Going up the Tonle Sap river, Cambodia (2009 Photo (c) Selma Swaab.
Writer Marcelle Dube invited me to participate in the writing process blog tour in which all kinds of writers around the world are answering the same four questions. I think of it as a chain letter without the attendant mystical belief that it will bring good luck. But then maybe it will, too, and what an interesting idea it would be to trace the idea for this blog back to the inspired writer who initiated the questions. Anyway, I’ll be inviting a couple of writers to take part, too, and I’ll post their links once their blogs are up. So I’ll add my fifty cents worth of thought to the work of the poets, playwrights, short story writers, journalists and novelists out there in the world. Happy reading.
1. What am I working on?
I’m working on a romantic fantasy novel about the last member of a race of people who can draw out the evil humors from the hearts of others. This is done through touch, and when the dark humors are drawn into her body, they are transformed to crystals that form over her body. I call it the Crystal Courtesan. After the genocide that killed her race, she’s found by the one person who knows who and what she is and who she once loved. The trouble is, to save his kingdom, he wants her to return to the place that will mean certain death if she is discovered.
So, yeah, it’s a romance, but at its heart it draws on a theme I seem to write about a lot, namely how one person can transform or heal another and the consequences of exactly that. It’s not War and Peace, but it’s fun to write and hopefully to read.
2. How does my work differ from others in the genre?
Well, I’m not sure this piece does differ a great deal, except in the way that author voice and attitudes come through differently for each writer. Let’s face it, we each have different values and cultural worldview and this means that each one of us can take the same concept and when the stories are done, none of them will be the same. Look at any anthology of short stories. Most of the time a group of authors will have been asked to write to the same theme and look at the diversity that results.
On the other hand, areas that I seem to explore again and again are the idea of culture and the impact of cultural collisions, and the idea of other—in other words, the person who is the outsider and must find a way to belong—or not. I think this is why some of my favorite movies are ones like Lawrence of Arabia, and The Mission. Okay, maybe I liked doomed heroes, too. Sheesh.
3. Why do I write what I do?
I find I’m fascinated by the other cultures I meet in the world and how they look at, and interact with, the world differently than I do. I like to look at the impact of those cultures when they come in contact and the misunderstandings that can arise. Why I’m so fascinated with this is likely because I grew up always feeling like the other. My family never lived anywhere longer about three years. This means that even within the larger North American culture, you are always being confronted with your difference and every time you begin to immerse yourself in the local ‘culture’, you are ripped away again. My way of dealing with it, was to step back and away and become the observer, but all my writing seems to be about how to eventually belong. So I guess writing is my therapy.
4. How does my writing process work?
Over time my writing process has changed, except for finding inspiration. I still find inspiration comes from all around me: things that make me angry. A line in a song. Travelling upriver to places I’ve never been before. Whatever. The idea niggles around inside my brain until it comes to the forefront and becomes insistent that it needs to be written.
For the actual writing, I’ve had a couple of processes. Early on I spent a lot of time noodling about who and what my character was before starting the story. I also used to spend a great deal of time plotting out the entire manuscript scene by scene. Then I’d write following the scene outline, but about the middle of the book, the story always took over and I rarely looked at the outline again because the story took me where it needed to go—not necessarily where I’d intended. I think each of these earlier manuscripts was always stronger because I left the outline behind.
That was then. Now, although I still write in the chronological order of the book, I find that I’m what the romance writing world calls a pantster—someone who writes by the seat of their pants. I have the novel’s concept, I have an idea of the character and so I start to write. I have faith that my idea of story will guide me through the novel or short story. Of course, writing this way sometimes means that I often have to do a second draft because the first draft is more exploratory, but I write fairly fast, so this isn’t usually onerous. The second draft smoothes out things like character motivation, weak scenes and this sort of thing, as well as adding in more description.
With both methods of writing, I find creation is like having a spirit sitting on my shoulder while the novel is being written. Whether driving to an appointment, going for a walk, or sitting in a meeting, suddenly the story spirit whispers in my ear about the next scene to write, or something I neglected. So next time I sit down at the computer, those are the first things I write before moving on to the next scene.
Thanks for reading!