Writing Process Blog Tour

This post is part of a blog post relay, which the beautiful and talented Donna Trump invited me to join, and this is me in my office after hastily pushing all of the stray books and papers out of sight:

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Question #1:  What am I working on now?

I’m working on a novel about the biblical Queen Esther, an orphan who was taken into the harem of the king of Persia in the 5th century B.C.E. and went on to become queen. In most retellings she’s beautiful, and that’s why she wins the king. But the king has hundreds of beautiful girls, so there’s something else about Esther. In my novel she’s smart and she’s on fire in a way that the other girls aren’t. She must stand up to the most powerful advisor in the empire and sway the king if she wants to save her people from genocide. This book is a sort of biblical The Other Boleyn Girl with a touch of Game of Thrones.

 Question #2:  How does my work differ from others of its genre?

It differs in that in some manner it addresses the hopes and fears I personally had when I wrote it. All of my experiences and influences up until that time play in role in the characters I created and the world they lived in. The protagonist of Sinners and the Sea went on a voyage I needed to go on—a search for identity, strength, and finally coming to terms with what she saw as a defect. She realizes that her “defect” has saved her life.

 Question #3:  Why do I write what I do?

Most writing involves characters who are somehow outsiders and my writing is no different. I write about people who feel out of place and are trying to figure out how to be at home in the world. They’re grappling with how to live, and how to connect with others. Their immediate circumstances are usually different than mine but we have the same struggles.

 Question #4:  How does my writing process work?

“Process”—haha! I drink caffeine and start typing. Some people have rituals or times of day they like to write, but I just write. I try to avoid writing one line, reading it over, writing another line, reading over those two lines, writing a third line, reading over the three lines… Sometimes I’m more successful than others. Sometimes my writing sucks and sometimes it doesn’t. I don’t believe in writer’s block. Or actually, I do believe you can be blocked—by unrealistic expectations or not having the humility to write something really shitty and have it exist in the world for however long it would be before you could edit it. I’ve certainly worried that someone would find the rough draft of my current novel on my laptop and not realize it wasn’t the final product. So I try not to have any life-threatening accidents that might result in someone coming to my residence to gather my things while I’m not around. So far so good!

Here are three lovely writers whom I’ve invited to join this tour.  They will post their entries on April 28:

Heather Fowler is the author of the story collections Suspended Heart (Aqueous Books, Dec. 2010), People with Holes (Pink Narcissus Press, July 2012), This Time, While We’re Awake (Aqueous Books, May 2013), andElegantly Naked in My Sexy Mental Illness (Queen’s Ferry Press, May 2014). Fowler’s People with Holes was named a 2012 finalist for Foreword Reviews Book of the Year Award in Short Fiction. This Time, While We’re Awakewas recently selected by artist Kate Protage for representation in the Ex Libris 100 Artists 100 Books exhibition this February and March in conjunction with the 2014 AWP Conference. Please visit her website:www.heatherfowlerwrites.com

Stephanie Landsem writes historical fiction because she loves adventure in far-off times and places. In real life, she’s explored ancient ruins, medieval castles, and cathedrals around the world. She is equally happy at home in Minnesota with her husband, four children, and three fat cats. She is the author of The Living Water Series—The Well, The Thief, and The Tomb—biblical historical fiction published by Howard Books/Simon & Schuster. http://www.stephanielandsem.com/

S. J. Schwaidelson spent twenty years as a working children’s playwright, wrighting age appropriate musicals that challenged kids but appealed to general audiences. Currently, she is juggling three projects: editing Dream Dancer, an action-adventure novel, working on a piece of Biblical commentary for the transition between Joseph and Moses, and writing her wonky blog, The Wifely Person Speaks. http://wifelyperson.blogspot.com/

How Do We Know That What Happens To Us Isn’t Good?

I spend more time than I would like wondering what will happen. I want control of not only my input but the outcome. Yet when I look back at my life sometimes I see that not getting what I want has been the best thing for me.

A few years ago there was a job I wanted. It would not have paid enough for me to cut back on freelancing, but I thought it would be a steppingstone in my career.

Today I thank G-d that I didn’t get it. I wouldn’t have completed Sinners and the Sea. At least not anytime soon.

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When I find myself getting overly invested in what I think should happen, the best spiritual medicine for me is reading this short-short by Amy Hempel. I hope it helps you too.

Alternate Beginning to Sinners and the Sea

CHAPTER ONE: THE ROPE

All the fountains of the great deep burst apart, and the floodgates of the sky broke open.

                                                                                                            -Genesis 7:11                                        

God chooses cowards to be brave, barren women to give birth to prophets, passionate men to be patient, and a man who stutters to command his people through the desert. So it was He chose Noah, a man who couldn’t nail one board to another without hitting his own thumb, to build a great ark.

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Noah was to put all of the species of the land into his ark. And by “his” ark I mean the one that was built by the sons I bore him. The one we are hurtling back and forth on now in a darkness as black as midnight, while fists of rain beat down the space between us. When lightning strikes I see the screaming, gasping faces of the sinners below. Noah has forbidden me to throw a rope to them. I hear their cries as they are strangled by the terrible sea that is falling from the sky.

Even as I’m tempted to disobey Noah, I can’t deny that he’s a good man. If he weren’t, it wouldn’t have been possible for him to live six hundred years without once stealing a few grains from someone else’s stores or coveting another man’s wife. Most people we know—the ones who are now drowning in huge God-hands of water all around us—can’t go more than a few days without stealing, whoring or murdering.

A blind man could see that I’m lucky to be Noah’s wife. Yet I must admit that many moons ago, when he told me about the ark, there were a couple of breaths here or there in which I had the idea that I should get on it without him and pull up the anchor. This is because there are certain things about Noah, such as how important he feels riding around town on a donkey the size of a large goat, and how he talks incessantly to himself but claims he’s talking to God, that made me think he was touched. And I don’t mean by God.

But now that the murderous flood he prophesied is actually upon us, I see that he really was talking to God and he’s not crazy after all. I would rather that he was. How can we let these people drown?

It’s raining like God’s emptying a bucket of water the size of the sky. There’s so much rain that even when lightning flashes I shouldn’t be able to see the rope. Yet I do. It is hard not to think of the people it might save. There is one person in particular who shouldn’t die. I think that not only will I regret it if she does, but that God will too.

Below us beasts howl. The girls are down there with them, in the bowels of the ship. One is the daughter of a man said to be a greater prophet than Noah, and one is more beautiful than all the beautiful things I’ve ever seen put together. I’m afraid they’ll be pecked by any number of beaks or trampled under the hooves I hear crashing from one side of the ark to the other. Smells rise up and just as quickly disappear—vomit, dung, blood.

The wind knocks me down. I start crawling, on my hands and knees, towards the rope. The last layer of pitch hasn’t fully dried yet. This gives me just the tiniest measure of traction. Enough that I’m able to make my way, ever so slowly, towards the rope.

“Wife!” Noah yells at me. “Get below!”

I should obey my husband. This is every wife’s first duty. Has life made me strong enough, or foolish enough—to question him? And if I do, what will he do to me? I’ve borne Noah sons. This is all he needs from me, and I’ve already given it to him.

To read the actual beginning of Sinners and the Sea, click here to go to the Amazon Preview.

Leave a comment on my facebook author page about which beginning you like better for a chance to win a signed, first edition, hardcover.

No One Will Know

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The genesis of “No One Will Know” was a story my father told me of a cow the Germans took from his great aunt three times. Twice, the cow came back. I started thinking about the legacy of the holocaust, about how even after all the survivors have died it won’t really be over. Only the “during” part ends.

I also wanted to explore loss, and how the feeling of loss is sometimes an attempt to hold onto the thing you’ve lost. Some people seem to develop a loyalty to loss.

Short Stories Dwell In Possibility

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What I love most about the short story is that you can do things that you can’t in a novel.  Especially the short-short.

Italo Calvino’s “All At One Point,” is one of my favorites.  Who would read a whole novel about the fact that all matter and creation used to exist in a single point?  But a book of linked stories that each takes a scientific fact and builds an imaginative story around it?  Sign me up.

While the story is short it must go to great lengths to make itself important.  It doesn’t have time for the conventions of the novel—there aren’t pages enough to make the reader fall head over heels in love with the characters.  Instead the language, the ideas, the plot of the short story have to dazzle, and quickly.  Urgently.  The short story is an affair, a quick fling, a one-night stand.  The short story dwells in the biggest of all worlds, that of possibility.

Month One of Being a Published Author: Three Things I’ll Do Differently At Future Events

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As anyone who has looked at my facebook author page over the last month can see, I’ve had a ton of support and a lot of fun since SINNERS AND THE SEA was published one month ago, on April 2nd. Still, I’m always looking for ways to improve. Here are a few I’ve found so far:

1. When doing a Q&A with over 100 people in the audience, repeat questions before answering them. A couple of people gave me this advice after my Magers & Quinn reading.

2. When at a book fair, bring something of interest for people to look at. At the St. Peter Book Festival, there were lots of authors. I took the organizer’s advice and brought candy. But bringing a large picture of the ark found on Mt. Ararat would have been good too.

3. Have someone write peoples’ names down before signing their books. I feel bad having to ask someone how to spell their name when I’ve known them for years and I don’t want to mess up anyone’s book. I’ll probably be adding to this list in the future. Stay tuned!