Authors Taught Us How to Stab People

We know authors don’t spend all their time locked in a room, obsessing over syntax. Some of the best writing comes from not writing at all—from having a completely unrelated specialty, like beekeeping or robotics. Since 2015, we’ve asked SFF authors to geek out about the hobbies and callings that fill their lives when they’re not writing our favorite stories. Some are more physical, like auto repair or falling or riding rollercoasters; others are more in the mind, like mastering the scent science of perfume or applying godlike qualities to The Beatles or taking in a perfect fire you’ve created. Read through our best “And Related Subjects” essays (so far) for some valuable lessons from SFF authors that have very little to do with writing.

Robert Jackson Bennett once taught us how to turn a hobbit into food:

It is a primeval, dirty, laborious act, one borne from a time when people had few resources but lots of time—in stark contrast to today, when we have lots of resources but little time. For that reason alone, I enjoy it.

Victor Gishler resisted the temptation to write about grilling when what he really wanted to talk about was FIRE:

So I propose we all try to get in touch with that primal, ancestral storyteller within. For me, it happens around my charcoal grill. I must confess, I’ve made some lousy meals—dried out chicken, overcooked steak—because I lingered too long. Because I just wanted to hang around outside by the grill, smelling the charcoal and thinking about my next story. Getting to know some new character. Wondering where we’d all end up together.

Lynsay Sands realized that the best way to get out of your own headspace requires speeds up to 120 mph:

The mere thought of sitting inside an open metal box as it hurtles at incredible speed from impossible heights sends chills of excitement up and down my spine. It ROCKS! Just can’t get enough of it. And the rides just keep getting better and better.

Charlie Jane Anders reminds us that singing your heart out is a form of magic:

To me, karaoke is a vital cultural tradition, that takes the best aspects of pop music and our pomo “remixing” and participatory culture and makes them even more amazing.

While Adrian Barnes reflects on being born in the same year that The Beatles came to America:

In my mind, the image of one God with four heads emerged: The Beatles balancing one another: Ringo lightening John’s sharpness, Paul softening George’s sarcasm, and so on.

Lara Elena Donnelly shared the terror of wearing a new perfume out in public:

Around the time I was writing this short story, I had lunch with my editor. As we finished the meal, she pulled out a tiny drawstring bag. Inside was a brown glass bottle, filled with a custom perfume based on one I had invented for Amberlough: vetiver, lemons, diesel, and burnt wood. I had been avoiding citrus—too bright and usually too sweet—but the smokiness of this scent toned it down and darkened it. It’s my go-to now for evening author events: a little piece of fiction to wear against my skin.

Sylvia Spruck Wrigley got into a cockpit to research fictional plane crashes, then wound up writing about real-life ones:

I don’t remember the plane crash that started it but I do remember that it was making headlines all over the world and that those headlines were complete and utter nonsense.

Whereas Tim Powers got into poker looking for its roots in tarot but got sucked into the game instead:

Poker, I discovered, is sort of a sit-down version of fencing. Bets are feints and disengages and lunges and stop-thrusts, and merely having the best cards is no more a guarantee of winning than having a longer reach with your weapon arm.

Emily Foster reflects on how crappy truck ownership is a fantastic hobby for someone in the writing business:

This was not just auto repair the three-to-five of us practiced. This was science in its purest form, carried out in frozen garages and smoky living rooms by people who had conviction and creativity in the absence of a clue or a budget.

David Tallerman traces the slippery slope between casual hobbies and rabbit holes—in his case, ’90s anime:

The worst of it was, I had a holy grail in mind, and it was one I soon began to realize might be unattainable: I was hunting for lost classics.

Danie Ware fondly remembers her time as part of the VaDaBaS, the Viking and Dark Age Banqueting Society:

The fighting was fierce and the bruises were commonplace—and nobody whinged when they got them (usually, they were offered up as badges round the night’s campfire). We made friends all across the UK, people with like-minded interests and senses of humor, people we could fight with, drink with and sing with, and look forward to seeing again for the next meeting.

Alison Goodman discovered the wild joy of moving with other people:

There is a wonderful sense of community that comes with learning something that is set to music and requires teamwork… When we collided we laughed, and when we finally got the dance right, we whooped and high-fived each other.

While Helen Lowe learned how to take a fall and get up again:

I felt as if I was the right person in the right place at the right time—and doing absolutely the right thing.

Tim Akers’ evangelical upbringing kept him from getting D&D for Christmas… but he still got his hands on a set of dice:

Everyone rolled an elf. Everyone read the adventure in the back of the book before we started. One guy shot his precious elf finger off with a longbow. Everyone had fun.

And the one that started it all! V.E. Schwab used her left-handedness for more than just writing:

Fencing is a game of living chess, a match where reflexes only work in combination with intent, and mind and body must work together at every moment.

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