Authorial Process, or the Babysitter’s Tale: Guest Post by Miles Cameron
When I was very young, I grew up in a house that was largely about stories.
My mother read me the Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit aloud from about age four to age nine, and my father — himself a fairly successful novelist – was also a first-rate storyteller. I got stories, or books read aloud, every night. My dad’s ‘Christmas Cowboy’ stories are with me yet.
When I was nine, I had a babysitter named Sam. In my opinion, Sam was the greatest babysitter in history, and I wish I knew his last name so I could thank him. His ‘system’ was simple; he’d arrive, we’d build an airplane model (which he provided) and then he’d put me to bed and tell me a story. His stories were rich and detailed, and subsequent examination suggests that they were based on John Wayne movies and other Hollywood fare which I had never seen. But he told them well, and I went to sleep.
What, you may ask, does any of this have to do with authorial process?
Well…. One night, Sam and I built a model. By then he was teaching me to paint, weather, and even damage models… I suspect he’s to blame for my lifetime love-affair with miniatures and table-top games, but I digress. On that particular night, he put me to bed, and then apologized that he had to leave early.
I said I wanted a story.
He said, ‘Pal, you’ll have to tell yourself one. I’m sure you can. Here’s the start; a mountain man and his guide are in a canoe, headed for a waterfall…’
And that said, he was off. I suspect there was an illicit date involved… but this is authorial process. I did, indeed, tell myself a story. And to make this a little shorter, by the time I was fifteen I would put myself to sleep by telling myself stories complete with world building and characters; I had begun to keep stock characters, and I had an array of good guys and bad guys and so on. And plots, overplots… by then, of course, I was a voracious reader. My own stories borrowed heavily from Heinlein and Tolkien and Andre Norton and Jane Austen…
About that age, I discovered Dungeons and Dragons. Really, I discovered role playing games, because I suspect I dumped the dungeon crawl system in four or five games and started running extensive campaign adventures that were largely based on the incredible books of Fritz Lieber, with plots, antagonists, twists… The fantastic thing about RPGs is that they train the writer to be flexible. Real players won’t bend to your will, and often do very interesting things. I mean, they do dumb things too, but that’s ALSO potentially grist for the writing mill.
When I was seventeen I wrote an eighty-thousand word novel. It’s terrible, and you will never see it. (Elves. In space. With poetry. I say no more.) I had the enormous advantage of living with someone who wrote for a living and produced a hundred thousand words every four months regardless of other circumstances. My dad LOVED writing, and would write even if he didn’t have a contract. That love, that passion, he passed on to me.
He passed me another technique as well. I grew up watching my dad (and ‘helping’) as he built medieval hand-gonnes, made eighteenth century clothes, tied seventeenth-century fishing flies, and practiced rapier moves from ancient sword manuals. Dad was a method-writer. If he was going to write something, he’d dive into it, immerse himself, and learn. Also, all of those things were fun.
If I were to make this a lesson to new writers, I think I’d say, ‘writing is a lifestyle, and every part of your life is aimed at observation and learning; observation of people allows the writing of real characters, and learning allows the transfer of experience.’ But I’d also say, ‘You need to love it.’ Almost any day I don’t write, I feel as if I have missed out on something.
I write almost every day, from roughly nine in the morning until roughly two in the afternoon, barring Sundays, and in a really rich period (see below) even on Sundays. I expect to write between two thousand and five thousand words a day, but I don’t worry if I have a five-hundred word day, and I feel really triumphant if I have a seven or eight thousand word day. Most books take me about ninety work days to complete, and work can be interrupted by vacation, illness, child-rearing, friends, re-enacting… I don’t worry about writer’s block’ because (for me, and it’s different person to person) the anodyne for that disease is passion for my subject and the discipline to sit down, face the computer, and start. Every day. I begin each writing day by reviewing the last 5000 words, lightly editing; if I’ve been away more than five days I re-read everything from the start.
I’ll close with a few words about Artifact Space, my new Sci-Fi novel with Gollancz.
There was no ‘wordcount’ to Artifact Space. It was as if the entire novel sprang into my head, fully formed, a gift from the muses of Hard Sci-Fi. I was watching a movie (Little Women) with my wife and daughter; I loved the book as a kid, and I’d read it a couple times, and I loved the movie. An old friend (a professional ballet dancer) likes to say that ‘Art Makes Art’ and recent neuroscience suggests that this is literally true; that the appreciation of someone else’s art may unlock your mind to float freely and think creatively. I know I’d just finished a really good book on Venetian great galleys in the fourteenth century…
And bang. It was all there. I wrote Artifact Space in 46 working days, and I never stopped to count words or pages. It was all just there.
And here’s the last bit. It was all there EXCEPT the world building. That is, I had the theme, the story, the characters and their arcs almost fully formed; I saw Dorcas and Marca and Thea. I knew the ships were ten kilometers long and I knew why.
But I didn’t know how or why. And to me, that’s interesting, and because I love research, I ran out and read articles on quantum mechanics (to the best of my poor ability) and on astronomy, about the commonality of red dwarf stars (you’ll notice they keep jumping into Red Dwarf Systems) about why the word ‘Parsec’ is unlikely to be used by real spacefarers… I admit that I did NOT build a working spaceship, but I did build some models, and I played out some of the fights using a military sci-fi wargame called ‘Infinity.’ I built a star map, based on the real galactic arm of our real galaxy and the stars that several articles thought might have habitable planets, and I guessed, and created…
Fun. As much fun as building a medieval handgonne. And you know, I’m 58, and every night I was writing Artifact Space, I’d fall asleep thinking of the story… telling it to myself. I owe that to Sam the babysitter. It works.
Hey, that’s my authorial process on this one. I hope that helps someone, somewhere!
Thank you so much Miles for joining us on our stop for the blog tour!
Artifact Space is available NOW from Gollancz.
More info on where you can get your copy HERE.
I was born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania in 1962. I grew up in Rockport, Massachusetts, Iowa City, Iowa, and Rochester, New York, where I attended McQuaid Jesuit High School and later graduated from the University of Rochester with a degree in history.
After the longest undergraduate degree on record (1980-87), I joined the United States Navy, where I served as an intelligence officer and as a backseater in S-3 Vikings in the First Gulf War, and then on the ground in Somalia, and elsewhere. After a dozen years of service, I became a full time writer in 2000. I live in Toronto (that’s Ontario, in Canada) with my wife Sarah and our daughter Beatrice, currently age fourteen. I’m a full time novelist, and it is the best job in the world.
I am also a dedicated reenactor; it is like a job, except that in addition to work, you must pay to participate. You can follow some of my recreated projects on the Agora. We are always recruiting, so if you’d like to try the ancient world or the medieval world, follow the link to contact us. Come on. You know you want to.