Wednesday, February 5, 2020

The Rock Walker

It is another meeting of the Insecure Writer's Support Group! If you are new to my blog, you should know that this is a group that posts once a month on the topic of writing. It is our aim to support one another to be the best we can be and to quell the inner voices (monkey mind) that tells us we should quit our passions and take up something safer - like rock-climbing. I've been a member of this group for over a decade (I believe) and still look forward to the sharing that happens with this virtual coffee klatch. So have a look at what I've been up to and then click the link above to get to a clickable link of other writers. We are a diverse and friendly crowd.

When I last left you, dear readers, I had just sent off Crooked Knife to be appraised by an editor I had contracted for that purpose. She sent me the appraisal two weeks ago. I am thrilled with her assessment of the manuscript. Thrilled. Don't misunderstand - I have a good six months of hard work ahead before I even get to the copy edit BUT it is work I understand and she believes it is very marketable. She has given me a list of next steps and I am working on the first of these steps now. I will talk to her for my follow-up consultation call next Wednesday. I will do the steps needed, begin the next revision and then, in all likelihood, contract her to a substantive edit. I really like her approach - it is so straightforward and she works in a way that compliments my particular process. I am over the moon with this turn of events. I will keep you posted and if she is open to it - I will give you a link to her website.

February 5 question - Has a single photo or work of art ever inspired a story? What was it and did you finish it?

Hmmm... I do have a story to tell here. Quite a number of years ago I went to an art exhibit at a gallery in the village of Peggy's Cove. For those of you who don't know - Peggy's Cove, Nova Scotia, is one of those places on the planet that absolutely takes your breath away.  To quote a tourism site "Arguably, there is no site more iconic in Nova Scotia than Peggy’s Cove, the small fishing village just 40 kms from HalifaxThe lighthouse perched on top of the rocks, overlooking the rolling waves, is one of the most photographed and visited sites in the country." It is also one of the most painted sites in Canada. The quaint fishing village, the lighthouse atop a strange landscape of immense boulders, and the vast ocean makes it very exciting to capture.
I live about twenty minutes from Peggy's Cove and never tire of going for a cup of chowder at the restaurant closest to the stunning view. This time, however, a woman I know had an opening at one of the galleries in the  tiny village. While I was there I overheard the artist talking to another artist about her younger days of making art. She said she had been a "rock walker". Huh? What was that? Apparently in past years the government had hired folk to walk over the huge rocks that make up the landscape of Peggy's Cove in order to warn folk not to get too close to the edge. The cove regularly takes the lives of feckless types who get too close to the edge - in stormy weather the waves come from three directions and the unwary can be swept off to their demise. It is mostly impossible to rescue anyone who goes off the rocks into the briny deep, but I had never heard of the rock walkers. I proceeded to write a mystery based on a young artist who had secured one of these jobs. As you might imagine, especially for landscape painters, a well-paid job wandering around this gorgeous place, was just the ticket for a poor, starving artist. 
Writing the mystery put me close to home for research and I am pretty happy with the results. However, the novel never found a home and I think it needs a bit more work. I have it in mind to go at it once Crooked Knife is being marketed.

The thing about this story that may be helpful to other writers is that inspiration can come at any time, any place. As soon as I heard the term "rock walker" I was hooked. And yes, that is the name of the novel. Here is  a mock-up I did of the cover.

Wednesday, January 8, 2020

Insecure? Me?

I'm secure enough to admit I'm insecure. 

Yes, it's another meeting of the Insecure Writer's Support Group! Click on it to see the list of insecure writers and go visiting. We writers get lonely. Or sometimes we want to be distracted. Or maybe you live on the range and have an encouraging word - where the skies are not cloudy all day. But part of the day perhaps.

Here we are having a blizzard. Yay! It is a virtual winter wonderland. So beautiful in our new wee house. Yes, I've moved - but it is only the 45th time so no biggy.  We've been here six weeks. Six weeks that included my birthday, Christmas, New Years and a huge writing deadline. And that is what I want to talk about - my writerly life right now.

First of all - Grain Magazine (a prairie literary magazine) is publishing two of my poems. Yay! And I even got paid! How good is that. Cannot say what  it means to have  this nod in my direction so that I feel seen in the world of writing.

Second of all - I sent off my finished draft (which one? beats me!) of Crooked Knife and sent it to an editor that I've hired to give it a good look and see if I'm heading in the right direction. I have no idea how it will pan out - but it is already worth the dough I've spent in that I made a deadline for a finished story - as in the plot - all the way - beginning to end AND I met it. Two nights ago, on January 6th (Twelfth Night), I finished it. This is a novel I started a couple of years ago, and while I quite liked what I had written I had not finished the story. I knew roughly what happened but not really. This is the absolute curse of the pantser (those of us who write without outlines are sometimes called Seat of the Pants - or Pantsers for short).  Part of the reason that I struggled with the ending is that it involves an ongoing mess called the Lower Churchill Project - a mega hydro dam that is destroying Labrador - (ooh, can you tell I feel rather charged  about this issue?) which itself is unresolved - or not resolved how I would like it. Like the mess of Great Britain, Canada and the US when it comes to political issues, it is easy to become despairing and believe that there are no victories in the making. Without going into it too much, I will say that somehow I found a way to at least have a small victory of conscience within the novel.

The sensation of finishing the story was immense. I'm still reeling from it. Now it is in the hands of the editor and I have a few weeks to think about other things. What other things? Well, I need to keep sending poems out. I usually make some sort of challenge for myself and my one for this month is that three sets of poems need to start circulating. I can also look at my records and see what ones are still out there looking for homes, and which have returned home after being rejected. This is the kind of work that actually appeals to me, especially this time of year, when one is naturally prone to taking stock.

Here is this month's question (optional - but hey) January 8 question - What started you on your writing journey? Was it a particular book, movie, story, or series? Was it a teacher/coach/spouse/friend/parent? Did you just "know" suddenly you wanted to write?

I wrote a story on what I did on my vacation in Grade Two. We drove from Ontario to New Brunswick and PEI and I wrote about a place of great interest called The Magnetic Hill (nope, no magnets, just an optical illusion) and a moose baby I met at the park. The teacher looked upon it favorably. I was hooked. Of course, like many young women, I felt a strong bond to Jo in Little Women, and Anne in Anne of Green Gables, and Brenda Starr, ace reporter comic hero - writers all! None of them got old that I know of, but there you go. I have gotten older - but inside me is a spunky chit of a girl, who, any day now, will take up residence in a Parisian garret. Until then I will keep writing in my little room in the last residence I care to inhabit. And here is a painting by Norman Rockwell of Jo. It makes me happy.

Wednesday, December 4, 2019

Howdy folks! I missed last month but I'm back for this one.
Don't forget to go to the Insecure Writer's Support Group page and check out other writers and their insecurities!

 In their own words: 
Purpose: To share and encourage. Writers can express doubts and concerns without fear of appearing foolish or weak. Those who have been through the fire can offer assistance and guidance. It’s a safe haven for insecure writers of all kinds!
Posting: The first Wednesday of every month is officially Insecure Writer’s Support Group day. Post your thoughts on your own blog. Talk about your doubts and the fears you have conquered. Discuss your struggles and triumphs. Offer a word of encouragement for others who are struggling. Visit others in the group and connect with your fellow writer - aim for a dozen new people each time - and return comments. This group is all about connecting!

December 4 question - How would you describe your future writer self, your life and what it looks and feels like if you were living the dream? Or if you are already there, what does it look and feel like? Tell the rest of us. What would you change or improve?

I'm sitting at my desk, looking out the window into the woods. I have a deadline of January 1st to finish one complete draft of my novel to send to an editor who will then do an analyse of where she thinks I am with it. By mid-January or early February I'll start my favorite part of the process - revising. But I don't want to even get that far ahead as I have only thirty days (I'm writing this on the 30th of November) to get the plot thoroughly clear. I've had a few months to do this part (three so far) but my time has been eaten up with the buying and selling of houses, a quick and impulsive trip to Labrador for some volunteering during a crisis, and moving. All of that is over and we don't have fancy Christmases and although boxes still need to be emptied and art hung and meals made and laundry washed and friends tended and episodes of The Crown to watch - I definitely have time to finish the task - if I but submit to it. And I will dear people, I will!

I wrote the editor yesterday - a wonderful gal who heads up a company of women editors in Montreal - to see if I could extend my deadline but today I'm writing her again and asking her to ignore that request. I don't need it, I don't want it. I want to get this done so I can get on to the delicious agony of revising and then, lord, lord, the crafting of the query and submitting of same. Slow, slow, grinds this process, but I will get there!

In other parts of this dream I'm living I have had two poems accepted for publication in Grain, a Canadian literary magazine. It is so wonderful to be accepted and to know that eventually, if you keep on keepin' on, your work will come to fruition.

I don't want to project into the future - I have notebooks full of such exercises and my appetite for it has decreased as I age. I want the writing to be its own reward and to remember that writing isn't mysterious and arcane, it is an idea and some bum glue.

So now I'll go back to it! Hopefully, by January the 8th I'll be able to report that I met my commitment to myself.

Tuesday, October 1, 2019

Chugging Along

Yes, my dearios, it is another meeting of the Insecure Writer's Support Group!

 In their own words: 
Purpose: To share and encourage. Writers can express doubts and concerns without fear of appearing foolish or weak. Those who have been through the fire can offer assistance and guidance. It’s a safe haven for insecure writers of all kinds!
Posting: The first Wednesday of every month is officially Insecure Writer’s Support Group day. Post your thoughts on your own blog. Talk about your doubts and the fears you have conquered. Discuss your struggles and triumphs. Offer a word of encouragement for others who are struggling. Visit others in the group and connect with your fellow writer - aim for a dozen new people each time - and return comments. This group is all about connecting!

The optional question this month is

October 2 question - It's been said that the benefits of becoming a writer who does not read is that all your ideas are new and original. Everything you do is an extension of yourself, instead of a mixture of you and another author. On the other hand, how can you expect other people to want your writing, if you don't enjoy reading? What are your thoughts? 

My thoughts on this are fairly strong. Why would you even want to write if you don't read? If you don't know the magic of falling down the rabbit hole of a good book what could ever interest you in the very difficult engineering work of creating that rabbit hole yourself? I suppose if you are so aligned  with new and original ideas it would be also a good idea not to engage with any sort of discourse with other humans - or for that matter let the world in all its pain and beauty touch you at all. That's all I'm going to say as I think it is more than enough on this topic!

In other news -

I'm really having a great time working on Crooked Knife. For those of you who have dropped by for the first time, CK is a mystery I've been engaged with (and disengaged from) for a few years. I got bogged down in a swamp of my own making - the heady and sometimes inarticulate brew of a pantser. My plot got away from me and my passion for the subject clouded my judgement. Which is to say I stopped working on it for quite some time. Something shifted - I made a commitment for an outside editor to work on the problem and then realized that was a silly and expensive waste. I have still engaged the editor but promised to get her a workable finished draft with the plot holes all filled in. I have until the new year to do this which seems today as entirely workable. 

How am I doing it you may ask? Well - I've gone back to the beginning of the story and I keep teasing out the tangles. If, for instance, I find a problem in chapter five - I work it out before I go further and then I go back to make sure everything behind it (prologue to the end of four) is consistent with the changes I've made. This means a constant going over the story - slowly - like a gleaner in the field after the thresher has gone through the grain. It is pleasurable. There! I said it. Revision is pleasurable to me. Is this revision though? Yes, I would call it so. It's like a dream that I'm analyzing. I put in some clues that I know no more than the cop protagonist. I either have to figure out why that clue is there or get rid of it. Is it good grain or some weed seed? 

I am also writing the back story so I finally know what it is. Some people do this before - the plotters - but my feeling is that it is the same work whether it is front-loaded or back-loaded. And the thought of plotting like Elizabeth George - who explains her method in her book - Write Away - is death to me. I cannot know what happens in the story I'm writing because I would be bored silly if I did. I have to find it out bit by bit. And George writes a whole book before she writes a book! I do it backwards. I write the novel - then I rewrite it right. (say that five times in a row!) And don't think for a minute that I don't admire George - I love that book and much of it is very helpful to me - but not the plotter approach. 

The other thing that is working for me and giving me pleasure is that I write every day - okay, sometimes I miss a day or two, but I at least think about it daily - so I am not overwhelmed. I sort of remember what is happening. What a concept.

How about you all? How is it going at your desk? Joy or sorrow? Or a heady mix of both? I wish for you that the muse arrives and takes up a good chunk of real estate in your mind - and that you listen to him or her and give your total allegiance to what is, after all, a sane refuge - writing.

Wednesday, September 4, 2019

writing in place

Oh September, how I adore you!  The light, the ever so slight crispiness in the air, fresh notebook head, and so on.

Today is another meeting of the IWSG - and here from their sign-up page they say it best:

Purpose: To share and encourage. Writers can express doubts and concerns without fear of appearing foolish or weak. Those who have been through the fire can offer assistance and guidance. It’s a safe haven for insecure writers of all kinds!

The optional question this month is - If you could pick one place in the world to sit and write your next story, where would it be and why?

I oft fantasize of the best place to write - that magic place where I will sit down on a cloud of ease and the words  will flow out of my fingers - or better yet, I will merely need to think about the story and there it will be - with no carpal tunnel, no fricked up shoulder (don't get me started - going into the third month of rotator cuff shite), no blockages of either a spiritual or intestinal variety - just easy peasy sailing through the plot - imagine!

But when I get real with myself and think about those places that have worked I know - it wasn't the place. Sometimes it has become even a search in the home I'm currently living in. Should I write in the designated office space or on the dining room table (that's where I am right now). Maybe my shrine room? It's full of good vibes.

I've been writing for a long time, over fifty years, and I've lived or visited so many places in that time. I've gone on some glorious solitary writing retreats. The photo of the typewriter above I took in the childhood home of poet Elizabeth Bishop in Great Village, NS. I got lots of a story written there but no magic. Just bum glue. 

I've gone to friend's cabins in the woods or by the shore. I wrote most of the manuscript I'm currently working on in our little house on the beach in Labrador. I've written plays with fellow writers in scuzzy rooms with too many dirty cups sitting about. 

I wrote well at a group writers' retreat in Newfoundland. 

So my answer to the question today is :

The one place in the world I'd like to sit and write in is where I am. I'd like to write right here in Prospect Bay, Nova Scotia, in the house I share with my fella and the pooch. I'd like to push back the vase full of sunflowers and start in. I'd like to get up and wander into the kitchen and do the dishes when I get stuck. I'd like to share the table (which I will be doing as you read this) with my writing pal, Gwen - as I do every Wednesday. I'd like to remember that showing up for the muse is more likely to bring her along than any other temptation one might offer. Sure I liked working on one manuscript in Cuba - how Hemingway - but did I get lots done? No. I did not. I kept my oar in and that is important, but no place has been any better than another. It is down to me. 

Here's a wee cabin owned by a friend in Labrador. You have to take either a boat or skidoo to get there (depending on the time of year). I did NO WRITING in this place but it would be great. No electricity though. Have to use the quill pen.

How about you? Where would you write? Where DO you write?

PS - I have contracted an editor to work with me on my current story Crooked Knife.  I have a few months to get a proper draft completed. Now that's a great fire under my butt.