Thursday, October 10, 2019

#86 Inside the Emotion of Fiction: THE PROCESS OF FRAYING by Jess Neal Woods

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****Jess Neal Woods’s THE PROCESS OF FRAYING is #86 in the never-ending series called INSIDE THE EMOTION OF FICTION where the Chris Rice Cooper Blog (CRC) focuses on one specific excerpt from a fiction genre and how that fiction writer wrote that specific excerpt.  All INSIDE THE EMOTION OF FICTION links are at the end of this piece. 

Name of fiction work? And were there other names you considered that you would like to share with us? The name of my novel is The Process of Fraying. I never considered another name for this novel even though a few were suggested to me.  The name of the novel came to me before I ever put pencil to paper.  I was not opposed to considering other options, but this one just fit.

Has this been published? And it is totally fine if the answer is no. If yes, what publisher and what publication date? Yes.  It was published January 8, 2019, and I went the indie route for publishing.

What is the date you began writing this piece of fiction and the date when you completely finished the piece of fiction?
I began writing in November 2016 and finished the final edits in May 2018.
Where did you do most of your writing for this fiction work? And please describe in detail.  My office space at home is lovely, and while I did write there some, I spent quite a lot of time outside of the home due to the never-ending chore list and the children.  Home was a bit of a distraction for me.  I worked a lot in local cafes and coffee shops.  Additionally, I took several 2-3 day writing retreats out of state to really hone in on the novel.

What were your writing habits while writing this work- did you drink something as you wrote, listen to music, write in pen and paper, directly on laptop; specific time of day? I had to schedule writing time around my teaching schedule and around my family time, so the whole process looked different every week and was admittedly tricky.  Sometimes I wrote in the morning, which seemed to be my most productive time even though I am FAR from a morning person.  Sometimes I wrote through the night, sleeping only a few hours.  If I was writing outside of my home, as I often did, I definitely had earbuds in with some sort of soft, classical music playing.  Nothing too intense or distracting.  
I started out writing everything in a notebook.  I do not write in order. I write in scenes and segments, later stitching all of the pieces together and filling in the holes.  In fact, the very first thing I wrote was meant to be the ending (though I later chopped that altogether in favor of something else). Once I filled the notebook and realized how difficult it was to edit on paper, I switched to a computer.  It was much easier to edit and piece sections together on a screen… though I do still prefer pencil and paper when writing poetry, notes, or shorter pieces.
Because this novel involved so much research, I also always had a spread of books on my desk or table.  Though most of these books were strictly research, I did keep a book or two of poetry and a piece of fiction around just in case I needed a break.
In general, I like to write with a good cup of tea (iced, hot, whatever!) and plenty of ice chips because I chew on those (weird, I know—no, I’m not anemic).  I try not to snack while writing because it is easy to just munch away mindlessly otherwise.  When I really need a pick-me-up, dark chocolate or peanut butter M&Ms are my go-to.
What is the summary of this specific fiction work? This story is loosely based on the personage and the experiences of my great-grandmother.
Violet is a pillar of hospitality and compassion within her community. As a farmer’s wife and mother of a large brood, she is resolute, thrifty, and charming. The life that is woven between the land and her family is one of harmony and beauty. When she begins to struggle with depression, her life seems to unravel. At first the change is subtle, but it quickly intensifies as the flicker of a candle flame brings a way to feel again; her beloved creek becomes ominous as it beckons to her. Having no understanding of what is happening within her, Violet turns to both the religious and medical communities for guidance. Both fail her. With her identity stripped away and her family reeling from the aftermath, Violet must determine if she can make peace with the changes within herself before she is consumed by them. The Process of Fraying is a historical family drama that explores the social, religious, and medical stigmas surrounding mental health in the 1940s.

Can you give the reader just enough information for them to understand what is going on in the excerpt? The following scene was an early write (meaning that it was one of the first scenes I wrote), and it came almost in a sort of waking-vision.  It occurs far enough into the novel that readers have glimpsed who Violet is when she is well, and this scene is generally as startling for readers as it is for Violet, who begins to realize that something is terribly wrong with her.

Please include just one excerpt and include page numbers as reference. This one excerpt can be as short or as long as you prefer.

From pages 56-61
Chapter 8
Violet lay in bed much longer than what was required. The sun was up. She could hear the clatter of dishes being cleaned from breakfast. Those sounds were meant to be made by her, and guilt, her unwelcome companion, engulfed her, taking away what little ability she may have mustered to rouse herself and complete her duties. She pulled the quilt tight around her shoulders and buried her face into the pillow.  As easily as she pulled the quilt up and around her, she felt a sense of frustration that she couldn’t simply pull herself together, air herself out like she did the curtains, scrub the stains out of her soul and let herself bask in the sun, fluttering against the promise of a new chance.
Violet had raised her daughters well, and the knowledge provided a solace that sifted over her soul and revealed a moment of clarity and reassurance.  The smell of bacon drifted over her. For the fifth time that morning, she tried to open her eyes. She willed them open. She visualized the process. Open eyes.  Deep breath. Step out of bed.  Put on clothes. Go downstairs.  Go about the day.  You do have control of this.
Her eyebrows lifted. Promising. She felt a slight tug on her eyelids. Promising. But they remained securely fastened. How would she summon the energy to get through an entire day if she couldn’t open her eyes and get out of bed?  Her time was waning. If she weren’t up soon, he’d make a note of it in her medical journal. It would be used against her as evidence.
It should be understood that Miles was exceptionally patient with her; she knew that without doubt.  It was in part because he loved her fiercely and in part because he would remain in denial as long as possible that she was slipping away.  The effort exerted yesterday had left her spent. A beautiful dinner. Quality family time. A happiness that had raped her of all emotional capacity.  What was wrong with her that she felt things so deeply? That she couldn’t find the balance between emotional tides?
A blurry ceiling came into focus.  She pushed the covers to the side and made her way downstairs. The house had gone quiet. She hoped she hadn’t waited too long.  The kitchen had already been cleaned; it was both alarming and comforting that she wasn’t really needed here anymore. Foregoing the bacon sitting on the counter, she grabbed an apple and a piece of bread before making her way out to the chicken coop.  In the distance she heard the familiar hum of the tractor. Miles was already in the fields. She’d feed the chickens, gather the eggs, and then make a point to swing by. He needed to see her out of the house and looking well. A successful yesterday meant little in the face of a wife who couldn’t get out of bed.
The familiarity of the chicken coop was a welcomed distraction to her already weary mind. There was no real effort that had to go into managing the chickens. Though sometimes they could get feisty, she didn’t mind the work. It was routine, unvarying.  She was out in the open with fresh air and no walls and little to mess up.
Approaching the chickens, she immediately began to feel relief.  She could get through today. She grinned absentmindedly upon seeing the chicken yard already bustling.  She loved the time of year when furry little chicks scurried about as they did now. Curious and skittish, she watched them struggle with the tension between wanting experience and wanting safety.  She could relate to it, and she liked to think that the animals could sense the connection as well.
What an odd thing that animals are often dismissed as inferior, simple.  We aren’t all that different. Affirmation of the likeness between man and beast was found all around the farm. It was in the way the mama horse gently nuzzled her foal or the fighting amongst hens or the way the bulls bowed up in the midst of a perceived threat.  She recalled a particularly tearful night when she listened to the bleating of a new-made mother goat mourning the loss of her kid. Violet monitored the doe for several days because she seemed out of sorts, much more than the other animals who had lost an offspring.  During these days she witnessed the confusion the she-goat experienced having gone through the birthing process complete with an udder of milk that would never be used because there was no surviving kid. She witnessed the doe’s response having been thrown into a new role only to have it vanish in a moment, phantom should-have-beens thick in the air. Violet whispered to herself, “We aren’t all that different, only in manner of expression.  Unadorned moments like these increasingly drew Violet away from reality.  A passerby would certainly think her mad. She stood pail in hand, lost in thought amongst the chickens.  
A brisk pecking at her ankles roused her and pulled her back to the present.  The chickens were not patient. How odd she must seem to them, standing among them, food in pail, but doing nothing at all.  She noticed dots of blood forming on her lower legs. How long had they been pecking at her? She scattered the chicken’s mash around, and they hurriedly left her side.  
One lone chick was distracted by a bug.  She watched the chick as it pecked either side of the insect and then hopped along behind it once it startled away.  She couldn’t be entirely sure of its intentions, but the chick seemed to merely be playing with the bug. Being more concerned with the bug than its surroundings, the chick soon found itself in a small hole.  Violet watched the chick struggle for a moment before she went to its aid. Chuckling she scooped the chick up in both hands. She loved the feeling of the soft down. Pulling the bird close to her face she murmured, “I suppose we both could stand to be more attentive to our surroundings, huh?”
The chick shifted frantically in her hands.  She wasn’t sure if it was frightened of her or simply still thinking of the bug or perhaps it was coveting the chicken mash.  In a terrifying moment, she felt past the fluffy down of the bird and into its bones where she felt only frailty. She became instantly annoyed at how light the creature was and how easily she could end its life.  Shouldn’t something carrying breath feel more substantial?
Involuntarily, her hands closed tightly around the chick.  She felt the crunch of bones and the liquid of life oozing between her fingers.  She heard nothing. She wrung its body until it was unrecognizable, a pulp to be discarded among the chicken mash.  She was startled by her anger, by the swift change of emotion within her. Was its mother watching?
She opened her eyes.  The chick had gone still in her hands, but it was unharmed.  Just a vision. Realizing what she was capable of, she threw it down and ran as fast as she could back to the farmhouse.  She shouldn’t have gotten out of bed.

Why is this excerpt so emotional for you as a writer to write? And can you describe your own emotional experience of writing this specific excerpt? The entire book was an emotional write because it is based on my great-grandmother.  While this scene never occurred in real life, I do know that my great-grandmother warred with herself.  
          There are several scenes where I had to capture that descent, and it is difficult to think about a woman (or anyone) who is suffering in part due to lack of resources and understanding and because of the abundance of harmful stigmas surrounding mental illness.  Any time I had to put myself in that mindset, it was an emotional experience for me.
Were there any deletions from this excerpt that you can share with us? Nothing significant.  I tweaked lines and words here and there, but this scene arrived nearly fully formed. 
Other works you have published? I have some poetry published, most recently in an international literary magazine called The Blue Nib.

          Jess Neal Woods is a debut novelist in historical fiction centering around the WWII era. A graduate of Indiana University, Jess holds a degree in English. When she is not reading or writing, she teaches English (literature and composition) courses online to high school students. Jess currently resides in Alabama with her husband, Josh, their three children, and their pets (two dogs and three cats). Though she is a Georgia native, Jess has lived in a multitude of states (most recently New York). Each place gives her writing fresh flare and direction as she is exposed to new people, stories, and experiences.


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