Writers Blog Tour 2014

photo-2A couple of weeks ago, my friend Nancy Nordenson kindly invited me to participate in a “blog tour” for writers. Basically I answer four questions about writing (see below) on my blog. In this post I ‘tag’ two more writers who then answer the same questions and ‘tag’ two more writers. And on the tour goes, building community and giving interested blog readers a glimpse of other people’s writing process along the way.

I first met Nancy in the New Mexico mountainside, where we were both studying Creative Writing through Seattle Pacific’s MFA program. She is a thoughtful and eloquent essayist, and her latest book, Finding Livelihood: A Progress of Work and Leisure, is due to be released in 2015.  You can read her blog tour answers over at her blog, where you can also treat yourself to more of her work. I am honoured she asked me to participate. Thanks, Nancy!

The blog tour questions are:

What am I working on?
How does my work differ from others in its genre?
Why do I write what I do?
How does my writing process work?

Here goes…

What am I working on?

Although I have a couple of small reviews and essays on the go, my fiction is my main focus right now. Specifically, I am revising a series of stories (some interconnected) that I have had “in the drawer” for a while. I’m grateful for the non-fiction opportunities that have come my way in the past few years, and for my 9-5 writing for a relief and development agency. I know these opportunities sharpen and refine my writing skills (and also teach me the art of writing under a deadline!). But there are only so many hours in a day, as they say, and I’ve been neglecting my fiction for far too long. So it is exciting to set aside time to make it a priority again.

(Oh yes, and related to this fiction revision/revitalization quest: I’ve also been using writing exercises to help me reclaim the joy of writing regularly. I want to get back in practice of filling pages, even when I’m between projects. Jeff Vandermeer’s Wonderbook: A Guide to Writing Imaginative Fiction has been great for this so far. It is an eclectic, visually stunning collection of craft advice even–and it is not just for sci-fi or fantasy writers, either. I highly recommend it.)

How does my work differ from others in its genre?

Ah, an interesting question for a writer to answer, as it seems readers might have an easier time talking about what separates writers from each other.

Well, first I want to say that it seems pretty paralyzing for a writer to be too preoccupied with being ‘different’. That is, think that they have to offer the world writing that is completely unlike anything else that has ever been written—in style, tone, or plot. I have come to believe that the first concern for any story should be that it is well-crafted. Everyone carries influences into their work, just as everyone carries unique experiences and personal histories.

Does that sound like a bit of a cop out? It’s not meant to be. I just believe that if a story is truly well told then it is always new and fresh, and a strong voice will always set the story apart. And trust me, I still have days where I am stuck in the everything-has-already-been-said-better-than-I-could-ever-say-it mentality. But for the most part I have learned to break free and focus on writing what I feel called to write (and on these days it helps to read Henri Nouwen’s great, peace-giving quote about why we have to “trust that our stories deserve to be told.”)

I admit, too, that part of my difficulty with this question comes from my struggle to sort out where my current stories fit, genre-wise. See, like many short story writers, I began writing stories after falling in love with the masters of realism—Raymond Carver, Alice Munro, and so on. I loved—and I still love—stories centered on ordinary people, with subtle builds of tension, and small revelatory moments that offer insight into characters. My early stories stuck closely to this model. Over the years, though, I’ve also encountered stories with elements of magical realism and odd, often comedic (even if tragicomic) plots. And now I’m finding it more natural to write in the space where the realistic and the fantastic collide, especially when it comes to exploring matters of faith and questions of justice—what people do or do not believe in. I’m writing a little …weirder and louder these days. It is definitely not fantasy, and it’s not an attempt to be flashy. Let’s just say I’m noticing places in my old work that I can bend in fresh ways—ways that feel truer to the spirit of my voice than strict realism. I’m also staying open to this approach in my new work. So, we’ll see where this takes me!

Why do I write what I do?

In the previous question I talked about fiction as a way of exploring matters of faith and questions of justice. But I don’t want to make it sound like I write it just to push my own beliefs or set answers into the world. I write what I do because it is an honest   way for me to wrestle with the world and the many mysteries, pains, and subtle miracles of being human. When I can sit with these tensions and capture what is true about them by creating something from them, it is deeply satisfying. And, quite simply, I write what I do because I enjoy it—and I hope that this joy is generative to those who encounter my work. It can be lonely and intimidating work—especially when you throw in all the considerations related to publication. But it can’t be about that—not at its core. It has to be about joy.

How does my writing process work?

My process is changing all of the time.

I keep a journal, for, example but that’s mostly for character details, sensory observations, and images. I never get my whole drafts out by hand, but when I’m computer-screen-bleary, there’s nothing like scribbling down images, phrases, and ideas on paper.

While I am not an outliner, I sometimes I find it helpful to sketch out where a story could be headed—especially if I’m stuck on setting up a scene when really I just want to get the scene down on paper before it flees my brain.

As I mentioned, revisions can take me a while, and I end up putting a draft “in the drawer” for a while so I can return to it later and work it into a final version.

I could go on. Instead, though, I’ll end with a bit from a guest post piece I wrote a couple of years ago about how I begin a story, and how I learned to embrace the wandering nature of my process in general. So here are a few snippets that explain why writing often feels to me like meandering—like “roaming around without my shoes” :

Often I start with an image—but not always. There is no always in this process, for me.

Sometimes I start with snatches of dialogue of fragments of setting. Like many writers I know, I have entire documents and notebook sections that don’t contain a single complete sentence—odd testimonies to my nomadic process.

I might begin by mimicking lines (often first lines) I love—sentences that are mysterious and simple in all the right places. My own creations are shoddy in comparison, of course. But, I am writing. And I am writing sentences, and I am starting something, here.

Forget that someday-reader, I tell myself—I am writing, now. I am meandering, but not—as the common definition of the word suggests—moving about from place to place without aim. My aim is to make, and making I am.

The only truly aimless days are the days I dismiss these raw pages. I deny their place in the process, too afraid to see them as the beginning of what could one day be called…literature.

(You can read the rest of the piece here, over at Ross Gale’s excellent blog)

Among some of my lovely writer friends in Santa Fe, NM. Meg and I are the ladies in shades.

Who are you tagging to continue the Blog Tour adventure?

Okay, so it’s not a real blog tour question, but it’s a good one! I’m excited to tag the following two friends to carry on this tour:

Meg Sefton. Meg is another dear friend I made in grad school. We have spent many wonderful hours together drinking wine, talking fiction, and pondering the power of a story well told. Her writing is evocative and bold–and I am particularly in awe of her gift for flash fiction (not an easy form).

Nicholas Siegel. I met Nicholas while writing a piece for antler, an online writing community he is involved in. He is a fiction writer and a kindred spirit in terms of his love for exploring the intersection of art and faith (and his adoration for The Office US). You can find out more about Nicholas and read his blog tour answers here.

Thanks for reading, good readers.

7 thoughts on “Writers Blog Tour 2014”

  1. I recently did something similar on my own blog. We called it a “blog hop” which is the same thing but with a fifties, retro title (or so it would seem). Carry on. Word up!

      1. Adele, I couldn’t agree more. A wonderful way to glean from writers I respect in the process of building my own skills. A fun idea!

  2. “the everything-has-already-been-said-better-than-I-could-ever-say-it mentality.” Great reminder to not listen to that evil voice. Wonderful to read your answers. Thanks for your post.

    1. Thank you, Margie. Glad you enjoyed it. I very much appreciated your blog tour post as well—and am thankful for your writing. Continued blessings on your work!

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