How’s your July doing for you so far?
It’s quite the thing, isn’t it?
Well, today we have an interview with Rosie Smith. Rosie is a science fiction author who specializes in a dinosaur-inclusive style of writing
When did you first realize you wanted to be a writer?
When Ursula Le Guin was asked a similar question, she said she “always was a writer.” If that’s a good enough answer for her, it ought to be for me, too. Besides, it comes closest to my own experience. For years, I wanted to “be” something else (archaeologist, then lawyer) while spending my time writing fiction.
Where do you get your information and ideas for your fiction?
There are countless sources given that I’m an inveterate reader of all sorts of fiction and non-fiction. That said, my interactive adventure novel and a lot of my stories feature dinosaurs. Consequently, I draw heavily on recent developments in paleontology such as exciting fossil discoveries, clever research, and new interpretations of what we thought we knew. My concept for T-Rex Time Machine grew out of decades of experience as a gamer blended with my life-long fascination for the most astounding beasts to ever roam our world. Nope, I’m not biased when it comes to dinosaurs, not at all!
I’m also a museum devotee. The genesis for my most recent story, “Next Frontier” (Analog Science Fiction July/August 2021), began with a trip to the Cosmosphere. This is a museum in Hutchinson, Kansas that displays a remarkable collection of artifacts from the early days of space exploration in the 1950s through the 1970s, particularly Soviet equipment you rarely see elsewhere. Another museum display inspired my story, “Etruscan Afterlife,” which will be in the forthcoming anthology, The Reinvented Heart. The artifact is a marvelous Etruscan stone sarcophagus at the Boston Museum of Fine Arts.
What would you say is your interesting writing quirk?
I have two. First, I’m a visual writer in that I must have a photo, drawing, or other image of my main characters before I can tell their stories. Those images are tacked up where I can gaze at them as I work. Second, I write out of order. I envy those who can start at the beginning and proceed step by step to the end. My process is more like assembling a crazy quilt. First, I may sketch out something charitably considered an outline. I’m always eager to tackle certain plot threads right away, maybe going back afterward and weaving in other elements. I’ll write a key scene that comes later in the story before working out how the characters reached that point. Along the way, I’m forever adding to and revamping my initial outline. I used to think I was the only one who wrote like this. A few years ago, when talking to other writers, I discovered that my method isn’t as rare as I thought. For those just starting to write fiction, I suggest you try a bunch of different techniques to figure out what works for you.
What do you like to do when you’re not writing?
I enjoy Sogetsu Ikebana, which is a type of flower arranging that originated in Japan and has adherents in the U.S. I love that it is a rule-based system built on principles of visual design, without being overly rigid. It uses materials readily obtainable locally. Photography is my second passion. I can’t imagine a better subject for my photos than my flower arrangements, unless it’s dinosaurs. That said, I also love creating abstract photos. By that I simply mean ones where the subject matter isn’t immediately apparent upon viewing the image. These include extreme close-ups and photos taken with unusual light and shadows, or those that rely on a host of other techniques.
As a child, what did you want to do when you grew up?
I was rather late in figuring it out, but around age 12, I read my first books about archaeology. I was hooked. The idea of all these incredibly societies around the globe that preceded ours captured my imagination. Archaeology became my first career.
What are common traps for aspiring writers?
I see two biggies. The first is not finishing what you start, which is all too common. There are a lot of reasons for this, including letting oneself be seduced away by another bright, shiny story idea or character. Often, this coincides with getting bogged down in the difficult middle part of the book where it’s a mystery–and not in a good way–as to what should happen next. The second trap is even worse, namely not starting at all until the conditions are right. Some would-be writers think they’ll wait for inspiration to strike. Others insist they need a quiet place or a certain coffee shop in which to work. Some believe they can only use a specific pen or laptop. An insidious approach is to put off writing until after the dishes are washed or a thousand other chores are done. That’s when fatigue sets in and starting fresh tomorrow seems like a better plan, at least until the whole cycle repeats. There’s never an ideal time to write. My advice is to get those words down on paper or preserved in electronic amber whenever, wherever, and however you can.
What other authors are you friends with, and how do they help you become a better writer?
I’m fortunate to have a bunch of author friends who help me work out plot conundrums. In fact, I would not have a writing career whatsoever if not for my long-time friend, Marc Stiegler. He’s a hard SF writer who began writing short fiction for Analog, then moved on to novels. I drew the erroneous conclusion from reading his work and watching his career develop that fiction writing must be easy. He encouraged me when I got bogged down. In despair one day, I told him the opening and plot of a SF story I was struggling to write. I had reached a certain point and had no idea what came next. Marc looked at me and said, “That’s easy. I know what happens next.” Astounded, I said, “You do?” “Sure,” he answered and then told me that various characters needed to encounter each other again and where that should happen. He didn’t tell me the outcome, which could have gone in several directions. I figured that part out for myself, finished off the short story, and it became my first sale to Analog.
If you could tell your younger writing self anything, what would it be?
Don’t take that eleven-year hiatus from fiction writing. Yes, it will be great to devote more time to your demanding legal career and it will hone your editing skills, but it won’t be worth the price. Writing is what brings you joy.
There is no single path to a successful writing career. Be flexible. When new opportunities open up, take a chance.
How did publishing interactive fiction change your process of writing?
The key thing I learned from writing a 170,000-word replayable adventure game is that there are multiple satisfying outcomes for lots of games and stories. Not everyone wants to do the same thing in a game just as not everyone wants to read the same book. The immediate and most obvious direction to take the plot is not necessarily the most satisfying one for the readers/players.
What was the best money you ever spent as a writer?
I spent the money to attend Clarion Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers’ Workshop. It’s an intensive six-week program that requires in-person attendance. Yes, this presents a significant barrier for a lot of beginning writers despite scholarships covering tuition, room and board. I felt like a sponge when I went, soaking up so much great advice from each of the six writers and the editor who taught classes and evaluated our work. A few of the stories I wrote at Clarion became my first professional publications. Just as important, I met the folks who became my mentors and friends in the field for years to come.
How many unpublished and half-finished books and stories do you have?
An embarrassing number, if you must know. Nevertheless, I still hold out hope for quite a few of these. One day, a fitting ending with an unexpected twist could come to me while I’m hiking. An elusive missing element may present itself when I’m in the shower. That happens to a lot of writers, including me. It might take me a few weeks or months, during which I write something else. I have made several sales when the fix for the obstreperous story turned up years after I first started writing it.
Thank you so much for being here!