My Writing Process Blog Tour

Photo Waiting to Write by Angie Garrett

by Ed Davis on August 7, 2014

I’m grateful to my fellow writer Valerie Nieman for inviting me to participate in this blog tour on Writing Process, initiated by James Tate Hill, her colleague at North Carolina A&T State University. Val’s blog appeared last week at http://valerienieman.blogspot.com/. I’m pleased to answer the questions below about the way I work and also read about the way others slay this beast called writing.

  1. What are you working on?Currently I’m working on the sequel to Hardwood, the novel I’ve just finished and begun marketing, about Maggie Absher, a forty-year-old divorced high school English teacher who is inadvertently responsible for a mini-ecological disaster on her father’s inherited property in Appalachian Ohio. Apparently the contractor Maggie hired to harvest several trees surrounding her ailing dad’s cabin has clear-cut the whole hillside, including a neighbor’s valuable walnuts. She becomes entangled within a family that’s recently experienced tragedy, and which harbors secrets involving parentage, possible murder and the threat of lingering violence. In the process she finds herself able to “receive transmissions” from old growth trees while trying to rebound from her stalled life, fit into an alien culture and understand the burden of her childhood in an attempt to find her true home. I’m calling the sequel Biome for now. Since Hardwood’s events occur in 1990, I wondered what would become of the troubled child whose care became a major concern of Maggie’s—and of course Maggie herself in such an alien (to her) culture which, incredibly, exists a mere seventy minutes or so south of Dayton, where she was raised. And it didn’t take me long to figure out that the environmental crisis this time (in Biome), set in the present, would involve the controversy surrounding fracking. I’m having a good time getting to see what’s happened to these characters and who they’ve become since Hardwood. And of course I never stop writing poems! Publishing Time of the Light, my first full-length poetry collection this past year, must’ve primed the pump and new poems are coming faster than they have in a long time.
  2.  How does your work differ from others of its genre?Well, Hardwood and Biome both ask the reader to accept a startling premise—that trees might, in a way, be sentient or at least aware of humans in ways we don’t usually think of—but these novels are not intended as fantasy but as realistic fiction. However, I’m well aware that readers will require some convincing (don’t they always?), so finding the right contexts and events—political and personal—seems the way to develop the Gardnerian “fictive dream.” In ways, Hardwood and its sequel might seem a 360-degree departure from The Psalms of Israel Jones, which will be published by West Virginia University Press this September—but it isn’t, not totally. Although it’s set in the professional world of rock and roll, The Psalms of Israel Jones is also very much about family crisis:  an estranged son pursues his aging musician father on tour in order to exact an apology for past sins—or at least some understanding of his dad’s abandonment of his mother and son.  Family matters, especially young children, are always a concern in my fiction, as well as rock and roll and religion. While the first is completely absent in Hardwood, the second plays an important role, along with fairly extreme cultural differences the protagonist encounters. Born and raised in southern West Virginia, I’m still quite concerned with the folkways, dialect and music I was raised with, having gotten a lot of perspective on my early experience by living in urban Ohio for the past thirty-eight years.
  1. Why do you write what you do?I don’t seem to have a lot of choice—and I’m glad about that. When I first began to write fiction and poetry forty years ago, all I had was desire. I lacked both subject and craft, elements I would eventually find, thanks to many workshops and mentors. With help, I found my subject, mainly my Appalachian upbringing and the two great forces—rock and religion—that formed me. Plus, I learned to what extent craft is required to turn one’s desire to make art into reality—and what an investment of time and money (mostly time) it would take to gain that craft for which I yearned. I’ve had a lot of help along that road; for instance, it didn’t hurt to have a world-class writers’ workshop take place every summer in the little Ohio village of Yellow Springs I call home. I mean the Antioch Writers’ Workshop  about which I can’t say enough good things. Check it out!
  1. How does your process work?Mornings are my favorite time to write, and now that I’m retired from full-time college teaching, I write till noon, or beyond, if things are going well. At least that’s when the heavy computer time happens, but I find sessions don’t always end when I shut down the computer. I bike or drive to the coffee shops where I relax and read or keep working. I like writing in public where I’m unknown, since . . . what else can I do there? Some days are for going down deep to where the best stuff lies and has to be coaxed up out of the unconscious, raw and bloody and not always without tears. Other days—many, many days—are devoted to the hard practice of revision. Although I can write the first draft of a novel in a year, the revisions can be endless and take many years (I’d say an average of three). While I admire writing groups and was a member of four different ones for many years, I now just submit drafts to three or four separate, trusted readers—they’re wonderful and tell me hard truths, such as that the novel should be rewritten from an entirely different point of view or that I need a better plot. As Andre Dubus III, author of House of Sand and Fog, said in his keynote address at Antioch Writers’ Workshop this past summer:  “Writing is the hardest work you’ll ever do.” Amen.But the rewards to the soul, the psyche—and possibly to an audience—are as immense as any I could imagine. Plus, I just have to do it.

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Coming up at My Writing Process blog tour on August 14 are three extraordinary writers: Nancy Pinard, Deborah Clearman and Julie Moore. Stop by the sites below next Thursday to learn how they tackle getting “black on white.”

Nancy Pinard is the author of two novels, Shadow Dancing (Disc-Us Books, 2000) and Butterfly Soup (Next, 2006).  Her short stories have appeared in such literary journals as Beloit Fiction Journal, Thema, and Dos Passos Review and have been anthologized by The Paper Journey Press and Spinster’s Ink.  A 2005 graduate of the Queens University MFA program, she has taught fiction writing at Sinclair Community College , at the University of Dayton ’s Osher Lifelong Learning Institute, at the Mad Anthony Writers’ Conference, and at the Antioch Writers’ Workshop.  Nancy’s blog is http://blogspot.nancypinard.com/.

Deborah Clearman is the author of the novel Todos Santos. Her short stories have appeared in The Adirondack Review, Beloit Fiction Journal, Connecticut Review, Witness, and many other journals. Formerly Program Director of NY Writers Coalition, she has led numerous NYWC creative writing workshops for people from diverse backgrounds. Since 2011 she has led weekly writing workshops for women in jail on Rikers Island. She lives in New York City and Guatemala. You may visit her website at www.deborahclearman.com.

Julie L. Moore is the author of Particular Scandals, her most recent book, which appears in The Poiema Poetry Series by Cascade Books. Her other books include Slipping Out of Bloom and Election Day. A Best of the Net and two-time Pushcart Prize nominee, Moore has won the Editor’s Choice Award from Writecorner Press, the Janet B. McCabe Poetry Prize from Ruminate, and the Rosine Offen Memorial Award from the Free Lunch Arts Alliance. Her poetry has appeared in over a hundred publications, including Alaska Quarterly Review, American Poetry Journal, Cimarron Review, The Missouri Review Online, Nimrod International Journal, Poetry Daily, The Southern Review, Valparaiso Poetry Review, and Verse Daily. You can learn more about her work at www.julielmoore.com. Her Writing as Process blog, though, will be right here at www.davised.com.

Post image by Angie Garrett and made available under an Attribution 2.0 Generic License.)

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