Location, Location, Location

 

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(Image courtesy of kpgolfpro on Pixabay.)

Yesterday, I spoke excitedly with a work friend about a short story I’m working on. It’s a story which I’ve had to rewrite completely, because the first draft was entirely abysmal — even beyond the point of rescue.

The current draft of the story takes place in Florence. I was explaining this to my work friend, who astutely asked me: “Why Florence?”

“I don’t know,” I said. “I just like it.”

Later, I was reflecting on the first draft, comparing it to the current draft, and I realized one of the major reasons the first draft didn’t succeed was the setting. The first draft was set in a small mountain ski town during off season, where the events of the story would not have been logically possible. Oh, technically they were possible, but it’s a stretch to imagine it. But in Florence, the magic and beauty of the city adds a grandeur and sense of heightened reality. Anything is possible in this magnificent city. The action of the story thus makes much more sense. Anything can — and does — happen.

This just served as a reminder to me about the importance of setting. I often work with interior and intimate domestic settings, so sometimes I forget the importance of that, and what the setting does within the story. It can make such a dramatic difference that the setting can literally determine if a story works, or doesn’t.

I’ve since finished that current draft of the story, and I’ll be revising it over the next week or so. But it’s already taught me a lot, and I look forward to seeing what the revisions teach me.

 

Writing Process Blog Tour Redux

redux

A few years ago I participated in a Writing Process Blog Tour. This was during a particularly crappy part of my life, when I was not very happy with myself, or anything in general.

I recently rediscovered that blog post. First, I had to chuckle at myself and my verbosity (:/). Second, I had to marvel and feel grateful that so much has changed since I made that post.

To that end, I thought I would (re)write this post now, just to see how much has changed, and for the better.

 

  1. What am I working on?

I am writing both a collection of short stories, Love Like Salt, and a composite novel tentatively titled Flesh of Mine. My priority goes to the composite novel right now, simply because the structure of it demands more attention and nurturing.

Love Like Salt is a collection of short stories about trans men, from varying walks of life, and their experiences, particularly their romantic and sexual relationships.

Flesh of Mine follows the family of Michael, a man diagnosed with terminal cancer, as they grapple with his impending death, and then, with grieving him. The blurb I have for the story is as follows:

Their lives weren’t supposed to change, but when Michael is diagnosed with terminal cancer, his family erupts into communal and private chaos. His husband, Cal, veers wildly between his absolute devotion and his fears of the unknowns. As Michael succumbs to the effects of his illness, Kate, Michael and Cal’s seventeen year old daughter, tries to be the bedrock for her family that her parents can’t be. And Erika, Michael’s older sister, finds herself evaluating her life and relationships, especially as her relationship with Cal becomes increasingly intimate.

 

  1. How does my work differ from others of its genre?

My work is almost exclusively about queer people.

My work is also different because of my voice. It’s feverish, heady, and always on the very edge of control, just waiting to descend into chaos.

Structurally my work is different simply because I exploit first person (present and past) to a degree I haven’t seen much of. I’ve written and write multiple narrators, from an old man telling a yarn to a teenager who wants to be tough as hell. I cultivate the individual voices of each of my narrators — which is difficult — but ultimately very rewarding for me. I enjoy seeing how I can make each character sound different, and make each voice distinct.

I tend to warp time. I don’t do it to dick around with my readers, but because, realistically, people don’t lead linear lives. We swing and sway so easily between our pasts and the present. We don’t truly tell linear stories about themselves and those we love.

 

  1. Why do I write what I do?

My writing is best suited for the domestic, the quiet and intimate. My most successful writing has always been focused around hearth and home, and romantic and sexual relationships. I’m fascinated with intimacy and how human relationships work — and don’t. And I want to write people in love, and falling in love, who fuck, and laugh, who love each other something terrible, who bicker and make up, who do sweet soft things for one another just because they love each other. It’s nice to write people loving each other.

 

  1.  How does your writing process work?

I get an idea and I sit on it for awhile. If it stays, I write it.

Since I write primarily short fiction, things get done rather quickly. My turnaround is about two weeks to a month per story, depending on the length and complexity of the piece, and how much fixing up it needs.

I do three drafts plus edits/revisions. First draft is the crap draft, which exists to exist. Second and third drafts are about pruning things back, moving stuff around, and fleshing things out. Subsequent drafts are more about revision — tinkering with things.

After that, I start sending the story out in hopes that it gets published.

I used to belong to writing groups to give me feedback, and have critique partners look at my work. I’ve since realized that critique groups or partners usually hinder, rather than help, my work. I am quite comfortable with my own capacity to see my work’s strengths and weaknesses. When there are faults, I am very confident with my ability to fix those faults.

 

Weekly Excerpt

I’m going to try posting a Weekly Excerpt each week. It will help me continue the habit of blogging regularly, which I started with #WriterLifeMonth. It will also give my existing readers something to read while we wait for my work to find a home and be published ( 🙂 ), and it will give new readers nice tasters of my work.

This excerpt is from one of my works in progress, a composite novel. My current “cover blurb” for the story is thus:

Their lives weren’t supposed to change, but when Michael is diagnosed with terminal cancer, his family erupts into communal and private chaos. His husband, Cal, veers wildly between his absolute devotion and his fears of the unknowns. As Michael succumbs to the effects of his illness, Kate, Michael and Cal’s seventeen year old daughter, tries to be the bedrock for her family that her parents can’t be. And Erika, Michael’s older sister, finds herself evaluating her life and relationships, especially as her relationship with Cal becomes increasingly intimate.

This portion is told by Erika, and takes place immediately after Michael’s diagnosis. She’s an astrophysicist, and that will be fairly obvious once you start reading.

Continue reading “Weekly Excerpt”

Get Knocked Down . . .

Earlier this week I received a form rejection from an anthology submission. 

I hate form rejections. They are cold, cold bastards. Even though I had some reservations about the publisher, and wondered if my piece was right (it obviously wasn’t), a form rejection still stings. It also stings because I’ve had a string of personal rejections, which meant I was headed in the right direction. So a form rejection after that – ouch. 

But I decided to turn it around and submitted that same story to two new markets already, both of which are a much better fit.

Get knocked down, get back up. 

Goal Oriented versus Task Oriented

In a couple of writing workshops I’ve attended, writers were encouraged to think of goals for each character, ie, a challenge or problem the character had to overcome which would signify change in the character.

This is all fine and dandy, and seems to work for some people. The problem I always had that I struggled to conceptualize a goal-oriented challenge for a character. I never entirely know what a character wants or needs until I get there with them.

I was jotting down notes on my latest work in progress, and wrangling with that old issue of not being able to understand a goal for each character. But when I read over my notes I realized: my aims were task-oriented, not goal-oriented. Meaning: my characters had tasks they needed to accomplish, rather than a particular, overarching goal. and these tasks meant the ultimate outcome was open-ended, or that some arcs would remain unresolved, simply because a task-oriented approach allows that.

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I never thought of it that way, so I was ridiculously pleased and a little “mind blown” by it. It’s always nice when you understand your own writing process better. You spend far less energy when you know and honor your own process rather than trying to abide by someone else’s.

Through Fires and the Abyss

So I was scrolling through the Twitter the other day, as I am wont to do, and I stumbled across this Tweet:

If someone is holding your hand throughout the writing process you haven’t gone through the wall of fire yet.

Fair enough, fair enough. Okorafor ought to know, as the multiple awards winning author of Who Fears Death, among many other novels. 

And, to some extent, the writer’s journey down into the dark is done alone. There are hidden crevices, caverns, and black pools sightless fish each of us must journey alone.

But I also must disagree: a writer cannot go down into the depths of their own inner dark, cannot walk through the wall of fire, completely alone. It’s simply not possible. I don’t know Okorafor’s context, and I am not critiquing so much as extending. 

A writer cannot create alone. From the start a writer must have supporters and mentors, or else they will give up. I would never have continued writing were it not for the support of first my parents and teachers, and now my peers and readers. Pretty sure none of these people held my hand, given that I’ve been in critique groups since I was 16 (got my ass kicked more than a few times) did a creative writing undergrad (more ass kicking!) and then graduated from one of the best creative writing programs in the world (so. much. ass. kicking.) 

A writer cannot learn to write and to think about their own writing and writing process alone. A young writer needs the companionship of books to build an understanding of how stories and language work. A young writer needs the guidance of someone who can help them find different ways to approach the process of writing, so they don’t get stuck with a process or practices that might not be helpful. A young writer needs the support of more experienced writers to nurture them into mature writers. 

A seasoned writer needs much of this too. And all writers need the companionship of other writers in some way. I hate critique groups – they disrupt my writing process something terrible – but I still meet with other writers to discuss the challenges and joys of writing. We need friendship, we need support, we need empathy from those like us. It keeps the proverbial creative fires burning, even when many aspects of the writing life are difficult. 

And, a writer needs their readers to remind them of why they write; to show them they are not, in fact, alone; to have someone to talk to when they journey into the abyss. 

No writer is ever completely alone when they write. Every time you sit down to writer, you bring your supporters – your peers and friends and mentors and readers. You would not survive the abyss, or a wall of fire, without them. It’s just not possible.

Flesh of Mine

#WriterLifeMonth Day 7: Writing music.

Every time I start a writing project, I tend to start a playlist for that project. It’s just a haphazard collection of songs which end up cobbled together, by virtue of being part of that project and the writing process. The songs can evoke certain scenes to my mind, or emotions, or characters. 

So, here’s basically the playlist for my current work in progress. Maybe no-one else will ever listen to this, but this mix brings me happiness simply because it reminds me of how lucky I am that I have this project to work on, and it brings me such joy right now. 

Flesh of Mine