Nevets: About Writing

The thoughts of author C. N. Nevets on fiction writing. Be sure to leave a comment at the bottom with your own thoughts or additional questions!

The CraftThe WordsThe WorkThe Stories

The Craft

There are two main ways to characterize my approach to the craft of writing.  The first is the lesson I was given as a teenager by Hugo and Nebula award-winning author Vonda McIntyre, thanks to the wonders of CompuServe “e-mail.”  She told me that, for her, being a writer is the same as being a storyteller.   In that vein, the most important goal I have for my writing is to use my words in order to create a space for my thoughts and yours to interplay, as around a campfire at night when your imagination might be inspired to roam the darkness by a tale I was telling.

The second is found in the Unified Theory of Writing by literary author Scott G. F. Bailey:

“There is only the narrative, focused now and then through different voices and pushed through a plot. That’s all. Sometimes there isn’t a plot, just voice and theme (which is another aspect of voice).”

I don’t pretend to understand literature well enough to truly internalize everything this means, but probably my most important take away from this is to stop dissecting my writing into little pieces.  Those pieces are, for me, just different perspectives on the same whole — and that whole is the verbal expression of a narrative.

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Public Domain portrait of French Symbolist poet Stephane Mallarme

The Words

I am not, strictly-speaking, a literary writer.  I appreciate literature, and I certainly value and aspire to many literary qualities in my writing. At the end of the day, however, I do not think of words in a way that considers them inherently valuable.   From time to time, I do select words because of their appearance or their sound, but generally only when the narrative seems to demand it.

Instead, I mostly approach words as a communicator, placing utmost importance on meaning and evocation.  Most of the time, I choose words for their meaning, in all the precisely nuanced semantic glory that meaning can be found.  Importantly, I do think that meaning is more than lexical.  Language has a social and cultural context that adds a layer of meaning — and that may even more than one layer, given that the author, the narrative, and the reader may not all share the same socio-cultural context.  Additionally, like the French symbolists of the late 19th and very early 20th century, I think that literature is an art and that words act as ad conjure up symbols, so that they point readers obliquely towards a kind of meaning that cannot be taken in “head-on.”

Two of the most important lessons I’ve learned about being a writer have come from award-winning crime novelists R. J. Ellory and Ryan David Jahn: (1) Don’t be cynical about your chances. Choose to believe in yourself and be persistent instead. (2) Don’t sit around and wait for inspiration to strike or your characters to speak to you, when you can actually use the time to get some writing done.  

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Public Domain portrait of French Symbolist poet Paul Verlaine

The Work

I work a full-time job in Information Technology, and I teach anthropology and systems part-time.  I am involved in a variety of volunteer activities.  I am a husband, a brother, a son.  I am a homeowner.  I cannot afford to treat writing like a job, because I don’t have an extra 40 hours a week to give to it. At the same time, I cannot afford to treat writing like an ephemeral thing that comes and goes as it wishes.  The secret to writing when you don’t have a lot of time is to actually write when you actually have a little time. Everything else can be dealt with on its own time.  

The most important thing is to write, and to take charge of that writing, rather than to allow myself to be at the mercy of fears of rejection or the capricious whims of characters and plots that, after all, I am creating.

It is also critical (though often difficult) to write without fear, not regretting what you’ve taken your chances on.  In college writing classes, I unfortunately learned to write with fear.  My dark themes and broken characters often made fellow students uncomfortable and my frank style was not to their taste.  Their responses were perfectly valid and fine, but I began thinking too much about those reactions when I wrote.  It was many years later, thanks to the wonderful folks at the internet communities Flashy Fiction and The Literary Lab ‚Äčthat I learned to once again let my authorial voice speak freely without fear.‚Äč  Sometimes that has meant taking critical lumps, but if I were to start regretting what I wrote because of a few bumps and bruises, I would be saying that I wished I’d listened to my fears.

When you write with fear, you may sometimes save yourself a little drama, but you also keep yourself from a lot of pride and the tremendous joy found in creating something honest and real, something that inspires a genuine, personal connection in readers.

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The Garden of Death
by Finnish symbolist painter Hugo Simberg
(public domain)

The Stories

My writing can fall into a variety of categories: fantasy, horror, thriller, literary.  My stories tend to be tense, dark, sometimes sad, sometimes scary, but always with a strong element of hope.  I explore personality, culture, and relationships.  I deal primarily with tightly-defined groups of people in well-bounded local settings.

Writers are often asked to describe their writing in terms of other works with which people are already familiar.  This can be a challenge, but it can also be very useful for readers who are trying to decide how interested they are in reading, as well as what mindset to take into the material of a new author.

As in the works of R. J. Ellory and Ryan David Jahn, the internal realities of characters are the heart of my stories, but the external particulars of unique situations are important for understanding the forces shaping those characters and their actions.  Like Lames Lee Burke and Michael Koryta, I value the character of places themselves and how stories unfold for individuals as members of a society.  Like Dean Koontz, the gruesome and the supernatural in my fiction exist not for their own sake, but as part of the crucible of life as experienced by those characters.

Like literary author Chuck Palahniuk, I tend to take on big, philosophical questions, and to tackle them with symbolism and larger-than-life violence.  As found in the westerns of Oakley Hall, those philosophical questions tend to reflect existentialist questions of self, power, absurdity, and morality much like those framed by French philosopher and literary author Albert Camus. As with fantasy author Sheri S. Tepper, I am interested in the nature of personhood and wrestling with those things that can either bring us together or divide us from one another.

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