Today, I am lucky enough to have a wonderful writer contribute to my blog: Thaisa Frank is an imaginative and gifted novelist. She also includes flash fiction and short story into her oeuvre, and her most recent books are Heidegger’s Glasses (translated into ten foreign languages) and Enchantment ( Best Books, SF Chronicle 2012.) Her earlier works include A Brief History of Camouflage and Sleeping in Velvet. Finding Your Writer’s Voice (St. Martin’s Press) will be an e-book later this year. If you’d like to visit her blog, please go to http://thaisafrank.com/blog/. Please welcome Thaisa, and hear what she has to say about her process of writing. Here are her answers to a variety of questions:
What are you working on now:
I’ll begin by discussing the book I am in the midst of writing–always a little dangerous because it’s important not to say too much. And talking about writing is like a fishing story. So much happens quickly and underneath the surface. I don’t know if it’s possible to write non-fiction about writing fiction but I’m always willing to give it a try:
I’ve always written flash fiction and short stories, and I’m writing new ones. Flash fiction is great fun because it happens all at once, creates an instant shape and doesn’t interfere with a writing day. My latest short story, Anesthesia will be in the next issue of Gargoyle. I’ll also be reading a story called Plan C at Litquake this October. And a new novel is dominating my life. I’ve set it in an undisclosed country, and, as in Heidegger’s Glasses, (Counterpoint Press 2010 and 2011) it concerns a group of people as well as one character in a dilemma. When I work on a novel a key question for me is: What is narrative? I know this might sound self-consciously post-postmodern, but I can’t stop asking the question. I think about the stories we tell each other in conversations and I’m still looking for a form of narrative that feels as natural as taking a breath when we start to talk. I’m not looking for what’s real or natural. That’s impossible. I’m looking for artifice that is natural–a fit for my voice and the way I see things.
How does your work/writing differ from others of its genre?
Critics say I’m voice-driven, image-driven, title-driven, or idea-driven. These categories strike me as elegant terms for a landfill. Whatever isn’t obviously character-driven fiction is thrown into it. In fact my characters are present to me. But they’re born from a world of compelling images and ideas. Fortunately there’s a new word to describe this kind of writing: Fabulism! After looking at all the things included in this category, I’ve decided that the fabulist fiction I write is most linked to surrealism. My characters are condemned to live normal lives in a situation with at least one element that couldn’t possibly have happened. (Except isn’t this the case for all of us?) In my last novel, Heidegger’s Glasses, Scribes lived in an underground mine with cobblestone streets and a fake sky with a sun that rose and set. They were WWII prisoners forced to answer letters to the dead. In spite of their surreal surroundings and absurd mission, they argued, fell in love and wrote a book called Dreamatoria. I also write creative memoirs, often using material close to my life. My last collection of stories, Enchantment (Counterpoint 2012) had two semi-autobiographical novels. Critics have said that my surreal short stories and close-to-life memoirs mirror each other. This isn’t deliberate, nor do I completely understand it, but in some sense the novel is a way to braid these two sensibilities.
Why do you write what you do?
I often have a sense that somewhere there’s a pneumatic tube of the imagination and when another writer doesn’t happen to be there–someone who could use the material more quickly and more deftly– something is given to me. My job is to craft it into a shape. This is a complicated way of saying I don’t know where my work comes from. I’ve always liked Wallace Steven’s quote: the imagination is the weather of the mind. This weather is pervasive for all of us. Where does this weather come from?
How does your writing process work?
1. quickly, 2. sort-of-quickly, or 3. slowly –depending on what I’m writing. Prose poems happen with great speed. That’s why I enjoy them. Sometimes I write a short story from start to finish. More often it comes together slowly. Novels are slowest of all. They’re big trucks filled with paraphernalia. As I said, the structure of narrative is something I keep learning and re-thinking when I write a novel. But I still begin with images, phrases and pieces of dialogue–in other words, with ornaments on a Christmas tree. I push them around on the page until they burrow into negative space and show me the tree.
But this sounds so serious. A lot of time I stare out the window and then desperation hits and I write like mad.