Lee Murray's Speculative Fiction Show - Grace Bridges
Welcome to Lee Murray’s New Zealand Speculative Fiction Show, an interview series featuring star acts from NZ’s science fiction, fantasy and horror community, including news, insights, and sneak-peeks of their latest performances.
Today I welcome my friend and colleague, Grace Bridges, writer, editor, publisher, linguist, Whovian, and literary activist. Grace is president of New Zealand’s Speculative Fiction Writers SpecFicNZ, owner and publisher at hybrid publishing house, Splashdown Books, and facilitator at youngnzwriters where she supports emerging writers through workshops and publishing opportunities. She’s also the chair of GesyerCon, New Zealand’s 40th national science fiction and fantasy convention to be held in Rotorua, 1-4 June, 2019. She's also listed FOUR times on the shortlist of this year's Sir Julius Vogel Awards for Science Fiction, Fantasy and Horror. Welcome Grace!
A colleague once called me a pathological volunteer and it seems the description applies to you, too. What’s with all the roles anyway? What are you trying to achieve?
It’s my way of trying to make a difference, to leave a mark on the world. Some things would still be done if I didn’t do them (but not like I’d do them) while other things might never be done at all. Ultimately, I’m in it for the friendships that grow while working on a shared passion. There’s nothing quite like it for meeting new people and learning to value each other’s work, personality, and character. I’ve seen this in different situations throughout my life: the teenage band trying to make a classy demo, local community initiatives, the cat rescue group, and of course all the writery things. Anytime folks come together to work on something, there’s the potential to form close-knit relationships, and it’s a wonderful thing. Besides, I just love making books—the edits to make them shine, and then making stories gleam visually as well in the typesetting and design. It’s a gruelling process, but one that is extremely satisfying.
Phew, just thinking about all the things you’re currently doing is exhausting. You must have incredible reserves. What revives and refreshes you?
A walk on the coast or in the forest; a dip in a hot spring (or cold, sometimes, if the weather warrants it); kitty snuggles; a nice dinner out with my flatmates. But the greatest breath of fresh air is still when I find a new book or author that is truly brilliant, the kinds of stories you can sink into without the slightest urge to reach for the “editor hat”.
Name your favourite character – one you’ve written – and explain why.
Oh, there are a few. Let me just grab the first to come to mind. There’s Zenith, as yet unpublished in a sequel to Mariah’s Dream. She’s a cyborg who helps save the world. There’s Reilly, also unpublished, whose name may still change—a lowly but cheerful miner on an inhospitable colony planet who ends up in some very interesting situations when he catches the eye of a rich bachelorette close to the top levels of space station government. Then there’s Harley. Harley is quite the mystery to me as well—hitherto more of a side character in the Earthcore series. A senior with weird superpowers from taniwha—I guess that just appeals to me. These characteristics came together fast and fairly randomly as I was setting up a large and intentionally diverse cast. I’m considering writing a first-person short origin story to explore a few more possibilities for Harley.
As a writer, what’s your spirit animal and why?
You know, I think I’m a dolphin. Imagine leaping over waves and diving back into the sea—that’s what I feel like when my writing is flowing well. It’s a particular kind of freedom to know that I call the shots and anything can happen at any point if I just write the words. To some extent I’m also carried along by the story as the dolphin is by the water.
Standalone or connected interlocking works?
Once I’ve gone to all the work of creating a storyworld, it seems a shame not to use it again, even if it’s a different corner of it—some of the work can be reused or referred to. I like to set up a series that is broad in scope and can accommodate tangential stories that become whole tales in their own right. I’ve done this a few times now. There’s the world of Mariah’s Dream, where I experimented with writing backstories for sixteen of the main characters. Each short story began with a different person, most often in a different place, and illuminated their previous lives and how they came together when they did. Those are all collected together in a little book called Mariah’s Prologues. Another world is Avenir Eclectia, a project I opened up to multiple authors to write within defined parameters. Think of it like Star Wars novels, except with an original world. Together with over a dozen other contributors, I facilitated a collection of stories and articles that laid the groundwork for an entire society and economy. I’m now continuing to write stories and novels in that world. But more on that later. I’m also working quite hard on Earthcore, a storyworld that is essentially present-day New Zealand, with the taniwha that give various abilities to people they choose. That’s a series I feel could go on for a while.
However, it is very important to me that each book in a series must stand alone as well. It must have a wrapped-up ending—no cliffhangers!—and provide a high level of reader satisfaction (although threads may be left open to pick up in later books). That is my goal with every individual piece of writing, whether short or long.
Sweet or salty?
Both. Yes, even together. Fries dipped in vanilla thickshake, anyone? Cheese with jam? Fruit in green salad? You get the idea. I even had actual fish in chocolate sauce at a French restaurant once. It was amazing.
Cats or dogs?
I do like dogs very much and have loved meeting my friends’ canine family members. But I’ve never really had the kind of place where I could keep a dog, so cats it is. I’ve got three of my own at present, and two adult foster cats for the Gutter Kitties rescue group. Earlier this summer I had no less than fifteen kittens while they grew big enough to be adopted. I’ve fostered about 60 cats and kittens since starting this gig about three years ago. So I am for real a legit cat herder.
Are you a big picture thinker or more detail-oriented? How does that tendency help or hinder your work?
I think a lot about the big picture; while great for the brainstorming phase of any project, it can tend to overwhelm me when getting down to work if I don’t know where to begin or what exactly to do next, in the moment. I often have to force myself to figure out little steps.
When I’m writing, I can’t turn off my editor brain and am always tempted to go back and edit, which slows my writing. Is this your experience? What are your tips for getting words on the page efficiently?
My experience might differ a little from yours in that I am always tempted to hop over to my browser and see what the world is up to. Writing on a machine connected to the internet doesn’t ever happen for me. It’s just not possible. To get words on the page, I have to disconnect. Shut down the laptop. Write on paper, when I’m making notes in preparation. These can get quite detailed—yes, I’m a plotter through and through. Usually I spend half a day or so expanding a seed idea into a blurb, a 3-paragraph synopsis detailing beginning, middle, and end, then a 3-5 page rundown of what might actually happen, and finally a list of one-sentence scene summaries. Then when it comes to the actual writing, I go beyond defining a scene goal and summary, all the way into the little individual bits that make up a scene, that might sometimes only be a hundred words long. And then write on a 90s typewriter-like device that has 6 lines of text on the screen, that makes it difficult to edit. The only way to go is forwards. The device plugs into a computer for easy transfer of text. I tell you, this thing has been my secret weapon: I’ve written about four novels in the past year, each within a month or nearly so, and I couldn’t have done it without my Alphasmart Neo (and my ridiculously detailed insta-plan for the day’s work). 😊 It doesn’t mean I have to stick to my plan if I think up something better as I write. It’s just a framework to begin with. Fairly often I find whole new scenes popping up, or one tiny sub-point might expand into an entire scene of its own. That’s the best kind of dolphin leaping.
How much do you tend to write each day? What’s your schedule like?
I am that terribly unpredictable creature known as the binge writer. There’ll be nothing for months, and then, after getting all my notes ready and steeling myself for the fray, I dive in and do about 50,000 words in a month. For my YA novels this can be close to a complete draft. This is based on the NaNoWriMo plan at 1667 words per day, every day. Just before I start, or sometimes the night before, I look at the one-sentence summary for the next scene and scribble down as many tiny sub-points as I can come up with, usually 8-10 per scene. Knowing exactly what comes next means I can get a scene done in less than two hours, provided I do it first thing in the morning and don’t touch a computer till it’s finished.
As a freelance editor and translator, demands on my time vary greatly as jobs of different size and intensity come and go. But it’s not too much to ask to have a month now and then when I dedicate the first two hours of each day to my first passion—writing. Binges like this have given me my last four drafts in little over a year, so I’m beyond happy with that and wish I could do it more often. Maybe it’s just a matter of planning and deciding to do it.
What was the first novel/story you ever published and what do you think of it now?
There used to be a little photocopied magazine in the early 90’s called Write Now, I think it was based in Hamilton. I had a few stories in there. I don’t remember which was first, but they all relied overly on the hidden twist ending—or not so hidden, as the case may be. One involved a “boyfriend” who was really a cat. That sort of thing.
You’re a big traveller. What literary pilgrimages, if any, have you gone on?
I’ve seen the Book of Kells in the Trinity Library in Dublin; its art is a constant inspiration to my own design work and the styles I used on the covers and interior decorations for Mariah’s Dream and the Prologues. I lived and worked in Ireland for several months as I was writing a novel based there. I’ve travelled across and around the USA in every direction, visiting writer colleagues and getting to share their lives for a few days. And I’ve been to many conferences over there, such as DragonCon and Realm Makers and a few others. At RM I offer mentoring sessions to the writers and usually end up doing some kind of presentation. Of course the same is true of the New Zealand Natcons, and those are always great for networking as well.
What if you had a Tardis and could travel through time to have dinner with an author from the past, who would you choose to meet and what would you have for dinner?
You know, I think I would pick Shakespeare. The guy’s responsible for so much of our contemporary idiom I think it might surprise even himself. And, as our colleague Darian Smith has pointed out, Shakespeare wrote about fairies, witches, ghosts and more—that’s certainly speculative, so his mind would be open to all sorts of imaginative ideas. Imagine the brainstorming!
What’s for dinner—maybe butter chicken pie or a good Kiwi hangi. Did they have fish ‘n’ chips in his day? Followed by pavlova and ice cream. Things he would be unfamiliar with, to watch his reaction!
Of course, having a Tardis would mean having the Doctor as my companion. I’m down with that. Any one from the new series will do! The Tenth rather liked Shakespeare himself, I reckon…
So, I heard a rumour that you’re writing a mash up. Can you tell us about that? When can we expect to see it released?
I suppose one could call it a mashup 😉 although it is essentially a science fiction romance through and through. The twist comes from being based on Pride and Prejudice—absolutely classic and funny and very clever in its plotting. Now just move the whole thing to a space colony, with all the inherent dangers and novelties—oh yes, and swap the genders of all the main characters. It’s been really fun exploring how that changes the dynamics of the story. I haven’t quite finished the draft. I’ve planned a slot to get it done in March. When it’s finished, there’s just the matter of sending it round to my editing people. It could feasibly be published this year, though I’ve got several others in the pipeline ahead of it so maybe next year is more realistic. Then again, who knows? Maybe this one will be quick work and beat out some of the others.
This pipeline of yours sounds pretty crowded. What’s in it right now—what are you working on publishing?
Next up is Earthcore Book 2: Volcano City, a return to the taniwha-powered superheroes of New Zealand. It’s in edits right now and the cover is all done so I’m hoping it won’t be too much longer.
Earthcore Book 3: Aftershocks is already written as well and will be going out for edits as soon as Volcano City comes back. I’m tentatively hoping to have it published this year.
Mariah’s Dream has two sequels, Naomi’s Journey and CyberDublin, already fairly well edited but in need of some expansion. Together with Mariah’s Dream and Mariah’s Prologues they will complete this foursome of books. I plan to get those expansions underway soon and we’ll see where they go from there; these are deeper, darker stories and they take more effort and spirit. It’ll be worth the wait.
And then of course there’s Universally Acknowledged—Pride and Prejudice in Space. So that brings me to five mostly-complete drafts. Yikes! They’ll all be published when they’re good and ready, and not a moment sooner—but not a moment later either, because I’m one of those control-freak indies who doesn’t believe in waiting around for publishers. At the same time I am obsessive about quality and I won’t let anything go out without passing through several rounds of editing and proofing and the best in production values.
And, finally, what will you write next?
After I get these expansions and partial drafts all done, I will be moving back to the Earthcore series. I feel so at home there, and the stories all but tell themselves. While I don’t yet have specific ideas for Book 4 and onwards, there are plenty of volcanic and geothermal settings yet to be explored around New Zealand and farther afield, with their associated taniwha or local mythological creatures. I’m also looking forward to seeing how the characters develop after the public finds out about their powers and they become sought after to solve taniwha problems around the country and around the world. You might have read the moment they went public in my short story Earthcore: Initiation, which is situated after Book 3 in the timeline, but forms an introduction to the people and their powers so it’s intended to be read first just as easily. Book 4 will follow on directly from Initiation.
Grace Bridges is a geyser hunter, cat herder, professional editor and translator, and is the current president of SpecFicNZ—having been on the committee since 2012. Indie publishing and freelance editing have been her focus for the past ten years, including 40+ titles in her Splashdown Books brand. She has edited and co-edited a number of short story collections such as Avenir Eclectia, Aquasynthesis, Aquasynthesis Again, and also Alter Ego.
Her novels include space opera, Irish cyberpunk, and the Earthcore urban fantasy series set in New Zealand. Several of her works and edited collections have been shortlisted for the Sir Julius Vogel Award. Grace’s short stories and non-fiction appear in various anthologies and online magazines. See www.gracebridges.kiwi for more information.