My friend and fellow writing group member, Kristin Battista-Frazee, author of the upcoming memoir The Pornographer’s Daughter, invited me to participate in a “blog hop.” If this conjures up visions of dancing around at a “sock hop,” then you’ve got the right attitude about reading and writing!
This is a fun way to learn about writers who are out there connecting with readers through blogs. I have had the pleasure of meeting many other authors—sometimes in person and sometimes online—and learning from their experiences with writing, publishing, and marketing their books. Below are my responses to several questions about my writing process, and if you follow the links back from my post to others, you will get a pretty good snapshot of what it means to be a writer today.
Two writers whose productivity and creativity have inspired me will be blogging about their writing processes in the coming weeks:
Deborah Brasket: Be sure to check Deborah Brasket’s website the week of June 16. Deborah writes about nature and the creative arts, and the borders they share. Her adventures sailing around the world with her family years ago give her a unique perspective on the natural world. She is working on novels for adults and for middle grade readers.
Scott D. Southard: The week of June 23, you should visit the website of Scott Southard, a prolific novelist and blogger who also reviews books for a Michigan NPR radio affiliate, WKAR. His most recent novel is A Jane Austen Daydream, and his next novel, Permanent Spring Showers, will appear in October.
What are you working on?
My work-in-progress is a novel called The Wallpaper Lady. Using wallpaper as a metaphor for peeling away the layers of a crazy family history, I combine the story of a bipolar wallpaper hanger with images of the wild and wonderful wallpaper so popular during my 1970s childhood. You can read more about The Wallpaper Lady HERE.
I am also working on getting the word out about my first novel, Au Pair Report, which first came out as an ebook at the end of 2012 and came out in paperback this May. Like many writers, I am struggling to strike a balance between expanding the audience for an already published book and making progress with a current project.
How does your work differ from others of its genre?
This is a tough question to answer because my work does not fit neatly into any of the typical genres such as romance, mystery, etc. The label that seems most accurate is “contemporary women’s fiction,” yet I know there are men who enjoyed my first novel, Au Pair Report. I think that will be even truer of The Wallpaper Lady. Just as women read books with male protagonists, men should read books with female protagonists, so I’m deeply ambivalent about claiming the label of “women’s fiction,” yet also realize it is a category that may help me to attract the most likely readers of my novels: women.
Similar to many other books that would also fall in the category of women’s fiction, my novels explore how mothers influence daughters, but they focus in particular on the legacy of maternal mental illness. There is an increasing amount of fiction about bipolar disorder, so what’s unique about mine? It just so happens that so far my novels have also provided a glimpse into two unusual jobs, as their protagonists are a counselor for au pairs and host families and a wallpaper hanger. I think my fiction will always be somewhat preoccupied with how people make a living because the need to work is something most people share.
Why do you write what you do?
One reason I write what I do is that fiction is a way for me to process and make sense of what happens in the world around me. To some extent, incorporating fragments of my personal history into a fictional framework is also a positive form of therapy for me. I can’t afford to pay a psychologist or psychoanalyst to listen to me talk about my childhood for an hour a week, so maybe writing fiction will be cost-effective even if I never do get rich from it.
Creative work also has its own rewards, and just as reading a lot of fiction has made me a better writer, writing novels has made me a better reader. I earned a PhD in English literature because it seemed like a good way to spend my life reading and writing, but after choosing not to pursue an academic career, I realized that reading and writing “on the side” provide me with more creative freedom.
How does your writing process work?
One significant disadvantage of writing “on the side” is that I have to give priority to my “real job.” I also have children to raise, and many other practical demands of life interfere with my desire to write. However, I have been working from home on a less than full time basis for almost a decade now and have a flexible schedule. Still, as every writer knows, you may not “find time” to write but you can “make time” to write if you have a story you want to tell.
My most productive writing time is late at night when everyone in my house is asleep, but occasionally I take time during the day to write, especially if a deadline for my writing group is looming. I prefer to write polished prose rather than the sort of “shitty first drafts” Anne Lamott advocated in Bird by Bird, but my meticulous approach often slows me down. It took me a whole “practice novel” ( completed and revised over the course of many years, but never published) to learn that no matter how polished my prose may be, revision is always essential—not just at the level of individual sentences, but also at the structural level.
Over the past several years, I have met regularly with a writing group, and sharing my work with those fellow writers, who have become good friends, has taught me a lot about the needs and interests of readers. I welcome honest feedback from all my readers, whether via social media, book reviews, blog comments, or a real live conversation. Reach out for books–and to their authors!