Monday, July 21, 2014

A Place to Write

Another unproductive day. I’m stymied. Most days I can shut out the outside world and write. Other days – like today – I can’t seem to get into it. My brain is surging with deadlines and that’s always counter-productive for me.

To break out of this – I won’t call it a block, but it’s close – I need to go somewhere unfamiliar. Leave behind the distractions like my wilting pots of flowers choking for a drink, my dishwasher begging to be emptied, the thawing meat waiting to be cooked into a sumptuous dinner.

Yesterday I cleaned the house. Aside from vacuuming, I even damp mopped my floors and dusted. Oh, and I did the laundry and put everything away – the same day. With the house in order, I thought I’d be able to concentrate on my writing. Not quite. Could you give me a hand tomorrow morning, my husband asked? Did he hear my inward groan? Yes, of course, I said. The deadline dates pinged off the inside of my forehead. My stomach cramped with guilt. It didn’t matter if I said yes or no. I’d either feel the guilt for not helping my husband or for not writing.

First thing this morning I had to go to the gym in town. The workout was too important to miss if you know what I mean. When I returned, I had a long and enjoyable phone chat with a friend who is going away for a month. Then it was close to lunchtime. My husband usually grabs a quick snack for himself during the day but I thought I’d make a hot lunch for both of us. I promised myself I would go straight to the office following the kitchen cleanup.

And so now here I am, writing about why I can’t accomplish anything with my writing these days.

A year or two ago, friends gave me permission to use their place while they were away on holiday. It was an amazing experience. I stayed for days at a time. Writing and sleeping and eating. A late afternoon glass of cabernet sauvignon with cheese and crackers and then back at it. No distractions. No obligations. A sleeping bag on the couch (my choice), the use of their kitchen for coffee, bagels, ready-made salads, and frozen pizza. It was amazing the amount of quality work I accomplished.

I’m not the only writer who finds it hard to constantly work from home and maintain a fresh outlook. Others have sought refuge in coffee shops, hotel lobbies, and libraries. It’s the change of scene and abandonment of all home responsibilities that open the floodgates of creativity.

I imagine an isolated cabin or a tenth storey apartment – just me and my computer. And my food and coffee, of course. And wine. Renting a cottage is not in my budget. A cheap hotel room? No, I don’t think so.

Think I’ll take a nap and maybe do some proofreading before it’s time to make supper.

Tomorrow is a new day. I’ll be back at the computer first thing in the morning…er, afternoon.

Monday, July 14, 2014

My Writing Process Blog Tour

Welcome to The Write Break – Musings of a Writer…

It’s a pleasure to be aboard The Writing Process Blog Tour!

A huge thank you to Debbie Okun Hill for the invitation. Debbie, author of Tarnished Trophies, a Black Moss Press publication, is Past President of The Ontario Poetry Society, a Member of The League of Canadian Poets as well as the Writers’ Union of Canada, Stop by her website Kites Without Strings and say hello.

Before you visit Deb, I hope you take a few moments to read some of my postings, check out a few sample First Monday magazine columns, and if you’d like to stay in touch – and I hope you do – click on my Facebook page and LIKE. It would be fun to see you there and your support is appreciated

Okay, let’s get down to business. I have some questions to answer.

1.     How does your writing process work?

I’d like to say that I’m disciplined and methodical – a plotter – able to draw up a complete storyline before I begin my first draft. That’s almost crucial when writing crime fiction, especially a mystery story.

Unfortunately, I’m a pantser. No matter how hard I try to plot, my characters follow their own storyline. Normally I create the main character and a situation. Then run with it. Mostly, once the characters are established, they lead the way. And yes, it’s a nerve-wracking situation when writing a mystery but they’ve never let me down.

Research is a huge part of my writing process. I tend to do more research than I need for the story but it enables me to get inside my characters. Many of my stories are from a different era and I’m a detail person. I want to know everything about their world right down to the shoes in the shop windows.


2.     Why do I write what I do?

I write what I like to read. Stories that are unpredictable. They might have unusual endings or are a little twisted or sometimes spooky. The mind works in mysterious ways and everyone has a dark side. I like to probe the darkness. Mysteries and suspense are my favourite reads. I prefer writing novels but, out of necessity, I have tackled short stories as well. They are a challenge for me to write but I am beginning to enjoy the process of writing shorts. And I’ve been incredibly fortunate to have written some award winners.

3.     How does my work differ from others of its genre?

A publisher asked me whose work was most like my own. I’d never thought of it before. I answered that I didn’t compare my work to others. It’s my own voice. I have my favourite authors and, no doubt, they have influenced my style but I don’t strive to imitate them.

I write a story the way it unfolds inside my mind without worrying how it will be pigeonholed. So often, we’re writing to fit a certain criteria and that can be limiting when our stories or rather our characters, want to drift in another direction. I don’t believe that is being undisciplined, it’s simply following the muse.

4.     What am I working on?

I have several projects in the fire now. I don’t like jumping back and forth between stories but it’s unavoidable.

I have a mystery novel that is wonderfully challenging. It’s a sixty-year-old cold case. I’m attacking the writing very differently than any other story I’ve worked. The story flips back and forth in time. I tend to write chapters out of sequence as the ideas come to me and I (hopefully) will piece the book together like a puzzle when I’m finished. It’s exciting to write, as I am anxious to find out whodunit.

I’m also working on a longish short fiction for a themed publication. More research, of course. It’s not a mystery but I’ll try for suspense. And I have a non-fiction story that’s very close to my heart that I’m submitting this summer to a magazine. Deadlines, deadlines!

Well, that’s a glimpse inside what’s happening with me these days.

Catherine Astolfo, author
It’s time now to introduce the next blogger on the tour. I’ve had the privilege of meeting Catherine Astolfo not once, but twice. We first met two or three years ago at the Sarnia GenreCon. Cathy, a member of Crime Writers of Canada, appeared as a panelist. We had a few moments to chat and I was impressed with her enthusiasm and bubbly personality. Cathy and I met again several weeks ago at The Bloody Words Mystery Conference in Toronto. Yep, she still has that winning personality. J

Catherine Astolfo is the author of The Emily Taylor Mysteries and Sweet Karoline, published by Imajin Books. In 2012, she won the Arthur Ellis Award for Best Short Crime Story in Canada.
Whatever you do, don’t miss Catherine Astolfo’s blog next Monday, July 21st. She will provide the answers to her writing process AND she has some exciting news!


Monday, July 07, 2014

Ghost Writers - Sort Of

Guess what? Readers do know the difference. People who are passionate about their pasttime come to know their favourite authors writing quirks and strengths. Writers have their own unique style – a particular turn of phrase – that recognizable voice.

Pumped to read my favourite author’s release, I cracked the book and settled in for a few hours of pleasure. Within a chapter or two, I had one of those waitaminute moments. No way did he write this book. It didn’t sound like him. The pace was off. Everything was off. It just didn’t flow the way his other books do. I checked the front cover. Closely this time. Sure enough, the famous author’s name was in large print with another author’s name below it in much smaller print.

So what gives? I could research this on the internet but I’d like to take a shot at it. There’s a strong possibility that I’m wrong. A rare occurrence but it does happen. The guy in small print (a fledgling author) actually wrote the book based on the plot written by the guy in large print and then the guy in large print (bestselling author) edited the thing. Almost like an apprenticeship. And then it’s like a 60/40 split or maybe even a 70/30 when the bucks roll in from international sales.

What writer wouldn’t love an opportunity to be tutored by a Great One? As a reader, it turns me off. I hate when that happens. I buy, borrow, or steal a particular author’s books because I love his writing
style. It’s disappointing not to get what you expect – no matter how good the guy in little print is.

Oh no, I hate it when I sound like a cynic. Maybe it’s just a bad day thing.

Still, if a famous crime writer contacted me and said, ‘Hey Phyllis, you’re not a bad writer. I have a terrific sure win plot but no time to write. I’m too busy marketing. Do you think you could whip up a story? I’ll check it out before it goes to press. I’ll even put your name on it. In small print, of course.’

Nah, I wouldn’t do it. Seriously, I wouldn’t.

I’m sure of that.

It would be a kick to be asked, of course.

But still, the answer’s no.