I recently released Beastheads, a prequel novel in my Gryphon Clerks series of lightly steampunked secondary-world fantasy (with an SF feel).
I’m taking a break from that series now to write a contemporary urban fantasy (more Jim Butcher than Charles de Lint) set in present-day Auckland. It’s called Blokes in Black, and features some underpowered magical practitioners who find themselves targeted by mysterious goons. I’ve lived in Auckland all my life, and know a bit about it, having worked for a travel guide and for the Council, so it seems like a good fit. It’s great fun setting action scenes in places that I walk past every day.
I set a short story challenge for myself last year – write one short story a month – and nearly doubled my target, so I’m submitting madly, writing more stories, and have sold a couple to semi-pro markets. I’ve also brought out a small collection, Good Neighbours and Other Stories, published by HDWP Books. In contrast to my novels, which feature rational magic systems (or no magic at all), my short stories are increasingly heading in the direction of “fantastica” – think Roger Zelazny or Neil Gaiman, where things behave as they do not for rigorously worked-out logical reasons, but because that’s how a thing like that ought to behave.
I read a wide range of spec-fic, from the more “literary” (Ursula Le Guin, Octavia Butler, Emma Bull, Connie Willis) to out-and-out pulp that sets out only to entertain. I haven’t yet settled where I live on that spectrum. Perhaps all over it, perhaps somewhere in the middle. I’d love to emulate Lois McMaster Bujold, who writes space operas and secondary-world fantasies that are both entertaining and also significant, but so far I’m too soft-hearted with my characters.
I write on the weekends, but I also work a nine-day fortnight by arrangement with my employer, and that gives me extra time to write (and do all the things that aren’t writing, but have to be done if you want to make the writing work).
Outlining is starting to be one of those things. I was a complete pantser for a long time, but I find an outline, even a very rough one, helps me work more quickly and throw less away, and also gives my scenes more direction and vigour.
The thing I’m working on learning at the moment is that a good story comes from a character having something that they want and will strive for, but that they can’t get immediately. The more I learn, though, the more I discover that that isn’t the only way to get a good story – just a very reliable one, and perhaps the easiest.
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