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A quiet word with Renata Piper

Renata Piper (akalyonesse), one of the runners-up in last year's Meager Puddle of Limelight Award for Best Opening Line, kindly consented to brave some searching questions about her entry, "I measure damage by the milligram," and her other work.  

What’s the name of the story the opening line is from?
It's a poem in villanelle form, so the wordcount is thirty-nine lines. Its title went through several permutations; it started with "A Mentally Ill Individual Performs Daily Life Chores", became "A F**khead Feeds the Cat", and ended up as "Villanelle on Valium."

Tell us a little about it. Is it published? If so, where can folks find it?
i haven't sold it, nor is it in the little chapbook I'll be selling at my author table at Arisia, this coming Sunday, 3-8pm :) called "You Were Warned: Transgressive Tales of the Preternatural", though i suppose it could/should have been! I posted it to lj, though, and it can be found at this link:


(with original title intact!)

How many times did you change the opening line before you settled on "I measure damage by the milligram?"
Zero. I got that one in my head, I wrote a villanelle. it went pretty smoothly; this is one reason I enjoy formal poetry. That was a line I thought could stand up to repeated use, so I went for a form in which the whole line would be a repeton. 

What’s your preferred genre/wordcount?
Magical realism, or realistic magic; I often can't tell the difference (that said, see below about my work-in-progress!) I go all the way from little bitty four-line doggerel poems to the 200+kword werewolf novel, so I can't say I have a preferred wordcount; I like to let the form or the story dictate that.

What’s your current WIP? 
A hard-sf first-encounter piece of erotica, which I expect will come in around 55kwords. That's different! but it's going along very sweetly, so I'm cool. 

Are you a pantser or an outliner?
Much with the seat-of-the-pants. though if I know something's coming, I will write it down and then go on until I get there and work it in. and when I write formal poems I might write a line or two, fill in the form, and then go back and write in the less-structured parts.

What are your long term goals as a writer?
To write and damn well like it, and to be read.

Tell us about your very first sale.
This isn't quite the same, but....when I was ten, my mom and I collaborated on a piece of scientific research ("The activity of New Jersey women physicians on hospital staffs and in organized medicine"), which passed peer review and was published. *That* was a total high. I'm still in science (I'm a neuroscientist), and in a lot of ways peer-reviewed publication still means more to me than paid-market ones do. That said, I think my very first *paid* sale was a romantic little sonnet called "The Beast in December", part of a cycle i was writing about secondary characters in myths and fairy tales -- this must have been twenty years ago; I was in grad school. I got about twenty bucks for it from a literary magazine. I took myself out for sushi :) 

As a reader, does a good opening line make a difference to you?
Not so much, as it goes by so fast. when I'm book-shopping I usually read randomly from the middle rather than starting at the front. so I can't say that before this contest I'd ever given first lines a lot of thought, except just as lines.

What’s the best piece of writing advice you’ve ever heard?
From David St John, a poetry prof at mine from my undergrad: Every line should be good. Each line should be liftable from context and worth reading on its own. If it isn't, leave it out, or rewrite it until it's better.

What’s the worst?
To think of the "publishing marketplace" as the highest of goals. I know some excellent writers who've nearly been driven from writing entirely by that idea. I'm not anti-publishing -- I love being read, and I like getting paid! -- but any goal that impedes the process is a failure in my book, as it were.

What was the last story/novel you pitched/submitted?
I sent query letters to two agents about the werewolf novel. but it's too long for the market in current form (225k words), apparently, and besides which I don't think I write good "BUY MY BOOK, IT GOES LIKE THIS!" letters. I am trying to revise it down (I never wrote a four-word sentence when an eleven-word one would do), but I have no idea if it'll ever see publication outside of my local collaborative press (MOON THIEF -- table at arisia, sunday sunday sunday, 3-8pm :) I did also successfully get an extension on the first-contact piece (entitled "The One Who Changes You") and expect to be submitting it to the requesting publisher (Circlet Press, which has published my short fiction before), and hope to turn that in next week.

What was the last story/novel you read?
I just finished The Wind-up Bird Chronicle by Haruki Marukami. I loved it :)

Do you belong to a writing/critique group? Why?/Why not?
Nope. not hanging out with anyone who's into that right now, I guess. I have in the past and really enjoyed it, but it takes a lot of commitment from a bunch of people. I do have an lj-filter for people helping me out with the werewolf-novel revisions, but that's just all about me me me :) 

Where can readers find your work?
Sunday, Sunday, sunday, at arisia, authors/artists alley, table 6, 3-8pm,
Moonthief Press table! I'll have some werewolf novels (come hell or high water!) and a bunch of "you were warned" chapbooks available (to adults or young folks with parental/guardian permission), as well as sculpture (i work in feathers, bones, plush...) and a poster with a prayer to the moon.

or, umm, ask me. a lot of my poems show up in this journal, actually.

My last sale was lesbian-werewolf smut and you can find it at amazon as part of a circlet collection here:

(I should point out it has one review, a complaint from somebody that a lot of the hawt hawt action is same-sex. sorry, wacky monosexuals, this one may not be for you.)

Where on the web can you be found?
There's a placeholder page with a mailto at www.moonthief.com. Ii should really flesh it out, but doubt I'll do so in the next few days, as i have SUNDAY, SUNDAY, SUNDAY to prepare for :) 

What do you know now, that you wish you'd known when you first started writing?
That I can write about absolutely anything.

Is there’s anything I didn’t ask you, that you want to answer anyway?
Will I answer other questions in comments? sure! :)

Who do you think would win in a fight, astronauts or cavemen?
Astronauts, who typically come out of the military. cavemen tended not to specialize, and one of our species' amazing abilities is to *not* fight all the freakin' time; this is what made cavemen into people.

Renata Piper (aka lyonesse) minored in writing seminars at Johns Hopkins University, where she edited a literary magazine there for three years. She has published poetry, short fiction, engineering articles, and hard science. She also has a pony, and laughs too much.

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( 20 comments — Leave a comment )
Jan. 14th, 2011 12:51 am (UTC)
whee! thanks for askin'!!

Jan. 14th, 2011 01:10 am (UTC)
Definitely astronauts. Not only do they specialize, but they are trained to think strategically. Caveman may have had the same ability, but it was innate, not cultivated. (If they cultivated anything they would not be cavemen, but farmers.)

Excellent interview!
Jan. 14th, 2011 11:42 am (UTC)
If they cultivated anything they would not be cavemen, but farmers

Lol, good one, Katherine :)
Jan. 15th, 2011 08:48 am (UTC)
I don't know, I think cavemen could pick up some moves fighting off sabertooth tigers and hunting. Anthropologists have found tribal societies with murder rates up to 1/3 for the men, suggesting a lot of practical experience with violence in low-tech societies.
Jan. 20th, 2011 05:29 am (UTC)
hm. a murder rate of 1/3 is still a lot less than the professional military, which i would expect to have a goal to make a kill-capable person out of every person in it. indeed, since the astronauts tend to come from the air force, their ratio of kills is likely to be enormously higher, as they fly bombers and strafers and whatnot, yes?

also, what is the 1/3 ratio? victims or killers? i can see a crazy serial-murderer caveman offing a lot of people, or for that matter a lot of relatively deadly injuries-to-cavemen being totally recoverable by astronauts with military first-aid kits :)

(sorry, clearly i am staying up way past my bedtime...! :)
Jan. 20th, 2011 06:22 am (UTC)
The one in three was the chance of dying by violence. Jared Diamond (who later wrote Guns, Germs, and Steel) apparently lived in such an area for awhile (I think he was looking for biological samples) and said every man in the tribes was hyper-aware of their surroundings because of the routine violence.
Jan. 20th, 2011 07:54 pm (UTC)
sounds like the middle east or certain poor neighborhoods :(

still, i'd like to know how many of those guys were killers as opposed to victims; it's weird for our species to commonly kill its conspecifics. does jared diamond mention that?
Jan. 20th, 2011 09:53 pm (UTC)
He just said the tribes kept attacking each other for land or women.
Jan. 23rd, 2011 08:19 pm (UTC)
hm. i'd look for backup sources myself, at this point.
Jan. 15th, 2011 02:05 am (UTC)
Okay, is that line copyrighted?
Would you sue me if I used it to begin a story?
Honestly, I thought it was from a crime story,
with a medical examiner narrator.

And that writing a buy-my-book letter;
jon has links to that sort of thing on fridays, sometimes,
so you can probably accumulate enough advice to do it well.

I think I'm going to have weird dreams tonight
about wacky monosexuals whacking off on a monorail...
Jan. 20th, 2011 04:56 am (UTC)
i'd be charmed if you used the line to start a medical-examiner story. when i proposed it for the contest, i actually thought if sounded just like that's what it would be, if the first line meant what the rest of the story was about! i wouldn't sue you, but i think it would be polite of you to note that it's a quote for you anyway :)

i think the werewolf novel is too long for the current market, no matter how good a letter i write :/ i could be wrong, but i don't know if i'm going to expend my efforts at "writing a query letter" or "writing my next project". (actually i am writing an experimental protocol and an sf novel and an essay for horseback-riding instructors atm, according to my open windows :)

so did you enjoy your dreams? :)
Jan. 20th, 2011 03:10 pm (UTC)
Luckily, I didn't dream about monosexuals or monorails,
and thus DID enjoy my dreams...

I'll save a blank document with the title
"I Measure Damage by the Milligram"
and include a note with your info,
in order to credit you properly when/if I write it...
Jan. 20th, 2011 07:54 pm (UTC)
awesome. i hope you do write it, and that it comes out great!
Jan. 15th, 2011 08:49 am (UTC)
You can write anything, but do you publish it all under the same name?
Jan. 20th, 2011 04:58 am (UTC)
mostly, yeah -- it's one of the reasons i didn't change my surname when i married; i hate it when authors do that as it makes it hard to track down their literature. (i am speaking mostly of the scientific literature.) i have sometimes used a penname though as it is the name of my "avatar" or "mary-sue" character in some other fiction, for stuff she would have known and talked about that isn't true in my real life :)
Jan. 20th, 2011 06:31 am (UTC)
I like the way you think. It's twisted in on itself, but knows it.
Jan. 20th, 2011 07:55 pm (UTC)
hee, thanks! you might like my writing, too, if you care to spring $5 for a chapbook of transgressive short fic or $35 for a werewolf novel ;)
Jan. 20th, 2011 09:54 pm (UTC)
Next time I'm in the States I'll keep that in mind.
Jan. 15th, 2011 06:02 pm (UTC)
It's a great line. Congratulations!
Jan. 20th, 2011 04:59 am (UTC)
thanks much! :) it sucked to think of, given the context, but i liked the sound as soon as i thought of it, and i am most pleased that it has given enjoyment to others after all :)
( 20 comments — Leave a comment )

Things What I Wrote and Other Stuff

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No longer in print but there are still some copies floating around out there



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