The Writing Process Blog Tour

I’ve been tagged for The Writing Process Blog Tour by John King. John hosts the writing podcast The Drunken Odyssey and I’ve written elsewhere about what the show and its mercurial host have meant to my writing life. I am now tasked to answer questions about my writing process and then tag three other writers to do the same. More on that below.

Kingly John
Kingly John

My answers:

What are you working on?

I’m working on:

1) cartoons—series and shorts
2) Ghoulanoids—a comic with toys
3) another comic book
4) a poetry collection or chapbook(s)
5) Little Billboards

Derek Ballard and I have built a backlog of possible animated material, but haven’t sold anything yet. If we do and someone trusts us, we’ve got some good, interesting ideas for shorts and series that I would love to see happen. Honestly, the two of us could write cartoons for the rest of our lives if someone would let us.

Ghoulanoids will be a comic packaged with toys and published by Sacred Prism this fall. We’re early in the process, but our inspiration is most obviously from ‘80s toy lines and films like Critters and Phantasm. We hope to do something unique and fun with those flavors. That “we” is Daniel and Derek Ballard and me. I know the creators and the publisher are excited, I hope our readers will be. Did I mention that Daniel makes puppets and works with Heather Henson sometimes? Yeah, of THAT Henson family. Did I mention that Derek has his own comic book series and works on Adventure Time?

Rumor has it that a peek at the cover may happen soon.

I’m not sure how much I can say about the other comic book project except it will be 24 pages and also include a toy. A draft of the story has been written, but we need to revisit it before continuing with the project, in part because it was originally a cartoon script that got accepted for publication. We need to rethink some of the ideas.

One summer, not long from now, I will have some extra pocket change and will begin submitting my poetry manuscript(s) to contests. This is generally how things work in the poetry world. I simply haven’t had the coin to send these out.

Little Billboards is a project I do for Eunoia Solstice. It began as contemporary haiku and has slowly evolved into a haiku/found poetry/humument hybrid. This project forces me to think and work in new ways and that is why I keep moving forward with it. It started with more traditional haiku and morphed into seventeen syllable humuments and now it just is what it is. I think I’m still working in the same spirit in which I started the project, I’m just letting it organically become what it is.

There are other projects in states of array and disarray. I’ve co-written a children’s book that we are almost ready to shop around to agents. We’ve worked on the manuscript for several years, so it’s not like we’re just tossing something out there. We’ve taken it as seriously as anything we’ve ever written. I’ve written a script for a comic that is associated with a TV show in which one of two major companies have given it the ok. Waiting to hear on the second. At the end of the month, I’ll find out if I’ll be working on the rebirth of an old toy line via comic book. I’ve written a treatment for a film that was optioned and then turned down, but might still be made. The script is partially done. I’ve also committed to an anthology film and have done editing and revising work on the screenplay.

How does this work differ from others of its genre?

I could either say it’s different because I’m working on it, and I work from equal parts Dickinson and King, Henson and Beckett, but, it’s probably better left for others to interpret how it’s different or not. The critic part of my brain—“Little Hitler” as I call it—can be tremendously cruel, so I try not to inflict it on myself until I get enough work done so I don’t totally crush my soul.

It’s very easy to dissuade oneself from doing this work or denigrate it before it even has a chance to breathe or be good in any way.

Why do you write what you do?

I wish I had the answer. I can’t not do it. I’ve been writing since high school for pleasure or for publication or both. I either write from images that possess me or I write in collaborations with artists I like and are willing to work with me. I recently found an Italo Calvino quote that finally said what I’ve been trying to say for years: “I start with a small, single image and then I enlarge it.” It all starts from being haunted, in a way, by images.

How does your writing process work?

John’s answer is so good and true to my experience you should read that.

During the summer, I can organize an hour or two at the beginning or ending of each day, but during school I just have to grab the time when I can, which means when the kids actually take naps. I wrote part of this laying across the front seat of my car in the parking lot of the library. The library was closed. I didn’t know that, but I didn’t want to waste my writing time. I live in Alabama, so it wasn’t the most comfortable writing station. (It’s summertime, dingus!) You got to do what you got to do.

Ideally, I write or mentally work through an idea or image every day.

I write one or two drafts on paper, then I do a typed version, sometimes from scratch. I may type another using all of my rough drafts. Then I print a copy and mercilessly cut toward the goals of the piece. I love cutting 800 words to 500. Depending on deadlines, I will go through that process for a few days. For me, it’s normal to write more than ten pages for a piece that ends up three or five pages.

Maybe it’s because I enjoy collaborations, but the few times I’ve been able to work with passionate and dedicated editors, I’ve had extremely positive experiences. They’ve made my work better.

Of course, we’ve all suffered from the castigations of overworked and inconsiderate editors. Sometimes they just don’t get it, and that’s ok. If the piece is good, it will find a place. It takes time.

Well, if you made it this far and want more you can check out my last blog tour entry or check out me mucking up Jason’s fabulous podcast.

If you are a writer and want to participate in this blog tour, send me a message or leave a comment. Everyone I contacted had either already done this, was blogless, or wasn’t interested.

THE TURN DOWN FOR WHAT BLOG TOUR

This is a blog tour that’s meant to get you past that humpday enervation. In part, it’s supposed to be LOUD. I don’t understand the cat meme thing so my medicine has partially been 1978ish  recordings and videos of Blondie.

TURN DOWN FOR WHAT is the brainchild of two contemporary writers that totally outclass me—so much so, it feels like a mistake I got invited to the party.

Those two writers are Emma Bolden* and Chantel Acevedo. They are killin’ it. Read their books! They’re the real deal and, again, I feel lucky to be invited.

Here are the original questions. Each writer tagged picks two to answer.

1) We know getting your work out is all about hard work, perseverance, & talent, but there’s always a dash of luck involved. So, name the luckiest publishing-related thing that has ever happened to you.
2) Your book has been optioned by Oprah. Who’s the star?
3) If your hometown threw a parade to celebrate your book, what kind of parade would it be?
4) Writing is sometimes a miserable experience. How do you drown your sorrows?
5) If you could be a box of cereal, what kind of cereal would you be and why?
6) Team Dickinson or Team Whitman?
7)  Arthur Quilling-Couch said that in writing, one often has to ruthlessly cut what one loves most — in other words, “Murder your darlings.”  What was your hardest darling to murder?
8) What’s the weirdest thing someone has said when you told them you are a writer?
9) If you could rewrite/adapt/rework any story by anybody, what would it be and what would you do with it?
10) Agatha Christie, as the story goes, created many of her stories while eating apples  in the bathtub.  How do you spark the story-or-poem-making part of your brain?

Here are my answers:

6) Team Dickinson or Team Whitman?

A New England night. A hillside overlooking a cemetery. Low fog and a full moon. A woman, shimmering in a white dress, walks slowly to the top of the hill. She carries a basket of gingerbread arranged around a skull.

A man seems to incorporate from the woods surrounding the cemetery. He swaggers up the hill and rakishly stands with hand on hip, a hat askew on his head. He grabs his hat and sends it sailing into the graveyard. It lands on the tip of a concrete angel’s wing. He rips his shirt open, baring his chest to the night, the moon, the glowing woman on the hill. He rips a tuft of grayish hair from his chest and sounds a barbaric yawp over the hillside.

The top of her head comes off, but being immortal she stands, skull regenerating. She vomits a torrent of black flies. They devour the man’s flesh. He sings as his body dissolves into the flies and the earth.

She walks down into the graveyard and takes the skull out of her basket and places it on a grave marked “Emerson.” She walks back up the hill.

She walks toward the remains of the man from the woods. What’s left of him crunches under her boot-soles and she places his skull in her basket.

She walks down the hill into the fog.

9) If you could rewrite/adapt/rework any story by anybody, what would it be and what would you do with it?

“The Most Dangerous Game.” I think.

I’m obsessed with a variation of chase/stalker films that include monsters. Predator, Jaws, Duel, Alien, The Terminator, The Thing, etc. Part of it is the mystery, whether it’s the shark in Jaws (the thing from the deep) or the alien in The Thing (the enigma of identity). This mystery always points back at the inscrutable and monstrous within us all, but I like the effect much more than the product of similar genres like slasher films.

I have the kernel of an idea set in 19th Century America, maybe even as a reversal of Moby Dick in which the white whale, the open cipher of fear, is pursuing a mix of Americans, including a runaway Civil War soldier. It would be set in the forest, so it would not feature a literal whale. Maybe one character sees a wendigo and maybe not.

 

I’ve tagged writer and writing coach Amanda Page. One of her recent projects documented a demolished Ohio building a day for a month. As someone who doesn’t generally think about place, I found the project had profound effects that haven’t worn off months later.

 

*An Internet cat fanatic like no other. Actually, she’s the houseguest of two famous cats herself–Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas! (Now you wish you would have thought of that!) Last year for Halloween my oldest daughter was the feline Gertrude, rage and all.

Mongrel Hearts

VvZ2aCIp5-ZzIZ6Gol3SgP3TH3--Dhh886dOze230ZoWe received Lucy’s ashes yesterday. Unsure at first what to do with them, we’ve kept them since they are in a nameplated urn. She was part of our daily lives for eleven years and there’s unusual silence in the house.

She served as a muse at times, odd as that sounds. I thought I’d share some of the poems she inspired.

And Wait
When I should be at the desk, the cold calls to the dog. We fill the space between the margins of this midtown fence. The best time is after the murmur of rush hour: the light when the sun is soon overcome and the peace that comes in the crack of each autumn step. We gnaw each new branch until it’s time to go back to the warm level places, water in bowls, the dull finish of a desk. We sit listening for something beyond these white walls—maybe attic rats or squirrels, maybe choirs or promises made during card games played in the dark.

(Published in Project for a New Mythology.)

The Essential If
She writes to me. Usually on windows with a wet nose. Something else to clean up until one day I had wiped away everything but the last whorls. I paused. I thought it was Hebrew. I knew it was Hebrew. She had written “if”—the essential if. The rest was rubbed away, but I saw the same mark a week later. Does Sue-Sue know Hebrew? Where would she have learned it? “If you hear-hear (if you obey-obey).” I had seen some in my books about tarot cards, but I’m pretty sure she can’t read. “Sue-Sue” is short for “Super Susannah the Brown Noodle Bandit.” This is what happens when you have a child name things like pets and grandparents. I refused to write “Super Susannah the Brown Noodle Bandit” on all those vet forms, so we compromised with “Sue-Sue.” I think I won there. But now she’s given me the essential impossible conditional. In Hebrew? Or is it Arabic? Egyptian Arabic? That’s different, I think. The essential impossible conditional. She chews a pig’s ear. She licks and I wait for the next metaphysical smear, the next barking of angels.

(Published in the 2014 Slash Pine Press Festival Anthology.)

Little Billboards #17

roland who’s the jazzman in my mind

This summer has been exhausting, but in mostly good ways. First, there’s potty training. ‘Nuff said. Second, our dog needs surgery and while we are thinking positive, it’s likely 50/50. We’ve got a little over a week until her surgery is scheduled. She may be blocked with diaper filling. We hope the mass in the x-rays is diaper filling. It’s taken several months and several doctor’s visits to get to this point, so the summer budget has been destroyed. Nuked, really.

I’ve always intended to write more frequently here, but right now I’m in the middle of several writing projects. I’m not sure how much detail I can give yet, but I’ll be co-writing two comic books. One will be out this year, in a matter of months actually, but I have a lot of work to do on it. The other may be out this year or next year. Both, as far as I know, will be specialty one-off stories. For now.

I have another story for a comic that is “in process.” One production company out of two has given a thumbs-up. I’m just waiting on the other “okay” or “no way.” If this goes through, I have to do some revision, but the script itself is in draft form.

This summer I’ve also been co-writing some stuff that is making it into “production meetings.” This is good, just not definite.

A friend and I are trying to find an agent for another project that we have finally satisfactorily finished. It’s taken us several years, but I think it’s a good project and I hope it finds a home.

Little Billboards is close to hitting #100.

I started writing book reviews recently, but am not writing those as fast as I thought I would. I have one in process.

Also, I’m working on a new curriculum for my class. I teach AP classes and we just received our scores. My students broke all of my personal goals that I had for the next few years. My students scored at or above the national average on every section of the test. I’m trying to dig in and find ways of increasing my overall passing percentage, while staying true to principles that I have that are beyond test-taking.

While writing or cleaning up after my toddler, I’ve been listening to a lot of music. It’s nice to get back into listening again. I took a break for a few months. Barely listened to anything. Writing in the house or in coffee shops has meant headphones and using my own music to block out everything else.

The Sun City Girls. True trickster-shamans. Beautiful and brutal. Beware.

Omar Khorshid:

I need to wrangle children. Which reminds me of “When the Children Cry.” I preferred “Wait.”:

 

 

 

spring reading

This weekend I met a few deadlines and finished the novel portion of a 21st century reading list. We picked five novels, five short story anthologies, and five essay collections. Our previous readings have focused on particular authors and we agreed to go back to that format and intermingle our 21st century choices among those books. Reading a single author’s works and thinking about how they develop over time has just been more satisfying than the list of critically-acclaimed novels we chose. This summer we’re going to finish War and Peace and then dive into Faulkner. Most of that will be rereading for me, but I’m looking forward to it.

Here’s what we read in order of my favorites:

Asterios Polyp: David Mazzucchelli
Telegraph Avenue: Michael Chabon
Oryx and Crake: Margaret Atwood
The Book Thief: Markus Zusak
American Gods: Neil Gaiman

1. Asterios Polyp: David Mazzucchelli
A brilliant graphic novel. I was going to write something about it, but I found this and this and they say it better than I could. The second link is to some thoughts on the book by Scott McCloud and he recommends reading the book at least twice before reading his comments. Not a bad idea.

2. Telegraph Avenue: Michael Chabon
Chabon is a writer that makes me sick sometimes because of how good he is. I love wishing I had written some of these sentences or the 40,000 word sentence that makes up the central chapter of this book. Having worked in a used CD/vinyl store off and on for almost ten years made the record store scenes particularly fun for me.

3. Oryx and Crake: Margaret Atwood
I haven’t read a lot of Atwood, but I have lots of respect for her. She’s a great writer, but not always my taste, although I appreciate what she’s doing. I may have come to this with too much baggage: I love plague and dystopian novels. It was hard for me to get into and I felt my attention waning here and there. Ultimately, I enjoyed it. What I didn’t like was probably more my fault than the writer’s.

4. The Book Thief: Markus Zusak
I’ll have to add this to a long list of books that friends say is “wonderful” and even say is their “favorite,” but is one that had little effect on me. That said, I don’t think it’s a bad book–it’s just not for me. I liked I am the Messenger better.

5. American Gods: Neil Gaiman
This was a surprise. Several friends have told me to read this book. I’ve read a few of Gaiman’s short stories and liked them. I’ve read his blog and watched a few hours of interviews and talks that he’s given. I like Gaiman, but I found this book unreadable. I read about 30% and I just couldn’t do it anymore.

 

 

 

 

 

 

more break than spring

The past few weeks have been insanely busy with the end of the grading period plus stomach virus misery in the McClurg-Vineyard camp. I’ve had several projects cooking at once, and several of them I just can’t talk about yet. For one of them, a friend of mine is going to be knocking out some high profile and exciting stuff and I may be involved–or not. Either way, an incredible artist I know is about to be making some waves and that’s really cool.

I got to crank up some Napalm Death, etc. for inspiration for some recordings that may or may not see the light of day. If anything, I may be helping another good friend develop his blast beat chops. This has allowed me to check out some music that I haven’t listened to since I was thirteen. Blast beat etudes.

I’ll be reading at the Slash Pine Poetry Festival and I’ll have a poem in the commemorative anthology! The poem I turned in to the anthology is an important one for me. In some ways, I feel like it’s the best thing I’ve written, but, boy oh boy, has it racked up a lot of rejections. That’s just how it goes. I’m really excited about this especially since I gave my first poetry readings in Tuscaloosa at what was once the oldest bar in Alabama (The Chukker, R.I.P). Actually, I helped present a weekly reading series there, but I haven’t read there in about fourteen years and I haven’t done a poetry reading in about four years.

I have a new piece of flash fiction over at The 500.

My visiting writer series ended yesterday with Emma Bolden. Wow. She’s developed a great strategy for combining various inputs, including TV, into versions of found poetry. She’s fiercely intelligent and wonderfully down-to-earth. She’s also a great teacher!

I hope my students have gained something from this reading series. Every writer so far has taught me something.

One of the projects I worked on desperately needed some Anthrax. I went with Fistful of Metal:

And I’ve listened to lots of Swans lately: