A warm welcome to Susan Forest, my author in the spotlight guest this week!
Two-time Prix Aurora Award finalist and winner of The Galaxy Project, juried by Robert Silverberg, David Drake and Barry Malzberg, Susan Forest is a writer of science fiction, fantasy and horror, and a fiction editor for Edge Press. You can find her stories in Analog, Asimov’s, OnSpec, Blood and Water, Beneath Ceaseless Skies, Tesseracts, AE Science Fiction Review, and The Urban Green Man, or in her collection, Immunity to Strange Tales (Five Rivers Press). www.speculative-fiction.ca.
Besides writing, Susan paints (acrylics and oils) both speculative and western landscapes. She teaches creative writing for adults (the novel, speculative fiction, and some weekend courses) and goes into elementary schools as an artist-in-residence (writing).
SEVEN SPOTLIGHT QUESTIONS:
#1: Why do you write?
Stories bubble up in me all the time. As a child, I had imaginary playmates, and I still love to play with my imaginary friends. Writing, for me, is being immersed in story–surrounded by bizarre, dangerous and exciting landscapes, interacting with surprising characters. When I was younger, I enjoyed acting in community theatre, and I directed plays as well. Writing for me is the best of theatre, because I get to be all the actors and the director at the same time.
#2: What was your earliest writing experience?
In grade two, I wrote, “Jimmy the Fish That Couldn’t Swim.” In grade six, my teacher suggested my contribution to the class talent show would be to write, and read, an original story: “The Eyes on the Wall” (my first horror piece). In grade seven, the last section of my school binder with all my subjects was my first (uncompleted) novel: “Jean-Paul Travels Twice.” I used to work on it in class, after I finished the assignments for homework.
#3: Describe a day in your writing life:
First, I get rid of my email commitments, then go to the gym. Too much sitting is not only bad for your health, but leads to all sorts of stress injuries like carpal tunnel and tendonitis; besides, I like to get the blood flowing through my brain, and I find one of the most productive places to think about my stories–and solve plot problems–is on the treadmill. The afternoon is spent writing until supper, and I do my hobbies (painting), volunteer work (I am secretary for SFWA, IFWA and When Words Collide) and prep for courses I teach, in the evenings. As well as go to book launches, of course! Reading and critiquing happens while I eat or at bedtime.
#4: What authors influenced you and how?
My earliest influences were Edgar Rice Burroughs and Walter Farley, but I love so many genre authors: Ursula K LeGuin, Sherry Tepper, Robert J Sawyer, Barbara Hambly, Connie Willis, Lois McMaster Boujold, Lois Lowry, and Margaret Atwood, and non-genre authors such as Betsy Byars, Katherine Paterson and Natalie Babbitt. Burroughs was formative–Tarzan, his Martian stories and the centre of the earth stories: his worlds were so exotic. I got to hear LeGuin speak when she came to Calgary, and I’ll never forget her advice to writers about crowding (adding all the detail to make your story as complete as possible) and leaping (cutting until what is left is only your best). Tepper created the most bizarre worlds, and Sawyer has been a personal mentor. Hambly creates the most amazing turns of phrase, and Willis can kill you with laughter and tears. Boujold integrates threads. Lowry’s book “The Giver,” is the only book I closed at the end, and immediately re-opened to read again. Atwood is the master of the telling detail. Byars captures the pre-teen voice and Patterson gets to the heart of pre-teen angst. Babbitt makes you think.
#5: What are some things you learned to help with your success?
There is no substitute for experience. Once, at a conference, I listened to a pro respond to a question from the audience by saying, “In that situation, I’d do this, then I’d do this, then I’d write the book.” Simple! But not necessarily simple for me because at that time I lacked experience. Over time, I have begun to develop those tools as a writer: you can learn and study, and people can pass on their tips, but it takes time and lots and lots of reading and writing and reflection–in other words, experience–for those skills to become so integral to your being that you use them as an artist, rather than as a craftsperson.
#6: Describe your writing method:
The opening of a new story or novel is slow for me, because I have to go back and forth between writing (pantsing), planning and research. I need to be sure the characters and setting are very clear in my head, and I take the time to go slowly, revising as I write until I get the exact words I want, to make the world, the characters and the situation very real. The draft tends to pick up speed as I write, and as the plot twists itself into knots I focus on the target: the idea I am trying to express as the sum of the story. Like a game of chess, from the opening gambit, the entire goal is the opponent’s king, and one cannot get distracted by juicy bishops or rooks along the way. I am constantly reminding myself to keep the main plot elements simple, because complications love to multiply. The end usually goes very quickly. Then the real work begins: shaping through revision. I love revision, because I can see how the story improves.
#7: Tips for aspiring writers:
Read. Write. Heard that before? It’s true: I never sold to Asimov’s or Analog until I read Asimov’s and Analog. There is no substitute for experience: write! Analyze and listen to the feedback you get from other writers whom you admire. Read the best your genre has to offer (the award winners, the top sellers) and read outside your genre. Read Donald Maass and Robert McKee.
Check out Susan’s book, Immunity to Strange Tales, available from Five Rivers Press.
A collection of 12 short stories by one of Canada’s rising stars of speculative fiction. Forest takes you from death-bed wishes to the eerie regions of madness employing subtle skill and fresh prose. Nine of the stories have appeared in publications such as Asimov’s, On Spec, Analog, Tesseracts Ten, Tesseracts Eleven, Tesseracts 14 and AE Science Fiction Review. Three of the stories make their debut in this collection, with an introduction by one of Canada’s respected editors and experts, Mark Leslie Lefebvre.
We made movies in those days. Lasha did everything. She woke at dawn, made lists and organized, calling people, always calling people. We lived upstairs, she and I, intimate as lovers, celibate as eunuchs, in the warehouse where the filming was done, where the fantasies played out. I did nothing but what Lasha told me to do, which was everything. I went for coffee. Answered emails. Painted sets, hung lights, sewed costumes, picked up.
Mostly, I dressed Lasha. I made her clothes. I styled her hair. Lasha had wonderful hair, then, long and kinky and willfully wild. I lived to touch it, to smell it, to adorn it. I was the only one to work with her hair. She didn’t want the natural look. No, the red was a dye, a lie, different with every mood. “Put more orange in it,” she’d say. “Streaks along the top.” Then she’d lay all the way back in the barber’s chair and give herself up completely to me. “More burgundy. More red.”
Then she would be gone.
Doing things, being with people. Because people were what Lasha was all about. Actors, designers, musicians. Long-haired technicians in ripped jeans with wrenches in their pockets climbing ladders to tighten the nuts on big tin-can lights. Makeup artists smoking Camels in back rooms, swathed in chenille and rehearsal socks. Government arts funders with pale fingers and obscure forms, rigid with ass-tight loopholes. And executive producers who didn’t really matter, because Lasha was in charge. She fought for every scrap of film that ever came out under her name. A bullet-proof vest might have helped her to bear the world.
We existed in perpetual deep night, and brilliant day. Lights seared the stage so it became a desert, barren and dry. They broiled the actors, who walked through Sandbox and Godot and No Exit. But in the cool dark, behind the sandbags and dollies, behind the folding chairs and empty beer cans, there was a richness, of furtive movement and silent cues, the smell of greasepaint and spirit gum. Costumes fluttered on racks, cigarettes glowed in ballet hands. Paper cups emoted on overturned oilcan coffee tables, and ropy wires slithered across the floor or hung like vines from impossibly high catwalks.
Lasha’s life was a spotlight. Intense. Hot. Forever struggling to spill beyond the black box eclipsing her. But, as her movies leaked into the world, cracks appeared in our warehouse, admitting strangers and fear. We saw how they knocked at the doors, and we huddled inside, in curiosity and despair, she and I.
When the work was done, and it was never done, the play began, which never stopped. The actors came off stage and into the fantasy to smoke and strip out of costume and gossip. The lights dimmed then, and candles appeared, and the bottles and joints, and the Ouija and tarot. Hands, gracefully dancing in smoky glow, gestured, illustrated, slowed. Tongues loosened and names dropped, and grand ambitions flowed. They’d trade their souls for a chance at Hollywood. And it was Lasha who summoned the séance.
Other things happened, too; secretive things, in dark corners. Love-making in broom closets or overstuffed couches or deserted kitchen tables on top of the silverware and grapes, beating the table, moaning, crying.
I watched her.
From the space between the counter and the window, beneath the hanging pots, bypassed by moonlight and candlelight, I watched her jerk to the rhythm of a faceless stunt man. She watched back, eyes on mine, fever bright. Lightning current pulsed in the space between us, sharpening, demanding, insisting, until we quivered and throbbed and burst.
Read more of Immunity to Strange Tales:
Kindle: Amazon.com, both print and digital: http://www.amazon.com/Immunity-Strange-Tales-Susan-Forest/dp/1927400147/ref=sr_1_23?ie=UTF8&qid=1366825125&sr=8-23&keywords=five+rivers+chapmanry
Barnes & Noble, print and digital: http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/immunity-to-strange-tales-susan-forest/1110920009?ean=9781927400142
Five Rivers catalogue: http://www.fiveriverspublishing.com/p/fiction-adult.html
Smashwords, digital: http://www.smashwords.com/books/view/207720
Connect with Susan:
Facebook: Susan Forest
Fan email address: go to speculative-fiction.ca