Writing Like I Used To: A Guest Post By Julie E. Czerneda

It was my pleasure to host Julie E. Czerneda when she launched her fantasy debut A Turn of Light, and I’m so glad she wanted to come back to talk about her return to science fiction, This Gulf of Time and Stars!

This Gulf of Time and Stars releases November 3, 2015. Learn more about the series and author below, and please welcome Julie E. Czerneda!

Any skill improves with practice. Usually, that’s a good thing. It’s easier to trust a mechanic who’s worked on more than one car, just as you hope a surgeon has done a procedure several times, and successfully, before taking a scalpel to your flesh. Writing’s the same. I’ve a much better grasp of semi-colons now. I think.

But writing isn’t about the rules of grammar, although those help make it comprehensible. The tricky thing with writing is authorial voice. I didn’t realize I even had one when I started out, but everyone does. Word choice, cadence, what to show and what not—it comes together, willy-nilly, and the result is, well, how each of us tells a story.

Over time, and different stories, that authorial voice evolves, for we change with life. Usually that’s a very good thing. I like how I write now, and it’s not just my semi-colons. I strive to do better with each new book and that effort drives me forward. I’ve achieved a level of self-confidence; enough to be aware when I’m writing my best and when I should stop for the day.

Then I picked up a book I wrote twenty years ago and it could have been written by a stranger.

I stared at the hand pressed near my cheek. It had five fingers, tipped with small, blunt nails, one broken. There were smudges of dirt on the palm and back; the clean skin was paler, except where a spider’s web of red marked the edges of a cut. It was mine, I decided, confused by the delay in recognition. (From A Thousand Words for Stranger)

A Thousand Words for Stranger

Cover credit Luis Royo

I’d confidence then too, but it was the confidence of a person who wrote for an audience of one, myself. The authorial voice is almost breathless. Excited, I remember. As a result, most of the story and world-building stayed in my head with the adventurous bits coming out as words.

I enjoyed the book, especially the parts I’d forgotten, but—it wasn’t how I write. Egad, it was even in first person!

Oh dear. And I was to write six more?

I quailed. For two months, I was convinced I’d have to tell my editor I couldn’t do it, meaning among other things I’d have to somehow pay back the advance on the outstanding books. I brought home an application to work at Timmies, mostly to threaten myself with—not that I wouldn’t have enjoyed pouring coffee, but it wasn’t what I wanted to do with my life.

You know things worked out. This was how. If I couldn’t write as I had before, I told myself at last, I could still tell a damned good story. I made myself ignore, for the moment, the unfamiliar authorial voice of the Trade Pact trilogy. I’d treat Stratification as I had any other project, choosing to use third person because that felt more comfortable. I’d build the worlds, find my characters, work the plot.

The world-building helped. Cersi and its aliens filled my head until I stopped worrying. Then, I found my starting point, a deliberate echo from the past for my readers.

Aryl Sarc stared at the hand near her face. It was hers, the knuckles white with strain beneath smudges of dirt. She eased her grip slightly, looked ahead for the next. She’d never been this high before. Didn’t matter. Couldn’t matter. She took a deep breath. (from Reap the Wild Wind)

Reap Coverpro Cover credit: Luis Royo

As did I. I settled in to write, only to run head-long into a technical problem. Telepathy.
I’d established in the Trade Pact trilogy that the Clan, and some Humans, have the ability to talk mind-to-mind. Emotions are shared that way too, depending on the individuals. I hadn’t had to write “inner speech” for quite some time.* I remembered DAW had a house style for it. What was that again?
I scrambled back to Thousand to remind myself. Yes. Italics. That was the ticket. Sort of. In books since, without telepathy, I’d used italics sparingly for emphasis. Eventually I tried to avoid using them at all. It felt very weird to have them all over the place, at first.

I surged ahead anyway, looking over my shoulder at the Trade Pact and my notes as necessary.


The first two books of Stratification developed their own momentum. I had this. Book three, Rift in the Sky was more complex, since it had to flow into the Trade Pact and lay the foundation for Reunification, but obsessive outlining was my friend.


For reasons I’ve discussed in Going Dark, Why Gulf is So Different, I put the Clan Chronicles aside for five years, writing fantasy instead. I plotted and poked at Reunification, because it was humming along in that part of the brain reserved for unfinished stories, but didn’t write. I won’t say writing fantasy was exactly helpful, because I worked very hard to change my authorial voice and did.
Suddenly, it was time to write science fiction again. First person, no less. Oh dear.

Remember how I quailed back when? Not so this time. This time I recognized my fear of failure for what it was, and put it aside. Regaining my sf voice was as easy as writing a short story “A Taste for Murder.” Writing Sira di Sarc, first person, as well as Morgan and Barac?

Like slipping on a glove. This time, I didn’t look back over my shoulder. I filled my head with detail—what needed to be mentioned, what was new—and cut loose. It was exhilarating and, yes, breathless, and different.

Fingers, four and a thumb, tapped the metal edge of the vent. The fingers were dark blue from tip to second joint, as if dipped in paint.

Or Pox blood.

The fingers gripped and pulled. The covering grate came free without sound or resistance, revealing an opening twice the span of those fingers wide.

Wide enough.

The right hand led the way, scrabbling into the pipe. Body parts, riding on tough fleshy limbs and careful of clothing, followed in turn. The head produced eyes to survey the shadowed rooftop, but didn’t tarry. It ducked through the opening, canting forward so its well secured hat went first.
The left hand did what it could to pull the grate into place behind it, breaking a nail. Regardless, it subvocalized a chuckle.

At last, their time had come. (From This Gulf of Time and Stars)


Cover credit: Matt Stawicki

I don’t write as I used to twenty years ago. I can’t. I don’t write the way I did one year ago, for that matter, but it’s a good thing. Why should I? The result, This Gulf of Time and Stars is new and exciting and pleases me to my core. If I could have told myself all this back when I faltered, I wouldn’t be the writer I am now.

I admit, I’m looking forward to the writer I become next.

*Footnote: reading a passage aloud where some conversation is inside the head and the rest verbal is—let’s call it next to impossible to do convincingly. I did try, once, to touch my forehead a la X-Men figuring if Patrick Stewart could make it work, I could. Alas, I lacked his skill—and the convenient voiceover on the film. Suffice to say I’m still pondering the possibilities.


Author Photo Credit: Roger Czerneda Photography

Since 1997, Canadian author/editor Julie E. Czerneda has shared her love and curiosity about living things through her science fiction, writing about shapechanging semi-immortals, terraformed worlds, salmon researchers, and the perils of power. Her fourteenth novel from DAW Books was her debut fantasy, A Turn of Light, winner of the 2014 Aurora Award for Best English Novel, and now Book One of her Night`s Edge series. Her most recent publications: a special omnibus edition of her acclaimed near-future SF Species Imperative, as well as Book Two of Night`s Edge, A Play of Shadow, a finalist for this year’s Aurora.

Julie’s presently back in science fiction, writing the finale to her Clan Chronicles series. Book #1 of Reunification, This Gulf of Time and Stars, will be released by DAW November 2015. For more about her work, visit http://www.czerneda.com or visit her on Facebook, Twitter, or Goodreads.

Listen now to a sample from the upcoming audiobook of THIS GULF OF TIME AND STARS!  https://soundcloud.com/audible/this-gulf-of-time-and-stars

Enter to win your free copy of the audiobook of THIS GULF OF TIME AND STARS, courtesy of audible.com or a free copy of the hardcover, courtesy of DAW Books!

Drop a comment below before November 15th with your preference to have a chance to win. I’ll be giving away one copy of each. One entry per person, please.

41 thoughts on “Writing Like I Used To: A Guest Post By Julie E. Czerneda

      • Yes! I did. But it got me thinking… because I didn’t start with the first books (I actually started with the web shifters series), I didn’t notice the “progression” you mentioned in your authorial voice… I noticed the differences between the SF and fantasy, but among the science fiction books, they all read as quintessentially “Julie” to me. There’s something about your writing that just suits my reading tastes to a “t” – I’ve tried to define it over the years, and haven’t had a lot of luck. I know part of it is the way you incorporate “expository” material into the action and dialogue so that it never seems to interrupt the flow. Part of it is the way your aliens (and, recently, fantasy creatures) just make *sense* in a way that a lot of authors can’t quite replicate (I suspect that’s the scientist in you). And yet… it’s more than that, and also not as specific as that. I worry that part of it is that I feel secure that it won’t be “dark” which is why your first post on the tour has me worrying. But… in some indefinable (or not yet defined) way I just know that I can relax and enjoy the “ride” when I’m cruising through one of your books. As I said in a previous comment, I trust you as an author to… well, (if we’re going with the “ride” metaphor), to not crash the car.

  1. Great blog post Julie- and thanks to Chadwick for hosting-
    great post- another peak into the authors head. Julie did this post come out of a continutation of the post from Fantasy Critic? the first guest blog? of did you base the guest post on the blog?

    Also author guest post voice is pretty awesome- thanks for sharing

    • Thank you! Good question. When I knew I’d been doing several guest posts for this tour, I jotted down a mess of ideas. Some fun topics, some serious, all honest. When any of them fit together, I shared the links with my hosts in case they’d like to include them, but it wasn’t planned as such. More a consequence of my looking back at myself. These two do cross-pollinate, well, don’t they? Glad you enjoyed.

  2. Timmies! Ha ha, you would have spent the whole time conjuring new aliens in your imagination.

  3. Another awesome post, Julie. Thanks. I spent four years on my first book, and every time my husband read it, he said he could see the difference in my writing style. That it kept improving with every draft. Now, to get it published, which brings my next point forward. It’s great to see that someone who’s so accomplished in the publishing world still goes through the exact same thing. Thanks for this week of blogs. I look forward the rest.

    Hardcover is my preference. Thank you audible.com and DAW for the chance to win a copy.

  4. I really love the post, it’s fascinating to me how writers think and work. I’ve been an avid reader since the age of 8 but I’m no Scheherazade, I couldn’t write a book to save my life! But I don’t mind, I’m happy just reading the stories but it’s also fun to peek behind the curtain and watch how the magic is done.

    P.S. the hardcover please.

  5. When I reread the first trilogy for Stratification (and again for GULF) I was struck by how much you have matured as an author.

    Grateful we have your unique voice in SF *and* fantasy.

    Love the eBooks, would be thrilled with an audiobook.

    • Hi Erin!!! Thanks. I’m occasionally struck myself, but more in the “I wrote that?” sense when I reread. It’s good to know the work’s paying off. Most appreciated and good luck!

    • Hi Bill. Thanks! Yup, what you read is what I am, truly. Chadwick can attest. See you at World Fantasy? Or the signing after?
      And good luck! (If I’ve missed saying that to anyone, consider it said now!)

  6. For those of us who’ve read Sira from the beginning? None of us are the same readers we were back then, either. The characters have been changed by their experiences too. So, perhaps it all goes hand in hand. Can’t wait!!!


    • Great point. I know movies and books change for me over time. Most continue to delight but in new ways as well as what I remember. (A few don’t pass the test, but that’s why we find new favs.)
      Hope you enjoy!

      • I try to take the ones that don’t age well and hold their memory close to my heart…and immediately stop reading/watching. Whatever they have become, the value they once had was real to the person that I was. If I stop re-experiencing those works, I can usually process the dichotomy without losing either what they taught me or what I’ve learned since.

  7. You say you don’t write the same way as you used to. I agree. What I find more interesting is that despite this I know a “Julie” story when I read it. I have yet to read one of yours and not enjoy it, albeit some more than others. There is that issue with the dog… 😉

  8. As a writer dealing with some kind of change in my writing, I really enjoyed this interview. It’s good to be reassured that everyone hits points where they are struggling and don’t see the way forward. I wonder if going to milwaukeejobs-dot-com and looking at the listings there would help inspire me!

    As to the giveaway, either is OK, but hardcover is my first preference, since e-book isn’t listed. (I love paper, but can’t read even a paperback without my glasses, so I’ve come to love reading on my phone! Not a thing I’d have predicted.)

    Deirdre Murphy

  9. Pingback: Tipsday: Writerly Goodness found on the interwebz, Oct 25-31, 2015 | Writerly Goodness

  10. I love the pics of the process – all the notes and going back to the Trade Pact to figure out how to move forward. Quite an undertaking!

    I’m interested in the audiobook, if I am so lucky as to win. Thanks for the chance!

  11. Pingback: Interview & Giveaway: Julie Czerneda | Galleywampus

  12. Recently, my writing slammed into a wall. I keep writing the same scene “differently” over and over. I was wondering if I could write it (it was book 2)…reading that JC had faced and overcome the same kind of challenge was good:

    “I’d confidence then too, but it was the confidence of a person who wrote for an audience of one, myself. The authorial voice is almost breathless. Excited, I remember. As a result, most of the story and world-building stayed in my head with the adventurous bits coming out as words…I enjoyed the book, especially the parts I’d forgotten, but—it wasn’t how I write. Egad, it was even in first person!..Oh dear. And I was to write six more?I quailed…”

    It gives me a bit of a push; knowing I can move on. Thanks for hosting the interview!

    Oh, if I win, I’d like the hard cover. Thanks!

  13. Thank you everyone for your comments, and thank you, Julie, for your wonderful blog post!

    The winner of the hardcover is Guy Stewart, and Erin Kenny get’s the audiobook!

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