Interviews With The Fantastic
InterGalactic Interview With Fran Wilde
by Lawrence M. Schoen
Fran Wilde's first novel, Updraft, was launched by Tor Books earlier this month, the first book
in a promised series from her Bone Universe that already includes short stories "A Moment of
Gravity, Circumbscribed" and "Bent the Wing, Dark the Cloud." The second book, Cloudbound,
is slated for a 2016 release, and she's working on a third volume, presently untitled, for 2017.
Fran's other fiction includes stories set in her Moon Universe and Gem Universe (including "The
Topaz Marquise," reprinted elsewhere in this issue), as well as a world she's created for the
Storium interactive game/storytelling system. She's honed her craft at workshops such as Viable
Paradise and the Taos Toolbox, and then there's the small matter of her MFA in poetry. Her skill
sets extend into other domains as well. She's a generous programmer and technologist, a talented
artist, and an unrepentant foodie.
SCHOEN: When I read your work, I'm often taken by the precision and weight of your words,
ironically so in Updraft. Where does this come from? Is it fair to assume it's something you
acquired in your study of poetry, or does it reflect an innate talent that you refined in graduate
school, or something else entirely?
WILDE: Concision is probably related to poetry for me. And it's also important during the
editing process -- using one word instead of three, finding the exact word for the situation, rather
than an okay word. I love the way language works like locks and keys, each word acting on its
neighbors until the final word of the sentence and paragraph, and eventually the final word at the
end of the story, carries the full weight of that story. That's part of what makes a good narrative
stick at the end -- all that came before.
SCHOEN: Following up on that, there's a huge visual metaphor in your novel. If I may be so
bold, it's like you're painting vast skyscapes, panoramas of open space punctuated by towers of
living bone with tiny winged figures flitting between them. Some of the most powerful and
dangerous elements in the story -- whether the winds themselves, the constant threat of falling
into the clouds below, or the maws of the invisible skymouths -- are unseen, giving much more
weight to the things that are visible and knowable. Did you have this in mind all along, did it
spring to life in the writing process, or are you learning about it for the first time in this question?
WILDE: I think it's a good visual! The vastness of the landscape -- never-ending sky -- and the
comparable scale of enormous towers versus tiny people . . . that's the kind of thing that sets up
visual tension from the start, isn't it?
The unseen versus the knowable. That's another kind of tension. When you render an item in a
story so visible that the invisible aspects of another object appear in negative space -- that
happens in art too.
Flying versus falling is related to all of these tensions -- the interaction of characters with
landscape. I did have that in mind, and it was a theme I wanted to work, but it also emerged
organically as I wrote and revised the novel, did more research, and revised again.
SCHOEN: Last question on your novel: there's a cautionary vibe to portions of the story -- obey
your elders, follow the rules or bad things happen, fly where you're supposed to or get eaten, and
so on. Do these exist as subtext, or purely as elements to provide conflict and drive your plot
WILDE: I don't put anything in my stories purely to drive plot or stoke conflict.
Those on the edge of any culture -- or in risky situations -- often develop fairly extensive layers
of superstitions. Superstition is one way to feel like you're exerting control over an environment
you cannot control. The focus on rules, the superstitions about what to do when someone fails or
falls, some rituals, like, for instance, what you do when you spill salt -- all of these combine to
help build a world and enmesh characters within the actualities that world requires.
So, too, with Updraft.
SCHOEN: Let's shift gears a bit. I'm always fascinated by what starts an author on this path.
Was there some specific book or event that inspired you and made you realize this was what you
wanted to do?
WILDE: I've always written. What I've not always done, especially with regards to fiction, is to
finish stories. For a while there, I had lots of starts, few endings. I finally pushed myself to finish
a short story before starting another one in 2010-11, when I decided to make time for writing,
before almost anything else. Finishing stories instead of giving up on them or getting distracted
by a shinier one, something I hoped would be "stronger" than what I was already working on,
was what it took, actually. With a first draft what "strong" actually means is somewhat "Your
Mileage May Vary" -- we all want stories to be amazing right out of the gate, and they're often
just starting points. For me I realized I was dedicated to writing when I enthusiastically engaged a
revision on a finished first draft and completely reworked the story into something that was
actually stronger. That felt amazing.
SCHOEN: I've noted you're no stranger to technology, neither hardware nor software. What's
the impact of technology on your work as a writer, or would you be penning the same sorts of
things if you had to do so with a quill on parchment?
WILDE: Well, at one point, quill on parchment was high tech.
What we write about, when we write about tech, is often making something new and powerful
that we don't always see the full ramifications of at the outset. And that can be anything, really.
I'd use a fountain pen or a crayon to write if I had to (I'd rather the fountain pen -- a nice
Twisbi, with some Noodlers' ink) but not parchment. Probably something with a higher rag
SCHOEN: Some genre authors only write short fiction, some only write novels. You've shown
that you're comfortable writing both. Beyond just the word count (and pay rate) what are the
differences for you, and which do you prefer?
WILDE: I like both. Some stories are better suited to 5,000 words, others to 250 words. Some
are stronger at 100,000 words.
While I like the speed of short stories, I am enjoying working with longer forms right now.
Differences are kind of deceiving -- you can do as much research for a short story as for a novel,
sometimes. Sometimes more.
SCHOEN: It's worth pointing out that you're a regular contributor to the site GeekMom.com,
and your writing there epitomizes some of the best aspects of curiosity that drives people in and
out of our genre. In fiction, curiosity can be seen as an engine that shapes character's behaviors,
as well as a reaction the writer hopes to elicit from her reader. What's your formula for balancing
curiosity in your fiction, not just across protagonist and reader, but also your own piqued interest
as the writer? Is one more important than the other in your mind?
WILDE: I contribute to a number of blogs and publications; I'm a core contributor at
GeekMom, and it and GeekDad are great places for that cross-section of tech, games, culture and
family where a lot of us live these days.
Curiosity is certainly part of it -- I feel like if I'm interested or excited in something, I'll be a
good conveyor of that information (same goes with parenting things, incidentally), but there are
other things I need to report on because of interest or timeliness. But if I'm bored, whether in
fiction or nonfiction, the reader will be too. So I try to have as much fun as possible with both in
order to avoid being bored at all costs.
SCHOEN: Finally, I know you're contracted for two more books in the Bone Universe, and that
you have a completed novel in your Moon Universe. Is that how you see your future as an author
unfolding? One to two books a year, supplemented by short stories (some in these universes,
some not), on and on until the end of time, or do you have a clear endgame in mind and when
you reach it you plan on reinventing yourself and exploding in some new direction?
WILDE: Yes, I'd love to do just that for a while! As far as I know, writing is the endgame, and
it's pretty all-consuming.
That said, I often keep several projects on the burners, so that if things slow down, I have
something to occupy me.