Kick the Can
Remember the childhood games you played during those magical hours between supper and bedtime? I do. Of course, grown ups and all other old people called this time of day the gloaming—scary words used to describe that thin space between day and night. It was the time when things lost their definition and melted together in murky palettes of green and gray. For me, it was always the best time because if I played really well and ran fast enough, I could disappear into the advancing night, too.
Kick the Can was our game of choice. My sister, my two brothers and I would roar outside and set up on the cracked hunks of pavement that masqueraded as our driveway and prepare to race against the fading light. We always used old Iron City Beer cans because they were omnipresent at our house, and we had what seemed like an inexhaustible supply of them. The rules of the game were simple. Run. Hide. Kick the can if you got caught.
I carried these important lessons with me into adulthood.
I think that writers are especially good at running fast and kicking their own collections of cans down those endless byways we sometimes call “roads less traveled.” And if you choose well, and you chase the really good ones, you’ll likely discover all kinds of interesting things in the paths they leave behind. One writer I’ve been honored to follow is the august, Marianne K. Martin. Her new book, Tangled Roots, takes us back to early nineteenth-century Georgia for a “what if” exploration of people and themes first introduced in her landmark novel, Under the Witness Tree. Please visit her blog to read what she has to say about her writing process, and her newest release. Her books can be found at http://bywaterbooks.com.
What am I working on?
I’m tempted to channel Julia from Designing Women, and reply that I’m working on something that, hopefully, will not end with a preposition. But I digress. Sometimes, I think I should change the title of my work in progress from Backcast to Long Day’s Journey Into Night. I’ve been writing Backcast, in some shape or form, for nearly eighteen months now, and it’s still just about half finished.
Did I say that out loud? If Kelly Smith is reading this, what I intended to say was “it’s nearing completion, and I’m pleased with every, perfect syllable.”
In self-defense, I will add that I have a great propensity to multitask. This means that at any one time, I have my sticky fingers in about a dozen pots—all of them simmering on the back of the stove like the great vats of minestrone they are. Some of the pots belong to me, while others belong to fellow writers who have enlisted me to assist with various aspects of their own projects.
So there’s Backcast, the no-holds-barred tournament bass fishing extravaganza that catches up with the coterie of cranky, ex-felons from the CLIT-Con fiasco introduced in my novella, Bottle Rocket. Bywater Books will be tearing this manuscript from my cold, dead hands sometime later this summer. There’s also a fun, collaborative book called Digging for Home that Salem West and I have just produced with our good buddy Lynn Ames. More accurately, I should say that our dog, Lucy, coauthored this “Doggone Good Guide to the Great Game of Women’s Softball” with her canine cohorts, Parker and Dixie Ames. Watch for it to hit the shelves sometime after Labor Day. Salem and I also are collaborating with our dear friend and fellow BInk author, Barrett, on a series of pulp fiction novels that chronicle the misadventures of a nurse iconoclast named June Magee, R.N. We’re starting small: only ten or twelve installments in the making….
How does my work differ from others of this genre?
Like Marianne’s, my books don’t neatly fit into any niche either. They’re hard to categorize. They all have romantic elements, but they’re not really bona fide romances. I guess they’re more like romantic-general-fiction-with-hefty-doses-of-irreverence-and-quirky humor. I like writing about burlesque characters and surreal situations—about everyday people who are dropped into the middle of chaos, and have to find their way out. It’s the best way I know to describe how I understand the human condition. And that is my belief that we are all pilgrims—wayfarers who are stumbling our way along paths that we hope are directing us toward enlightenment. Along the way, we interact with fellow travelers who confound, confuse, and entertain us. All of them teach us something about the journey. To me, life is like one of those party games where you’re asked to reach into paper bags and identify objects without seeing them. That’s how my characters approach their lives, too. The best any of us can aspire to is an imperfect performance—but as long as we get some of the answers right, we’re doing just fine.
Why do I write what I do?
I guess because I can’t write anything else. It wouldn’t benefit me, or my readers, if I woke up one morning and proclaimed, “Haiku. That’s what I want to write. Searing, lesbian feminist Haiku…with an ironic twist.”
Crickets. Crickets. Crickets.
Nope. I need more syllables. I haven’t learned yet how to communicate with that much economy of expression.
I write what I know. And I write about the tiny bits I begin, slowly, to understand about what it means to be human and to have lived nearly sixty years. And if I can do that—if I can share some hard truths and still find a way to make people smile while they read them—I’ll one day be able to lay my head down at the end of my own, great gloaming and know I did okay.
How does my writing process work?
It begins and ends with coffee and Zinka Milanov—not necessarily in that order. And wine. Lots, and lots of wine. However, the wine normally follows the writing…like a kind of reward. In fact, Salem and I have a house account at Total Wine & More. They know us. We can talk.
I’m a very early riser, and my most productive writing times are in the wee hours of the morning, before the chickens start kicking up a ruckus. I still have a day job, and I also run a robust, freelance graphic design studio, so I stay pretty busy. Consequently, I work hard to protect my precious, early morning hours so they can remain sacred to whatever book I’m writing. It can be a real balancing act, and I’ve never been really light on my feet. I fall down a lot. Thankfully, I have a wonderful, saintly wife and three fluffy and fat dogs that routinely conspire with her to catch me when I stumble.
I am, surprisingly, a fairly clean and consistent writer and my final drafts don’t vary much from what I pound out on my first pass through a narrative. I’m also a copious outliner, although I do allow my characters to take the wheel now and then to explore uncharted terrain. Think “Toonces, The Driving Cat” with fewer bad endings. Lori L. Lake once called me a “panty-liner,” and I think that’s a description that fits my process pretty well.
And that’s about enough about me.
Now I’d like to introduce you to two other outstanding writers who will enthrall you with tales about their own approaches to the great craft of writing. Meet Bev Prescott and Mala Kumar.
Bev Prescott grew up in the Midwest, joined the Air Force after high school and has since traveled the world. She lives at the edge of a meadow in New England with her spouse and their clever calico cat, Lilliput. She is the author of Step Into the Wind and My Soldier Too. When she isn’t writing or playing outdoors, she practices environmental law and extols the virtues of kale. Her groundbreaking next book, Blowback, is due out in June from Bedazzled Ink Publishing. You can visit her blog and read her responses at http://bevprescott.com/.
Mala Kumar was born just outside of Los Angeles, and grew up in the suburbs of Richmond, Virginia. She is now an international development professional who has called New York City home for five years, and has been lucky enough to work in, live in and travel to four continents. Her debut novel follows three generations of Indian and Indian-American women from the harsh slums of Chennai, through the whimsical streets of New Orleans, to the bustle of New York City. It is scheduled for released by Bedazzled Ink Publishing Company in the late summer of 2014. Visit her blog at http://www.malakumar.com/writing/.
Salem West is the Publisher of Bywater Books and a member of the Lambda Literary Board of Trustees. She lives in Winston-Salem, NC with her wife, the author Ann McMan, their two dogs, two cats, and an exhaustive supply of vacuum cleaner bags.