Four Questions for the Writing Process Blog Hop

A special thank you to Shelina from “A Writer Inspired” for inviting me to participate in “The Writer’s Blog Tour” or “The Writing Process Blog Hop,” whichever name you prefer.  Shelina’s blog has become one of my favorites, doling out writing advice with a quirky sense of humor.  Also, please check out Shelina’s short story series, “Ava’s Interpreter Diaries.”  I promise once you start reading, you won’t be able to stop!

The Writing Process Blog Hop is all about getting inside the heads of our fellow writers to find out what makes them tick.  This is accomplished using four seemingly straightforward questions.  So without further ado, here are my answers.

1. What are you currently working on?

In July of 2013, I dropped from a full time job to part time employment in order to focus more on my writing.  The transition has been much more complicated than I expected, and it’s taken me almost a full year to get my head straight.  Right now, I’m working on Tomorrow News Network, Volume One, an anthology of the T.N.N. stories from 2012.  Each story has to be polished and re-edited, and I’m also writing ten brief bonus stories to help tie the original stories together.  The final product should be available through Amazon Kindle and CreateSpace by the end of this year.

2. How does your work differ from others in its genre?

The Tomorrow News Network series revolves around one central character: Talie Tappler.  What’s different about her is that she’s not the protagonist.  She’s not the antagonist either.  Talie is a journalist who travels through time, arriving at newsworthy catastrophes before they take place.  She never lifts a finger to help anyone, but she also has a way of passively allowing the bad guys to get what’s coming to them.  At best, we could call Talie morally ambiguous, and I think that’s what keeps people coming back to read more about her.  As one of my readers told me, Talie is the kind of character we hate and love at the same time.

3. Why do you do what you do?

The answer to this is surprisingly personal.  Back in 2011, I became dangerously ill.  I won’t go into details here, but I could barely walk, I spent all my waking hours in agony, and it was a struggle to concentrate on anything for a prolonged period of time.  Yet somehow, I managed to write what became “The Medusa Effect,” the first of the Tomorrow News Network stories.  I have no medical evidence to back this up, but I believe T.N.N. saved my life.  At the very least, it gave me something to focus on to help me overcome the pain, and it gave me a little extra motivation to get better.

4. How does your writing process work?

It’s complicated.  It involves calendars and checklists and pie charts.  It involves praying the Rosary and, every once in awhile, eating a bowl of alphabet soup.  There are many weird and wacky aspects of my writing process (or “writing strategy,” as I like to call it), but here are three of the more important ones.

  • Aimless Research: I just completed a five-page outline on how the Sun works.  Nuclear fusion, the photosphere and chromosphere, the so-called “long walk” that photons take as they meander through the various layers of the Sun’s interior… it’s all in there, and I currently have no plans to ever use it for a story.  Instead, I wrote this outline as part of my ongoing self-education in science.  I want to ensure that I’m as familiar with as broad a range of scientific knowledge as possible so that if something like the “long walk” ever does come up in one of my stories, I’ll already feel comfortable writing about it.
  • Word Hunting: Sitting down in front of a blank page can be intimidating, so instead, I curl up with a dictionary and/or thesaurus and start hunting for interesting or unusual words.  I often search for words related to a specific concept, something relevant to the scene or story I intend to write, and then start compiling a vocabulary list.  Soon, without even meaning to, I start stringing phrases together, then complete sentences, and before I know it, I’ve got several chunks of my story scribbled down on bits of scrap paper and the backs of old envelopes.
  • Editing with Friends: A lot of writers will tell you that writing is an inherently solitary activity, but it doesn’t have to be that way.  A tradition has evolved among myself and a handful of close friends.  Whenever I finish a story, I invite my friends over for dinner and throw an editing party.  After we eat, I read my story aloud while they follow along on hardcopies, often interrupting me with questions, comments, or suggestions.  They’ve called me out on mistakes I never would have noticed, and they’ve also praised me for stylistic devices I never realized I had used.  This is beta reading as a social activity, and the advantage is that as we go through the story I get to see in real time which parts my friends find confusing, exciting, or boring.

As part of this blog hop, I’m supposed to invite some other bloggers to participate next week.  I don’t want to put any pressure on anyone, but if these bloggers are interested, then it’ll be their turn to answer four questions on Monday, May 26th.  And if they don’t, then I still get to post links to their amazing blogs.

  • Soliloquies: a gentle mixture of writing and philosophy from Michelle Joelle.  Ever since I discovered this blog, I have had a lot to think about (especially after our comment thread last month on modern day slavery).  Click here to visit Soliloquies.
  • Planetary Defense Command: a blog about defending the Earth from poorly written Sci-Fi novels.  The illustrious commander of our planetary defense force has turned book reviews into a whole new art form.  Click here to check out our planet’s defenses.
  • Linda Frindt: Linda is a good friend of mine and a regular at my editing parties.  She’s currently writing a children’s book about cats… or possibly a cats’ book about children.  I keep forgetting which.  Click here to visit Linda’s blog.
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Harmonia’s Poem

As a writer, one of the toughest decisions I have to make is when to remove something from my story.  No matter how much I may like it, no matter how much time and effort I put into it, if it doesn’t work it has to go.

For “The Flood of Atlantis,” the most recent Tomorrow News Network story, I wrote a poem for a young woman named Harmonia.  Harmonia is an Atlantian prostitute, a career she chose because it provided her better opportunities in an age when women enjoyed little freedom.  But for obvious reasons, working as a prostitute in any era comes with some painful sacrifices.

Whether Harmonia is criticizing Atlantian society with this poem or subtly condemning herself would have been open to the reader’s interpretation.  Either way, the poem said something about Harmonia’s character.  It fit her well; it just didn’t fit the scene for which it was written.

Tell me when
Are we to go,
Leaving behind
The false country
We know?

Let’s go somewhere
Where men don’t lie,
Where women don’t cheat,
Where the word love
Means not deceit.

 Could such a land
In truth exist?
Or does my song
Pure dreams
Consist?

That One Stupid Sentence

InsecureWritersSupportGroup

Sometimes it takes hours to write one sentence.  Those are the most agonizing hours of a writer’s life.  You start off sitting at your computer, your hands hovering over the keyboard ready to type some brilliant prose, but nothing happens. You pace back and forth for a while or doodle on some scrap paper or play several dozen levels of Angry Birds.  Finally, you find yourself lying on the floor thinking, “Why do I have to be a writer?  Why can’t I be like normal people?  Why can’t I go sit in front of the TV and eat nachos and forget all about this story I’m writing?”

Of course the right thing to do is move on to another sentence.  Maybe skip to the next scene and save this problem for another day.  That’s what successful, responsible writers like J.K. Rowling and Steven King probably do.  But you can’t because your brain is stuck on this one sentence.  You’re obsessing over it, and you’ll keep obsessing over it no matter how hard you try not to.  Your frustration increases until you stop and say to yourself, “Seriously, why am I doing this?”

I suppose each writer has a different answer to that question.  Some of us have multiple answers.  Sometimes I tell myself I’m doing it because I love my characters.  Sometimes it’s because I love my readers.  Other times it’s because I want a new career with a more flexible work schedule or because I think I can do better than some of the trash that gets published these days or because I believe God chose this path for my life and I must follow it.  This can get very deep and philosophical.  Sometimes I think about the purpose of literature and art in a functional society.  Sometimes I wonder about mythical archetypes and the collective unconscious.  Or maybe I consider the possibility that I’m the fictional character and my story is real and that the reason I can’t figure out what to write for this one sentence is because out in the “real” world that part hasn’t happened yet.

So why do I do this?  I don’t have an answer, but at some point after contemplating my existence and determining that the meaning of life must involve ice cream, I suddenly realize I know what that one sentence should be!  Why didn’t I think of it sooner?  Back to writing!

So how do you get through those days when you can’t write a single sentence?

P.S.: Click here to check out more blogs participating in the Insecure Writer’s Support Group.

Dear Reader…

I recently stumbled upon a quote from Orson Scott Card, one of the greatest science fiction authors of our time.  He said this in reference to his best-known work:

The story of Ender’s Game is not this book […].  The story is the one that you and I will construct together in your memory.  If the story means anything to you at all, then when you remember it afterward, think of it, not as something I created, but rather as something that we made together.

I’ve always found reading to be a deep, personal experience.  Even with books that are famous, that millions of people have read, the version of the story that played out in my mind is unique.  Even when books turn into movies, I still have my own, personal Frodo Baggins, Arthur Dent, or Ender Wiggin living inside my head.

As a writer, I share Orson Scott Card’s belief.  Storytelling is not something I do alone.  It’s something you and I do together.  So to anyone who’s already read a Tomorrow News Network story and to anyone who ever will, thank you for sharing this experience with me.

Writing Process: Drawing Characters

An important part of my writing process is getting a sense of what the characters in my stories look like.  So before I get too deep into the story, I draw all the major characters.  Every Tomorrow News Network story features Talie Tappler (you can find pictures of her all over this website), but each month we also meet some new people, the unfortunate people Talie is covering for the news.

This month’s story is called “Dinosaurs vs. Astronauts.”  The story is exactly what the title promises: a life and death struggle between dinosaurs and astronauts.  To get started, I drew some concept art in my little sketchbook.  In the pictures below, you can see all the astronauts and two of the featured dinosaurs.

That’s how I get started.  How about you, my fellow writers and other artistic folks?  What do you do to get your projects started?

P.S.: “Dinosaurs vs. Astronauts” was originally scheduled to come out Monday, July 23rd, but I’ve decided to postpone it a few days.  It will now come out on Wednesday, July 25 Friday, July 27 (I promise the date won’t change again).  With a story this awesome, it deserved a little extra time to make sure I get it right.