Monday, May 19, 2014


Big thanks to Persia Woolley for tagging me in the ongoing My Writing Process blog hop tour thingy. She is the author of the splendid Guinevere trilogy (Child of the Northern Spring, Queen of the Summer Stars, Guinevere: The Legend in Autumn), which imagines the court of King Arthur with enough historical context to make it all deliciously plausible.

Thanks, Persia!

Here's how it works: I answer four questions about my work and (wait for it...) my writing process, and then I pass the metaphorical baton on to two more writers, who will blog about same next week. Seems harmless enough! Let's go...

What am I working on?

At the moment, I'm in the final publicity and promotion phase* for my novel, Alias Hook, coming out from Thomas Dunne Books in July, 2014. (*Translation: I'm posting to my Pinterest boards and trying not to check my Goodreads ranking every fifteen seconds!)

Alias Hook is a different take on the world of Peter Pan. It's not a rehash of the familiar play, but a somewhat subversive look at life in the Neverland as viewed from the caustic perspective of Captain James Benjamin Hook, its prisoner and victim. There is no Wendy or Tiger Lily, and Tinker Bell is, by this time, in retirement. There's only James Hook and Peter Pan, and the eternal enmity that keeps them locked forever in a pointless war that Hook can neither win, nor end.

The wild card in their power struggle is Stella Parrish, a grown woman from the other world who dreams her way to the Neverland in spite of Pan's prohibition against grown-up "ladies." In search of a fantasy of perfect childhood innocence she quickly realizes does not exist, Stella opens herself up to the diverse forces of the Neverland—the fairies at their Revels in the Fairy Dell, the secret temple of merwives beneath the Mermaid Lagoon, the society of the First Tribes—in a way Hook has never dared to. And in the pirate captain himself, she begins to see someone far more complex than the storybook villain.

Stella may be his last chance for redemption and release—if he can give up the game and grow up.

How does my work differ from others of its genre?

I'm not interested in retelling the same old story over again, from a slightly different viewpoint. It's more fun for me to take a setting and characters we think we know—in this case, J. M. Barrie's Neverland—explore the hidden undercurrents, reshuffle the dynamics between the characters, toss in something or someone totally outrageous, and then imagine a whole new story.

I thought the Neverland could benefit from the proverbial woman's touch—and I don't mean a dewy little Wendy, in thrall to Peter. What would a grown woman from, say, 1950 think of the place? A woman who had survived war and turmoil and heartbreak with her humor and spirit intact, who longed to regain a sense of wonder about the world, who was perhaps overly fond of fine, vintage port? How would she get on with Captain Hook? What on earth would he make of her? I wanted to find out!

In my next novel, I reimagine the Beauty and the Beast tale from the viewpoint of a third party, a young woman who falls in love with Beast as he is, and desperately tries to prevent Beauty from turning him back into a handsome prince. But that's another blog!

My workspace, where genius burns—or at least flails around...

Why do I write what I do?

As a baby-boomer, I belong to one of the most over-analyzed, over-written-about generations in the history of media. I have no interest in contributing to the vast literary navel-gazing of my g-g-g-generation; there are plenty of others telling that story.

I started out writing historical fiction because I was interested in other eras, other circumstances, other sets of rules. I wasn't writing about the movers and shakers of history—the Tudors and Borgias—but of ordinary people who might have plausibly lived in those times, who might have fallen through the cracks of the historical record, but still had extraordinary adventures.

More recently, I've been writing fantasy, which is even more liberating in terms of creating new rules, settings, and circumstances for the story a writer wants to tell. When you think about it, fantasy is a lot like historical fiction: in both genres, you're taking readers some place they have never been and where they can never actually go, perhaps with its own specific language, inhabitants, dress code, and cultural dynamics. What gives fantasy a slight edge is you can make ALL of it up!

How does my writing process work?
Vintage me, vintage Mac, transcribing those 900 pages

Sporadically. Okay, let's be serious. In the early days, I had no process; I just blathered on and on all over the page (with a #2.5 pencil, on Jiffy notebook paper) in hopes that I would eventually get somewhere. Which explains why the first draft of my first completed manuscript was 900 pages long.

Thankfully, my process has evolved since then. It all begins with that one nagging idea that takes up residence in the nether regions of my brain and won't be dislodged. (In the case of Alias Hook, it was James Hook's acerbic voice telling me in no uncertain terms what he thought about everyone and everything in the Neverland.)

Once I've resigned myself to the fact that I'm in for a long, novel-length slog, I start a Word doc, into which I start writing random scenes as they occur to me—meetings, climaxes, love scenes, comic relief. As these scenes accrue, I try to arrange them in some sort of chronology. In the meantime, I've started another doc for characters (names, who they are, what they do, how they function in the story) and plot—where I start explaining to myself the trajectory of the story. This is where I hope to discover and work through potential dramatic problems that stand between me and the finish line.

By now, I know myself well enough to realize that if I don't have the storyline pretty much figured out beforehand in the plot doc—right down to the closing scenes—I'll find myself flailing around mid-book with no clue where I'm going. Of course, it's going to take a lot more work, and a lot more docs (with names like "Inserts," "Outtakes," "Weird Stuff," "Orphan Scenes" ) before I get the narrative into some coherent shape.

But once the shape starts to make sense, I start a "Timeline" doc, where I dope out the arrangement of scenes within chapters—and get to work.

And here's the thing: it's all going to change during the actual writing, anyway. Writing is not an exact science, at least not the way I do it! But I have to have a pretty solid idea of where I'm going before I can figure out the best way to get there.

And that's about all there is to My Writing Process. Next Monday, please do stop in and visit my two tagees and read all about their writing processes.

Sailor, editor, guitarist, and Renaissance man Broos Campbell, author of the rousing Matty Graves series of seafaring historical fiction, is transitioning as we speak into the paranormal with a spooky new ghost story.

M. D. Waters lives with her family in Maryland. Her dystopian, near-future, romantic science fiction debut, Archetype, is such a sensation, it will be followed this summer by a sequel, Prototype, and a novella prequel, Antitype.


  1. I like the two-pronged approach, and I identify with your nagging idea. One published author friend once told me, "Contrary to the doctrine of writing everyday I say: Put off writing as long as you can stand it."

    Keep up the good work! Dana Bagshaw

  2. Thanks, Dana!

    I also question the age-old dictum to "write what you know." Isn't it way more fun to write what yo make up?