First I’d like to send gratitude to my friend, the poet and novelist Ed Davis, for inviting me to participate in the My Writing Process Blog Tour, a project conceived by James Tate Hill at North Caroline A&T State University. The Tour seeks to expose the variety of writing practices authors use to generate their fiction, creative non-fiction, and poetry.
Ed’s responses to the questions, posted last week, can be read at http://www.davised.com. At the end of my post, you will see the vitas of two authors, Trudy Krisher and Laurie Hertzel, whose blogs will carry their answers to these four questions next week.
What are you working on?
I’m currently revising a manuscript that was originally conceived in a different form. Initially, I was engaged by a sentence in a novel by Cathleen Schine called The Evolution of Jane that mentioned that Charles Darwin’s wife was a person of faith. It seemed to me that the whole science/faith debate had to have existed in their household, and I was intrigued to discover how they had resolved it. The first rendering of the project was written in the omniscient point of view with three narrators, Charles Darwin, his wife Emma, and their oldest surviving daughter, Henrietta, and the content was a rendering in scene of the actual events of the 18-months preceding the publication of On the Origin of the Species. The same time frame exists in the current draft, this time rendered in first person from Emma’s point of view, and a fictional character added around whom the plot turns in exploring the question of why Emma Darwin would help her husband produce a volume that would challenge the faith that helped her endure the deaths of three of their children. For particulars on what convinced me to embark on this revision, see my post “How Does One Begin Again?” at http://blogspot.nancypinard.com/2013/08/06/how-does-one-begin-again/ .
How does your work differ from others in the genre?
In my teaching life, I can give a class of twenty-five writers a line of dialogue such as “I want you to leave him alone,” and tell them this must be the first line of their story. Every person’s story will be different, informed by that writer’s own history and experience plus mindset of the moment. My rendering of Emma Darwin, while being thoroughly research-based, is clearly a product of my sensibility and my issues, so that while she wears the factual trappings of an historical person, her emotional and intellectual make-up, and yes, even her language, are mine. What events in her life and her relationship to her family will I weight most heavily? Which will I entirely ignore? All those decisions are dictated by my personal interests and obsessions—which, by the way, is also true of biographer’s choices, suggesting to me that there is no such thing as objectivity when an author or filmmaker or journalist is making choices about what to include and exclude.
Why do you write what you do?
Writing a novel is along process. I can’t write on a subject or about a character that doesn’t first grab and possess me. In that respect, I’m not casting around for any subject of interest as I might for a shorter piece, a short story or an essay. I need to be obsessed.
Before beginning the Darwin book, I had not decided where I came down on the science/faith debate. I was in the first generation of school children who were taught Darwin in biology class, and I was a child who was taken to church. I had never questioned either argument in my youth, both seeming to me to be answering legitimate but different questions. Then came a series of books by Richard Dawkins, (The God Delusion), Christopher Hitchens, (God is Not Great), and Sam Harris (The End of Faith), and the question became a centerfold to a person of faith: me. Not having a degree in biology has proved a challenge, but it seemed that coming to some integration of how each discipline reflects truth was an important foundation.
How does your process work?
With fictional biography the first stage, once I know what historic person is my focus, is to read all the biographical material I can find. I have entire shelves of books on Charles Darwin, and the few that have been written on Emma. I annotate as I read, noting where the conflict rises in the life. This is all potential scene material. Finding the first chapter is difficult. It is re-written many times, both in the beginning and as the novel evolves. I don’t know the endgame when I begin. I may not know it much before climax. Usually, by climax, I know where the book is going. But the climax is by far the hardest scene to write, and I have, on occasion, signed up for a class with a professor like Ed Davis to guide me through the writing process with deadlines for my production. This is a version of hand-holding I seem to require, though with this second rendering of Emma, I’m trying to do it on my own. Fortunately, I have readers who are bright and literary in their sensibilities to guide me.
For other aspects of my process, particularly ways in which I deal with writer’s block, please see my post “Where to Go When You Don’t Know Where to Go” at http://blogspot.nancypinard.com/2014/05/27/where-to-go-when-you-dont-know-where-to-go/ . The method I most often use is #2.
Next on the My Writing Process Blog Tour are two writers whose answers to these questions you don’t want to miss.
Living among ewes, chicks, and a llama – as well as horses, cats, Border collies and a very tolerant husband – provides plenty of writing ideas for Beth Sears. Her essays have appeared in EQUUS and Why We Ride: Women Writers on the Horses in Their Lives, and her short stories have won several contests and appeared in Every Day Fiction. After completing her first novel, A Buried Life, she is focusing on a creative non-fiction book about a senior Border collie teaching a novice about sheep herding. She writes professionally for a gardening company and blogs about farm life at www.ewechicksandallama.blogspot.com.
Trudy Krisher has been a professional writer for almost forty years. She has been a book columnist, a feature writer, a freelance journalist, and an award-winning author of historical novels for young adults. She has been awarded the American Library Association’s Best Book Award, the International Reading Association Award, The Parents’ Choice Honor Book Award, and many others. The historical backgrounds of her novels include the civil rights lunch counter strikes of the 1960s (Spite Fences); the growth of suburbia in the 1950s (Kinship); the antebellum women’s rights and abolitionist movements (Uncommon Faith); and the Cold War during the McCarthy period (Fallout).
Born in Macon, Georgia, and raised in South Florida, Trudy Krisher holds degrees from the College of William and Mary and The College of New Jersey. She has recently retired as a professor in the Liberal Arts, Communication, and Social Sciences Division at Sinclair Community College in Dayton, Ohio. More information is available at www.trudykrisherauthor.com.