My magical colleague and friend, Sara Cleto, tagged me to be part of the Writing Process Tour, which asks writers to answer four questions about their writing process. Sara’s work is informed by her various loves: fairy tales, speculative fiction, and apparently, steampunk (though the last one’s influence has only recently sneaked up on her). Her poetry and fiction does sensual things with language–and I mean sensual in both the meaning of exploring the 5 senses, as well as indulging an erotic attitude toward words–as she says, her work is “dripping with unlikely adjectives.” She’s also become interested in disability, and is working on a story about a disabled beekeeper in space. That’s right, a DISABLED BEEKEEPER IN SPACE. I’m as excited to read that story as I am to see the new Godzilla movie (and those of you who know me, know that means pretty damn excited). She’s been/will be published in the Rose Red Review, Ideomancer, and the forthcoming anthology A Is for Apocalypse, among others. She co-wrote a poem with the equally magical Brittany Warman, “The Second Law of Thermodynamics,” based on the Snow Queen fairy tale, that was nominated for a Pushcart. You can access all her lovely published pieces here.
Go read up on her at her blog, saracleto.com
Thank you for tagging me for this, and sorry for the late response!
Here are my answers to the Writing Process questions.
1) What am I working on?
I’ve always got a few poems to develop and/or revise. Right now, I’ve got a poem based on the idea that the dead return as insects that like to bite and feed on us, a poem that imagines emotions as different kinds of animals, and a poem that uses new words I picked up either through my reading or via Dictionary.com’s “Word of the Day” feature.
It’s been harder to work on fiction while in grad school, but I recently published a Lovecraftian short story at the Were-Traveler (“Summoner from the Depths“), in which I invented my own Lovecraftian deity/monster, forbidden book, characters, and town, and I have plans to use these elements for a whole “cycle” of stories, as Lovecraft and his followers have done. I was particularly interested in creating a strong female character to face off against the Old Ones, because even though human efforts are largely futile against such forces, Lovecraftian protagonists have traditionally been male (and any female characters at all are few and far between).
Although part of that cycle will also take place in Lovecraft’s haunted Arkham, Massachusetts, I also created a fictionalized version of my home town in southwestern PA, Natrona, that draws heavily on its downtrodden working-class and Polish/Slovak elements (the entity and forbidden book’s names are even made from Polish words, which look weird enough to be similar to mythos creations like Cthulhu, Ithaqua, Necronomicon, and Unaussprechlichen Kulten).
I use the same fictional town–though with different characters–for a novel I’ve been working on for years, but which has fallen by the wayside due to school. It’s about a female teenage werewolf, and since I love both wolves and werewolves, she is the heroine or anti-heroine. She faces off against a sorcerer, a man who uses black magic to accumulate wealth, eliminate his enemies, and control the local business and political goings-on in the area. It’s set in the 90s, so while that means I get to draw a lot on my own adolescence, it also means a lot of research to determine exactly when certain albums/movies/TV shows/etc were released, news stories happened, etc. Guess I didn’t know what I was getting into when I set out to write a “historical novel”!
2) How does my work differ from others of its genre?
I’m not sure that I think a lot about this. OK, well as I say above, I purposefully wanted to introduce a strong female protagonist into Lovecraft mythos stories, which predominately feature male characters. I can’t say my idea of using a werewolf as a hero is terribly original–Robert McCammon did this with his secret agent werewolf fighting Nazis in The Wolf’s Hour, Poul Anderson wrote his Operation Chaos and Operation Luna novels about a werewolf and witch who team up to fight a number of evils (and who similarly work for the government), and I know there are other examples. Perhaps my novel idea is a bit different in that it is much more focused on characters than action, and rather than having the protagonists be some extraordinary government agents and romantic heartthrobs as in so much of this kind fiction, my characters are gritty and unglamorous, strong and loyal yet flawed, and firmly entrenched in a working class culture. (Does anyone find it odd/annoying that these characters always live on mansions/estates and have little connection with ordinary people? Because they’re supernatural they must also be aristocratic?)
As for my poetry, I’m not sure how it’s “different.” Maybe it’s not terribly original–I’m not experimental in a formal sense, and I like most of my work to be somewhat accessible. While not straightforwardly so, much of my poetry might even be considered–*gasp*–confessional. Perhaps talking about the personal through disability (see my poems “To My Cane” and “Dreams of Driving Blind” in Wordgathering), dinosaurs and prehistoric animals (my poem about the second rediscovery of the coelacanth, “King of the Sea,” in Grey Sparrow), and my exploration of the complexities of masculinity in poems like “Whalers,” in some way adds some uniqueness to my work.
3) Why do I write what I do?
This is partially answered by the response above. I think I like tapping into my past, my conflicted feelings about where I grew up and about who I am (a disabled working-class intellectual white heterosexual cis-gendered male), to combine with some of my quirker interests in animal-human relationships, prehistoric creatures, horror, and questions of knowing (knowing others, oneself, nature, God and the universe–you know, the basics). This is probably going to sound cliche as hell, but I think the fundamental issue and tension at play in much of my work is the feeling that we are all alone and selfish in some basic way. Are religion, art, and interpersonal relationships genuine reaching toward the Other, or are they only illusions to make us feel less lonely? Do animals and the supernatural tell us truths that we don’t tell each other as humans?
4) How does my writing process work?
Very haphazardly, unfortunately. Usually at night–the later, the better, after all my “normal” work is done. I used to set aside time to write creatively, but it’s been hard to make that a priority lately. Usually, if I’m sparked by an idea, image, or words I scribbled down earlier, I’ll write out a draft by hand. (Something about writing in hand first feels more natural to me.) If it’s fiction, I will try to spend at least 30 minutes each day working on it until the first draft is at least finished. Then I type up and revise several times, usually with some time in-between drafts to let my mind process and unconsciously work out problems. When I’m lucky, I get other writers to read and comment on my drafts, which is a huge help.
I’d really like to make my creative work a more regular thing, because I know the more often I work on things, the better my writing becomes. I’d definitely like to focus more on my fiction, and get a working draft of that novel ready.
I was supposed to recruit 3 more writers/artists to participate and be the next on the “tour,” and include their bios and photos below with links to their blogs, but I was lackadaisical about advertising this on Facebook, and haven’t heard from anyone yet, so if you happen to see this and want to participate, I’ll be glad to add your info to this post.