My Writing Process

Notes From My Kitchen Table: “My Writing Process”

The ChaliceNancy Bilyeau, author of the delightful Tudor Era novels The Crown and The Chalice, invited me to join a growing and now exhaustive list of writers participating in the “My Writing Process” Blog Tour. If you follow the blogs of writers on the internet, you surely have seen this making the rounds. When Nancy asked if I would be interested in joining the party, I did a google search and read the blog posts of several writers. I am not so sure that was the best idea I ever conjured up, as it punctuated for me just how different my approach to writing is to most people. Is that a bad thing? I pray not. What I know with all certainty, however, is I will be changing nothing. Whether I am stubborn, stupid or on to something good only time will tell.

What are you working on?

I am currently composing a compilation of short stories focusing on the life of Thomas Cranmer, Archbishop of Canterbury.

revelations book cover to make small

How does your work differ from other’s of it’s genre?

Revelation is a series of stories with varying deep 1st person narrations written in the present tense.  Some stories actually include multiple narrators. For an example see Black Joan of the Dolphin.

Although the overall plot arc of the stories focuses on Thomas Cranmer, he only narrates about half of the stories in the compilation. Consequently, readers are able to hear the voice and learn the thoughts of a variety of historical figures – obscure, famous and infamous – who commonly interfaced with him. Yes, this is a highly unusual and typically frowned upon style of writing, but I firmly believe that in my work that focuses heavily on what historical figures were thinking and feeling during the intriguing historical events of 16th century England, this unusual approach works well to achieve my goal to draw readers into each story and give readers the sense of being one of Thomas Cromwell’s spies hiding behind a curtain.

The plots I use in my short stories explore an actual historical event rather than a fictional story within a historical context, and as often as possible an event that is not commonly known to history. If a little known historical event actually changed the course of history in an unpredictable way, as in Black Joan of the Dolphin, that is a wonderful bonus.

Why do you write what you do?

I love the short story genre. I find it immediate, and it enables me to focus my writing on what I find important without what for me is extraneous information.

If you enjoy reading about the gowns Queens wore, the King’s sexual exploits and mistresses, descriptions of 16th century scenery, medieval meal preparation or a description of castles and palaces as much as I actually do, my short stories will be a major disappointment. I focus 95% of my writing on plot and dialogue.

I love English history, and I am fascinated with the Henrican and Protestant Reformations. I am also fascinated with the men around the monarchs – the ministers, the courtiers, the politicians and the clergy. I selected Thomas Cranmer as the focal point of my work because he is a man whose beliefs and morals evolved over time and a man who often found himself having to weigh his religious beliefs, family obligations, moral center and loyalty to the monarch in ways that left him perhaps the most morally and ethically conflicted historical figure in Tudor history. I also find the process of researching historical events and telling stories that plausibly explain them to be intellectually challenging.

How does your writing process work?

First, let me state that I do not recommend my writing process to anyone. It follows no established process taught in writing classes or recommended by experienced professional mentors, nor is it practical. Simply stated, I study history and learn events. If something sparks an interest, I write a story about it. I do not follow a strict historical timeline when I write. For example, I might write a story about Cranmer’s first marriage one week, his martyrdom the next, and swing back to something in the middle of the timeline. Thankfully, this can be done in the short story genre where it may be near impossible in composing a novel.

Often a historian will have a footnote or mention an aside in a biography, and that sends my mind swirling about a new story. For example, going back to Black Joan of the Dolphin as the example, I read two sentences Diarmaid MacCulloch wrote detailing how Roman Catholic detractors painted Cranmer’s first marriage in a highly negative light, stating he married his first wife after she was already pregnant and that he was an ostler (caretaker of horses) at an Inn. My mind began swirling around the thought, “So what if that were true?” Just like that a story is sparked.

Over the course of the last two years, I composed over 40 stories. I began pulling them together in timeline order and happily discovered I am on my way to a “novel in stories”. With this revelation, I am finally beginning to become far more organized in planning in advance for the stories I want to write, basically so I can create the overall plot arc and “fill in the blanks”.  This stated, if something sparks my interest as I am researching, I will stop everything else I am doing and write a story. It is not uncommon at all for me to read an article or historical reference and write a story whether “needed or not”. In fact, my favorite short story is about King Henry VI’s lapse into catatonia, while the vast majority of my writing is Tudor Era.

Beyond this, I have the very bad habit of writing at my kitchen table at a laptop directly into the composition box on my website. If I am in a creative zone, chaos can be abounding in my home. My 3 year old granddaughter can be running in circles while my teenage son watching a football game. It makes no difference to me.  I am 100% focused on writing. This drives my family crazy, but they are used to it and tolerate me just the same. I tend to write most productively in the early afternoon.  Stories can be as short as 1500 and as long as 5000 words. I generally write a complete draft of a story regardless of length in one sitting, and then go back and edit, and a third time to wordsmith.

Thanks for visiting the post! Now it is my duty to tag other writers to join in. Let me make some introductions!

PJ Royal obtained degrees in history and archaeology from Auckland University, New Zealand, and seeks, in her debut novel Killing the Bee King to combine the dramatic suspense of a political thriller with the historical atmospherics of early nineteenth century Paris and London. Killing the Bee King will be released by Regal House Publishing in July of 2014. PJ will be visiting us here at QAB in July. Watch for our interview with PJ and for her outstanding guest post. PJ Royal, tag your IT!

As regular QAB browsers know, our mission is to highlight the work of all writers, whether professionally published or talented and emerging. With this in mind, it is my pleasure to introduce to you Jess Gofton! She is currently working on a historical/paranormal novel titled Bloodroot and Bracken. Jess Gofton, tag you’re IT!

Beth von Staats

is the owner and administrator of Blogger of "The Tudor Thomases", Beth specializes in writing magazine articles, online historical articles, short stories, and flash fiction.