Questions Answered About My Writing

Cooper Lee Bombardier tagged me in some author chain mail thing, and normally I’d avoid a meme but first, he’s a really nice fella, and second, it’s about writing, so heck, I could bloviate about that all day. Here are my answers to four questions he posed:

1)     What are you working on?
I’ve got several projects right now; in all honestly, probably too many. But here they are—a novel about four different gender non-conforming people from different eras in the United States, who by chance come together to build a high school for queer and trans youth. I’m trying to look at LGBT generationality, invisible history, the fracture lines across our communities, as well as more general themes of redemption, struggle, the fallibility of memory, and what indebtedness we have to each other.
I’m also in the middle of revisions to my followup memoir, Bumbling into Baby, which as it sounds, is about Susanne and my attempts to start a family. It’s told in the same tone as Bumbling into Body Hair, so it’s a humorous story, even as it makes some criticisms of the medical system, reproductive politics, and ideas about family.
And then I’m working on a non-genre short story about a trans man with Alzheimer’s who forgets he’s trans. This is a story I’ve wanted to work on for a long time, and I’m writing it in reverse chronology (apologies to Chip Delany, who loathes structures like this). I’m not sure which market will work for it, but right now I’m just focused on the story and the writing.

2)     How do you think your work differs from others in its genre?  
Transgender memoirs have a bad reputation, and much of that is deserved. There were a lot of books (well, at least a dozen or so) that came out a decade or more ago, and that were rather prescriptive in the messages and themes they espoused, like trans people are only this way or that, think this thing or that, and so on, which means they’re caught up in the whole unhelpful question of what makes trans people “authentic” or not. I intentionally pushed against that narrative to set up the story in a specific place and time and tried to highlight the message that worrying about authenticity is a red herring and a distraction. As for my science fiction and young adult work, I don’t see a lot of books (or okay, any) that investigate gender identity, sexual orientation, and queer/trans history the way that I do. It’s great to see so many wonderful stories about coming out, first relationships, and the decision to transition; I absolutely think young readers need exposure to these narratives. But I’m more interested in giving young adults some new ideas about what life could look like three, ten, thirty steps after all of the initial process. So that’s how I think my work is different.
3)     Why do you write what you do?
I suppose I already just mapped that out a little. I’m interested in making more visible the largely undocumented history of queer and trans people in North America. It may not be possible to relay the “real” history of AIDS or Stonewall’s riot, but we don’t need to consider that what the media’s told us is true is correct, either. I want to see my work engage those real-world events, ask questions about how we interpret our shared experience, and how that affects our present understanding and our commitment to each other going forward. I want to offer counter-narratives to the impoverished narratives of stories like How to Survive a Plague, which whitewashed the early ACT UP movement, and Dallas Buyers’ Club, which took the narrative away from the people who actually started a medication group in San Francisco. I think science fiction offers a huge opportunity to pull our reality out to its potential extensions and help readers ask about where we’re headed and where they want to be. And on a basic level, I want my readers to find themselves in my stories, especially if they don’t see themselves anywhere else in popular culture.
4)     How does your writing process work?
It works however it has to for me to produce words. I fight against having a restrictive work environment, because I never know when I’m going to have the availability to write, what with two small children and their sleeping schedules and energy/attention needs being what they are. I keep it simple: laptop, notebook and pen, coffee drink or fizzy water, music I like. I do a lot of writing in coffee houses but I also can write at the dining room table if need be. Because I can’t often luxuriate in large windows of time for writing, I have trained myself to get right back into a story, like sky diving, and now I only need 3-5 minutes to check email, Facebook, Twitter, etc., before I’m into the document and the universe I’ve created. It wasn’t easy to pare it down from 45 minutes of screwing around, but I got there!
In general my process starts with a lot of thinking, letting my mind wander over the characters and the story idea. Picture an elephant picking up a rock with its trunk and manipulating the rock, turning it over and around and sensing if its gritty or smooth or jagged or what. I think about my characters’ back story and motivation and whether they know how to play the guitar, for instance. Then I start to write the back story, with no intention of it landing in the main story itself. (But sometimes a little of it does.) Then I go on to write the first draft and I don’t stop to edit or revise, I just work on getting it done. If I decide to change a character mid-stream, I go ahead and give myself permission, and keep writing. Nothing stops the laying down of words in the first draft. It’s going to be horrible writing in any case, but I’ll clean it up later. When I’m done with the first draft I give myself a little break and go into revisions, and those can number in the teens for me. Every revision looks at something different—did I get the tone right? how’s the dialogue? is the character work believable? does the main story hold up?—and then I am ready to copy edit and get beta readers for outside feedback.
Well, those are my questions, and my answers. Authors, if you’d like to be tagged to go next, let me know!
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Categories: ev's writing, Writing

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One Comment on “Questions Answered About My Writing”

  1. September 3, 2014 at 4:37 am #

    Thanks, Ev! My replies are here: http://www.johannaharness.com/2014/09/writer-questions-answered.html

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