What am I working on? Well, as always, I’m working on yet another novel---my fourth---Mrs. Henderson. It doesn’t matter whether I’m in the middle of the final draft of the previous work, waiting for one of my readers to get back to me with comments, I’m always on to the next. This is how it works for me---I truly can’t stop writing. And I mean only novels. I can’t seem to make sense of the short story, can’t seem to write an essay, and even this blog is throwing me way off. I read novels, I write novels.
How does my work differs from others of its genre? An excellent question. I take it to mean ‘others of its genre being written now’. I look at contemporary literary fiction, read a page or two off the store shelf and I ask myself, ‘Why don’t I sound like this?’ On a bad day, self doubt says it’s because I don’t write as well as others. On a good day, self confidence says I’ve got my own voice and style. What I know for sure is that the novels that most inspire me were generally written somewhere between the 1910’s and the 1970’s---from Willa Cather’s Oh Pioneers and Virginia Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway, to John Williams’ Stoner and John Gardner’s Nickel Mountain. Maybe I’m just a bit out of phase with my time. On a good day, I figure folks will catch up with me. My novels are short---about 200 pages---and quiet and emotionally intense and compressed.
Why do I write what I do? At the core of everything I write are the secrets that families keep. Out of the emotional and geographical world of my upbringing, I create fictional characters who expand beyond the facts to larger truths. And since so much is either unknown or unclear, I write to integrate memory and imagination---to compassionately render the complexities of individuals in relationship to both themselves and others in all the varying degrees of ambivalence, love, and denial.
How does your writing process work? I write every weekday from about 2-6pm. I’m not much of a fan of the weekends, because I don’t write then. In the morning I get up about nine and I do whatever kinds of errands and chores and e-mails I have to get done; I like to get that out of the way so that I can have my mind free for the afternoon.
A writer friend of mine often remarks on my perseverance, but I keep trying to tell him that it’s not perseverance but obsession. When I’m not writing, I feel a bit off. Sometimes very off. When I’m writing, I’m on.
When I sit down to write each day I first read over the last 10 pages or so to get myself reacquainted with the characters and the situation. After that, everything just seems to flow. What my characters do next, where they go, what they think, all flow out of my mind as if it were already written. When suddenly one of my characters does something strange and unforeseen, that’s when I know things are really rolling.
As for the overall structure, I like to watch it form as sections separate from each other and start to shape a whole from the parts. When I composed classical music from 1999 to 2010, the symphony was my favorite form. I liked the work divided into separate movements, and I see writing a novel as a similar process, with themes and motifs, character and place, developing into a unified story.
Just in case I’ve given the wrong impression, I do revise and revise and revise and tinker and poke and prod at just about every sentence. If it doesn’t have the right sound or the right rhythm, then I change it so that it does. Thank goodness these works are only 200 pages or so. If they were 500 or 600 I think I’d go belly-up.