It’s been a while since I’ve done one of these so it was quite nice to be tagged by Sarah Granger, author of A Minor Inconvenience, one of my favourite historicals. You really need to check it out, okay?
I have four questions to answer about my writing process, which is quite hard because my process changes all the time. On this occasion I’m going to talk about a big partially completed, and currently stalled, project called A Fierce Reaping, about a troop of Romano-British cavalry fighting the Anglo=Saxons in post-Arthurian Northumbria and Yorkshire.
What am I working on?
A Fierce Reaping is based on Y Gododdin, a piece of poetry written in Old Welsh in about the 9th century though it deals with events that occurred at the beginning of the 7th century. I’ve got about 60,000 words of it so far, am halfway through and have the most difficult section – needing to kill off a lot of people – still to write. I wrote the first 50k words during Nanowrimo in 2011 and have added to it sporadically since but decided that it might be better to finish a few short projects rather than devote the couple of years I’d need to getting AFR finished and redrafted.
How does my work differ from others of its genre?
Less romance. Romance is not a genre I ever got into – I just upped the violence levels in the ‘bloke books’ I used to read. Westerns, fantasies, Age of Sail books, military thrillers, police procedural – all focussed on the action rather than the development of a loving relationship. I’ve nothing against romance, in fact I quite enjoy reading someone else’s, but in my writing process I get distracted from relationship angst and introduce the action adventure elements. In fact I’m usually MORE excited about the plot than I am about the romance when I’m reading too. I also don’t write much sex. I use it as a motivator, a reward, or a way of upping the stakes for the characters. BFFs get distressed when the other is in dangers; lovers get distraught! A Fierce Reaping should end up at about 100k words when I’m done and it will have 3 sex scenes. It doesn’t need any more to make the plot points I want to make and since I really don’t enjoy writing sex scenes – I mean I REALLY don’t enjoy writing them and the insistence of the M/M reading community that books with no explicit rumpy pumpy are a waste of pixels hurts my soul – I see no point in adding any more.
Why do I write what I do?
Firstly, choice. More choice in LGBTTQ fiction HAS to be a good thing. Yes I know that contemporary erotic fiction is the best seller but I’m petty certain that there are enough people out there who would enjoy the gay equivalent of Sharpe or Hornblower or James Bond – plot driven historical or contemporary stories with gay protagonists and maybe a little bit of sexiness – to make them worth writing. I don’t expect to sell well but I think it’s very important that the choice is there whether people buy it or not.
Secondly the shameful erasure from history of the tremendous contribution made to civilisation by LGBTQ people. Too often lives have been censored or bowdlerised to remove any reference to alternative sexuality. In most cases we’ll never know the true stories but we can make it clear in fiction that LGBTQ people were there and worked as hard, were as heroic and as competent as anyone else, but without the solace of being able to acknowledge their loved ones.
How does my writing process work?
Frankly it takes a while. I’ve never been one of those people who can read a prompt and a month later have a perfectly constructed first draft ready to polish for submission. In the case of A Fierce Reaping, it’s a story with which I have been familiar since reading it in translation 40 years ago. The actual poem is a series of death songs for warriors killed on a raid deep into territory held by the Saxons, so hardly a light and fluffy story but one of how pride and ambition lead an army to disaster. Atrocities occur on both sides and the climax is a bloody and tragic one.S o how to wring a happy ending from all that death and despair? I read the text again and figured out a way it might be done in about 2010. Then I wrote about Greeks and pirates instead and didn’t pitch into the Romano-Celtic period until late 2011. I read all the different translations of Y Gododdin I could get my hands on, refamiliarised myself with arms and armour, growing seasons, probable diets, the uber-macho death wish mindset of a culture that deemed it a grand and glorious thing to die in battle. Then it was November and I bashed out 53k words during a daily hour in the morning and another just before bedtime. They aren’t good words but they are there and I added another 10k over 2012 while I got a novella, a short story and a novel published. I was looking forward to carrying on with A Fierce Reaping in 2013 then I had to adjust my daily routines to fit around a newly retired husband and writing went out of the window.
Once a story has lost its impetus it’s very hard to get gong on it again. I find it very easy to go back and revise then find I’m doing a complete rewrite, and that’s a lot to commit to when only managing about 500 words a week, sometimes less. This spring I got my hands on a different translation of the base text that turned some of my ideas on their heads and had to do some replotting. I think the new version will hold water against all 4 translations and I’m looking forward to getting on with it again, but when it will be finished I have no idea. If it’s finished, when it will be published I have even less idea – I don’t know of ANY publisher now that Cheyenne is closing its doors who might be prepared to handle something like this.
For the moment I’m concentrating on the second draft of Eleventh Hour, set in 1920s London, and am still waiting to hear whether Riptide wants A Taste of Copper, a story with an erstaz medieval setting loosely based on the Black Knight sketch from Monty Python and the Holy Grail. I keep promising myself that I’ll finish AFR when I have found a home for those, but I could say that about any of the half dozen novels on my had drive, some of which are almost complete. One thing at a time is a lesson I have only recently learned.
Since I have to pass on the baton to other writers I asked for volunteers and Mia Kerrick, Elliott Mackle and R. S. Charles responded. They will be posting their writing process pieces on Monday, May 19th. Links later.