Interview: with Jessica Nelson-Tyers
Jessica Nelson-Tyers lives in Eden with an assortment of wildlife (including snakes and apple trees) and has two little mites of her own. She writes spec fiction, YA and picture books, and served as editor for Andromeda Spaceways #67. You’ll find Jessica on Twitter @JessNelsonTyers. Her story The Free Range Option is featured in Breach Issue #02.
There are millions of people around the world with great story ideas, but who never even start to write them down. What drives you to sit down and aim for finished, published stories?
The short answer would be masochism.
The longer answer would be wrapped up in my self-identity. Since primary school I’ve had the ambition to become a writer, but I put it on the backburner for a long time. For a long time I was scared to write anything and send it off because I was afraid I wouldn’t be brilliant, and it wouldn’t be accepted. Eventually I got to trying, wrote a story, sent it off. And it wasn’t brilliant, and it wasn’t accepted. But it was a beginning, and (since I’m a sucker for punishment) I kept writing and found that despite all the frustration, it really made me happy. So I kept on going. I’m getting better and it keeps me busy!
Are there any horror/fantasy/sci-fi tropes or sub genres which you feel are played out? And vice versa, what tropes would you like to see more of?
This is a difficult one. I really wouldn’t want to put anyone off writing what they’re inspired to write. A lot of tropes are repeated time and time again because they are loved: the urge to take those themes and run with them is understandable. The things which are the biggest tropes in speculative genres (werewolves, vampires, zombies, ghosts, robots who can really feel, witches, and so on) people keep coming back for. The problem is, they tend to be too predictable. I want to see more of them and at the same time I never want to see them again. I think they’re some of the very hardest things to give an original twist to, but if you can do it, you’ll have fans.
Tropes that are less redeemable (from my point of view) are things like totally homogeneous alien species, powerful men rescuing helpless women and pseudo-scientific science fiction.
What books are beside your bed right now?
My main read right now is American Gods, by Neil Gaiman. Then there’s The Writing Book, by Kate Grenville, which I’ve been ducking in and out of. My kindle is also on my bedside table. On that I’m reading Harlequin’s Riddle, by Rachel Nightingale, for the purpose of a review, and re-reading Night Shift by Stephen King. As you may guess, I’m chronically incapable of reading just one book at a time.
To what degree do you feel everything has already been written, in some form or another? Have you ever started writing a story, only to discover someone has already written it?
I think that most big ideas have been ‘done’ in some form or another—writers have to be brilliant or lucky to come up with a story that doesn’t borrow or repeat any elements. But at the same time, every old idea can be approached in a new way. Writing isn’t like paint-by-numbers; it’s full of complexities and invention. The writer’s voice can bring something new to a story, or characters can act in unexpected ways, with unexpected outcomes. Ideas and settings can be deconstructed and pulped, blended and recycled. There will always be new stories to write.
I certainly have found that a story I was beginning had already been done. I had a great (and as far as I knew, original) idea for a fairy tale twist—snow white as a vampire. It would explain her snowy white face and red lips, her stepmother’s drive to dispatch her, and of course her habit of coming back from the dead. I was getting revved up making story notes when it occurred to me to Google it—only to find that the idea had been executed back in 1994, and by Neil Gaiman, no less. The story is Snow, Glass, Apples, if you want to look it up.