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Writing Process Blog Tour
by Sandra Guy
August 2014

I'm thrilled to have been invited to participate in the My Writing Process Blog Tour. The four simple questions I was asked have acted as anchor and star in what I hope will be a new cycle of focused creativity and growth.

A big thank you to fellow Coop member, the exceptionally talented, prolific and generous, Doug Cushman, for the giving me the opportunity to contribute. Doug's latest book, Pumpkin Time!, written by Erzsi Deàk is now available from Source Books.

What am I working on?

I'm working on two projects at the moment: Sophie Jack Crow is a middle grade book for girls about families, belonging and the clash of traditional versus modern magic. Georges, the Demon and the Making of Magic is a creative picture book biography of the early French filmmaker, Georges Méliès. It's essentially the story of a man and his muse - a brilliant but cantankerous drawing demon. Both books explore what it means to stay true to yourself when the times and their values are changing.

How does my work differ from others of its genre?

I think my work has an edge. Part of that comes from the fundamental assumption that magic is real and always has been - whether it's the old magic of witches and the spirits of land, sea and sky, or the power of inspiration, hope and connection. Most people I know crave more magic in their lives. I feel my writing creates a space where a reader can run smack into it, believe in it for a while and ultimately, if they so choose, start creating a little more of it for themselves.

Why do I write what I do?

I could quote the Mary Oliver poem "The Summer Day" in response to this question. Why do I write what I do? Because I don't have the answers and it's only in writing what I see and feel that I know it is sometimes enough that I remember to ask the questions. I do know how to pay attention though, and I can still fall into long grass on my knees, feeling idle and blessed.

There is something about the speed of our lives today that is squeezing the magic of true connection out of the world. Maybe, if we make time to read and conjure up the images created by the words of gifted writers or if we find time to contemplate the complicated eyes of a dragonfly, we can bring it back again. Catching and sharing a little of that magic is why I tell the stories I tell.

When Mary Oliver asks at the end of that same poem -

"Tell me, what is it you plan to do
With your one wild and precious life?"

I proudly reply - I write stories to help us remember.

(To hear the wonderful Mary Oliver reading "The Summer Day" please check Mary's YouTube Video)

How does my writing process work?

I'm easily caught by ideas. Almost anything can get me going - the juxtaposition of old and new, dark and light, male and female. Once I've felt the shiver of a story or character close by, I let it take up residency in me. I create a world around it and explore facets of the one it has come from, burying myself in books on the same subject or visuals of the time period or place where the story is happening. I don't start writing until I can see the world my protagonist lives in and hear his or her voice in my head. And I usually only begin when I can say the opening paragraph of that unwritten story out loud.

Once I start I'm hooked. I write three or four hours a day, starting at the beginning of the story and working all the way through to the end of my first draft. I write at least a chapter a day sometimes more, always leaving the writing on a cliff hanger so I can slip back into the story easily the next day.

After I've written myself out (I'm generally less productive after three hours of new writing), I work on the more technical side of a piece - the mechanics of plot and pacing, the writing of different lengths of synopses, the balancing out of conflict and story sags. I write monologues that won't appear in the book. I draw charts connecting characters and flow diagrams connecting time and space and keep them in clear coloured files. When I finish writing for the day, my white glass desk is immaculate but the room I'm writing in is awash with images - mood boards for characters and places that appear in the story, odd details in photos torn from glossy magazines - anything that allows me to bathe in the essence of the story I'm working on without actually writing more of it.

Once I have a first draft I tend to leave it for a month to let it settle. Then I go back, hopefully with fresher eyes, and read it with a view to revising. And my revision process, well now, that's a whole other story...

Up next on the My Writing Process Blog Tour are two writers I met while living in Paris: Melissa Buron and Heidi Mordhorst.

For the past twenty-one years Melissa Buron has worked as an author, librarian and teacher in Africa, Europe and the United States. In January 2014 she launched MAB Media, an indie publishing company that specializes in high-quality trade fiction and literary non-fiction. MAB Media will release their first books in Summer 2015. To find out more please follow MAB Media on Twitter, "like" their Facebook page or check-out their website at www.mabmedia.net. Melissa will be posting details of her writing process on 18 August, on her personal blog at www.melissaburon.com and also at www.henandinkblots.wordpress.com.

Heidi Mordhorst is a poet and kindergarten teacher who practices her arts in the Montgomery County, MD suburbs of Washington, DC. She began writing for young children in 1999 when her first child was born, and her work has grown up along with her kids, now 15 and 11 - but she's still most inspired by the little ones and their freedom with language. Heidi's poems have been published in several of Pomelo Books' anthologies, and her two books, both published by WordSong/Boyds Mills Press, are Squeeze: Poems from a Juicy Universe (2005) and Pumpkin Butterfly: Poems from the Other Side of Nature (2009). Heidi's post on her writing process will appear on her personal blog: http://myjuicylittleuniverse.blogspot.com and on Poetry Friday www.kidlitosphere.org/poetry-friday on 15 August.

Click here to see blogpost at www.henandinkblots.wordpress.com

Melissa Buron

Melissa Buron

Interview with Sandra Guy
by Texan book blogger Melissa Buron
May 2013

Click here to see original blogpost at www.melissaburon.com

Transcript of blogpost below:

Long gone are the days when artists were supported by wealthy patrons. Today, anyone involved in the creative arts must find a way to follow their bliss somewhere in between the constraints of a full-time job. Add the extra spice of family responsibilities into the mix and very quickly the artist finds herself wishing for a few extra hours in her day or at the very least a time machine. The theme of balance surfaces often in conversations with writers and this month's interview is no exception. Recently I had the honor to chat with the talented Sandra Guy. She is a full-time writer, acupuncturist and parent. How she manages to juggle all of her jobs demonstrates not only her commitment, but also the fact that living a creative life is a work of art all by itself.

Where did you grow-up and where do you live now?

I was born and grew up in Hong Kong. At the moment I live in Amsterdam. In between I lived in London, Paris and Rome.

You've written for all types of audiences. How does your writing process differ as your audience changes?

I'm not sure it's the audience that dictates the changes in my writing process so much as the type of project I'm working on. My process is generally to find the voice of the project (the narration style or the voice of the main character) and keep that in my head until I feel I can slip into that character's skin. It's only then that I start writing. Sometimes I get these moments of lucidity when I'm sitting in front of my computer, which is very convenient. At other times it's happened on the metro or walking to work - and I've had to rummage in my bag and find a piece of paper to scribble the voice down fast because I've learned that once a character starts talking, you've got to catch it quick, otherwise you lose it. This is as true for my fiction, as it is for my poetry, and non-fiction. I wait to hear the voice first, and once I have that, work out how to use it to tell the story. If the project is fiction, then I spend more time working on plot and character and setting. If it's non-fiction, then the process is more about finding a way to keep the voice engaging while conveying information in a way that is easy to understand.

In addition to being a successful author, you also work as a licensed acupuncturist. How does your "day job" influence your writing?

I think I mostly use acupuncture as a balance to my writing life as it is a great way to take me out of my head and into the real world. Acupuncture is social because you are working with other people and other people's problems, it's intense because you are working one on one and in some ways very precise because the acupuncture points are located in exact places, the needles are small and there are specific techniques to use to achieve certain effects. But it's also a little like being in a parallel universe where the body's organs have slightly different functions, the internal weather of a body (we talk about heat, wind and damp) affects health and we work on issues of "qi" which people can't see or image or even properly define. And I love that quasi-magical side of acupuncture too.

Some of the texts I've read concerning the theory of traditional Chinese Medicine are almost 3,000 years old. It's very interesting to see how similarly and how differently we see the world now. And, of course, the cultural perspective is very different too and that's always fascinating to think on.

But my study has been packed with stories - case histories, the names of strange herbs, curious political decisions, famous and inspirational doctors. The number of books I'd like to work on whose inspiration has come straight out of my study is huge! I'm currently working on a series of self help books using the secrets of traditional Chinese medicine, and I'm researching a biography I'd like to do about a doctor from the late nineteenth century and a historical piece set during the Chinese cultural revolution.

What are your secrets in balancing your full-time work, family and writing?

Hmm, I'm still trying to work how to balance them! I've been told there are ways to find the Flow in time and from there to somehow transcend the limits of it. I haven't discovered how to do that yet, but I'll let you know when I do!

I recently abandoned any attempt at timetabling and I'm happy that I did. I'm generally quite structured in my approach to what I have to do, so I thought timetabling would work - you know three hours of acupuncture in the morning, followed by three hours of writing and then going to pick up my son from school etc. But what inevitably happened was that my clients weren't able to come for their morning appointment the day I'd planned to write in the afternoon, or there was an urgent call out in the middle of my writing time so I'd spend most of it somewhere else.

I think the best trick to time management is to be totally involved with things that you love doing, so you don't mind what order you do them in. Then it's a matter of juggling what happens that day which is outside your control with what you'd most like to do as opposed to trying to squeeze something you like doing into a day crammed with things you would rather not have to do at all.

Who are your favorite writers and why?

One of my favorite writers is Jeanette Winterson. She can make language jump off the page at you and she has a wry sense of humor. I also like the storytelling of Susan Price, Melissa Marr, Garth Nix and Cressida Cowell, the sensuality of Francesca Lia Block, and the otherworldliness of Alan Gardner and Ursula Le Guin's "Earthsea Quartet."

My favorite poets are T S Eliot, e e cummings and William Carlos Williams. I also love Japanese haikus and zen koans just for the way they can open your mind to the unexpected with so few words.

What advice would you give aspiring writers?

Get naked. Open your senses to the world around you. Really learn to see what is in front of you without thinking you already know what you are looking at. Find the new - again and again - in the everyday things of your life. Feel the quality of the breeze that rushes over your face when you step out of your front door, the texture of your t shirt on your skin. Identify the notes of the smells that make up your hall way or the school car park. Hear that "roar on the other side of silence" that George Eliot wrote of and feel the wonder of life pressing forward in an exuberant wish to manifest. One you are connected to that, nothing can stop you writing and the formalities of structure and technique will be easy enough to learn.

What are you working on now?

I'm currently working on a collection of quirky contemporary love stories for teenagers where each story is based on a popular film. The stories are poignant and romantic, but also gritty and self referential, pondering the nature of love alongside the structure of story and the development of character. I think it's a pretty good device and I'm having fun writing them.

As I mentioned earlier I'm also working on a series of self-help books using the secrets of traditional Chinese medicine for a number of our common complaints in the West.

You can learn more about Sandra and her creative work at www.sandraguy.com or if you happened to be in Amsterdam and need an acupuncturist, drop by www.heavenlystaracupuncture.com.

Click here to see original blogpost at www.melissaburon.com