Wednesday, June 18, 2014

The writing process

Why this cover?  I don't know, but
the book is damned good.
I do a lot of writing these days.  Academic writing, blog writing, column writing.  Just today my latest Charleston City Paper column was published, "Forgive Me If I've Fallen in Love with Romance Novels" (I have, in fact, fallen in love with them, and you should read the article for the quotes from the novels, if nothing else).

What I'm discovering is that the book I'm trying to write is really challenging.  The book doesn't have a title yet, but it's about prenatal testing, reproductive decision-making, and Down syndrome.  It's under contract with NYU Press, and they're fantastic (as is my editor--she edited Girl Zines, and she's absolutely great to work with).

The subject matter of the book isn't challenging to me.  I have so much to say about it--I've become the kind of person who could talk about these ideas for 30 minutes if someone asks me one question.  I've been fortunate to have hours of conversations with people whose experiences relate to the topic, and their stories have challenged my assumptions, made me think in different ways, validated some of my experiences, and helped me connect with people who are now friends.  Good stuff.

What's challenging for me is a clear, coherent focus.  The conversations, among other aspects of my research, have made things complex.  Complexity, as we all know, is a crucial element of critical thinking and of provocative, substantive writing.

What I want to do is be complex and also focused.  This is in part because I want this book to be more mainstream than academic.  This means it can't deal with 1000 separate topics.  Academic books can do this (which is one reason that they're generally only read by people with PhDs), but mainstream books need to have a complexity that circulates around one focus, maybe one story.

Yesterday I was talking with a group of feminist scholars and writers about this book.  They asked what I want it to do.  Here's a version of what I said:
We're in a huge transition moment for Down syndrome and intellectual disabilities:  250 colleges nationwide have inclusive college programs.  And at the same time, non-invasive prenatal testing is becoming more affordable and more common when women are pregnant, which will almost certainly lead to more abortions of fetuses with Down syndrome.  Thoughtful people recognize this, but I want this book to encourage readers to move beyond cognitive understanding of reproductive decision-making and have more of an emotional experience of the decisions women have made, and of what it means to be a person in the world who has Down syndrome.
The group said, "That's a mainstream book."

So I want to write a book that bridges the academic and the mainstream.  I want to write a book that isn't so much making an academic argument as it is inviting readers to experience meaningful stories--my own and those of the people I interviewed.  These stories will be making a larger point.  I don't have experience doing this.

The group suggested that I blog about the process of creating this book.  Maybe writing these blog posts will give me some clarity.  Maybe you all will have questions and feedback that will push my thinking.

Sadly, I don't think there will be any material in the book that describes sucking a citadel, or anything hard pressed against someone's inner thighs.


  1. How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.

    I have a confession to make. When I was in high school, I went through a period where I joined the Harlequin Romance Book Club and read, perhaps, hundreds of them. I was a book geek -- read all the classics, everything good and fine -- but I did love those bodice-rippers, adored the day the mailman brought me the box with about ten or so new ones packed inside. Lord, it makes my bosom shudder.

    1. I LOVE it! I read the teen version of the Harlequins...I can't remember what they were called, but I loved them. And then I went through my mom's Bertrice Smalls books for the RAUNCHY, fantastic sex scenes.

  2. Oh, as for your "real" writing -- bring it on. I have several people who I will send your way -- or this blog's way.

  3. It's a privilege to hear you think out loud, Alison. And now that I see the new descript in writing, I wanted to add the reason I think we all thought it sounded like a mainstream book is because you are clearly stating a problem, and offering a solution, in terms that go to our heart and not just our heads. Brava, and I look forward to more of these posts.

  4. Dear Alison,
    I was wondering if you have read *The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks*. It goes in to a lot of these issues and is also a book for a mainstream audience.

  5. Wondering about similarities/differences between romance novels and "porn," both in film and text form...

    Has there been any feminist scholarship analyzing/deconstructing the genres?

    I had no idea that romance novels were overtly, graphically sexual, or celebratory of women's biological pleasures. Naïve assumption. Perhaps I didn't connect "romance" with "sex"!? Simply thought romance novels were genteel, superficial, suggestive at best.

    Could romance novels be understood as porn from a woman's perspective, depicting woman-directed, woman-centered sex, written for and by women?