“Hi, my name is Andrea, and I’m a writer,” she said, stumbling over her words.
That’s me, A.C. Flory, science fiction writer and introvert extraordinaire. I’m not stereotypically shy, and if you ask me about one of my passions, I’ll happily chew your ear off, but talking about myself and my writing still feels…odd. Perhaps that’s why I didn’t start writing fiction until I was forty-eight.
I may have been a late bloomer when it came to storytelling, but reading was another matter entirely. I began reading for pleasure when I was eight, and by twelve I’d read Dostoyevsky’s Crime and Punishment…and loved it. Before anyone gets too excited, I have to point out that education was very different back then, especially in the Catholic school system. We were expected to be really good at ‘reading, ‘riting and ‘rithmetic’ by the time we reached the end of primary school, so I was not all that precocious.
By the time I reached secondary school in the early 60s [1960s] I’d lightened up quite a bit, and I remember writing a brilliant, humorous essay about the digestive system for a school assignment. Well, I thought it was funny. The teacher disagreed, and that was where my fledgling writing career stalled for the next few decades.
When I say ‘stalled’, I don’t mean that I stopped writing; I spent most of my twenties in universities so I did a lot of writing. For my BA., I majored in Philosophy and Japanese. Lots of writing there. Then there was even more writing for my Dip. Ed., followed by lab. reports and statistical analyses for Behavioural Sciences. And finally, there was a decade of user guides for off the shelf computer software. But in all that writing, I didn’t write fiction. At All.
Some authors talk about writing stories from the moment they’re old enough to hold a pen, but I never did. I always saw myself as logical and pragmatic, so my imagination only came out to play in that twilight zone between true wakefulness and sleep. Yet in hindsight, I recognize that even in my day dreams, the story had to make sense.
Meanwhile, out in the real world, my waking self was having some adventures of her own. I spent a year in Europe, learned to ride a motorbike, went up in an unmanned glider [as a passenger] and almost lost my lunch when the pilot of a small aircraft showed me what a barrel roll felt like from the inside. And all the while, I was learning life lessons as well, not all of them pleasant.
Yet, unbeknownst to me, learning about my own strengths and weaknesses was another necessary step on the path to becoming a writer. Research is vitally important, but no amount of second-hand information can provide insights into the human condition. Only empathy and experience can do that. To write about life, you first have to live.
Well, I did my living, and when life became a bit too stressful, I escaped into the worlds of science fiction and fantasy: the Lord of the Rings, Stranger in a Strange Land, Dune, The Left Hand of Darkness, Otherland, The Farseer Trilogy, Wool, Necromancer, Perdito Street Station…all brilliant novels that showed how character, world building, plot and beautiful prose could combine to create something truly extraordinary.
A lot of people think that writing good fiction requires nothing more than a novel idea, a firm grasp of grammar and a decent spell-checker, but they’re wrong. Fiction is all about persuasion, and learning how to persuade is not easy.
It took me thirteen years to learn how to create believable worlds and believable people, but the hardest lesson of all involved unlearning all I thought I knew about writing.
Writing fiction is not about precision and logic, it’s about feelings and effortless, flowing prose that provides the hidden ‘soundtrack’ to the action. It’s not poetry, but the choice of one word rather than another can change the whole rhythm of a sentence. And what is the core of music but rhythm?
In many ways, I’m still day dreaming for my own enjoyment, but at least now, I’ve found the confidence to share my dreams with others. And who knows? Maybe one day, I won’t stumble when I introduce myself as a writer. 🙂