YA writer and dear friend Marlana Antifit tagged me on the writing process blog hop that’s been going around, for which I’m so grateful—I genuinely love being tagged in things like this, and yet I seem somehow to be overlooked by a lot of my IRL writer friends, so thanks for thinking of me! Marlana writes cool YA and MG stories of all stripes, including a science fiction novel which was just breathtaking in scope. Her current project, a contemporary YA, sounds topical and from the heart and I can’t wait to read it! If you jumped over here from her blog, thanks for visiting! If you landed here some other way, then check out Marlana’s blog and/or follow her on twitter!
So the way this blog hop works is tagged authors answer four questions about their writing process, and then tag one or more authors themselves. Here goes!
1) What are you working on?
I’m not good at multitasking (who is?) and yet that’s what I seem to be doing right now. On the front burner, I’m working on a short story for Quarter Three of the Writers of the Future competition, due by the end of June. The story that my muse gifted me with is science fiction, and my writing muscles are much more at home with magic realism and maybe fantasy, so this story is kicking my butt every night.
What I probably should be more focused on is revisions on my novel manuscript, Goodbye My Exile. Revisions have been a bit of a slog, but if this book gets rejected, I really need to be able to say to myself that it was the best I could make it, that I gave it my all. GME explores themes that are near and dear to my heart about growing up in the Venn-Diagram-overlap between two cultures, and sometimes feeling like each one is looking at you with suspicion and questioning your credentials. I really want this book to find a home.
2) How does your work differ from others of its genre?
GME is basically a YA contemporary, but my reading roots go deep into fantasy and science fiction, and so, as with much of my fiction, there is a healthy undercurrent of magic realism. My protagonist believes that she is in contact with her deceased father, and that he’s guiding her in certain directions, and ultimately she needs to decide how much overlap there is between pleasing her vision of her father and being true to herself. Whether she really is hearing from her father or not is largely left up to the reader to decide.
3) Why do you write what you do?
Such a deceptively simple question, but there’s a lot to unpack in it.
I write young adult books about teenagers experiencing and thriving through emotional upheaval because at a time in my life when I was in a great deal of pain and didn’t know how to reach out to anybody or how to get help, I stumbled across Judith Guest’s Ordinary People. This novel was the right emotional experience at the right time for me, and I sincerely believe it saved my life. Since then I’ve read other stories that have brought me to tears, or made me feel not alone, or made me want to be a better person. If I could do that for somebody else . . . well I can’t think of anything at all better than that.
I write magic realism because stories rooted in the real world speak to me more than purely fantasy and science fiction stories do, but I really want to believe in a world where there is more somewhere, just hiding beneath the surface. It’s a big, barely explored world, and those hidden mysteries are where all the fun and magic lie.
I write about latin@ characters, and about other minority characters, because I was shocked a few years ago to discover that virtually all my stories were about Anglos. Wondering why I didn’t write more about my experience, I set to looking at, well, damn near everything I’d ever read, and with a few notable exceptions, white people—and primarily white men—were the protagonists of most of the books life had thrown my way. And I realized that somewhere along the line, without really thinking about it, I’d internalized the notion that “protagonist” meant a lot of things, but that included among them were “white,” “male,” “straight,” “cissexual,” and “Anglo.” And it’s kind of messed up when a Latino kid internalizes the idea that heroes are not people like him, so I began to deliberately change that in my own writing. I do occasionally write about majority characters, but I’ve worked to question whether it should be the default in a story. I want young people who read my books and stories to see more than one kind of hero.
4) How does your writing process work?
Wow—this blog post was already too long before I even got to the meat of the question!
My writing process on GME was different from my writing process on other novels, so this isn’t so much My Writing Process as it is My Writing Process on This One Book. Like most writers, I wrote a ton of half-finished (or less) novel manuscripts before I finally completed one. What made the difference for me on that first, mercifully forgotten trunk novel, was it was the first one I plotted, instead of writing by the seat of the pants. So in the age-old war (it seems) between the plotters and the pantsers, I am a confirmed plotter. With this novel, though, I struggled to “see” the whole story. Plotting and outlining stories, rather than the actual nitty gritty of writing, are usually the most fun for me—usually the only part of writing that’s actually fun for me—but for the first time, I felt like I was suffering from writers’ block on the outline itself. I had some major plot points I knew I wanted to get to at particular points in the book, but trying to get all the plot points down was bogging me down and I felt like I was losing my enthusiasm for the project. So what I ended up doing was plotting out the first quarter of the book in detail, then writing that portion of the draft, then plotting out the second quarter, then writing it, and so on all the way through.
On a less macro level, I believe I experience an undiagnosed case of ADD. I find it very difficult to complete large tasks without, like, stepping stones along the way. When I grade a stack of papers, I put bookmarks at halfway through the stack, three quarters of the way, 7/8ths of the way, and so on, so I can keep my motivation by feeling like I’m getting closer to the end. When I draft, I am fairly crippled by a blank screen or page. So with this novel, I discovered/invented/whatever what I call a “zero draft” process. For each scene, I wrote a very bare bones draft that told what happened, along with my protagonist’s emotional and physical reactions to whatever happened, but had no pretty writing, no voice, just the facts, ma’am. I’ll show you an example within spoiler tags, so if you want to move on you can easily ignore it.
Here is my favorite scene from the book. In it, my protagonist, Alejandra Espinosa, sees a drowning man in the water while on a boating trip. But she’s got some, ah, credibility issues, and so nobody believes her
Here is the zero draft of the same scene—the version I wrote before I wrote the above:
It’s a lot shorter and more sparse, but the main thing is that’s the most effective way I have of doing that shutting-up-the-internal-critic thing that everybody seems to talk about. And boiled down to the bare bones of the scene, it allows me to check on something I’ve come to think is important for effective prose: a string of stimulus and response pulling you through the events of the scene. This is what Trey Parker and Matt Stone were talking about in that writing video that went viral a few years ago*—”therefore” and “but” are what pull you through a scene, not “and then.” (Or at least, this is my attempt to put it into practice, such as it is.)
So anyway, that’s way more than anybody really wants to know about my writing process—those four questions could easily have been four blog posts!—so I’ll move on to the next part of this blog hop and tag some people who are way cooler and more accomplished than I am, so you can see how they do it!
Michael R. Underwood is the author of the Ree Reyes series (GEEKOMANCY, CELEBROMANCY, ATTACK THE GEEK), superhero fantasy SHIELD AND CROCUS, and forthcoming THE YOUNGER GODS. By day, he’s the North American Sales & Marketing Manager for Angry Robot Books. Mike grew up devouring stories in all forms, from comics to video games, tabletop RPGs, movies, and books. Always books.
Mike lives in Baltimore with his fiance, an ever-growing library, and a super-team of dinosaur figurines & stuffed animals. In his rapidly-vanishing free time, he studies historical martial arts and makes pizzas from scratch. He is a co-host on the Hugo-nominated Skiffy and Fanty Show.
Visit his website here!
Erica L. Satifka is a writer of short speculative fiction who has over a dozen short fiction sales to prestigious markets including Clarkesworld Magazine, Daily Science Fiction, and PodCastle. She also runs a very reasonably priced editing service.
Visit her website here!
John A. Pitts is an agent sibling of mine and the author of the outstanding Sarah Beauhall series of urban fantasy novels: BLACK BLADE BLUES, HONEYED WORDS, and FORGED IN FIRE. He is also author of the short story collection BRAVADO’S HOUSE OF BLUES.
Pitts is a graduate of the Oregon Coast Writers Workshops with Kristine Kathryn Rusch and Dean Wesley Smith. When he’s not writing, you can find him practicing martial arts with his children or spending time with his lovely wife.
Visit his website here!
* The real gold in this video, for my money, comes about four minutes in.