Hoppery is perhaps a word that would not be legal in Scrabble (although the NY Times crossword puzzle might permit it). Through the kind offices of the talented and astonishingly busy Jennifer Stevenson, writer, roller-derbyist, fellow Book View Café member (and a powerhouse, I might add), I’m part of this blog hop. (I love living in the Future: I can be on tour and still be sitting cross-legged on my couch in my bathrobe.) If you’re here, you’re quite likely from Jen’s blog, or from Katherine Eliska Kimbriel’s before that, or Laura Anne Gilman’s before that… The point of this exercise is that each of us, and the writers we tag, will answer four questions, each in her/his own way. If what I’ve seen so far is any indication, I’m in good, and really interesting, company.
1) What am I working on?
I’m polishing a fantasy short story involving magic, gender identity, and a hermaphroditic river deity (I got into a bind about half way through the story, and the only way to fix things was to introduce a river deity. It works that way sometimes). I am about seven chapters in on a fourth Sarah Tolerance novel. If you don’t know the series, they’re noir mysteries set in an alternate version of the English Regency, with a swashbuckling Fallen Woman as the protagonist. The current book involves a scam victimizing elderly women; Travelers; syphilis; and swordplay. I’m also working on a book that hijacked me: an urban fantasy set in San Francisco (which is where I live) involving a woman who suddenly finds that she is very much a part of a system of magical politics she had never imagined existed. As with everything else I write, I find myself unable to quite conform to the conventions of urban fantasy as she is practiced today, but it’s magic, it’s in a city, it’s contemporary, and I cannot imagine what else to call it, so urban fantasy it is.
2) How does my work differ from others of its genre?
The glib answer: It’s got me! Which is close to being the serious answer: it’s got the things that I like and like to think about and am fascinated by. My writing involves a lot of the things that concern me personally: family and what that means, love and what that means, home, and what that means, the roles of women and how they navigate the world (especially in historical settings), cities, history, competence, and swordplay. I trained as an actor-combatant about twenty years ago, and that informs my fight scenes, particularly the ones that involve swords. I’m a ferocious researcher but I believe that only about a tenth of what I learn should show up on the surface of what I’m writing (I’m writing fiction, not travelogues). I tend to bring a noir-ish sensibility to what I write, in that I like my good guys with a little moral failing, and my bad guys with a little virtue, and I enjoy finding odd ways to show that off. And in the end: I like a happy ending, but it’s often happy with strings attached, kind of like real life.
3) Why do I write what I do?
Writing is a chance to work things out in my head: I tell myself stories, in part, to try to figure out why people behave the way they do. It’s my own behavioral laboratory (and I try to play fair and not rig the outcomes, although the needs of the plot do sometimes impinge). I write to tell myself stories, because I love stories. I love history, I love poking holes in the received wisdom of history (I almost got into a fistfight with a Beefeater at the Tower of London when I suggested–mildly!–that perhaps Richard III had not had his nephews assassinated) and finding lost factoids. Things like the women’s economy (the non-money based barter of goods and services that ran under the surface of the regular buy-and-sell economy, particularly in Colonial America), the history of medicine, and the infrastructure of cities, fascinate me, and writing gives me a good excuse to go looking for more information. And I’m fascinated by the way social rules and cues change from time to time and place to place. To be particularly specific: I write in the Regency because I really love the period and the place; I write mean-streets Regency noir because I’m contrary enough to want to turn polite costume-drama conventions on their heads. And my Regency-noir books are very much about the lives of women of all strata of society.
4) How does your writing process work?
I am a writing-by-discovery sort of writer, which is to say, I start out writing, figure out approximately where I want to end up, and start filling things in and mapping things out as I go along. There’s a point about six-seven chapters in where I usually run aground, which means I have to start actually planning what I’m doing. I research as I go along, sometimes losing a day to tracking down one idiot fact. I generally liken it to the difference between a topographical map, which shows you what the countryside is like, and a road map. I know where I am starting out and where I expect the arc of the story to take me. The plot–the roads I take to get there–come more slowly.
Next on the hop:
The wonderful Karen Williams, whose short fiction most recently appears in Tales From the House Band vol. 1 and 2, and with her husband, fantasy writer Chaz Brenchley, in Gears and Levers 2. http://klwilliams.livejournal.com.