Climate change is an unexpectedly easy thing to look away from. We’re in the midst of it, and the IPCC gives us limited time to make drastic changes that would stave off enormous global changes to our environment, and we are doing not much of anything, really. Sure, there are marches and protests and all sorts, but when something’s this big, it’s hard to encompass.
No surprise, then, that there are groups of scientists around the world preserving climate data across borders so that the anti-science hacks of various persuasions can’t get their mitts on it. When I started reading those news articles, I thought: there’s a fantastic story in this! And there was. It started out as a short story, which appeared a couple of years back in Clarkesworld. That story, “The Stone Wētā,” which you can read for free at the link, became the eventual first chapter of my novel of the same name, out April 22nd – fittingly, Earth Day.
The Stone Wētā is a near-future sci-fi thriller, which documents the efforts of a number of scientists to smuggle climate data across borders, and preserve it from the influence of hostile actors. But when this cold war of data preservation turns bloody – and then explosive – this underground network of scientists, all working in isolation, must decide how much they are willing to risk for the truth. For themselves, their colleagues, and their future.
I’m a science communicator by training, and raising the issue of how we treat climate data – how we treat scientific data in general – is something that’s really important to me. It should be important to all of us. After all, if we can’t trust the information we have, how are we supposed to make decisions that will give us the best possible future? If The Stone Wētā sparks debate on some of these issues, I’ll be really happy.
Anyway, it’s published by the Wellington-based Paper Road Press. Please take a look!
Octavia Cade is a New Zealand writer with a PhD in science communication. She’s sold nearly 50 stories to markets such as Clarkesworld, Asimov’s, and Shimmer. She attended Clarion West 2016, and is currently the writer-in-residence at Square Edge/Massey University.
Who are you and what have you done with the Real Christopher Ruz?
I’m Ruz, an Aussie author, teacher, and one-time stuntman. The original, more handsome Ruz is buried in the potato patch. Don’t cry for him. He died like a punk.
Harry Potter world: what house are you? And what animal would be your patronus? Harry Potter houses are an artificial mechanism used to divide students ideologically and turn them against one another so they won’t band together and overthrow their oppressive wizard and witch overlords!
Are you a Think Everything Through Before Acting person or a Great Idea Let’s Try It! Person? I always dive in without thinking. Who has time to think? Huh. Maybe I’m not a Ravenclaw at all.
What got you into writing?
The Lord of the Rings BBC radioplay adaptation. My Dad used to play it for me on long car rides, and I fell in love with those mysterious worlds and grand battles of good versus evil. Some of my first stories were LOTR fanfiction when I was about six. They weren’t real good.
Why do you write now? I’ve got too many worlds in my head! There’s something special about being able to share them with the folk around me, a feeling of sharing the greatest adventure of your life. I can’t get that feeling anywhere else. So, I put these worlds and characters and conflicts on paper, and hope everyone else enjoys them as much as me.
What’s a book you remember reading as a teenager and absolutely loving? IT. I borrowed it from the school library when I was absolutely not supposed to, and read it late at night when my parents wouldn’t catch me. It was dark and dangerous like no other book I’d read before, and it sunk its hooks in deep. I reread it every few years, and it’s still special to me.
Can you name some formative books for your own writing? Gene Wolfe’s Book of the New Sun changed the way I saw storytelling. Elements of it seep into literally everything I create.
Stephen King’s IT, of course, seeded everything I write with malevolence. Finally, Piers Anthony’s Xanth series. Looking back on Xanth now, it’s weirdly misogynist and creepy and not something I’d recommend for young teens (or anyone). But for teen-me, Xanth showed me how a world could be ridiculous and compelling at the same time. It taught me to take risks.
Creative writing in primary school, what did you write about? Can you remember any stories?
SO MANY STORIES! They were mostly inspired by the videogames I played at the time, so I wrote a lot of Wolfenstein fanfic. My mother was horrified (and fair enough, too). But I was also already dipping my toes into horror, with a lot of Goosebumps inspired stories of children my age being stalked by werewolves and bog-beasts.
What do you do/where do you go for inspiration?
Current events plus personal drama plus horrifying imagery generally takes me somewhere fun. For example, my current WIP is about a North Korea-esque hermit state, the gigantic floating corpse of a dead god, and destroying incels. I have more ideas in the bank than I can deal with right now.
Do you believe in a divine muse? I don’t. My muse is sitting down in front of Scrivener and doing the work. I believe the ideas and the energy comes when you put yourself in a professional mindset.
What does your physical writing space look like?
My office is quiet and cold. My monitor is haloed with post-it notes covered in new ideas, potential plot twists, and character sketches. My desk is a travesty of old teacups and unfiled paperwork.
Open up your skeleton closet: can you tell me about an abandoned project of yours which seemed awesome when you started but you’ll likely never return to?
This could apply to any of my first four novels. I have a particular attachment to Alpha Slip, which was a near future cyberpunk psychological thriller about a psychiatrist diving through (and being trapped in) layers of a POW’s memories in order to extract key information on military crimes. I finished the final draft two days before the trailer for Inception dropped, and I was so disheartened that I never opened the doc again.
Star Wars or Star Trek?
It used to be Trek. Then it became Wars. Now I’m firmly on the fence. Fingers crossed for Picard!
Hogwarts or Narnia?
They’re both nightmares of child endangerment! Can I choose Destin instead?
Ideal holiday, price and time no concern, where would you go?
Japan. A nice town somewhere in the south, where the wind is sweet and the evenings are quiet, and I could eat well and write all day and pat random cats.
Favourite song to sing at Karaoke?
Shatner’s cover of Common People.
Favourite song to sing in the shower when no one else is home?
Rammstein’s Auslander. The tiles amplify my naturally weak baritone.
The weirdest hobby you have, other than writing?
I’m an artist in my spare time, mostly focusing on life studies and portraits. I don’t know if that counts as weird, though. I also paint miniatures, even though I don’t play any tabletop games that actually use them. I just like the zen calm that comes with all those tiny details.
— My bio: Teacher, designer, and one-time stuntman (don’t ask), Christopher Ruz is a rabid fan of fantasy, science fiction, body horror and crime thrillers. Born in Hong Kong to well-travelled parents, Ruz was fortunate enough to live in South Africa and Vienna before returning to live and work in Australia. His love of dark fiction began when a worn copy of Pet Semetary caught his eye at a local flea market. He bought it with his pocket money and hid it under his bed so his parents wouldn’t see. He was eight years old, and has been a little odd ever since.
Ruz can also do twelve chinups. Neat!
His best known works are The Ragged Blade (Parvus Press, 2019) and his ongoing horror series Rust. Meanwhile, he publishes the Olesia Anderson series of pulpy spy novellas under the pseudonym D.D. Marks. He has sold stories to Andromeda Spaceways and Apollo’s Daughters, has beaten the grueling Immerse or Die challenge twice, and was a finalist in the 2017 Aurealis Awards. When not writing, Ruz teaches art and design at a west-Melbourne high school and works at boardgame conventions across Australia.
Okay, so let’s say you’ve read and applied the previous posts, you’ve started something and you had momentum for a while. But then something came up – maybe a cool new TV show was released and you’ve marathoned that for days. Or maybe you got sick or work got intense and you haven’t had the headspace to write.
It happens to everyone.
I find around the 8 – 10 thousand word mark I often trail off and think about a new, more exciting project I could be working on. I’ll can always come back to this one later, right?
How do you keep with the same thing?
Honestly? you just have to be super strict on yourself. There’s always going to be a time when you struggle to motivate. You have to find what motivates you. Here’s some ideas, but you have to find your own golden ticket…
Read through the plan for the book and remind yourself of the neat stuff to come
Write your back of the book blurb. Writing the blurb is so depressing and difficult I’d rather do almost anything but write it
Reconnect with your reason for writing – the most motivation I had was at the start of the year when I was in a job I actively disliked. I hated having to go into the office, and I wanted a way out – writing could be the way out, but I have to complete manuscripts for that to work
Daydream about your potential future readers, and how much they might love your story
Bribe yourself. I really want to play my new video game, but I have to get words down. Well, if I get X many words today, then I can take a break and play for half an hour. Then I can write more and ‘earn’ more time. Then if you get into the flow of writing, you can put the reward off a bit longer and earn bonus extra words. Brains are easy to trick sometimes!
Some sort of tracker or progress recorder, which has worked especially well for me lately (more on that soon)
It’s hard work.
You have to put the next words down or the thing will never get finished. But just think of the end point – if you get to the end of the manuscript then you will have finished a manuscript! and that’s pretty miraculous, really.
You just gotta want it and keep on wanting it as hard as you can. Then you do the work and keep on doing the work. Then one day you can type ‘the end’ and feel like the big goddamn hero that you are.
There’s no foolproof method here, it just comes down to understanding your own reasons for writing and what motivates you. If you want to write for money then of course you have to have completed manuscripts to publish. If you want to write to tell your story and share it with people – you have to have it finished to do that.
If you have a way to force yourself back into a WIP when you’re in that ‘fallen out of love’ stage please comment and let me know!
I’ve written before about a daily writing habit, but I think there’s more to actually writing. And by actually writing I really mean writing enough of a first draft to complete a piece of work. So, here we go…
Part three: the actual writing
Honestly? Finishing a draft is the hard bit because it requires self discipline and saying no, and forcing yourself to be creative. I don’t have a tried and true method for making any of this easy, but here’s the basic tenets I stick to, that I’ve found helpful to remember in terms of writing a first draft.
Don’t edit as you write – it’s really easy to fall into a trap of perfecting things as you go. You can’t do this. Your job when writing a first draft is to get the first draft done.
Don’t judge – following on from point one, it’s really easy to write something and immediately think ‘oh no, that sucks, I’m terrible’. You can’t do that on your first draft, instead you have to stick to your plan and …
Just spew it out – write as much as you can as fast as you can manage. There’s lots of quotes around this ‘you can’t edit a blank page’ and ‘you have to write what you’re going to throw away’, that kind of thing.
Don’t over commit or stress yourself out – signing up to something like NaNoWriMo or giving yourself a really big daily word count to start up with, or even telling yourself you have to write every day is a quick way to burn yourself out. Don’t put too much pressure on yourself. Maybe you just give yourself five minutes a day, or a half hour, or aim for 500 words, whatever works. Don’t call yourself a failure if you don’t manage to stick to your initial goal. Just look at your goal and see if you need to make a change to it. Then forgive yourself and try again when you can.
If it’s boring, skip to the next bit – this is a hard one to realise when you’re in the woods of writing, but if you’re struggling with a scene, it could be because it’s boring. You can either skip this bit (often when it’s ‘and then character A got to place B’ you can safely skip it). If it’s a scene you need for plot reasons, then my favourite way to fix it is to ask what would make it fun? Don’t let a boring scene slow you down, nothing boring has to be included. Readers will find it boring if you do. Another thing you can ask yourself is…
What’s the worst that could happen? – conflict drives story and reveals character, so look for it in every scene. Then at the end of the story, you can ask ‘what’s the best that could happen?’ and make things brilliant for your babies… well, assuming you’re writing something where everyone survives and your leads get a happy ending. I’m writing romance at the moment and it may be influencing things.
You have permission to write whatever – I know this is kind of obvious, but I have definitely run up against an internal belief that I have to write something worthy or I’m wasting my time. Now, this is a stupid belief and it needs deconstructing.
First: what is worthy? I don’t know, but it sounds stuffy and elitist.
Second: Why the fuck shouldn’t you write just exactly what you want to write?
Third: Forget worthy. Channel your inner child, think about the coolest most fun thing you can imagine and tell a story about that. Worthy is a trap (and an excuse not to write).
So, there you have it. Those are the things I try and remember, and generally this has helped me.
Some other hacks if I’m having trouble getting going:
write on paper in a cafe or library
voice to text on whatever programme you have, and dictate your story
alternate writing on a new draft with another project – have both open in tabs on your laptop and switch between them when you get distracted