A question for J.A. Prentice

Q: When do you decide a story is finished?

A: It depends on the story. Some stories burst into existence and write themselves in a matter of days or even hours, leaving only a little polishing to be done. Others slowly accumulate writing and edits over months—maybe even years—until I’m finally content with them. Sometimes I’ll think a piece is finished, only to find myself reopening it later and starting a new round of drafting and edits.

Usually, I decide it’s finished when it reads like a story, and not like a draft. It’s a feeling more than anything else, but when you’re a writer, you have to learn to trust those feelings.

J.A. Prentice’s story “Shades of the Sea
in Metaphorosis Friday, 28 January 2022.
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A question for J.S. DiStefano

Q: Whence you do you draw inspiration for your characters?

A: From people I meet and characters I watch or read about – and I think about what I might do or say in a given situation. I try to do the whole “show don’t tell” thing as far as character development goes, but I think I have a long way to go.

J.S. DiStefano’s story “Silo
in Metaphorosis Friday, 21 January 2022.
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Another question for David Cleden

Q: What happens when you hit writer’s block head on?

A: I think as you gain more experience as a writer, you learn a few techniques that can help you work through the more common reasons behind a block. Usually, it’s not so much a question of working through, as backing up and heading off in a different direction. My blocks are often caused by something just not working the way I think it ought to. If I can step back far enough in the story, I can usually find the place where I’m still happy with things up to that point. Then it’s a question of changing some of the story parameters: making a character more compelling, adding more conflict, looking at pacing — basically all the stuff that you can find in any decent writing book. (Usually these are things that I already know but have forgotten in the telling of the story). The hard part, of course, is chopping out all the bad stuff and reworking it, but you know you’re doing the right thing when you get the fire back in your belly and the story comes to life again.

Which is great — except when it doesn’t work. If I can’t figure out where I’ve gone wrong, or the idea has just died on me, I find it best to set the work aside. Sometimes forever — because there are lots more great story ideas out there! — but often only until some unspecified time in the future. On that day, casting my eye back over the words with a fresh perspective, the answer is suddenly obvious, and off I go. Or I’ll see a way to pair this half-formed idea with another one and create something new. Or not. Remember: there’s no statute of limitations on blocked, half-completed stories.

That’s okay when writing short stories, but for novel-writing the time investment is obviously much greater. It can feel hugely frustrating to have several blocked novel attempts on the go. A lot of advice I see is to just grit your teeth and work through it, and I think that can work. (I remember listening to a panel of SF authors at GollanczFest one year. One swore blind that in every novel he’d written, the story just died for him on page 147. Always that page. But he pushed on regardless, and eventually the joy of it came back. “No, no,” said another panel member. “It happens on page 190 for me!” The point was, all these big-name authors went through a kind of dip or crisis of confidence, in writing their novels. Is a dip the same as writer’s block? Maybe not, but sometimes the answer is to keep going regardless.)

Yet if I’m blocked because my heart is not in the story, I’ll stop. Pushing on can compound the problems and I’m better off working on something new that inspires me. I like the analogy of a chef working in a hot, steamy kitchen. Sometimes to create a fine meal you need several pans on the go. You spend a bit of time on this one, leaving it to simmer while you attend that one, then back to the first, and so on. Eventually, with enough pans on the go, you can see what looks and tastes good, and you can begin to blend things to create something special — always excepting that there will inevitably be some leftovers and wastage.

David Cleden’s story “In the House of Geometers
in Metaphorosis Friday, 14 January 2022.
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A question for Karris Rae

Q: Do you generally start with mood, title, character, concept, …?

A: I have a document on the cloud I call my “story bucket.” It’s just a long list of cool stuff that occurred to me, sometimes developed and carefully documented, sometime unintelligible (the incomprehensible ones tend to be the most fun!). When I get a hankering to write something new, I plan the parameters like an engineer — how long? What mood/genre? When’s my deadline? Who’s my audience? — then pick a compatible idea out of the bucket and draft a writing schedule. Away we go.

It may not be the romantic image of the Muse whispering in my ear, but my degree was in Economics. Different strokes, folks.

Karris Rae’s story “My Synthetic Soul
in Metaphorosis Friday, 7 January 2022.
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A question for Ailsa Bristow

Q: What is the first/most recent book that you lost sleep reading/thinking about?

A: I read Erin Morgenstern’s The Starless Sea earlier this year and it’s stayed with me. I loved how Morgenstern created this rich, vivid fantasy world that also tells us so much about our own world and what it means to be human. And I definitely did some writerly swooning over some of the sentences in that book! I highly recommend it, if you haven’t already read it.

Ailsa Bristow’s story “Tides
in Metaphorosis Friday, 31 December 2021.
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Another question for Douglas DiCicco

Q: Do you have any pets? Do they influence your writing?

A: I have no pets at the moment, but I’ve had many over the years: a dog, three cats, two parakeets. Like any part of the family, pets shape your whole view of the world. That can’t help but influence your writing.

Douglas DiCicco’s story “Gatekeepers
in Metaphorosis Friday, 24 December 2021.
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