My name is Dawn Quyle Landau, and my blog is Tales From the Motherland. When Rochelle Wisoff-Fields contacted me a few weeks ago, to ask if I would participate in a “blog tour,” I said yes, and then… forgot about it. It’s not that I didn’t take it seriously, or that I didn’t appreciate Rochelle’s generous offer. I was, in fact, honored to be asked, and doubly honored that Rochelle, in particular, asked me. I “met” Rochelle Wisoff-Fields, of Addicted to Purple, back in September when I joined Friday Fictioneers. Blogger Amy Reese, of Amy Reese Writes, was participating, and each time she posted one of these short stories with a photo, I was intrigued. One day I asked her about them, and Amy steered me over to the Friday Fictioneers. FF is a weekly flash fiction challenge, which Rochelle moderates and organizes. Rochelle selects a photo (from the many that people send her) which she thinks will stimulate creativity, and we all contribute our 100 word stories in response to that photo prompt.
From the moment I joined FF, I was struck by Rochelle’s integrity and warmth. Her weekly introduction stresses inclusion, not competition. She stresses that we should all make an effort to read and support one another in a respectful and positive way. This does not preclude giving criticism, but the emphasis is on “constructive–” on supporting each other. Over these many months with Friday Fictioneers, contributing every week, I have come to truly admire and respect Rochelle. She’s a truly good egg: supportive to everyone in the group, and enormously gifted in the craft of writing. So, it was a special honor to have her ask me to participate in this blog tour. To learn more about Rochelle, check out her addition to the blog tour, here.
The fact that I then almost dropped the ball with this blog tour, is directly related to my writing process. Scary, right? Beyond the fact that I am just forgetful, I am a “fly by the seat of my pants,” “leave it ’til the last-minute” person, and that directly impacts my style as a writer. I’ve always been this way. Only recently did I learn that writers like me are actually called “pantsers.” Seriously. When I know there’s something to write: be it a blog post, a report, an article for the paper, a novel… I stew over it, and then write it when the clock is close enough to the deadline, that I feel some pressure, but not so close the I blow it entirely… though that has happened too. Once I’m thinking about a writing project, I am writing it. That, is a principle detail of my writing process… it all starts in my head.
To continue, I am changing the order of the Blog Tour Interview a little. This first question was third in the format sent to me. However, my writing process is where I’ll start:
How does your writing process work? Back to where I just left off: it all starts in my head. As soon as I have an idea, or an assignment, or a blog post that’s due, I start writing it in my head. Concepts take form, words string together into sentences, titles spring to mind– images and pieces of the whole take form first, and only when they are so developed that the project has taken on a life of its own, do I sit down and type. I’ve tried keeping notes; I’ve tried using outlines; I’ve tried countless clever, well-constructed methods for writing, but inevitably, I am a disorganized, spontaneous writer– just as I am a disorganized, spontaneous person.
I have a few little tricks, like anyone else, but for the most part I am just trying to keep my head above water, when it comes to structure. I will sometimes call my house, when I’m out, and a great sentence or idea comes to me, and I then dictate it to my answering machine. Despite the fact that there have been anywhere from 3 to 7 of us living in our house, I am the only one who checks the answering machine. Consequently, it’s become my de facto personal secretary. When I get home, I listen to the messages, and jot the good ones down on a scrap of paper, or type them into my computer. The bad ones are erased with other messages that don’t require my attention. Other times, I open a new blog post, and type in a title that I like, or a few lines that have come to me. I leave it in the draft folder, and write the post later… when I have time, or it’s clearer in my head.
Inevitably, those truly first drafts come to fruition in the “gray room.” Given that most of my blog posts are non-fiction, more specifically: about my life, my perspective on things around me, on what I think– those posts are the ones that I do the most pre-writing of, in my head. Lots of things inspire me: I read a Weekly Writing Challenge prompt, or the Tipsy Lit Prompted; I see a story on the news; something happens in our family, or I have a conversation with friends that pricks my interest, and I immediately start thinking in titles. Finding a great title is always a clincher. If I think of a title that I like enough, I’ll make a post work around it! Once I have a title, I begin playing with ideas down in my head. The post takes form, and I get attached to a direction. Then, I begin to type. It is very rare for me to type anything until I have thought about it for a while. A while may be the time it takes me to make my latte or take a shower, or I may chew on something for weeks, months… years! I had the title of a blog I wanted to start: Tales From the Motherland, for nearly 3 years before I set it up or wrote a single blog post. I had the title: The Grass Is Always Greener on Someone Else’s Head, years before I wrote my first post that was Freshly Pressed.
As for content, a good example of this process is how I tackle Friday Fictioneers each week. FF actually comes out on Wednesday– the original idea being that writers would get the prompt on Wednesday and have two days to write and edit, before posting their stories. However, I’ve noticed that there is a mad rush to get stories up quickly– generally helping your visibility with others in the group– many of whom start at the beginning and read through the stories, in order. So I feel some urge to get my story up quickly. This “pressure” works for me however; the rush fuels my focus. I know that every Wednesday morning, I will be writing. On Wednesdays I wake up between 6:30-7am; I immediately take a quick look at the photo prompt, and then I either go to my spin class or go make my decaff latte. All the while, things are formulating in my head. I feed the dogs, and let them out– images run through my head. I muck around on the computer– a story line forms. If I’ve gone to spin, I take a walk afterwards to get a little more exercise and slow down, as a story takes shape. Whichever of these tasks I do, I’m already writing my 100-word story in my head. As I listen to the loud music at the club, and my legs burn on the bike, my thoughts are in the gray room working out details. If I’m making a coffee and checking things on-line, I’m writing a story. There have been some weeks, where the story is so instant, and so clear, that I forego any other activity. Those are inspired weeks. And there have been a few times where I get so excited, that I finish spin class and race home to write. More often, I spend some time doing these other activities, while I work on details and sentences. That piece is key: I need to be doing something else, engaged in some activity, to allow the story to formulate. It’s so much harder if I sit in front of my computer screen and try to write, if I’ve skipped that other piece.
With Friday Fictioneers, quite often there is a single phrase or idea that comes to mind when I see the photo; the rest of the story generally flows from that single starting point. Recently, the photo prompt was a truck, carrying hay, in what appeared to be some idyllic European town. The minute I saw it, the phrase “fancy a role in the hay” came to mind. Just as quickly, I remembered a FF story I had written a few weeks earlier, about a recently divorced woman who goes to Spain, in the hopes of moving on. From there the hay story became a continuation of the previous story. The idea, the story– the whole thing, was conceived, written and posted, in twenty minutes.
I have had a couple of Friday Fictioneer stories that have ended up as multi-part stories. One such story is currently on part 5 (if you check out this link, consider going back to part 1. Links are provided). When I first saw the window prompt, last fall, it never occurred to me that I would continue the story. Nor do I have a clear idea where the story is going now, even though readers often assume that I’ve planned this out. They ask questions about why I left Marjorie alone in Heaven, or where Henry is. As the writer of this story, sure, I have some idea about what will come next, but I know less than people expect. With FF, I don’t know where I’m going until I see the photo prompt; it’s hard to plan ahead, if you don’t know what the photo will be. FF is the ultimate mainline hit for a spontaneity junky, like me. I had no intention of continuing any of the stories that I’ve serialized, but the photos speak to me, and my thoughts immediately take off chasing whatever fox runs by.
This “writing process” is how I do most of my work. Longer, bigger projects are only slightly different. Next question…
What am I working on? Most of the time I’m working on my blog Tales From the Motherland, and occasionally my other blog, The Huntington’s Chronicles, a much more somber blog, about my family’s fight with Huntington’s Disease. Ironically, when I started TFTM, I saw it as a way to build a “platform” to get my novel published. That’s right, I’ve written a novel. However, the blog has become my main writing focus, and the novel has taken a back seat. It is something that requires hours and hours of therapy (been there, done that) to begin to untangle the reasons I don’t work harder on getting published. My husband has very astutely pointed out (more than once) that I seem to take on projects that distract me from putting my novel out there. Hmm. This is why I call him Smart Guy in my blog… or, one of the reasons. The other is decidedly sarcastic on my part. However, he may have a point.
The first draft of my first novel, The Edge of Hopeful, was written in two months… nearly eight years ago. I cringe just writing that. The story was percolating in the gray room for ages, and then I just sat down and started typing… hours and hours, sometimes thousands of words a day, for two months! That was really when I started writing again, and started to take writing seriously, after years of ignoring my life-long dream of being a published writer. As a kid it was what I wanted most. I received a “Pulitzer Prize” in sixth grade for a story I wrote in our school-wide competition. But, somewhere along the road of parenting and married life, I lost track of my dream. Then, I started writing the novel; I did some editing, and I thought it was done. I cringe even more when I think of the few people who read that initial version. A few years later, I took a writing class to get myself back in the saddle again; I put together a writing group, and I started submitting chapters to the members of the group. The members of my writing group are sharp cookies: good writers, excellent editors, and they were not letting me off lightly. I gradually learned that I had a lot of learning to do; I had a lot of re-writing to do!
Frankly, it took me a while to find my groove, to find my voice. By the time I got very serious about working on re-writes for the novel, I’d been blogging for a while, and I felt much more confident about the story I was writing; I felt more confident about my writing style. When I finally did the re-writes two years ago, I came away feeling like the current version of this novel is much more solid. If you’re interested in reading part of the first chapter, check it out here. Here is the pitch:
The night forty-two year old wife and mother Maya Stanton grabs a jar of capers from a grocery bag and aims it at her husband’s head, the words to The Talking Heads, This is not my beautiful house, this is not my beautiful life, Oh God, what have I done! As the Talking Heads song runs over and over in her head, she realizes that her neatly ordered life is unraveling. No longer sure that she loves her husband, or wants the predictably neat life they’ve built for more than twenty years, she begins to examine the various paths she took or missed, from the time her father was killed when she was ten, until the moment she aims for Seth’s head. When a sexy younger man, Jeremy, offers a new direction to consider, Maya realizes that she must listen to her heart, as she chooses to either fix the life she’s outgrown, or start over.
In late July of 2013 I attended the Pacific NW Writer’s conference and got to use that pitch with seven agents and/or editor from all over. All seven asked me to submit all or part of the novel. After four months, one agent rejected it. I have to say, her email was so kind, and positive, and her feedback so spot on, that I almost felt good about it. Almost. I have not heard from the others yet. Yes, that long! I am told that this is not in fact unusual, but it’s been awful waiting. This year, for New Years, I boldly announced in a blog post that I would be published, one way or another, by January 1, 2015. So, if I am rejected by the remaining six, I will self-publish.
I am also working on a memoir about the 2011-2012 school year, when we took in two foreign exchange students, one from China, and one from Denmark, and my mother died fairly suddenly. I started the memoir during the 2012 NanoWriMo, and managed to complete 54,000 words in 18 days. I haven’t worked on it consistently since, but I’m nearing completion of the first draft. I had just started my blog, a few months earlier, and for the entire year that the kids were here, I blogged about our experiences. I called those posts “Updates From the U.N.,” which is also the title of the memoir. I did not use the kids’ names in the posts, but referred to them by their countries and wrote posts about family life as if they were U.N. reports. The posts were pretty funny, and well received by readers; you can sample one here. My memoir is much more detailed about how we came together, during the darkest of times, became a family, and found many reasons to laugh, despite immeasurable grief and the beginning of a personal crisis, which I was not entirely aware of a the time. At the writing conference in July, 2 agents asked to read the memoir. However, when I got home, I realized it was not ready for submission. So those two requests were scratched off the list… for now.
For now, I’m working on getting my novel published; I’m working on finishing my memoir, and I’m posting three times a week on Tales From the Motherland.
How does my work differ from others of its genre and why do I write it? That’s a much harder question to answer. My novel fits into the Literary Fiction, Women’s Lit (though the three male readers who have given me feedback all enjoyed it) and the sub-genre of Autolit, in that some of it resembles my life. I think my novel is similar to other stories of this/these genres, in that I have written a story that presents general life experiences and questions, wrapped in a (hopefully) compelling story. I believe the story will draw readers in, and leave them satisfied, but I can’t say my novel is very different from others that I’ve read, other than the specific details of the story are unique to my novel. I believe that the main character, Maya’s, voice is wry and vulnerable, and that her story will touch others.
My memoir is different from others in that it’s a very emotionally charged story, and humorous as well. I have read a few books like that, but not many. Our family’s experience with Huntington’s Disease is very personal, and a topic that is not covered often. Many people don’t know what Huntington’s is, let alone the impact it has on families who have it. To take in two foreign students, and two months later face my mother’s decision to die, and her subsequent move to Hospice, is a truly unique story. In addition, I was in the beginning of a personal crisis that I wasn’t entirely aware of at the time. It was a perfect storm! That we were able to laugh, a lot, makes this book that much more compelling. I believe that people relate to, and will enjoy reading it for the human interest elements: we all face the death of our parents some day, we all face our children growing up, we all question our decisions, questions our the choices we’ve made in life, and we all juggle busy lives. I believe that people will also enjoy it because there is a deeper story of coming together and finding strength and love.
Why do I write it? I love the quote Rochelle used, from Isaac Asimov: “I write for the same reason I breathe–because if I didn’t I would die.” It’s so true. I write these stories, I write my blog, because I have to. Writing is one of the most natural, easy things I do in my life. If I’m not at my computer typing, a part of my brain is always writing– always thinking of titles, always constructing sentences, or thinking of how I would write something I’ve experienced. I write, therefore I am.
Another note: This post is a clear example of my writing style, and my status as a “pantser.” If I’d planned it, out, written this post well in advance– used the two weeks I was given, to prepare, I might have edited a lot of it out. I would have thought of other things I wished I’d included. But, this post is a prime example of my spontaneous, this is what I’m thinking now, perspective on writing.
Tag, you’re it! Next week I’ve selected the following writers to be be featured in the Blog Tour. They all are pretty kick-ass awesome,
make me look a bit lame inspire me as writers, and have some interesting things to say about writing. Be sure to check them out on March 24th.
Adam Ickes is a writer who has made a home in central Pennsylvania with his wife and daughter. He is obsessed with releasing the horrors in his mind on an unsuspecting world. His stories live and fester in the twisted confines of his imagination before demanding to be released from their prison, usually at gunpoint. His latest release, 100 tiny tales of terror, is a collection of 100 stories, 100 words each, and is available in both kindle and print formats.
Ericka Clay is a published author and the editor-in-chief of Tipsy Lit: Books, Booze Brilliance (http://tipsylit.com). When she’s not pushing vodka and literature on unsuspecting individuals strolling the Internet, she’s working hard on promoting her soon-to-be published novel, Unkept (http://erickaclay.com/unkept/), due out later this year with Bannerwing Books. You can also find her on Facebok (http://facebook.com/ErickaTheAuthor), Twitter (htp://twitter.com/ErickaTheAuthor) and in the fetal position. Writing is hard.
Helena Hann-Basquiat dabbles in whatever she can get her hands into just to say that she has. She’s written cookbooks, ten volumes of horrible poetry that she bound herself in leather she tanned poorly from cows she raised herself and then slaughtered because she was bored with farming. She has an entire portfolio of macaroni art that she’s never shown anyone, because she doesn’t think that the general populous, or, “the great unwashed masses” as she calls them, would understand the statement she was trying to make with them. Under the pen name Jessica B. Bell, she writes creepy stories that no proper lady should be writing. But then, Jessica’s anything but proper.
Helena, with some help of her friend Jim, has launched a Kickstarter campaign where you can pre-order the book in a variety of formats with some exclusive incentives. PRE-ORDER HERE: (provide this link): https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/jimsquires/memoirs-of-a-dilletante-volume-one
You may also want to link to: http://helenahannbasquiat.wordpress.com/2014/02/20/the-peoples-republic-of-helena-a-kickstarter-manifesto/ and/or http://helenahannbasquiat.wordpress.com/kickstarter-questions/
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