As you may know, I’m a sucker for talking about process. I’m always tinkering with the way I approach my writing, whether it’s switching from computer to typewriter to pen and paper (stone tablet can’t be far off at this point), outlining using notecards or flying by the seat of my pants. So, when my friend Sierra Skye Gemma tagged me for a blog hop about process, naturally I said yes.
If you don’t know Sierra, she’s pretty darn awesome. Clearly, I’m not the only one who thinks so, because the Vancouver writer has won awards, like the Edna Staebler personal essay competition and a National Magazine Award for best new writer for her essay, The Wrong Way. She also made my entry into graduate school much less traumatic and angst-filled than it might otherwise have been. She’s a good friend.
I’m tagging another good friend, the writer Ruth Daniell, who was also valuable life support during graduate school. She’s a writer and teacher in Vancouver, creator and host of the Swoon literary reading series, and winner of the CBC Books Shakespeare Selfie contest. Oh, she’s also an artist, did I mention that? She is multitalented. I can’t wait to read what she has to say about her own process.
Right. On to the questions!
1) What am I working on?
I’m glad you asked! I’m working on a lot of things at the moment. I’ve finally started on the sequel to The Unwanted, which I’m tentatively calling The Flesh Trap. We’ll see how long that sticks. A couple of people have asked me “How are you going to write a sequel after [SPOILERS]?” There’s always a way.
So, that’s going to be a YA novel, obviously. What else am I working on? I have a noirish novel set in St. Louis that features the detective from my story “Murder on the Midway,” which appeared in Men of the Mean Streets. It also features Michael from the story “Lifeblood” which appeared in Blood Sacraments and Lisa Weiss from my Untreed Reads-published story “Maternal Instincts.” I like mashups, so I figured I’d make my own.
And I just had an idea for a novel about a homebuyer who falls for his real estate agent while they get drawn into solving a string of murders where the bodies have been dumped in the agent’s real estate listings. I’m kind of pleased with the title I have in mind: Closing Costs.
I’m also working on a bunch of short stories, and there’s that middle grade science fiction book I need to get back to….
2) How does my work differ from others of its genre?
This is not something I really think about a lot. Nor am I convinced that there are any “new” stories, just different ways of telling them, and that is different for every story. Plus, like Sierra said, hoo boy doesn’t this question sound just a teensy bit arrogant? So yeah, I just write the stories that stay with me.
3) Why do I write what I do?
Because if I didn’t, my head would explode.
That’s not literally true, but sometimes it does feel like the stories are just itching to get out. (Other times, of course, they have to be dragged with great protest from my head, like trying to get a reluctant child out of bed and off to school—not that I was ever like that as a child.) There are two things that I’ve said in the past which are still pretty good explanations of why I write at all, much less why I write what I do: first of all, to make sense of the world. Or at least, to make sense of my world. In my current project, my protagonist is finding that he’s come full circle and is right back where he started, as if nothing in his life has changed. And I’m feeling the same way in my own life a bit. So it makes its way into the story of my character, and I don’t see how it could not. This, by the way, wasn’t a conscious decision on my part. My understanding of that came after the writing of it, not the other way around.
Second, I write fiction with queer characters (and in particular, YA with queer characters) because I didn’t really have much luck encountering them in my own reading as a teenager.
4) How does my writing process work?
This implies that my process actually works. Also, it implies that I have a process.
I guess I do, and that process would be defined as “whatever works.” Or maybe it would be more accurate to say that my process has evolved over time and is usually specific to the project in question. (Also, that makes me sound way more intelligent than I actually am, so I’ll go with that.) My process for writing novels has certainly changed. I spent eight years, on and off, working on my first novel. It went through three major drafts and countless other minor changes. When I say “major drafts,” what I mean is I rewrote it from third person to first person (which resulted in cutting 40 percent of the manuscript in one fell swoop—that was an exhilarating day), then I moved the ending to chapter one after discovering that I’d made the classic rookie mistake and written my way to the beginning. The second book also had three major revisions but only took three years. The book I wrote for my thesis took a year.
Hey, at least I’m getting faster.
When it comes to the writing itself, I’m neither a plotter nor a pantser, but rather a mix of both. I think we all are at various points in the process. That said, I’m trying to be more plan-oriented with the YA novel at this stage, since I know there’ll be a third book following it.
On a mechanical level, I hop back and forth between a laptop, my phone (yes, really), a Remington typewriter, and a reliable old composition notebook and pen. I work on multiple projects at a time so that when I get stalled on one or just a bit bored, I shift over to another. Most of the time, though, it does help me to keep focus on one project in particular. Once a draft is finished, it gets set aside for a period of time—a month if I have that luxury—and then I take it out and start rereading. It can get pretty brutal at that stage. My first drafts can be loose and ragged—I operate by the motto “Let it suck” when it comes to first drafts. You can make anything better with revision, except for a blank screen or page.