It’s my turn to talk about writing for the Baton Blog Hop.
Writer Cindy Zelman posting her picture for no apparent reason…except vanity.
The official blog hop BATON was passed to me by…
Author Mariam Kobras. This is a blog hop in which writers discuss their work and their writing process. Mariam is a successful author of five novels, three of them published and available for sale and two to be published in 2014 by Buddhapuss Ink. The three currently available are known as The Stone Trilogy. Mariam has won awards for the quality of her novels. As Mariam describes her own books: They’re not romance, not mystery, not crime, and somehow, not even women’s fiction. They’re less than each of these pieces, and yet, taken together, more than all of them combined. Mariam’s books are absorbing reads, so if you want to get lost in a good story, please see her wesbsite: www.mariamkobras.com
And now I answer the baton blog hop questions:
1. What am I working on?
Right now, I’m trying to sell my new chapbook, What’s in a Butch’s Purse and Other Humorous Essays. It includes seven short essays that you can read in less than an hour. Most of them have been published online, but now they are available as a collection. Hopefully, the writing will make you laugh, as you read about me bumbling through life and especially tripping over my romantic relationships with women. I have found that both men and women, straight or gay, enjoy these pieces, because really, relationships are relationships. A dysfunctional romantic interlude always leads to disaster no matter who you are.
Selling the book is important to me for many reasons, not the least of which is raising money for the the gay and lesbian population of Uganda. For those of you who don’t know, Uganda’s government recently passed a bill that punishes gay people with up to a life sentence in prison just for being gay. Even if you are suspected of being gay, you can be arrested.The bill was passed by Uganda’s Parliament and signed by the president. The specifics of the bill make it impossible for gays to work or rent apartments, as those who give them jobs or homes can also be arrested for helping to “promote” the gay lifestyle, as the government so erroneously labels it. The populace has essentially been given license to beat up and torture anyone they suspect of being gay without consequence.
So if you buy the chapbook, you also help the persecuted people of Uganda. I am donating all proceeds to help them escape. I have gotten to know several Ugandans personally, and I call some of them friends.
In addition to selling the chapbook, I’m working to complete a full length book of memoir in essays that examines my relationships with women in more depth and with more seriousness than the chapbook does. The working title has changed a few times, but right now, I’m calling it Romantic Defectives, Narcissists, and Other Dykes. That’s a bit of a tongue-in-cheek title, and it may just be reflective of the sardonic mood I’ve been in lately. I think that title may not do justice to the serious essence of one woman’s struggle to find a life partner. And here she is middle-aged and has never had one — that’s the why the word “defective” came to mind, as in “What the hell is wrong with me?”
2. How does my work differ from others of its genre?
Well, first I need to say that I don’t write in what most people think of as genre; I don’t write mysteries, or romance novels, or inspirational books, for example. If I work within a genre, it is within the broad one known as creative nonfiction (or CNF) which includes, among many “sub-genres,” personal essay and memoir. I guess we could ask how my essay and memoir writing differs from others.
Any author who has developed a distinct voice makes his or her work different. Once you have found a voice as a writer, no one else sounds like you. There may be similarities — a few people have called me a female David Sedaris — but I don’t write like David Sedaris and he doesn’t write like me. What we have in common is that we can both be funny and we can both be jerks. He is much higher paid jerk than I am.
A reader can identify a writer’s voice, even without looking at the title page, assuming the reader is a fan and reads this person’s work on a regular basis. That’s not to say a writer doesn’t jump into a different voice and persona throughout the course of his or her writing life, but generally speaking, no two writers sound exactly alike. When I state this, I’m not talking about those mass-produced titles where you don’t even know who is writing the book, and perhaps the name on the cover isn’t even a real person. I’m talking about creative writing or literary writing or whatever term means the opposite of supermarket paperback.
That said, readers of my work and other writers have described my essay and memoir writing as wry, humorous amid great sadness, raw and honest, tender yet robust. I think I tell a good story, I think people tend to get absorbed in my work, but a lot of writers can say that. I tell my stories in my own voice and style and that’s what makes me different.
3. Why do I write what I do?
In answering this question, I will describe what happened to me more than two decades ago. I enrolled in an MA (no MFA available) program at the University of New Hampshire. The year was 1988. I was accepted as a fiction student. It’s not that I didn’t have my glorious moments (few and far between) as a fiction writer, but at UNH I received a great deal of (not often nice) critique that went t like this: That’s not fiction! That’s not a credible character! You’re just writing about your life!
So, fast forward twenty years and I am having my first mid-life crisis and find the Solstice MFA in Creative Writing program of Pine Manor College. This time I am accepted into a genre called “creative nonfiction.” People have been writing creative nonfiction since humankind learned to write, any sort of writing that is based on the actual experiences and “characters” of the writer’s life. But when I was at UNH all those years ago, the “genre” of creative nonfiction was just on the verge of being defined as a genre. Sometimes it’s referred to as the “fourth” genre, with poetry, fiction, and drama, being the other three.
Regardless, writing personal essays and stories about my own life felt entirely natural. I read somewhere that fiction writers like to “imagine” the world and that creative nonfiction writer’s like to “record” their “observations” of the world.
While no one has to be just one or the other – fiction writer or nonfiction writer – I definitely fall into the camp of wanting to record my observations of the world, my life, and the characters who have inhabited it or merely crossed my path. It comes more naturally to me to write an essay that tells you the story of a relationship in my life that fell apart than to imagine a fictional character who may experience something similar. So, I write what I do because it’s my natural tendency.
In terms of topics, I do write a lot about my life as a gay woman, but also about my battles with panic disorder and agoraphobia, and about my family, mother especially, although I am hoping to write more about my father going forward. He was quite the character. Even in saying that just now, I have a vague notion of an entire book I could write about my family.
4. How does my writing process work?
I don’t know if this is the correct term but I call myself an “organic” writer, meaning my process doesn’t usually involve a lot of pre-planning like outlining or storyboarding. I think those methods are very important for long works and especially for novelists who have complicated plots and subplots and many characters. I have no idea how they keep track of all that and I admire them so.
But for me, my work may start with a word, a phrase, a memory, a feeling, a song lyric, a smell, or the way the sun lights the cars in a parking lot. I might write a sentence about whatever small thing has latched onto my brain and emotions. If it feels like I need to say more, I keep writing, but without a plan, so I make this big mess on the page, so to speak. I try not to worry about organization or grammar or spelling or the quality of the prose.
The piece grows sideways and upside down and inside out as I keep adding to it, with a vague notion as to where I want to take it. I think I know what it’s about but as I keep writing, the piece tells ME what it’s about, and once I hear the piece tell me, then I can start to shape it and work toward an end.
For most of my process, the prose is pretty weak, because strengthening prose comes later for me, but I feel a lot of excitement in the beginning and middle of my process because I am creating something from nothing.
Of course, to make the piece coherent and well-written takes many drafts and involves the use of “craft” in terms of being conscious of sentence structure, cadence, scene, dialogue, reflection, transition, paragraphs, and how to create a beginning, middle, and end. Even an essay should have some kind of story arc. People tell stories, fictional or not.
Unlike most writers, I can’t count my drafts because I don’t start at the beginning and go to the end, at least not every time. I do that more often when I’m close to a final draft, and I’m checking for stupid errors of diction, grammar, and typos.
But during the really tough revisions before we get near the final, I jump around in the piece. I may randomly open up a page and start working on the sound of the paragraphs and sentences. I may take things out — that old “kill your darlings” writer’s cliche — or add in some new darlings that I kill the next time. Once in awhile I marry my darlings and keep them. All the while I’m doing this, I have in my head the idea of where I will end this work.
All this jumping around leads to strengthening pieces of the essay, but at some point I need to make sure it all makes sense as a whole. I need to make sure I have a coherent beginning, middle, and end. I accomplish this by multiple revisions and rereadings, until I am so sick of what I’m reading that I can’t look at it for quite some time. Shorter pieces come together quicker, but I have been known to work on a piece periodically for years. I recently had an essay published in Tinge Magazine that I started working on seven years ago. And if you think tha’ts a long time, I just had a short story accepted by Steam Ticket: A Third Coast Review that I began working on nearly 20 years ago!
Most of the time, I can get a piece into publishable form much sooner than a decade or two, but it’s a good thing I’ve been writing for most of my life and have a body of work that’s ready or close to ready for publication as I continue to churn out new work that will take some time to be good.
Thank you for reading, everyone.
I now pass the baton to a wonderful writer:
Angie Foster who will be posting on April 21st.
First, Angie Foster:
Angela Foster is a poet and memoirist who lives in Pine City, Minnesota. She teaches memoir at the Loft Literary Center in Minneapolis, MN, and holds an MFA in Creative Nonfiction from Pine Manor College in Boston, Massachusetts. Angela’s poetry book, Farm Girls, co-authored with her sister, Candace Simar, was recently released by Riverplace Press of Brainerd, Minnesota. For more information about Angela, please visit her website at www.angelaffoster.com.
Below is information about her book:
Written by Angela F. Foster and Candace Simar
If you learned to swear in Norwegian or shared a two-holer outhouse with your cousin, you’ll enjoy the poetry and prose of these sisters. From memories of Norwegian ancestors and growing up on a Minnesota Dairy farm, to dreams of Oprah’s couch and rapping with Eminem, Farm Girls will take you back to the days of rural schools, moon light, star light, hope to see a ghost tonight, and the auction of the family farm. n or shared a two-holer outhouse with your cousin, you’ll enjoy the poetry and prose of these sisters. From memories of Norwegian ancestors and growing up on a swear in Norwegian or shared a two-holer outhouse with your cousin, you’ll enjoy the poetry and prose of these sisters. From memories of Norwegian ancestors and growing up on a Minnesota dairy farm to dreams of Oprah’s couch and rapping with Eminem, these farm girls will take you back to the days of rural schools, moon light, star light, hope to see a ghost tonight, and the auction of the family farm.