Fonda Lee is a science fiction and fantasy author, winner of the World Fantasy Award, the Locus Award, and many others.
Write Now with Scrivener, Episode no. 34: Fonda Lee, Science Fiction and Fantasy Author
Many people dream about changing careers to become a full-time writer, and Fonda Lee did just that before becoming an award-winning fantasy novelist.
"I did an MBA, I started out in management consulting, and worked in corporate strategy [for Nike]. So even though it sounds boring, there was a lot of interesting stuff that I did day to day in terms of business strategy. Writing was a passion that I had since I was young, but I grew up not thinking that that was a real job. I didn't know any authors; the fantasy that I enjoyed was all the epic medieval European fantasies in the vein of Tolkien and Jordan. I had a pipe dream, that it would be really fun one day to try and write novels. But I didn't really get down to it until I was in my early 30s. I had reached the point in my business career where I had to decide what to do next."
Lee took a pragmatic approach to making the switch. "I started signing up for writing classes, and going to conferences, and developing a writing practice. One thing led to another and I set myself a goal of writing an entire novel manuscript in a year. So I did that, and that was sort of a practice novel that didn't go anywhere. And then I wrote another one and queried it. And that didn't get picked up. And then I wrote another one. And that became my debut novel."
From that point on, Lee realized that she could have a writing career, but didn't quit her day job right away. She offloaded some of her work, and then switched to part-time. "Eventually as the writing career started to take off, I quit, and then went freelance as a business consultant, and then eventually made a switch into full-time writing."
Like most fantasy, there is magic in Lee's Green Bone Saga, but it's magic that comes from a natural resource: jade. "I have a particular keenness for low magic, magic that doesn't feel especially magical or is very much a normal part of day-to-day life. There are fantasy stories where magic is beyond human comprehension. There may be rules to it, but it comes from some cosmic power, or even your divine power. I enjoy writing speculative fiction where there is that turn into the speculative, but that feels very true to life. And one in which the characters don't even really see the magic as being especially magical. It's just part of their world."
Fantasy fiction has changed a lot since its rise in popularity in the 1960s, when Tolkien's Lord of the Rings became widely read. "I think we really are in a fantastic period for the expansion of fantasy. It has grown so much in terms of what it encompasses, with inspirations coming from different time periods, different parts of the world, and different genres. And I feel like the fences around the genre have broken down. But I think there's a perception among the mainstream public or lay readers who aren't as familiar with the genre that it is still a certain thing. I think it just hasn't quite gotten there, perhaps with the general reading public, but those of us who are in the genre who work in it every day, we see so much change. I don't think The Green Bone Saga would have been, you know, published even 10 years ago."
The Green Bone Saga is a trilogy, which is a popular form for fantasy novels. I asked Lee if she had planned on writing a trilogy. "I did not know it'd be a trilogy, because I wrote it on spec. I did not have a book deal for it. I wrote the first book, knowing that it could be a larger series, but not knowing if it would sell. So it was only after I managed to get a deal for the first book that my publisher said, 'I would like a trilogy.'"
Fonda Lee has written all her novels with Scrivener. "Everything goes into Scrivener. I always start with a folder that's research. I import web pages into Scrivener. If I find some article that's interesting, I port that in. I save images as oftentimes they're character inspirations. And I throw in whatever interesting bits of information I find in my research folder. Then I've always got another folder that's developmental work. I start a new bit of text that might be a character brainstorm, a magic system, or a setting. I do research and brainstorming development for several weeks, and then an outline. So I start a new file that will be the first draft outline, and I start outlining. When it gets to the actual writing process, I usually port my outline into a series of text files. And so I take that outline, and then break it down and set out my chapters and just start working. Once I get into it I just use Composition Mode."