Interview: 

Without a Fear of Words

An Interview with Lazette Gifford

By Russ Gifford
© 2005,
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

Lazette 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 encounter afterwards.  

She is also the recently appointed Associate Publisher for Double Dragon Ebooks new imprint, Dragon Tooth Fantasy ( http://www.double-dragon-ebooks.com/dragontoothfantasy/ ). 

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 attention.

For more information about her present and upcoming publications and other work, check out her website at http://lazette.net

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.

 

Vision: What genres do you write in, and why? Has it always been that way? Would you like to try your hand at any others? 

I 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 tale.

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.

 

Vision:  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 writing.

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.

 

Vision:  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 gift.

 

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 draw again.

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?

I 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.

 

Vision: You 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 publication.

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?)

I 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 written.

I 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 Glory....

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 wasting time.

It's like anything else in life, really.  If you don't want to work, then you are not going to.

 

Vision: You’ve been a long time proponent of epublishing. Why – what does it do for the writer?

Epublishing 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 major print companies.

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 publication line 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.

That 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 work.

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?

I 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 shorter work. 

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 of writing?

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, anyway.

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.

And 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 it.

                                

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 product either.  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: http://lazette.net