My writing process

Thank you again to Josh Cane for inviting me to participate in My Writing Process blog tour. You can check out his writing process.

1)     What am I working on?

Potter’s Field, a reimagining of William Faulkner’s As I Lay Dying for fans of Marie Lu’s Legend series, is Potter’s odyssey through the tunnels below a near-future Manhattan to honor the promise she made to her dying father.

Photo by Steve Duncan
Photo by Steve Duncan

You can see photos and video from my research trip here.

2)     How does my work differ from others of its genre?

No catastrophic event has transformed Potter’s world into a post-apocalyptic wasteland. Instead, I imagine a time much like ours, except the gap between the haves and the have-nots continues to grow .

I love sci-fi but my primary influences don’t come from Asimov novels and summer blockbusters. My manuscript began as a short story reflecting on my travels in Kenya. Articles about eating mud cakes in Haiti, slum demolition, social media’s role in protest, and urban exploration influenced the story’s direction. Of course, the geek in me had to include some futuristic surveillance that might be coming to a city near you.

3)     Why do I write what I do?

I believe where we live influences how we live in community and the stories we tell. A novel’s setting is important to me. (Where would William Faulkner be without Yoknapatawpha County? C.S. Lewis without Narnia? Suzanne Collins without Panem?) Setting research gives me the gumption to take trips I’ve dreamed of for years, like walking up a drain pipe in Manhattan…

…and in a drain in Queens…


…and the Paris catacombs…

…and streets of Edinburg, Scotland…

Edinburgh street
(Research for a another WIP)

Edinburgh skyline

…and places closer to home.

steam tunnel

steam tunnel

(Yes, those are all me and my husband. My brother, Ralph, shot the catacomb video and took photos in the steam tunnels.)

4)     How does my writing process work?

Outline obsessively? Throw organization to the wind? I’ve tried it all.

Once upon a time, I took outlining to a new level of insanity. When my critique group wrote about our processes, I called mine “Step-by-step Neurosis or Outlining the Novel.” I shared how I was currently working…

1. Idea germination and growth
2. Research and free-write
3. Character profiles
4. Scene worksheets and scene mapping
5. Rough draft
6. Time off
7. Fast read
8. Editorial letter
9. Rewrite
10. Rinse and repeat
11. A few good readers
12. What is its fate?

…and went into detail about why I was writing that way:

In the early days, I made notes but no outlines, and writing a novel scared the bejesus out of me. The task seemed insurmountable, so I started outlining, which was how I wrote nonfiction. Now I break the process into manageable steps that keep me focused and ensure I don’t lose steam because writing seems too hard.

Then along came Potter’s Field and the process was less rigid. All those scene worksheets had drilled basic story craft through my thick skull. I just did it, leaving more time to dream about my next writing adventure.

Next week on the blog tour

Born in Savannah, Georgia, Elle Blair has called every southern state along the East Coast home at one point or another. She earned a Communications degree from the University of South Florida, then spent another two years studying ceramics in North Carolina. No one could have convinced her that one day she would open a word processing file and never want to go back to her pottery wheel. Now she writes young adult novels in Richmond, Virginia.
You can visit her blog at:

I recommend you check out blog tour posts by   and Leila Gaskin.


Research Video II: NYC drainpipe

Here I am walking up a 4′ diameter drainpipe under New York. This pipe carries stormwater from the area surrounding Highbridge Park down to the Harlem River. Today I’m writing a scene set in this pipe. I love my life. I really enjoyed the exploration, and I hope my beta readers will enjoy my depiction.

The video starts when Steve and I are over 75% up the pipe. Here is a photo of Steve on his way down the pipe.

Companion descending 4' diameter drain pipe

See the tiny light speck in the photo below? It’s not your monitor. That’s Steve’s headlamp at the bottom of the pipe.

Speck in the middle of the photo is the same headlamp one minute later

Thank you to my wonderful husband for filming. You can see more photos and a video from our trip here.

Check out “Inside An Illegal Party In An Abandoned Subway Station Deep Under NYC”

Tod Seelie / Gothamist.
Tod Seelie / Gothamist.

Check out “Inside An Illegal Party In An Abandoned Subway Station Deep Under NYC” by Tod Seelie. Gothamist. June 24, 2013.

I wish I’d been there.

Writing Soundtrack: Drains

Some writers create inspirational playlists featuring the best of modern music. Me? I’m listening to drain sounds as I write the next scene in my WIP.

I recorded this clip while researching in New York. You can see photos from the trip here:

The World’s 20 Most Amazing Tunnels

East Side Access project (Metropolitan Transportation Authority of the State of New York)

Check out “The World’s 20 Most Amazing Tunnels” by Terrell Johnson.

This list has scope–from leaves to concrete, natural wonders to engineering marvels, biblical to contemporary–and lots of pretty pictures. Spoiler: #4 is the New York East Side Access Project!

Thank you to Sarah Fite, writer extraordinaire, for sharing the article. Know a great article about the underground? Please send it my way.

You can see more on the New York East Side Access Project at the article I shared earlier this month.

Underground New York

Underground New York

MTAPhoto’s East Side Access Project

These stunning photos of MTA’s East Side Access project show why I’m in awe of NYC’s underground infrastructure.

Thank you to David Kazzie for sharing the link. Check out David’s book and snort-inducing “So You Want to Write a Novel” video at his blog: