Thank you so much to Courtney Elizabeth Mauk for tagging me to take part in the MY WRITING PROCESS BLOG TOUR. Check out Courtney’s two novels, Orion’s Daughters (Engine Books, 2014) and Spark (Engine Books, 2012, and read her thoughts on the writing process here.


Here’s what I have to say about the writing process (this week):

1) What are you working on?

Monday, I finished (and sent out) the first draft of my second novel, LADY LIBERTY. I’m really excited about it. And feeling enormously lucky that I have yet another story I’m ready to dive into.

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

Oh, I have no idea how to answer this. I love to read and write stories with separate points of view in which characters connect through plot and spirit. Books I love of this ilk are THE END, LET THE GREAT WORLD SPIN, and GREAT HOUSE. I aspire to get close to these books in my writing.

3) Why do you write what you do?

This I can answer. For my last book, YOU ARE FREE TO GO, I was trying to reconcile a great many things that all had to do with human connection. There was a big prison in my hometown and we were always told to look away from it, but it seemed impossible to me that there could be no meaningful connection between what happened in it and what happened outside of it. At the same time, it seemed, I was watching a lot of people, myself included, wall themselves off from love and support because there was some ideal they (we) were all failing to achieve.

For LADY LIBERTY, it was a bit different. I had had twins, as my protagonist does, and I was overcome with the fears that come from parenting. One day while I was being assaulted by a particularly vivid fear-fantasy related to my children, I realized that if I gave these fears over to the characters in this book, then I could have some control over them and work through them a bit more objectively. I ended up working out a lot about parenting in the book. It was really helpful. Now that it’s done, I need to write another book toute suite in order to cope. Parenting advice to writers: Do this. It helps. A ton.

4) How does your writing process work?

To write YOU ARE FREE TO GO, I filled volumes of journals and worked through the parts I didn’t understand through a Socratic dialogue, of sorts. It was very helpful. Instead of saying OK, today, I’m going to write this, this, and this, I would start my notes with a question: What does Moses want right now? (or some such thing). And immediately I’d have the answer. This was really effective because I could ask very open, vague questions, such as: What do I need to know right now that I’m not getting? And by answering, I’d discover wonderful things that had remained elusive. It was fun, but maybe not all that efficient, since it took me the better part of a decade to write the book.

LADY LIBERTY was entirely different. I discovered the characters and worked out the conflicts and structure in my head while parenting and commuting over a four-year period. By the time I was ready to sit down and write it last summer, it felt like taking dictation. In contrast to YOU ARE FREE TO GO, if I tried to take notes, the book would feel dead. But if I opened the document and began a scene with a clear sense of conflict and desire, it would come alive. Needless to say, I wrote this in one year and it came out whole. I’d recommend this approach if I thought we (as writers) had any control over how stories come to us. In the absence of this control, I suggest praying for at least one book that comes along and writes itself.

In conclusion, I don’t have a process. Instead, each story has its own demands and I figure out how to adjust myself to it. There is also nothing precious about my mental and physical writing needs/spaces. If there ever was, it disappeared the minute I had twins and needed to construct plot while lying on the floor between two cribs, waiting for them to fall asleep.


Next week, look for Writing Process Blog Tour posts by these fabulous writers…

MB Caschetta ( is a recipient of the W.K. Rose Fellowship, Sherwood Anderson Foundation Award, and Seattle Review Fiction Prize. Her work has appeared in several magazines and newspapers, including the Mississippi Review, the Red Rock ReviewEcclectica, Thieves JargonDel Sol Review, and the New York Times. Her first novel, Miracle Girls, is forthcoming from Engine Press this November.

Sarah Layden‘s debut novel, TRIP THROUGH YOUR WIRES, is forthcoming from Engine Books in early 2015. A graduate of Purdue University’s MFA program, her fiction, poetry, and essays have appeared inStone Canoe, Blackbird, Artful Dodge, Reed Magazine, PANK, Ladies’ Home Journal, The Humanist, and elsewhere. She is a lecturer in the Writing Program at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis. 


Carla Panciera (, author of the AWP Grace Paley award for short fiction, BEWILDERED (University of Massachusetts Press, 2014).




The Next Big Thing — Miranda Field

What is your working title of your book (or story)?


Where did the idea for the book come from?

It’s a collection of poetry, so each poem has its own circumstances of conception.  But I would say, as a whole, the book came from some of the superstitions and beliefs of the culture I grew up in.  And the lexicon, and dark humor, and furious, jealous, besotted rhythms of the speech my childhood was steeped in.   Some people have said they have to look up words from my first book, SWALLOW, in the dictionary.  Those words flowed into me with mother’s milk. And from growing up in a nearly-all female family (I have three sisters). And from the condition of being dislocated from my birth-place.  And insomnia, and love, and eros, and birth, and anxiety.

What genre does your book fall under?


Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?

Anne Bancroft as my mother.

Marlon Brando as my father.

Charlize Theron as my blonde sister.

Viggo Mortensen as— well, the ms. isn’t finished yet, I could write a poem with him in mind.

And and creatures from The World of Darkness* in many overlapping roles of “I,” and “You,” etc.

What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?

“Lacking sun, ripen in ice”— though I didn’t write that sentence, Henri Michaux did.

Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?

Agents pretty much never represent poets, unless the poet is branching out into novels, so it’s up to the poet to shop her/his ms. around. I hope Foxglove will be published by a publisher at the top of my wish list— a small, independent literary press that specializes in poetry, and has fairly good distribution.

My first book was published by Houghton Mifflin, who had contractual “right of first refusal”— they refused this one.  so it won’t be them.

How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?

Ten years.

What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?

I think this is another question really aimed at fiction writers.  Oh, lord, it’s hard for poets to answer this.  I mean, so many influences come in, and not a few of them while one is unconscious.  I would say there’s a lingering love of the animations and imagination of Hayao Myazaki in there.  And I would love to think my book might be compared with Frida Kahlo’s just-discovered, never-before-opened-wardrobe. If I could decide what my book would bear a resemblance to, I’d choose  this,  but that’s fantasy.  And, I guess none of those are books.  Books. And within my genre, too?  (I was going to say Moominland Midwinter.)  Ok. Mother Goose.  And, actually, I’m not joking.  The old Mother Goose rhymes and chants have been a fundamental influence on my poetics.  Mother Goose’s rhythms, music:  they’re in my bone marrow.

What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?

It took me— did I say this?— ten years to put this thing together. And it’s on the shorter side for a poetry manuscript.  That would pique my interest!

* Bronx Zoo

Intrigued? Read more of Miranda’s work at her blog, Hen’s Egg.

The Next Big Thing with Natalie Danford

The Next Big Thing lives! Enjoy this marvelous post by Natalie Danford, author of the novel Inheritance. Here she dishes about her newest book, Into the Wolf’s Mouth. Of course, take a moment to read Rebecca Kinzie Bastian’s post below about her book of poetry Charms for Finding. Also, next week look forward to more The Next Big Thing posts right here by Allison Lynn and Michael Dahlie, both of whom have books coming out shortly.

What is your working title of your book (or story)?

Into the Wolf’s Mouth

Where did the idea come from for the book?

The book is partly a work of historical fiction about Pellegrino Artusi, who wrote the first Italian cookbook. His book, Science in the Kitchen and the Art of Eating Well, first published in 1891, is still the bestselling Italian cookbook of all time. Then the larger story of the book—the story of Maude, a woman who is writing a biography of Artusi in post-9/11 New York and who was living in Bologna, not far from Artusi’s hometown, in the 1980s, a time of great political foment in the area, and the story of her budding revolutionary daughter—began to grow out of it and around it. Maude specializes in biographies that identify the three key points in a person’s life and use them to paint a portrait of the whole person, and that’s what she’s trying to do with Artusi.

What genre does your book fall under?

literary fiction

Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?

Luca Zingaretti, Melissa Leo

What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?

Hunger drives us.

Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?

Lisa Bankoff at ICM is my (long-suffering) agent.

How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?

I have no idea. I can tell you that I edit so much and so widely that there are few phrases in the final draft that appeared in the original, when the story was vastly different. (For example, it didn’t contain anything about Pellegrino Artusi.) I have a file of material that I’ve cut that’s much longer than the actual manuscript. I always think I’ll go back and reinsert some of it, and I never do.

What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?

This always feels so immodest. These are books I loved that triggered something in me:

The Widower’s Tale by Julia Glass

Possession by A.S. Byatt

Atonement by Ian McEwan

Divisadero by Michael Ondaatje

Who or what inspired you to write this book?

Years ago I saw a one-man show about the famous French chef Carême, and I came away fascinated by the idea of how his personal life (he had a very difficult relationship with his daughter, at least in the play) had had impact on his very detailed and tidy professional work. Around the same time I read a biography of Mrs. Beeton, who wrote the great housekeeping manual for British women, and discovered that she’d been raised at a racetrack. The person who decided how we should polish our silver and how often our sheets should be changed was, literally, raised in a barn. I started thinking about the lives of people who tell us the “correct” way to do things and how distant their experiences may be from their own prescriptions.

What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?

In a bizarre coincidence, as I was finishing up the novel, someone who had no idea I was writing it approached me out of the blue about creating a website that would be a kind of updated, crowd-sourced version of Pellegrino Artusi’s Science in the Kitchen and the Art of Eating Well. I’m hoping to have that up and running soon, and I think it will be a lot of fun. Stay tuned.