Last month my friend and colleague Aaron Householder tagged me in a sort of chain letter for bloggers wherein we answer a few questions and tag two more of our favorite writers to answer the same questions. I'm several weeks late in my response, but the evil chain letter spirits have not descended yet, so I guess it's all good.
1. What are you working on?
I'm working on the courage to tell people what I'm working on. I'm working on saying it out loud without laughing hysterically.
I laugh every time.
I'm working on a book, a memoir about two years I spent in Southeast Asia a decade ago.
The world needs another memoir written by a privileged white woman in her early thirties, right?
2. How does your work differ from others in its genre?
Of course every work is unique because of the voice of its author. Allowing my voice to develop as honestly and authentically as possible might be my biggest task.
As it's shaping up, I see my memoir as a cross between two kinds of books. It's part bildungsroman: a story of evangelical faith coming-of-age. And it's part missionary memoir (although I would never have called myself a missionary). It's both a celebration and a critique of the evangelical zeal I grew up infected with. It's a way of turning the "missionary biography" conventions on their head, and examining the kinds of religious rhetoric that led me overseas in the first place.
It's also a love story, and I would be lying if I said that the CIA and spies didn't play into it too.
3. Why do you write what you do?
When I write for Christ and Pop Culture, I write about the things that inspire me, frustrate me, confuse me, and entertain me. I write as a way of understanding my reaction and helping readers think through their cultural engagement more carefully.
When I write essays, like one I just finished about my chickens, or the one I wrote about traveling to Paris at sixteen, I usually write because an idea has been marinating inside me for a while, and I feel compelled to get it on paper.
With this book, there are a few reasons to write. First, this year was the ten year anniversary of my moving overseas. I found myself remembering some things, and unable to remember others. I began to wonder what exactly I had learned from my experiences back then, and if the lessons had stuck. I began to wonder if I had ever emerged from the dark night of the soul. Had my faith matured, or shriveled up? So I began to write, in the beginning, as a way of making sure my experience wasn't wasted by reminding myself of what God had taught me.
I'm also writing this story as a way of showing what happens when a child reads books that tell her that the most exceptional, adventurous life she can have is the life overseas. I want to interrogate the idea that there is a distinction between a "normal" Christian life and an exceptional, radical Christian life.
4. How does your writing process work?
For smaller things, I have an idea that I turn over in my head for a while - a day, a week, a month, returning to it while I wash the dishes and cut the grass and try to fall asleep at night - until it's ready. Then I sit and write.
For longer pieces- well, that's something I'm still figuring out. Right now it looks like three documents. One has notes, outlines, random thoughts that might fit somewhere someday. One has quotes (and citations!) that I think I might use. A third has my manuscript, just a story I'm writing from beginning to end. Then on my desk there are four old journals I'm referring to, letters and photos to jog my memory, and stacks of books I want to read for research and for sharpening my craft. I tried to create a big outline on butcher paper, but my kids came in and colored all over it, so... now my outline is just a bunch of hearts and scribbles. Which, actually, seems fairly appropriate.
One thing that's invaluable to my writing process is my writing group, five women spread out across the globe who bounce ideas back and forth with me over voxer and read and edit my work on a regular basis. Maybe most of all, they believe in me. Writers, find yourself a group like that.
I'm tagging two of my favorite writers who have been too busy to blog much lately. This will give them a reason to get back online, at least for half a second.
Christiana Peterson writes fiction, poetry, songs, and essays, and lives in intentional community on a farm in Illinois. On her blog The Beauty of This Hour, she talks about finding joy in art, farm life, community, and family.
This year Jessica Goudeau finished her PhD at a big university in Texas AND adopted a third daughter from China. When she should probably be sleeping, she writes about refugees, adoption, and active verbs like hilltribering.