Tag Archives: The Blog Tour

The Blog Tour: My Writing Process

17 Feb

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Joe Harrington asked me to take part in the blog tour this past week, and you’ll find my responses to the set group of questions below.  I love to hear what other writers are working on, and how they approach process.  If you’d like to read Joe’s responses, you can find them here.  I found some of these questions pretty difficult to answer, but I did my best.  I have contacted a couple of friends and asked them to take part next week, and will link to their blogs, and provide some information about them, and their work, after I post my own answers.  Ok, let’s get to it!

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1.  What are you working on?

I just finished a short chapbook manuscript that combines prose poetry and found slide images, titled A Field Guide to Adaptation.  Two different hybrid pieces of mine that also incorporate found images will be included in the “Beyond Category” special issue of Seneca Review which will be available in March.  I also recently finished a flash fiction chapbook titled Outside, Bright Lights.  The title story from the flash fiction chapbook was chosen by Nuala Ní Chonchúir, and is going to appear this spring in an issue of The Stinging Fly, and another flash fiction piece from it was published this past November in Johnny America.  The rest of the pieces are very new, though, so I’m going to set them all aside for a few months, and then take another look at them in the summer, in order to do revisions.

Right now, I’m starting work on two longer projects.  The first is a speculative novel set in 19th century China, a crime novel titled An Amah in Victoria Park.  I’ve been conducting research and planning it for about a year, and am finally getting into my first draft.  On the poetry side of things, I think that I’m writing a new book of poems.  I’m not sure.  Poems are happening, especially when I feel like playing hooky from the novel.  This poetry thing, whatever it is, is the first entirely new project I’ve started in a while, so I’m letting it remain blissfully shapeless, for now.
2.  How does your work differ from others of its genre?

That depends on the project.  My novel might differ from some speculative novels, in that the protagonist is in her sixties.  I think she is very much in keeping with many older characters in the tradition of the mystery novel, though, such as Agatha Christie’s Miss Marple, and also has things in common with older characters in the crime novel, and noir traditions, outside of the mystery novel tradition.  I am fascinated with older characters, and more than a little bit nervous to be writing a character much older than myself, of a different gender, from a different culture.  My wife’s brother married into a Chinese family, and I spent a great deal of time with them while living in Tianjin, China.  In some ways, the protagonist of my novel was inspired by the great grandmother of that family, who is delightful, and who attempts to sneak extra spice into every meal at dinner, and who has amazing and terrifying stories about taking part in the Long March.

There are so many fascinating things happening in contemporary poetry, and the field is so broad, that most of my poetry projects can find comfortable precedents and antecedents, or at least friendly crowds working in the same neighborhoods.  I do still tend to write a lot of prose poetry, which is more common now than it used to be, but might differ from what some folks are doing.  I also write constraint-based poetry, depending on the project, and that might differ from what some free verse poets are doing.  Again, it just depends on the project.  Many poets are working, and have been working, with images combined with text, as well.
3.  Why do you write what you do?

My practice of writing poetry has been a large part of the way I respond to the world for a very long time.  I write poetry because it is a sort of “working out” of something I can’t stop thinking about; a response to, but also a creation of experience.  I am friends with another poet, DaMaris Hill, and we were delighted to discover that we both came to poetry when we were quite young, maybe ten years old, through a sort of theft.  We both snuck into forbidden parts of our parents’ houses, and took books we weren’t allowed to read, and ferreted them away in secret, only to discover they were books of poetry.  What a strange and wonderful thing to have in common with another poet!  That thrill of theft has never really left me.  Reading poetry, even when I was very young, always felt like theft of a particular kind of understanding of the world I desperately needed, and that wasn’t available any other way—not in school, not in advice from other people, not in prose; only in poetry.  Writing poetry grew, over time, to feel like the same kind of theft.

I write the fiction I write because I love the experience of getting lost in the causal events of a narrative, and getting lost in a particular character.  I feel we really submerge—truly turn into little submarines—when we are reading fiction, in a way we don’t with any other form of art.  Novels, in particular, feel like entering into a long relationship.  You carry around this story with you, possibly for months, or for the rest of your life if you truly love the book and read it again and again, and you become utterly immersed.  I try (ham-fistedly) in my fiction to aim for that sort of immersion.

4.  How does your writing process work?

When things are working well, I try to have at least two things going at the same time, so that I can switch to the other one when I feel I’ve hit a wall, or if I feel my energy dips with one project or the other.  I worked in bakeries for a long time—maybe seven or eight years—and part of that job meant getting up very early in the morning.  I’m not a chipper person in the morning, but I think I trained myself to wake up early—to get my brain awake—from all those years in bakeries.  I like to write first thing in the morning, before my head fills with anything else.  I also need to set things aside for a while before revising them, or sending them out, like most writers.

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I am delighted that my friend Jennifer Colatosti has allowed me to tag her to respond to these questions next week.  Look for her responses next Monday, on her blog!  As a preview, here is a short bio for Jen:

 Jennifer M. Colatosti lives in Lawrence, KS, where she is a PhD candidate in Creative Writing at the University of Kansas. She is currently the fiction editor of Beecher’s. Her work has appeared in The MacGuffin, Connotation Press, and Midwestern Gothic.

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