Monday, April 28, 2014

The Magical with the Mundane

My Writing Process

A writer friend and critique partner, Brian Rock, has invited me to an ongoing blog tour that includes many other writers. Here are my answers to some frequently asked questions.

What am I working on? Hans Andersen’s Ghost, a magic realism middle grade novel. And a rough draft for a companion book to follow The Dragon of Cripple Creek. And when the ideas come (which have been often, lately) a few picture book stories. And, and, and …

How is the work different from others in its genre? First, everyone is “different” if they’re tuned in to their own uniqueness and voice. I don’t follow trends. My primary inspirations come from within. In the case of my work in progress, I’ve added the imaginative works of Hans Christian Andersen (minus his excessive sentimentality), as a source of material. My works tend to concentrate on the private world of the lone child, rather than on a communal or social circumstance. Also, how I say it is as important as what I say.

Why do I write what I do? Passion. Playing with words and ideas. The joy of sharing. Through my work I can say, “Look! See! Discover! Wonder!” As I present matters that catch my mind and eye and heart, I want it to be as enjoyable and purposeful as I can make it, something that both captivates and reveals. I prefer to use magic realism, merging make-believe with the real, because life is so full of mysteries and hidden truths. I especially like contrast: the confident with the fearful; the meek with the mighty; ancient with modern; magical with mundane. It’s kind of a literary chiaroscuro. And if my stories awaken something within the reader, that’s rewarding.

How does my writing process work? It begins with an idea. Sometimes the idea comes from a desire to write about a particular situation—say, what happens when a child’s imagination is suppressed—or an image in my mind, or a blend of randomness and logic. For The Dragon of Cripple Creek, it began with wanting to put a dragon in North America. What naturally followed was to write a new American tall tale, to juxtapose something ancient with today’s world. Dragons are not really my thing, and I wanted to stay clear of the dragon stereotype. If anyone were to breathe fire, it would be the girl who discovered the dragon, not the dragon himself. The idea was appealing enough that once it held me I couldn’t let go until I had seen it through. For Hans Andersen’s Ghost, it began with an image in my mind: a boy in modern Copenhagen who dons Andersen’s old top hat to find himself in Andersen’s imaginary world, a place no less perilous than his own. I believe Andersen’s tales run the risk of losing relevancy, if not vanishing altogether. This is my way of introducing him in a new way to a new generation. (How many know that it was he who wrote "The Little Mermaid," and not Disney? How many know she dies in the end ...)

Being a visual artist, I often do a sketch in anticipation of the work.

Once I like an idea enough to pursue it, I begin by writing the first lines to see where it goes and to get a sense of its voice. These beginning lines feed what will follow. It’s a matter of creating something of quality and uniqueness that inspires me to continue.  There comes a time where I adjust and organize the action to a satisfactory climax, but I’ve found that if my beginning isn’t just right, there’s no need to continue, because everything flows from that.

The mountainous plot chart I sketched for The Dragon of Cripple Creek to help me see where the high action points were occurring. After rating them as you would elevations in the Rockies (which is where the story takes place), I concluded that the mid-point climax was greater than the final. I had to revise both, indicated by the red lines.

So it’s the beginning where I spend the most time and concentration. It becomes very intense; it works into my dreams. The beginning, which is about the first 25 pages, also shows me a glimpse of theme or themes, the true why of that particular work, and once I have a clearer sense of what I’m saying, I can write with more certainty. More thought goes into this portion than actual writing does. I will then work on the end until I’m satisfied with where it’s going, and the rest involves tying the two together. I begin as an explorer, and become a discoverer, a surveyor, an engineer, an architect.

As to daily word count, I don’t keep track. Some days I may write hundreds of words, even a thousand, some days only a few. It really depends on where I am in the process. Some days I pace and think and talk it out of myself.

Part of the process includes subjecting my work to the
fresh eyes and minds of a critique group (in my case, the Richmond Children's Writers), a valuable resource for any serious writer. 

As to the physicality of it, I sit at my table and torture the keyboard, with a cup of espresso nearby and the chaos and calm of nature outside my window.

Friday, April 25, 2014

Literature not only allows us to hear language differently from the everyday, 
it makes us see life in ways we otherwise would not. 

monotype © 2014 by Troy Howell / click on image to enlarge