Friday, November 11, 2011

On The Fifth Day of Tesseracts: A Tale of Two Cats (Kats)

Tesseract Fifteen's
Kat Nicholson and Cat McDonald
TT: Thank you for joining us.  Could I ask the two of you to please introduce yourselves?

Kat: My name is Katrina Nicholson. Otherwise known as Kat.

Cat: Hi! I'm Catharine McDonald, also known as Cat.

TT:  Where in Canada are you currently located?

Kat Nicholson: I live in Sydney, Nova Scotia, which is on Cape Breton Island.

Cat McDonald: I'm in St. Albert, Alberta (Near Edmonton)

TT:  What is the name of your story in T15?

Kat Nicholson: "A+ Brain"

Cat McDonald: "The Road of Good Intentions"

Could you each tell us a bit about your stories, without spoilers?

Kat Nicholson: In "A+ Brain" a high school school student's life turns upside down when he chooses brain transplant surgery over working harder to get into college and ends up stuck with a pushy nerd ordering him around inside his head.

Cat McDonald:
"The Road of Good Intentions" about a not-completely-human young man who goes to a hellscape of chains, chains made out of human hatred, in order to track down the creature that's spiritually tormenting his best friend.

TT: What is the first sentence of your story?

Kat Nicholson: "I'm really looking forward to college."

Cat McDonald: "Lee was too young to know why they called it The Road of Good Intentions, and quite nearly too human to walk it."

TT: What do you love the most about this (or being in this) anthology?

Kat Nicholson: I love that it's completely YA – there are hardly any markets for YA short fiction (compared to adult fiction, anyway) and that goes double when it's speculative. I also love that it's an opportunity to introduce teens to more facets of SF than just the popular ones without forcing them to commit to reading a whole book.

Cat McDonald: Tesseracts has a lot of history! The first volume was published before I was even born, and some real legends of genre fiction have been printed here. I feel like I'm in good company, but especially when I look specifically at Tesseracts 15 and see the other stories. There are a lot of really brilliant, moving works in this anthology, so the idea that I get to stand next to them is pretty overwhelming! I remember hearing Robert Runte's reading at When Words Collide and just being completely in awe.

TT: In order to mix up the interviews a bit, each of you was given the opportunity to choose and answer two questions. Ironically you both chose the same first question so we will look at that first.

TT: What is your main writing process?

Kat Nicholson:
DAYDREAMING: I do this all the time. In fact, I'm surprised I don't bump into things more often. My brain likes to think up characters and scenes inspired by stuff we do or see. It will then play them for me in a little brain video (usually while I'm trying to do something, like drive). The cleverest, most recurring ones become story ideas.

NOTES: Once I've caught onto an idea, it gets its own notebook (or notebook section, if it's only a short story). I make my brain focus on the existing scenes and fill in more plot and character details, and I do research to help it along. I jot this all down in the notebook. Sometimes I draw little pictures, too, especially if I'm inventing devices for the story. When the first sentences start to write themselves in my head, it's time to move on to:

WRITING: I write on my computer in MS Word. I usually only write for an hour or so at a time, during which I can do up to 2,000 words of prose or 10 pages of screenplay. If I have to do any more than that I run out of brain juice and need to switch to candy-based fuel (which is bad for my waistline!) I write all of the scenes in the order they come in the story.

PERCOLATION: After I'm de-juiced, I continue thinking about the story, letting it drip through my brain and pick up new bits and pieces while I'm off doing something else (work, exercise, shopping, cleaning stuff, etc.) The most productive percolation times are shower time and bedtime, which unfortunately means I have to sleep with my notebook. Usually by the next day the story has percolated enough to deliver another hour's worth of writing.

MOTIVATION: In order to make sure I actually finish the story, I have to be really bossy with myself. “No supper until your pages are done,” I tell myself. Or “get this last scene done and we can go watch the new episode of Castle.” My friends are often amused when I tell them I'm “not allowed” to go out with them that day. I participate in programs like Nanowrimo and Script Frenzy too, because then my competitive instincts can take over for a while and give my Center of Bossiness a break.

BETA READING: Once I'm done, I send the story off to a couple of people. My mom is my go-to Grammar and Logic Nazi, and the others rotate depending on what the story's about and what age group it's for. Writer friends provide story notes while the “civilians” mostly just give a “yay” or “nay.”

EDITING: All of the notes I receive on my story (including the ones I come up with myself on read-throughs) go into the story's notebook. I then go though the notebooks and deal with each note one at a time, highlighting them as I finish. Then I'll do one more polish read-through before I send it anywhere.

Cat McDonald: I just pretty much do it.

It's not really an elaborate thing for me; I ruminate on an idea for a while, and then I sit down and I write the story. As it's going, I discover things about the concept sometimes, I rework it as I go, and I typically write an absolutely abominable ending. (I am the worst at endings; I blame all the Dracula I read when I was young.)

Ideally, I "see the true face of the story" (bear with me; I really like to use over-mystical terms whenever possible). There's a moment, and it usually happens while I'm writing or researching, when I suddenly realize exactly what the story is. With "The Road of Good Intentions", it happened when I was on a walk, imagining how the conversations between my main character and this creature were going to go. I really just live for this moment, when the story and I understand each other; that's when I know I'm on to something.

Because I work as an editor, I go through later and worry about whether or not the story makes any sense, and fix my stupid ending, and make sure I haven't done something completely pointless with my initial draft. Often, because I tend to write my first draft without paying too much attention, I find something on the re-read that startles me, so I kind of nudge things around to focus on it.

TT: What are the individual questions that you will be answering?

Kat Nicholson: "What story have you written that's your favorite and why?"

It's not the best thing I've ever written, but I think “The Wild Helicopters of the Australian Outback,” the story I wrote for the Airborne anthology by Third Person Press, is still my favorite. The elements in the story read like a list of Things Kat Thinks Are Awesome: airships, helicopters, wind turbines, Australians, the Outback – even the personal sized airship-car that I've spent the last few years pestering my aerospace engineer brother to build for me. I also really want a pet Huey, the living helicopter/star of the story, who's a sort of cross between a brumbie, a dog, a hummingbird, a rabbit, and R2-D2.

Cat McDonald: What is the best piece of writing advice you've discovered?

Edit. Since learning to be an editor, my writing has improved at a breakneck pace, because when you evaluate writing constantly, when you worry about what makes a sentence effective and what gives a story impact, you absorb it. It becomes part of your thought process, and eventually, it becomes unconscious.
I first learned to edit when I finished my first National Novel Writing Month novel, and realized that I would have to edit if I wanted to seriously publish it. (It was terrible and trying to publish it was a mistake, but I was younger then.) Soon, I found that, actually, I really enjoyed editing, and that's what led me to the job. And the more I practiced writing, the better I got at editing, and the more I practiced editing, the better I got at writing.
Both the writer and the editor have the same goal; to turn out the best possible text. They just go about it in different ways. So, when a writer learns to think like an editor, they gain a lot of new tools and techniques. Soon, they find they have less to edit, because they're doing a lot of the editing subconsciously as they go!
(This story was called "The Road of Good Intentions", but if I was the main character, it would be called "The Path of Least Resistance", I am that lazy.)

TT: Thanks again for joining us! It's been great!

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