Many thanks to Sheryl Louise Rivett for inviting me to participate in the Writing Process Literary Blog Hop. Sheryl and I met in the MFA program at GMU, and it's so wonderful to see (and read about) her ongoing writing projects. All best wishes moving forward, Sheryl!
WHAT I'M WORKING ON NOW
I'm wrapping up final edits for Desire: A Haunting, the sequel to We Take Me Apart. If you're curious, the prologue and first few sections just went live this past weekend at Sugar Mule, edited by the fantastic Alyse Knorr (who I also know from the GMU MFA!)! Way to kick ass, ladies of GMU!
As for new work, I'm in the messy midst of a first draft of Fit Into Me, which will be the next book in the series after Desire: A Haunting. If you're curious, Book One of Fit Into Me was serialized last month (April 2014) at Necessary Fiction.
HOW MY WORK DIFFERS FROM OTHERS OF ITS GENRE
We Take Me Apart was originally published by Mud Luscious Press, which labeled it a "novel(la)." I frequently referred to it as a "novel in verse" or a "verse novel," but nobody ever really considered it fiction. The kind folks at PEN and the Asian American Writers' Workshop all considered it "poetry." These days, I think out of sheer exhaustion, I think of it as my first novel.
Desire: A Haunting follows suit in form and voice.
Fit Into Me does not. If I had to call it something, I'd call it a sequence of prose poems.
I'm supposed to be talking about genre here, and how mine is or isn't like other novels, novel(la)s, verse novels, novels in verse, prose poem sequences — but I'm weary. It's all just words. A few months ago, in fact, Matthew Burnside asked me and several other writers to compose a sentence addressing what we wish someone had told us when we were first starting out as writers. I said:
"I wish someone had told me to not worry so much about finding my 'voice' — a writer's voice takes time to develop and it must be informed by all the voices that have come before, so read the greats, read the terribles, read the in-betweens, read the television and the movies and the magazines, read the labels and logos on clothing and the advertisements on the sides of buses and the graffiti on street signs and the fine print at the bottom of everything, read the invisible ink, read the age lines and the expressions on people's faces, read their gestures, read what they don't say but manage to communicate anyway, read everything, read it all, read it all, and filter it through your pen or pencil or typing fingers and watch, watch how it emerges as yours."
That's what I have to say about that.
WHY I WRITE WHAT I DO
I was just talking about this last night, actually.
I said my characters suffer tragically but that it is up to the reader to decide how to interpret them. I said, Always, in every book, there is the possibility of interpreting the character as a victim of her trauma, or, conversely, as an innocent — untouched, unmarred, beautiful, pure, and ever-hopeful, having emerged from her past victoriously, heroic and triumphant. (Have you read Lydia Millet's My Happy Life? She invented that trick. I'm still trying to learn how to pull it off.)
HOW MY WRITING PROCESS WORKS
Marguerite Duras said, "Writing comes like the wind."
I believe this.
Perhaps this is why I don't feel the pressure to write every day. I don't even write every year. We Take Me Apart was written in 2009. It came out in 2010. I began Desire: A Haunting in early 2013. The first draft was complete by August. I put it away. I moved to Utah. I got it back out and edited all fall term. I put it away. In early 2014, I began Fit Into Me. Now that spring term is over, I have returned to give Desire a final pass. And Fit is resting. Marinating.
When Fit rolls in on a cloud again, or "screams at me" (as Duras says unfinished books are apt to do), I will return to it.
On a much more basic level, to answer this question in a more specific and less abstract way, I let other writers' words fuel me. Nouns and verbs from Gertrude Stein's Tender Buttons led to lines and scenes in We Take Me Apart. Nouns and verbs from John Ratti's A Remembered Darkness led to lines and scenes in Desire: A Haunting. And nouns and verbs from If not, winter, Anne Carson's translation of Sappho's fragments, are inspiring the lines and scenes in Fit Into Me. I retype these other writers' nouns and verbs, cut them, put them into a container, shake, and start pulling from them one at a time. The nouns and verbs become lines. The lines become scenes. From these nouns and verbs and lines and scenes, books are born.
And constant, throughout them all, is the tea house woman.