Lev Butts Revisits an Old Interview and Performs a Self-Assessment

A few years ago, in 2014 to be exact, I was asked to participate in the "My Writing Process" blog tour, where writers answered questions about their writing process and discussed their current writing processes. I came across the questionnaire recently and thought it'd be neat to see how my ideas have remained the same or changed over the last few years. My original answers are in Times font, my current commentary is in Arial.

1) What am I working on? 

I am working on a few things at the moment. First of all I am drafting the second volume of my Guns of the Waste Land series of novellas, Desolation. This series retells the King Arthur myths as an American Western. I published the first volume, Departure, last year and it has received some good reviews on Amazon. 

I finished Desolation, but the name changed to Diversion by the time it went to print. A much better name I think. The third volume, Dispersal, also came out and won honorable mention for historical fiction in this year's Georgia Interdependent Author of the Year Award. I'm almost done with the fourth and final volume, Desinence.

I am also working on a new edition of my collection of short stories, Emily's Stitches: The Confessions of Thomas Calloway and Other Stories, in an effort to learn Amazon's Createspace publishing platform. This new edition will also include a new story, "Love Ever Yearns," as well as a new poem, "Challenge," both of which were recently published in issues of Newnan-Coweta Magazine.

The new collection came out and is still available. As far as short stories go, I recently coauthored a Dracula-related story with Dacre Stoker, Bram's great-grandnephew, focusing on Renfield and how he wound up in the asylum as well as Bram's final days. We are currently shopping it around and I will let folks know when and where they can get a copy.

I am also working on a critical reader of H. P. Lovecraft's work for the University of North Georgia Press. This book will include annotated versions of several of Lovecraft's stories and poems, an abridged version of his essay, Supernatural Natural Horror in Literature, and several scholarly articles about Lovecraft's work and interviews with authors about Lovecraft's influence on their own work.

After years of work, this book was also recently published by McFarland, and I am currently co-editing a collection of essays on American Horror Story for which I have also contributed a chapter.


2) How does my work differ from others of its genre? 

With Guns, I am unaware of many Westerns that incorporate classic mythology so overtly. I understand there is a subgenre of Western, the weird Western, that incorporates elements of the supernatural and horror, the most famous example, would be Stephen King's Dark Tower series, but nothing similar to what I am attempting: telling an age-old story using the tropes of a Western, but without simply retelling Arthurian legend word-for-word, so to speak, just using guns instead of swords or Indians instead of Saxons and Picts. I am trying to make sure that my story maintains its own unique tale, and contributes to the Arthurian canon instead of parotting it.

I believe I have found if not my niche, at least a niche for blending myth and legend with genre storytelling. I am currently plotting my next creative writing project, and I am thinking of blending the Norse Ragnarok myths with hard-boiled detective and mobster pulps.

Emily's Stitches, is a bit different, too. Instead of a series of unconnected, or tangentially connected stories, I have endeavored, in the first two-thirds of the collection, to tell a single, cohesive narrative, but have each of the individual "chapters" stand alone as its own story. Of course, the last third of the book is simply independent of tangentially related stories and poems.

Ah, naive youth...When I began writing these stories in college, I had the temerity to think I had developed this style of short story writing, but learned almost immediately after saying it out loud that the idea of interconnected short stories telling a single overall narrative not only was nothing new, but had been done many times before and by far better writers.

While there are plenty of critical editions of literary titles on the market and an overabundance of Lovecraft collections, there is surprisingly no critical edition of Lovecraft available. The closest we have are a couple of annotated collections. My book hopes to address that lack.

It does.

3) Why do I write what I do? 

I write stories that I want to read but are not available. When I began Guns, it was because I really wanted to read a Western Arthur story. I couldn't believe no one had done it yet. 

I wrote Emily's Stitches because I wanted a good, Southern lit story collection that worked together as a novel. I know there are a few collections like this out there, but at the time I wrote it, I couldn't find them. I began it in the mid-nineties, before Google. Thank goodness, or I may not have taken up the project, and I'm pretty damned proud of it.

As I mentioned above, no one has attempted a critical edition of Lovecraft yet. We have collections of essays, and he have collections of his stories, but no collections of both.

Now we do.

4) How does your writing process work?

Mostly I write in the car. I have a long commute, so I spend a lot of time thinking about where I'm at in the story, where I want to get to, and how I can get there. When I actually do sit down to write, it is a lengthy process. I may only get 500 - 600 words done in a day of writing (1,000 if it's a particularly good day). I begin by re-reading what I last wrote and then I start writing. What takes up the most time, though, is spur-of-the-moment research. For example, last week I was writing a scene that takes place in a boy's bedroom, but I had no idea what kind of things would be in the 19th century bedroom of a teenaged boy (I'm sure there were no wodden Xboxes, after all). That research took over an hour, and I found a lot of things, but I couldn't use them all. Then I had to get the wording right, so it took about two hours for me to write four sentences:
They were in what appeared to be a bedroom; after a count of a hundred and no evidence of movement in the rest of the house, Gary Wayne crawled around the single wood-framed rope bed to investigate the room, finding only a few possessions: a sling shot, a sharpening stone, and a tarnished Barlow knife.
“It’s the kid’s room,” he whispered, rummaging under the sagging and faded straw mattress, “This cinches it.” Gary Wayne tossed a heavily thumbed Montgomery Ward catalog on Boris’ side of the bed. It fell open to women’s undergarments.
I prefer to write at night, but this is not always possible given my work schedule. Mostly, I write when I can, where I can. Recently my primary writing place has been my office at work after my Wednesday night class is done. 

Nothing much has changed here, except that my new favorite place to write is my office at home and at my desk in the guest room I stay in during the week when I am working.


I also like to have music playing when I write, so I generally make a playlist specific to each piece I'm writing. For Emily's Stitches, it was a lot of Tom Petty, Tom Waits, and Tori Amos. I use a lot of Ennio Morricone, Mark Knopfler, and Brandi Carlile for Guns.

For the new Dracula story, I listened to a lot of The Rachels (a violin and percussion trio) as well as Jill Tracy's album Into the Land of Phantoms, which is the score to the re-release of the original silent film, Nosferatu.

So other than finishing some projects, continuing others, and moving on to still other, newer projects, I don't appear to have changed much in half a decade. 

What about you guys? Tell me in the comments.

Comments

Griselda Heppel said…
I had to look up the meaning of desinence! Never come across it before so I've learnt something. Great word.
Really interesting to look back at a stage in your writing career and see how things have changed/moved on. I fear if I did the same it would show me that life has moved on, in fact has intruded so largely into my writing life that the latter has suffered somewhat. Still, in 5 more years, who knows? Writing may have got the upper hand again. Yes!

Your idea of recasting Arthurian legend and other myths as Westerns is ingenious. The Western as a genre has gone out of fashion in the last decade or so but there are signs that it's coming back - which means your books will with any luck hit the crest of the wave.

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