Those of you who follow my blog know that I regularly invite other writers to talk about their writing and their books on my blog.
Today, I’m honored to welcome Fletcher DeLancey. Fletcher is not only the author of Without a Front, one of my all-time favorite lesbian novels, but she is also a fellow Ylva author and does some editing for Ylva Publishing on the side.
Fletcher lives in southern Portugal with her lovely wife and two feline bosses. She regularly blogs about nerdy science and tech stuff and about life as an Oregon Expat.
So let’s see what she had to say and start with some warm-up questions:
Chocolate or cookies?
If I have to choose, chocolate. If I can bend the rules, both at the same time. This is why chocolate-chip cookies were invented.
E-books or paperbacks?
Having shipped eight moving boxes of books when I moved from Oregon to Portugal, I can definitely say I’d rather have shipped an equivalent number of e-books. However, many of those were reference books, which I still prefer in physical form. So if the question were “e-books or hardbacks,” I’d say hardbacks. For fiction? E-books.
Star Wars or Star Trek? (Okay, this one is probably a no-brainer in your case)
Total no-brainer, yes. Even beside the fact that I’ve written five novels in the ST: Voyager universe, anyone who values the presence of strong women in a franchise can only answer Star Trek. The original Star Wars universe was full of men, men, more men, and Princess Leia. The “Prologue” universe managed to add even more men and…Princess Leia’s mother. Way to reach for gender parity!
Star Trek, on the other hand, famously altered its opening monologue from “where no man has gone before” to “where no one has gone before,” and that was before it launched a seven-year series where women comprised 43 percent of the senior staff, including the captain and chief engineer.
Beach or mountains?
I’ve lived at or near the beach for my entire adult life, which is probably why my answer is “mountains.”
Can you tell us a little bit about yourself? What do you do when you’re not writing?
I’m a news junkie and a geek who loves to learn about what’s going on in the science and tech worlds. On the other hand, I’m happiest when tuned in to the natural world around me, so I spend a lot of time trying to learn the birds, plants and rhythms of the Algarvean ecosystem (which is a damn slow process). I’m also a gardener, photographer, cyclist, Pilates instructor, and cat lover.
Please tell us about your journey in becoming a published writer. How did you come to publish with Ylva Publishing?
My journey was a very short one. Astrid e-mailed me and said, “If you ever want to publish…” I’d considered it before, but had heard too many negative stories on the lesfic forums about internal politics and bad practices, and just wasn’t interested in any of that. But after Astrid’s email I checked out her stable of authors and spoke a bit more with her about her philosophy. What I learned impressed me. I like what she (and now you) are doing, and am happy to be a part of that.
<thinking> Okay, I said it was a short journey, but in reality I’d already written and posted six full-length novels, two novellas, and a bunch of short stories online, over a period of ten years, on a web site I built just for my writing. Astrid would never have written me if my work hadn’t been out there for so long, gathering readers and reputation by word of mouth. So perhaps “short” isn’t really accurate.
It was my wife’s idea. I’ve often written short stories as gifts for her birthday, and that year she gave me a challenge: to write about two women who meet in a coffee shop, with one using a Mac and the other a PC. I took that premise and ran with it.
I’m still wondering why “Mac” is named first in the title of your story Mac vs. PC. I’m pretty sure I know why, but do you care to explain why the title isn’t PC vs. Mac?
Well, I’ve always loved PCs and would marry one if I could…just kidding. I switched to Macs after 18 years on PCs, and the concept that I could actually enjoy working on my computer was a revelation. Eleven years and three laptops later and I’m still enjoying the heck out of ‘em. So yeah, Mac goes first in the title. (<whispering> Even though I still use a 15-year-old Microsoft mouse and my new Skype headphones are Microsoft, too.)
I probably mentioned once or twice (or a few dozen times) that I’m a big, big fan of your novel Without a Front. Salomen is one of my all-time favorite characters in fiction. Is she based on anyone you know, or how did you come up with the idea for that character?
She is? That’s a high compliment, thank you! And no, she’s not based on anyone I know. She came into being because I needed a partner that Andira Tal would never anticipate: a woman who was not in the “right” caste, who wasn’t even slightly impressed by her title, who met her toe to toe and drove her nuts…but who had a rich backstory and a whole other life hidden beneath the surface. I wanted to explore the concept of power exemplified by a woman who didn’t captain a ship, or lead a world, but instead ran a farm. And in the process of inventing Salomen’s family and backstory, she turned into probably the most “real” character I’ve ever written.
Speaking of Without a Front, will there ever be a sequel to that story?
Yes. It’s already percolating in my brain. In fact, I recently described a scene from it to my wife and her eyes got THAT big.
But right now I’m focusing on the prequel.
Most readers probably know you for your excellent Star Trek: Voyager fan fiction. If you had been the writer in charge of that TV show, how would Star Trek: Voyager be different?
It would have a story arc. Not just the “lost for seven years, trying to get home” arc, but a real, complex arc with clues and developments scattered around that paid off months or years later. Deep Space Nine did that to some degree, but Babylon 5 did it even better, because its creator had planned the whole five-year arc before writing Episode 1. The characters all grew and changed over those five years, rather than staying static—or even worse, temporarily exhibiting behaviors that furthered an episode’s thin plot but didn’t make sense for the character.
Voyager had a few mini-arcs, but for the most part it subscribed to the “whatever works for this episode” philosophy, which resulted in a bunch of unbelievable resets, some very sloppy characterizations, and relationships that did not work at all. I remain convinced that Kate Mulgrew’s incredible acting chops (as well as those of Jeri Ryan and Robert Picardo) saved the show from its writers, but imagine what she could have done with better material!
And of course, my arc would have included Janeway’s personal metamorphosis, because how could she not undergo a profound alteration of character during seven years of being fundamentally alone and ultimately responsible? The show barely touched on this, yet to my mind it should have underpinned the entire series.
What would you say are the main themes in your stories? What personal meaning do those themes have for you?
It’s funny, because I didn’t set out to do it, but looking back on my writing it’s obvious that all of my novels and both of my novellas are in part about power: who wields it, how did they get it, what do they do with it, how does it change them, how does it change how others view them, etc. My other two main themes are the importance of family, and personal growth.
Power fascinates me because in my experience, the people who know what to do with it are quite rare. When I think back on the various supervisors I’ve had, only one man and one woman were good at their management jobs. The others ranged from mediocre to incompetent and worse. The huge popularity of the comic strip “Dilbert” says my experience isn’t unusual. So do history and politics. Why are most humans so bad at wielding power? I don’t know, but to me, it makes the concept of a character who does know what to do with it irresistible.
Family is important to me because other than my parents, I never had much of it until I began creating my own. So I find the intersection between the family we’re born with, and the one we build ourselves, to be a fascinating point of exploration.
Personal growth is, of course, one of the best drivers of any narrative. If a character isn’t growing in some way, then there’d better be a really awesome plot driver somewhere else.
How do you find enough time to write? Any tips on how to be productive as a writer?
Back when I still identified as straight (and married), I made enough time to write by starting after dinner and working until one or two in the morning. I lived in a perpetual state of sleep deprivation, which I can’t recommend, but it was the only time my brain was free enough for me to imagine this whole other life. Nowadays I’m much more fortunate, and write at all hours of the day. Ironically, I’m not as productive as I used to be because I love my life, so I’m not burying myself in writing as an escape from it. Thus I may not be qualified to give any tips!
That said, here are two:
1) Make yourself some quiet time, even if it means closing a door and turning on some soft music so you can’t hear activity in the rest of the house. Isolate yourself with your brain and your story.
2) Get out and exercise alone. My favorites are walking and cycling, but you could get on a rowing machine if that’s what you enjoy. Just put yourself in a place where your body is active and your brain is floating around, not engaging with the world or other people. My best story ideas and plot resolutions have come when I was exercising.
You also work as an editor. What advice would you give authors preparing their manuscript for submission to a publisher or an editor?
You mean besides formatting it properly? Probably the best advice I ever heard regarding a finished manuscript is to set it aside. Don’t look at it for at least six weeks. A few months would be better—long enough so that you no longer remember every word of it. Then open it up again and read it with fresh eyes. Look for descriptions or expositions that don’t further the plot, excessive dialogue tags and name usage, etc. and delete them with a ruthless hand. Things that our eyes just blip past while we’re writing and editing can jump out at us when we’ve taken a long enough break. Removing them makes a manuscript more likely to stand out and be accepted.
An apocryphal story about Michelangelo holds that when asked how he sculpted his statue of David from a block of marble, he said, “It’s simple. I just cut away the parts that don’t look like David.” Writing is a very similar process. First, we build up that block of marble. Then we tackle the much harder part: cutting away all the extraneous bits.
If you could co-author a book with any writer, dead or alive, who would that author be and why?
Dead: Jane Austen, just so I could watch her write dialogue and marvel at it.
Alive: Jasper Fforde, so I could benefit from his prodigious imagination (not to mention his apparently effortless command of the collected works of all English literature).
What projects are you working on right now? Any upcoming releases?
Right now I’m working on The Caphenon, which is the prequel to Without A Front. I thought it might be twenty or thirty pages, but it’s already over 80,000 words and still going. I’m very excited about it, because in order to write it I built an entirely new universe for the Alseans to live in, and it’s a complicated one. In other words: Lots of scope for new novels!
Fletcher, thank you so much for taking the time to answer my questions. Please keep us posted on how things are progressing with The Caphenon.
Readers, if you are interested in hearing more about Fletcher and her latest story, listen to episode 88 of The Cocktail Hour.
Have a great Sunday, everyone.