Some thoughts on writing

My friend Lynn Kanter asked if I wanted to participate in a blog tour for authors about their writing process, in which we answer four questions about the way we work and then pass the baton to one or more authors who also blog. I haven’t done anything like this in a while, so I said yes.

A reflection about the virtualness of all this: I met Lynn more than 10 years ago when we were participants in an online forum for readers and writers called Readerville. I became friendly with many people there, who were posting from all over the country about the books and authors they loved. I visited several when I went on a book tour for Stalking the Divine, my book about atheist me getting to know a group of cloistered contemplative nuns in downtown Cleveland. During my visit to DC, Lynn and I became friends in real life. Her day job is writing and editing for an important and amazing social justice foundation called the Center for Community Change. She is also a novelist with a new book coming out in the fall, Her Own Vietnam, about a nurse who served in Vietnam who “decades later must confront her wartime memories and the fractures in her family life as the country prepares for the war in Iraq.” I read parts of this novel years ago and know one of the nurses Lynn interviewed about Vietnam. This is going to be a good book! Lynn blogs about her writing here: lynnkanter.com

What am I working on?

My just-released book is The Soil Will Save Us: How Scientists, Farmers and Foodies Are Healing the Soil to Save the Planet (Rodale). I look at the ancient partnership between plants and soil microorganisms that created our lush planet, much of it underground and not understood until recently. I examine the ways that humans have interfered with that partnership to our peril, and highlight progressive farmers and scientists and other land managers who are working with natural processes – nature’s “low” technology—to heal landscapes, our food, and ultimately, I believe, us.

The book came out a few weeks ago. My focus now is on writing magazine articles that expand upon the ideas in the book and on developing ideas for a next book, related in some way to this one.

How does my work differ from others in its genre?

Hmmm. Hard question and perhaps better answered by someone else? Much of The Soil Will Save Us is the world underground, with which most of us are unfamiliar. I tried to make that science as engaging and easy to understand as possible, using everything I know from writing fiction – character, scene-setting, dialogue, word choice – to create a narrative that will carry readers along, even over the tough spots.

Why do I write what I do?

It fascinates me.

How does my writing process work?

To write this book, I talked to a lot of people about their work – their science, their farming and ranching practices, their gardening, their landscape design. Then I mulled the material over and made outlines which often turned out to be not quite correct—I deviated—but provided a rough roadmap. When I started to write, I became aware of everything I didn’t know about my subject, and that led to another few rounds of interviews. This is pretty much the template for all my nonfiction work.

Now I’m passing the baton to two of the very best writers I know. Tricia Springstubb writes both adult fiction and books for children, and her ability to catch the most evasive of emotions and pin it to the page with grace and wit always amazes me. She blogs about her work here: triciaspringstubb.com/journal

Susan Grimm is a poet who occasionally writes nonfiction. She pans the stream of language for gems and strings them together in arresting and subversive ways. She blogs about her work here: thewhitespaceinsidethepoem.blogspot.com