Today for the novella project we're talking to our very own Phoebe Wagner:
Phoebe Wagner is an author, editor, and academic writing at the intersection of speculative fiction and climate change. Their debut novel A Shot of Gin is forthcoming from Parliament House Press (2023), and Publishers Weekly called their novella When We Hold Each Other Up a “fresh take on climate fiction.” She is the editor of three solarpunk anthologies, including Sunvault: Stories of Solarpunk & Eco-Speculation. They also blog about speculative literature here at Nerds of a Feather. Wagner holds a PhD in literature, and she is an Assistant Professor of Creative Writing at Lycoming College in Pennsylvania. Follow them at phoebe-wagner.com.
What made you decide to write When We Hold Each Other Up as a novella? Is there a particular attraction for you of the form, or was it dictated by the content of the story you wanted to tell?
I chose the novella format partially due to time constraints. Android Press asked if I had any projects I was working on, and I knew a novel would just take too much time to draft. I also had a short story that I hadn't managed to get published but had received some great comments from editors at dream magazines, and I'd been itching to turn it into something longer. I have a few trunk novellas that I pull out and work on from time to time, and one thing I love about it is the length. I'm a longform writer, so a short story always feels too truncated, but not every story has legs for a novel. The novella really fills that gap, and it's a great size to spend a few months on and then be done with it (unlike a novel taking up multiple years).
Are there any differences you find in the process of writing for a novella, compared to when you're drafting a short story/novel, aside from the time it takes? What about when you're taking something that started short and is being worked up into something longer - what does that process look like for you?
The sense of scale was different in my head for sure. I'd get ideas for scenes and immediately toss them out because I simply had to be more direct. I remember writing this one scene that I liked, and I didn't even leave it in the document. I immediately cut it into my notes document because I knew there wasn't space for that kind of scene in the novella. I found I made a lot of these changes in the revision process. Usually when I revise, I add a lot of words--tens of thousands. I had to change my thinking to focus on keeping the plot and character arcs streamline, which in some ways was freeing. I could focus on the core ideas rather than the delightful sprawl of a novel. As for taking the short story and working it into something longer, I had it easy because I added onto the story--just kept writing. I knew there was more story for Eduardo and Rowan, the main characters, but I couldn't explore it in the short story. Continuing their travels was exciting and I loved the generative part, where I just focused on plotting out what would happen. Usually I'm a total pantser, but since this novella was solicited, I did take some time to really think through the steps of Eduardo and Rowan's journey before drafting the novella.
Looping back slightly - how did you come to be working with Android Press? And what are your thoughts on working with them/a small press more generally?
I heard of Android Press due to the success of Solarpunk Magazine. The first Kickstarter really took off, and I was pleased that solarpunk had gained that kind of interest from the broader SFF community! I submitted something to a different project that Justine was involved with, which is how we officially connected. They reached out to me about doing an anthology and a longform project, which is how When We Hold Each Other Up came to be. The anthology with Android Press was just published as well: Fighting for the Future: Cyberpunk and Solarpunk Tales. Working with a small press like Android has a lot of perks for sure. I feel like I can always reach out with questions and that I will be responded to. Probably my favorite part of the small press experience has been having a say on the cover art. At both small presses that have published my fiction, I've had a say on the cover, and that makes it so much easier to put my time and effort into marketing when I'm excited about the cover!
How much say did you get in the art? And what was it like being involved in that process?
Happily! When We Hold Each Other Up is a novella growing out of my work in solarpunk and climate fiction. I was inspired by this old adage that there are two basic plots: a stranger comes to town or someone goes on a quest (which, if you think about it, are really the same story from different viewpoints). My main character Rowan is fascinated by this idea, so when a stranger named Eduardo, a Harmonizer with extraordinary powers, arrives with a warning, Rowan senses life is about to change. Eduardo warns that nearby Haven City is growing and all those living in the expansion zone are in danger, which sends both of them on a quest to warn others.