Month: June 2014

The Writing Process Blog Tour

 

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What am I working on?

I’d say that I’m not quite half way into my third novel, which tells the trials that unfold in extended family over the course of a few short months. It’s told from the perspective of the house itself, an idea I must credit to my friend Mary, who threw it out off-handedly over a glass of wine one night, and the idea stuck. The structure is modeled very loosely on Thornton Wilder’s play “Our Town.” In this case the house takes on the role of narrator in much the same way as the Stage Manager does in the play – sometimes existing within the events and possessing deep feeling for them, and other times standing outside of the action and providing perspective, or bringing in back stories.

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How does my work differ from others in its genre?

Gosh, I guess I don’t really have any idea! My “genre” is literary fiction, I suppose, which falls way down on the list of what most people are writing these days. I have been told often that I am a “voice” writer, in that my writing centers on the distinct — and I hope strong and compelling — voice of the narrator. I do think I’m able to generate a narrative “drive” through the voice, which readers tell me compels the story forward. Plot becomes secondary to the voice, which can become a rather pesky, serious problem at times. Sometimes my narrator has a great deal to say about one thing or another, and loses sight of “story.”

Also, I started out writing poetry, and pursued this for many years initially (despite being Truly Bad). However, it remains a hallmark of my writing that I always endeavor to distill complex characters and situations into an absolute minimum number of words. I read every sentence over and over, and read each one aloud, for the first draft. I’ve been told this is highly irregular and ill-advised, but it’s what works for me.

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Why do I write what I do?

I think most writers would answer this the same way, wouldn’t they? Because I have to. Writing is truly a solitary, gruelingly difficult, soul-wrenching way to pass the time. The reason I do it is because either an idea, or a character, or both, consumes me in a way that I simply must let that character have his/her due. At its best, I feel as if I am “channeling” a character – s/he has possessed me and their story pours out through my fingers. Doesn’t actually make the process of writing itself any easier, but at this point it feels necessary. That feeling helps counterbalance all of the other times that I feel like “What the heck am I doing? Where did I ever get the idea that I have anything whatsoever to say?” But, ah, those writing moments when I feel like I have nailed it – when I have managed to say precisely what I wanted to say – there is no greater feeling of having done something real and good here on Earth.

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How does your writing process work?

Well, for one thing – slowly. It makes me miserable to hear about writers who crank out first drafts in a couple of months. It’s a laborious process to reach an economy of words!
I’ve experimented with plotting things out – in a weird past incarnation of myself I even had a box of index cards with character descriptions and scene ideas and plot developments. This method works for tons of writers, and god love them, I say. But it doesn’t work for me. I got very stuck on the ending of my second novel, and I swore I would not sit in front of a keyboard again with any thought of writing a novel-length work without having a fully-developed, carefully-constructed plot. But hey, the best laid plans and all that. I’m shooting from the hip once again, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

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I didn’t even know what a “blog tour”  was when writer (and indefatigable supporter of fellow authors) Michael Fedison asked if I would do this post, and thereby take part in the tour.  Thanks to Mike for inviting me to join the fun. And now, it’s time for me to pass the baton to next Monday’s bloggers ! It is my pleasure to introduce  authors Robert Villarreal,  anjanapdeep (whose blog is “The Mental Picture), and Sarah Potter (SarahPotterWrites).   Please watch for their posts on the 30th, and check out their work!

 

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“They Died at Home,” part 3, from “Pushing the River” #MondayBlogs

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The blazing azalea bush was in full bloom, and my Lady was still being carried around inside when her mama and daddy bought their house. She knowed this from a photograph of the two of them standing in front of the azalea that spring, and another one of just her mama the very next spring holding a wild-haired infant of a few months when the bush broke out again.

And the boy was growing and kicking inside of my Lady while she and the Husband trudged around looking at place after place. They done their level best to look past the scraps of other people’s lives and to gaze ahead, trying to picture if the mortar and brick that stood around them could ever be a true home. It was early days for them, and the Husband could tell when his pregnant wife was working hard to recall the stoic spirit of her own mama, setting her chin against the desolation rising up behind her eyes. He reached for her hand, and he kissed it. “We’ll find it, baby. We will.”

She growed up thinking that this was the way the world was meant to be. You growed up and you found a worthy partner and you started a family and you made a home to raise them in. And you stayed. You weathered whatever came along, and you stayed. You kept right on staying until the moment of your very last breath on Earth, and you did it in the place where you’d lived.

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“They Died at Home,” part 2, from “Pushing the River” #MondayBlogs

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He shook at her toe a few more times, then went over and sat down upon his own side of the bed. It occurred to him that maybe if he got back under the covers and shut his eyes for a time, then opened them up again, it might all be different.

Instead he picked up the phone. “Bob,” he said. “Bob, I think Mary’s dead. I’m not sure, but I think that maybe she is,” which was an especially sad and strange thing to say considering that he was a doctor, and he knowed right down into his bones that she had breathed her last.

Five years later, he was a shadow of his former self, which ain’t saying much. He spent most of that five years setting in one chair, at a table in his dining room. From that chair, he sorted through his piles of mail, and leafed through his magazines, and sipped at his bowls of lukewarm broth, and watched whatever happened to be on the television. He drank a goodly amount, and he smoked so much that the walls of the house – which had been painted a cheery eggshell white under Mary’s watch – looked for all the world like the entire major league had been spitting tobacco juice at them for the five years since she passed. He ate nothing but canned soup. Chicken noodle, or cream of mushroom, and he drank his whiskey straight, in big tumbler glasses they had gotten as a wedding present with his initials etched in a diamond pattern. The callous on his thumb was substantial from running it across the letter “M,” over and over, the one initial they had in common.

His hands shook bad, his lungs and liver was both shot to hell, he could hardly feel the ground underneath his own feet cause he no longer had the sense of them being attached to his legs. But worst of all for him, his eyesight was near gone, so he couldn’t see to read his beloved newspaper no more. He drank his full pot of coffee and smoked a great many cigarettes each morning while squinting at it, holding it close to one eye first, and then the other; but the news running on the television was giving him all the information he got, really.

My lady was setting there at that table with him, reading him from the newspaper about how them 1,000 miners way off in Poland was barricaded in the a mine in the Silesian coal district, cause they was the last folks still resisting martial law over there. A couple of the boys had been killed, like usual with such goings on, and my Lady was just getting to the details when her daddy placed his cigarette carefully in the ashtray, got a real surprised look on his face, and slid right on off of his chair and onto the floor. He, too, had died at home.

 

photo of  John B. Monier by Barbara Monier

“They Died at Home,” excerpt from “Pushing the River”

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Her own mama and daddy died at home. Her mama simply did not wake up one morning with no warning whatsoever. She gone to bed the night before same as every night of her twenty years in her big bed in the house where she had spent the better part of her life trying to make the very best of a bad situation, that bad situation being marrying my Lady’s father. She tended the flowers in the beds, and washed the drapes once a year like clockwork, and made sure the little ones was dressed and fed and minding their manners. She joined the PTA and the church guild and the neighborhood ladies’ group that met once a month for a light luncheon and cards. She woke up every morning of her twenty years in the house with a determination to face the new day with capital g Grace and to push whatever suffering somebody else in her postion might have felt under the rugs and between the shades of the blinds and to the dark and far corners.

One day my Lady’s daddy came up the stairs from his morning habit of coffee drinking and newspaper reading and thought to hisself: “Why that’s funny. It sounds like the god damn alarm clock is buzzing.”

My Lady’s mama was laying in the bed still and peaceful as could be with the alarm clock screaming like a banshee. Her daddy came on over to the bed and shook at her big toe as it poked up from under the covers. He called her name into the daytime blackness of the room, the bright July sunlight held back cept for the littlest peek here and there. He went over and pushed the peg of the infernal alarm clock, and stood there with his index finger still pushing on it, cause he had the inkling that when he took his finger off of that peg, he would have to figure out what to do next. And he had the further inkling that this could lead to a chain of events that may alter the entire remainder of his natural life.