How did “The Dragon’s Hand” originate? What inspirations did you draw on?
The germ of this story was a little flight of fancy I had one day, involving a young dragon that went into a cave and then grew so much that it couldn’t get out. Then I realized it fit into a series of stories I’ve been writing off and on for (eek) fifteen years now. This is the fourth to be published, after “Wizard’s Six,” “Dragon’s Teeth,” and “Chisel and Chime.” Several more are in progress. The twin guideposts for all of them are Earthsea and Viriconium.
What is your writing process like? Did this story fit the pattern?
Insofar as I have a single writing process, it tends to go something like: Have intriguing thought. Ruminate on it. Scribble down notes and ideas. Repeat for several years. Figure out what story is actually trying to be. Finish story.
The “several years” part is really the only consistent element, although generally I can’t write the beginning of a story until I know the ending.
What is your writing space like? What do you like to have around for optimal creativity?
For years I wrote in bars and coffee shops. Then COVID came along and I started drinking less coffee, so I rented an office. Now I do most of my writing there. I find that when I’m home, I’m easily distractible. Nothing like a perplexing story problem to make you want to do the dishes, you know? Plus if my family’s around, I would usually rather do stuff with them. Walk the dogs, go hiking, play pickleball, etc., etc. But at the office, I really have to work.
Did you get stuck at any point while writing this? How did you get past that?
I get stuck with every story I write. The trick for me is to put it down, go away from it for a while, let all the ideas and impulses and images ferment a little more. It just takes time and patience.
Do you have any advice for other writers?
I’m not sure my career is a useful model, but if I was going to offer advice it would be: Keep making yourself uncomfortable. Try everything. I started off writing short stories, poetry, a play once in a while. Then I tried a novel, and that was A Scattering of Jades. Then people started inquiring: Did I want to try games? Sure! Comics? You bet! Licensed and tie-in novels? Why not?
The one mistake I made was letting licensed stuff take over for a while. I went several years writing very little original fiction, mostly because I had bills to pay and licensed work combined with games made for a reliable income—which I needed, because I’ve got four kids and a mortgage. But that cost me in another way, I think.
I remember before my first comic came out, an editor at Marvel told me that everyone who read my comics would run right out and buy my novels, and that did not happen. In fact there’s been virtually no overlap between audiences of my licensed stuff and my original books and stories. So when I focused on the licensed work, I went more than ten years between original novels, and that’s more than enough time for people to forget who you are. You lose momentum, you don’t show up on awards ballots, and so forth. Most of the stuff I published in the ’00s is out of print now. So maybe that’s Item Two of my advice: Make sure you keep carving time out for your own stories. I started doing that again about five years ago, and I’m glad I did.
Also, I write all different kinds of stories, which has probably made it difficult to develop a following. The people who liked A Scattering of Jades are not always the same people who were going to like Buyout or Anthropocene Rag. But I decided early on that I was going to write the stuff I wanted to write. So I don’t really have a brand as a writer, I don’t think, and that’s okay with me. I kind of admire people who write the same kind of story over and over, or spend years writing long series, but I can’t do it. There are too many things I still want to try.
What are you reading lately? What writers inspire you?
Ten books I’ve read recently and would recommend:
Night of the Living Rez, Morgan Talty
The Violent Century, Lavie Tidhar
A Psalm for the Wild-Built, Becky Chambers
Transit, Anna Seghers
Ormeshadow, Priya Sharma
The Sunken Land Begins to Rise Again, M. John Harrison
Jakarta, Rodrigo Marquez Tizano
The Books of Jacob, Olga Tokarczuk
Cult of Chaos, Shweta Taneja
The Turner House, Angela Fluornoy
What are you working on lately? Where else can fans look for your work?
I have another story coming in Lightspeed shortly after this one, I believe. More Borea stories will be coming soon. I recently finished a new novel, so we’ll see what happens with that, and the next novel after it is already cooking. Also it’s been a while since I did any comics, so I’ve got some new projects cooking on that front. Anyone who’s curious can check out a sporadically updated website at alex-irvine.com or follow me on Twitter, where I’m @alexirvine.
As always, thanks for reading!
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