Monday, April 28, 2014

Blog Hop: What I'm Working On and Other Burning Questions

Yay, Anna Leahy, Lofty Ambitions, and thank you for inviting me to participate on this blog hop (which makes me think of the bunny hop, of course).  The idea is, literary bloggers are all answering the same four questions about our writing process and inviting more bloggers to participate, which I think means that by the end of the year every blog on the internet will feature a variation on this post.

“…My [writing] process feels as if I’ve been craving asparagus all day, but I go to the kitchen and there’s none there. Or more likely, it’s become soft and smells, probably gone bad by just a day, because I had a late class last night and sustained myself with peanut butter on crackers between tasks. Will I savor the asparagus more if I have to wait and plan for it, or will I be craving something else tomorrow?”

And here’s where to find the always fascinating Lofty Ambitions:

And at the end of my rambling, I’ll tempt you with my invitees who will be posting next week.

1) What am I working on?
It’s a secret.  No, not really—but it is something in the beginning stages, so I don’t have a good “elevator speech” prepared, mostly because I don’t quite know what it is myself.  Here’s what I tell people if I am trapped in that elevator with them:  “It’s a pile of 200 pages that might be a novel or might be linked stories or might be a few separate short stories or might be nothing but a bunch of crap.”  People are definitely eager to hear more after I explain it thus.

But, just for you, I’ll reveal these tiny, pertinent facts:
--It’s set in Chicago in the 1980s.
--Many of the sections?/stories?/chapters? are composed of small pieces that started in my monthly neighborhood prompt group.  
--I’m kind of afraid of this material, and something keeps dragging me back to it, even after I swear I’ll give up and turn to more rational pursuits.
--Whatever it turns out to be, I think it will be arranged in an unusual way, and even as I hate the puzzle of trying to figure it all out, I’m also totally absorbed by these thoughts.  “Mosaic” is a word I often chant as I stare at the 200-page-pile in frustration, and “collage.”

Maybe this is what I should say: I am working on a novel-length word collage.

2) How does my work differ from others of its genre?
I guess I’ll define my “genre” as literary fiction, which is such a wide open umbrella that I doubt there’s any writer who could define similarities of the genre beyond, I suppose, a focus on character development, language, and voice.  Oh, and not making much $$.

I find that I like to write about things that happen in small scraps of time, and going down deeply; I would be content to write 25 pages about fifteen minutes taking place in someone’s life.  I’ve been playing around with form; I’m obsessed with the second person and list stories.  (Here’s a second person list story of mine in case you’re interested!) And, like everyone, I like writing about dysfunctional relationships.  And characters who have secrets, especially if they are unreliable narrators. 

If you can believe any of that…

3) Why do I write what I do?
I will go off on a tangent (shock) to remember back in a writing workshop in college where that was our first assignment, to write an essay answering a form of that question:  Why do you write?  I think I was supposed to come up with an “answer” like everyone else did—to communicate, to share my vision, blah, blah, blah—but I (melodramatically) wrote several paragraphs about how if I knew the exact answer, I wouldn’t feel the need to write anymore.  I’m not sure if that’s exactly true, but I’m not sure it’s untrue.  It’s honestly not something I think about much.  The stories and images I care about enough to devote my time and energy and intellect to all seem to come from what I call “the dark place,” a place that dwells within each of us, though it might be less scary if we simply referred to it as “the subconscious.”  But I’m pretty sure all writing involves a fair amount of fear, so I’ll stick to “the dark place.”  See: myth of Orpheus.

4) How does your writing process work?
Slowly, obsessively, painfully, stoically.  Grind out a draft (computer).  Set it aside and fret: genius or fraud? (this is when I get to drink).  Rewrite (on computer).  Repeat (on paper).  Repeat (read out loud). Multiply by as many times as needed.  Give up and declare it finished. (I also get to drink here.)


My Blog Hop invitations went to three fabulous women, so hop over there next week to see their responses:

My former writing group buddy and dear friend, C.M. Mayo.
C.M. Mayo's most recent book is Metaphysical Odyssey into the Mexican Revolution: Francisco I. Madero and His Secret Book, Spiritist Manual (Dancing Chiva, 2014). She is also the author of the novel The Last Prince of the Mexican Empire (Unbridled Books, 2009) which was named a Library Journal Best Book; Miraculous Air: Journey of a Thousand Miles through Baja California, the Other Mexico (Milkweed Editions, 2007), and Sky Over El Nido (U Georgia Press, 1995), which won the Flannery O'Connor Award for Short Fiction. A sometime resident of Washington DC and a long-time resident of Mexico City, she is an avid translator and editor of the anthology of 24 Mexican writers, Mexico: A Traveler's Literary Companion. She recently celebrated 8 years in the blogosphere with Madam Mayo.

Kelly Ann Jacobson, one of my super-talented former thesis students at Johns Hopkins University, a recent graduate with two novels out already!
Kelly Ann Jacobson lives in Falls Church, Virginia. She recently received her MA in Fiction at Johns Hopkins University, and she is the Poetry Editor for Outside In Literary & Travel Magazine. Kelly is the author of the literary novel Cairo in White and the young adult trilogy The Zaniyah Trilogy, as well as the editor of the book of essays Answers I'll Accept

And Shelby Settles Harper, another super-talented former workshop student (now graduate) from Johns Hopkins University, hard at work on her novel!
Shelby Settles Harper holds a Juris Doctor from the University of Colorado, a Master of Arts in Writing from Johns Hopkins University, and is a citizen of the Caddo Nation of Oklahoma.  Her work can be found in Gargoyle Magazine #61 (forthcoming); aaduna; Tin House online blog; Defying Gravity: An Anthology of Washington, DC Area Women; So to Speak: a feminist journal of language and art; Bethesda Magazine; and Outside In Literary and Travel Magazine.  Shelby lives with her husband and three children in the Washington, D.C. suburbs, where she writes for the parenting blog Red Tricycle about family-friendly adventures in the nation’s capital.


DC-area author Leslie Pietrzyk explores the creative process and all things literary.