The Writing Process Blog Tour Stops Here

Welcome to the Writing Process Blog Tour! My Wordsmith Studio writer-friend J. Lynn Sheridan invited me to participate. J.Lynn is a poet (one with a sense of humor, I might add).

Blog Tour
Blog Tour

The blog tour moves forward, but if you haven’t already, you should check out J. Lynn’s Blog Tour Stop and another recent post, “Who Needs Poetry? Maybe Not You,” at her Writing on the Sun blog.

Now, on to the topic for this blog tour: Writing Process. The challenge is to answer three questions about my work:

What am I working on?

Several things at once.

I just returned from a week in Denver at The Lighthouse Writers Workshop, a terrific community of writers that sponsors a summer Lit Fest—two weeks jam-packed with craft seminars, workshops, and readings. (Look for a separate post about my Lighthouse experience soon.) This week, I’ve been revising the story I submitted to Antonya Nelson’s fiction workshop. Besides that revision, the novel start I’ve struggled with for the last year  keeps rearing its unruly head and demanding my attention. I think I may be on to something there, at last, in part because of some insights I had in Denver.

There are a couple of new story ideas floating around, too. I’m keeping a notebook beside the bed these nights in case some inspiration strikes (as it did, briefly, last night). I’m also looking for dreams that might be significant.

So see? The writing and the learning are like dominoes: one idea begets another.

Why do I write what I do?

Ah, that’s an interesting question.

I started out writing poems. Mostly bad poems, I’m afraid. The turn to fiction came in a writing teachers’ workshop at Bard College some years ago where I was required to write a short story. That little story came so easily (I wish they all did!), and I fell in love with the form. So mostly, I’m a short story writer. My husband is responsible for the turn to novels. He kept telling me I could write a novel, and I kept protesting that I couldn’t. Finally, I think the challenge got to me, and I took it on. “A novel is just a long story,” he kept reminding me. That’s true, but there’s a lot more to novel writing than that. I find novel-writing challenging and hair-pulling hard, but I’m hooked, and I’ll keep at it.

As for subject matter: stories can come from anywhere. Many of mine stem from autobiographical material, but they also arise out of observation: a person in a restaurant or on the street, another person’s trauma or desire or fear can provide the spark.

How does my writing process work?

Process / G. Wilson
Process / G. Wilson

I wish I could tell you that I have this immaculate way of doing things, that I rise at five every morning and write for two hours before I have my oatmeal. Or I write eight hours a day. I’m retired, after all; I should be able to do that, right?

I’m afraid that’s not the case. I’m as likely to sit with my laptop in front of the TV (with the TV on; yes, I know that’s terrible, but I do it sometimes) as I am to go off by myself. I like to write with music in the background, especially if I find music that fits the tone of what I’m working on. I write notes by hand when I’m just playing around, toying with ideas, and then I tend to write long, messy first drafts and revise, revise, revise.

I’m indebted to a few good and faithful readers who keep me honest (and often humble).

I read–mostly fiction but also poetry, memoir, and other nonfiction.

I research. A lot. It seems most stories require some special knowledge or background to flesh out their worlds with specific details. I like that about the process; I’m always, always learning.

I do wish I were more disciplined. That’s a worthwhile goal.

The tour moves on!

I’ve asked the following writers to come aboard the tour. Do hop over and see what they’re working on and what wisdom they have to share:

Marsha Blevins
Marsha Blevins

Marsha Blevins lives in WV with her boyfriend and four fur-children. After long hours of reports and complaints at her “day job,” she unwinds in front of the keyboard writing short stories, novels, or just random rants. After being published in her college literary magazine in the late 1990′s, she took a nearly 15 year break from the pressures that type of fame brought into her life. Better able to cope with being in the spotlight now, she is back . . . and better than ever! Marsha’s blog: Marble’s Words.

Jane Ann McLachlan
Jane Ann McLachlan

Jane Ann McLachlan taught writing and professional ethics at Conestoga College in Kitchener, Ontario, before she took an early leave to write full-time. She has published two college textbooks on professional ethics through Pearson Education, a short story collection titled Connections, and a science fiction novel titled Walls of Wind. She has written two
other books which are on offer with her agent, Carrie Pestritto of Prospect Agency in New York, is currently editing her science fiction YA novel, The Malemese Diamond, and researching for her next historical fiction novel. Visit her at http://www.jamclachlan.net or at http://www.janeannmclachlan.com.

 

June Bourgo
June Bourgo

Born and raised in Montreal, June Bourgo lives in the beautiful BC interior surrounded by ranch lands. Her debut novel Winter’s Captive has been picked up by Fountain Blue Publishing for re-release with a new cover, to be followed by Chasing Georgia, Book 2 of The Georgia Series. Information about publishing dates and book availability is forthcoming. June is currently working on A Missing Thread, Book 3 of The Georgia Series. To learn more about June and her work, visit her blog, Losing Cinderella.

 

Character Misbehavior: What to Do?

What do you do with someone who just won’t behave?

I’m talking secretive, aloof, moody . . . She wants something, I know, but she won’t tell me what. She’s keeping me up nights and interfering with my WIP’s progress, for sure.

I’m not talking about a daughter or a friend or a sister, although this person is one. A sister, I mean. In fact, she’s an identical twin, which complicates things even further.

Robin: the character who “vants to be alone!”

"Silhouette of a Woman" Image courtesy of Lobster20/FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Silhouette of a Woman
Image courtesy of Lobster20/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

I’m talking about the main character in what I hope will become my third book. Her name is Robin. As I said, she’s a twin. She has dark, curly hair and green eyes, she’s twenty pounds or so overweight, she’s married with two sons, and she’s a nurse. Her twin sister has died, and Robin carries a terrible secret. That’s what I know.

Even after feedback on the first chapter at Writers in Paradise back in January, I’ve remained stumped by what Robin really desires and what will keep her from getting it. (You can read the short story that prompted this third novel idea at Prime Number: Issue 37; it’s called “Book of Lies.”)

I started over with the beginning, typing it into Scrivener and revising as the story seemed to lead me. I was still worried, though, about not knowing clearly enough who Robin is and where she’s going. I’ve tried applying Ann Hood‘s novel rubric she shared in the Writers in Paradise workshop. It’s a good tool to get a handle on what a story is about (can you say it in a sentence?), determine what the “container” is (time frame and place), and sketch out the main characters and plot points. The rubric helped, but I’m still not there.

Getting from here to there

I have to confess I’ve never been big on plot points, but I’m learning. I tend to want to let the story evolve, which means I probably have to do a lot more work than someone who is able to plan the book out, start to finish. So I had been feeling a little inept as a writer  until I read a piece in The Writer’s Chronicle last week (March/April 2013 issue).

Many writing experts contend that we should know everything we possibly can about a character before we begin. But in “Homo Sapiens v. Homo Fictus, Or Why a Lot of Knowledge Can Be a Dangerous Thing Too,” David Jauss takes the stance that we don’t have to know everything! In fact, Jauss says it may be preferable not to know; not knowing every little detail ahead of time may lead to richer characterization as we discover things about characters as we write them. (I highly recommend this article; if you’re an AWP member but not a subscriber, you can access it online. Or maybe you can find a copy at your library. It’s worth the read, especially if the issues surrounding characterization are of particular importance to you.)

What a relief!

What Jauss says doesn’t absolve me of all responsibility where this manuscript is concerned. I can’t put the writing on automatic pilot–wouldn’t that be interesting?–but his take allows me the freedom to write about this character and her circumstances and see if, after a while, I’ll discover along with her how she ticks, where she’s headed, and how she’ll get there.

So here we go, my make-believe friend, Robin! Let’s see where the words on the page take both of us.

How do you handle your less-than-cooperative characters? Are you a “know everything” writer or one who goes with the flow?

My Next Big Thing

The Next Big Thing has been going around the web for quite some time. I’ve chickened out before, but since this meme keeps cropping up, I finally decided to have a go at it. Thanks to Lydia Sharp at The Sharp Angle (a resourceful blog for writers, by the way), for her invitation to talk about my next big thing!

1. What is the title of your book?

Spirit Lamp

2. Where did the idea come from for the book?

My grandmother, about seventeen
My grandmother at about age seventeen. What a wonderful hat! Or are those big bows?

This book has its roots in autobiographical sources, based partly on a story my grandmother told about her father’s death. He was shot and killed in a hunting accident, but she always believed he was murdered. The main character, Leona, derives from a young woman I vaguely knew growing up. She had an illegitimate son, and she and the boy lived with her mother just down the street from us. They were shunned in our little community, and as a child, I was both curious and bothered by their circumstances.

3. What genre does your book fall under?

Spirit Lamp is set during World War I in rural north Mississippi, so it’s historical fiction. Whether it’s “literary” or not depends, I suppose, on readers’ perceptions of it. I recently read Donald Maass‘s book, Writing 21st Century Fiction. He describes the “new” fiction as a hybrid, combining the best of commercial/genre fiction (great plot) with strong characters and beautiful writing (what we generally think of as “literary”). I hope Spirit Lamp is that kind of book.

4. What actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?

Oh, this one is fun, although, as Lydia Sharp says in her “next big thing” post, there’s some danger in choosing actors at this point. Actors could grow old (or worse) before the agent/publisher/book-sitting-on-the-bookstore-shelf (or on iPads or Kindles or whatever) scenario plays out! But I’ll do it anyway: Amanda Seyfried (Cosette in Les Miserables) is perfect for Leona–do you think she can do a Southern accent?—and I’d want Morgan Freeman to play Luther. Nobody else would do. There’ll be a few other crucial role choices, but I’ll settle for these two at the moment.

5. What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?

In Spirit Lamp, a historical novel set in rural Mississippi during World War I, an outcast white girl and an elderly black sharecropper share a rare and tender bond, drawn together by a deadly secret.

6. How long did it take you to write the first draft?

About a year and a half; about a year for revision.

7. Who or what inspired you to write the book?

My great-grandfather (the one who was killed in a hunting "accident"), holding my mother
My great-grandfather (the one who was killed in a hunting “accident”), holding my mother

I’m fascinated by family stories and the place where I grew up. Both inform my fiction. I was drawn to this particular era because so many things were happening: on a grand scale, the Great War and the influenza epidemic; closer to home, my grandfather’s service in the war and my grandmother growing up in poverty and the festering prejudices of a small community.

8. Is your book published, upcoming, and/or represented by an agency?

I don’t have an agent, but I’m querying!

Here’s where I’m supposed to tag people to do their own “next big thing.” I know a lot of folks with works in progress, so I won’t single out anyone. If you see this post, please  consider yourself tagged and tell us about your “next big thing”!