Q&A with Jayne Pupek discussion

Writing process and discovery

Comments Showing 1-34 of 34 (34 new)    post a comment »
dateDown arrow    newest »

message 1: by Kate (new)

Kate Hi Jayne,

Did you creat an outline for your novel, or did you plunge right in?

What surprises did you encounter as you wrote?


message 2: by Carol (new)

Carol Bachofner | 1 comments I am normally a poet, who is embarking on her first novel (scared to death as I wonder if I can sustain over the long haul. I am now in process of doing the character sketches and will outline after that. Any tips out there?

Carol B

message 3: by Julene (new)

Julene (trippweaver) | 3 comments I've read Jayne's poetry book, not the fiction one yet. I write mostly poetry and fiction is a mystery to me, it is so big. I'm curious about the cross over and how to sustain both. My fiction energy drains out sooner than my poetry energy.

message 4: by Nina (new)

Nina | 9 comments I have also read Jayne's poetry book, which is incredible. I write poetry and non-fiction, and am fascinated by the cross to fiction. One of the members of my writing group does both and says she can only do 1 at a time-do you find that to be the case, Jayne?

Kathy (Bermudaonion) (bermudaonion) | 1 comments Are any of the characters in Tomato Girl based on people you know?

message 6: by Jayne (new)

Jayne (jaynepupek) | 34 comments Mod
Thank you all for such wonderful questions. I don't write with outlines. I have a very low tolerance for tedium, which sometimes sets in when I write something as long as a novel. I like to let my characters tell me the story and hopefully bring me some surprises along the way. The risk to writing without an outline is that the characters can take me off on a tangent that I later must cut or rewrite. I try to remember that my delete key is my friend. To help reign in my characters a bit, I do begin with a one or two sentence summary that gives me a skeleton of a story. I do a lot of my writing in my head when I'm not even at the computer, because I am always thinking about what comes next.

Tomato Girl actually began as a poem. When I decided to write a novel, I turned to poems I'd written for an idea, and chose one that was narrative as my beginning place. The poem, Tomato Girl, was a pretty crappy poem. It was a story that needed more space. So my advice is don't be afraid to write something crappy because it may contain the bones to a better work. Filling blank pages is the job of a writer. You can always edit bad writing, but you can't edit blank pages.

I don't have much time to write poetry while I'm writing a novel, but I don't find that one interferes with the other. Reading books with a voice that might interfere with my narrator's voice is much more of a problem. I usually read poetry, nonfiction, or suspense when I'm working on a novel.

message 7: by Jean (new)

Jean I'm behind the group in readinmg Tomato Girl. It is, as we speak, on i'ts way to me. I am also picking up a copy of Intersession. I need to do a little speed reading to catch up to other mambers but I'm on my way.

message 8: by Jayne (new)

Jayne (jaynepupek) | 34 comments Mod
Sounds great, Jean. I'm thrilled that you're reading both books!

message 9: by Kirsten (new)

Kirsten | 1 comments Hi Jayne-
I loved Tomato Girl. I think it's really interesting that the novel began as a poem. When you switched the form, did the essence remain "true" to the original poem? Or did it evolve in surprising directions from the initial inspiration?

message 10: by Jayne (new)

Jayne (jaynepupek) | 34 comments Mod
Thanks so much, Kirsten. In switching the form, the essence did remain true to the original poem in that the heart of the story was very much present. The poem was more of a "snapshot," focused only on the scene in the market where the mother argues with the vendor over his tomatoes, and the horrified daughter watches, remembering the girl with red lips waiting in her father's car. Instead of a snapshot, the novel is more like a film, capturing not one moment, but a series of moments that tell the whole story.

Kate, too, asked about surprises. There were many, but the most surprising thing was how the supporting cast of characters appeared when I needed them. Mary Roberts and Clara, for example, did not appear in the poem. Resolution was another surprise, because I really didn't know how the story would end--except I knew I would take care of Ellie. Poems don't often hold entire stories, complete with plots, supporting characters, and resolution, so those are newer skills for me.

message 11: by Jayne (new)

Jayne (jaynepupek) | 34 comments Mod
Thank you, Gillian. I could blame the dead baby in a jar on all the Stephen King novels I've read, but actually, I saw a fetus inside a jar once while touring a college lab. The image was haunting and stayed with me. Also, as a disabled college student, I sometimes rode a freight elevator to get to classes in the biology building---and this was the same elevator used to transport cadavers. Dead things that aren't put into the ground are unsettling to me, and I think Baby Tom gave the book the haunting quality that I wanted.

message 12: by Jayne (new)

Jayne (jaynepupek) | 34 comments Mod
Thanks, Gillian. I have a similar reaction to Southern gothic. In murder mysteries (a genre I also read), there is some objectivity, as well as the sense that the good guy will solve the crime. The reader feels safe. In Southern gothic, I find that the images are more intimate and the outcome less certain. The result is the potential for a more unsettling story. At least I find that to be true.

I'll have to get those elevator rides in a story somehow.

message 13: by Ann (new)

Ann (annhite) | 3 comments When did the character's voices stop talking to you? I'm in the middle of polishing my novel and one of the main characters keep breaking in with something new. The something new is always important to the story. I've come to realize I'm working on another draft rather than polishing ;). But I don't want to over write it. So, did Ellie finally stop talking and you knew the book was finished? Or does she still speak to you out of the blue?

contributor to Marlo Thomas' The Right Words At the Right Time Vol 2

message 14: by Jayne (new)

Jayne (jaynepupek) | 34 comments Mod
I knew the story was finished when Ellie was in safe hands. It just felt right to me. Sometimes it helps to ask if adding more really improves the story, or is it repeating something that is already clear to the reader? Another way to look at it is to ask what would be lost from the story if you didn't include a particular section? Every sentence needs to have a reason to be there.

Ellie doesn't speak to me anymore. Her story has been told. It's someone else's turn now.

message 15: by Nina (new)

Nina | 9 comments Jayne, do you share chapters for critique or do you wait until you have a draft of the entire novel?

message 16: by Jayne (new)

Jayne (jaynepupek) | 34 comments Mod
I wrote Tomato Girl while participating in an online critique group, so for that novel, I submitted one chapter at a time. It was a great learning experience to give and receive critiques. Now, I write a good portion of the manuscript--maybe 100 pages--and show it to my agent and editor for feedback before I continue with the rest of the story.

message 17: by Nina (new)

Nina | 9 comments One of the members of my physical writing group is working on a novel and she has been sharing it a few chapters at a time with the group. At first it was very frustrating for me as a reader because I felt as though I didn't have enough to critique. Now I'm more used to it, plus her characters have broken loose and revealed themselves. I'm enjoying hearing your process-thanks so much for doing this forum

message 18: by Jayne (new)

Jayne (jaynepupek) | 34 comments Mod
You're very welcome, Nina. I found that chapter by chapter critiques worked very well for a focused look at the smaller scenes that made up the whole novel. A few things are harder to address by a chapter by chapter critque. Pacing comes to mind as an example. Many people read a novel in a day or two or three, which differs from reading a novel in weekly increments as is typical in a critque group. Ideally, it's great to have both kinds of feedback---from folks who look at the manuscript chapter by chapter as it evolves-- and folks who read the entire manuscript and can comment on the novel as a whole.

message 19: by R.d. (new)

R.d. Frazier | 1 comments I just discovered your group today and have enjoyed reading the comments. I just completed my first novel, Dear Walt , and found the characters had a mind of their own at times.

As to your comment above, where your revealed "I like to let my characters tell me the story and hopefully bring me some surprises along the way." I can only say AMEN!

When I started writing I was hoping I could develop it into an average length short story. I wound up with an 81,000 word novel thanks to those pesky characters!

R.D. Frazier

message 20: by Jayne (new)

Jayne (jaynepupek) | 34 comments Mod
Thanks for joining the group, R.D. Your book sounds interesting, and one where distinct voices would make a huge difference.

message 21: by Jean (new)

Jean Jayne, I have ordered Intercession. Can you suggest other books of poetry.

message 22: by Lisa (new)

Lisa Vegan (lisavegan) Jayne and All,

Today I borrowed a library copy of Tomato Girl. I've read the first chapter and love it so far.

I'm wondering how did you decide to have the main character be an eleven year old girl and to write with her voice?

A funny note here: I got a very peculiar copy of the book. The interior book pages are upside down from the cover, so I have to face to the back cover & turn it upside down in order to read the book. I don't remember ever seeing this in another book. I suppose the cover was turned the wrong way when the pages were put in for this copy.

I'm hoping to have the novel read well before the 17th, but I might not have a lot of time to read this week so I will see.

I love it so far!

Lolly K Dandeneau | 1 comments Jane I loved your novel. And I was curious about the baby in the jar, but you answered that question already and I just really love how creative you are. I also wondered if you are working on something new and I must add I love that you sprinkled some magic in with the darkness of the novel. I know I mentioned that before to you, but I really thought it was a delight in such a sad story.
I also wondered, after accomplishing such a novel, is it hard to get the life of the book out of your system and start anew? Is there anyone in your life that you based Clara on? Also, how hard was it to write about the molestation? I find that when I write any suffering into my stories it actually is a moving and sad experience. The characters feel like real people, even when I kill someone off. Everyone I know loves your book!

message 24: by Nina (new)

Nina | 9 comments Jayne, Lolly asked a great question. I believe you are working on a new book, and I also would like to know how you "stop" the characters from your previous novel. I'm also wondering if some of the earlier discussions regarding switching genres would help here-do you find that writing poetry helps to make the break?

message 25: by Jayne (new)

Jayne (jaynepupek) | 34 comments Mod
#23 Thank you for ordering my poetry book, Jean. There are so many wonderful poets--Have you read Plath's book, "Ariel"? Sharon Olds is amazing, and I especially love "Gold Cell" and "Satan Says." You can't go wrong with Charles Simic, Louise Gluck, W.S. Merwin, or Galway Kinnell. Claudia Emerson's "The Late Wife" is excellent. I also really like Mary Jo Bang's "Elegy." I've always loved Lisa Russ Spaar and Grgory Orr. Rita Dove is amazing, too.

message 26: by Jayne (new)

Jayne (jaynepupek) | 34 comments Mod
#24 How funny that the pages are upside down, Lisa! I hope that was the only copy like that. I'm glad to hear that you're enjoying the story, although folks are probably looking at you funny with the book upside down;-)

Deciding to narrate the book using an eleven year old's voice was pretty straight forward. The poem which jumpstarted the novel was written from a child's POV. Also, I felt that Ellie was the most reliable witness, and I wanted the challenge of seeing through a child's eyes. Ellie's voice adds innocence and hope to a story with a lot of dark elements.

message 27: by Jayne (new)

Jayne (jaynepupek) | 34 comments Mod
Thank you, Lolly! I am working on another novel now, and I'm almost always working on poems as time allows.

It isn't very hard to get the life of the book out of my system and start anew because I find it invigorating to meet new characters and hear what they have to say. I was ready to be finished with Tomato Girl when I reached the end of the story. I had the sense that my work on it was done and it was time to do other things.

Clara is more of a mixture of many people. My best friend is a modern shaman, so I don't have to go far to learn about sacred arts and magic. Also, I kept a voodoo doll from New Orleans on my desk when I wrote about Clara.

Crimes against children are always difficult to write about, especially when you care about your characters. I spent many years treating sex offenders, which I think allowed me to see trauma in a different way.

Are you writing short stories or a novel?

message 28: by Jayne (new)

Jayne (jaynepupek) | 34 comments Mod
Hi Nina,

Yes, writing poetry completely gets my mind off everything--from what I'm making for supper to what the characters in my novel are up to. Poetry is my drug of choice;-)

Once I finished Tomato Girl, I stopped being curious about Ellie. I have the voices of new characters inside my head now, and there's no room for Ellie. It was enough for me to leave her in a safe place.

message 29: by Lisa (new)

Lisa Vegan (lisavegan) Hmm. Wondering if there should be a Tomato Girl thread (and a poetry book thread) but there isn't so:

Well, I finished The Tomato Girl and I really liked it. Just solidifies my belief that if support is forthcoming from someone(s) in a child's life, along with their own strength, that can get them through the most nightmarish experiences.

Jayne, Great book! I've been on a mostly prose kick for years but plan to read your poetry book at some point.

message 30: by Jayne (new)

Jayne (jaynepupek) | 34 comments Mod
Thanks so much, Lisa. I loved your review and share your belief about support and resiliency in children.

I'm delighted that you plan to read my poetry book!

message 31: by Nina (new)

Nina | 9 comments For those if you intending to read Jayne's poetry-it is excellent. I cannot recommend her book highly enough. Every single poem is powerful and well-crafted.

message 32: by Jayne (new)

Jayne (jaynepupek) | 34 comments Mod
Thank you, Nina. And welcome, Marina. I don't think there are any mediocre questions. In reading fiction, my initial concern is to figure out the main players and their situation. When reading a poem, I'm more concerned with the images and music and the overall experience of the poem. What the poem means is a secondary concern. I concur with Billy Collins when he talks about students who want to "tie the poem to a chair with rope and tortue a confession out of it"--

message 33: by Kate (new)

Kate I love that Billy Collins poem (isn't it called "Introduction to Poetry" or something like that?) ... Anyway, I appreciate what you're saying about the different experiences of writing in different genres.

(PS: All the pages were rightside-up in my copy of the book!)

message 34: by Jayne (new)

Jayne (jaynepupek) | 34 comments Mod
Thanks, Kate. And yes, that's the Collins poem that I was referring to--one of his most clever, I think.

back to top