1) What am I working on?
These days I’m writing the first draft of a young adult novel set on a study tour in Greece and inspired by Jane Austen’s Persuasion. I'm about one and a half chapters away from the finish line...an exciting place to be.
2) How does my work differ from others of its genre?
I’ve written three young adult novels, all of them contemporary retellings of classic literature; I’ve retold Jane Eyre (Jane), Wuthering Heights (Catherine), and A Room With a View (the forthcoming Love, Lucy).
Literary retellings have become huge in the Young Adult world lately--so huge, Epic Reads invented a chart to help a reader make sense of this boom. My retellings fall into the category of contemporary realism; I transplant characters like Jane Eyre, Heathcliff, and Lucy Honeychurch into the present, exploring how they might remain themselves and how their story would be changed--by cars, jet planes, cellphones, the internet, and evolving social mores. Maybe everyone who writes retellings would say this, but when I write I'm very conscious of trying to be true to the spirit of the novels I'm retelling.
3) Why do I write what I do?
There's a very particular challenge to retelling a story people already know and love, and I really enjoy walking that fine line between respecting the old and experimenting with it.
I write poetry too, some of it formal, and in a way riffing on an existing plot is not unlike writing contemporary poems using very old poetic forms. Both projects involve working within parameters somebody else set a long time ago, and taking liberties to make something new.
Also, I can only write about subjects I care deeply about. I've always been obsessed with the classics; that's why I became an English professor in the first place. And setting retellings in the present allows me to bring in other elements that fascinate me—rock music, in my first three novels, the culture of backpacking in Love, Lucy, and photography and filmmaking in the book I’m writing now.
4) How does my writing process work?
When I decide to retell a novel I reread it; I might also watch film adaptations and listen to it on audiobook as I sleep at night, letting it seep into my subconscious. After a while, though, I put the book aside, trying to gain a little distance. I come up with a plot outline which I then follow loosely, and sometimes diverge from altogether. It helps to have a framework, but also to feel free enough to make discoveries along the way.
As far as the actual act of writing goes,I wish I could write faithfully every day as writers are told to. I tend to get so lost in my imaginary world that I am likely to forget to go to work, so I only write on days when I've got nothing else urgent to do--one day a week during the school year, if I'm lucky, and five days a week during the summer, or spring and winter break.
I start one of those writing days with coffee--lots of it. I read a bit of the newspaper, or fiddle around on Facebook, all of which helps me to feel a bit less tense about settling down to write. Writer's block terrifies me, so anything I can do to ease myself into writing is helpful.
The goal is to get somehow into that blessed state when the characters start talking to each other and I feel like I'm listening in, taking dication. It doesn't happen often, but when it does, it's the best part of the process.
***Next up on the round robin Writer's Process blog tour are two very fine poets. Their answers to the blog tour questions should be up on their blogs around about March 25th or 26th, so be sure to drop by!
The first, Anne Higgins, teaches English at Mount Saint Mary's University in Emmitsburg, Maryland, and is a member of the Daughters of Charity. She has had about 100 poems published in Commonweal, Spirituality and Health, The Melic Review, The Umbrella Journal, The Centrifugal Eye, and a variety of small magazines. She was invited to give a reading at the Art and Soul Conference at Baylor University in February 2001, and at the Calvin College Festival of Faith and Writing in 2002. Garrison Keillor read her poems "Open-Hearted" and "Cherry Tomatoes" on The Writer's Almanac on October 8, 2001, and August 8, 2010, respectively.
Four full-length books and two chapbooks of her poetry have been published: At the Year's Elbow, Mellen Poetry Press 2000, Scattered Showers in a Clear Sky, Plain View Press 2007, Pick It Up and Read, Finishing Line Press 2008, How the Hand Behaves, Finishing Line Press 2009, Digging for God, Wipf and Stock 2010, and Vexed Questions, Aldrich Press, 2013. Visit Anne's blog here.
The second, Bernadette McBride, is the author of Waiting for the Light to Change (Word Tech Editions, 2013) and Food, Wine, and Other Essential Considerations—an Alphabet, forthcoming this year from Aldrich Press. She has taught writing at colleges in both Pennsylvania and New Jersey, including poetry and fiction writing at Temple University and gives workshops in memoir, fiction, and poetry writing, as well as on the intersection of art and writing. A Poet Laureate of Bucks County, PA, her work has appeared on NPR’s The Writer’s Almanac with Garrison Keillor, has been recently published in the UK, widely published nationally in both journals and anthologies, and has been twice nominated for a Pushcart Prize. She directs the monthly poets’ reading series at Farley’s Bookshop in New Hope, PA. Visit her blog here.