Author Archives: livers

About livers

Paulette Livers is the author of the novel Cementville (Counterpoint), winner of Elle magazine’s Lettres Readers Prize, finalist for the Center for Fiction’s Flaherty-Dunnan First Novel Prize, and shortlisted for Chicago Writers Association Book of the Year. Among recognitions for her work are fellowships from Artcroft Foundation, Aspen Writers Foundation, Ox-Bow Artist Residence, Vermont Studio Center, and Virginia Center for the Creative Arts; awards and honorable mentions from Center for the American West, Denver Women’s Press Club, Hunger Mountain, the Meyerson Prize for Fiction, Red Hen Press, Writers@Work, and others. She earned the BA from University of Louisville and the MFA from the University of Colorado. Livers teaches at Story Studio Chicago and is the Creative Director at Mighty Sword Studio, where she helps writers and publishers make beautiful books.

Teen Angst, Fundamental Style

lay-it-on-my-heart-250wA review of Lay It On My Heart by Angela Pneuman

Here is a voice we don’t hear often in contemporary fiction—Charmaine Peake is poor, female, adolescent, white, growing up in the rural South, where Bible quotes are dropped into everyday conversation and faith is not only to be worn on the sleeve, but broadcast loudly. I grew up not far from where author Angela Pneuman was born and raised, so the novel’s setting is familiar. But this intimate visit inside the mind of a 13-year-old fundamentalist Christian was a new and sometimes unsettling experience. What starts for Charmaine as a niggling suspicion of her church’s youth group leaders mushrooms into overwhelming personal confusion, until she can no longer ignore the contradictions between what she’s been taught to believe and the gritty circumstances of her falling-apart life revealed daily. Worse, the visionary dad she idolizes seems to be losing his grip on reality. A less capable author might have given us a sad and self-pitying victim of bad luck here. Instead, Charmaine Peake is a hybrid of surly teen and wannabe mystic, prickly and tender, guarded and utterly guileless, craving closeness with her never-available evangelist father, while pushing away the mother who desperately wants her affection. Prickly flesh-and-blood teens are quite capable of driving one mad; building a reader’s empathy for an acerbic protagonist requires patience by the bucketload. Pneuman accomplishes this through a slow and subtle rendering of Charmaine’s milieu, the hermetic environment of a deeply religious community. Tension builds as the adults she depends seem to fail her, one by one. Reaching the final chapters, I was nearly unable to put the book down. Fans of The Glass Castle and The Liars Club (and other memoirs and novels dealing with parental mental illness) will be rewarded with a similar empathy boost in Lay It on My Heart. As we root for a girl whose tenacity enables her to board the school bus with the other poor kids who live down by the river, Charmaine discovers compassion for the flawed adults around her—even the with burden of growing up.

Delicious Autumn

View of the Palisades from the Kentucky River Palisades Trail. Photo by Karry Mills.

View of the Palisades from the Kentucky River Palisades Trail. Photo by Karry Mills.

It was George Eliot who called autumn delicious. Her soul was “wedded to it,” she said, and if she were a bird, she would “fly about the earth seeking successive autumns.” I’m glad to have days exactly like that. This autumn has seen more travel for me than usual, and I’m not complaining. Most days I’ve been doing things I love almost as much as writing. I’ve talked with readers and writers and word people and I’ve seen new places and made new friends. I was invited to read at the Kentucky Women Writers Conference in Lexington and later got to walk the Kentucky River Palisades Trail. (The photo to the right, a view of the Palisades from the Trail, shows the inspirational roots for the cover image for Cementville.) In Louisville the next week I met with an incredible group of women who read and loved my book (thanks again to my dear friend, Richard Thurman, for introducing me). In Norfolk I ordered crab cakes. Come to think of it, in Minneapolis I ordered fish cakes. I seemed to be following, and eating from, water. But in a little Mississippi River town three blocks long it was waffles.

And that was just September.

There are events closer to home to look forward to this month: this Saturday, October 11, I’m going to the Indiana Writers Consortium annual conference, where I’ve been asked to lead a breakout session, a sort of mini-workshop. And on Saturday, October 25, the InPrint group has invited me to their annual Book Fair in Rockford.

Edinburgh. Photo by Kim Traynor.

Edinburgh. Photo by Kim Traynor.

This weekend David and I head to Britain and a big looping train ride ( guess I didn’t get enough rocking sleep on AmTrak this past summer) up into Scotland where—and don’t even ask how I’m lucky enough to get to do this—I’ll be showing up at the Edinburgh Library for a writers group, then moving west to the fishing village of Mallaig for a book group. I’m excited to show London to my history major husband, and to take in the Lake District and some of Wales too.

What I may be most excited about, though, is the invitation to come and present at the 33rd Annual Kentucky Book Fair on November 15. Treasured writeimages-1rs with Kentucky roots who’ve been featured in the past include Bobbie Ann Mason, Sue Grafton, and Wendell Berry. One of the nation’s largest at over 4,000 attendees, profits from the fair and sale of books are donated to Kentucky’s public schools and libraries. Those interested in applying for a grant can find info here. Fair director Connie Crowe says that every book purchased there is like placing literature in the hands of a Kentuckian.

Thank you, W&CF, for years of service to Chicago readers

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Below is an open letter to friends and followers from the owners of Women and Children First, Chicago’s venerable feminist bookstore. Ann Christopherson and Linda Bubon set a high bar for other bookstores around the country that have opened with  the mission of making many voices heard. Many of us have known for a while that the store was on the market, and we’ve waited nervously to see what would happen. Today, we all exhale a sigh of relief, knowing this beloved institution is passing into the able hands of two literary feminists who have been associated with the store for a while now. A few months ago, when Sarah Hollenbeck graciously introduced my new novel to Chicago, we were all charmed by her warmth and enthusiasm for her work. Sarah will now join her colleague Lynn Mooney in the care of the W&CF legacy.

Here is Linda and Ann’s letter to us:

 

Dear Friends of
Women and Children First,

Thirty-five years ago, we were two enthusiastic and earnest young feminists, ready to change the world by adding a feminist bookstore to the literary landscape in Chicago. Two moves and one expansion later secured our place in a community of independent businesses in Andersonville. In this space we have enjoyed tremendous success, serving all of you as a general bookstore, a feminist bookstore, and a neighborhood anchor.

In the months following the news that we were selling Women & Children First, many of you2455 said lovely things about what the store has meant to you and also expressed concern that it might close or might not remain, well, Women & Children First. We did our best to assure you that, no, we weren’t closing, that in fact quite a few people had expressed interest in buying it, and that we were only going to sell it to people who were invested in the same mission and vision we have followed for almost thirty-five years. We are thrilled to say that we have found those people in two of our co-workers, Lynn Mooney and Sarah Hollenbeck. This enthusiastic feminist and literary pair are every bit as committed as we have been. With their complementary skills and interests, their love of books, their feminist purpose, and their combined experience in bookselling and publishing, Lynn and Sarah are our ideal successors.

But the future won’t be easy. These are challenging times for brick-and-mortar stores as well as for print books. Please continue to support the store: buy books, come to programs, and be sure to bring your kids, parents, and friends!

Linda plans to be semi-retired, working a couple of days a week at the store. She is so happy to turn over the responsibility of ownership! She wants more time to read, write, perform (and play golf). She will still be hosting the Wednesday morning children’s story time and the monthly Women’s Book Group. Ann will be retiring in August, but continue to stay connected to the store through special projects and consulting.

One longtime customer recently came into the store and said something to Ann that she will always hold in her heart: “I haven’t had a lot of money to spend here over the years and I know I haven’t been one of your best customers. But you always treated me as if I were.” While Lynn and Sarah are excited to make some needed changes and improvements, they’ll continue to treat all of you as their best customer. Because you are.

Together we have created-and will continue to create-this welcoming village that is so important to all of us who have decided to belong and help make it our own.

This has been an extraordinary, satisfying journey. Thank you all for your support, confidence and love.

Sincerely,

Ann & Linda

Don De Grazia writes “About a Character”

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Don De Grazia is the next author in the chain of this blog relay which started a while back, and to which novelist Thaisa Frank invited me. (Check out Thaisa’s responses to this series of questions here.) I met Don just last month when we were paired together to talk about my novel Cementville for an event at a Chicago bookstore, City Lit. I already knew he wasn’t a blogger when I tagged Don, but I wanted to hear him talk about the fascinating characters he creates, so I told him I would host his answers here on my own pages. Enjoy—then hie yourself to a bookstore to find his novel, American Skin.

1. What is the name of your fictional (or historical) character? Where is the book set?

Ryan Rocha is a fictional person whose story is set in 2012, Chicago.

2. What should we know about him?

He has worn a handlebar mustache and modified pompadour—both dyed jetblack—since about 1988.  Pretty much before anyone.

3. What is the main conflict? What messes up his life?

He becomes enraged when people point at his handlebar mustache and accuse him of being a hipster.  Also, people now assume that his shoepolish black hair is just a bad dye job to cover up gray hair, when in reality it is a sort of stylized homage to Elvis Presley.  Complicating matters is the fact that he is, in fact, starting to go gray, which makes him reluctant to stop dyeing it.  These are probably not really the main conflicts messing up his life, but they are easier to discuss and chuckle about than the fact that he is starting to contemplate his future with genuine terror.

4. What is the personal goal of the character?

Ryan is kind of a modern day renaissance man.  In ancient times, he might have been called a “man of virtus.”  In the age he lives in, however, he is called “a Starbucks barista.”  He wants to discover his true calling before he reaches retirement age.

5. What is the title of this book, and can we read more about it?

Ryan’s story is part of an untitled, unpublished manuscript of interconnected tales.  Many of these stories have been published in various journals–most recently “Black was Missing” (which includes a cameo appearance by Ryan Rocha) in The Chicago Quarterly Review’s 20th Anniversary Issue. This manuscript is third in a queue of manuscripts I’m polishing, but it seems pretty much done.

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Don De Grazia has invited three writers to keep the blog relay going. Next week you can check out the responses to these same questions from Jessie Ann Foley, Mason Johnson, and Rob Jackson.

JESSIE ANN FOLEY is a teacher and writer whose first novel, The Carnival at Bray, was the recipient of the Sheehan Prize in Young Adult fiction and is forthcoming from Elephant Rock Books in October 2014. Her fiction and essays have appeared in Salon, The Madison Review, Midwestern Gothic, McSweeney’s, The Chicago Reader, Writer’s Digest, Hypertext, xoJane.com, Sixfold, Great Lakes Cultural Review and other magazines. She lives with her husband and daughter in her native Chicago. Jessie blogs at Chicago Now / Dispatches from the Northwest Side.

MASON JOHNSON is a writer from Chicago who currently works full time writing and editing articles for CBS. His novella, Sad Robot Stories, came out from the Chicago Center for Literature and Photography in the summer of 2013. You can find his fiction—and the answers to his blog relay questions about one of his characters— at themasonjohnson.com.

ROB JACKSON received a B.A. from Ohio State and a M.A. from John Carroll University. He was an editor for Cleveland’s literary journal, Muse, and is currently the editor of Great Lakes Review. His novel, Silo Pilgrimage is coming out in September from BlazeVOX.

Guest blogger Geoff Wyss writes “About a Character”

11386929-smallLast week I had fun answering questions posed by a writer who generated a blog relay to which novelist Thaisa Frank invited me. This week, my friend Geoff Wyss has agreed to participate. Since Geoff doesn’t have a blog, his answers are posted here.

BIO: Geoff Wyss’s book of stories, How, won the Ohio State University Prize in Short Fiction and was published in 2012. His first novel, Tiny Clubs, was published in 2007. His fiction has appeared in Glimmer Train, Image, Ecotone, Tin House, and others and has been reprinted in New Stories from the South and the Bedford Introduction to Literature.  He teaches and lives in New Orleans.

Warning: what you read below may make you rush out to find his book.

Come back tomorrow to find out what Chicago writer and Columbia College professor Don De Grazia  has to say about one of his characters. Don is the author of the acclaimed novel, American Skin.

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1. What is the name of your character? Is s/he a fictional or a historic person?

My character’s name is Gary Wilkins—or sometimes (depending on the story) Gerald or Gordon, sometimes Weldon or Wellman—and he’s basically an alter ego for me, so I’m not sure what to say about ‘fiction’ versus ‘reality.’  (I don’t try to hide my association with the character; he has my initials, my job—teaching high school English—and my smart-ass demeanor.)  So the narrator of my teaching stories is basically me (as the other characters are basically my co-workers), but the events are made up.  My stories about teaching move around in this halfway space and are energized (so it seems to me at least) by a hybrid vigor.  So the answer to the question of “fictional or historical” is: yes.

2. When and where is the story set?

Two of the teaching stories in my book How, “Child of God” and “Profession of the Body,” are set in a Catholic school, Our Lady of Perpetual Succor, in a suburb of New Orleans.  The stories occur around the time I wrote them, a few years before Katrina.  (I mention Katrina not because it has any bearing on the stories but because the teaching stories I’ve written since the storm are set in the all-boys Jesuit school where I now teach.)  The unnamed suburb is modeled on St. Bernard Parish, where I then taught.

3. What should we know about him?

He’s been teaching for about ten years, long enough to have gotten good at it but also long enough to have started feeling the institutional weariness that comes with the job.  He is idealistic about his work in one moment and cynical about it in the next as a result of this weariness.  (Most teachers will tell you that it isn’t the students and classroom that wears them out; it’s everything outside the classroom and the other adults in the building.)  His complex relationship to the religious mission of the school often gets him in trouble when he can’t keep his mouth shut.  He is (in these two stories) unmarried, one of those lifelong bachelors you commonly find in high schools.  He’s tightly controlled and out of control.  His messes are mine.

4. What is the personal goal of the character?

In “Child of God” Gary hopes to defend a favorite student, senior Ashley Brimmer, from the over-heavy hand of the institution when she turns up pregnant.  Girls in Catholic schools in New Orleans are not expelled when they get pregnant, but they are asked to leave campus when they begin to “show” and to finish the year at an alternative school.  Even though Ashley’s pregnancy won’t be visible—the school year is almost over—the school’s Campus Minister, Ted Infante, is exerting his influence to have Ashley removed.  In a fit of moral (or amoral) outrage, Gary schemes to get Ted fired and save Ashley’s school year (and her last couple months in Gary’s class).  What deeper wishes Gary might harbor regarding Ashley, Gary himself would be unable to say.

 5. What is the title of this book, and where can we read more about it?  When was the book published?

“Child of God” appears in my first book of short stories, How, which was published by Ohio State University Press in 2012.  It can be found in the usual places.  “Child of God” first appeared in Image and was later reprinted in New Stories from the South 2009 and The Bedford Introduction to Literature.  More information about the collection as a whole can be found in this review from the Times-Picayunehttp://www.nola.com/books/index.ssf/2012/08/new_orleans_writer_geoff_wyss.html

I can be reached at geoffwyss@hotmail.com.

Thanks to Paulette for the chance to take a shot at these questions.  The next writers, whose blog relay answers will appear around the net on July 7, are three of my personal favorites:

Louis Maistros is a longtime resident of New Orleans’s 8th Ward. A former forklift operator and self-taught writer, artist, and photographer, Louis published his widely hailed historical novel, The Sound of Building Coffins, in 2009 with The Toby Press. Coffins is currently in its third printing.  When he is not writing, Louis is compulsively taking pictures of his beloved home city of New Orleans. You can find Louis’s responses, along with his photography, at http://504ever.net/

Cary Holladay writes fiction based on the history and culture of her native Virginia. Her seven volumes include Horse People: Stories and The Deer in the Mirror. Her answers will appear on her website: http://www.caryholladay.net/.

Patty Friedmann is an award-winning New Orleans author whose nine darkly comic literary novels include Secondhand Smoke and Eleanor Rushing—the latter soon to be released in e-form as Through the Windshield. She also has published short stories, essays, reviews, stage plays, and more. Her An Organized Panic took first runner-up out of 406 entrants in the Faulkner-Wisdom novel competition. Patty’s answers to the blog relay will appear here at www.PauletteLivers.com/journal on July 7.

“About a Character” Blog Hop

Kentucky landscapeThanks so much to novelist Thaisa Frank for inviting me to join this “blog hop.” For the uninitiated, a blog hop is sort of like those chain letters you might have participated in as a teenager, from which you were promised 42 pairs of socks or more good luck than you knew what to do with. Nowadays it’s a way for us nosy types to look into other people’s writing processes.  When Thaisa first told me that we would answer questions about a character in our writing, I wasn’t sure how I would choose, because my new novel has multiple characters whose voices tell the story of their small Southern town’s experience of the Vietnam War. Many of Cementville‘s readers have let me know how much they love Wanda, and since I love her too, she’s the one who gets to show up here today.

  • What is the name of your character? Is s/he fictional or a historic person?
    My fictional character is Wanda Ferguson Slidell, a 30-year-old agoraphobic living on a small farm with her ailing mother.
  • When and where is the story set?
    My novel Cementville takes place during the summer of 1969 in the rural South during the height of the Vietnam War.
  • What should we know about her?
    Wanda is something of a social mutt. Her mother Loretta is from the disreputable Ferguson clan, and although Loretta’s father (Wanda’s grandfather Johnny Ferguson) worked hard his whole life to overcome the family’s reputation for drunken violence and laziness, the stain clings. Wanda’s father, Stanley Slidell, was the only son of the town’s wealthy grand dame, Evelyn Slidell. Stanley, a romantic alcoholic who died ignominiously in the back of a car where he had passed out, left Wanda a “half-orphan” as an infant. When the novel opens, Wanda’s hilltop isolation with her taciturn mother and an aging mule has become convenient habit, allowing her to avoid the real world and the grief enveloping the town below as the war dead come home.
  • What is the main conflict? What messes up her life?
    Wanda has been oblivious to the fact of being the wealthy Evelyn Slidell’s only heir. Evelyn has ignored her only grandchild, blaming Loretta and Wanda for her son Stanley’s ruin. When the two finally come together, Wanda sees something of herself in her reclusive and bitter grandmother, while also worrying that her pending sudden wealth may topple the carefully preserved bell jar of her life on the farm.
  • What is the personal goal of the character?
    At the beginning of the book, Wanda’s goal is defending her own status quo. The bodies of eight local young men are coming home from Vietnam and Wanda’s main worry is that her mother will make her attend some of the funerals. Subsistence at every level—emotional, physical, mental, and economic—has been narrowly tied to the hilltop farm from which she observes the town below. As the book progresses, events pry open Wanda’s expectations of herself and her relationship to others.
  • What is the title of this novel, and where can we read more about it?
    CEMENTVILLE can be found wherever books are sold. More about the novel and about my writing can be found at www.PauletteLivers.com. You can also follow me on Facebook, on Twitter, and at Goodreads
  • When was the book published?
    CEMENTVILLE came out in Spring 2014 from Counterpoint Press.

Again, much thanks to Thaisa for inviting me to join in. Next week, Please come back to my website to hear what two good writers have to say about characters they have created. Neither of these two has a blog themselves, so they will guest blog here at PauletteLivers.com/journal.

Don De Grazia is author of American Skin and other writings. His work has appeared in TriQuarterly, The Chicago Quarterly Review, The Great Lakes Review, The Chicago Tribune, The Chicago Reader, Rumpus, and other publications. He teaches full-time in the Creative Writing Department at Columbia College Chicago.

Geoff Wyss’s book of stories, How, won the Ohio State University Prize in Short Fiction and was published in 2012.  His first novel, Tiny Clubs, was published in 2007.  His fiction has appeared in Glimmer Train, Image, Ecotone, Tin House, and others and has been reprinted in New Stories from the South and the Bedford Introduction to Literature.  He teaches and lives in New Orleans.

I can’t wait to hear what Geoff and Don have to say about these people.

Review: Cara Hoffman’s “So Much Pretty”

So_much_pretty_-210Full disclosure: I was led to Cara Hoffman‘s work by the upcoming 2014 Printers Row Lit Fest. Chicago Tribune journalist Steve Mills will be directing a conversation with Hoffman and myself on June 7 during Chicago’s annual celebration of literature.

The fiction Hoffman and I write shares much: The rural setting caught in a violent spin, themes of vengeance, denial, the wages of war, and of environmental destruction. Gone are the days of reading for pleasure, if I ever read that way (okay, The Mists of Avalon, while I was lying on a sugar sand beach, that was pleasure). I read “So Much Pretty” the way I do most novels, with the eye and mind of a writer.

Some readers will quibble with the rapid-fire switches in point of view, encompassing the voices of many townspeople: a reporter who wears all the hats at the tiny local paper, the police chief, parents, high schoolers, interviews and police blotters.

Cara_close_head_shot-210But it was this piecing out of information, the challenge of following the accumulation of understanding about what was happening to the town, that kept me reading. Hoffman manages in less than 300 pages to paint portraits of her characters’ desires and secrets and fears, assembling a study of a unique family of outsiders and the isolated town they’ve chosen to call home. That she simultaneously weaves a murder mystery, a despotic agribusiness, and law enforcement that fails resoundingly to speak truth to power (all in vivid prose that never devolves into mechanics) makes this an impressive debut.

During the final pages, I found myself squirming with that restlessness only the best sorts of stories can bring out, in which what is moral or legal or responsible shifts from black or white to multiple shades of gray.

Next up: Cara Hoffman’s just-released novel, Be Safe I Love You

Book Giveaway on GoodReads!

Reading Child fountain at Cave Hill, Louisville KY

If you haven’t already joined GoodReads, now is a good time to do it, because through the month of May you can enter a free drawing for 5 chances to win a copy of CEMENTVILLE. GoodReads is the largest site for readers and book recommendations in the world, and opening your free account couldn’t be easier.  And while you’re there, please enter to win a copy of CEMENTVILLE. I will be giving away 5 copies from May 1 through June 1.

If by chance you’ve already read my new novel, please do proceed with your (hopefully) glowing review.

Chicago writer Patricia Grace King answers questions about her writing process

A few weeks ago I tagged Patricia Grace King to participate in a blog relay about our practices as writers. This “blog tour” was started by Erin Albert last October and has gone on more or less uninterrupted since. Each tagged writer answers 4 questions, posts them on her or his blog, and tags 3 more writers. As Patricia hasn’t yet added a blog page to her lovely website, she has graciously allowed me to post her answers.
Please take note, though: Patricia will be beginning her new blog in the next few weeks, and it promises to be worth following. Please visit her at www.PatriciaGraceKing.com

Here is what she has to say about her writing process:
1. What am I working on?
Well, I have been working on a collection of stories, set in wartime Guatemala, called Gringos in Paradise. I thought I would finish it by this summer for sure! However, for obvious reasons, I’ve not worked on it at all for the past month. And it seems I may now be starting a blog which I’m tentatively calling Greetings from Cancerland. (I hope to have it up and running by the end of April!) I imagine the next year will be a mix of working on both.

2. How does my work differ from others of its genre?
So, I write literary fiction—fiction that is character-based and that pays attention to language. (How I love beautiful language!) I’m a narrative realism kind of gal, too, if that means anything to you. I aspire to write stories and novels on the level of Ben Fountain’s Brief Conversations with Che Guevara, Ann Patchett’s Bel Canto, Norman Rush’s Whites and Mating.

Not coincidentally, those works are all set in other countries, specifically in the developing world, and to some extent deal with North Americans trying to make their way or make sense of their new settings. That’s what my stories (and eventual first novel!) do, too. But mine may differ a bit in that my setting is Guatemala. I sometimes think that my political and moral world view, which comes of having spent a lot of time among leftist Mennonites (!), distinguishes my work too.

3. Why do I write what I do?
With Gringos in Paradise (and my planned first novel—Rooster Hour), I write because I’m haunted by Guatemala, a country where I’ve lived on and off for much of my adult life, and where I’ve had some of my most formative moral experiences. With the forthcoming Greetings from Cancerland blog, I’ll be writing partly to keep my community posted on this weird and unexpected journey through breast cancer and partly, I’m sure, for my own catharsis.

4. How does my writing process work?
While this past month has been the exception, I need to write at least a little bit every day. (Well, okay, not on teaching days: teaching takes my creative energy for the day.) Writing regularly keeps the mental wheels greased! I begin my writing process each day by reading for an hour or two: either for research or, even more importantly, for inspiration. I try to read (and re-read) literary works that make me want to write equally well and that teach me to be more skilled and thoughtful in my craft.

Then, y’all, I . . . um, write. Who knows how to describe this rather mystical process? I sit at my desk and move words around until some spark ignites. Sometimes it won’t ignite until I’ve sat here for several hours. And then suddenly I’m typing like a demented person, making all kinds of type-os but basically just trying to transcribe what seems to be coming down to me through the ether! Then I go back and clean it up, tighten the crap out of it.

But the trick is to stay with it, to keep your mind and your soul on the page.

“My Writing Process” blog tour

Thank you, Christine Sneed at www.christinesneed.com for involving me in this blog tour. Her Paley Prize-winning story collection Portraits of a Few of the People I’ve Made Cry and novel Little Known Facts are some of my favorite reads from the last couple of years. This 4-question relay was started by last October by Erin Albert. The way it works is: A writer invites you to answer four questions. You carry the relay forward by inviting three more writers to do the same. One person described it as “not quite a chain letter. You don’t end up with good fortune or 1,000 picture postcards from around the world or bad luck if you break the chain.” Still, I will take all the luck I can get. So here goes with my answers to the questions about work process.

At Carmichaels in Louisville KY, March 11, 2014. Photo by Robert Dorzback.

At Carmichaels in Louisville KY, March 11, 2014. Photo by Robert Dorzback.

1) What are you working on now?  I’m in the throes of publicity land with my debut novel, Cementville (Counterpoint, 2014), just back from a March-long book tour. Fortunately, before my pub date, I was already knee-deep in the next project, another novel. I usually have several things going at the same time, which I am not recommending. In fact I am recommending to myself right now that I stop that at once before my head explodes.

2) How does your work differ from others of its genre? My least favorite of these questions. Because however this one is answered, there’s a chance you’ll come off sounding like trying to be different is the main thing, and it really isn’t, at least for me. Whether readers subscribe to the idea that there are two basic stories, that somebody takes a trip or a stranger comes to town, I hope readers will read my work because the story and characters pull them. I will say that the two protagonists in this new text I’m working on are neither young, beautiful, hip, nor rich. Nor are they men. My agent will probably cringe as she reads this.

3) Why do you write what you do? I write fiction because it’s the one place my control-freak nature is actually an asset. My rules, in a world I make, populated by people I want to watch get into trouble.

The changing Mississippi River bed. Harold N. Fisk's colorful drawings of rainbow ribbons reconstruct the river’s twisting path over time. I ran across these maps on Flavorwire.

The changing Mississippi River bed. Harold N. Fisk’s colorful drawings of rainbow ribbons reconstruct the river’s twisting path over time. I ran across these maps on Flavorwire.

4) How does your writing process work? This will sound strange after the comment above about being a control freak. But I seem to start new texts with fragments that are almost random and can feel homeless. Does this slightly freak out my inner control freak? Why yes it does, because I have to turn off critical judgment and just put down word after word, and allow space between the fragments, and wait and watch and listen. The fragments begin glomming together into something like relationships, usually between people who may have no business relating to one another. The feeling of getting that first draft is best described by referring to the lovely and somewhat horrifying drawing to the left. Only after I have the first draft do I outline, so that as I begin shifting and compressing and expanding I don’t lose track of the through lines. I do lose track of how many revisions the darn thing will go through after that first draft though. And a good thing that is, because once my agent looks at it, there’s a good chance it will go through more revision. And we aren’t even talking about what happens when my editor gets hold of it. This is when my control-freak nature has to take a back seat and I get to let my head open up even further to ways to make the manuscript the best it can be.

Thanks for stopping by and reading. Be sure to check out the writing process of a few of my favorite writers one week from today, April 14, when they post answers to these questions on their blogs.

CLIFFORD GARSTANG’S novel in stories, What the Zhang Boys Know, won the 2013 Library of Virginia Literary Award for Fiction. His first book, In an Uncharted Country, a collection of linked short stories, won the Maria Thomas Prize for fiction. His work has appeared in Bellevue Literary Review, Blackbird, Virginia Quarterly Review, Cream City Review, The Tampa Review, and elsewhere. In addition to an MA in English and a law degree, he holds an MFA in Creative Writing. He is the co-founder and editor of Prime Number Magazine and is also the editor of Everywhere Stories, a short fiction anthology that will be published later this year. Read about Cliff’s process on April 14 at: http://cliffordgarstang.com

EMILY GRAY TEDROWE is the author of Commuters: a novel (Harper Perennial) which was named a Best New Paperback by Entertainment Weekly. Her short fiction has been published in the Chicago Tribune’s Printers Row Journal, Fifty-Two Stories, and Other Voices. Her new novel, Blue Stars, was conceived during her brother’s Marine service in the Iraq war, and is forthcoming from St. Martin’s Press. Originally from New York City, Emily now lives in Chicago with her husband and daughters. Read about Emily’s writing process on April 14 at her site: www.egtedrowe.tumblr.com

PATRICIA GRACE KING grew up in North Carolina and spent years in Spain and Guatemala. She holds an MFA from Warren Wilson College and a Ph.D. in English from Emory University. Her stories appear or are forthcoming in Ploughshares, Narrative Magazine, Nimrod, and other journalsHer chapbooks, The Death of Carrie Bradshaw and Rubia, won the Kore Press Short Fiction and the Jeanne Leiby Memorial contests, respectively. She is the recipient of a Pushcart Prize nomination and a fiction fellowship from the Vermont Studio Center. She is the 2013-2014 Carol Houck Smith Fellow at the Wisconsin Institute for Creative Writing and lives in the Printers Row neighborhood of Chicago with her husband. On April 14 Patricia will answer the questions at her site: www.patriciagraceking.com