There’s a lovely little blog tour going on in the literary community around Canada, and my dear friend and writing comrade, Alice Zorn, from Montreal, tagged me to go next. Thanks, Alice! Alice is the author of two books, Ruins & Relics, a short fiction collection, and Arrythmia, a novel, both published by NeWest Press. You can read her entry here, and find links to others on the tour. Basically, we answer four questions about writing, and keep the connection in this virtual (and real) writing community alive.
Have a cup of sun-brewed tea, and thanks for stopping by.
My focus changes from day to day, depending on mood and timing. I come back to short fiction more than any other genre, and now that my second collection is nearly out, I’m writing new stories again, hopefully towards another collection. I’ve got a bunch of poetry written, including a number of poems about Lanark Village, ON, where I was born and raised; hopefully, these poems will one day make up a first book. When I’m feeling brave, and have uninterrupted hours, I take another crack at revising one of two novels…
2. How does my work differ from other work in its genre?
It’s always so hard to compare your own work with others. However, since you asked, it might be that I attempt to break through the surface of things, especially with my short fiction. Rather than a long report of what people look like, wear, eat, buy, etc., I want to get to the heart of the story: what’s happening, and what’s at stake. This is not to say that details are not important; most of the time, they’re vital. But they are not a substitute for story. I also really like writing dialogue, so there are plenty of conversations in my stories. Oh, and I don’t always write in perfect sentences. Often a fragment is called for. It all depends. Sometimes.
3. Why do I write what I do?
Poetry… For the love of, and attention to words; for subjects closest to my heart. The density, brevity, intensity of poetry all seem to work best for me when exploring a more emotional terrain. But I also write poems about nail polish.
Short fiction… Stories are windows into the lives of people I make up: I am a peeping Tom, on myself. I seem to have the most fun while writing stories.
Novel… Both novels I’m working on revolve around one central question I’m trying to answer. Writing them feels a lot like my solo bicycle journey through Europe when I was in my late twenties. A lengthy, arduous journey, filled with many lonely days and nights, but necessary, enriching, and occasionally, a moment of wow. And, hopefully, like that journey, even better once it’s turned to memory.
4. How does my writing process work?
For me, it’s part showing up, part letting go, and a little bit of something else that I can’t (or don’t want to) name.
Showing up: I write most days, and almost everything gets written out in my notebook first. Sometimes in cafés, sometimes in my garden or while looking at the ocean, sometimes in the car when I’m waiting for my daughter, even, sometimes, with my writing friends. I also have a very cool thing going on with a friend, via email. Every day, we take turns sending each other a word. That’s our prompt, and we write from there, then send what we’ve written back to the other. I began this with Sarah Selecky years ago, and now I’m doing it with Traci Skuce. I never know what I’ll do with the magic word, but often I blend it into the story I’m working on. Other days, I start fresh.
Letting go: I like the idea of Robert Frost’s famous quote: “No tears in the writer, no tears in the reader; no surprise in the writer, no surprise in the reader.” While tears might not flow, literally, every time I write an emotional scene or poem, the surprise part is often a big part of my process. In fact, I love first drafts so much for this very reason: anything might happen! If I’ve gotten it all figured out, a lot of the impulse or energy just fizzles out. There’s a lot of letting go in first drafts for me; losing control of what might come next, consciously, on the page, allows the weird stuff to come up. What I don’t often do successfully is write knowing what my theme or message is going to be.
The unnameable: There’s also a certain amount of je ne sais quoi percolating through years of reading and living to form these drafts, something I hesitate to name. Is it some magical process? Is it inspiration? Is it luck? I don’t know. I’m just thankful that it visits me on occasion. Mostly, as I’ve said above, it’s showing up to the page and getting the pen in motion.
I have an office in my house that is really just my library; I write at the family computer, mostly when I’m all alone in the house. Sometimes, I’m in the middle of a music jam with the piano right at my back, my husband playing Rihanna’s “Stay” and my daughter hitting all the perfect high notes, but that’s mostly to input my handwritten work or write blog posts. This is getting a little meta, because they just started in on that very song behind me…