My beautifully chaotic writing process

Like many writers, I have a collection of notebooks of all kinds. From Moleskins to school composition books. Gilt-edged tomes, bespoke journals made of heirloom fabric and hand stitched. Ruled and unruled paper, or unlined. None of them work for me, though. The fancier the notebook is, the more daunting it is to fill with scribbles. Those books and journals are a pleasure to have and hold. But I always think that I need perfect handwriting to fill those pages. I write messily. It’s full of crossed out words and misspellings and my handwriting, though perfectly legible, is not aesthetically pleasing and switches between block letters to scrawling across the paper. What works for me is a notebook that can lie flat, so I’ve turned to spiral notebooks. I find them less intimidating and they don’t inhibit the flow.

Where I indulge in whimsy is in the ink I use. I have an arsenal of multicolored gel pens I use. The various colors denote the different writing sessions. It might be blue ink for a morning session and black for a late night impromptu spurt of inspiration. It’s also visually appealing to consult a page filled with different hues.

I have three “active” notebooks — one for short fiction, another for whatever novel I’m working on, and one for blogging/non fiction. My process is making notes, sketching scenes, coming up with character names in ink and using that as jumping off points/warm up techniques before I start computer work. When I’m stuck, I return to the notebooks and comb them for ideas or jot down ideas for future sessions. My A Spectral Hue notebook, for instance, is filled with anything from complete scenes to random lists of words. My process is somewhat chaotic and amorphous, and it took a long time to develop. I have found that while I mostly draft things on computer, putting actual ink to actual paper has to occur at some moment in the act of creation.

BOOK RADAR: “Strange Is The Night” by S.P. Miskowski

Critically acclaimed weird/horror S.P. Miskowski has a new collection out from Journalstone, called Strange Is the Night.   Miskowski has been nominated for the Shirley Jackson Award many times.


Strange is the Night


Over cocktails an executive describes to a friend the disturbing history of a strangely potent guardian angel. A young mom tries to perfect and prolong her daughter’s childhood with obsessive parenting. A critic’s petty denouncement of an ingénue’s performance leads to a theatrical night of reckoning. A cult member makes nice for a parole board hearing years after committing an infamous crime.

A multiple Shirley Jackson Award nominee, S.P. Miskowski serves up an uncompromising collection of thirteen modern tales of desire and self-destruction. Strange is the Night offers further proof that Miskowski is—as Black Static book reviewer Peter Tennant notes—“one of the most interesting and original writers to emerge in recent years.”

“34” Tanith Lee ( writing as Esther Garber): Darkly erotic queer fantastika


Immanion Press has reprinted 34 in an extremely handsome edition that even has illustrations and pictures. 34 was written Lee, who claimed to channel the work of the enigmatic Esther Garber. The novel is a darkly surreal lesbian quest, part Colette, part Angela Carter.

I wrote about 34 when it first came out in 2004.

If you are expecting a straightforward dive into lesbian erotica by Tanith Lee (or Esther Garber), you will be pleasantly disappointed. This brief, dense and somewhat experimental book explores the erotic imagination, the nature of memory and mediates on aging. Sexual obsession is the focal point through which many discursive images and ideas flow.
The plot finds 17-year old Esther fleeing London after her mother’s dramatic death. She absconds on a boat across the Channel, and ends up in drab hotel in rainy Paris slum. The amoral and jaundiced Esther is mistaken for a prostitute by the front desk clerk and her services are bought by a virago named Julie, who poses as a man. The sexual chemistry between them awakes passions in Esther, who leaves after the tryst. Thus begins Esther’s quest, almost mythic in scope, to find Julie.
If “34” is not a fantasy, it does not happen in the real world. Rather than a traditional `other world’, the action takes place in the clouded, magical world of memory and perception, as the first person narrator encounters patently incorrect or wrong things (such as a dog that is part wild boar) or too surreal (such as a Gothic mansion).
The main narrative is interrupted by glimpses into a distant childhood past in Egypt and visions of a future Esther, who is going through menopause in London, and may or may not have a sister (or alter-ego, Anna). Both the future and the past Esthers live in a reality closer to `normality.’ The child faces loss and dislocation; the old woman is trapped by her illnesses and indolence. Both are prone to extensive fantasizing.
All of these disparate threads are held together by hypnotic, feverish prose and a dark, sardonic wit. Mythology intersects reality-Demeter, Persephone and Isis all have cameos here. Female ciphers, villains and strange children cavort on the stage. Eroticism and desire infuse everything, obliterating logic and reason.
This novel isn’t for everyone, though. The vaporous, meandering storyline and the disturbing, politically incorrect sexuality on display here will stop many a reader. But those who like sophisticated erotica and experimental fiction will find this Angela Carter meets George Bataille work entrancing.

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