My Writing Process

ImageFellow Fireship Press author Tinney Sue Heath (, author of A THING DONE, invited me to participate in this blog hop tour and answer several questions about my writing process.  


     This week I’ll be finishing up the first round of edits for PLAGUED, the initial novel in an anticipated series about the historical Michael of Rhodes.  This first book is a coming-of-age tale set in 1401, starting in a small cove on the island of Rhodes and ending in Venice proper, before Michael sets out on his next adventure as an oarsman for the powerful Venetian fleet. 



     No one else has yet fictionalized Michael of Rhodes. It wasn’t until 2009 that THE BOOK OF MICHAEL OF RHODES:  A FIFTEENTH-CENTURY MARITIME MANUSCRIPT, became available from The MIT Press.  Editors Pamela O. Long, David McGee, and Alan M. Stahl have provided three volumes containing a facsimile of Michael’s original manuscript, a translation, and studies.  I am particularly indepted to to Dr. Stahl for his generous expertise in answering questions as I drafted the novel.

     As a foreigner and youth of sixteen in 1401, Michael had little status.  His manuscript, composed over a period of two years thirty-three years after he began his service to Venice, documents his advancement, along with evidence of his learning, his faith, his artistry, his understanding of ship-building, and more.  But, unlike a personal diary or a memoir, the manuscript does not relate how Michael felt to be alive in his world.  That is what I explore in the novel. 

     Some questions I asked myself as I outlined and drafted were:  What motivated Michael to leave his home?  How might he, low-born and foreign, have been received?  Who and what thwarted his efforts?  Who helped and supported him?  If the plague itself did not kill him (It did not.), what other travails, both large and small, marked his formation? 



     I like to weave together what formalized education and scholarship often parse into discrete elements.  For instance, one might study history, or theology, or philosophy, or psychology, and so on.  But a human being lives with all elements simultaneously churning within consciousness and a sensate body.  A fictional character, not unlike a human being, also dwells in physicality and consciousness, relationships and culture.  And the experience is both kinetic and reflective.  What interests me about fiction is the opportunity to play action and contemplation off each other scene by scene.     



     Four elements come to mind–images, setting, dreaming, and watching.

     *I often see an image that sparks an idea.  In my first Fireship novel, THIRST, I saw sketches of the Convent of San Zaccaria, with its barred windows, and wondered what it would have felt like to be a young woman consigned to life there by her family since they could afford only one dowry.  For Michael, the image of a galley, its massive oars dipping into water, did the trick.  That leads to the second word, setting.

     *Whenever possible, I travel to the settings of my work.  Doing to allows me to mimic my characters’ experiences of all that is sensate. I’ve been very fortunate to spend considerable time in Venice in the settings that turn up in my books.  When I am home, I fill my workspace with photographs, sketches, and artifacts of place.  I frequently play music of the time period I’m writing about.  This helps me drift to the time and place of each novel.

     *Before going to sleep, I intentionally dip into the novel I’m dreaming.  Doing so seems to jump start my next scene or solve a difficulty in plot. 

     *Watching, observing, taking note is crucial.  How a bird lights on a branch, how children play, when a smile or frown appears and why always helps with character development.  Everything is material!


My sincere thanks to Tinney Heath for the invitation to this blog hop tour.  I do hope you’ll read A THING DONE.  It is a page-turner that will make you eager to read her next book.



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