Friday, July 19, 2013

The writing process and good news

I have good news! My last post was about my reading, appreciating, and writing short stories. My Young Adult short story, WISHED AWAY, has been accepted for publication in the anthology, Urban Harvest: Tales of the Paranormal in NYC (edited by Donna Ansari). The anthology will be out this September.

I received an e-mail with this news earlier in the week and I'm thrilled. My friend and writing group member, Andrea, was also accepted with her poignant story as well. It will be nice to see both stories in an eBook this fall.

When I first saw the announcement of a call for submissions for this anthology back in May, I thought I would write a new story. I started it and wrote five pages but then was disrupted from 'the process' by someone. When I returned, my flow had ceased. In retrospect, that story wasn't ready. I compare writing to having a baby. The idea, that spark is born, and then it takes time--sometimes days, months, years or even decades--to coax, nurture, devise, plan, plot, outline, write, and then revise, revise, revise and edit some more.

I didn't push that story. What I did do was think. This story needed to be set somewhere in NYC. I lived 
on Long Island for a few years, in the Bronx for a long time, then Westchester, Putnam and now Dutchess. I knew parts of the city. What area did I love?

The answer was easy: Riverdale. I lived in the area and went to elementary school (shout out for St. Gabriel's!), graduated, then attended high school in Bedford Park. My parents rented an apartment on Waldo Avenue right next to a parking lot for Manhattan College students before moving to a duplex on Riverdale Avenue. I've had a love affair with Riverdale ever since. The greenery, the eclectic mix of houses and buildings, the small corner shops, and yes, even the snobbery I'll admit to subscribing to at times (the you don't live in the Bronx, it's RIVERDALE! mentality).

My favorite place has always been down by the Hudson River. I then saw a news article about something and thought about writing about that. I started it but the words dried up within two pages. It wasn't right. I pushed the need to write for the anthology away for another day.

In a few days the need came back when I least expected it. So I did some research about the area to see if something would ignite the creative fires. I struck gold learning about an incident from the past, but I got as far as jotting down an idea. That story wasn't ready either. What I then decided to do was look at the projects in my short story folder. Some were finished, some were halfway through, some were still in their infancy. I never discard any thing.

One story ignited a small flicker. I had written a four page short short story for a contest last year. I didn't win it, didn't expect to, all I wanted was the experience of writing something short (1,500 words). That story came to me quickly and everyone who read it seemed to like it. It was a contemporary YA about abuse and a missing person. But it wasn't fantasy, in particular urban fantasy. Many of my readers had told me they wanted more. "What happens?" some asked. "Who did what?" others said. The need for more remained with me.

My best ideas and inspirations seem to occur whenever I come into contact with water. Maybe in another otherworldly life I was a water element? That day all I had to do was wash a coffee cup and then it happened. The spark ignited. I needed to look up urban legends from NYC. I found one which practically screamed at me to mull it over. Let it percolate. It dealt with--drum roll--the Hudson River. What a surprise! What if I took my short short story, changed the setting from upstate to Riverdale and introduced a paranormal aspect to the mystery?

My brain ran with it. At my laptop, my fingers took off, putting this in here, taking that out over there, and then continuing on with Maire's story. The force was with me.

The first half was written within a few hours. I had to stop to go to my writer's group meeting. I read to the ladies what I had written and then went back home to finish. I've never had the need to write so badly. I told my kids I needed to disappear for a few hours out on the porch. I believe nature plays a huge part in my development process. I need water, sounds of birds and insects, to see trees sway to a breeze, to smell fresh air. With few interruptions that afternoon, I completed the first draft of my short story.

My love of an area, the power of my memories, along with my muse, all combined with my research. Fact + fiction. I took a beloved historical figure and gave some lore my own spin. I also had fun. The story is serious but I enjoyed every minute of writing it. I let it rest, along with my brain, for one day. Like a batter rising, I treat all of my works this way. Distance. Time.

The next day I blocked out time to edit and revise. I read the story to my fourteen year old daughter. She asked questions and I had my own pop up which I also noted. I spent much of that day editing, shaping, adding in, removing. One more read through out loud. The task I began on a Wednesday morning took me through Sunday afternoon when I finally typed the words "The End." Satisfying. How gratifying that felt. I wrote an email, attached it, and sent it off.

I sat back, amazed. From six pages and 1,500 words to over 6,2000 words and 22 pages, three title changes, character additions, plot changes, with a touch of romance added in, Wished Away was born. I know I work better under pressure from all the years working at different newspapers. The need to rush must kick my creative process into high gear. Whatever it is, I was in awe. And if you're wondering why I didn't say much about WHAT my story is about, well, I guess you'll have to wait until September when the anthology is released.

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