor of pursuing other things for many years. I was in seventh grade when I decided that I wanted to be a writer, and I kept at it through high school, but my 20's were dedicated to work, raising my first child, and learning how to be a grownup myself, which sadly took me a while to learn. With the exception of a couple of short-lived and half-hearted stabs at writing a novel, I really let the dream go until my second daughter was born, when I was thirty.
The timing was both perfect and terrible at the same time—we had a newborn and had both just been laid off from work, so we were sleeping in shifts to take care of the baby. I took the night shift, being naturally inclined that way, and in those dark and idle hours I started writing again. I also sought out and found some great resources to help me along the way, like the Forward Motion writing community, Holly Lisle's wonderful posts on being a professional writer, and the articles that SFWA made available. Because I found those resources very early, I went in with my eyes wide open, knowing that I could expect years of rejection before I'd be good enough to publish. Good thing I knew that, because it ended up being eight years!
LTS: I was so thrilled to learn your story ‘The Magician and the Maid and Other Stories’ will be included in ‘Year’s Best Science Fiction & Fantasy 2011’ anthology. What was the inspiration behind this story and can you tell us a little bit about your protagonists, Audra and Miles?
CY: Thank you! I love Audra and Miles, and really admire the artists who inspired them. I've never named them publicly before, but…well, Audra is based loosely on a musician named Emilie Autumn, and Miles is perhaps less loosely based on the writer Warren Ellis. (I'm nervous about naming them, Autumn in particular because Audra does things in that story that I'm certain Autumn never would). I don't have any reason to believe that they know of each other. Anyway, I had recently been to an Emilie Autumn concert, and had been reading Ellis's blog, so they were both on my mind. I thought "They're like something out of a fairy tale," followed by "What if they really were?" I wrote the first paragraph about their disguised identities, and the rest of the story grew out of that.
Audra and Miles appear at first glance to have a complicated, unhealthy, almost antagonistic relationship, but I hope that discovering who they really are and what they mean to each other will be satisfying to the reader.
LTS: Without giving away too much, can you reveal what’s in store for the reader when they crack open this anthology to read ‘The Magician and the Maid and Other Stories’?
CY: In a very narrow sense, "The Magician and the Maid and Other Stories" is about a woman who finds herself ripped from her own fairy tale, and her quest to find the person responsible and make him send her home. In a broader sense it’s about making the wrong decisions for the right reasons, and seeing what’s in front of you and mistaking it for something else. In the broadest sense it’s about the magic of stories, and how at least while we’re reading them, they are real.
Which I think ties directly into the anthology The Way of the Wizard, where it was first published. It assembles stories of wizards and magic from many different perspectives and styles. As with all of John Joseph Adams's anthologies, it aims to cover the subject broadly and inclusively. I think anyone who enjoys fantasy will find plenty to love there.
As for Rich Horton's Year's Best Science Fiction & Fantasy 2011, I'm just astonished and humbled by the company I'm keeping in that table of contents. There are some great stories in there, including some of my own favorites from Lightspeed! It's coming out in July. I can't wait to see it!
LTS: The road to publication is difficult at the best of times. Was it difficult for you to land an agent? Do you have any advice you’d like to share with the author struggling to find representation?
CY: Fortunately, working in short fiction doesn't require representation. It's one of the reasons I would really recommend starting with short stories to anyone starting out in pursuit of their dream. Once we transition to novel-length fiction, though, having a good agent is essential. I've just started a novel myself, so I'll be looking for advice on this subject before too long!
LTS: That is wonderful, practical advice, Christie! Now, can you share that moment when you found out your story was accepted for this ‘Best of” anthology?
I was out to dinner in Santa Barbara with my daughters and my then-boyfriend (now fiancé.) I checked my email at the table (ah, life in the21st century.) The email was from the publisher, Sean Wallace of Prime Books, and when I saw the subject line I thought it was a promotion for the book, and I thought, "Huh, how'd I get on Prime's mailing list?" Then I read the content of the message and dropped my phone. I was speechless. I couldn't even tell my family what it said, I made them read it themselves.
I'm sure I'd have reacted similarly if "The Magician and the Maid and Other Stories" had been my twelfth* sale, or my hundredth, but it was my very first. To have it selected by Rich Horton as one of the year's best was beyond anything I could have even dreamed.
*I am still a long way from reaching this number.
I’m curious about your writing style. Are you one of those disciplined writers who must dedicate a certain time each day to producing so many words, or are you more relaxed and tend to write when it strikes your fancy?
CY: I'm one of those writers who constantly berates herself for not being a disciplined writer. In years past I wrote 1000 words a day, every single day; I've added a number of other commitments to my life over the past few years, and often those just have to take priority. For instance, if there's editing work to be done for the magazine that has to come first because other people are counting on me.
That's one of the hardest parts of being a new or emerging writer, I think—it's so easy to put ourselves and our work last, because nobody else is counting on us to produce. (You pros with contracts and deadlines have a different set of problems!) Lately I've gone back to the idea that any progress at all is good, and I'm trying to write a minimum of 250 words most days, though they could be on any one of several projects I'm currently working on.
LTS: Still on the subject of writing styles, are you a plotter or ? The readers would like to know if you tend to plot out your story line in great detail or if your writing is more organic with the characters and events unfolding as you write.
CY: I think I'm something in between. I tend to start stories off-the-cuff, but once I have a couple of pages I need to think about where it's going. One thing that has worked for me is to write what I think of as a "treatment" instead of an outline—an informal description of what I think is going to happen. Maybe I shouldn't refer to it that way to a screen-writer, since you have to write real treatments! It's very free-form, and lets me walk through the whole story without the pressure of having too much information or too little, in the case of outlines, and beautiful prose, in the case of a draft. This has worked for me for both short stories and for the novel I'm currently working on.
LTS: Some authors meditate, others need to fuel up on coffee or listen to music. Do you have any rituals, ones that can be shared with the readers, that you must do before you hunker down for a writing session?
CY: Meditation is something I should be doing! I definitely need a few minutes to distance myself from the rest of my day before I can get to work. I usually don't write to music, because lyrics distract me. On the rare occasions that I do, it's because I've found an instrumental song that evokes the kind of feeling I want to evoke in the story.
Novelist Patrick McGrath is famously quoted as advising that "To write you must be warm, fed, loved and sober." That's absolutely true for me.
LTS: At one time or another, most writers hit the wall and their work stalls because of the dreaded writer’s block. What do you do to get around or over this mental wall to resume writing?
CY: Oh, the wall! I know it well. Writer's block for me is all about fear of failure; fear of not being able to find the right words. When it happens (and it happens more often than I'd like) there are a couple of different things that I try.
First, I get out of the draft. There is something about having that Word document open, with its proper format and numbered pages, that makes me feel at times that I can't make a mistake. It's as big a mental block as ink on paper can be, even though I can easily backspace or delete anything I want! It just feels official, and sometimes that's too terrifying. So I drop into something like Notepad—it doesn't get any less official than a plain text editor! I'll write the next paragraph there, and once I feel like I'm through the wall, I'll paste it back into the main manuscript and get back on track.
Other times I'll just sit there and pout and sulk and write three words in ten minutes and be furious at myself and my manuscript and browse the internet and talk to Lorna on Twitter and then write three more words. A couple of hours of that and I'll have a full paragraph, and while it was painful, at least I made some progress.
LTS: Who is your favourite author and how has he/she inspired you to write or influenced your writing style or choice of genre?
CY: Neil Gaiman, hands down. For a while my aspiration was to be a comics writer, because I loved the work he did for DC with Black Orchid, Sandman, and Books of Magic, but his short fiction leaves me absolutely breathless. I think I see the world through a similar lens, and continue to try to learn from his skillful storytelling. He writes mostly fantasy, and explores the pantheons and beliefs of the world as if they were reality (which to those who believe, they are!) It's exactly the kind of fantastical perspective that appeals to me most.
He is also simultaneously one of the most successful, good-humored, and humble authors out there, and I hope to emulate him in grace and dignity if not in skill and success.
LTS: What is the most profound discovery you’ve made in terms of your writing and how it has touched the lives of others?
CY: Honestly I haven't had much in the way of feedback regarding my fiction. Where I seem to be able to help and make an impact is through blogging, both in the past at my personal blog, and more recently at the Inkpunks blog, where I co-blog with a number of other newly-pro writers and editors. Inkpunks was the brainchild of our friend Sandra Wickham, and is targeted at the new, nearly-new, and newly pro writer. We aim to make the journey less scary and lonely. So far I think it's working.
I do a few other things that I think make an impact, like working on Lightspeed, and sometimes narrating for StarShipSofa, the Hugo Award-winning audio fanzine. Participating in and giving back to the community has been very important to me.
I have a personal Mission Statement sitting framed on my desk. It says:
"To become a respected and well-regarded of the SFF community through my service and my art. In that order.
To use what good-will I may receive to increase others' happiness and satisfaction, and benefit the community and other writers."
So far that's how my career has gone—service first, art second. I think prioritizing it that way helps to keep my head on straight.
LTS: What is the most important lesson you’ve learned on the road to publication?
CY: I am not an island. I can't do this alone, and I don't have to. I am so grateful for the other writers who have struggled along with me, shared their own successes and defeats, cheered me on and helped me hone my craft to this point.
LTS: What are you reading now, and how did this particular book make it onto your to-read list?
CY: I just finished reading Mr. Shivers by Robert Jackson Bennett. I think it's shelved under Horror, which is a genre I've been away from for a while. This was the perfect book to get me back into it— it's a wonderfully creepy book set during the Great Depression, about a young father riding the rails in a quest to find the man who killed his daughter. It had come highly recommended by a number of people. In fact, I was hearing buzz about it months before it was even published! I had the opportunity to meet Robert at a convention a couple of years ago, and he's an active and accessible part of the Twitter community, which helped to keep him and his book fresh in my mind when I finally went browsing at the book store. (There's a lesson there, authors!)
LTS: You're on the staff of the Santa Barbara Writers Conference. Can you tell me why these conferences are important to writers and what makes the SB Writers Conference so unique?
LTS: I'm so glad you asked about this! I was both a student and a staff member (as opposed to faculty) at SBWC for a few years. I'm not actually on the staff anymore; the conference has changed hands and was on hiatus, but it's starting up again this summer.
SBWC was absolutely invaluable to me as a new writer. The faculty is amazing, and each workshop has a unique focus and flavor. Of course I always stayed in Matt Pallamary's "Phantastic Fiction" workshop—we speculative fiction writers read and write by a different set of rules than the rest of the writing world, in that our tropes are different, and our level of suspension of disbelief and sense of wonder are ratcheted way up. It was useful to have a group of people who understood those things.
The conference focuses on read-and-critique workshops. It provides something for everyone, which I think is what makes it unique. It doesn't matter if you're writing romance, YA, horror, non-genre, creative nonfiction, travel writing, short fiction, novels, a memoir—there is a teacher and a group of writers there doing what you're doing. Some workshops are geared toward beginners, and others are more advanced and deal with voice and style. Students are free to float between any and all of the workshops until they find the ones that suit them and their skill level or genre of choice.
It's also a week long, which is a very serious commitment of time and money. The skill level ranges from brand-new to established professional. These are not casual writers, they are people who are damned serious about learning their craft and will make sacrifices to do it. While students do have the opportunity to meet agents, this is not the place to spend days working on your pitch—it's where you go to make your book or story the best it can be.
This year will be SBWC's first year under the new ownership of Monte Schultz (long-time faculty member, and son of Charles Schultz); Ray Bradbury is scheduled to open the conference, as he has done at every SBWC since 1973. I suspect I'll be a little home-sick this summer, since I won't be able to be there. (My summer workshop time this year will be spent at Taos Toolbox instead.) I wish them luck in their new incarnation, and I hope to be back in 2012 in some capacity.
LTS: What do you foresee in your future over the next five years and do you hope to branch out from speculative fiction and fantasy into other genres?
CY: I think I've put down roots in SFF. I love speculative fiction and the way it allows us to explore people and motivations by putting them in situations that are not actually possible, which I think serves to magnify what makes us human. That's why I read fiction—to better understand myself and the people I share the planet with—and that's what I hope to do for other people with my own writing.
The next five years I hope will see me publish more short stories, and (fingers crossed) a novel or two. I fully expect Lightspeed to still be thriving, and who knows whether the editorial experience I gain from that might lead to other projects. I really enjoy editing, but clearly I have a lot to learn.
I would like to reach the point in my own career in the next few years where I'll be able to teach and help new writers. It's such a long, frustrating, and scary road—I had so much help along the way and I hope to be able to give that back.
LTS: Thank you so much for taking the time to share in your writing experiences and wisdom, Christie! I’m looking forward to meeting you in person at San Diego’s World Fantasy Convention this October!
CY: Thank you! It was such an honor and a pleasure. Thanks for all of the outreach you do in the community. Best wishes always. See you in San Diego!
For more information about Christie Yant and her publications, check out:
Follow Christie on Twitter: .inkhaven
Where to buy the book: Year's Best Science Fiction & Fantasy (forthcoming in July 2011), or The Way of the Wizard (available in bookstores now)
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