There are a few questions every author is asked, and a few more unique to my work. Here are some of the questions, with answers. Feel free to e-mail me yours.


Q
Where do you get your ideas?

A
Ideas come from everywhere, and nowhere. Sometimes they come from staring at a blank screen. More often they come while I’m doing something physical, like walking, or driving, or folding laundry, something that busies my hands but not my mind. Everything has a story in it: an unusual character spotted in the grocery store, an overheard conversation, an image that springs to mind and you wonder what could be behind it. Once I followed an electrician around my house while he worked, and just listened to the stories he had to tell (he was a great storyteller, too.) Everything a writer experiences is material.


Q
When did you start writing?

A
When my son was little, he preferred made-up stories to the ones in books, and I got pretty good at making up stories. I have a half-dozen unpublished children’s stories in my desk. My first book idea came after that. I wrote three chapters of Sing the Light, and realized I didn’t know how to go on. That sent me to a community college writing course, and then, luckily for me, on to the Clarion West Writers Workshop. A year later, in 1994, the novel sold.


Q
Why do you write science fiction, and isn’t that strange for a classical concert and opera singer?

A
Most writers, I think, write what they like to read. Since I discovered The Wizard of Oz in the second grade, I’ve read mostly fantasy and science fiction. And think of the operas that are the stuff of fantasy! Rusalka, Cenerentola, The Magic Flute, Ariadne auf Naxos, Cunning Little Vixen–and those are just the ones I’ve sung. But it’s a good question, and I was surprised, myself, when I began to meet professional writers and editors in the world of science fiction publishing who are avid classical music fans. A good many of them are more knowledgeable than I. Three examples are Greg Bear, the great sf writer, whose home boasts an impressive private collection of classical recordings; the late Charles Brown, publisher of Locus Magazine, who is particularly interested in American contemporary classical music; and K.W. Jeter, who, besides being a wonderful writer, speaks with authority about opera and opera singers.

You might notice, though, that my writing has expanded to include fantasy (the Toby Bishop books) and the upcoming historical novel Mozart’s Blood.  A writer, like any artist, grows and changes throughout a career.  It’s exciting to go in a different direction–and a bit daunting.  We have to trust the muse, and our inner instinct.


Q
How does an aspiring writer get published?

A
There is no single answer for this important question, but there are some steps to follow. The first, and most important, is to write a great book or story; if you’re having trouble with that, I strongly recommend classes, workshops, and subscribing to publications like Speculations, a fine magazine about writing and publishing. After you’ve written the best piece you can, decide what market it fits (not the other way around.) If it’s a short story, read the short fiction magazines or anthologies, and get the guidelines for the ones that seem suitable. If it’s a novel, there are two ways to get it published. One is to submit directly to the publisher; this puts your manuscript in what’s called the slush pile. (There’s nothing wrong with the slush pile! In 2001, one of the Philip K. Dick Award special honorees was published out of the slush pile.) The second method, and the one I used, is to acquire an agent and have your agent submit your manuscript. Visit your local bookstore or library to find books that list agents and what they’re looking for.


Q
What do you read?

A
The answer to this is always changing. At the moment, I’m engrossed in a wonderful compilation of thoughts from Madeleine L’Engle in a little book called Madeleine L’Engle {Herself}, dealing with the writing life, the life of faith, and the Christian as artist. I also try, mostly in vain, to keep up with my field, but I do read a lot of science fiction and fantasy as well as literary fiction. It’s important to me to read for pleasure, so I choose books I expect to enjoy. It seems to me if I stop reading for pleasure, I may no longer write for pleasure–and then perhaps my books will lose whatever charm they may have for readers. I also read Discover Magazine, The New York Times, and a number of blogs. Recently I joined a bookclub, and that’s been great, because it makes me read books I might otherwise not discover. I find it interesting, too, to see how nonwriters react to the books they read.


Q
Recently I’ve been asked several times what music I listen to when I’m writing.

A
The simple answer is none, usually, because music distracts me when I’m trying to concentrate on story. But James Schellenberg has done such an interesting article on music and writers: Literary Musicians: Scott Mackay and Louise Marley, by James Schellenberg I love the CD my old folk group, Earthwood, recorded, but even that is distracting. When I go to a coffee shop to write, as I often do, I choose one where they play classical music.  As long as it’s instrumental, I can focus.  If anyone starts to sing–off I go again!  How can a singer ignore a singer?

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