This week, Absolute Write‘s Phaeal (also known as Anne Pillsworth) takes the AW: Exposed spotlight. She’s an urban fantasy writer, Share-Your-Work (SYW) forums critiquer, and self-proclaimed Trekkie. Here she is, exposed!
Screen Name: Phaeal (Yes, I’m a geek. This is the name of my character in an online Star Trek roleplaying game. She’s a proud Romulan and a proud Star Fleet officer, and if you don’t like it, prepare for a long philosophical discussion of how those contradictory states can be reconciled. Or else a butt-whupping. Depends on her mood.)
Post Count: 2849. Wow, really?
Favorite Forum: I’m rather fond of the squirrels in Query Letter Demolition, er, Share Your Work.
What’s the best lesson AW has taught you? Persevere, persevere, persevere. Also, there’s no such thing as the last draft, only the latest one. The latest one may be good enough. Open the window to see if it can fly yet.
In real life, you are: A long-time resident of the Providence, Rhode Island area. New England informs much of my fiction, from its gritty post-industrial towns to those mystic rose-gray sunsets between the church spires and over the bay. I live in an old house with a witch’s garden full of urbane cats, raccoons, skunks and the occasional coyote.
Book title: SUMMONED
Genre: Urban fantasy
Summarize your current WIP, RIVER RISING, in 50 words or less.
Feriel should have been lord of Gyrden Fief. Treachery kills his father, drives his family to suicide, and leaves him first a fugitive, then a slave. His best friend may turn out to be the right hand man of his worst enemy, if Feriel can learn to trust him.
We all have a time we look back on as the moment we knew we were writers. Or knew we wanted to write. Or knew we just had something to say. What was yours?
I think it was in fifth grade, when I wrote a very short story about Robert E. Lee at Appomattox. I had always been in love with fiction, rereading my favorite novels to shreds. This was the first fic I worked hard on, and something about it convinced me I could do this stuff.
I always need a notepad on a long walk — that’s when I get most of my ideas for my WIP. Where do you go (or what to you do) to seek inspiration and ideas?
Walking is good — if I stroll along vaguely mulling over a plot issue, the repetitive motion often jars answers loose.
My patented idea-generation system is the plot bunny hutch. Ideas as short as one sentence or as long as several paragraphs go into my bunny notebook. Whenever I get further notions about a particular idea, I go to the notebook and append these to the original bunny. Being bunnies, the hutched ideas interbreed and produce hybrid ideas. The hybrids usually do display hybrid vigor — again and again, it takes the mating of two or more isolated bunnies to produce a finished short story. Novels may take the mating of a dozen bunnies.
I listen to National Public Radio all day and capture many plot bunnies from it. The mix of commentary on politics, sociology, art, music, literature, science, and the quirky human condition seems just right for my idea receptors. Who couldn’t love the recent complaint to the Car Guys about Madagascar hissing roaches infesting a BMW?
Barnes and Noble’s writing section is full of how-to writing books. Help us out: What book (on writing) has most influenced your prose, your plots, or the way you write?
Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird is far and away my favorite inspirational book. I laugh, I cry, I get excited, I laugh some more.
I’ve read tons of writing instruction books and gotten good tips out of most of them. One of my favorites is Christopher Derrick’s The Writing of Novels (Reader’s Report in England.) I suspect this gem is out of print, but it’s worth looking for. Another favorite (and in print) is by Thomas McCormack: The Fiction Editor, the Novel and the Novelist. I’m always pushing this book. It’s dense, idiosyncratic, incisive, illuminating and brilliant.
For beginners, nothing better than Self-Editing for Fiction Writers by Renni Browne and Dave King. You can learn most of the basics and terminology from this book. Plus it has cartoons by George Booth. Nuff said.
Your AW signature pictures a couple smiley faces waving white flags — you’ve labelled them agents. So… how’s the query process going? Any advice for others fighting the same battle?
The battle rages on! I’ve gotten some excellent advice from agents who’ve looked at the MS and am currently revising it yet again — remember that AW-gleaned advice from above? No last draft, only a latest draft. I’m excited by the results and will soon be hitting the campaign trail again. Where’d I put those nunchucks?
As for advice to my fellow submission ninjas: Get ye to Query Letter Hell and check your ego at the door. The smell of ego will inflame the squirrels to a yet bloodier frenzy. Be open to all responses. Be ready to go back to the revision board if necessary. Never give up until you’ve done all you can for your current MS. And be writing your next while you sub! It’s the best balm for the inevitable rejections.
You call yourself a “former perfectionist still struggling to stay clean”. Looking back on those days, what were the pros and cons of being a perfectionist? How has becoming a non-perfectionist improved your writing?
Perfectionism is a trap. It posits that there is a single ideal, and that this ideal is obtainable. Wrong and wrong. We can’t make our work perfect. However, we can make it the best work of which we are capable at any given moment. Hey, look, a theme! We’re back once more to: No last draft, only the latest draft.
Perfectionism can also be a mechanism for avoiding failure or even effort. “Oh, I can’t do this book yet because I’m not up to making it perfect. I’ll put it off. Oh, this story isn’t perfect yet, so I won’t send it out to the magazines. Oh, I’m perfect, as long as no one tells me I’m not.” All very dangerous attitudes.
I used to think my first draft had to be my last, so I rarely finished a story or novel. I’ve learned that first drafts (and seconds and even thirds) can be crap, and that’s cool, because crap is the best fertilizer. I now tend to bang out outlines that get more and more detailed, that include more and more fleshed out scenes and more and more stretches of dialogue until they become super-rough first drafts. This allows my “official” first draft to look relatively smooth, and that’s a big encouragement to me.
I’ve also learned how to free write whenever I hit a snag or feel blocked. I free write in all caps, with little punctuation — this seems to tell my brain that it’s okay if I’m not making sense or looking pretty, because IM JUST HAVING FUN AND MESSING AROUND OKAY COOL NOW ABOUT WHAT JESSICA SHOULD DO ABOUT THE MADAGASCAR HISSING COCKROACHES IN HER MOMS BMW…
Last off: Your wildest publishing dream is going to come true! What is it?
With the revenue from my novels, I’ve bought a big house in Cape Cod, which I’ve converted into a writing retreat. I’ll write here. So will my writing friends. So will yet-unpublished writers who’ve applied for a free stay at the house. The only criterion for admission: I like their writing. I want them to write lots more, so I can read it.
I’d also love to go to WorldCon and see tons of people dressed up like my characters, including the ones with tentacles. Okay, especially the ones with tentacles.
But ultimately, I’d love to have readers cry over my books, as I’ve cried over the best books, not because the story is sad but because it’s so RIGHT. Yeah. Back to the latest draft!