Thursday, August 28, 2014

The Magical Virtual Blog Tour, Or Something

A couple of weeks ago, I was recruited to participate in the Virtual Blog Tour that's been making the rounds on the interwebs in which i was to answer four questions.  Here's my contribution:

1. What are you currently working on?

I am doing a full revision on my sixth novel, Little Fire, which I thought I would have done a year ago.  I never could get it exactly the way I was hearing it in my own head and so I kept rewriting it until finally I think it does what I want it to do.  This is the most rewrites I've ever done on a novel, I believe, but probably because it's hugely thematic and covers a pretty big canvas although it takes place over a relatively short period of time (about two years).  It has three very distinct settings:  Middle Tennessee during the devastating 2010 flood, a road trip across the modern American South--a place of truck stops and dying towns, busy interstate exits and long stretches of nothing but hardcore gospel on the radio, of roadside memorials and old motels, of peaches stands and pinewoods--and finally, Key West, Florida.  It's a novel about parenthood, brotherhood, belief, doubt, equality, the way our nation can simultaneously evolve very quickly and very slowly on the same issue.  I am hoping it will be published in the next year or so.  I also have another novel all mapped out in my head.  It is actually set in New York City during WWI.  That may sound like a real departure for me but it's about a subject that is very near and dear to my heart and the characters are very similar in spirit and ways of being to the strong females in my early novels.  I'm also finishing up an Appalachian retelling of James Joyce's "The Dead" and working on a couple essays.  I always keep lots of different projects going at once.  I like to imagine my writing like a stove with four or five different things cooking and/or baking at once so that I'm moving from a skillet to a kettle, then checking the oven, then back to another pot that is boiling over.  This is probably why I never really experience writer's block.

2. How does your work differ from others of its genre?

Hmmm.  As for Little Fire, I think the main thing is that it is experimental in its language in a way that is new for me.  I'm playing with language and structure and memory a lot during the course of the novel.  My goal is to not only immerse you in the worlds of this novel through sense of place and characters but also by creating a feeling that you have when you hold the book in your hands.  And I'm mostly accomplishing that through language.  I think.  I hope.

3. Why do you write what you do?

I write to preserve ways of life and ways of being and to comment on all the wild, sweet, holy world around us in all of its ugliness and beauty.

4. How does your writing process work?

I think about projects for years before I ever put any real amount of words on the page.  During that thinking period I spend a lot of time getting to know all of my characters and looking at the world through their eyes.  I especially spend a lot of time with my main characters and experience things from their perspective.  For instance, if I'm writing a book in which a man kidnaps his own child then for a couple years I am on the lookout for a police officer to come into a restaurant where I'm eating, or I'm always thinking like someone who is on the run, I'm looking at the world through that lens.  When I begin to put words on the page I usually start out pretty sporadically and then at a certain point I set a firm deadline for myself and write at least three or four hours a day.  The book dictates when.  Some books like to be written late at night and some early in the morning.  I know that sounds crazy but for me the book dictates the best writing time for itself.  When I'm in the heat of writing I go on a lot of walks.  I spend a lot more time alone.  I never, ever read anything similar to what I'm writing but I do watch films that might be on a similar subject, and I actively seek out music and artwork and photographs that help me to create the world of the novel at hand. I think we must do everything in our power to make the novel happen. For me, other forms of art are integral to that.  So is nature.  I need woods when I'm writing.  I need creeks and birds and sky.  


The key to this blog tour is to keep it going, so here are the three writers I'm tagging:

Amy Greene is the author of the bestselling novels Bloodroot and Long Man.  She's also one of the best readers and writers I know.  


Cyn Kitchen was not only one of my students but is also one of my favorite short story writers.  She's the author of the lovely collection Ten Tongues.  

Graham Shelby writes beautiful personal essays and articles that I always love to read.  He's also a gifted storyteller and journalist.  

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