Many thanks to Rinat Harel for inviting me to join in on this wide-ranging blog tour! I met Rinat through our Davis Square writers’ group, and was immediately impressed by the poetic intensity of her work, even though I have only read examples of her prose pieces. They are always gripping–and generally quite eye-opening, since Rinat is often inspired by events and experiences that are far outside my own. So if you’ve come here from there, welcome, and if you haven’t read any of her stuff, do go check it out at the link above.
As is the way of this particular stroll through the writers’ blog-garden, there are several questions we’re all answering, and then I get to pass you along to one or more other writers I know and admire, so here we go!
What are you working on?
Whoo, baby, that’s a more exciting question than usual! There are two computers on my desk at the moment because I’ve been Skyping while typing like mad with my creative partner in LA, Michele Morris, with whom I’m working on a manuscript for a book of paired photography and poems, called Palettes of Light. One of our pairings from the book is a piece in the Venice Arts 21st gala show as a beautifully framed triptych, so I’ve been putting a lot of work into that manuscript and all the logistical wahoo that goes with launching a piece of your work publicly. (More on that in an upcoming post!)
Squeezed into the interstices of working on that poetry project there are a few other things, chief among which is Dragon’s Midwife, a ecological time travel dragon-inhabited adventure starring Erin, an admitted fantasy nut and mythology nerd. She is doing a summer internship in a tiny Welsh historical society, climbs through a cave in a cliff and ends up in the 1740s at the feet of a dying woman and a pregnant dragon. She’s pretty good with dragonlore, fairly fuzzy on historically accurate details, and her woodcraft is nonexistent, so ending up in a place without her cell phone or a ready supply of Cadbury’s bars is not her cup of tea. Hijinks ensue, naturally.
And, of course, I’m lining up my ducks to figure out what I have available and appropriate for the next round of poetry and short story submission deadlines, and tweaking where necessary.
I’ve never thought this was a fair or easy question. (Genres exist for a reason!) There are writers I admire and hope something of what works in their writing appears in mine, for sure. Like many of the writers I like to read, I enjoy mixing my favorite elements from a lot of genres. I love reading mysteries, fantasies, sci-fi, historical fiction–and some of my very favorite new discoveries in the last few years have been the gaslight fantasies, worlds of Regency era history reinterpreted through a magical lens, etc.
But to attempt to answer the question–unlike some others who write fantasy/sci-fi/historical/adventures and poetry, I write
- absolutely nothing involving zombies or vampires. Nothing I write in that vein could ever be as terrifying as Lloyd Alexander’s Cauldron Born, and I’m not in the habit of giving myself nightmares anyway if I can avoid it. So no undead.
- a hint of old wild magic in just about everything. I can’t write pure sci-fi. I’ve tried. Even the stuff that involves hard science grown directly out of things that are current research ends up with a touch of implied magic.
- a close connection to the environment. Partly a product of spending so much time up trees in the backyard as a kid, partly due to being raised in National Parks (thanks, parents!), partly due to my current job, I’m really aware of the natural world. It is most apparent in my poetry, but I think it works its way into my prose as well, even when that’s not the main point of the piece.
- happy endings. There’s a lot of grimdark apocalyptic or post-apocalyptic stories out there right now. Mine aren’t. The closest I get to an unhappy ending is an ambiguous one.
Why do you write what you do?
Like the icon says, the world is full of (and my brain is full of) too many stories not to try to put a few down on paper, digital or otherwise. I actually get a kind of itchy feeling around the edges of my brain if I haven’t been writing for a while, which is the writing equivalent of getting cranky if one hasn’t gotten enough physical exercise. I write because I love words, because I experience the world through story, because sometimes iambic pentameter is the only way to bottle up that explosive thing under one’s sternum and release it into the world.
Why write fantasy/sci-fi/historical/adventures? Because they’re fun, and all those authors that say ‘write the books you want to read’ are totally right.
Why write poetry? Because I’m better at it than at painting or sculpture, which are the only other art-forms I can think of that express as much emotional ‘oomph’ in as compressed a fashion.
It evolves like a virus. 🙂
Seriously, though, I’ve tried a number of different methods, and what works well for one project doesn’t always help me on another.
With poetry, I always write with pen/pencil and paper. I can’t write poetry on a screen. It all comes out boring and trite. There’s something important about the rhythm of the words and the motion of the hand across the page and the reduced speed that all works together. It’s hard to be contemplative looking at a blinking cursor, but a blank page just looks inviting by comparison. I make sure I always have a pocket-sized notebook and a pen with me. (This usually leads to a pile of pens at the bottom of whatever bag I’m carrying, but fortunately they’re not heavy.)
Prose is more varied. For some stories it helps to try to flesh out the characters a bunch in advance, using some of those profiling prompts one can find online. For others I fill them in as I go along and discover things about the character along the way. Plotting I keep really general, and often end up moving scenes around to try to figure out pacing and character development. It’s more fun to write if I know where it’s going but not precisely how we get there, and I hope to fix it and smooth it out after. Sometimes I have a character just waiting for a story that fits him or her, and they can wait for years. Sometimes I have a great concept for a world, but don’t know who lives in it or what throws them into enough peril for there to be a story. That too can take a while to unravel. I have a lot of filled-up notebooks, and because I suffer a little from what I call ‘crafter’s ADD,’ notes about one project will be on the opposite side of a page that has a whole scene from an entirely different story, and then there’s a poem on the facing page and the scene picks up on it’s reverse. On the off chance anyone but myself ever attempts to read some of these notebooks, I pity them in advance.
The thing I’ve found best recently to keep the writing process moving is breaking up tasks and goals into manageable chunks and making to do lists with deadlines. I write them out on paper and tape them to my front door so I can see them all the time, and I transfer the most immediate (within a month) into my Evernote so I can get at them from anywhere. I take great satisfaction in using leftover reward stickers from my teaching days to fill up the pages with little ‘Great!’ and smiley face stars and whatnot, because visible progress can be hard to come by, and this is the way that works for me.
So now I tag other writers:
The charming Charlie Cochrane and I met through a shared love of the age of sail (especially Horatio Hornblower), the creations of Dorothy Sayers, and history in general. Charlie writes witty, gracious romances and mysteries that are a touch silly, a touch sweet, and a touch sad, and full of great period-accurate detail and feeling. She has numerous novels based on her two best known characters, the irrepressible Jonty and the awkward but endearing Orlando, and has written a number of fun and varied shorts as well, including ‘ .’ (If I remember right, at least one of them is a librarian.) So you may expect her writing process post next week, but I highly recommend that you swing by and check out what she already has on offer, including a series of interesting posts tied in with the centennial remembrance of the beginning of World War I.
October 16 Edit: Charlie’s Writing Process is now up.
And since I want you all to go visit Charlie’s blog and read her stories, I’m not tagging anyone else. I will, however, point out that author Patricia C. Wrede has an incomparable blog focused entirely on the writing process, and she though she herself writes mainly fantasy, her thoughts and suggestions about writing are useful no matter what genre. So if you’re looking for more cool process stuff, go there too.