Monday, April 7, 2014

My Writing Process Blog Tour @ Woodbird

My first MFA workshop at Vermont College was taught by two wonderful human beings. One was Larry Sutin, who took me aside the first day I was there, long before my story was workshopped, and in his quiet and ever-humble but when-he-speaks-you-believe-him-voice said, “Your story is really very good. Really. Beautiful.”

I probably would have packed my bags and left (I was terrified) if he hadn’t been there to say that to me.

The other was Diane Lefer, who brought such no-bullshit honesty to our workshop I found myself smiling every time she spoke. She was keeping us real--keeping us honest with ourselves about our motives and the inherent politics in our work and whatever coy shades we were trying to hide behind. 

Diane recently started this blog tour. The idea is for writers, all over the world, to answer these same four questions, and then introduce more writers and invite them into this ever-expanding web/thread of voices about why, how and what we write.

I was previously invited to take part but declined because I’m not working on my own fiction as much as I’d like to right now and thus writing about my work and process seemed like it would contain a little too much BS. But then I was asked again, and I thought about Diane, and all of the other wonderful friends who have participated, and realized I was hiding behind coy shades by saying no.

Plus, this here woodbird is about connection, right?

So here are my answers to the four questions. I’ll then lead you back to some others who have brilliantly traversed this terra firma before me.

What am I working on now?

I am working on finding a way to make a living, raise two young children, build a house, lead a sustainable life, and write. This is, as anyone who has been here before me knows, no easy feat. I recently started an editing business for myself, which is how I’m paying the bills. My writing—oh, sweet writing!—is simmering in the background in multiple pots. At the front of the pack is my nearly-finished-for-two-years collection of short stories. They take place in Southern Vermont where my father was born, where I was born, where my children were born. They are about women and ghosts and animals and the ways in which we humans are shaped by the landscapes we inhabit.

I’m also editing an anthology of short fiction set in Vermont which will be published by Green Writers Press in the fall of 2014. Contemporary Vermont Fiction: An Anthology will include work by Annie Proulx, Howard Frank Mosher, Julia Alvarez, Robert Olmstead, Megan Mayhew Bergman, Castle Freeman, Laurie Alberts, Jeffrey Lent, Suzanne Kingsbury, Miciah Bay Bault, Bill Schubart and Joseph Bruchac. Oh my…what a line-up! I’m beyond-elated about this project. (And still have a lot of footwork to do to make it happen.)

How does my work differ from others in the genre?

My whip-smart friend Stephanie Freidman used this George Saunders quote in her writing blog tour and I’m going to steal it to use here. He wrote, “Originality in art means settling into who you actually are.” Any writer’s work, at its best, is unlike anyone else’s because we’re writing from who we authentically are instead of trying on the voices/ideas of others. I am the third generation in my family to live on MacArthur Road (named after my grandparents) in Marlboro, Vermont. Because of this I don’t see the individual as an individual—I see the individual as inextricably intertwined with their extended family and their landscape. My parents are farmers—I grew up shoveling cow shit and moving hay bales and stacking firewood and emptying sap bucket after sap bucket into the tank on the back of an ancient Ford truck. Because of this I don’t see human beings—our livelihood or our happiness—as separable from the trees and fields and seasons and creatures that surround us. I have a deeply rooted world view of interconnection and I try to write that interconnection into my work because I believe in the political and environmental necessity of doing so and because to do so makes the work a genuine reflection of me and the way I see the world.

Another way of saying this would be: my work contains lots of fields, trees, cabins, hippies, farms, wild animals, old houses and daughters. 

The house/cabin we've been building for the last 10 years

Why do you write what you do?

I think I already answered this one…but who doesn’t love another shot.

I write what I do because I’m a quiet introvert who has found writing to be the most effective way to make my voice heard in this world.

I write what I do because it’s what I know, and I think my subject matter contains a window into alternative lives and ways of living that may open windows for others.

I write what I do because I believe we will only know and truly love places when they have been rendered in art, and that doing so can thus birth empathy, understanding, stewardship and compassion.

A non sequitur: in my dream world someone would look up from a story of mine and ask themselves, Am I living the life I want to live?

them mornings

What is your writing process?

Ha ha ha ha! Ha ha. Ha. In my life before children I used to get up at six and write for two hours before going to work.

In my life with one child I used to wake up at five and write for an hour before she woke, then for another hour during her nap.

In my life with two children I occasionally get twenty minutes in the morning, before they wake up, which I use to write a blog post. I can’t go diving into my fiction unless I know I can get safely lost there, and those wide expanses of time just don’t exist in my life right now.

But in some ways that’s okay. Because my children are a deeply important part of the writing process. They are helping me discover what is important to say. They are the fire keeping those pots warm. They flay the heart open with their love and fevers, and what writer’s heart wasn’t better off flayed and open? 

So there you have it. Woodbird’s addition to this ever-expanding web of voices.

In lieu of introducing new writers into this series I’m going to send you back to some former entries, by wonderful writers, deserving of a re-run:

If you follow their links you’ll be lead into a lush world of goodness and find more links to great entries…enjoy the journey, friends!