Sunday, November 22, 2009

Advertising for "Growing Up Ivy"

I discovered an advertising blurb for my upcoming novel on the website of a major on-line bookseller. I thought the blurb captured the essence of the story so well that I wanted to share it on my blog (with only a few minor tweaks).

Living in grim Depression-era Toronto with her actress mother, Frannie, Ivy Chalmers has never met her father. In 1931, Frannie sends 12-year-old Ivy to stay with her paternal grandmother in Larkin, Ontario, while she seeks stardom in New York City.

When Ivy's father, Alva, arrives unexpectedly in Larkin, he turns out not to be the Prince Charming she imagined, but an illiterate peddler. Rescuing Ivy from her uncompromising grandmother, Alva takes her with him for the summer, wandering the countryside by horse-drawn caravan, selling shoes.

Back at her grandmother's, at summer's end, Ivy meets teenager Charlie Bayliss, orphaned as an infant and raised by his aunt on a farm outside Larkin.

Ivy has a flair for writing and boundless imagination; Charlie loves baseball and loathes farming. Unknown to both of them, though, is a secret connection they share. When the final pieces of the puzzle of their lives fall into place, nothing will ever be the same.

Intrigued? I couldn't have written it better myself. I hope you'll look for Growing Up Ivy late next spring.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

My Daily Writing Routine

When I was working (read: employed) I used to write on my days off. The people around me knew that Tuesday was writing day. After I retired I gradually became less disciplined. There was more time -- too much, perhaps. I became easily distracted. If I was writing and I thought of something that needed attention, I'd go look after it. It could be as trivial as adding an item to the weekly shopping list, or checking to see if I should water my houseplants.

Finally, I realized that if I wanted to be more productive, I needed a regular routine. Besides, the muse has to have a way to reach me, and with my mind running all over the place, she wasn't having much luck.

I made the decision that I must be ready to go to work every morning at 9. I must have had breakfast and be dressed for the day. No more writing in my PJs. I keep a pad beside me as I write, and if something off-topic comes to mind, I write it down. It can be looked after when my work day is done.

Now, I have to confess that I had let email become 'way too important to my day. I had to make a new rule for myself: NO CHECKING EMAIL UNTIL YOU ARE READY TO BE DISTRACTED. Reading email early in the day, which is when I happen to be at my creative best, has been totally distruptive for me. If I didn't reply to it immediately, I'd be thinking about my responses. Or I might read an email that unsettled me, got my mind going in another direction entirely. That's the kiss of death for me!

It's not a hard schedule to follow. I take a short break at 10:30, the same as one does at a regular job. Then I go back to work till 12 noon. I have lunch, check my email and go for my walk. The afternoon is when I look after any household chores and prepare the evening meal. But I find that after an uninterrupted morning of writing, my mind is still so absorbed with the story that I return to the manuscript frequently during the rest of the day. And this is good. Because much of the preparation for writing takes place in my head.

A writer needs self-discipline, and this is the routine that works for me. I'd love to hear how you schedule your writing day.

Write on!

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Thinking Time

The hardest part of writing a story, for me, is the second draft. I write the first draft with abandon, recklessly. Having fun, in other words. But then comes the excruciating part as I try to get the story to make sense, get those elegant, unruly characters into line.

I look for excuses at this stage to avoid it. I pick up the phone, check my email (again), sort my bills. I even have to trick myself, by leaving the manuscript on the kitchen table where I usually write, and where I'm confronted by its unresolved bulk at least three times a day.

Brenda Ueland, author of If You Want to Write: a Book About Art, Independence & Spirit (first published by G.P. Putnam's Sons in 1938), suggests that if you're having trouble at this stage it could be because your story is not yet well-enough "imagined." It needs more time, more thinking time.

She says, "Try to see the people better . . . See them-- just what they did and how they looked and felt. Then write it. If you can at last see it clearly the writing is easy."

I think I knew this already; sometimes I just need a little reminder. So, today I'll spend time with my characters. Perhaps they'd like to help me clean up the flowerbeds?

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

"A Passion for Narrative"

One of the favourite books on my resource shelf is A Passion for Narrative, by Jack Hodgins. Subtitled, A Guide for Writing Fiction, it was published by McClelland & Stewart in 1993.
Although I read it years ago, today I still dive into it for help with certain aspects of my story. Lately, I've been re-reading the chapter on plots.

The chapter details a wide variety of plot categories--something I find rather daunting--from one Professor Norman Friedman. I love Hodgins' conclusion to all this.

He writes, "Rather than think of plot as a prescribed formula (or choice of formulae) to which you must make your material "fit," I suggest you think of it as a general pattern floating somewhere in the back of your consciousness as you write . . . Let the combination of your material and your hopes for it, rather than anyone's list of characteristics, guide your story's progress."

I find that comforting.

Most helpful to me, at the end of the chapter Hodgins provides some questions to ask myself about the plot, now that I've reached the first-draft stage. These thoughtful questions give me an idea of why it might not be working.

Write on!