I was raised in godless, liberal Madison, Wisconsin, where I still live and work in order to support a longstanding travel habit. I always called myself a writer, but it wasn’t until about ten years ago that I really made an effort to learn the craft. That was when I was diagnosed with MS, and I created my first blog as therapy for that. Currently, in addition to posting poetry and prose on my blogs, I’m working on a high fantasy novel, and hope to have that published in 2021; that will be my debut novel.
What is your greatest accomplishment as a writer so far?
This last year, a poem of mine was included in the anthology, As the World Burns; Writers and Artists Reflect on a World Gone Mad (Indie Blu(e) Publishing, 2020); that was the first time I’d been invited to submit my work, and it’s an extraordinary time capsule, and I was in the company of many authors I admire. I look forward to working on other projects with that group in the future.
Why do you write?
To function in society. That was true before MS, but between that and depression and the magical-realist lens through which I’ve always seen life, if I didn’t write to channel it all, I’d either be dead or institutionalized. Also, I’d be lying if I didn’t say that I do it to entertain myself with worlds I’d rather live in. But writing SFF gives me the ability to write social commentary too, so it’s not just self-indulgent escapism.
What is your writing process? (Any favorite places to write? Any interesting quirks, traditions, or rituals you may have? How many times might you revise something before being satisfied with it? Besides you, does anyone else edit your work? Etc.)
My processes for poetry and prose are pretty different. I won’t revise a poem more than twice — and no one else edits it — but I will rewrite the same chapter of my book five times before I say it’s good enough to give to my editors/friends/beta readers. In all my writing, though, I read everything out loud when I consider it the next-to-final draft. The full audiobook treatment; it’s the best part.
My writing habits are dictated a lot by how well I feel, but I try to write at least a paragraph every morning — before work on a weekday, but on weekends, I will write (or rewrite) all day if I can. I can write anywhere, but I usually wrestle my cat for the sunny spot on the living room couch.
As for rituals, when I’m dealing with some blockage or just testing something new, I do Tarot readings. Just a single card can illuminate some aspect of a character or plot line that’s giving me trouble. I have different decks for different sorts of problems.
Do you have anyone (friends, relatives, etc.) review your works before you publish them?
Not often for the blog, or other publications I’ve submitted poems to, but for the novel, absolutely. It’s a good thing my critique partner/editor, Audra, is such a fan of it because I’ve given her so many new drafts and it’s been years… I’m also grateful to my friend Kat, who writes middle-grade SFF/horror and is a master editor; she doesn’t really have time for my work these days but everything I write passes the scrutiny of my ‘inner Kat’. And also I’m lucky to be married to someone who’s well-versed in SFF; Steve is way better than a Tarot deck when it comes to serious plot dilemmas.
Could you give us an idea of your upcoming works without spoiling anything?
I can tell you about To Tune the Beast, the novel in progress; it won’t be a spoiler since I don’t have a publication date, and everyone will have forgotten all about it by the time it comes out! It features manticores that are essentially living instruments, several non-human species, parasitic ghosts, revolutionaries, a tyrannical musical aristocracy, and several star-crossed lovers including the protagonists — two young women from opposite sides of the class divide. I call it a ‘high fantasy’ but it’s really a romance with monsters. My plan for 2021, in addition to publishing “The Beast”, is to write a satisfying number of short monstrous romances.
What do you hope to achieve as a writer?
To create memorable characters and worlds that will occupy the brains of as many human beings besides myself as I can manage, and do no lasting psychological harm.
What advice do you have for novice writers?
Even if you consider yourself a novice, never call yourself an amateur. That is advice I actually got from Gene Wolfe (may he rest in peace), who replied to a letter in which I’d spoken of myself as an amateur by saying “If you write, you’re a writer; that’s what it means.” So, in other words, forget about your list of publications, read and befriend good writers and develop your craft, and write every day. And don’t worry that by studying the styles of the writers you admire, you’ll be derivative. I always wanted to write like Gene Wolfe, but instead I pretty much ended up just sounding like myself.
What do you feel are the most important resources a writer can use?
The WordPress poetry and fiction and art community is amazing. That’s how I discovered The Chamber. A lot of writers are out there sharing great information on the literary craft and business, and though comments will never take the place of critique, the support and inspiration you get are invaluable. Writers’ conventions are useful, but if you write SFF/horror, it can be underrepresented as a genre. So if there’s a sci-fi Con near you, and it offers writing workshops, take advantage of that. Or come to Madison! We’re the home of WisCon, a world-class feminist sci-fi Con with excellent writers’ workshops, which are unbelievably affordable. (I’m looking forward to when it’s in-person again, but hopefully they’ll run it online this year.)
Where can people find out more about you and your writing? (websites, social media, etc.)
My two blogs are Away from the Machine (awayfromthemachine.wordpress.com, mostly poetry) and The Fairy of Disenchantment (thefairyofdisenchantment.wordpress.com, which has most of my older writings). You can also find me on Twitter @SunHesper, and Instagram @sunhesper (caveat: there’s not much there but pictures of knitting, craft beers, instruments, and my cat).