When asked, I don’t normally participate in round-robin, tag team kind of things unless there’s a good reason. Sometimes the reason is not what was asked but who asked. Whom asked. By whom it was asked. Dammit. In this case, I was asked by the lovely, talented tease by the name of Dana, aka, DCT designs, who was asked by Helena. I was later asked by the wickedly quirky Marie, but it all goes to the same place. Sort of.
When she asked me to share some things about what and how I write, I was ready to say no, but then I thought further. Farther. More. And I thought that maybe there’s someone who might read this who really has some interest in my particular process. Sometimes the value in that is for someone else to see what I’m doing, realize it’s the same as what they do, and maybe they’ll say, “Oh, cool. That’s what I do. That’s good.” Or maybe someone else will say, “He does that? Crap. I do that too, but not anymore.”
Either way, it could help. Here are the questions I borrowed from Dana’s entry, which can be found here.
Question 1. What am I working on?
I’m currently working on three different things:
First, a short story about a serial killer who abducts homeless people, ties them up in his basement, and slowly watches them die while talking to them. But one evening, he selects the wrong homeless person.
Second, many people already know that I love time-travel (TT) stories and have always wanted to write one. However, the device is the problem.
In most TT stories, the device is stupid. In Stephen King’s 11/22/63, the device was to shut yourself into a closet in a diner, lift your legs as if walking in place, and then suddenly you appear in a back alley a bunch of years in the past. Just plain stupid. In a recent romantic comedy, About Time, you went into a dark place, closed your eyes, clenched your fists, and thought about where you wanted to go in your past. Bang – you went there. I know, right? Stupid.
For many years I’ve read and enjoyed TT stories, but I couldn’t write one because I hadn’t thought of a device that makes sense. I was recently watching a science show that debated whether the universe was the work of a Creator or just a natural event. During the course of the show, which examined theories about parallel universes as well as the creation, my “device” came to me. I’m in the process of outlining that story, which should be novel length.
Third, I’m also working on revising and submitting Woodbury Avenue to agents. That’s my story about a disturbed man with violent tendencies living in a quiet, suburban neighborhood. That story is also currently simmering in the quarter finals of the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award, an annual contest for writers seeking discovery. By rule, I can’t submit to agents while still in the running for the contest, which is run by both Amazon and Publisher’s Weekly.
Question 2. How does my work differ from others of its genre?
That’s a tough question because one of my weaknesses as a writer is not reading enough within my preferred genre, and I haven’t figured out my preferred genre either. All I can say is that my work is different in style.
From what I’ve been told, and for what I strive, my writing is rather conversational. Feedback from wonderful people suggests that my writing sounds as if I’m simply having a conversation and orally telling you the story. I try to avoid forcing anyone to keep a thesaurus nearby while reading. I hate when writers think that using “new” words = better writing. Reading shouldn’t be work. A writer’s job is to entertain, not educate. For me, less is more. I’m a fan of what Twain and Hemingway did for American literature. I like how King keeps his prose simple. I don’t like his endings, but his sentence and paragraph structure is fabulous. So my difference is not what I write but, hopefully, how I write.
Now that I think further about this, another way I’m different is how much, or how little, time I spend on descriptions of characters. I know that many people have extensive lists of character traits and things like height, weight, birthday, favorite food, good/bad habits, and 33 more things that won’t make it into the story. I don’t mess with that. As the story progresses, I’ll drop in what I need when I think I need it. I’m not saying those lists are a bad thing to do. Anything that works for any individual is a good thing. Anything that doesn’t work? Bad thing. Doesn’t work for me.
For my characters, I’ll drop in a few touches here, but I don’t care much about someone’s specific descriptions unless they’re important. It’s not necessary for me to write about someone’s height or eye color unless the eye color is vital to the story. In one story, I specified about a man having extremely dark brown eyes. The only reason was so that later, when I then described a girl as having extremely dark brown eyes, it would give the reader the clue that those two people were related. If it’s not an important characteristic, there’s no need to mention it.
For more about that, you can read here
Question 3. Why do I write what I do?
When I was in high school, I fell in love with film and always wanted to write films. When I finally paid so much attention to film that I was subsequently kicked out of college, I started writing because I realized how tiny the likelihood of ever working in the film industry was.
I like to tell stories. I improvised many stories to entertain my kids on long drives to visit relatives living about two hours away. I made up characters and spoke in dialects to act out stories, making them more lifelike and fun. When they were eventually too old for the goofy stories about a race between a watermelon and a grape or how I invented birds, leaves, etc, my writing/storytelling had to grow up.
I write because I think people love to disappear into a story, forget about everything around them, and just go somewhere else for a while. I’d like to help them get there.
Question 4. How does my writing process work?
I’m going to describe this process as if it is something unique while knowing perfectly well that it is not.
Step One – Getting an idea
The first story I wrote with any seriousness was a middle-grade time travel story about a boy who accidentally transports back to the Civil War. I was visiting Gettysburg, walking through the battlefield, and I thought, “What interesting thing could happen here?” It’s called Grandpa’s Watch, and I should post that here. Hey, so I guess I already did write a time travel story. Go figure.
I wrote a short story about a man finding a dead body in an abandoned house. That story came to me when, stuck in traffic, I noticed an abandoned house and thought, “What interesting thing could happen in there?” It’s called “Better Days” and will be published this summer in my short story collection.
I wrote a novel about a luxury housing development, built on what was once a plantation, haunted by the spirit of a vicious slave owner whose cursed spirit was trapped on what was his family homestead but was turned into the housing development. I wrote that when sitting at my computer, looking out the window of a home built on what was once a farm, and I thought, “What interesting thing could happen here?” It’s called The Curse. Wanna read it?
I wrote a novel about a deranged man who stalks the nice people in the suburban neighborhood to which he had recently moved. I began that story when, after moving into a suburban neighborhood, standing outside the home, watching a handful of nice people going about their August day, and I thinking – well – you get the idea. That’s Woodbury Avenue.
That’s how my writing starts. I look at the world around me, fold it, rip it, shape it a little, until it becomes a little more interesting. Nothing special, I know.
Step Two – Getting started
I use outlines. So as not to make you read details unless you wish to – here’s a link to my outlining process. Feel free to read it, or just feel you know enough to know that I use outlines.
I don’t start writing the first draft until I have the outline so that I know where my story is going, start to finish. Some people can just start winging it from “chapter 1,” but I don’t work that way. I need a framework of where the story will go before I get going. Sure, I will change things along the way, but without an idea of where to aim, I can’t possibly come close to my target. Others can, I guess, but not me.
Step Three – Making it better
After I’ve written each first-draft chapter – which is my favorite part of writing – I post chapters here on my blog to get feedback. I am extremely fortunate to have about ten very smart, generous people who read nearly everything I write and leave fabulous comments, question, and concerns. I read those carefully, juggle and feel them out (the comments, not the readers, yet) and then revise my chapters one at a time, but not usually until the whole story is finished.
I put each chapter online usually before I start the next one. I also include questions at the end of each chapter in order to help the readers be aware of my concerns. Again, I don’t claim this is original, but I stress “show, don’t tell.” Sometimes I think I’m showing, but maybe I’m not showing enough. By asking readers certain questions, I’ll get an idea if I “showed” enough. Maybe they totally missed something. If so, it’s probably my fault, and the questions help with that.
Some writers feel that posting chapters on my blog is actually “publishing” them, and then no agent or publisher will touch my story because I have already used “first rights” or something like that. I’ve talked to agents, and they disagree. I’ve talked to editors, and they said all I would have to do is change a few things, like names, and then I’ll be fine. Nobody I’ve ever talked to can name an incident in which a publisher accepted a story, later learned it had been on a blog, and then changed their mind.
That’s all I got. Part of this writer’s blog tour is to nominate someone else to contribute the details of their own processes. I’m not going to do that. But what I am going to do is invite you to write that in your own blog post. Then come back here and slap the link to your post in the comments below.