Neo-Pro Interview #4
Here’s the fourth in my neo-pro interview series, as promised.
Today, please welcome David Steffen.
Q: Who are you? What’s your genre/history/etc?
David: I’m David Steffen, and I’m a writer. (Hello, David)
I’ve pretty much always known that I wanted to create, but the medium
has changed as I’ve grown older. When I was a kid I wanted to be a
cartoonist, and I still like to doodle cartoon animals in my spare
time, but I never really stuck with it long enough to get really
proficient. Around junior high I decided I wanted to make video
games, and that stuck with me for quite some time, and I chose to
pursue a bachelor’s degree of computer science toward that end. Then
I met some people who worked in the gaming industry and found out that
they worked 70-80 hours a week during a normal week, and I decided
that maybe that wasn’t right for me. I like to be able to leave work
at some point. But I kept on with the computer science degree and now
I write computer vision programs for traffic control
applications–automatically detecting vehicles in the turn lane to
activate the green arrow, for instance.
I’ve always liked to read, and my favorite genre has always been
science fiction and fantasy, simply because there the stories need not
be limited by little things like the laws of nature or the framework
of human history. But until 2006 I never really considered that I
could be someone who wrote those stories. Somehow, those writers had
always seemed like post-human entities who had always been famous. I
mean, I knew that wasn’t the case, but despite the rational truth
that’s sort of the feeling I had about writers. Then in 2006, I
talked to my buddy Travis, who told me that he was writing a fantasy
novel. I mulled over this for a while and in 2007 I decided I ought
to give it a try.
So I started writing, first on a novel. I finished it in June 2008
and sent it off to Tor. Their website suggest 4-6 months turnaround
so I started work on the next novel. 12 days later, I got the Tor
rejection and decided that if markets would respond so quickly I would
need to try short stories that I could write more quickly. I sent the
novel off to Elder Signs Press, who I never did hear a response from.
From there I visited writing forums and met the friends that I met.
More than anything else, Baen’s Bar critique forum was the greatest
step in my learning, as I posted and critiqued short stories and grew
in skill in leaps and bounds. My story would be very different today
if I’d sent that first manuscript to ESP first instead of Tor.
Regarding genre, I write whatever moves me on that given day. I
occasionally write mainstream, but I regularly write SF, fantasy,
horror, just whatever pops into my head at the time.
Q: What’s your Race score?
David: My race score is 34 at the moment, 31 short stories and one partial
Q: When did you “get serious” about being a writer?
David: Serious? I can’t afford to get too serious about it, or I won’t enjoy
it anymore, and then I may as well just quit. I write what I like and
I I try to make each story my best story yet. Like I said I started
in 2007 and I’ve been going ever since. I made my first sale to
Pseudopod in 2009 (“The Disconnected”), which was a huge boost in
confidence, and my first story hit the masses with “The Utility of
Love” in Northern Frights Publishing’s Shadows of the Emerald City
anthology. It seems like I’ve gotten a lot of “almost, but no” type
rejections lately so I am hoping that that is a good sign of my
chances in the near future.
Q: What are your goals with your writing?
David: Oh, I have lots of goals at varying levels of difficulty. Here’s a few:
–Make a SFWA qualifying sale. (Bull Spec may be qualified soon in
which case I have a story that would be grandfathered in).
–Submit to Writers of the Future every quarter until I win or until I
disqualify myself with pro sales.
–Make a profit. I keep a tally of all my writing expenses (postage,
instructional books, etc) and all of my writing income. If I were
paid for a couple pending sales today, I would come within a few
dollars of paying for my expenses. This is very exciting!
–Qualify for SFWA
–Break into certain of my favorite markets (F&SF, Fantasy, ASIM,
Necrotic Tissue, Drabblecast, etc…)
Q: Where do you see your career in 5 years?
David: There you go using “serious” words again. 🙂 I am no good at
predictions, and even less so in writing because so much of it depends
on random chance and on the whims of individuals’ taste in fiction.
All I can control is what I write, and I intend to keep at it. So, in
five years I intend to still be writing and I intend to be writing
better than I ever have before. It would be nice to have finished
another novel or two, but so far my Muse seems to prefer short stories
so we’ll see what happens.
Q: Do you have a particular story or idea you are dying to write? Or, if you could write a tie-in to any established universe/franchise, what would it be?
David: I’ve got a few that I’d like to write that I haven’t seemed to
actually wrap a story around. In particular, I keep coming back to a
Pinocchio retelling novel but so far I haven’t pulled it off yet.
As far as established universes, there are no current ones that I’d
like to get into. My first published story, “The Utility of Love”, is
a horror retelling of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. Oz has always been
one of my favorite worlds and I was very excited to take it and focus
on the parts of the original story that really bothered me. I’d love
to do a Wonderland retelling too, but the original is so meandering
it’s hard to do a coherent retelling. And I’m not good enough at
nonsense to do Lewis Carroll’s story credit.
Q: What are your hobbies outside writing?
David: Oh, all things media, mostly. I love to watch movies, read
books/magazines, play video games. I’m trying a bit of sketching on
the side. Going hiking with or without the dogs is always fun.
Q: What’s your writing process like?
David: A lot of things vary about my writing process, but I try to keep at
least some constants. On work days I can get ready for work in about
30 minutes, usually. But I make a habit of getting up an hour earlier
than that and I sit at my desk for most of my time and write whatever
I can. That’s the time of day when my brain is the sharpest, and when
my wife and dogs are zonked out sleeping, so I can usually get a chunk
of writing time in there. I might get a bit more in at lunch on some
days, but that’s no guarantee. And then I do what I can.
Generally I only work on one project at a time because if I switch
projects in the middle I tend not to return to them. And I’ve learned
that on the first draft I’ve just gotta write it as fast as I can or I
will lose momentum. Plot holes, bad wording, that can all be fixed
later and once I type THE END on a rough draft I have never neglected
to go back and polish it, but if I agonize over every word choice as I
go I lose momentum and then I get frustrated and sidetracked.
Q: What’s been toughest about your journey so far as a writer? How do you keep yourself going?
David: For me I think the toughest thing is just trying to go with the flow.
So much of writing “success” is just plain out of my control and when
I stress out about it I gain nothing but ulcers. Everything hinges on
editorial choices. No matter how good you are, there will be editors
who just don’t dig your style. When you’re a relative unknown you
don’t have Name Fame working in your favor and you’ve just gotta live
with the fact that if you submit a story of equal quality to a Big
Name writer, your story will not be accepted. And probably won’t be
accepted even if your story is better (for some definition of better).
It sucks, but it’s true.
I also have learned that my “ideal writing conditions” seem to flux
every few months. Right now I am writing slow but steady, other times
in a frenzy, other times I may go a month without working much on
anything. My Muse is fickle and likes to change her pattern. If I
get worked up about it, I get nothing but worry. All I can do is make
sure that I sit in my writing desk every day and do what I can.
Q: Any tips or tricks you’ve figured out for improving your writing?
David: I have very strong feelings about point of view and how it is best
used in a story. Many of these feelings are outlined in this article.
The base of the ideas I got from the amazing book “Self-Editing for
Fiction Writers” by Browne and King, the only instructional book I
recommend. It’s not geared specifically toward speculative fiction
but is an amazing tool for learning some aspects of writing, with
concrete examples, excerpts from real books of good uses and bad uses.
I added some of my own stuff and my own examples but I recommend that
book for anyone who wants to write fiction.
Q: And finally, got anything you want to pimp?
David: I co-edit a nonfiction zine focused on everything related to
speculative fiction: http://www.diabolicalplots.com . I post
interviews of writers and editors, reviews, “best of” lists, website
recommendations and so on.
I have my second Pseudopod story coming up, a reprint of my most
well-received story “What Makes You Tick.” Watch for it some time
If you want a full bibliography of my published work (4 short stories
in various formats plus some nonfiction articles), check out my biblio