Neo-pro Interview: Nathaniel Lee
Who are you? What’s your genre/history/etc?
Nathan: I’m Nathan, or Nathaniel Lee for my Srs Writer Name. I write oddball stuff that probably would get stuck in “magical realism” or “slipstream” or whatever the term du jour is. My standard approach is a basic modern-day setting with Something Different About It, and a dearth of explanation as to how or why, for example, words now cause physical damage to match their emotional damage or a hole in the ground is swallowing all the water in the world. I think of myself as mostly a fantasy author, if that helps, treading on the borderlands of horror every now and then and rarely dipping into SF.
Nathan: I’ve got 21 stories out right now because that’s all the stories I have in a finished state. I’m a little behind with my polishing; I’ve got three or four stories waiting for revisions/edits, whereas normally I keep that down to two or fewer. Duotrope says I’ve submitted somewhere around 140 stories in the past twelve months. My policy is to juggle them right back out as soon as they hit my inbox with the rejection note. I’ve got a “Writing” label in Gmail that is a deep purple, so when I look at my e-mail and it starts looking like a bruise, then that’s my To-Do List for the weekend. Once they’re sent back out, I can archive the rejection letters and move on with my life.
Nathan: Around about 2008. I am not making tons of progress, but on the other hand, I was fairly desultory about it for the first year or so, writing only a half-dozen stories or so. I’ve written 20 stories so far in 2011, which has been much more satisfying. I joined a support group of sorts where the ostensible goal was to produce 25 stories for the year, or one story approximately every two weeks. I think I’m the only person left actually trying to achieve that, but it really helped for the early bits. I cannot emphasize enough how much even the tiniest bit of outside accountability helps boost one’s productivity. The effect is astonishing, even on someone as lazy as I am.
Nathan: Well, it would be nice to be able to support myself with it, but I am fully aware that is a pipe dream. I would be content as a D-grade celebrity, able to go to tiny local conventions and attend events as a Serious Writer or have the occasional successful signing at a local bookstore. Be one of the names that gets scooped out of slush at a few decent magazines rather than languishing with the hoi polloi. Even just having a book published that I can go to a bookstore and see on the shelves. I do not want fame and fortune; very mild success will suffice for me.
I’m frankly skeptical I’ll ever achieve that, mind you, but I’ll keep plugging away. Next year is Novel Writing Year, where I will force myself to finish at least one Damned Book. (I have three or four 50K+ half-finished manuscripts lying around. My ADD and general pessimism keep sapping my will to continue on such long projects.)
Nathan: Well, barring some kind of unexpected surge, I might have a book and maybe an agent to go with it by then. Judging by my progress to date, there will be an awful lot of running without much forward motion on the old treadmill. I think this video pretty much sums up how I picture my writing career: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cMO8Pyi3UpY
Nathan: Usually if I want to write something, I just do it. I have a list of story seeds right on my desktop, and I open it up whenever I finish a story to pick the theme for the next one.
I’m not hugely into fanfiction – due to Sturgeon’s Law, mostly – but if I had the chance to work on, say, a novelization of an Avatar: The Last Airbender story/sequel/standalone, that would be a ton of fun.
Nathan: I am a gigantic nerd. Like, massive. I read a lot of spec-fic, naturally, and I also enjoy neuroscience and psychology books or interesting science books in general. I love roleplaying games – much of my writing skills were honed playing forum-based Vampire and D&D and so on, actually – and I am deeply into board games. We have an entire walk-in closet that is pretty much full of board games. I favor abstract strategy games, but I also like word games, war games, and your basic Euro-game with little wooden cubes and no way to burn down your enemy’s huts, alas.
I’m also a total hipster/snob about this stuff. I’m really insufferable. Like, I don’t play just D&D or GURPS; that’s so *pedestrian*. No, the games I really like are weird offbeat indie games, like Don’t Rest Your Head and Nobilis and Mouse Guard. I’m the guy who will cheerfully sit and chat in-character for hours but gets antsy after twenty minutes of combat.
Nathan: I call it “gumbo.” I get an idea, and I jot it down. Then it goes into the Pot of the Subconscious and simmers with all the other stuff down there. Periodically, I pull something out and look at it more closely, see if I can see characters, a plot, etc., to go with the original striking image or phrase or thematic idea. Often, I toss it back in the pot to keep cooking, but sometimes I can tell an idea is “done” and ready to go, at which point I dish it up, add spices, and serve.
To drop the metaphor, I am primarily a “pantser,” but not a pure one. I rarely just start writing without any forethought whatsoever. I just don’t write any outlines or character sketches in advance; it all builds up in my head, organically, and I leave the details vague. As I write, I find the specific notes I want to hit flow very smoothly out so long as the basic idea has “simmered” for long enough. If I find myself hesitating a lot or dithering over whether, say, the protagonist has a beloved father or a lost spouse, I know the idea wasn’t cooked all the way through when I pulled it out. I usually complete a story in one or two marathon sessions of two to six thousand words. More rarely, I will work on a story slowly over a week or two, but I find those stories tend to need a lot more editing and refining afterward.
Nathan: The resounding “meh” with which I have largely been met. Hatred is fine; apathy is hard to swallow. Given that I tend to love stories that everyone else also says “Meh” to and to dislike stories that receive widespread acclaim, I have attempted to resign myself to being a niche taste with a relatively limited audience. Which I’m fine with; I just would like to find my audience already.
Nathan: Well, I’m going to be making up stories no matter what; if I weren’t writing for publication, I’d be putting excessive amounts of time into some forum roleplaying game or something. I figure, I might as well send the stories out and see if I can sell ’em, y’know? It costs nothing, or almost nothing. I keep a pessimistic outlook and assume failure is a given; that way, when I get rejection notes, I get the grim satisfaction of being proven right about how crappy my writing is, and when I manage to score a sale, it’s pure frosting.
Nathan: Nope. There’s only one way to expertise, and that’s practice. Read a lot and write a lot. That’s all you can do.
Nathan: I maintain a daily writing blog of 100-word stories at www.mirrorshards.org. It is called Mirrorshards, creatively enough, and it is the closest thing to an Author’s Website I have. (There’s a link to my bibliography on it and everything.) I’ve been writing a story a day since November 2008, though last year I dropped it to six days a week. I do not update regularly enough, but I try to catch up whenever I miss a day or two. I flatter myself that I have developed a decent level of talent at microfiction at this point.
All the stories there are under a CC license that explicitly allows derivative works so long as the original is credited, so anyone who wants to steal my ideas and write a “real” story with them can freely do so. Not that anyone but me thinks they are interesting ideas, but still.