Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Holly's Turn: My Writing Process

by Holly West

My esteemed colleague, Steve Weddle, asked me to participate in this meme about writing processes. He's the author of COUNTRY HARDBALL, the editor of Needle Magazine, and is, in general, someone I like a lot. So of course I said yes.

The thing is, I only recently realized I actually had writing process. It was borne of necessity, when I found myself under contract to write a novel with a deadline six months away. Given its origins were defined, at least somewhat, by sheer desperation, this process is subject to change, but for now, it seems to work.

1) What are you working on?

A standalone (with, as they say, "series potential"). The working title is NOSE DIVE and it's set in contemporary Venice Beach, featuring a female amateur sleuth who tends bar at the fictional Luca's Lounge. Luca's was inspired by the Townhouse, one of the longest "continually running" bars in Los Angeles. During prohibition, the top floor operated as a grocery store and the basement was a speakeasy; illegal shipments of beer and whiskey were smuggled into the bar through tunnels under the old Abbot Kinney Pier.

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

I'm not sure how to answer this question, other than to say that the themes I explore in my writing are unique to me, regardless of genre. Which isn't to say that some of the themes I'm interested in exploring aren't universal, but my take on a given subject is always going to be unique to me, and I'd say the same is true for other writers as well.

Does that make sense?

3) Why do you write what you do?

My chief goal as a writer is to entertain, and to me, crime fiction is entertaining. If I'm somehow able to engage a reader further by making them think more deeply about the human condition then so much the better, but it's never my main concern.

4) How does your writing process work?

It starts with a spark of inspiration. In the case of my current WIP, the Townhouse intrigued me because of its history as an illegal speakeasy. Something interesting could happen there, no?

From that spark, comes a whole lot of thinking. What is the story? Who is the best person to tell it? What is their backstory? Who and what do they care about? I write a short biography of my protagonist and briefer sketches of the supporting characters, along with basic timelines of their lives before my story took place.

I outline as much as I possibly can before I actually start writing. Act I--the set up and such--is easy. I usually know who the dead body is from the beginning, but figuring out exactly how he/she got that way is the hard part. My husband and I have at least one long brainstorming session to suss it out. I give him the bones of the story and then we bat ideas back and forth until something sticks for me.

Once the outline is finished, I write a synopsis, from which I try to smooth out any developmental issues in the plot. Then I write the first draft as fast as I can. If I've outlined everything in advance I can do this in 30 to 40 days. Then I do a revision, let my husband read it, then do a second revision or however many are needed to get the novel into shape.

Of course, I'm greatly oversimplifying my process. This doesn't take into consideration the many days and nights I spend fretting about not writing well enough or not writing at all. It doesn't take research into account (which includes drinking Buffalo Trace Old Fashioneds on Saturday afternoons at the Townhouse). But it gives you a glimpse of how I write a novel. It worked once, at least. I'm hoping it works again.

1 comment:

Steve Weddle said...

Ain't it cool how writers can get sparked by a place or phrase or a song lyric or a thousand other things? When people ask what my influences are and I say "every damn thing. any damn thing" it sounds flip. but it's true. anyway, cool to see you're sparked by a place where criminals used to get their drunk on.
looking forward to it