writing novels

The Writing Process Blog Hop

Yesterday I found I’ve been tagged by Michelle Proulx in a blog hop about the writing process. Many thanks to Michelle for an enthusiastic endorsement of my novel The Friendship of Mortals.

But yikes! What’s a blog hop? What do I need to do? (Is it like a chain letter? If I don’t carry it on, does my blog get nuked?) On the other hand, writing process is an interesting and vital topic to writers. Every writer has one, whether they know it or not.

So here goes —

1) What are you working on?

After a few years (yes, years!) of no major new writing projects, I feel that one of my idea-seeds is about to sprout. (After all, it’s spring, and all kinds of seeds are sprouting in my garden). A couple of years ago I wrote a blog post called “I Need to Move to Another Planet,” when I was in a state of annoyance with the world as it is. Then I wrote a story set in what I envisioned as a better world, about a young man trying to create a blue rose. These threads twisted themselves together in my imagination, but nothing much else happened until a few weeks ago, when I found myself writing notes about plot details and characters. Then I actually wrote an outline for a 24 chapter, 72,000 word novel. Now all I have to do is write it.

That’s the only project that’s even come close to taking shape so far. Another that remains in the idea-seed stage is a spin-off from my now-concluded Herbert West Series, combining Egyptology and a bit of magic. Trouble is, I have to read The Egyptian Book of the Dead first, to charge up my imagination. That might take a while.

2) How does your work differ from others in the genre?

Well, this one’s easy, because my work doesn’t fit into a well-defined genre. Mostly I describe it in terms of what it’s not: not horror, not fantasy, not science fiction or historical or paranormal, but with elements of all of these, rolled into a thing that might be described as “supernatural literary speculative fiction.” Lumpy, but there it is. The Herbert West Series is rooted in a horror story by H.P. Lovecraft, but I was more interested in the characters and their personal monsters than in discrete evil entities.

3) Why do you write what you write?

My first answer — I have no idea. After thinking about it, though, I suspect it’s an effort to create situations in which individuals find a way to access magic. I have been fascinated by alchemy since I read Mircea Eliade’s writings about it in university, and more recently discovered Carl Jung’s Alchemical Studies and Psychology and Alchemy. When I felt compelled to expand upon H.P. Lovecraft’s amoral, corpse-animating doctor, Herbert West, I decided he had to undergo a series of transformations such as those in alchemy, to create excellence from base matter.

4) How does your writing process work?

Well, it starts with one of those idea-seeds. I know it’s viable once I find my brain working on it in the background, throwing out little ideas that I must write down immediately. Those ideas are pretty fleeting, and if I don’t nail them down right away they depart forever. Eventually I start thinking in terms of scenes or chapters and once there are enough of those, if I’m lucky I actually sit down and write something. All my first drafts so far have been in longhand — pen on paper. When I come back to the work, the first thing I see is the spot where I left off, not the beginning. I like watching the pile of manuscript pages fatten up as the days pass, and because my scribble is harder to read than the mercilessly legible text of a Word document, I’m not tempted to fiddle with what I’ve already put down, but  press on to the end. Once I reach it, I transcribe the whole thing into Word, editing on the fly. After that, I add stuff, delete stuff and move stuff around until I feel the work is ready to be seen by my critique group. beta readers, etc.

OK, that’s it. Now for tagging four other bloggers who will (I hope) be delighted to talk about their writing process just because I thought they might.

Edeana Malcolm is a member of my novelists’ critique group. She has read all my novels and suggested improvements. She has published a quartet of novels herself, based on the history of her family. Her blog is called My Writing Eden.

Sever Bronny is a fellow Victorian. He is about to release his debut fantasy-adventure novel and has created an awesomely thorough marketing plan.

Cole Davidson is one of the best WordPress bloggers I know. (He’s been Freshly Pressed!) His posts display strong opinions eloquently expressed and more often than not contain links to music, with lyrics appended. I’m pretty sure he did Nanowrimo last year, so he must have a fiction writing process.

Christian Tanner is a writer of short stories worth reading. (How could I ignore a blog called Weird Short Stories by Christian, with the motto “Stay weird”?)


Writing Short, Writing Long

I decided to post the occasional short story here (new Short Stories page), and that got me thinking about writing short fiction as opposed to novels.

I began writing in 2000 with a novel (The Friendship of Mortals). In fact, I was compelled to write it, something I still don’t understand. The characters (Herbert West and the narrator, Charles Milburn) came alive in my imagination to the point that the novel almost wrote itself. With many of the scenes I felt as though I was transcribing rather than creating the dialogue. The hardest thing was to realize the plot and fill in the action between those compelling scenes.

When I joined a critique group a few years later, it became evident that novels do not lend themselves well to review by such groups. It takes too long. If you contribute 3,000 words once per month, it would take 30 months to work through a 90,000 word novel. During that time, the membership of the group changes. People who join the group well into your novel can’t critique it the way someone would who has read it from the beginning.

Short stories are much better fodder for the critique group. Moreover, writers who are shopping a novel around to publishers are often advised to get some short stories published first. So I’ve written a few, even though I had little inclination to do so. To me they were an “ought to,” like eating broccoli, while novel writing was a “want to,” like chocolate. Writing stories was work, work, work. Writing novels was magic.

Some writers are simply not meant to write short fiction. Look at artists — for the most part, they choose a medium and stick with it.  Someone who paints big, splashy canvases or murals isn’t likely to do miniature portraits, and that’s OK. A sculptor who prefers to work with metal doesn’t feel guilty for ignoring stone.

My rule now is not to write anything, long or short, unless it wants to be written.

A few of my short stories have been published in Island Writer, the literary magazine of the Victoria Writers’ Society. But I thought I would make a few of the others available here. Critiques are welcome. It will be interesting to see if there are different reactions to stories I think of as written from the head versus those that were written from the heart.