Monday, April 30, 2012

A Challenge for This Writer

No, it's not a very good story - its author was too busy listening to other voices to listen as closely as he should have to the one coming from inside. 
Stephen King

Perhaps my interpretation of this quote is not what Stephen King intended.  I see it as affirmation to follow my instincts.  To listen to that inner voice.  Write the story that has grabbed hold; too impatient to wait its turn.  My inner voice is telling me to stop one story to tell another.

Several months ago, an inspiration came to me for a new novel.  The timing was not good.  I jotted down the ideas for the book and continued with my work in progress. 

I had blown the dust off a manuscript− the sequel to my novel, Old Broad Road.  I was roughly three-quarters through the first draft when I had to tuck it away, due to other writing commitments.  Soooo close to The End that I could feel it...taste it. 

Now with the hard copy of the unfinished manuscript in hand, I foolishly began editing the completed chapters.  If I was going to read the story anyway−to get back into the characters heads−I might as well make necessary changes at the same time.  Right?  Not a good idea. 

In hindsight, I should have jumped right back into the story and continued writing where I left off.  Always something to be said for hindsight.

Editing is a slow process.  The total opposite to how I write.  The thread of continuity unravelled.  Readers familiar with my first book (as yet unpublished), constantly asked about the sequel.  They were impatient to re-connect with the characters and the story etched in their minds.

 In the meantime, the plot of the new novel continued to brew just beneath the surface.  Thoughts swirled, coagulated, and lodged like immovable sludge. 

Finally, like giving in to an unrelenting child, I pecked out the first chapter.  It was a commitment to the story.  A promise to return.  In truth, I was anxious to return.  Excited!

Writing the first chapter did not quell my anxiety.  It enhanced my ache to begin.  A writer friend sensed my predicament.  Your heart is not in this, she said.  Start the other novel. 

It is not an easy decision to put my sequel back in the drawer.  With my fervour to begin the new book, there is no choice.  I am sure other writers have faced this dilemma.  Unfinished manuscripts lurk in desk drawers everywhere.

I will begin my project by researching the genre of my new book: psychological suspense.  My normal writing style won’t work for this type of novel−the flying by the seat of my pants strategy.  Pantser is the term for this type of writer.  I just learned that recently.  I am a pantser.

No, this genre requires planning and plotting.  I have to work out the story in advance in order to proceed.  Something I have never done.  Not even with a short story.  I am not sure if it’s possible for me.

Should I follow my instincts?  Accept the challenge? 

Are you with me?  Really?

Then I have nothing to lose. 

Monday, April 23, 2012

The Write Audience for a Blog

Fellow bloggers, not unlike agents and publishers, ask the same question.  Who is your target audience?  It appears we should be aiming our blog to a specific faction: baby boomers, writers, world travellers, electricians, etc.  Each post we write should be of interest to this particular group of people.  The intended parties, knowing that every blog post is relevant to them, will zero in and the list of followers will grow and grow.

It’s no different than a book.  Readers will remain loyal supporters as long as the author does not change direction.  Writers are to theorize everything about their readers, right down to their gender, yearly income bracket, and education.  I am not making this up−I am not.  Other writers will back me up on this. 

Armed with that information, agents and publishers determine how to market the work, if it is marketable at all.  They conclude very quickly if this type of book and range of readership is within their scope.  Who will read your book is the first question they ask.  These movers and shakers of the publishing world are very specific about where their focus lies. 

If writers sought a particular agent/publisher, we would know what they were looking for before writing the book.  How about a submission call for paranormal stories geared to single women over age forty.  With my luck, they would all marry just as I typed The End.

Back to blogging.  Yes, I understand now that we should have a focus when we start a blog.  Personally, I wanted to create something visual for publishers or agents to peruse.  That may be dreaming on my part.

Over these past 23 weeks of blogging, you have shared my triumphs and disappointments.  You have read my poetry and had the decency not to comment.  You’ve learned my habits and shortcomings.  In essence, exactly what I feared would happen when I became a blogger.

 Many of my blogs are idiosyncratic musings touched with sardonic humour.  Some of my weekly offerings read more like a personal column in a magazine or newspaper.  Actually, it was a blog post that led to my monthly magazine column. 

Writing is my passion.  Betty White said, “If you live without passion, you can go through life without leaving any footprints.”  I consider this blog to be my stomping ground, so to speak.

Who is my target audience?  After thoughtful consideration, I conclude that I aim my blogs at the same people who would buy my books or enjoy reading my short stories.  Although, I spoke with someone recently who, having read my novel manuscript, commented that she would never believe the same person is writing these blogs.  She did not expound, and unsure I wanted to know what she meant I didn’t ask.

I like to think my audience is someone who enjoys a good story with an unpredictable ending, has a sense of humour, appreciates good times from experiencing bad, knows how to love from being loved, has an open mind, and is always looking for pleasure from the small things in life.

I like to think you are my audience.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Not the Write Guy

A couple of weeks ago, in an out-of-town restaurant, I noticed a familiar looking man.  It was several minutes before the realization that it was a case of mistaken identity.  Even so, I glanced now and then, marvelling at the resemblance.

Since then, the writer side of my brain orbited into the ‘what if’ mode...

I watch him chew his steak.  His mouth moves rhythmically in a dawdling fashion.  I look away.  I glance back, unsure.  He is fifty pounds heavier.  His hair is white. 

With a blank look in my direction, he wipes the thin line of his mouth with a paper napkin.  I see him push his chair away from the table. 

Oh, here he comes.  Fingering the hair away from my face, I attempt a spiritedly youthful expression.  My smile fades as he walks past.

Then I notice.  A terrible limp.  What could have happened?  Maybe he fell skiing, or mountain climbing.  Maybe he stumbled on a hiking trail and rolled down an embankment.  How long did he lay there waiting for someone to find him? 

Behind me, I hear the whoosh of the washroom door. 

The waitress returns with coffee.  I eye my half-eaten chicken sandwich and vinegar soaked fries.  Holding the red plastic bottle on an angle, I squirt another generous amount on the side of my plate and then just a bit more.  The saltshaker is in my hand when the sound of the opening washroom door alerts me of his return.

I steal another glance.  Hmmm, it does look like him.  My eyes travel down to his work boots.  Forty years ago he dressed to impress.  God’s gift to women. 

‘Just my bill,’ I respond, when the waitress presents the dessert menu.  I return my gaze to the next row of tables.  No longer concerned about being obvious, I blatantly stare, willing him to notice me.

I remember how agile he looked on the basketball court.  The jersey, the shorts.  He played football for a short period.  I picture the unfastened strap of his helmet dangling.  The stains on the knees of his pants.  The wide padded shoulders.  I smile recalling my crush.  He was popular then and very good-looking. 

School dances meant hopeful adolescents with teasing smiles.  The memories flood back.  The smell of waxed floors, the clang of the locker doors, the annoying shrillness of the bell. 

I dredge a limp French fry through the ketchup and curl it inside my mouth.  I reach for another.  My recollections of school continue with thoughts of scurrying to class, books occasionally sliding out from under my arm and landing with a smack.

The sound of his chair scraping the floor ends the reverie.  He is pulling on his ball cap and shrugging into his jacket.  Before leaving, he tosses some money on the table. 

I check my bill and rummage through my purse counting out the appropriate amount.  Snatching my sweater off the chair, I hurry to the exit.  Oblivious to the rain, my eyes scan to the left and right.

He is crossing the parking lot when I spot him.  If not for the limp, I would be too late.  He is about to climb into a truck with slatted steel sides.  The strident squeal and grunt of pigs is voluble.

Hello, I call out.  He turns.  Up close, I see that his eyes are not blue.  They are brown.  His features are all wrong.  What can I do for you, he burred in an Irish brogue.

Disconcerted, I take a step back.  Could you tell me the time, please?  With his face wizened into a puzzled expression, he obliges.  Already in retreat, I call thank you over my shoulder.

The back of my neck burns with the imagined scrutiny of the stranger.  I pick my way across the puddle-riddled parking lot to my car.  Red-faced I slide behind the wheel.

Monday, April 09, 2012

The Write Obituary

Obituaries kill me.  Is it my imagination or have they changed over the years?  I was always under the impression it was more of a fill in the blank type of thing.  Wife of/ Daughter of/ Mother of/ Predeceased by, etc. 

Each Saturday morning, I open the Toronto paper actually looking forward to reading the obits.  The stories are meaty as a juicy half hour biography segment on TV.  I love those biography shows.

In one story...oops...biography...sorry...obituary, the deceased wrote his own obit.  Before he died, of course.  He sounded confused.  I am serious when I say that.  He wrote something like... well, I guess it’s over, or something to that effect.  I felt sad reading it.  His obituary was short and to the point.  Although, it changed subtly towards the end.  It wasn’t written in first person at the end.  Like, maybe he died while he was writing it and someone else finished up.  I swear that crossed my mind after reading it.

I mean no disrespect to the deceased.  One day I’ll be in the obits column, right?  Well, not in the Toronto paper. The announcement will probably be in one of those online publications.  The Lambton Shield will carry it.  They post nice pictures too. 

That’s another thing.  Should it be a current picture?  I’ve seen pictures of gorgeous gals with long hair, a saucy smile, and a hat tipped to a rakish angle.  Reading the obit, it is a surprise to learn the woman was in her late eighties when she passed.  I do appreciate seeing what they looked like in their prime.  Maybe there should be two pictures.  Like a before and after, if you will.  Where was I?  Oh, yes.

I love the obituaries that relate a lifetime of memories with kids, grandchildren, cousins, Uncle Fred from Borneo...  The canoe trip up the river with Sally, that night at the Super 6 with Gloria...sorry, again. 

Don’t forget the education and all those degrees.  University, college, on-line classes, correspondence courses, first aid refreshers.  In some cases, that’s a couple of paragraphs in itself. 

Every workplace and every change of address from 1942 to present is included.  I mean, really?  Be honest now.  Tell me what you think.  Is it necessary?  Seriously, one obituary posting fondly remembered Bethany, or whoever, decorating the church bulletin board.  I AM NOT making this up.

I began to wonder, as any writer would, about my obituary.  Being the control freak I am, maybe I should write my own.  I can only imagine what it would look like if I didn’t.

Phyllis Humby finally passed away this morning at the age of 98.  Last week, on the way to the pantry under the stairs to get a bottle of ketchup, she got her feet tangled up in a pile of sheets on the laundry room floor,.  The family decided to do without ketchup and continued with their meal unaware that Nana Humby was in distress. 

Phyllis was quite a talker.  She talked all the time and mostly no one listened.  Then she began to write.  It was much quieter.  She loved her great-grandchildren with a passion and liked nothing more than to read to them each time they visited.  Unfortunately, it was always the same old Trixie Beldon or The Bobbsey Twins book.  Some years ago,the visits ended.

Her neighbours will never forget how Phyllis wheeled her garbage out to the road every Monday night and how with pail and shovel in hand, she cleaned up the yard after her beloved pets.

Phyllis Humby, wildly enthusiastic about life, accepting of death.  Rest In Peace.

Monday, April 02, 2012

Staying Busy the Write Way

I sit at my computer, fingers poised above the keyboard waiting for a bright idea to filter through my brain and transpose into words:  namely my weekly blog.  I wait for inspiration.  Without inspiration, poets could not philosophize, novelists could not fictionalize, and columnists could not publicize.  And bloggers...well, bloggers could not blog!

It’s curious what goes through a person’s mind when it's open to inspiration.  In my mind now is a question I am often asked.  Not exactly a flash of inspiration but niggling enough to address in this week’s blog.  How do you keep busy in your retirement?  What do you do all day, they want to know. 

I am never sure if my answer is adequate.  I write, I tell them.  They nod and wait for more.  Well, writing takes up quite a bit of time, I explain.  It is not always the story writing that takes the time.  It is what I do with the stories. 

I am currently promoting a short story collection about my experiences in the retail lingerie trade.  Stories dealing with stalking, death threats, renegade squirrels, and menopausal women during a full moon.  Almost twenty years of memories. The stories are mostly humorous with a few sombre notes.  If you were a patron of my business, don’t panic.  All the names are changed to protect the guilty.

Last week I forwarded queries to publishers and agents concerning this project.  You see, a query letter is a pitch to sell your work.  First and foremost, the storyline must be described in such a way that the book is immediately perceived as a best seller.  You must convince them by your credentials and personal depiction that you can single-handedly sell each copy by way of tours, book signings, interviews, book club visits, web sites, blogs, etc.  Oh, and that should be achieved in about three paragraphs.  It is a one shot deal. 

I feel certain that I will gain interest in this book by year’s end.  In the meantime, I will dodge rejection letters and re-work the query until I get it right.

Further taking advantage of last week’s confident mood, I put together submissions of miscellaneous stories to three literary journals, and I mailed sample chapters of my novel−along with an optimistically irresistible query letter−to unsuspecting acquisitions editors. 

Writers spend a vast amount of time marketing their work.  I noticed an online comment from a novelist lamenting just that.  He wondered what it would be like to forget about marketing and stay immersed in the world of fiction.  It would be delightful. 

I remember spending hours...days...weeks...months at the computer, caught up in the characters and the storyline of my first writing endeavour.  There was never a thought to the afterlife of the story.  It was the ultimate experience. 

Did I say ultimate experience?  It was exciting but the ultimate experience for writers is seeing their work published.  If there are any writers who disagree, feel free to challenge that statement.

Some authors prefer to self-publish.  That eliminates the time−years in some cases−that it takes to find a publisher or agent.  It requires diligence, a sound business sense, and an unrelenting quest to explore every promotional path.

So far, I am trying to have my books published the old-fashioned, traditional way.  Every published author who has succeeded through perseverance inspires me.  That inspiration keeps me busy in my retirement.  Any more questions?