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Years ago, while trying to distract myself from a sudden kidney illness, I asked one of my good librarian pals to find me a book that would kill some of the pain. A few hours later, my friend showed up at my front door with The Diplomat’s Wife. It is a brilliant and fast-paced World War II era romance novel written by bestselling author, Pam Jenoff. I was so impressed with the novel, I read it twice, and I marveled at her ability to weave an eloquent and intelligent romance into a WWII novel about the Polish resistance, Nazi death camps, and the Cold War. If you’ve never read Pam Jenoff, I can truly say that you are missing something. She inspires me to write better every time I read her work.
Today, I have the pleasure of being part of a blog tour with her (aka: she kindly allowed me to tag along). We both have books coming out this year. Her’s is The Winter Guest and mine is All This Time from Booktrope in the fall of 2014. Below, are the questions Pam passed on to me in regards to my writing process. I hope that you find them helpful, My Dear Readers, especially the ones who are also writers.
1. What am I working on?
Currently, I am doing some heavy edits of All This Time, a contemporary women’s fiction novel about a young woman named Lydia who has lost her fiance’, Thomas, to the war in Afghanistan. But before Thomas dies, he abruptly breaks off their engagement. Like all people who grieve, she finds that there is no right or wrong way, no set time or appropriate period of mourning, but her friends and family want her to move on. She finds, however, that she cannot do this until she meets Marcus, a long lost love from adolescence, who also happens to be a veteran and her fiance’s cousin. Their love kindles amid some terrible allegations and several hurdles…you’ll just have to read further to find out what happens, My Dear Readers.
I am also halfway done with the second book in that series, the Rose River Series. The title is not finalized yet. It takes place in the same region of eastern Pennsylvania, but a little more south in the Lehigh Valley. The main character, Yekaterina Federova (named after one of my great great grandmothers), a Ukrainian immigrant, is pregnant and alone in America, after her boyfriend (a dangerous revolutionary who is too busy saving Ukraine to support a wife and child) rejects her. The only connection (legal and otherwise) that she has in this country is an aging aunt who dies one month after her arrival. She has nowhere to go, except, a bankrupt horse farm in Pennsylvania. The owner used to take in immigrants to help with the working of the farm, and in return, she would sponsor them and help them find legal residency. Though Katia is referred here, the old woman who runs it does not want her, because she is leery of Eastern Europeans, and Ukrainians in particular. Katia forges ahead anyway, promising hard work for room and board. She does not reveal her pregnancy. Can’t tell you everything that happens, because the characters are still working themselves out, but we know that after a labyrinth of conflicts and trials, Katia will find her way to lasting love and security.
I recently had a piece of flash fiction, Seven Pines, published in Toe Good Poetry, and I have a short story, Genevieve, being reviewed at another literary magazine and my WWII novella, A Berlin Story, is still waiting to be tackled by editor, and the like. In short, I am always working.
2. How does my work differ from others of its genre?
Well, for starters, my work carries my voice, which no other books on Earth do. I weave a lot of cultural and naturalistic elements into my contemporary and historical women’s fiction. I consider myself an armchair anthropologist (I take pilgrimages to The James A. Michener Art Museum about an hour away from house), so I fall in love with characters based on where they are from, what they believe, who they worship, etc…I love to incorporate their cultures and their experiences into the story. I, also, tend to interweave a lot of natural elements into the fiction, and even non-fiction. There are always trees, thunderstorms, crunchy autumn leaves, sweet-smelling spring rains, sun burnt summer afternoons, etc…, in my work. I take a copy of Leaves of Grass with me whenever I leave home and I read Walden every spring. I grew up out West. We native Westerners are deeply connected to our natural surroundings.
3. WHY DO I WRITE WHAT I DO?
I love to watch history unfold. Even if the historical moment is taking place right now, when I see history happening, I want to talk to talk about it. In each of my novels, novellas, and short stories, there is some connection to a past event of worldwide, or American, significance. In A Berlin Story, Annalise Bergen is surviving the Fall of Berlin, 1945. In Budapest, Anna Laszlo is looking for the pre-Holocaust home of her great grandmother. In All This Time, Lydia Hawthorne is dealing with the effects of PTSD on the veterans she loves, in the second Rose River book, Katia Federova is left homeless and pregnant because of the present political instability in Ukraine, in Genevieve, a nursing student discovers that the old man she is caring for might be a Nazi war criminal. I write to work out the crazy headlines on CNN and the unbelievable chapter headings of history books. I always think that if I am shocked or horrified or moved by a headline, others must be as well. I write to workout some of those feelings, and I think readers read to do the same.
4. HOW DOES MY WRITING PROCESS WORK?
I tend to do as Natalie Goldberg suggests and I “write down the bones”, creating a skeleton of a story before I flesh it all out. I kind of tell myself the story, first, and then I go back and edit, letting the characters show me the story. Skeleton or frame first, then the flesh and the dressing. I do a lot of research during this part of the writing as well. I interviewed Holocaust survivors and people who endured the Fall of Berlin, when creating the various novellas for The Embers of War novella series (which includes A Berlin Story). I read survivor testimony as well. I have spent a lot of time talking to Ukrainian and Russian friends about the current political crisis effecting their two beautiful countries. I read a lot of books and ask a lot of questions and try to connect with my characters in these particular situations during this part of the writing process. I sharpen and refine the story after I write down the frame.
5. AND THE OTHER PART OF THIS QUESTION, HOW DOES MY WRITING PROCESS NOT WORK?
I don’t share my pre-published manuscript with anyone, except, my editor and publisher and a couple very close friends who are not writers, but who are excellent readers. I don’t participate in critique groups. I don’t find them helpful at all for me. For some people, they are. I just find them to be a chaotic waste of my time. I do find writers groups helpful. They are encouraging and one can talk about new writing strategies and work out plot problems, etc…but this is more of a”you can do it!” sort of group, where everyone chats and then writes. I have found such groups to be extremely helpful over the years.
Writing at random times does not help. I write at the same time every day. Lack of discipline will kill a great story before it begins. It will never leave the idea stage if I do not sit down at the same time every day to write it out.
I don’t talk about my WIP with a lot of people. Talking it out seems to leave less room for writing it down.
PASSING THE TORCH, OR WHO’S NEXT:
I am privileged to pass this blog tour along to Steven Jay Griffel, an experienced author and journalist who has written several outstanding novels (one of which is a favorite of my spring reads so far). His wit and humor are timeless, and from the very moment I picked up Forty Years Later (Stay Thirsty Publishing, 2009), I fell in love with his writing style. Once you begin one of his books, you will want to read the others immediately. I promise. If you are also a writer, you will want to learn about his writing process as well.
From the Stay Thirsty Publishing Website:
Steven Jay Griffel has a distinguished career as an Editor, Publisher, and Writer in the educational publishing field. His work has contributed to many important textbooks and learning tools used in middle schools and high schools throughout the United States during the last two decades. He received a B.A. in Creative Writing from Queens College and an M.A. in American Literature from Fordham University.
“I share some flaws with the main character of my novel FORTY YEARS LATER. We are both capable of keeping a regret alive by continually picking at its scab. The lesson we both learned is worth sharing, especially with my fellow Baby Boomers: Live it! No regrets.”
– Steven Jay Griffel
In July 2012, Steven Jay Griffel’s second novel, THE DEADLINE, was published by Stay Thirsty Press.
In June 2013, Steven Jay Griffel’s third novel, GRAND VIEW in his acclaimed David Grossman Series, was published by Stay Thirsty Press.