Random thoughts on writing sci-fi

Hello friends, I had this vision at one point a month ago that I was going to post here every single working day. That vision unfortunately didn’t come to fruition. But I’m still around. Just turned in probably the last big revision for my YA novel. I always think revisions are going to be relatively small, but with this revision I cut 35k words and wrote another 28k. All within a month! Feel kind of proud of myself. I feel good about this novel. I really do. Definitely worth the pipe-bomb that some right-winger will send me over it! Today I was talking to another author, and they were like our child’s school does this conference for writers, do you want to come. I was like sure, then I was like wait a second, you live in Florida, right? No, I do not want to be around children in the state of Florida.

Anyway, I don’t want to do that thing queer / PoC writers do where we adopt a pose that we’re under a state of siege or whatever. I’m fine. I never actually get hate or harassment. The current climate is a bit like terrorism, I guess? It’s meant to scare all trans people, and it most certainly does. It scares me. But it hasn’t actually, literally hit me in any concrete way yet. And I am very, very lucky to be getting published! Makes me sad to think of all the trans women and girls out there who never got to publish books. Also kind of weird, because I am not at all political (in my writing) and am so new in transition and wasn’t a trans kid, but now I feel all this weight to do something, to be there for the kiddies, to represent or something.

Well, whatever, good problems to have.

I’ve been reading a lot of poetry lately, largely in single-author collections. I’ve been reading a lot of Wislawa Szymborska and a lot of Osip Mandelstam. Most of Szymborska is translated into English by Clare Cavanagh and Stanisław Barańczak, and they do an excellent job. The poetry is so rhythmic, even in English, and it contains subtle, irregular, but frequent rhymes. It sounds great. She’s a very playful poet, and she reminds me quite a bit of some of the posts in the Beat tradition, with her refusal to become overly erudite and poetical on us. Osip Mandelstam is, of course, the opposite. All of his poems are about Biblical times or Renaissance Italy, and they contain exalted, very Christian images, and powerful feelings of despair and triumph.

Anyway reading these books of poetry has made me realize: you don’t necessarily read poetry so you can remember it later, or so you can talk about it. You just read it for the emotions you get. I think it was the Nadezhdha Mandelstam book that gave me permission to read poets in a less-educated less-expectant way. She said something like, “What you get from a poet is their world-view.” And you can’t boil it down to one thing or another, but yes, you’re in touch with a particular consciousness and way of seeing the world. It’s also a much more emotional experience, in some ways, than reading prose. But the emotions, at least for me, are finer, more fleeting.

Lately I’ve been feeling very emotional. I mean, I’ve been trying not to. I just think many things in the world aren’t as I’d want them to be. And I feel disillusioned in a lot of ways by the gap between how people act and what they say. But my life isn’t materially worse. So I don’t know how to balance that kind of galaxy-brain perspective with the fact that less has changed in my quotidian life.

Also I’ve been working a lot! I mean it still doesn’t add up to an actual day of work for a doctor or a construction worker, but this year along I completely rewrote my YA book once, and then did the latest half-revision. I also have written a few proposals, and I’ve done tens of thousands of words on other projects. Of course it’s nothing compared to last year, when I completely rewrote the literary book AND wrote a first draft of the YA book, but for some reason this year I feel more productive. Not sure why. I also wrote at least fifty thousand words, mostly in axed drafts, on a science fiction book, and I think that I’m starting to get a handle on it

For at least ten years I’ve been handicapped in my writing sci-fi books by one thing: I just don’t want to write about people fighting. Like, combat, swords, lasers, it’s just totally uninteresting to me. And I realized at some point this year, I just don’t believe in that. Like, the heroes in books should lose 99 percent of the time. But they don’t, because they’re just that good at fighting and killing. It doesn’t have anything to do with the rightness of their cause: they just win because they’re better at fighting. It makes no sense to me.

The exception is military novels, of various sorts. I still enjoy those. There I think the way the fight works and proceeds is part of the story. And there is a (slight) moral component to who wins and who loses in a war. But I don’t really know enough about war to write a novel like that myself.

So yes, I decided, there’s no need to write about swords and lasers anymore. I’m just not going to do it. Yes, I enjoyed when I was a kid reading about that stuff, but I’m not a kid anymore. So now whenever I develop a setting, I’m like, would people in this setting solve these particular problems with swords and lasers? And if the answer is yes I just don’t write that story.

Maybe the sci-fi will go somewhere, who knows, but so far good things are happening.

3 thoughts on “Random thoughts on writing sci-fi

  1. Philip Agnew

    Thank you. What you wrote here has real meaning to me. I don’t know you, but I like you.

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