The summer disappears into the sunset and here I am, back with something called a Blog Tour post… it seems to be kind of like a chain letter but without the promise of quick easy cash. Oh well.
When I attended the Festival of Trees events in London and Toronto in May I met many talented and enthusiastic children’s authors, including Ria Voros, who was nominated for the Silver Birch Fiction Award for Nobody’s Dog. Ria teaches in Nanaimo, BC, and her young adult novel-in-verse The Opposite of Geek came out in 2013. She also co-created Fork and Fiction, a blog about the love of food and books. Visit her at www.riavoros.com or www.forkandfiction.com.
Recently Ria came with her family for a short visit to my little Salt Springy Island and we sat on a beach and talked of serious, writerly things. (Well, not entirely.) We did chat vaguely about starting some sort of writing support group for curmudgeonly BC writers (or maybe it was just me who was curmudgeonly). Anyhoo, now she has tagged me in this blog tour about Writing Procedure. You can find her post on the topic here.
And now it’s my turn…
Question 1: What are you working on?
There is, of course, a huge difference between working on something in your head and working on something by actually writing. In my head I am toiling on many projects: a middle-grade historical fiction about the end of WWI, a guide for teachers about running kids’ writing clubs, a sequel for Eldritch Manor, a YA fiction set in 1920s New York… As far as actual writing goes, however, I’ve only gotten a start on one of the above. Which one is my secret.
Question 2: How does your work differ from other books in its genre?
I wrote Eldritch Manor with a few ideas on how to do things differently from other fantasy books I’d read. First I wanted to break away from the main-character-is-the-Chosen-One kind of thing. Not that there’s anything wrong with it, but I was more interested in very ordinary kids thrust into situations which call for heroism, but who don’t have any special sense of being special, if you catch my meaning. Characters without the heavy backup of prophesied greatness. I also wanted to fill my plot with the sense of the accidental nature of things, the uncertainty and missteps that anyone would take along the way to heroism. I wanted my main character, for example, to interpret the situation at the start of the book and be amazingly wrong about it.
I’d also have to say that Eldritch is a bit longer than most MG books are, and it’s in an old-fashioned style, probably because I myself am old-fashioned and wordy.
Question 3: Why do you write what you do?
I don’t know! Sometimes an idea lodges in your brain like a tick and the only way to get rid of it is to write it out. That was the case with Eldritch, which I had stuck in my head for years and years. Literally.
As for the historical fiction I’m planning to do, it’s confession time: I am an unrepentant history geek and will not rest until I convince everyone to be as enamoured of it as I am. I studied history in university before I went to film school, and I’d rather read a brick-sized nonfiction history tome than nearly anything else. I get ridiculously excited about books with titles like Victorian People and Ideas (by Richard D. Altick, fascinating!). Writing is hard work, so it really helps to have some kind of obsessive passion to drive you onward.
Question 4: How does your writing process work?
Having just one book published makes me feel like I’m still finding my writing process. In my other career, writing scripts for tv cartoons, I’ve become very good at just sitting down and blasting away, worrying about the fine tuning later, but that’s mostly out of sheer self-defense because the deadlines are so insane.
I approached my first book in pretty much the opposite way: I thought about the story for years before even beginning the sketches and outlines. That’s the submerged part of the process, the bulk of the iceberg. It’s the part that doesn’t look or feel like real writing: background research, notebook jotting, word collecting, subconscious plot percolation and staring-out-the-window-for-really-long-periods-of-time. (One of my biggest accomplishments recently is that I’m finally starting to value those activities as much as the actual writing.)
Next came carving out precious hours from my schedule to sit and concentrate on the work. Very, very difficult.
Next I organized. I organized a lot. I had index cards of background research material, brainstorming lists, character sketches, and extremely detailed plans for each chapter. I tend to outline rigorously – not having an overview of the whole book makes me anxious. I did, however, leave the final few chapters fairly sketchy for a good long while, to leave room for inspirations along the way.
Every time I sat down to write I’d go over what I’d already written. As a result the first chapter was revised nearly to death, but it was nice to have a really solid start that I could read over and feel good about before launching into a brand new chapter.
Bogging down in the middle is a pretty common theme in these posts, I think it happens to everyone, no matter how finicky your outline is. You hit a plot snag and the momentum is lost. Much staring out the window and distracted pacing ensues. There’s really nothing to do about it but soldier on until you get back on track. It will happen. Eventually. Just make another pot of coffee…
Once I fought my way through to the end I took a couple of weeks off and then started on the revisions. I did a lot of revisions, since it was my first book and I was nervous about it. I polished that manuscript until it shone like the top of the Chrysler Building before I sent it to anyone. The payoff of a solid outline is that I didn’t need to make any big story changes – my revisions involved clarifying, simplifying, ironing out inconsistencies, strengthening character beats, and seeding ideas better that would pay off at the end. I also did entire revision passes just focussing on each individual character, making sure everyone had a coherent throughline. I did complete passes just looking at pacing, or the amount of description, or mood. I like to think about just one thing as I read through, it helps me to focus.
I’m thinking that future books will involve less neurotic fiddling and more brazen forging ahead. I hope so, but knowing me, the fiddling will continue…
That’s all I’ve got to say about my process. Next I’m tagging another Silver Birch-nominated, middle-grade fantasy author I met in May – the lovely and talented Philippa Dowding…
Philippa Dowding wrote her first book when she was nine, and has written poetry and fiction ever since. She has won magazine awards for Macleans, Chatelaine, Zoomer, Today’s Parent, Canada’s History and more. Her poetry has appeared in The Adirondack Review, The Literary Review of Canada and other journals. Her children’s books have been nominated for the SYRCA Diamond Willow, OLA Silver Birch Express, Hackmatack and Red Cedar awards. In March 2013 her third children’s book, The Gargoyle at the Gates, was named a White Raven book by the International Youth Library in Munich. Her newest book Jake and the Giant Hand will hit bookstores this month.
Philippa tells me she will be answering these four questions next Friday, Sept 12 on her blog.
UPDATE: Here’s a more precise link: Philippa’s post on her writing process is here.