My friend Leigh Anne, over at her Be Less Amazing blog, participated in the Writing Process Blog Tour. She was invited to do this by local Pittsburgh Poet Angele Ellis (you can read her responses HERE). Leigh Anne made a more general call for anyone to participate. I'm doing the same. If you want to be a part of this, answer the questions below and link back to me. I'm curious to see what other people have to say.
What Am I Working On?
Way too many things, probably. I'm currently working on a paid professional comics project involving the Holocaust in conjunction with the Pittsburgh Holocaust Center and the Pittsburgh Toonseum (this is my first public announcement of this). I serve on the steering committee as a comics historian as well. The overall project involves what will be a traveling educational art/history museum installation called “Chutz-Pow!: Real Life Superheroes of the Holocaust.” The idea is to focus on real people who participated in genuinely heroic acts in the midst of this tragedy. We're using the metaphor of the superhero to do this. Many of the earliest comics creators were Jewish and had connections with European Jews during this period. Many served in the military in World War II.
My primary responsibility is writing a 24 page comic book that will be given away as part of the project. I'm telling the stories of five Pittsburgh residents who fit the description of a “real life hero of the Holocaust.” This has involved a tremendous amount of research. The biggest challenge of this for me is trying to fit these tremendous stories into four to eight page vignettes. I'm lucky to be working with four local professional comics artists. This is shaping up to possibly be the biggest, most important writing project of my life so far.
The installation will premiere at the 2014 Pittsburgh Three Rivers Arts Festival. I will be making more specific announcements about this project as the details develop.
In addition to this project I occasionally blog at two different sites, this one and another one over at Word Press. That ones, called Masks, is the home of my very specific ramblings and thoughts on comic book history and serves as a first draft space for what may someday be a book on the topic. This one is home to a wide variety of topics. I write the occasional book review for the Pittsburgh Post Gazette.
Then there are my novels. I have four complete novels available, and I'm currently about 50,000 words into the next one (though it seems to be taking awhile).
How does my work differ from others of its genre?
In the course of submitting my novels to agents and publishers I was told many times that while they loved my writing style (one agent called it “lyrical”), the problem was that they didn't know how to market it because it didn't fit comfortably in a specific genre. Three of my novels (I leave Bedivere out because it is pretty specifically Arthurian fiction), straddle the line between Horror and Urban Fantasy. The tropes of each of these are certainly present, but it's difficult to pinpoint either. When I was submitting I would craft my pitch either way depending on what the publisher was looking for. I've had others refer to my work as Dark Fantasy, Slipstream, Magical Realism, and Speculative Fiction. Okay...
So what makes my work different? While I deal with elements of Horror my work isn't as dark as a lot of that genre. Even in my darkest moments I am still inspired by heroic fiction, so I guess that's where the Fantasy comes in. There is a message of hope in my work that that is absent from a lot of Horror, without ever slipping into “the hero who will save the world” cliches. I'm not very interested in the classic monsters of Horror (at least in writng about them). It might be more commercial but the world has enough vampire and werewolf and zombie fiction right now, and don't get me started on the overdone Lovecraftian, tentacled horror from beyond. There's way too much of that to dig through. There are so many other mythologies and folk lore to mine for ideas.
Why do I write what I do?
I've always been drawn to the fantastic. I learned to read from comic books, so the idea of heroes living in a world of monsters and aliens and super powers is my default worldview. I like the metaphor that these genres provide. When we write about monsters we're writing about the monstrous in ourselves. When we write about heroes we're appealing to our own better self. Genre fiction allows us to exaggerate these things and explore the ideas in sometimes deeper ways.
And, simply because I enjoy these genres myself, I find them more fun to write.
How does your writing process work?
When things are going well on a novel I sit down at the keyboard and write. I try for at least 1000 words before I will let myself walk away. There's no magic to it other than showing up for work. I usually have spent a lot of time thinking about the project and what comes next, and I will have a few notes, but in general I'm not a big outliner or planner. Within certain parameters I want to be open to let the story take me where it will. Characters frequently say and do things I never planned until the moment I wrote the lines. When that happens it is usually a sign that the story has become a living thing and I need to listen to what it's trying to tell me.
The process works better for me when I have some kind of writing routine in place. Recently I have not been showing up to work as often as I would like, at least not on my novels. As I stated above I have been spending a lot of my creative time on the Holocaust project. I'm also teaching a class this semester and a lot of my energy has gone toward that. These are not meant as excuses, simply the reality of time management at the moment. I made a conscious decision to put a hold on the novel I'm working on because I knew these other commitments would eat into my time and energy. The fear is always that once I get off the novel-writing horse it can be difficult to get back on.
But I write because I write. It's a big part of what defines me.