I first heard Alissa York speak when Effigy was released in 2007 and was as impressed with Alissa as speaker as I was with the book.  She spoke about the novel in terms of the initial trigger (an article in the Globe & Mail about the Mormon faith and polygamous marriages), character development, her extensive research techniques – much of it action based – as well as the process she uses when writing.

On Saturday I attended the WCDR breakfast meeting to hear what she had to say about her most recent title, which I also thoroughly enjoyed, Fauna.

“Where do you get ideas?”

This was Alissa’s opening question and the answer has everything to do with receptivity.  She spoke about being open to ideas that come from everywhere.  And, when an idea triggers your spidey sense having the courage to do what you need to do, go where you need to go.  When you are receptive, open to ideas, Alissa states they give rise to questions that keep going deeper.  The questions that led to Fauna came from being receptive while driving the Don Valley, Toronto, Canada (the setting for Fauna):  Who is down there? How do they live? Where do they find sanctuary?

Making it Your Book

Writers draw on a huge number of resources life offers to create a parallel world in their works, but Alissa says its research that makes what writers call upon into their book.  She also says to trust that your writer brain is bigger than your daily brain and your writer self is tougher than your daily self.

Writing Process

Alissa writes by character, role and scene, which all come together as she does the research. Her process, roughly defined:

  • A copious note taker, Alissa builds her filing system as she goes and later mines it for scene notes, by character.
  • Scenes are tracked on index cards and cross referenced to character(s), which keeps her from getting bogged down.
  • Scenes are written from each character’s point of view.
  • Alissa writes in longhand and then transcribes it onto the computer, in small font.
  • The computer transcript is then cut up, spread out on the floor and organized.
Alissa York june 2006

Alissa York (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Get to the Desk Sooner – “When inspiration comes, let it find you working” (Pablo Picasso).

Alissa used the Q&A session after her presentation to leave us with a few pointers about getting to the desk sooner.

  • Take it seriously!
  • Of course, a routine is critical.
  • Turn off the internet!
  • Don’t write and do research at the same time; stick with writing so you don’t drop down the (research) rabbit hole.
  • Keep notes for topics to research as you write.
  • Alissa spends 4 hours at the desk every day.

I am now reading her debut novel, Mercy, published in 2003 and have placed her 1999 collection of stories, Any Given Power, on my wish list.

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