Blogging on Tour: My Writing Process
I was graciously invited by the luminous Ti Kendrick Hall of What if the Shape is a Rose? to join in a blog tour that explores writing process. It’s a bit like a chain letter except vastly more interesting and full of tasty tidbits of writer’s obsessions and processes. A few of the others on tour have included:
Without further ado:
1) What are you working on?
Currently, I’m working on a short story for the forthcoming pen and paper role-playing game, Strange Voyages, which has been described as “Star Trek meets the Age of Exploration.” I’m writing a story set in Cuba in 1544 during the height of triangle trade and the beginnings of Santeria.
In 2013, I finished my MFA thesis for Goddard College, entitled Behind the Magic Mirror, an ambitious combination of short stories and comic scripts that each retold a fairy tale. Two of the short stories have been picked up for publication: “Iron Henry” appeared in the Fall 2011 Pitkin Review and “Lilith’s Mirror” appeared in the 2013 anthology from Dark Opus Press, Tell Me A Fable.
I pretty much always have some sort of retold fairy tale going on, either in the form of a short story or a comic. At the moment I am working with several artists on short comics that retell tales from the Grimm brothers, Nez Perce legend, and The Arabian Nights. I’m always on the lookout for artists who have the same obsession with weird fairy tales that I do.
I have also been working on a superhero comic, which is one part love letter to superhero comics and one part critique. A Teen Titans/X-Men-esque team of teenage heroes defeated this menacing alien invasion…this story is set ten years later, when the heroes have grown up, settled down, and really, truly, deeply suck at young adulthood.
2) How does your work differ from others’ in the same genre?
In terms of fairy tale retellings, my tales are not blithe parody (Cinderella doesn’t need a man so she opens a shoe store omg!) nor simple setting-shifted retellings (Snow White in SPAAACE!). Oftentimes I find hidden content or untold sides of the stories to explore. Why is Rumplestiltskin so obsessed with babies? What’s with all the maimed women? Can anyone else see these tales’ queer content? Sometimes my tales are more like sequels to the original tale, sometimes they are like hidden facets of the story. I strive to maintain the open-ended weirdness that the original tales have.
As for the superhero comic…it’s not Watchmen. It’s not The Incredibles. It’s not Promethea. It’s not even a convenient combination of the three. In fact, I’m not sure I’ve ever read a superhero comic like the one I’m writing, which is more or less why I’m writing it.
3) Why do you write what you do?
Aside from the above?
I write comics because I have profound love for the medium; I think comics can tell stories in ways that no other genre can. I also enjoy the collaborative aspect of making comics; as someone whose drawing skill is…say not as developed as my writing skills…I’ve had a good time working with others to realize my comics.
I write about fairy tales and superheroes because I obsess over them. I find both examples of profound cultural mythology that affects the way people tell themselves the stories of their own lives. I like looking at culturally ubiquitous literature like Dante’s Inferno as well, as you may have guessed from Stock Photo Hell. Watch out for me on Twitter (@AnneBeanTweets), because I have been live-Tweeting Milton’s Paradise Lost.
Fairy tales and myth in particular have this bizarre and tasty weirdness to them. They are simultaneously empowering and problematic. They are psychologically profound and lasting, sources of cultural commonality. At the same time, there’s straight-up weird imagery like a bear with iron fur, a young woman dressing in the skin of an old woman, a killer butterfly, a goddess who returns to her scorned ex-husband buckets full of all the semen he’s ever spilled in her… Furthermore, I marvel at the recurring themes that transcend cultures and continents: the countless women with missing hands or limbs, the animal husbands, the miraculous babies. Once you start digging into fairy tales, I’ve found, you open a well into deep cultural consciousness. It is, as the old woman said, turtles all the way down.
4) How does your writing process work?
I have recently re-engaged with the Julia-Cameron-brand morning pages, i.e. three pages of longhand brain drain writing in the morning. These are great. They reduce the amount of time I spend hyperventilating and staring and a blank page or blinking cursor by at least half.
I write most of my drafts longhand. I like to sketch out character arcs and story structures for longer pieces. I find writing in groups to be helpful; I have several groups dedicated to writing practice, and I host a group that does focused exercises and timed freewrites. I edit on the computer, usually with the input of beta readers. Frankly, it’s harder to write when I’m not in the comfy structure of an MFA program. Self-imposed deadlines are tough. This is why I write with others.
In terms of comics, I write scripts with pages and panels, but I don’t mind if my artists ignore the paneling and make up their own. About half of the time I write whatever script has popped into my brain; the other half of the time I write specifically for an artist who has agreed to work with me.
Next Wednesday, July 16th, check out the next group of radsauce writers:
Mick Harris is a poet living in the SF East Bay. They have an MFA, but their education is far from over. They’re mostly friendly, and definitely happy to be here. You can find their work in Pink Litter and the Up, Do anthology available from Spider Road Press (http://www.spiderroadpress.com), as well as forthcoming in Fruitapulp, Deep Water Literary Review, and Digging Through the Fat. They share poetry and general brain dump at http://www.positivelysocialsix.wordpress.com.
M.M. Jordahl is a writer, blogger and feminist endlessly fascinated with the intersection of social issues and popular fiction. She has a degree in creative writing from the University of Washington in Seattle, and primarily writes science fiction and fairytales, with frequent deviations to complain about TV shows on her blog. You can find her at mmjordahl.com, or on Twitter at @mmjordahl.