My Writing Process Blog Tour

My friend and fellow VCFAer (is that even a word?) Megan Hoak invited me to participate in the My Writing Process blog tour so here I am. You can read her post about her own writing process here. Whew! It’s been a long time. So without further ado…

What am I working on?

I’ve been working on a Secret Project for some time now. It took me awhile to realize that I wanted to write something weird and self indulgent and in order to do that I needed to keep it secret, even promise myself I wouldn’t publish it. Once I did that I found it was so much easier to just write without worrying what people would think of it, or if what I was writing was publishable, or even if it made any sense/worked as a story. I could just write for the pleasure of it, so that’s been wonderful. As for the story itself, I’ve been describing it to people as a bit like Alice and Wonderland if Alice was a teenager and Wonderland was an Underworld. It is creepy and weird and magical and probably the most “me” thing I have ever written. Which is also why it is terrifying and secret. For now.

How does my work differ from others of its genre?

Well, it’s a portal fantasy and as far as I can tell not a lot of portal fantasies are being written for YA audiences. That seems to mostly happen in middle grade books. Why is that? Also, the magic/fantasy elements are less straightforward. I see a lot of fantasy books with vampires or werewolves or ghosts or witches or insert magical creature here________. I wanted to be more subtle about defining the magical creatures. Although, really, there’s nothing subtle about them or the magic.

Why do I write what I do?

You might as well ask someone why they breathe the way they do. I always loved stories with magic best. Fairy tales, ghost stories, fantasy. And especially portal fantasies. I was in love with the Wizard of Oz as a kid even though I wanted the complete opposite of what Dorothy wanted. She wanted to go home. I wanted to go to Oz. But aside from love, my brain thrives on metaphor and symbolism and you’d be hard-pressed to find anything more metaphorical or symbolic than fantasy literature. As for why I write for younger audiences (mostly) I guess it’s because I grew up reading kids books and never stopped. Also, my protagonists always seemed to be teenagers. Go figure.

How does your writing process work?

That’s a bit hard to define because I’ve experimented with so many writing processes over the years, especially in my MFA program. But the process for writing this book has basically been to write about 250 words a day (sometimes more) and try not to fiddle too much. It’s helped to write a lot of the scenes out of order, more or less as the ideas strike me and to occasionally dip into backstory. It also helps to write in small chunks because when I get stuck and don’t know where I’m going I can just spend 250 words describing the scenery 😉 I’m trying to get as much written as I can before I go back and start changing things and filling in gaps. The result is an incomprehensible mess, but I think it’s made writing more fun for me because I can just skip to the parts I’m excited or curious about.

Next week

Next week two more fabulous writers will be posting about their writing process on their own blogs. Go check them out on April 21st!

Laura is a writer, artist, photographer, and world traveler who passionately pursues the full expression and experience of life. She recently received her MA in Sustainable International Development from Brandeis University, where she focused on the intersections of tourism and community development.

Helen Kemp Zax. In July 2013 Helen received her MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults from Vermont College of Fine Arts, where she won the Critical Thesis prize for “Learning to Feel: Practicing Empathy in Coming-of-Age Novels.” Several of her haiku and poems have been published, and a number of her poems have won awards. She has taught writing at all levels, from elementary to post-graduate. She lives with her husband Leonard and their crazy Australian shepherd, Huckleberry Finn, in Washington, DC, where she spends her days walking Huck in the woods, writing poetry, and working on hernovel—a mystery narrative/verse mash-up called MISSING.

All Hallows Write Poems

Okay, so I meant to write more than three poems, but after the third my brain turned to mush! What can I say? Anyway, here they are! These were all written last night, in candlelight, while listening to eerie music. I hope you enjoy them and that they are creepy enough for you 🙂 (Note: I tried to get these poems single spaced, but WordPress is defying me for some reason. Maybe it does not appreciate poetry? If you have any formatting advice please let me know.)

 

1. Widdershins

Turn counterclock and bury the mushrooms

under your heel. They laced the milkmaid’s

hair with thistle thorns, just for mistaking

an elf for a sparrow. They will break your bones

for whistling twice and if you dance with them

you’ll never grow old, but die

centipede by centipede, until merriment

becomes a foul jaunt and the amanita

begins to speak of deadlier things

than colored lights and fiddles that play themselves.

So walk wisely, friend, and careful

your direction. One misstep, there will be

a cold corpse planted in the fields come sunrise.

 

2. I couldn’t think of a title for this one (help!)

She knows the language of the knucklebone,

the willow switch, the vocabulary

of swampweed and the mud that swallows.

She can bind you with a single black thread,

see the shrouded faces that peer out of mirrors

when your eyes are half shut.

She has pricked her finger for every absent

moon, tasted nightshade and hemlock

and found them wanting.

When she dreams the clouds tremble

and cover the stars.

Give her bread and she’ll boil you

in a stew of your own making.

Spit on her and she’ll cut your shadow

from your skin until you’re stretched

thin as space. Best to leave her to her candied

houses and stay away from crossroads

in the dead of night. Best to let

witches be witches, and think

no more of poisonous delights.

 

3. The Dead

I have seen the faces of the dead in their glass cases,

mouths like tunnels and eyes that could eat planets.

I have heard them begging in the twilit hours,

murmurs like moth wings in the dark,

felt their cold fingers, wet and wandering.

They hollow me out.

If I follow them down to the cellar

will they leave me sleeping with the cobwebs

and the silt? Will they shut my eyes with heavy

coins and cradle me in their muddy beds?

That’s all I have, folks! I hope you were sufficiently creeped out 😉 And be sure to check out the other All Hallows Write stories. Happy Day of the Dead!

 

All Hallows Write

I realize that I have not posted here in a million years, but my life has been pretty chaotic lately and I’ve been trying to save my writing time for more creative pursuits. That said, I wanted to pop back over here to announce that I will be participating in All Hallows Write this year on October 31!

You can find out all the details on the website, but the short version is that I will be staying up all night on Halloween (well, probably not all night. I have a doctor’s appointment the next day) writing terrifying poetry, which I will then post on this, my blog, on November 1st! So stay tuned for witches, ghouls and other startling creatures. And if you wish to participate, as well, be sure to email Jeff at AllHallowsWrite [at] jeff-seymour.com

In Which I Run Into A Wall And Rethink Some Things

Since I started my experiment I’ve managed to get about 50 pages written (remember these are 50 hand-written pages), but I also ran into some trouble. One of my workshop leaders at Vermont College of Fine Arts, A. M. Jenkins, said that a novel is like a picture frame, but you as the author have to know everything that’s going on outside of the frame. Well, after 50 pages I discovered I have no idea what’s going on inside or outside of the frame.

One difficulty is that I have no idea what timeperiod I’m in. Parts of it seem to be in the 16th century, other parts are in the 18th century, and there may even be some earlier time periods stuck in there somewhere. I’m realizing I have a very tenuous grasp of history. I also decided to include some characters of various ethnicities around the Mediterranean, which just made me realize how little I know about the Mediterranean and its various cultures and history in general.

I’ve been reading an enormous tome of Mediterranean history, which is nothing if not daunting, and trying to decide how much research is necessary, whether I should start with research or start with writing and research later, etc. etc. Thankfully, I had a very helpful conversation with fellow Secret Gardener, L. Marie, in which she reminded me that I’m writing fantasy and can make things up.

So this brought about an interesting internal debate. Am I writing historical fantasy? Am I writing about an alternate universe Mediterranean? Or am I writing a Mediterranean-inspired fantasy? After some angsting, I’m leaning towards a Mediterranean-inspired fantasy. I think I will still have to read about the history and culture for inspiration, but I’m going to make things up because that’s what I’m best at.

I wonder if some of my fear and anxiety about this is an unconscious belief that making things up isn’t as legitimate. History seems so much more, well, serious and intellectual. Not like making things up for fun! Of course, I also don’t want to fall into the trap of perpetuating cultural stereotypes and hurting people. I still haven’t decided whether choosing the route of a Mediterranean-inspired fantasy isn’t at its heart an act of cowardice on my part. But it does feel safer.

What about you, readers? Do you write historical fantasy, alternate universes, or culturally-inspired fantasy? Do you do research and how much? And do you start with research or wait till after you’ve written the first draft or write and research in tandem?

In Which I Reveal My Plans For The Summer

I disappeared again! I apologize. I’ve been dealing with some ongoing health issues and I’m still getting used to the logistics of living in a new place. Anyway, I’ve decided to buckle down this summer and write through an entire draft of my new WIP, The Island of the Moon. BUT this is also going to be an experiment for me because I’m going to try to free write the entire draft by hand. I have a binder and a bunch of looseleaf papers so I can move things around. And I’m going to make a collage for the cover because that’s how writers procrastinate.

Why do I want to free write the draft by hand? Partly because typing hurts my hands and arms and partly because I want to stop myself from fussing with language, which usually happens when I type. I want to use the binder instead of a notebook because then I can move scenes around, draft out of order, throw things out if I want to, rewrite scenes. Basically I want to give myself as much flexibility and freedom as I can. Why free writing? Because drafts intimidate me. A draft is serious business. Free writing is exploration. Once I finish the draft I have some voice recognition software I can use to type it out without hurting my hands.

I’ve never tried this before so I have no idea if it will work, but I’m excited about it. I’m also going to focus on research as much as I can. So I’ll be reading books about Spain, the Mediterranean Sea and its history and culture, myths and legends of the ocean, and whatever else comes up. One resource I’m really excited about is the website rvte.es. It’s the website for radio and television in Spain and they have a lot of documentaries and shows you can watch for free. I’m definitely going to take advantage of that.

I’ll try to keep checking in to give you an update on my progress and I might also post any interesting historical or mythological tidbits I come across. My deadline is October 1 so I have about five months. Please feel free to nag me incessantly.

The Conjurer & Other Azorean Tales

My dad (Darrell Kastin) has a new short story collection that came out this past December and lots of exciting things have been in the works so I thought I would share them with you 🙂

The collection is called The Conjurer & Other Azorean Tales (you can order it here) and it is filled with magic, poetry, humor and saudade. Here’s the official description:

Etched from the fertile volcanic soil and the sea and mists surrounding the Azorean islands, the characters who inhabit these stories merge realism with magic. Like the nine Muses, each island has its own special attributes. Whether searching for love, power or meaning, these characters are subject to the whims of Fate and Fortune. Here the commonplace present confronts forces both natural and supernatural. Taking place in the Azorean microcosm, they come to represent a far larger and wider sphere, depicting the foibles and idiosyncrasies of humanity the world over.

If you’re curious to know more about the Azores and my dad’s relationship with the islands you can read this article he wrote on the RTP blog, “The Other Realm, Writing about the Azores“. Here’s a little snippet:

We no longer think of mysteries pervading the landscape. They’ve all been chased away by skyscrapers and television, by computers, automobiles, and cell phones. For example, people no longer go off in search of mysterious islands of Gold or Women, remote havens that went by many names, but which can be summed up by The Fortunate Islands. Islands that rose and sank, elusive, just out of reach, fading into the mists from which they appeared.

We think the only mysteries left are in space, or perhaps in the deepest trenches of the oceans, not in our own backyards. But there are other places, realms in which things can’t be readily explained away as fancy or delusions. And the Azores is a place that lends itself to mystery.

You can also check out these two interviews: “Beauty of the Azores inspires collection of short stories” and “Darrell Kastin: His allure of the Azores and his work in progress– Interview“.

If you’re curious to read one of the short stories check out “Constança’s War with the Elements“.

Also, my dad’s going to be at a couple of events in the next few months. He’ll be at the LAEF XXXVII Annual Conference, March 22-23, CA State University Stanislaus (in Turlock). He’ll be participating in the workshop led by Frank Sousa to discuss Portuguese-American authors writing in English.

And July 25-27 he’ll be at Butler University in Indianapolis, Indiana, to attend the international conference Exploring the Portuguese Diaspora in InterDisciplinary and Comparative Perspectives.

And finally, if you want to keep up with events and updates and that sort of thing, “like” his new facebook author page!

The Next Big Thing

First of all, a thank you to Lyn Miller-Lachmann for tagging me in The Next Big Thing Blog Hop. You can read all about her awesome new book, Rogue, here.

I was originally going to write about my thesis, Triptych, but then this shiny new idea took over my brain so I’m going to write about that instead. You’ll just have to forgive me 🙂

What is the working title of your book?

La isla de la luna or The Island of the Moon.

Where did the idea come from for the book?

This actually started as a story that the protagonist in Triptych was writing. So it was originally a story within a story. Then it kept getting longer and more complicated and eventually became more interesting than the original novel and seduced me away from it, lol.

What genre does your book fall under?

Spanish-flavored fantasy?

What actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?

I have no idea how to answer this. Most of the Spanish actors I know are older than my protagonists. Clearly I need to watch more Spanish films.

What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?

A young girl washes up on one of the last floating islands with the power to control the sea and meets the dangerous Crooked Man, a magician who makes her question everything she’s taken for granted: her courtiers and friends, her magic and her past.

Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?

Hopefully when I finish this it will be represented by an agent!

How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?

I’ve only written bits and pieces so far. I’m nowhere near done yet.

What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?

This is another hard question. I haven’t seen a whole lot of Spanish-themed fantasy books. I’d say “Pan’s Labyrinth” (even though it’s obviously not a book), but the time period is all wrong.

Who or what inspired you to write this book?

I’ve been seriously needing to write some self-indulgent fantasy and this story has given me permission to do that. I’ve always been in love with the sea and dreamed of having my own island and being able to do magic. I’m also very fond of tricksy magicians. So this story rose up out of my desire to write about many of the things that excite me as a writer/reader. I actually sat down recently and brainstormed all the exciting things I could put in this book. It made me deliriously happy.

What else about your book might pique the readers interest?

I’m just going to write you a list of awesomeness to entice you. This story contains: the daughter of the sea, a shape shifting magician who collects hearts, a floating island, an Iberian lynx named Fuego, a red fox named Lucifer, a ship wreck, a curse, a troupe of traveling players, masquerade balls, and ships with black sails. Hey, there may even be pirates. We’ll see 😉

And now to tag other writers to share their Next Big Thing…

L. Marie

Sharon Van Zandt

Val Howlett