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My Writing Process

 Michael Gillan Maxwell, author, songwriter, and artist, tagged me to write about my writing process. I'm honored to share for what it's worth.

In return I've tagged to other authors, faves of mine, Jodi Barnes and Carol Reid.

Jodi just won the Lascaux 250 contest. In addition, Jodi is widely-published. Check out her credits here.

Carol, too, is widely-published. I'm most familiar with work she's posted on Fictionaut.

Here are the questions and my responses:

1) What am I working on?

I tend to keep a lot of balls in the air. At any given point in time, I usually have in progress several flash fiction pieces, a short story or two, and a novel.

At the moment, I’m working on a second novel set in a large financial services company in Chicago in 1988. Tentatively entitled, Whole Life, in reference to the type of life insurance policy that is guaranteed to last for life so long as the premiums are paid, the novel is, I think, about greed, the price of “success,” and the limits of loyalty and friendship.

I’m also putting the finishing touches on a story collection that contains previously published flash and short stories linked by common characters and set in my hometown of Elkhart, Indiana. As I re-read and re-worked these stories, I realized that while a common theme is “coming of age,’ we all “come of age” at different stages of our lives and in different ways.

In addition I have short stories working about a father dealing with a teenage daughter he shouldn’t trust and a disbarred lawyer making his first public appearance since his fall from grace. A flash piece I hope to finish today focuses on how technology intrudes on our lives in ways we just didn’t see coming.

Finally, I’m promoting my new “novella” in stories. Speedos, Tattoos, and Felons. Together these three stories make up a prequel to my first novel Lucky Bastard. The new book is my first effort at self-publication and the jury is still out. But given that two of the three stories and the novel were previously “third-party” published, I didn’t see how there would be any added cache to “third-party” publishing, and either way, self or third-party published, all of the marketing falls on the author. Overall, I was pleased with the platforms CreateSpace and Kindle e-pub offered.

 2) How does my work differ from others of its genre?

This is a tough question because I feel like we’re all learning from and building on the work of our peers and of those who have gone before us. I don’t so much aspire to be different as I do to speak my own truth as best I can. I do that by emphasizing my strengths as a writer.

One strong point is creating character through voice. A good example is my character Jimmy McLean who stars in both Lucky Bastard and Speedos, Tattoos, and Felons. Jimmy is a handyman who is savvier than he appears to the naked eye. His voice narrates the novel and novella and, I hope, communicates the complexity of his character.

Another aspect of my writing that seems to be a strength is plotting. I love Raymond Chandler, Elmore Leonard, and Walter Moseley. I love action and a good plot twist. So, certainly in my longer work, but even in my flash, I work to create a discernible plot with a beginning, middle, and end. That may sound old-fashioned to some, but it’s what moves me, and I try to do it as well as I know how with each story.

Finally, I bring a lot of world experience to my writing, and I try to take advantage of that experience in my work. I grew up in a blue-collar family in a gritty, Indiana town before going on to become a lawyer advising some very wealthy people. Between my roots and where I ended up, I have much to draw on. Some my world experience shows up in characterization, some in plot, but some in insights gained through observation of the two very different worlds I consider home.

 3) Why do I write what I do?

My stories (including my novels and flash) begin with a snippet of conversation, a situation, or a character I feel compelled to explore and develop further.

The Jimmy McLean stories I started writing because I was fascinated by how street smart the good ole boys who built my current house here in North Carolina were—smarter in many ways than the lawyers, bankers, and IT guys they worked for. As I invented the character of Jimmy, I began to appreciate the broader cultural and class conflict seething just below the surface of his interpersonal interactions. I realized that Jimmy had a unique ability to expose those tensions with a rough humor given gravitas by the irony arising from the juxtaposition of his plain, sometimes crude, language and his sophisticated world view. Then came the ideas of a dangerous crosswalk and a quarter ton of marijuana showing up inexplicably on Jimmy’s boat. Who could resist writing about that?

Most of my short stories are about growing up and growing beyond Elkhart, Indiana. I write those stories because I feel compelled to, as if I must bear witness to how bleak yet how vibrant growing up in a setting like that was. Who else will write about the Palm Sunday tornados that nearly destroyed us, the water tower on which we penned our hopes and dreams, and the Main Drag where we spun our wheels, literally and figuratively, if not me?

 4) How does my writing process work?

While I was still practicing law and running a business, the only time I had for writing was early in the morning while the rest of the world slept. I’ve written on a laptop forever because when I traveled for business it was a relatively convenient, efficient tool for allowing me to grab a few hours of writing on a plane ride or in a hotel lobby. Sometimes, in meetings I could even pretend to be listening while writing a scene behind the screen.

I have considerably more freedom and time these days, but I still tend to rise before daylight, get myself a cup of coffee, open my laptop, and work on the piece or pieces in progress that most attract my attention that day.

I muddle through first drafts, reading what I’ve already written, sometimes aloud, constantly tinkering as I go until I push through to the end. Then I set that piece aside and go on to something else and something else. I come back to older pieces eventually, changing, refining, polishing, and eventually submitting. Unlike the old days in which I was lucky to complete two or three stories a year, I have much greater production now, and at any given point in time, I have 6-8 pieces in the Submittable queue. Only after a piece has been rejected three or four times will I consider revising. I don’t take rejection personally, and have learned that most of the time, a rejection says more about the first reader’s likes and dislikes than it does about my or any other serious writer’s skill.

If I’m subbing to a major contest, I’ll hire a copyeditor to review my work. Punctuation is something I’ve never been good at. I like a second set of eyes on my commas. I’ve stopped using colons and semi-colons because we don’t get along.

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