Ripley Patton first came to my attention through KiwiWriters when she was asking about Speculative Fiction writers and who would be interested in starting a group for Writers of Speculative Fiction within NZ. Before long, I found myself involved in a group that moved ahead like a steam train, headed by the enigmatic Ripley. This is a woman with a passion, for writing and Speculative Fiction, and who better to interview for Speculative Fiction Blogging Week than the woman behind the website
Where do you come from and how long have you been living in NZ?
I grew up in Southern Illinois smack in the middle of the United States. However, as an adult I lived most of my years in Oregon on the West Coast and think of that as home. The climate and landscape there is very similar to New Zealand. I have lived in my new country for four years now, with no plans to leave any time soon. Yes, I like it, though I still have bouts of homesickness (especially at Thanksgiving and Christmas) and miss my family a lot.
I suppose the change of seasons for Christmas and Thanksgiving can be hard too. How long have you been writing and why do you write?
I have been writing since I was thirteen when my mother died of cancer. I found writing to be the only real way I could make sense of life- writing gave things meaning. And that is certainly why I still write today. Writing is how I process everything. It gives me a sense of ownership and power over my own story. Until I write something, I don’t understand it- I can’t know it-I don’t possess it. But when I can shape it into words-a poem, a story, my story- that is when, no matter how difficult or tragic the inspiration, it becomes a thing of beauty and meaning in my life. In that sense, I suppose writing is my alchemy. I’m turning my dross into gold.
How long was it from when you first started writing to when you got something first published – was it a professional publication, or a small press one?
As I said, I started writing at age 13, but I didn’t start thinking about writing for publication until I was at university. There, I joined the writing club. I won “writer of the year” my sophomore year and had some success publishing poetry in local small press journals. My first pro publication was actually in 1993 and was a non-fiction article for an international teacher’s magazine called Learning. I was paid $200 and I still have the check receipt and even the notepad I scribbled on during my acceptance phone call from the editor. That is all ancient history and seems fairly distant from the fiction career I have now, but those were the seeds that germinated over time to lead me where I am now.
When my two children reached school-age in 2005, that is when I started pursuing my short fiction in earnest. And it didn’t take long. My first sci-fi short story was accepted by Alienskin online magazine in June of 2005. Alienskin was, and still is, small press, but I was thrilled. Since then, I have had over a dozen short stories published in various print and online magazines and anthologies. And I’ve had work nominated and short-listed for the Sir Julius Vogel Awards 2009 and 2010.
Do you actively seek out submissions and write to order, or do you write and find somewhere to submit to, and where do you look for publications?
I’m actually pretty terrible at “writing to order”. For me, writing is a very personal process. I use it to grapple with the issues and ideas that are confronting and compelling me internally. I write the stories I want to see told. However, I always have a huge backlog of ideas, so sometimes I have a story idea tucked away, and I find a market I know it will fit. I love when that happens.
My process is usually to write first, and then look for a place to sell it. That being said, I do actively seek out markets for my writing. I spend a lot of time searching market lists like Duotropes and Ralan’s. I belong to several on-line writing communities- She Writes and Livejournal to name just two. I am very active on a couple writing forums and e-mail lists, and special calls for submissions are frequent on those. I watch what my peers are being published in, and I try to read those markets. And, since I’ve been published multiple times in certain markets, I know those places like what I write and are happy to see something from me again. I would say it is more time-consuming marketing a story than it is actually writing it. That used to bug me, but now I sort of enjoy the thrill of the hunt and that gut feeling I get when I’ve finally found the perfect market for a piece.
Do you think it is important to be involved in writing groups – whether it is a woman’s group or a genre group? What sort of support do you expect?
For me, writer’s groups have been a huge part of improving my craft and growing myself professionally. Critique groups, particularly the free online Critters group, are an invaluable resource for beginning and emerging writers. I was a part of the local Willamette Writers Group when I lived in the States. Going to their Cons and events always spurred me on to the next level of my career, because I could see where my peers were, and I wanted to get there.
When I moved to New Zealand in 2006, I immediately looked on-line for a local or national genre writer’s group, but there wasn’t anything. So, for a couple of years, I networked via the internet only, meeting other writers through Livejournal and Kiwiwriters and other on-line writing communities. I have made some of my most significant writerly friends and contacts that way. However, I kept yearning for a local connection, one tied to the people around me and the country I had come to call home. I finally realized the only way that was going to happen was if I made it happen. And so I founded SpecFicNZ, the new association for writers of speculative fiction in or from New Zealand which launched on August 28th, 2010 at Au Contraire, the 31st annual NZ NatCon.
So, yes, to say I think writing groups are important is probably an understatement. As for what support I expect from one, I hope to find community and camaraderie with fellow-writers. I expect to be spurred on to greater heights of professionalism. I expect my writers association to keep me informed about the local and global industry, and to advocate for better working standards. In short, I expect them to promote me as the valuable creative resource I am. And I sincerely hope that we do all that, and more, with SpecFicNZ.
You have explained on SpecFicNZ.org exactly why you started this group, what do you see for its future?
Honestly, I think the sky’s the limit on what SpecFicNZ could do in the future. Of course, I have personal dreams of how that future might manifest. I’d love to see us have a cooperative publication similar to Andromeda Spaceways Inflight Magazine. I think it is great to give writers the chance to learn the ropes of editing and publishing. I have a passion to see a mentorship program in place between experienced writers and emerging writers, and emerging writers and student writers. We have to think about cultivating a new generation of creative speculative fiction writers, not just readers. I’d like to see face-to-face branches of SpecFicNZ meeting in various cities throughout New Zealand. I’d love to see SpecFicNZ sponsoring writing events like retreats at Jennifer Fallon’s new place, local workshops, and Cons specific to writing. And the big dream is to have Spec Fic become more than a genre blip on the NZ Publishing Industry’s radar. If I saw New Zealand speculative fiction talent being published in New Zealand, rather than being exported overseas, I’d die a happy woman.
So what drew you to writing Speculative Fiction and do you write more “mainstream” genre as well?
As a child I was allowed to read whatever I wanted, and I quickly found that what I wanted was always something “out of the ordinary”. Why read about every day life when I was already in it? So, I devoured science fiction and fantasy. I never acquired a taste for horror, but I can understand the appeal, and I do like my fantasy woven in several shades of darkness.
What drew me to writing speculative fiction was reading it, of course. And loving it. And wanting to read the stories I hadn’t found yet, the stories no one had written because they were the stories inside of me.
Mostly, I write speculative fiction, but occasionally I write something else. Usually, I just let the story dictate what it wants to be. I have had an erotica story published – though it was also fantasy, and humor. I have also had a literary short story published. And I like to write non-fiction, especially about writing. But honestly, I’m not sure what “mainstream” genre is.
How long does it take from concept to final edit when writing a story? And what processes do you go through?
The time question is extremely hard to answer because it is different with every project. Some story ideas pop into my head, and I immediately write them all in one go. Other ideas sit for months or years until something clicks and I know they are ready to be written. Some stories only get partly done, then sit in my Works in Progress file forever. Or sometimes I go back to those stories and finish or rework them. I can often write a flash piece in one day. Longer short stories can take a week or so for a first draft.
My process is pretty similar for all my short fiction though. I write a rough draft straight onto my computer (no long hand for me). I do a lot of editing as I write, reading and re-reading until everything feels right. Then I usually let it sit for a few days and things will niggle at me that need to be changed. So I do a second edit. After the second edit, I send it out for critique. I used to do this through Critters, but now I have enough trusted writerly friends that I just send it out to them. When the critiques come back, I edit the story again, taking into account what my critters have said. I don’t always change what they suggest, but I often do. If I discover that the story needs major revision I may do it right then, or the story may go into the WIP file for later. And when it is finally all polished and shiny, I find a market and send it out.
If it sells, great! If it doesn’t and the editor has given feedback, I may edit again before I send it back out. Most stories get a quick re-edit anytime they get rejected.
But of course, as I’ve recently discovered, writing a full-length book is very different from writing short stories. Now that I’m working on a novel, I’m having to train myself in a whole new process.
So now that you are writing a novel, are you enjoying the process?
It took me a bit, but I am finally enjoying the novel writing process. What I am truly loving about writing a longer work is the depth and breadth of the choices I get to make. In short fiction, there are only so many directions you can go and still stay within the limits of the short form. You can’t choose things for your plot or characters that will take too long or get too complex. But, with a novel, when you come to a juncture or a crossroads in the story, you can go any direction you want. Your have time to travel any road. Of course, some roads will serve the story you want to tell better than others. And sometimes you’ll choose the wrong road and have to backtrack a few thousand words to get back on track. But, I love that I can take the long-cuts now.
Can you tell us a little bit about your novel? What do you like about the novel over your short stories?
The novel I am currently working on is called Ghosthand. It is a YA urban fantasy about a 17-year old girl, Olivia Black, who is born with a rare birth defect known as Psyche Sans Soma (or PSS). Instead of a right hand of flesh and blood, Olivia has a mass of ethereal energy where her hand should be. Of course, there’s a lot more to the story than that, but I don’t want to give too much away.
Probably one of my biggest challenges in starting to write a novel was in choosing which novel idea I wanted to do first. I had so many ideas, and several novels started, but I kept second-guessing myself. Then an amazing thing happened. A NYC agent who had seen some of my short fiction actually contacted me via Facebook to ask what I was working on, and if she could see it. Of course, I was thrilled, surprised, elated, terrified, but I quickly put together sample chapters and synopsis of four of my novel ideas and sent them off to her. Several months and many e-mails later, she told me that Ghosthand was the one she saw as having the most potential and saleability. That ended my indecision and began the long road toward actually writing the darn thing.
Anyone interested in my short fiction can find links to my work on my website at http://www.ripleypatton.com. I write updates on my novel, as well as posts about writing in general on my blog at http://rippatton.livejournal.com. And those seeking more information about SpecFicNZ can go to our website at http://specficnz.org/. Thanks so much for the chance to give this interview, and for all your great questions.