Sherry D. Ramsey is a member of the Writers’ Federation of Nova Scotia and a prolific author of speculative fiction. We talked to her about her work, the writing life, what she loves about her part of Nova Scotia (Cape Breton), and what can be expected in her upcoming workshop, Exploring Speculative Fiction.
How long have you been writing? What drew you to writing in general, and writing speculative fiction in particular?
I’ve been writing for a looong time...the first full, complete short story I remember writing was in Grade 7 (and I still have it, handwritten in a Hilroy scribbler!). I think storytelling is an inborn predisposition for me. I began to put serious effort into my writing after abandoning a law career in the early 1990’s, and have been writing more or less full-time since then (the “less full-time” part would relate to raising a family in that time, too). I grew up reading science fiction and fantasy, along with mysteries and other genre fiction, so I guess that’s a long-time predisposition, too. I love the wide-open breadth of imagination and possibility that speculative fiction offers.
What do you think is currently changing in speculative fiction?
Sometimes I hear people talk about how we’re living in the “science fiction future” and so there’s not much left to write about...but I think that’s a bit silly. There’s so much we still don’t know and don’t understand and haven’t explored; still huge scope for the imagination. I think spec fic has certainly changed a lot since the pulp era, in that it’s no longer enough to have a shiny idea—readers want well-rounded plots and relatable characters and everything they demand from other kinds of fiction. But it’s still the “literature of the imagination” and I think will continue to be.
What do you love about living in Nova Scotia?
Hmmm, that’s hard to articulate. Being able to see the ocean from my front window. The sense of cultural connection to earth and sea and the natural world. The innate kinship to Scotland that I felt viscerally and unexpectedly when I stepped off a plane in Edinburgh two years ago. Knowing that when the ice comes in, spring is not too far away. Donairs, and oatcakes. Not together, of course.
What do you think is the biggest misconception about writing speculative fiction?
That it’s somehow easier than other kinds of fiction! For instance, some people think fantasy is easy to write because you’re inventing worlds and rules. I think they don’t realize the effort that goes into creating worlds that are internally consistent, or integrated magic systems that don’t simply make everything easy for the characters. Or the research science fiction writers do to create aliens and worlds and technologies that align with known science. There’s also the idea that so-called “escapist” literature doesn't have anything deep or meaningful to say. It does. It just approaches those things in a different way.
What advice do you have for aspiring writers?
Write a lot. Read a lot. Realize that writing is a craft to develop; few people are naturally great writers, but you can become a good one with work. Understand that 99.9% of first drafts are terrible, but that’s okay. Don’t doubt that you have a story to tell. Don’t self-reject because you think your story isn’t good enough.
What’s great about writing in your part of Nova Scotia?
We have a strong writing community in Cape Breton, although it can be a bit fractured at times because we’re spread out geographically. I also like the fact that “Cape Breton writing” is not a homogeneous thing—we’re very diverse in genres and styles and writing interests.
What are you working on now?
I’ve just written the first draft of a middle grade science fiction novel, so I’m anxious to start the editing process on that. It was a ton of fun to write, partly because I’d just done a Writers in the Schools visit before I started working on it. I felt like that “kid-energy” was really fresh in my mind going into the project. I have a fourth novel in my Nearspace series almost done, and the second novel in another series well underway. I’m a project-juggler, so there’s never just one open file on my desktop.
If you weren’t a writer, what would you be?
Well...I tried the lawyering thing and that didn’t work out. I’ve been a school library volunteer in my local elementary school for the past fifteen years, and I think that kind of work would be something I’d enjoy. I have fun with the kids and I love swapping book recommendations with them and just generally helping them explore the world of reading.
What can participants in your workshop expect to get out of the experience?
I try to cover a lot of ground in the workshop, from finding ideas to writing strong stories to publishing them, so I hope participants will leave with new information whether they come in with spec-fic writing experience or not. It’s a casual environment and they should expect laughs along the way, so they’ll probably have fun. And we’ll be doing some writing exercises, so if they don’t leave with at least one new story idea, they’re just not trying!
Sherry D. Ramsey is a writer, editor, publisher, creativity addict and self-confessed Internet geek. She writes for all ages, and she loves mysteries and magic as much as she loves spaceships and aliens—so much that she often combines them in interesting ways. Sherry lives in Cape Breton with her husband, children, and dogs, where she consumes far more coffee and chocolate than is likely good for her. You can visit her online at www.sherrydramsey.com; keep up with her much more pithy musings and catch glimpses of her life on Twitter and Instagram @sdramsey.