I don't know exactly what a virtual blog tour is except maybe a fancy chain letter that makes it sound like other people care more than they do about other people. I was tagged by Sam Snoek-Brown and Jon Konrath to do this. I'm not tagging anyone.
(Matthew Burnside recently told me I'm the most negative person online.)
(I recently told Matthew Burnside to fuck off.)
(And didn't mean it, because he's wonderful.)
Anyways, here are the questions I'm supposed to answer about my writing process, and below each one is some stuff I'm not going to think about too much because this is a blog, which is like the older sister who wins on scratch off tickets all the time of a MySpace bulletin.
* * * * * * * * * *
WHAT AM I WORKING ON?
I'm not going to answer this because it just reminds me that I haven't finished my shattered-novella, Soft, about the difference between girls and bands and lives you want to be in and girls and bands and lives you settle for, what you owe to who and if it was worth it. At this point, I'm wondering if writing a big Mary Robison rip-off novella--a long short story, if I can cut the shit--is worth it. Also, I had a band pretty much break up on stage once. Don't get me started about girls.
I'm almost done with a new chapbook, tentatively titled If There's Any Truth In a Northbound Train, but it's so close to being done that it's hardly worth mentioning. I started a wrestling-themed short story collection like a year-and-a-half ago and haven't done much because I've been too busy watching wrestling. In my head, I've been "working on" a couple essays about Drive-By Truckers songs and albums my buddies made and how they made me quit my job or realize why I'm getting old, but without a word down on paper, digital or otherwise, I can't really count it.
Mostly, I'm working on making a deep, labored-over scrawl of the word "BLOODLETTING" in the corner of the monthly check to my student loan empire, which is about as satisfactory as it comes in terms of writing.
* * * * * * * * * *
HOW DOES MY WORK DIFFER FROM OTHERS OF ITS GENRE?
I write literary fiction, which is like saying "I play rock & roll." Instead of convincing you that I'm different than other writers in that broad, very general label--because, other than more unnecessarily missing limbs and none of that weak, boring grad student shit aimed at the big journals, it's pretty similar to other stuff--let me make a short list of writers who are more successful than me and and a brief, jealousy-fueled reason as to why you should hate them and love me.
Amy Hempel: Has really white hair now and writes about dogs too much. (My hair is brown with natural blonde highlights and I think dogs are stupid even if labradors are really cuddly when they're puppies.)
Barry Hannah: Wrote a 400 page story collection and owned a lot of guns. (I won't waste your time . . . or you!)
Raymond Carver: Married Tess Gallagher and then died. (Possibly related incidents. Either way, I'm still alive.)
Rick Bass: Really likes going outside and has a last name that confuses some people as to how it's pronounced. (Inside has never given anyone a sunburn and my name is impossible mispronounce unless you speak some dialect of German and even then it's only one letter off and it sounds pretty much the same.)
Tom Franklin: Drinks Bud Light. (That stuff smells like piss.)
Justin Lawrence Daugherty: So sexy that he causes car accidents and stuff. (I am of reasonable looks and incapable of distracting a person to a point of harm.)
Gary Lutz: Doesn't have Facebook and writes in an absurd font size. (I have an awesome Facebook and I write in Times New Roman, 12 pt. font.)
Kevin Wilson: Named his kid after Ann Patchett. (She's great and adorable, but come on.)
Mary Miller: Won't marry me on top of a mountain. (I would marry me on top of a mountain.)
W.P. Kinsella: Wrote some shit that sounds like Garrison Keillor. (I had like a compilation disc of Guy Noir stuff in college, but that was a confusing time and I'd never write like the dude, for fuck's sake.)
Matt Bell: Loves his wife too much. (I never mention the fulfillment my significant other gives me, even to her, which she finds really disheartening.)
Lorrie Moore: Left Wisconsin. (I moved like three minutes into Iowa and my mail still goes to a house in Wisconsin, so, LEGALLY, I haven't left.)
Grace Paley: Excessively Jewish. (I am a very moderate, easily tolerable level of Jewish.)
Heiko Julien: Is a cunt. (I am not a cunt.) (We are also in different genres, but he's still a cunt.)
* * * * * * * * * *
WHY DO I WRITE WHAT I DO?
I try not to write about things in a way that other people would write about them. The other day I was working on a story and I knew I needed one of the characters to say something about the first date this kid was going on. I had the father say, "She comes first," and then I deleted it. Same thing with "Respect is the most important thing" and "Be safe, always" and other such garbage. I had the uncle say some borderline greasy stuff I won't put in here. It went around like that, just trying to break up the narrative and pop us back in the scene. But I couldn't figure out what to say. Finally, I had the little brother ask, "Is she pretty and would you rescue her from a burning building?" It reminded me of when I was in fifth grade and my friend Pat and I would stay up way too late proposing scenarios in which we would save girls we liked from danger. This probably says more about me than it does my writing, but it still seemed like the thing that only I could say.
I try not to write boring sentences, is what it is. Unless I have to just to get on with the fucking point. If I need someone to get downtown, I say, "Micky got in her Ford Festiva and took the downhill route to Sears." Or wherever she's going. Regardless, not a thrilling sentence, but I make sure the next one or two are.
Basically, I just write whatever's left after I get done not writing all the shit that I think sucks. Sometimes I still write shit that sucks, but I just delete that stuff. Occasionally, I don't delete that stuff. I'm no genius.
* * * * * * * * * *
HOW DOES MY WRITING PROCESS WORK?
Who said "I just sit down and bleed on the page" or something like that? That person is an asshole.
(Googled it. It was Hemingway. Standing by my asshole judgment.)
There's some anecdote about Chekhov getting asked this same question, picking up an ashtray, and then saying, "Tomorrow, I'm going to write a story called 'The Ashtray.'" I do the same thing except I sit down at my computer with what I think is like three pages of an idea in my head about how I just noticed a scar on my face I've never noticed before and have no idea how I got it or how a guy who runs a repair shop wants two wives because he has two of everything else and by the time I get out a first paragraph I'm happy with it's four days later and I have no idea what the fuck I'm doing and the original idea is almost completely revised out in favor of what I actually end up writing.
I think it's important to note that I edit as I write. So if my first draft seems good or even complete, just know that I write between 100 and 200 words a day and spend the majority of my time the next day deleting most of it. After a couple weeks of this I usually have enough of a story to start rearranging the sections. My stuff isn't exactly non-linear, but it's vignette-based and it doesn't really matter which point of the picture you look at first because you're going to see the whole thing eventually. Also, there's no real narrative at this point yet and I usually hate myself.
It was pointed out to me accidentally that I write jokes and when I do it right they add up to a story. Each section is pretty short (as are my stories) and usually starts with a dropped-in introduction--it doesn't matter why the priest and the rabbi are walking together into a bar, it just matters that they are--and then moves on to whatever set-up I need to get to the punchline, usually whatever clever line I'm going to have a character say, something that flips around a common phrase or idea. It's like writing Dio lyrics, I guess. When I'm not doing that, I'm just using the same bag of tricks everyone uses: pull tension from between the good and the bad, walk the middle path between two virtues of a vice, remember that words have lots of different meanings and there is no such thing as reality if you don't want there to be, etc.
Once I've got all my jokes down and in an order I feel comfortable with, I go back and personalize the story. This involves making sentences pop or simply more interesting by adding stronger language, maybe fucking with the syntax, or deciding what to put in narration and what to put in dialogue. I always add a Gary Lutz sentence, too, where he has some big weird abstract statement revolving around the phrase "my life." I don't go overboard with details because who gives a shit. One time after a reading I did with Justin Daugherty, someone in the audience pointed out that Justin is very specific when it comes to naming and counting important things and I just sort of give a roundabout estimate. Justin's hyperfocus leads him to the clouds. Mine leads me to the blue between them. One's not better than the other, but I think we both know how and why that plays to our strengths.
When I'm done, I start a new story a week or so later and completely forget how to do everything.