Monday, July 30, 2012

The book I never forgot

When I was about nine or ten I saw this book in a book store and the cover just called to me.  Girl in the ocean with a dolpin jumping over her head.  Sold!  Don't ask me why exactly.  I've always had a thing for marine mammals.  I've always had a thing for girls who look magical.  And even though there's nothing in this photo that screams that, I somehow just got this from the cover.  When I finally read the book I was right about it too.

My first attempt at this novel was a fail.  I was a bit too young, I think, and the prologue explains this deep mythology of the novel in a lot of detail that I couldn't wrap my brain around at that age.

Then I read the whole thing when I was twelve.  Then I read it again.  This means something because I AM NOT good at re-reading books.  I'm the same way with movies.  But this book I absolutely loved.  It had everything I wanted: a strong female protagonist, a new world, a journey to another new world, romance.  Then most of all, the relationship between the main character, Sand, and her dolphin friend, M'ridan.

When I turned thirteen my world changed.  I didn't want to read.  I didn't want to do much of anything except maybe dance (I was dancing at this time in my life) and most of all, hang out with my friends.  I still read the books I had to for school but that was it.

Still, through all that time this book stayed with me.  When I would write in my journal as a teen, play around with short stories or dream one day of writing books, I would always come back to Strandia. It imprinted itself inside me and when I look now it's still there.

The interesting thing is that when I finally read this book as an adult, about seven years ago, I didn't love it like I did before.  I've got my BFA in creative writing/English Lit since, I'd read a lot more, and I guess there were things about the pace of the novel that jarred me.  I felt there was a lot more telling than showing.

I was surprised, but not upset, because this whole experience taught me a valuable lesson about writing stories.  It taught me that a book can still move you if it has all your favourite ingredients, even if it isn't prepared as well as it could have been.

That's not to say that Susan Lynn Reynolds (author) didn't do a lot of things right in this novel where the writing was concerned (the book won the Young Adult Canadian Book Award).  What I'm suggesting is sort of another example of what I talked about in the last blog.

I don't believe in destiny, but I do believe that you attract things to you and certain things will will show up in your life to teach you a lesson when it needs to be learned, to speak to you when you need to listen. You may not learn the lesson until years later, but the universe knows what it's doing.

One thing I've learned, despite how I feel about Strandia now compared to then, is that I'd be a different writer had I not read this book.  I'd have written something else instead of this.

That's the next draft ready to be read.  And maybe it will never be published.  Maybe it will never see more than the few readers I'm giving it to now.  What matters is that I'm not giving up on writing and even if it takes me another ten years to publish something and another ten novels, what I've written here will inform everything else after, just like what I read does.  Strandia included.

I'm off to Hawaii for some work next week and will have some fun pics when I return.  In the meantime, why not think about some of the people, books, art that has informed your life?  Where would you be without it?  And why did the universe choose to show it to you exactly when it did?  I think it's a question we can all ask ourselves about every single thing that appears in our life, a lot more than we do.

Friday, July 20, 2012

The X-Factor isn't just for singers

As heartbreaking as it is for all us writers out there, a poorly written book has a chance of becoming a best-seller as much as a well-written book does.  Yup, that's right.

Before I elaborate there, I think it's good to think about what a poorly written book is.  These days, with people communicating through LOLs and LMFAOs and TTYLs and such a wide range of emoticons you can express yourself with this, a book that's written like poop takes on whole new meaning.

I could go on for a while about the North American education systems, and the writing skills of high school graduates, but that's another post, no sorry, another blog.  So when the bulk of the population doesn't know — and more importantly, doesn't care — what an adverb is, or passive voice, or a spelling mistake, well then that gives a lot of power to people who don't write clean, or have a commanding grasp of the English language, but can tell a story.

So let's think about what story-telling is.  You can have your voice, your technique, your structure, action and dialogue, a great character arc for a character that may even seem likeable. You can build tension and deliver a great reveal. In fact, you can have all of these things and then write the book well, using gorgeous turns of phrase, original description and not a grammar mistake to be found. Still, you may not have a best seller even then.

Now I'll say it again: a poorly written book has a chance of becoming a best-seller as much as a well-written book does. Why? To put it in the words of Simon Cowell, it's because of the X-Factor.

Just like one dancer can execute all the right moves, with superb technical skill, and fail at winning an audience, another dancer without a day of training can win the heart of every single person in the room. Why? Because of the X-factor. And you either got it or you don't, sugar.

Because writing is a literary pursuit, I think that often it's not compared enough to performing and then we all miss this very important point.

The irony of the X-factor though, I think, is that as much as you can be born with a certain talent, you can also loose it. So you can perhaps not be born with something and somehow gain it. My guess is that this probably has to do something with how much you believe in yourself, how hard you work, and how much love you can put in to what you do.

Now don't throw away your Strunk and White because you think you've got the X-factor. You may only have a teeny little x. But if you equip yourself with all the right tools, work hard, put everything you've got into it, then maybe your X will grow bigger and bigger.

Or, you can have a dream about girl and a vampire talking in the woods and six months later, with no previous writing experience, have a book deal and be on your way to selling millions of copies.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Moving on up

I finished my draft a week ago Friday and then about an hour later Tom and I were on our way to Laguna Beach for a writer's gig I had that conveniently coincided with our two years married.  It felt so unbelievably amazing to celebrate the end of this draft on the beach with my love!

After we got back I actually spent the whole week cleaning up the first five chapters of my draft.  There's still a lot I want to change but I'm forcing myself to keep away from it because before I do that, it's time for the thing to be read, by somebody else, all the way through.  

I happen to be one of the luckiest writers on earth because my aunt is also a writer.  And she's not just any writer, but this fabulous, extremely talented, gorgeous writer.  Her latest book, actually about our family, is coming out soon.  She's read some of it to me already and it's going to be fantastic!  Scroll down the link for her full bio.  

So my amazing aunt, and dear friend, has agreed to read my draft.   I know she'll have great feedback that will help me make this book better and so when I tackle this draft the next time I can go in and make changes based not only on what I think needs to change.  My head has been in the draft so long I doubt I have any objectivity left at the moment (if I ever did).  I'm nervous as hell to give it to her, because I look up to her so, but at the same time I wouldn't want this read to be for anyone else.

So what to do now?  There's that thing I said I'd do.  And with six months left, I better get on it.  Except, my instinct is sort of leading me in a different what I think I'll do next is spend the rest of the week writing something completely different, just for fun.  Then next week I'll get my outlines of Book Two and Three in better shape.  Then...I'm off to Hawaii.  Part Travelweek gig, part writer's gig.  Its my fifth time there and I love it more every stay tuned for pics from that!

Now for my next post....enough of these updates I say!  Who cares where I am now, where I'm going.  You've heard about it enough and frankly, I'm sick of thinking about it.  So next time I'll be writing about something I think about a lot when it comes to writing books.  My take on a long-standing argument that relates to novels such as Fifty Shades of Grey and Twilight (and really every other novel in the universe, if that makes sense).

So thanks folks for bearing with me so far!  Thanks for caring, to those of you who do.  And thanks to my husband for his unwavering faith and encouragement.  If it wasn't for him I would have given up writing this draft two weeks ago (let's just say I had a moment).  The pic above is one of the orchids on the orchid plant he brought home last Tuesday for our anni.  Two of my favourite colours and since last week it's started to bloom like crazy!  Love to you all!