The Writing Process and J.Kathleen Cheney

And now, debut author J.Kathleen Cheney shares her writing process.

Tamago: Do you have a regular drafting process, or does your drafting process vary from book to book. Can you describe it to us generally, or at least for one project?

Kathleen: I’ll have to say that for the first couple of novels I wrote, I had no process. I’m now actually working on my 7th. By now, I’m finally forming a process.
1) I take a couple of weeks to do initial research and do my preliminary outline.
2) I start writing, more or less straight through the novel.
3) Once I reach the end, I re-outline, and then rewrite.
4) Once I reach the end, I re-outline, and then rewrite. (I do this twice.)
5) I let someone read it.
6) I clean it up, considering their input.
7) I submit it (to agent and editor).

Tamago: Is your writing process the same for short stories as it is for novels?

Kathleen: Surprisingly, not much different.

Tamago: Which part of writing–drafting, revising, critique from others–do you enjoy the most? Why? The least? Why?< ?em>

Kathleen: Revising. I could do that endlessly. I enjoy shaping words into what I want them to say, and every pass seems to make the meaning clearer. I dislike the outlining phase the most. It seems so unproductive, even though I know it needs to be done.

Tamago: Do you belong to a writer’s group, or do you work solo? Why do you follow the approach that you do?

Kathleen: Sadly, I work solo. I am a member of several writers groups, but I don’t have those people critique my work. It’s difficult to find the right balance in critiquing. I did have a great first reader, but she passed away recently. So for now, I’m pretty much just running things past my husband, and then turning them in.

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And…tomorrow I’m leaving for Wiscon.

Where I’ll see some good people that I know, hang out with some wonderful friends, get some books signed, belt out some karaoke, and eat, drink, and be merry.

Since I am busy working on a Vietnam thing with students, and actually have some panels planned for Convergence in July, I am keeping my activities for Wiscon pretty light. If you’d like to hear an excerpt from my new novel The Poison of thy Flesh (or as Julia Rios likes to call it, Sweet, Sweet, Sweet Poison), that’ll be 10 pm -11:15 pm in Conference Room 2. You know, you can come all sweaty from the genderfloomp and take a break, and then go right back. There will be some book drawings and a wide diversity of things read.

And I’ll be at the sign out Monday early, just in case you win my copy of Cucurbital 3.

But mostly, I’ll be being social. So, see you there?


Kindle Worlds: A (Former) Fan Fiction Writer’s Perspective

Well, let’s talk about Kindle Worlds, then.

In 2001, I graduated with my PhD in second language writing after seven years. Before I began those seven years of academia, reading a ton of stuff that wasn’t about creative writing, I had this idea to become a novelist. And I’d had some nibbles, and then I went off to grad school (again!) and disappeared for seven years.

After grad school, I was rather keen to see if I could still write. So, I thought a safe arena to try this out in would be fan fiction. As it turns out, Harry Potter fan fiction. I was captivated by Book 3, The Prisoner of Azkaban. I also wondered how Rowling could build a character like Snape so he’d actually be like he was portrayed (I wasn’t one of those change Snape women who wanted to put him in Argyll socks and wash his hair.) Mind you, this is weird for me. IF the author has done their job, I am usually pleased with what there is on the page, and I never feel the need to add a foot note. But here, there were too many questions that I wanted to answer.

One day I was thinking about this Snape problem, and a voice whispered in my ear. “Come over here,” it said. “Let me tell you what happened.” And it was NOTHING like what really happened, of course. But, this is me talking about why Kindle Worlds may not be such a good idea for you fan fiction writers–namely, you don’t know what you’re going to want in the future.

Read more, if you are so inclined.

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Paradise Icon 2

Last year at Icon, we held our first Paradise Icon, an event that is a writer’s workshop, an education day, and a chance to attend a science fiction convention. We’re going to do it again.


This year at Icon 38, from November 15-17, we will be holding Paradise Icon 2! Our guest lecturers (so far) are Nancy Kress, Greg Frost, and Ellen Datlow. We may add one more to the schedule. On Friday, we workshop. On Saturday, we listen to lectures and ask questions. Sometime on Saturday, we get to read our own work.

If PI2 sounds like something you’d like to do, let me know. You do need to be a Journeyman writer–someone who has attended Clarion, Viable Paradise, Odyssey, Taos Toolbox, Orson Scott Card’s Bootcamp, something like that. OR you need to send me a piece that I can evaluate that makes sure you’re about that level.


The cost for the event is $100. That gets you the workshop and the convention, plus valuable face time with some of our attending pros. Icon also has a very nice con suite.

Some of you are eager to pay and come. Register for Paradise Icon now on the Icon Registration Page!

Let me know if you have any questions. Membership is capped at 18. Hope to see you there.

Freakin’ Big Hurricanes and Tornadoes and Floods and Droughts

It would be unseemly to write anything political the morning after ANOTHER tragic weather event, so I won’t do that. I would like to extend sympathy to the people who have lost loved ones and their way of life.

Currently the news in our part of the world is doing a revisiting of the flood we had 5 years ago, which they called a 5000 year flood, or the kind of flood that is only supposed to occur every 5000 years, according to insurance statisticians. In 1998, the year my father died, we had a 1000 year flood. In 2003, another 1000 year flood. The weather, she is changing.

I know you have seen the statistics. Tornadoes are bigger. Windstorms are more violent. Hurricanes are larger and more dangerous and on the increase. There are more earthquakes. More drought. Cities are undergoing desertification. Places like Iowa will have droughts one year (last year) and floods the next (this year). The hot button issue of the middle 21st century will be WATER. We have begun to see climate refugees, leaving Oceania because their coastal homes are being swept away.

Regardless of why you think it happened, we’ve warmed up our environment, deepened our oceans, melted our ice caps. This changes the intensity of weather action, the direction of ocean drift, and the loss of land mass. Global warming does make the ocean hotter. That doesn’t mean that if you have a cold winter, you have no global warming. That means that the warmer ocean is making your weather bigger, scarier.

How can we make sure that our population areas are safer? In Cedar Rapids, for example, we could stop dinking around and build a flood wall on both sides of the Cedar River, instead of just one side because FEMA will pay for it.

We can move people out of at risk climate zones as best we can. Yeah, this one is horrible. At the end of my life, projections are that Miami will be underwater, for example. No one wants to leave the place they love. But I suspect we won’t have much choice in preserving life.

There are certain things we can’t predict. A tornado is like Russian Roulette. So, what can we do to insure the safest tornado conditions we can? Like neighborhood shelters, roadside bunkers for people who are commuting? Make sure mobile home parks are equipped with safety areas.

We know that the weather is not going to get better, nor are things going back to the way they were. Mind, I’d be happy if they did. But we need to think infrastructure, and we need to think safety. We may just be spitting into the wind. I’d like to say we did something, though.

So, again, spare a thought for Oklahoma. Send some money to the Red Cross. And tell our government officials we need to be thinking about these things, as well as better bridges and roads.

TT Profile #14: Corry Lee

Writers of the Future Winner and physicist Corry Lee rounds out the Taos Toolbox profiles. Enjoy!


Tamago: When did you know that you wanted to become an author?

Corry: I spent my weekends and vacations writing ever since I was a kid, but I first started thinking critically about writing in 2009 when I attended Odyssey, the Fantasy Writing Workshop. I’d been working on “a novel” for years before that, but the workshop experience–and choosing to focus on short stories for a couple of years to hone my craft–is really when I took my first big step toward becoming an author, rather than just writing for fun.

Tamago: I know that you write in more than one genre. Do you have a preference of science fiction or fantasy? What do you like about storytelling in those subgenres?

Corry: I love both fantasy and science fiction, but no matter what I’m writing, I have to love the world. It needs to be intricate and filled with characters I care about. I tend to like secondary world fantasy; if it’s going to take place in our world, it needs to be a culture and/or time period I’m not familiar with. Science fiction is similar in that I don’t like stuff too close to the modern day. I want to escape my comfort zone and explore!

The novel I’m working on right now is my first secondary world fantasy, and I’m having a lot of fun inventing a magic system that fits a society with a 1920s era technology level.

Tamago: Which writers are your influences?

Corry: This is a constantly evolving list, but some of my favorite authors right now–whose work I find both motivational (because it’s awesome) and discouraging (because it’s so awesome!) include… Brent Weeks (The Black Prism), N.K. Jemisin (The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms), Brandon Sanderson (Mistborn), Ian Tregillis (Bitter Seeds), and Courtney Schafer (The Whitefire Crossing).

Tamago: How does having a degree in particle physics affect your writing?

Corry: People often expect that having a PhD in physics means I write hard science fiction… so far, not so much. The glib response in that writing hard SF is too much like work, but the fact is, I still feel so close to all the nitty-gritty (and not very interesting) details of actually *doing* big science, that I haven’t come up with any story ideas that use any scientific “big ideas” in a plausible way.

That said, I have written characters who are scientists or are otherwise involved in scientific research, and having background in research makes those characters more realistic.

The big intangible for me, though, has been that spending 7 years on a PhD forced me to be highly self-motivated, making daily, incremental progress on a big project with a nebulous completion date. It also taught me to expect that the first thing you try–or maybe the eighth–isn’t going to work. Gosh, that sounds a lot like writing a novel.

Tamago: How did you come to apply for Taos Toolbox?

Corry: I was chatting with Walter in a bar at WorldCon and he said, “Do you want to apply to Taos Toolbox?” I thought, sure, why not? I’d learned a lot at Odyssey, and thought another workshop–especially one with more of a novel focus–sounded like it might be a good next-step.

Tamago: What advice would you give someone who was planning to attend a writing workshop?

Corry: Be ready to have your ego crushed… and hopefully rebuilt! Go in expecting to learn about all sorts of flaws in work that you thought was perfect. It’ll be hard, but if you start with the attitude that you’re there to learn, and that none of your prose is sacred, workshops can be incredibly useful.

Tamago: Do you have a dream project? Could you describe it if so?

Corry: Dream project? Hm, whatever I’m working on at the moment tends to be my dream project. I only write stories I love to tell.

Tamago: Which part of the writing process do you like best and why?

Corry: First drafting–once I have enough of a sense of the story and characters to know where I’m going. The very beginning of a project is always rocky for me. I have to hash out characters and world and plot and somehow make all those things work together? Yikes. But once I’m about a third of the way through the first draft, I usually have a pretty good idea of those things, and the characters start talking in my head while I’m walking to the store. At that point, figuring out where the story goes next is still hard work, but now it’s fun because I’m doing it with my imaginary friends!

I also like big re-writes. I sort of hate to say this, because I’m hoping to be able to do less massive re-writes in the future, but when I have a great idea for how to make a story so much cooler by throwing out twenty thousand words and writing some new material, that process is awesome. I love seeing the new, tighter work, and I love the freedom of taking my (already well-understood) characters in a new and better direction.

Tamago: What are you working on now?

Corry: I’m writing a young adult fantasy novel set in a 1920s era police state. In it, a circus high wire walker and a boy trained as an elite soldier race to stay ahead of the secret police while struggling to control their storm magic before it drives them mad. Their abilities could turn the tide for the resistance–if they can escape being captured and turned into weapons for the regime.

Tamago: Where can readers find more of your work?

Corry: My short story “Shutdown” won the Writers of the Future contest and is published in Volume 28 of the anthology. You can also listen to a podcast or read it (for free) at Escape Pod.

Anything new, I’ll post to my website

Writers and Despair

So, there I was, writing along on the new novel on Sunday, and posting bits and progress to Twitter, like I do. And a tweet pops up from Kate Elliot (an author I have not read, but discovered that I will be reading for book group in December…) about despair. Her tweet was a riff on Galadriel, I think, but Stephen Gould, one of my teachers from Viable Paradise mentioned that he understood about despair because he was despairing in his living room the night before.

Then, Beth Bernobich, who is a great writer four books or so into her career asked these two very established writers, “Wait. You guys despair?” And Stephen said, “Of course we despair. We’re writers.” And Kate suggested she might write a post about despair. I would like to read a post about despair. I told them I was despairing even as I was writing.


Yesterday’s post, was, I think, a very realistic post. It was also me working through some feelings about this round of queries and rejections. The only way I can avoid sinking into sadness about the great void is to keep working, either on the new story, or at work. That’s one of the types of trying to break in despair. Stephen suggested if I was despairing, I must be doing something write.


However, I notice that every writer has their level of despair. It’s like being a monk in the old Dungeons and Dragons system–by the time you become a Grand Master of Flowers, your despair must be as mighty as your universe reversing martial arts. Here are some examples of recent level ups that I know about from others.

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Six Years Down

There are two things upon which I build my writer training: Malcolm Gladwell’s expertise hours (5428 down, 4572 left to go!) and the fact that it took me fifteen years (college prep and job shifting) to land my ideal job at Kirkwood. Gladwell’s theory should help me become a better artist. The fifteen years is about the patience that it takes to get to the place you want to get.

So, in 2007, I put away my sewing machine and dug out my computer, and started writing. What have I done with my six years in my writing career?

More under here to save the frankly bored with Catherine talking about herself crowd.

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Zettai Unmei Mokushiroku

Bryon and I recently sorted through our DVD collections. We culled some stuff and reorganized some stuff. Of course, the primary realization was that we have a lot of DVDs, and we’ll probably need some more shelves if we keep up this sort of nonsense.

Our anime collection is most likely finite now since we do not go seeking new shows, but it is still the largest collection of viewable material we have, even after the culling. There are things in the collection that are clearly not mine ( Devilman Lady, anyone?), and there are things that are not his (original in Japanese Ribon no Kishi), but most of the stuff we both enjoy on a sliding scale toward me or Bryon.

We thought maybe we should rewatch some of this mighty treasure trove. So, we viewed X, which is just as melodramatic as ever. (The music! The feathers! The cherry blossoms!). And we are currently watching Azumanga Daioh, comedic school strip that delights in the truths of adolescence. In between the two of these, we retackled Revolutionary Girl Utena. We hadn’t viewed the Right Stuf re-mastered anniversary edition yet, so…there you go.

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