The Writing Process Blog Tour: Terri Shrum Stoor

And now for Terri Stoor‘s refreshing take on the four questions of the Writing Process Blog Tour:

What am I working on right now?

I’m working on a novel that is kicking my ass. I continually question whether or not this is what I should be writing now, whether it’s worth writing, and whether I’m the person to write it. I’m also inadvertently working on a collection of short stories that surprised me. If I weren’t so stubborn, with the novel, I’d probably give up and try to write something else, but what else is there?

How does the work differ from others in its genre?

Does it differ from others in its genre? I don’t know.  I know that what I write is personal to and from me, so perhaps it differs simply by virtue of being mine.

Why do I write what I do?

I don’t think I have a choice. There’s a voice inside me that dictates what I write and how. I’m not a trained writer; I write the stories that come to me.

How does your writing process work?

I write on the page only when I absolutely have to, because I have a deadline or because a story is kicking the shit out of me to get into the world. I write in my head continually, no matter where I am or what I’m doing, but getting it onto the page is a struggle for me, perhaps because as long as it’s inside me, it’s perfect, and putting it on the page exposes all its flaws and shortcomings. When I do come to the page, I write stories all at once, beginning to end, no matter how long it takes. The few times I’ve done otherwise I’ve wound up with a horrific mess. The final story may not even resemble that first outpouring, but it has to begin that way for me.

The Writing Process Blog Tour: J.Ed. Marston

The next stop on the Peauxdunque leg of the Writing Process Blog Tour is J.Ed. Marston:

What am I working on right now?

I’m finalizing a coming of age short story that uses technology as a trope for exploring the question of identity. Man, that sounds pompous, but the conceit of the story is kind of complicated, and I’d rather let the story stand for itself rather than trying to describe.

How does the work differ from others in its genre?

Genre is always a difficult question for me. I’ve had more than one experience in which I wrote something and then struggled when asked how it should be categorized. In critiquing an earlier version of the aforementioned short story, Sean Ennis, who was leading a workshop I attended, called it science fiction. I was surprised because the story is set in the present and involves events that could be happening as we speak.

If the story is science fiction, I would say it differs primarily in attempting to use technology to delineate character rather than deploying characters to illustrate something about technology or society.

Why do I write what you do?

I’m fascinated by how we use stories to give meaning to our real-life experiences. This is more fundamental than what writers attempt to create for readers. For good and ill, we all tell ourselves stories all day long, sometimes to motivate ourselves to do something constructive, sometimes to justify ourselves, sometimes as a distraction or to relieve boredom, sometimes as a way of understanding why reality diverged from our expectations, and sometimes for other reasons too plentiful to categorize.

My ambition as a writer is employ my own impulse to tell stories to enact the things that bother me and make me wonder in a way that will capture other people’s imagination.

How does your writing process work?

By fits and starts. There’s a lot of pondering and futzing around. I always think I can come up with a story in the abstract, and then write it. In reality, my work usually starts with a sentence that begs another. I’ve found that my starter sentence will come whenever I spend time on the page (even though it likely won’t be the first one I write). Once that sentence snares my imagination, the process becomes a matter of problem-solving. What sentence would come next? What kind of character would say that? Etc.

I also find that self-imposed constraints help me find the story. When I think, “I could write something about anybody doing anything in any place at any time,” I freeze. But, when I make myself narrow the focus, the words start flowing.

The Writing Process Blog Tour: Emily Choate

Ganked from her personal blog over at emilychoate.com (with her gracious permission, of course), here are Peauxdunque’s Emily Choate‘s excellent answers to the Writing Process Blog Tour queries:

What am I working on?

The novel I’m currently writing is, at its core, a tussle between mother and daughter. I see them locked in prideful conflict, wrestling with what they’ve inherited, how far from their origins they’re willing to stray, and what forgiveness ought to look like. I’ll go light on the plot details just now, as I’m in full-bore composing mode (aiming to have it in shareable form by year’s end). Things can change quickly once the characters really let you in. That said, I’ll share that the book takes place in the late 80’s, set largely on a South Georgia catfish farm and in the Smokies of East Tennessee.

Among the swirl of things that currently appear in the book: naturally-occurring salt licks, solar eclipses, neglected orchards, blasphemy, your first microwave oven, homemade halter tops, Pigeon Forge pancake houses, catfish harvesting, what comes after you torch your life, scar tissue troubles, Minor Prophets, bobcats, and Purple Rain.

How does my work differ from others of its genre?

This looks to be a question about point of view. I tend to write stories that concern southerners making mischief under the nose of religion or the natural world, or both. I always want the voice to take on some flavor of the characters’ physicality, to build tension and conflict through that physicality.

Asked to draw distinctions between my work and others I’ve read, I would say that I never want my stories to read like intellectual exercises or demonstrations of the author’s cleverness. That bores me. Obediently cool fiction bores me. I want readers to develop loyalty to my characters, which is a visceral process, not an intellectual one. I agree with Flannery O’Connor that we convince through the senses.

Furthermore, I try to account for the life of the spirit in my fiction—for the possibilities of transcendence. But I want to achieve that through the physical world. For now, anyway, I’m only intrigued by writing fiction set in our world, rather than ventures into magical realism. Our actual world is wondrous and terrifying enough.

I’m still working to uncover whatever may be unique to my voice. That’s a life’s work.

Why do I write what I do?

I write the stories that show up at my kitchen door. What I mean is that the origins are not always clear and not always my business.

I have an ornery streak, to be sure. That part of my nature informs the work. I want stories that have some fight in them, that will misbehave a bit. For me, this is how the surprises are shaken loose. I don’t trust that I have a real draft until it’s got at least one good surprise—some element that jostles my approach.

Sometimes my nature gets into conflict with the fiction’s nature. So I try to keep a healthy respect for the works themselves. I try to shift the emphasis away from me and my bullish ego, so that I can see what the materials need. When I remember that I’m not the point, then the stories energize me. The privilege of spending time with this fiction is reason enough to keep writing it.

As to why I write at all (as opposed to, say, doctoring or competitive bass fishing), I don’t have a true answer, or even a noble-sounding pretentious answer. (I still tried coming up with one. Trust me, it was insufferable.) Writing is my most natural activity, and I cannot imagine myself otherwise. The Why is bigger than my ability to perceive it.

How does my writing process work?

Speaking of perceiving, one of my biggest concerns as a writer is figuring out how to stay open and receptive. A crucial aspect of the work is keeping my imagination alert. I always want to be willing to enlarge or redefine my vision, to be more awake to possibilities. That’s the long-haul process.

I’ve kept a journal for most of my life—sifting and shaping observations into sentences is now second nature. The journals also taught me to prioritize making time for the writing. Internalizing those matters long ago has made the discipline easier. I didn’t start the journal for those purposes (I suspect that, back then, I was preserving a space where my imagination wouldn’t get evicted once the social pressures of adolescence kicked in). But that training was invaluable and continues to be so.

Now, to take the piss out of my high-mindedness self. (See? Ornery.) At the desk, what I trust is good old fashioned trial and error, emphasis on the “error.” I find I get the best results when I’m the most willing to fail. I make a lot of notes, fill a lot of yellow legal pad pages, hoist it all up into a messy typed draft, and then revise, over and over. It’s an unruly process, but when it’s cooking, there’s nothing in the world I’d rather do.

The Writing Process Blog Tour: Cassie Pruyn

Peauxdunque’s Cassie Pruyn started us off on The Writing Process Blog Tour over on her personal blog, and we’re cross-posting her entry here:

1) What are you working on?

I am working on a manuscript, while several ideas for future manuscripts percolate on the back-burner. This current manuscript will be composed of sections of poems on rivers, history, and relationships. I am working on one of the sections in particular at the moment––a monologue in the voice of the Mississippi River (She’s angry, she’s prepared, and she wants to tell you the story of the greatest love affair in the history of North America.). Get ready.

 

2) How does the work differ from others of its genre?

This is an interesting question. I’m always looking for similarities between my work and the work of other poets, past and present. I’m always searching for models and mentors. However, in searching for models, I’ve realized, to some extent, where my work fits into the conversation: I am interested in books of poetry that operate as books. Of course, the arrangement of poems within a manuscript––their order, their groupings––have always mattered; this act of curation has always been important. But I’m most interested in poems that converse with the surrounding poems more directly––that are woven into the larger work in a particular way, so that the experience of reading the book is like stepping back and viewing the whole mosaic for a moment, and then stepping forward again to read the next poem, to study the next stone. This zooming-in and -out, this dynamism between part and whole, really excites me. In short: I like series. I like books of poems that have the coherence of novels (although novels seek to sustain tension through narrative, and poems through music).

Also, I have to have history in my poems. Nothing that happens to me, or that happens in my poems, has any resonance for me unless it is in conversation with history––particularly with history of place. 

So, I think I would have to answer this question by saying that my work doesn’t bear that much resemblance, I don’t think, to the short, smart, syntactically-curious, “contemporary”-feeling poems I come across in journals these days, mixed in among poems of many other styles. I love these poems. I’ve noticed them lately for how different they feel from my own. They belong in singles; they glow singly, like geodes. Although sometimes I envy these poems for how portable they are, I remind myself that it’s a good thing there are so many different minds out there, to write so many different kinds of poetry. And then I go back to my own messy compilation of poems that won’t stop talking to each another….

 

3) Why do you write what you do?

I wonder this all the time, myself. It’s probably something that I should have figured out by now. I know I have a very good reason for sitting down and writing poems every day––and sweating, and swearing, and failing, and maybe sometimes getting somewhere. I can feel the reason––it lives in my body and never leaves. But I find it hard to define it for myself sometimes.

Is it to make a connection? To communicate? Of course. What else could it be but that?

Is it for some greater good? Humans + Art = Better Humans, or some such formula? Yes. That seems true. I think I would be a far worse person if I didn’t write and read, and I can only assume the same for others.

Is it because it’s fun? Yes. But it’s also distinctly un-relaxing.

The best reason I can come up with today is because I love books so much. I love authors. I just really love authors. Sometimes I want to lick my books, or sleep with stacks of them in my bed, or empty my bank account acquiring more. And, like a child, I want to imitate those I love.

 

4) How does your writing process work?

It’s highly erratic.

I write in one place, primarily––by myself at home, with my dog next to me. The space has to be clean, with everything in its proper “stack,” or category. One piece of mail out of place will drive me to distraction. I think I have to have this kind of routine, these strict atmospheric rules, because the process itself is so incredibly unwieldy. I do a lot of “following my nose”––picking up that book, and reading that poem, and then this one, until––! I realize something about how to go forward! And I write it down!

This is when it’s helpful to have series. Otherwise I think I would just spin off––starting everything and finishing nothing. If I don’t feel like working on this or that series or long poem (“No….The Mississippi doesn’t feel like talking today,” or, “No, I don’t want to remember that just now…”), I’ll pick another one to work on. All the poems in my manuscript are in varying levels of “done-ness”: basically done forever (yeah right), done until next month, not at all done, and as-yet-completely-unwritten.

Click here for our entry from Susan Kagan.

The Writing Process Blog Tour: Susan Kagan

When Peauxdunquian Cassie Pruyn participated in The Writing Process Blog Tour over on her personal blog, we decided in the land of Peauxdunque that this site would be a great place to collect entries in that project from our own very varied group of writers. So, first up is Susan Kagan. Below are her answers to the standard round of questions on writing process; watch this space for future Peauxdunquian entries!

1) What are you working on?

SK: I’m currently writing a science fiction novel about a man-made pandemic.

2) How does the work differ from others of its genre?

SK: The story is told from the perspective of both the protagonist and
antagonist. Both are sympathetic and three-dimensional characters,
though I think I’m giving my protagonist a lot more obstacles to
overcome.

3) Why do you write what you do?

SK: I haven’t committed to a genre, so I write what interests me at the
time. I’ll probably be fairly promiscuous in that respect until I find
a franchise character to hang a series of novels upon.

4) How does your writing process work?

SK: The process starts at a high level where the work exists as nothing
larger than a paragraph explaining the whole story arc. Next, I end up
drilling down to the chapter level, with a sentence for each of the
major scenes. Next, I write whatever scenes strike my fancy for a
while before settling in to hash it out in sequence. From a class I
took several years ago, I got the best advice which was to allow
yourself a shitty first draft. That’s what I’ve been doing, much to
the chagrin of my critique group. They get to see the shitty first
draft and all subsequent drafts as I workshop the hell out of it until
it’s no longer horrible.

Keep an eye out for Susan’s book, Avoiding a Perilous Path: Basic Wiccan Ethics, scheduled to be released by Left Hand Press in early 2015.

2014 Faulkner-Wisdom lists are out, with some Peauxdunque representation

Once again, it’s the time of year when the lists of finalists, short-list for finalists, and semi-finalists are released for the William Faulkner-William Wisdom Writing Competition, held in conjunction with the annual Words & Music Conference put on by the Pirate’s Alley Faulkner Society. And once again, there is heavy Peauxdunque representation on the lists.

Five Peauxdunquians are responsible for eight different finalist pieces in five different categories. Tad Bartlett and J.Ed. Marston have a collaboratively written manuscript named a finalist in the novel category. Maurice Ruffin has a manuscript finalist in the novel-in-progress category, and another piece that’s a finalist in the essay category. Emily Choate, Tad, and Maurice each have stories that are finalists in the short story category. And Cassie Pruyn and J.Ed. both have pieces that are finalists in the poetry category (Cassie was second runner-up in that category in 2013).

Also, Emily and Tad each had additional short stories that were named to the short list for finalists in that category. Final winners and runners-up among the finalists in all categories are scheduled to be named on or around September 25, Faulkner’s birthday, so stay tuned!