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EDGE OF REASON

Even though it is too cold outside to be called a Spring day, it is with much warmth in my heart that I can share with you today my very first published work as a writer.

EDGE OF REASON was inspired by the sight of some young bucks jumping off a cliff edge located on a rocky promontory on Salobreña beach on the Costa Troipcal, about a half hour drive south of Granada, Spain.  Salobreña features fleetingly in my second novel, set in Granada, and the short story was a character development exercise to see if I could create a sympathetic antihero.

http://origamijournal.com/macdougall/

http://www.close2thebone.co.uk/wp/?p=3006

P1030703 (800x731)

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Small Steps

I am happy to announce that I will finally be published! Regrettably, not my novel, not yet, but a short story that I wrote last year, set in a beach side town in southern Spain, where I vacationed a couple of years ago, while researching my second novel. Two journals have expressed interest and as they are located on either side of the Atlantic, the coverage will be great for promoting my name within different literary communities.  Once I have links to the publications, I will provide them. In the mean time, here is a link to my first official publication, a book review on The Blind Man’s Garden by Nadeem Aslam on The Quick Brown Fox blog spot.

http://quick-brown-fox-canada.blogspot.ca/2015/03/the-blind-mans-garden-by-nadeem-aslam.html#links

For anyone within an hour’s drive of the GTA, there is a wealth of information and creative writing activities to be found on Brian Henry’s blog. While writing can be such a solitary endeavor, with days, weeks, months spent sequestered in a private writing space, networking with other writers is crucial to growth as a writer, as I have found over the last year. As they say, misery loves company and who better to commiserate with and learn from then other’s who have spent years mastering their craft before they make their break, those lucky enough to enjoy that sweet taste of success. For a person who knows too well that patience is a virtue she lacks, I have been remarkably steadfast in my desire to taste a mouthwatering slice of success.

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Changing Tack

In case the few followers I have out there have not figured it out yet, I have put blogging on hold to focus on book reviews in Goodreads. I am not sure if these reviews automatically come up as a post in my blog (I suspect not) but they are located on my blog page as a link to Goodreads.  I have finally linked in a local writing community and I have learned a lot, heaps, over the past year about the writing and revision process; have made some new acquaintances in the writing world so that I don’t have to bore my non-writing friends anymore with my thoughts on my books; and am valiantly trying to push forward with that second novel, happy to have learned just in the last few days that the so called ‘sophomore slump’ that I have been experiencing is not unique to me and a common occurrence with all writers. So, I will stop my procrastinating and get on with this thankless career I have chosen for my later years.

Haling all muses …

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SHE’S GOT … PERSONALITY

I recently did ANOTHER major round of edits to ‘Fair is this Land’ but this time I can say with full confidence that I am happy with where the novel is and could now happily publish and put my name to it. During this round, I learned many things but the one that stands out the most, is the importance of getting the personality right. My novel is written in two parts; there is the parents’ story and the daughter’s story. I wrote the daughter’s story first and I struggled. I never connected with Emily and could not figure out why. By the time I got to the parents’ story, the words just flowed and the character’s leapt off the page. I recently did some personality testing with a friend, who suggested that it would be good for my character development  …  and was she ever right!

The study of personality or temperament dates back to Hippocrates and even earlier to ancient Egypt. Twentieth century studies by Jung, Keirsey and Myers-Briggs have identified 16 set personality types which can assist in leadership and career development, team building, even marriage counseling. Personalities tend to be fairly stable through life. For instance, a person who has a responsible, practical, rule driven personality is not the type of person who would jump out of an airplane to go sky diving without a direct order.  And a person who is energetic and has difficulty focusing on one thing for an extended period of time, would not make a successful fly fisher. My friend pointed out that many successful movies and TV shows often have characters that, well, act out of character; given their personality type, they would be highly unlikely to exhibit certain actions and interests. Not surprisingly, harking back to my last blog of ‘Write what you Know’, Emily was my character type, but I had her acting at times in ways that were uncharacteristic for that type. The result was, as my first editor diplomatically put it, a character that was too flighty to be a protagonist and as my second editor commented, a character that she never connected with. The first I took exception to initially, because I thought, well I act like that; the second I empathized with. What I failed to realize, was that Emily was a bit schizo, for in trying to introduce emotion into a personality that can be described as insensitive and intolerant (think Sheldon and Amy of Big Bang Theory here as extremes), I had her crying frequently and explosively. I can’t remember the last time that I cried and it takes emotion on the level of the Way We Were to get the tears flowing, far less crying buckets of tears. So, with new understanding, I tackled Emily’s personality, toning down on the quantity of emotion and focusing instead on the quality. I also had to work on her interaction with her love interest, which was described as cool at best (remember Amy and Sheldon here) but while I had initially resisted attempts to fan the flames to the heat of her parents’ affair (which I had no trouble creating), with my new understanding of personality types, I was better able to match her reactions to the situations I had created for her. All in all, it made for a stronger more rational protagonist and is one of the major changes that has me finally satisfied with my achievement.

If you are interested, the following is a website for a free personality test, which based on my experience with myself, family members and friends, seems to be pretty dead on. Try it for fun and let me know if it provided you with any valuable insights. For the writers out there, think about using it as another tool for your character development.

http://www.16personalities.com/free-personality-test

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A PICTURE IS WORTH A THOUSAND WORDS

 A PICTURE IS WORTH A THOUSAND WORDS

Fair is this Land

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WRITE WHAT YOU KNOW

WHY was probably one of my first spoken and subsequently, overly used words, so it should come as little surprise when I say that I always ask WHY when I read a novel. Why did the author write that book, use that particular subject, what where their motivations? Learning a writer’s inspiration can change how you view a book, as I just found out while listening to Markus Zusak talk about his inspiration for The Book Thief, which quite frankly, I have been struggling to get through, and was about to give up on and just go see the movie, but am now motivated to finish.

This brings me to what I think is one of the most misunderstood axioms for writers … ‘write what you know’. Some people take this quite literally and suggest that you should restrict your writing to YOU, your background, your experiences, your locations. Given that this has worked for notable noble prize laureates such as Alice Munro (Canadian) and V.S. Naipaul (Trinidadian), who am I to argue with such words of wisdom, but argue, I will. Earlier this year, as I grappled with the intricacies of the mine field that is the British class system during preliminary research for my second novel, I was advised to stick to writing about my reality, a Trinidadian living in Canada. My gut reaction was instantaneous … how boring! But that itself reveled something about me. I am not interested in the here and now. I live for adventure, another place, another time.  The past however, beckons more than the future, my logic geared personality perhaps unable to deal with fantasy, being more grounded in reality, just not the reality of my own life and time.

Little surprise then that my first novel is strictly historical set in three different countries and cultures, none of them my own. However, I did write what I know as the protagonist is my personality type, the daughter of a physician, who ends up traveling to a tropical island with such a strong presence in the narrative,  that the new working title of my novel is Fair is this Land, an English translation of the original Arab name for Zanzibar.

As a writer, you draw on past life experiences for emotion and human interaction, no matter whether you are in the past, present or future, for  as much as we like to see differences, the human condition is a common one. We would all feel the same when faced with hunger, poverty, fulfilment or untold wealth, no matter the time, place or culture. What differs is how we would react to these situations and as a writer, you have to be able to capture those differences to weave a compelling, conflict driven story, for as I have read time and again, without conflict, there is no story.  While some would suggest that a life filled with more personal conflict should make for more compelling stories, I would argue that the mark of a great writer is one who can draw on their limited experiences, and use observation and inference to express stronger human reactions and emotion in their writing.

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A Knock-Out Ending: the importance of scene placement.

One of my BIG regrets with deciding to become a writer is that it has taken away the simple pleasure of enjoying a good book. Now when I read, I find myself dissecting the book, looking for strengths and weaknesses’, trying to determine what makes a book publishable, puzzling over why a book called The Great Stink, which was supposed to be a murder mystery but as of the first half nary a murder had taken place, got published.

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I recently read The Chaperone by Laura Moriarty during a restful week in the Canadian lake country, while concurrently educating myself on writing techniques by wading through James Scott Bell’s Plot and Structure, and for the first time in quite a while, I was enjoying a book, both books actually. Set in the 1920s, The Chaperone chronicles the events that occurred during the summer of 1922, when a thirty-six year old woman accompanies a fifteen year old ingénue who was travelling from Kansas to New York to attend a prestigious dance program.  It started off strong; a wonderful snapshot of a dynamic time in history especially for women, similar is some respects to the 1850 setting of my own novel. It was well researched, well written, captivating and all this in a character driven novel, a diversion from my normal diet of plot driven books. So it was with shock when, a little over half way through the book, the chaperone (the protagonist), who had her own reason for travelling to New York that summer, realizes her objective.

My first thought was ‘what more is there to come?’ I had just been reading about the LOCK system in Plot and Structure: L for lead, O for objective, C for confrontation (without which you have a boring story) and finally, K for knock-out ending. Now, Bell did specify that while readers of commercial fiction want to see a knock-out ending, a literary novel can play with a bit more ambiguity, but that in either case, the ending must have knock-out power. He also states that ‘Objective is the driving force of fiction. It generates forward motion and keeps the Lead from just sitting around’. So as I am reading in one book ‘You want readers to worry about the story question, will the Lead realize her objective, that essential thing which is crucial to the Lead’s sense of well-being’,  I am confused by the early realization of my protagonist’s objective in The Chaperone. So what now? Will there be a new objective set?

As I read on, with some of the wind taken out of my sails, there followed in quick succession two very important scenes, scenes which in my opinion fell flat, because they did not add anything to the achievement of the objective, they came after. This is when I got really disappointed. Thinking about the three scenes which I had just read, I realized that with just a bit of juggling, both scenes could/should have preceded the achievement of the objective, for one establishes a time line for leaving New York and so would have raised the tension of the achievement of the goal, while the other adds some spice to the plot. The way it was laid out, there was no tension built and we had eaten most of the meal only to decide at the end to add some cayenne pepper to the last bite. My ire now switched to the editor, who should have suggested the changes. However, it was the end of Part Two of the novel, so I decided to give both author and editor a break, for surely, with a quarter of the book still left, there was more to come.

What followed was in my humble opinion, the longest epilogue I have ever read, almost one hundred pages in total. Now, many times I have wished that a book had an epilogue, even just a short summary, to know how it all panned out in the end. And this was one such story for sure, as Part Two did end with an interesting twist. But 100 pages?!  Sadly, no. What followed could easily have been condensed into one large chapter or two smaller ones. There was nothing in part three which resembled an outline of a subplot. There was no objective, nothing to maintain the tension, just a rambling account of the rest of the protagonist’s life, which given that she lived to be almost one hundred meant that there was a lot of ground to cover! Very little of it however, added to the crux of the story, for that had happened back at the 3/5 mark in the novel!

All the above being said, I DO still recommend the book. As I stated earlier, it is well written, well researched and does succeed in taking you to a different time and place. My sensitivities to the topic of plot structure may not likely bother most people but I shall see, for I plan to submit it as a title for my book club this year and if it is picked up, it will be interesting to get their points of view.