Blog Tour: My Writing Process

May 6, 2014

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.

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National Poetry Month Day 2 – There Will Come Soft Rains

April 2, 2014

Here’s my visual response to Sara Teasdale’s haunting “There Will Come Soft Rains.” In case it’s not entirely clear what’s going on in the background, it’s supposed to be a broken skyscraper overtaken by plant life. I was thinking of trying to draw more ruins, but I was honing in on the line “would scarcely know that we were gone,” suggesting less and less traces of humanity.

Yes, I know Ray Bradbury wrote a short story of the same name (which features the poem itself). It’s one of my favorites.

there will come soft rains

“There Will Come Soft Rains”

There will come soft rains and the smell of the ground,
And swallows circling with their shimmering sound;

And frogs in the pools singing at night,
And wild plum trees in tremulous white;

Robins will wear their feathery fire,
Whistling their whims on a low fence-wire;

And not one will know of the war, not one
Will care at last when it is done.

Not one would mind, neither bird nor tree,
If mankind perished utterly;

And Spring herself, when she woke at dawn
Would scarcely know that we were gone.


National Poetry Month Day 1 – Wild Swans

April 1, 2014

So, April is National Poetry Month. Rather than write a new poem each day, or analyze a poem written by another each day (both of which I’ve done before), I’m going to draw something as a response to poems. I’m no professional artist by any stretch of poetic license, but I think it’d be interesting to experiment with creating visual representations of poems. Some images might be quick doodles, others might be more carefully rendered. This first one is based on Edna St. Vincent Millay’s “Wild Swans.”

 

wild swans

Wild Swans

I looked in my heart while the wild swans went over.
And what did I see I had not seen before?
Only a question less or a question more;
Nothing to match the flight of wild birds flying.
Tiresome heart, forever living and dying,
House without air, I leave you and lock your door.
Wild swans, come over the town, come over
The town again, trailing your legs and crying!

 

 


Two Amazing Poems

November 21, 2009

With the sheer bulk of writing out there, and the utter banality of much of it, I am surprised when I come across pieces that shake me up as much as these two poems I saw today do. I won’t attempt to introduce them, but just reproduce them here:

Robinson Jeffers – “Original Sin”

The man-brained and man-handed ground-ape, physically
The most repulsive of all hot-blooded animals
Up to that time of the world: they had dug a pitfall
And caught a mammoth, but how could their sticks and stones
Reach the life in that hide? They danced around the pit, shrieking
With ape excitement, flinging sharp flints in vain, and the stench of their bodies
Stained the white air of dawn; but presently one of them
Remembered the yellow dancer, wood-eating fire
That guards the cave-mouth: he ran and fetched him, and others
Gathered sticks at the wood’s edge; they made a blaze
And pushed it into the pit, and they fed it high, around the mired sides
Of their huge prey. They watched the long hairy trunk
Waver over the stifle trumpeting pain,
And they were happy.

Meanwhile the intense color and nobility of sunrise,
Rose and gold and amber, flowed up the sky. Wet rocks were shining, a little wind
Stirred the leaves of the forest and the marsh flag-flowers; the soft valley between the low hills
Became as beautiful as the sky; while in its midst, hour after hour, the happy hunters
Roasted their living meat slowly to death.

These are the people.
This is the human dawn. As for me, I would rather

Be a worm in a wild apple than a son of man.
But we are what we are, and we might remember
Not to hate any person, for all are vicious;
And not be astonished at any evil, all are deserved;
And not fear death; it is the only way to be cleansed.

Robinson Jeffers, “Original Sin” from The Collected Poetry of Robinson Jeffers, edited by Tim Hunt. Copyright © 1938 by Robinson Jeffers, renewed 1966 and © Jeffers Literary Properties. With the permission of Stanford University Press, http://www.sup.org. Source: The Selected Poetry of Robinson Jeffers (Stanford University Press, 1988)

Denise Levertov – “Come into Animal Presence”

Come into animal presence.
No man is so guileless as
as the serpent. The lonely white
rabbit on the roof is a star
twitching its ears at the rain.
The llama intricately
folding its hind legs to be seated
not disdains but mildly
disregards human approval.
What joy when the insouciant
armadillo glances at us and doesn’t
quicken his trotting
across the track into the palm bush.
What is this joy? That no animal
falters, but knows what it must do?
That the snake has no blemish,
that the rabbit inspects his strange surroundings,
in white star silence? The llama
rests in dignity, the armadillo
has some intention to pursue in the palm forest.
Those who were sacred have remained so,
holiness does not dissolve, it is a presence
of bronze, only the sight that saw it
faltered and turned from it.
An old joy returns in holy presence.

Reproduced in Ursula K. Le Guin’s Buffalo Gals and Other Animal Presences

These poems sort of say the same thing, but very differently. And the astonishing thing, for me, is the way they describe the ugliness of humanity without being misanthropic or encouraging hatred. It seems to me that what these poems attempt to get at, with a self-conscious sense of failure tempered by a beauty of imagination, is an awareness of the non-human world that steps beyond human judgment, and into a primal state of being that humans have lost because of civilization. They lament the de-spiritualized mode of perception that is imposed by humanity’s current way of life, or perhaps a loss too deep to put into words, something that explains our sense of alienation and nihilistic impulses far better than Marxism, Existentialism, or any political, religious, or philosophical ideology ever could.