Tag, I’m It! (Or How Answering Writing Questions Keeps A Writer On Track)

My friend, Vicky Alvear Shecter, author of the wonderful Cleopatra’s Moon and the soon to be released Anubis Speaks, invited me to participate in a Blog Tag wherein I must answer a couple writing-related questions.

And I jumped on that tag. Mostly because I was thinking, wheee! Now I can answer questions and won’t have to think up something scathingly brilliant for my next blog post.

Er…then I perused the questions. And realized that I’d still have to think. But in figuring out answers, I honed in on the focus of my projects! So thanks, Vicky–I needed that!

What are you working on right now?

This year, I’m striving to incorporate a little more balance in my writing. Which means that while I’m working on long-term goals (like book-length manuscripts and sending out queries), I’m also working on short-term goals (like essays or short stories for immediate markets/contests). For September, I’ll submit a short story for the Springfield Writer’s Guild Prose and Poetry Contest and I’m thinking on an idea for Kid’s Ark. I haven’t exactly come up with the idea yet, but the theme, “Store Up” has been staring back at me from my calendar so I’m counting on some kind of osmosis to kick in any day now. And for my manuscript, that means finishing the final revisions of CALLED.

I’d set CALLED aside till this summer because I kept fixing (or mucking up, depending on your perspective) little things without really tackling bigger issues in the story. Now that I know the story I want to tell, I think the edits are going much better. I don’t know that the writing’s better…Anyway, CALLED is the tale of fifteen-year-old, Tish Connery, who has been called to serve, called to help others. It’s just that the particular other who needs her help happens to be a little girl–who died six months ago. And even though Tish is not exactly the Catholic Teen of the Year, she’s pretty sure that a calling like this is against at least one of the commandments. But the spirit is persistent and Tish has always been a Good Samaritan sucker. She figures helping one little ghost can’t really hurt. (P.S. She figured wrong.)

So CALLED is a story of spirits and the spiritual, a coming-of-faith journey within a middle grade mystery/thriller. And it’s kind of funny, but not nearly as funny as it started out.

How does it differ from other works in the genre?

Gosh, I hope CALLED differs in its spirituality. I don’t think a girl with a psychic gift is that unusual in the paranormal genre. But from the start, I wanted Tish to be conflicted about her calling. And for that, I needed her faith to be a bigger part of the story. I thought about Joan of Arc and even Mary, the Mother of God, and how difficult it must’ve been to say yes when God called them to serve in ways so far beyond what they understood. But the bible is full of ordinary people who see and hear extraordinary things. And through a lens of faith, we believe, too. So I began to see that CALLED was a story of faith.

I think, too, I wanted to look at the protagonist differently. In most middle grade or YA stories, girls are kick butt heroines. Tish is more of a “kick you in the shins, then run” sort of heroine.

Why do you write what you do? 

I think for CALLED, I’m writing about questions that have rattled around in my brain since I was ten years old and my mom drove me past the notoriously haunted house in downtown Savannah. Savannah is a city steeped in spirits. But it’s also a city known for its St. Patrick’s Day parade and historic churches. The two have always coexisted, and I wanted to explore that paradox.

But in general, whether I’m writing for children or adults, I’m working out the questions rattling around in my brain. I don’t always realize what I’m trying to work out when I write, so that often, after I’ve finished a poem or a story, I’ll think, “Ooooh. Okay. Now I get it.” Sometimes, the writing of it is cathartic but not so great, and that’s okay, too.

What is the hardest part about writing?

The hardest part of writing is also the easiest to answer. Is the writing good? It doesn’t matter if I’ve received a “Congrats! You’ve won and we think your story is brilliant!” email just that morning. I’ll finish a story that afternoon and the doubts begin. Is this any good? Will anyone want to read it? I should go get a decent job, make money like normal people. 

Pffffft. Writing is easy. Sending your writing out into the world takes courage. (Fortunately, I realize that writing is not life or death and I get over myself.)

Holy cow! See what I mean about answering those questions? I had to think. And now it’s my turn to tag three authors, and I’m going to choose Lisa Ricard Claro and Donna Volkenannt and Sioux Roslawski. I’d love to read their answers to these questions!

So tag, you’re it!