Writing beyond the Grave

 

When waking up at 3 a.m. and having the memories of a very ancient obituary writing assignment on my mind for absolutely no reason at all, I decided to get up and write this blog so as to contemplate how death and dying is represented in different writing forms and the difference in the way it is conveyed in social media and literature.

Obituary writing is not all it’s cut out to be. When I was first assigned to write the obituary of a living person as a learning assignment while studying journalism I think I would have sooner chewed my arm off. I did not want to decide someone’s method of dying when they were still on the planet breathing the God given air we have. I was not worthy or meant for such a fate. By luck, or misfortune, the person to whom I had been assigned learned of the true nature of my assignment by chance.

It turned out that the person to whom I had been assigned was particularly superstitious and by the next day I was forbidden from completing the assignment and given an alternate one in its place. But that didn’t excuse me from learning the ins and outs of what an obituary must include.

In the digital age many readers are thirsty for information, as much of it as can be dished to them as possible and many are fooled by death hoaxes circulating on social media.

Writing about death in its many forms is an industry of its own and it is the elephant in the room that demands to be heard.

While it is unpleasant and no one particularly enjoys discussing it (okay some people do) death has amassed its notoriety for its ability to employ the masses writing obits, doing feature news reports, collecting hits on social media platforms and writing memoirs of famous and fictional people who pass.

Have you ever examined death in literature? Because writing is such a fine art the writing of a character’s passing can be particularly painful for the author and sometimes, just as hard on the reader. Why? Because even though these people are fictional (unless you’re writing a memoir) and often times play smaller roles in the novel, as authors and readers we invest our time and our minds to “getting to know them” and what they represent: their values, hobbies, likes, dislikes, hurts and triumphs, all that life has to offer for a character in a book, especially a good book, leaves us often wishing for more time to “know” the character that was created. Other times readers are glad the S.O.B (whomever it is) has finally kicked the bucket and that means a happily ever after ending they have so painstakingly been hoping for, doesn’t it?

The writing process that goes into killing off a character or revealing a character’s death is different for every author. Sometimes, ‘he died’ is all one needs to write to make the desired impact the author is searching for, other times it is more beneficial to draw out a character’s passing over an entire chapter through other characters’ dialogue, setting up the location to reflect something morose and let the circumstance of the person/character’s death make the impact on the reader.

Does life ever end happily ever after? Is there happiness in dying? Is there a reward in writing about dying? You bet there is. For the life of a writer it is all part of making a living.

 

 

 

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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?

 

Just Call Me Author

Here is the link to my latest work,one of my very favourite accomplishments.http://www.blurb.com/books/6790350-loved-like-me?t=1451419109649
#Tim Hortons #OneTrueThing #sleepwhat’sthat?#family#chocolate#writing#film#screenwriting These are a few of the things I like in life. I also like early mornings with my husband, kids and coffee, compared to late nights on the town with great music and dancing. (Yes, in part because I simply lack the energy to do the ‘fun stuff’ that my peers get to enjoy and also because I admit, I’m left-footed). Sense the green-eyed monster? I admit it’s possible, a little.

As a child I liked reading a lot, Roald Dahl, Judy Blume, those books where you got to pick your own ending. Weren’t those grand? When I wasn’t reading I was writing. Any ideas I had as a young girl I put down in writing different genres, a lot were journal entries, most of which have long since disappeared and I no longer remember anything about. One short story sticks out in my memory because my grade school teacher thought it was good enough to put in the school’s library.

Dashful and the Case of the Missing Unicorns was originally a class assignment. It was later peer illustrated and bound together with staples and a construction paper cover, something I relented to tell you about in a previous blog. As a writer I feel the need to defend my work: I realise that the title is a bit long –winded but hey, I was nine when I wrote it. And then the oxymoron comes into play: I am reminded that a writer cannot defend his work when the reader is alone with the prose which has them for a captive audience. So, I admit defeat in this instance and share this experience as a lesson in things not to do when coming up with book titles.

As a child I wanted to believe that writing project made me an author. It carried my dreams of becoming an author through grade and high school until I finally got my work published in a community paper and went on to J-school at Algonquin College where I learned the importance of appreciating and proper use of the tools that help craft a great news piece. I was happy to obtain my diploma and instead have the title of journalist. Unfortunately I had more of a taste for writing about social issues, human interest, entertainment stories, and poetry among other things, than covering politics.

Almost twenty years of experience as a freelance journalist led to writing and selling my first short. I had the pleasure of being on the judging panel for Digi60 and learning an immense amount about the craft of screenwriting as a result. (I’m working on producing my first short, written by yours truly, in 2016. SAY IT AGAIN WITH FEELING, Stay tuned…)

Flash forward to December 29th and I sit here beside myself because today I am no longer “just” a writer. I am an author. Loved Like Me, first editions of a story about a young boy who learns he is adopted and the struggles he has figuring out who he is and how he fits into his adoptive family have been ordered. The book I slaved away at for five years is finally published.

I want to shout, “I am an author,” from the rooftops of Ottawa. The problem is, that no matter how elated I am about congratulatory messages and an awesome celebratory spaghetti dinner with homemade garlic bread (and let me tell you my husband makes a mean spaghetti at that) in the same breath I shout my success to the world and rejoice, I realise my work has just begun.

Now if I want to sell my book to the masses I will have to really kick up my marketing skills, possibly make time for book tours, author meet n’ greets and such. I think to myself, wasn’t the point just to write and publish a book? Was it ever about going on the road and aspiring to gain great fortune? (For which I am realistic enough to realise will not happen with this particular book.)

Will this book become the focus of my life? It has taken up periods of time over the last five years. It has meant months of rejections from traditional publishers who lost the opportunity to represent me and my work. (As a self-published author you HAVE to believe in the value of your ‘product’ long before anyone else will.)

Becoming a self-published author has meant studying the craft of writing, consultations with an editor, illustrator and graphic designer all of whom I am fortunate to say are wickedly blessed at what they do. Whether I sell one copy of my book or twenty, I can’t help but repeat that I am both proud and happy to say that after a lot of hard work and persistence towards reaching this goal, I have published my first children’s book, Loved Like Me (available on Blurb). I am an author now, and third to being a mother and wife, nothing to me besides that, could be a better way to end 2015.

So if you see me on the street and you feel like saying hey, please, just call me Author.