What am I working on?
I’m revising, for the umpteenth time, my novel about Franz Kafka playing baseball in America in 1912, a project I’ve been on for probably six or seven years. Really I just went back to it about a month ago; 2013 and the beginning of ’14 were taken up with production and promotion of Tomorrowland, as well as my teaching duties, so after taking a much-needed break at the beginning of the summer, I reopened the novel for the first time in a while last month and started back to work. It’s a 100k-word manuscript, and 60,000 of those are pretty good. Just not 60,000 in a row.
How does my work differ from other work in its genre?
It falls pretty easily into the metaphysically-slanted / b-movie-trope-stealing / existential-fart-joke-making / confessional-masked-as-fiction genre, I think. Except it’s funny.
Why do I write what I do?
That’s a question I ask myself from time to time, but never when the work is going well . . . when I’m really clicking, I don’t think a bit about genre, or subject, or how I’d classify a story, or who in their right mind would want to read it, or anything like that. It’s something you think about after the fact, once you’ve done it and are trying to explain what you’ve done. Certainly when trying to publish a book, and again when the book comes out, when you’re standing by a stack of them at a festival or a bookstore and someone comes up and eyes it suspiciously and asks, “So what’s this about?”
But even then I’m not sure I give a totally honest answer. Usually I’ll describe the product—in the case of Tomorrowland, stories that borrow from sci-fi conceits to get around to everyday questions and conflicts—though it’s much more about the process for me. I don’t ever set out to write a particular kind of story, or to borrow certain tropes and pair them with theme, just like I didn’t intend to write a collection that holds together in that kind of sci-fi mode; I write at first to keep my own interest, just on the level of idea and language, and from there it’s a matter of discovery. I write what I do because I’m my first reader, and I want to see what’ll happen next.
The only time I think about the question mid-process is when the work’s going terribly. And then it’s almost all I can think about. What I ought to be writing to find a bigger audience, instead of what interests me to write, or what kinds of stories I ought to tell, or what tricks I might pull this time to impress people. And of course that never works out. These are just panic questions, the kind that occupy the mind during the stretch between the last good idea and the next good idea, a period otherwise known as I’m A Hack & Will Probably Never Have A Good Idea Ever Again.
How does my writing process work?
I start out playing with an idea, not really thinking about a finished product, and at some point, if the idea is enjoyable enough, and sustainable enough, I start to see patterns emerge, see how whatever I’m playing around with could be a gateway to exploring something bigger. If I’m lucky, all of this happens the moment the initial idea shows up—a random daydreaming thought that leads to another, and then another, and I’m typing for my life to try to keep up—but much more often it’s a matter of sitting down and doing plain old work, trying to get to that place: testing out an idea, or different combinations of ideas, or going back to something I’ve written and trying to figure out what the hell I actually meant to say.
The stories of mine that work best, to my mind, are the ones that required the lightest touch, the ones where I actually managed to get out of my own way for a while; the rest are stories I revised and revised and cursed out and revised until they look like they came out right the first time. But it’s that state where the story takes over that I’m always trying to find, where I can be surprised or entertained or moved by what’s just happened, and not just for the sake of having written a good story—though that's usually an encouraging sign—but because, like the reader, I'm hoping to feel its effect for myself.