I have once again taken advantage of our local Writer in Residence program hosted by my library. Last week, I attended a virtual presentation entitled Writing Three Dimensional Characters That Sing. It was a highly informational session. As writers we are always learning and taking the time to learn is essential in improving our writing craft.
There was an extra bonus to this year’s writer in residence as she is an acquaintance and a great writer and writing community advocate. Rayanne Haines is the author of seven books, including three poetry collections. Her artistic practice focuses on projects that look to redeem and empower women’s narratives. In addition to her writing, teaching, and festival work, she also produces/curates intersectional feminist poetry films and panels with authors across Canada. Her current work focuses on mental health and intergenerational female trauma.
Having the opportunity to access a writing mentor and their free services through this program enables local writers to gain insight into their work. The program services include individual manuscript consultations, public readings and talks, information on the publishing process and networking with the writing community.
Do you have a similar program where you live?
What devices, programs and events do you use to learn your craft?
One of the main questions I am asked is how do I write and what is my process. It may seem like a simple question, but it results in a complex answer that maybe wasn’t expected. Every writer has their own process, but it is normally split between writer called a panster (free flow) or plotter. A plotter has note cards, sticky notes, a story board, or some other framework they utilize to plot and plan the narrative. The panster (free flow writer) does not use any method, although, they may jot down some notes, such as character names and relationships, settings and continuity points as they write.
I am a free flow writer and always have been (until recently, I’ll get to that shortly). I tried to use the ‘romance format’ once, which resulted in the one and only time I had writer’s block, so never again! I will try to explain as best I can my process here, so here goes.
When an idea forms in my mind resulting from a prompt, an overheard conversation, a life experience, a photo or object, a dream or something else, I either let it brew in my mind to see if it will gather momentum or it propels me into writing several paragraphs. Gradually characters form, a setting materializes, and an initial story emerges, whether I ponder or write the idea. There is no specific plot or storyarc at this point, just the first instance of the narrative.
As the idea takes hold of my imagination, I allow the story to tell itself, sounds weird, I know, but it really does flow from mind to fingertip. I find it’s best not to force the narrative, but let it take its own pace. On multiple occasions I have thought the story will go in one direction only for it to go in a completely random direction. This for me is the fun of writing not fully knowing where the characters will lead me. As I write, the story plays like a movie in my head, I ‘see’ the settings, the characters, their lives and just like a movie have no idea what will happen. I do, however, become familiar with my characters, their backstory, motivations and personalities.
Some may say my writing process is actually ‘automatic writing’ but it is not, I do have ultimate control over the narrative adding my viewpoints for upcoming scenes and character development – I just don’t force or coerce my Muse, but allow the flow to come. I hope that makes some kind of sense, as I said it is difficult to explain the inner workings of a writers mind.
As I mentioned earlier, I usually write free flow, that changed when the idea for my detective trilogy, The Delphic Murders came to me. The initial idea was like a lightning bolt – three female detectives, three Canadian cities and their murder investigations. I even came up with the three separate book titles in quick session. An Elusive Trail (Book 1), The Tainted Search (Book 2) & Killers Match (Book 3). This resulted in my having to plan each book for timeline, character descriptions, plot arcs and the relationships within each book. This was a new technique for me and I was able to gather information on how to do it properly from various sources. I found a new skill to add to my writing repertoire!
Do you have a question for me about my writing technique, or how I develop an idea? I am more than happy to answer your queries.
What inspired you to write this collection of paranormal and science fiction stories? (Into the Night)
My mother was a strong influence on me growing up, and she encouraged us to consider the “what ifs” of the universe. We watched Twilight Zone, Night Gallery, and Kolchak: The Night Stalker and enjoyed talking about the possibilities of aliens, ghosts, and other things that go bump in the night. It’s a genre I’ve been drawn to my entire life.
After writing three hard-hitting nonfiction books, I needed a break. I still wanted to be creative, but I didn’t want to go through the emotional meat grinder of another true crime/criminal justice book. I was drained, so I decided to write science fiction and paranormal stories for fun. It has been a nice change of pace to create the monsters instead of writing about the real ones.
Henry was another strong influence on me as a child. I enjoy stories with a twist, and I incorporate a twist into nearly every fiction piece I write whether it is science fiction, paranormal, or general fiction. I like taking readers by surprise, and I like to make them look at items we take for granted in new ways.
Did you have these stories filed away for a while, or did you write them specifically for the collection?
Since I hadn’t decided to start writing short stories until I was needing a break from my nonfiction books, these stories are new material I wrote for the collection. I hadn’t written short stories prior to writing my books, so there were none to pull out of storage.
Do you have a favorite story in the collection, and if so, why?
Different stories appeal to me for different reasons. I incorporate a piece of myself and my life experiences into each one. Charcoal Drawings haunted me to some degree because, as a teacher, I pictured myself as the main character, Mylah Kennedy. I didn’t finish this story until 1:30 in the morning, and when I ended it and looked out at my pitch-black bedroom, it gave me the “heeby-geebies.”
4. What is your writing schedule like?
Unlike some writers, I don’t have a set schedule, nor do I believe I have to write every day in order to be a “real” writer. I’m busy with my teaching job, a long commute, my farm, and family obligations. If I don’t feel like writing, I don’t. If a story idea needs more time to develop in my mind, I let it rest until it’s ready to come out. At other times, when I have the writing bug, so to speak, I’ll write two stories in a weekend. I need to be in the right frame of mind. I know some writers feel as though they must write “x” amount of words per day, but that sounds too much like drudgery to me. I write because I enjoy the creative process, and my creative process doesn’t work well under artificial constraints like a required word count. To answer the question: I have no writing schedule
5. How do you research for your books?
My three nonfiction books deal with the criminal justice system. Bank Notes: The True Story of the Boonie Hat Bandit and Inside the Death Fences: Memoir of a Whistleblower are the real-life experiences of my husband and myself, so research wasn’t necessary. For Guilty Hearts: The World of Prison Romance, I interviewed other women who have incarcerated loved ones and their family members.
6. Where is your favorite place to write?
I like to be comfortable when I write, so I prefer to write in bed, especially at night. There are few distractions and my ideas flow more easily at night when I’m relaxed. If an idea hits me, and I’m able to jot it down, however, I’ll write anywhere.
7. When did you start writing?
I’m a high school English teacher, but I never wrote anything other than work-related items until I began my first book, Bank Notes. Over the years, people told me I should write, but I never had a purpose for writing until the story of my husband’s experiences needed to be told.
8. Do you have a blog, website, or social media links you can share?
My WordPress blog site is carolinegiammanco writes. My Twitter account is @GiammancoBook. I’m on Facebook at Caroline Giammanco Author and at Caroline Giammanco Author Fans
9. Your other books cover some controversial and powerful subjects. Can you let us know how they came about and why you chose to write them
a) Bank Notes: The True Story of the Boonie Hat Bandit:
In July 2011, I began teaching the GED program at the South Central Correctional Center in Licking, Missouri. That is a maximum-security men’s prison, and working in a prison was never on my bucket list. The Great Recession caused my school district, and many others, to cut positions, and I found myself needing a job, so I applied.
In late March 2012, I hired Donald Keith Giammanco to work as a tutor in my classroom. Each of the ten classrooms had two tutors who assisted the teachers. I didn’t realize that Keith was The Boonie Hat Bandit for a few weeks after I’d hired him, but he had been upfront at the interview and told me he had robbed banks in the St. Louis area using notes. Keith and my other tutor were enrolled in a college business class at the time, and I would proofread their papers. Keith is intelligent, but spelling isn’t his strong suit, so I told him one day that if he ever wrote a book or screenplay, he might want to have me edit it first. We laughed, but it was an idea we stuck with. Over time, it went from me editing his story to helping him write it. Together we collaborated to let the world know what the criminal justice system looks like as experienced by a middle-class adult who went down the wrong path. It’s a world most citizens don’t see, and the corruption we witnessed each day needed to be brought to light.
b) Guilty Hearts: The World of Prison Romance:
After I wrote Bank Notes, I took part in dozens of Barnes and Noble book signings around the country. Each time, I was met with people who were incredulous that I was involved with an inmate. “You don’t look like someone who would marry an inmate” was a common thread. After talking with me for a while, or after they read my book, they would change their mind and say something along the lines of, “Well, you and Keith are okay, but those other women…”
By this time, I knew several families with incarcerated loved ones, and they weren’t the stereotype at all. They were hard-working, middle-class, upstanding people who happened to love someone who made mistakes. I felt it was important to share their stories in hopes some of the stigma could be taken away. I chose Guilty Hearts for the name of the book because too often anyone who is related to or loves an inmate is painted with the same guilt as the incarcerated person. We are not second-class citizens
c) Inside the Death Fences: Memoir of a Whistleblower:
Now that I had told my husband’s story, and the stories of a dozen other families, I decided the time was right to tell my own experiences working inside the Missouri prison system, including what I saw, the death threats, and my activism to change a terribly flawed system that leaves none of us any safer.
10. As a teacher, do you encourage your students to write their stories?
I believe it is important to help students find their voices. Every class I teach has a writing component, and I teach a course called Creative Writing.
11. Do you prefer fiction or nonfiction when you read and why?
Ever since I was a young child, I prefer nonfiction. Real people and real places have always fascinated me. I enjoy good fiction works, but nonfiction is a mainstay for me.
12. Does your location inspire you to write and how?
I grew up on an eighty-acre farm in the Missouri Ozark Mountains, and the love of the country has never left me. After I graduated high school, I moved to Tucson, Arizona to attend the University of Arizona. I ended up living in Arizona and New Mexico for over twenty years before returning to rural southern Missouri in 2006.
Each place I have lived has left an imprint on me, and I draw from those places whenever I write. In addition to science fiction, paranormal, and general fiction, I also write westerns that are heavily influenced by my time out West.
Caroline Giammanco is an author and high school English teacher. She grew up in Douglas County, Missouri and moved to Arizona to attend the University of Arizona where she earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in Political Science with an English minor. She lives on her sixty-acre farm in southern Missouri. Caroline is married to the love of her life, Keith Giammanco.
Caroline’s previous published works are nonfiction and deal with the criminal justice system: Bank Notes: The True Story of the Boonie Hat Bandit; Guilty Hearts: The World of Prison Romances; and Inside the Death Fences: Memoir of a Whistleblower.
I am currently reading The Golem and the Jinni – a wonderful book I would recommend if you like fantasy fiction. I have not come across a golem before so did a little research.
I am sure most of us will think of Gollum, the Lord of the Rings character. However, a golem is a different kind of creature all together.
Firstly, the spelling is different, but also the creature itself comes from Jewish folklore. It is an animated anthropomorphic being created entirely from inanimate matter (usually clay or mud). In the Psalms and medieval writings, the word golem was used as a term for an amorphous, unformed material.
As I have always been fascinated in folklore, fairy tales and mystical creatures, I was surprised I had not come across this particular creature before. So it has been added to my collection of great creatures and myths.
I have a couple of books I treasure, which include wonderful creatures. One is Gnomes and the other Fairies.
There are many creatures that can be helpful or harmful to gnomes & fairies, one is a Snotgurgle. Even the name conjures up an image! Yes, he is a nasty beastie.
Do you have a folklore character you would like to share?
Have you discovered a previously unknown fantasy character in a book?
I thought I would share a update on the model I am making. It is not going to be a quick project by any means! So far I have made all of the internal cabinets and shelves and a few of the tiny paper folded items. This project will probably take me more than a few months, in-between full time work, writing time and, you know – life! It is extremely fiddly and the air has been blue on occasion.
The handles for the cabinets have to be created with wire and the decorative parts. The suitcase and boxes are cut out of a template and folded and the fruit bowl was five separate pieces! This is the first model I have attempted, so it is a steep learning curve.
Apart from that, I have gotten back into my detective manuscript of book two in the trilogy, A Tainted Search. I had not visited it since the end of November, when I completed National Novel Writing Month. I let it percolate for a while. Leaving a manuscript after an intense month of writing, allows me to mull over its content and gather my thoughts on the continuing story.
Do you leave a manuscript to develop in your mind? If so for how long?