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.