Monday, February 24, 2014

Looking Inward: The Writing Process Blog Tour

I usually resort to Distract and Evade tactics whenever anyone asks me about my writing process. The question always makes me squirm. But when the multi-talented publisher, photographer, and poet, Ellen Wade Beals, who contributed  “A Delectable Madness” to this site’s Favorite Film series, invited me to join her on a blog tour where writers and authors answer questions about their projects as well as process, I couldn’t resist. Ellen posted her responses last week, which you can read on her site, Solace in a Book.  And mine, are below.

What am I working on?

I have a couple of literary projects going. The first is Suburban Gothic, a collection of linked stories. I’ve been serializing the volume’s centerpiece, Tender Weeds, here and on my blog at Red Room, and am planning to release that novella later this year as an e-book, along with expanded commentary about its construction and the story—"An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge" by Ambrose Bierce—which inspired it. I expect that the entire collection will be ready by early 2016.

The second is a collection of essays expanded from the “Music and Prose” series on this blog. That will contain more in-depth comparative musical and literary analyses, as well as additional suggestions for listening and reading. Hopefully, I’ll have a reasonable draft of it ready by the end of 2015.

How does my work differ from others of its genre?

At its core, Shadows and Ghosts is like much literary contemporary women’s fiction. It is purely character-driven, its settings are modern, and its main characters are female. There are men in the novel, all of whom are essential to the story, yet they play supporting roles. Having said that, I do think the work is unique because of its non-linear construction, and the fact that it is told from two points of view—first person, past tense, and third person, present tense. The former describes the events leading up to the main character’s cardiac arrest, and the latter allows the events resulting from that arrest to unfold. This intertwined narration is then framed within the context of famous film images. My hope was that the two points of view—one which functions as a voice-over, and the other that presents action in real time—would give readers both a literary and cinematic experience.

As for Suburban Gothic, the finished product will be a mix of contemporary and historical tales, all with Gothic overtones. The difference here, I think, will be in the tonal range of the stories. Some will be dark, others will be tongue-in-cheek; some will have a straightforward narration, and others, such as Tender Weeds, will be more surreal. 

Why do I write what I do?

The reasons are different for every piece, although they all wind up being character-driven. I wrote a story for Suburban Gothic about an unusually gifted child who decides to stop speaking at an early age and is misdiagnosed as autistic. In that case, there were numerous ideas that intrigued me: the child, the gift, the cessation of speech, and adult reaction to it. The story is under 6,000 words, but it required a great deal of research—something I've always enjoyed. The driving forces behind Shadows and Ghosts were also numerous: a love of film, a fascination with mirror twins, and transference, among others.

How does your writing process work?

And there it is: the dreaded question. OY.

And yes, I am squirming.

But I will try not to be evasive.

I freely confess that I am not a disciplined writer. I don’t follow a schedule, don’t work for a specific length of time every day, and don’t set word length goals. I write notes to remind myself of titles, characters, descriptions, phrases, and ideas that occur to me, then put them away and do something else.

When I find the time to return to my notes, I need to be left alone. When I was little, I’d lock myself in the bathroom. In high school, I discovered that I could shut out distractions by playing my favorite classical records. But in college, I was so immersed in music, day and night, that I'd need to get away from it. So, I'd head to the library, find a corner, stuff pieces of tissue into my ears, and sink into the paper in front of me. It was always pad and pen in those days, a wholly organic experience of ideas flowing from brain to arm to hand to instrument to paper. I never used a typewriter, and I never used a tape recorder. There was something off-putting and intrusive about machines. 

Oddly, these days, I don’t feel that way about my little laptop. The immediacy in the way light finger taps make words appear on the screen feels as organic as scrawling used to. Yet, I have returned to my old practice of blocking out the world with classical music—now courtesy of an iPod and dock. Once the music comes on and I am safely where I need to be, I read through my notes, decide which ones I want to develop, and write.

I suspect the real process occurs then. But describing it? I don't know if I could, or if it would even be helpful to anyone else. My writing is informed by external and internal influences that are specific to me, and those are different every time I sit down to work. I could probably rattle off pages about how I revise material once it's on the page, but that's not creation. I suppose the best way to explain it is by saying that it's nearly the reverse of preparing a piece of music. First, I analyze the piece, then I learn the notes, and teach my fingers to play them. Once that's done, the actual transformation of that process into a performance occurs almost instinctively, and a little magically. But when I write, the instinct comes first. 

* * *

It’s been a great pleasure reading other writers' responses to these questions. And, next week, on March 3rd, the tour  will continue with three more writers, all very different, and all with fascinating views of life and their art.

Jane Wilson was a practicing attorney for many years before turning her incisive eye to blogging and novel writing. Her posts are treasures, offering touching and often satirical glimpses of life. Tracy Ewens, the author of Catalina Kiss, never fails to make me pause, think, and laugh out loud with her views “From the Laundry Room”.  She has a new novel coming out in June and I can’t wait to read it. And, finally, speculative fiction writer, Michael Seidel is one of the most prolific and versatile bloggers, I know. He always engages with his honesty, wit, and humanity. The bios for these three great writers are below. I hope you’ll take a look at their posts on the March 3rd, and check out more of their work.

In the meantime, many thanks for stopping by and reading.  Tender Weeds will be back next Monday with a new installment.

Next on the Writing Process Blog Tour - March 3rd

Jane Wilson -- Jane Wilson graduated from the University of Michigan Law School, was a trial attorney for 25 years and has served on the faculty of the National Institute for Trial Advocacy on numerous occasions. She was an Adjunct Professor of Law at Cleveland State University for several years and served as an Interim Associate Professor of Law in the clinical program at Case Law School. In 2009, she returned to the small southwestern Michigan community where she was raised, and is writing a novel.

Tracy Ewens—Tracy Ewens started writing from the laundry room about six years ago.  She lives in New River, Arizona with her husband and their three children.

Tracy enjoys traveling to far off places both literally and in her mind.

She believes television is highly over rated and almost everything worth saying seems to have come from either Anna Quindlen or Robert Fulghum.

Catalina Kiss, her first novel, was published by Montlake/Amazon in November 2012.  Tracy is currently working the final edits of her second novel, Premiere:  A Love Story, which will be out June 2014.

Michael Seidel — “1956 - I was born in Fort Belvoir, Virginia. Some other things happened that year, too. Moved around the country as a military brat before finding anchor in Pittsburgh, PA. Lived there 8 years, moved to southern West Virginia, graduated high school and enlisted in the Air Force. Gave it 21 years traveling the world, doing command and control. Retired in 1995 at Onizuka Air Station, Sunnyvale, California. Moved to Mountain View and joined a coronary medical device start-up. Left there when Tyco bought it out to go to another med device start up before switching to computer security in 2000. That company was NetworkICE. ISS bought it and IBM bought ISS. I work now in IBM. Moved to Ashland, Oregon in 2005 to escape the teetering California economy. Live in Ashland now. I write speculative science fiction and fantasy. Have written seven novels but am now teaching myself how to revise and edit them. Figured out I wrote a million words between March 2010 and March 2011. Have six short stories published in webzines and small press. Want to write it all, you know? Other interests - politics, 90s sitcoms, the blues, Formula 1 and NASCAR racing, NFL football, taking care of my yard and cats. And beer. Like beer, wine, coffee. Oh, yes, and books, reading and writing. I love books. Love their smell, their feel, their words.”

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