My Writing Process

By now, you’ve probably heard about this whole #MyWritingProcessTour thing, a kind of literary chain-letter meme that’s been making the rounds among writers lately. It’s a fun project, I think, because it gives us all a bit of insight into each other’s writing lives and it helps introduce each other to other writers. In fact, some of you might have come here because you follow my blog, but some of you might have wound up here via James Claffey, who tapped me in his blog post last week. (If you don’t know James or his work, check him out now — his book Blood a Cold Blue is a stunning feat of prose, each short piece like a fist of flowers, like a bouquet of barbed wire, gorgeous and melodic but cutting, penetrating.)

Anyway, now you’re here, let’s get down to the Q&A:

What am I working on?

At the moment, my most important project is launching my novel, Hagridden. That comes out in August, but in the meantime, I’ve been working on edits, crafting front- and end-matter, emailing with my publisher, planning readings and maybe a book tour (tentatively and privately, so far — no announcements yet) . . . .

I also have a couple of new projects I’m currently shopping around — a new chapbook and a book-length story cycle — and I’m still promoting my first chapbook, Box Cutters, so in one way or another, the bulk of my time lately has been focused on finished books.

Recently, though, I’ve started revisiting an old novella with an eye toward cleaning it up and sending it out again, and (in spite of myself) I’ve been making notes and writing scenes for my next novel, which I started last November but won’t really get to focus on until this summer.

How does my work differ from others of its genre?

This is going to date me, but whenever I think of genre, I think of Soundgarden winning an award in the best alternative music category. Chris Cornell took the mic and kind of shrugged. “I don’t know what ‘alternative music’ means. I thought we were just playing rock and roll.”*

I suppose the broadest definition of what I do is literary fiction, but I also write a lot of what you might call historical fiction, and Southern fiction, and speculative fiction, and weird fiction. . . . I don’t know. It’s all just storytelling to me.

But even aside from the genre aspect, what sets me apart from others is a weird question because I’m more interested in where I fit in with others, in the people I drawn inspiration from and want to share shelf space with. Those folks mostly have a strong attention to language and a willingness to let the writing lead them into strange new territory, into unexpected ideas or associations. I wouldn’t say I’m an experimentalist, but I like a story to surprise me, whether I’m reading it or writing it, so the unexpected is important to me. In that sense, I suppose I would stand apart from, say, formulaic writers and rigid structuralists.

Whatever that means.

* I’ve been scouring the Internet looking for this Soundgarden moment so I could get the words right, but I’m not finding it. I have no idea if this even really happened; maybe I’m thinking of the time “Spoonman” won a Grammy in both the Hard Rock and Heavy Metal category and the whole band apologized to the metal artists for stealing their category, or the time they interviewed with Kurt Loder at the MTV VMAs and said they don’t really think in categories. Soundgarden doesn’t like the idea of genre, is what I’m saying. And neither do I.

Why do I write what I do?

Someone once asked Tom Franklin which of his own books was his favorite. He named his second novel, Smonk; he explained that at the time he was writing it, it was the book he most wanted to read. I try to approach all my fiction that way, and I suppose I always have: when I first started writing, back in middle school, I was reading a lot of my dad’s action novels, old Mack Bolan and Phoenix Force books, as well as a lot of Stephen King, and at some point I thought, “You know, I could probably do this too.” And as soon as I started trying my hand at it, I realized not only that I could do it, but also that I actually wanted to do it, because (I discovered) I had stories in my head that I wanted to read, and if no one else was going to write them, I would have to write them myself. My reading tastes have evolved since my teenage years, but this is still the main thing driving my fiction: I write what I want to read. I think that’s where all good writing comes from, really.

How does my writing process work?

I’ve answered this a lot lately, including a couple of blog posts (this one, and this one) I wrote around the turn of the year. But those posts were more like musing on the process and how much stock to put into rigid discipline (my answer: not much). But this whole blog tour seems more aimed at practical advice, so here’s a different version of what I’ve said before:

My process depends on what I’m working on, and that’s how it should be. Each writing project demands its own process, its own approach.

Still not much good as practical advice, but that’s how I work.

For both my novels and my short fiction, I have a whole range of practices and exercises I draw on: writing from music, making wall charts and outlines, freewriting, character interviews, descriptive outlines, writing from photos, reading news articles, researching . . . . I might employ just one of these practices in order to get a story told, or I might try any combination of all of them over the course of project. Even the time frame varies; I have stories I wrote in a day and novels I wrote in a couple of weeks, and I have short stories I took ten years to finish and novels I’ve rewritten from scratch four or five times and still haven’t figured out.

All of this is trial and error, and while I’ve been at this long enough to trust my craft whenever I sit down to write, I still have to figure it out anew each time. That doesn’t work for everyone — some writers need routine, need familiarity — but this is how I work, and so far, it’s served me pretty well.


And now for the folks you’ll get to read next:

Adam Strong was scared of grass until he was 4, when he got glasses. Adam Strong is a High School Digital Arts teacher. Adam Strong is working on his first novel, Bella Vista, where Deadbird Redbird comes from. Adam Strong has published a few pieces here and there. Adam Strong has two children that make his jaw go funny when he sees them. Adam Strong is a proud member of Dangerous Writers in Portland, OR.

Jon Konrath writes absurdist, bizarro, and experimental fiction, and self-publishes because the big six (or five or four or whatever it is this week) tend to shy away from fiction about plane crash enthusiasts and Satanic demolition derby leagues. His books include Rumored to Exist, Fistful of Pizza, The Earworm Inception, Sleep Has No Master, and Thunderbird. He also runs Paragraphline.com and has appeared in a bunch of anthologies and on websites and in zines.

Jordan Blum holds an MFA in Fiction and teaches at several colleges/universities. He’s the founder/Editor-in-Chief of The Bookends Review, an online creative arts journal, and he’s published numerous creative pieces in several places, including The Rusty Nail, FictionBrigade, Connotation Press, Dual Coast Magazine, Jitter Press, and The Lit Pub, as well as having a short story in the anthology Strangers of Different Ink. Finally, he’s a professional music journalist specializing in progressive genres. In his spare time, he likes to yell at strangers about how much Genesis sucked in the ’80s.

Robert Peate is a writer, English teacher, and visual artist whose work focuses mainly on politics, philosophy, and religion.  In 2011 he released The Recovery, a play depicting Jesus of Nazareth surviving his crucifixion, and in 2013 he released Sisyphus Shrugged, a sequel/rebuttal to Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged, in which he proposed a modification to capitalism to distribute the rewards of labor more fairly.  He lives in Oregon City with his wife and two small children.

Ryan Werner is the author of the short short story collection Shake Away These Constant Days (Jersey Devil Press, 2012) and the story cycle Murmuration (Passenger Side Books, 2013). His work has appeared in or is forthcoming in the Indiana Review, The Rumpus, Smokelong Quarterly, [PANK], BULL: Men’s Fiction, Juked, and many other places of varying notoriety and popularity.

Another YA author you should get to know!

edited-pubfinal1A couple of days ago, I wrote about the up-and-coming Michelle Modesto, whose forthcoming YA novel is going to be awesome. Then yesterday, I was at the Terroir Creative Writing Festival in McMinnville, OR, where I met another YA author, Jennifer M. Hartsock. And gang, I’m telling you now, if you’re a YA fan, put her on your list, too.

I haven’t seen anything of her novel, Battleground, but I’ve been browsing her blog and watching her YouTube series, The YA Publication Project, and I’m enjoying her enthusiasm and ambition and professionalism and honesty — it’s fascinating, refreshing, and inspiring. She hits all the conferences and festivals, she writes and publishes widely, she’s interned for Ashland Creek Press and run a student newspaper column (which brought back memories of my own student journalism days) . . . . In short, she works damn hard, which is what you have to do if you’re going to call yourself a writer.

I don’t think it’ll be long before she lands an agent and a book deal, but in the meantime, she already has a lot to offer, so you should get to know her now. If nothing else, subscribe to her video series on YouTube — if you’re new to writing, you’ll find a lot of great information there, and if you’re an old pro, you’ll find some good reminders of craft. (Beginner’s Mind, gang!)

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This is the YA author you need to keep an eye on

Michelle author photoA handful of years ago, I met Michelle Modesto right here on this blog: she left some comments, I left some replies, and pretty soon we were swapping ideas about writing. She was just starting out as a writer, and we talked craft quite a bit, both here and via email. Michelle has a ton of talent and some fascinating ideas, and I enjoyed the hell out of our early discussions. Email turned into Facebook and eventually Twitter, and I’m proud to say we’re digital friends now.

Which is why I’m so excited to share this news with you:

A few weeks ago, Michelle sold her debut YA novel, Machine and the Wild, to Balzer + Bray, an imprint of HarperCollins! 

The novel is a mad mashup of weird fiction and Westerns, set in an alt-history California Gold Rush, with a bit of steampunk (the heroine has a mechanical arm) and a bit of horror (she’s hunting down roving gangs of cannibals) and a bit of fantasy (through magic and fantastical creatures). It’s basically everything everyone would ever want in one novel, and I can’t imagine a cooler book — when I was a teen, I’d have been ALL OVER this thing, and as an adult, I can’t wait to read it!

As with all good things, of course, I will have to wait; Machine and the Wild isn’t due out until 2016. But in the meantime, you can find out a bit more about the author via a new interview over at YA Misfits. You can also see her agent-nabbing query letter and an interview about her querying process in the Kickass Queries series.

And keep an eye out for Michelle’s new website — it’s in development now, but as soon as it’s live, I’ll link to it here.

So welcome an exciting new author, gang, and start following Michelle Modesto through every digital means possible, because come 2016, she’s going to own YA fiction!

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This weekend in literature: Terroir Creative Writing Festival and Ink Noise Review

This weekend, I’ll be at a couple of writing-related events in Oregon, if you’re in the area and want to say hi.

terroir-2014-for-fb-hi-res-ver-4On Saturday, April 19, I’ll be down in McMinnville at the Terroir Creative Writing Festival, held on the Yamhill campus of Chemeketa Community College. I went last year in support of my friend Monica Drake and as a geekboy fan of Nicole J. Georges, and I loved the whole event. (It’s also where I met Lynda Phillippi, who later interviewed me for her TV program Arts Alive.)

At this year’s festival, I’m not a panelist, but I’ll be attending all day, and I do plan on reading at the open mic that wraps up the festival. I’ll also be bringing copies of my chapbook, Box Cutters, so if you still haven’t bought a copy or would like to get one signed, come find me.


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The next evening, on April 20, I’ll be rejoining the Ink Noise Review reading series. This time, I’m serving as an “appetizer” to the main event, a kind of pre-reading warm-up, so my bit will be brief. But stick around, because after me, you’ll get to enjoy my friend Jenny Forrester, as well as my new friend Adam Strong, and a whole crew of other talented folks.

This is all going down at the Jade Lounge in SE Portland. My bit starts at 7 pm, so don’t be late! Oh, and I’ll have copies of Box Cutters there, too, if you want to buy one.

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Gabriel García Márquez has died . . .

. . . Long live Gabriel García Márquez.

I was a late-comer to García Márquez, having never been assigned his seminal One Hundred Years of Solitude in high school, as so many others had been. I first picked him up a handful of years ago when I was browsing a bookstore in a fit of indecision, unsure what to read next but yearning for something new. I’d recently finished Dostoyevsky’s House of the Dead, and while I was too exhausted to try more Russian fiction, I felt like I still needed something both non-American and classic. Which is when I found the García Márquez shelf. That store didn’t have his most famous work, but they did have Of Love and Other Demons, so I bought it and took it home and curled up in bed on a hot afternoon to see what all the fuss was about.

I fell in love.

I don’t mean that in the conventional sense of “I love this writer” or “I love that book.” I mean I felt connected to the book, as though the text and I were in communion with one another, some secret bond of unspoken understanding. Reading the book felt like the beginning of a romance. At the time, I couldn’t put my finger on exactly why this translated prose was impacting me this way, why I was so consumed by it, but later I came to realize that it was about the density of the work, the precision of García Márquez’s images and characterizations and insights that transcend translation. In many ways, it reminded me of Chekhov, another non-English writer whose work I love in almost any translation, except García Márquez was writing in much longer form.

Faulkner (another dense and florid writer) once quipped in an interview that the difference between short fiction and novels is that short fiction must be precise, whereas in novels the writer can get away with all sorts of sloppy experimentation. I’ve often used that line to criticize the worst of Faulkner’s novels — he really was at his best in short form — but it was hard to argue with him when you look at novelists who also write short stories: sure enough, most novels do start to feel drawn out, lazy, and indulgent, though I love novels anyway. And yet I continued to argue with Faulkner, because I had the examples of short-story writers like Chekhov or Alice Munro, writers who, in relatively short works, managed to build whole novels worth of character and setting and backstory. I read writers like that and I feel like a story that spans 20 or 30 pages took years of my life to experience. Why couldn’t a novel have that same degree of compression and depth?

But in García Márquez, I’d discovered the true potential of long-form fiction. García Márquez does with the novel what Munro or Chekhov does with the short story — that same degree of intensity and compression — so that when I finish reading a García Márquez novel, I felt as if I’ve lived lifetimes. The last novel of his I read, Love in the Time of Cholera, is utterly epic in scope, recounting generations of family and national histories, sending characters on grand voyages and profound self-discoveries and life-changing romances . . . and when I first set the book aside to catch my breath and collect my thoughts, I realized I’d only read about 60 pages. I still had almost four-fifths of the novel to go!

This is how absorbing García Márquez’s prose is, and, I think, it’s why his death has given me such pause. If you read even one book, you become so possessed by García Márquez’s vision that you feel he’s become a relative, someone you know and grew up with even if you only just met him. If you read more than one García Márquez book, you start to become his lover, your soul embracing his soul, your vision becoming his vision.

And now he is gone from this world.

But our greatest comfort — the greatest comfort any reader could hope for — is that he is not gone from this world. His works remain, and if we can manage to read them all, their time will unfold before us, within us, and with García Márquez, we will live forever.

It was a memorable death, and not without reason.

~ Gabriel Garcí­a Márquez, Love in the Time of Cholera

19/03/2009 La Ministra de Cultuta de Colombia ...

19/03/2009 La Ministra de Cultuta de Colombia Paula Moreno y el escritor colombiano Gabriel García Marquez fueron los encargados de entregar el Mayahuel de Plata a Victor Gaviria (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

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Dream journal: Meryl Streep in the mall

I sometimes have dreams so vivid I have to write them down when I wake up. Sometimes those things wind up in notebooks, other times they wind up on Facebook (and sometimes they wind up as fiction), but except for a couple of old Writer’s Notebook entries (this one, and this one), I haven’t really written up any of those dreams here on the blog. I think that’s mostly because I don’t actually keep a formal dream journal — I just scribble ideas that feel fully formed enough and narrative enough to merit a little storytelling, even if only casually — so I hadn’t thought to include those here on the blog.

But the dream I had last night was so much fun (and has gotten such a fun reaction on Facebook) that I figured I might as well share it here. And maybe I’ll keep doing so from time to time. I don’t anticipate this becoming a regular feature on the blog, but once in a while, if a dream seems share-worthy, I’ll go ahead and toss it up for everyone to enjoy.


Last night I dreamed that my wife, Jennifer, sent me out for fast food breakfast, which for some reason I could only find in the mall, but as I was walking through the mall to the food court, I got stuck behind a slow walker. After a few minutes, the slow woman turned around and joked, “Are you stalking me?” And it was Meryl Streep.

By Robert Hanashiro, USA TODAY

By Robert Hanashiro, USA TODAY

I swore to her that I wasn’t stalking her, and she laughed and said it was okay. For some reason, I mentioned the Oregon Book Awards, and she said, “Oh, are you a writer?” And then she invited me to sit on the floor of the mall, right there in the corridor, to chat with her for a bit. I said, “Won’t people mind?” But she said, “Oh, I do this all the time.”

I told her all about my novel, and she asked if there was a part in it for her, and at first I said not really, but then I said, “Well, there’s a lot of accent work, Southern and Cajun, and you know you and accents. You could probably play anyone you wanted.” We talked for maybe half an hour, and I kept thinking, I’m late getting Jennifer’s breakfast, but then I thought, it’s Meryl Streep! Jennifer is going to be thrilled! Later, my friend Karma Dorje walked by and spotted us, and after I introduced him to Streep, he said, “No one is ever going to believe this.”

When we got up from the floor to go our separate ways, Streep asked if I had a business card, and I did, but as I rooted in my satchel, I remembered I’d cut them all up into little paper horses and Batman symbols. I don’t know why. But finally I found a whole card and Streep took it and I thought, I wonder if she’d let me call her Meryl now, but I was still too intimidated to ask.

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New review of Box Cutters

I am so, so happy to announce that Danny M. Hoey, Jr, author of the novel The Butterfly Lady, has written a review of my chapbook, Box Cutters! The review is up at Heavy Feather Review, and it’s beautifully kind!

In language that is poetic, evocative, and lean, Snoek-Brown has managed to create a world that is authentic and laced with pain that lingers long after you have finished the book.

He offers some fascinating readings of a few of the stories in the book (I love when people break down my work this way, showing me not only things I hoped people would get but also things I never realized were in there!), and then he finishes with some heartwarming praise:

The complexity in these tiny stories is large and voracious and it swallows you and forces you to reckon with what can cut you, harm you, if you are not careful. Samuel Snoek-Brown, an Oregon Literary Fellow, will continue to amaze you and haunt you with his lyricism and critique of human nature. I look forward to reading his debut novel to see how he expands on his talent.

(That novel, Hagridden, will be out this August, by the way. So stay tuned, gang!)

Thanks so much to Danny Hoey and to Heavy Feather Review! It’s not even 9 am here, and already my whole day is made.

Wanna talk writing? Get possessed by the Lit Demon

1966064_1435953959985329_5969882273842050095_oThe very cool folks over at Cease, Cows have branched out into a new venture and launched a literary community called Lit Demon. Part resource for writers and part online workshop, the site provides “connection, instruction, information, and maybe other -tions we aren’t able to list.” Their workshops include live webinars, one-on-one instruction, and self-paced writing courses, and the rest of the website offers writers discussion forums, a blog on literary issues, editing and book design services, and otherwise general awesomeness.

They already have two workshops available for enrollment: a fabulism workshop (Waving at the Fabulous: How to Write New Wave Fabulism; begins May 10) and a bizarro workshop (A Talking Eyeball Walks into a Bar: An Introduction to Writing Bizarro Fiction; begins June 7).

If neither of these workshops float your boat, sign up at the website anyway and keep an eye on it, because there’s plenty more coming down the pike. In fact, I’ll be running a course of my own later this year.

The whole venture sounds awesome (I know the gang behind all this), and they’re just getting started, so sign up at the website now to get in on the ground floor and watch this thing take off.

And for all you pros out there, they’re still accepting applications for instructors! Fill out an application here.

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New publication

Narghile

The new issue of Red Fez, one of the coolest literary magazines online, is out today, and I have a new story in it. It’s called “To Smoke the Hookahs,” and I think you’ll dig it.

But don’t just check out my story; this whole issue is awesome, including more fiction, articles on everything from food to autism, comics, videos, poems from Misti Rainwater and Tara Rose, and a book review from Bud Smith.

So settle in, put the coal on the shisha, and have fun, gang.

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A minor rearranging

Reading at the release of the Portland Review Winter 2014 issue, at the East End in Portland, OR, April 2014.

Reading at the release of the Portland Review Winter 2014 issue, at the East End in Portland, OR, April 2014.

Not that this is newsworthy, but I tweaked the website a bit today: now, under the About tab, you’ll find a link to my “Teaching & literary photos” page, which is really just a slideshow. The pix are mostly of me teaching or me at readings, but they’re kind of fun in that some are of recent readings, so you can see what I’ve been up to lately, and some are hilariously old (there’s even a photo of me in high school, teaching 2nd-graders about ancient Japan).

That’s right: there’s a photo of me before I had the long hair and goatee.

You’re welcome, Internet.