I am so honored to be asked onto a groovy train of authors who are blogging over the next few weeks about the writing life. I was invited by my good friend Beth Kephart, whose Going Over is a beautiful story of two teens in Berlin in 1983 and you should read it because I’m telling you it's gorgeous.
This blog post is going to sound a little frenzied because I am. Rushed and frenzied. Most of the time these days, that’s me. Jobs, kids, life, writing, teaching, reading, sleeping, eating, breathing. Some days it kinda gets on top of me. I’m learning to be a better life-juggler thanks to people like Beth Kephart who juggles more than I ever could. The thing about Beth is that when you ask her if she’s working on something, she says “No. Not really.” And then she has another amazing book coming out what seems like every year. On her blog last week, she told us about two new books to come. They sound amazing, as all of Beth’s books are.
I met Beth in the small and groovy town of Lititz, PA back in…was it 2009, Beth? It was the Lititz KidLit Festival run by my local independent bookstore, Aaron’s Books. Beth thought I was wearing rubber boots but they were actually Doc Martens—the brown ones I wear everywhere, the ones I fear will one day get old and die before I do. The memorable wardrobe situation for me from that day was the green jumper dress that was too short and the stools we were asked to sit on. Never a good combination.
Since then my friendship with Beth has grown. We’ve been in many venues together and once drove halfway across our lovely state of Pennsylvania together to hang out with awesome librarians because really, who wouldn’t do that?
Supportive, loving, smart, savvy, talented, wise. That’s Beth Kephart.
Now. On with the blog thing we’re supposed to be doing. Questions. And answers. And stuff like that.
What am I working on?
I’ve been working on a somewhat surreal novel since last February about a boy who builds an invisible helicopter and a girl who needs an escape. Or, a girl who is a biology genius and a boy who needs love. Depends on how you look at it. At the moment no one can agree on a title, but one day you will hear of it. It's due out in fall 2015.
I’d usually have another book on the go by now, but I’ve been traveling a lot to schools, festivals, conferences and teaching at Vermont College of Fine Arts. Between these two other jobs as well as working on the 2015 book with my editor and life, I’m a bit spent at the moment. But my brain is always working. I make notes. I write scenes. I read books. Right now, I don’t have a project. But even if I did, I couldn’t tell you about it because I’m weird like that.
My 2014 release, Glory O’Brien’s History of the Future, goes on shelves on October 14th. I have a strange process of trying to forget about things like that when they’re coming up. My brain is in 2015 and 2016. This sometimes doesn’t help with the here and now. For example: How is it May?
I am also working on a garden for the first viable time since I moved back to the US. Gardening used to be my life and I miss it. The size of my entire backyard now is smaller than just one of my old patches, but I get to try things that would never grow in Ireland. Outdoor tomatoes. Peanuts. A good watermelon. I reckon there’s a lot to be said for a good, homegrown watermelon.
|Polaroid of the old garden.|
The new garden is a 1/100 of this.
My knees approve.
How does my work/writing differ from others in its genre?
I have no idea. I just put the words on the page and see what happens. I never know what’s going to come out on any given day.
Some people say I write like I talk.
I think I write like I think.
So there’s that, I guess. No one can think like anyone else.
I don’t know is my favorite answer.
Because does anyone really know?
Why do I write what I do?
Writing allows me to feel things in a different way to real life. I never felt engaged with existence fully until I started writing. I wrote my first novels for adults and yet, they always started in the main character’s childhood or teen years. I think it’s because I feel adult humans are ultimately made before they are 18. It’s like a complicated recipe. You may bake it for the instructed time at the instructed temperature, but if you screwed up any ingredients the result might surprise you. When I started writing for a young adult imprint, my work didn’t change much in the style, voice, or even characters. For example, I’ve always had adult characters in my YA books. I can’t fathom why anyone wouldn’t unless the story was about how all the adults disappeared.
To me, nothing is more useful a weapon for adulthood than open and honest thought and communication. That’s what my books are to me. It’s what I call a truth-stream. I think the truth-stream helps my characters, my readers and ultimately, me.
The shorter answer to this question is: I have no idea. I just write. It just comes to me. Bob Marley said once, “Jah write all dem songs anyway.” Take that whatever way you want. It just comes to me.
How does my writing process work?
I don’t think it does work. I manage.
I have no set schedule. That’s an issue. So I write when I can.
When I do write, I start with a character and I build that character. If I am still building that character and everything they are toting with them in two weeks’ time, there’s a good chance this might turn out to be a book. That’s always a relief. Then I keep writing until I feel I have to stop and figure out what the book and its characters are trying to tell me. So I stop, make a lot of notes, revise the first parts and then travel on to see what happens in the end. Sometimes this is easy. Usually, it’s not. My endings still trip me up, but I’ve tried outlining and it doesn’t work for me, so this process is the one that works even though it’s sometimes difficult.
If it was easy would it be as much fun as it is? I don’t think so.
So then I revise. A lot. I love revision. And then once my editor has it, we start the process all writers have. More revision, line edits, copy edits. And then I start all over again on a new book.
That’s it. I sit my ass down. I write a book. I sit my ass down again and try to make the book better and better. Then I send it to someone (how lucky I am to have a someone. I went 15 years without this part of the process) and then I start a new book. Repeat. Infinity.
I don’t really like talking about myself and I think I've said enough. So this seems like the perfect time to introduce next week’s blogger, Karen Rile. What a boss magazine she’s editing. Check it out.
Cleaver Magazine shares “cutting-edge” artwork and literary work from a mix of established and emerging voices. We were founded in January 2013 and are currently preparing our 6th full-length issue, which will launch on June 11, 2014.
We are a web-based magazine. In our first year we received 60,000 unique visits and over 100,000 hits. To give an idea of our readership: over the past three months, we had visits from 119 countries, although about 80% of our readership is American. Our editors have deep ties to the Philadelphia community. We are an international magazine, but maintain a commitment to publish about 25-30% Philadelphia-based writers in each issue.
We publish poetry, short stories, essays, flash prose, visual art, and reviews of poetry books and other small press publications. We publish quarterly, in March, June, September, and December. In each issue we present several emerging writers and at least one emerging visual artist alongside established writers and artists. We see ourselves as facilitators and stewards of the literary and artistic work that we publish.
We are independent and self-funded and are grateful for support, in part, from the Philadelphia Cultural Fund and Kelly Writers House.
Next Monday visit Karen to hear more about her writing, her process and what she's working on.