Many thanks to Anna B. Sutton for inviting me to join a literary blog tour about the writing process.
Anna B. Sutton is a writer & co-founder of the Porch Writers’ Collective. Born & raised in Nashville, TN, she received her BFA in Art Education & Painting from the Appalachian Center for Craft in Smithville, TN. In 2013, she received her MFA in Creative Writing & Poetry at the University of North Carolina Wilmington.
While in Nashville, Anna worked at the Tennessee Young Writers Workshop as a counselor & assistant director. She also earned her teacher’s license & taught high school art in Cookeville, TN. In her time at UNCW, Anna served as the president of the Creative Writing Graduate Student Association, as an outreach teacher with Writers in Action, & as a counselor & instructor at the UNCW Young Writers Workshop. Anna also spent three years on staff at Lookout Books, a literary imprint housed in UNCW’s Publishing Laboratory. There, she worked with authors such as Edith Pearlman, Steve Almond, & John Rybicki. She has served as a reader for the literary journals Ecotone, Gigantic Sequins, Dialogist, Chautauqua, & Atlantis. In 2011, Anna became a web editor at One Pause Poetry, an online audio archive & resource center. She received a James Merrill fellowship from the Vermont Studio Center in 2013. She is now the Sales & Marketing Assistant at John F. Blair Publisher in Winston-Salem, North Carolina.
Her MFA thesis, Playing House on the Bones, has been shortlisted in the Crab Orchard Poetry Series’ 2013 First Book & 2014 Open Reading contests & is currently looking for a home. Anna also is a participant in Tupelo Press’s 30/30 Project. This is a fundraiser project to support writers.
Four Questions About My Writing Process.
What are you working on?
To my surprise, I finished revising a piece of creative non-fiction for Narratively this morning. I mention surprise because I’ve always said that I don’t and won’t write memoir. Like most Southern people, I like a good tale, but telling one and writing one are different things. It’s also a very vulnerable experience. It feels much more risky revealing parts of my life in a form of creative narrative than revealing myself through fiction or theory. With the latter forms I feel degrees of distance from my work once I leave it alone. Whether the stories about our lives are interesting enough to write about is arbitrary, I think. It’s all in the writing, and I found the process of writing this piece radically different from writing fiction until I was revising. Then, I became anxious about narrative arc, character development, an emotional anchor for the story, and a sense of vitality. It was in all ways novel to write about something I knew intimately and create a compelling story out of it, instead of beginning with an idea and creating it into something intimate along with all the other narrative elements. One thing I do know: I want to tinker with the structure of creative non-fiction. I’m not fond of writing in a strict chronology.
I’m also working on various short stories and a novel. The former exist entirely in my head and the novel is still in the early drafting stages. The novel is a re-telling of The Oresteia by Aeschylus. And, it’s been done before—so many times in various mediums throughout history, and during the 1990s during the third wave of feminism. Nevertheless, no one to my knowledge has attempted to do what I am with this tragedy. In every re-telling Klytemnestra is judged harshly, Cassandra dies brutally, Elektra loathes her mother, and Athena emerges as the embodiment and agent of patriarchal democracy. The family is shockingly dysfunctional with superlative examples of child cannibalism and sacrifice, incest, rape, abandonment, adultery, and betrayal. I want to retain the essential components of the tragedy but strengthen, re-align, and ally the relationships among the women. Readers should empathize with Klytemnestra as well as care for Agamemnon, but the emphasis is on the women and their relationships with one another. Meanwhile, Klytemnestra paces around in my mind swinging an axe, Cassandra is impatient, and Athena, well, she steps out of the Parthenon in Nashville and strolls down Broadway because that’s also a short story in progress. I’m also debating whether to keep their names, but at this point they are who they are. It’s annoying.
How does your work differ from others work in the same genre?
I don’t like the word “genre” at all. I don’t begrudge anyone what s/he considers a good read and leave it at that. However, I identify as an American Southern writer. Southern writing is less about genre than it is about place, regionalism, tradition, and identity. I’d say that I draw both on the tradition in Southern writing with a stronger influence from late 20th century and contemporary Southern literature. Although I have lived in Connecticut for many years, I have strong family and historical ties to Nashville and the small town in which I was raised. I’m more focused on transforming our narratives and our regional literature in Tennessee and Appalachia in recognizable, familiar ways that honor the traditions we keep alive, but also I am heavily influenced by the science fiction I read as a child and the Victorian and Modern British literature I grew to love as an adult. The fact that I am an unrepentant student of philosophy and theology and didn’t start studying how to write fiction until a couple of years ago may distinguish me from others. I’m attracted to weird and uncanny stories as well as elements of mysticism. But, that’s not all that unique either. Maybe having Greek gods and characters from myth walk through downtown Nashville and somehow pull it off in a believable way, convince readers to care for and empathize with them, will set my work apart. They can’t run me out of town. I don’t live there permanently anymore.
Why do you write what you do?
Do you ever get book-hungry? That’s how it started. I’m a voracious reader who was pretty much restless for a fix. I couldn’t find anything to read or re-read. So, I started writing. It was a page at first. Then I put it away, came back to it a few months later and wrote something longer. It was a frustrating process because I knew how things ought to feel and go, but it wasn’t getting there. I’ve been writing professionally since I was 19, but not creative work. It was an odd experience to sit down and not have something flow. I had to stop what I was doing and read everything I could find and Peter could recommend to get a clue. I end up writing stories that lodge in my mind and won’t go away. It’s not all that mysterious. It starts with a character and a situation, a vignette. Answering this question feels bizarre because it sounds as though I have experience. What annoys me is when people tell me I should write something else, and Anne mentions this. I know it’s a compliment of sorts, but if I felt the compulsion to write romance or a sex advice column or a book on prayer and spirituality or ghostwrite, I’d do it. Writing what you desire to write is difficult enough without the agony of having to write something you don’t want to or don’t do very well.
How does your writing process work?
I spend a great deal of time writing and revising as I go along. It’s impossible for me to turn off my internal editor. And after writing this way for decades, I don’t fight it. My favorite part is revision. Getting a working draft down may take only an hour or days, depending on length, but I’ll go through an obscene number of drafts in revision. It’s while revising that I permit myself to play with structure and add layers of texture and depth. Although I only published two stories the year I started devoting my time to creative writing in 2013, there exists over 60 versions of those two stories. I don’t write everyday, and my process is part of reverting to my native one of living with a work in my head as opposed to writing content everyday under tight deadlines as a professional technical writer. I tend to live with the characters in my mind beginning with images and a setting, working out the general plots and scenes. I live with a Professor of British Literature, so he is my first beta reader and merciless editor. I also have a group of friends who read for me. And, I need those readers before I submit anywhere because I’m dyslexic. While I’m a skilled developmental editor, and I can copy and line edit effectively, I make too many errors or fail to catch them. It’s like a bad joke: a dyslexic editor and writer.
Thanks so much for much for reading. Follow the blog tour next week and meet these four writers I admire at their own blogs to learn about their writing processes:
Christopher T. Garry is the managing and founding editor of Black Denim Lit. His works are forthcoming in Revenge of the Scammed and Voluted Tales, and have appeared in Tales of the Talisman, Aurora Wolf, Bohemia Journal, Crack the Spine, Fiction on the Web, Bewildering Stories, Bartleby Snopes, Linguistic Erosion, Danse Macabre, The Glass Coin, The Criterion, Delta Women and EIIRJ. Born in Illinois he lives outside Seattle with family and pets. If he were born at another age perhaps he would stare blankly at the sunset as he wipes mastodon blood from his chin, tossing the bone aside. This is a little difficult in rush hour traffic nowadays. He can be found at CTGarry.com.
Gay Degani lives in Southern California with her husband in an old Victorian house where parrots congregate at dusk in the oaks and camphors around her neighborhood. She has published fiction online and in print, including her collection, Pomegranate Stories. She is founder and editor-emeritus of Flash Fiction Chronicles, an editor at Smokelong Quarterly, and blogs at: Words in Place where a complete list of her work can be found as well as her social media links. Three times nominated for Pushcart consideration and winner of the 11th Annual Glass Woman Prize, Gay has won or been a finalist in contests sponsored by Women On Writing, Glimmer Train, Writer’s Digest’s Short Short Competition, and Bosque (The Magazine). Her novella, The Old Road, has been unfolding in Pure Slush’s 2014-A Year in Stories project. Her suspense novel, What Came Before, is now available at Barnes and Noble online and Amazon.com in hardcover, trade paperback, and ebook formats. Please find Gay’s and Susan Tepper’s conversation about the literary blog tour questions on Gay’s blog at wordsinplace.blogspot.com
Nathaniel Tower is the managing and founding editor of Bartleby Snopes Literary Magazine and Press. His short fiction has appeared in over 200 online and print publications. In 2014, Martian Lit released his first short story collection, Nagging Wives, Foolish Husbands. He is a former high school English teacher and the former world record holder for the fastest mile running backwards while juggling. He currently lives in Minneapolis with his wife and daughter. Visit him at nathanieltower.wordpress.com.
Susan Tepper is the author of a Novel in Stories called The Merrill Diaries (Pure Slush Books, 2013). Her other books include From the Umberplatzen, Deer & Other Stories, What May Have Been (co-author Gary Percesepe) and the poetry chapbook Blue Edge. Tepper is a named-finalist in story/South Million Writers Award for 2014, and was a runner up in The Glass Woman Prize. She has received nine Pushcart Nominations and one for the Pulitzer Prize in fiction. Her interview column UNCOV/rd and her chat column Let’s Talk both run monthly at Flash Fiction Chronicles and Black Heart Magazine (respectively). FIZZ, her reading series at KGB Bar, NYC, has been sporadically ongoing for about seven years (possibly longer). www.susantepper.com Please find Gay Degani and Susan’s conversation about the literary blog tour questions on Gay’s blog at wordsinplace.blogspot.com