I was quite touched when Tawni Waters, someone I consider to be an exceptional writer, human being, and a beautiful friend, asked me to take part in the My Writing Process Blog Tour. Touched because for some strange reason, this burgeoning literary giant seems to see something in me and my work that I’ve yet to see in myself, but oh how I hope to get there some day! We all need someone to believe in us, right?
I’m currently reading Tawni’s book, Beauty of the Broken, slated for publication by Simon and Schuster on September 30. I find myself lost to time, mesmerized as I immerse myself in a world replete with people I’ve come to love, hate, and even forgive as if they exist in the flesh and in my world. Here’s the cover of her book and a photo of Tawni:
You can find Tawni’s blog tour at Burlesques Press, created by another beautiful friend, the extraordinary Jeni Stewart: writer, editor, festival organizer, hostess,
and tour-de-force in her own right.
Tawni writes in her blog about a time I fished her out of pool that she had thrown herself into as a proclamation to give herself fully to love. We sat at the edge of a pool, our drinks in hand, dipping our toes in the cool water on a hot New Orleans night, and Tawni went on waxing poetic utterances, bemoaning unrequited love until I finally said something about how love is something you just have to throw yourself into whole heartedly if anything is ever going to come of it. After all, you can’t really swim by just dipping your toes in the pool; you’ve got to dive in. Next thing I know, Tawni is splashing around in the middle of the pool, fully clothed—well, Tawni is never really fully clothed—and she’s telling the world, “I’ve given myself to love, Kimberly, I’ve given myself whole heartedly to love.” It’s all true, and it’s also true as she writes, that I did hand her over to the very wise and capable Miss Jeni Stewart who knew exactly what to do with the drip drying, possibly intoxicated, Miss Tawni Waters.
Not only do I have Tawni to thank for getting me to dig deep and take a good hard look at my writing process by including me in this blog tour, I also have Jeni to thank for agreeing to publish my blog on burlesquepress.com since I’m behind the times and don’t have a blog site of my own…yet.
It’s people like Tawni and Jeni who are a big part of my process. Because of their work, and belief in me, I am challenged, awed, and most of all inspired to keep at it—to just keep at it. There is power in passion and persistence, and both of these women are masters at demonstrating both. Persistence is a big part of my process.
Beauty of the Broken is only the beginning of Tawni’s publishing life. She is an amazingly prolific writer. When she isn’t chasing her favorite crush and band, Roger Clyne and the Peacemakers (although she thinks of them more like a lifeline), or teaching her very lucky students, or loving her very fortunate and talented children, she is working on a new novel, The Air She Breathes. In addition to the many poems, stories, and travelogues, published online and in a number of journals, she also has a book of poetry coming out soon, to be published by Burlesque Press.
So before I get to answering those questions about my process, here’s a link to Tawni’s blog tour: https://burlesquepressllc.com/2014/09/16/my-writing-process-blog-tour-by-tawni-waters/
What are you working on?
I’m currently working on an historic novel that takes place between about 1875 and 1915. It’s loosely based on my ancestors’ lives, starting with my three times great grandmother Lula, her daughter Pluma, and her daughter Aquina, my great-grandmother.
I have two other projects that I’ve tabled for now, but plan to come back to as soon as I figure out how to juggle full time work among other things with all my writing project ideas, like all writers have to do—many who succeed and put me to shame.
The first project on hold is a thematically linked short story collection, Best Laid Plans and Other Betrayals, that needs some fine-tuning, and maybe another story or two added, and maybe a story or two deleted. The second is a full-length screenplay that takes place during the Inquisition in France in the late 16th century, which is interwoven with a second story line set during contemporary times about a descendant of one of the victims from the first story line.
How does your work differ from others of its genre?
I’m not sure how to define my genre. Perhaps it’s a cross between realistic literary fiction, historical fiction, and every now and then, if you read closely, a little magical realism. So, perhaps that right there is how my work differs from others of my genre, it’s a little like me, a bit eclectic. I’m working on inventing a new genre that will change the way writers write forever, like Whitman, or Hemingway, or Proulx, or countless others, but until then, I’m still trying to master the tricks of who’ve gone before me.
Why do you write what you write what you do?
I don’t know that my purpose in writing is all that different from anyone else’s. The purpose of my fiction, like many writers, usually comes out of the need to grapple with some aspect of life that I need to understand. It’s a way of wrestling with my own demons as well as the demons I see in others and as a way to make sense of a world that sometimes doesn’t make sense to me. I often try to weave a thread between two disparate times, cultures, circumstances, or even aspects of a character, in order to explore the origin of some discord and the search to heal what seems impossible to heal.
I’m especially fascinated by how history, both societal and familial history, affects who we are today. I want to understand how the collective unconscious shapes not only our society and current culture but also our own individual identity. My fiction often explores what it means to become responsible, or not, for raising our own consciousness. I often explore the psyche of a character struggling between the choice of recognizing or ignoring how society or familial patterns influences her thoughts, choices, and beliefs.
How does your writing process work?
Unlike my friend Tawni Waters, my process works very, very slowly. I’m pretty sure she writes everything perfectly and quickly the first time she sits down to write something. I brood a lot. Until I don’t. I know it goes against everything they teach you in high school, and everything I’m supposed to teach my high school students—to outline before writing—but the first thing I do is formulate my story in my head. Because I want to listen to my characters tell me their story, I find it difficult to outline what they must do before I can find out enough about who they are and what they want to do.
So, I read a lot. I research a lot. I’m afraid there’s a fine line between research and procrastination, but in the beginning it’s all part of the process of trying to wrap my head around the idea I’m playing with. I try to educate myself about the era I’m writing about. I try to find work about or by people who might resemble the characters I’m creating. It usually starts with a character or characters and some internal conflict juxtaposed against some external conflict that is forcing the main character(s) to change in a way they are resisting. I give myself the freedom to explore ideas, play with possible plot threads, and find out what my story is about beyond the ethereal figures that tease me with their shadowy presence, asking me to bring them to life.
And then, I outline after, and as, the story unfolds in my mind. Sometimes I know a scene that needs to go into the story, but I’m not sure where it will go yet. I might know that it will appear later in the book, so I’ll write a sketch of the scene, which I’ll develop later. Sometimes I’ll get a flash of a whole scene so fast that I’m afraid I’ll lose all the details if I don’t get it down immediately. That’s when I’ll write in truncated sentences or in bullet points so I can capture everything as fast as I can, and then I’ll go back later and flesh it out.
Usually, I have a pretty good idea about the beginning of the story. In fact, that’s usually what gets me going. I’ll “see” the opening scene with the key characters and I’ll just know what the story is about in a larger sense, thematically, but I won’t know the plot line. I’ve written enough stories that never went anywhere because the ending never came to me, so now I deliberately look for the ending as I write. It takes me a few scenes (if it’s a short story) or a few chapters (it it’s a longer work), but if I don’t have an ending by a certain point, I know I’m in trouble. Once I have the ending, which usually formulates in my head somewhere around the first third to middle of the story, then I know I’ve got something and I become more in control of the process. Once I know my ending, then I can write to that end and make sure all those loose threads and sub plots I’ve generated start to come together in a way that elevates the larger story.
Once I have the ending, I notice that I’ll start my revision process, even before I’ve really finished the first draft. There are things that I may not have set up correctly in the beginning, so I’ll have to go back and set them up now so I can proceed. I try not to work on getting the revised scenes perfect, just fixed enough to clear my mind so I can concentrate on the later chapters. I tend to be somewhat chronological and recursive in my thinking, so I tend to like lining my ducks up in proper order.
Once I finish the whole thing, then I go back to the beginning and start reading it first like a copyeditor, checking for mechanical errors, all the while taking notes on larger structural or character or plot errors. Then, I read it again, and this time, I go through it and read it like an editor and focus on those larger structural issues. Then, I revise, revise, revise. I’ll start the process over for as many times as it takes. When I get stuck and can no longer see the forest for the trees, that’s when I take a break and put it in a drawer for a while. I’ll go through another revision process, and once it gets to the point that I think it’s done, that’s when I’ll get another pair of eyes or two or three from trusted writer/reader friends. The last phase involves taking their notes, deciphering through them, especially contradictory notes, and then and go at it again until I’m satisfied.
I’ve tagged three amazing writers whose work never fails to move, entertain, and inspire me. Check them out as the “My Writing Process” Blog Tour moves on to its next virtual destination!
I must give a disclaimer about the people I’ve tagged. I’ve tagged them all because I admire them and love their work, but as of this moment, I haven’t heard back with a confirmation from any of them. But, they all do have their own blogs, and I’m pretty sure their lives are pretty busy at the moment. So even if they don’t participate in the My Writing Process Blog Tour, you might want to check out their blogs and their books. They won’t disappoint, and you’ll be very glad you did.
Angus McMahan was the first to make me feel like I belonged when I returned to my hometown in California last year. He has one of those sharp mind-open heart combinations to make him one of those rarest of beings, a man of perfectly balanced wit and wisdom. He also writes a kick-ass blog at Angus-land. As he says, “An airborne buffet of funness.” His stories and accounts about all kinds of life experiences are insightful and entertaining. Angus wears many hats (and costumes) and has many talents; in addition to being a damn good writer, he’s a drummer, a runner, a cyclist, a Giants fan, and a professional problem solver, to name just a few. Check out his blog at http://www.angus-land.com/
I first met Jen Violi in New Orleans at her book signing and reading for her first book Putting Makeup on Dead People. Not only was I was struck by the passage she read from her book, but by her kindness and compassion as a human being. I went home and eagerly read her book. She has me as a fan for life. She takes on the big questions and isn’t afraid to write a character who looks into the abyss of her soul, falls through, and arrives on the other side. She won the 2012 Oregon Book Award for her debut novel, and is now in business as a Writer, Editor, and Story Mentor. Check out her blog at: http://www.jenvioli.com/
It may not have been fair for me to tag Lish McBride, but she is one of those extraordinary writers that the whole world needs to read. It’s probably not fair because she just had a baby and her third book, Firebug, just came out on Sept 23, which makes her incredibly busy, but is also why I thought it might be worth tagging her. You know, to help get the word out. When I asked my sophomore high school students what their favorite book is, one young man shouted out Hold Me Closer Necromancer, Lish’s debut novel. She’s another one of those forces to be reckoned with, with a big heart, a great sense of humor, three books in print and her own blog! Buy her books and go to her blog: http://www.lishmcbride.com/home