My writing process (by Suzan)

photo (19)Fellow writers and readers: grab a corner booth and sit down! My friend Keanan Brand, writer of epic fantasy, has challenged me to a reveal of my writing process. And I’ve accepted! My writing process is not a tidy one, it is “a poor thing, but mine own.” But if it gets the job done, it’s how I roll.

I’m using the Q and A framework posted by Keanan at Adventures in Fiction .

Q: What are you working on?

A: What I’m writing is a novel I never thought I would attempt. It’s a mystery thriller featuring a mentalist, a wager, and six people who are thrown into a situation filled with choices and a life-changing game. I don’t want to give away too much, that’s a very short summary.

I didn’t think I would write about mentalism or hypnosis, because my primary voice up to this point has been in horror and suspense fiction. However, once the idea was sparked, the book began to come alive.

I would also love to create a short comedy screenplay or novel about life in a retail setting.

Q: How does your work differ from others of its genre?

A: Tough question. Most thrillers tend to be all action, or a mix of action/cognition. My novel is more like the latter–it delves into the characters’ thoughts and motivations. And it mixes historical ideas with more modern ones: a nice dark blend of fact and fiction, interwoven into the plot. I’ve been told that not a lot of research has been done in some of the areas I want to explore in this book. So I’m searching out sources with care, and looking at similarities in research situations to draw ideas from.

Q: Why do you write what you do?

A: I’ve always been fascinated with the genres I mentioned above. But I wasn’t interested in magic or mentalism till last year. I saw a program which sparked my interest, even if I was sure I was looking at clever television production as well as true mentalist’s art. Actually, good film production IS like magic…but don’t let me get off the subject.

I write about people’s deepest thoughts and fears. I write about their hopes and dreams, and their journey. Because I have been through some of these things I write about, and have searched out the answers. Sometimes the question I asked was never answered. I write for the “inquiring brain” that enjoys adventure, questioning, and deep ideas.

Q: How does your writing process work?

A: For years, I was able to whip up short stories and articles at on a whim. Too bad I was not employed as a writer then! Today’s process–at least for the novel in progress–is a slower one.

I realized that I knew nothing about hypnotism when I began to write the first chapter of my novel. I blithely wrote down my impressions of a TV show I had seen. It looked so simple! Then I set off into the wilds of the Internet to find hypnotists to interview. I found, to my pleasant surprise, four interviewees who either performed stage mentalism or were hypnotherapists, and they went above and beyond to give me the best look at what this type of phenomenon really is. To my dismay, I had to re-write chapter one: all my “TV knowledge” was a sham.

Nothing beats talking to real people about their jobs. I’m extremely grateful to my interviewees!

After tallying up everyone’s views and experiences, I tried to use the basic ideas they held in common (and have probably favored some opinions over others).

So besides referring to my notebooks, I research in the directions I was pointed to. I write in chapter or half-chapter “chunks” and revise almost immediately. I write at least twice a week. As much as I’d like to hurry, I know that good work can’t be rushed. But I set deadlines for myself anyway!

I hope to independently publish my work in 2015 or 2016. I’m not sure if I will publish under this name or my real one. In any case, I’ll be sharing links to the work here.

Thanks for “sharing a booth” with me at this writer’s chat!

-post first published under Suzan’s pseudonym, Jade Smith

That Junior High Feeling

Below is a quote from Jenny Simmons, musician and writer, in her blog post The Christian Industrial Complex and Why I Am Doing a Kickstarter Campaignabout the obstacles facing us un-famous creative folk:

Regarding my book, The Road to Becoming, I’ve met with a handful of literary agents and Christian publishing houses. One executive told me I sent in the best book proposal he has seen in a long time. Another said my writing style was laugh-out-loud, contagiously authentic. One agent said “there is room for this story at the table” another said the book is “spiritually profound” and and another said “this book will be a close spiritual companion to many.”  But at the end of the day each publishing house or literary agent has ultimately said-

We love this book but you’re not popular enough right now for us to take a risk on you. 

One Christian publishing house even went as far as telling my manager that I don’t have enough “heat.”  When asked for a clarification the executive said, “Look, if she is a mega-church pastor, we will give her a deal. If you come back tomorrow and tell us she got picked up by a major women’s conference and has a major platform, we will give her a deal.”

It kind of feels like junior high all over again.
Popular. Platform. Heat.

I’ve known  that junior high feeling. Man times. But I’m breaking free.
For anyone who has ever encountered the same attitudes, or who’s just now trying to break into the writing biz, I recommend reading the entire article.

Letters

(c2013, EE)
(c2013, EE)

In my closet is a box of handwritten epistles inside envelopes. Yellowing envelopes from my late grandmother. Decorated envelopes from an artistic friend. Varicolored envelopes that contain holiday cards. Bulging envelopes holding old stories exchanged between friends. Sometimes I open the box and read the letters, and hear once more my grandmother’s voice.

There was a time I could neither read nor write enough letters. I waited impatiently for them. I scribbled them when something unexpected happened, or when my friends wouldn’t write fast enough.

Along came instant messaging, internet chat rooms, e-mail, and communication flew between us. I reveled in the instant exchange of news and ideas.

But the charm faded. I couldn’t get away from people. There were questions demanding immediate answers. Friends or colleagues  planning events or meetings, often last-minute. My digital inbox expanded. An accusing mouse pointer or blinking cursor prodded me to drop everything and communicate. Now.

That pushiness is one reason I’ve never owned a cell phone. When I owned a landline, there were days I’d let the answering machine catch calls. A wielder of words, I had nothing to say.

As years passed, as career shifted, I’ve relaxed communications. A message may sit in the e-mail box for a few days before I compose a response. Although most messages I receive are the digital equivalent of casual scrawls, even from my colleagues in the professional realm, I tend to write as if each message is a letter. There are paragraphs, proper sentence structure, no text-speak. There is still courtesy.

A few days ago, engaged in spring cleaning, I found odds-and-ends of stationery. The paper is excellent, and the feel of its thick texture against my fingertips renders me nostalgic. Some of it is printed with designs at the bottom or along one edge, leftovers from my adolescence or from someone’s humorous birthday gift a decade or more ago. Some paper is still attached to a gum-adhesive strip at the top, keeping the leaves together, and much is loose-leaf, stacks of pale parchment waiting careful calligraphy.

How impatient will friends and acquaintances be if their e-mail receives reply by post?

Or will they look on the envelopes in puzzlement?

I wonder.

This Book, Right Now

It’s an epic, never-ending battle between mind and emotions: Who cares? Who’s gonna read this? Is it a story worth telling? Well, dagnabbit, I’m a wordsmith; of course it’s good! No, no, it’s utter garbage.

Doesn’t matter how many books you’ve written — none or dozens.

Doesn’t matter how many reviews you’ve gained — none or hundreds.

Doesn’t matter how many books you’ve sold — none or millions.

It’s all about the book in front of you.

What I’m about to write may seem to contradict what I wrote in Mentors v. Gatekeepers, which is about finding mentors to teach us, and breaking free of the gatekeepers who might try to keep our stories from reaching the world.

However, as much as I am a dreamer, I’m also a realist. No writer is perfect. We all need an objective eye. That perspective can come from a critique partner, a writers group, an agent, an editor. We need that honest person who’ll say, “I understand you’re trying to make us feel the wind, but this sentence crashes to ground.”

We might, on occasion, pen a short story or a poem that needs minimal revising, or none. Sometimes we’ll write a scene or a chapter that is barely edited, if it’s edited at all, because it’s good from the beginning. However, those rare glimpses of perfection should not be mistaken for signs that we have nothing more to learn.

Sure, you might win contests, awards, accolades, admiration, celebrity, financial success.

Sure, you might publish a string of bestsellers.

Sure, you could kick back and rest on the smug knowledge that you have written, and written well.

But all that falls away in the presence of the book you’re writing now.

This book, right now.

Will you dash it off, not spending the same time and care as you might have done when you were green and uncertain? When you were hungry?

Or will you be even more precise with your choices, your efforts, knowing that you owe your readers your best, although readers owe you nothing?

Until recently, I edited manuscripts for a publisher. It was challenging and educational, and far less glamorous and lucrative than some might expect. Many manuscripts should never have been given contracts, because either the stories or the writing weren’t ready for publication, and read more like works in progress rather than final drafts. But there were many that only needed a scene rewrite here or there, dialogue revisions, minor proofing, or expanded endings.*

The point is this: every manuscript needed an editor.
bookstore entrance (c2011, KB)
bookstore entrance
(c2011, KB)

However, one major reason I am no longer working for the publisher is the notion that some writers are perfect, their work approaching the sanctity of Holy Writ. I was given the resumes and bios of certain writers, not merely to inform me of their background, but to tell me — without the actual words being said — Here There Be Untouchables. I was expected to do my job so lightly that egos were stroked without being ruffled.

Anyone who knows me also knows I am not an ego-stroker. I give praise and encouragement, but I will not flatter. Flattery stresses me. Flattery makes my insides curl up like frightened potato bugs.

So does letting a problem fester and lie there without being addressed. I hate confrontation, but dealing with a problem is necessary. It’s like feng shui for the soul.

After the latest round of flatter-don’t-edit, I turned in my resignation. (Read more about it here: “When It’s Time To Go“.)

Just as writers aren’t perfect, neither are editors. I’ve made my share of mistakes. I’ve been the pompous youngster who thought he knew far more than he actually did. Memories of past stupidities still make me shudder.

And I’m a writer, too, so there are even more past mistakes to make me want to hide under a blanket until everyone forgets I’m an idiot.

Pride and insecurity are two fires that fuel writerly angst and sensitivity. Pride stings when someone pokes, stabs, or slaps it. Pride doesn’t like it when someone says, “That scene doesn’t work” or “This chapter is boring.” Pride wants to cross its arms and ignore the negative feedback, or even to draw a verbal sword and attack the critic.

I know. I battled stung pride a couple days ago, wanting to stab back at a reader whose own arrogance overshadowed his advice.

But I’ve been here before. I’ve learned to sift through the feedback, take what I need, discard the rest.

I can’t pull out my past awards, my references, all the contest certificates or publishing credits. They’re nice on a resume, but they don’t have any bearing on the book in front of me.

Like every other writer, all I can do is my best on this book, right now.

 

* One disservice, I believe, television and movies have done to modern fiction is the rush to an ending. Back when The Lord of the Rings film trilogy was finally complete, and The Return of the King came to theatres, some viewers complained about the long ending. Those viewers had likely never read the book, in which essential story continued past the main battle. The conflict wasn’t over, and there was still an enemy or two to deal with. But that’s like real life, eh? There’s always something.