Ivy Alvarez's Writing Process Blog: Time for Play

Ivy Alvarez, whose recent Disturbance, her book of poetry published by Seren, circles around a murder, is writing in a different vein at the moment: she's playing.

As part of NaPoWriMo (short for National Poetry Writing Month, Ivy is just experimenting. Disturbance, she writes in her Writing Process Blog Tour post, "was dark -- and this is play. So, yes, luxurious, and a little bit naughty, like I'm getting away with something..."

Her full blog can also be viewed on her Google Plus page. Enjoy!

Parthian editor and writer Susie Wild's blog stop is Friday.

David Allen Sibley, America's New Audubon

David Allen Sibley is a naturalist whose Sibley's Guide to Birds has become the standard for birders across North America. In interviewing him for The Washington Post, I was struck by how he is both a scientist and an artist. His thoughts and ideas about drawing so echoed that of my partner and artist Paul Edwards. Yet Sibley dropped out of college after a year of studying biology, and spent the next 12 years "birding and sketching full-time."

My Washington Post interview runs today. Here are a few bits I wasn't able to fit into that article.

Why did you decide to focus on this – bird identification -- as opposed to another kind of animal science?

My main interest has always been birds, and drawing for me is how I study birds. It’s how I learn about them. It’s a method, a technique, of learning. Doing a drawing forces me to look at every part of the bird, study all the different colors and patterns and shapes. Birding by itself, drawing is just so exciting and I think it’s sort of optimistic kind of pursuit. Birdwatchers are always thinking about what’s next, what’s coming tomorrow, what’s going to happen next week. And there’s always something different. And it’s much stronger in bird study than any other kind of nature study, because the birds are so mobile . they appear and disappear locally, they move with the seasons, their ranges can change dramatically in 10 or 15 years.

Lets say people are just beginning to have an interest in birds – where should they start?

Get a Field Guide. One of the best things to do is spend time at home flipping through the pages of the books. In my book birds are grouped in families and genera. Learning the groups can really help. What makes a vireo a vireo? The hardest part is the first 25 to 50 species. Someone sees their first sparrow and you go the book and find out there are 25 to 30 species of sparrow. So go out with someone. There’s usually an Audubon center or wildlife center within 20 miles of every town in the country, and people who run bird watches are happy to have novices. They can help you with those first identifications.

For an avid birder, what’s your top tip?

A similar tip – pay attention to the relationships between the birds. Really think about that. Bird watchers and field guides tend to focus on the differences between birds. I like to focus on the similarities.

You say that you mix the color for each breed once, then paint the entire page for a species. Have you ever gone out to the woods with a new page to see if you’ve got the right yellow?

I’ve gone to a museum. Mainly I rely on sketches and my own sense of what looks right. Color is incredibly subjective, so I try to get the relative color right.

Writing Process Blog Tour

The Writing Process Blog Tour is a kind of whistle-stop tour of writers exploring their writing process -- they answer four questions about their work, then send you on to the next writer. Today, I'm one of the stops.

First, I’d like to thank Vanessa Harbour for inviting me to take part. Vanessa is programme leader for the MA Creative and Critical Writing at the University of Winchester, where I worked for six years, and a writer of young adult fiction.

What am I working on?
Two major projects are coming to fruition at once. My short story collection, The Missing Woman, is being published in April 2015 by Parthian Books. The stories circle around women who are either literally missing (a mother in rehab, a sister who’s disappeared from a bike trail) or who are missing a metaphorical part of themselves. The best stories, I hope, contain both. At this final stage, I’m looking again at stories that have already been published in journals; hoping to finish a few on the go; and even, if I’m ambitious, writing a new story or two over the spring and summer. My deadline is October.

At the same time, I’m finishing (again) a novel, The Anatomy of Light, which I’ve been working on for longer than I’ll admit today. I’m so excited about this final draft (truly final!) which, I hope, has expanded this very interior story of a photographer learning to “see” the lack of intimacy in her marriage through a very sexual affair, and cast it (and her) into the larger world – in this case, 1998, the release of Viagra, the Clinton/Lewinsky controversy, raising questions of trust and sexuality and openness in both the private and public realm. I’ll be looking for an agent, and hoping that Parthian might be interested, too.

How does my work differ from others of its genre?
Oh my gosh, has the marketing department asked me this question? I use different words than other people might use; I come up with images that are mine, not theirs; I use too many semi-colons. I do think I write about sex very frankly. Maybe that’s distinctive.

Why do I write what I do?
Because I have to. I just had a brief discussion with a male friend who’s reading just non-fiction – the real world is so fascinating, why bother with made-up stuff? A former journalist, I strive to accomplish what non-fiction can’t. I am fascinated by interior lives (Henry James, Virginia Woolf, are my classic loves) and I try to imagine, discover, convey what it is like to be a human being on this planet.

How does my writing process work?
Writing, rewriting, rewriting, rewriting. I had a wonderful first editorial meeting with Susie Wild, my short story editor (and, yes, one of the next bloggers). We began with my very favorite story in the collection, and I could see, with Susie’s help, and even with just the knowledge she’d be coming back to me with ideas, ways to make it better. Rewriting, again! I was scared walking in to our meeting. Sitting there with her, in the Pettigrew Tea Rooms in Cardiff, I found that work so exciting.

But that’s at the end of the process. I’ll concentrate on the beginning. I don’t, consciously, begin anything (well, except my novel). My drafts feel like kaleidoscopes. I write a paragraph one day that describes some moment or image. The next day, I might write something else; the next day a few other short bits. At some point, I turn the kaleidoscope and I see a pattern emerging -- I realize I’m putting together a story. This is all on paper. When I have enough, and I need the logic and order that a screen demands, I allow myself to type up what I have into a Word file. I print, scribble, type, type again, turning and turning the kaleidoscope until each individual turn works in itself, and fits into the overall design.

For my novel, this was sort of how I started, but the logic, plotting, re-plotting, required me to create a more sustained trajectory – more like a movie than a kaleidoscope. But even if the trickery has worked and the reader sees a line of action, behind that illusion is still a series of images and intense interior moments that my fiction is about.

I've just looked up "kaleidoscope," and discovered it means in Greek the "observation of beautiful things." That seems right.

Next stops:
Ivy Alvarez's second poetry collection is Disturbance (Seren, 2013). A recipient of writing fellowships from MacDowell Colony, Hawthornden Castle and Fundacion Valparaiso, her work is published in journals and anthologies in many countries and online, with selected poems translated into Russian, Spanish, Japanese and Korean. She also worked with Paul Edwards and me on Imagistic. Her Writing Process Blog will appear April 14 on her Google Plus page.

Susie Wild (@Soozerama) is a writer, journalist and editor based in Cardiff. The Art of Contraception was her first book. It was long-listed for the Edge Hill Short Story Prize 2011 and won 'Fiction Book of the Year' in the Welsh Icons Awards 2010. Her Kindle novella 'Arrivals' was released globally through Parthian Books in May 2011. She is the General Editor (Fiction and Creative Non-Fiction) at Wales' Leading Indie Publisher Parthian Books. Her Writing Process Blog will appear April 21.

Previous stops that I particularly liked were by author Judith Heneghan, also a Winchester lecturer and the Winchester Writing Festival director; Claire Fuller, whose first novel is coming out with Fig Tree/Penguin next year; children's writer Kat Ellis, and writer Virginia Moffatt.