And now for Tad Bartlett‘s stop on the Writing Process Blog Tour’s four questions:
What am I working on right now?
I’m working on a linked collection of novella and stories tentatively called Joe Stories. What Richard Linklater’s Boyhood is to the movie and to Texas, Joe Stories aims to be to the novel and to Alabama. Joe Stories chronicles the maturation of Joe Alsobrook, from an 11-year-old malcontent fantasizing about escape above and out of his small, racially troubled Alabama town in the story “Tree Houses,” through a 25-year-old young man, not long married, calming into a love that overcomes a turbulent past. Each of the short stories picks up events as Joe grows up, snapshots in time and relationships. The short stories use Joe as the POV character, whether in first person, faux second person, or close third, while the novella (Marchers’ Season) tells the turning point event in Joe’s life–a series of protests during his senior year of high school–through the close third-person POV of Gray Alsobrook, Joe’s dad. I’ve been working on some of the stories in the collection since 2006, and hope to finish the novella and the collection by the end of 2014. (And I damn well better, because it’s my MFA thesis, as well, which I’m due to turn in by the beginning of January 2015).
How does the work differ from others in its genre?
Hard to say, because it definitely comes from a tradition, though maybe it differs in that it comes out of several traditions. I try to honor the lyricism and controlled abandon of the Beats, while paying close attention to the societal and intergenerational debt themes of the work of folks like Lewis Nordan and Barry Hannah and the other “grit lit” writers. At the same time, I hope the stories’ calling up of place is reminiscent of Tom Franklin’s work, among others. But really, how it’s different or distinguishes itself is a judgment to be made by readers, not me. I can only write what I write.
Why do I write what I do?
Because these are the rhythms and pictures that come to me. Because I hope through translating those rhythms and pictures into words, maybe I can understand myself better and how I fit in with the people around me, and maybe the same can happen for others who come in contact with the work. Also, because it’s fun.
How does your writing process work?
I think about a piece for a long time, trying to figure out how an initial picture can evolve and justify a full story, who a character in that picture is, where they come from, where they might get to in the story, what unique element or difficulty can pop up in the story. I do that figuring and thinking for many weeks, usually, between the pop of the initial idea and the sitting down to write it, walking around with it in my head, folding into it things I walk past on the street or articles I read or snippets of conversation I hear. But then I steal time from wherever and whatever I can, from job or from sleep, and capture it as quickly as possible, in a couple days at most. Then I let a couple very trusted and reliable readers tear at the draft. Then I straighten things up for a week or so. Then I let it sit. Then I revise it and wonder about completeness. Sometimes that’s it. Sometimes I revisit and revise and tear up and rewrite over the course of multiple years, with new pictures and stories working in the meantime that may or may not influence how I think about the pieces that are still in process.