Without a Fear of
An Interview with Lazette Gifford
By Russ Gifford
But you are a writing animal.
I'd be afraid to get between you and a sheet of blank paper if you had a
pen in your hand. -- Timothy Clarke, writing about Lazette in her
sff.net newsgroup 11/17/99
Gifford is a writer, editor, publisher and the site administrator of Forward
Motion. Her days are filled with writing related work of one kind or
another. She has been
published in both print and electronic venues, and in both short story and
novel formats. She has also written over 1,000,000 new words for each
of the last three years.
Zette is the owner and site
administrator for Forward Motion for (
http://fmwriters.com ) and managing editor for Vision: A Resource for
Writers ( http://lazette.net/vision
). Both Forward Motion and Vision are dedicated to helping writers find
their way along the paths to publication, and past problems they may
She is also the recently appointed
Associate Publisher for Double Dragon Ebooks new imprint, Dragon Tooth
Lazette has many publications in
both electronic and print formats, and in short story, novella and novel
lengths. She writes fantasy, science fiction, sci-fi, mystery and
contemporary young adult -- and just about anything else that catches her
For more information about her
present and upcoming publications and other work, check out her website at
The questions for this interview
came from several sources including a set of questions that are asked for
most Vision Interviews and questions collected from Forward Motion members.
What genres do you write in, and why? Has it always been that way? Would you
like to try your hand at any others?
have always been a science fiction writer. That genre drew me into writing
and I've always loved the thrill of grand adventures and the far frontier of
space. Taking problems away from Earth allows a writer to have a wider
scope for both presentation and the way in which a problem is solved. It's
thrilling to write about the sorts of discoveries that can no longer be made
on our Internet connected, satellite-guarded world. In space we can imagine
discoveries like those that Balboa and Cortez made, and with whatever results you
want to create on your new worlds. Science Fiction isn't just about technology; it's about
discoveries of all sorts.
I branched out into the magical
worlds of fantasy next because I enjoy the aspects of what would happen if
magic existed. There are many of the same problems of
power/cost/repercussions to society that a person faces when creating an sf
story. There can even be the problems of 'alien' contact and interaction
between different species. However, at least in the types of fantasy that
I like to write, there is often a more heroic element to the
I also write contemporary mystery
novels, both adult and young adult. I enjoy those for the adventure.
Writing in the 'real world' is an interesting change. I can't adapt the
world to fit a theme or idea. I often end up researching
little esoteric things, like where the closest gas station is to some
building, when in truth all I'll likely write is 'a few blocks later he
pulled into the first gas station he found.' But looking at the information
and grounding myself in the area helps make the story seem more real for me.
Other genres I want to write? All
of them. I especially would like to try my hand at historical fiction, but
I haven't found the time and place that inspires a story yet.
Has your writing changed you, or how you see the world? Are there themes
that matter most to you?
I've been writing for so long that
it seems it was always a part of my life. I can't say that it changed me,
but it has made me different than many of the other people I know just
because I'm so dedicated to it. Even my writing friends (and most of my
friends do write) seem to think that I may be a little too obsessed with
I view things in the world
through the eye of a writer. Anything interesting is apt to trigger an idea
for a story, or fill in a piece of a scene. It's a handy tool to have if
you can teach your brain to filter the world through the idea of 'how would
I write this.'
The one theme that appears most
often in my stories is the stupidity of bigotry of any sort, whether by
race, gender, income level, education, or any other aspect. It appears more
prominently in some books than in others, but quite often there's an
underlying root of it in nearly all the stories.
Who influenced your writing?
The first influence on my writing
was the person I first started writing stories with in Junior High, Linda
Wesley. I had already been writing for myself, but we began to collaborate
on both original and fanfiction stories, and I found that I had to write in
certain ways to not only meld in with her work, but also to keep her interested.
During this time I read a lot of
Andre Norton, and I think her character/story approach probably influenced
the type of story that I still like to read and tell. Having moved away
from Linda, I spent a long time writing without a clue until my husband
talked me into taking the Writer's Digest mail order novel course. The
person who taught the class, Holly Lisle, had a strong influence on my
writing. She taught me more about writing than any other single person.
After that the influences are more
along the line of 'I wish I could write like that!' The top person on that
list is C. J. Cherryh, whom I have adored for decades. Having her write a
lovely cover quote for my chapbook, Honor Bound, was a wonderful
Vision: When did
you know you wanted to be a writer? Has your career progressed the way you
thought it would?
I always wanted to be a writer. I
wrote my first book when I was about five -- a little story about a witch
and a cat, complete with drawings. Luckily for everyone, I never tried to
When I was in grade school a teacher
told me that I could not be published if I did not go to college. Since I
came from a very poor family, I knew that I'd never go to college and I
would never be published. But I loved to write, so I keep writing anyway.
In that respect, my career has gone
far better than I could ever have hoped. I have far more publications than
I ever thought I would have, especially in short stories, which came late to
me as a writing form.
Vision: What is
your average day like? Do you write every day?
get up, feed cats and check my email to make sure that nothing has gone
wrong in the hours since I
went to sleep. I generally make a quick check of Forward Motion and the
Dragon Tooth Fantasy boards.
Then I start writing. I write until
I need a break -- which is often several hours later -- and then I go back
to Forward Motion and answer questions, make posts and do any site
maintenance that I might need to do. Then I usually go back to writing
unless one of he other jobs needs my attention.
My day is made up of
write/work/write combinations that depend on what I need to do. Some times
the 'work' side takes more time than I want, and there are rare days when
the writing gives me some problems. However, writing is the carrot for me,
and I hold it out as a treat if I get certain things done. Otherwise, it's
likely that I would spend all the time writing.
And yes, I do write every single day
and have for more than two decades without missing a single day. This is
what I love to do most in the world, and I am very lucky that I have the
chance to pursue it, even though I am not particularly successful as a
writer -- yet.
obviously write a lot of words – yet many people write a lot, but don’t seem
to finish anything. You don’t seem to have that problem. Any suggestions as
to how you seem to avoid the roadblock of reaching a dead end?
I have two personal rules that make
it possible for me to finish my writing projects. First, I finish
everything I start. Everything. It may not always work out the way
I thought it would, but I don't allow myself to be stopped by stories that
don't seem to work. I make them work, and while the fixes don't always make
a publishable story, they do teach me more about writing than the stories
that are easy to write.
The second rule is that I must
finish anything I start within a year. Usually I finish everything by the
December 31st so that I can start the new year with a totally
clean slate. Today, January 1, 2005, I started a new mystery/adventure
novel titled Serendipity Blues. It's a great feeling to start something new
on New Years Day, especially if you have cleared nearly everything else out
of the way before hand.
I write a first draft without
editing. I've seen too many new writers try to polish and rewrite a
scene before they move on, only to grow frustrated and tired of the story
before they ever get it told. For those people, writing a completed
first draft and then going back and editing is a far wiser choice. A
first chapter that has been rewritten five times is useless if you never get
past it. A completed first draft of a novel has far more potential for
Always remember that your 'inner
editor' is you. You can take control of your own brain and get the
writing done, and to not do so is just making an excuse for not doing the
work. Write your stories, because you are the only one who can ever
tell that tale in your head.
The best way to avoid hitting a dead
end or a roadblock is to have a roadmap to work from -- yes, a dreaded
outline. You don't have to write an extensive outline, and it doesn't have
to be the type that you were forced to do in school either. Plotting
with note cards is a wonderful way to outline because you can easily
rearrange the notes and add new ones to reflect changes in the novel. An
outline doesn't tell the story any more than a map shows you the places you
will visit. They are only guides to tell you where you need to turn, stop,
and what your final goal will be. What you see along the way is entirely up
to you. And just like a roadmap, they can show you the quickest way
around a roadblock when you find one.
Vision: What comes
to you first – the main character, or the plot? (If it can go either way, is
there a noticeable difference in the final book that these two different
starting points produce?)
am almost entirely character driven as a writer. For me, a story first
arrives in the guise of a character who attracts my interest and is in some
kind of unusual situation. The plot creation flows around that scene, and it might
be located in any part of the final story -- or it might not make it to the
final draft at all.
As I prepare to write a story, the
stress moves from the character to the plot for a while. I work out the key
points, try to make certain the logic is sound, and then I go back to my
characters and start writing. I may have spent more time working out the
plot than I did working on the characters, but the characters are always
going to be more prominent in my storytelling.
Vision: From what
you’ve said, goals seem to work for you. Yet many people find goals promote
“brain freeze.” What do you do to avoid the chilling distress of goals?
Some people do not work well to
goals. I do. I have daily goals that help me see that I am making very
specific headway, either in new words (minimum of 1000 words) or in editing
(minimum of 5 pages). I use an Excel ™ spreadsheet, and I have records
going back to the late 90's. I like to see the numbers grow. I like the
feeling of progress that wouldn't otherwise be so graphically visible as a
novel slowly grows.
If you are going to set up goals for
yourself, though, start low. I started at 250 words a day and did that for
most of a year so that I just got used to the idea of writing every single
day. Your goals may not be to write every day, but whatever the plan, make
sure that you can easily achieve it at first while you get used to the work.
Setting a goal too high only leads to
frustration and that doesn't help writing. Go easy. This isn't a race, and
if you are uncomfortable with what you are doing, it will show in your work.
Vision: Do you
have a favorite book or story that you’ve written?
I have managed to mostly hold on to
a wonderful little 'trick' while I write. I convince myself that the
novel/story I'm working on right then is the best thing that I've ever
generally like just about everything I've written, but I think for the pure
fun of it, the Sangre Sisters stories take the top of the list. Oh, and
the Devlin novels. Or maybe the Singer and St. Jude books. Ada
Nish Pura, which I just sold to Aio, turned out to be pretty good. And
I am prolific. I write six to
ten novels a year and a half dozen or more short stories. I like a lot
of them because I write for myself first. That makes it far easier to
go back and work on the needed edits and rewrites.
Vision: Do you see
the Internet as a good tool for writers, or a terrible time sink?
It depends entirely on how the
people are using it. Take the chat rooms at Forward Motion: Some people
come there just to talk and hang out while others go there to discuss
specific writing problems. Sometimes we have word wars (write as much as you
can in a given amount of time -- everyone wins) or short 100 word spurts.
Those 100 words add up quickly.
For the rest of the Internet, the
same theory applies. You can use the Internet as a tool to help you with
specific problems, usually in research, or you can use it to flitter around
It's like anything else in life,
really. If you don't want to work, then you are not going to.
been a long time proponent of epublishing. Why – what does it do for the
does not pay as well as print publishing with a big New York house. It does
not provide the same prestige or notice as having a book on the shelves at
Barnes and Noble or Borders.
However, those print houses have a
limited number of slots that they can fill, and they have to choose the
books that will draw the widest range of readers. That means that a book
that is 'different' or 'marginal' might not make the cut, and it will have
nothing to do with how well it is written.
Epublishing gives those writers a
second chance to reach readers rather than just trunking their novels after
they've exhausted the print avenues. Epublishers are willing to take
chances on the unusual because they are not investing in an object that, if
it fails, will sit in their warehouses.
Epublishing is still in the 'pulp'
age of it's creation. There are many people starting epublishing companies
who don't have a clue about the industry, contracts, editing, etc. However,
the better houses are starting to emerge from the field, and some of them
are drawing notice from readers who had previously stuck with print.
Ebooks have some odd advantages if
you are into the world of technology and own a PDA. You can fit a dozen or
more novels on a PDA when you go off on vacation or a business trip. In
fact, one of the earliest and strongest ebook buying groups has been
business people who found that they didn't have to pack a dozen books to
fill the long nights in hotels.
Not everyone will want ebooks or
want to be published in ebooks. But it is a choice, and one that is growing
more popular every year, as is obvious by the appearance of ebooks from the
In the future, ebooks will be just
another format available to readers: hard cover, trade paperback, mass
paperback, ebook, and audio book. Just as now not all books come out in
hard cover, not all come out in print formats. If people think of it as a
choice, rather than a poor cousin to print, I think they'll start seeing
ebooks in a better light.
Vision: With your
appointment as Associate Publisher at Double Dragon Publications for the new
fantasy imprint, Dragon Tooth Fantasy Ebooks you have taken on the challenge
of publishing. What are the challenges that a publisher/editor faces, and
has the experience taught you anything as a writer?
Standing on both sides of the
has taught me that the decisions that gets a book chosen for
publication over another one don't always have to do with the quality of
the book itself. I've read some very good submissions as far as technical
quality and even story-telling ability, but still turned them down because
they were not the stories I wanted to publish.
The hardest challenge as a new
publisher is trusting my ability to judge other people's books, especially
when it comes down to taste. However, that's what a publisher does --
chooses the best written books that fit what the publisher believes others
will want to read.
should hearten any writer out there. Rejections are the reactions of a
single reader to a particular story. It's wonderful when we can 'wow' a
jaded publisher who has read a dozen other submissions that day, but not
having done so does not always mean the book is bad. Move on to the next
publisher. If you are lucky enough to get personal notes from them,
evaluate what they say and apply that to a rewrite if you think it will
Also, be polite to editors and
publishers, even if you think they're idiots for turning down your wonderful
work. Writing impolite notes in return will not help you in the future if
you ever want to try that publisher again -- and worse, publishers share
such knowledge. I am a member of a publishing email group where people
sometimes pass on word that a writer has been difficult. Don't create that
kind of trouble for yourself and make it even harder to get published.
Vision: When to
you know if a story is going to be a novel or a shorter work?
usually know right away what general length I'm working with as the story
forms in my mind. There are very few that take me by surprise, mostly
because I don't let them. Even when I want to expand beyond my initial
short story, I will almost always finish the initial
Ideas that are about a specific
incident are usually short stories for me. The main characters are involved
in something specific and limited in scope, and I want to tell that story,
not the wider tale of how they happened to get to that point.
A novel, on the other hand, has a
far wider compass and usually deals with several incidents, many characters
in various places (even if those characters are only alluded to and are not
represented as a POV in the novel), and events that build to the end over a
greater length of time.
Vision: What do you consider the most challenging part
This turned out to be a more
difficult question that I expected. I love to write, and I don't (in
general) have any problem starting a story or finishing one. Middles are
just more words to write and I love editing.
However, I do have one problem, and
it's something that I have to address in my editing phase. I 'see' the
stories in my head as I write, and often that vision does not quite make it
to the page, at least in terms of details. The hardest thing for me to do
is go in and make those scenes more visual for the reader.
Vision: With so much going on, how do you manage your
time? What do you do for relaxation. When do you sleep?
Time management is one of my lesser
skills, and I hope to get better at it this year. It usually takes me a few
months to work something new into my schedule so that I know the time
allotment it will need as well as the best time of the day to do it. This
is the point I'm at with Dragon Tooth Fantasy Ebooks. I work at it in
spurts, reading slush and working with the signed authors, and I need to get
a better handle on doing that work every day.
Vision, even though I'm in the fifth
year of producing it, still seems to take me by surprise. I think if I
worked on it at least once a week, rather than waiting until after the
deadline for articles, I would do better. That's my plan for this year,
In nine years, I've progressed from
moderator to assistant site host, to site administrator for Forward Motion,
so the general work is easier to handle because I'm so used to it.
Even so, it would not be possible to get it all done if I didn't have
wonderful Moderators to help. It also helps a great deal that those who
join Forward Motion and hang around the boards and chat are usually polite
and thoughtful people who understand that the focus of the site is writing.
writing, of course, is the one thing I always find time to do. I
even take my PDA to bed and write before I go to sleep. It helps me relax
because there is nothing I would rather do than write. That answers the
last two parts of the question: I write to relax and I sleep when I'm too
tired to write any more. Sleep generally falls between six in the morning
and one in the afternoon.
I do, sometimes, take a break from
writing and work with photography, which is my second obsession. I
used to have my own dark room, but now I've succumbed to the joy of digital
photography and both the ease and the special creativity tools that go with
Vision: What do
you have coming out in the 2005? Any last words you’d like to add?
I have a new print chapbook, Star
Bound, coming out from Yard Dog Press sometime in 2005, but I don't have a
date yet. I also have a new Dark Staff book, Eliora's World, coming out
from DDP in February. I just signed a contract with Aio for a science
fiction book, Ada Nish Pura which does not have a release date yet.
I submit a minimum of two manuscripts (novel or short story) a month, and
since since of them are to electronic publishers, publications often turn up
at short notice.
Remember to have fun as
you write. You can be creating the most gruesome, horrible horror
novel ever written and still enjoy the work. If you do not love what
you are doing, then you cannot expect anyone else to enjoy the finished
Writing is about passion and art, not just the typing of words.
Good luck to all of you!
For more information about Lazette
Gifford's work check out her website at: