Interview Transcripts

Getting it Right: an Interview with Alexis Glynn Latner, SF Writer and Pilot 12/18/03



Legend:
Questions from the Audience are presented in red.
Answers by the Speaker are in black.
The Moderator's comments are in blue.

Mary Rosenblum

Welcome everyone to our Professional Connection Interview.

 

Our guest tonight is Alexis Glynn Latner, SF writer and sail plane pilot. Most of her work appears in 'Analog Magazine', but she is also a very effective writing teacher and can answer a lot of 'how to' questions, and her approach of looking at writing the way you'd look at flying a plane is unusual to say the least.

 

Hi, Alexis, welcome! Glad you could make it!

Alexis Glynn Latner

Hello, everybody!

Mary Rosenblum

Alexis, I'm so pleased to have you here. So let's begin with the basics.

 

How did you get started writing?

Alexis Glynn Latner

When I was little I always had stories going in my head.

 

It may have been Star Trek that made me move my stories into space

 

with characters of my very own!

Mary Rosenblum

Sounds like the way I got started! :-)† And why SF and not another genre?

Alexis Glynn Latner

Cool! - SF has science, and I was always fascinated with that.

Mary Rosenblum

And you also teach writing, can you tell us a bit about the course you teach?

Alexis Glynn Latner

I teach a class called Shaping your Story,

 

It's for beginners in fiction AND creative nonfiction.

Mary Rosenblum

Sounds much like the Long Ridge Course I teach! And now I want to get to the very interesting acronym you gave me --

 

INHYJHTDIR! Want to tell us what it means? I gather it relates to flying?

Alexis Glynn Latner

. o O ( It's Not Hard, )

 

It's Not Hard, You Just Have To Do It Right.

 

That was said once by a woman aerobatic glider pilot to a room of fellow pilots who all gasped a bit, because we all think aerobatics is hard.

 

But what she meant was that there are only a few basic things to do right and the hard part is to consistently do it the right way. I think writing is the same!

Mary Rosenblum

Aerobatics in a GLIDER? I think I want to have my life insurance well paid up! But I agree with you...

 

that the hard part of writing is indeed to do it right consistently

 

and to know what RIGHT is, when you first start out! Stumped me for awhile. :-)

Alexis Glynn Latner

It takes training, persistence, and a good craft!

Mary Rosenblum

Well, training and persistence work for writing, too.

 

Good craft could be what...solid craft?

 

Solid technique in other words?

Alexis Glynn Latner

There is a body of knowledge about how to write, and we should all learn it....

 

especially the fundamentals.

gskearney

Hi, Alexis. Mary's told me a bit about you. It's good to meet you even if it's only in cyberspace. My question is how do you verify the science behind your stories?

Alexis Glynn Latner

First, do some research. Second, write the story. Third, run it by an expert.

 

I make a point of having physicist, engineer and biologist/medical friends who like to read SF.

Mary Rosenblum

That does, help! Any tips for novice writers about how to go about

 

finding an expert if they don't know one personally?

Alexis Glynn Latner

Go to a good science fiction convention with your business card.† And mingle!

ambrolia

How easy is it to break into sci fi writing ?

Alexis Glynn Latner

It's not hard to write science fiction, you just have to do it right, and you can learn what that is. However....

 

Getting published can be terribly difficult.

Mary Rosenblum

But not impossible at all! Persistence pays off! I know personally that editors do read stories they reject.

Alexis Glynn Latner

But if you find science fiction being published that you like

 

send your story or your book to them.

Mary Rosenblum

I think that is very important...read the magazines before you submit. Do you agree, Alexis?

Alexis Glynn Latner

For two reasons. One, so you don't submit to an unsuitable market.

 

Two: if you don't like the stories in a magazine, they probably won't like the ones you write

 

and your story won't change their minds about what they want to publish, either.

coway

Why so hard to get published with science fiction?

Alexis Glynn Latner

Coway, I have some reason to think that SF is not as popular now as it once was, though it may become more popular again. Things go in cycles.

Mary Rosenblum

So there are fewer markets out there?

Alexis Glynn Latner

Fewer markets, and far fewer that want science fiction with hard science content, I think.

babbles

What qualifies as creative nonfiction?

Alexis Glynn Latner

Nonfiction done with some of the craft of fiction - dialogue, point of view, characterization, setting, scenes, etc.

pook

Suppose the 'science' is just your theory of how it works? Nobody knows yet.

Alexis Glynn Latner

If it's your theory quite apart from what science knows about the cosmos, I think you're doing fantasy, a different genre.

Mary Rosenblum

There is a 'science fantasy' that sort of straddles the space between 'elves and fairies' and 'spaceships'. :-)

Alexis Glynn Latner

I like that and I'm trying some.

paja

With science expanding so quickly, how do you stay ahead of it in your writing?

Alexis Glynn Latner

Yipes, Paja, it's hard. One way is to set your stuff in the far future. Near future SF is terrifically demanding for that very reason.

Mary Rosenblum

No kidding! :-)

pook

There is a website for locating experts. www.experts.com I think It is in LR course book 'Searching'.

Alexis Glynn Latner

The internet is the best thing since the invention of the pencil.

Mary Rosenblum

That actually looks like a good research resource, Iíve looked at it.

mbvoelker

What, in your opinion, are the fundamentals you need to do right?

Alexis Glynn Latner

May I list the fundamentals as I teach them in my course?

Mary Rosenblum

Please do!

Alexis Glynn Latner

This is really bouilloncubing the course, but here goes.

 

1. Know what you think you're doing - genre, length, who your ideal reader might be, etc.

 

2. Have all the body parts of you story - a hook, a beginning, a middle, an end.

 

3. Pick the right protagonist and don't foul up the point of view.

 

4. Don't complicate it to much - plot especially, also cast of characters, special effects, etc.

 

5. Write well - and make the writing carry the tale, not vice versa.

Alexis Glynn Latner

6. Edit right - this doesn't mean go over it the same way 5 times; there actually should be 3-6 different kinds of edit.

Alexis Glynn Latner

7. Do what you like to read, and send stories where you find stories you like.

Alexis Glynn Latner

8. Write on! Don't rewrite what you've already done endlessly, move ahead to a new story, new skills, use the skills you've earned on a fresh canvas.

Alexis Glynn Latner

Questions?

Mary Rosenblum

Very solid fundamentals, Alexis.

gskearney

I'd like to say that you did all those things very well in your Analog story, Trinity Bay. How did you come up with that idea?

Mary Rosenblum

Post office box in Schenectedy? :-)

Alexis Glynn Latner

I started with the title because it would make a good title for an eco-disaster story, which I thought about after the Trinity River had a massive flood in 1990

 

then I combined the fact that there should be no thermals over water with the idea that a nanodisaster would create heat...

 

And I realized a sailplane could fly on the thermals!

 

Then I sat down with an expert physicist pilot friend, with a Houston sectional aviation map

 

to plot the catastrophe. It was fun.

Mary Rosenblum

For those of you who may not have read one of Alexis's stories...she combines solid science with great fiction.

search

I feel like my writing has lost flair, what should I do?

 

Any advice for a novice who has lost inspiration?

Alexis Glynn Latner

Try something completely different. OR:

 

Go do something else in life that thrills and enriches you. Who knows? You might come back to writing in love with it again.

Mary Rosenblum

Perhaps find some other creative outlet that fulfills you, Alexis, is that what you mean?

Alexis Glynn Latner

Yes. Flying did that for me! But there is another way too: go read stuff that you really like, old friend books and new friend books. That can be invigorating.

Mary Rosenblum

I have to say that books is where I have found energy when I have lacked inspiration and energy.

Alexis Glynn Latner

So true!

paja

What is the reverse of the writing carrying the story?

Alexis Glynn Latner

Hah. It's when you load a ton of beautiful, labored, polished prose on the back of a rather rickety little story. Not recommended.

mbvoelker

What 3-6 kinds of editing? And how do you know which types of editing the story needs?

Alexis Glynn Latner

Will the Moderator permit yet another list?

Mary Rosenblum

Sure!

Alexis Glynn Latner

'kay, here it is. ALL stories need this process:

 

1. When you've knocked out a first draft, edit same, in the privacy of your study. Nobody has to see the mess.

 

2. When you've got a second draft in one piece, show it to a trusted reader, listen to what they say, and go fix the problems they found.

 

3. Now you have to take a systematic approach to weed out the ill to which all creative writing is heir. I follow the process detailed by Ken Rand in the book called The Ten Percent Solution

 

to clean up wordiness, vagueness and so forth and tighten everything.

 

The Ten Percent Solution is actually a SERIES of edits that use your word processor find feature!

Mary Rosenblum

Ken Rand's Ten Percent Solution is excellent and CHEAP...about six dollars...it's on the website listed in the Surviving and Thriving Review section, with a link so you can purchase it.

 

I highly recommend it, and often give it to writers at workshops!

Alexis Glynn Latner

So that can be a few, or quite a few, iterations right there.

 

5. If an editor wants it, you'll have some more editing to do very likely!

 

I never said I could count but you get the idea.

Mary Rosenblum

Actually, there IS a sixth edit...when you do a book length work.

Mary Rosenblum

After the formal edit, you do a copyedit run.

babbles

How long did it take before you published your first story, and at what age?

Alexis Glynn Latner

Editing is quite a process. But invaluable.

Alexis Glynn Latner

When was I was first published?

Alexis Glynn Latner

After writing part of the time for two decades and making a serious effort for a couple of year, in my early thirties. It was Analog.

Mary Rosenblum

We're twins, Alexis, I went through the same process at the same age, with Asimiov's! LOL

 

No wonder we're friends! :-)

Alexis Glynn Latner

Parallel, I like that. Symmetry

babbles

Alexis, is your fascination of science how you came to SF?

Alexis Glynn Latner

Well, I read Donald Wollheim Battle on Mercury (a YA book) when I was 11 or so...

 

and it was SO neat, with humans and energy beings on Mercury and science of what was known about Mercury at the time...

 

and the rest is future history. :-)

pook

I thought most of writing was rewriting?

Alexis Glynn Latner

They say write when you write, and edit when you edit, Pook, and they're right.

ambrolia

Sometimes I feel intimidated by editors. How did you deal with the heartache?

Alexis Glynn Latner

It helps to have a storm blow big branches all over the yard and you really really need to go after them with an axe. Seriously, I talk to my friends about THEIR troubles in the office, and we encourage each other.

Mary Rosenblum

I like the axe method myself. I heat with wood, so it's useful! :-) It DOES sting, ambrolia!

 

Friends DO help.

Alexis Glynn Latner

Is that anything like ambrosia?

 

Friends are the most important things for writers to have.

coway

What is the copyedit run?

Alexis Glynn Latner

Mary, you take that one.

Mary Rosenblum

The copyeditor edits for language and punctuation after the editor edits for content, coway.

 

Some can teach you your own tropes with language, others are AWFUL!

Alexis Glynn Latner

I have heard horror stories.

Mary Rosenblum

I can offer a couple...but Iíve learned a lot from one or two.

spider

What do you personally do to get past writer's block?

Alexis Glynn Latner

There's more than one kind of writer's block, spider. If it's the kind that one writer has called "novice nerves", you just have to sit down and forge ahead.

 

It will feel shaky and uncertain for a while, it just will.

Mary Rosenblum

Novice nerves! That's a good name for it!

Alexis Glynn Latner

Credit Elizabeth Moon

Mary Rosenblum

Well, we ALL suffered from 'em as new writers!† I sure did.

Alexis Glynn Latner

And when you try a different kind of writing too.

Mary Rosenblum

Yep!

gskearney

Question for you both. Do you analyze stories and books you like to try to figure out what the writer did to make the story so good? If so, how?

Alexis Glynn Latner

You bet. First I read, then I realize I'm having a darn good time, then I try to understand how the writer made it so.

Mary Rosenblum

Me, too, exactly. I will really analyze the craft...how does she get the character's feelings across, how did she make me FEEL like this?

Alexis Glynn Latner

And, how did she tell so much story in so few words, so unerringly?

Mary Rosenblum

Exactly. I think a good book is a mini writing course, along with a fun read!

Alexis Glynn Latner

Yes.

ambrolia

Who is your favorite female scifi author?

Alexis Glynn Latner

I have learned the most and enjoyed the most of Lois McMaster Bujold.

 

She's been called the best story teller in the field since Heinlein.

Mary Rosenblum

She does hard SF VERY well, and writes fast, tightly paced stories with solid characters.

Alexis Glynn Latner

And how. And I find her fantasy interesting too.

spider

In your opinion, what makes "good writing" work?

Alexis Glynn Latner

You are not conscious of the writing as writing.... it's like a window into another world, and you see the events and smell the smells there.

Mary Rosenblum

In other words, you live the story, yes?

Alexis Glynn Latner

Yes. This is not the same as literary writing that is very conscious of the artistry of the writing.

Mary Rosenblum

Isn' t that, to a large degree, a combination of strong 'show, don't tell', and deep characterization?

Alexis Glynn Latner

I think it also, invisibly, avoids the fundamental mistakes.

 

For me, nothing jars me out of a good reading experience like a glaring mistake in story telling (head-hopping point of view or whatnot.

 

It can be a pretty good story and I'll enjoy it, if it steers clear of flagrant errors.

babbles

But isn't it hard to tell when to stop rewriting?

Alexis Glynn Latner

You're onto an important idea, babbles. It is hard. You stop rewriting when it's no longer being improved. Put it down for a while if you can't make it markedly better.

 

Come back to the story when your skills have grown in doing new ones.

Mary Rosenblum

That's good advice. When you feel as if you are pounding your head against a brick wall

 

go do another story and come back to this one later. That wall may have fallen down by then.

Alexis Glynn Latner

If you find yourself in a hole stop digging!!

Mary Rosenblum

There you go! :-)

 

My dog needs to learn that one... LOL

chatty lady

With so many things in Science, now being a reality, it must get harder and harder to come up with realistic Science Fiction. Has that become a reality for the SF writer?

Alexis Glynn Latner

It's hard to come up with realistic SF that hasn't turned into reality or just been disproven behind your back!

Mary Rosenblum

But all the new advances just open up more windows of 'what if' and 'if this goes on' speculation!

Alexis Glynn Latner

Absolutely. Exciting times.

pook

Who is a good fantasy writer? Not violent.

Alexis Glynn Latner

I don't know. You might have to look in YA.

g.j.

Much of what Jules Verne wrote about has come to pass. Was his writing considered science fiction or fantasy at that time?

pook

Jules Verne was SF, right? like Fantastic Voyage though isn't that fantasy?

Alexis Glynn Latner

The way I look at it, Dante's Divine Comedy was science fiction too, just like these. In his case, Aristotelian metaphysics.

Mary Rosenblum

I have to say that I hadn't really thought of Dante as SF, but I suppose you could call it that!

Alexis Glynn Latner

Sure, it was a systematic exploration of the cosmos.

Mary Rosenblum

You're right. For it's time, it WAS cutting edge...or a bit beyond.

Alexis Glynn Latner

Exactly!

mitch

Do you ever write without a specific market in mind?

Alexis Glynn Latner

Often, if the idea moves me. On the other hand, mitch, sometimes a specific market can focus one's effort.

pook

How can an editor let head hopping happen? Don't they help you fix that?

Alexis Glynn Latner

In today's publishing world, stuff has to almost be so competent that it doesn't need basic editing before an editor will buy it.

 

You can be your own best editor, pook, and help other writers edit.

pook

So how did it get published? with head hopping?

Alexis Glynn Latner

True head-hopping is something I see in unpublished work - it doesn't get published.

Mary Rosenblum

Well...Alexis, once in awhile, it does. Not everything that's published is GOOD. I save some great examples for workshops!

 

But that's no excuse for submitting poor quality work!

Alexis Glynn Latner

I've got a favorite bad SF novel for class

 

written by a scientist, published hard cover and rife with fundamental errors in craft. Such as:

 

9 synonyms for "said" on page 71. Donald Clayton Joshua Factor.

Mary Rosenblum

Ah, a new example for the collection! heheh.

Alexis Glynn Latner

Ohyes

coway

Is it realistic to write of an adjacent universe where the third planet from their sun produces people who look like us except skin shade, but with much higher mental abilities latent to us?

Alexis Glynn Latner

If you're toward the fantastic end of SF you can do almost anything.

Mary Rosenblum

There is a wide spread in SF between the type of fiction Alexis writes where the science really works

 

and the end of the spectrum with alternate universes, and the like.

 

I will venture to say that even at the 'fantasy' end of the spectrum, you have to keep one toe in real science, but that's all.

Alexis Glynn Latner

And I may be migrating in that direction. Fantastic, not alternate universes yet.

pook

I'm confused about SF vs. fantasy.

g.j.

I'm with Pook. Also confused between sf and fantasy

Alexis Glynn Latner

As an amateur lit crit specialist, I say science fiction is a subset of fantasy.

 

It's all about what is not, or is not yet, or never was....

 

But science fiction has at least science as an icon or a theme....

Ale

and assumes that science, not magic, makes the cosmos run.

Mary Rosenblum

And I wouldn't worry about it too much? The markets that publish 'hard' SF generally publish 'soft' or 'fantasy SF', too.

Alexis Glynn Latner

"speculative fiction" nicely covers it all.

Mary Rosenblum

If you read something from that publisher, you'll know if your story fits. Yes, speculative fiction is a good umbrella term.'

chatty lady

Off the subject I know BUT how long should we save books like Writers Market, Best of Magazine Market, Writers Handbook? They are dated and new ones appear yearly. Do you throw the old ones away or save them?

Alexis Glynn Latner

Save the old ones for research, check a copy in the public library to verify your research, if you'll investigating markets you don't submit to every day.

Alexis Glynn Latner

For markets of great importance get a newsletter like Gila Queen or Speculations.

pook

Did you ever pay an editor to review your work?

pook

You may not know your writing is bad.

Mary Rosenblum

How does a novice writer know, Alexis?

Alexis Glynn Latner

I haven't paid anyone for editing, pook, but I've been paid. SHow your story to someone who likes the genre you're writing in, and see how they react.

 

And for the acid test get into a constructive writer's group in person or on line.

 

Or a workshop at a convention.

Mary Rosenblum

And this website is a good place to do that. Come to the casual chats, talk with people and start groups.

 

Several have been born here lately.

Alexis Glynn Latner

Exactly!

Mary Rosenblum

Gary had a good comment on the 'sf' labels.

gskearney

It's a marketing classification, and doesn't really make much sense. All fiction is not, etc. but SF tries not to violate accepted present day scientific knowledge.

Alexis Glynn Latner

Except then the commonly accepted rules of our little game say it's OK, like FTL star drives when you're doing space opera.

coway

I'm a novice writer and have so much to learn until it is scary. Did you ever feel that way?

Alexis Glynn Latner

Expletive yes, and still do at 3 AM.

Mary Rosenblum

No kidding. I'm chuckling! Coway, welcome to the mental life of the writer!

babbles

I lost my agent, have publishing problems. How do I move on from here?

Alexis Glynn Latner

It depends on the problems. Many have started up a new pseudonym. Some move to a different genre, or go to nonfiction in regional magazines or newspapers where it's easier to be published and confidence can build back up.

Mary Rosenblum

That's good advice! Alexis, tell us a bit about what you have coming up

 

will you please? Don't you have a story coming out soon in Analog?

Alexis Glynn Latner

I have a short story coming out in Analog. It's about orbital debris. I know somebody as Johnson Space Center whose job is orbital debris, and I used a lot of specific details from him. It's an orbital debris mystery. Something seems to be.... eating orbital debris.

 

And I've got some magazine articles coming along.

Mary Rosenblum

Oh, cool! I can't wait to read that one, especially since I'm playing with orbital debris right now. Which issue will it be in?

Alexis Glynn Latner

Doing both nonfiction and fiction has worked for me. Don't know the issue of Analog - haven't gotten the galleys yet!

pook

Who cares if they eat it..if it's debris?

Mary Rosenblum

I'm laughing. Free garbage service?

Alexis Glynn Latner

So, how do we know something eating orbital debris won't snack on something of a non-debris nature? When this expensive commsat is suddenly missing.

Mary Rosenblum

Yes, our hungry orbital scavenger might not realize those spendy satellites aren't Doritos!

Alexis Glynn Latner

The people on the International Space Station get worried too.

Mary Rosenblum

Nothing like being the next midnight snack!

 

I'll watch for that one!

 

I do have one more question here about publishing...

pook

How do you get published in a newspaper? Writer's Market doesn't say anything about it.

Alexis Glynn Latner

If you live in a small town drop into the office and ask if they need writers. In a big town, contact one of the little weeklies. ALSO...

 

Let your friends know you're a writer and let your writer's group know you're interested in newspaper or magazine writing. Networking works just fine.

Mary Rosenblum

A recent guest of mine got a weekly column by writing to the letter of the Portand paper's "Living' Section...

 

and pointing out that he had no pet column and people spend lots of money on pet food

 

so he could get ads. She got the column.

Alexis Glynn Latner

Smart move on her part!

Mary Rosenblum

That is a big paper, but her query was quite solid. He had a marketing hole and she pointed it out.

 

What does your paper need?

Alexis Glynn Latner

It's always good to look around and see what needs to happen.

Mary Rosenblum

Alexis, do you want to give us a preview of the spingravity novel you're working on?

Alexis Glynn Latner

In anybody here has read Arthur C. Clark's Rendezvous with Rama,

 

Well, Clark got some of the physics wrong! And his Rama was a robot world. I've got this huge spinning star station that's chock full of old civilization, plus, it's a place of asylum for many kinds of human and nonhuman oddity and it's in a VERY eventful part of the galaxy, and.... romance and adventure happen.

Mary Rosenblum

No kidding. I got to read a chunk, and I know I can't wait for the whole thing.

Alexis Glynn Latner

-)

Mary Rosenblum

I think what I like best about your fiction, Alexis, is that you give me real, thoughtful science and people I can care about!

babbles

Sounds fascinating, Alexis

 

I've got to go, thanks for answering my "?'s" Alexis

Alexis Glynn Latner

Thank you. Those are what I like. You're welcome.

Mary Rosenblum

Now you just have to finish it! :-) You already have buyers waiting, heheh.

gskearney

I'll second that. Make sure you let us know when it comes out.

Mary Rosenblum

Don't worry, Gary. I will.

gskearney

Thanks for wonderful session. --gk

Alexis Glynn Latner

I have got novice nerves. But. I'll forge ahead.

 

My pleasure, Gary.

Mary Rosenblum

You're doing just FINE, trust me! :-) Alexis this has been great!

 

Thank you so much for coming tonight!

Alexis Glynn Latner

Thanks for your hospitality!

Mary Rosenblum

You've been a great guest, and your 'how to' advice is excellent.

 

Thank you for taking this time, and I hope you'll come back again!

Alexis Glynn Latner

The more good writers there are in this world the better.

pook

Thank you both for a good forum. I will try reading some sf too.

g.j.

It kept me awake. You know it was a GOOD ONE.

Alexis Glynn Latner

Good luck to you all.

Mary Rosenblum

I'm laughing, gj!

Mary Rosenblum

Thanks, Alexis, and good night!

Alexis Glynn Latner

Over and out.

 

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