I have something a little different to share with you on The Shelf today – a guest post from poet, short story writer, and novelist Laura Stamps in which she shares her process for writing fiction, as well as sharing an extract from her latest novella!
Laura is the author of novels, novellas, flash fiction collections, and poetry books. Nothing makes her happier than playing with words and creating new forms of fiction.
Her latest novella It’s All about the Ride: Cat Mania (Alien Buddha Press) just came out (September 2021). Laura is the winner of the Muses Prize, as well as the recipient of a Pulitzer Prize nomination and 7 Pushcart Prize nominations. Her short stories and poetry have appeared in over a thousand literary magazines worldwide. She is the mom of five cats and has been in feral cat rescue for over forty years. You can find Laura every day on Twitter at @LauraStamps16, and via her website: www.laurastampspoetry.blogspot.com
How I Write Fiction
Believe it or not, my writing day begins the minute I wake up in the morning. I’m a runner, and running is fantastic for writing. I think Joyce Carol Oates, who is also a runner, would agree. Running gives you the time and space to flesh out new stories, create outlines, and fix troublesome endings. And that’s exactly what I do first thing every morning while I run. In fact, I’ve never finished a run without coming up with the solution I needed that day for a story or novel chapter.
I keep everything I’m currently working on in my writing notebook, which is a zippered, black canvas, 5.5 x 8.5 Rite in Rain Weatherproof Cordura Fabric Notebook Cover that I bought years ago on Amazon. With plenty of pockets for pens, notes, a memo pad, and my current manuscript, it’s my “portable office” and provides whatever I need to edit and compose first drafts.
Most novelists and fiction writers schedule certain times of the day for writing. Some write early in the morning before the sun rises. Others write late at night while everyone is asleep. Because my fulltime job is hectic, I work on my novels, novellas, and stories while I eat breakfast, lunch, and a snack before bed.
You’d be surprised how much you can accomplish in three 30-minute writing sessions every day. Seriously! I’ve worked this way for decades. In the process, I’ve published 64 books with numerous publishers in the last 33 years, and over a thousand of my short stories and poems have appeared in literary magazines worldwide.
Anything can inspire a new novel, novella, or short story collection. Sometimes it’s just an image, or someone I’ve seen during my day. Sometimes it’s a theme I’d like to explore. Other times all I have is the first sentence or the last sentence. But it’s always something that intrigues me. Something that won’t let me go until I write about it to satisfy my curiosity.
First drafts are written by hand in a little 3×5 spiral-bound memo pad, typed on computer, printed out, and tucked in my writing notebook until I can edit it at my next meal. And so it goes. Several days are spent editing by hand at meals and typing up those edits until the chapter or story is finished. Then I start on the next chapter or story, using the same process, until the entire novel or short story collection is complete.
Fiction is a messy business. Nothing arrives in an orderly fashion. Bits and pieces of a story or chapter can come to me at anytime and anywhere: the post office, the shower, the car, at the sink while washing dishes, you name it. That’s why one pocket in my writing notebook is reserved for notes scribbled on scraps of paper (or whatever is handy at the moment). Some of these notes are plot or character details. Some are ideas for new stories or novel chapters.
When it’s time to write the first draft of a story or chapter, I spread these scraps of paper on the table around my meal. Then I arrange them in the order I wish them to appear in the story. This stack of notes on scrap pieces of paper is my “outline.” Then it’s just a matter of going through these notes and writing the first draft, which I can usually complete in one sitting.
Each story or novel chapter goes through at least 15-20 edits before it’s finished. Then, when the entire book is complete, I edit it another two or three times for continuity and flow. After that, the book is ready to be entered in a competition or sent to a publisher.
I never take a break after I finish a book. I just keep writing and start on my next novel or short story collection. By then I’ve accumulated enough notes on scraps of paper in my notebook to compose the first draft of the first chapter or the first story in the new book.
There’s no need to take a break anyway. It’s too much fun to create new stories and characters. Plus, I love pushing the traditional boundaries of fiction to find new formats better suited to my novels and novellas.
My latest novella, It’s All About the Ride: Cat Mania, is the perfect example. This novella is about a neurotic cat rescue lady. Because she considers herself a magnet for bad-news men, she decides to heal her chronic PTSD with self-help books and YouTube videos. Her thoughts become a roller coaster ride, traveling at top speed, as the story races from one hilarious therapy and cat adventure to another.
Since her thoughts move so fast, I had to create a special format for this novella. She’s the kind of person who says what most of us think, things we would never say out loud. But she has no filter, so she says them. As you can imagine, this novella is a fast read. Because of that, it needed a different kind of structure to free the pace of the plot and allow it to flow smoothly.
Eventually, I created an unusual structure of 132 short chapters. This format gave her the freedom to tell her story in her own fast, humorous, wacky way. See for yourself in the excerpt below!
An Excerpt from It’s All about the Ride: Cat Mania
(2021, Alien Buddha Press)
Here I am at PetSmart. Me and my empty cart, looking at all the things you’ll need if you adopt a dog, because my best friend adopted a dog. She loves that dog. She said I need a dog. She said if I come to PetSmart, see all the cute dog products, I’ll fall in love with the idea of adopting a dog, too. Except, I’m a cat person. I’ve always been a cat person, and that will never change, so why am I here?
I’m still at PetSmart, wandering down one aisle after another, looking at dog products to make my best friend happy. The friend who wants me to adopt a dog, who forgot I grew up with cats. I’ve always had cats. I have cats now. I love my cats. I need to tell my dog-loving best friend this isn’t going to work. It isn’t. Just. Not. Working.
Although tiny Chihuahuas are cute. You have to admit. In their little dog outfits. But I don’t need to adopt a dog. I just need to leave. I am leaving. I’m leaving this empty cart behind. And walking out. I’m walking out of PetSmart without any dog supplies. I’m walking out without adopting a dog. I’m a cat person. Cats make me happy. Happy is good. I don’t need a dog. I just need to leave. I’m a cat person. And I always will be.
Happy is good. I’m trying. Trying. Trying to be happy. I am.
Coming back from the grocery store on a Sunday morning, my husband driving, me in the passenger seat, talking about something, I can’t remember what, we reach the top of Harbison bridge when I see a feral kitten, just six or seven weeks old, dart like a flash of tabby out of the bushes into heavy traffic, into the wheel of an SUV, bounce off, terrified, and begin to drag its injured body toward the other side of the bridge, while I scream for my husband to “STOP THE CAR!” while I leap out, while I dodge traffic, while cars screech to a halt until I reach the kitten (finally!), scoop it up in my arms, dash back to the car, jump in, cuddling the frightened kitten to my chest, while my husband yells, “What should we do!” and I shout, “Take me to the Emergency Vet!” since it’s Sunday, and my vet is closed, but even though I spread a fabric grocery bag on my lap to make a soft bed for it, and even though I shower it with love and assurances of a long life, the little tabby passes away before we reach the end of the street, so we turn around and drive home, where I hold a beautiful funeral for this sweet babycat to let it know without a doubt in those last moments and in death it was loved, it was loved, it was loved by me, and always will be.
It’s not easy being in feral cat rescue. But I’m a cat person. I want them all. I love them all. I can’t have them all. Well, I could if I lived in the country. On a farm. But I’m not a farm person. Horses? Cows? Pigs? Chickens? HORRORS! Not happening. I’m not a farm person. I’m a forest person. Give me green. Give me trees. Lots of trees. Green and trees. That’s me.
Fact: My husband would divorce me if I lived on a farm with a hundred cats. He tells me that whenever I show him a photo of a cat. Like I’ve forgotten. Like I could. With him reminding me every day. Right.
Fact: Can’t irritate the husband. He’s a good one. Took too long to find him. Had to throw a few bad-news boyfriends back in the pond first. Okay, they threw me back in the pond. First. Just tossed me away. All of them. Back then. Back in the dark days. But who’s counting? Besides, it happens to everyone, every woman, doesn’t it? Of course, it does.
But. But. We cope. And keep moving forward. Move. Forward. I’m trying. Keep. Trying.
My thanks go to Laura for taking the time to write a guest post and for sharing an extract of the book. It’s All about the Ride: Cat Mania by Laura Stamps is published by Alien Buddha Press and is available to purchase now from Amazon.
Reviews on The Shelf are free, honest, and unbiased and I don’t use affiliate links on my posts. However if you enjoy the blog please consider buying me a coffee on Ko-Fi!