Big thanks for Nate Tower for tagging me to join this literary blog tour about the writing process. Basically/ostensibly, I answer four questions and then pass those same four questions to a few more writers. We do this until every writer in the known cosmos and at least four contiguous parallel universes has had a turn (past four and the rules of spacetime get a little dicey*).
Nate Tower is the managing and founding editor of Bartleby Snopes Literary Magazine and Press. His short fiction has appeared in over 200 online and print publications. In 2014, Martian Lit released his first short story collection, Nagging Wives, Foolish Husbands. He is a former high school English teacher and the former world record holder for the fastest mile running backwards while juggling. He currently lives in Minneapolis with his wife and daughter. Visit him at nathanieltower.wordpress.com.
As for me, well, here we go:
1. What are you working on?
Like Nate who went before me, I currently have three main projects I’m working on right now.
The first thing is a novel called Human Services. It’s a sort of spin-off of Benji Palko’s character in my story collection, Shenanigans! where it focuses on the people who work at The Agency and all of the insanity that occurs in a professional office setting. I would say it’s pretty much solidly in the literary fiction camp. I’m still in the earlier stages of this project, sitting at around 16,000 words (as of typing this). Other pieces of Human Services have appeared online though, like this chapter over at InDigest called “Mr. Twitchy.”
The second project is more genre-flavored, and it’s sort of . . . massive. I’ve been kicking it around in my mind for a few years now, which is a sort of literary epic sci-fi/fantasy novel tentatively called Deorum et Viri: “Of Gods and Men.” I grew up reading lots of sci-fi and fantasy—especially the latter—and always kind of wanted to do something in the genre that originally inspired me to be a writer. It wasn’t until recently, with the popularity of the A Song and Ice and Fire series (aka Game of Thrones) that I sort of realized that this was a viable option for me, like, right now. That is to say, I’d really been wanting to use the skills I’d picked up writing literary fiction the past seven or eight years and apply it to something more genre-related. Perhaps the work most responsible for this epiphany, even more so than Game of Thrones, is M. John Harrison’s unbelievably impressive Viriconium omnibus. The prose is awe-inspiring and the way he includes elements of surrealism tinged with bits of magical realism is something I can’t begin to do justice here. You’d simply have to read it yourself.
The final project is a new short story collection called Irrational Attachments to Inanimate Objects. You can actually read the first story from this collection called “Now You See Me” over at Bartleby Snopes! There isn’t a whole lot to say about this collection yet other than the title will be a running theme throughout the book; I think the first story sort of gives that impression, or at least I hope it does!
2. How does your work differ from others’ work in the same genre?
Genre is so hard to talk about when you really don’t want to be constrained by it. Just ask one of my all time favorite writers, Ursula K. Le Guin. I just want to write books that at least a few people really like. It’s an incredibly humbling thing when someone tells you that your work really resonated with him/her. It makes you want to write a special book just for that person because he or she took the time to read your work that they could’ve spent doing any number of other things. Perhaps that’s what’s different about my work, how personal I want it to be for a select few. Or maybe it’s just that I want to write the stories that are in my head without thinking about what genre they are or should be. I’m probably not the best person to ask since I’m honestly not sure; it seems like a discerning reader could give a better answer here!
3. Why do you write what you do?
I think a lot of people describe their reasons in terms of zen sayings or for their sanity or they profoundly muse on their destiny or life’s calling as writers, but for me it’s really so much simpler than that: I just really like to do it! Admittedly, I sometimes feel bad—or maybe guilty is the right word—when I don’t write, but the truth is that there can be significant gaps in my output during a given year (about which I’ll explain more below). I certainly think it’s easier to stay in a kind of ‘writing flow’ than try to repeatedly build your momentum back up, but it also really comes down to your own personal capacity. I write as much as I can within the amount of time I feel like I want to spend doing it.
4. How does your writing process work?
There isn’t much formal about my process. Like Nate and many other authors (including authors as fantastic as Etgar Keret), I don’t write every day. That is, I don’t write every day unless I have a project that’s really flowing and the words are coming easily. I can’t force things. It becomes almost painful to write if I do. Anytime writing begins to feel like a job, i.e. something you dread doing or begin to dread doing, I take a break. I’ve done a lot of stuff with music production since the mid-to-late-90s, and it’s another creative outlet for me. I never had much in the way of career focused ambition w/r/t music, which is why I think I have so many WIPs (“works in progress”) on my Soundcloud. I mean, I love it, but it’s almost really just a conduit through which I can get back to writing again.
All that being said, my actual process involves pen and paper first. Almost always. I love to write freehand (when my hands aren’t cramping up to high hell). I love Pilot G-2 (0.38mm only!) gel pens and Moleskines. Plus, you get a built in stage of editing with freehand. When you sit down to type up what you’ve got, you’re editing on the fly, adding and subtracting things as you go. That feels good. It might be completely psychological, but you just feel more productive, which I think helps overall. After I type a draft, I print it out and edit it by hand, using various colors of ink that all mean various things to me in a way that’s hard to explain. (This is also true of my reading process and my use of multiple colored hi-lighters. I’m super visual.)
Actually, this blog is/was/has been/will continue to be a testament to my process and that’s why I’ve dedicated as such. It’s haptic; it’s messy. No one writes a perfect first draft. I’m also severely ADD, so I know that with minor projects—much like the music I make—those pieces may never see completion and thus, the light of day anywhere else. I don’t mind putting my unfinished work out there. I think it adds a human element to the mystique of writing. It’s like, “Hey, come check out what my brain was doing yesterday! This could be neat, right?!” Sharing work and ideas is fun and exciting, even—maybe especially—when it’s in its embryonic stages. Sometimes the feedback you get can be used as fuel to rejuvenate a project on which you’ve lost the momentum or something. Fuck it, who cares? Are you having fun? That’s all that matters!
Next week look for posts from Michael P. Williams and Jordan Mapes!
Michael P. Williams is a writer, researcher, and Japanese specialist at the University of Pennsylvania Libraries in Philadelphia. A former English teacher in Fukushima City, Japan, Michael used those experiences as background for his book Chrono Trigger (published by Boss Fight Books in April 2014), an autobiographical and critical exploration of a video game of the same name. He has written an article on Japanese ephemeral publications, and continues to research topics related to print culture and its connections to history and anthropology. Michael is also interested in the history of language and symbols, especially Chinese characters, of which he has invented more than a handful for creative projects. He plans to matriculate to Drexel University’s College of Computing & Informatics in the fall of 2014 to continue his studies in library and information science.
Jordan Mapes is a 2013 graduate of the University of Nebraska MFA in Writing program. Her work has been published in Midnight Circus: Occupation and Invasion and is forthcoming in Dark Tales from the Elder Regions: New York. Jordan works as an editor and a freelance videographer. She lives in Omaha, Neb. with her dog, Phin, and an insatiable appetite for pizza. You can find her online at jordanmapes.com.