I had the chance to talk to E.G. Wilson, author of the New Zealand-based science fiction Voiceless Duology, about her debut novel(s), writing, and more!
- Where did the idea for the Voiceless Duology come from?
I was working as a Planner at the local council when I got the germ of an idea for what would become Voiceless. The whole concept sprang from a single sentence — a sentence that someone said in real life and a sentence I built the whole first book around. In context it’s not all that significant. But it’s actually there in the book if you know where to look.
Voiceless started as… let me find my early notes… The Little Mermaid meets Inception meets Inkheart. Obviously I developed it heavily from there, but the core of the three remained: a quest to regain a lost voice, a journey involving weird time flow and trippy physics, and the use of writing to insert a character into another world.
Expression? That’s an interesting one. It didn’t exist — not even conceptually — until about a week after I’d finished Voiceless. I had no plans at all for a sequel. I gave the draft of Voiceless to my cousin to read; she zoomed through it in about two days and then messaged me to frantically ask, “What happens next??”
Apparently it’s not good manners to finish a book on a cliffhanger. So I wrote the sequel. Hence the dedication page on that one.
- What kind of music, movies, television shows did you listen to/watch while writing the books?
I had one song on repeat for most of the four months I spent drafting Voiceless and Expression. Just the one song. And telling you what it is might spoil certain elements in Expression for anyone who knows where the song comes from. Or it might add to the experience, who knows.
Exile Vilify by The National.
The lyrics, the mood, everything is so… perfect.
- How many books had you written before Voiceless and Expression?
A few different manuscripts. Let me see, there was: the semi-fictional memoir; the first two books in a SF series that I was developing into a 21-book series and may someday revisit; the space opera book that was a spin-off from Book 10-ish of the 21-book series… oh, and about 300,000 words of fanfiction. If that counts.
So: three full-length science fiction drafts. One short and highly experimental memoir draft (it’s just under 50k, written in second person POV, and my genre notes say memoir/inspirational/fantasy/horror). And a lot of fanfiction.
- What did your road to publishing look like?
I actually just released an article on my blog detailing the entire two years from writing the first draft right through to launch day! Find it here.
I think it’ll be helpful for those friends who hear you’ve finished writing a book and immediately ask when it will be out in stores. 😉
- What was the most difficult thing about writing the Voiceless Duology?
I honestly don’t remember any difficult parts around the actual drafting process. Obviously there’s a lot of butt-in-chair time, but that’s normal. Looking back at my word count stats for that period, there aren’t any major gaps. I wrote Voiceless in 51 days for a total of 74,000 words and Expression in 48 days for a total of 83,000 words. Again, fairly normal for my writing process.
But then, I like writing first drafts. What I don’t like so much is…
- What was the most frustrating thing about the publishing process?
Okay, it wasn’t frustrating. Yeah it was. Maybe a little. Nobody likes editing, really.
Any first draft will be messy, it’s just how it is. Both books were trimmed down to about 70,000 words during the editing process, and I freely admit that they’re so much better for it. The pacing, the flow, it just works better. My editor is amazing.
But personally, I love drafting. I love that freedom to go anywhere, to explore new situations with old characters, to see where the story takes you. And I love the quantifiable progress. I keep graphs (not kidding — Evan’s seen them!) charting my daily word count for each new book I write. It helps me keep track of my progress. And it’s great to look back and say “I’ve written five thousand words today, I think I’ve earned an episode of Stargate.”
So to hit the editing phase and suddenly have pages and pages of notes to work through, which could involve major rewrites, filling plot holes, moving or replacing characters, or even cutting whole chapters, was painful. I found a way of tracking it — mostly crossing off bullet points — to give me that sense of quantifiable progress still.
Looking back now, I don’t think I liked it. But I did it. And I’m learning to like it. It’s all part of the process.
- You’re from, and still live in, New Zealand, which is known for its beautiful landscapes. How, if at all, does it affect your writing/creative process?
Aw, mate. New Zealand is gorgeous. I have all these breathtaking environments to set my books in!
And even though I live in town, I’m not too far from the country. A twenty minute walk gets me out onto country roads. Early morning exercise? I go for a walk. Fighting the after-lunch doziness? Go for a walk. Been writing all day and now I’m antsy from sitting down for hours on end? Go for a walk!
- What is your favorite thing to do when taking a break from writing?
See above. Oh, and drink coffee. “No coffee until I’ve written my first thousand words of the day” is a wonderful motivator. I never drink it while I’m writing. Only between or after sessions.
- What genres interest you most?
Science fiction, fantasy, light-hearted spy novels, the odd thriller, romping Brit Kids adventure stories, engaging theological books, the list goes on.
- Who are your favorite authors?
Tolkien, Lewis, and Chesterton. Also Dekker, Lee, and Wilson.
Eric Wilson, I mean, not me. He’s no relation.
John Buchan and John Flanagan are also very good.
- Voiceless and Expression could be classified as science fiction. What draws you to that genre?
Well, I love Firefly and Star Wars and Inception and Marvel’s Agents of SHIELD… it makes sense that what I write grows out of the things I like, right?
I love the social side of science fiction. Seeing how technology effects people. How it can help them — or hurt them, as the case may be. I also just really like making things up. In Voiceless and Expression, I got to see what my hometown might look like in the future after exponential growth.
And technology is evolving so fast that much of the tech in Voiceless won’t be that far away in real life…
- Some people say that fiction is useless, and that one cannot learn from it. What is your response?
One can learn from anything if one tries.
Also, if I may refer you to a quote from Adrian Plass’s book An Alien At St. Wildred’s. It’s an extremely good book. The context is Christians who scoff at science fiction writers, but it’s equally applicable here…
“I am not a science fiction fan myself, David, but unlike you I have read one of Richard’s books. It was original, ingenious, and extremely well written. Thousands of people find a great deal of enjoyment in his work. It seems to me that your assumption that a book is not useful unless it is specifically Christian in content is rather arrogant.”
- What is one project you dream of doing but are hesitant about?
I have a couple on the long-term back-burner. That 21-book series, for instance. I don’t feel I’d do justice to the concepts in it — or the characters — if I tried to write it now. I’ll revisit it in a few years, maybe. Or a decade or two. Once I get a few other things off my plate.
- What projects are you working on right now?
A spy thriller series set in and around a fictional North Island megacity, with side trips to Australia and the far south. I’m working on Book 2 at the moment. My notes so far extend to Book 12, but I keep getting more ideas. So we’ll see where that ends up. And there’s at least one novella — I’ve written one set in the six week time gap between Books 1 & 2.
I love it. I love all my drafts, but this one feels… different. Maybe I’ve hit on a good process, maybe it’s just the characters, I don’t know.
I get to write intense psychological scenes — and psychological torture scenes, too. I get to create awesome characters who can kick butt and hug the breath out of you while exploring moral dilemmas. I get to find myself in the words I write, in sentences that turn around and flash a neon sign at me only after I’ve written them.
- What does your work day look like?
6:30am: Alarm goes off. I’m often awake before then anyway.
6:45am: Leave the house to walk to work. 7:30am: Arrive at work.
12:30pm: Finish work. Walk home or catch the bus, depending on mood and weather. When I get home it’s lunch, coffee, emails, and some fluffing around.
2pm-5pm: Write, assuming I have a draft on the go.
6pm-9pm, variable: More writing if I haven’t hit my word count or if I’m on a roll. A walk with family, a friend, or by myself. Casual gaming or TV. Read a book. Go to bible study. Do some work for my other day job. Talk to my flatmate or the cat.
9pm: Bed. My mind takes a while to wind down and I need 8-9 hours of sleep to function well.
- What does your perfect writing day look like?
Up and out for a walk well before 7am. Watch the sun rise.
Home, breakfast, emails and Facebook checked comfortably by 8am.
8am-10am Writing. Minimum here 1,000 words. Perfect Day 2,000.
10am Coffee, Facebook, reading blogs, etc.
11am-12 More writing. Minimum here 500. PD 1,000.
12 Lunch and coffee
1pm-3pm Writing. 1,000 minimum, PD 2,000.
3pm-ish Schedule a break in here somewhere
3pm-5pm Writing. 1,000 minimum, PD 2,000. Or go for a walk to recharge a bit.
6pm-9pm Same as a work day.
In reality, I like to end the day on the nearest thousand-words. So if I’m on x thousand five hundred, I’ll usually take an extra half hour to an hour to top that up to the thousand-word mark.
And I don’t often write after about 8pm — I find my quality decreases drastically. I’m very much a morning person!