Julie Czerneda stands when she writes. She has a nifty table that goes up-and-down with the push of a button. It puts her keyboard at the exact height she needs, and the stand-up approach to writing, she says, prevents back aches. It also helps her get more out of her writing.
For an author with a dozen or more books under her belt, at least one on the go at the moment, and another five under contract, she wants all the writing time she can get.
She doesn’t write at a specific time each day, she doesn’t write to a routine – maybe two hours at a time – until it comes to the crunch or until she becomes so caught up in the story she writes all-out. “I write until I’m done. I have to finish the book,” she explains. It’s then her husband, Roger, steps in and “manages” her, she says, grinning. “He has to feed me. I’m totally oblivious.”
Czerneda has lived in Lanark County since December 2016. She and her husband moved into a big, old house when snow was on the ground. The very day they moved she learned the deadline for her latest book had been pushed ahead and she had just four months to get it done.
Needless to say, Roger stepped and took over the move.
There are still a few boxes here and there, still some renovation going on but Czerneda’s stand-up table sits squarely in front of the window in her office, ready for use.
Previously, the two had lived “a wilderness life,” but thoughtfully pulled up stakes and headed to a small community. They’re both creative individuals, her husband is a photographer and graphic designer, and Czerneda says they’d tapped out living in the woods. The move also brought them closer to their two children. And finally, they’re around people, which in the wilderness, says Czerneda dryly, you’re not.
The 62-year-old has been writing fantasy for 20 years, non-fiction since 1985 and has been “making stories” since she was 10.
As a child she was a “voracious” reader and often, if she didn’t like the ending, wrote her own.
At first, science fiction was her favourite (and private) pastime. Her husband wormed a confession out of her after the birth of one of their children that she had a drawerful of unfinished science fiction stories and persuaded her to dust them off, finish one and send it away for publication. She hasn’t looked back since.
Eventually she left her ‘real job’ as a senior science editor at a major publishing house and jumped squarely, with both feet, into her true passion — writing fiction.
She transitions between science fiction and fantasy, and in 1998 was a finalist for the John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer. She also signed a contract for three more novels that year.
Much of what she writes now is published by DAW Books, a division of Penguin Publishing Group that boasts discovering and publishing the hottest talents in sci-fi and fantasy. “So we have a steady income and job security,” Czerneda quips.
How does she write is really the question – outline, dialogue, worlds — how does she put it all together?
Before beginning A Turn of Light, the world of Marrowdell was planned and built to scale — mountains, rivers, homes, trails — each painted and sculpted. Czerneda even moved a horizontal LED flashlight to ‘watch’ the sun come up in the morning and go down at night. This makes her characters’ actions believable, looking over the valley towards the river, or heading to the Bone Mountains. So before Czerneda writes about them, she can visualize them on the location model.
But that’s not all. “I need basic information in-hand,” she says.
She does a lot of research, she top-loads before beginning. She has a book of names, she does her scientific reading and she gathers information throughout the year, or years, before. “When there’s enough research, I get itchy to write,” she explains.
In A Turn of Light, many of the place names are taken from the small villages along the Opeongo Road, which runs along the Ottawa River. “This was deliberate. I wanted history and place.”
Because her husband is such a hockey fan, many of the names in To Guard Against the Dark are derived from NHL hockey players’ names.
As she’s been writing for many years, Czerneda has had time to look back over the decades and reflect. “Writing is both intimate and public. Going public with your writing is a brave act,” she says. And she knows if “you don’t put everything into your writing, your public will know. But if you do, people will read you for life.”
After all is said and done, after the research, the outlining, the hours writing, the months preparing, for Czerneda, it’s still a “joyful activity.”
This article was first published in the November issue of Hometown News. For more articles from our November issue, pick up a print copy at a local retailer or read our digital version.