Mad Typist

The Writer Tag and Blog Hop

Ok, so I have been tagged for the Writer Tag and Blog Hop by the wonderful Sonal Champsee. She is both funny and smart, and that pretty much describes all of my most favourite people. Plus, she’s nice. She didn’t just tag me for this thing, she emailed me first and asked me if I had the time to do it and if I wanted to do it. (That’s very nice.) And, at the time, I was, like, Yes and Yes! But then life got crazy and I got busy and now it’s been on my To Do List for two weeks. Today, I’m moving this task from the To Do List to the Doing Right Now List.

The Writer Tag and Blog Hop is an opportunity for readers and writers to learn about new writers (through four questions). Since the Tag moves through friends and professional acquaintances—instead of, say, by genre—you may get connected to a writer you’d never have known of otherwise. For example, I am tagging my dear friend, Jeffrey Ricker. He lives in St. Louis, MO, USA and writes awesome YA and genre fiction that is totally unlike anything that I write. Now you get to check him out because he is my friend! Yay!

Here are The Questions:

1) What am I working on?

Like always, I am working on multiple projects at once. Because I write creative non-fiction, I usually have a few articles competing for my attention. For example, I was working on an article about parenting in the age of internet pornography, which I continue to tweak while I shop it around to various publishers. I’ve also started on a shorter piece that I’m really excited about. I don’t want to give too much away, but it’s a humorous piece on how one particular family arrangement could save you a fortune living in Vancouver, one of the most expensive cities in the world.

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

Puh-lease. What arrogant asshole came up with this question? Next!

3) Why do I write what I do?

Probably because I’m not very good at making up stories or inventing characters.

I love telling true stories. I like the craft of it, especially when I get to combine various real-life stories to make meaning out of lived experiences. “The Devil’s In Her Mind” (Rhubarb 34) and “The Wrong Way” (The New Quarterly 124; you can find a link to the full essay here) are two examples of when I used this technique most successfully (I think). The making-meaning part of writing brings me the most satisfaction. And if I can do this without ever telling the reader how to feel or aggressively guiding them to a conclusion of my own, then it’s even better. Ideally, when people read my work, I want everyone to find their own unique meaning.

I remember when “The Wrong Way” was being workshopped and someone said, “The stories about the pets don’t belong in this piece. This is a story about your sister!” Someone else said, “The stories about the pets don’t belong because it’s a story about a dysfunctional family.” And then someone else said, “All the stories belong here, because it isn’t a story about your sister or one family. It’s an essay about grief.” That one piece could be so many different things to so many people, well, that’s a great feeling for me.

4) How does my writing process work?

Oh dear.

Well, I get one tiny, little idea for a piece. One thing someone said or one moment in time. And then I start thinking about it. I think about it for a really, really long time. Every time I think about it, something firms up in my mind, or settles. Or I add pieces. Or I take away pieces. And this all happens very slowly in mind—sometimes for weeks, usually for months, or even, rarely, for years.

Then one day, it becomes The Day. It is like the piece has been percolating so slowly for so long and then one day it wants to boil over! It’s suddenly a dire emergency. And I have to write it all right away or else. I’m not really sure what “else” is, but it is INTENSE.

Then I’m like a mad fiend, pounding away on my laptop, until it all comes out. Pretty much like this:

Gross, right? I know.

Once, I thought about a paragraph for over a year. I thought about it on a daily or weekly basis. I thought about what I wanted to accomplish. Then when I figured that out, I thought about how to do it. Then one day, I was taking a shower, and all the words came to me. All the right words. I jumped out of the shower and fiendishly pounded those words out. Sat back, made a few edits, and then—that was it. I was done.

I remember telling a writer friend of mine the next day about how pleased I was about that paragraph and how it had all gone down. And he said, “Oh, and then you woke up the next day and realized it was garbage?” And I frowned, and said, “Noooo. It was good. I should hope it was good—I’ve been thinking about that one paragraph for over a year!” He told me about his process: where he gets an idea, writes it down, looks at it later and realizes it’s shit, then has to painstakingly edit it for weeks or months to get it right. Well, I think I probably go through all of those same steps. I just do most of them in my head.


How Abigail Thomas Creates Narrative Tension

The Building Blocks of Good Memoir

BREVITY's Nonfiction Blog

A guest craft essay by Paul Zakrzewski on narrative drive in the segmented memoir:

3a36f29138705bc7d15156308c033669Recently, I found myself re-reading Abigail Thomas’s Safekeeping, a fabulous memoir-in-fragments about marriage and motherhood. And once again, I’m struck by a contradiction at the heart of the book:

How does the author create such narrative drive, such a fully realized portrait of a life, in a memoir whose form would appear to undercut these achievements?

Even if you don’t know Abigail Thomas’s memoir, it’s likely — especially if you’ve gotten an MFA in the past – you’ve heard it name-check. It’s one of those more experimental books, like Joan Wickersham’s The Suicide Index, which make the rounds in CNF courses. You know, the ones advisers push on you during conferences. The ones your classmates urge you to read in their manuscript margin notes.

The book is comprised of dozens of short sections—some four or…

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Alphabet Soup Interview

Hey Everybody,

It’s been a long and wild and weird summer, but I wanted to finally post my first radio interview for your listening “pleasure.”

Laura Trethewey and Matthew Walsh interviewed me on CiTR 101.9 FM‘s Alphabet Soup radio show on June 11, 2014. I felt like the interview went really well, considering I have a face for radio, but a voice for silent film. Also considering that I invented a brand new pronunciation of the word “scarce!”  Catch it at about the 17 minute mark.

Take a listen, but be warned: there are swears and sex talk ahead. The interview starts at 6:08 minutes in.


To keep up to date on all Alphabet Soup shows, follow them on Twitter at @alfabetsoups.

Alphabet Soup on CiTR