Q: What is your favorite fairy tale and why?
A: Beauty and the Beast. A wonderful romance, but also because the Beast’s library is to die for.
Q: Is there a specific environment you find most conducive to drawing, and is it different for different kinds of scenes?
A: All my drawing is done indoors at the convenience and privacy of my home. I’ll either be creating on the sofa, in bed or at my desk. It mostly has to do with being in a calm and happy state of mind.
Danos Philopoulos‘s image “Escape” is the cover art for our June 2019 issue.
Q: What is the hardest part of writing for you?
A: Is The Entirety of the Revision Process an acceptable response?
I was famous in my workshops for being a “Blank Page Reviser,” meaning I stripped my stories down to nothing when even the fewest amount of revisions were suggested. Even this story, “The Memory Dresser,” has been rewritten from a blank page at least five times. I thought this strategy demonstrated my dedication, my perfectionism, and a mind brimming with new ideas. While all of those might be true, I feel it also speaks to a deeper truth: revision requires an objective form of self-analysis which is difficult to practice. It means knowing the difference between writing a bad scene and having low self-esteem, or a good scene and an inflated ego.
I think a lot about the Dunning-Kruger Effect, or: “the more you know, the more you know you don’t know.” For me, this is the crux of the paradox of revising. The more I write, the more keenly aware of my writing deficiencies I become, the less confident my writing becomes, the worse it gets. Essentially, my self-confidence was much higher when I was much worse. This, I don’t think, is fair.
And so I tinker, I dabble, I erase, I re-write and the more I do it, the worse I feel. Yet, here I am. Bulldozing and sawing and reimagining a perfectly acceptable painting of a shed until it looks like a boat, which is not better or worse—just different. Have you seen my boat? I ask. What happened to the shed? they ask. One moment, I say as I begin painting for them a fresh pterodactyl.
But, occasionally, in a moment of unexpected glory, I realize that the pterodactyl, not the shed or the boat, was what I had been trying for so long to create.
Q: What book or books inspired you as a child?
A: At some point in my childhood reading, I came across the science fiction of Isaac Asimov. I loved those novels about time travellers and robot detectives and far-future galactic empires. Then in the local library one day, I came across an anthology of science fiction stories, each of which had a little personal introduction by Asimov and suddenly it was as if he was not only telling me wonderful stories but speaking directly to me. I’d never met any writers at that point. There were no websites or internet. But here was Isaac Asimov reaching out to his readers and chatting with them about anything and everything as though we were firm friends. More than anything, that proximity to someone that I admired so much convinced me that one day I wanted to be a science fiction writer too.
Later I discovered Asimov’s books of science essays gathered from his monthly column in “Fantasy and Science Fiction” magazine. They, too, began with some personal note or chatty introduction. His writing style made every difficult concept seem accessible. Suddenly I was convinced I wanted to study science and be a science fiction writer,
something I still aspire to today.
Q: Do you use critique groups or other resources to polish your writing?
A: I’ve experienced a lot of different critique arrangements over time. When I was an undergrad, I started getting a group of people whose work I admired together outside of class to read, write and encourage each other with feedback for each others’ work. I have an MFA in Fiction from George Mason University, so I’ve also experienced a few dynamics when it comes to critiquing and being critiqued by mentors, professors, classmates and peers. I’m thankful for all of those experiences, because they really taught me how to take constructive criticism, disconnect the personal from the work, and offer clear, concise feedback in return. I’m not entirely comfortable with having twenty or thirty people involved in the early stages of a draft, though. It can be too much to synthesize when you have that many opinions to go through.
Now, I have a group of 3-4 people I tend to run work by for feedback once I get a first draft finished. These are people I’ve met at some point during my writing journey, either when I was getting my degree or from interactions in writing communities and retreats, and who write a diverse set of things. I’ve actually found it’s really helpful to have someone who doesn’t normally read or write speculative fiction take a look at a draft — they’ll see things that reviewers who are familiar with SF/F won’t, and often what they respond to is surprising. So I tend to send things to a few people I trust, and then see where the areas of overlap are when I move to editing.
I also love reading and responding to work, too. Reciprocating feedback is exciting. It helps me feel intimately connected to my personal writing community and recharges me on days when I’m having a hard time interacting with my own stories.