Andrea G Stewart

Art and Writing

Writing Process Blog Hop

I've been tagged by Bob over at The Doors to Everywhere!  Bob is a YA author and is a member of my in-person (*gasp*) writing group, Stonehenge.  He writes sci-fi adventure, wherein the kids don't just save the universe--they save one another.

1. What are you currently working on?

I’ve got a dark fantasy novel, Windrider, which I’m currently in the process of revising and cleaning up.  I’ve been describing it to people as The Other Boleyn Girl meets Breaking Bad, with dragons.  I’ve got an urban fantasy series, Changeling Wars—the first book needs one more pass, and the second is in-progress.  Sillier, lighter fare than my usual.  And I’m very excited for the next epic fantasy I’m working on, entitled The Bone Shard Daughter.  I’ve been throwing a lot of “Wouldn’t it be cool if…?” ideas at it.  For now, my lips are sealed!  Errrr…my fingers are taped together?  Hmmm…not sure the equivalent for typing…!

2. How does your work differ from others in its genre?

I wouldn’t really presume to say that it’s that much different.  I can say that I like to deal in non-Western European fantasy, but other authors do the same.  I can say that I write complex, complicated characters, but a lot of other authors do that too.  I like poetic language, I like immersive description, I like worldbuilding.  Again, I am not the only one.

I think the one true way in which my work is different is that it is my work.  It will always be colored with my perceptions.

3. Why do you do what you do?

Is “I’m not entirely sure” an acceptable answer?  I’ve been writing since I was a kid.  I love creating stories, characters, worlds.  I love reading, I love to be immersed.  I guess I’ve always wanted to be the one on the other side, pulling the puppet strings.

4. How does your writing process work?

I’ll just cover novels, since short stories are an entirely different beast for me.  I get an idea, a concept.  Sometimes it’s inspired by something really mundane, like Marina finding a bone shard in her Chinese food.

A lot of them die out when I realize they are DUMB, but some keep germinating.

I start researching, picking up other ideas and sticking them onto the first one.  At some point, I’ll usually dash out the beginning couple scenes, just to get a feel for the voice, the characters, the world.  I create a character and world sheet, and add to it as I see fit, but they’re usually only 1-2 pages each.  Most of it, in the beginning, just grows in my head.

I daydream for at least a year before writing the outline and starting the project in earnest.  This may sound like a long time, but I’m always drafting or working on something else while I’m daydreaming about the new project.  I find it takes that much percolation time for the world and the characters to feel real and developed.

Completing the outline usually takes a couple weeks, and then I like to draft in a mad rush—usually a few months’ time.

And then I let it sit for a bit and I procrastinate and I become a ball of anxiety about how I will NEVER be able to get the draft into shape.

I start revising.  My worst fears are true.  It’s horrible, it’s awful, I’m paralyzed by indecision and appalled at my own ineptitude.  And then 1-2 weeks in, I hit my stride and start to feel like it might just work out okay.  I make a list of all the things I need to change and where (lists are great and very, very calming).  I change them.  One day I wake up and I’ve got something I can send to beta readers.

That pretty much covers my process.


Matt Maxwell A writer I met at FogCon who also lives in the area.  He did a reading in the same time slot as me.  Very surreal, fantastical coming-of-age story.

Drew Rhodes I also met Drew at Stonehenge.  He writes some very fun, funny stuff.

Richard Crawford Richard is pretty much one of my favorite writing people.  Read his stuff, it's funny and creepy and awesomely weird!

Food, Identity, and Culture

This past weekend, I got together with my family. My sister and her boyfriend have finally moved back to the states from China, and I’m ecstatic. We all shot emails back and forth regarding our Saturday night dinner, figuring out who was making what dish and what would blend well together. There were eight of us: my mom and dad, my brother and his girlfriend, me and my husband, and my sister and her boyfriend. I grew up in a family where food was an Important Thing. The kitchen is where everyone gathers for prep work, where we talk about what’s going on in our lives, sometimes with a glass of wine. It is constantly busy, and noisy, smelling of caramelizing onions mixed with the faint scent of whatever was put into the oven at the start of the whole process. Someone is always hovering on the edge, asking, “What can I do to help?”

Crowding in the kitchen, making all the foods.
Crowding in the kitchen, making all the foods.

The dinner table is almost sacred. When I was a kid, we dropped everything to sit at the dinner table together. At Christmas and Thanksgiving—times when we got together with my aunts, uncles, and cousins, dinner became a production. The adults were the foremen, corralling us kids, instructing us to cut this or grate that. I still remember my mom teaching me how to fold dumplings, how to make sure they were sealed properly so water couldn’t get inside.

My sister watching in amazement as my dad shaves bonito flakes for dashi.
My sister watching in amazement as my dad shaves bonito flakes for dashi.

At the important dinners, there was always some sort of fish. Always always rice. There would be so many dishes that you could only take a sampling of each. All the kids would be banished to the children’s table, where we could poke and tease each other and make fart jokes in peace. On my mother’s side, there were ten of us cousins, all close in age.

Food is a part of who I am. It is memory, and culture, and family.

We then used the dashi to make chawanmushi!
We then used the dashi to make chawanmushi!

I try to be conscious of this in my writing. Who is making the food? How elaborate is it? Can they procure all these ingredients in their environment, or do they import some of them? Who serves the food, and how do they eat it? Who do they sit with and are there any before or after meal activities?

I feel like these things can be so revealing, not just for a culture, but for families and individuals as well. In my current WIP, a good deal of the world is populated by the eisseth, a large, winged species. They have grasping arms, but they walk on their feet and the padded tarsals of their wings. They consider themselves culturally superior to humans. Their food reflects this—it is elaborate, multi-layered. Airy pastries, meats in wine and fruit sauces, glazes. During a diplomatic dinner, one of my eisseth characters takes a good deal of smug pleasure in pointing this out to my main character. For the eisseth, it is another justification for their invasion of human lands.

sous vide steak, miso-glazed eggplant, bacon-wrapped scallops, chawanmushi, and more...!
sous vide steak, miso-glazed eggplant, bacon-wrapped scallops, chawanmushi, and more...!

We had a lovely dinner on Saturday night, which took way too long to prepare, and was devoured way too quickly. My brother’s girlfriend remarked that every time she comes over, it seems there is a hidden dish—something that appears at the very last minute, making the dinner even more elaborate (in this case it was sous vide steak and cabbage with sun-dried olives). We decided, through a random spinning of a knife, which of us got to pick the Star Trek: TNG episode we would all watch (my sister picked “The Inner Light”) after dinner.

Getting our Star Trek on.
Getting our Star Trek on.

For us, food is a centerpiece. It is a collaborative process, something we all work on together and which we all get to enjoy. It is a reason to gather, to spend time together, and to linger in one another’s company.

Bonus photo of the husband wearing the hat my mom lent to him for our afternoon hike.  Because, hats.  And pandas.
Bonus photo of the husband wearing the hat my mom lent to him for our afternoon hike. Because, hats. And pandas.

The Virtues of Playing the Long Game (or Wherein Writing is a Lot Like Gardening)

Five and half years ago, my husband and I bought our house.  The inside was nice, yes, but it was the backyard we were excited about.  We had big plans, HUGE.

We were going to start a garden.

It would be the awesomest, most beautiful garden ever, producing large, ripe fruits and vegetables, humming with bees.  People were going to pin pictures of our garden all over pinterest. We were going to have so much food we’d fill our pantry with canned goods. Our neighbors would all look upon our yard and know where they would go in the event of a zombie apocalypse.

Disclaimer: Not our actual garden

Years and years before that, I had a different grand plan.

I was going to write a book.

And yes, it was going to be the best book ever.  I had no idea of the steps between writing “The End” and getting it on the shelves, but somehow, a divine finger was going to part the clouds, point to my book, say, “This one,” and it would become a bestseller.

Alas, as might be expected when pairing lofty goals and boundless optimism, reality and my expectations did not align.

Take, for instance, growing oranges.  I live in California.  People plant orange trees on the side of the road, neglect them, and they still drop oranges like they’re waste products and not food.  Oranges squished beneath car tires and wayward feet on the sidewalk.  So it should have been easy, right?

We killed our first orange tree.

We’d removed a sapling from our lawn and replaced it with an orange tree.  At the hardware store, our hopes were stoked by little trees in little pots bowed beneath the weight of their oranges.  We watered our tree, we fertilized it, and the thing just up and died.  We couldn’t figure it out.

So we bought another one and put it in the same spot.  This would work, surely?

This time, as the leaves began to wither and drop, we took pity on the poor thing and posted it on craigslist for a person with a greener thumb to care for.

We started to research and talk to others.  Turns out that our house sits on a bunch of clay, and putting an orange tree straight into the ground here, where the water would sit about its roots, was a death knell for a tree that liked to be soaked and then dried.

We still lusted after oranges, but it was going to take a lot more work than we’d first anticipated.

So…putting a tree in our lawn was out of the question.  But we could put a tree in a raised area, and fill it with soil that would drain.  We had raised circular beds against our fences, but they weren’t tall or wide enough to accommodate an orange tree.  First step?  Making them bigger.  My husband did the painstaking work of clearing the area around the beds, moving the cement blocks to a wider radius, and topping them off with another layer of blocks.  Second step?  Purchasing loose soil in bulk.

We spent a weekend carting that dirt around and filling up our new garden areas.

At last, it was ready.

Secure in our new knowledge, and eager to reap the fruits (ha ha, get it?) of our labor, we shelled out the big bucks and bought a more mature tree.  It was larger than those puny hardware store orange trees, so we were bound to get oranges the first year.

When the tree bloomed and the oranges began to form, we were ecstatic.

And then these little green oranges started to drop off of the tree.  What was happening?  Our tree was bigger, in a better spot, and we were giving it so much more attention than the tiny hardware store trees got.  Why did they produce oranges and ours dropped them?


We began to go a bit mad.  Were we watering the tree too much?  Too little?  How much did our neighbors water their trees?  Their trees had fruit.  Was our tree missing a nutrient?  Our neighbor gave their tree extra iron, would extra iron help?  Was it too windy?

The next year, the green oranges grew a little bigger.  Again, they all fell off.

By this time, we began to feel a bit resigned.  Well, it had happened last year.  What had we expected, really?  The leaves were green, the tree was growing—we’d taken good care of it.  Something was going on here, some nebulous “other” that we couldn’t control.

In the distant past, my seventh-grade-self finished a 30K manuscript.  It was the tale of a horse and a falcon charged with finding a new king for their magical land (of which the horse was the only non-magical inhabitant).  By the end, the horse got his powers, and the journey made him into the king his country needed.

It was terrible, and adorable, and really really bad.

I started and stopped several other manuscripts through the years.  I wrote a short story that I thought was amazing, sent it to a magazine, and received my first bitter taste of rejection.  I did a lot of research, joined writing groups, critiqued others’ writing and used what I learned to examine mine.  I completed another manuscript, which I truly thought was The One.  It garnered over eighty agent rejections before I trunked it.

I began again.

And in the year leading up to my first story sale, I went a bit mad.  What was I not doing that everyone else was doing?  How could I break through?  If so-and-so published author stood on their head and hummed “Mary Had a Little Lamb” should I also do so?  I still wrote, but I grew resigned, my bright and fluffy dreams of insta-bestseller dulled.

Some people out there could write things and sell them.  I was not, apparently, one of those people.

And then, after all those years, I suddenly was.

The third year after planting our tree, the oranges stayed on.  They grew orange, and large.  We held our breaths and researched when to pluck them.

We plucked them.

They were delicious.

Our actual oranges in front of our actual tree. Proof!