Sunday, August 24, 2014

My Writing Process know this is a departure from my typical subject matter--I don't generally spend any time on here talking about myself, but my friend Teege challenged me to a battle of words. He removed his pristine white writer's glove and smacked me in the face with it before insulting my mother and belittling my manhood. Or he just asked politely that I answer a few questions about this thing I do. Either one of those interpretations would be accurate, and so in an effort to defend my honor (and just to have a little fun actually thinking about aspects of my writing that I otherwise wouldn't think about), I decided to respond. And just FYI, Teege is a regular contributor to The Drunken Odyssey, which you should totally check out. His In Boozo Veritas section is always funny, quippy, insightful, and just a general delight to read. So you should read it. Like right now. Really, I'll wait.

For the record, this is about my writing process as it relates to  fiction and not to the stuff I blog about on here. These concepts are always pretty straight forward: I watched this TV show, or movie, I had thoughts about said TV show, or movie, I write those thoughts down in something of a rambling, unfocused kind of way, and then I second guess myself and realize I probably have no idea what I'm talking about. My fiction doesn't (necessarily) work in quite that same fashion. So, without further adieu:

1) What are you working on?

Right now, I'm working on my first novel. It's a gay romance (of sorts) that takes place during the zombie apocalypse. This idea came to fruition a couple of years ago when I was watching The Walking Dead and Falling Skies and realized there were no gay people on either of those shows. More over, I couldn't think of any post-apocalyptic work I had ever watched or read that featured queer characters. Admittedly, I've been told The Walking Dead comics do actually feature gay characters, but I haven't read those; which, as we all know, means they don't actually exist. I did ask around a bit at the time to see if this was a subject matter any of my friends had remembered seeing, and everyone said no, they had not read a post-apocalyptic story with gay characters, and certainly not with a gay protagonist. I was left thinking that people just don't assume the gays will survive a zombie uprising, and I for one find that to be horribly problematic. For the record, I would not survive a zombie uprising, but I am in no way meant to be representative of the entire gay population. And so the idea for this story was born and I've been slowly making my way through it ever sense. I'm actually going to be reading a section of it this week, so I'm in the midst of editing that section as much as possible, and then when I'm done with that, I'm planning on giving my brain a bit of a break and getting started on a short story idea I've had for awhile now. So I'm kind of working on (or will be working on) a number of things.

2) How does your work differ from others of its genre?

I don't feel that I write within any specific genre really. I'm a lot more interested in interesting and unique characters being put in somewhat unexpected situations. With the novel I'm working on, for example, I was far more interested in what it might be like to have a specific lifestyle and community be totally stripped away from you in the blink of an eye. Queer identified people make up roughly 10% of the population, and it stands to reason that that number wouldn't change even if the vast majority of the world's population became undead. But 10% of 7 billion is a lot more than 10% of like 7 million. Or at least I think it is; I don't really math all that well; I'm an English major for a reason after all. So what happens if a person goes from being a solid member of an active queer community to being the only queer person left in a community dedicated to survival and even the propagation of the human race? It fits in with common post-apocalyptic themes of what really makes us human, what happens to our basic humanity when civil structures break down, and what it takes to really survive in a post-apocalyptic hellscape, but when you filter all of that through a queer lens, I think you add a unique element that causes the story to at least bend and twist a bit within the genre. Or maybe I'm delusional.

3) Why do you write what you do?

This one is pretty easy for me: I write what I want to read. As a child, I (like many other minorities) struggled with finding accurate representation. I was a young, black, gay man who liked to read and write, but also liked rock music and loved sports. In our society, almost all of those things contradict one another in some fashion. As a teenager in the late 90s and early 00s, I was lucky in the sense that there was a lot more queer representation on TV than there had ever been before. But it wasn't that simple. You could find gay characters on TV, but the vast majority of them were (and still are) white. In the event you did find a black gay man on a reality show somewhere, chances were he was either extremely feminine or extremely masculine in a very thuggish "urban" manner. I'm none of those things. I tend to be just masculine enough to pass as straight in front of people who aren't paying much attention (ie most straight people in the world), but just fem or gay enough to be readily excluded from certain hyper-masculine spaces. I'm also a total nerd who's actually better at analyzing football than a lot of the idiots working for ESPN. So when you get right down to it, the chances anyone's ever thought of creating a character who looks like me inside and out are extremely rare. So I realized from a very early age that if I wanted to read stories about awesome people who were allowed to be more than just the stereotypes their race, sexuality, or gender imposed on them, or who were just allowed to be more than simple metaphors or symbols standing in for this grand racial theme or allegory, I'd have to write them myself.

4) How does your writing process work?

Who's to say it does? My writing process is about as sporadic as you're likely to find. I have stretches where I'll write multiple days in a week, and then stretches where I won't write anything at all for multiple weeks. I can sit down and crank out over a thousand words in one day, or I can sit down thinking I'm ready and just stare at the screen for awhile. Sometimes I write with music playing (by which, I mean full on songs, lyrics and everything. I know a lot of people listen to classical or instrumental scores, and I do that too sometimes, but I'm also capable of writing while my favorite band plays in the background), sometimes I need silence. I tend to consider myself more of a storyteller than a writer. This usually means I'm capable of sitting down after weeks of inaction and just pick right up where I left off. So long as the story is progressing linearly, I generally know what's to come next and, therefore, can be good at just plugging along. If there are any consistences in my writing process, I'd guess they'd be these:
  •  I always try to stop writing at a point where I at least know what's coming up next. So I try not to write to the point where I'm so burnt out that my brain is fried and I feel totally stuck on what the next leg of the story is. I'm not always successful at this, but I try. 
  • I always read the most recent couple of paragraphs (or maybe even pages sometimes) that I wrote before starting to write more. 
  • I try not to have the TV on when writing. I've found lately that I'm capable of writing in short bursts during commercial breaks if need be, but I never feel like I get enough done to justify that, and I can't split my attention between what's happening on the screen and what I'm doing on the page.
  • This is the first novel that I've ever written, so I've never had to do this before, but now I'm also learning to keep a separate file of the major edits I want to make to the story so that I'll remember them for when I do finally finish this first draft and start the editing process. 
  • I almost always write chronologically.
So there you have it folks. While I doubt my process and drives will do much to illuminate the darker mysteries of writing and literature for you, I do think it'll go a long way into informing you of who I am as a writer. And in keeping with the seeming tradition of this post, I'll throw down the gauntlet for Mistie Watkins,  Kristen Arnett, and Abbott Jones. I would love to hear how your beautiful brains work when you're creating the stories and the poems I love so much.

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