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Intermittent Visitors: Bradley P. Beaulieu

  Bradley P. Beaulieu is the author of the epic fantasy series The Lays of Anuskaya, including The Winds of Khalakovo and The Straits of Galahesh. He also co-wrote Strata with Stephen Gaskell. His short story collection, Lest Our Passage Be Forgotten & Other Stories, comes out today.

 

1. What is your writing process?

I’m an inch wormer. What’s an inch wormer? Well, often you’ll hear people talk about pantsers vs. plotters. Or gardeners vs. architects. The thing is, most writers will fall somewhere in the middle of those spectra. Sure, there are examples of extreme plotters that create 100-page outlines, or people that never plot for fear of losing interest in the story. But me? I find that I can’t plot exhaustively, but that I also need some sort of plotting to help guide me.

So what I do is use what George R.R. Martin calls “lights in the fog.” I figure out the ending to my story, plus a couple of high points along the way. These are my lights in the fog. I don’t know how I’ll reach them necessarily, because the fog in the swamp is thick, but I know generally where I’ll be once I reach them, and then it’s a matter of leaping from stone to stone to get there. I may veer far to the right or left, but eventually I’ll get where I want to go.

And as I do, as I move forward in the story, I’ll stop every so often. I’ll recast the plot, the adventure, even the characters and the world, and then I’ll continue marching forward. And so it is that I “inchworm” my way through the first draft.

 

2. What’s some writing advice you’ve received, that works for you?

One of the biggest “ah ha” moments I’ve had was from Kelly Link when I attended Clarion in 2006. I had written a story that needed more layers and depth. And by that I mean the words weren’t working hard enough. I had a section that introduced a circus troupe leader, and I was describing his clothes in a rather (if you’ll excuse the pun) laundry-list sort of way. It’s not enough to simply describe setting or character. You have to do so in such a way that it reveals more.

You might reveal more about who the observed character is. If the troupe leader has a stained white shirt, it might color him as slovenly. If it’s impeccably white, you’ll get another impression.

But you can also reveal more about the observer. If the character is annoyed at the troupe leader’s slovenly appearance, it will tell you something about them. If they’re accepting of it, or understanding given the daily grind the leader must deal with, it’ll tell you another.

But don’t stop there. You can reveal more about race or religion or gender with the simple act of description. Or narration. Or dialogue.

Make words work double or triple duty. That’s what we’re told when we first start writing. But it’s difficult to know just how to do that. This is one way: look at a lusterless passage and figure out if there are ways the words can tell more than a surface read implies. Make connections to other things about your world through implication and inference, and soon you’ll find that the story is much more textured and nuanced than it was before.

That’s what makes fiction deep, by adding layer upon layer. It makes your stories rewarding, and that, at the time, was a huge revelation for me.

 

3. Can you say a little bit about the genesis of Lest Our Passage Be Forgotten & Other Stories?

I started out as a novelist. I hadn’t really considered short stories as an avenue to publication. But then I started attending Kij Johnson’s seminars at GenCon, first in Milwaukee and then in Indianapolis when the convention moved. It was an eye opener for me, trying to create stories that can live inside of 5,000 words instead of 150,000. It was difficult as well, but as I continued working at it, I began to admire the form, and eventually I began selling stories.

This story collection compiles all of my fantasy stories to date. (I’ve held back the science fiction stories for a future collection.) I decided late last year to run a Kickstarter for the collection. I feared that it wouldn’t succeed, but it succeeded well beyond my expectations, getting over 300% of my initial goal.

And the Kickstarter added to the contents as well. I offered to write three new stories if we hit certain goals, and we hit all three of them. So I wrote those, including two stories set in my epic fantasy world of The Lays of Anuskaya. It was a really fun way to connect the story collection to the trilogy I’d been working on for the past half-decade.

I’m terribly excited to get the story collection out and to share the stories that reflect much of my time as a serious writer of fantasy.

 

4. Have you had to sacrifice anything in the rest of your life to write?

Well, yes. There’s no getting around it. Many, many late nights have been “given over” to writing. But I don’t regret it. Sure, there are days where I’m exhausted. I’d rather play a game, or watch Game of Thrones, or just hang out with my family and talk.

But books don’t write themselves. I get a big thrill from writing, especially at the milestone moments—the end of scenes, end of chapters, end of stories, and so on. So I try to take the little victories and enjoy them, because otherwise why do it? The big victories are so few and far between, you’d better enjoy the small ones.

Plus, I do try to balance my life appropriately. I don’t ignore my family. I make sure I live with them as I live with writing. The balance is never perfect, but what in life is?

In the end, I’m happy with the sacrifices for the time being. Hopefully in the future I’ll have more time for writing that isn’t of the “into the wee hours” variety.

 

5. Do you think writing helps you to understand more about yourself and the world, or is advancing as a writer more about learning how to communicate the things you already know?

Great question, and I hope for many it’s both. It certainly is for me. I question myself all the time. I’m writing what I know, certainly. But I don’t want to stop there. So much of the fun of writing is to learn more, and to share the things you’re learning, that you think are cool, or important, or devastating, or lovely. And you can’t do those things if you try to rely on only the things you’ve already experienced. Sure, you can do that for a story or two. But eventually you’ll need to move on or you’ll stagnate.

What goes hand-in-hand with this is our personal interests. They change over time. And it’s best if you keep your finger on the pulse of those changes. Use them to your advantage, because it will only help your fiction. Your enthusiasm, or disgust, or love, or what have you, will show through. And that can only help your fiction.

 

This interview is part of Intermittent Visitors: a multi-author blog tour.
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