Monday, August 18, 2008

Avoiding the Ending

Technically, my summer writer-in-residence experiment will end tomorrow. I return to work the following day. I have relished the opportunity to think about writing every day and to actually produce something most days. When work begins--and it will begin in high gear--I am too frantic at the beginning of the day and too drained at the end to be creative. It is a sad reality. Perhaps the coming year will be different. Perhaps I will be successful in guarding time for myself and in accomplishing things beyond the work agenda. Of course, those possibilities go along with my standard musing: perhaps I will have a clean work area.

There is another ending I am struggling with: the ending of my latest novel manuscript. I have reached the word limit for the publisher who has first right of refusal, but I wrote +5,000 more words in the last week and there is at least that much more required to tie things up. While I realize I have a brutal round of revising ahead of me before I will consider submitting the work, I wish one area of focus weren't about deleting words and scenes. Changing and adding are fine. Deleting is harsh. Words aren't like hair that will grow back--we hope--after a cut. When they're gone, they're gone. Adios. Adieu. See ya!

When I submitted Fouling Out, I had to delete 25,000 words...before the stage in which more revisions came while working with an editor. Faced with thousands of words to cut, numbers become a greater focus than the words. That is why it is so painful. It is not about creation; rather, destruction. Sure, there are the easy cuts to excise wordy sentences and unnecessary qualifiers like very and apparently. (I thank writing instructor Nancie Atwell for her list of "The Very Bad Words".) That will address hundreds, not thousands of words.

Of course, I am getting ahead of myself. The ending, while near, is not yet upon me. I have two days of summer writing to figure out how to conclude matters with Marshall Allen McGonigle and Mr. Thomas Spenser.

On to it!

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Party Crasher

Here I am, alone at a table at the Sunshine Coast Festival of the Written Arts.  I am in the Independent Authors corner along with fourteen other writers.  My shift on this first day began at 5:30 p.m.  Don't ask me why.  Tonight's featured speaker, Michael Ondaatje (The English Patient, Divisadero) isn't until 8 p.m.  Did someone think eager readers would storm the pavilion tent two and a half hours early?

There are several authors manning the table tonight.  They've gone to eat.  If we get a rush, I am in big trouble.  I am not feeling the stress.

It seems odd to be hawking my own book at a festival in which other authors are the stars.  The insecure part of me feels like an impostor, a gate crasher who was never invited to the party.  

Still, as Fouling Out is my first book, I have said that I will try anything to get the most of the experience.  As the night moves on, I realize that most of the other writers in my corner are self-published.  They all are better at the gift of gab, an asset when you are trying to sell books.  If only I could gain some of that ability simply through observation.

Michael Ondaatje is speaking as I write.  The thunderous applause to welcome him triggers awe, envy and satisfaction in me.  The sentiments of awe and envy are self-explanatory; the satisfaction comes in knowing some authors are honored, revered.  Pop stars, hockey players, actors and, yes, authors.

I remind myself that, for every famous pop star, hockey player, actor or author, there are many more who struggle for any recognition at all.  My shift ends after four and a half hours.  I have sold a grand total of two books.  After paying my publisher for the copies, my take home for the night is about six dollars or $1.33 per hour.  It is a reality check.  There is Michael Ondaatje and then there are the rest of us.

Not JUST an Interview

While at the family cottage in Ontario, I drove into Ottawa one morning for an interview with Mark and Andrea of I discovered their amazing website devoted to children's books one night while surfing the internet for information about virtual book tours. (I still haven't figured out how a virtual tour works. As with many of my searches, I got sidetracked by clicking on other links.) The interview was posted on their site on August 11, 2008. (A direct link is Scroll down a little and you'll find the podcast.) What follows are my reactions immediately after the interview after Andrea and Mark left.

I am sitting at the Wild Oat Bakery in Ottawa, picking away at a tasty lavender honey scone after completing an interview with Mark and Andrea for I have so much nervous energy that needs to be worked off! Fortunately, this area of the city (the Glebe) is perfect for a walking tour. While I felt relaxed during the interview, I still managed to work up a sweat which caused my shirt to be dotted with wet splotches. Eww. I shall blame it on consuming two large cups of hot coffee on a warm morning.

I love talking about reading and writing and having this opportunity was a treat. I could have talked--er, rambled--for hours. (A fun interview would be a walkthrough at a bookstore or library during which I could pull favorites from the shelves and discuss them.)

Andrea and Mark are doing something special in promoting a love of reading. Part of what makes their efforts so powerful is that they are talking together as a mother and father about books they share with their own children. I would love to see more dads actively involved on a regular basis in reading with their kids and talking about books. It seems there are fewer spaces in print for children's books to be reviewed. This is a shame since a love for reading needs to start when people are young. When newspapers devote most/all of their review space to adult books, a chance to promote literacy is missed. And, no, the odd review of the hyped-children's-book-of-the-year--say, a Harry Potter or Stephenie Meyer's Breaking Dawn--doesn't cut it. Not all children are the same. They have reading interests as diverse as adults do. There are books without wizards and vampires that deserve to be reviewed.

That's what makes JustOneMoreBook!! so important. Although my novel, Fouling Out, is for older readers (ages 10-14), Mark and Andrea have created a site that reviews picture books and some easy novels for younger readers. What a wonderful place to discover a few new books to check out from a local library or to order from your local bookstore! It was a privilege to "experience" the beginning of the process in which they post podcasts. Take a look at their website. There are many archived book talks and interviews that you can visit.

Monday, August 4, 2008

Hitting the Road

The nice part of being a virtual writer-in-residence is that I don't have to stay in one place. (I also am pleased not to be a lab rat whom passersby stare at through one-way mirrors. "Ooh, look! He's picking his nose! So that's where he gets his ideas from.") Tomorrow I will be taking my writing on the ferry and to the Vancouver airport before flying to the family cottage in Ontario. I expect to be very productive. A bold statement, indeed.

Writing on the ferry has always been a good thing. It's a 40-minute ride and I park myself at a study carrel, power on the laptop and get a chunk of writing or revising done. In paring down my novel Fouling Out, much of the revisions came on the ferry during daily work commutes. All that occurred down in the caged in pet area on the vehicle deck with one shivering dog on my lap and the other leaning on my leg. By comparison, the study carrel on the passenger deck is a luxury.

I am a people watcher at airports. Where is that group going? Is she off to meet her husband? Why is he wearing shorts and flip flops? I don't get a lot of writing done at the airport; instead, I soak in the atmosphere and a few quotes or a minor character may come to mind. These are details that I consider golden. On the plane, I get more disciplined and write another scene, taking an occasional break to peruse some of the reading material I've packed in my weighted backpack. (Why do I set aside a thousand pages for in-flight reading? Can I not make a choice that morning at home? Do I suddenly think I will become Speed Reader?)

It's the time at the cottage that will be uncertain. Days can drift by. Often when I return and people ask what I did, the honest answer is "nothing." I think that's what cottages are for. I am not a tinkerer like my grandfather and I certainly am not a fisherman like my brother. As I stare at waves and idly allow sand to sift through my hands for hours on end, maybe I will fit in a time to write. You're not watching through that funky mirror, but I will still try to imagine eyes watching.

Friday, August 1, 2008

Where to Write

I have discovered a wonderful program on the Internet called "Book Bites for Kids" with Suzanne Lieurance on blogtalkradio ( Each weekday, Suzanne broadcasts a half hour call-in show, featuring a children's author or allowing writers to provide details of their upcoming events. As I have always valued author talks, this program provides an opportunity to hear other writers talk about their craft and their creations without incurring exorbitant travel costs. It is a treat to hear other perspectives from established writers!

Most authors on the show discuss their writing routine. It is encouraging to know that there is so much variety. For myself, I attempt to write during the summer at least five days a week. There have been some days that were complete write-offs when, for one reason or another, the inspiration was lacking. I have heard many authors say, "Write every day." I differ on this point. When I have a strong sense that my mind and heart are not in it, I feel a self-imposed forced writing session would be a negative experience. Would I produce something for which I would be proud and excited? Possibly, but not likely. As I view writing as a passion, I do not find it can be contained through discipline. Parameters are helpful but a rigid schedule is not.

Another point in which I vary from many writers is that I do not have a set place for writing. My home office is the most common site in spite of the clutter. (See my previous posting, Does Neatness Stifle Creativity?) As I mature, I seem to be getting more restless. I like to work in twenty-five minute chunks and then take a break. Technically, the break should be about five minutes, but it often stretches longer. So be it. I also cart my laptop and writing pad to different locations over the course of a productive writing day: home office, patio, public library, one of four coffeehouses in the community that I like. I may only write a short time in one locale, but ideas percolate as I drive or move to the next place. I like the writing to breathe for a period before I glance at it again and then continue. I also will shift from one project to another during the day. (Blog writing is one option when I want to write, but I am not ready to look at my developing novel, my short story project, an essay or a picture book manuscript.) I go where I feel the energy.

I guess what I am saying is I like having choices about what to write, when to write and where to write.