In this episode we go into great depth on Mary’s novel with the expert technical help of NASA astronaut Kjell Lindgren, who was one of Mary’s consulting readers. Like most of our project-in-depth episodes this one runs long. Longer still because we were at JSC in Houston, which was incredibly cool for all of us, so nobody was watching the clock.
Liner Notes: The reference to “Type 2” fun comes from an as-yet-unpublished episode. Type 1 fun is fun in the moment. Type 2 fun is fun to talk about later. Maybe much, much later.
Credits: This episode was recorded by Benjamin Hewett, and mastered by Alex Jackson
If you haven’t read Mary’s latest novel, Of Noble Family, this episode contains many spoilers, and you’ll get a lot more out of the discussion if you read the book (or listen to the book) before listening.
Of Noble Family is set in Mary’s Glamourist Histories universe, an alternate history setting, on the island of Antigua. Our discussion focuses primarily upon the research that Mary did, and the way she tested and then applied that research to the story. This includes how the research touched on the magic system of the Glamourist Histories, and how linguistic and cultural differences might affect the use of Glamour.
This is for you folks who started writing the story before you finished building your world. Which is what we wanted you to do all along! Sneaky! We’re talking about letting your story drive your world building efforts, so that you can be more efficient.
We cover some of the tools that we use, as well as when world building fits into, then out of, and then back into our respective processes.
Out of Context Quote: “Sometimes you just need to take the underpants off the puppet.”
Other Worldbuilding Episodes to Reference: Brandon promised a list of links. Here’s a pretty comprehensive one!
We wanted to do something different this year. Something special. As we brainstormed we kept returning to something a listener said years ago: “Writing Excuses is like a master class in writing genre fiction.”
That’s a generous remark, as anyone who’s taken an actual master class can attest, but it inspired us to ask ourselves what Writing Excuses would look sound like if it were formatted like an actual master class.
The answer? It would sound like Season 10 is going to sound. This year we’re going to go to school! Each month will focus on a specific bit of the writing process, and each podcast will drill down on one of those bits. We’ll still have some “wildcard” episodes with guests, but for at least three weeks out of each month we’re going to stay on topic. If you’re new to the podcast, this is where to start! If you’re an old hand, don’t worry — this isn’t a return to the 101-level stuff.
In January we’ll cover the very beginning — coming up with cool ideas, and wrapping them up into something that we can turn into a story. And for this first episode we’ll answer the dreaded “where do you get your ideas” question quite seriously. We’re not going to tell you about the Idea Factory in Schenectady (Harlan Ellison’s stock answer,) nor are we going to eye-roll. Nope. We’re going to tell you how we get our brains to think stuff up, and then we’re going to give you homework in the writing prompt.
We’ve talked about ideas before, of course, so here are some links:
When Writing Excuses was invited to be guests of honor at Westercon 67, we had the opportunity to interview numerous guests of the convention, each of whom were luminaries in their respective fields.
We met Brad Voytek, who is a doctor of neuroscience and a professor of computational neuroscience at UC San Diego, for the first time right there at the show, and immediately knew that we wanted our listeners to have the chance to hear from him. One of his passions is treating science fiction as a gateway to (and in some cases an actual example of) science education.
He starts by talking about Do Zombies Dream of Undead Sheep, which teaches the reader about the brain by telling the story of what would happen if a zombie walked in to the emergency room. Mary talks about Launch Pad, the NASA workshop for writers. And then Brandon tells us about blending vegetables into junk food…
We grill Brad mercilessly, and have great fun with the whole show as we talk about some of our favorite science fiction, and a few of our favorite starting points for learning actual science.
What’s pre-writing? Well, it’s a little bit like “pre-cooking,” in which something is cooked prior to being put in the final recipe, but in food terms it might also be like “cleaning the kitchen” or “grocery shopping.” Outlining is one kind of pre-writing, but so is the creation of that 5,000-word prologue you decide not to keep, but which informed the whole rest of your story.
We talk about the different things that each of us do prior to actually laying down lines of prose, and how our processes differ between projects, genres, and mediums.
Special Announcement: The first ever Writing Excuses anthology, SHADOWS BENEATH, is available now. This anthology features stories brainstormed and critiqued here on the podcast, and includes draft versions, related episode transcripts, and authorial commentaries as well. Let Brandon tell you more about it!
Our critiquing episodes will begin airing next week, so if you want to read ahead, now’s the time to pick up SHADOWS BENEATH. Oh, and if you order the hardcover, you get the ebook free of charge!
SHADOWS BENEATH launches this weekend at Westercon 67, where Brandon, Mary, Dan, and Howard are Guests of Honor alongside Cory Doctorow, Christopher Garcia, William Stout, and Bradley Voytek.
Loving That Cover Art? Us too! It’s the work of Julie Dillon, who is on the 2014 Hugo ballot for Best Artist. You can admire (and comment upon!) the unobstructed original here in her DeviantArt gallery.
Dave Farland’s Writing Workshops sponsored us for this episode! Both Brandon and Dan have studied under Dave, and we’re all happy to wholeheartedly recommend his workshops to you. If you can’t fly to his place, well, visit MyStoryDoctor.com and take the online course. The coupon code for your Writing Excuses discount is EXCUSES, but don’t think that means you actually HAVE any of those…
Nancy Fulda is back this week to talk with us about the truth, and what do to when it’s stranger than fiction. Sometimes real people’s names are just too cool, and if you were to put them in a book nobody would believe it. Sometimes actual, historical events are so ridiculous there’s no way you can get away with putting them in a story that you expect people to take seriously. And sometimes real science is just not going to be believed by your readers.
So how do you get away with using these things, with writing your stories in true places? Sometimes all it takes is the hanging of the right lantern, but in many cases you must go to great lengths to re-educate the reader without breaking the fourth wall or otherwise knocking them out of the story.
What are those things you already know, but which you might not be using in your writing? How do you identify those things and put them to work for you? Mette Ivie Harrison joins us for a discussion of how you might “hijack” (okay, “repurpose”) the knowledge you already have in order to make you a better writer. We hear a lot about the 10,000 hours of practice required to gain expertise in a given domain. It’s possible that you’ve already spent some of those 10,000 hours in activities that you didn’t realize were related.
Mette leads with her love of history. Mary directs us a bit with a metaphor from Jim Henson. Brandon talks about what is, by any other name, fanfic, and Howard talks about his degree in music composition. We also talk about how we leverage the knowledge we’re acquiring in other activities to flesh out the things we’re writing — in effect, letting that stuff serve as research without it being part of the actual research we do.