Friday, June 13, 2014

Blog roll -- What I'm Working On

I’m back!
Well, actually—I haven’t been anywhere, but I’ve been finding it a bit difficult to keep my blog going. It’s kind of a good problem, in a way—I’ve been finishing one project and beginning another (more on that below), but that’s meant I’ve been away from the ‘Bean for too long!
Recently I was invited by Heather Gudenkauf to participate in a blog roll, so this is the perfect time to make a return. If you don’t know Heather’s books, you should definitely check them out. She’s the author of four novels, including Little Mercies, which releases on June 24. You’ll love it—I did!—it’s a ripped-from-the-headlines story about the consequences of a single distracted moment. I was thrilled to meet Heather recently at Book Expo America, and I’m so excited for this book’s release. You can check out Heather’s website for her answers to these questions. My answers follow…
Right now, promotions are gearing up for The Fragile World, which publishes in October 2014. I was thrilled to receive an ARC of the book recently—so now I know it’s real! It’s been so much fun to visit with book clubs that have read The Mourning Hours, and I’m excited to introduce readers to my next book, too.
I typically teach a summer session class, but I found myself with unexpected (and welcome!) time off—so this is the perfect opportunity to start researching and drafting Book #3. What sort of research, you ask? Well, this month’s to-do list includes interviews with a paramedic, police officer, prosecutor, defense attorney and school guidance counselor, and that’s just for starters. I’m beginning to draft my ideas, which is always an exciting part of the process.
My work falls into what is considered the “literary fiction” genre. I do write for adults, but my years of teaching junior high and high school have given me an interest and a bit of insight into a younger voice. In The Mourning Hours, most of the story is told from the perspective of a nine-year-old girl. In The Fragile World, the narration alternates between 16-year-old Olivia and her father. I love to consider how the same event affects people differently, depending on point of view.
Overall, the events I focus on tend to fall into the category of “could-be-real”—things that could happen to real people, somewhere. I’m interested in how people deal with tragic circumstances and ultimately pick up the pieces of their lives. Henrik Ibsen famously remarked that all the material he could possibly need was found in the Bible and the daily newspaper—essentially, there was enough material there for any writer to mine. I think I would add to that list a close observation of the people I encounter. Real life is pretty fascinating when you look closely.
I haven’t had a personal connection with either of the topics I addressed in my first two novels—a missing girl and a dead brother/son—but once I started brainstorming about the ideas, I found that I became very attached to the people in the story. (They are fictional people, yes—which is one of the things that make writers a bit strange.) At some point, the characters do begin to seem very real to me, and I feel this responsibility to do justice to them in the telling of their stories.
I also write to share a good story with readers, of course. I was a reader long before I became a novelist, and I am grateful to many authors and books for making me the person and the writer I am today. It gives me goosebumps to think my work might inspire a reader in the same way.
I mentioned that I’m in the “drafting” stage for my third book. Right now I’m not so much writing the story as figuring out the backstory. Who are these people, and what has happened to them before the reader encounters them on page one? I have a file of questions to “ask” each character, and a list of things I’ve learned about them. It may seem a bit tedious as a process, but it allows me to really get inside the characters’ heads. When I fully understand them, I can write them.
Once I’m into the story, I tend to set myself a word count goal for each writing day. When I was writing The Fragile World, I kept a Word document that was nothing but dates and numbers—a way for me to keep myself motivated and encouraged during some long, lonely hours. Day to day it never seems like much is happening with the story, but to look back at 20,000 words written in the last month is kind of amazing.
Most of my writing takes place in the coffeehouses nearby my home in Modesto, CA. I’ve simply found that I can’t focus at home—my pets need to go in and out, the doorbell rings, something from the refrigerator is calling my name. Weirdly, the chaos of a busy coffeehouse bothers me not at all, and it gives me a chance to do a little people watching, too.
I’ve heard—and read—about writers who outline their stories, so that they know exactly what will happen next. I’m a bit jealous of this as a process, but I have to say that it doesn’t work for me. I suspect that if I had the entire plot outlined on a piece of paper, one of two things would happen—I would be bored with the story and never actually write it, or I would decide to change it all anyway as I went.
Instead of a strict outline, I have a general idea of where the story might go, which often includes a few specific scenes. I like to start each day with an idea of what I’m going to write, but beyond that, I let the characters and the situations speak to me. This is the best part about writing, the serendipity. Just by sitting at my laptop with my fingers on the keys, some unexpected discovery will happen.

So, as part of this blog roll, I’d like to introduce you to three writers I’m lucky to know. They’ll be following up soon with their answers to the same questions…

I met Sarah Jamila Stevenson around publication time for The Mourning Hours. Sarah is the author of the YA novels The Latte Rebellion, Underneath and the recently released The Truth Against the World. She writes a fantastic blog about books, which you should definitely check out!

Last year I stumbled across The Longings of Wayward Girls by Karen Brown, and fell in love with the story. It was Brown’s debut novel, although she has equally wonderful collections of short stories. I think what attracted me most to Longings was the balance of child and adult perspective, and the way that the events from our pasts have a hold on our present situations. Read this book! It’s fantastically gripping.

Elizabeth Searle is an eclectic writer and fantastic mentor, and I’m lucky to know her as both. If you’re fascinated by our celebrity-obsessed culture, you’ll love her novella Celebrities in Disgrace and her blog by the same name. Recently, she published Girl Held in Home—a ripped-from-the-headlines, could-be-real tale of domestic terror. Elizabeth is on faculty at the Stonecoast MFA program (University of Southern Maine), and I was fortunate to have an early draft of The Mourning Hours discussed in her workshop.

Thanks for reading – and now, go check out these other authors!

1 comment:

  1. I loved reading this and learning more about your process! Your discussion of the "whys" of writing really resonated with me. I look forward to digging into my own blog post...most likely tomorrow. Thanks for including me!