Ghosts in the IM: Conversations Between Writers

Christie Yant

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Christie is one of the writers I’m happy to be able to consider a personal mentor. When there’s something I need to noodle out about life and career she’s someone I turn to. You probably know her most recently as the editor of Women Destroy Science Fiction.  If you’re not familiar with her fiction peruse the list at her website. As always I recommend you follow her on Twitter.

Minerva Zimmerman: How are you doing this morning? It’s nice but windy here today.

Christie Yant: I’m a little sleepy! I stupidly stayed up way too late last night, doing nothing at all useful. How are YOU? Do you have enough coffee?

MZ: I think that’s our inner children not wanting to go to bed.

CY: Very much so. I honestly feel like a three-year-old at times, mentally kicking and screaming and refusing to go to sleep no matter how tired I am.

MZ: I have caffeinated sparkling water. I always drink coffee with silly amounts of sugar and cream in it.

CY: My tastes changed all of a sudden last year and I started taking my coffee black after a life time of cream and sugar. It was strange. Have you been able to give the Poquito a try yet?

MZ: I haven’t yet because I broke my phone so I can’t take pictures. I’m hoping my replacement comes today or tomorrow

CY: Oh ha! Do you always document it the first time you use a new pen?

MZ: Not always, but I need to figure out if I lost any pictures of the last 4 I took pictures of and I didn’t want to put ink into it yet cause I have ink in so many right now.

CY: /nods

MZ: I’m terrible at not cleaning out my pens so I’m trying to be better about it.

CY: I’m paring my collection down to a few favorites now. Which means that I get to be the Pen Fairy to a bunch of friends. 😀

MZ: Yeah I need to figure out some kind of blog giveaway or something.

CY: Good idea!

MZ: I have a few that are just not suited to me or how I write.

CY: The Lamy Safari and Al-Star were like that for me. I just can’t write with them.

MZ: the grip?

CY: They’re a favorite for a lot of people, but they’re just not compatible with the way I hold my pens. Yeah. I got a different Lamy, though, with a straight barrel and grip, and I love it. (The Lamy Logo.)

MZ: Oooo. Yeah I think that’s one I’ve been looking at. it’s a lot smaller isn’t it?

CY: That and the CP1 I think is the other one that looks similar. Yeah, very slender. The Logo is pretty heavy still, despite the small size.

MZ: I have one I need to get a review up that is the smallest pen I’ve ever used. Even smaller than the Petite1!

CY: Ooo! Which one? Or is it a secret?

MZ: Ohto Rook

CY: Oh I have one of those! It was my second…no, third fountain pen.

MZ: I’m kind of excited about trying it as my purse pen

CY: It’s good for that! The cap got dented when I was carrying it regularly, but it is a good little pen.

MZ: I… I kind of like it when pens get little dents and scratches. Makes them have mileage

CY: It says more about the way I treat things in my purse than it says about the pen, of course. And yeah, pens should be loved!

MZ: Hey, I’m the one who managed to dump enough coke into the bottom of a purse to send my phone swimming recently

CY: hahaha erm I mean sorry to hear that

MZ: I was like “That’ll learn me to be girly!” or at least to carry a purse that’s waterproof on the inside

CY: Are there such things? I might need one myself.

MZ: well, apparently this cheapo purse was reasonably water tight it was not the reason I bought it 😛 I bought it because it was like a super small messenger bag and less than $30

CY: An excellent purchase

MZ: We were talking a bit about short stories last week. I didn’t get a chance to ask you, did editing (and slushing) Women Destroy Science Fiction change how you look at stories you read?

CY: Yes and no–I’d been slushing at Lightspeed for a few years already, so there wasn’t a real shift in that regard. But once I knew what my vision for the issue was, I knew what kind of stories I was looking for. I had to pass on a lot of great stories. Fortunately John bought several of them for other issues, so I didn’t have to feel too badly about letting them go!

MZ: 🙂 awesome

CY: But it also meant that I had to read everything and I couldn’t rely on slush readers to weed things out for me. I always took their comments into consideration (they worked SO HARD) but I still ended up reading every submission myself. That was a crazy couple of months–I was traveling non-stop for my day job, working crazy long days and trying to get through 1000+ submissions, get a TOC finalized, handle a bunch of administrivia

MZ: Oof I hope you’ve been taking some time afterward

CY: Oh yes. The past couple of months I’ve taken time off and haven’t committed myself to any new writing or editing projects. I’m back to just working on short stories on spec.

I owe a revision to an editor for a story coming out next year…hm, I’d better get that done.

For Lightspeed right now I’m just working on a guide for the next Guest Editor (Seanan McGuire), a new website that’ll act as a clearing house for all of our DESTROY projects, and a Zazzle store that is like a month and a half overdue to launch.

MZ: Oooo Women Destroy T-shirts

CY: I really need to get that up before Women Destroy Fantasy and Women Destroy Horror come out on October 1. Yes! And mugs, and stickers, etc. John has been referring to me as Director of Special Projects, which I guess is kind of what I am now. 🙂

MZ: heh! Baptism by fire

CY: Totally. There were a lot of lessons learned that I can pass on to the next victims–I mean, editors. But short stories! That’s what we were talking about. I love them. If it changed anything about how I read, I’d say it just made me fall more deeply in love with the short form.

MZ: I just had my first slushing experience, which was simultaneously amazing and disheartening.

CY: Oh neat!

MZ: I think the biggest self-realization was that I can tell a story that isn’t ready to be published almost immediately.

CY: I don’t know what your slush pile looked like, but ours tends to be a whole lot of perfectly competent but not particularly engaging, with a few HOLY WOW and a smattering of UGH.

Yes!

MZ: Yeah the smattering of Ugh was SO UGH.

CY: It doesn’t require reading to the end. When I first started slushing I did read everything to the end, but once I gained a little confidence (and had seen enough of the same thing over and over) it started to become clear in the first couple of pages. Because if the first couple of pages don’t make you want to read on, then it’s not ready.

MZ: (I should mention that UGH = didn’t follow submission guidelines, was torture porn, involved child abuse etc for non-story reasons etc.)

CY: Right

MZ: The other thing slushing showed me is that I can see the difference between good stories and great stories… I’m just less certain entirely what that difference is.

Emotional impact is a lot of it, but totally not the only thing.

CY: What I came up with when I was trying to do that analysis for myself was: voice, structure, and something to say The stories that strike me as great as about something important. That doesn’t mean they’re preachy, or political, or heavy-handed, just that they’re about something that matters deeply to people. The emotional resonance, like you said. And voice–did you notice how much of your slush pile sounds exactly the same? Like the same perfectly competent but not-quite-there author wrote 2/3 of what was submitted That was a major revelation for me

MZ: Yeah, it feels more like “lack of voice” to me

CY: Fair enough

MZ: it’s like a news anchor is reading the story

CY: Yeah! And when one stands out, in my experience it invariably had a strong individual narrative voice

MZ: yeah the story or the characters sound like specific people

CY: You understand the narrative POV from the words they choose. Right. It was a big moment for me when I realized that my stories all sounded like that news anchor and that I was in the perfectly competent but uncompelling category.

MZ: I think I fall short in the structure category.

CY: Have you found any resources that were helpful to you in that area?

MZ: more so for long fiction than short

CY: /nods Yeah it seems like most of what’s out there is directed at screen writers

MZ: Like, I can find the rhythm in a longer fiction piece better

CY: Oh I see, I thought you meant the resources themselves, sorry

MZ: Well, and I come from a screen-writing sort of start, between stage, film, and comics

CY: Neat!

MZ: but that 3 act thing doesn’t neatly translate to short fiction all the time

CY: Right. I’ve had fun with short story structures. You can do a lot with it. I have a blog post about it somewhere, hang on…Here it is: http://www.inkpunks.com/2011/09/12/playing-with-structure/

MZ: I’m mostly not sure how to fix it when its broken. I can see when it works, just not what piece isn’t holding its weight when the thing is lopsided rather than collapsed

CY: I have to pick a shape for the story and then impose it on what’s there. And like you said, three act structure doesn’t do the job. For me, at least.

MZ: That’s hard. I mean it’s totally possible and works great. But it kills the story soul for me a lot of the time. It becomes a chore.

CY: It helps me to actually visualize the shape of it–the length of scenes, the repetition of theme

Ah! For me it does the opposite. So much of the writing life is figuring out what works for us as individuals. Everyone is so different in the way we need to approach a story to get the best out of us

MZ: It really is. I’m struggling with the structure thing. It seems what sort of works is to kind of try on a few different structures on the story to figure out what works. But, that means a lot of re-writing

CY: /nods

MZ: and stories take a long time which isn’t great when you’re trying to hit a deadline for a specific call, or trying to submit more stories

I think I need to let those goals go, and just work on learning structure for me.

CY: I’m getting close to doing this with one work in progress. I’ve been writing scenes–some are strong, some are weak, the weak ones will have to go–but I don’t know how it’s all going to fit together yet. I’m now revising the scenes, cleaning them up, and next I’ll look at what kind of pattern emerges from them and what’s missing to complete the pattern.

I’ve submitted one story all year!

And I’ve given up on the self-loathing over it.

Which I’m prone to. But these are going to take what they’re going to take for them to be as good as they can be and I’m not submitting them until they are. I made that mistake last year–rushed a couple of stories out the door just for the sake of submitting something

MZ: Yeah. The worst is if you rush something out the door and it gets published… so you can’t change it. 🙂

CY: I had to completely rewrite them later, they were so not ready to go out

That is a legit fear!

MZ: I mean specifically that you’re not happy with how a story turned out and it gets published

CY: Right

MZ: not a story you are at the self-hating point with that is perfectly fine and gets published. That’s similar, but different

CY: One of the things John has always said is that he sees way too many stories that could have been great if the author had just let it cool a little while longer and given it another pass

MZ: Oh yes. There were SO MANY of those in the slush.

Like the concept or characters were REALLY cool but the story just hadn’t been “finished”

CY: Yeah

MZ: I seem to have trouble writing regularly in the summer. Do you have trouble keeping it up while you’re traveling?”

CY: Oh yes, it’s been impossible for me so far.

I have the best intentions to change my schedule so that I go to bed early and get up early to write but I haven’t succeeded yet. Once the day job travel kicks in again it’ll be the only way it gets done, because I’m just wiped out by the end of the day. Right now I’m just making sure that I write or revise in a few short sprints every day. But my schedule is flexible right now, so I can do that.

I’m working on several things at once, which might seem like a bad idea, but for me it keeps me interested in all of them and I can take my time and groom each one carefully

MZ: I find the getting up “early” on my days off helps, but if I do it on the days I work it just means I dink around and am too tired after work

CY: Discipline is…difficult. I have never been good at it.

MZ: I do not have it. Nope. I like being a bit of a scatterbrain in lots of aspects of my life, but trying to discipline myself is hard.

CY: I look at people like Jake Kerr–who is currently a powerhouse of productivity, despite a family and a demanding day job–and am just baffled at how he does it.

MZ: I think some of it really does come down to “They are different people than I am, and that’s OK”

CY: Yeah, I am still working on that “don’t compare yourself to others” thing. 🙂

MZ: There’s a difference between making excuses and living your own life.

CY: I definitely have a tendency toward procrastination and laziness

MZ: I mean there are people who function totally awesome on 4 hours of sleep a night every night. I am not them either.

CY: NOPE me either

MZ: Me too. But sometimes that procrastination has a purpose

CY: 7-9 or I’m significantly less functional I can get away with 6 ONE night a week.

MZ: so it’s trying to be honest with myself both ways with it

CY: /nod

MZ: sometimes I feel like I’m “procrastinating” when I’m really refilling the aquifer of creativity and emotional bandwidth

CY: True! That is so necessary.

MZ: and sometimes I am quite honestly fucking around

CY: 🙂 I have found that programs like Cold Turkey help me a lot. I have social media blocked during the work day except at lunch. And also most of my other distracting sites (ModCloth, Etsy, Slate, etc.) I can lose hours easily, so I just eliminate the temptation (I still have Twitter on my phone and check it periodically, but it’s such a pain to use on the phone that I don’t say much.)

MZ: Yeah, I am probably due for a good break from online but, I don’t have a social outlet outside of the internet… so that’s also something to keep in mind. Heh, that sounds slightly lamer than it is

CY: No I’m with you–we’re isolated here too

MZ: I live very rurally, so I don’t have a lot of opportunity for in-person socialization and the friends I do have in the area keep moving away.

CY: I only block from 8-5. And yeah, we have no social life here either, despite living in a sizable town. We had a gaming group for years, but our DM changed jobs a few months ago and haven’t seen any of them since

MZ: awww

CY: And two of them were already remote! We would play over Google Hangouts.

MZ: this is very much a retirement community in a lot of ways, so there just aren’t a lot of people our age and the ones who are, are really busy. I mean, only here and in SFF am I considered “a kid”

CY: I am going to the wedding of one of our game friends tomorrow, though! It will be good to see her. They live about an hour away.

hahaha

MZ: The mayor calls me “kiddo” when she sees me 🙂

CY: Lots of golf and bridge being played? 🙂 This is why conventions (and social media) are so important to me–that’s where I see my friends.

MZ: golf for sure, not sure about the local bridge clubs. I’m sure there are though

I know the fastest way to spread news around town is to have someone talk about it at Senior Meals

CY: Ha! 😀

MZ: There have been a few people who had premature deaths in town because someone got them mixed up with someone else and said they died at Senior Meals, and their family was very concerned when they started getting condolences

CY: Oh no!

MZ: (They were actually alive)

(still are)

CY: hahahah So what are you going to be working on today?

MZ: other than dishes?

CY: Well, yeah. 🙂

MZ: I am actually taking a novel project and splitting it up into 3 shorter novels and doing their outlines as they currently exist so I can see where the holes are and such to make them into 3 instead of one. I’ve split out the first two and now I need to add a bunch of extra stuff to the 3rd one to see how close in length it is before edits

CY: Excellent! That’s a big project.

MZ: …and dishes, and vacuuming

CY: I’m doing the opposite: working on three short stories related to an existing published one, that I eventually intend to put together into a short novel.

MZ: ooooo

CY: I’m having fun with it. I actually have two projects I’m approaching that way. One fantasy, one SF

MZ: I will say, I do really like how ebooks are opening up these kinds of projects

CY: Exactly!

MZ: And to publish projects that wouldn’t have seen the light of day in the past because of length or not fitting into a normal publishing cycle

CY: The possibility of writing and selling the stories to established markets, and then putting them together after exclusivity is up and selling them as an ebook is a great opportunity. I have one mini-collection out there, but I’ve done nothing at all to promote it

MZ: I’d like to do a mini-collection of stories set in the world I destroyed with tiny unicorns

CY: hahaha awesome

MZ: I have two stories published there, and ideas for 3 more

CY: (Ooo my Metropolitan just ran out of ink. Time to pick a new ink sample to try!)

That sounds like so much fun.

MZ: I am absolutely digging the scented inks. I know it is silly, but I like having that added dimension to the experience of writing

CY: Not silly at all. I started collecting perfume samples for the same reason

MZ: plus the novel project has characters who are associated with particular scents, so it really gets my brain into that world

CY: Totally! I was thinking about trying out a new prompt session at Rainforest based on scents instead of visuals

MZ: Ooooo I can bring stuff

CY: Fun! Let’s do it!

MZ: /highfive

CY: /highfive

 

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