Writing Process Blog Tour

The Writing Process Blog Tour has been making the rounds of the writing blogosphere, and I was tagged last week by the fabulous Maryanne Fantalis of A Writer’s Notepad. Maryanne and I met through our shared love for historical fiction over at Corsets, Cutlasses, and Candlesticks. Though we’ve never met in person, I know through her blog posts, emails, and Twitter feed that she’s a writer to watch! Maryanne’s current project is a retelling of The Taming of the Shrew, one of my favorites of Shakespeare’s plays. I can’t wait to read it!

Without further ado (but not about nothing), here’s my contribution to the Writing Process Blog Tour.

What am I working on right now?

My debut novel, The Last Sister, releases in October, which is very exciting! It’s a young adult historical fiction adventure/romance set in backcountry South Carolina in 1759-60 during the Anglo-Cherokee War—a war within a war within a war. Right now, I’m working with the publisher on marketing and promotion plans for that, and you’ll see more all over my website very soon. If I can get it all over other people’s websites, that will be even better.

I’m also getting ready to query a very different young adult novel. This one started out as an alternate history of the event we now call the Black Death but turned into a literary fairy tale along the way. It’s the story of a young woman’s fight to save her family’s manor after a watershed event and how we survive when the world we expected to live in disappears. Because the world changes so rapidly today, I think many young people can relate to the sense of not knowing how to prepare for the world they’ll have to live in as adults—though maybe not on the same scale as my protagonist.

How does my work differ from others of its genre?

The Last Sister had a long and winding path to becoming a novel. It started out as a completely different dystopian novel, which I ended up revising from scratch. (You can read more about that process here.) I know that definitely affected the final product. I wouldn’t have written this novel without the other. It’s solidly historical fiction now, but if you scratch the surface I think you can see the dystopia underneath. Two of my favorite scenes—the cougar attack and the first kiss—survive mostly intact.

My work-in-progress (WIP) reads like a fairy tale, which is why I call it one, but there’s no actual magic. It’s a different world from our own, but instead of magic they have a complex religious system. Like any religious system, it’s held in a balance between faith and doubt, and greatly affects the people who live under it, whatever they actually believe. I based my world on medieval Europe because I’ve always been fascinated by religion and violence as the two major elements that influenced the medieval mind and character, and I wanted to explore that.

Why do I write what I do?

I used to be afraid I would never have any good story ideas, and now I have the opposite problem: I have too many. I keep a notebook and choose new projects based on which stories won’t leave me alone. My WIP is very different from The Last Sister in terms of genre and point of view and voice and everything else, but it got stuck in my head. Iwait until the ideas for the book build up and I can see characters playing out scenes and have an idea of what their voices sound like. (Which is NOT to say I hear voices. Not exactly, anyway.) They usually don’t turn out much like the people in my head, and the story itself is almost always different, but I wait to start a first draft until the story demands to be told. There’s a tipping point where I feel I really need to write this book now.

As Toni Morrison said, “If there’s a book that you want to read, but it hasn’t been written yet, then you must write it.”

With both of these books, almost as soon as the idea came, I knew I wanted to read them and, sadly, no one had yet written them for me. It would have made my life a lot easier if someone had.

How does my writing process work?

On a strict outline and schedule. My start in academia made me a very organized, detail-oriented writer. Also, I just love organizing projects. While the process for each project never goes exactly the same, I’ve found a system that works for me. Here are my steps:

1. Write a really fast first draft. NaNoWriMo was made for people like me. 2,000 words a day lets me build the kind of momentum I need and keeps me from making excuses. I end up with about 40,000 words of crap, but that’s better than a blank page.

2. Write a second draft, also at a rate of about 2,000 words a day. End up with about 65,000 slightly less crappy words.

3. Let a very trusted beta reader see it. Usually, this is just my husband, who is an amazing plotter (uh, for books and for real life) and who will mercilessly point out all the problems. I do the same for him in his work projects. We are tough on each other, but it works for us.

4. Draft again and again and again. And again. And sometimes again.

5. At this point, I usually let my mom read it because I am in the dark night of the soul and need someone to tell me how brilliant it is so I can stand to keep working. (I know she’s my mom and would proudly put anything I do on the refrigerator, if only 200+ pages would stick. I don’t trust that it’s as good as she says, but I love a gold star like nobody’s business and getting one gives me the stamina to continue.)

6. Send the current draft to trusted beta readers, some of whom are also writers and some of whom are not. Get feedback. Revise again.

7. Eventually, the work is as good as I can make it, and I am tired. Uh…prepare for rejection at this point? Thicken skin.

This is what works for me. Feel free to steal any part of it if you think it might work for you.

I’ve tagged two more fabulous writers to participate next week, and I can’t wait to read what they have to say.

Mary Claire Marck and I go way back. We met when she brought her first chapters of a WIP to the college literacy center where I worked as a faculty writing consultant for several years. I was blown away, and I really wanted to read the rest of it. So I was like, “You should work here,” so she did. Mary Claire is now a great friend and my official house/dog/cat sitter. She has turned my dog into a Wonder Woman fan. She’s a talented artist, as well as a writer, and is working on several comic book projects. Check her out next week at her blog, Shaded Corners.

I met Bev Patt in February 2013 at the SCBWI-Illinois Downstate Craft Retreat, where we were placed in a critique group for writers with YA historical fiction projects. I was intrigued by her WIP, and hope to hear more about it in her post next week.

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9 Responses to Writing Process Blog Tour

  1. As always, I feel like I have too much to say in response. I will limit myself to this: I love when, no matter how many iterations your story has, there are those gems that always make it through. For me, in my YA fantasy that almost got published, there was “the tower scene” that moved around but never, ever even for a moment was on the chopping block.

    • Courtney

      I am intrigued by this “tower scene.” I hope it ends up in one of your published works one day!

  2. I found you through Mare– very cool to learn about your work. I am so intrigued by your book about SC. I lived there for about 10 years and love that landscape more than any other in the world.

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