The How Why What Thing, or, How I Got Dragged Into the Writing Process Blog Tour

This past week, I spent more time talking about myself than even I’m comfortable with, darlings, so I’m sure you must be sick to death of it by now.

But as I was asked by Dawn Quyle Landau of Tales From the Motherland to do one more interview, I must say I’m pleased to give you some more. I can’t say no to Dawn, darlings — since we discovered each other in Friday Fictioneers, we’ve been fast fans of each other’s writing. So let’s dive right in, shall we?

book cover    Memoirs of a Dilettante

What am I working on:

Three things simultaneously, and it’s aging me horribly, darlings. First, I’m preparing to launch Memoirs of a Dilettante Volume One on April 1st (yes, really — and you heard it here first) along with my friend Jim, who’s spearheaded the now successful Kickstarter campaign. This means scathes of shameless self-promotion (which, ironically, causes me to feel a great deal of shame, but more on that later), elevated levels of stress and worry, with likely a less than spectacular outcome. (You think I’m being negative, but hear me out — what I’m saying is that with writers in general and me in particular, I find that it’s never enough. I could have a 100 people standing and applauding me, and in the back of your mind, I’d be thinking: Only 100?)

But we continue to write, because — or rather, I hope because — we still love it, success or no, audience or no.

I’m continuing to write my memoirs to compile for Volume Two. Volume One focused mainly on my adult life, and left some biographical hints that remained unanswered. With Volume Two, I fill in a lot of those blanks, discussing some painful childhood experiences, some stories that lead up to me becoming the person I am. And of course, everything will be tempered with a smattering of humour so that it’s not all tears.

At the same time, I’m writing as Jessica B. Bell — my dark alter ego. I’m writing a sort of gothic swamp story set in a small Bayou in Louisiana, where, legend has it, there’s an actual monster living in the swamp. Fifteen years ago, some kids went missing, and were found in a horrible way. Now, the story opens with the disappearance of another young boy, and the Chief of Police in particular fears that the horror is beginning again. It started out as just a serial story — something to pass the time — but it’s taken such a solid shape that I’m turning it into a novel. I’m thinking of a tagline something like: Some monsters slither in the muck — and some monsters walk on two legs. I dunno. What do you think?

How does my work differ from others of its genre?

I like to think that nobody writes like I do, but I’m sure that’s a lie. I could confess my influences, and then it would destroy the illusion that I’m a goddamned genius. And so I won’t, darlings — continue to assume that I’m a genius, please.

Nothing in my life is sacred.

Most memoirs I’ve read actually read like a sacred text — just the facts, related in a “he said-she said” type of way. I don’t know why that should be the case. It’s a story, and you, as the narrator, have ALL the details after the fact. Why not craft it as a story? Also, I actually flaunt the fact that my stories are only quasi-autobiographical. I’m up front about the fact that I may tweak things from time to time to make the story better. I leave out all the boring stuff, and accentuate (and perhaps exaggerate) some of the more outrageous happenings. The result is that you can never quite tell what is real and what is not — you just have to accept your response to the story itself — the story is everything — never mind the writer or her life. Did the story move you? Did it make you laugh, did it make you cry, did it make you angry? If so, then what difference does it make which parts were line for line and which were improvised?

Why do I write what I do?

I write a lot of things. In fact, in true dilettante fashion, I dabble in all sorts of different types of writing, different genres, just to say that I have. What might start out as a romantic comedy might turn into a supernatural mystery. I like to keep people guessing. I like to be shocking but not vulgar; I like to be scary but not crude or gory. I like writing about broken characters, flawed people, anti-heroes. I’m a damaged person, I fully admit it, and I constantly question even the most virtuous person’s motives. Everyone’s got some dark secret they wouldn’t want their sweet old grandmother to know about.

I write other things as a way to find laughter. Whether I’m laughing at myself or laughing at the world, it all amounts to the same thing — I find the world I live in absolutely absurd, and yet there seems no other alternative but to live in it. And so I try to find ways to laugh, because if I didn’t, I’d spend every waking moment in tears.

How does your writing process work?

I’m going to let Jessica handle this one, because frankly, I’ve been asked this a lot lately, and I’m sure you’re all getting bored with hearing me answer the same thing.

Jessica?

Really, Helena? You’re going to let me speak.

Yes, darling. But you see this stick? You say anything I don’t like and this stick is going to do things. Unpleasant things.

Um, okay, well, I have a lot of nightmares. Even in the daytime. I hardly ever sleep, and I’m always so hungry. But that’s okay, I have a hard time writing on a full stomach anyway — it just makes me sleepy. Sometimes I’ll go for days and days without eating or sleeping, and then I start getting really dizzy and seeing things, sometimes hearing voices. I like hearing the voices — it’s nice having someone to talk to.

So then I’ll talk to the voices and tell them all about my nightmares, and they tell me I should write them down. And so I try my best to remember the nightmares, and I grab my sharpest quill and a piece of parchment, and I open a vein for some ink, and I begin to write.

When one is writing in one’s own blood, it’s not a good idea to take a long time, or to make mistakes, and so I make sure that I’ve thought it out in advance, and then put it down as quickly as I can. There have been times when Helena has opened the cellar door and found me collapsed at my desk, having pondered a metaphor too long and passed out. Those are the nights I spend on the rack, which Helena assures me is not a punishment, but rather a new health fad — something about stretching being good for circulation.

When I write I begin with the voices… I hear the character’s voice in my head. I formulate a back story for them, a whole history that you readers may only ever get important pieces of. Or sometimes, I have a totally blank character. A mysterious man in the shadows that is like the Ace up my sleeve (if I had sleeves. Helena said I could have a long sleeve shirt if I was good, and I think I’ve been very good, but I still shiver in the cold and wet wearing only this ratty old chemise.) Sometimes I’ll have that blank character there for me to fill a crucial role later in the story, when I can fit them in anywhere.

I like to keep readers on hooks.

You mean on tenterhooks.

Sure. Tenterhooks. Are they sharp, and strong enough to support body weight?

Um, I think this interview is over, darlings — Jessica’s getting a hungry look in her eye — time for your medicine, dear…

Who’s Next???

J.S. Collyer

unnamedJ.  S. Collyer lives in Lancaster, UK, where she stayed after studying Creative Writing BA and MA at Lancaster University. She enjoys reading and writing Sci-Fi, Horror and a little Fantasy as has always been drawn to narratives that are larger than life. She shares  short SciFi, Horror and other Speculative Fiction on her blog jcollyer.wordpress.com and has some big news to announce soon about her first foray into novel drafting.

For useful links, free fiction and pictures of cats, follow J. S. Collyer on Twitter @JexShinigami

Dana C. Thomas

HeadShot-DanaDana Constance Thomas is a creatrix. An artist and alliteration addict. She’ll be starting a support AAAA. Contact her directly to join. In the end she’s simply a storyteller. And she’d have it no other way.

Her creative life has taken a circuitous route. She studied theater and fashion design- but failed to follow the shortest distance between two points is a straight line theory and found herself in finance. She was always bad at math. But the calling of her siren’s song, the intuitive mind longing for self-expression refused to be quashed.
And so her blog was born. And the introvert that avoided all social media dove in head first. Running amuck, she began posting art and photography, joining writing groups. Then quickly became immersed in community. Honestly, people turn her on. So make sure to introduce yourself.  Because in the words of one of her favorite poets “Every time I write. Every time I open my eyes. I am cutting out parts of myself just to give them to you.”  Just don’t try to find her on Facebook. She’s not there.
 –

Katie Sullivan

profile picWriter, blogger, Mom. Katie is the author of Changelings: Into the Mist, a young adult historical fantasy, and blogs under the moniker “A” at the D/A Dialogues. At home, she pretends like she know more than a 13 year-old, gardens recklessly and indulges her love of books, history, ridiculous British television, real food and more books.

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27 responses to “The How Why What Thing, or, How I Got Dragged Into the Writing Process Blog Tour

  1. Nifty, I like the way you think about memoirs it applies to even general fiction though. You skip the boring stuff and tell the interesting stuff that’s relevant. Imo a lot of authors tend to keep some boring stuff which isn’t needed.

    • Yes, there’s a fine balance between developing a character and mentioning little things they do that give them depth and realism — and then telling me every time they go to the store for cigarettes, or how many times they get up to pee.

  2. C,c,c, and when I tagged you, you didn’t have time! 😀
    I love the Bayou slogan, I think it fits the story perfectly.
    It is amazing to watch and read so many characters of your real quills grow and vibrate.

    • Did you tag me? You know, I may have already said yes to Dawn when you asked — I had to say no to three other people who asked because I’d already agreed to do it for Dawn! Thanks as always,darling.

      • Yeah, you wrote on that post!
        Its irrelevent, whats important is that we DID get more of Helena goodies and a peek into the inkspill of your mind 😀

  3. Can Jessica come out and play? She sounds like someone I’d get along well with?

    For the record, I’ll go on assuming you’re a goddamned genius for as long as you’d like.

    • Jessica went on a rampage last weekend, writing somewhere around 10,000 words or so.. she’s currently curled up in a corner giving her self a bath like a cat — I think she may have gone a little mad. But then, as Norman Bates once said, we all go a little mad sometimes.

  4. Trés interèssant, Helena! I’m intrigued by the swamp story, and yes, I do like the tagline. I’m grateful that you agreed to be dragged into this, as it’s always interesting to hear more about you. Mazel on the release of your memoir and the very successful kickstarter!

  5. I don’t care what you say….you ARE a GD genius. And I love learning anything new about you.And thanks for encouraging me to participate. But please let Jessica know she can quit mailing me rabbit heads. I’ve said yes and she is never ignored.

    • Sigh… that’s totally my fault. I was explaining Easter to her, and chocolate bunnies, and such, and how I used to torture Cheryl by breaking the heads off her bunnies and putting them in her bed (I think watching the Godfather at such a young age was a mistake). Well, she got it into her head that if it was funny with chocolate bunnies, it would be hysterical with real bunnies. Sorry about that. On a happier note, I’ve come up with a wonderful recipe for hasenpfeffer.

      • Oh no I know about your hasenpfeffer recipe. MEOW! Just tell Jessica to send me chocolate bunny heads. This will remedy my snarky tone and pointy teeth problem at work.

  6. I’m starting to feel sorry for Jessica 😦
    Thanks for sharing your process! And I think that tag line sounds cool for the Bayou novel.

  7. Rather delicious indeed. And food for thought, certainly (not just because of the stories, which I freely admit I think are fabulous, and I rather enjoy the blatant obfuscation with fiction and vignette, but because I need to work on an interview and everything I’ve thunk of so far has come up dry and very dull.

    I do rather like the relationship with Jessica…fascinating to watch.

  8. You so deserve some off-the-grid time. Especially since it sounds you’ll be back on the grid with a vengeance pretty darn with your book launch! Like many others, I like the tagline for Bayou; very fitting. And I love this phrase from your post: “the story is everything — never mind the writer or her life.” So true, so true, so true.
    By the way, you are a genius 🙂

      • Ohhh, a Penny story! So, what’s her commission? Surely she’s hitting you up for writing about her, yes? Barter for some Taco Bell?
        By the way, a true genius knows how to take what she is influenced by and make it her own. I think I made a similar (if also similarly inept) comment in a discussion we had about HP Lovecraft being an influence.
        Sorry, but I’m under the influence right now. If only you could see how many times I’ve had to backspace over my comments 🙂 Cheers.

  9. Pingback: Writer’s Process Blog Tour ~It’s Helena’s Fault | DCTdesigns Creative Canvas·

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