A Quick Note from Jerry:
I recently contracted the My Writing Process Blog Tour virus from Giano Cromley. A major symptom of this disease is an intense desire to tell everyone what I'm working on right now, as well an uncontrollable urge to infect others.
All kidding aside, I'm actually pretty thrilled to be participating--somehow when I actually to try to be part of something like this, it doesn't happen, so it's kinda cool that I was just selected without having to do anything. Also, I know there are some great authors in this thread, which makes me all the more excited to be a part of it. Without further ado, here goes:
1) What am I working on?
I’m about halfway done with a novella called Public Loneliness. It’s a first-person account narrated by Yuri Gagarin that describes a hypothetical Soviet mission around the moon in October of 1967. He’s a fascinating character—he was one of the few Soviets to achieve rockstar-like popularity, not only at home, but in Western Europe and elsewhere. He was also a flawed and troubled man, far more real and interesting than the regime made him out to be.
The story highlights those contradictions, and the tension inherent in trying to control other people’s perceptions, both on an individual and a national level. It’s part of a series called Altered Space. I’m looking to tell several what-if stories from the golden age of space exploration. One’s out already—a novella called Zero Phase that posits an alternate timeline for the Apollo 13 mission—and I’d like to write two or three more.
2) How does my work differ from others of its genre?
It’s historical fiction, but it’s also alternative history—and yet it’s more literary than most entries in those genres. (I hope!) A lot of authors write for purposes of ego gratification; they’re creating characters that are impossibly perfect, so as to live vicariously through them. It’s particularly prevalent in historical fiction; an author finds a historical figure with traits the author likes to think they also have, or one who’s done some big dramatic thing the author wishes they’d done. I’m more interested in really getting into someone else’s head, in seeing who they are and what makes them tick. Since I’m writing about real people, I do feel a natural obligation to be true and honest, but I’m more interested in bringing them back to life and fleshing them out than in building statues or monuments (in a literary sense) to honor their accomplishments. My guiding principle when writing fiction about non-fictional people is: “Respect, but not reverence.”
3) Why do I write what I do?
Every time I sit down to write, it’s like a time travel vacation. And when I can come up with something realistic and entertaining, some line of dialogue that’s original but still rings true to what’s known about a character, I feel like I’ve accomplished something magical, and I feel great. And I want to share that. I think Bono from U2 once said something like: if this makes someone else feel even half as good as it makes me feel, I’ve got to keep doing it.
4) How does your writing process work?
It’s a lot like my digestive process; I keep feeding stuff into one end until something starts coming out the other end. Or maybe that’s an unflattering analogy! I suppose I keep consuming until I’ve internalized whatever it is I’m consuming, until it gives me the energy to do something on my own. Right now I’m reading everything I can get my hands on about the Soviet space program; I’ve read two biographies of Gagarin, a biography of Sergei Korolev, part of Boris Chertok’s memoirs, and cosmonaut Alexei Leonov’s joint memoir with American astronaut Dave Scott. I’ve started on Asif Siddiqi’s massive two-volume history of the Soviet space program. I recently finished Boris Polevoi’s The Story of a Real Man (a piece of socialist realist propaganda that Gagarin claimed was his favorite book), and I’m probably going to re-read The Old Man and the Sea (which Alexei Leonov says was actually Gagarin’s favorite book). And somewhere in the midst of all that reading, I felt like I was starting to get to know Gagarin—as much as anyone can, for he was a man who was better than most at controlling what other people saw of him—and I started writing. There are still some unresolved contradictions, some points of contention among biographers and scholars and the public-at-large. And that’s dangerous in this type of writing—it’s tempting to look at someone like Gagarin and simply look for validation of one’s own political and religious views. But I’ve decided to embrace that and have some fun with it.
Next up will be three great authors I've encountered in my travels:
Jonathan Grant is the author of the novels Brambleman (winner of the IBPA's prestigious Benjamin Franklin Award) and Chain Gang Elementary. He is also the co-author and editor of the monumental history, The Way it Was in the South: The Black Experience in Georgia (UGA Press, 2001), named the state's nonfiction "Book of the Year" and Editor's Choice at AMERICAN HERITAGE magazine. His third novel, Party to a Crime, will be published by Thornbriar Press in 2014. He is currently at work on The Unhappy History of Higgston, Missouri, the sad tale of a drone strike on a small Midwestern town. He has also written a screenplay, A Thousand Miles to Freedom, based on the true story of Georgia's most famous escaped slaves, William and Ellen Craft. Grant grew up on a Missouri farm. came down South, and graduated from the University of Georgia. The former journalist, state government spokesman, PTA president, and soccer coach lives in Atlanta with his wife and two children. His entry will appear here.
Ilan Mochari's Pushcart-nominated debut novel, Zinsky the Obscure (Fomite Press, 2013), has earned rave reviews from Publishers Weekly, Kirkus, and Booklist. Boston's NPR station listed it as one of its ten "Good Reads for the Summer." The book was also featured in the Boston Globe's Word on the Street column. Ilan's short stories have appeared in Keyhole, Stymie, and Midway Journal. He is a Senior Writer for Inc magazine. In 1997, he earned a B.A. in English from Yale University. He used it to wait tables for nine years in the Boston area. His entry will appear on this blog.
Steve Karas lives in Chicago with his wife and daughter. His stories have appeared or are forthcoming in Friend.Follow.Text. #storiesFromLivingOnline (Enfield & Wizenty, 2013), Necessary Fiction, jmww, Prick of the Spindle, and elsewhere. He’s currently working on a collection of shorts. He'll be blogging here.