Naomi Davis welcomes science fiction and fantasy author (and Sound Designer) Essa Hansen!
Tell us a bit about your writing process. Where do you write, and how often?
Between 5-8AM before I head to work is my prime writing time. I’m rested, it’s quiet, and there are no distractions. Either the sun is just coming up or it’s still dark out, so I nestle on the couch with my laptop, a blanket, cup of coffee, and sometimes a cat.
I try to write or edit every day, even if it’s something small. During the workday or while running errands, the story is always in my head—I might be chewing on plot problems, working out what happens next, daydreaming about alternate scenarios, or developing new story ideas. I take notes on my phone for later.
Do you have any writing rituals? (e.g. burning a candle if you’re having trouble getting started at the computer or writing longhand first if you’re feeling uninspired.)
I don’t have any specific rituals, but I’m most productive when I use music and visuals while writing. I assemble a custom playlist (usually from movie and game soundtracks) and gallery of reference images/art for every project. When I sit down to write a scene, I start the playlist and fill the empty half of my desktop with an arrangement of images that I think fits the mood and content of the scene. When my brain needs to wander from the page, it goes to that imagery or sound and keeps me in the right mindset and emotion the whole time.
When I’m stuck I’ll either sit down and start visualizing/brainstorming what I’m stuck on, or I’ll do something else—take a walk, shower, clean the house, run an errand. Often my subconscious is still working on the kink in the background, and helpful ideas spring up while I’m not actually at my laptop.
What do you love about writing Science Fiction & Fantasy?
I love the sheer creative potential. Imagination is the only limitation, and the genre has the ability to tackle complex contemporary ideas and themes from new directions, through new elements. I love being able to build worlds, populate them, make them work, sometimes break them, all while telling stories that are deeply human, philosophical, and metaphysical.
I’ve been enamored with science, reality, spirituality, and the occult since I was little. Writing in SFF allows me not only to study these topics but to actively explore and apply them in worlds of my own creation. It’s sort of like designing both the lab and the experiments, while the subjects/materials are wholly familiar.
SFF also has a huge and wonderfully diverse fan base, which often cross-pollinates into other media like art, movies, TV, comics, and video games. Its an exciting, creative-minded community with many niches, many places to feel at home. I adore all the energy and discussions that bubble up.
What is the hardest part about writing Science Fiction & Fantasy?
SFF can require a lot of information to get a reader settled into a complex new world or situation—the dreaded “info-dump.” The biggest challenge is often finding the most efficient and elegant way to share that information while keeping the reader engaged in plot and character. There’s a lot of craft and sleight that creates this seamless flow into fascinating new worlds. We want the reader to feel elucidated without noticing the mechanics of the explanation.
I tend to write in deep, immersive POV, so I’m sharing the world with the reader through the character’s inner opinions and relationship to it. For me, this not only adds depth to the character but richness to the world, making it feel “lived in.”
Do you get inspiration from any TV shows or movies? If so, which ones?
I’m inspired every day at my job! I’m a Sound Designer for Skywalker Sound, working on a variety of science fiction and fantasy feature films, including many of the Marvel Cinematic Universe films, and animations for Pixar and Disney. I work in the same building as crews working on everything from indie films to blockbusters to large franchises like Star Wars. I’m thrilled that so many creative conversations happen at my workplace every day.
Personally, I tend to be inspired by components of TV shows and movies rather than the whole. Maybe this is partly because I analyze so much during my job, and know the many roles that go into creating a finished show. I might be inspired by a line of dialogue in Ex Machina, an element of costume design in Game of Thrones, a character interaction in Hannibal, or a set piece in Vikings. I notice and pluck out elements that give me some kind of big feeling, then eventually repurpose the root of that element in the hopes of inspiring the same kind of reaction in my readers.
If money were no object, what would be your dream writing location?
A mountaintop somewhere! I love the silence and serenity of the wilderness, paired with expansive views that inspire potentials while not distracting my mind. I think that would be ideal. Plus, an unobstructed, unpolluted view of sky and stars.