I was invited to participate in this “My Writing Process” Blog Tour by Paulette Livers, a good friend from a couple of visits to the Sewanee Writers’ Conference. The Tour has been making the rounds since at least last October, and it might be fun to trace its genealogy. Each participant is asked to answer four questions and then pass the torch to a few more writers. You can check out Paulette’s post (and see who invited her) on her blog: http://paulettelivers.com/whats-new/.
1. What are you working on? Right now I am in Editor Mode. I put out a call for submissions a few months ago for stories set all over the world and am now assembling and editing an anthology called Everywhere Stories: Short Fiction from a Small Planet, which will come out from Press 53 this fall. I’m really excited about this project, but I’m looking forward to getting back to my own writing. I have two novels in progress, and soon I’m going to need to commit to one of them. Both are unusual, structurally, and I guess that’s all I’m willing to say about them at this time!
2. How does your work differ from others of its genre? I don’t know that it does differ from other work in the genre. Or I don’t know what the genre is. I write literary fiction that is mostly realistic. In my first book, I tried to distinguish my story collection by making it unified, in the sense that the stories were all set in the same small town, involved overlapping characters, and to some extent explored similar or related themes (alienation, isolation, etc.). In my second book, I took those linkages further to create a novel in stories—a collection of independent stories that, taken together, tell one larger story. With a few high-profile examples in recent years—Elizabeth Strout’s Olive Kitteridge and Jennifer Egan’s A Visit from the Goon Squad—this form (is it already its own genre?) has become a bit more common. Both of these books, the anthology that I’m editing, and the two novels I’m working on all have international components to them, though, thanks to my own background in international law, and so maybe that’s what makes my work different.
3. Why do you write what you do? I write fiction because I honestly believe it opens access to a deeper truth than non-fiction does. When I began writing, I worked on a novel, but the project failed (although it was my MFA thesis). After that, I wrote short stories because I couldn’t bear the thought of investing many more years into a single project but also because I’d been reading a lot of stories and was enthralled by the form. But after my second book was published, I returned to the novel because it really does allow the author to say so much more. And I’ve got a lot to say, believe me.
4. How does your writing process work? I know some writers who puzzle over every sentence, polishing as they go, so that when they are lucky enough to complete a story it is nearly finished, requiring little revision. I know other writers who spew ideas onto the page, letting the subconscious take over. That can be very exciting—and I do write that way sometimes—but it means that the story will likely be completely rewritten in the process of revision, after the author has discovered what it was he was trying to say in the first place. My normal process is somewhere in the middle. I don’t generally know where the work is heading, so I am guided by instinct primarily. But I do pay attention to word choice and sentences as I do the initial drafting. I still have to do a lot of rewriting, but I find this approach gives me a solid foundation on which to build.
I’ve asked Steve Weddle, Bunny Goodjohn, and Amy Willoughby-Burle to follow up, and their answers to these questions will be posted next Monday, April 21.
Steve Weddle grew up on the Louisiana/Arkansas line, holds an MFA in creative writing from Louisiana State University, and currently works for a newspaper group. His debut novel, County Hardball, is published by Tyrus Books. He is the editor of Needle: A Magazine of Noir and a co-founder of the crime fiction blog DoSomeDamage.com, where his answers will appear. He lives with his family in Virginia.
B.A. Goodjohn is the author of the novel Sticklebacks and Snow Globes. She has published poetry in various journals including The Texas Review, The Cortland Review, Zone 3, and Connecticut Review, and she won Reed Magazine’s Edwin Markham Poetry Prize in 2011. Bunny teaches English at Randolph College in Virginia and is working on a companion novel entitled The Beginning Things and on Love, Love—All that Wretched Cant, a collection of poetry. She blogs at http://www.bagoodjohn.com.
Amy Willoughby-Burle is the author of Out Across the Nowhere, a collection of short stories. Her fiction has appeared in numerous literary journals such as Potomac Review, Inkwell, Sycamore Review, Reed Magazine, The MacGuffin and many others. She is the editor of Blue Lotus Review, an online journal for literature, art, and music. Amy was raised in the small coastal town of Kure Beach, North Carolina. She graduated with a BA in English (and an unfinished Masters in Creative Writing — “sorry Mom and Dad”) from East Carolina University. She spent several years in her husband’s home state of Missouri before getting homesick for North Carolina. She now lives in the mountains near Asheville with her very gracious husband and four children. She blogs at http://amywilloughbyburle.com/
I’ll be watching for the new Press 53 book–it sounds great. I liked your comment suggesting that fiction opens the door to truth in a way that non-fiction doesn’t. I agree with that completely. I think you’ve hit the nail there. Thanks, Cliff!
I feel you on the lost love of what you may have started on in grad school. Sometimes the stories just come when they come and instinct plays a big role, but also letting the work guide you.
Fun catching up on people doing this tour!