Monthly Archives: January 2013

Did It Really Take Me Twelve Years To Write My Novel?

“The Wedding Planner” was released in Canada on video July 3, 2001. (http://www.dvdsreleasedates.com/movies/2808/The-Wedding-Planner-(2001).html)

It was within a couple of weeks of this date when I rented the movie, had my melt down, and began writing. In the beginning I dallied. It was an idea, nothing more. Every couple of months I would plunk down in front of my computer for a few hours to write. The first good chunk of “Seascape” was written this way, over a two year period.

About this time my husband and I were feeling the pressure from our twelve year-old daughter to provide her with a sibling. We decided if we were going to have another child, it was now or never. The moment my pregnancy took, I was a writer no more. My hormones were not mine, my body was not mine, and writing was the last thing on my mind.

Four years after I had started my story, and almost two years after I put it down, my womanliness resurrected from motherhood. By 2004 I felt a strong push to complete my story. With a teenager playing school sports, a toddler underfoot, a small business to manage, and a husband who worked away from home, it was hard to find the time to write. But like I did with the first half of the book I plugged away at the second half of the book, a few hours here and there, each writing session separated by weeks and sometimes months.

When the first draft was completed I barely breathed before I dove into the editing process. With newly acquired editing skills, I realized I needed to tell the story in the first person perspective. I rewrote the whole manuscript. It took months. I reviewed. I edited the full story again, and finally felt  comfortable sharing my story. My husband was the first reader and editor. I revised again. A dear friend who was also developing interest in writing began to read and critique for me. I revised again.

In 2008 I decided my book needed research to improve it. Nothing on the level of Jane M. Auel, (Clan of the Cave Bear) an author who sifts through tons of archeological research for her books, but I knew I needed to visit Eleuthera. I stretched out on its beaches, travelled its towns and shorelines, and visualized my characters there. My visit was invaluable. “Seascape” would not be the same if I had not made the decision to experience the island myself.

I updated the manuscript yet again after the trip and shared my book with more friends and family, asking for input and critiques. I rewrote and revised. I edited and polished. By 2009 I felt the book was as polished as I could get it. It had undergone 7 full revisions and I felt was ready for agents and publishers. For a couple of years I submitted queries, waited for the rejection letters, and built a home all while my book languished. Finally this last fall, October of 2012, I made a decision to once and for all, decide on the future of “Seascape”. I hired a proffessional editor and did my 8th and final revison.

Upon reflection I know, in fact, it didn’t take twelve years to write my novel. If you gathered all the days together, theoretically, I could have written this book from start to finish in 9 months, give or take a few weeks. But if I had, it wouldn’t be “Seascape”.

If I could go back in time, I would not go back and pick up my pace. Throughout those twelve years I grew as a writer. I learned and studied the craft; I developed and improved both my abilities and the story itself. As my book is undergoing publication I can claim the title of author.  I am a writer, a novelist and I am prepared for the position in ways that I was not twelve years ago. I have the confidence to shape and control my vision. Managing my husband’s small business gave the financial acumen to handle the small business of managing my book. I have a wonderful home office designed for me, by me. My youngest child is old enough I can venture away for book signings without feeling torn from her.

For twelve years, my family, my home, and my husband’s business were greater priorities; writing was my least priority. Recently my priorities have under gone a serious change. Writing is still not my greatest priority, but it has climbed up from the bottom of my list, to being in the top five. Some weeks it is a full-time job, and others it is at the very least a part-time job. I no longer dabble. It is my career. I have invested significant resources and focus in this direction. I have my purpose and I have never been happier.

Next post… The Book Is Done. Now What? Getting Published.

How Matthew McConaughey and Dr. Laura Schlessinger Shaped My Story

In my last post I described how twelve years ago I decided I wanted to write a love story better than the “Wedding Planner”. Relying only on my vague memory of high school and university English classes, I knew I needed a setting, characters, and a story line. Immediately I also knew I wanted the story to have an element of fantasy. Not dragons and magic fantasy, but rather a book that offered an escape from real life, more specifically, the kind of escapism story I would want to read.

A few years before I began writing, my sister-in-law took a job working in the Bahamas at a Club Med resort. She told me about the island of Eleuthera and I fell in love. I had seriously never wanted a tropical vacation.  Want to make me self-conscious? Stick me in a bathing suit in front of people. But through her I learned it was possible to relax on a beach without fighting for the space to spread one’s towel. Warm waters, hot sun, and soft, sandy beaches were appealing when visualized without throngs of people. Who doesn’t think of a deserted beach and not consider the possibility of sex on the beach? I loved the idea of a vacation romance so much that “Sex on a Beach” became my working title.

With a setting and a situation in mind I began furiously scribbling the story of a woman enjoying a vacation romance. My heroine Skylar was my visualization of what I thought was attractive.  My hero was modelled after Texan, Matthew McConaughey, the blond, buff actor, and my not so secret crush. The story was told in the third person voice, which is the use of an objective narrator to the story. This was deliberate because I hoped the choice would prevent readers from confusing me with the main character.

After prolonged trip planning and shopping, eventually my main character reached Eleuthera, met the hero and the two immediately began having sex. By this point I had written about fifteen chapters of a rough draft and I was pretty pleased with my story. Not pleased enough to let anyone read it, but I felt I had a workable story. It was at this point in my writing I took a two year break from writing to have my youngest daughter.

After a difficult pregnancy, and once my baby was over a year old, I felt the urge to write again. I began with a decision that would hugely impact my writing for the better. I subscribed to Writer’s Digest. The weekly magazine gave superb advice and taught me how to look at my manuscript with a critical eye. I realized my fifteen chapters were a very rough start. My dialogue sucked, my characters were flat, and worst of all there was no tension. I was mortified. With no driving force in the story, the reader had no reason to turn the pages. I considered scrapping the idea and starting over from scratch. But I pressed on. I look back at how awful a writer I was, and how bad I knew I was, but I felt strongly I could improve, but not unless I could develop the conflict in my story.

I was stymied for months until listening to the Dr. Laura Schlessinger radio program gave me my answer. I live a substantial distance from banking and grocery shopping. Radio is an important entertainer during long drives to town, and before satellite radio, I had a choice between crackly, classic rock and country stations, the same old CDs I never remembered to change out, or I had talk radio.

More than once I found myself listening to Dr. Laura berating the foolish. I felt particularly sorry for anyone stupid enough to call her with relationship issues stemming from their child not getting along with a new girl/boyfriend, spouse, or live-in-lover. Dr. Laura strongly believes single parents, widowed or divorced, or never married, should not date at all while their children are still dependants and she will dole out a tongue lashing to anyone admitting such behavior.

Every time this situation came up on her program I felt my own inner conflict. I had been a school counsellor. I saw the problems inherent in blended and step parent families, and how in many situations the children in these families were hurt by adults. Parents remarried and divorced and dated with sometimes, little consideration for how their decisions impacted their children. I could see sense in her diatribes. Conversely, the compassionate, human side of me, along with my romantic sensibilities railed at the idea that someone should have to spend a decade, or more alone, without love, connection, and sexual intimacy.

My dilemma was born.

My heroine was more than a woman enjoying a vacation romance. She became a single parent firmly convinced not to date until her child was grown. While on her fantasy vacation she meets a man who shakes her convictions. My hero was more than just some guy out to get laid; he had to be the settling down type, the kind not easily left behind. The characters grew in complexity even as they came into greater focus.

Unfortunately my inner debate was so strong I was torn between what was authentic and accurate for the characters and the happy ending I had been writing towards.  I love happy endings but as I wrote “Seascape”, a happy ending seemed completely improbable.

For those of you who have not yet met Skylar and Mack, my main characters, I hope you enjoy the story enough to read to the end and find out for yourself if Skylar chooses her daughter Rachel over her lover, Mack.

For those of you who are interested, in my next article, I will discuss whether it really does take twelve years to write a novel.

The Road to Becoming a Published Author Started With Wanting to Write

Most people know Shannon the wife, friend, mother, daughter, sister, family member etc., but only a few know me as I know myself.

A writer is who I am.

Other than time I spend with my loved ones, with obligations, or with distractions, writing is what consumes me. It isn’t easy. It is lonely work, but work that I love and regardless of success or failure, it is an avocation I will not give up. Writing is what I was meant to do. Even if only my journal, even if the characters and their stories live only in my head, I will forever be a storyteller.

So with this kind of passion and conviction I had to have always known I wanted to be a writer?

Not a clue. I spent the first 28 years of my life, searching for my purpose but remaining oblivious to the possibility that one of my greatest joys in life, should have been my first stop for a career choice. I went to university; I got a job. I had ideas at various times in my life, of what I thought I wanted to do, but I truly never imagined being a writer. Once I made the realization, I felt like a fool. What should have been as obvious as the nose on my face was never a consideration. But it should have been. Looking back the signs were there. Now it is easy to travel back through time and my life and see what I was missing all along.
So before I tell you about my novel and about the process of getting published I thought I’d take some time to reflect and explain how I got to be here.

The seeds were always there.

Don’t tell my husband, but one of the greatest love affairs of my life has been with books. I took to reading like I have taken to nothing else except writing. My parents bought our family an encyclopedia set when I was very young, in kindergarten, and within a very short period I devoured the entire children’s section of it. I have always read voraciously. Library was my favourite part of school and it was a great source of pride when I was allowed to read books four and five grades a head of my own. By the time I was in high school I could devour a standard paper back novel in an afternoon. It was nothing for me to read five books a week. As a child, teenager, and young woman, one of my greatest laments, was not having enough to read. And I loved to possess books, to own them and collect them. I loved the stories and I loved the learning. Books shaped much of who I am. To this day if I want to know something I automatically look for a book on the topic.

Writing, was also present in my life, but not as obvious as my love of reading. In grade one I won a school wide competition based on the speech I wrote entitled “My Best Friend” (it was an ode to my Dad). So I did show promise early on with writing skills but I was not prone to fits of excessive story writing. Language Arts was always my best subject but I was a good student in general, because I was eager to please and such a good reader with an excellent memory.

My other clue should have been my imagination. I had a vivid imagination in childhood. I remember planning intricate stories and events for my Barbie’s, and stuffies. And I can distinctly recall now how the storytelling in my head, the intricate laying of a foundation for the scene I was creating, wasn’t as rich or as fulfilling in the process of it acting out. Even to this day, I coax myself to sleep with elaborate storylines and ideas, some of which lead to insomnia and frenzied middle-of-the-night writing bouts.
But writing was never pervasive. I did not keep a meticulous journal growing up but once in a while I would write, as I did all things in my life, with great passion, and in spurts, but with no real consistency or discipline, with the exception of my first book.

I was twelve or thirteen and it was a horrible story I co-wrote with a cousin. I was one of the main characters, and in this story my cousins and I, met Duran Duran, one of our favourite bands at the time. Of course we hooked up with our favourite band members and lived happily ever after. As horrible as the story was, looking back at that event I should have had a clue. What 12 or 13 year-old has the attention span to write a complete book, long after their co-authors abandon the project. I continued on and finished the story to its natural end, with me getting bassist John Taylor to worship me as much as I worshipped him. I can see now that even then I loved to tell a story, and even more importantly, I loved to tell a story about love.

So I must be a romance writer?

I wish my creativity was so easily pigeon holed into an easily categorized genre. “Seascape” is a love story but my second book is not. Love relationships are pivotal components to the storyline but it will not be a romance book in the traditional sense. Be prepared now, my books will fall not into a dependable reliable style. My subject matter and genre will change. However I feel strongly that romantic love and love relationships of all types will continue to figure strongly within my writing.

Why?

Let’s face it, next to air, food, water, and shelter, sex and companionship rank pretty high up there on the list of human needs and wants. For most of humankind, regardless of outward appearances, sex, love, and connection are exceptionally important. I would be a liar if I did not admit they consume my focus and writers tend to write about what is important to them.

I will always write about love because, I will admit it, I am a romantic. You will not find a bigger sap. I am horribly sentimental. My ideal evening is watching or reading an EPIC love story. Passion. Tragedy. Sex. Love. Romance. Mushy. Coarse. Raw. Real. Sentimental. Roll it all together, make me cry, make me feel, and you will make me happy. Some of my favourite moments on this earth were spent watching or reading about love. Jane Austen novels, Baby and Johnny in “Dirty Dancing”, and OMG! “Titanic”!!!!!! Even “Brokeback Mountain” was a great and epic love story. Favorite movie of all time: “P.S. I Love You”.

Connection means everything to me. I own it. It is a fundamental part of who I am. I am sentimental, sappy, and a romantic. I love happy endings but I get swept away just as much by a delicious tragedy. I’ll cry and weep. I’ll keen and moan. And I will buy and read it or watch it over and over again.

Therefore it should have been no surprise that a love story is what sparked me onto my career. After university I fell into the human services field, eventually becoming a school counsellor, but my natural tendencies were not ideally suited for this position. I had a knack with people, but I was too empathetic. I got caught up in people’s stories. After my work day was done, I was still consumed with my clients problems, sometimes even long after they weren’t.

In addition to being empathetic I am a quester for truth and justice. But I get so caught up in fairness and consideration it is hard to be objective, hard to know what is right and wrong, to choose a side, to know the truth. Having a natural understanding for every perspective makes for a great writer but a crappy counsellor. Eventually I had to get out of the human services field and luckily for me, my husband began a new job. I went from being the major bread winner, to him, making double our previous salaries. We decided I would stay home for a bit.

After the first six months everyone started wondering when I was going to go back to work. I had one child at home, but as a ten year-old and she was hardly in need of my constant attention especially when she was in school. But I was not mentally prepared to get into another job, so six months turned into a year turned into two years. Through that time I watched the newspapers for human services job I felt strong enough to do, all the while hoping and wishing for something that would give to me and not take from me. I wanted the career I was meant for.

Then one evening I rented the movie “The Wedding Planner”. The romantic comedy was staring my favourite leading man, Matthew McConaughey and Jennifer Lopez. I was pumped. For those of you not caught up in the pursuit of the epic love story quest, you won’t understand my considerable angst. But if you love romance and love stories like I do, you will realize good ones, truly excellent ones, are few and far between. But with Matthew as the star I had high hopes.

This movie sucked. I mean the acting was okay. Honestly each of them did well with what they had to work with, but the plot, the writing, the screenplay, it all sucked! I was violated. I was mad. Here I was ready to fall in love with a story and I was denied. Let me be clear. I am not hard to please in this department. I was incensed. And in that moment I thought to myself:

I can do better.

It was twelve years ago and I remember that feeling distinctly. I knew I could legitimately, do better. I had read thousands of books in my life time. My papers and essays at university always did well. I could write what I wanted to read, to watch. I could write a better love story. With this belief firmly in my pocket, I began writing. And a mere twelve years later I am finally ready to publish the story I was determined would be better than “The Wedding Planner”. And when “Seascape” comes out you can decide if I succeeded.