Stacie Evans. The woman has impeccable timing. She asked me to participate in a blog tour about the writing process. She knows I’m here in Banner, Wyoming on a residency, feeling especially proud of having my gmail organized into actual folders and using them appropriately (You mean “follow up” doesn’t mean “forget it?” How novel!), and from my studio window watching what my city-ass thinks is a pine tree shaking from the strong winds we’re getting today. She knows I rewarded myself last night for a final draft of a short story with a few vodka grapefruits and three hours of wrestling on TV. What was I gonna do? Tell Stacie I didn’t have time? She would’ve seen right though me. Besides being incredibly astute, Stacie is also a wonderful writer and you should check her out at if you want kin, you must plant kin. With that said, here’s a little on the method and madness that slapped together could be called my writing process.
1) What are you working on?
I’m working on a short story collection that delves into the struggle to define and pursue personal freedom through three sets of characters: one coming-of-age in the Dominican Republic; another navigating adulthood and immigration; and the last, the generation born in an adopted land. The lenses through which I examine personal freedom are immigration, family dynamics, adolescent isolation and gender. The collection is inspired by anecdotes passed down to me by my father – a natural orator and one of my earliest examples of storytelling – and my upbringing in the largest Dominican community outside of the Dominican Republic.
How good did that shit sound? Listen, I didn’t know I was working on anything at all four years ago when I started writing these stories. I just did then the same thing I do now. Try to get these little vague notions that bubble up inside of me into some sort of form that I feel proud of sculpting.
So what I work on constantly is being attentive enough to feel when an idea pokes me, desperately trying to hold onto a thread of it in between parenting, working, remembering to buy dog food and the million other things that get in the way, and then hustling the time to trap some facsimile of that little aleph of a poke onto a page. Over and over. That’s what I work on.
2) How does your work differ from others’ work in the same genre?
Half the time, I don’t know what to answer when people ask me what I write about so I’m at a total loss when it comes to pinning down what genre I work in beyond short fiction. One story in my collection is paranormal or urban fantasy or horror, another is women’s fiction, others are contemporary or commercial, one is middle-grade or YA. I suppose they differ from other writers’ stories in the same way I differ from the next person. My lens is forged by my particular experiences so my stories reflect what I’ve read, the weirdos and assholes I’ve interacted with in my life, my hometown of NYC, my immigrant neighborhood, being a first-generation American, my roots through my family in the Dominican Republic.
3) Why do you write what you do?
I write stories like the ones I heard after Sunday family dinners when I was a child. When I remember those times, I see my father in the middle – a sun – and grandparents, aunts, uncles caught in the gravitational pull of his stories about women that carried pistols under their skirts and men that were thieves and adventurers. Cousins sat sprawled out on the floor around me – like stars – when we were allowed to listen and everyone would be red-faced from laughing. For a few hours, the adults were free from twelve hour work shifts, bills, the rising cost of everything in New York City and worrying about the kids. For a few hours, their lives were worthy of being talked about and we were our own universe. I write to rediscover those moments.
I write the stories I do, basically because there is something that will keep nagging me if I don’t. I am beginning to suspect that my father has developed the technology that’s allowed him to finally implant himself completely into my brain, but it’s just a hypothesis. Something tells me I can write that story despite it not being the first time someone’s written about infidelity or disappointment. Even if we’re only different from each other by degrees and therefore so are our ideas, those degrees are infinite and that is reason enough for my story to exist.
4) How does your writing process work?
Let’s see if I can actually pin down something as cohesive as a process. It starts with an idea. It could be something I overhear as small as a fact or a comment, or as large as an anecdote or whole story my dad tells me on a random Sunday. Sometimes, I just “see” the character – in my head or physically in the world. Other times I want to recapture a feeling – disappointment or camaraderie – and I start from there. I’ve had song lyrics or short stories I read nudge me into my own spin-off as well. Picture the idea as a screw against a wall. Getting the story out is like turning that screw until it just won’t go anymore. If the idea was a small fact, I ask well, why would people do this thing? Or what type of person would do that? If it’s an anecdote or a whole story I’ve been told, or I “see” my character, I try to get into my hero/heroine’s head and move about their world as they would. What do they want? What or who is stopping them? Who or what is important in their world and are they helping or harming? How can I make these things face-off? For some reason, I am where technology comes to die, so several laptops and PCs crapping out on me have gotten me used to outlining (sometimes), jotting notes or starting the first draft with pen and paper.
Then I keep turning that screw with all the elements of fiction. How can I solidify the setting. How does the setting impose itself on the characters or the plot? Do I know my character? Would they say or do that? Would they say it or do it that way? Are all the elements of the plot tangible? You know, rising action, climax, resolution and all that. Can I see a theme sprouting from this goop? When I can’t see the forest for the trees anymore and it’s the highest level I can get it to on my own, I workshop it with peers. By this point, I’ve moved to typing up the handwritten draft.
Armed with notes, suggestions and comments from my trusted writers/readers, I rewrite according to what I agree with and what intuitively feels like the right direction. And my colleagues are so freaking astute I usually agree with 99% of their insight. There are always several rounds of rewrites and rounds of printing, rewriting by hand, retyping and re-printing. The first draft can be a drastic change from the final. I let go a long time ago worrying about how much time it’s taking me.
It’s ready when it’s ready and all that matters is if I think I will be able to reread this story a hundred times, 5, 10, 15 years from now and love it and be proud of it. Basically, did I go in there and earn the action movie slow walk with the explosions behind me?
Then I edit. Not exactly the same as a rewrite. I’m not making these big structural changes anymore. It’s more like asking myself, is every sentence absolutely necessary to understanding the character and does that understanding forward the story? Is every word necessary? Can I stream-line this? Can I say it using less words and still get the meaning across? Can I use a better word here? Pen across printed pages – makes me feel all editorial like. Don’t let me get a read pen or I get drunk with my own power.
Then I’ll just feel it when everything has clicked into place. I hit the point where I am not capable of making this story any tauter. I don’t have the urge to tweak anything when I reread it. It makes me happy to read it actually. Then I’m ready to submit it to journals in consideration of publication.
I forgot to mention, I usually work on things simultaneously, but they’ll all be in different stages of production. Maybe I have an idea jotted, a draft of something started, something ready to workshop, something else ready for rewrites, something I’m in a round of submissions with. I can’t be in the same stage with a bunch of pieces, that’s just madness. And I can’t write while I’m on the train or on the line in the supermarket. I need larger chunks of time. A residency. A weekend where I devolve into a hermit crab. An evening where I skip making dinner, going to the gym or grooming.
Goodness. That’s the most I’ve ever talked about this crap. I’m excited and relieved to pass the torch next week to two writers I love and love to read. Serena Lin is my fellow VONA sis and just completed her thesis. Go check out what she has to say at Drunken Whispers. And my girl Abigail Ekue – native New Yorker, blogger of all things sex, body image, food and photography at Random Musings.