Writing Process Blog Hop

The wonderful and wonderfully talented Brenda Hasiuk invited me to join in this writing process blog hop. You can find out more about Brenda and her awesome new book Your Constant Star here. I also reviewed it here.

So here’s how this works. I will answer four questions about my writing process and then pass the virtual torch to three other writers who will do the same. Here it goes…

Me drawing inspiration from one of the greats

Me drawing inspiration from one of the greats

What am I working on?
After several years, I finally completed my first novel (woohoo!) and am now diving into a first draft of a new novel about identity, and the selves we create and become and leave behind. My first novel was somewhere between fantasy and magical realism, and this new project was supposed to be completely realistic. But then I added a ghost. Apparently I can’t do realism. This project is deeply personal and raw and I’m kind of terriffied to say anything more about it right now.

How does my work differ from others in its genre?
Well, I think I typically write literary fiction with a surreal, fantasy twist, or whatever you want to call it: Slipstream, Magical Realism, Upmarket. I’ve heard all of these terms thrown around and I’m not sure I or anyone else really knows what they mean. I love thinking about the intersection of realities, objective and subjective. The significance of myth and religion and our need for fantastic creatures and miracles. I like to imagine a world where everything exists at once, our observable reality, and another reality within it or behind it or parallel to it, one that is alive with stories and magic and things we’ll never understand. I guess that’s my real interest, the mysterious and unexplained, and how we deal with what we don’t understand.

Why do I write what I do?
I guess I like to think that, on one hand, I need to get these ideas out of my head. But I also write what I do because I want to engage other people in this wild spin that is reality, to hopefully show them another side of the world they know and allow them to see it in a slightly different way. Those are the books I love the most, the ones that make me look at the world differently.

How does my writing process work?
Wow, um…I guess it doesn’t always work. But I’ve discovered that outlining is incredibly helpful for both drafting and revising. I like to make detailed outlines and experiment with moving the pieces around before I dive in. I need to have a direction laid out and then set myself to writing toward that goal. Sometimes I reach it and sometimes it takes me somewhere else entirely. That’s for longer fiction. For shorter fiction I often sit down with a blank page and let a story come out of the moment because I find it has the most energy that way. And in my opinion that energy is what really drives shorter fiction.

I’ve invited the lovely writers listed below to join me in this blog hop. Follow their blogs to see their answers to the writing process questions in the coming weeks.

Brenna Layne

bWhen I was a little girl, I knew that when I grew up, I would be Princess Leia. When I discovered that the one opening had already been filled, I decided to become a jockey and win the Triple Crown. My dreams were crushed when one day, I realized I did not weigh between 0 and 110 pounds. After careful consideration of the Indiana Jones films, I determined that I’d be an Egyptologist instead. I mapped out my future: I would move from the rural South to a huge city, devote my life to running from boulders and discovering pharaohs’ tombs, turn thirty, marry a cute fellow archaeologist, and never have kids–in that order.

Then I went to college. I met a cute local boy who’d realized that the position of Han Solo had already been filled. I realized halfway through my senior year that I’d racked up enough credits for an English major, and listened to the people who tell you that what you do with an English major is teach other English majors. So I did the grad school thing. I quickly realized that if I became a medievalist, I could still wear one of those awesomely nerdy coats with the elbow patches that Harrison Ford wears at the beginning of Raiders of the Lost Ark. I got into a PhD program, where I studied dead languages so that I could curse like a Viking when I got lost in the library stacks. I got married seven years ahead of schedule. I taught English, gave birth to an insomniac, moved into the rural Southern house I grew up in, and had another baby because at that point my husband and I were too sleep-deprived to make informed decisions and figured that maybe the second one would entertain the first one while we crashed on the living room floor.

At some point, I remembered that I’d started writing a novel in eighth grade. I kind of wanted to finish it. Somewhere in between changing diapers and teaching eighth graders about onomatopoeia, I did. And then, at the ripe old age of not-in-my-twenties-anymore, I realized that I still had not decided what I wanted to be when I grew up. But there were stories in my head–stories about other people who didn’t yet know where their lives were headed, but hadn’t yet forgotten how to dream insanely huge dreams. Young adults.

You’re supposed to write what you know. I write fantasy because I have fought dragons and meddled in the affairs of wizards. I don’t write for adults because I’m not sure how to be one yet. Learn more about Brenna and her writing on her website.

Kate Grisim

kKate Grisim is currently a second-year Masters student in the interdisciplinary field of disability studies at the University of Manitoba. Her fiction and poetry have appeared over the years in Juice, the University of Winnipeg’s creative writing magazine, and she was recently a guest editor for an internationally published social justice magazine issue on disability and ableism. Kate was a mentee in Arts and Culture Industries’ mentorship program in 2011-12, and many of the ideas that appear in her blog mylittlecrippledheart started formulating in her mind during that time. She is currently halfway through a writer-in-residency position at the Manitoba Writers Guild called The Disability Project where she works with writers who might not share the majority of their experiences with those in mainstream culture.

Traci Cox

tTraci Cox recently earned her MFA in Creative Nonfiction Writing from George Mason University, where she also taught Composition, Literature and Creative Writing courses. She received her BA in English and Anthropology from James Madison University in 2008. Shortly after graduating, she was awarded a Fulbright Fellowship to teach English and American Literature to high school students in Žilina, Slovakia. Her essays have appeared in The Breeze, Fugue, e-Vision, Write On, Phoebe, Madison Magazine, and The Masters Review. You can follow Traci at marginalia.

 

 

 

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Book Reaction: Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan

Mr Penumbra's 24 hr BookstoreI’ve started labeling these posts “Book Reactions” rather than “Book Reviews” because I don’t want to write up a full review on every book I read, but I want to share what excites me about them.

So, Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore. Where to begin? I loved everything about this book.

I hadn’t heard of it until a friend recommended it, then it sat in my virtual reading list for months, until I finally picked it up last week. Maybe it was for the best that I didn’t read the book sooner, because I have since worked in marketing and now as a technical writer for a software development company, so I totally get where the main character Clay is coming from when he is let go from his marketing/programmer job and thrown into the world.

Clay is a really fun character to spend time with and he pulled me in right away. I really wanted to follow him through his world and see what he was up to, meet the interesting, brilliant artists and programmers and obsessive readers. The other thing that drew me in is the physical books vs. internet-culture debate that rages through the novel, and Clay’s thoughts on both sides. I love honest he is, how one minute he is fighting to create a marketing campaign for a failing bookstore, the next contemplating buying a book on Amazon because it’s cheaper.

As the novel progresses, an intriguing plot develops, and more fascinating characters and ideas about the future of humanity are presented. I devoured this book in a couple days because I had to know what happened, had to discover its secrets-and I genuinely enjoyed spending time with Clay and his friends.

As I was reading the copy I checked out from the library, I found myself wishing I was reading an ebook for the poetic experience it would provide. This was such a brilliant, beautiful reversal on the concept of a paper book being the sarcophagous of the literary form. This excitement for technology is alive in the pages of the novel whether you read the physical book or the ebook (though I can’t vouch for the audiobook if there is one, it may have some differences-you’ll get this if you read the book). As it was, I read a well-loved paper copy that was creased in just the right places, cover worn but not damaged, pages turned but not torn-and this was satisfying as well.

This physical book vs. ebook dilemma really sums up my experience with Mr. Penumbra’s 24 Hour Bookstore. It is a celebration of the written word and its power in all forms. It is a celebration of humanity, of life, and a love-letter to the potential greatness in us all.

To learn more about Robin Sloan and Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore, visit his website.

Book Reaction: Above by Isla Morley

I was planning to review this book, but I decided to only post a quick reaction instead because everything I want to say about it would give away one of the things I loved most about it. All I will say about that is: in a way, this book is a retelling of Plato’s Cave. It’s bizarre that I came across this book when I did because I was just trying to think of a way to write a novel based on the allegory of Plato’s Cave, but figured the idea was too vast. I couldn’t figure out how to contain all the implications in the lives of characters and in the pages of a book, but Morley nails it.

The reason I’m talking around this book rather than about it is because I felt like I was at first being carried along the currents of a predictable story about a girl named Blythe who is kidnapped and forced to live in an abandoned bunker. In her captivity her present is interwoven with memories of the real world she is cut off from.

Maybe I was oblivious, or maybe I was just too close to Blythe’s experience, feeling the lack of wind and the soil all around instead of below, but I was shocked and fascinated by what happened in the middle of the book. It swept me along and made me look at the world in a different way.

This book was an exciting and surprising experience for me, and one that I won’t soon forget. It is crafted from madness and terror and all the ugliness of the world, but it is also a beautiful thing, held together by Morley’s poetic voice.

Isla Morley’s debut novel, COME SUNDAY, was awarded the Janet Heidinger Kafka Award for Fiction in 2009, and was a finalist for the Commonwealth Prize.  It has been translated into seven languages. She has lived in some of the most culturally diverse places of the world, including Johannesburg, London and Honolulu.  Now in the Los Angeles area, she shares a home with her husband, daughter, two cats, a dog and a tortoise.