I am thrilled that Karen Autio asked me to join My Writing Process Blog Tour. Karen is the writer of a trilogy of historical dramas for young people about Finnish Canadians and the Empress of Ireland shipwreck. I met her several years ago through CWILL BC’s mentorship program, where she generously coached me through issues around presentations and we have kept in touch ever since. I am particularly happy to see that the latest in her trilogy, Sabotage, has been shortlisted for the 2014 Arthur Ellis Award for Best Juvenile/YA Crime Book and the 2015 Manitoba Young Readers’ Choice Award.
And now to answering the questions about my writing process.
What are you working on?
I have just (and I mean just this week) packed away into my virtual bottom drawer a manuscript that I had been writing for over nine months. One character is not right. I know it and have known it for some time. I still think, on the whole, the story is good but I will let it sit for a year and then decide what to do with it. While I deliberated about this letting go process, I reread and re-edited other manuscripts yet to go to publishers, did more revisions on Tattoo: the Painted Horse, as well as dreamt about the story yet to come. I am always juggling my older stories as well as the new ones that are inevitably sparking in my head.
So technically at the moment I am in the very early research phase of my next novel for young people — which means scouring the internet, the library and the local museums for information. It’s an exciting time. Ideas (particularly around inter-generational issues regarding dementia) are starting to form.
How does your work differ from others of its genre?
I find that a hard question to answer. The one thing I recognize that ties all my stories (that includes the yet to be published adventures) together is that, whether historical or contemporary, inner driven or adventure driven, they deal with social issues—bullying, grieving, impending water crisis, land problems.
Why do you write what you do?
I am inherently interested in social and environmental issues plus I was a social worker for many years. I also feel young people struggle with these issues and often adults don’t see kids as capable of engagement with them. I would hope my stories give them the permission to feel and, possibly, to act.
How does your writing process work?
Stories spark in my head for months or even years before I start the research portion. When I finish one manuscript, one of these new ideas jumps to the forefront and demands to be written. As the research is done, as the major characters are forming in my head, I scribble in my trusty binder under various headings—possible title, names and details of characters, problems the young people have to overcome etc. I get an idea of my beginning, thoughts about the middle (the problems the people have to overcome) and have a pretty good guess how it will end but certainly have no firm ideas about the details in between. And then I write.
I write by blathering it all down. Each day I always revise the pages I wrote the previous day and go from there. It continues to amaze me how characters and twists of plot emerge as the writing process continues. There is inevitably a time two thirds the way through, though, where I feel lost and am absolutely sure the whole thing should be thrown away. I stop, often do a flow chart on each character and their development, then let the back of my brain work on the issues as I do something else for a day or two. Then, suddenly, the problem vanishes and I am able to finish.
My first draft is very very drafty. I revise and revise and revise until I feel okay about the whole. That is my real first draft. It takes many more writes-through before I would consider sending it to a publisher.
Thanks for reading this. Thanks for going on My Writing Process blog tour. Next Monday please join RJ Harlick and her writing process blog. She writes the popular wilderness-based Meg Harris mystery series set in the wilds of Quebec.
RJ divides her time between her home in Ottawa and her log cabin in Quebec. And like her heroine Meg Harris, RJ loves nothing better than to roam the forests surrounding her wilderness cabin or paddle the endless lakes and rivers. There are 6 books in the series. The 4th, Arctic Blue Death was a finalist for the 2010 Arthur Ellis Award for Best Novel. In the recently released, Silver Totem of Shame, Meg travels to Canada’s west coast, to Haida Gwaii, the mystical islands of the Haida, where she unravels a story of shame and betrayal that reaches back to when the Haida ruled the seas. She is the current president of Crime Writers of Canada.
Find her Writing Tour blog at http://rjharlick.blogspot.ca/