“That’s a wrap!” A collective sigh of relief rose up from everyone on the floor. It was 11:30 p.m. and the cast and crew were no doubt looking forward to a well-deserved break. Everyone has worked extremely hard on what has proven a very challenging episode so far, and their creativity, commitment, and consistently upbeat attitude have been greatly appreciated.
Day 4 saw us hopscotching from the alleyway-night to the well back to the alleyway-day, then over to the heart of the village before ending up in Tent #3 for our final shots. While we were shooting, Christina Cox received word that she had received a Constellation nomination for Best Female Performance in a 2007 Science Fiction Television Episode for her work on the Blood Ties episode 5:55. Congratulations to Christina who will be up against our own Amanda Tapping (nominated for SG-1’s The Road Not Taken). Christina, by the way, not only knows how to handle a gun, but is incredibly savvy with regard to military protocol, a stickler for proper procedure in all of her scenes. And for those who doubted her ability to pull off a tough, military character based on the fact that she is “too pretty” – well, after watching her portrayal these last few days, I can say, with the utmost confidence, that she could easily kick all of your asses. Janina, meanwhile, has put her skeet shooting experience (I kid you not) to good use, and Nicole gets to show off her newfound skills next week. Finally, for those of you who commented – yeah, Paul’s hair is mighty dark. The hair department had to color his hair to match last year’s look and, uh, made him a tad too youthful-looking. Poor Paul washed his hair about a dozen times in an effort to restore a more natural look. And I’m pleased to report that he somewhat succeeded.
As most of you know, Jeffrey Ford, the author of April’s fantasy BOTM club selection, dropped by earlier in the week to say hello, introduce himself, and offer us a sneak peek at/solicit our opinions on an unfinished short story. Well, today, Jeff returns to respond to all of your questions and comments on both The Empire of Ice Cream and Recipe For a Journey to Quibo.
Before I turn this entry over to Jeff, I’d just like to take a moment to thank him for guesting with us and really showing great generosity, not only with his time but with his work as well. Jeff, I’m sure I speak for all of us when I say you have an open invitation to drop by any time whether it be to discuss your work, update us on any developments on the Ford Front, or complain about our decision to kill off the Carson Beckett character in season 3. By the way, anyone interested should head on over to http://14theditch.livejournal.com/ and check out the April 25th entry on an imaginary city named Urville and how it came to be.
Anyway, I’m off to prep my Chocolate Party. Pics to follow tomorrow. In the meantime, enjoy the Q&A, then check out the behind-the-scenes vid from the Whispers set at the bottom of the page.
“Dear Book Club Members: This has been a really wonderful experience for me. I can’t thank you enough for taking the time to read my book and the story fragment and make insightful, imaginative comments on both. I fully appreciate both the criticisms and the mention of those things that worked for you. You can’t believe how helpful that is to a writer. As for the “Journey to Quibo” suggestions and analysis, all I can say is you guys are a creative lot. There are so many good suggestions that I’m going to have to go back and study them closely for a while before I begin again on the story. You’ve given me much inspiration for it, though, and sparked my interest in finishing it. So if you ever see it published somewhere, please take some credit, just don’t sue me. In all seriousness, though, thanks for the help. Many of you singled out “The Green Word” as the stiffest story in the collection, and I have to tell you that I agree with you. It’s not bad, but it’s so been done before and better. It kind of lays there like a whale turd on the bottom of the ocean. I was pleased that many of you enjoyed “Botch Town.” You might want to pick up The Shadow Year if you get a chance as it is really very much re-imagined and extended and better written. If you do I hope you like it as much or more. It was delightful to find that so many of you liked “Jupiter’s Skull” which I like myself, even though it didn’t get much play when it came out. I want to alert you to the fact that I have another short story collection coming in November, The Drowned Life, from Harper Collins. Last but not least, I have to thank Joe, who was a very gracious host and ran everything so flawlessly. I very much appreciate having been invited to the fun here. My only question was when does Joe Mallozzi ever sleep? I asked him this on the e-mail and he told me he thinks of it longingly from time to time, and some day he’ll get back to it. Hope you can catch a nap soon, Joe. Happy reading to all!
Eva K writes: “The Short story posted would be easier to comment on if I had already read the book, but since not, I was wondering how it came to be in the first place?
Was it an idea which came as a means to an end, and you’re just not there yet?
Or was it a beginning that caught your fancy and you’re not sure what you’re working towards? Or was it an idea that came to you, and you’re trying to form everything else around it? It seems like it’d be easier to know how to get somewhere when you know where you’re trying to get to. You don’t need a map, just a compass.”
EvaK: To tell you the truth, I really don’t remember what it was that gave me the idea to start with. I have always been enamored of libraries and the idea of libraries. Wait, I just deleted a line, because as I was writing a response to you, it came to me where this idea for this story came from. I’d forgotten about this. I had a dream in which I was visiting a city called Lindrethool and it was somewhere up north, near the arctic circle. It had a zoo with a strange creature in it. I started this story after having that dream and then I got stuck because I thought it was too similar to the Borges story, “The Library of Babel.” It wasn’t that the story was similar, but I thought the tone of the writing was. Now I can see that isn’t the case. I actually used the name of the city, Lindrethool, in another story that appeared in the on-line magazine, Sci Fiction, “Floating In Lindrethool.” That was an interesting revelation as, like I said, I’d forgotten it entirely. Thanks for asking.
Beverly writes: “Since you write in both mystery and science fiction genres, and have won awards for both, do you prefer to write one over the other, or do you prefer to blend them as you did in “Botch Town” and “The Shadow Year”?”
Beverly: I don’t consciously plan to blend them. What happens instead is that the story comes to me and I just write it down. I’m not trying to mix genres, I just do. Writing for me, both stories and novels, is an act of discovery and not of construction. The whole thing is far more organic. I rarely consider genre at all before writing, but I do consider the voice the story will be told in and I try to see the character. Then I just follow the character and he/she takes me to the story. I know, wacky.
Thornyrose writes: “Which do you prefer to write, short stories or novels? Do you have any particular conditions to write in, such as quiet/sunny room, particular music, or do you write as the Muse strikes?”
Thornyrose: I like to write both short stories and novels, but for different reasons. The stories allow me to stretch as a writer, because it doesn’t take as long to write them. They allow messing around with different styles and structures and voices, and I would be bored and would probably not get any better as a writer if I were to stop writing them altogether. As for novels, they can contain larger ideas and have more undercurrents, and take more stamina. They are both journeys in a way, but one is briefer and more intense and the other is a long trek to a far country. Both forms of travel suit me. I have an office I write in at home. It looks like a tornado hit it. I go in there and burn some incense and put on music – Harold Budd or Phillip Glass or something equally innocuous – and that’s where the magic, so to speak, happens, or sometimes doesn’t. I sit at the computer every day. Sometimes the muse is out on errands, but I’m always there if she should show up.
Sylvia writes: “ What is the foundation for the creation of some of the titles? The choices are quite enticing as fantasy and not typical non-fiction. When seeing “Eeling-ok,” my brain started to make that “Feeling OK. Similar with the Twilmish, which I started to see Twilight Mist. Of course with this thought, the selection “Weight of Words” had added meaning thrown into the mix you provided. It seemed that all of the stories I digested had elements of darkness; was this deliberate for the book? Or, is that part of your style/format?”
Sylvia: Titles are a funny thing. I’m not really conscious all the time as to how they come about. I like the ideas that you say my titles suggested to you. You are obviously tuned in to words being catalysts for the imagination. When I come up with a title, I want something that is not going to give the plot away. That’s definite. I usually pick something that is a little bit of a mis-direction but makes an interesting phrase in and of itself. I’ve read so many books of stories in my life, and one of the first things I do is scan the table of contents and see which title I want to read first. Something with a little mystery, a little promise of something wonderful, but nothing too outlandish. Then again, some of the best stories hide behind brief or deceptively bland titles. As for the “darkness” in the stories, I don’t measure it out like an ingredient in a recipe, but because I’m telling stories about people, the stories will all have a measure of darkness in them, some more than others, some less, just like all of our lives. I hope that you found a good measure of humor in the book as well.
Tiger’s Eye writes: “But, out of this outstanding collection, my favorite was “Jupiter’s Skull.” Did you have a particular place in mind when describing the Bolukuchet? It seems like it could be an amalgam of a hundred different run-down waterfront hangouts with their lolling, lingering artist-types in varying degrees of debauchery.”
Tiger’s Eye: I pictured a kind of setting like, but not exactly, the French Quarter in New Orleans. I’d been there before Katrina and found it a really exciting place – great people, great food and I’m a jazz lover. But if you took the Quarter and took all of the excitement out of it, and made it lazy and a little more run down, with less people, maybe that is a good part of the Bolukuchet.
Tiger’s Eyes also writes: “In writing “Botch Town,” which I loved for how adroitly you brought an entire community to life in its pages, was it difficult for you to deal with subject matter that was painful for you as a child? Or has it been helpful to get some things out in the open? Also, if you have the time and inclination, could you talk a little more about how you progressed from penning character sketches as a boy to writing full-fledged stories? Or a bit about how your tastes in reading evolved over time?
(If this is all covered in your LiveJournal, I’ll be happy to read it there.)
Also, what do you like best to focus on as a teacher?”
Tiger’s Eye: You ask the big questions. That’s cool. Yes, there was a point where I had to stop writing The Shadow Year, the novel, and put it aside because I’d gotten to a place in it where I was having trouble dealing with the memories. I was, at that time, putting together a collection, so I used the first part of the novel and made it into a novella. The whole thing was conceived of and begun with the idea of it being the novel. In order to fulfill the contract I had for the novel, I wrote a book called The Girl in the Glass, which went on to win the Edgar Allan Poe Award. But then the collection, which is Empire came out, and people really liked the novella of “Botch Town” and so with that encouragement, and at the suggestion of a friend and my wife and my editor at Harper Collins, I went back to The Shadow Year and finally finished it. What I needed to do was remember that I was writing a novel and not a memoir and that made the project do-able. Before I had that revelation, I was becoming hypnotized by the actual events of the past and this made me unable to write. Even though the book did come out a novel and not a memoir, I did manage to get a few things out in the open that I needed to. I’m not sure what they were, but I can feel that their burden is gone from me. I wrote my first stories in real life when I was 9 years old. My father used to read to us, adult novels, when we were kids. He read King Solomon’s Mines, Doctor Jekyll and Mister Hyde, Treasure Island, etc. Hearing those stories read was such an intense experience for me. I could so vividly see the characters and the action in my head. I wanted to be able to create that magic. And from that point on, I worked at it. And it took me a long long time to get good. I had certain issues of dyslexia and so forth which hobbled me somewhat, but it all kind of worked out because I just stuck with it through thick and thin. All I’ll say about my reading tastes is they are very eclectic. I love a story well told, well written, with good characters and interesting dilemmas and I don’t care what genre it’s in, or who wrote it or what part of the world it’s from. The major thing I focus on when teaching fiction writing is I try to get the students to understand that fiction is primarily drama – characters, dialogue, bodies in motion through time, and it’s not about lecturing the reader or trying to create the most impressive intellectual symbolism. New writers think that the symbols and leitmotifs their teachers picked out of stories in class were put their by the writer consciously, injected like the guy was filling cream doughnuts on the graveyard shift. The secret is to relinquish control to the story, and let your subconscious work. When you do that, all those things that they think are artificially injected, come forth with the story, intact.
Iamza writes: “(1) Having written Botch Town, what made you go back and expand the novella into The Shadow Year? Does the novel continue on after the end of the events of Botch Town, adding more to the story, or is it an expansion of the story outlined in the novella?
(2) You mention in one of the post-story mini-discussions that you’d written a story in three days, and that it was one of the faster short stories you’d ever written. How long do your stories normally take to come out on the page? Do you have a group of people with whom you discuss your stories as they progress? Or first readers/reviewers who read the stories once the (n-th) draft is complete, who give you feedback on the story? Or do you just know when your story is done?
(3) Of all the stories in The Empire of Ice Cream, which do you personally think is best? Why?
(4) I noticed that a couple of the stories in this collection feature writers named Jeff as the main protagonist. Marion Bradley once used a metaphor describing the art of writing as being akin to having a draft lift up one’s skirt, exposing things that perhaps the writer might not necessarily have intended to share with the world. Have you ever felt overly exposed by any of your stories?”
Iamza: OK, number 1 of your questions, I think I answered pretty well above. 2) The stories usually take me about two weeks to write. The initial writing of it is about a week, and then I mess around with it and edit it and tinker with it for about a week. I don’t discuss my stories much with other people. The writer, a very good writer of fantastic fiction, Richard Bowes, sometimes reads them and gives me advice on them when I’m stuck, but usually I don’t consult with anyone. On the novels, I have 3 friends who read them in their early drafts – Mike Gallagher, Rick Bowes and Bill Watkins. They just read and let me know if what I’m doing seems on track or is completely ridiculous. Sometimes my wife, Lynn, gets in on the act. She’s a good reader. I never feel like they’re really done, but eventually you have to send them out. Luckily, I work usually with truly fantastic editors, Jennifer Brehl at Harper Collins has been my book editor for my last 5 novels, and Ellen Datlow edits a lot of my short stories. Having a great editor is irreplaceable. By the way, the story I wrote in 3 days was “The Trentino Kid,” which is in Empire and that was for Ellen Datlow’s ghost story anthology, The Dark, from TOR books.
Trekkiegirlt writes: “Is Higbee (did I spell that right?) Street a real street and did you grow up there?”
Trekkiegirl: I’m taking the 5th on that question. But if I did grow up there, that would be the way it would be spelled. And if it was real it might lead into a road called Udall.