Death is just a circus trick

A little while back I contributed a prose-y poem to the wonderful art + text collaboration site called Visual Verse. They provide a piece of art and you write about it for an hour, between 50 – 500 words. It’s a wonderful way to take a break, just let yourself write and enjoy it, then send it in, where it’s beautifully archived and becomes part of a larger project where other people have done the same thing, taken the same chance.

Anyone can contribute. I highly recommend it. Below is the captivating image by Denise Nestor that I studied while writing my piece, called “Death is just a circus trick.

A few thoughts on #MyWritingProcess

Last week Kateywrites kindly invited me to take part in the ongoing discussions people are having about #mywritingprocess, answering four questions about themselves and their work. I’m still new to blogging and I’ve never written about this sort of thing before, but wanted to give it a shot. So here are my answers. Thanks for reading, and be sure to check out Katey’s writing at the link above!

1. What am I working on?

I’m at work on a novel called “The Designer,” based on this short story published last year by Corium Magazine. It’s about three friends who, at age 40, decide to leave San Francisco and move to Berlin using money they inherited after the death of their parents. It’s about love, expats, mirror-writing, art, grief, translation, and mysterious party guests.

In nonfiction, I’m working on an experimental review for the Irish literary magazine, gorse. Experimental how? It continues the narrative begun here at 3:AM Magazine last year. I’m also working on a review about Brazilian writer Hilda Hilst.

2. How does my work differ from others of its genre?

My fiction tends to include fantastic or improbable elements in order to create an original story and try to put characters in situations that show human behavior in a new light. A perfect novel to me would be a blend of Tove Jansson, Virginia Woolf, and Amelie Nothomb.

In nonfiction, I’m devoted to the #readwomen2014 movement (which I discuss a little bit in this article for The Guardian). So I’m only reading and reviewing books by women in 2014. As a literary critic, I’ve been focused on translated literature for a while now, and I tend to like shorter, more experimental books or novellas. By choosing these kinds of books it definitely affects the tone and tenor of my criticism, as an attempt to look at sexism both in publishing and society.

3. Why do I write what I do?

This novel is definitely based in part on my interest in travel and art and displacement, which crosses over into personal territory as well: grief, anxiety, friendships, hope through creativity, and more. My reviews are part of an effort to celebrate translated literature, of which little is published in the U.S., and add something to the broader discussion about literary culture. This effort tends to keep me focused on small presses and independent presses. And focusing on books by women, deliberately ignoring the mass media coverage that tends to tout books by men, I hope to write about authors I might not otherwise discover.

4. How does my writing process work?

I like writing in the morning, but will use any free moment I can get. I do most first drafts and note-taking by hand. There’s something about putting ink on paper by hand that is still very magical for me. Then I type things up to read and edit on-screen, but will still print things out and scribble them up by hand as stories develop. I find taking a red pen to a printed document lets me distance myself from the work, reading things out loud, hearing how certain passage resonate within the whole idea of where a story or review is heading.

Since I have a toddler, work full-time, and edit a section of the translation journal, Asymptote, I rely on small bits of time to keep my short stories, reviews, and the novel moving ahead. I try (and usually succeed) not to get too anxious or upset when it feels like I don’t have large blocks of time to write like I used to. If I get a little window to work I’ll tinker with an outline or revise a couple pages of something, or re-read an important chapter in a book I’m reviewing. Those small things add up and overlap: research for a novel will illuminate things for me in my criticism, and revising part of a short story can give me a better appreciation of what I see other writers trying to accomplish. So I guess I like having multiple projects going on at once, though it does feel overwhelming at times. Taking a day off from writing is very nice, too. Just reading or getting away from words altogether. Being a father, husband, and taking care of an old rowhouse in West Philly provide plenty of chances to get away from all that!

Many thanks again to Katey for telling me about this and inviting me to participate! Here’s a link to her post about #mywritingprocess.