Monday, September 10, 2007


I have never kept a blog before, so this is a test drive for me. In fact, I'm not certain I keep a blog, in that content remains a theoretical problem. Why do people read other peope's blogs? Why do they read writers' blogs? Why are you reading this?
So I'll start with a writing question: How much does one have to know about a setting and culture to use it in a story? I ask this because I'm currently working on a story set in China, a country in which I have spent all of six days (see report and pictures under NEWS). This feels a bit hubristic. On the other hand, I've never been to Mars, either, or to a space station, or to the future, yet I've set stories in all those places.
Thoughts, anyone?
--Nancy Kress


ontheroad said...

Nancy, I'm reading your blog becuase I'm thinking about writing my own blog.
As to your question about your travels to China and writing, I spent all of 10 days driving around Scotland on the wrong side of the road. What inspiration! Doing anything new is so important to imagination. It is the food of imagination. Some days, all we can do is try a new flavor of soup, or drive to some place on some new roads, or try out a new word. I’d be a fool to use that trip in writing, mostly because I have only a few chapters to my name. It seems that for someone as accomplished as yourself, the experience should be enough to play with and work with.
I cherish all the excessive photos I took on my trip and wish I had doubled, tripled what I snapped. Oh, and the smells. I never could understand some of what I smelled, but it seemed to be, and turned out to be important. For what I don’t know, but I have nothing to hold onto unless I smell those smells again.
I ate no food that was not a new experience for me.
And the voices, and the faces, and the peculiar skin tones and hair colors. I was often just captivated by the high brows, hairlines, hair textures. And I could go on, about the homes, fields, mountains, streams, and countless sheep.
The important thing is, I experienced so much that was new and different. Don’t those things allow me to imagine beyond what is my day-to-day reality? Don’t they open me to other possibilities that can only be imagined, but could be true if I could travel to the land of my imagination?
Stan Ontheroad

Blue Tyson said...


Firstly, I saw the link at Asimov's to here, so thought I would have a look.

Why am I reading it? Recently I had been going through and rating lot of the short stories I had read and realised, hey, this Nancy Kress, a lot of high numbers there. :)

I have read some of your novels, etc.(Sleepless, Probability, etc.), and liked them but because of the above I went out and bought a collection.

Anyway, writers I like that have blogs/journals etc. I find useful because they are likely to tell me about new work. Even better when it is short story work that you won't hear about, in general.

For instance, even though Greg Egan' site is not a blog, it does have a comprehensive bibliography with clear notes of 'story coming in Asimov's' as of a long time ago. Something to look forward to, in other words.

I personally don't really care if your dishes are done or not like Elizabeth Bear might mention, or whether John Scalzi can stick bacon to cats, but that certainly entertains some people.

The other thing is it is nice to have somewhere you can ask a question, or clarification about, for example - you have a new story/book - what is it about (or type, if you write say, sf/fantasy/westerns or whatever).

As opposed to the old days of write a letter to a publisher and ask something and have a billion to one chance of an answer in Australia. Down to about a million to one perhaps when emailing them, the larger variety, anyway. :)

From other similar sites a lot of wannabe writers (I am not) seem to like to see bits and pieces about that sort of thing from accomplished professionals. That can even be interesting to the rest of us some of the time.

Certainly how you come up with stories - re: the China comment most definitely is.

Or even stuff about SF in general, science, or whatever.

Just a feeling to me, and I may be wrong, is that the men are a bit further advanced in this sort of thing (looking at number of stories posted online was one thing I did here, for example).

Maybe they are more egotistical (would rather write than show off), don't get as many weirdos or whatever, so are happier to do this sort of thing, but I would definitely like to see more from female practitioners of sf.

I actually put a list together the other day of all the people published in the 'Year's Best' SF type books since Dozois started, and you were in the top 3. Can't help but think you have some very interesting and important things to say.

Blue Tyson said...

Something I forgot : laziness/forgetfulness.

Blogs have nifty automated rss feeds that let you see if they have new stuff, with google reader, etc. rather than having a manual checklist, or writing a program to see if they have changed.

This is a good thing, as far as getting people to come back, or remembering 'hey, have not looked at her website in a long time'

Nancy Kress said...

Three comments on Day 1! I'm psyched.
Ontheroad -- I've been to Scotland once, to St. Andrews, which I thought was one of the most beautiful places I've ever seen. Old ruins and golden fields sloping down to a grey sea.
Bluetyson -- You can find news about my upcoming stories on my website, at (This has been a paid political announcement :)
I worked yesterday on the China story, whose characters have left Sichuan and are now in San Diego, a city I know only slightly, Every time I've been there, the area has been on fire. A few visits ago, a forest fire took out 1100 acres of Camp Pendeleton. Anyway, my stories usually start with a vague idea that, about halfway or two-thirds of the way through, crystallizes into a definite idea (This of course necessitates rewriting the first half). So far with the China-San Diego story, the vague idea is still vague. Not good.

Blue Tyson said...

Cool. Exactly the sort of thing I was wondering about.

Natural sort of stuff for blog entries, too, as they come. :)

Ruhan Zhao said...


Glad to see you open your blog!

I am happy to know your trip to China was wonderful and that you came up with a story on China so quickly. I am eager to wait to see it.

To answer your first question, I sometimes read some SF writers blog since I love the writer's work and want to know news about the writer, thoughts of the writer and other interesting real life stroies around the writer. You are of course my favorite SF writer. Hope you keep this blog going.

About setting and culture to know for a story: I think writing a story about Mars and writing a story on China are different since not too many people have been on Mars:) but many people are living in China. So to write a story on China, I think you'd best go to China sometime to see the people, to touch the ground and to feel the culture. For Mars or Space Station, basically you are the one who creats the setting and culture things there, so you don't need to go there, and we readers just believe you since we will probably never be there.

Unknown said...

Nancy, I'm delighted to see you have a blog! I'll be checking in regularly.

none said...

We're looking for the magic key :).

I think you need to know at least enough about the setting to convince the average reader. Who the average reader is, that's another question. Probably someone who's not been to China, but has some preconceptions about it.

One problem I've found with research is that if what you've learnt conflicts with those preconceptions, readers are likely to assume you haven't done the research. So it's a double-edged sword imo.

Unknown said...

Great to see you have a blog. Am reading your books, so have questions about how to write well, esp. sci/fi. So, hope you will answers some questions on writing.

If you'd like more info on Silk Road history, see Carla Nappi's website at Montana State University. Click on her syllabus for HIST 401 too.

Anonymous said...

Nancy, I didn't know that u started a blog until seeing the link on Michael Swanwick's. I'm so glad you did! I love reading friends' blogs, being updated with their news/thoughts/whatever they are willing to share, -- this is part of the answer to your first question. The other part is, reading blogs is a nice way to communicate with the blogwriters, friends or random interesting/inspiring people. To me it's more casual and more spontaneous than phone calls or emails, more like sitting together physically.

As to the settings, I think the difference between Mars and China is that nobody really knows Mars but 1/5 of the world population understand China well. So writing about Mars is much easier. Given that, I still believe you'll do well with your China stories. You've got a flavor of China in that 6 days, and writing is probably one of the best ways to understand Chinese culture. And we'll be here if you need any help from us! :)

Steven Francis Murphy said...

Well, the difference between China and Mars is that no human has been to Mars. No one is around with direct first hand experience to poke a hole in any portrayal of Mars short of someone like Geoffrey Landis.

Glad you got a blog. I plug your writing books all the time.

S. F. Murphy
Living in a place next to Kansas called Missouri

José Iriarte said...

I've recently started to read blogs of some authors I like because I hope I'll find it useful to my own writing. This comment is going to be temporally out of place, because I've now read your blog from the back to the front, so to speak, but I've read comments to the effect that your conversations with others, whether it be fellow writers or even your writing students, sometimes lead you to insights that help your own writing. Well I don't have the luxury of conversing with authors, so I'm hoping that reading authors' blogs will spark that same sort of thought process in me.

Okay, why lie. I'm waxing the cat. At least blog-reading doesn't take up as much time as some other non-writing diversions.

On a note tangential to the topic of your China story, writing about China is different from writing about Mars in that none of your readers have been to Mars either, but some of them have been to China, and even lived there. That being said, after six days in China you are very nearly an expert in being a stranger in China, and that ain't nothing. :o)