Friday, September 12, 2014

Scalzi on Writing

John Scalzi said it was good to be back at the Prairie Lights Bookstore in Iowa City. It had been seven years, seven eventful years, since he’d been there. Best selling books, awards, and hinted at television deals gave him an overflow audience on a cool, rainy evening.

My goal was to see the well-known author, hear about the new book, buy a copy, and hopefully get back to Davenport without getting too wet or running into any wildlife. I came away with a bit more.

I particularly liked Scalzi’s explanation of how he used “the new normal” for building the reality for Lock In, his new book. In setting the scene for his reading, he explained how “the new normal” meant the ensuing acceptance of unusual situations after the passage of time. It’s a function of human adaptability. For this book, it meant years after the survivors of a viral plague, who’d been locked inside physically useless bodies, had become, by virtue of technology, normal parts of society. So normal that, in chapter five, finding a new apartment was an inconvenience and not an insurmountable big deal for remotely controlled androids.

The phrase really hit home for me. I spent over a year going to grief recovery meetings where it was used a lot, but in relation to adjusting to life without a loved one. I hadn’t thought about how important it would be for crafting a fictional setting in a make-believe world.

I appreciated the fact that he didn’t use outlines. Redshirts took five weeks to write. He said he went with the flow and cleaned it up later; making it look like that’s how it was meant to be all along. I know the process, but never at that speed or with those results.

I also liked his comments about how hard he worked to get the teenage girl’s voice for Zoe’s Tale. A lot of feminine feedback led to a lot of rewrites and eventually to some major honors.

It was a rare opportunity for me to see and listen to John Scalzi. The rain slowed the trip home down to a crawl in some places, but it didn’t dampen my enthusiasm.

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