September 7, 2011 § 17 Comments
One thing I’ve noticed over the years is that owning at least one cat seems to be a basic requirement for authorship.
So many of those three-or-four-sentence author bios at the backs of books make a point of mentioning the author’s ownership of both spouse and cats. I thought about this when I was writing my own brief blurb recently and I instinctively added that in too. I suppose it’s a matter of ingrained expectation about author bios, because really – pick up a few books from your bookshelf and probably one of those bios will talk about their cats.
Or maybe this is mostly a fantasy author thing. My findings are unscientific to say the least. But let’s discuss it anyway.
My theory? Writers spend so much time sitting by themselves staring at a screen – or a piece of paper – that we could, over a matter of years, come to feel seriously isolated and out of touch with the real world. Loneliness can be an occupational hazard, and the more you concentrate on building your career as an author – the more hours a day you spend pounding out the words – the greater the danger of suffering from a lack of companionship.
When I moved to the Netherlands in July, my partner ever so gloriously presented me with two kittens as a welcome gift, and there’s no doubt they transform the daily writing grind. Just having Emma sleeping on the windowsill behind my computer makes me feel that I have company. But unlike dogs it’s not intrusive company. Usually. (Don’t get me wrong about dogs: I love them. I used to own a beagle and he was seriously the cutest creature in existence. But they need a lot more attention than cats do).
There are exceptions, of course. Just now my kittens are sleeping, so I get the feeling of companionship without being interrupted while I write. But they are kittens. Once in a while I’m thrown out of my writing trance by a resounding crash as something is knocked off a shelf or a windowsill, and I’m still trying – repeatedly though unsuccessfully – to discourage them from destroying my plants.
But at least they take themselves to the loo when they need to go.
Am I right about cats? How many of my writer friends either own, or wish they owned, a cat or two? Or other animal companions? And do you ever start feeling isolated when you’ve been writing long hours for months at a time?
July 4, 2011 § 7 Comments
Dear Blog friends,
While I’m swimming in chaos in Holland, I’ve been fortunate enough to get a few really excellent guest bloggers to entertain you in my absence. Today an extraordinarily prolific fantasy writer talks about how she gets things done:
Hello to all of Charlotte’s readers. My name is Michelle Franklin and I am the sole author of the Haanta Series: the longest, online, ongoing, romantic fantasy series. The series is a currently twenty-one book series that focuses upon the world of the Two Continents, centering upon the nation of Frewyn and all of its allies. I won’t discuss the content of the books in this post. but more importantly that what I write is how I write. I write two chapters a day and usually a short story to post on the official Haanta Series website. This amounts to about ten-thousand words a day. I am aware that may seem like an unconquerable lot, but if one considers how much one writes in emails, through messengers and over social sites in a given day, ten-thousand is not that overmuch. Charlotte has been very kind in asking me to share with you how I do what I do and I am more than delighted to tell you with the hopes that my technique can help you too.
My process is very simple:
1) Write what you love most
2) Write without the notion of being published
3) Write what you want to write at that moment
4) Begin with small and allow small to turn into big.
It is really that simple, but I will discuss each point to show you what I mean.
1) Write what you love most.
When I was in a university writing course, I was encouraged to write different genres and styles. This is excellent for those who wish to write but are uncertain as to what. I, however, knew that I wanted to write high fantasy. This was not an accepted genre amongst a group of existential fiction writers. I became frustrated, stagnant, agitated with writing and I considered giving it up until I left the class and began writing on my own. Fantasy has always been a natural proclivity for me and therefore I write nothing else. Write the genre and in the style that suits you; do not change to please others.
2) Write without the notion of being published.
Before I began writing the Haanta Series, I wrote an epic fantasy series called the Arustan series. Do not search for it; you shall not find it. I had written a few books in the series but none of them were ever finished due to my querying agents and publishers.I was told that high fantasy was out and no one beyond two or three major imprints would consider my work. I became discouraged, gave up finishing some of the books, and the rejections the frst ones received stopped me from writing altogether. It is true that the publishing industry moves in trends, as does any creative business, but I resolved not to await the time of high fantasy to shine anew to begin writing again. I began writing the Haanta series and did not query agents and publishers until I had four books completed. While I was waiting for answers, I wrote books six through ten. I did receive rejections, but because I had written so much, it hardly mattered, and when I received a few acceptances, I had plenty of material prepared.
3) Write what you want to write at that moment.
This has kept me from writer’s block for years. Many never want to deviate from their current work because they might feel that if they leave if, they will never return to it. I say, not so. I constantly write books and stories out of order because something in them might give rise to something I can use in a previous work, etc. Often, while I’m doing rewrites, I will stop and write a short story, and sometimes that short story becomes a book itself. I never prohibit myself or inhibit my characters, which keeps a constant flow of writing all day long.If your original work is important, you will return to it and possibly with more to ad to it.
4) Begin with small and let small turn into big.
Many writers feel overwhelmed with overall story and might lock themselves into an outline they would otherwise change or simply not complete. My suggestion here is to start with just one chapter or short story, whether in the middle of a book or at the beginning, or even an epilogue. Many a time, I have written the epilogue to one book only to discover what the beginning of the next one should be. Before I even began writing the first book in the Haanta Series, I had written over seven-hundred short stories. These helped me understand and develop characters as well as introduce them to readers. Often, a three-chapter short story has become a grand story arc while entire novels I may have planned become only half a book.
One other point I should like to share is this: write everywhere. I always have writing implements with me, whether digital or traditional, and I write anything that comes to mind when it comes. I have written in hospital waiting rooms, at parties, in parks- the venue matters little. What matters is that the idea is written.
I hope this was helpful in some way and I wish every writer much success with his work.
If you’d like to hear more from Michelle, visit her blog here.
June 1, 2011 § 25 Comments
So. I had a briefish twitter convo yesterday about this topic on the Guardian books page. Are SF/Fantasy authors given more consideration if they’re male? Are women writers overlooked?
If you’re rolling your eyes and thinking ‘not another ineffectual gender-inequality in modern culture discussion’, well, me too. For the most part I think authors write about what they’re interested in. If more women are interested in writing romance than men, and more men are interested in writing action-packed thrillers than women, well. That’s not a bad thing, and I don’t think the literary world will end. I don’t usually care which variety of genitalia is possessed by the author of any given book; the part that’s important is what the book is about.
Therefore, what interests me more is the prevalence of male heroes in SF and fantasy. Female protagonists are becoming more common as time goes by, certainly, but still, on balance, many books feature a lot more male characters than female ones, and the boys are usually in charge. This isn’t an enormous issue, either – again, the literary world is not going to end over it – but it is interesting. It’s possible that SF falls prey to the still-prevailing attitude that gadgets, technological wizardry and cool futuristic ideas are mostly for men, because women aren’t very interested. That may or may not be true, but what can we argue for fantasy? Is it Man-Territory because it often features swordplay, politics and intrigue? I think by now we’re well past the idea that girls can’t wield swords or be assassins or hold their own in politics.
A hazy theory that floats to mind is the influence of Tolkien. Those books are famously short on women characters, and the few that appear are a) given very little screen-time and b) tend to be passive. None of the nine companions are women. Rosie Cotton waits in the Shire for Sam to come back. Arwen spends the LOTR trilogy sitting in Rivendell until Aragorn’s finished his saving-the-world-and-becoming-king thing. Galadriel confines her involvement to hanging around in Lorien and giving out gifts. Eowyn’s the only one who has a direct role in the story, and even she has to achieve that by deceit in the face of strong disapproval. But these books were written at a time when it was still common for men to do the soldiering-forth, winning-of-the-bread thing and their wives did the housekeeping stuff. (Not without exception, naturally, but I’m talking about general expectations here). It’s inevitable for the values of the period to be reflected, to some extent, in literature.
However, Tolkien’s influence has extended far, far beyond his era. Even now, so many fantasy books are heavily influenced by the Lord of the Rings. I think it’s taking us a long time to stop viewing the world of fantasy through the lense of Tolkien-and-his-ilk; those whose fantasy epics are mostly Man-Territory, written by men about men’s adventures. This doesn’t explain the entire phenomenon, of course; just as Tolkien’s books were, in part, a product of his times, so were a lot of other books. What’s odd is that we’re no longer living in that world, but the legacy remains in fantasy.
One of my favourite ever authors, Tamora Pierce, has written many books featuring some really memorable female heroes. I read a blog post of hers recently where she revealed that she’s actually asked, quite frequently, why she writes about women so often. What kind of a question is that? To ask it suggests that there’s something contrary to expectations about an author (even a female one) writing primarily about female protagonists. Like it’s extraordinary enough to merit special comment, a choice that is somehow ODD. How in the world does that make sense? Women make up half the population of the world. Is it so strange that they should feature prominently in literature?
There are, of course, many other authors (male as well as female) producing some great heroines lately. On the other hand… it was pointed out on twitter that the genres of paranormal romance and urban fantasy (incredibly popular at the moment) actually have the opposite issue in that they feature female protagonists much more often than male. This appears to be true. But I don’t read much in these genres because every time I’ve read (or heard much about) books in these genres, I find myself spending time with some remarkably weedy ladies.
I’ve got no problem with characters (male or female) starting out from a position of passivity or inferiority. It can be thrilling to watch a character claw their way out of their assorted issues and proceed to kick some proverbial ass. But that’s not usually the case with para-romance and ‘urban’ fantasy (whatever the hell that means). These girls’ primary talents include Screaming A Lot, Being Kidnapped and Subsequently Rescued (invariably by cold, icily handsome princes). Their reward for these torments is to ride off into the sunset with the icily handsome guy who’ll make it possible for our heroine to remain eternally passive, and therefore, deeply dependent on (and controlled by) her man, to the end of her breathlessly happy days.
Hmm. What is this, the post-anti-anti-feminism backlash? What’s going on here? Through my childhood and teenage years I was reading voraciously about people like the clever and daring girl-detective Nancy Drew, and of course Tamora Pierce’s fabulously brave, combat-ready heroines. These days a lot of girls of that age are reading about ‘heroines’ whose life goals appear to consist of finding the perfect heartless man to be owned by for eternity. Their lives blow in the breeze, wholly subject to the influences of other people. It’s depressing.
Seems, then, that too often women are either largely absent from SF and fantasy, or they’re intolerably passive. Decorative more than active. There to be acted upon rather than to act. Why?
I don’t know why I’ve been getting on my high horse about the negative impact of some types of literature lately. I suppose it’s bothering me. Anyway, let’s talk. What kinds of heroes and heroines do you all like to read about – or write about? Do you think it’s true that fantasy and SF are too often short on active heroines? And if I have any fans of para-romance and urban fantasy among my readers, do share. What is it about these genres that appeals? Am I wrong about the generality of protagonists in these types of books?
PS: In my next post I’ll be sharing my next set of e-book recommendations. I’ve come across some great stuff lately. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that the ones I liked best feature clever, daring heroines who aren’t afraid to take risks and flout conventions! If you’ve got any like recommendations to share with me, please comment! I love discovering new stuff.
May 27, 2011 § 18 Comments
I’m actually using the term ‘perfect ending’ in a negative way. By this I mean the type of ending where the long-suffering protagonist not only gets her dream but actually she gets everything she could possibly dream of. Everything. EVERYTHING.
For example. Let’s spin a romance. Hettie Bags is a lowly office worker who dreams of meeting the perfect man. Mr. Right. He’ll be charming, gorgeous, successful, well-off, loyal, loving, caring and a great husband and father. He’ll be confident and socially adept as well as sweet and generous with presents. He can fix a computer, put up a shelf, weed the garden, wash the dishes and cook the dinners with ease, and he’ll probably do all these things all the time.
Most people would have to accept that Mr. Right will come with fewer of these attributes, and importantly they’ll also have to accept that it’s okay if he does. More than okay. Mr. Right doesn’t have to be perfect.
But not Hettie Bags. She’ll proceed through a series of obstacles which will test her faith and resilience and ingenuity and then at the end she will get Mr. Right. And he’ll be perfect. Not just charming but devastatingly charming. Not just gorgeous but Apollo in mortal form. Not just well-off but fabulously rich. It may have seemed like he was an arrogant, heartless bastard in a business suit, but actually he’s a complete darling. Really. Off they go into the sunset, not riding a white horse but instead tucked up snugly in a private jet. Hettie Bags gets her dream, magnified beyond all notions of the probable.
We could try to get round the unutterable, withering crapness of this by giving Hettie Bags an apparently unconquerable prejudice towards snappily-suited business professionals with private jets, but her personal journey to overcoming her aversion to impossible wealth wouldn’t really cut it. It’s not a believable drawback to have to put with being rich.
This is the sort of book I can’t stand. I like uplifting, but this type of tale is absurd. If a book draws to a close that requires no sacrifices on the part of the protagonist, no losses of any kind, nor even any compromises, then for me it completely fails. I can’t even begin to believe in it.
I do like happy endings, the sort where most things turn out more or less well for most people. The ultimate goals are achieved, and most people get to go home and tend the cabbage beds. Perfect endings, though, are intolerable. They don’t mesh with any vision of reality, so as a reader it’s impossible to connect with them. When Lizzie Bennet finally accepted Mr. Darcy’s proposal, she certainly ended up with a fabulously rich, important, intelligent, good-hearted, good-looking husband, but he was also essentially still a proud bastard with some insufferable family connections. And in those days, becoming the chatelaine of a house like Pemberley was a demanding, full-time job for which riches and comfort may or may not have wholly made up. It’s a happy ending veering towards the perfect but it has enough drawbacks to be believable. It’s a sort of wish-fulfilment story without being blind to the inevitable fact that everything has a downside.
Drawbacks are necessary because they’re always there. Nothing in life is perfect. We all have to compromise, take the negatives with the positives and find ways to focus on the things that make us happy. If we aren’t willing to do that, we don’t deserve to expect anybody to take us as we are, imperfections and all. I think the species of fiction that offers the perfect-ending-without-drawback is even a bit dangerous; I know a few people who seem to expect life to turn out that way – happiness isn’t true happiness unless your life is completely perfect – and who are therefore permanently miserable. Stories like this feed expectations that you can reasonably expect to have everything, and until you do your life isn’t really worth much.
In place of Hettie Bags’s story, I’d rather read about someone convinced she wants a rich husband, but who ultimately turns down that opportunity in favour of the untidy but earnest and hard-working cabbage farmer. Or the shy but loyal computer technician. That would be a far more believable story because it offers sacrifices as well as gains, and it charts the growth of the main character.
Or better yet, Hettie will ride off into the sunset with the jet-setting business guy, only to find he actually is a heartless bastard after all. Or all his apparent wealth is a lie, and he’s really a charlatan. Or a criminal. Or all of those things. Tragic, but infinitely more believable.
It’s possibly these sorts of opinions that make it quite hard for me to write happy endings, let alone perfect ones. Much as I love levity, I find it surprisingly tricky to draw a story to a comfortably jolly close. I always start veering sharply in the direction of tragedy. It’s possible that writing whatever comes out of one’s muddled brain is an interesting, if disarmingly informative, way of discovering some home truths about oneself. If one daren’t really expect to encounter happy endings in real life, it’s hard to believe in them when writing. I suppose this is rather the opposite of the attitude that might lead a person to write perfect endings. I’m hoping my opinion of the likelihood of happy will change in time, but for now it seems my poor characters are in for a beating every time.
What’s your opinion of a ‘good’ ending? I suppose I’d ideally aim for a balance. The ending must resolve the major problems of the book, and unless one is writing a full-blown tragedy (which I don’t wish to do) then many/most of those resolutions should be essentially satisfactory, with some particularly good outcomes. But there must also be losses. Not everyone can have everything they’d hoped for; that doesn’t work. You’ve got to send some characters home unhappy in order to produce a story that readers can really believe in.
May 21, 2011 § 12 Comments
I realise I’ve dropped off the Blogland map a bit lately, especially this week. No post in an entire seven days? How reprehensible.
The truth is, when I sat down to proceed with the noble work-in-progress early this week I realised that The End was In Sight. I could definitely see dry land ahead. Naturally, therefore, I ended up getting into a jolly little race with myself and gaily gave up all thought of blogging, eating or sleeping until I’d written the final scenes.
That occurred early on Friday afternoon. Since then I’ve mostly been sleeping. (I’m not even kidding about that. I think I’ve had more sleep over the past night than I did all week). I had an immediate attack of insecurity after I’d finished the thing, because it came out at about 92k words. I thought, cripes, should it be longer? But since I have to get all the way through editing yet I guess it’s a bit early to worry about that.
Speaking of which, how long is it likely to take to thoroughly edit 92k words of fiction? Who knows. Given that a lot of it has already been heavily revised I’m hoping I won’t be here till December reworking the rest. But it’ll take as long as it takes. I have a couple of angelic people lined up to help with the editing process (thank you, folks). There’s the cover to think about, a synopsis to write and a title to pick (I’ve been using a working title all this time with the faint hope that some perfect title would occur to me along the way, but of course it hasn’t). And I have to figure out how to format everything. In short, there’s an awful lot yet to do, but the initial (staggeringly enormous) challenge of finishing the draft was actually a blast. I’m pretty sure I’ll enjoy the rest, too.
Anyway this has been a short yet terrifically self-indulgent post during which I’ve done nothing but gloat, but I hope you’ll forgive me for that. I’m going to scoot back to enjoying the wave of euphoria and catching up on my sleep. And hey, since I have to make myself leave the thing alone for a couple of weeks before I start editing, perhaps I’ll have time to post a bit more frequently again. But in the meantime…
On with the cake and stuffed animals!
May 11, 2011 § 22 Comments
I’ve just about finished with the final assignment for the Advanced Creative Writing course I’ve been studying with the OU since last October. It is with a profound sense of relief that I’ll send it off at the end of this week. This is partly because I’ve been trying to run in three, and subsequently four directions at once for the last six months or so, and I’m feeling run down. I’ll be glad to permanently cross this off my agenda.
I’ll also be glad to get rid of it because it hasn’t been as useful or as fun as I’d hoped.
There were definitely some benefits to taking the course. The study materials offered some useful perspectives on how to handle structure, pacing, dialogue, character and all the various components of building a story. I view this like a course in construction: you can be introduced to the different types of bricks you can use, and given some guidance on how to put them together.
What it consistently failed to do was help me to develop my own style. To use a more pretentious word, my own voice. There seemed to be an inherent bias towards literary fiction from the outset. All of the course materials used literary fiction as examples, and while you were permitted to write in genres if you wanted to (I mostly submitted fantasy and historical fiction), they didn’t tend to give a good grade unless you stuffed the stories with plenty of the conventions of literary fiction as well. I ended up spending much of the course repeatedly banging my head against this brick wall. I refused to change what I was doing to that extent, because I refuse to be convinced that it’s wrong because it isn’t fitting someone else’s requirements for ‘the best way to write’. I certainly didn’t pay hundreds of pounds for this course to end up spending my time theatrically gripping my hair and throwing things out of windows.
I’ve ranted a bit about these things before, so I won’t go over my indignation all over again. But I was disappointed. I can understand why it happens; apart from anything, creating a syllabus has got to be a difficult job. You’ve got to set essentially arbitrary waymarks for students to reach, and arbitrary conditions for the grading of their assignments. It’s never going to suit everybody. But I think that pushing everyone in the direction of writing the same kind of thing is a mistake.
There was an article about this in the Guardian recently, featuring opinions from a range of writers and teachers. A couple of people pointed out that writers work in such different ways that it’s got to be hard (impossible?) to find an accepted method to try to teach to everyone. The widespread bias towards literary fiction is also mentioned. And some people think that those who emerge from a creative writing course and go on to do really well were probably inherently good to begin with; the course merely applied polish to an innate talent. All valid points.
The famous MA in Creative Writing from the University of East Anglia came up frequently. It is about the most celebrated example currently run in the UK today, largely because of its very impressive list of alumni (Ian McEwan, Kazuo Ishiguro, Anne Enright and many more). Andrew Cowan, Director of the MA at UEA, says:
“One criticism that is often levelled at creative writing courses is that they produce “cookie cutter” fiction. But if you look at the list of published graduates from the MA at UEA, you couldn’t get a more diverse range of writers.”
Couldn’t you? Ian McEwan, Kazuo Ishiguro, and Anne Enright may all be very different in a lot of ways, but they’re all celebrated authors of literary fiction. I’ve heard of a couple of historical fiction writers who graduated from this course, but that’s it. I’d be interested to know if genre writers are accepted onto the course very often, if they graduate well, and if they get much out of it. I’m inclined to doubt it.
I don’t regret taking the OU course, because I think it has helped me to improve. But that was mostly via the practical techniques I gleaned from the course handbook, and an occasional piece of feedback from my tutor (when she wasn’t pushing me to change my writing style). I feel that I could’ve gained the same things by reading writing manuals in my own time, and it would’ve been less intensive and much cheaper. I had vague ideas about taking an MA in creative writing sometime in the future, but I’m not inclined to anymore.
What makes me concerned, and even mildly resentful, is that courses can end up trying to impose styles and methods on all writers across the board and I fear that this can actually stifle people. We’re all susceptible to doubting ourselves if we find we’re doing things very differently to whatever is presented as the “accepted” way – especially if that verdict comes from a perceived authority. But our own personal way isn’t necessarily wrong. It’s just wrong for someone else.
Has anyone taken one of these MA programmes, or any other ‘formal’ writing tuition? Did you feel that it was helpful? I’d be particularly interested to hear from anybody who has undergone formal writing training without being a lit fic writer.
May 4, 2011 § 18 Comments
I have no blog posts prepared. Nothing saved, nothing drafted. Nothing.
Reprehensible, I know. But in my defence, this is because I am working flat out on Ye Olde Novel Project now (so termed because it’s been going since last December and nearly six months is feeling like a long, long time). I’m writing at least 3000 words every morning. Around that I’m finishing up the final assignment for the study course I’m on, working on the story for an upcoming fantasy webcomic (more on that soon), designing clothes and making the damn things too, creating a Regency costume, trying to read more and (as of this week) planning my move overseas in July.
My brain feels like a burnt-out car engine.
That being the case, there isn’t a lot of creative juice left for Blogville. Quite a few people have been kind enough to ask how Ye Olde Novel Project is going, however, so I figured I’d half-cheat and answer that question here today.
Update #1: I’ve been telling people I’m two-thirds of the way through for about the last two months.
This is because I have been about two-thirds of the way through for the last two months. I have broken all my solemnly-vowed precepts about not going back and editing/re-writing while the draft is still incomplete. To be fair to my poor guilt-ridden self, this is because I suffered a flash of inspiration about a character (a major character) that had been eluding me for many a long week. This was great, except that I couldn’t continue writing about this character without going back and working her story through from the beginning.
So, I decide to accept this. I wrote some new opening chapters while I was at it, copied everything hand-written onto the computer (and rewrote about 75% of it) and inevitably edited up a bunch of the other stuff too. As of this week I’ve caught up with myself. I’m now finally getting started on writing the last bit, which ought to be around 40k words but hey, who knows at this point.
On the one hand I’m annoyed that this happened, as it feels like it cast about eighty spanners into the works (that’s wrenches, for you American folks). On the other hand, it means quite a bit of the inevitable rewriting and editing I’d have to do later is already done, so I can hope for a slightly shorter editing process to make up for it.
Lesson: Rules exist to be broken, even the ones you Solemnly Swear you will Live By For Eternity.
Update #2: I have no idea what I’m writing anymore.
I mean, I do. It’s a work of fantasy. I could even narrow that down to, say, high fantasy, because there are heroes and villains and something vaguely approaching an Epic Quest (sort of), there’s some magic floating about and world-rearranging events going on.
There’s also a mystery happening, some elements of the thriller, strong elements of the romance and at this point I’m having terrific fun writing the weirdest things I can come up with and I don’t think there’s a box for that at all. Writing a synopsis and trying to stick a label on it is going to be hell. And don’t even get me started on the problem of picking a title.
Lesson: Um, genre is for pansies?
Update #3: I’ve been having fun making up a lot of weird animal species. Today I was sewing and I started musing on what a stuffed toy olifer would look like. Purple and grey striped hide, long nose, fat body. Could be cute. I was tempted to make a pattern for it right then and there. Impulses like these will have to be ruthlessly stamped on if I’m going to reach the end of the draft at all.
Instead, I’m turning it into an Incentive Programme. When I reach the end of the draft, I get to make a whole crew of stuffed toy animals. And I am allowed to post them all here. It will be part of the after-draft party (this is like a one-person wrap party for writers).
Lesson: Try not to have the attention span of a butterfly. No, you can’t make a butterfly plushie either.
Update #4: I have consumed about a ton of chocolate and approximately eighty-five gallons of tea during the writing of this novel. Fun fact.
Lesson: Try to stop eating chocolate or you’ll weigh about 300 pounds by the end of the edit. There’s a good girl.
Update #5: Novel-writing is definitely the most gruelling process I’ve put myself through. It goes on week after endless week and I feel at this moment like I’ll never get to the end.
But somehow, I love it to death.
Lesson: Maybe I can do this after all.
Update #6: OH YES this is an important one. I have a cover artist.
Not just any cover artist but a seriously damn good one. It’s one of those pieces of serendipity that sometimes happen. I won’t say any more about this yet because in due course there’ll be a flurry of blog posts about this and related topics. THERE’LL BE COLOUR. Oh yes.
Lesson: Good things happen sometimes. No, really. They do.
Update #7: When I get a panic on I start listening to ‘City’ by Sara Bareilles. I’ve listened to it about eighteen times a day for the past week, and it’s still the most seriously beautiful song in existence.
Lesson: Music is a blessing.
Update #8: When one’s head feels on the verge of explosion, there’s nothing like air and sunlight and swarming insects to rejuvenate the mental processes. In the midst of the chaos of Chapter Twenty-Two I took a walk. Here is the bluebell knoll I paused to admire.
And here is the horse that tried to eat me for the apples I was carrying:
Lesson: Never carry apples when visiting horses. No, not even if you’re only planning to pass them from a distance of a hundred yards. They can smell apples from the other side of the city.
That’s it for this week. If you’re looking for me, I’ll be in my tower, right at the top, behind the locked-and-double-barred door. Inside there’ll be a computer, a treasure chest full of chocolate, a magic self-filling teapot, and me.
April 20, 2011 § 6 Comments
From time to time I like to explore the portrayal of writers in fiction and film. Previously in this blog series, we’ve looked at Karen Eiffel of Stranger than Fiction and Richard Castle of the murder mystery TV series Castle. The character we are visiting today has a small role in a highschool movie …
WAIT don’t go. This is a teen movie that is not entirely putrid. I admit that there is a prom involved. (If we are to believe film culture, it seems like American highschool kids do nothing but attend proms). However it has nothing whatsoever to do with transforming the ugly duckling into the swan so that she is allowed to kiss Freddie Prinze Jnr. On the contrary, the plot is based on The Taming of the Shrew, and moreover it manages to be pretty consistently funny.
The film is 10 Things I Hate About You, and the character in question is played by the marvellous Alison Janney. Good huh? Her name is Ms. Perky and she is a Guidance Counselor (see what I did there? I spelled it the American way. Oh yes. Doing well).
Ms. Perky is not a very good Guidance Counselor (!) because she is very, very busy writing an erotic novel. Here is a clip of her first appearance.
How many writers do this? Work on the novel at the office, I mean, not… the rest. Necessarily. (Anybody want to own up to any of Ms. Perky’s more original characteristics?) I imagine most of us are a bit more surreptitious about it than Ms. Perky. It’d be fun to get away with tossing everyone out of the office so you can have more quality time with the novel.
And it would be so amusing to be able to get away with that degree of blunt talking. There are definitely times when I want to be able to say you are a fatuous moron without creating a miniature world war three.
Instead I just admire pink-clad, straight-talking, erotica-writing fake guidance counselors from a distance. If I can’t be Karen Eiffel when I grow up, maybe I’ll settle for turning into Ms. Perky.
April 16, 2011 § 22 Comments
I am afraid of driving.
I don’t know where this fear came from, because there was a time (in my early teens) when go-karting was about my favourite activity in the world (second only to Laser Quest). Nonetheless, by the time I grew old enough to start driving lessons I’d come to view driving as the stuff of nightmares.
It took me about a year to learn, having lessons most weeks. I can honestly say that was about the most gruelling experience of my adult life. Why exactly did I do it? Nobody was forcing me; I could have refused. I did it because being able to drive is vital in this modern world if one wishes to have anything approaching a free and independent life. And those two words – freedom and independence – are my guiding lights in just about everything I do.
When I took the test I was shaking so badly I could hardly grip the steering wheel. But I passed. I was euphoric for a full week afterwards. That’s important, by the way, because I’m an absurdly anxious sort of person and I too often skip over my victories in favour of worrying about the possibility of failure on my next project. But passing my driving test was different. It felt like conquering the world. I still dislike driving, but hey. I can do it when I need to.
So, skipping ahead a few years. You know the worst part about having dreams? The possibility of failing at them. In theory you can’t lose anything by failing to catch a dream, but you can; you lose the dream, you lose all chance of success. You have to pick yourself up and go find a new dream, and that’s not easy. That means that chasing dreams is scary. Many people won’t even try.
I have a couple of lifelong dreams. The pertinent one is: to write a novel. In fact, lots of novels. I’d like readers and everything. And that I have viewed as a virtual impossibility, because before I can do that I have to first write an entire novel and secondly – and here is the tricky part – get someone to publish it. We all know how that goes. The prospect of spending a year writing a novel only to then spend months (or years) of my life chasing after agents is daunting, to say the least. Then digital self-publishing cropped up and here I am, two-thirds of the way through a novel and going strong.
There’s only one problem. Self-publishing is scary as hell.
I know that the ‘gatekeepers’ as they’re often called are merely people. To have a few of those take a risk on my book wouldn’t really mean that much; it’s no guarantee that readers would like it. But at least it’s a vote of confidence. Maybe I could feel that it must be worth something.
I won’t get that with self-publishing. I’ll put everything I’ve got onto the page, then send it out into the world. It could tank. It seriously could, and I could be left with nothing but a pile of bad reviews; not even the dubious comfort of knowing that an agent liked it, once.
Why do it, then? Because of the potential advantages. No wasting my life trying to get an agent… and then a publisher. I can retain complete control over my work. There is no danger of the book(s) going out of print if they don’t make a killing in their first few months. There are problems with this approach, too, but I think the advantages will be worth it.
If I can find the courage.
I’m pretty sure that publishing my first novel is going to be scarier than learning to drive. We’re talking here about something I not only think would be sensible to do but that I desperately want to do. And what’s more, this project represents that elusive freedom and independence that I so badly want as well. Running my life by my own rules, according to my own timetable, not dependent on anybody’s approval or interference: I can think of nothing that would suit me better.
Am I crazy? I’m very young, as these things go: all the time I hear that one must spend, probably, decades writing eighteen novels before there’s any real chance of producing one that’s worth reading. I’m pretty sure I’ll never feel complete confidence in my own work, but at some point I must take the plunge and put something out into the world.
Then wait, and see how it goes.
All of this means putting oneself through the proverbial wringer of crippling fear and self-doubt – worse, in that respect, even than releasing a book via a publisher. But while failure can sometimes seem certain, there’s always the chance – a real chance – that it’ll work out well. All one can do is find the courage to try. I’ve done it before: let’s hope I can do it again.
So, fear. It doesn’t own me, and it doesn’t own you. We’re all capable of more than we think we are.