Jay Lake: Writer

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[interviews] Me in the Sunday Oregonian

The Sunday Oregonian ran with their feature length profile of me yesterday, by reporter Jeff Baker. The online version can be read here. Also, a bonus video interview with me can be see at that link.

Participating in the development of that profile was an interesting process. This was straight journalism, so the reporter was developing his own story rather than reflecting written responses from me, as often happens when I’m interviewed in the genre. Over the course of a month or two, we visited in person twice, had several phone calls and a number of email exchanges. The second time he came to my house, the reporter brought a photographer from the newspaper as well. I’ve never been interviewed in such depth before.

Another thing that was different about this interview is the focus on cancer and my life with it. Those are important parts of my experience, that I often lead with when talking about myself in other public contexts, but it was interesting to see how Jeff cast me. I think of myself as a writer who happens to have cancer. The piece in the paper pointed in almost exactly the opposite direction.

Do I object to this? Not in the slightest. The Oregonian is aiming at a general interest audience with a Pacific Northwest regional focus. The way I’m handling my cancer is almost certainly a more interesting and distinctive story for them to cover than simply talking about my books. It was just a view I’d never taken of myself, and as such, pretty interesting to see.

By that same token, this interview will reach a relatively large number of people whom I would ordinarily almost never be able to reach. People who have little to no overlap with my genre colleagues, readers and fans. So for at least a few minutes yesterday, I was on the minds of a whole bunch of readers well outside my usual splash zone. That’s pretty neat.

And honestly, the response to the interview via Facebook and Twitter and my blogs has been gratifying. I’m glad this has had an impact on friends and strangers alike.

Does it mean more than some dozens of column-inches in the paper? Heck if I know. I’m just very pleased and grateful to have had the opportunity to tell my story in such a forum.

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[interviews] What you said

Yesterday I posted a few questions on my blog, interviewing you guys. The answers were by turns funny, delightfully mundane, sublime, and in a few cases saddening. They make for wonderful reading if you want to go page through the comments on the posts at: [ jlake.com | LiveJournal ].

I decided it would be fun to post the answers to my fourth and last question all rolled up together. People thinking and talking and believing in things made for uplifting reading for me. I hope it does for you, too.

4) What would you tell the world if you could, today?

[info]martyn44: And I would tell the world the words of Kurt Vonnegut. You just gotta be kind.’

[info]reynardo: Hard as it is, you can’t shake the whole “Are you being a writer like your grandmother/father/whatever” until you show them you’re doing something totally different. Which means actually doing it. And that English teacher who mocked your wish to start off writing formula for Mills and Boon? Was a bitch and you shouldn’t have listened to her. Oh. Sorry. The second one was just for me.

[info]e_underwood: We only get one shot on this spinning globe so make the best of it, be nice to people, be thoughtful, and stop wasting your time messing around with things that aren’t going to matter in the long run. Things are rarely as important as they may seem, and things that don’t seem important now, tend to be what you treasure or regret most later.

[info]fledgist: Does the world need to hear from me? I want to say something about how Jamaica managed to keep its democracy going, redefine what it was about, define itself as a country, and do so in spite of screwing up its economy. This is more political theory than anything else, and so I want to say something about the ideas that made this possible and why those ideas are worth attending to today.

None of this is clever, but it draws as much on my creativity as it does on my analytic skill.

[info]snippy: Figure it out for yourself, then nobody can take it away from you.

[info]tsarina: Stop texting and driving, for the love of all that’s good in the world. Especially when you’re tooling through the grocery store parking lot where there are lots of people walking! How is this so hard to understand? This is dangerous and dumb.

[info]madrobins: Stop being stupid. Be kind to the people around you–by which I mean those in other states, other countries, etc. Sharing the wealth and making sure your fellow humans have certain basic amenities does not mean there will be less for you. Unclench.

[info]joycemocha: Greed is NOT good.

[info]mastadge: “I know who you are and I saw what you did.”

[info]kproche: Applies to all of them (and my day job): take some joy in and from your work!

[info]makoiyi: No matter how cliche this sounds, to live every single moment because you never know if it will be your last.

[info]jimvanpelt: What would I tell the world? Hmmm. Don’t vote Republican? No, that would be too easy. How about look at the facts before you vote.

[info]autopope: I haz new varifocals!

[info]vsherbie: Be generous, no matter how much you have. If you won’t at all miss what you gave, you were not generous. Give more.

[info]feorag: [info]antipope_cats(and Mafdet in particular) are wickle twaitors who have rejected the comfy cat basket in front of the (on) radiator in my study to sit with autopope.

[info]klwilliams: No wisdom for the world, except possibly, “Pay attention. Respect each other.” At least that’s what I’m working on.

[info]birdhousefrog: It’s a gorgeous fall day in Virginia.

[info]sillylilly_bird: Be more compassionate and tolerant. also, mind your own business.

[info]jennifer_brozek: Share the love. Really. By helping others succeed, you succeed too.

[info]la_marquise_de_: Big Money is never your friend. It lies a lot and pretends it is, but in the end, it only serves itself.

[info]jakobdrud: That humanity can accomplish much more if we work together than if we continue to make war on each other. Space should be our destination, peace should be our credo, and brotherhood should govern Earth and beyond. (I know, old-school statement, but the world needs a reminder now and then.)

talktoyouniverse.blogspot.com: That every cultural assumption is worth questioning, that what people try to tell us comes always out of their own vision, and that we should pursue knowledge on a deeper level, trying both to see greater detail, and to see how those details contribute to the bigger picture.

Stephen A. Watkins: “Writing is an act of love.”

Ken Davis: “Dig deeper.”

Matt H: You can have whatever it is you want but nobody is going to hand it to you.

Elf Sternberg: “It’s coming, it’s coming. Just gimme a little while longer.”

Steve Buchheit: Slow down, I’m having trouble with the brass ring.

[info]frabjouslinz: Be kind to each other: everyone is fighting a battle. (And to paraphrase from The Bloggess, Also some of them might have knives.)

[info]mmegaera: I have laughed more in the last month and a half since the new kittens moved in than I have in a very, very long time. Which I think is one reason I’m unstalled, to be honest.

[info]jackwilliambell: Last night I had a dream. In the dream I was standing, stark naked, in front of a huge audience about to give a speech. The title of the speech was “Overcoming your fears.”

Don’t be afraid of anything that isn’t getting ready to kill or maim you right this second. Fear of success can hobble you just as much as fear of failure. Fear of not measuring up can lead you to never actually try. Fear of other people’s opinions is an utter waste of time better spent doing things you want to do.

[info]silvertwi: Flu shots fucking hurt.

…More seriously, I would want to raise awareness of what it’s like to live with a chronic illness or other disability and hope that someone else hearing or reading it learns that they are not alone in feeling the many emotional and physical tolls such things take.

[info]e_bourne: It doesn’t matter if you’re afraid. Everyone’s afraid. While there are mean people out there, most folks want you to succeed. Your efforts give them hope and happiness. So take heart.

[info]jodysherry: After reading most commenters’ #4, to say what I thought originally would be preaching to the choir. See the commonalities not the differences. But don’t forget to celebrate the differences. Look beyond your horizon. We’re all in this together.

[info]paulcarp: All of us are at a potluck. Don’t bogart the dessert.

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[interviews] Now I’ll interview you

Turnabout is fair play. Answer in comments if you like.

1) What creative project are you working on right now?

2) If you’re stalled, why?

3) How do you motivate yourself?

4) What would you tell the world if you could, today?

Especially clever and/or interesting answers may be promoted to blog posts of their own hereabouts.

ETA: Due to a server error at my Web host, the original version of this post was lost, with all its comments. This is a repost. However, many of the comments were preserved by me in another post here: [ jlake.com | LiveJournal ]

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[interviews] Reader interview of me

A week ago I posted a call for interview questions in comments [ jlake.com | LiveJournal ]. Some were profound, some were funny, one or two were snarky. Nonetheless, I have answered them all.

Here under cut for reading mercy are the answers: Read the rest of this entry »

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[interviews] Ask me some more questions, I’ll tell you some more lies

Inspired by Anthony Cardno’s interview with me, I think it’s time for another reader interview. Ask me questions in comments about my writing, your writing, life, death, cancer, parenting, advice to the lovelorn, whatever. Instead of answering them in-line, in a few days I’ll pull them together in an interview format and post it here.

So fire away. What are you itching to hear from me on?

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[interviews] Yet another reader interview with me

Answering questions from the most recent reader interview of me [ jlake.com | LiveJournal ]. In addition, a friend sent me a good set of interview questions that I believe I shall address in a separate post some time in the next few weeks.

I hope you enjoy this as much as I did.

The questions, and my answers… Read the rest of this entry »

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[interviews] Time for a new reader interview with me – taking your questions

Well, the last reader interview went pretty well. In case you missed it, see here [ jlake.com | LiveJournal ].

Now it’s time to do another one. I’ll take questions in this comment thread to assemble into an interview in the next week or two. So ask me about writing, cancer, parenting, life, myself, whatever. Be creative!

Extra credit if your question is in the form of a photo, haiku or something else unusual but still intelligible.

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[interviews] Another reader interview with me

Per my recent call for questions, here’s another reader interview with me. I hope you enjoy this as much as I did.

djelibeybi_meg: During all your cancer treatment, how did you manage to continue to motivate yourself to write and to keep up your regular blogs? If there were days when you didn’t manage it, what impact did this have upon you?

Jay Lake: The fiction writing eventually fell away, during month four of chemotherapy. That part of my brain essentially went to sleep for about three and a half months. Which was tough, because it’s a huge part of my identity, as well as being a very important activity. The blogging never stopped. In fact, if anything it stepped up. While I was in treatment I seemed to be able to focus on that kind of brief, non-fictional narrative in a way that was very distinct from my fiction.

I never really fell down on the blogging except on infusion days and in the time immediately around my surgeries. I was frankly very depressed and upset about losing the months of fiction writing time.

djelibeybi_meg: Are there particular characters (of yours) which have helped you through the treatment and recovery?

Jay Lake: I don’t suppose I think of it that way, mostly because I don’t think in terms of character so much as I think in terms of story. At one level, the character of Jay Lake in The Specific Gravity of Grief might fill that role. Though in truth I did not expect to become him so much as I have. I’ve also spent a lot of time this last year with Green, of Green, Endurance and Kalimpura, as well as the Before Michaela Cannon of Sunspin. Their stories have been important to me.

djelibeybi_meg: Do you have a favourite book or story to which you return when you need a “comfort blanket”? (Mine is Ringworld by Larry Niven)

Jay Lake: Two series, actually. Discworld by Terry Pratchett, and the Miles Vorkosigan books by Lois McMaster Bujold. My tolerance for re-reading books is actually fairly low, but I’ve returned to both of those time and again. Plus I discovered while on chemo that I couldn’t process new books mentally, but I could re-read familiar stuff. Which, incidentally, did include Ringworld. But also most definitely Bujold and Pratchett.

eljaydaly: You’ve spoken about how challenging it was to make the shift from short stories to novels (at least, I think you have!), and the difficulty with changing from one span of control to another.

Jay Lake: You are right. I certainly have addressed those issues before. And it was quite an intimidating transition. I ran scared of novels for a long time before I embraced the process and let myself become absorbed in them.

eljaydaly: Speaking as somebody who’s made the difficult transition from writing “voicey” short stories to novels… how did you do that? How did you manage to stretch your thought process (or shrink it) so that muscles that were used to working in short, dense idea-chunks got used to handling a very long span? How did you teach yourself to switch from making a single very dense dish to making a seven-course meal?

Jay Lake: Essentially my early mistake was to assume that short stories and novels were the same craft. For me, at least, they are not. (Note, this is not generic advice, merely my observations concerning my own experiences.) A short story is like a piece of cabinetwork — finely crafted, with many carefully executed details. A novel is like framing a house — lots of big strokes and long runs of heavy, rough material. No matter how carefully one crafts a novel, it’s simply a different animal than the supple twistiness of a short story.

The deceptive aspect, to further abuse my metaphor, is that both crafts use similar or analogous tools. Saws, hammers, braces. They just use them differently.

So the retraining of my thought processes was rather like the retraining of a cabinet maker to become a framing carpenter. I still bring my cabinetry skills into the housebuilding. The lessons learned from housebuilding have improved my cabinet making. But realizing and embracing the notion that short stories and novels are distinct-yet-related arts was a huge step for me.

As to how I taught myself to make the switch… The same way I’ve taught myself everything else I’ve learned in my career. Practice, practice, practice; leavened with editorial feedback, critical commentary from other writers, reader response and plentiful self-examination. But mostly practice. That is to say, writing more. Thinking about what I’ve written. Then more writing more.

eljaydaly: Day to day, how did that process look? How did you manage to wrap your head around it all? Compared with the eleven years it took you to start selling, how long would you say it took you to get a comfortable handle on such a different way of thinking and writing? Or did you actually not find it so very different? (I don’t want to make an inadvertent assumption.)

Jay Lake: Well, it took me eleven years from when I first started writing short stories seriously to when I began to sell them. I wrote my first novel in 1994, The January Machine. Someday I might even produce a Lulu.com/ebook edition of that, just for laughs, but trust me, it’s definitely a first novel. Post-millennial religious terrorism amid the collapse of the Westphalian model of statehood. With rogue AIs, zombies, global warming, and time travel.

Did I mention that it was a first novel?

So figure about ten years from that effort until I sold Rocket Science, my first novel in the independent press. And yes, as discussed above, very different. Along with lots of practice.

Did I mention how important practice is to developing as a writer?

And to be clear, “practice” does not mean polishing your Great American Novel endlessly. It means writing another one, then another one, then another one. Revision is an important skill. Critical, even. But don’t ever neglect drafting.

eljaydaly: I’m not sure that question (er… bunch of questions) even makes sense. But there it is. I’d be interested in your insights, as always.

Jay Lake: Well, I hope I covered what you intended to ask. Certainly the questions made sense to me. Let’s see if the answers make sense to you or any of my other readers.

ruralwriter: You’ve mentioned that you wrote hundreds (or some value of “a lot”) of stories before publishing a pro story; are you ever tempted to return to any of those pieces and revise them? Or do ideas from those stories sometimes reappear in your newer work without your consciously returning to revise those stories?

Jay Lake: Yes.

Oh, wait, you probably wanted more detail than that. Off the top of my head, “The Rose Egg” (Postscripts issue one) was one such story idea pulled from the deep trunk and re-addressed. My short novel Death of a Starship is another. And certainly the old ideas re-appear in the newer work. I am occasionally alarmed at how closely I can unknowingly repeat myself. On the other hand, if I’m repeating myself, that probably means the idea was strong in the first place.

Or possibly I’m just perseverating.

An example of this is my realization about two years ago that cancer has been a long time recurrent theme, albeit on a minor note, within my work. For years before it became a concern in my daily life, in fact. I’m not sure I ever would have noticed the trend if I hadn’t fallen down that particular rabbithole myself.


That was fun. Feel free to ask followup questions in comments here. In a month or so, I’ll probably post another call for new reader interview questions. My thanks to those who participated by asking this time.

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[writing|interviews] In the frozen tundra of the Midwest

Flew to Omaha yesterday. I expect to be able to keep writing momentum on this trip.

Over the past two days I have spent 5.0 hours editing the Sunspin outline, largely based on feedback from mcurry. He did an excellent job of flagging key issues, as well as reinforcing some of the problems I’d identified on my own. The ending needed some serious help, and I think I’ve sorted out what and how.

In other writing news, one of the acceptances from last week was the short story “The Blade of His Plow”, for the DAW anthology Human For a Day, edited by Jennifer Brozek. The other was “Brown-Bottle Nostrum” to 10Flash Quarterly. Plus a reprint sale to the same market.

Also, I had so much fun with the recent Paul London interview [ jlake.com | LiveJournal ] that I will take questions in this comment thread to assemble into an interview in the next week or two. So ask me about writing, cancer, parenting, life, myself, whatever.

Another week here in the country of the corn…

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[interviews] A reader asks questions

Recently, writer Paul London of Penny Ideas wrote and asked my advice on some writing topics. I suggested rather than have an email exchange, he send me some questions and I answer them on my blog. An interview, in other words.

With that in mind…

Paul: I noticed that you have won an impressive number of writing competitions. What came first: winning the competitions or getting a publishing deal? Would you say one was integral to the other?

Jay: Depends on how you define “publishing deal”. I sold some short fiction in the independent press for a couple of years before hitting First Place in Writers of the Future. My novels didn’t start seeing print for a few more years. And no, while neither was integral to the other, they were certainly related events in my writing career. I kept writing, my work improved, it became more attractive to editors as well as judges.

In a sense, this is a “magic bullet” question. The key here isn’t that any one set of events unlocked the other. The key is that I kept writing, revising and sending out.

Paul: Where did you look for the competitions? Did you “write to order” or did you send work you’d already produced?

Jay: Ralan.com, through the writers in my critique group, by paying attention on line. For Writers of the Future, I generally tried to write a new story every quarter. That being said, the novelette that won, “Into the Gardens of Sweet Night” (and also appeared on the 2004 Hugo ballot) was originally written for another market that rejected it.

Paul: Do you have the letter you sent to either obtain your first agent or publisher? If so, would you share it?

Jay: There is no such letter. Unless you’re talking about the submission cover letter to my earliest short fiction sales, which was extremely pedestrian. My agent and I met through the process of professional networking. Fundamentally, that’s why one goes to cons and hangs out with other writers. I never queried her, as our professional relationship evolved from first being introduced in a bar at the 2003 Worldcon in Toronto. My first trade novel was sold via my agent, so no query letter there, either.

Notice that’s not a “magic bullet” answer either. What made me interesting to my agent wasn’t that I was at the right convention, in the right bar or knew the right people. It’s that when we were introduced, and she asked, I had projects to discuss and a publication history she could review to see if she liked my work. There was serendipity in our original connection, but everything else flowed from the years of hard work I’d already put into writing and marketing my fiction.

Paul: In this day and age with many writers struggling to get representation or find publishers, what would be your key advice to climb above the parapet?

Jay: Write more. Listen to critique and feedback. If you’re inclined to work in short fiction, do so to build your writing resume. If novels are where your heart lies, write one. Then write another. Then revise the first. Then write the third. Then revise the second. Keep moving, keep working.

Without that base of effort, without that production, all the marketing and networking in the world won’t do you any good. You can succeed as a published author without marketing if your work is strong enough. Lacking the work, there is no success as a published author.

Paul: In your biography you say that you came onto the ‘scene in late 2001′ – is that date when you received your first recognition as a writer, or is that when you started writing seriously? In either case, how long did it take from making the call “I want to do this!” to finding success.

Jay: I first started writing seriously in 1990. Workshopped twice a month, wrote and submitted hundreds of stories without success. I finally made my initial sale in 2001. So, eleven years from making the call to first beginning to find success. Ten years since to build my career. There are still people who seem to think I was some kind of overnight sensation. I find this bizarre, given the 2-3 million words of first draft I’ve written so far in my career.

Really, it all comes down to the writing. Without that, there is nothing else. The paths to selling are as varied as the people who follow them, but every successful author writes. Everything else follows from that.

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