When I hosted Eric's post on my blog last week, one line jumped out at me: "But it's also important to know if you don't stretch your limits, you won't get better." That encapsulates my approach to writing (and everything) as well as just about any one sentence could. So I wanted to riff on that for a bit.
A big part of my background is in experiential education. We would create experiences for kids that pushed them in one way or another. And if an activity felt too easy, we always told them that they could choose to make it more difficult. The bigger the challenge (usually), the bigger the reward. Climbing a rock wall too easy? Go for the harder route or limit which color holds you let yourself use. Solving a brainteaser group problem not hard enough? Blindfold half your team. Crossing a webbed bridge up in the rafters of the university gym doesn't get your fear reflexes going? Try crossing while balancing on just one side of the bridge or switching back and forth without stepping down in the middle—and don't touch those safety lines.
We had an expression, "Challenge by choice," and kids were never forced to do something too far beyond what they believed they could do. But for those who were ready, there were always ways to bump it up a notch.
I take that same philosophy to my writing. Not needlessly—I don't randomly choose to type out my next story with one arm in a fake sling or throw in artificial obstacles. But I do approach each story as a challenge to try something new.
When I first started writing the Spire City episodes, my middle child was a newborn, and my wife was just going back to work. So part of the challenge was simply finding the time and space to write in the middle of taking care of my children.
Some of the other things I did, though, was to take inspiration from some other sources that hadn't typically been a part of my writing. The TV-show influence is clear in the wording we use: seasons and episodes—and initially I even called my scene breaks commercial breaks, just for keeping my mind in that groove. It was never, to be clear, that I imagined I was writing for a TV show. I always intended the episodes to be read. I love words, love to arrange them just so to evoke the images I want. So don't imagine that I only wrote these stories in prose because I couldn't afford to make a TV show or movie. But I did try to see TV episodes from a writer's angle and take what I could from their approach and apply it to a written story, transformed as it must be.
And the influence isn't probably obvious to readers, but I looked closely at the TV show Firefly to figure out why it inspires so much devotion among fans. One effect of that is that Spire City is an ensemble story. I have a tendency, I'm well aware of, of writing stories about loners. They wander through strange and evocative settings and face their trials alone, whether there are people around them or not. So it was a healthy challenge for me to create a group of outcasts and not just a single protagonist. Their struggle is a communal one, and the focus varies from episode to episode among the different characters.
Every time I begin a new project, I try something new. So as season shifts to season, my goals become higher still, my ambition to create an engaging story that stays with readers becomes even bigger. The narrative strands twist and mature, and the stakes become higher and more poignant.
Will I succeed in making Spire City everything I hope it to be? Who can say, but the challenge of trying to reach that will make it a better, stronger story, one that reaches out to readers and drags them into the trials and dangers of its steampunk world of chained singers and giant beetles, mad science and deadly infections. And as the famous quote goes, "Ah, but a man's reach should exceed his grasp, / Or what's a heaven for?" (Robert Browning, "Andrea del Sarto").
Daniel Ausema is the creator of the steampunk-fantasy serial fiction project Spire City. The second bundle of season 1 episodes ("Epidemic") releases on October 17, and Season Two: Pursued begins serialization on November 28. He has also written a novella for the shared world project The Darkside Codex (also published by Musa) and has had short stories and poems published in many magazines and anthologies. He lives in Colorado, at the foot of the Rocky Mountains.
Targeted by a deadly infection, these outcasts band together to uncover the truth and to fight back.
Spire City is home to mighty machines of steam power and clockwork, and giant beetles pull picturesque carriages over cobbled streets, but there is a darker secret behind these wonders. A deadly infection, created by a mad scientist, is spreading through the city, targeting the poor and powerless, turning them slowly into animals. A group of those infected by the serum join together to survive, to trick the wealthy out of their money, and to fight back.
Buy Epidemic or any of Daniel Ausema's Musa works