Anna was up last week HERE. Now, Doug shares his writing process.
What am I working on?
I am about to restart a novel project that I had to set aside for some time. If I’m honest, I admit that I set it aside for about two years while we worked on other projects. I found that I couldn’t work on both the novel and the nonfiction book at the same time.
My novel is a historical thriller set at the end of the Manhattan Project, which was the World War II program to create an atomic bomb. The seventieth anniversary of the dropping of atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki will take place in a little less than eighteen months, in August 2015.
How does my work differ from others of its genre?
I’m sorely tempted to say, “But it doesn’t.” The whole point of a genre is to classify some appropriate level of sameness. My current day job (I’ve had many) is as a librarian. As a result, I’m a pretty firm believer in classification. Classification by genre gives a reader the ability to make sense of the world and to have certain expectations of that world. But as any librarian—or anyone else who tries to impose order on a/the world—knows, worlds are messy, tenuous places. In my own writing, I simply strive to render the world that I have in my head in the most compelling way that I can. In the end, I don’t think much about making my story differ from others in the genre. My focus is on making the story the best story that I can tell and, in doing that, tell a distinctive story that no one else could render.
Why do I write what I do?
In the largest sense, my writing reflects my interests. The specifics of Why this novel? are related to a chance occurrence in graduate school that brought me into contact with a veteran of the Manhattan Project. After the campus viewing of a documentary made by science historian Peter Galison, I went up to ask him a question. Standing in line in front of me was one of the very few women who’d performed scientific or engineering work on the Manhattan Project. She told Galison about working for Edward Teller. I struck up conversation with her and asked her if I could interview her. It took me more than three years to get that interview, but it was worth it. My writer’s mind was off and running.
There was a related, secondary thread at work in my life at the same time. My wife and collaborator, Anna Leahy, was working on a novel about her grandfather, Henry. As an adult, Henry was a Pullman Conductor on the Santa Fe Chief, the train that ran between Chicago and Los Angeles. The Chief and other trains were the primary mode of cross-country transportation for the scientists of the Manhattan Project. All through the war, Henry dropped these scientists off at Lamy, New Mexico. The novel grew out of my ruminating on the possibility that this woman I’d met by accident and Henry, who died shortly after I met him, might have met nearly sixty years earlier.
How does my writing process work?
Though I have regular tasks and obligations, my work as a librarian doesn’t have as much of a set schedule as most might think. I also teach at least one class a year, and I run at least one major event (a conference, a writer’s program, etc.) every year in addition to my day-to-day duties. As a result, I can’t consistently say that THIS hour of EACH day is my writing time. I have to be opportunistic. When I can find time to write, I have to do it.
I’m a firm believer in writing residencies (like the ones at Ragdale and the Dorland Mountain Arts Colony), and I use the uninterrupted time that they provide to get large chunks of work done and to give me inertia—the tendency of an object in motion to stay in motion—to keep going when I get back to my usual routine-that’s-not-routine. I’ve been blogging with Anna for almost four years. We post something new every week on Wednesdays. So, even when I’m not specifically focused on a book project, I consistently write, edit, and discuss with Anna each week. I stay engaged with the process.
Who’s next in the My Writing Process blog hop?
Amanda Niehaus at http://www.easypeasyorganic.com
Amanda Niehaus is a science writer, blogger, and mother. In 2008, she was diagnosed with breast cancer when her daughter was eight months old. She began “researching all the ways to make my family’s life healthier and happier” and began her blog as a result. She also contributes to magazines and other blogs.
Leslie Pietrzyk at www.workinprogressinprogress.com
Leslie Pietrzyk is the author of two novels (Pears on a Willow Tree and A Year and a Day) and has published short stories in many journals, including Gettysburg Review, Shenandoah, and The Sun. She teaches fiction in the graduate writing program at Johns Hopkins University and is on the core faculty at the Converse College Low-Residency MFA Program. You can read recent short fiction by her at http://rkvryquarterly.com/i-am-the-widow/.
Stephanie Vanderslice at wordamour.wordpress.com
Stephanie Vanderslice, M.F.A., Ph.D., most recently published Rethinking Creative Writing. She writes fiction and creative nonfiction and directs the Arkansas Writers MFA Workshop at the University of Central Arkansas. She also writes “The Geek’s Guide to the Writing Life” column at The Huffington Post. Stephanie is represented by Anne Bohner at Pen and Ink Literary.