Writer Bo Balder traveled a long way to participate in Viable Paradise XIII, bringing with her a sunny disposition, a hilarious satyr story, and a background in fan fiction. Checking in with her now, she’s developing her writing career in her native country, where her first story was published last year.
Tamago: When did you first start writing? Why did you decide to write?
Bo: I think it was in the first year of secondary school. I’d always made up stories in my head and turned them into play scenarios with the other kids, I’d drawn maps and genealogies. But when I got an A for a composition we had to write about our pets, and I chose a dragon, that kind of sealed it.
Tamago: What was your first writing project?
Bo: It was a novel about space travelers landing on a mysterious planet ( I was twelve). I still might write that some day, but I got pretty much stuck after the first two chapters…I was still describing how everyone looked and hadn’t gotten round to plot yet.
Tamago: Why did you decide to start writing in English?
Bo: That’s jumping a head a couple of decades…I’d taken a three month sabbatical to decide whether I would become a full time painter ( artist) or not. I didn’t paint, those three months. Instead, I started writing fanfic. Which happened to be in English! There wasn’t much of a decision process. I thought, after reading a Buffy/Spike fanfic, I can do that too. In fact, I can do that better ( I hadn’t read any of the really good people yet, if you think that’s hubris). And so I did. The fanfic world has people called betas, who don’t write but are willing to edit. They really helped me get off the ground, because I started with the writing skills of an 18-year old, I hadn’t written for so long.
Tamago: What are the differences between writing in your first language, Dutch, and a language that you’ve learned?
Bo: There really aren’t that many differences. Writing is writing, for me. I see a Technicolor Surround sound, fully scented picture in my head and I write it down. So it’s a translation anyway, from the movie in my head to the paper. Of course it’s harder to write well in English, but there have always been nice people willing to help me with tenses and stuff – that’s the hardest. Not so much finding the words.
English writing, in my mind, can take richer, more elaborate language. The Dutch are so down-to-earth, I really have to tone it down when I write in Dutch. Or maybe my ear for language isn’t as critical as it is in my native Dutch. Or my inner critic is less stroppy in English…
Tamago: Recently you’ve had a story included in an anthology, Satyricon. Do you feel your Viable Paradise workshopping experience changed that story in anyway?
Bo: It changed my view of that story. I saw where I needed to make changes to make it work better. I hadn’t given my hero the right impossible choice, and John Scalzi gave me some invaluable hints how a guy would reaction if his chemical castration would be lifted….Strangely enough, the editor of the anthology preferred the first version, and since he was boss…I let him have it.
Tamago: What project are you working on right now? Can you describe it a bit?
Bo: I’m working on a YA novel set in the Netherlands, written in Dutch. It’s about a girl who’s a child of a Valkyrie and a Djinn, discovering her dual heritage while she tries to save her father from imprisonment in Asgard. She succeeds, but then discovers he was imprisoned for a reason, and she’s made things worse…
Tamago: Do you consider yourself any specific type of writer (as in horror? SF? urban fantasy?) Why?
Bo: Hm, that’s a difficult one. I’ve written soft sf, urban fantasy and a sort of mix between high fantasy and sf. And steampunk! Russian steampunk. One of my fave books so far. I think I will never ever write hard sf, high fantasy or horror. I don’t have the technical knowledge for hard sf, I don’t like castles and princesses, and I often have some horror ( or horrific) elements in my stories, but I can’t imagine ever doing straight-up horror. Thin lines, anyway. And never say never…
Tamago: I know you have a background in fan fiction. Do you feel fan fiction has influenced your writing in any way? What is your favorite fandom to write in?
Bo: I’ve only ever written Buffy the Vampire Slayer fanfic. It was a wonderful playground to be in, a ready-made appreciative audience with no layers between the writer and the public – instant publication, and their judgment, free of economics, whether they liked you or not. It made me free to try out my wings and be outrageous.
The drawback is that you play in someone else’s playground, with a lot of world building and characterization already done. I had to relearn a lot of skills when I left the fanfic world, skills I didn’t even realize I was missing. There’s so much theme built into BtVS, so much resonance, and it took hard work to be able to play with that again in my original work.
Also in fanfic you’re supposed to cram in the pop culture references, and riff off them. In regular fic, I’ve had critters get mad because you’ve used an actual product name. So yeah, the cultures, the dos and don’ts are very different. I think it’s easier to dip into the fanfic world if you come from original writing, than the other way around.
Tamago: Where do you hope to be 10 years into your writing career?
Bo: I hope to have published novels in the Netherlands as well as in the English world, through translation or directly. I love writing books and stories, and I want people to read them! I’ve got several novels written, wouldn’t it be a waste to have them moulder on my hard drive?
Tamago: If you could have dinner with any writer that you’ve admired, who would it be and why?
Bo: I think Ursula LeGuin. She was one of the first writers I discovered in my teens, in our SF-poor small town library, and I’ve always stuck with her, except maybe a bit in the 80-ies. She’s so sensitive to the role of the Other in every kind of society, she writes with such delicacy and transparency. I can still reread her books without any loss of enjoyment, which isn’t always true for other writers from my youth.
Tamago: What advice would you give to other writers based on your experiences?
Bo: Nothing earth-shattering. Just write what you like, and write a lot. And read what you like, and read a lot. Find people to share with, otherwise it’s a pretty lonely vocation.