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Chatting with Friends in #MyWritingProcess Blog Hop

I love a good conversation among friends and that’s how #MyWritingProcess blog tour is shaping up. Many thanks to Nathan ‘Burgoine for his candid and insightful entry, for tagging me, and for being a kind, gracious, witty and talented friend. Did I mention talented? Very talented!

What am I working on?
After immersing myself in the Middle Ages in both The Mandrake Broom and A Slender Tether, I’ve most recently come back to the present (as much as any of us writers are ever actually in the physical moment – and when is that? At work?) And I’ve been trying to come up with another word for ‘work’ when it applies to writing so I don’t feel as if I’m constantly at work. Playing? Sounds silly. Crafting? Sounds like Play-do. You see my quandry…and how easily I’m distracted which is a difficult trait for a writer who has 100,000 words to stick into some semblance of order. Alright, back to the question. My new piece is a series of stories set over 40 years around a small lake in Northern Michigan, an eerie collection, I think. Love, detrayal, an explosion, family dynamics, a soldier gone mad, the exquisite (to me) landscape of pines and loons. At this point it’s called The Disappearing Andersons of Loon Lake, though my editors/publishers are mostly (and thankfully) responsible for the titles of my books. I’ve given each of the stories a different date in time because I realized that because of the profound impact of the cell phone, some of the plot lines couldn’t be modern. And though I’m told that story collections don’t sell (to which I point out that the Nobel Prize just went to a short story writer) I persevere.

And then, of course, as I shipped the collection out to my private editor, the Muse delivered a new idea to me, set in Medieval bakery, which, as I discovered, is a meeting place in a village: there was usually only one oven in the town and everyone brought their little ball of dough to be baked, sitting and chatting/gossiping while waiting. A great spot for a story: an aromatic place where disaparate characters mingle. Off I go.

How does my work differ from others of its genre? I don’t write about kings and queens, especially those women who were beheaded without accomplishing anything in their own right. I’m only occassionally interested in the woman-behind-the-great-man, preferring to write about the many untold stories of women who made a difference to the world on their own. Christine de Pizan, for instance, in A Slender Tether, had an enormous impact on the Middle Ages. That said, even though the readership for historical fiction is even more female-dominated than for modern fiction, I’m currently writing a lot of male characters because I’m finding the pressure to write perfect women (I call them hear-me-roar stories) is squelching my imagination. I’m also very interested in Medieval trades, in how things were created and what day-to-day life looked like then.

Why do I write what I do? It’s a great honor to be allowed to describe the emotional complexities of the human mind/heart and psyche and to offer insights into the universal truths driving the world, to have something to say about life. To me, that’s the writer’s job and I am humbled by it. The core themes behind my work, though, are issues that are important to me personally. In AfterShocks, the idea that control is like a drug. In A Slender Tether, looking at ambition, disillusionment, and the feeling of being a social outcast.

How does my writing process work? When I first started writing (well, ok, until quite recently) I used to just write what popped into my head and then try to create a story that pulled the scenes together. I thought I was following my imagination. Now I’m much more structured about it. I don’t so much create an outline --even in my commercial writing I tell clients that a good outline doesn’t guarantee a good piece: only the writing will tell. A scene and a set of characters will start stomping around in my imagination and I’m always happy to ‘see’ them arrive but I don’t allow them to march forward without a theme, something ‘important’ that I want to say, and then I craft a paradigm of what each of their desires are, and what they realize as a result. I call it (when I’m teaching at The Writing Salon), the ‘only-to-discover’ moment. For example, Christine relentless pursues her ambition, only to discover that when given the freedom to achieve, she is terrified. Each character has to have this arc before I begin. Until then, they’re just lounging around in a Medieval bakery, warm and stuffed full of buttered bread.

#mywritingprocess, #Jess Wells