This is an interview, slightly re-edited, that originally ran on Blogher wherein I talked about writer’s block and other things more or less associated with The Darkest Side of Saturn. Embedded within it are a few tips on how to waste time and avoid writing which new authors, young and old, may find helpful.
I do not like to write. I like to have written.
— Gloria Steinem
Do you have a daily writing routine?
Not a perceptible one. Sometimes I write in the morning, sometimes in the afternoon, but the main rituals that come into play are my excuses to avoid writing: Check the online news, read the online comic strips, make a list of things to do today, check the email, visit twitter, sharpen pencils (metaphorically; I don’t use pencils), go back to the news to see if there’s anything new, brew more coffee, balance the checkbook . . . Oops, time for lunch!
It’s hard to get started! But once the delaying rituals play themselves out and the butt hits the rolling chair at my desk and I start focusing on the writing, I usually get into the groove and go at it for a few hours at a time. Sometimes it helps to start writing in a scratch file or a junk file until the imagination gets in gear. I have a file on my computer named “The Daily Drivel.” Sometimes I start there and just write nonsense—the first things that come into my head—and that sometimes lights the fire.
Where do you do most of your writing?
I do all of it in my office. I have an unfettered view of the red rocks and green Junipers of Sedona, Arizona from my second story office window (not to mention the vortices!). Unfortunately, when I finally begin to write, that landscape just disappears and becomes invisible since I can’t focus on more than one thing at a time. For the same reason, I never play music while I’m writing because I can’t handle distractions. It’s basically blinders on and bore straight ahead—all background either gets turned off or fades away.
Where did you grow up? Can you tell us a little about it?
I grew up in Rock Hill, South Carolina, but my fondest memories were at my grandmother’s house in a village in a forest in the flatlands of North Carolina not far from the coast. The name of the village is Como, after Lake Como in Italy, and it’s just a fly speck on the highway maps if it can be found at all. I devoted a good part of a long chapter to it, renamed Roma, North Carolina in a back story of the protagonist where the young boy lives with his parents and falls into dreams every night listening to tires sing along the asphalt of a lonely rural highway, trucks and cars passing, eeeooo, in the dark, coming from unknown pasts and humming into deep and distant futures. One night he has an epiphany there, in the starshine of his back yard, and it affects the rest of his life. I think this is some of my best writing in the book, and maybe ever. Maybe because I wrote it out of love.
What is your motto in life/writing?
In life: Answering the Navigator’s question: Where are we and where are we going? By that I mean curiosity about science, nature, and humanity. Never mind that it’s an unanswerable question, Where are we going on this incredible life-trip that we’re all on? What’s the end goal, if life (or evolution, same thing) can be said to have a goal at all. I’d love to live forever to see how this all works out. But in true Navigator form, the destination is less important that the journey.
In writing: There’s no discernible difference that I can see. Where are we and where are we going?, that’s what I like to write about.
What inspired you to write your book?
I was at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in the early 80s watching the first pictures come down from the Voyager 1 spacecraft after it flew by Saturn. The planet had grabbed Voyager with its gravity and flung it northward out of the plane of the solar system, and now we were looking back and down at the night side nested inside the crescent of the day side, and from that higher perspective came a view that had never been seen before. Saturn had always, in all of history, never been more than a 2 dimensional disk painted onto the celestial sphere from where we saw it on Earth. But now for the first time, from that new exalted perspective, the shadow cutting across the rings and that darkness nested into light made the planet real. It had finally become a three-dimensional sphere floating in space, and the title popped into my head. “The Dark Side of Saturn” (Darkest came later). The dark side contrasted against the light made it real.
I didn’t start writing the story until over a decade later and by then I’d figured out what that meant: the yin and yang aspect of the world. How opposites taken together from a larger perspective make a whole. Good and evil, science and religion, faith versus understanding, male versus female, each provides context for the other, and out of that you get something more complete than either one by itself. That’s one of the deeper reaches I intended for the story, successful or not.
Added 2016/04/10: By the way, I’m still figuring out what the hell the story’s about. New meanings and connections continue to pop into my fevered brain.