Award-winning author Fran Wilde will be a guest lecturer at this summer’s Odyssey Writing Workshop. Her novels and short stories have been finalists for three Nebula awards, two Hugo Awards, and a World Fantasy Award. They include her Andre Norton- and Compton Crook-winning debut novel, Updraft (Tor, 2015); its sequels, Cloudbound (2016) and Horizon (2017); the middle-grade novel Riverland (Abrams, 2019); and the novelette “The Jewel and Her Lapidary” (Tor.com, 2016). Her short stories appear in Asimov’s, Tor.com, Beneath Ceaseless Skies, Shimmer, Nature, and the 2017 Year’s Best Dark Fantasy and Horror. She writes for publications such as The Washington Post, Tor.com, Clarkesworld, io9.com, and GeekMom.com. She holds an MFA in poetry and an MA in information architecture and interaction design. You can find her on Twitter, Facebook, and at franwilde.net.
Once you started writing seriously, how long did it take you to sell your first piece? What were you doing wrong in your writing in those early days?
For me, writing seriously began when I started finishing stories. I’d always written. But I often didn’t complete the story drafts because something didn’t “feel” right or sound good enough. So of course because I didn’t finish a story, I had nothing to revise! Which made it really hard to sell things. Once I started finishing stories—writing them to completion, setting them aside for a few days, and then coming back and working on revision before deciding that they weren’t what I wanted—I started selling.
Why do you think your work began to sell?
That’s a tough question because predicting what works for markets, when markets are always changing, is like trying to read tea leaves when you don’t know how. But early in my writing career, I read slush at a magazine, and that gave me some clues.
For me, tightening everything and making every image and scene as vivid as possible was part of it. And making sure first scenes are crystal clear in intent, voice, setting, and theme—essentially answering the question of why the reader should give this story their time—was part of what helped the work find its audience.
What’s the biggest weakness in your writing these days, and how do you cope with it?
Ahahaha. I am such a scenery eater. I love wandering through buildings and landscapes just looking at them, and my characters do too. They become cameras instead of active participants.
I combat that by being aware of it, and by making sure that each scene has action, and the characters are participants in that action.
Your latest short story, “Ruby, Singing,” came out in September 2018 in Beneath Ceaseless Skies. Like much of your prose, it reflects your background in poetry. What can writers learn from poetry to enhance their prose?
Concision. Cadence. Layers of meaning in a single phrase or line.
Your next novel, Riverland, is a middle grade novel coming out in April 2019. What made you decide to write for a younger audience? What are some of the challenges of writing for a younger audience?
Riverland demanded to be written—I set aside a longtime project to work on it. With Riverland, the biggest challenge, for me as an adult writer, was to get rid of any remaining assumptions about what writing for children meant. I have been a longtime reader of children’s books, even more so as my daughter aged through them, but that didn’t mean I was familiar with what authors were doing and what children were reading now. So I immersed myself in what is being written now, I talked to people in that age group, as well as to their librarians and teachers, and tried to make sure that I wasn’t writing in the dark.
Knowing who your audience is? That’s important in any type of writing. Never writing down to your audience, especially not because of their age, is also huge.
As a guest lecturer at this summer’s Odyssey Workshop, you’ll be lecturing, workshopping, and meeting individually with students. What do you think is the most important advice you can give to developing writers?
Four related items:
1) Finish what you’re working on.
2) Make time for your work—no one else is going to make that space for you.
3) Don’t let yourself get bored in your writing—if you’re bored, your readers may sense it.
4) Be as fierce as you can with your revisions; always push farther than you think you need to go.
What’s next on the writing-related horizon? Are you starting any new projects?
I’m finishing a new novel, a poetry project, starting a new novelette, and working on two Serial Box projects. I have a list of things I want to work on that stretches for several journal pages (students will probably see me at my journal at some point during the lecture days). I hope to be lucky enough to be able to see many of them through to published books.