The acknowledgments to Semiosis begin, “I owe thanks to Gregory Frost, whose writing exercise about a special kind of wall led to this novel.”
That exercise took place in 1996 at the Clarion Science Fiction and Fantasy Workshop. Greg was one of the instructors, and he assigned several exercises over his week of teaching, one of them involving a wall. As I recall, it went something like this:
“Imagine a wall that appears overnight between two groups about to go to war. They can see through it, they can communicate through it, but they can’t pass through it and attack each other. Begin that story.”
We only had to write the opening paragraphs, but some of us were inspired to continue. Mike VanWie wrote a bittersweet love story that we would now call steampunk, but back then we just called it imaginative. Dan Jeffers came up with a comic sword and sorcery novel with sex scenes and other digressions in the appendices.
(The photo shows us hard at work on a different exercise, a group project involving tropes.)
I eventually wrote a science fiction story in which the wall was a human colony on a distant planet. That story was published in 1999 as “Adaptation” in the magazine LC-39, and later I expanded it into a novel, Semiosis.