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