Sunday, March 2, 2014

Blog hop: My writing process

Kim Rendfeld, author of The Cross and the Dragon and the forthcoming The Ashes of Heaven's Pillar, invited me to participate in this blog hop and answer four questions about my writing process.  The Cross and the Dragon is a rich and absorbing tale of the power of love, set during the wars and blood feuds of Charlemagne's reign, and Kim's upcoming The Ashes of Heaven's Pillar, a companion to her first book, is a story of a Saxon mother and the lengths to which she will go to protect her children.

My writing process


My ancestors, watching over the process

I'll answer the four questions, but since my blog posts are usually lavishly illustrated, I'm going to intersperse a few pictures of the talismans/friends/inspirations that surround my writing area and help me work - because we all get by with a little help from our friends.

Inspiration, perched on the photocopier

1) What are you working on?

My work-in-progress is a story set in Assisi and Rome, beginning in the year 1210 - only six years earlier than my novel A Thing Done, which is set in Florence.  My current book is based on the life of a remarkable Roman noblewoman, a wealthy widow called Giacoma dei Settesoli, who became one of Saint Francis's earliest followers.  Her social position allowed her to provide substantial support for Francis's fledgling order, and she and Francis shared a deep friendship for years - so much so that he had her summoned to his deathbed, and even asked her to bring along some of the almond sweets she used to make for him when he visited Rome.  Remarkably, Francis welcomed her into the inner sanctum where no other women were allowed, and he even called her "Brother Giacoma."  I'm exploring the extraordinary friendship between one of the wealthiest women of her day and the saint who considered himself wed to "Lady Poverty."

The sheep.  There's a reason for the sheep; all will be revealed in the fullness of time.

2) How does your work differ from others of its genre?

Many people write of the Italian Renaissance, a period that seems to fascinate almost everyone.  My work, which has as its pivot point the writings of Dante, is set earlier, at a turbulent time in history, and I find myself exploring what preceded the astonishing phenomenon that was the Renaissance in Italy (and most especially in Florence).  What were the conditions that allowed the Renaissance to flower when and where it did?  What set the scene?  What went before?

Dante.  Dante must be somewhere nearby.

Also, many people write about the middle ages, but in England, not in Italy. And they were very different:  a king vs. individual city-states, English climate vs. Mediterranean, far away from the center of the Church vs. having the papacy right there, not being particularly concerned with the Holy Roman Empire vs. being right in the midst of the longstanding rivalry between emperor and pope.  Italy's medieval history holds a strong appeal for me, and I don't believe that it's been adequately explored yet in historical fiction.  It certainly hasn't been overdone.

Can't write historical fiction without a map or two

3) Why do you write what you do?

My first book centered on a man who was poor, powerless, and marginalized, yet who had a role in a momentous event.  I'm always looking for the "little guy" in history, the one no one thinks is important enough to remember.  Kings and queens are all well and good, but I'm curious about how ordinary people - some of whom may not have been so ordinary after all - experienced the events of history.

The "running commentary" bulletin board

My current book is exploring the meaning of poverty - both the voluntary poverty of Saint Francis's followers and the involuntary poverty of the many poor people Francis strove to help - and of vast wealth, coexisting as the two extremes did in a society that encouraged almsgiving but guaranteed nothing to its least fortunate.  Again, I find myself looking at the forgotten people in history.

Yet another map

4) How does your writing process work?

My process consists of three fairly distinct stages:
  1. A long period of time spent immersing myself in the time and place I want to write about - lots of reading, travel if I can manage it, looking at art and architecture, watching films and documentaries, figuring out which characters I want to concentrate on.
  2. A brief moment in which I hear two characters talking, inside my head.  They're never talking to me, just to each other.  So I eavesdrop, and that gives me the voice I want.  That's the moment when one or both characters step out of the shadows and start to become real to me.
  3. Then the writing starts.  It starts slowly, with felt-tip pen and a notebook, and picks up speed until I have to switch to a computer to keep up with it.  Even then it proceeds in fits and starts, and I have to surface occasionally for the odd bit of research or to rethink something as the story unfolds.  So things sort of lurch along, and eventually I have something to show for it.
Symbol of my undulating writing process

I guess it's not really much of a process, but it seems to be what I do.  Sometimes I think I'd like to be more organized, maybe use Scrivener, for example, but the part of my mind that can deal with computer programs is not the same part that writes, and I'm not good at rapid shifts back and forth.  So it is as it is, and fortunately it seems to work.

 Many thanks to Kim Rendfeld for tagging me for this blog hop.  And now it's my pleasure to introduce my three "taggees," three fine writers whose writing processes should prove to be very interesting.

On March 10, visit Elizabeth Caulfield Felt.  Elizabeth is the author of Syncopation: A Memoir of Adele Hugo, the fictional autobiography of the youngest of Victor Hugo's children.  With help from her family, Elizabeth wrote The Stolen Golden Violin, a contemporary children's mystery that takes place at a summer music camp.

In addition to writing, Elizabeth teaches freshman composition and children's literature at the University of Wisconsin, Stevens Point. She is a former librarian, an avid reader and a very busy mom.

On March 17, visit Mary Donnarumma Sharnick.  Mary is the author of Thirst, a novel set in 17th century Venice. Mary has been writing ever since the day she printed her long name on her first library card.  A native of Connecticut, she graduated from Fairfield University with a degree in English, and earned a master’s degree in Renaissance studies from Trinity College, Hartford.  Fascinated by la Serenissima and the islands of the Venetian Lagoon since her first visit in 1969, Mary has returned to Venice numerous times.  A Solo Writer’s Fellowship from the Beatrice Fox Auerbach Foundation afforded her the opportunity to live and write in Venice during July, 2010.

Also on March 17, visit Mark WiederandersMark lives in Northern California and writes about the private lives of famous authors. His screenplay about William Shakespeare's family, "Taming Judith" was a finalist in the Academy of Motion Pictures' annual screenwriting competition and was optioned by a film company. The idea for his current novel, Stevenson’s Treasure, hatched during a visit to Carmel, when Mark learned that Robert Louis Stevenson suffered a near-fatal collapse in 1879 while hiking nearby. What was the young, as-yet unknown Scottish writer doing so far from home?

Writing the novel that resulted from this question first took Mark to many Stevenson sites in California. Then he followed RLS’s footsteps to Europe, lodging at the Stevenson home in Edinburgh followed by a week in the Highlands cottage where Stevenson wrote Treasure Island. Mark also worked as a research psychologist (Ph.D, University of Colorado) who studied delinquency and mental health programs. His interests include acting in community theater (recently a Neil Simon play), downhill skiing, golf, and spending time with his wife and three grown children.


Xina Uhl said...

Fascinating post! Sounds like your WIP is right up my alley. I am, however, quite jealous of how neat your bulletin boards are. Mine look like an explosion occurred nearby. :-)

Tinney Heath said...

Xina, I must admit to tidying things up just a bit before snapping the picture... you will note, there's no picture of my actual desk, and there's a reason for that. In fact, I once lost the camera in the pile of stuff on the desk.

Kathryn Louise Wood said...'s always interesting to learn an author's writing process. I, too, find it important (and sooo much fun) to immerse myself in multi-sensual resource material, especially spending time in the geographical and artistic region of my subject. My challenge right now, as I'm about 24,000 words into my WIP, is finding the best writing nook in my relatively new home environment.

Tinney Heath said...

Kathryn, I think the immersion is probably the most addictive part of researching and writing. My temptation is always to spend just a little bit more time there, before I actually start writing... good luck finding your writing nook; the right place can make such a difference.

Kathryn Louise Wood said...

Re-reading my comment, perhaps it was a Freudian slip but I meant to say "multi-sensory" not "multi-sensual"...or did I...?