I am a big proponent of the whole “it takes a village to keep a writer sane” theory. You know, the one that reinforces the fact that we are not alone, that we have a community around us even when we spend innumerable hours with fictional people that we convince ourselves are anything but. Even though we bang keys and stare at a screen for hours. Even though we lock ourselves inside a steamer trunk, inside a shipping container, on board an ocean carrier, until our novel is done, emerging wild-eyed and disheveled with a first draft in hand.
So, when Sheryl Scarborough asked me to continue the “My Writing Process” blog tour, I was like….”no.”
Kidding. Of course, I was willing to be a part of the blog tour. Thank you, Sheryl, for asking me. Let me just add that Sheryl is part of the Vermont College of Fine Arts (VCFA) family (a member of the awesome Dystropian class of Jan. 2013) and as far as writing communities go, you do NOT get much tighter than VCFA. You can check out Sheryl’s answers here, along with Laura Cook‘s, and Ingrid Sundberg‘s and Rachel Lieberman‘s and Peter Langella…all VCFA peeps, all awesome.
That being said, let’s get on with it…
1. What am I working on? I can’t tell you, it’s a secret. Next question? Oh, what? I have to answer that? Ok….I am currently working on a middle-grade novel. While I am not keen about revealing much online about it while it is in the process of being written, I will say that it has magical realism roots, is centered around a fierce science fair and features a geek vs. nerd battle of the ages. There is a tree house, a meteor and a pet wallaroo. There may even be a knitted bow tie. Ok, there is a knitted bow tie. I am also doing revisions on a couple of picture books. I have several other picture books, short stories, screenplays, and novel ideas badgering me, but I have managed to push them into the closet and lock the door for now. They’ll have their time, but focus is essential to finishing this book. My goal is to have the first draft done by the end of June.
2. How does my work differ from others of its genre? I think that, ultimately, we’re all different, right? I mean, we each bring our own unique experiences and our own voices to what we write. However, I will say that my work has been described as quirky, humorous, and, at times, rather unorthodox. I’m not sure that this is different, but I write picture books, middle-grade, young adult, screenplays, and graphic novels, and it all seems to gel into one big visually oriented media monster that makes my storytelling vivid and cinematic in its beats and pacing. I’ve also become a big fan of the inserted multi-genre components that A.S. King (think PLEASE EXCUSE VERA DIETZ), Caroline Carlson (MAGIC MARKS THE SPOT), and others do, as well as telling the story from multiple points of view (like A.S. King, Kathi Appelt, Tim Wynne-Jones, and others).
3. Why do I write what I write? I am, simply put, a big kid. I’m living out there in NeverNever Land…holding fiercely to my youth and fanciful flights of imagination. And, as the father of three young boys, I am constantly observant of, and reminded of, the obstacles, events, concerns, and experiences of children. Children, middle-grade aged especially, live in a world where magic exists. There are trolls behind trees and trash can lids are shields. Fallen logs are bridges to distant lands and creeks may have Civil War gold buried in them. The blend of innocence and discovery, mixed with the willingness to believe in, and expect, magic is a canvas open to so many wonderful and creative stories. Middle-aged children want to believe in magic and as a writer, I can give them that, Because the world, as it stands, needs a dash of magic. It needs a sprinkle of “what if?” And that’s what I try to deliver.
4. How does my writing process work? Well, first I gather a bucket of toads. Then, I paint the toads with splashes of different colors and then I let them go. Wait..that’s not right. That’s my revision process. Writing process, right. Well, I am a very big proponent of mapping and visual connections. I like to take a big piece of newsprint paper and draw my character in the middle of the page. Then I list some of the key points that define him or her. Then I connect him to the secondary and influencing characters, the setting, significant objects. I’ll use colored pencils to trace out certain paths, or connecting lines. I’ll make circles around groups, or triangulate relationships. I’ll follow dashed lines to important connections, like newly discovered treasures. All of this brainstorming/visual play allows me to better grasp the overall story in a way that a watchmaker might look at the relation of every cog, gear, and flywheel.
I do the same with my picture books, storyboarding the entire thing out on a big sheet of paper before actually writing the complete text of the story.
Once I feel like I have a handle on where these characters want to take me, I jump in and start writing. While I am aware of structure and mile markers and significant plot points, I really like to take Bradbury’s approach and follow my character’s footprints through the snow. But, I don’t worry about chapters and parts and how long this section is over the other. I write in scene by scene snapshots, in moments; self-contained capsules that all float on the surface of the story pond like lily pads. And I like using Scrivener because I can just move these scenes, these lily pads, all around the pond in whatever order I find works best. It’s great because I might write twenty scenes that I thought were the beginning of the book, only to say, “nah…they belong in the second quarter of the book…except these two, I’ll put them after the first five new scenes I am going to write…” So, I guess my process is very fluid, evolving and growing as I continue to write and discover the story by writing my way through it. I like to be surprised.
And I LOVE revision. Revision is like washing the grime off the rocks you found, you old prospector, you, only to find that you have a hunk of glittering gold underneath.
I write everywhere and everywhen. Usually without music, usually on caffeine. I write every day (usually). I’ve built myself a treadmill desk and that’s great for long writing sessions. But I will write with a fox, and I will write with no socks. In a boat, with a goat. On a plane, in the rain…you get the idea.
So, there you have it. A little insight into my writing process…
Next week, in a continuation of the “My Writing Process” blog tour, R.L. Saunders (one of my uber wunderbar agency mates) and Donna Galanti, author of THE HIDDEN ELEMENT and the upcoming middle-grade series, JOSHUA AND THE LIGHTNING ROAD, will share their insight. Please make sure to check out what they have to say on Monday, May 5th.
R.L. Saunders lives in Key West where she writes, chases iguanas, and sips tropical drinks from coconuts in the company of Gilligan and the Skipper. Her current manuscript is upper middle-grade contemporary fiction, set on Historic Charter Boat Row, where her biological dad worked as a fisherman for 20 years. She is an amazing writer and absolutely hysterical. Although she won’t admit to being funny. I am happy to call her my friend (really, I’m just saying that in case I go to the Keys and maybe I need a place to stay or something. Kidding!). She is represented by Linda Epstein of the Jennifer De Chiara agency.
Donna Galanti is a whirlwind of writing. She writes suspense, young adult and middle-grade. She is a member of the International Thriller Writers Society and the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators. A HIDDEN ELEMENT, her sequel to A HUMAN ELEMENT (Imajin Books) will be released this summer and she recently announced the sale of her middle-grade series JOSHUA AND THE LIGHTNING ROAD to Month9Books (2015). She is an active part of the Pennsylvania writing scene, and very involved in several blogs and writer’s groups. She is represented by Bill Contardi of Brandt & Hochman. She’s one rad woman.