In another part of the forest, I work at a university library, searching online for old books; I'm married with one son, one cat and one husband.
In yet another part of the forest I'm Linot Fitton, a 14th century London painter-stainer married to Mark Fitton, goldsmith; that's when I do Living History. In the Society for Creative Anachronism I'm Mistress Linnet Kestrel of An Tir.
About Me and Writing
(perhaps more than you want to know)
I grew up surrounded by books, with parents who told stories of their childhoods and of their friends, and who valued words and learning. After I learned to read, any book in the house was open to me, from novels to psychology textbooks.
I grew up in rural areas, where fields or forests were a few steps away, at a time when children could roam all day without parents worrying. The Chronicles of Narnia and Lord of the Rings taught me that forests were full of magic, and my brother and I spent most of one summer looking for the secret door to other worlds. We thought we'd found it once, where a huge tree had broken above our head-height, and toppled to land on another, making a rough gate. We walked between the trunks as many ways as we could think of, with different things in our pockets or hands, but never got through into the other world.
We travelled every summer, sometimes across Canada or to the Yukon, sometimes only to Vancouver Island. To keep us amused in the car, our father would tell us stories. I remember him reciting much of Macbeth, The Ancient Mariner, and The Lady of the Lake, filling in with narrative when he couldn't remember the lines. Our mother taught choir and performed in amateur dramatic groups; she practiced her parts with me, and I learned that memorising poetry and plays was useful--it gives you something to think of when you don't have a book handy to read, and it teaches you to listen to the rhythms of speech.
I started writing stories in elementary school. In grade five I used up the year's allotment of lined looseleaf by myself. I wrote in imitation of the authors I enjoyed: Ernest Thompson Seton, Jack London, Leslie Charteris, Raymond Chandler, C.S. Lewis and Tolkien. Much of what I wrote was clumsy, but it was a kind of apprenticeship.
For several years in university and after, I wrote privately, as part of a Letter Game with friends, where we made up various characters and wrote letters to each other as them, following their lives and adventures. In 2003, one of these games began to look very much like a book. As my friend and I revised our notes, dialogues, letters and scenes into a book-shape, and I researched publishers and agents, I began to think of writing for publication myself.
That's where it started. Zoe Marriott, author and light of the ABE Books forum and Furtive Scribbler, suggested that I take the fairytale I'd mentioned loving and just start writing it. Tina Rath, author and sage of the forum, encouraged me to go on with Tom's story (the discarded prologue of the co-written book), and caught my historical errors.
I joined Absolute Write while researching publishers and stayed to write and receive critiques. From Absolute Write I learned about the Online Writing Workshop, and more importantly, I heard about Viable Paradise, a one-week writing workshop in Martha's Vineyard. Thanks to Paul Lalonde, who dared me to apply (and bet me my airfare that I'd be accepted) I attended VPX in October of 2006. And there my life was changed, or rather, confirmed.
How I write: Slowly. I don't usually know what's going to happen when I start a story. Even when I have an outline of sorts--the fairytale for Willow Knot, Tom's backstory for The Cost of Silver--I expect things to change and twist as I write. To an extent, I'm taking notes while I watch the events.
Writers sometimes talk about their characters having minds of their own and refusing to do what they're told, but the plot can have a mind of its own as well.
I try to write for an hour or so in the mornings, when the house is quiet and there are few distractions. I use a laptop that isn't connected to the internet. This was hard for me at first, because when I was writing with my friends, I emailed them what I wrote, and had many websites bookmarked for research. I would often stop in the middle of a sentence to check the properties of a particular plant, or when strike-anywhere matches were invented, for instance. Now when I need to check something, I put the question in angle brackets and keep writing.
Researching is my favourite part of a new story. I'm not a writer who can spin mad invention from nothing. I need to have a general picture of what people ate, wore, worried about, of how they travelled, married, died, what their buildings and furniture looked like. Once I have the materials, I can change details, I can invent, but I need the materials first.
Even if the story is set in an invented or alternate world, I want to make it a consistent and coherent world. If a character bathes in a tin washtub, then there should be other uses of sheet-metal technology, not one lonely washtub in a world of wooden buckets and ox-carts. No writer knows everything, but I try to question everything and check beforehand.
My longtime hobby is historical recreation, first in the Society for Creative Anachronism, later in Living History. Both of these gave me a feeling of the texture of people's lives before electronics, before easy transportation. The three years we spent in a cabin without running water or electricity were a good grounding in doing without modern conveniences as well.