Tuesday, November 15, 2011

On the Nineth Day of Tesseracts: A Conversation with Virginia Modugno, Helen Marshall and Robert Runte

For the "Nineth Day of Tesseracts" we are being virtually joined by three of "Tesseracts Fifteen: A Case of Quite Curious Tales" authors, Virginia Modugno, Helen Marshall and Robert Runte.

Virgina Modugno
Helen Marshall
Robert Runte
TT: Welcome everyone!

TT: Could each you please introduce yourself and tell us where in Canada you are currently located?

Virginia Modugno: My name is Virginia Modugno, and I live in Montreal, Qc.

Helen Marshall:
Hi, I'm Helen Marshall, and I'm currently living in Toronto, Ontario 

Robert Runte:
I am Robert Runte and I live in Lethbridge, Alberta.

TT: What is the name of your story in T15, and a brief summary?

Virginia Modugno:
"Every You, Every Me". It's about a girl who goes to school one day and makes a shocking, Twilight Zone-like discovery.

Helen Marshall: "The Oak Girl"

Robert Runte: “Split Decision”. The story came to me when I was listening to my 13 year old daughter try to tell me about her day at school, and she was talking so fast, and going off on so many tangents, and what she said was so self-referential, I had to keep interrupting to get her to explain what she was talking about. So I wondered, what if she were trying to tell someone who didn’t know her something important, or what if something really unusual had happened so that they had no context to follow what she was talking about? So its the story of her trying to explain to someone in authority about her part in the lockdown at school earlier that day.

TT: What is the first sentence of your story?

Virginia Modugno:
"No matter how many times I blink, she still won't disappear."

Helen Marshall: 

"She would watch him as he worked,
 the thin spirals of wood falling in ringlets
 to rest carelessly
 or scatter when he moved."

Robert Runte: “So Mr. Shakey came over the intercom saying it was 2:30 and would all the teachers therefore stop whatever they were doing and please water the plants?”

TT: What do you love the most about this (or being in this) anthology?

Virginia Modugno:
For me, this is the first story I've ever published, so it's just a huge thrill to finally see a life-long dream come true.

Helen Marshall:
I've been following the Tesseracts series for about ten years now, and I find it a tremendous way to keep in touch with the pulse of Canadian genre fiction. I'm thrilled to be part of the anthology because it's really the arrival party for a new generation of writers.  The stories in this collection are thoughtful, innovative and poignant--it's a great group and I'm proud to be ranked among them.

Robert Runte:
I've been an SF critic and editor for years -- including coediting a previous Tesseract anthology -- but I've only recently gotten serious about writing myself, so it was very validating to get a story into Tesseract on my first try.  Nice to start out at the top! And the cover's  great. 

TT: Fantastic, thank you.  Thanks for being with us for Day Nine of the Sixteen Days of Tesseracts.

"Beyond the Interview"Questions:  after receiving the interview questions, authors were also given opportunity to select and answer additional questions. 

TT:  What is the best piece of writing advice you've discovered?

Virginia Modugno:  I'm always trying to improve, so I come across a lot of great stuff, but something that stuck with me recently, from my writing group, was make sure your character has agency. Have them be the ones doing things, being pro-active. Obviously, they do have to react to things being done to them - the beginning of my story is a good example of that - but make sure their reaction isn't sitting around and contemplating the situation for long periods of time. As someone who has never met a paragraph of introspection she didn't love, I personally responded to this advice.

Helen Marshall: When you write, write about yourself, write from yourself. You'll never get anywhere trying to mimic someone else's voice--the best thing you can do as a writer is to present your own take on the world as authentically and truthfully as possible. That's what people want from your writing. They want to see you. That being said, read as widely as you possibly can, and this is the most important thing: don't just read in the genre! Read South American poets and medieval bards, read non-fiction, read romance, read crime, read CanLit, read everything you can get your hands on. Everything you read broadens the pool of resources upon which you can draw. All writing is a conversation with the people around you; don't speak to just one person.

Robert Runte: Get a good editor. I'm a development editor, but I know better than to try to edit my own work. Everybody needs a second pair of eyes to look at their manuscript.
TT: What other authors inspire your writing?

Virginia Modugno: So many! In terms of this story, I would definitely say Christopher Fowler, a fantastic British author, especially his early work in the urban fantasy/horror/occult genres. The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood is one of those works that has haunted me my whole life, and definitely gave me my love of dystopian worlds. I also worship at the altar of the many great sci-fi/speculative fiction writers in television – which is where I think some of the best writing is being done today - such as Joss Whedon, and the Lost and Fringe writers. And, of course, their spiritual grandparents like Tolkien, Ursula K. LeGuin, Angela Carter, Rod Serling, and Richard Matheson. I could go on and on, but I’ll stop there!

TT: What is your main writing process?

Robert Runte: I usually day dream my way through the next scene or two before I write them down -- because there are usually long gaps between when I actually can get time to write, and all I can do is day dream about the book/story while standing around in lineups or waiting to pick the kids up from school or falling to sleep at night, or whatever. The process of writing the scene down when I finally get to the computer always changes them, sometimes quite substantially, but I usually have the gist of it and at least a couple of versions of the dialog when I finally sit down. On those occasions when I actually have a little time for writing and have typed up to the point where I have already thought the story through, I just keep going, winging it. I like to throw my characters into a situation and watch how they work their way out of it (or deeper in, if things end up going that way.) So I often write myself into corners, and maybe get blocked for a bit, but it's usually not long before one of the characters makes a break for it.

The other thing I do, is that I compulsively reread everything I've written on that story or book up to the current line. It gives me some kind of momentum to carry through the blank screen and into the next two or three scenes. The upside is that my stories tend to be fairly seemless since each new sentence builds on everything that's come before. The downside is that I end up compulsively re-editing every line of the story/ novel every time I sit down to write something new. It's not a very efficient process.

TT: Who are your biggest inspirations?
Robert Runte: The novel I am currently working on is an amalgam of influences: Silverberg's first novel,  the automat scene from Hargreaves' "Dead to the World", various Harry Harrison and Christopher Stasheff and Keith Laumer  novels, and various bad WWII spy movies. Probably every Analog story I've ever read, but all overlain with a Canadian view of things. But I have 11 other novels in my head, and they are all based on very different influences — I just deliberately picked the easiest of my novel ideas to write first so I could master the basics of story-telling before trying to do my Dostoevsky-level stuff. As an editor, I've seen a lot of beginning authors fail because they wanted to start out with the Great Canadian Novel and couldn't get there first try out of the gate. I'm quite willing to start with a simple little 1960s-style space opera, and work my way up to the  more complex stuff.

TT: What's the worst piece of writing advice you've heard?
Robert Runte: "Hey, instead of a second draft, why don't you just self-publish?"

TT: What's story have you written that's your favorite and why?

Robert Runte: I'm pretty fond of the current one in Tess15. It just seemed to come together really easily and well. And when I read it out at the launch at When Words Collide convention, the reaction was overwhelming: so many people laughing. Made my day! I still like  The Luck of Charles Harcourt, which was my first published story, but not everyone gets that one.

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