- Identifying our writing weaknesses and working daily to overcome them is important to improving our craft.
- Having trust and confidence in ourselves as writers is vital to our success.
- How to approach description and scenes.
Write something worthwhile, then treat it as such.
Welcome to the thirty-fourth episode of Interviews from the Void, where I interview writers about their writing process, discussing the mechanics and physicality of the craft.
I’m very excited for the interview this week. In this episode, I chat with writer, digital artist and personal friend Reg Monroe about his writing and artwork.
Synopsis of Reg’s primary character, Tinker, who is featured in many of his short stories:
Tinker’s quest – his Amendment – is to find a way to go back in time and prevent [amend] the Accident.
His only companion – a cat with no name that he simply calls Cat. Wearing only the pendant containing
Enola’s rose, bouncing from planet to planet, system to system, together they would haunt the halls of
Arthur: Tell me about your writing journey. When did you start writing? What have you learned most from the craft? What are your major writing accomplishments?
Reg: You know, it’s funny, I remember attempting to write something in junior high. It was horrible, some kind of teen romance thing. But as far as anything mature I started writing notes for a novel soon after I got out of the Viet Nam era Navy. I was taking an English course at the University of Iowa and it was challenging me to try a hand at my own writing. However, the single most important thing I did to really get me going was to join and take classes at a local open writing school, The Loft. In one class alone I gleaned not only the elements of writing genre stories but I met the people that became my first writing group.
As far as what I’ve learned most from writing is a combination of old editors’ adages that could be summed up as: write something worthwhile, then treat it as such. That means to take the time, daily, to write what you think is the best thing you can, identify the weaknesses in your writing and then learn to strengthen and build on your craft. I am about ready to head back to The Loft to bone up on my personal weak points (passive voice, for one).
And as far as personal accomplishments, my short story A FLOCK OF SORROWS was an Honorable Mention entry to the annual Writers of the Future contest years back. That was a rush.
Arthur: Do you have a writing workflow? Or is daily writing a habit? When do you do your best work?
Reg: I am recently retired. I thought that when I retired I would have all the time I want in which to write. And I do, only now It has become impossibly harder. I am like a kid out of school for summer. Writing has become a task of sorts, yet I realize that at least one piece – my long written novel – is worth the time. So, I put on some ambient music and sit myself down and reread where I left off. Once I feel oriented I begin to edit what I wrote the last sitting. Editing can be fast or slow depending on whether I have screwed up little things like grammar or big things like story continuity. Only then do I begin to write. The reason for editing first is that I usually end a writing session in a hurry (because I lose track of time, or a distraction or, or, or). The next day I pick up what is raw flow, organize and fix it, then write.
Best work is inevitably found at 4 AM and hours after. Twenty-eight years of night work has kept me a night owl, at least so far.
Best work is inevitably found at 4am and hours after.
Arthur: Your short story, THE CHAIR, has a great twist at the end and has an emotionally satisfying ending. How did you come up with this ending? Did you know the ending before you finished the story?
Reg: I knew I needed a good finish for this one as I was writing it but had nothing in mind. I wanted a strong connection between two of my characters. As I developed that emotional relationship it occurred to me what I, as the adult character, would do were I him. This decision by him also suggested a pleasing twist that I could use in ending the story. Of course, as such things go, I was so close to the end that one could say I got lucky.
Arthur: Where do you get inspiration for your stories?
Reg: Inspiration? That’s easy. I dream in science fiction. A lot of my dreams feature futuristic themes, or suggestions for themes. I have a second novel on the back burner that began from a snatch of a dream showing no more than a robot in a sweat lodge. There are also times when a story’s plot is suggested in a dream.
Of course, I get ideas from the usual real science + what-if? connection. And I also subscribe to Stephen King’s formula of having two elements that make up a story. That one may have one part of a story (a haunted hotel) but need a second part (a crazy father to an innocent boy) to make it work. I often begin a piece with only that first part and then either let the second come out in writing or I shelve it until I have the second part.
Inspiration? That’s easy. I dream in science fiction.
Arthur: You have a great website showcasing your digital art. Does your artwork tie into any of your stories?
Reg: Thanks for saying so. Yes, occasionally I will do an image that is from a story. I did one for A FLOCK OF SORROWS. It depends on what the story calls for from me. One of my favorite images is from my long-written novel AMENDMENT. A “mistake” in that image became a major plot development in the novel. So yes, my artwork does affect my writing and vice versa.
Arthur: What is the most challenging part about writing for you? What is the easiest?
Reg: By far the hardest challenge is the physical act of sitting down and focusing on the job at hand. Someday soon I’ll join the procrastinators club. It is a matter of trust: It takes an effort of will for me to trust myself enough that I won’t destroy a story. Once I get over how laughable that is I can write.
The easiest is when a character performs for you. Every now and then I get frustrated that I cannot type faster – this is one of those times. When a character obviously is projecting straight from some special part of my brain and I’m just along for the ride.
The easiest part is when a character performs for you. When a character obviously is projecting from some special part of my brain and I’m just along for the ride.
Arthur: How long does it take you to finish one of your pieces of artwork?
Reg: It can vary quite a lot. Some images call for more assets (3D objects) to be constructed. I had one piece, Dragonflies, in which I wanted to copy the cockpit structure of a real airplane. It was a new adventure in modeling for me. On average I might spend twenty or thirty hours on a piece, but some like Dragonflies might take one hundred or more.
Arthur: Your short story, A FLOCK OF SORROWS, has a much more macabre setting and theme than your other works. Do you find it easy to write in one theme versus another?
Reg: I wanted to write a story that bent science fiction with magical realism. Most of the time switching things up are easy for me. I cut my teeth on early macabre, reading and enjoying Poe, Lovecraft, and a bunch of authors I don’t remember. As luck would have it my father let me read a lot that I probably shouldn’t have (often solely because of the paperback covers). Then there was The Twilight Zone and Thriller, I would watch those just to get scared. While in the Navy I came across Castaneda’s Don Juan and it blew my mind. It was probably the biggest influence on A FLOCK OF SORROWS. I enjoy writing in this vein.
In describing it is important to me to put down just enough of the object as to separate it from everything else.
Arthur: How do you approach description? Do you have any thoughts on how to describe an action, such as a person getting in or out of a car or describing an object in a scene?
Reg: I am a child of the cinema. Perhaps even more than television, cinema has had a fantastic affect on my writing/storytelling. I tend to see a scene cinematically and I let my subconscious fill in a rough picture of what is going on. It may be a knack or it might be a vital ingredient in most writers’ arsenals. So for this scene I picture the car door opening and my focus is on an ankle, the first thing out of the car. I could do a whole scene with two sets of ankles interacting.
In describing it is important to me to put down just enough of the object as to separate it from everything else. A rusty blue Dodge with a Colorado plate all shot up. The hinges creak as the door opens. A foot plops out, slapping the ground with fat ankle trembling. The golden bracelet that circles her white leg breaks and falls to the gutter as Lady Gilchrist heaves herself out of the car. Her ankle trembles again as she walks away, anklet left in the rainy grit of the gutter.
Arthur: Do you have any specific writing techniques you can share? Or thoughts on editing our work to make it the best it can be?
Reg: I love alliteration when it is witty and not overused.
I subscribe to a large degree to Golden Age style in my writing; I hope to emulate the styles of Heinlein, Asimov, and Clarke. I am working on trimming my sentences. Those writers had a wonderful facility and economy with words that brought an impact and stayed in the memory. To that end I have spent years reading and sometimes rereading those great works. I would suggest to any author that your best tool is your reading habit.
I am of the thought that there are two kinds of editing; the line-by-line kind where one is corrected for grammar, pace, continuity and such, and the other kind of editor, perhaps harder to find, is the person who can look at your story overall and ask questions whose answers will make the story better, larger in meaning and impact. The latter is often personified by John Campbell Jr. from the Golden Age.
I am very lucky to have a few of the line-by-liners and at least one JCJ type. When dealing with both I’ve found it best to make any changes as soon as possible, while it is fresh in both our minds in case I later have extenuating questions for them. Also, return the favor – edit their work the way you would want it done for you. This is especially true for writing group members.
Thanks Arthur for this opportunity to talk with you.
And thank you, Reg, for sharing your incredible wisdom. Don’t forget to check out Reg’s artwork and his stories on his website.