A First For Everything

This is the first podcast by and up and coming podcaster who  goes by the name of Spikerite. I was privileged to be the first author he interviewed and thought he did a great job. If you’re wondering what I’ve been up to in the writing world besides my blog, check this out and by all means, sharing is kind.

D-I-V-O-R-C-E,Commitment and the Writer

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I’ve divorced myself from the writing lifestyle. That is to say, I’ve been away from regular hours in the office typing away at a keyboard. I haven’t committed to writing exercises, carrying around books to study the plot and character structure or even just to bask in a café and enjoy the winter scenery of page after page of even my favorite author and I’m not about to apologize. In fact, it is quite possible the healthiest thing I have done for my writing career to date.

Minus a blog here and there it’s been nothing but leisure activities including but not limited to photographing everything under the sun, family time and watching some great flicks. (As long as I can keep my eyes open after the kids are asleep that is). More than one person has suggested and I agree they are right, that perhaps it’s too soon for my little ones to be watching Misery or Carrie so I save the horrors and thrillers for when they are sleeping  CryptTV.com streams some of my favs. Then there’s the action movies I have to choose from and my fav actors to watch. I never tire of films with Johnny Depp or Meryl Streep (Ottawa’s local actors are also quite good but I’m not naming names. You know who you are.)

I love watching One True Thing for the thousandth time. I cry every time I watch Losing Isaiah. The Deep End of the Ocean is a touching drama that will pull at heart strings too, I love that the protagonist is a mother and a photographer. I’m a fan of Finding Forrester. Alice Through the Looking Glass and Maleficent is a go to when I just want to get away from it all. G.I Jane, Far and Away, God Bless the Child, my absolute favorite local film is, I can’t say actually (I have a few preferences) but ottawashortfilms.com has a collection of great shorts.

I’ve been pressed for time to make it to the theatres but I would have loved to see La La Land,

A Monster Calls and Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them.

I drink less coffee and more tea these days, my Stephen King book, Blaze, came in handy when I had to go to the emergency room in a matter where everything worked out; I got to read little more than a paragraph that night. Like I said, I really have not been living the writer’s life as of late.

I meet people in person over chatting online. I talk to strangers but I don’t take notes. I ride the bus but I don’t use my senses to explain the experience of being transported from one end of the city to the other, I don’t bother to take note of the sights, smells and other senses. Instead, I chat with my children playing silly mom and daughter/son games. I speak loudly when it might be better to whisper. I remember who I am when I’m not a writer. I breathe.

Life. It’s all about life and living. But I’m here now, committed once again to the writer’s lifestyle and the dedication and focus I need to recommit to get manuscripts polished and sent out and queries ready for publishers. Really, I went on a Writer’s Vacation, I plan to do it again in the future now that I remember. I remember who I am when I am not a writer.

Sometimes, you just have to say no to the workload and deadlines. Sometimes, you have to choose yourself over your work, your health over a hefty paycheque. Sometimes saying no is what writers’ like me really need to do to really want to say yes when all is said and done. This is what I want. This is what I do.

What do you say?

 

 

 

Hot Topic to kick off 2017

 

I believe there is truth in the statement that art imitates life and some of the most compelling stories ever brought to light in film and novels have been of real people going through real life tragedies.

I have been a freelance journalist for a bigger portion of my life. I have been assigned, thought of and written firsthand accounts of people from all walks of life .Cat’s out of the bag so to speak. I won’t claim that I have *never found at least *one idea from real life that didn’t appeal to me to write as a work of fiction but there were a lot of things I would have taken into consideration *if I had moved forward with writing from real life experiences.

I would also argue that the truth can be a powerful thing in the hands of an experienced writer. Like all things though, the truth can have dark sides that sometimes no one should be privy to and the question becomes, how far would you go to keep a secret if you were asked? When is drawing stories from real life events beneficial or is it possible that long term it could be harmful? What would you do when faced with possibly the biggest story of your career and the subject was someone you knew? The real question is: How ethical are you as a writer in drawing your writing ideas from real life and writing them into existence?

Have you ever had deep conversation with someone about their life and then wanted to tell their story on the page? Is it ever okay to use someone else’s pain for profit? Would you have the guts to ask someone for their permission to write their life story? How would you answer if someone asked if you, ‘wrote them’, into a story without their knowledge?

Writing people we know and turning them into characters in a story is something that hypothetically, could be done. In memoirs, the subject is fact and the people (most of the time) are from real life. As a fiction writer, if you were writing from an idea drawn from a person IRL you could make a few changes to the sex of the character, the dialogue and gender you could absolutely spin a tale about someone you didn’t like or who had wronged you using a storyline you overheard or a conversation you had until that character or someone else you created was in h*ll in a handbasket so to speak and possibly feel no remorse (okay, maybe you might feel remorse) or maybe you want to write someone out of a bad real life ending and conclude the story with some happily-ever-after idea. That’s the great thing about writing. Anything is possible. The power stays with the author during the writing process.

Let’s say Bob tells Jane that Sally left Tom because he’s an alcoholic. Would you go write a story about Tom? Probably not. But, if you know Tom really well then we can safely say you know his mannerisms, his hobbies, that he picks his nose too much and that his hair colour is really blond. Let’s also say for arguments sake, that you’ve decided to write an essay about alcoholism and how it destroys families but you don’t want to call out Tom so as not to embarrass him or Sally should anyone read your work who knows you, here’s how you write about Tom without causing a fuss:

Choose from these: change his age, location, height, weight, gender, social etiquette (so no nose picking throughout the story) hobbies, hair colour, gait, and make his ex-girlfriend the opposite of what your friend Sally is, or also like Sally but a different ethnicity, from a different religion thereby changing the type of activities she’d be involved in or lifestyle she’d leave.

To take storytelling skills a step further I suggest you research more and speak to people who have experienced what you want to know about or who are experts in their field. For instance, I once wanted to speak to people whom had experienced homelessness. I didn’t have to look far on Ottawa’s downtown streets to meet someone who had been displaced. I sat down with this person over coffee (my treat) and asked them what life was really like. It would not have been ethical to write their life story and pitch their head shot for the cover of People Magazine or some other glossy periodical with mass subscribers but it was logical to take general facts about the lifestyle that was described to me and apply it to the character I created from thin air.

Anytime there is a question of what to leave in and what to take out where questioning if it is ethically acceptable to write or print stories with personal material from sources I ask myself two things: Is what I have written defamatory? Is it libelous? (If you do not know what these terms mean I suggest looking them up). When in doubt, take it out, is a popular rule of thumb used by many authors I have met whose writing I admire.

Then there’s what I have described as the question, “Mother may I?” In fact, it is nothing more than my fancy way of saying, would you be comfortable writing this information about your mother or would you be asking “Mother may I include this or that in my story about you?” (Or swap the word mother with another person you respect or admire). If the answer is no, you might be best to not tell it directly if you include it at all and certainly in no way make any reference to the person whose dialogue inspired you but you could perhaps show it in a third-person narrative with a newly developed character, this would make things a lot less personal between the reader and your work.

Writing in the first person is intensely more personal and direct than describing the same information happening to someone else.

So the next time you find yourself listening in on someone else’s conversation whether accidentally, because you are a captive audience or otherwise consider whether there is a story there you want to tell or that is deserving of telling, and sweep up the breadcrumbs you leave behind as you write deeper into your story, unless you are writing a memoir. Even then you may find yourself asking, “Mother may I?”

A Writer’s Resolutions

In 2017 I resolve to write more blogs, revise less, produce more, brainstorm religiously, finish my novella, query traditional publishers, connect with industry professionals, reach a wider audience, set up book signings, write my first play, finish my first feature, draw inspiration from untapped resources, live larger, experience things for the first time and write them into history.

In 2017 I will see more plays, watch more movies, read more books, expand my mind and by doing so increase my database for potential plots. I will drink less coffee. No, I will drink just as much coffee because it makes me happy.

I will reach out to literary agents, go to more writing workshops, network with other creatives. I will eat more Kraft Dinner (because I think it tastes good).

In 2017 I will apply for more grants, encourage new writers, promote other authors, write more reviews, spend more time writing in my office rather than arranging it, let music be an inspiration as I write, watch more films, I will involve my family in the creative process by introducing them more to the writer side of me and not just the wife/mother they know so well.

I will post more sticky notes with encouraging messages, set up more deadlines, meet those deadlines and move on to other projects. I will carry a book with me more often when I go out and read it too, as Stephen King suggests it is a great way to spend time. And well, why not?

In 2017 I will read more blogs, post more blog reviews, write more often using hashtags. I will set aside the first draft of a piece of work for at least 24 hours before revising it, I will not post impulsively? I will write more status updates on social media.

In 2017 resolve to write and see what happens.

In 2017 I will be a more productive writer. What New Year’s resolutions have you made for your writing career? Inquiring minds want to know.

Litmas, Christmas

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Whether you are spending the holidays curled up with a good book or deciding what book to buy for loved ones or friends’ one thing’s for certain: there is little time left for writing amidst the hustle and bustle of the holiday season. Here are 5 ways to fit in writing between singing Jingle Bells and reading latest releases like Wenjack by Joseph Boyden.

  1. Keep a notebook handy, wherever you may be.

I don’t know how many times I’ve been riding public transit and been inspired to develop a character based on some of the people that I have sat beside or overheard talking. Some of the most profound conversations take place in some of the most public of spaces. No notebook? Chances are if you have a cell phone it has a section for memos, an invaluable feature to writers everywhere who just need to write down that key word or phrase.

2.Finally done work for the day? Put off putting the laundry in the washer for ten minutes to do this first:

Go through the family photo albums or the photos on your cell phone. I suggest that (for some people at this time of year: use your discretion of course) this is as good a time as any to fit in reminiscing over photos of holidays past; the house chores can wait a few minutes more. Pick your favorite ten or fifteen photos and set them aside. And yes, I’ve got plans for those pics. If picking up photos seems too painful a task for this time of year then maybe take the time to read a book you’ve been looking forward to but on one condition: set a quota for how many words you have to write before you can start the book. (The reward system hasn’t always been good to me but I’ve known writers’ it has worked for.

3.Whether you sit down with your beverage, snack of choice or nothing at all, so long as you are sitting down: I like coffee with my writing personally, write down what these photos bring to mind and how they make you feel or stories they make you recall. If you chose to start reading a book, write a mini review about how far you’ve read so far: what you liked, what you didn’t and why. I suggest using a diary to keep track of this exercise as you may find yourself journaling in turn, which encourages freewriting for some writers, which leads to buried plot lines unfolding and from there the possibilities are almost endless. (I’ve heard CBC’s non-fiction writing contest is coming up soon. Maybe time to draw up a rough draft?) I’ll get into writing competitions another time

4.This time of year is filled with people and their families, whether they are humans or fur pets spending cold nights huddled indoors looking for ways to spend their time. For people who are spending their holidays to themselves I suggest taking photos you already have of your favorite things for this project. Turn on the holiday tunes and print your top ten photos. While the dishes air dry (rinsing them under the sink after washing counts this time of year) use the time you would have taken to dry the utensils, sweep the floor, wash the table and pick –up after the kids, roommates, better-half or simply watching television on your own to write a vivid description of what is happening in each photo or what it makes you recall, how it makes you feel, any smells you recall, or anything your other senses may have kicked in. Do the journaling and captioning with a hard copy if you can because transferring between hard copies and digital copies can become a headache. Then, bring the finished product to a local print shop get your handwritten picture book copied and bound for members of your family or friends or simply keep it for yourself as a keepsake of time well invested, in yourself.

5.Put away the computer. (Writing that was painful.) Yes, if in fact you find you cannot write because you are too busy keeping up with the social statuses of the world this time of year, go back to the old fashioned paper and pen method of writing and freewrite. You can always catch up with friends and family IRL (in real life, if you’re new to the scene). After all, you have to come out of your writer’s den sometime. For now this is what it’s about: making the time to write. Just try not to procrastinate and if you have to, write about trying not to procrastinate while you’re procrastinating about trying not to procrastinate, and voila, you’re writing.

Still Alice, Still Impressed

A few days ago I finished reading Still Alice by Lisa Genova. Powerful literature sends home a message that resonates with its readers and Genova’s writing has done just that.

Still Alice explores the life of a woman named Alice Howland, a linguistics professor, wife and mother, who learns she has the early onset of Alzheimer’s disease. It follows her life experience by showing the reader what Alice was experiencing before she was diagnosed to the final stages of how Alzheimer’s disease impacted her life giving insight to what this disease really does to the body of its victims.

Disclaimer: No one close to me has suffered with this and so I was able to read this book as an objective reader instead of an inquiring, concerned family member. What I found fascinating was how Genova kept a reader like myself interested: by throwing in elements of crafty literature in the character development, plot and story structure that I could relate to.

Being able to relate to the character in the story as a person is what really resonated with me. Genova crafted the type of fictional character that if one could sit down to coffee with, one very well might. Now, a message from reality: This is the effect great literature leaves with its readers. A desire to know more about the character and their life and to see them on their journey from beginning to end.

I have at times forgotten why I walked in the kitchen only to walk back in twenty minutes later and push the brew button on my Keurig. No, it’s not the same thing as having alzheimers to be clear. This simple detail: That I could possibly relate to what it means to forget things, kept me reading.The more I read, the more wanted to know and understand more about the effect this has on people who do lose their memory to this horrible disease. I wanted to even on the surface grasp in effect, the tragic loss that comes with losing life as the victim knows it and see what losing memories of the ones they love really does to them. How does this affect them? Genova captures this effectively and with great passion in her words. What is the role of the friends and family members? I wanted to know more about the fictional characters whose lives were turned upside down.

Here’s why I think Genova’s first – time novel worked:

Genova explores family dynamics at its core when families are faced with providing care for a loved one whose diagnosis is a terminal illness. She builds her story bit by bit, word by word adding a new details around every corner. She avoids repetition in her literature. She avoids flashbacks but instead keeps the story moving forward and we unravel more about her career and family life as we go along. She uses colorful verbs and meaningful adjectives in her syntax. She says what she means in a way that readers can relate no matter whether they’ve heard of alzheimer’s a day in their life or not.

Like linguistics and learning about language? You’ll want to read this. Know someone who has been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s? This book will inform you while entertaining your hunger for a great story. Are you a writer? Read this book. You will learn more about the craft of writing and how to create prose that readers will love by studying the successes in literature of those who came before you.

Want to learn more about Lisa Genova or Still Alice? Check out http://lisagenova.com/about-lisa/

Reading is an important part of being a successful writer. It expands your vocabulary, brings you into another world, it’s relaxing and at times other people telling their stories can inspire us to tell our own stories.

What book will you be reading next?