Section #3: The Creative Process
I'm really excited about this interview. The Blog Ring of Power had invited Alma, via Terri Bruce, and when Alma excepted, Terri gave a great big fan squeal, and for good reason.
If you haven't read the interview from the beginning check out Terri's page.
Then check in with T.W. Fendley for her part,
I'm section 3 this week.
Sandra will have section 4 for your reading pleasure,
and D.C. Rich will top it off on Tuesday.
Please read each part of the interview. Alma's answers are great.
And now, I want to welcome our newest guest to the Realm!
Alma Alexander was born in Yugoslavia, grew up in Africa, and went to school in Wales. She has lived in several countries on four continents, and is quite comfortable in the new continent of cyberspace. She was living in New Zealand when she met a man on an Internet bulletin board for writers, married him and moved to America. She now lives with her husband and two cats in the Pacific Northwest, in the city of Bellingham (directions to her home include the phrase "Aim for Canada and just before you get there, turn right").
Alma: I have an idea tree in my back yard, and when one is ripe I just go out and pluck it… What, you don’t believe that? How strange….[grin] Every so often we writers will get faced with an eager soul who comes up and says something that’s a variation of, “Say, I have this WONDERFUL idea – how about I tell you about it and you write it and we split the profits?” The truth is, ideas are the cheap and plentiful part of this equation, and most writers have more of them than they will be able to deal with in a single lifetime. Sometimes a word is enough, a stray phrase, something overheard in a bus, or just a glimpse of an odd headline in the papers; sometimes an image, or a piece of music; sometimes an issue that is close to our hearts and that we feel would be served well by forming the theme of a story. Where do I get my ideas? From reading, from writing, from talking, from dreaming, from being alive and from being human. And that’s an inexhaustible source of them.
Alma: You tend to be blocked on a single project, not on EVERYTHING. So – go write something else instead for a while instead of the thing that is being a problem for you. Or go read someone else’s book. Or go away from words altogether and take a long bath, or a long walk, or go someplace new for a cup of coffee and people-watch for an hour or two. Relax your mind. Sometimes you can be too tightly wound over something, and the best thing to get around that is to just learn to LET IT GO, at least for a little while.
Alma: Since they tend to wander into my office and into my mind – often uninvited – always fully formed or damn close to it – I don’t have a formula. I tend to sit down and flex my fingers and prepare to take dictation. Other writers will scream at this scenario and tell you that YOU are in charge of your characters and not vice versa and that my way is a recipe to certain disaster. You can go take your pick. Different ways of doing things work for different people. But I am constantly surprised by my people and my plots, which leads us into…
Alma: GOOD GOD am I a pantser. Outlining a piece of fiction kills it stone dead for me. The way I’ve explained this to people is that what I have is a story seed – and I shove it into the ground and then I watch and wait, and I have as little idea as the eventual reader does as to what it will turn out to be. I may have a cabbage on my hands, or a redwood – I won’t know until the first shoot comes out, and sometimes barely even then, because my stories have careened wildly from where I thought they might be going and I’ve wound up in quite a different conclusion than the one I thought I was trying to steer towards. I have several so-called “sales synopses” that were created as part of a book proposal to pitch to a publisher – and the books that have eventually resulted from these things bear shockingly little resemblance to what the proposal pitch summary says they were supposed to be. I am absolutely best at writing a synopsis AFTER I’ve finished writing the book or the story – I very very rarely know where I am heading, when I start writing, and yes, I really DO make up things as I go along – or if you prefer to look at it that way, the story knows best, and all I do is listen to what it wants to do, and obey. So far, that has served me well. I am a horror at convention panels where they ask “do you outline or not” because most of my answers to questions along the lines of “but HOW do you write” revolve around values of “I don’t know”. With me, it’s an instinct, it’s voices in the head. If I listen and let them have their head, they tend to end up in a good place in the end. It’s weird, but the concept of having a “map” which defines the story and constrains it within certain parameters, hamstrings me completely. At best, I will have a set of directions, and often they’ll be weird ones – “turn left at the empty lot where they are planning to build the library” kind of thing, and how I know where the library is being built without any hint or signage, well, that’s one of writing’s little mysteries for me. I wouldn't have it any other way.
BRoP: Do you use critique partners or beta readers? Why or why not?
Alma: They are helpful. A writer is always too close to the work at hand to see it really clearly – you know what you MEANT to say, and that is often what your physical eye will present you with, no matter what is actually on the page. Someone else, a cold-reading person who doesn’t know anything about the story except what is there on the page, will save you from a thousand blunders. My absolute favorite when it comes to my own work is the catch that a beta-reader made when I wrote, literally, this sentence: “The deaf servant, summoned by the noise, rushed into the room…” Yeah, I’d written that. And I’d read right over it. I knew what I MEANT, dammit. But it’s just as well that particular blunder never made it into the actual book for real readers to snort and giggle over. All hail beta readers.
Alma: Depends on the book, and if it is required I will do HEAPS of it. For “Embers of Heaven”, I counted – I read forty seven books to write ONE. It was necessary. I don’t regret a line or a syllable of all that reading. This is the iceberg theory of writing – only a fraction of all this stuff found its way into the book directly, but because I had learned all the rest it gave the book a sort of depth that gave the reader to understand that I knew what I was talking about even if I wasn’t infodumping the sum total of my research onto them in a great big pile. Writers have been known to do this – the “I’ve done all this research, and you WILL know about it!” approach – and it’s always to the detriment of the book. But if you get the feeling that you can buttonhole the author and ask a question that is NOT directly addressed in the book but that you have no doubt that the author will know the answer to – that is something else entirely.
On the other hand, with things like my high fantasy – stuff that lives in my own head and nowhere else – I find out what I have to know, no more, no less. I do try to avoid common problems like treating horses like animate motorcycles and making them impervious to heat, cold, hunger, or the kind of loads that would break any self-respecting equine’s back. But the rest of it is my own creation, and lives by my own rules.
Wow Alma! Thanks so much for visiting. I loved your answers on not only mine, but the others Blog Ring of Power posts as well! I can see why Terri gave the fan squeal when you said yes. LOL