Conversations Between Writers

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Andrea Phillips

Andrea is an author, game designer, transmedia specialist and not at all secretly plotting to take over the world. Her debut novel Revision comes out on May 5 from Fireside Fiction Company. It is the story of a trust-fund barista caught in a web of quantum entanglements when she accidentally rewrites reality to announce her engagement to her tech start-up boyfriend. You can read the first three chapters for free RIGHT NOW. You can also check out her website and follow her on Twitter.

Minerva Zimmerman: whenever you’re ready let me know. I think I’m awake enough

Andrea Phillips: 🙂 I AM READY FOR YOU

MZ: …that sounds like a threat

AP: I CAN TAKE YOU

MZ: I’m pretty sure that isn’t in question 🙂

Hello! Happy May Day to you.

AP: MAY DAY

HAPPY MAY DAY

Sorry

It’s just

You know

MZ: yes. Your first novel comes out next week. I think you’re allowed.

AP: Haha

MZ: I know you’re doing a lot of guest posts and things so I’m going to try and talk about stuff you haven’t already.

AP: hahah OK 🙂

MZ: For starters, i want to talk about your cover. Cause it is amazing.

AP: isn’t it just gorgeous?

MZ: It is gorgeous! And, what most people don’t know is that it is illustrative!

AP: The cover gives me Imposter Syndrome

Because it looks like something you’d see on a reprint of like… an Asimov book, right?

MZ: it is a very slick cover

Sent at 8:37 AM on Friday

AP: And: YES! The swirls are the kinds of designs you get when you’re searching for, say, new types of subatomic particles

MZ: …which feature in your story

AP: Yes

I am a world expert in propagating sketchy science, it’s my hobby

MZ: I think they should give SF writers cards that say we’re licensed for doing just that.

AP: They really should. I could keep it right next to my artistic license that lets me use bad grammar for effect.

MZ: Heh.

I’m hearing the little editor on my shoulder yelling and pouting and throwing stuff when you say that.

AP: I was a rained copy editor back in the day, you know — I went to J-school and worked for a print magazine and everything

TRAINED

A TRAINED copy editor

…But I’ve come around to being a descriptivist, and also concluding that most of the things people fight grammatical holy wars over are just a matter of style, not correctness

AP: It comes down to “taste varies”

MZ: It’s true. A writer’s voice CAN be edited out. I’ve found there are some editors who get my voice and some who don’t.

AP: I’ve seen it happen, and I’ve had it happen to me. It’s really uncomfortable.

MZ: The worst, was I didn’t realize that’s what was happening to me for 10 years because my main reader didn’t get my voice.

AP: I’ve been in situations from client work where  characters have their personalities filed away entirely and wind up talking in American corporate-committee modern

Oh gosh that’s the saddest thing.

Have I ever told you about the creative writing class I had in college?

MZ: On the other hand, it’s made me a much stronger writer overall.

No! please tell.

AP: The teacher told me my writing was too sentimental.

MZ: …what?!

AP: In retrospect, I think this was code for “you are too girly and you write girl things and not serious man things.”

MZ: yeah I was just going to ask if the teacher was a man.

AP: But some twenty years on, I’ve also come to learn that emotion is the thing I’m kind of good at?

I mean, other writers do stunning action or lyrical prose or breathtaking pacing or mad plot twists.

MZ: I think that combining the human element with the technology element is what SF is all about.

AP: I am good at making characters that seem like people, and that FEEL THINGS.

MZ: And I’ve had the pleasure of reading Revision, and I think you do that quite well.

AP: Thank you 🙂

My favorite SF is about people and how people are always the same, forever and ever, throughout time

MZ: I also really really like near future SF which this is. It’s so very close to being our own world.

AP: This is why a lot of old-school SF falls flat for me, because it doesn’t actually reflect human beings as frail and prone to error

Stupid Hero’s Journey.

I think mid-future SF is super hard to write now, it’s either ten minutes into the future or a thousand years

MZ: I’m very much a character-driven writer who adores exploring fantastical elements or future technology. So near-future is so hard to get right.

AP: It helps to look at a technology and go through the things we know people are going to do anyway?

MZ: Cause you have to really extrapolate from now.

AP: Like “how does this affect people trying to get sex? Or people trying to make themselves look important? How does this change how people will make others miserable if they can?”

MZ: Exactly, I mean… think about OK Cupid

AP: Hah

MZ: and Tindr and all of those things

they’ve fundamentally changed how people date… in what, 10 years?

less?

AP: I mean, one of my favorite things about history is ancient Roman barracks with penis graffiti left by the ancient Roman soldiers.

Our impulses haven’t changed in thousands of years

MZ: yeah, young men are still young men

AP: We have new and different acceptable behaviors and expressions, right? And who the out-groups are change

So you go from ankle-length to knee-length skirts in a generation

And then onward to bikinis a little further on

But the core behaviors of using clothing to signal your social status and attract friends and romantic partners like yourself, that’s still the same

And the rest of it is just set dressing

So we have different courtship methods now, right? But the same basic motivations are in play. 🙂

This is one of those things I think about allllllllll the time

MZ: My personal research topic of choice is religion in the United States, and you can track these patterns of revivalism through time.

AP: Technology isn’t changing us at all

If anything, we use technology to allow ourselves to be EVEN MORE HUMAN than we were before

MZ: Pretty much in religion, the current generation will have more in common with their grandparents generation than their parents.

AP: Yeah? It’s a cyclic thing?

MZ: Oh yeah, it’s very reactive.

AP: Fascinating

MZ: So permissive hippy parents have relatively uptight children who then have children who rebel by being permissive.

AP: Hmmmmmmm I see.

MZ: to overly simplify it.

and there’s US-centric mythology with religious overtones and all sorts of stuff.

But yeah, I mean to understand current patterns you have to look to the past, and pretty much skipping a generation helps you quite a bit.

AP: You know there’s the hard-core atheist transhumanism movement

And even they keep basically reinventing religious ideology under a different name

MZ: Which I find really fascinating right now because of how it omits the people who could be most helped by transhumanism.

AP: So simulation theory, and suddenly you have a creator again

Or people actively working toward the Singularity, which is the Christian Rapture by another name as best I reckon

Sent at 8:59 AM on Friday

AP: Argh this is makes me so sad and angry

MZ: well, “helped” is an ablest thing, because those who are most likely to actually have the sorts of technology transhumanists revere are disabled.

AP: How incredibly prosperous Western society has become as an aggregate, and how many people in the world (even in Western society) live in precarity

We’re bad as a species at putting our resources toward big things that can increase net happiness

MZ: but the transhumanist narrative doesn’t talk about the disabled.

AP: Yeah, I wonder why that is?

Star Trek got it right, didn’t they? Geordi Laforge was blind, which is why he had his badass glasses.

MZ: I suspect they don’t think it fits the narrative if you don’t give something up.

That there’s no sacrifice.

it’s that christ-mythos thing.

AP: Odin plucking out his eye for wisdom

MZ: yeah, or that.

AP: Sacrifice is a powerful narrative

I feel like you don’t see it that much in genre, though

MZ: sacrifice?

AP: We like our clean, happy endings.

MZ: Not sure I agree with that.

AP: I mean it happens to some extent, but it’s relatively uncommon — and if there is a sacrifice, it’s nothing actually as important as all that

This is why it’s a BIG FREAKING DEAL that Joss Whedon and George RR Martin actually kill beloved characters

Because genuine and meaningful sacrifice is relatively uncommon 🙂

MZ: I think it happens more in fantasy right now.

AP: It’s uncommon enough that when it happens, it’s ‪breathtaking and not the thing that of course you expected.

You think so?

MZ: SF feels more reactive at the moment, which is why there’s more dystopia and such.

AP: I’m trying to think of books I’ve read in recent times that end in giving something up that can never be replaced

MZ: So weird thought thing here.

AP: Last First Snow, I think

MZ: James Cameron’s Avatar

Let’s set aside the problematic White Savior thing for now, and focus on that the protagonist is a disabled man who through technology is able to interact with an alien species.

AP: I have never seen it 🙂

MZ: you’re familiar with the concepts though?

AP: Loosely, yeah

No fear of spoilers or anything ^_^

Sent at 9:08 AM on Friday

MZ: So currently transhumanist narrative is that this protagonist can’t transcend his humanity with technology because it is adaptive for him. But if someone gave up their own body to use it, they are somehow greater.

Just using this as an example.

AP: nod

MZ: So I think the sacrifice narrative can be inherently problematic too.

AP: I think there’s a longing to be free of the frailties of meat, in transhumanism circles, there’s a perception that bodies are weak and unreliable and… irrational, basically

But if you’ve ever been through any significant hormonal shifts — like having a baby, say — you come to realize that a lot of who you are is determined by chemical processes in your body

There’s not an electrical true-you just in your brain ready to be uploaded

MZ: Yeah, I think women are more aware of such things because of that.

AP: What makes you is also your body!

MZ: women and trans individuals are more conscious of it.

AP: Yeah, I’d think so. And not even all women!

MZ: True, I mean I wasn’t when I was young that’s for sure.

AP: It’s amazing how your behavior and thinking can so substantially change

MZ: It really feels like these meat suits should come with a manual.

AP: I’ve reached a point where I’m old enough to recognize I’m having some sort of feeling and reaction, and then interrogate it, “Is there a reason for this, or is it a thing my body is doing right now?”

MZ: Oh my, yes.

AP: And sometimes my body is just feeling anxious or sad or snappish and mean, and there’s not a REASON for it

MZ: So much yes. This is very much a 30+ sort of realization.

AP: It’s such a relief to know that you can have those feelings and it’s not because of anything in particular going on, just a thing your body is doing right now.

Because it doesn’t mean you have to do something big and dramatic to address it, beyond maybe… getting more sleep, cutting down on caffeine.

MZ: getting some pain killer for the pain you weren’t consciously paying attention to

AP: You can address it at the BODY level and not the “get a divorce and quit my job and abandon my family and drop out of my degree and move to another continent” level

MZ: And sometimes actually thinking through 2 months of doing the “drop out and move to Europe” plan helps too cause you realize you can’t even ask for the bathroom in any of the countries you can afford to get to.

AP: Ahahahah yeahhhh.

MZ: and then you end up cracking yourself up and either writing a story or getting over yourself and making dinner.

/coff

not that I’d know anything about this.

AP: Ahahahahhaah.

Some days are like that.

Anyway, your meat suit is important.

We should take better care of our meat, it’s YOU just as much as you brain is. 🙂

MZ: There was a thing about the most important bit of advice writers would give others and the one that stuck with me was:

‪“­Do back exercises. Pain is distracting.” – Margaret Atwood

AP: Oh Margaret Atwood, so much wisdom

MZ: …and I think that, “Persistence.” and “Know thyself.” are probably the only universal bits of writing advice.

AP: “Don’t read your own reviews”

“Nothing good can come of it”

MZ: eh, I don’t think that’s necessarily universal, but probably not a good idea before breakfast

AP: Hahah

It’s hard to filter out “universal” from “applicable to most people” to “actually this only works for like, you.”

MZ: Yeah, and you never have it totally figured out.

It’s a process not a destination.

AP: Stupid processes.

MZ: So, 5 days until release.

AP: AUUGGGHHH

I think four now?

MZ: Let’s talk a little bit about what that does to a person

AP: I am FEELING ALL OF THE FEELINGS AT ONCE.

MZ: Cause I think that’s important.

AP: The emotional landscape of publishing your first novel is like nothing I have ever beheld before

And I’ve released nonfiction books, I’ve done games, I’ve written other self-pub stuff, so you’d think I’d at least know what to expect.

MZ: I’m starting to suspect each milestone is different and new… which isn’t particularly reassuring

AP: Now, I’m neurotic in the first place, so when I launch a game I’ve put a lot of myself into, the last-minute feeling is: “Oh god, this sucks, and people are going to hate it, and people are going to hate me personally, and I will NEVER WORK AGAIN.”

Exactly that.

So I got used to that cycle for releasing games, and I knew that the downside is basically people don’t play your game, and not that you get shunned out of town and die in poverty.

The problem I’m having with Revision, actually, is that reception has so far been a lot better than I expected, and I just don’t know how to process it?

MZ: Yeah, I’m much better equipped to deal with negative emotion than positive.

Positive stress makes me puke.

AP: It’s the thing where you brace your tent for a wind from the east and then something comes from the west and knocks it down.

MZ: It’s why I never got to play at Chucky Cheese as a kid.

AP: And I’ve been over here quietly managing my expectations so I don’t get my hopes crushed: well, I figure I will sell SOME DOZENS OF BOOKS, I say, and I make Hugh Howey jokes while knowing it’s a lottery ticket kind of thing and not actually a plausible outcome from all of this

But people I respect are saying this is a good book and it’s getting, like, reviews in reputable outlets, and like

I can’t EVEN

I am feeling basically every possible variety of human emotion all at the same time

MZ: Yeah, I imagine your brain is trying to tell you to prepare for doom… and yet everything is inflating hope and your brain is like “noooooo not hope… hope is dangerous”

AP: Yeah, I think that’s it.

MZ: so it’s like punching a marshmallow of emotions

in a microwave

AP: “No, NO, DON’T start thinking about how nice it would be to remodel your bathroom!”

There’s a lot of “just because critics like a book doesn’t mean it’s gonna sell” going on in my brain right now.

MZ: Yeah. Being the first novel it’s just… a big ???

the expectation is unknown

AP: You know that horrible feeling after you’ve had a job interview, and before you know if you got the job?

I’ve always hated that.

Your whole future hangs in the balance and you just don’t know what’s going to happen, and it’s 100% out of your hands.

Basically it’s like that, except because it’s also personal creative work, it feels like a referendum on your worth as a human being at the same time.

And of course it’s NOT, but the emotional parts of your brain are not generally known for taking in all the facts first! Or my brain, anyway.

Tangent.

Making s’mores in the microwave is the BEST THING.

And everyone should always do it.

MZ: We just bought a fire pit, so we’re probably making some the old fashioned way this weekend

AP: I’m jealous

We have a gas grill which just isn’t the same

MZ: some friends of ours are trying to get us to make bacon s’mores

AP:

MZ: apparently you can roast strips of bacon over the fire the same as marshmallows and then just smush them together. This seems… unwise

AP: Those friends are mad geniuses

Never part from them

MZ: but it’s apparently delicious

AP: Also, hook me up

MZ: 😀 bring a roasting stick

AP: You know what? I think my official Launch Day snack is going to be s’mores.

MZ: There are s’more shaped marshmallows in the store right now

square so they fit on the graham cracker better

AP: Starbucks just introduced a s’more tart? That they apparently warm up for you?

MZ: …don’t tell me that

AP: It’s like a little graham cracker tart shell filled with chocolate with a marshmallow on top

They have a special oven setting for it and everything.

MZ: Starbucks is like one of the only things we have in the boonies

cause they literally are everywhere.

AP: And suddenly my body is convinced this is the ONE THING that will make me feel better ahead of launch. ^_^

So I used to work on 34th St. between 7th and 8th Aves. in New York

There were literally five Starbucks within a block

MZ: we had 3 Starbucks in town for awhile… 2 were literally across the street from each other and there are only like 10k people in the whole county

AP: Like, not even around the whole block, either

It’s madness.

MZ: We’re going to put a Starbucks on the moon.

I betchu

AP: I wonder if we’ll discover in future years they’ve been lacing their coffee with cocaine all this time.

MZ: I’m not a big coffee drinker, I think most of their coffee tastes burned.

AP: I’ve heard that complaint

I mean, you go to Starbucks for espresso, basically ^_^

MZ: I like tea though, and pastries.

AP: I had a chai habit for a long time

MZ: and giant frozen beverages of caffeinated doom

AP: Maybe I should go back to that, it was very enjoyable.

MZ: hahaha yeah you know what

we’ll find out the drugs were in their milk the whole time

AP: Hahahahah

…Man now I want to go get one of those s’mores tarts.

MZ: Well, I should probably let you get back to your day, and possibly get a s’more tart.

AP: I wonder how I could justify this.

Hah

MZ: On the way to pick up your daughter?

AP: …I could

MZ: wait wait, I’m enabling this madness

this is terrible

AP: Ahahahahah

NO IT IS PERFECT

YOU ARE A TRUE FRIEND

MZ: Heh.

AP: ^_^

MZ: You could pick her up a Friday treat “just because”

AP: Maybe. Maybe. I’ll have to give this careful thought.

MZ: and make it all about her. Yes. This would work.

AP: I’ll just… I’ll be going now…

MZ: Congratulations and Commiserations on your upcoming release. 🙂

AP: Thank you for chatting, this has been fun. ^_^

Thanks! I just have to live through another week.

MZ: then… s’more party!

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