Fran Wilde is an author and technology consultant. Her first novel, Updraft, is forthcoming from Tor/Macmillan in September of 2015. Her short stories have appeared in publications including Asimov’s, Beneath Ceaseless Skies, Nature, and Tor.com. Her interview series Cooking the Books—about the intersection between food and fiction—has appeared at Strange Horizons, Tor.com, and on her blog, franwilde.wordpress.com. You can find her on Twitter @fran_wilde and Facebook @franwildewrites.
Iulian: Fran, give us a little history of you: how/where did you grow up, what were the influences in your life, and what do you think steered you toward who you are today?
Fran: I grew up outside of Philadelphia and on the Chesapeake Bay. I was raised by several sailboats and a library.
Influences in my life: always books, fantastical stories, poetry, music. A dear teacher gave me a copy of Louise Erdich’s collected poetry, another introduced me to Borges, a third to Milton; the choral group I sang with in high school performed Carmina Burana; and the local indie bookstore and the town library fed my hunger for Jack Chalker and C.J. Cherryh, Flannery O’Connor, Elizabeth Bishop, and Anne McCaffrey. An art teacher taught me how to sketch on the run. Later teachers introduced me to the poets I still visit with in the mornings: Wyzlawa Szymborska, George Oppen, Gerard Manley Hopkins, Louise Gluck, Ana Ahkmatova and Italo Calvino. My father in law gave me Bulgakov. The programmers I studied and worked with and the writers who have grown from teachers and mentors to friends and colleagues—Gregory Frost, Elizabeth Bear, Steven Brust, Sherwood Smith, Debra Doyle and James D. Macdonald, Patrick and Teresa Nielsen Hayden, Walter Jon Williams, Nancy Kress—they’re all influences. So is, frankly, everyone I meet—but listing everyone here would go over your word count.
I think all of it—poetry and code, fiction and nonfiction, sailing and singing—brought me here. I’m as curious as you where it will take me next.
I can trace your earliest short stories to 2011, but you also published some poetry before that. How did you get involved with writing?
My earliest poem is traceable to second grade and it is a very dire thing about the horrors of winter sports. The only known source of this poem has been hidden away on an island set within a trunked manuscript draft placed in a box and shipped to the international space station. After that, I got better, and I still write poetry, as well as fiction.
I am a writer in a family of engineers, and so I think I was encouraged to keep up my writing so that I could better proofread their papers. This has served me well as other engineers and scientists have let me interview them about their projects—from microfluidic bubble pumps, atomic teleportation, and biochemical computers, to bridges, nuclear power plants, and aquariums. It helps pay the bills.
Can you name a defining moment in your writing career?
When someone dared me to write a novel in 90 days, and I did it. When I mailed back my first Asimov’s contract. Signing the deal for Updraft.
When did you decide this is what you want to do for the rest of your life?
I don’t think I’ve ever not wanted to write. But I also work on a lot of different projects, both to stay current with various industries, and to remind myself that there are always problems to solve and different ways to solve them.
You also teach writing and digital media. Tell us a little bit of that part of your life. What is teaching for you?
I love talking with students about their work and their inspirations, and introducing them to new writers and methods. I’ve taught high school, college, and graduate school. The energy in a classroom when students find what they love and find new ways to shape it? That’s amazing no matter whether we’re talking about words or code.
In the past, you’ve attended the Viable Paradise and Taos Toolbox writing workshops. How was that experience for you, how did it help your writing, and would you recommend young writers to try them out?
Workshops aren’t for everyone, but for me, they meant community and still do. When I went to Viable Paradise, I was fairly widely read, and had experience with critiques, but had never spent a week with as many people who loved to read what I loved to read, and who loved to write it too. There, and at Taos, I was encouraged to push myself beyond what I was already doing, and that means everything, including finding those people who will challenge you, and who want you to challenge them right back.
Let’s turn to your short stories: you published many and most of them in well-known magazines, such as Asimov’s. Among your works, what are some of your favorite stories and why?
This is the dreaded “which of your children do you love best” question—and for me it’s often the short story or stories I’ve finished most recently—”How to Walk Through Historic Graveyards in the Post-Digital Age,” (Asimov’s April/May 2015); “You are Two Point Three Meters from Your Destination,” Uncanny, April 2015; the short story coming from Beneath Ceaseless Skies in September, “Bent the Wing, Dark the Cloud,” (set in the Updraft/Bone Universe); and the novella “The Jewel and Her Lapidary,” coming from Tor.com next year.
Since we’re talking favorites: could you name some of your favorite authors and stories/novels in the genre?
And this is the “Which of your parents do you love best” question!
In the genre, favorite authors include (In no order whatsoever, and mixing short story writers with novelists): Erin Mortgenstern, Genevieve Valentine, Vernor Vinge, N.K. Jemisin, Wiliam Gibson, Neal Stephenson, Nalo Hopkinson, Aliette de Bodard, Andy Duncan, Mikhail Bulgakov, Borges, China Mieville, Elizabeth Bear, Ann Leckie, Vandanna Singh, Ken Liu, Max Gladstone, Joe Haldeman, Daryl Gregory, Pat Cadigan, Yoon Ha Lee.
Books in particular? The pic below is a random selection from my Goodreads favorites shelf—not all genre, not all fiction either, but it gives you a good start…
And as for new books/authors coming out this fall: Zen Cho’s Sorcerer to the Crown, Jaime Lee Moyer’s Barricade in Hell, China Mieville’s new short story collection, Greg Van Eeckhout’s Dragon Coast, Michael Swanwick’s next installment in the Darger and Surplus series, and my fellow Tor debuts: Ilana Myers Last Song Before Night, Seth Dickinson’s Traitor Baru Comorant, and Lawrence Schoen’s Barsk.
Updraft : your first novel is coming out in September from Tor.com. First of all, congratulations! I can’t wait to read it. How did the novel come to you and can you give us an overview of the Bone Universe?
Thank you! I am looking forward to September when everyone gets to read it.
The first draft of Updraft nearly wrote itself in about six weeks, after I realized that the short stories I’d been writing were part of something much larger. Revisions took a lot longer, as they tend to do.
The Bone Universe includes cities of living bone that have grown so high they rise above the clouds. The clouds themselves are regions of terrifying history, current dangers, and loss. Few go there, and fewer return. The citizens of the towers feel safer as they go higher; they construct man-made wings to get them from place to place, and their cultural memories and their Laws are passed up to future generations in songs.
Breaking a law means wearing Lawsmarkers-bone chips made heavier depending on the severity of the crime. Too many of those and it’s impossible to fly. In a city where one of your greatest enemies is gravity, Lawsmarkers and the Singers who dole them out are as feared as the monsters that prowl the clouds and the skies.
Given that Updraft is listed as the first book in the Bone Universe, there will be more, I am sure. What is your plan for the series?
The next book in the Bone Universe, Cloudbound, is on my editor’s desk. I’m working on a third book now. It was important to me to haveUpdraft be a complete arc, and stand on its own. For those curious about the larger world of the bone towers (and I hope there will be many), Cloudbound answers many of those questions. It might also raise more questions…
I can’t conclude this without asking you about “Cooking the Books.” I can’t say that I’ve ever thought of food in conjunction with genre fiction, so the concept is actually fascinating to me. How did you get the idea, where is it now, and where is it going?
Cooking the Books is an interview series that went podcast last summer. We’ve interviewed over forty authors, editors, and agents, including Joe (“How to make a pizza in a foxhole with plastique”) Haldeman, Ann (“The Word for World is Tea”) Leckie; Scott Lynch and Steven Brust; Rajan Khana, Aliette de Bodard, and more. You can find it here: https://franwilde.wordpress.com/cooking-the-books/.
The interview series began when Steven Gould and I were talking about strange recipes, and I mentioned one from an old cookbook—”How to Cook an Elephant” that began (jokingly, I think) with “First cut elephant into bite-size pieces… ” Steven said, “That sounds like how to start writing a novel.” And we were off to the races. He was my first interview.
I like to ask this from all interviewed writers: what is your advice for the young writers of today?
“First cut elephant into bite-size pieces… “
Seriously. Small steps, every day. Write scenes. Write outlines. Do it regularly until the story is finished. Then write another one.
What else can we expect from you over the next year and is there anything else you’d like to add?
In the next year, I’ll have another short story or two out, plus the novella “The Jewel and Her Lapidary,” from Tor.com‘s new novella imprint—that’s high fantasy set in the Gem Universe, so I’m really excited to see what they do with the cover. Tor does such beautiful covers. Cloudbound will be out next fall. Meantime, I’ll be touring a lot in September and October and I am looking forward to seeing folks! And there are a few more things I can’t reveal yet. Tune in to franwilde.net for irregular updates.
Fran, thank you so much for this interview and all the best from FSM!
Thank you so much for having me!
Find below a selection of publications by or containing works by Fran Wilde:
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