Thursday, May 29, 2014

Screen-Staring and Hand Cramps: My Stop on the Writing Process Blog Tour


Today, I'm doing a little bit of navel-gazing here at the blog as I talk about how and why I write the things I do.  Author Kim Barnes invited me to take part in the "My Writing Process" blog tour.  I'm a little late to the party; this meme has been around for at least a year and there must have been thousands of writers who've gone before me; but, nevertheless, here I am, showing up with a bottle of chilled wine and an apologetic/hopeful smile on my face.  The idea of this pass-around idea is to answer the same four questions, then nominate three more writers* to take up the challenge.  My thanks to Kim for inviting me to play along.  You can read about Kim's writing process here (it involves total immersion in her work until "I am able to hear the rhythms of the narrative and the cadences of the language like a song I can’t stop singing").  If you want to sink further into Kim's words, you should check out one of her many books--which range from her debut memoir, In the Wilderness, to her latest novel, In the Kingdom of Men (she's also written several other books whose titles don't begin with the word "In").

Now, on to the questions and my answers....

What are you working on?

When I'm not blogging, I'm supposed to be writing the first draft of a still-untitled novel (it's gone through a couple of name changes, including FOB Sorrow, and the current file is labeled Afoot, but those aren't sticky enough for me).  Set in 2006, it's about a squad of soldiers making their way on foot from one end of Baghdad to the other in order to attend the memorial service for their beloved platoon sergeant, recently killed by a roadside bomb.  Their company commander told them they couldn't attend the ceremony because they had to work, so they rashly stole a Humvee from the motor pool and set off the for other side of the city.  Less than a mile outside the Forward Operating Base's entry control point, the vehicle breaks down.  And now they're stranded, with no commo and dwindling ammo.  But onward they march....

Regular readers of The Quivering Pen may remember my previous post about what was then my work-in-progress: Dubble, a novel set in the early 1940s about a Hollywood stunt double for a temperamental child actor named Eddie Danger.  Revisions on that book were set aside as I got deeper into telling the stranded soldiers' story.  If my writing desk was a stove, Dubble would be simmering on the back burner.


How does you work differ from others of its genre?

I'm not sure my writing fits comfortably into a genre (broadly speaking, I guess it would be "fiction"), but if you were to set my debut novel Fobbit on a shelf labeled "war literature," the most significant difference from its neighbors would be the number of chuckles per page.  While there are plenty of grim, gory scenes in its pages, Fobbit is at heart "a comedy about the tragedy of war."  Put another way, Fobbit is to The Red Badge of Courage what the Marx Brothers were to Citizen Kane.


Why do you write what you do?

I wrote Fobbit because I wanted to show a side of the military readers don't often see: "the back office of the battlefield" where support soldiers keep the war machine well-oiled and running without too many coughs and sputters.  I wanted to write a war novel that largely took place in a cubicle jungle and focused on the management (and mis-management) of the military's information operations.


How does your writing process work?

On an ideal, idyllic day, this is how it would go:  I wake up at 4 a.m., pour myself a mug of coffee and a glass of ice water, climb the stairs to my second-floor office (formerly, my daughter's bedroom), sit down at the desk, and stare at the laptop screen for anywhere between five minutes and two hours, then haltingly type two words, then three more words, then hope for a burst of sentences which will flow into a paragraph or a string of dialogue....followed by more screen-staring and hesitant typing.  This goes on until it's time for me to leave for my bill-paying Day Job.  I am almost exclusively a morning writer; by the end of the day, my brain is too traffic-jammed with words and images for me to sit down and make sense at the keyboard.

For this current novel, I've been writing the first draft longhand.  I compose in a purple Moleskine journal with an ink pen which clips to the back cover.  Sure, my hand cramps and I thoroughly hate the sight of my handwriting, but I'm becoming addicted to this literally hand-crafted process.  I was inspired to try this as an experiment by this interview with fellow Grove novelist Ryan Boudinot on Brad Listi's Other People podcast.  I can't remember Ryan's exact words, but it had something to do with hand-writing being a more intimate process than punching cold letters on a computer keyboard.  Heightened intimacy is even more important with this novel since it's so character-driven.  There's a shorter distance between my fingers, my brain and the soldiers Arrow, Park, Cheever, Olijandro, Drew, and Fish.  I hope it also means a tighter distance between readers and these six men.


Next week, please check out the following writers/bloggers and their answers…

Lydia Netzer
Lydia's debut novel Shine Shine Shine was named a New York Times Notable Book for 2012, a Target Book Club Pick, and was shortlisted for the LA Times Book Prize in Fiction.  Her new novel, How to Tell Toledo From the Night Sky, is due in bookstores in July.  She also has e-novella, Everybody's Baby, due to be born in June.  Click here to visit her blog.

Craig Lancaster
Many of Craig's novels and short stories are set in our mutual home state of Montana.  You can discover his Big Sky writing by purchasing 600 Hours of Edward, The Summer Son, Quantum Physics and the Art of Departure, and Edward Adrift.  Click here to visit Craig's blog.

Brandon Schrand
Brandon is the author of Works Cited: An Alphabetical Odyssey of Mayhem & Misbehavior, and The Enders Hotel: A Memoir.  Click here to visit Brandon's blog.

Naomi Elana Zener
Naomi writes satire and fiction on her blog, Satirical Mama.  Her just-published debut novel, Deathbed Dimes, is, according to novelist Julia Fierro, a "revealing portrayal of one woman’s desperate search for a place in the world."  Naomi’s articles have also been published by Erica Ehm’s Yummy Mummy Club.  Naomi is also a practicing entertainment attorney and lives with her husband and two children in Toronto Click here to visit her blog.

Mary Vensel White
Mary's debut novel The Qualities of Wood will be released by HarperCollins next month.  Visit her blog, Shimmers in the Darkness, for more news about the book and her writing.

Nancy Bilyeau
Nancy has worked on the staffs of InStyle, Rolling Stone, Entertainment Weekly, and Ladies Home Journal; she is currently the executive editor of DuJour magazine.  Her debut novel, The Crown, was published in 2012, followed by The Chalice in 2013.  Click here to visit her blog.

*I'm tagging more than three other authors because when I put out the call for volunteers on social media, I got an overwhelming response.  Thanks, everyone!


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