Whenever I get frustrated trying to find the right words to tell a story, or when the story stubbornly refuses to move ahead (like today!), I’m thankful I didn’t decide to take up film instead of writing. This two-minute video took me MUCH more time than it should have, but I hope it captures the essence of The Power of Harmony – coming soon!
Not of the Charles Dickens variety, and definitely NOT of the baby variety. But after mulling and stewing for a few weeks, I’ve finally started a new project, and, as always – I have great expectations. A huge part of the writing process is giving birth to a whole cast of new characters, young, old and in-between. I remember the first time I heard an experienced writer describe hearing the voice of her character for the first time – her description went something like this: “I was sitting at the table, and he just came over, sat down across from me and we chatted.”
At the time, I was a highly-sceptical novice, and I’d never had that kind of out-there writing experience. Now that I have a few full-length manuscripts under my belt, I understand what that author meant. There has to be a moment when your characters become real 3D people to you, or the writing just won’t flow. You can’t tell somebody’s story until you get to know that person, until you can hear their words and perceive the world as they would. In other words, you need to try to detach yourself from the story and make it completely your character’s story.
I’ve just finished reading Susan Patron’s Hard Pan trilogy – The Higher Power of Lucky won the Newbery Medal a few years back. It’s so obvious that the author knew Lucky (and the other Hard Pan residents) inside and out, and that’s part of what makes them such wonderful books. The author’s voice is rarely, if ever, evident. That’s a skill I’m still working on…
Jacob’s hard at work in Duk Padiet these days and has posted a few pictures on the Wadeng Facebook page. https://www.facebook.com/WadengWingsOfHope These future students are proudly modelling Wadeng t-shirts (and no doubt, helping with the building:) I’m sure Jacob’s family here in Nova Scotia is missing him terribly, but proud of him at the same time – me, too!
Do you ever find yourself deeply absorbed in a book when, all of a sudden, you have to stop, back up and re-read a phrase, a sentence, or even an entire paragraph? And I’m not talking about forgetting what you just finished reading! Sometimes I read something so profound, or so insightful and deftly written that I have to re-read, make sure it really was as perfect as I thought it was. Here are a few examples of writing that’s stopped me in my tracks lately (not coincidentally by some of my fav writers):
I am doomed to remember a boy with a wrecked voice – not because of his voice, or because he was the smallest person I ever knew, or even because he was the instrument of my mother’s death, but because he is the reason I believe in God; I am a Christian because of Owen Meany.
My name is India Opal Buloni, and last summer my daddy, the preacher, sent me to the store for a box of macaroni-and-cheese, some white rice, and two tomatoes and I came back with a dog.
I thought about my Mama. Thinking about her was the same as the hole you keep on feeling with your tongue after you lose a tooth. Time after time, my mind kept going to that empty spot, the spot where I felt like she should be.
It happened so long ago I can’t even be sure it happened as I say it did. Stories change in the telling, memory makes up as much as it knows. We were very small. The things we saw were all mixed up with the things we dreamed and the things we were scared of.
In other news, Jacob’s on the ground in South Sudan this month, meeting with building contractors and looking to begin the construction of his school – he’s been working hard on this for years through his foundation, Wadeng Wings of Hope, and has spoken to thousands of people in his fundraising efforts. I’m happy that sales of A Hare in the Elephant’s Trunk have contributed a few bricks to his dream. Such an exciting time! I hope Jacob’s mom, Adau (Heaven), is watching over him:)
Read anything amazing lately? Please share!
A writing friend sent me this sweet picture of her granddaughter reading RAINBOWS, and it got me thinking about the importance of certain books in my own life. In particular, the books I remember from being a kid. My sister and I had a long discussion this summer about a book we both remembered well – well, everything except for the title! She spent an evening tracking the book down as a Christmas gift for me, and here it is:
I don’t remember exactly why it was such a favourite, but I think it had something to do with wishing we could have a sweet cozy house in the woods built for our family, or maybe it was because the kids seemed to have such a perfect life among the animals since we had a short-lived Nature Club once upon a time:) Maybe this book is also why I’ve always been a fan of old-fashioned illustrations (these are by Eloise Wilkin).
I always browse through the books when I visit used clothing stores, and I came upon this one the other day, which I picked up for $1.50:
When I Googled it today, I discovered there are many versions, but this is the one we used to own, with illustrations from 1962. I had a baby sister die in 1967, so it’s easy to see why this became a favourite in my family as we struggled with the concepts of angels, heaven, etc. In fact, I continue to struggle with those concepts – this will become obvious when THE POWER OF HARMONY comes out this spring…
As a kids’ writer, my primary goal is to create something kids will like, a story that will speak to them on some level, and maybe even become part of their childhood memory libraries, a lofty goal indeed. What picture books spring to mind as your childhood favourites? Can you remember why they were your favourites? I think I’m about 14 in the header picture above – pretty sure my Nana P’s hidden Harlequins were my favs then…
My favorite part of the holidays is getting to spend time with friends I don’t see very often – don’t know how it happened, but all of a sudden many of them are old friends, friends I’ve had for 25+ years (although, of course, WE are NOT OLD!) Now that Liam and Shannon are adults (the picture is from 2006, I think), so are their friends, and it’s a treat to see young adults I once knew as babies and little kids - and they’re nice people, “well brought up”, as they say. A credit to their parents, many of whom are also our friends. As they finish school and scatter, we’ll continue to have our annual party on the 23rd, just to stay in touch, keep connected.
Wolfville has a community Christmas dinner, like lots of communities; a chance for anybody and everybody to share a meal and be together. I hope all of you have a friend (or two) to share the holidays with, and that you have a supportive community to feel part of, during the Christmas season, and all year long. I wish you peace, warmth and love, and I hope that 2013 will be kind to you and yours!
I got to take a couple of days off from editing “The Power of Harmony” this week to visit Cape Sable Island. I was doing a W.I.T.S. visit at Clark’s Harbour School – which has students from primary to grade three! I didn’t know such schools still existed, but it’s wonderful! Students from grades 4-6 also go to school on the Island, just up the road. An interesting way to deal with declining enrolment and still keep two small schools open.
Everything was LOBSTER, as the season had just started a couple of days earlier. I’ve never spent time in a fishing community, and it seemed like everybody was associated with the industry in some way. The kids were great, and so were the teachers. I drove around the entire Island on my way home, and it’s beautiful – reminds me of Newfoundland (although I’ve never been to Nfld – yet).
I travelled down a few back roads, one of which led to Carter’s Beach (Central Port Mouton) – it’s always an odd experience to be alone on a gorgeous sandy beach, especially on a brisk day. A day when, as someone said yesterday, the “wind is very thin” (as in so thin it slips right in between your buttons, the collar of your coat, etc.) Some day I hope to get around to setting a story somewhere on the coast of Nova Scotia. If you’ve never made it down to Barrington, then across the causeway to Cape Sable Island, I highly recommend it – it’s the kind of place other people picture when you say you’re from Nova Scotia:)
Whenever I think of the word gatekeeper, a little film clip from The Wizard of Oz starts up in my head, where the fearsome palace guard denies Dorothy and friends access to the Wizard. “The Wizard says, ‘Go away!’”
If aspiring authors are Dorothy, agents and editors are that guy. They seem bigger than you. They give stern lectures.
Except remember what happens? Dorothy’s sob story melts the mustachioed, bearskin-hatted guard’s heart, and he winds up letting them in. Thus the great secret is revealed: You don’t have to do anything but tell a fabulous story to make them love you.
This quote is from an article by Elizabeth Sims (http://www.writersdigest.com/whats-new/7-simple-ways-to-make-a-good-story-great) that I came upon this morning while writing. It really made me think.
Her advice, while not really all that simple, is essentially this:
1) Go beyond the five senses (into detail re body language)
2) Explore idiosyncrasies (make your characters weird, but believably weird)
3) Forget about being pretty (gritty is good)
4) Be true to your IQ (don’t write down to readers)
5) Use your best material only when it has a purpose (Throwing in random bits is a bad habit of mine)
6) Make them laugh (I struggle with this one – I’m just not that funny, but she suggests writing in some small believable incongruities)
7) Make them cry (I cry easily – I’m still wiping my eyes while editing my WIP (for the 1000th time)
I just finished two great books by Canadian, Brian Doyle – Boy, O’Boy and Pure Spring, both of which feature the same character – Martin O’Boy. His writing reminds me a bit of Mordecai Richler, partly because the books are set in Montreal in the 1940s. Doyle is a master at weaving in bits and pieces which later become significant. This is one of the hardest parts, for me, of writing a novel.
How do you deal with structure – do you just start writing and figure it out after you’re half-way through (like me!), or do you outline, keep detailed notes of how the story will all resolve itself in the end? Always so much to learn…