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Works In Progress

If you already follow Jen Luitwieler’s blog, you may have noticed I was tagged in a recent post to provide details of my current works in progress. (If you don’t follow Jen’s blog, you probably should.)

The challenge Jen issued, then, is to answer the following ten questions about a work in progress. My challenge was to pick which work in progress to discuss. They are all in various stages. Here was the list of projects I could choose from:

  1. A literary fiction novel.

  2. A literary fiction short story collection.

  3. A book-length work featuring a combination of eleven short stories and eleven essays on writing.

  4. A pilot story/book for a possible children’s story.

  5. A non-fiction book about the post-MFA writing life and maintaining creativity.

There’s also an essay I’m writing for an anthology, but since I’m just one writer of a dozen on that project, I didn’t list it. I decided, just to be me, to pick two: the longest-running project and the one I hope to have finished quickly. Buckle up. Here we go…

1. What is the title of your book/work in progress (WIP)?

Literary Novel: The original title of the book was “Of Strawberries and Salvation” which will be obvious based on the answer to another question, below. That title seemed inappropriate as the story grew from one short story into the wandering, sprawling, beautiful mess it currently is. The current working title, which appeals to me some days and irks me others, is “I Should Love You Less”.

Story/Essay Combined Collection: I’ve had the title for this work for a long time. It is called, “Cave Paintings and Other Prehistories.”

2. Where did the idea for the WIP come from?

I Should Love You Less – The first time the main character, Margaret Meyer, made herself known to me was in a little story I wrote in the two years leading up to my decision to attend an MFA program. That story, titled “Of Strawberries and Salvation,” was the story of a small town Midwestern woman whose husband, the former pastor of a local church, has left her, and she’s confronted while she’s picking strawberries in a pick-you-own patch about the state of her own soul. Later, when I wrote two other stories (featuring female main characters with different names) I realized these three stories (including my story, Most Dead Birds are Never Found) were telling me bits of the story of a much larger world. As I began to ponder how these very different stories fit together, Margaret’s story revealed itself to me in wave after wave of detail and significance. The real struggle with this book is not knowing the story, it is in finding the right way to tell it.

Cave Paintings – I first had the idea for this book two years ago, and it was the exact wrong time to even consider it. I realize that now. Part of why it was the wrong time was that there weren’t enough stories to include in the collection. The better reason is this: I didn’t really understand what the book was supposed to be. A few weeks ago, I figured it out. I have these “early” short stories that don’t exactly go together the way you would like a traditional story collection to work, with common themes and threads of meaning, and so forth. What made the project “click” for me was the dual-purpose nature of the final structure I settled on: Both a collection of my earliest stories AND essays on the craft of writing, the things I’ve learned about the writing life, and some analysis of the things that work, and those that don’t, in the stories presented.

3. What genre would your WIP fall under?

I Should Love You Less – Definitely literary fiction, though typically when I describe the book to other writers, they question how deeply it will dip into the more mainstream “Women’s Lit” sort of genre. It’s a valid question. I am aiming for a literary fiction book that crosses over into the women’s lit genre. The more, the merrier.

Cave Paintings – This is a cross-genre book. One part short story collection, one part book about the craft and process of writing.

4. Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?

I Should Love You Less – Wow. A movie rendition would be tough. But, someone like a Cheryl Hines, would work. Not movie star glamorous (Margaret is not, and that’s part of her story) but capable of pulling off the part. There are others, I’m sure. Let’s cross that bridge later, shall we?

Cave Paintings – There’s a role for Philip Seymor Hoffman in the story, Things He Wasn’t Supposed To Do, and I could see a more stocky, Sling Blade-sized version of Billy Bob Thornton as Solomon in the story, Solomon’s Ditch.

5. What is the one-sentence synopsis of your WIP?

I Should Love You Less – When Midwestern Pastor’s wife, Margaret, is abandoned in favor of her best friend, she must figure out how to move forward by coming to terms with the disintegration of her marriage, the death of her beloved sister, and her turbulent childhood under her mother’s overbearing, narcissistic hand.

Cave Paintings –  Eleven short stories and eleven essays about the craft and process of writing fiction.

6. Is your WIP published or represented?

I Should Love You Less – Not yet. I will begin seeking representation when I have a presentable draft.

Cave Paintings – I’m actually going to self-publish this book this fall and take on the role of Independent Author.

7. How long did it take you to write?

I Should Love You Less – This is a tough question to answer. The easy answer (which will allow you to skip to the next question if you want) is, “I’m not done yet.” The first couple of stories that would eventually become part of the novel were written in 2007 or so. I began to understand this as a novel (and wrote large chunks of the story as they came to me) in late 2008. I workshopped the first 1/3 of the novel in my first semester at the Queens MFA program in the first months of 2010. I then, basically, started over. Twice. I recently drafted 100 pages in two weeks, but typically things flow much slower, with fits and starts. Don’t get me wrong: the book is much better now than it was in 2008. But, it’s still not finished.

Cave Paintings – The first story featured in this collection was written in 1995, when I was an undergrad at Ball State University. The final story featured in the collection was written in 2010 and published this past winter. The essays are all new, hopefully brimming with the wisdom about writing I learned from the fabulous Queens faculty and students.

8. What other WIPs within your genre would you compare it to?

I really have no idea what other works are in progress…I can barely keep up with my own!

9. Which authors inspired you to write this WIP?

Authors who inspire me to write, period: Flannery O’Connor, Eudora Welty, Walker Percy, Madeleine L’Engle, Chaim Potok, Iris Murdoch, C.S. Lewis, Tolkein.

Authors who inspired all or part of I Should Love You Less: Janet Fitch, Stewart O’Nan, Ashley Warlick.

10. Tell us anything else that might pique our interest in this project.

I Should Love You Less – The thing that interests me most about telling this story is finding a way to balance the NOW of Margaret’s dissolving marriage and spiraling life with those factors that have contributed to her current “stuck” position–those same factors of childhood, adolescence, and young-married life that linger into her mid-life years which she has to finally either figure out or perish. (At least, figuratively.) There is a subtle, psychological layer to telling this story that only becomes apparent in the full telling of the entire story. (At least, that’s the hope.) There are multiple layers of conflict here, both internal and external. Ideally, the reader walks away from this book thinking about big issues of mother-daughter relationships, sibling responsibility, and the transformation of marital love.

Cave Paintings – I think two groups of people may be interested in this book. First, people who want to find several of my published stories (five of the eleven stories have been published in print or online) in print, in one location. But, I also, I hope other writers will find some value in the essays that accompany each story. Ideally, the essays discussing issues of craft and process, as they are revealed in the individual stories, will provide even more value than the actual stories which are, as the title suggests, the rudimentary cave paintings of my writing history.

Tag, You’re It:

As a final step of this Work In Progress blog post, I’m supposed to tag other writers who are then “it” to make a blog post of their own.

Here’s my list:

  1. All five of the FIVE WRITERS (Brad, Jennie, Linda, Emilia, and Darlene)

You guys are on the clock!!

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