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.

Tagged:

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 Day I was Accidentally Sexist

Update: Two of my friends have written follow-on posts. The Day I was Accidentally Racist by Tina Gower and The Day I was Accidentally Religiously Offensive by Rebecca Birch. Read on for further mortification. May we never be accidental bigots again! I was terribly shy when I was younger. I had a phone phobia, was convinced I was the most awkward person in the history of the world, and blushed when people I didn’t know spoke to me.

I took Spanish in high school. I remember my teacher, Mrs. Pigage. She was tough, outspoken, and fun. I liked her, and earned good grades. On the rare occasion, I dared to raise my hand to answer questions.

For those who are not familiar, Spanish nouns are either masculine or feminine. In my textbook, the words that could be either were denoted with parentheses. For teacher: maestro(a). “Maestro” would be a male teacher, “maestra” a female teacher.

We had a list of vocabulary words, and were going up and down the rows, saying what each was, or what we thought each was, in English. This time I had no choice as to whether I was going to participate. I prepared by counting down the list, seeing how many people were ahead of me, and focused on the vocabulary word that would be mine.

This one was to be my undoing: “ama de casa.” That was it, quite simply. No parentheses.

When it came to my turn, I said, “Housewife?” My teacher stopped going down the list. My cheeks, already flushed from having to speak aloud, began to burn as attention focused on both me and her.

With a fair bit of gravitas, she explained that men could also stay at home and watch over the house. And then she pointed out that I was a woman, and that it was sad that I would think this was an occupation limited strictly to women.

I felt like my chest was on fire and about to cave in. There were no parentheses! I thought there was another, different word for house husband, I truly did. I knew that men could stay at home as well as women. My parents would have been ashamed if I actually thought that staying at home was solely the domain of women. Oh no, I’d just shamed my parents, casting aspersion not only on my own beliefs, but on theirs as well. I wanted to sink into the speckled linoleum floor.

I didn’t say anything, partially because I was so shy, and partially because denying it, after my teacher’s speech, would only make me look worse.

Here I was, with multiple pairs of eyes on me, and me imagining what they were thinking. “She’s prejudiced against her own sex!” “What a backwards young lady!” “Freak!”

Did no one else notice that there were no parentheses?? No one said anything.

I wish my teacher had asked if this was truly what I meant—that only women could stay at home—instead of assuming this was my intention. It would have saved me a lot of embarrassment. Thinking about it still makes me feel a little mortified.

I probably shouldn’t care what you think, and you likely don’t remember this day at all, but if you’re out there, Mrs. Pigage…I promise you I’m not sexist.