Blog Hop: My Writing Process

Judith Starkston, author of the forthcoming Hand of Fire (Fireship Press, September 20, 2014), invited me to participate in this blog hop and answer four questions about my writing process. I’ve featured Judith twice on this blog, first when she described retiring from 30 years as a teacher and wanting to write about the Iliad, and then when she introduced me to her writing tool, Scrivener. Hand of Fire tells the tale of Briseis, a lesser known heroine of the Iliad who, although a captive, caught the attention of both Achilles and Agamemnon.

My Writing Process

1. What are you working on?

My current work in progress is a young adult novel tentatively named The Forest People, about two 16-year-old best friends supernaturally called to protect a family of man-like creatures roaming a remote 20-mile section of Arizona’s Tonto National Forest.

2. How does your work differ from others of it’s genre?

Take two parts Cruel Beauty, one part Eleanor & Park and a pinch of Hunger Games. Mix them together and bake for—I don’t know . . . a year or so—and you get a touching tale of first love, dashed dreams and excitingly new and unexplainable skills to apply to saving an entire species.

The Forest People uniquely tells a story of Bigfoot. Few novels present this creature as an integral part of solving a mystery by working in tandem with the people who the universe has called to protect them.

3. Why do you write what you do?

My son came home from a camping trip one day and told me about a strange and frightening sighting. I researched the creature he described and was hooked. Some scientists believe that about a thousand similar man-like animals live in elusive families throughout the world.

I’d heard of Bigfoot, Sasquatch and Yeti sightings but wondered why one has never been caught, or why the only “photos” and “videos” I found online seemed doctored.

Aha! It must be because generations of Sentinels keep the secret of their location and warn the creatures to hide when humans are nearby. To be a Sentinel is an noble calling, an honor of becoming part of something bigger than yourself. To be called at a young age requires sacrifice. To be called with your lifelong best friend who suddenly looks like the man of your dreams, is just plain weird.

I write it because it intrigues me. It allows me to inspire young people to look beyond themselves for their life’s purpose. And I get to make up stuff.

4. How does your writing process work?

I’m a structured mess. After taking classes and being edited by published authors, I learned about a six act, two goal novel architecture. I developed an Excel spreadsheet to outline about 50 chapters (75,000 words) within that framework. For each chapter, I decide on general storyline, conflict, clues and red herrings.

Before I start, I develop my story statement and profiles for both my antagonist and protagonist. For a good story, you need a great antagonist. I spend a lot of time thinking about what that person looks like, their backstory and what motivates them. I think about what the protagonist wants or needs, and the consequences for not achieving it. Those consequences have to be big, not just for the character, but for a larger public.

For The Forest People, I want to inspire young people to reach beyond themselves, find their life’s purpose and go for it. I want them to see that ordinary people like them can overcome obstacles to achieve huge things when they follow their calling and use the talents, skills and resources they’ve been given.

That’s the structured part. Writing is the messy part.

While following my outline keeps me on the right path, I allow my characters to tell me their story. That means that I often have to rearrange, amend and enhance my ideas. A character will take an unexpected turn, giving me a great new clue or red herring that I need to foreshadow in an earlier chapter.

For The Forest People, my two protagonists each have a distinct voice. In each subplot, I’ve found it easier to be true to the voice of each by writing their individual POV chapters all at once, skipping the other one until I’m ready to switch voices. Then I have to go back and make them flow together and make sense.

See what I mean about it being a structured mess?

Many thanks to Judith Starkston for tagging me for this blog hop. Look for her book, Hand of Fire, in September 2014.

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