April 18, 2014

Rusty Barnes's #MyWritingProcess

Today you get to hear from the last cool writer I'm tagging in the #MyWritingProcess Blog Tour ~ Rusty Barnes.  He writes these amazing short shorts ~ check out Breaking It Down ~ and is out with a novel and a book of poems. He's also a great editor and a great friend.  Enjoy!

Rusty Barnes

Rusty Barnes is a cofounder of Night Train, a literary journal, and Fried Chicken and Coffee, an on again/off again blogazine of rural and Appalachian creative work and concerns. He’s published five books of poetry and fiction, the latest of which is nearly brand new: Reckoning, a novel, published by David McNamara at Sunnyoutside Press.

#My Writing Process Blog Tour
I’ve been tagged by the fantastic writer Tamara Linse to talk about #MyWritingProcess, such as it is. I hope these answers will entertain or reveal, depending on what you think of my writing.
What am I working on?
This is always a tricky question, as I’m involved in several different projects at a time. Right now I’m nearly ready to shop a manuscript of poems called Dear So and So, in which I address poems anonymously to a number of people who may or may not be in a position to answer, or willing to talk with me at all, considering our various histories. It’s a series of off-sonnets and other near poems, like in-jokes from my life, which others might have fun reading. I’m also researching a short book on the video game Redneck Rampage, which nearly consumed my soul in the 1990s just as I was ordering my life and goals and writing in light of the fact that I was Appalachian, 41.7% more likely to die of a heart attack than my peers, and destined to have a love/hate relationship with the area in which I grew up. Beyond that, I have another nameless manuscript of poems which should straighten up and behave itself soon or I’m going to whip its ass, and a novel called The Arsonist, again set in my hometown and surrounds, in which a state social worker, Kathleen Brake, gets increasingly drawn into the psychoses of a crazy but charismatic teenage arsonist named Johnny Jones while negotiating the terrors of adolescent relationships with her fifteen-year-old daughter Angie and her own love life with her well-meaning but feckless husband Gallow. And her short-term lover Brady Bragg. All have secrets, all have needs, and when the flames rise, everyone will be affected.
How does my work differ from others of its genre?
I write in a mode many others do, but I believe my work stands out because of its focus on rural matters, nearly exclusively, and because I try to use as few words as possible to make the story I want to make up. I also believe my stories are emotionally true where others often seem fake. Probably the fakers feel the same way about me and my work. The difference is that I’m right where they’re wrong. :-)
Why do I write what I do?
I have little else to do outside obligations to my immediate family. I have no important skills I can rely on, no rich family to support me in my efforts to produce art, no great intellect to make it easier on me, but I do have a history 250 years deep in a small area of Pennsylvania that so far has yielded material enough for at least three writing careers, and I trust, will continue to provide such long after I’m gone.
How does my writing process work?
When I’m writing on a longer project, I try to get five hundred words a day. Failing that, if I get 250 I’ll hang it up for the session. Rare is the day I don’t get my 500, though. I begin writing for my hour per day after the kids go to bed, more time being devoted to it when life permits. Poems I can work on any time. Fiction takes a concerted effort and schedule. I go long stretches without writing, though, which is dangerous. I always feel as if I don’t write all the time, I’ll forget how. Luckily, that hasn’t proven to be true yet.
The Cool People I’m Tagging
Heather Sullivan is a mama, wife, and part-time philosopher and blogs at Lady Jane Adventures.
Cort Bledsoe, or C.L. Bledsoe, is the author of the young adult novel Sunlight, three poetry collections (_____(Want/Need), Anthem, and Leap Year), and a short story collection Naming the Animals
Timothy Gager is the author of ten books of short fiction and poetry. His latest, The Shutting Door (Ibbetson Street Press), was nominated for the Massachusetts Book Award. He has hosted the successful Dire Literary Series in Cambridge, Massachusetts, for over twelve years and is the co-founder of Somerville News Writers Festival.  

April 16, 2014

C.D. Mitchell's #MyWritingProcess

Today on the #MyWritingProcess blog tour, you get to hear from C.D. Mitchell.  We've never met in person, but I feel like we have through our correspondence and his wonderful writing.  Later in the week, I'll be posting Rusty Barnes's response.  Stay tuned!

C.D. Mitchell

Proud to be a southern writer, C.D. Mitchell is the author of the wonderful story collections Alligator Stew and God’s Naked Will. A man after my own heart, he was raised on a farm and learned how to milk cows, make butter, butcher and cure salt pork, and make pickles, among other things. He earned his J.D. in law from U of Arkansas, practiced law, worked other jobs, and then got his MFA. He’s currently working on a novel and revising his memoir called This, Too, Is Vanity. He says he has been a pallbearer and a groom four times but has never been a best-man, and that in itself is a story waiting to be written. I can’t wait to read it!
My Writing Process Blog Tour
I became a part of this process when Tamara Linse tagged me to follow up on this blog tour. I generally do not participate in such things, but this seemed intriguing, so I tossed my hat in the ring and tagged two fellow writers I admire, Shonell Bacon and Brett Riley to follow me. So here goes!
What am I working on these days?
I am working on a yet untitled novel that will involve smuggling of guns, drugs, and illegals up the Mississippi River and its navigable waterways by riverboat barge. A chapter of the novel, one that deals primarily with President’s Island in Memphis, is scheduled to appear in Memphis Noir sometime this fall. The novel deals with river barge traffic, a largely unregulated means of travel during the early 1990’s. I envision a mix of Mark Twain, Robert Earl Keen and Cormack McCarthy in the final text. My main character has purchased an electric shock therapy machine at a flea market in Mississippi and will eventually use it to collect money on fronted drugs.
How does my work differ from others of its genre?
A recent review of my story collection Alligator Stew called the writing “Dirty Realism.” Many of the reviews of my work posted on Goodreads and Amazon.com have observed that I write about situations others shun or ignore. I create real characters faced with desperate situations. I don’t spend six pages describing in flowery language how a dog crosses the road to take a shit in the ditch. That is not to say that sentence construction, word choice and rhythms are not important to me. They are, and they must be important to all writers. But my emphasis is story. Shit happens in the stories I write!
Why do I write what I do?
Because too many others lack the courage to face the reality of life. I write to expose the incredible hopelessness faced by the schizophrenic, by the impoverished, by those cursed with bad luck and misfortune. I write to expose the hypocrisy of the Bible-thumping zealots who would steal our freedoms away and impose by law their own brand of morality upon US citizens. I write because I have to. It has always been a hunger I must feed. I write because the best day of writing is always the best day of my life!
How does my Writing Process work?
I have always heard of binge eaters and binge drinkers; I am a binge writer. I develop an idea for a story or book. I note it in my journals and I write about the idea. I research and develop the characters. I read newspaper articles and interview people. At some point, the influx of information builds like water pressure behind a dam until I am forced to open the floodgates and release the weight of all that has accumulated. I have binges where I write every day, and during those times I commit to 500 words a day. Promising myself 500 words allows me to sit down when I have little time, and to get up when I simply must leave. But more often than not, 500 words become 1500 or even 2000. I endlessly revise, going back and rereading as often as I can. For instance, my current novel has had me researching Electric Shock Therapy Machines on the internet and trying to buy one on Amazon.com. I have interviewed a close friend of mine who ran river boats up and down the Mississippi and intra-coastal for thirty years. I am booking an evening ride on the Memphis Queen so I can approach President’s Island from the river, and I will also make a trip to the Island and hopefully spend some time exploring the Wildlife management Area that exists there within the city limits of Memphis. I have just begun the writing of the book, and the research will continue.

April 14, 2014

Patty Chang Anker's #MyWritingProcess

I'll be posting the great responses to the #MyWritingProcess blog tour this week for the wonderful writers I tagged.  Today, you get to hear from Patty Chang Anker.  I first met Patty at Bread Loaf, and I couldn't have asked for a better roommate.  She's so warm and funny and lovely. Later in the week, I'll be posting the responses from Rusty Barnes and C.D. Mitchell.  Stay tuned!

Patty Chang Anker (photo by Alison Sheehy)

Patty Chang Anker is the author of the hilarious and insightful memoir Some Nerve: Lessons Learned While Becoming Brave  (Riverhead Books), which Oprah.com calls “downright inspiring.” It is a  Parents Magazine ”Mom Must-Read” and is “a lesson plan in courage 101″ (Better Homes & Gardens). She's all over the net with great stuff ~ blogging for PsychologyToday.com‘s Anxiety section and her own award-winning Facing Forty Upside Down, as well as many other great places. Check out her TEDx Talk here. Patty lives in a village north of New York City with her husband and two daughters.

Without further ado, here's Patty!

#MyWritingProcess Blog Tour – 4 questions about how and why I write
Today I’m taking part in a #MyWritingProcess blog tour, in which writers answer four questions about their writing process and then tag other writers to answer the questions as well.  I was honored to be asked by Tamara Linse, author of  HOW TO BE A MAN. Her answers ran here last week and stay tuned next week too, as I’ll be running the answers by the great writers I’m tagging.
What am I working on?
Right now I’m working on blog pieces for PsychologyToday.com (about overcoming anxiety during the learning process), BikingtheBigApple.com (about Team #SomeNerve training for the TD Five Boro Bike Tour), and Facing Forty Upside Down (about finding community as a way to fight fear). I’m also preparing a talk, and drafting content for the paperback of Some Nerve.  The long term  thinking, working, revising a book length project have turned into quick turnarounds for shorter pieces, mostly about how to apply the “lessons learned while becoming brave” in our lives.  It’s fun to take the stories from the book out into the world.
How does my work differ from others of its genre?
My work is part immersion memoir, part journalism, part self-help.  It’s different from most memoir because it’s set in the present and is as much focused on other people as me. It’s different from most journalism in that while I do often observe classes, therapy sessions, and other interactions without interfering and I do interview experts in traditional settings, I also actively participate at times. I will introduce someone with a fear of driving to a  driving instructor, or take friends with a fear of heights to a ropes course. I set story lines in motion without knowing what’s going to happen and then write about what does.   And it’s different from most self-help in that the information, whether it’s techniques from Toastmasters or psychological approaches used by therapists, is related by what it’s like for me or others to experience these things and not through case studies or tip sheets.
Why do I write what I do?
I write what I need to read. I need to acknowledge all the crazy talk in my head, poke a little fun at myself, figure out how to find strength to push forward when I’m scared, have enjoyable – even peak – experiences more often,  find out how other people tick, imagine being different tomorrow from today, and then commit all of this in writing so that my girls will remember me as more than “Mom sure was tired.”  I’ve been through many periods of feeling alone – and I write to reach anyone else who feels that way, to tell them it’s ok, come out into the sunshine, come laugh with us and we’ll become brave together.
How does my writing process work?
For quick short pieces I write well during the day while the kids are at school but for the book, the old “butt in chair” and “writing is a job show up for your job” or “every day set a timer produce X number of words” advice didn’t work at all.  I found the enormity of writing 100K coherent words on deadline overwhelming, and when things needed to be done for the house or the kids once interrupted I couldn’t pick up again.  I was so consumed by what I call my Greek Chorus of Perpetual Doubt “You can’t do this, you don’t know how, another day is gone, tick, tick TICK” showing up for my job left me exhausted and actually steps behind from where I was the day before.  I realized I needed to forge my own way, which was to focus on research until I felt ready to write. This took 8 months out of the 14 I had before my deadline and was nerve wracking. I’ve always performed best close to deadline but it’s one thing to do that for a term paper, it’s another for an entire book! But I’m glad I allowed myself to just be in the field because once you’ve fully absorbed the experiences the stories take root and the brain makes connections to other stories from your past and before you know it elaborate plots with fully developed characters are alive and begging to come out.  Once I was ready I wrote when I felt most free to write –  at night when I was least likely to be interrupted, when everyone else’s needs were met and I wasn’t expected to be productive.  I wrote until 4 in the morning, alone and in the dark but laughing and weeping with all these people I’d grown to care so much about, remembering incredible stories of them at their most courageous, feeling less alone than I’ve ever felt.
So much of writing is getting out from under the guilt that we should be doing something else, or we should be doing this a whole lot better.  I say wherever and whenever you can push through that secret bookcase that leads you to a hidden room where you feel most free, that’s where and when to write.
The Cool People Patty Is Tagging
Una LaMarche is the author of two young adult novels, Five Summers and Like No Other, and a forthcoming collection of humor essays based on some of her more questionable life choices. She is also a contributing writer for The New York Observer and The Huffington Post, and blogs at The Sassy Curmudgeon. Una lives in Brooklyn with her husband and son. You can follow her on Twitter @sassycurmudgeon, and if you pre-order her next book, somewhere up in heaven, a dance circle will form and an angel will successfully jump over its own leg.
Ava Chin, a native New Yorker, is the author of Eating Wildly: Foraging for Life, Love, and the Perfect Meal (coming in May), which Kirkus Reviews called “A delectable feast of the heart.” The Urban Forager blogger for the New York Times, her work has appeared in the Los Angeles Times, Saveur, the Village Voice, and Martha Stewart online. She blogs about foraging, green living, and DIY-food at www.AvaChin.com.

April 7, 2014

The #MyWritingProcess Blog Tour

Today I’m taking part in a #MyWritingProcess blog tour, in which writers answer four questions about their writing process and then tag other writers to answer the questions as well.  Like an addict, I love hearing how other people do it, you know, and so I was particularly honored to be asked by the lovely and talented Bonnie ZoBell, author of What Happened Here.  Here are her answers, and stay tuned next week too, as I’ll be posted to answers by the great writers I’m tagging.

What am I working on?

Oh, I’m having such a great time! I’m working on a young adult novel called Pride that’s Pride and Prejudice set in contemporary Wyoming.  My protagonists tend to be teenagers anyway, and so YA is a natural fit for me.  Plus, you wouldn’t believe how well-suited British classics are to present-day adaptations.  I mean, down to the very movements of the dialog.  Sure, it’s different language, but you can say exactly the same thing.  Plus I’ve set it in Jackson Hole.  If you remember, Pride and Prejudice is a lot about class, and so Jackson is perfect because you have the well-off people flying in for vacation or they have summer houses or winter ski condos, and then you have the locals who can’t actually afford to live in Jackson.  I’m thinking about developing a series called the Wyoming Chronicles.  The girls’ YA novels will be rewrites of Pride and Prejudice and Wuthering Heights, and the boys’ YA novels will be rewrites of The Island of Dr. Moreau and Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hide.  And they’re so much fun to write!

How does my work different from others of its genre?

Now that is a good question.  What first leaps to mind is that I have two major influences, the Western and literary fiction.  The genre of the Western hangs heavy over life in the West, even today, and people still hold it close to their hearts.  Literary fiction, on the other hand, has always been close to mine because I’m interested in trying to capture the subtleties of lived experience, two people in a room and the small violences and small kindnesses they do to one another.  This is reflected in the two writers I admire most ~ Hemingway and Virginia Woolf.  I love Hemingway because he’s our natural inheritance here in the West, and I love VW because she also tries to capture homely interiors and relationships.  So I guess you could say that I write literary fiction but it’s setting of the contemporary West is unusual.

Why do I write what I do?

This question seems to imply a choice.  I don’t think we have a choice.  Sure, we are drawn to certain genres and types of writing, but that’s just it.  We’re drawn to it. It’s inexplicable sometimes why we like certain things and not other things.  Growing up on a ranch, you would think I would love the Cowboy Way and country music and horses, but I don’t. Or rather, I do and I don’t.  I’m deeply ambivalent about it.  I take to heart the advice that your best material is what makes you uncomfortable, what embarrasses you, what obsesses you.  All that stuff and the underlying psychology fascinates me, obsesses me, because of course it’s the water around me, to quote David Foster Wallace. 

How does my writing process work?

I avoid.  I feel guilty.  I think about it and cogitate and work it out in my mind.  I avoid some more.  I think some more.  Sometimes the idea goes away.  I have lots of ideas all the time, especially when I’m being productive, and so they’re always slipping away from me.  But then sometimes I’m able to set boundaries and tell the world to go to hell and start writing.  Getting started is by far the hardest part.  Once I get going, it usually just flows.  I’ve thought so much about it that it carries me along and it’s fairly final when it gets on the page.  Sometimes stories will require major restructuring, but usually not.  Novels on the other hand almost always need major rewrites. Which sucks.  I rewrite as I go too.  I always reread and edit through what I wrote the last couple of days before I start writing that day’s work.  It helps with continuity and also helps the work improve every day.  Once I have a complete draft, I put it aside and then reread it.  Okay, to be honest, I reread it obsessively until I can’t any more.  If I send it out, I reread it obsessively again.  You know how it is ~ you’re trying to see how other people see it.  Often, if I haven’t read something for a while, I get to thinking about how bad it is, but then when I reread it I go, “Hey, this isn’t nearly as bad as I thought it was.” 

The Cool People I’m Tagging

Rusty Barnes is an appalachian writer and an editor of Night Train and Fried Chicken andCoffee, among many other things, and he is the author of the flash collections Breaking It Down and Mostly Redneck and the novel Reckoning.  I know from experience ~ he’s a great editor.

Patty Chang Anker is from NYC and is the author of Some Nerve: Lessons Learned While Becoming Brave.  Her blog is Facing Forty Upside Down and her work has appeared in Psychology Today and O Magazine, among many other great places.  Oh, and she’s funny and a great Bread Loaf roommate.

C.D. Mitchell is a southern writer, the author of Alligator Stew and God’s Naked Will.  He grew up on a chicken farm and got his JD in law.  I love the influence of ghost stories in C.D.'s work.

March 31, 2014

Bonnie ZoBell Talks About Her Writing Process

I'm so honored to be part of a #MyWritingProcessTour, where writers talk about their work.  I don't know about you, but this fascinates me! Today, the fabulous Bonnie ZoBell is visiting here.  Before we get started, a little about Bonnie, and make sure to pre-order her great new collection, What Happened Here

Bonnie ZoBell lives in a casita in San Diego with her husband, dogs, cats, and many succulents. She is the author of What Happened Here and The Whack-Job Girls. She's a recipient of an NEA Fellowship and a notable story included in the storySouth Million Writers Award, among other awards, and her publications are numerous. Bonnie is one of those amazingly supportive writers with such subtle and moving work that I seek out every time I get a chance. If you don't know her, you should!   

Bonnie ZoBell: My Writing Process:  Blog Tour
Today I'm taking part in the #MyWritingProcessTour. It's so interesting and instructive to see how other writers go about their work. I was nominated by my friend, Susan Tepper, writer extraordinaire.  Be sure to get a copy of Susan's latest book, The Merrill Diaries, beautifully written and a thought-provoking romp through the U.S. and parts of Europe.
The awkward part about writing this blog post is that at the moment I don't have much of a writing process because besides teaching, I'm in the process of birthing my newest book, What Happened Here: a novella & stories. I'm doing everything I can to ease her passage into the world, making sure she's nurtured in every possible way, and giving her a good wholesome introduction with the hope people will be as good to her as they've been to me. At the moment, it's on pre-release and available only on my site, but she'll be officially launched on May 3rd. What I'll do here is write about my process when I'm writing. I warn you: This process isn't entirely the healthiest for children and other living things, in other words younger writers. Don't show this to your students.
What am I working on?
I've gone back to an old novel, most recently called Animals Voices—which I worked on for many years—because I think I've finally figured out a solution to a problem I was having. The story starts out with some young kids, the boy very curious about the unusual girl, after he gets over her strangeness and the way all his friends make fun of her, because she can communicate with animals. They grow up and marry and he is diagnosed with AIDS in the early years. Communication is difficult when no one will acknowledge the disease, probably even more so than communicating with owls. Then I'm going to go back to another novel that I also spent years on called Bearded Women, about a woman who goes to an electrologist because she's hirsute. There are class issues between her and the electrologist, and it comes down to the main character needing to pluck other parts of her persona as well.
How does my work differ from others of its genre?
I'd call what I write literary fiction, though I'd like to write more magical realism. Oh, give me anything to read that contains beautiful language and a good story, and I'll devour it. Perhaps mine differs because of my love of setting. I'm thrilled going back to Animal Voices, getting the chance to revisit the southern part of Del Mar in San Diego, land filled with an estuary, all kinds of unique crawly life, and the magnificent Torrey Pine trees. These gnarled pines grow crooked because they're on the bluffs right above the ocean and therefore get a lot of strong winds. They'd be creepy if they weren't so beautiful.
I'm no minimalist, though I try to be as spare as I can. I like to think that sometimes I'm successful at writing beautiful, in-depth descriptions that let you see images in life in a unusual way without going overboard. 
I'm whimsical.
Why do I write what I do?
I write because I love language and because writing fiction helps me figure out the world. I'd be lost without it.
How does my writing process work?
This is the unhealthy part: I'm a binge writer. I can go for days, weeks, even a couple of years and do nothing but write. I ignore my husband and animals, my hair gets dirty, my bills don't get paid, and I wear clothes that should have been recycled some time ago if I get really passionate and possessed about what I'm writing. But it takes a toll. So after doing this for a while, it's hard to allow myself to go back there—there's so much deprivation. Unfortunately, the other side of it is that I can also go for a long time not writing at all. That's where I am right now while I promote and regroup from my collection. But I'm daydreaming about those Torrey Pine trees

Bonnie is tagging the lovely Myfanwy Collins, author of  Echolocation, I Am Holding Your Hand, and The Book of Laney, and James Claffey, author of Blood a Cold Blue, as well as myself.

I'll be posting my responses to these questions next Monday, and I'll let you know those writers I'm tagging.  Stay tuned!!

March 19, 2014

What Lorde Has that Miley Doesn’t

Pop Star Lorde by Faerwin Wallpapers

People crave authenticity. What do I mean by authenticity?  I mean things that feel real, that feel like they mean something, you know?  In our wonderfully overabundant media existence, it’s easy to feel like there’s nothing but games and masks and people whose motives are sketchy. They’re only trying to sell something or to get ahead.  All that has its own charm, to be sure, but authenticity is what changes a run-of-the-mill wizard story into Harry Potter, an avid amateur singer into Adele.

I was struck by this as I watched Lorde’s “Royals” video.  It’s the quality of her voice and the way she stares into the camera, not playing to stereotypes.  It’s her beauty and the beauty of her voice.  It’s the young men just doing what they do.  It’s charming and heart-wrenching without being in your face, and it defies stereotypes.  It runs the gamut of emotions.  In a word, it is authentic. 

It’s interesting to contrast this video with Miley Cyrus’s “Wrecking Ball.”  She has a beautiful voice and she’s an amazing artist, but it feels inauthentic, you know?  She’s trying too hard.  She’s trying to fit conventions that came way before her and will continue on into the foreseeable future.  She’s trying to stretch herself to be a phenomenon.

Lorde is a phenomenon, while Miley is trying to be one. People sense authenticity, even if they can’t quite name it.

It’s a great reminder to “be yourself.”  It’s such a hard thing to do, to embrace who you are and where you’re from, even and especially those parts of yourself that are embarrassing and less attractive and less acceptable.  That’s actually where the artistic gold is.  Those places that make you cringe, that make you who you are. 

I remember as a teenager it was particularly hard.  I didn’t know who I was.  How can you be yourself when you don’t know who that self is.  But now I know part of it, at least, is owning where you come from, listening to yourself and noting those things you love and you hate, and “running screaming toward the fear” as Steve Almond says.

The art that we create deserves nothing less than our true, authentic,  flawed but glowing selves.

Now here’s Lorde.

PS It's the reason why this is so charming.

March 14, 2014

Beauty Seeped Into Your Bones

Have you ever wondered how the landscapes of your childhood influence your art?  Whether its beauty seeped into your bones?

I have the distinct pleasure of stopping by SunnyRoomStudio today with a guest blog ("The Cool of the Evening After the Baking of the Day") specifically about this question.  Daisy, the propietor of this wonderful space, is such a generous and thoughtful person.  She regularly makes my day with her posts and her cheery hellos on Twitter.  She is one of the amazing people who gathers and bolsters all those around her.  I can't thank her enough.

So please stop by and check it out!  Here's a taste: 
And so the landscape of my childhood, its beauty and loneliness, is inextricably linked to my art, whether it’s writing or photography or something else. It’s the reason I am an artist. And it’s not just because of the beauty ~ it’s also the deep ambivalence it created in me.