The Writing Process
Heather Gudenkauf, the talented author of the blockbuster bestseller The Weight of Silence as well as These Things Happen, One Breath Away, and Little Mercies, invited me to participate in something called a blog roll, which is similar to a chain letter, in that if you choose to participate, you invite three more authors to participate and so on and so forth. All of us answer the same questions about our writing processes and it gives readers an opportunity to discover new authors and the unique ways in which we write. Heather has been a huge supporter of Hush Little Baby and of me as a new author and I am honored that she asked me to participate in this great idea.
1. What am I working on?
My new novel, title TBD, is in the hands of my editor and I am holding my breath that she is as enthusiastic about it as I am. Like Hush Little Baby it is a story about the lengths a mother will go to in order to protect her children but with a very different protagonist and very different circumstances.
2. How does my work differ from others of its genre?
I was very happy when Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn was published because it gave me something to hang my hat on. Hush Little Baby is like Gone Girl meets Sleeping with the Enemy. Suddenly my novel was easy to define. Gone Girl was a blockbuster in the sub-genre of suspense/thrillers known as psychological thrillers. The unique thing about this genre is that it is the psychological subtext that drives the story rather than blood and gore and chase scenes. These stories are about the characters' internal motivation and transformation during some horrifying/suspenseful/thrilling time in their lives.
The beautiful thing about this genre is, because the story is more internal than external, the stories are as individual as their characters and the authors who create them. A chase scene is a chase scene, but if you create a story that explores the psychology behind an adrenaline junkie with a death wish who races around a city pulling off daring heists for no reason other than the thrill, you end up with a story less about squealing tires and more about the twisted mind of someone with their foot on the gas pedal racing irrationally toward an early grave.
On the surface Hush Little Baby is a story about domestic violence, but what sets it apart from other novels on the subject is that it did not start out as a book about domestic violence, it started as an idea about the evil and good in each of us and what could drive someone who is fundamentally good to do something evil and vice versa. Focusing on the psychology behind the abuse and how it affected my characters was a unique approach to an age-old subject that's been written about a thousand times before.
3. Why do I write what I do?
Writing is the most creative art form there is, you are literally master of the universe. You control your your characters and everything that happens to them. As such, it's voyeuristic, a chance to witness life in the most intimate way from a perspective not your own, to experience adventures, emotions, thrills, and peril that don't exist in typical everyday life. Spending my days sitting in my PJs with my dog at my feet as I pretend I'm a kickass adrenaline junkie, modern day Robin Hood racing through the streets with a death wish is the best job in the world.
4. How does my writing process work?
Process? The word sounds so rational and methodical. My approach is more like a mad-chemist experiment. I start with a vague, abstract idea then read everything I can find on the subject – taking notes, highlighting, writing bits and pieces in fervent frenzy as ideas come to me. Reams and reams of torn notebook pages, post-its, dog-eared books, and index cards litter my life. My thoughts and dreams become single-minded and obsessive, spinning endlessly and going off on tangents that lead to more ideas and more chaos, until, inevitably, information overload causes a complete meltdown and I become convinced that the only thing to come from my heap of effort is going to be a toasty bonfire for roasting marshmallows.
This is when I do what any writer worth her salt does, I quit and decide to start a new career. Dog walker is usually top of my list – minimal stress, straight forward, no human characters to deal with. This pathetic moping and hopelessness lasts until the writing gods take mercy, hold an intervention, and wake me in the middle of the night with a jolt of inspiration – a character, a first line, a plot idea. Then it's a matter of grabbing hold and hanging on, of showing up day after day until the story unfolds, the characters come to life, and I manage to wrangle the words into enough coherence for them to not get in the way.
5. And the other part of this question,
how does my writing process not work?
One of these days the writing gods are going to bail on me and I'm going to end up a dog walker.