Thanks to Emily Carpenter, my long-time writing and critique partner, for tagging me to take my turn on this writing process blog tour. Emily is a suspense writer represented by Amy Cloughley of Kimberley Cameron & Associates (we share the same agent). I’m continually impressed and amazed by her writing. She’s currently working on a psychological suspense about the nature of toxic love. Please keep up with her by following her blog or visiting her website. You can also connect with her on Twitter and Facebook.
MY WRITING PROCESS
This post is part of a blog tour series in which writers answer a fixed set of questions about their writing and writing process, then tag other writers to take their turn the following week. Enjoy!
What am I working on?
Lately I’ve been spending a lot of time on a short story set in the world of my on-submission novel, THE OCEAN BETWEEN LOST AND FOUND. Pieces of this particular story – the characters, the tone, the theme – had rolled around in my brain separately for almost a year before finally coalescing into a single entity. As soon as that happened, I knew it needed to move from thoughts in my head to words on the page. Like my book, it focuses on characters deeply affected by the personal treasures and family heirlooms lost in the tsunami after the tragic 2011 Japanese Tohoku earthquake. Returning to that world has been fun, inspiring and emotional.
I’m also midway through the first draft on another upmarket project related to the city-wide lockdown that followed the Boston Marathon bombings. After rushing to the aid of his binge-drinking sister, the lockdown traps a man in a building full of strangers for a full day, where he unwittingly plants the seeds that birth another bomber, one who strikes years later. It’s an exploration of the unexplainable: how does a person decide to become a terrorist? To bring a gun to school? Or a bomb to a major event like a marathon or the Olympics? This project has had a few false starts but I’m really passionate about telling what I feel is an important story in the right way.
And, because apparently two books and some short stories aren’t enough, I’ve also been working on a more light-hearted middle grade manuscript here and there. It’s been a lot of fun to write in the voice of an adventurous fourteen-year-old trying to figure out what his parents and the other adults around him are up to. Because, he’s quite sure it’s something sinister and he’s going to figure it out, even if it kills him. And it just might.
How does my work differ from others of its genre?
My work has most of the hallmarks of the contemporary upmarket genre – it’s written in accessible prose that seeks to surface more literary themes. You’ll usually learn something, too. In THE OCEAN BETWEEN LOST AND FOUND, it’s that there is over a one-and-a-half million tons of debris traveling across the Pacific from Japan, heading for the west coast of the United States and Canada. This debris may pose environmental risks and create significant cleanup costs. Most importantly, it might contain valuables that would mean a great deal if they were returned to the Japanese who lost so much in the tsunami. In my WIP, among other things, there’s an Olympic World War II-related tidbit that I don’t want to say too much about now. It’s something I’ve become really fascinated with and I hope readers will be too.
So that’s how my work is the same. I guess I would say what often sets it apart is the inventive structures I use for my stories. One uses multiple POVs and interludes to tie together events happening at different points in times in radically different locales. My WIP, on the other hand, divides the story into three parts that use the running of a marathon as a metaphor to tell a year-spanning epic.
Why do I write what I do?
As you might discern from the above descriptions of my various projects, I’m really interested in the ripple effects resulting from major tragedies. I certainly don’t enjoy tragic events and I wish they’d stop happening. But when they do, they receive major media attention for far too short a time, in my opinion.
As a result, it’s all too easy to forget the victims who might be continuing to suffer. It may escape our notice that, for them and the people surrounding them, the effects of natural disasters, terrorist attacks and other major tragedies reverberate long after the actual event ends. As when children throw rocks into a pond, the violent splashes cause smaller, harder to notice ripples that travel along the surface of the water toward the shore.
Through my stories, I want to show that, while those ripples may slow and begin to fade, they nevertheless continue long after most of us lose interest and look away. I want to help shine a spotlight on the fact that they’re still there.
How does your writing process work?
Most of the time, my writing process looks something like this:
Yep, I’m an outliner. Big time. Mostly what I outline are the touchstone points of a novel. I use the color-coded index cards you see to indicate either differing points of view (when my story is told from multiple POVs, as in THE OCEAN BETWEEN LOST AND FOUND) or interactions of the main character with the cast of supporting characters (when my story is told from a single POV, as in my current work-in-progress, shown in the above image). This gives me a visual representation of the balance of the plot.
The cards also make it easier to adjust the flow of the story as I write and learn more about it. Chapters can be swapped or inserted by simply repositioning them. I find this helps me know where my story is heading but also enables me to make adjustments on the fly as the need arises.
One possibly unique thing I did while writing THE OCEAN BETWEEN LOST AND FOUND is that I wrote each point of view separately before assembling them into a cohesive whole. I felt this was important to maintaining the voice of each of the three characters, especially since they were so different (one Japanese woman, an American ex-con and his estranged daughter). When all the parts were complete, I used some connective tissue to join the POVs together. I couldn’t have done this without a thorough outline that I trusted.
At a more granular level, I try to write about 7,000 words each week. I’d like this to work out to 1,000 words a day and it sometimes does, but because I have a demanding day job it’s also often true that most of the writing is done on the weekend.
Whenever I write, I usually start by going back to the previous day’s writing and editing it, which helps me pick up the threads of the plot and typically results in a slightly more clean first draft than most.
During this drafting time I test-drive the concepts and writing of my WIP five pages at a time with a large critique group in Roswell, GA that’s an offshoot of the Atlanta Writers Club, a wonderful organization for writers here in Atlanta.
Once a draft is complete, I pop it in a drawer for as long as I can stand it before reading the entire thing aloud and catching all the mistakes that make me think a team of untrained monkeys snuck into the house and replaced my pristine work with their random typing before realizing that, no, it was all me.
This draft, which I think is now polished but probably still isn’t, heads off next to my critique partner(s) for a complete review. Then I revise again. And, probably, again. Finally I’ll send it to my fabulous agent, Amy Cloughley of Kimberley Cameron & Associates, a great editing talent. I’m a big believer that all this feedback can lead to a great result and that writing really is a team sport.
Thanks for reading! To keep up, please follow this blog or connect with me on Twitter at @CNegronWrite.
NEXT ON THE TOUR are some really great writers ranging from Atlanta all the way to Hollywood. Mark your calendars to check out their posts next week!
Rona Simmons was born on the other side of the country in Santa Monica, California. She’s the daughter of a WWII fighter pilot and later career military officer and moved with her family from state to state and country to country, living in 25 different places by the time she graduated from high school. So she’s still astonished that she’s spent the last twenty years as a resident of Forsyth County.
Three years ago, she launched her second career using the writing, analysis, and research skills she’d acquired during her thirty-year career in corporate America. Since then she has written several articles for magazines, a novel, and a collection of short stories and was the ghostwriter for the biography of a prominent Atlanta businessman.
Rona’s latest novel, The Quiet Room, was published by Deeds Publishing, an Atlanta-based publishing company.
Though this novel is set in the Midwest, and the one she’s working on now in New England, she considers herself a southern writer, drawing inspiration from the wooded acres where she lives with her husband and (she swears) the last member of a passel of cats.
M.J. Pullen is a writer, mom, and former professional counselor in Atlanta, Georgia. A serial plant killer and hard-core housework neglecter, Manda loves baseball, wine and her strangely conventional minivan life. She is the author of a trilogy of contemporary romances set among a group of longtime friends in Atlanta: THE MARRIAGE PACT, REGRETS ONLY, and BAGGAGE CHECK. You can find her books, blog and more at www.mjpullen.com; or connect with her via Twitter (@MJPullen), Facebook (facebook.com/mjpullenbooks/), or Pinterest (pinterest.com/MJPullenAuthor).
Jose Molina is a screenwriter from San Juan, Puerto Rico. He began his Hollywood career thanks to the Television Academy’s Summer Internship program (www.emmys.org), and has been a working television writer since the year 2000, when he made his debut on James Cameron’s science fiction drama Dark Angel. Although born and raised a natural Spanish speaker, Jose writes almost exclusively in English. A long time fan of “the genre” — horror, fantasy and sci-fi — Jose specializes in fantastical TV, most notably penning scripts for shows such as Joss Whedon’s Firefly, The Vampire Diaries, Terra Nova and Sleepy Hollow. His work can next be seen on the upcoming ABC series Marvel’s Agent Carter. He lives in Los Angeles with his wife and dogs.
Jose’s post will appear in this space as a guest blog, so please come back next week. In the meantime, you can also find him on Twitter at @JoseMolinaTV.