Rewriting History

The thing about blogs is that the more you post, the more you think of to post but the reverse is also true and most days I can’t think of much to say. Well, okay, I can but usually they would include long, rambling rants about things in the news or things that annoy me. And most of them probably annoy you too so you’d agree. Like the slaps on the wrists people are getting for everything from sexual assault to drunk driving to abusing children and animals.  So it becomes  kind of like the inane facebook groups I see all the time. Do I really need to publicly tell you I’m against the abuse of animals or cancer? Do you really want to hear my ranting about these subjects? Do you?

But it’s just a matter of getting back in the habit and I will definitely be blogging more because I have something to procrastinate and you know that writing blog posts is one of my favourite forms of procrastination. Much, much better than procrastinating by cleaning the toilet or deciding to gut out the toy box (which I just did). So what, you may ask, do I have to procrastinate? Well, I’m very pleased to say that the Newfoundland and Labrador Arts Council has kindly given me another grant. This time it’s for a new novel tentatively called Rewriting History (see, that’s where the title of this post comes from–I knew you were wondering).  And it’s not that I’m not enjoying writing this book. You know that. I just procrastinate the writing. Like if I let it stew longer and wait to put pen to paper, it will come out in a great flood of words, easy as rolling balls down a hill. And it does.

This new book is as much fun as I’ve had writing. There are three main characters whose lives are entangled in complicated and not nice ways. It is full of black humour so far and that will continue. But that’s about all I’m willing to say about it now. I hate talking about things like that when they’re new which is one of the disadvantages of applying for grants. In order to apply, you have to tell the Arts Council about your project and even include a writing sample, preferably from the book you want to write. You have to think ahead a bit and figure out what the book will be about. And I like to just have an idea and then see where the idea takes me. No plotting or mapping or anything. But I looked ahead, saw, in broad strokes, where the book would be going and worked hard on a writing sample. And now I have something to procrastinate.

I am also, perhaps as another form of procrastination, still revising my mystery/thriller novel which I first finished in 1997 and needed a good overhaul. And now is the time. It’s just one of those books that I had to hone the craft of writing a bit before I could go back and make it what it needs to be. But it’s very different, in tone and content than anything I’ve had published or the other book I’m writing so it’s an excellent form of procrastination for me.

So, that’s what I’m doing and that’s what I will be doing for the next while. And wrangling Ben, who really requires complete wrangling concentration (I had to stop writing this post so I could get him out of a dangerous situation AKA he was standing on his tippy toes on the edge of a chair saying “tada”). And helping Sam with homework, swimming , Tae Kwon Do and all the many other parts of his life. And  all the other stuff that I can either procrastinate or use as a form of procrastination, depending on the day and the mood. Like laundry. That’s measurable and I can definitely tell you I’m procrastinating that. Oh, and I’m reading an amazingly fantastic book but I’ll tell you about that on another day. For now, I have to go wrangle and procrastinate something. The one consistency in life is that there’s always something to do and always something to put off doing.

Don’t Let Your Stories Die Inside You

I’ve said here before that I like reading about the process of other writers. So, buying a book about writing or writers is always a safe bet for a gift for me, (you know, if you’re wondering) and my husband was certainly well aware of that. I usually give him lists of possible books I’d like and he can pick but one Christmas, after Sam was born, he gave me one I didn’t ask for, one that, the truth is, I was a bit taken aback to receive. It was one of a series of books I had kind of rallied against, had definitely ranted against. He bought me Chicken Soup for the Writer’s Soul. Now, I had nothing against the Chicken Soup for the Soul books when they started. Good bathroom book, probably, although I didn’t read them. Little stories, inspiring stuff, how could it be a bad thing? But then I started to see more and more of them and soon I felt my soul sucked away a little every time I saw a new one. There was something to soothe every soul. I think Chicken Soup for the Golfer’s Soul put me over the edge. I just googled and found titles like Chicken Soup for the Chiropractic Soul and Chicken Soup for the NASCAR Soul. All souls, it seems, seek inspiration and the creators of the Chicken Soup series have really taken that to heart and maybe over the top.

So I took the book my husband had kindly bought for me and put it away, feeling a bit lesser for owning a Chicken Soup for the Soul book. But, as is often the case, my close-minded opinions are usually turned around to show me how wrong I can be and such was the case when I needed a book to read in the bath and there, in the pile was Chicken Soup for the Writer’s Soul. I was in the mood to read about writing so I picked it up. And I enjoyed the stories. But there was one in particular that changed things for me. Me, who at the time, had two novels completed and safely in a drawer, another two well on the way to getting finished and portions of more in boxes and drawers and shelves all over the place. Me, who had never tried to get any of them published. I read the story of Dierdre W. Honnold and her mother. Honnold’s mother wanted to write her own story, a novel, and it would sell big and they would be rich and famous, at least that’s what she kept telling her children. But as she got older, Honnold began to get impatient with her mother because she knew that in order to be a writer, you had to write. Talking about it wouldn’t do the trick. When her mother died, on a snowy night surrounded by family, Honnold wrote, “her book died too”. Her mother never followed her own dream to write that novel, and this inspired Honnold to write and to ensure that her children could read their mother’s stories.

So, there I was in the bathtub, tears rolling down my face as I read, and while some of my stories were no longer inside me, they’d made it onto the page, but they weren’t doing much in my drawer. And I was doing nothing to get them out in the universe. I knew that I didn’t want the little napping baby in the next room to ever think I had let the things I wanted to do, craved to do, die with me. And I started to write more and work harder on stories I liked. When my friend Kathy called me, later that year, to tell me I should pitch one of my books at the Pitch to the Publisher event at the Word on the Rock Literary Festival, I at first dismissed it outright. The thought terrified me. But Honnold’s story about her mom had stuck with me and inspired me to actually do it. The idea of my child not knowing my stories or that I’d even tried to follow my dream of having them published made me draft a pitch. And although threats from Kathy and my friend Pam to physically drag me to the Pitch to the Publisher were very inspriring and immediate, down deep the thoughts of having my books die with me someday, having never tried, was the real impetus to stand in front of four publishers and tell them about a partially finished novel called this much is true.

So, with book number two out there now, my youngest child points and says “Mama” when he sees the cover of A Few Kinds of Wrong. At almost two years old, he knows now, even before he has the words to understand it, that this is my story I wrote. And recently at school, that baby who’d been napping when I first read Honnold’s inspiring story, had a chance, during literacy week at his school, to write the name of his favourite author on a big piece of paper in the school hall. Two teachers–one who didn’t know me or Sam–contacted me to tell me how this sweet, six-year-old boy wrote “Tina Chaulk” on the wall.

So, don’t let your story, or the painting you’ve been dreaming of trying, or the poem you imagine writing for your child, die when you do. I really do know how easy it is to procrastinate, and I certainly know how hard and scary it is to try, but isn’t it scarier to have your story or your painting or whatever it is you want to do or create, die still inside of you? It was to me. I hope the idea gives you a kick in the pants to get going on your dream. Or maybe you’ve set about doing it already. If you have, what has inspired you to follow your dreams?

Newfoundland Book Clubs

Last week, I visited a book club who had read A Few Kinds of Wrong and invited me to come by and talk with them about it. Although the host didn’t know me when she chose my book, one of the other members recognized me as our children go to the same school. So, she asked me if I would come and I said yes, thinking that it was a month away and maybe I wouldn’t be nervous by the time I got there. So when the night came, I was wondering what I had gotten myself into and, I have to say, I was quite nervous. I don’t like being the centre of attention or talking much about myself to people I don’t know. And I was afraid people might not like the book (doubt-filled as per last week’s post) and even though I knew they wouldn’t invite me to their book club to shred the book, I felt I would know if they didn’t like it. Luckily there wasn’t any such response (or they hid it very well) and  they seemed to really love the book. It was so interesting to sit down with people I don’t know and to listen to them talk about my book. They had really great insights and comments and questions that made us all think about the book and the characters. It made me realize how people could see something that I didn’t, or how something I tried  to do subtly in the book actually came across to people. Sometimes someone would ask a question and someone else would answer it because she remembered some minute detail or knew the characters well enough that she could answer it. I loved that. It was like the people in the book actually had their own lives and that’s how I feel about them, not that I created them but that I just wrote down the stuff that happened to them. I loved hearing how certain parts touched the readers and affected them. It turns out I was not the centre of attention at all. The book was, as well as the women in the group since the meeting was about their opinions and questions.

I’ve heard of so many book clubs in Newfoundland lately (and everywhere else but I tend to hear about the ones here) and it really makes me happy that we’re reading lots of books and then talking about them. And I think most of them, as with the one I attended last week, have people taking turns choosing the books so you might end up reading something you wouldn’t have thought of reading yourself, thereby expanding your reading horizons. If you’re in a book club and are interested in reading A Few Kinds of Wrong, check out the suggested book club questions included on the A Few Kinds of Wrong page (best for after you read the book as there are a couple of spoilers), and feel free to contact me. If you’re not in a book club, but love to read, consider joining one or creating your own. The reasons to join a book club, I heard the other night, were things like to have adult company and conversation, and to motivate you to read a book when it’s so hard to find time to do so. I’m glad Newfoundland and Labrador seems to have a burgeoning book club scene. The more people who are reading and discussing books, the better, I say, especially if they include local books in the mix.

Reflections on NaNoWriMo

nano_09_winner_120x240Phew, it’s over. I did it. I wrote 50,000 words (50,044, to be exact) and made a novel with a beginning, middle and end in one month. And what did I win? The picture you can see in this post and a certificate I can print out and fill out myself. Not even personalized. But, of course, I got more than that. I learned a few things from doing NaNoWriMo.

I learned that I have a lot of determination and can do most things I set my mind to. Some people have seen this in me before (my husband has been telling me it for years), but I consider myself much more of a doubter. I like to hedge my bets and always lay out the possibility that I will fail, so as to prepare others  not to expect too much of me, but also to not set myself up for too big a fall. So, normally, when I got the H1N1 followed by pneumonia four days after starting NaNoWriMo and couldn’t write anything for a full week, I would have said, “oh, I really wanted to do NaNo but, with everything else going on this month, I’m way too far behind to catch up.  I’ll keep trying and we’ll see.” Might have thrown in a “doesn’t look good”. But after I got well enough to sit up and write again, I didn’t say that. I said, “I can catch up and I’m going to do it.” I didn’t have a doubt I could or would do it. If it meant staying up every night until 1:30 or 2:00 writing, I would get it done and there were a good few of those nights, especially in the last week. If you could see me, you’d see those nights in the ugly, black circles under my eyes. But look up above those circles and you’d see a bit of pride in those eyes. Not that I wrote the 50,000 words, but that I didn’t doubt myself.

I learned that I can write a full novel on a keyboard. I also learned that I don’t like it. I found myself longing to write with a pen and notebook. But I needed to keep a word count and pen and notebooks take up a lot of time manually counting the words so I typed into my Alphasmart Neo. I don’t know how people do NaNo on laptops or dekstop computers. My Neo went everywhere with me and I could type almost anywhere. Well, except the bathtub. I love writing in the bathtub but I didn’t trust myself not to drop my Neo in the water (although, from what I hear, a good drying out and that thing would run perfectly again–another reason to love the Neo).

I learned that writing (almost) every day, does make you write more and it does make the creative side of your brain work more. Now, maybe it’s my usual creative procrastination, but I thought of three new ideas for books while writing my NaNo novel and jotted notes to remember my ideas about them. They’ll be going in notebooks soon to see how they feel and if the characters talk to me enough for me to know I want to hang with them for a few months or years. I think I’m going to try to write more often and not hold back the muse as much (now, see, that was the kind of doubt-filled statement I’m used to).

I learned that I might not do NaNo again. Right now, I have no great urge to do it again. It was just something I wanted to prove to myself I could do and I did. I came out of it with a 50,044 word novel that is really, really not good. I know it’s not supposed to be good, but there were many times during the process when I kept thinking that I would either never look at this manuscript again or look at it only as an outline, that if I wanted to write this story (and I would like to), I should ignore the NaNo novel and start out new. So, I’m not sure it’s a great use of my time, this 50,000 crappy words in a month (check out this cartoon at Will Write for Chocolate). It’s been a good use of my time this year, since it helped me learn all these things and again, to prove it to myself that I can do it, but I’m not sure doing it another year is something I need or want to do.

So, it’s been quite a November, what with writing the 50,000 words, promoting my new book, the women’s work contest (winners will be picked and revealed soon), H1N1, pneumonia, sinus infection, H1N1 lineups for vaccinations, birthdays, and just the regular day to day. Now, that it’s all done, though, I can relax. What? How long until Christmas? Oh, crap! Gotta go!

Should I Have Made Jennifer Collins a Vampire?

You know when someone calculates the Vampire National Product of a nation (and finds it to be $771.5 million annually), that there’s a bit of a frenzy going on. And there is. It’s all about the new sequel to the movie New Moon, based on the second novel from the Twilight series by Stephenie Meyer.  It’s hoped that it will bring in $100 million on this, its opening weekend. I know people who don’t live anywhere near a movie theatre who will drive for hours today to use the tickets they bought last month to see the movie. There’s a whole lexicon to describe, not just Twilight and Twilight related things but the various levels of Twilight fans–from twilighter (a moderate fan) to twi-hard (a more obsessive fan) to twitard (someone really, really out there in obsessive fan love for Twilight), and right back to the people who don’t like Twilight and are called antis. (And if this alleged list of attacks on antis by Twilight fans is true, you might not want to be so vocal about not liking the series.)

Bella Edward and Jacob from New Moon

And I don’t mind telling you I’m a teensy bit jealous. I really mean a teensy bit because I know the nature of this beast and that even if I could write a vampire book and do it justice, and hit all the right notes that Stephenie Meyer seems to have done with the Twilight series, chances are my vampire book would not create this kind of frenzy. This is an anomaly in the book world, just like when JK Rowling was told she would never make any money writing books for children then released the Harry Potter series, or when Dan Brown published his fourth book about a Da Vinci Code after publishing three novels which didn’t sell more than 10,000 copies each in their first runs. It’s lik e winning the lottery only much better because you made the money by doing something you love. So, the title of this post is facetious but I can’t help being a litle jealous and wondering what would have happened if Jennifer Collins, the main character in A Few Kinds of Wrong maybe drank blood instead of coffee, or could do a few magic spells on the side, or dropped her wrench, left the garage, and ran off to Rome to figure out a Vatican mystery. Hmmm, maybe I should start thinking about a sequel. A Few Kinds of Blood? A Few Kind of Magic? I’ll keep working on it.

Lessons from Day One of NaNoWriMo

Good day one. Thankfully it was one of the nicest days outside that we’ve had in a long time so hubby took the kids outside and I got some writing time. 4867 words. The number of words you have to write every day in order to make 50,000 words in November is 1667  so I have a couple of days worth there and will always try to keep ahead because you never know when something will slow you down or stop you. There are some lessons I learned from day one, some things I need to remind myself as I write. They include:

  • Forget the backspace key is there. If you find yourself hitting it, stop it. If you made a mistake, just keep going and fix it in December.
  • NaNoWriMo is the opposite of most writing in that if two or three words can be used instead of one, go for it. Edit later. For instance, “almost” becomes “just about”. It’s not good writing practice but probably neither is churning out 50,000 words in 30 days.
  • If you go off track and veer off the story (see, I’m being redundant all over the place), just restart without going back and taking all that stuff out. In December, when you edit, that might fit in somewhere else or you might have a great line there that will work. Let it stay. (No backspace key, remember?)
  • I heard a few people say they have a 0 word count. There is absolutely no reason for a 0 word count. Type the word “the” and you change your word count to one. Or write the word “I” or “she” or “he” and then a verb and you have two words. Then let the rest come but 0 means you just didn’t show up.
  • I think twitter is fantastic for procrastinating NaNoWriMo but is also, you know, unfortunately fantastic for procrastinating NaNoWriMo. Tons of constant updates with the tag #nanowrimo (yet, oddly it is not a trending topic on twitter). So myAlphasmart Neo is even a more important tool for me to write on since no Internet=no twitter.

That’s all for now but please feel free to add your own NaNo lessons or advice.

Countdown to the NaNoWriMo Countup

Okay, I know countup is not a word but why should that stop me? I officially signed up for NaNoWriMo to write 50,000 words in one month. My husband has been told it’s single parent time for him as much as possible and has been warned the housekeeping will decrease (can housekeeping be quantified in numbers less than zero?). He probably won’t see any noticeable difference in the housekeeping anyway since this is, ahem, not my strong suit. My friend gave me a magnet one time that said “Both Of Us Can’t Look Good At The Same Time, It’s Either Me Or The House”. I keep it on the fridge and I know he must look at it and wonder which one is supposed to be anywhere near looking good. Anyway, I digress. So with less than 24 hours left before NaNoWriMo starts, I still am wavering between two novel ideas and haven’t 100% committed to what I’ll be doing. (I know, shocking from someone who took only 21 years to marry her boyfriend.) I’m still leaning toward the one I think will be easier to write but I don’t really have a plot for that, just more characters, not that I have a lot of plot for the other one. Ah, who needs plot? That should really come from the characters anyway. And, as I keep telling myself, these words written in November don’t have to be good words. They just have to get out of my head and onto a keyboard.

Ah, the keyboard, another potential problem with writing 50,000 words in a month. As I’ve told you before, I like to write longhand which then means I have to type that handwritten stuff up later. This will double my work if I don’t type my novel as I go, so I’ve decided to use my beloved AlphaSmart Neo (Neill) for NaNo. But can I write a whole novel on a keyboard? Every time I’ve ever tried to write a lot on a keyboard, I always go running back to my notebook to scribble happily.  Not in November. In November I commit to writing more and writing differently than I ever have before. And publicly because I will do (short) blog posts about it and have a word count somewhere on my web site here. So win or lose, sink or swim, I’m putting it out there. Let the games begin!

Committing to a NaNo Novel

Okay, so the decision to NaNo or not to NaNo is made. I’m going to do it. What the hell. I had planned on what to write, a novel I have barely started so it would be no problem to start it afresh (rules say you have to start a new novel). The characters are alive and well and chatting in my head. BUT then yesterday I stupidly decided to go looking through some docs on my computer and there it was: three pages of another novel, an easier novel to write for me and a more light-hearted one. Much more easy to write in one month. And I was tempted. More than tempted. I started writing notes about it and the words, well the words they flowed out like endless rain into a paper cup (sorry been listening to Fiona Apple ) and it felt right. I know it’s probably just creative procrastination but I’ve never tried this NaNo thing before and if I have to commit to a novel I don’t know yet, to spend 50,000 words with it, I better be interested. And then I remembered other manuscripts partially written (at least four) and thought maybe I should resurrect one of them. But I also remembered the two completed novels in my drawer: one a psychological thriller and one a sci-fi novel, neither or which may ever see the light of day. Do I want to invest 50,000 words in a novel I won’t follow up with and will leave in the drawer?

So, I have eight days to figure that out. Right now, the one I wrote notes on yesterday afternoon is the most likely candidate but tomorrow is another day and maybe I’ll feel different then. This, as I’ve told you before, is why I usually write at least three books at once, because I can go back and forth to them, depending on mood–another thing that NaNo will prevent me from doing. I was thinking that NaNo is kind of like a wedding–You have to agree to commit to this one thing and the idea freaks you out. But, on second thought, I think it’s more like agreeing to go on a tropical vacation with a guy you’ve only recently met. What if you get there and you suddenly realize that he has a large bottle-cap collection at home and shows you pictures of them all the time while talking incessantly about bottle-cap history, asking random strangers if he could have the cap from their lemon-lime Jamaican pop? Or maybe he wears a too tight speedo and thinks that rating the breasts of other women on the beach from one to ten out loud to you, is a great pasttime. And there you are, stuck with him in that resort until you’d rather smother him with a pillow than to have to spend one more second with him. What if the novel I pick is like that and I’m stuck with it? Or maybe the guy, er, novel,is the perfect one and the time will fly while you spend time writing it. Yeah, that could happen. And if it doesn’t, well, at least I can give it up without murder being an option (although, in my tropical vacation scenario at least I’d have the sun and the beach and with the weather around here lately, that’s a huge plus–breast-rating man or not).

NaNoWriMo and Letting the Muse Take Over

So, the question has been posed by some writer friends, as it has been every year since I’ve known them: am I doing NaNoWriMo? National Novel Writing Month is where you write a novel of at least 50,00 words in November). And, just like every year, I was going to say “I’m thinking about it”. But then I thought, you know, I really should do it. I mean, what better chance is there? Other years I had a new baby or was finishing or editing a novel or was writing a novel and had grant support, so no time to duck out and duck back in a month later (you aren’t supposed to work on a novel in progress but are supposed to start a new one for that month). But here I am with nothing on the go in November except promoting A Few Kinds of Wrong with book signings most weekends, having Sam’s birthday party, and looking after Sam, and Ben who will be just about 20 months old by then. So, writing a 50,000 word novel that month sounds like a piece of cake, doesn’t it? The thing is no one has much free time. That’s what NaNo is about. it forces you to buckle down, give the internal editor in your head a good punch in the face in order to knock him out, and work on getting the clay on the table. After the month is over, you can add to the 50,000 words, pretty them up, change them around or toss them away but focusing your muse is the goal and maybe that’s what is so scary to me.

My muse and I have an on and off relationship. Sometimes I go weeks without letting him out . Oh, he’s in there, walking around my head and shouting ideas at me, popping conversations between characters in there just to distract me from whatever I’m doing. But he does all this to entice me and I so infrequently give in. They say some people wait for the muse to kick in before they write. I have even said that about myself but what I really mean is that I keep the muse at bay until I’m ready. That usually means until I feel like my two choices are writing or insanity. My muse is some kind of hyperactive teenager who, I know, will work furiously once I start writing and that makes it hard to pull away from the writing once I start. So, I try to wait until I have plenty of time like maybe two hours or so to really get into it and that is a rarity. Oh, the time is there in the evenings, I’ll admit, but my mind is usually quite mushy and tired by then so I don’t have the energy to set the overactive muse-teen free. Lots of people write in small doses, five or ten minutes at a time even. And they do great with it. But, will it work for me? That’s the big question about NaNo. Because, realistically, that’s the kind of time I’ll have. Oh, and commitment. I’m not good at buckling down to things. But the older I get, the more I enjoy doing the things that make me a bit scared, the things I’m not sure I can do. So, if nothing major changes between here and there, November 1, I’ll be writing a new novel in one month, or at least giving it my best. And, as I always tell Sam, that’s all the anyone can do.

A Writer’s Nightmare?

In Bird by Bird, Anne Lamott’s fantastic book about writing, Lamott talks about giving yourself permission to write shitty first drafts. She says “The first draft is the child’s draft, where you let it all pour out, and let it romp all over the place…you let this childlike part of you channel whatever voices and visions come though and onto the page. If one of the characters wants to say, “Well, so what, Mr. Poopy Pants?” you let her….” But she also discusses the fear around someone reading that shitty first draft.  She wrote: “I’d obsess about getting creamed by a car before I could write a decent second draft. I’d worry that people would read what I’d written and believe that the accident had really been a suicide, that I had panicked because my talent was waning and my mind was shot…” If you have ever written a  first draft you didn’t want to see the light of day, then you must feel for the late Vladimir Nabokov.

Nabokov passed away in 1977. At that time, he had written, on 138 index cards, an incomplete manuscript for a new novel called The Original of Laura. He asked his family that these index cards, this incomplete work, be destroyed. Nabokov’s wife couldn’t bear to burn the work so she left it and after her death, Nabokov’s son, Dmitri, was left with the decision of whether or not to carry out his father’s wish. Finally after three decades and a huge lot of debate all over the world, Dmitri decided to get the work published. He said, of his decision, “I have decided that my father, with a wry and fond smile, might well have contradicted himself upon seeing me in my present situation and said, ‘Well, why don’t you mix the useful with the pleasurable? That is, say or do what you like but why not make some money on the damn thing?'”

And so Penguin Classics will release the work. But how, you might ask, will they make a whole book out of 138 index cards? It works out to about 150 words per card. Now, I’m no mathematician but my trusty calculator tells me that 138×150=20700 words. A pretty short novella. The book will have images of the index cards, in Nabokov’s handwriting, with a transcript of the card on the opposite page.

Anyone who has ever written a novel  knows all the changes that can happen as you write and rewrite. On page 157 you may discover that your main character paints as a hobby and then you realize that you don’t have enough visual detail from the character because, being a visual artist, he will see things differently than the non-painter your character was when he started out. Nabokov won’t get that chance and it may well be why he wanted the cards destroyed. It’s why drafts are called drafts and not final manuscripts.

Alexis Kirschbaum, editor at Penguin Classics, says “it’s incredibly interesting to see his handwriting and read his prose – not necessarily extremely polished, but you can still see kernels of genius in everything he wrote”. Just what the poor guy probably wanted when he asked that it be destroyed.