What is The Summer Sessions?
The Summer Sessions is a project organised by Magen Toole with the help of Melissa Dominic, bringing authors, poets, photographers and artists together under a common theme: A desire to create. This year’s project consists of ten people, in different stages of their careers and creative development, from different cultural and educational backgrounds, who agreed to be interviewed and interview one another, with the goal of cross-posting each others’ interviews in our respective blogs. It’s a project about knowing who’s in our community, and giving back to that community by helping one another promote our own work.
SESSION THREE: CHRISTINE DANSE, INTERVIEWED BY M. RAOULEE.
Discussing everything from literary tropes to gaming to furries, genre-bending author Christine Danse takes a moment to share her thoughts, her processes, and her work. You can find more about Christine at her website.
1. Who are you? What are you doing here? Why do you have my martini?
Hi! I’m–what? Oh. Oh! Excuse me. I thought that was my glass of absinthe. (I thought it was tasting a little too good…) I’m Christine. I’m an author, and I’m here for interrogation–er, being interviewed?
2. What is your thing? Er, I mean your writing thing, specifically. We’ll talk about other things soon enough.
My writing thing is speculative fiction–usually with romantic or erotic themes. By speculative fiction I mean science fiction, fantasy, paranormal…anything magical or out-of-this-world. The more I blend genres together, the happier I am. I especially love the ‘punk genres: steampunk, biopunk, cyberpunk. And I especially love mixing fantasy and paranormal into the ‘punks.
2a. You know, I’ve noticed that a lot of people who write enjoy the blending of genres, while people who talk ABOUT writing tend to give the advice of sticking to ONE AND ONLY ONE genre. As someone who has gotten out there and written multigenre stories, what would your thoughts on genre happen to be?
There is only one kind of genre that matters to me: bookstore sections. Fortunately for me, science fiction and fantasy stories of all subgenres are included in one section. The same with romance. Erotic Romance. Young Adult. I target the story for one of those and have fun with the other details.
Obviously, my focus is going to be a little different for each. Young Adult is going to have young adult characters, and I’m probably going to have coming-of-age, rebellion, and romantic themes (okay, so I realize YA can be way more than that–I’m painting broad strokes here). Romance is going to focus on the love story, and it’s going to have a happy ending. Erotic romance is going to leave nothing to the imagination. Science Fiction & Fantasy has the broadest “guidelines”–main characters can be practically any age, there can be full-blown romantic plots or no romance at all, and the heat level varies wildly.
As long as my story fits neatly into a bookstore section, I’m happy. And I’ll mix subgenres inside of that as much as I damned well please…as long as it’s coherent! The mix has to make sense.
3. And if you could tell me about your current project, that would be awesome too.
My current project… Well, there’s this middle-grade steampunk fantasy that I’m working on, although I don’t know if I’m writing it. It might actually be written by someone else. I’m not sure yet. And then there’s this urban fantasy erotica that’s a piece of homework from my crit partner. (Best homework ever!) And then there’s this really sweet modern myth about loss and love involving a man and a dryad in the mountains of southern Oregon. And then there’s this novel about the son of a god. And then…
3a. Did you bring a clip? Sorry, I always wanted to ask someone that. So, umm, more to the point: would this be your first time collaborating with another author if things work out?
Oh! Well, it isn’t precisely a collaboration. She gave me a prompt. I’m running with it.
A clip… A sample of my writing? Or a clip to load my gun with to shoot my partner if she doesn’t like where I go with my writing prompt.
Unfortunately, most of my projects are in deep outlining phase or complete terrible-draft phase.
Here is a somewhat more polished clip from my dryad story. It’s the opening:
I sleep while snow weighs on our branches and wind rattles through our leaves. Sunshine lights us and brings us life. Our roots dig deep into the embracing ground, always warm in the winter, cool in the summer.
Cycles pass. I dream deeply of sunlit days, of moonlit nights, of others who dance beneath our cover. In my dream, I dance in my mother’s trunk and her leaves shake, waving with the movement of my arms.
But in reality, we are still, because we sleep. We sleep for a very long time, as if through a winter that does not end. And the world around us changes.
The November morning was brisk, the Eastern Oregon air a world of change from the lukewarm, humid autumn temperatures in South Florida that Corey was used to. It went straight through his old knit sweater, the only warm thing he owned besides a ski jacket—and it certainly wasn’t cold enough to warrant that.
Corey followed a narrow game path through the woods. The air was still under the shelter of the trees, almost hushed, save for the crackling of his footsteps over the leaves. It felt good to stretch his legs, never mind that he had no clue where he was going.
For one entire week, Corey had been cooped up in his new cabin, unboxing. Or rather, avoiding unboxing. There were things in the boxes he wasn’t sure he should have packed at all. Knitting needles, balls of yarn, photo albums, the trio of little jointed stuffed cats, the set of samurai swords—all things he should have given to Marion’s mother when he was still in Florida. But he couldn’t bear parting with them, not while Marion’s memory still clung to every rainbow thread and button eye. Counterproductive, really, considering he’d driven across the United States to escape her ghost. Now it lived in those boxes, taped shut and stacked against the bare white walls.
3b. Also, I’m not sure, so I’ll ask. By middle-grade, do you mean aimed at a younger audience or is this a ‘punk shop talk? You’ve baffled the great Google!
Yes, aimed at a younger audience. Usually 9-12.
4. How long have you been writing? When did you know you were a writer? What about the first thing you wrote that you were really, truly proud of?
Well, that’s kind of a three-for-one, isn’t it? This is probably cliche, but I’ve been writing for as long as I’ve been able to put sentences together. The first “book” I can remember writing was this storybook about a winged schnauzer named after my first dog. It had a sad ending, and reading it years later, I had to shake my head. Kids say the darndest things. Anyway. I guess that kind of set the precedent for writing fantasy stories.
In the seventh grade, I wrote a short story titled “Howling Werewolves” (original, yeh?). I was very proud of that. My teacher took me aside and told me that I should really consider writing, you know, for publication. After that, my mind was pretty set.
5. What do you need to write? Besides the obvious. I mean the kind of music you write to, a place you like, other goodness along those lines.
I need my netbook, because it’s small and light and has these amazing flat keys that my fingers just fly over. And I need my notebook, because sometimes I just need to write longhand to break through a block.
Sometimes, I need silence to write so that I can hear my thoughts. And sometimes I need music to stay in the zone. I’m in love with Pandora. I have some fantasy soundtrack stations in there, and some trance stations, and a few New Age things.
Besides that, I need to take walks every now and then to shake things loose. Something about staring at a screen or a blank space on a piece of paper can turn my imagination off. It’s amazing how stepping outside can get ideas flowing again. I dread the summer months. I live in South Florida, and there’s really nowhere to go when the world beyond the front door is a sauna.
6. Every writer’s got tropes, so what’s your favorite page at TV Tropes and why do you like using or abusing that trope so much? Oh, and leave the tab open if you can. I have another question coming up to which that may or may not be relevant.
The trope I most familiar with and really keep my eyes open for is the MacGuffin. It’s the object in a story that serves no actual purpose except to move the plot. You could replace the object with almost anything without actually doing damage to the story. I watch for MacGuffins when I write, because I think every element should be integral.
6a. Truly, a classic trope. Is there a particular MacGuffin out there in the world of fiction which spurred you into this, or is it more of an acquired distaste?
Acquired, I suppose. Although as I write this, I’ve begun to plot a story that sort of depends on a MacGuffin. I’ll see if I can make it a not-MacGuffin by the time I’m finished writing it.
7. How do you come up with what you write? What do your outlines and such look like?
That’s…a big question. Hoo boy. Um. All right, so here’s the deal. Every time I write, I think I have it down. You know…”it.” My system. I think, “Great. I finally know the secret to writing well and writing fast. See, first I…” But it changes every time. My first novel sprang from a single first line, and I pretty much blundered through it. I’m glad it never made it to print. Island of Icarus, my debut novella from Carina Press, came from a steampunk brainstorm session. I outlined that, although the “outline” was really more like plot notes.
My current work in progress, the middle-grade steampunk, stemmed from a short story I wrote a couple years back, although I’m not sure where I got the short story idea from… I outlined the novel’s plot and laid out the sections in Celtx. This is the first time I’m using Celtx, a free program that’s a bit like Scrivener, a writing program for the Mac. It has a sort of file system and notecards, so you can attach character files, other files, and notes to a single story document and have it all available in one window. So I put notes for each chapter onto individual notecards–just brief statements of what happens and where the chapter “moves” (because every chapter should serve to push the story forward).
Now, as I get to each new chapter, I jot out what I call a “skeleton outline” of what’s going to happen, based on those notes. “Tea wakes and is tired. She trudges downstairs to breakfast.” Paragraph break. “Her mom tells her and her brother that she needs to visit the old woman down the street. They’ll be alone at home for half the day.” And so on. And then I go back and flesh those points out into actual narrative. I call this the sh– Um. The very rough draft. Later, when I’m done with the book, the plan is to completely revise the entire story–but this time, I’ll know exactly what happens, and how it happens, and what the characters feel about all of these things that happen, so I’ll just be able to focus on the writing itself.
But that’s just how I’m writing this novel. For the urban fantasy erotica novella, I have a feeling of where the plot is going, but I’m probably just going to go ahead and write that one straight through (I feel better doing that with shorter stories). And for the dryad romance, I’m actually writing each chapter as a mini saga first–a really useful trick for testing the narrative structure and emotional development of each chapter. More about mini sagas here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Minisaga
7a. That is a stupendous answer which I’m sure is going to help a Newbie Writer Leopard out there somewhere. However, I’m curious how you got into using Mini Sagas.
A doctoral nursing class, believe it or not. It was a theory development course. We were assigned to read “A Whole New Mind” by Daniel Pink. (Great book, by the way.) The author introduces mini sagas in it, and we were required to craft one for the class. (I say “craft” because we didn’t just write one. We slaved over the damned thing till it was PERFECT. A lot goes into 50 words… Yeesh.) After that, I got the bright idea to punish myself further by using them as a fiction writing tool.
7b. And, how did you come to end up writing erotica? Did you sit down one day and say “I am going to write some PORN!” or was it more of things getting progressively sexier?
I pretty much sat down one day. My dear friend and writing partner, Dena Celeste, introduced me to the genre. Actually, not erotica, but erotic romance. She was having fun at it and getting published, so I thought I’d get in on the action, too. So to speak.
8. What is your dream project? Or, at least your next project. Both if you’re in the mood to discuss that much.
That’s another big question for me, but I’ll keep my answer to this one relatively short.
I have, literally, enough well-fleshed novel ideas to keep me writing for at least ten years, maybe twenty. No kidding. I started collecting my ideas when I was about thirteen. And there’s about a dozen of them that I really want and need to write before I kick the bucket, or my ghost will cry. So I guess you can say that I have multiple dream projects.
There’s a paranormal steampunk trilogy, a young adult cyberpunk fantasy series, a young adult paranormal about the Underworld, a space opera romance about an immortal…the list kinda goes on.
What’s my next project? See #3. When I’m done with all of those, I’ve got another half a dozen waiting backstage.
9. What was your childhood like? Do you come from an environment where creativity was encouraged? What did you grow up reading and writing?
In a nutshell: I grew up in Disney World. We live in South Florida and went almost every month at one point. When I wasn’t in school and we weren’t in Disney, we were on a road trip or camping in the mountains of North Carolina. And when I was home, my dad was telling me interactive stories, or I was pretending to be animals with my friends. So I kind of grew up in this Wonderland atmosphere, without the creepy grinning cat.
The first series I remember reading was Goosebumps by R. L. Stine. It was also the first thing I geeked over. The second series I read like a maniac was K. A. Applegate’s Animorphs, which was just re-released, by the way. Around that time (age 11 or 12), I started reading the Dragonriders of Pern series. Then Mercedes Lackey’s The Mage Wars. Then Michael Crichton’s Sphere, which I read in one day when we were on vacation when I was about 12. I still haven’t beat that record yet.
10. Can you tell me about anything non-writing or literature related that ended up having a big impact on your writing?
Traveling. If my stories are not set in South Florida (most are), they’re set in San Francisco or in Oregon, two places I love and wish I was at. Right now.
Also, the health professions. I’m a registered nurse, and I also practice modalities like herbalism, so a lot of nurses, physicians, and other sorts of healers pop up in my stories.
And role-play gaming. It’s a bit like group storytelling, or gaming without a computer… It’s definitely changed the way I think of stories, characters–how they’re told, what they do.
11. What do you like to read now?
I like to read…almost anything with a note of speculative fiction. Of course, I love speculative fiction romance. But honestly, it takes me months to read a novel now. I mostly suffocate under piles of articles and books for my doctoral studies. When I’m done with those, I’m sick of looking at words.
12. What is your favorite book and what thrills you about it?
Ooooh maaaaaan. Um. Hem. Er.
Okay, so if I had to pick one favorite book to be stuck on a desert island with, it would be Tad Williams’ Otherland. That’s a bit of a cheat. It’s technically four books, but it’s one continuous story that–if books could physically be made large enough to hold the massive amount of pages–would read as one book when printed as an omnibus.
If I had to put Otherland in a genre, I’d stick it firmly in cyberpunk. Most of it takes place in virtual reality–really breathtaking, really realistic virtual reality. There are several individual, parallel subplots; some of the plots don’t connect directly until the end of the series. And all of the characters–there are a LOT of them–are unique and interesting and feel like real people. Because the majority of the story takes place in virtual reality, the author was able to explore numerous different worlds–from virtual pleasure clubs to a house that never ends to an alternate South America that was never colonized by Europeans.
Pretty much, the quartet combines everything I love about speculative fiction between…eight covers. Pure love.
13. How about your favorite character that someone else created? What did you love about that person, imaginary though they may be?
Wait–let me take a breath and a drink of water.
Okay. Vanyel from Mercedes Lackey’s Valdemar series. He went through a lot of crap when he was a kid for being different. And he had this secret dream to be a bard, but that dream died pretty hard. After significant bumps in the road, he discovered his true potential as a mage and a protector of his kingdom. He really matured over the course of The Mage Wars trilogy, and because of his experiences when younger, he became this virtuous, empathetic, sometimes-too-good-for-his-own-good man…who is also very, very good looking. All the good ones are gay…
13a. I seriously have to wonder if Merceds Lackey realizes what she started with Vanyel? His stories come up a lot in conversations among this nascent generation of writers. So, how did you find Valdemar?
Ha! Does he? That doesn’t surprise me.
In a word: gryphons. I love gryphons. Mercedes Lackey books had gryphons on the covers. I thought, “Hey, these look cool.” And they were. And eventually I read some of her books that didn’t have gryphons on their covers. And that was that.
14. Only negative question I promise: what’s something you really despise when you find it in fiction, to the point where if you found it, you couldn’t read any more? Is it part of the one book you loathe above all others?
Um, I hate it when authors try to make up for really. flat. characters by over-telling the characters’ emotional states. Also, I hate when the characters feel very, very strongly about something…but act completely contrary. Honestly, “show don’t tell” isn’t just a cliche. It’s sound advice.
The story I’m thinking about went something like this, “Man acts very stoic. But inside, he is roiling. Who is this woman who has come into her life? She shakes him to his very bones. In fact, he might get a bone. But he doesn’t. Because he is acting very emotionally flat, and is not even feeling any physical effects of his attraction. But he continues to feel emotionally troubled–in every paragraph–even though it doesn’t show in his voice, expression, or body.”
I threw that book down quickly.
15. When you’re not writing, what are you doing, creatively and otherwise?
I go to school. I game when I can. Occasionally, I do something in the kitchen that could be mistaken for cooking. Even rarer still, I pull out my pen tablet and try to make graphic art. Many attempts end in utter #fail.
15a. I’m guessing based on your other answers you mean table-top RPGs, but I could be totally wrong. Either way, what do you like play?
Table-top, yes. Usually, Exalted and Star Wars d6. Computer games, too. Mostly World of Warcraft, but I grew up on Hexen and Tomb Raider. Now and then, I’ll steal some time on my boyfriend’s Xbox. I use it to play Bioshock. I’m still playing Bioshock the first. Don’t laugh.
16. Do you enjoy socializing with other authors? Is there an author out there now you’d love to meet?
Yes! I love socializing with other authors. Twitter has been wonderful for this. That’s something I highly recommend to any author who wants to network: Get on Twitter. Take it from a former skeptic. Once you get the hang of it, nothing beats it.
I’m not sure which author I’d love to meet. There are just so many. And I don’t want to meet any of my really favorite authors just because I think I’d forget how to talk.
17. Looking at your homepage (it’s really stylish, by the way) I noticed you seem to enjoy anthropomorphs and gay men. Are you into furries or yaoi culture? What do you think about those fandoms?
Yaoi. I’ve heard of it, thought I’m not very familiar with it.
But Furry fandom–I’ve been lurking at its fringes since I was about twelve. I especially love the fiction and comics published by Sofawolf Press. I keep playing with the idea of writing something for their ‘zine Heat, just for the fun of it.
18. Oh, and speaking of fandoms: do you aspire to have one? Would you let people fanfic with your characters or your world?
*blush* Well, I just can’t imagine having one. I’m used to being the fan. But if I ever earned that kind of following…yes, I’m totally pro-fanfic. Quite a few writers that I know got their start writing fanfiction–even I did, to a limited degree. And I would never think of trying to police peoples’ imaginations. I just wrote the story. Where readers take it is up to them–just as long as they don’t take it to the bank. I like to afford the occasional piece of meat with my bread crusts.
19. As a writer, I’m sure you have opinions on free speech, and I’d like to give you a moment to speak freely about those. How about warnings and trigger tags? How do you feel about those, now that the wild, untamed internet of yesteryear is fading?
Warnings and trigger tags?
Wait, the world is changing? I didn’t notice. I’ve been hunched over my computer.
20. Do you think you can change the world? What do you WANT to changed about the world?
Do I think I can change the world? I feel like an ant, honestly. It’s one of the reasons I write. I WANT to make magic and strange technology real, so I DO make it real. In my own little worlds.
21. Now that this interview is winding down, what are you going to do? Some closing thoughts? Another martini?
A martini would be good. Also, a good stretch. And a spellchecker. But first, I’m going to scrounge together some bread crusts, because I’m hungry.
21a. Is a martini your preferred author!booze? Because if we had gotten to do this on my veranda (boo, thousands of miles), I do have an entire bar at my disposal.
Such a tease. Actually, my preferred drink is an amaretto sour. I’ve also taken a liking recently to bottled sangria. I’m a sangria snob who’s only ever liked fresh sangria in the past, but it’s been a while since I’ve been to a good Spanish restaurant and I guess my tastebuds will take what they can get now.
M: On a more serious note, I would like to thank you for the wonderful intero-… interview. You’ve been a great victim and a better sport and I’m really looking forward to see what you whip up in the future. Cheers!
CD: Thank you!