Sunday, 28 October 2012

Hey, Sean! How Far Can We Trust You?

This is kind of a hard question for me right now. Not because I’m a natural or excessive liar. No. But I started wondering as I wrote my Creative Process post a couple of weeks ago—and noticed that I was having to use a lot of phrases like, “I like,” and “I do”—whether or not I can really present this project from a half-way subjective point of view.

Everything about the writing process is, ultimately, so personal. And, with this site, it was always my intention to demonstrate how to write a novel efficiently and professionally, but I think that we’ve already seen that there’s no one way to do that, haven’t we?

So, I guess that, in the end, all I can do is show you what I would do.

And in that respect, you can trust me implicitly. As we go forward, please know that what you get from me will be the clearest, most honest, and most complete set of information about what I’m writing and how I’m writing it; the very best recounting of these events that I can provide. In the end, I may omit certain major plot elements—because, really, who like spoilers—but I will never lie to you. On that, you can consider yourself to have my word.

Assuming that you want to trust my word, anyway.


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That’s it for these Hey, Sean! articles, folks. I hope that you’ve come away from them feeling like you know what I’m about a little better. Next month is National Novel Writing Month, so I’ll be a lot busier than usual and we might not see weekly posts again until December. I’m hoping, though, that I’ll have the time to post some short fiction and talk about it a little.

Until then, if you’d like to contact me, please feel free to leave a comment here, or use one of the links available on the Get In Touch tab.

Sunday, 21 October 2012

Hey, Sean! Say Something Kind of Pretentious, Wouldn't You?

Let’s go back to an August a few years ago. Second day of my Junior year in college. It’s an evening Creative Writing workshop, a Tuesday & Thursday job, and we’re talking about what the professor will or will not accept in our fiction. And somewhere in the middle of this, this woman says:

“You know…The way I look at it, Literary Fiction is an art—like sculpture or oils—and Genre Fiction is just a…a craft. Like needlepoint.”

See, I’m not what some people would call a “Literary Writer,” and if you don’t really know what any of this means, let me back up and quantify it a little…

In academic and critical circles, there is a distinction made—sometimes rather forcefully—between “Literary” and “Genre” fiction. Literary Fiction is often distinctly realistic and high-brow, and while they often demonstrate a high level of technical polish I’ve often found most Literary work to be more in the business of exercise and metaphor than telling a story. And Genre Fiction? It’s everything else. It’s thrillers and dramas, westerns and horror stories, sci-fi and fantasy, inspirational fiction and erotica. It’s visible, readable, populist fiction, and if anything I’ve ever seen at all of the bookstores I’ve ever worked in or visited means anything…It makes up an easy ninety percent of all adult fiction sales.

As a system of classification it is efficient, if not tremendously simplistic, but it all falls down for me when it is used as an unimpeachable dividing line of quality—and it often is, sad as that is. And it is from that place of judgment that our girl from all those years ago spoke. I’ll leave you to supply the dismissive titter that she followed it up with, and the way that she popped her monocle back into place and went prowling for a platter of cucumber sandwiches.

And while I don’t begrudge the system in concept—I’m really very happy down here with my sewing circle, after all—I’d much rather that we did away with the labels and started looking at things in terms of whether or not it’s good writing. Because there’s more than enough of it on both sides of the fence to make everybody happy.



Tuesday, 16 October 2012

Hey, Sean! What's Up With the Creative Process?

Well, here we are again. For those of you just joining, these weekly entries in the months leading up to January the 1st are a way for us to get a little bit better acquainted and prepare for the longer, more intense exercise to come. October, specifically, is focused on these Hey, Sean! articles, which have been written to provide some insight into who I am as a writer, and my general views on the medium and process. This week, I’ll be focusing on process and procedure, and you can probably view this post as a rough outline of what’s to come in the New Year.

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The creative process is kind of a personal thing. Not private. No. In my experience, most of us writers can talk about what we do and how we do it all day long…But it is personal, because each of us does things a little differently, and—at the end of the day—I do believe that some of us look sidelong at the others and feel pride or pity that their processes lack the secret ingredient that makes it so very easy for us, and they are, therefore, a little weird.

And I apologize if this makes me and my fellow writers sound a little bit like superstitious, capering bridge trolls, but I think that such a creature lives inside of everyone—to some extent or another—who works for a living and has the opportunity to observe another person doing what we think of as Our Job.

And really, writers are kind of a superstitious bunch. Anyone who engages in a profession that is so heavily procedural and obsessive has to be a little superstitious eventually, because obsessive, procedural behavior done regularly invariably takes on the tone of ritual. I’ve known writers who can’t start new work while travelling, because they can only get ideas that they trust while looking out of the kitchen window that they were looking out of when they came up with the first novel or story that they sold. I’ve known others who have to have a specific person read their first draft, and nobody else will ever do. Or writers who have to walk a certain route through their neighborhoods before they can even sit in front of their laptops. Or who have to wear a lucky hat while they write the first line. I, personally, have to make all of my notes with the same pen, and—even though I’ll tell you that I do it because I hate shopping for pens, which is true—I will buy countless ink refills for even the most ragged of pens before I will shop for a new one or buy a pack. There have been times when my work grinds to a halt for days because I lost a pen and have to go through a silly searching/mourning period before I will go and buy a replacement.

These are habits and little beliefs—some of which we don’t even know that we engage in or hold—that come about as the result of long years of working and refining our creative processes. Each time that we go through the process, we invest more and more of ourselves into it and it becomes more and more a part of us. Through repetition, we become intimate with our own idiosyncratic tics until they become second nature. They become indistinguishable from us, and we clutch to them no matter how silly they are because they work for us. The personal creative process is a major part of who each writer is, and each of them is silly in such a way that none are silly at all.

So, other than my pen infatuation, how do I work? What’s my process like? What I’d like to do now is run a sort of itemized list from the beginning of things to the end. If—when I’m done—you have questions about any particular point, please ask them. Keep in mind, though, that I’ll be going into each of these in greater detail next year:

Sunday, 7 October 2012

Hey, Sean! What Do You Write About?

That’s a question that can be answered in a lot of different ways, so I guess I can at least try for a few of them…

In the tightest, most concise, pigeonhole-iest context; I write science fiction stories.

Specifically, we’re talking about science fiction stories about Irish Gypsies who live in space and hate the government. That doesn’t account for any of my detective fiction, though, or any of my fantasy stories, or any of my other non-Irish-Gypsy related work…All of which make up for slightly less than fifty percent of the whole. And then there are some stories that take place in the same setting as the Irish Space Gypsy stories, but do not involve Irish Space Gypsies or Irish Space Gypsy related activities. It’s complicated.

See? A definite way to answer, but not a great one. Let’s try again.

Conventional wisdom—which often arrives to you as a writer by way of high-school English teachers and overzealous family members and other people who want to contribute to your writing without putting any real thought or effort into the exercise—says, often invariably, this:

Write what you know.

And that’s great. It’s perfectly all right. And it makes sense, because, presumably, everyone knows something and as long as they know about it they can write about it. Sure. Why not?


But here’s the thing, and maybe I’m a bit thick, or maybe I’m just being willfully obstinate for the sake of having something to write about, but whatever: That sort of thinking can, eventually, be unbearably restrictive. I mean, really, what do most people know? In the most serious sense of being so intimately acquainted with a thing that they can reliably and consistently portray it through the medium of text? For the majority of folks, this means that the modern novel can’t extend too far beyond the wheelhouse of being in school, doing a job, and dealing with family dysfunction.

God knows that if I so restricted myself I couldn’t do a whole lot more, and I’m trying to do this ridiculous job professionally.

Hell, if all writers so restricted themselves then we would probably end up with nothing more than a bunch of writers writing novels about writers writing novels. Just endless, recursive, meta-textual messes…And then the publishing industry would definitely be in Capital-R-Capital-T Real Trouble.

And so, with all due respect to “Write what you know,” I don’t like it a whole lot in the long run. It—right out of the gate—dismisses most of the creativity from the creative process. If we just follow what we know, we’re asking no more imagination of ourselves than what we need to form the words into sentences.

So that’s no answer, either, but it does bring me to a similar saw that I much prefer:

Write what you love.

And that, that, is where I want to be. That is what I want to do. That is the thing that I love, because it leads me to all of the other things that I love and that I love to write about, and at least from there—if you’re still interested and aren’t asleep—I can throw together a short list of things that I love to write and write about:

  • People
  • The Future
  • Politics
  • Rocketships
  • The Way Things End
  • Family Dysfunction
  • Work
  • Crime
  • Ham Fisted Swearing
  • Gunfights
  • The Irish
  • The Past
  • Detectives
  • Revenge
  • Love
  • Sarcasm
  • Long, Long Conversations
  • Defenestration

I could go on. Probably for a long time. Hopefully, though, you’ll be able to take something away from this that will help you understand me and my writing a little bit better until you see a piece of short fiction from me sometime next month.

And if not, you can always come away from it knowing that I write pulpy, character driven Science Fiction, Fantasy, and Detective Fiction. That’s probably a little easier.

Whichever makes you happier.

I’ll be back next week with a little more writer-babble.