Writers' Blog Tour – Why do I Write What I do? Question #1

Have you heard of the Writers’ Blog Tour? (Goggle it, and you’ll see all the various writers on the Tour.)

Each writer tagged to join the Tour posts answers to the same four questions on their blog. They might post answers all at once, or one at a time, whatever suits. They also provide links to Authors on the Writers’ Blog Tour2

I was invited to join the tour by the wonderful historical fiction writer, Sandra Gulland. Her books includ the fantastic The Shadow Queen, Mistress of the Sun and the Josephine B Trilogy!

Sandra’s answers to the questions on the Writers’ Blog Tour are both inspiring and practical.  She says, “why do I write what I do? Because there are fascinating stories to explore, and there is nothing more otherworldly than the past.”  You can read her contributions by clicking here.  

In turn, I’ve invited Catherine Bush (Accusation, Rules of Engagement, Claire’s Head) and Susan Swan (The Western Light, What Casanova Taught Me, The Wives of Bath, among others) to join the tour. I’m looking forward to reading how these two writers answer the questions.

Catherine and Susan will each invite two writers to join the Tour … who will then in turn invite two writers.  And so on, and so on. All the writers will—if possible—post to Facebook and Tweet. (The Twitter hash tag is #writersblogtour.)

The four questions are intriguing:

Why do I write what I do?

What am I working on?

How does my work differ from other work in its genre?

How does my writing process work?

I’m going begin with the first, the second will follow in a few days:

Why do I write what I do?

I write both short stories and novels and, in the case of the novels, two are historical — The Stubborn Season is set in the 1930s and Against a Darkening Sky is set in the 7th century — The Radiant City and Our Daily Bread are contemporary novels, and The Empty Room is also contemporary, but more autobiographically based.  Some say Against a Darkening Sky is a historical fantasy.

Genres aside, however, I write in general because I can’t seem to stop and because I am saner when I write than when I don’t.  My Best Beloved will attest to this fact.

When confronted with something that disturbs me I tend to tip over into a muddle of sensations rather than any logical analysis.  I sometimes feel like I’m in a knife shop during a tornado.  The only way I know to quiet the maelstrom is to tell myself a story about it.  The story is not an anecdote, but rather an allegory, a metaphor.  It comes up from somewhere quite mysterious — a sort of psychic compost heap if you will.  From this heap figures form and come to life and walk through their worlds, full of yearning and hope and despair and rage and humor and grief and craving… and I tell their stories. In doing so, sometimes as I’m writing, but more often after I’ve written, I realize I’ve not only come to understand what I feel about a certain event or person or thing, but also that I have made some order out of the chaos of the storm.

As for the particular subjects  — the tyranny of mental illness in the family (The Stubborn Season); whether it’s possible to survive a catastrophic disillusionment without becoming cynical (The Radiant City); what happens when we view our neighbors as ‘The Other” (Our Daily Bread); or how a person confronts his/her personal demons (The Empty Room); what happens when an experience of the Sacred clashes with dogmatic theology (Against A Darkening Sky)  — the inspiration comes from whatever I happen to be obsessing about at the moment.  Luckily, I tend to obsess quite a bit, and so I’m rarely at a loss for material.

The themes that keep circling are things like justice/injustice; compassion vs passion; how to be good; how to be kind; what sort of blind spots do people have, particularly about themselves and how does one overcome them; what is sacred, and how does one become closer to whatever that is?  In one way or another, perhaps because of the childhood I had, and certainly because of the experiences I’ve had throughout my life, I keep returning to these themes.  As I  keep having new experiences these might well change, or expand, or some may be discarded.  My responsibility is simply to respond to what’s before me now, informed by my past and my present understanding of the world.

At least that’s the way it works for novels.

For short stories, it’s a bit different.  I write a particular short story because something has caught my eye — a particular image, a single scene. Annie Proulx said, “In a rough way the short story writer is to the novelist as a cabinetmaker is to a house carpenter.”  They come from the same source synchronicity comes from, visions come from, dreams come from.  I suppose it might be said that all writing comes from that source, but with short stories, the lens is more focused, the message more urgent.

In short, I write the novels I do because I’m flummoxed by something, nagged by it.  I write short stories because something has just poked me in the eye.




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