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Wednesday, April 30, 2014


The Writing Process Blog Hop is an author-run series, in which indie authors share a bit about their writing process, then pass the buck to the next guy. I’m following Amy Biddle, one of the co-founders of Underground Book Reviews and author of The Atheist's Prayer and Deb O'Neil at Writing Against the Wind

What am I working on?
I'm writing the sequel to Ye Gods! I'd originally planned to hold off on this, write something else first to wait and see how Ye Gods! does and if readers are interested in a sequel. No point in continuing the story if no one wants to read it, right? I'd started a fantasy/magical realism buddy-story about 4 long-time friends who golf together every day at the Charleston Municipal Golf Course, but the characters from Ye Gods! wouldn't shut up long enough for me to really get any traction on Old Putters, so I set it aside. I do have a short story, "Golf Goes On," based on the opening to Old Putters that's been accepted by Fear and Trembling, although I don't have a publication date for it yet.

How does my work differ from others of its genre?

While there are a lot of novels that employee magical realism, I think the Caribbean setting in Ye Gods! adds a layer of authenticity to it. There's something about the tropics that makes us believe magic can happen there. I hope my experiences living in Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands bring those settings and characters to life for the reader. In Ye Gods! the exotic setting lets people's imaginations run a little more wild than they would in suburbia. It lets the reader suspend disbelief, be more open to the magical quality of it all: There could be a monster lurking in the dense tropical vegetation. Those flickering lights could be a UFO. Those mysterious noises could be the chupacabra.

Waterfall on a Caribbean island (Dominica):
magic could happen here.
While Marina Melee doesn't have the magical realism component, I think the change in George over the course of the novel is due to that magical nature of the Caribbean. Most people think "oooh, tropical island---exotic, paradise," and become captivated, as George did. For people who actually live on tropical islands, the setting isn't "exotic," it just is, it's part of your daily life. Not that you don't recognize and appreciate the beauty, but it's background noise. You go about your daily life the way everyone else does, going to work, to school, the grocery store. You have to pay the bills, think about the cistern running out of water, getting the kids to school on time through the traffic. Throwing someone like George, who arrives in the "ooh, ahh" phase of enchantment, right into the work-a-day world of a tropical island, having to navigate a new culture, lends itself to a lot of humor as he adjusts from the idea of "it's all beaches and umbrella drinks" to "I have to pay the bills and supervise my staff."
Life on a tropical island: it really isn't this all the time!

Why do I write what I do?

Some of the best writing advice I've heard comes from Neil Gaiman: "write the story you want to read." (Thus, my working on "The Un-familiar" now, regardless of its eventual marketability.) He tells authors not to chase after the next big thing because no one can predict that. If you write the current "big thing" it won't be big by the time it gets published, unless you rush it to publication which is a big disservice to the craft of writing and a bigger disservice to the reader. I write what I enjoy reading: quirky satires that, on the surface might just be a fun story, but have some hidden depth that can make the reader think and laugh and look at the world in a different way. I love the magical realism of Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Tom Robbins, Christopher Moore, Neil Gaiman, and Terry Pratchett. They're all masters at making the magical real and the real magical. While I don't think my writing is comparable to any of theirs yet, it's what I strive for.

How does my writing process work?

I'm not one of those diligent and self-disciplined authors who sits down and writes every day. I have to know what I'm going to write, otherwise I end up with gibberish that I'm going to delete anyway. Once I have the main idea of a novel, the "what if..." question and know a few characters, I spend a lot of time thinking about the story and "writing it" in my head. I think out the beginning, ending, and a few way points to get me there while I'm driving, swimming, walking the dogs, doing anything but writing. (Turns out, I make a lot of progress on the plot while doing yardwork, but don't tell my husband that or he'll use it against me!)

Once I have that, I make a plot-line or outline. For Marina Melee, I did it with post-it notes, index cards, and a bulletin board. Now I've moved on to a big roll of butcher paper and colored markers (see the photo below for the first outline of Ye Gods!) I link character interactions and related sub-plots with arrows, color-code characters, and run a timeline along the top of the scroll to figure out how I'm going to get from here (the beginning) to there (the end), hit the way points, and create and connect the dots in between. Then I start writing. Until I get to about chapter 3. Then I go back, re-do the timeline and write a synopsis. Yes, the dreaded synopsis--but I find it really helps for me to write a "pre-completion synopsis". When I write this pre-story-synopsis, I don't have the pressure of knowing "this is what's going to sell my novel to, or get it rejected by, an agent." This is for me. Do I know my story well enough to tell what my story is about in just a few pages? If I can't do that, I go back to the pondering stage to figure out what I'm missing, then redraw the storyline, before I get back to writing.

Mapping out Intersecting Plot Lines and a Timeline for "The Un-familiar."
If that sounds like a lot of work going on before I really make any meaningful progress, you're right, but to me, it seems like a lot less work than forcing myself to write every day just to meet a word count, then throwing those words out, or writing "the end" knowing I'm going to go back and tear it all apart in rewrites. That doesn't mean I don't do a lot of editing and some rewriting, but by the time I even start, I've rewritten it in my head enough times that I'm fairly confident the story I write is the one I wanted to tell.

Following me next week on the #mywritingprocess tour are:

Sophie Schiller, the author of Spy Island
 Jo Anne V Simson, author of Korea, Are You at Peace? and The God That Says, I Am.

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