Thanks to Carla Panciera for nominating me to take part in the My Writing Process Blog Tour! Carla is a poet and fiction writer who writes evocatively of growing up in Westerly. Her poetry collections include One of the Cimalores and No Day, No Dusk, No Love. Her new short story collection, Bewildered, won the Grace Paley Short Fiction Award. When I teach the poetry unit at Three Rivers Community College, I always open by reading the students the title poem from One of the Cimalores. You can read Carla’s blog at http://carlapanciera.com/.
As those of you who follow me already know, I like to use this space to talk about the challenges and idiosyncrasies of the writing life – which are many. As part of the blog tour, I’ve been asked to answer the following questions:
1) What are you working on?
For the past year, I’ve been writing a novel about three sisters very loosely based on my mother and her sisters. I say loosely because, while some of the situations are similar, this is a work of fiction that is “inspired by,” more than an “account of,” the previous generation. Briefly, the novel has three characters: Louise, the middle sister, a Ph.D. candidate doing fieldwork in the Great Smoky Mountains of Tennessee; Alice, the eldest, a pregnant mother with four children who owns a motel in Florida with her husband; and Lenore, a teacher with a small baby whose husband is a World War II vet with post-traumatic stress syndrome. Louise has had to leave behind romance to do her life’s work. Alice doesn’t want the baby she is carrying. Both are homesick for their native Rhode Island. Lenore, the only one still in Rhode Island, is trying to decide whether to divorce her husband. Two of the three “braids” are in good shape and I am just starting to rewrite the story of the third, Louise.
2) How does your work differ from others of its genre?
I’m actually trying to make my work conform more closely to commercial women’s fiction. Previously I wrote novels whose only commonality was a sense of place (southern Rhode Island). I’m trying not to lose that interest in place while hewing more closely to such requirements as: female protagonist, clear dilemma, female relationships.
3) Why do you write what you do?
Writing is how I figure out the world and my place in it. I grew up listening to the stories of my father and grandmother, who were full of Swamp Yankee lore. My mother was a teacher and a poet. I always say that my father gave me stories and my mother gave me the words in which to tell them.
4) How does your writing process work?
I have developed a routine that I trust. Morning is my best time – I’m a morning person. If I’m teaching, as soon as I’m free, I write in my journal, by hand, for at least three pages. (Tea – caffeine – is part of this ritual.) This might be personal angst but most often it’s about whatever writing problems I’m having. I’ll discuss character, explore words, ask myself questions about the story. I find this yields great material and helps warm me up. Sometimes, however, I prefer to get right to the (computer) page. Lately I’ve also started doing a morning meditation (on youtube, by Lilou Mace). It’s not only relaxing, but I think it helps you access all your inner resources. I also am very visual and keep a bulletin board that is directly related to whatever I’m writing. Right now, for example, it includes pictures of my aunt and mother, postcards of the Great Smoky Mountains, some Ansel Adams photos, postcards of Florida hotels and motels from the 1950s, and some other stuff that has to do with a memoir I have on the back burner – a Thunderbird ad, a Mustang ad, a picture of myself in 1979 on the beach, old newspaper clippings of Watch Hill and Misquamicut. I also post dictionary pages (I have a dictionary that I trash-picked solely so I could rip it up) with words I’m interested in. In the past my bulletin board has included everything from bird photos to a German mark that my father pulled off a dead body in World War II.
Next up in the My Writing Process Blog Tour, let me introduce you to three great writers I am honored to know:
I met Vanessa Blakeslee when I was a graduate student at Vermont College. Since then, I’ve been in awe of her fiction and the success she’s found – she has truly built a life around writing. I also frequently share her short memoir piece, “The Corner Booth,” with my students because it employs so many hallmarks of great writing (the piece appeared on The Paris Review blog in 2011). Her debut short story collection, Train Shots, was released in March by Burrow Press and won the 2014 IPPY Gold Medal in Short Fiction. The book was also long-listed for the 2014 Frank O’Connor International Short Story Award. Her debut novel is scheduled for release by Curbside Splendor Publishing in fall 2015. Vanessa blogs at vanessablakeslee.wordpress.com.
Padma Venkatraman is an award-winning author of young adult novels that easily cross over to an adult audience. We instantly hit it off when I interviewed her about her debut novel, Climbing the Stairs, and I will be happy to her introduce her at our Authors on Main event in Wakefield on Sept. 14. Her first novel received the 2009 Julia Ward Howe Boston Authors Club Medal (YA) and was named the Booklist Editor’s Choice Best Book of the Year. Her follow-up, Island’s End, was inspired by her experiences doing oceanographic research in the remote Andaman Islands. Her new novel, A Time to Dance, written in verse, is about a teenage girl who loses part of her leg in an accident and must relearn the traditional bharatanatyam dance, which becomes a spiritual as well as rehabilitative journey. Kirkus Reviews called the book “a beautiful integration of art, religion, compassion and connection.” Padma blogs at http://padmasbooks.blogspot.com/.
Lisa Tener is a nonfiction author and book coach who has helped dozens of authors realize their dream of writing a book. Lisa is now on our committee for Authors on Main, and she has been an inspiration to so many new writers. Her clients have signed 5- and 6-figure publishing deals with Random House, Harper Collins, Simon and Schuster, Scribner, Yale University Press, Johns Hopkins University Press and many other publishers, as well as self-publishing. Lisa teaches on the faculty of Harvard Medical School’s CME publishing course, at popular writers conferences and in her Stevie Award-Winning Bring Your Book to Life® Program. You can read her blog here: book writing blog.