Welcome back to Fantasy Firsts. Our program continues with a conversation between the co-authors of The Incrementalists. Steven Brust and Skyler White discuss writing, collaboration, and walking through someone else’s house in the dark. The next book in their series, The Skill of Our Hands, will become available January 24th.
Skye: At the Fourth Street Fantasy Convention this year, I was part of a panel that picked apart the differences and dividing lines between gut churn, writer’s block, and depression, the consensus being that all writers deal with these things, you and Ray Bradbury being the requisite counter-examples.
Steve: Depression has never been an issue for me, nor, so far, has writer’s block — at least, based on what my understanding of writer’s block is. There are times when I haven’t known what happens next for several days, but I don’t think that’s the same thing. My guess is that it’s something constitutional, something inherent that I can’t take credit for. Wish I could say something useful.
Skye: So what happens in those several days?
Steve: Internally, or externally? Externally, I stomp around the house, glaring at everyone, and threatening to kill the dog, until I finally get it, at which time everything gets better, and I realize how much I was enjoying it, and I apologize to everyone I’ve offended, and I threaten to kill the dog. Internally, I run through all of the advice I give students at Viable Paradise for figuring out the next scene (which even works, sometimes). I constantly remind myself, “You’ve been here before, it’s part of the process, chill out, it’ll come together.” I reread what I have so far. I run through lists of what can happen. I completely ignore the book and try to think about other things. I write imaginary reviews in my head, culminating in the mythical reviewer saying, “The best moment was when…” and try to fill that sentence in to describe the thing I can’t write. Eventually, some combination of those comes together and life is good again. Except for the dog. I still threaten to kill him. He wags his tail.
Skye: You know, I think I’ve internalized that — not the dog, but the voice. I still do more pre-planning for my solo work than we do for ours, but I do a lot less than I used to. Writing has always felt to me like walking through someone else’s house in the dark. You’ve made me a little less cautious, if no less leery of dogs.
Steve: We’ve spoken a lot about how much fun collaboration is; when doing your solo work, where do you find the fun?
Skye: Honestly? I have less fun. Or a different kind of fun, anyway. Working together — sending pages to you the moment I’m done writing, getting immediate feedback, waiting to see what you do next — is a kind of giddy fun I just don’t have writing on my own. The solo fun is more muscular, slower, like the difference between skipping and stretching. I love doing it and I love finally getting to share it. I like that it lets me go deep into places that are my peculiar interests and down my personal rabbit holes — I write more about sex, less about politics.
Steve: So here’s a political question: if the Incrementalists were real, what would you most like them to be working on?
Skye: One of the things that fascinated me in my Yeats research was the debate that surrounded the idea of corporate personhood. It’s one of those pivots where I wonder how things would be different now had things gone differently then. It’s proved a sneaky work-around to our nation’s ideal of being governed by laws rather than leaders. If no person — or corporation — was above the law, I wonder whether we’d be a flatter, fairer nation. In the book, we talk about Celeste raking power up. I’d have the Incrementalists out there working on scraping it back, flattening the distribution of money and influence.
Steve: How has collaborating changed your approach to your solo work?
Skye: The chance to listen in on the, “You’ve been here before, it’s part of the process, chill out, it’ll come together,” voice — and even borrow it sometimes. It’s one of the most valuable things I’ve gotten from you in the process of writing together. Where did you get it?
Steve: That one’s easy: from writing several books where that happened. I don’t know when exactly it started — maybe my fourth or fifth book; but after fighting through it all those times (and, seriously, the first several times I made myself miserable), I just got cocky.
Skye: You made yourself miserable, but you didn’t give up. Why? What kept you writing when you didn’t have the experience to know it was just part of the process?
Steve: If I didn’t keep going, I wouldn’t know how the story came out.
Skye: You have to keep writing because you’re curious?
Steve: I’ve heard it said that there are “writers” and “storytellers.” I think those distinctions are real, but also not hard-and-fast — they interpenetrate and mess with each other. You, I think, are a wordsmith who takes joy in story; I am a storyteller who takes joy in how words fit together and bounce off each other. So, yes: I have to keep writing, because I want to tell a story, and the reason for that is, at heart, because I need to know how the story ends.
Skye: How’s this for how our interview ends?
Steve: I think it’s okay, and if it it’s not, we’ll fix it in edits.
(This is a rerun of a post that originally ran on September 23, 2013.)
Buy The Incrementalists here: