The Writing Process or We Want the Funk

I’ve been tagged by the fab and groovy Andi Marquette in a writing process blog hop. There are four questions. Here are my four (or more) answers.

What are you working on?

Right now? The NCLEX. I just graduated from nursing school, and I sit for the boards later this month. I’m one of those writers who needs a day job, not only because writing has not thus far made me rich but because I need a lot of human interaction and excitement to feed my imagination. I can’t just shut myself up in a room and write. Some writers are like serastium — they grow like mad in stony ground. I’m more like a rose bush. I require constant feeding, pruning, and spraying for aphids.

That said, I am working on a couple of projects. One is a third and final book in my Idaho series, a sequel to Idaho Code and From Hell to Breakfast called, tentatively, Wish in One Hand. I feel that there’s more to be said about Bil and Sylvie and about the evolution of lesbian life in Idaho. I started work on Idaho Code in 1994. Twenty years have passed since then, and it’s been eight years since the book was published. We will soon have marriage equality here. Times have changed both in the state and in the nation since my characters were fighting antigay propositions like Proposition One. I’m not sure we even dreamt of same-sex marriage back then. It seemed amazing enough that we had Ellen or Ross’ ex-wife and her girlfriend on Friends.

My other project is Southern family chicklit gothic. It’s about five sisters growing up in the Great Depression. There’s a major character in the novel who’s lesbian, but the book isn’t lesbian-focused. I’m not consciously trying for a crossover. I no longer care if my books are pigeonholed as lesfic; I write what I want to read. But this is a bigger story, I think, and I’m trying to get into the heads of characters with whom I don’t have a lot in common, apart from being Southern and a woman. I don’t have a title for this one yet. Perhaps Look Homeward, Hell’s Angel.

That was a joke, y’all.

How does your work differ from others in its genre?

That’s a tricky one. My books are funny, but so are a lot of other books. I write funny mysteries, but that’s nothing new. I write funny dysfunctional families, but Amy and David Sedaris have raised the bar so high on that front that I hesitate to mention it. What’s more, the Sedaris siblings are, like me, from North Carolina. I think I hate them. They’re sucking up all of my oxygen.

Perhaps what distinguishes my writing is that my humor is broad but also weirdly erudite. Or maybe I mean dilettantish. I have a mind full of trivia. I began my educational career as a medievalist. My role model as a writer is Chaucer. I think my goal has always been to write a Canterbury Tales featuring gay people. As Chaucer may already have done that with the Pardoner, there might be nothing unique in this, either. Damn it.

Why do you write what you do?

Because I want to read it. I write books for me, for my friends, for my family. I write books about people who interest me or make me laugh.

How does your writing process work?

At the moment, it works like a 1968 Volkswagen with no heat, a broken gas gauge, and windows that won’t roll down. When I’m in the groove, it purrs along like that Maserati in Joe Walsh’s Life’s Been Good. I’m either feast or famine. When I write, I write. I sit down and type until the story is out. I wrote my third novel, Shaken and Stirred, in two weeks — meaning the first draft, that is. I spent another year editing it. I’ve heard many times that the art of writing is in the editing, but unless you’ve got a draft to work with, art is not possible. If I can just get it out, I know I can get it right. Well, nearly right. I’m never entirely happy with the finished product. I think if I were, I’d stop. No more books. Time to lie down and die.

Need more specifics? I do write to music. In fact, I make up a soundtrack that I think will suit the mood of the story. Once I have my main characters, I put together five or six hours of music that I think they’d enjoy. Sometimes, certain songs or pieces of music appear multiple times. Back in 1994, when I was working on Idaho Code, I made mix tapes using CDs and a dual cassette deck. And so now you know that I am 105.

What else? I eavesdrop. I go to the mall, to Jiffy Lube, to my doctor’s waiting room, and I listen. I don’t record, even though my iPhone would let me do that. I take notes. I listen for patterns of speech, figures of speech, idiosyncrasies of expression and, always, funny stories. People are so interesting, especially when they have no idea they’re being observed. I want to say that I feel like Jane Goodall, but someone might get the idea that I think of other people as chimps, and that’s not right. That is deeply wrong. Most of the time. Maybe I’m more like an anthropologist — a funny anthropologist. It’s like Margaret Mead and E. F. Benson had a baby and then dropped her on her head.

One final confession: Moleskines and fountain pens. I compose on a computer, but I take my notes in Moleskines and I write with a Parker Vector fountain pen in blue-black ink. It’s a habit, it’s a superstition, it helps get me in the mood. Some writers drink. Others sleep around. I like beautiful notebooks and smooth pens. I’m a writer with a happy liver and a happy marriage.

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