My story in Tall Tales & Short Stories, “Butterfly Breeze,” was inspired by summer afternoons spent on my great-aunt’s porch swinging on a hammock. I believed then, and now, that those childhood days were filled with magic. That magic, which is always around us, is what I choose to celebrate in my fiction.
Most of the characters I’ve used in my stories (and books) began as someone I knew. But as I added to them, removed what wasn’t needed, and listened to what the character wanted, they morphed into a different person. As they develop, my characters move further and further away from the “real” individual who was the inspiration. Thankfully, no one has ever recognized they were the beginning place for a character—which is just as well, since my fantasy and science fiction stories are often quite dark.
I like to believe my “masterpiece” character is yet to be written. A writer should be constantly evolving. Working on one’s craft by re-reading and revising your stories, attending writers’ workshops and critique groups, and reading not only good books, but articles on writing is essential. I like to think that my best characters are still ahead of me.
If plotter and pantser are the choices, then I’m a pantser. But I dislike the term pantser, preferring the more positive gardener. I come up with a beginning place for a character, offer him/her a challenge to overcome, and allow the story to grow much like a gardener plants and tends to a garden, but doesn’t always know how it will look when it’s complete. That said, I have a clear understanding of the structure of a short story and make sure there’s a beginning, middle, and end to each of my tales.
When the writing is complete, the editing begins. While I love a well-written, well-edited piece of fiction and constantly revise my stories, I’d much prefer to be writing something new to editing something old.
That tenancy to write new has left me with a heap of unfinished stories, poems, and books. One of my goals for 2020 is to work on lowering the stack of unfinished pieces. Rather than take a year, I suspect it will take me ten years to finish all of the writing projects I’ve started! Good news is I won’t have to be worried about writer’s block.
Writer’s block is something friends of mine have experienced. I don’t believe in it! I think if a writer tries to push themselves to write a story, poem, article, or book when they’re uninspired, they often hit a wall when it comes to that particular piece of writing. The best thing to do is to set that project aside and work on another piece of writing. Rather quickly, the supposedly blocked writer is busy working on other stories. Once the words are flowing, then I tell people to return to the original project which seemed to have stalled. If you still can’t write, repeat the process. You’ll get lots of writing completed, and sooner or later you’ll be moving forward on your “blocked” project.
I find writing both energizing and exhausting! Sometimes, I can’t sleep until I write what’s filling my mind. Once all of the words are on the page, I feel tired, but relieved. Then, I have a surge of energy when it comes time to polish the story in hopes it will find a publishing home.
I think it’s a positive for a writer to be empathic and emotionally invested in people and life and its challenges. A reader can usually tell if a writer is just going through the motions. I think readers respond strongly to writing which is passionate and comes from a spot close to the writer’s heart. Which is what most writers want—readers who respond to their words.
A writer is sending their words out into the void hoping a reader will tune in, read his or her words, then feel enough connection to them that they will post a review, write a letter to the author, or stop in to say hello at a signing or workshop. Writing is a conversation. It needs both a writer and a reader. Otherwise, authors, poets, journalists, and essayists are just talking to themselves.