Oh, dog. Dog dog dog dog dog. Do you have to pat my face in supplication when I'm trying to put you in the sink? Because remember why you're going in the sink? It's because your paws are muddy. (Stupid thaw.) And having a soft but muddy pawprint on my cheek is just not fetching, no matter how carefully and sweetly you do it.
Today we are denning, me and the dog. Between errands and social engagements, we haven't had a day of just curling up around the house for awhile now, and it's time. I am her alpha monkey, and we need to be in each other's noses a certain amount. So that's today, along with some house stuff and getting stories resubmitted and so on.
And now I have five questions from akirlu, from that meme from before.
1. What's your process for naming fictional characters?
Step one: cry.
Step two: swear.
Step three: decide that I am never going to publish another word, no never.
Step four: go do something else -- another story that's already far enough along to have names attached, cleaning something, baking something, reading something, whatever.
Step five: and then, a miracle occurs.
Step six: write story.
This is my usual process. Sometimes things are different. With the Carter Hall stories, things are just there when I reach for them. Same for "Deportees" (the space opera I've been mumbling about): of course the captain is Sarah Albrecht. That's her name. That's when I have internal conversations like, "And that's where Ann talks to Winter about her brother." "Oh, good. [pause] Who's Winter? Also, Ann has a brother?"
With What We Did to Piss Off the Continent -- oh, excuse me, What We Did to Save the Kingdom -- things are misbehaving themselves with names, which I am taking as a sign that I should let it percolate longer and work on "Deportees." But I have a few deliberate names, thanks to conversation with ksumnersmith. Derived from deliberate warping of French words, in this case.
When I'm writing something set in this world or a near-analog, I scan names for the ethnicity I'm using -- Ansa Nikkanen was clearly not Vaula Nikkanen or Ansa Numelin or something like that. And when I'm writing SF, I tend to try to avoid overuse of British Isles surnames unless there's a darn good reason, because I think we have too much subconscious impression that they are what ordinary people are called. This is much easier with far-future SF, because I get to make up a good deal more of what it would mean to be of Cambodian extraction in 2417 Mars than I do of what it would mean to be of Cambodian extraction in 2017 Michigan. But it's worth doing anyway, because another Jennifer Smith is boring.
2. What was your worst vacation ever?
You know, I don't have any vacation that stands out as excruciatingly bad. I don't store stuff in total orderings, and I would probably have to try hard to figure out the worst of a pretty good bunch. Aspects of just about every vacation have not gone as planned, but you roll with it. I mean, we certainly didn't know there was going to be the Tube and bus bombing in London on 7/7/05, but that didn't ruin the rest of our time there. We would have had sympathy for the victims and their families if we'd heard the news from Minneapolis; we had sympathy for them in London, but we weren't them, and you can't let the world pen you up in fear.
I got really fairly sick at World Fantasy in '05, as many of you heard or saw, and if that counts as a vacation, it was probably the most total wash of any vacation I've ever had. Sick in a hotel room: not fun. Missing almost all of the con stuff: not fun at all. But even then, I got to meet several friends I'd only known online up to that point, I got to see my old friend Andrew who lives in Madison (and whom I don't see nearly enough -- he's one of my favorite people), I got a pretty necklace, there were free books, Dr. porphyrin took care of me and I got to spend the drive back yammering with her, which I wouldn't have gotten to do if I'd been well...Robin played with rare earth magnets at the schmancy dinner table, and they made a delightful sound and so did he...really, on the whole, it's hard for me to focus on the hours of shaky nastiness.
I am generally that disgustingly cheerful. Really.
3. What was your gateway drug -- that is, what was the first thing that hooked you into SFF?
I liked the kids' versions of fantasy and SF from the time I was small, but I hadn't processed them as a genre. My dad read The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings and the Narnia books to me when I was very small, and my mom started me on my childhood Arthurian binge. But I hadn't realized that there was a whole section of grown-up books in the bookstore and library filled with the kind of thing I liked. Then the library in Lawrence when I was 11 shelved Dragonsong and Dragonsinger as YA and Dragondrums as SFF. Ohhhhhhhhh. Revelation. We were off to the races. My dad was reading Prelude to Foundation about that time, having read the original trilogy ages ago, and so I got that stuff. Treasure trove. Wonders. Delights.
The other revelatory book for me was a few months later, once we'd moved back to Omaha, when my dad gave me Nancy Kress's Beggars in Spain, because "it seemed like your kind of thing." It was my kind of thing -- it was exactly my kind of thing -- and while I kept reading classic SF pretty steadily, I looked at this example of the new stuff and said, "Oh, hey. That's really cool. I can do that!" I couldn't have written like Isaac Asimov if I'd tried -- it just wasn't in me. I can't write like Nancy Kress, either -- can't write like anybody but me, not counting pastiche -- but it's a lot conceptually closer.
4. Is there anything you're really sappy about, and embarrassed to be sappy about? If so, what?
Nope, I am an unabashed sap. Ask me about my friends and family, and I will rattle on blithely about the keenness of them. I talk about my dog in public, for heaven's sake! I mean, I don't say snookie-wookums, but I don't do that in private, either. That is not the kind of sap I am. I am the Scandosotan kind, the kind who beams upon people and uses simple declarative sentences like, "I like you."
There are a few songs that make me cry every time, but I'm pretty open about that. Toad the Wet Sprocket's "I Will Not Take These Things For Granted" is pretty high up there. Also I cry at the ending of Galaxy Quest. Every damn time. With the fankids, after they've saved the day with their geekness and landed the ship safely with the flares? The little bounce the blonde girl does? I am still that blonde girl, and I still do that bounce. I may be the only person in the world who tears up about that movie, but I do. This morning I read Neal Stephenson writing that Galaxy Quest was centered around making fun of science fiction fans, and that misses a little of the point, I think: Galaxy Quest is centered around affectionately making fun of science fiction fans while wholeheartedly embracing our sense of wonder, knowledge, and the possible.
5. If you couldn't be a writer, what would you do instead?
I really don't know. If I hadn't gotten any indication that I could write at all -- if I hadn't won the Asimov Award and hadn't had feedback from editors and friends (notably timprov -- he's a pretty critical reader, and at the time he started reading my stuff, I didn't know him that well -- so if he said, "This is good," I could hear it and not just hear, "You are my friend/daughter/granddaughter/etc.") that my stuff was worth reading -- I might have been more emotionally committed to nuclear physics grad school. Maybe. It's hard to say. At this point I would certainly not go back. People oughtn't to be nuclear physicists as a fall-back option. It just doesn't work well.
I mean, I can come up with hypothetical career plans for hypothetical mrissas -- if I'd liked the actuarial internship when I was a teenager better, that sort of thing -- but any thoughts I have in that direction at this point are along the lines of, "If I need additional full-time work while I'm writing." And that sort of work would be set up so that it interfered as little as possible with my writing and my family. It would be a job, not a career. So what would I be if I couldn't be a writer? An unsuccessful writer, basically.