This week, we continue meeting our 2013 Writers of the Future winners with Amanda Forrest.
Stuart: Welcome, Amanda, and Congratulations! Why don’t you start by telling us a little about yourself.
Amanda: I’m claustrophobic, afraid of failure, scared of heights, and a rabid hypochondriac, but by far my most satisfying accomplishments were those that scared me the most.
Stuart: That’s half the battle, isn’t it? Just putting yourself out there. What got you into writing?
Amanda: Many writers say that they’ve “always written”. I’m not one of them. In the third grade, I started a SF novel called Venture to Venus, but I gave up on it after a few days and (as far as I can remember) wrote no other fiction for decades.
But while I haven’t always been a writer, I am and always have been an obsessive, insatiable reader. Sometime in my twenties, I started dabbling with writing. I joined an online critique group, and once every month or so wrote a snippet. My first writing was rarely formed enough to be called a story, and I didn’t put much thought to submitting or being published.
Despite my haphazard and rather unfocused approach, I did improve. When my daughter was born, I put my career in software engineering for video games on indefinite hold so that I could stay home with her. The choice was the right one, undeniably, but it left me without an intellectual outlet, and so I started writing more. And discovered that I loved it.
As for the moment that I knew that I wanted to pursue writing as more than a hobby—that I’d found the undertaking that will shape my life from here on out . . . that’s very clear in my mind. I was sitting on the porch while my daughter napped, working through the final scene in a longer short story. She woke up, and though I put the story aside for the day, it didn’t leave me. I tried to read that night and the experience felt flat. Two-dimensional. Grayscale compared to the immersion I felt in my own creation.
A reader lives many lives through the books they read. A writer lives them in high-definition.
Stuart: I know that feeling exactly. I know I try to be careful to make sure I’m bringing the reader in at the right “definition”. So you made the jump, and how have you evolved since?
Amanda: I came from a software background, and I think that difficult problem solving in any discipline demands a lot of creativity and activation of mental processes beneath the conscious mind. (Such as sleeping on a difficult math problem only to wake up with the answer).
Stuart: Yeah, I once dreamed that I’d transposed a hexadecimal number on the thirteenth page of a machine-code listing–and I had!
Amanda:With writing, however, I’ve had to learn to let the outlandish notions blossom, whereas an oddball idea for an algorithm might have gotten the chop early on due to implausibility. It’s a challenge to follow the strangeness, but my best stories seem to come from just letting my subconscious cough up whatever it likes and editing it later.
At first, I found it much easier to do this with fantasy, letting go of the constraints, but I’m now turning this to near-future science fiction, something that really calls me. I still get stopped in my tracks sometimes, too afraid to follow an idea due to concerns of correctness, but I’m learning. It’s okay to be wrong in a first draft, and some of my best work comes from revisiting my foundational ideas and applying actual research to correct and strengthen the story. And heck, as for the extrapolation portion . . . we’re all just guessing, right?
Stuart: Right. Anne Lamott warns not to fear the “shitty first draft”. Are you a pantser or a plotter?
Amanda: Over the last year, I’ve landed upon the highly inefficient process of writing a first draft with no plan until I get stuck. Then I go back and construct a high-level outline, rethinking that opening as necessary. Then I rewrite the opening and finish the story. Unless I get stuck again, which probably means my outline sucks and I need a new one. (repeating as necessary, which is rather slow for a novel)
I’d like to convince my ideas to arrive *before* I begin, but for now they don’t seem to come until I sit down and start churning out paragraphs.
Stuart: You can sit next to me at the workshop. On the one hand, I know the outline-first method is the only way to be productive. Inside, though, I hold on to the idea that the iterative plan-write-plan-write is the only way. Perhaps we just need to find the right balance.Where do you do your writing?
Amanda: Anywhere that I don’t have my (beloved) four year old demanding something.
Stuart: Do you have any unusual talents or hobbies?
Amanda:Unusual, I dunno. No interest in cat orthodontics or anything. I love outdoor adventure sports. Long ago, I was the first woman to do a few things in the big wall rock climbing world. These days, rather than heading out alone for a multi-day rock climb, I feel blessed to get out with my family on a thirty foot cliff that a preschooler can get up or pulling my daughter in a bike trailer around on our beautiful Colorado roads and trails.
Stuart: Star Trek or Star Wars?
Amanda: All of the above
Stuart:Windows or Linux?
Amanda: In prehistoric times, I dual booted and worked on both platforms. Somewhere down inside, I still have a soft spot for Linux, but it’s been years and years. Anyway, about all I do on my computer now is word process and browse the web. My fear is that I’m one step away from becoming a mac user.
Stuart: Oooh, Burn! Yeah, I’ve pulled my netbook apart about twenty times. I understand the appeal of the monolith, though. If you had a superpower, what would it be?
Amanda: I would manufacture time. I only do about a tenth of the things I’d like on any given day.
Stuart: Excuse me a second. I have to go write a short story, er…novel. Okay, I’m back. Do you dream about writing?
Amanda: I do. I dream in narrative now. I read Gone with the Wind last year and had the weirdest dream that put almost the whole story into a science fictional framework. It was probably terrible, so I’m glad I’ve forgotten the details.
Stuart: Well, at least it wasn’t an algorythm you were rendering in narrative (yeah – I have – and I think it scorches the brain). When you were a kid, what was your favorite toy?
Amanda: Math workbooks. Yup.
Stuart: Fair enough. “Algebra is the mind of God” — so said Johannes Kepler. If you had a wardrobe tag like Doctor Who, what would it be?
Amanda: I do like aviator goggles. Plus I have sensitive eyes, exacerbated by living at high altitude in a very sunny place. So maybe I should think about it.
Stuart: Hey, that’s not bad. You could get some jodhpurs and do the whole Emilia Earhart look from Night At The Smithsonian. How about a quote you like?
Amanda: Do or do not. There is no try.
Stuart: Ah, Yoda. Good one. Well thanks, Amanda, I look forward to meeting you in April.
Amanda: Thanks so much for hosting me! Happy writing and reading everyone!
Find out more about Amanda, including the latest news that I’m not quite sure I’m allowed to tell you just yet, at aeforrest.com