Ken Answers Four Questions on the Writing Process Blog Tour

So, here I am writing about myself. That’s a switch, my sarcastic friends remark.

But this time I have an excuse. I was asked to join a social networking exercise and write about myself as a writer by my good friend and book buddy Sue Katz, who was asked to write about herself as a writer by her good friend Elizabeth Woodcraft, who was asked by someone else, and on and on backwards to, I think, Eve and the snake, who were asked by Adam. My notes don’t indicate who asked Adam so maybe he started this thread. I know he started the tradition of writing in the nude, a tradition I must break today or else management at the Panera where I am currently writing will stop giving me free coffee, citing insurance risks.

But I won’t break this chain of writers writing about writing, which is now known as the Writing Process Blog Tour, and it will continue after me because, as per instructions, I have invited two friends, who I will introduce after I answer the four questions that all participants in this tour are expected (and delighted) to answer.

My Fellow Participants

But first I would like to introduce Sue and the other writer who Sue brought into this exercise, Leslie Brunetta, both of whom are my fellow National Writers Union members.

Sue Katz is one of my favorite people in the world; I’m honored that she has called me Cuz ever since I told her that there were Katzes in my family tree on my mother’s father’s mother’s side. Research on her first book, Thanks But No Thanks: The Voter’s Guide to Sarah Palin, was begun within hours after John McCain made his dramatic concession to the craziest elements of his increasingly delusional party and chose a polar bear named Sarah to sit in the on-deck circle in case he died in office. A horrified America took notice and voted for the other guy. Had they done otherwise and voted her to the on-deck circle, Sue would be a household name today because her book would have become a bestseller. Her recently released Lillian’s Last Affair gives hope to baby boomers as they reach their final one-digit decades that sex doesn’t have to stop in old age, and neither do the eccentricities.

Leslie Brunetta is co-author with Catherine L. Craig of Spider Silk: Evolution and 400 Million Years of Spinning, Waiting, Snagging, and Mating (Yale University Press), published in the United States, United Kingdom, Australia, and Japan. Leslie’s articles and essays have appeared in Technology Review, the Sewanee Review, various newspapers and alumni magazines, and on National Public Radio’s Morning Edition and All Things Considered. She has recently written about her experience with breast cancer and about the role the theory of evolution has played in the treatment of cancer.

The Four Questions

(I know. It sounds so Jewish. Who knew there were Jewish writers?):

What am I working on?

I’m presently in the process of turning some of my early print books, Early Wachsberger, into ebooks and second edition print books. The first one, which is already online, is Your Partner Has Breast Cancer: 21 Ways to Keep Sane as a Support Person on Your Journey from Victim to Survivor, a survival guide that, karmically, was inspired by my wife’s breast cancer adventure, which we became aware of exactly, to the day, fourteen years ago today. (I’m writing this on May 9, 2014.)

My upcoming ebook is an amazing true World War II story about Bernard Mednicki, a Belgian Jew who fled Belgium with his family when the Nazis invaded, moved to southern France, posed as a Christian, and, through a series of events, found himself in the Maquis, the French Resistance. The original title was Never Be Afraid: A Jew in the Maquis. However, after the book, which is now out of print, came out I was horrified to learn that too many folks had no idea what the Maquis was so the subtitle didn’t grab them the way it grabbed me. So, this new edition, which will appear in e- and in print, is subtitled A Belgian Jew in the French Resistance—not as sexy but hopefully understandable and will give me a leg up on attracting Belgium’s English-reading audience. Expect it out by summer or earlier.

My next Early Wachsberger to go e- will be Beercans on the Side of the Road: The Story of Henry the Hitchhiker. Beercans (yes, I know, technically “beer cans” is two words but the spelling came to me in a vision so karma demanded that I go with it) was my first book and my only novel to date. It’s been called a cult classic, the story of Henry Freedman’s quest to learn what it means to be a writer while he experiences life on the road (including in jail in Houston for getting caught with two joints while hitchhiking). It’s not strict autobiography but it comes out of my journal that I kept in the seventies while I was hitching to all corners of the country and establishing my reputation as one of the premier experts on intranational hitchhiking in the seventies. It’s a funny story but if you get confused somewhere while reading it, Henry’s probably having a flashback or lost in a headtrip. By the way, it’s still in print so you don’t have to wait for the e- version to get your copy.

Meanwhile, a pun came to me one night as I was fading into sleep: “You’ll never get rich being a member of the loyal opposition, but you’ll earn a dissent living.” I thought it was hilarious so I posted it on Facebook the next day to see if I would get a reaction. Lots of funny responses told me I was on to something. So I posted a variation: “You’ll never get rich living on a mountaintop and working in the valley, but you’ll earn a descent living.” I got more favorable responses. (In the pun world, a groan counts as a favorable response.) For about two weeks, I posted puns about job searching and continued to attract funny responses. Somewhere along the way, I realized I had to stop so I didn’t get typecast, but I continued accumulating puns on my own—I couldn’t help it; they came to me—and realized I had begun a new book, Puns for the Job Searcher. I now have 128 of them, most recently, “I was looking for a good Jewish caterer to work for so I went online and did a Kugel search”; and then “I couldn’t decide if I wanted to be an anesthesiologist or a miner. It was an ether/ore decision.” I’m presently looking for an artist to illustrate the book. If there is a God, this one will go viral and I’ll be able to pay off the Visa.

How does my work differ from others of its genre?

I type left-handed.

What’s the genre for puns?

Bernard Mednicki, the subject of my biography, Never Be Afraid, was a story teller in the tradition of the great Yiddish writers Bernard Malamud, Isaac Bashevis Singer, and Chaim Potok. But, unlike them, he told his stories. It was my great honor to help him get his stories onto paper before he died. The book was based on two rounds of six interview sessions apiece, the first following my question, “Where does your story begin?,” and the second as a series of Q-A’s so he could answer my questions that had come up during the first round. I had no expectations other than that he would be honest and answer my questions in detail.

Toward the end of the eleventh session I asked him a question that, unexpectedly, dug him deeper into his past than he had ever gone since the war ended. What followed was Bernard’s effort, on one hand, to answer my question, and, on the other, to avoid answering it because it was causing him to feel excruciatingly painful memories that up until that moment he had successfully concealed. As I watched him laboring with his thoughts and feelings, I envisioned a cyclone, where he was drawn toward the center, then pulled away, then was drawn in, then pulled away. But each time he was drawn in, it was deeper into the funnel, and each time he pulled back it wasn’t as far, until he was helpless to tell the complete truth with no holding back.

In Chapter 19, “Like Blood out of the Aorta of a Pig,” I’ve tried to retain the feel of his struggling to open his memory and unleash those painful secrets that had haunted him since that time, so that the reader can actually experience his pain along with him, as I did that day. That one chapter’s outline is less chronological than the traditional biographical chapter and more like one might feel getting pulled into the funnel of a cyclone.

Why do I write what I do?

Because it’s there. I’m ADHD and I write about what I’m thinking so I’m generally all over the place with my thoughts and I’m able to turn the ones that hold my attention into books and articles. I also write to make sense of the world around me.

How does my writing process work?

Great. I see a question about the writing process and my mind goes blank. I panic. But that’s okay because panic is step one. From there you either harness the panic or panic because you’re panicking (which produces a second-degree panic). The first option is more artistically productive and you do that by freewriting. All good writing begins with freewriting. Even my junk thoughts on a good day make their way onto paper or the screen while freewriting, if only to get them out of my mind so I can delete them and be left with the thoughts that I will massage and expand into complete thoughts.

At some point in the process, I begin to cut and paste to group similar stray thoughts. Next I put the groups of stray thoughts in order, and then I put the stray thoughts within each group in order. I’m creating order out of chaos from the inside out, and all the while I expand my thoughts, delete the junk thoughts, and tighten up the writing. I keep my energy up by drinking lots of coffee or iced tea; listening to rock and roll oldies; taking slow, deep breaths; and stretching. To satisfy my anal retentive, ADHD tendencies, I read my favorite blogs, wash the dishes (if I’m set up in the kitchen, my home office), play computer word games, and do my email. On a good day, I can put in a solid ten hours of work. It just takes me fourteen hours.

And now, it is my pleasure to introduce to you …

And that’s all that I’ve got to say about me for the moment. Time to pass the baton to my two good writer friends, Catherine Holm and Karen Ford.

Catherine Holm loves to explore the themes of place and transformation. She is also fascinated with the idea that magic is possible even in the most mundane settings. Her short story collections (My Heart is a Mountain and Voice Lessons) explore these themes. Catherine also writes about the power of the human/animal-companion bond in the memoir Driving with Cats: Ours for a Short Time, and her first cat fantasy fiction novel (The Great Purr) will publish in June 2014. Catherine blogs regularly at Catster.com and on her own website blog.

Karen Ford is the author of the soon-to-be-released Thoughts of a Fried Chicken Watermelon Woman (Total Recall Press 2014) and the blog, Caviar & Grits. As a freelance journalist, Karen’s articles have appeared in the Chicago Tribune, Lutheran Woman Today, Screen Magazine, and various newspapers and periodicals. Karen serves as the 3rd Vice President of the National Writers Union UAW 1981, the only trade union for freelance writers in the United States.

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