Recently I was tagged in a blog hop on Writing Processes by theology blogger David Russell Mosley. Check out his blog, Letters from the Edge of Elfland. The Writing Process Blog hop invites bloggers to answer four questions about what, how, and why they write. The bloggers are then encouraged to recommend three other bloggers to do the same. So… here we go!
1. What are you currently working on?
Like David who invited me, and his inviter, I work both in academics and in creative writing. When it comes to creative writing:
- 2014 is, for me, the year of getting my short stories on the screen and into print. So far, I’ve had mostly rejections! But the writing bit is going well.
- I am pitching Hildamay Humphrey’s Incredibly Boring Life right now. Again, rejections galore, but I have gotten some requests for manuscripts.
- I am editing The Curse of Téarian, a dark faërie tale.
- I am preparing notes on a writing project this fall, either for 3 Day Novel or as an extended NaNoWriMo. I haven’t chosen which story to write yet, and am wavering between a dark psychological thriller and a group of unusually gifted children who band together in the wake of nuclear holocaust.
- I am finishing up the last edits on a paper on the heart of C.S. Lewis’ spirituality. I’ve blogged about it here, and the paper is called, “‘Die Before You Die’: St. Paul’s Cruciformity in C.S. Lewis’ Narrative Spirituality.” It is being published with other papers from the C.S. Lewis Symposium at Atlantic School of Theology in 2013.
- Following up on a discovery I made in an archive visit to the Marion E. Wade Center in Wheaton, IL, I am asking the question, “How would we read the Ransom Trilogy of science fiction books differently if we included The Screwtape Letters in that fictional universe?” The paper is called, “A Cosmic Shift in The Screwtape Letters.” I’m presenting the paper at Mythcon 45 in Norton, MA in August, and then will be looking for a publication for it. I’m pretty excited about this.
- I am working on a chapter in editor Sørina Higgins’ forthcoming essay collection, The Inklings and King Arthur. I am looking at intertextuality in C.S. Lewis’ work, how he brings other texts into his writing. For example, Merlin the Arthurian magician suddenly appears in That Hideous Strength,the third volume of the Ransom Cycle, a space travel trilogy. It’s worth asking why. That same book is called a “A Modern Fairy-Tale for Grown-Ups”—much like George MacDonald’s subtitle for Phantastes, “A Faerie Romance for Men and Women.” That Hideous Strength has been called a Charles Williams Novel by C.S. Lewis, and the main character calls upon Númenor, the Avalon world of J.R.R. Tolkien’s Middle Earth universe. That’s a lot of connections in just one book. I’m testing to see if the way Lewis uses texts from history and the worlds and ideas of his friends tells us something about the way he approaches texts in general. We’ll see.
I’m presenting the ideas for these researches at Mythcon in a panel hosted by Sørina, and will write the chapter this fall.
- Finally, I am applying an approach from my master’s degree to reading The Screwtape Letters. In my master’s thesis, the eighth most boring document on planet earth (and available for sale), I argued that when St. Paul wrote letters, he created a “world”—he retold the story of the relationship between him and the people he is writing to. Fictional writers do this too, selecting out material from a broader possible world to focus the plot and character development. I looked at how Paul developed the plot and characters of 1 Thessalonians to discover what some of his emphases were.
Now I’m going to try this approach with The Screwtape Letters. This is the most risky of my projects because it may fail to produce any fruit. But every experimenter faces that risk, I think. I will be presenting my findings at the International Society for Religion, Language, and Culture conference (http://isrlc.org/) in Leuven in September. It is a big conference, and the one I’m most nervous about.
2. How does your work differ from others in its genre?
- My short stories cross a variety of genres, and a number of them are exploring various kinds of post-apocalyptic worlds. What they might have in common is “incongruity.” My story, “The Grand Romance of Earl” at Hobo Pancakes is a humorous example. Even that urban love story is “apocalyptic” in the sense that behind it is the death of rural culture. It is funny, but even my tragic or dramatic stories have that upside down quality.
- Hildamay Humphrey’s Incredibly Boring Life is really about joy and voice. Most coming of age tales are about growing older. This quirky urban adventure is about growing younger.
- My academic work is in pretty early stages, but what I’m good at (I think) is crashing together ideas that don’t normally fit. Worlds collide in my imagination. Although I don’t think I’ll produce anything completely new, I do think I will help people think about things in new ways. An example is #2 above, where I am combining two fictional worlds that many presume are naturally separate. Really, I write academically and creatively from the same source: I look at the world with my head tilted sideways.
3. Why do you do what you do?
I think most writers are going to answer this about the same way. We love to write. Even when it’s hard—even when it is impossible to do and we hate it—we love to write. Even when we fail, we write.
I am essentially a lazy person, so I could easily put off writing. I have to really discipline myself then. But it is such great pleasure to carve of 3 or 4 hours to work on a story or outline a book. To sit down daily and pick up a longer project somewhere in the middle… that’s the sort of thing that keeps me awake at night. Even my academic and work writing, the challenge of bending a solar system of words and ideas into new orbits is a genuine thrill.
4. How does your writing process work?
But for me a story begins by the bubbling up in my imagination of two things crashing together. For example, I think of an interrogation room with a person looking at a woman through a one-way mirror. But what if the person watching the woman is actually the writer, and the character is developing before the writer’s eyes? There’s my story.
In the case of Hildamay, it was the idea of a little girl living in an apartment by herself making liver and onions as her favourite lunch. There are lots of orphan tales, but what if this little orphan did not know she was an orphan—and, more than that, that she was still a child.
With The Curse of Téarian, it began while I was holding a communion cup. You know those little glass ones that are like celestial shot glasses? I was holding an empty one, looking at the light refract on the heavy glass at the base. Then I imagined an eye in the glass, and then the glass was a kind of seeing stone. But the seeing was not just activity, but the soul of an individual. The idea of a Soul Keeper was born, and the curse followed.
So I have the idea and jot the idea down. It knocks about my brain for a few weeks, and if it is still interesting to me, I begin with characters. I match names with personalities, so I sketch the characters.
If that works, I try the first scene. Sometimes this becomes a short story; other times it is the prelude or first chapter of a novel. If more scenes come, and the dim sense of a narrative arc, I do an outline.
Even with a premise or device, a character sketch, and an outline, I still am not ready to sit down. I research the world to create a world “encyclopedia.” I draw maps, build imaginary houses and living spaces, play with the social or physical rules of the world—I do whatever I can in research before sitting down to write the book.
So, most of my writing is prewriting. The next stage is to sit down and write. Most years I do a short novel or novella with the labour day 3 Day Novel contest. I’m having trouble finding a market for them, so this year I might just do NaNoWriMo: produce a 50,000 word novel in November. If it is a full novel, I’ll do 85,000-100,000 words in 6-8 weeks.
The last stage is editing. I hate editing, and am stuck here.
Believe it or not, my academic world is very similar. It emerges out of my research in the same why my stories emerge out of everyday life and my reading.
Tag, You’re It!
I now tap in three bloggers to enlighten the digital universe. I follow a lot of bloggers, so here are three from different approaches.
1. Orthodox Mom is a prolific and relatively new blogger. She blogs on family food health, education, her Orthodox faith, and general momish things. But she is also in the query faze on a picture book.
2. Cate Fricke is a published and award-winning writer. Where I first found her was on her lovely fairy tale blog, “Something to Read for the Train.”
Tag! You’re now it.