Why We Do What We Do
Thank you so much to Luanne Castle at Writer Site for asking me to participate in this conversation on writing process.
Luanne lives in Arizona and California; our paths would never have crossed without her wonderful blog. Yet, I’ve since learned we have mutual writing friends and, out of her long list of publications, we share a literary journal in common. I love this connectivity, which is what Luanne does so well on her blog. She connects with her readers, both through the incredibly substantive information she offers on the art of writing memoir and the warmth she shares with each person who chooses to comment on her posts. Her first collection of poetry Doll God is about to be released by Aldrich Press imprint of Kelsay Books. You can read an example of her intriguing memoir writing here in River Teeth. You can learn more about her writing process here. If you choose to follow her blog, you won’t be disappointed.
To the questions, which made me think, which made me learn, for which I am grateful!
What am I working on at the moment?
As two big projects rotate out of my constantly juggled life (the Door of Hope Writing Group’s book Writing Our Way Home: A Group Journey Out of Homelessness, was released by Triton Press in August, and I’ve successfully consolidated my fractured online presence into this singular website (yippee!)), I look up to see blue sky. Open space. Room and time to breath.
In that sighing place of happiness, I’m revising my novels. I’ve described what’s happening here and, unbelievably, I’ve stayed the course. The first two novels are still making the rounds; I’ve received feedback from the editor on the Mississippi novel; I’ve finished tweaking the Hurricane Katrina novel, Jazzy. Now, I’m letting Jazzy sit for a bit while I further tweak Train Trip before sending out more queries : is anything ever actually finished?
In between novel revising, I’ve picked up some old short stories and, with the help of my wonderful writing group, I’m revising and submitting them. I’m also half-way into the creation of a “how to” manual for writing in community. Encouraged by Literacy Mid-South, I’m putting together a simple primer based on the Door of Hope Writing Group method. We’ll probably call it “Community Writing for Mannequins” so as not to infringe any copyrights (that’s a joke, y’all.)
How does my work differ from others of its genre?
My body of work is hard to classify into a genre. Train Trip is commercial women’s fiction. Model for Deception is an amateur sleuth mystery. In the Name of Mississippi is literary with a legal thriller element. Jazzy is . . . who knows? A novel with an eleven-year-old protagonist that wasn’t written for middle schoolers. The Bone Trench is urban fantasy. The House on Saint Lawrence Street is an old-fashioned tear-jerker. What ties them all together? They are doused in the atmosphere of the Southern USA.
Why do I write what I do?
Of all things, I had to answer this question when I was redoing my website. What, I asked myself, do you want people to know about your work? I looked at all my major works and analyzed the subject matter and themes. I discovered that my life created my work, and included this explanation on the website:
My life has been shaped by two very early events: I was born into the racism of the civil rights South, and I carry the grief of my daddy being killed by a train. Much of my writing carefully picks at the nuances of racism, and many of my stories involve the child trying to understand the space left by a missing parent. The two jobs for which I’ve been well-paid are lawyering in Jackson, Mississippi and walking the runway in Memphis. I follow my own peculiar definition of God, which led me to start a writing group of men and women who have experienced homelessness. I love all the people in my life but mostly my husband, my dog (yes, she’s a person), and my two grandbabies. I’ve been known to appear in public in costume.
How does my writing process work?
I work by instinct. I write and when I finish writing, I trust what I’ve written. I look back at it to see what exactly I wanted to say. I revise into that. For short stories, this process (now, after much, much practice and a long period of “what the hell is she trying to say?” out of which I never would have emerged without my patient Rump writing group), is fairly easy. Write. Revise. Get feedback. Revise. Voila!
For novels, I’m still flailing around a bit. Obviously, I get the story down on paper (I use the term “paper” figuratively—all of my writing is done on my MacBook Air). I revise. Get feedback—some of these novels have been read by over ten readers. But I recently realized I need to have a strong sense of what I’m trying to do with the novel in order to effectively use reader feedback. I need to know exactly why I’m doing what I’m doing (remember: I do, in fact, trust there was a reason for what I did). Then compare that with what readers/editors/agents want me to do. And figure out how the two overlap. This I am still learning.
Onto the fun stuff.
Here are my nominees who will post their responses to these four questions on their blogs.
First, Emma Connolly
Now, right off the bat, I’m breaking the rules. Although Emma is a gifted writer, I’ve invited her to join in this blog so you can learn about her new endeavor, Uptown Needle & Craftworks. Emma has leapt off the diving board of her old life and into her dream. She’s recently opened a creativity mecca in the city I consider the epicenter of creativity, New Orleans. She is blogging about this new adventure at Uptown Needle & Craftworks.
Next, Elizabeth Queen
I’ve known Elizabeth since the day she was born. She is my goddaughter. She’s also a brilliant writer. From Jackson, Mississippi and currently living in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, Elizabeth recently graduated with a Masters in Divinity from Duke Divinity and a Masters in Social Work from the University of North Carolina. She blogs at suchpoeticjustice. If you want to see well-known subjects in a totally new way, follow her blog.
Last but not least, Corabel Shofner
Bel is my hero. She has slogged through the writing/revision/querying/rejection process and emerged victorious: she has an agent who is currently shopping her novel to publishing houses! I love her bio on her wonderful website. Here’s a taste:
Born in the early ‘50s as the youngest child of whimsical parents, Corabel Alexander Shofner was raised in a family of judges, farmers, and colorful women. Brought up amidst formal tea parties and debutante balls of Jackson as well as the conflicting world of her wild Delta grandmother—who flew in the face of all convention—Corabel never learned to navigate the world of alcoholism, delusions of grandeur, and blatant paradoxes of her childhood.
I’m looking forward to what each one of these women has to share about their creative process. What are we inspired to create? How—concretely, physically—do we successfully translate that wisp of desire into something another, distinctly different person connects with? How is what I do similar to what you do? How is it different? The answers—from ourselves, from others—might surprise you.