Some clever person, I don’t know who exactly, started up a writing process blog tour – so, we all answer the same questions, though I know the answers will range far and wide. I was tagged by writer and boat captain extraordinaire Sue LaNeve – see her blog here.
Work your way backward or forward through the tour for new perspectives on the writing process. I'm going to work backward so I can figure out who started this!
Q - What am I currently working on?
I just wrapped up number three of The Berenson Schemes - Jack at the Helm. Poor Jack! Through some bad parental planning, he finds himself white water rafting in Nepal - mom and dad are MIA as usual. I am also working on a historical-steam-punkish-adventure-comedy, an adventure series set in the Caribbean and I have a vague idea about a kid named Barry.
Q - How does my work differ from others of its genre?
I don’t know! I write middle grade, mainly humor. I suppose every author has their overarching credo which overlays their work like a lace shawl or black cape or a spangled tuxedo - aka voice and tone. My personal credo is: “Middle graders are not fragile beings and they know more, and get more, than they are generally given credit for. So no getting over-sentimental about the childhood experience. This is not Disneyland people – it’s a war out there!” Also, I devised a theory on humor while I was working on my thesis, in which I took all the good parts out of the major humor theories and combined them. I use that framework for writing humor and I guess you could say its original, even though all the parts are stolen.
Q - Why do I write what I write?
Oh, if only I could write a dark YA one of these days. (It will never happen.) There are those writers who poignantly experience the full range of human emotions and squeeze the last drop out of every underlying feeling and come to remarkable conclusions about the human condition and put it all on the page. I’m not one of them, though. (I can hardly say “poignantly” with a straight face.) I know it is almost sacrilege to say these days, but not everything needs to be examined! Or remembered, for that matter. So, I am more your “east coast buttoned-down, sweep it under the rug and never talk about it again” kind of people. Psychologists may say this is unhealthy, but as I will never speak to one, that’s no skin off my nose and I find that ambling through life with eyes firmly squinted is conducive to writing humor. However, since even humorous stories need to have an emotional arc and a tense moment or two, I use a simple test I devised while attending VCFA – “Would this scene make Sharon Darrow cry?” If yes, I am good to go. (Sharon Darrow is a marvelous advisor at VCFA and renowned for writing, and explaining how to write, emotion.)
Q - How does my individual writing process work?
I usually start with a title. When an interesting title presents itself to me, it brings with it a picture of what is going on. Earlier, I mentioned a vague idea about a kid named Barry. The title “Barry” popped into my head a few weeks ago with a picture of a kid sitting in a richly decorated living room with his richly decorated grandmother. Barry proposes that he should be sent to school, instead of home tutoring, so that he can meet other kids. (Barry has never met any) Grandma points out that kids are annoying. Barry points out that he is a kid. Grandma says, “Yes, you are.” Barry says, “Maybe I should go to school so I can be with my own kind.” Grandma is thinking about it and that’s all I got. Of course, by the time I’ve finished writing a book, the initial picture usually has changed – for all I know, Barry might not even be in it, but it’s a good way to begin.
As for actually writing, my opinions on that have evolved. I’m a disciplined writer and stick to a schedule and used to consider that the most important factor. You know – the whole “butt in chair” idea. However, through experience I have found that ATTITUDE is more important. It has to be fun. If it’s not fun, make it fun. This is doable, you really can talk yourself around from “don’t want to write” to “can’t wait to write.” My self-talk usually goes something like:
“Yes, it is so sad that you have to dig ditches in the hot sun all day and nobody will even give you any water. Wait. What? You don’t have to dig ditches, thirsty in the hot sun? You have to write? Explain to me why that’s hard? Does it hurt your fingers? Do you have eyeball arthritis from reading? Do your jailers refuse to give you any water while your writing? Should I call the ditch diggers and tell them they’re a bunch of big babies? No? Should I call you and tell you, that you are a big baby? Yes? I thought so, you big baby.”
Stuff like that always cheers me up. FYI – if that kind of talk doesn’t cheer you up, try a style that suits you better. FYI #2 – that “hurt your fingers” line reminds me of Kathi Appelt’s cheer to us VCFA people – “write like your fingers are on fire.” Because if our fingers really were on fire, we’d finally have something on those ditch diggers.
And I tagged Annemarie O’Brien and Kelly Jones! Look for their posts to be up on May 12th, and see who they tagged!
Annemarie O’Brien has an MFA in Writing for Children & Young Adults from the Vermont College of Fine Arts. She teaches creative writing courses at UC Berkeley Extension, Stanford Continuing Studies, Pixar, and DreamWorks, as well as edits children’s books for Room to Read which advocates literacy in developing countries. Lara’s Gift is her debut middle grade novel inspired from a former life when she lived and worked in the former Soviet Union during the Gorbachev era and was gifted Dasha, her first borzoi puppy.
Anne Marie carries on the blog tour here.
Kelly Jones carries on the blog tour! Here's what she's been writing - When 12-year-old Sophie Brown moves with her family from Los Angeles to a rural farm, she’s sure she’s in for a summer of utter boredom. But when a little white chicken shows up things start to get much more interesting. Turns out she can move objects with the power of her little chicken brain: jam jars, other chickens who get in her way, even the latch to her henhouse. When the chick- en is joined by a second, who can blend into her surroundings like a chameleon, and then a third, a black frizzle Cochin who can run faster than a car, Sophie’s in over her head. Sophie learns to care for them, earning money for chicken food, collecting eggs, keeping their unusual magic a secret, and reading them books about other superchickens. But when a respected local farmer tries to steal them, Sophie must figure out a way to keep them safe. Written in letters from Sophie to her dead grandmother, dead great-uncle, and the eccentric owner of Redwood Farm Supply, readers will piece together their own sense of shy Sophie’s struggles, recognizing her loneliness and her growing sense of responsibility towards her new chicken friends. Check out Kelly's blog post here.