Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Fresh Eyes

Later this week I'm scheduled to receive the copy edited pages of Growing Up Ivy from the publisher. I will have one week to review them and to respond to any queries the editor has. Since that week also includes Easter, it's going to be a busy time!

I'm interested in seeing the editor's suggestions. A writer tends to lose objectivity when she's been this close to a project for a long period of time. (In my case, usually about two years.)

Before the file arrives in my email inbox, I'm trying to finish the latest revisions on the novel-in-progress. When that's done, I plan to put it away for a few weeks. It needs to "gel." And I need some distance from it, so that the next time I see it, it will be with fresh eyes. The same as I'll have when I get to read "Growing Up Ivy" this week.

Friday, March 26, 2010

What is This Book About?

A few years ago an editor, who was working on one of my early manuscripts that was scheduled for publication, told me that I had too much going on in the story. I needed to select one theme (out of several) and work at developing it, following its thread through to the end.
It turned out to be very good advice and something I try to follow with each new book. Because my method of writing, in the early stages of a story, is to let the characters take me wherever they like, I often end up going in too many different directions.

The truth is, I submitted that novel before I should have; it was not ready to leave the nest. I've learned to take my time. It's often several drafts before I can sort out the book's most important theme. And it often means tossing out some minor threads in order to beef up the major one.

Currently I'm taking a good look at the latest novel-in-progress. Does it lack direction? What is its main theme? How can I develop it fully? And the key question: Can I tell someone in one sentence what this book is about?

In case you're wondering, the photo above is a candid shot of my office.
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Monday, March 22, 2010

Raising the Stakes

A writer has to make the reader care about the outcome of a story.

In m
y novel-in-progress two kids, Delia and Sam, suspect a former neighbour of having murdered his wife. They set about to uncover the truth. It wasn't long before I began to have doubts about the strength of this story. Why would the kids even bother? Why would they care?

When I began to ask myself these questions, I realized that kids themselves needed a stake in finding the answer. How could I make solving the mystery a matter of life and death for these youngsters?

In order to answer that question, I had the boy's aunt, a young woman who plays an important role in the lives of both kids, begin to date the man with the deadly secret.
Now Delia and Sam had a reason for wanting to get at the truth.

To ratchet up the tension, I had the kids discover that the man had had not one, but two wives, who had died violent deaths. It became more urgent than ever that they act quickly to save the unsuspecting Aunt Esme from a similar fate.

Now, I can get on with the story.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

The Tax Man Cometh

I got a lot of useful information from our writers' group meeting this morning. After each one at the table had given his/her own bit of news, we had a speaker talk to us on the subject of Income Tax for Writers -- a very timely topic. Afterwards, the most popular question seemed to be which expenses we could claim as deductions when filing our income tax. It was suggested that if we are in doubt about whether or not an expense is eligible, we should ask ourselves honestly if the expense is related to our writing, and whether it is the kind of writing we do, or plan to do.

Our tax system in Canada is based on the honour system. That said, we must keep all our records for a period of seven years (six plus the current year) in case of an audit.

I have always kept a book which I call a general ledger where I enter, on the day that they occur, all the expenses and income from my writing. I know that's the old-fashioned way and that it is not necessary today. All the Tax Man wants are the receipts for our expenses and the slips we've received for income.

I store all my receipts in an accordian-style file folder with labelled tabs for office, car expenses, advertising, etc. But still I find my ledger helps me keep all those bits organized. I also find the ledger useful for tracking trends over the years.

Before we left the restaurant this morning, our speaker reminded us to save the receipt from the breakfast each one of us had paid for at the meeting. We can claim fifty percent of it as a legitimate expense. You learn something new every day!

Monday, March 15, 2010

Book Signing

I've just spent an interesting weekend, representing the Spirit of the Hills Writers' Group with a table at the Warkworth Maple Syrup Festival. I was the only writer there, surrounded by vendors selling crafts and baked goods. It was a weekend of people-watching and non-stop smiling.Everyone was friendly.

There were plenty of children visiting the festival with their families, and it was rewarding to have a number of them recognize the books on my table. "Oh, we have that one, Mommy!" or "We read that one in school."
The three books that had been part of the Silver Birch reading program in the Ontario schools reminded the youngsters of the fun they'd had reading the books on the list that year, and finally voting for their favourite. I assured them that the authors whose books had been selected for the program had as much fun as the kids.

"I know you," one girl said. "You came to our library last year." Then she picked out all the books on the table that she could remember.
I enjoyed talking to a number of school teachers who happened by, a couple of whom were already familiar with my work and who expressed an interest in having me visit their classrooms.

To pass the time I scribbled notes on future posts for this blog and worked on a scene I'm writing for the novel-in-progress. I signed books that were going to a classroom in Nova Scotia and to grandchildren as far away as Texas. There was one lovely man who bought two books for his granddaughter, Maia, who lives in Bermuda. He came back later to take a picture of me to send to Maia along with the books. You've got to love that!
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Wednesday, March 10, 2010

The Inspiration for "Growing Up Ivy"

"Where did you get your inspiration for this book?"

This is a frequent query I get from students when I visit their classrooms. I recognize it as one of the questions the teacher has suggested they ask the visiting author. If the kids got to choose the questions, it would more likely be, "Do you have any pets?" or "Why don't you write horse stories?" or "How old are you, anyway?"

Most often, the inspiration for my stories comes from weeks of free writing, of letting whatever enters my mind pour out onto the page. There's very little I can salvage from these "morning pages," but they help me to keep writing. Besides, I know that one day I'll start to see a connection between all the loose ideas on the page, or a character will begin to emerge, someone with whom I'd like to have an adventure.

But in the case of Growing Up Ivy, I have a definite answer to that question about what inspired me to write it.

Years ago, when I was researching my first book, a work of non-fiction called The Movie Years, I started corresponding with a woman in California. Her husband had been a cameraman on Carry On Sergeant! the biggest movie ever made here in Trenton and about which I was writing. Later, the husband became a cameraman for Universal Studios.

Besides providing me with some useful information for the book, the woman asked me if I could help her write her memoirs. I agreed to do what I could. Subsequently, she sent me several long letters about her life.

When she was a child she used to spend time with her father travelling around the countryside in a horse-drawn covered wagon. He was a peddler. I found her description of how the two of them lived in that wagon fascinating. It seemed such a unique way of life that it stuck in my mind. I loved the idea of those idyllic, barefoot childhood summers.

Twenty years later, I began to write Growing Up Ivy. In my book, when Ivy's father comes into her life in 1931, he arrives in a horse-drawn caravan, "all fitted out inside, so's a body can live in it." And wonder of wonders, he agrees that Ivy can spend the summer with him, wandering down country roads, peddling shoes.

And what do I tell the middle school kids who ask how old I am? "I'm as old as my pinky finger, and a little bit older than my teeth."

Write on!
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Saturday, March 6, 2010

Schedule of Production

Although I've had nine books published, this is the first time I've been given a schedule that shows me how the latest book, Growing Up Ivy, will proceed down the production line. I'm enjoying being part of the process.

The manuscript, submitted in February of last year, was accepted for publication last October, and the contract between the publisher and myself was signed the end of that month. June 21, 2010 was given as the publication date.

The first item on the schedule was the Manuscript Due Date. My final version of the manuscript, as well as all materials that were going into the book -- dedication, acknowledgements etc. -- had to be in the publisher's hands by November 30th. Since then, the cover has been chosen (it had to go into the spring catalogue), and lots of advertising copy written.

Last week I met my editor, via email, and got the dates for the next stages in the book's development. I was happy to hear that the editor will now begin the process of Copyediting the Manuscript. This is a meticulous task and will take a month to complete.

I will have from April 2nd to April 9th to respond to any of the copyeditor's queries. This is called the Author Review, and it will be the last opportunity to make any changes before the book goes to Design. It is very costly to make any major changes after the book has been designed.

It will be in design from April 16-23rd. After that, I will receive the designed page proofs and have a week to review them and submit any corrections. This is referred to as the First Proof Review. All this must be done before May 7th.

When the final design work is complete (it takes anywhere from 1-4 weeks), I'll be sent a set of page proofs, along with the front and back cover designs. This will be my last chance to look at the book before it goes to the printer.

Look out world, here comes Ivy Chalmers!
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