Sunday, November 30, 2008

Interview with author Marta Stephens

I'm thrilled to have you here today, Marta. “Silenced Cry” was a wonderful book, and I'm really looking forward to “The Devil Can Wait.”


1. When did you know you would write a sequel to “Silenced Cry?”

“Silenced Cry” was actually written as an afterthought to the three other Harper books I wrote. The first three, “Silenced Cry,” “The Devil Can Wait,” and “Grave Witness,” (working title) were originally written as novellas. I wrote “Silenced Cry” to complete the set and give the character of Sam Harper a proper introduction to readers.


2. How long did it take to write “The Devil Can Wait?”

“The Devil Can Wait” was originally written in 2004. It was actually the first book I wrote in the Harper series. I put it aside while I worked on the other books and it wasn’t until a few months before the release of “Silenced Cry” in April 2007, that I began to expand “The Devil Can Wait” into a novel. By then, however, my writing style had changed and the characters were fully developed. I decided to toss the original 45,000 words and start over keeping only the essence of the plot. This rewrite was completed in 83 three days, but work continued throughout the year until I submitted the manuscript to my publisher, BeWrite Books (UK), in December 2007.


3. Did it require a lot of research?


I spend a huge amount of time researching the information that I use in this series. In many ways it’s a study in human nature—how the criminal mind works and what mistakes will lead to his or her capture. I’ve researched everything from police procedures, investigation practices, forensics, and autopsies to Massachusetts law and weather patterns. Every detail, large and small, is critical and worth taking the time to get it right.


4. What do you feel is the most important question present in “The Devil Can Wait?”


“The Devil Can Wait” is a story about greed, power, and the consequences of allowing those things to rule these characters’ lives. If asked to put it into a question, I’d have to say: “Who or what controls your life?”


5. What makes your story appealing to other genres besides Mystery? Why?


Suspense. Although I hadn’t intended to create a branding, I think what makes my writing stand apart from the traditional mystery is the complexity of the plot and the number of characters who bring into each book their own set of circumstances that create the subplots. Sam Harper, described by one reader as “a thinking man’s detective” is confident, knowledgeable and always follows his instincts. But just when he (and the reader) thinks he’s found a solution, a new bit of information surfaces and confronts him with another set of problems.

One reviewer described my writing as: “It is part police procedural, part noir, touched around the periphery with the realistic ugliness of crime, and the complexity of human interaction.”

Another wrote this about the second book: “‘The Devil Can Wait’ interlaces a complex plot that grabs the reader and doesn't let go. This book will appeal to readers with varied interests as it has everything: tension, conflict, murder, mystery, romance and the ability to keep the reader turning the page.”


6. We're told to write about what we know. How were you able to overcome the stymie of successfully creating a male protagonist even though you're a woman?


I used to think that “write what you know” referred to the places I’ve been to and/or things I’ve studied—what I “knew.” But in reality, it encompasses so much of who we are; our likes/dislikes, experiences, fears, grief, joys, shame, etc. Gender aside, both men and women are capable of experiencing the same full range of emotions. That’s what I “know.” However, writing in a man’s voice was something I had to learn to do. I took those emotions and slipped into my character’s head to see what triggered emotions in him and how he would act/react. In the early years, I often asked my husband to read through my work, and invariably he’d say things like: “A guy wouldn’t say that.” Or “He wouldn’t do or say it that way.” Even though there was nothing wrong with what I had written, it wasn’t in a male voice and that made me realize I needed to do a study of it. Through my job in human resources, I’ve read through the results of numerous studies conducted to help identify the differences between the communication styles of men and women. What I’ve discovered that it’s not just what and how men say things, it’s how their minds work. Most aren’t interested in details, they want the straight-forward facts, etc. Unlike women, their facial expressions don’t reveal their thoughts either and that’s what I think makes Sam Harper an interesting fellow—the fact that the reader sees his actions as well as his inner dialogue.


7. What is the hardest part of writing novels?

Although each book created a unique challenge, the focus of the first book was to make it marketable and appealing to a publisher. Now my challenge is to make sure each subsequent book out-shines the one before.


8. Which is your favorite part of writing?


I enjoy every step of the process—even the edits. I especially like to work on the plot to see how original and complex I can make it. Creating quirky characters is great fun too.


9. Was the anticipation for “The Devil Can Wait's” release different this time around?


“Silenced Cry” received an honorable mention at the 2008 New York Book festival and ranked in a few other competitions which helped to validate my writing. Still, I knew very little about the publishing world when “Silenced Cry” was released in April 2007, and in spite of my public relations background, I knew even less about how to promote it. The obvious difference between the releases of the two books is that now I have a little more experience, a readership and following of the series, I have a base of reviewers who are familiar with my work who were willing to read “The Devil Can Wait,” and I have a track record. In the 20 months since the first release, I gained a better grasp of what works and what doesn’t with respect to marketing. My network of contacts has more than doubled and this time I knew what to expect and was better able to plan for it.


10. Marta, you've been around a long time, you've written a successful mystery, you've just released your second book, and you know you can't please everyone. Are you now immune to the worries over negative reactions, poor reviews or lack of support from family and friends?


I began writing fiction in 2003 so compared to most authors I’m fairly new on the scene. Initially, I didn’t know if anyone would be interested in my work or if it was marketable. No one was more surprised than I was to see “Silenced Cry” gain the modest success is did. That put pressure on me to make the second book in the Sam Harper series, “The Devil Can Wait,” better. Negative reviews or reactions sting, but I can’t control what a reviewer will say about my books—there are just too many variables that can affect someone’s opinion. As far as family and friends, I haven’t lost their support yet, and I’m very grateful for it. The most important group of people, however, are my readers. I’ll admit I’m more confident with my style of writing now than I was in the beginning, but I don’t stop worrying until readers get my books in their hands. After all, I write for them so it’s not a matter or worrying about negative reactions; it’s all about fulfilling the promise of a good read.


11. Now that your second book is out there in the world, is there anything you plan to do differently this time around as far as promoting goes?


I don’t necessarily plan to do anything different, just more of it. I’m doing more locally to promote my books through talks and signings, but my primary focus continues to be Internet promotions. There’s a 20-month span between books. In that time, I have created a wider network of contacts and attracted a readership that has helped to spread word of mouth. Last year I conducted my own virtual book tour which gave me some great exposure to new target audiences. This year, I plan to conduct a virtual book tour in December with the help of a virtual book tour company.


12. How do you keep interest alive for your books?


My website is the hub of my marketing and promotional efforts. It is where I showcase my writing and post readers’ reactions/reviews to my books. I keep my site up-to-date and have tried to make it attractive and easy to navigate. I draw readers to it through numerous articles I’ve written relative to the process of writing. I post on a regular basis in numerous other websites and author/reader forums.


13. Do you have any advice for those experienced writers who have yet to find a publisher?


Find someone whose work you admire, listen to their advice, but always remember to be true to yourself. Don’t be swayed by advice that leads you away from your unique writing voice/style and never settle for less than you dare to dream.

Thanking you for dropping by, Marta. Best of luck with “The Devil Can Wait.”


My pleasure, Joylene. Thanks so much for the opportunity to share a bit of my writing journey with your readers and congrats to you on your release of “Dead Witness!”


You can learn more about Marta and her work at:

http://murderby4.blogspot.com/
http://mstephens-musings.blogspot.com/
http://www.martastephens-author.com/

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Meatloaf: Even Writers Have To Eat.

This is one of those easy recipes that's just perfect is you're short on time, facing a deadline or simply experiencing a surge of creativity and wish not to be disturbed.

One pound of hamburger.
1/2 cup onions chopped finely
1 cup of smashed cornflakes
salt & pepper
garlic powder
a tablespoon of onion soup mix
a squirt of HP sauce
a few drops of soy sauce
2 eggs

Mix all ingredients together. Form into a loaf. Bake in a 350 degree oven for 1 hour. If you double the recipe, the family can have meatloaf sandwiches for dinner tomorrow night.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Marketing a Novel Doesn't Have to Be Stressful.


Yesterday morning I read chapter one of Dead Witness at CFIS 93.1 FM in Prince George, BC.

I didn't realize just how stressed I'd been. In fact, up to that point, I was pretty impressed with my calm attitude. Ben Meisner is a popular radio personality in BC, and I conversed with him as if he were my neighbour. Then I sat down with Reg Feyer and recorded my first chapter without a hiccup. It airs Monday night at 6 pm as part of The Storytellers on 93.1 FM.

The night before I'd slept badly. I dreamed several different versions of my book signings for December 6th and 7th in Prince George. Either both bookstores were so packed that I ran out of books and everyone stormed out; or nobody showed up and there I sat surrounded by stacks of Dead Witness.

Yesterday morning, instead of breakfast, we left for town early so Ralphie could have some blood tests done at the clinic. Nothing urgent, just his annual checkup. We left the house at 8:20 and reached the clinic at 9:19. I had an appointment with the radio station after 10 am. I left one poster at Books and Company, and one at Save-On Bookstore, announcing the signings. The taping at 93.1 FM took 10 minutes. I have an okay-voice, not too deep, nor too scratchy. My mother was an entertainer during WW2, and she'd instructed us as kids on how to speak into a mike. After 40 some years, all that came back to me.

After the taping was over, I stopped in to see Teresa at the Prince George Free Press. We chatted about writing and all the marketing that entails. As I stood there, an invisible weight literally lifted off my shoulders. I became lighter, (hallelujah) and it occurred to me that the small-town girl from Maple Ridge had come a long way. It's one thing to be interviewed on television; but to sit down and read a chapter from a work that I'd sweated over for 4 years, was in deed a huge accomplishment.

Book signings are difficult. You don't know if you're going to be received well or completely ignored. I know Dead Witness is a good book, but times are tough. Our economy is suffering. Can readers afford to buy books?

That I don't know. But I do know I like people. I'm not afraid of smiling, chit-chatting or even talking about everything else but my work. I know my readers will be transported and able to escape life for a short period of time. If asked why anyone should buy my book, I'd be quick to answer, "Because Valerie McCormick is a fascinating, noble woman who reminds us how important family is."

I owe the Bulkley-Nechako District my deepest gratitude. They've been very supportive. They've gone out of their way to make me feel welcomed. Since publishing Dead Witness July 2, 2008, I've received numerous emails from readers who remarked on how much they enjoyed my book. Some have even stopped me on the street to thank me for the entertainment. One lady said, "Thank you for writing a good book and not wasting my time." That was music to my ears.

If you're near Books and Company, Saturday December 6th between 11 o'clock and 2:30, please stop by. I'll be at Save-On Bookstore at Spruceland the next day: Sunday; same hours.

I look forward to seeing you.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Write What Scares You Most.

I read a riveting piece by Toni McGee Causey at Murderati. The article is called COMFORT READING and its listed under November 23, 2008. It's the kind of article that will wrench your heart and pull you in so tightly that you're breathing the same air as the character.

Few writers can truly pull that off. Toni is one of them. And what's so remarkable is she can do it in so few words.

To paraphrase, in COMFORT READING, Toni asks you to imagine the most horrendous situation a character could experience, and then to write that character's story. The purpose is to provide an antidote for writer's block. But it also asks: how would you escape such pain? Would you pick up a book? If so, which one?

Interestingly, I read the article and realized I don't read to escape. I write. I use those low, desperate moments to show a character at their most vulnerable. In Dead Witness, when Valerie decides to commit suicide to save her children, I listened to Dire Strait's Brother in Arms. The music and lyrics reduced me to the point of desperation that I believe Valerie felt at that precise moment. While, as a mother, I can imagine myself preparing to give my life for my children, Brothers in Arms transposed me into the moment instantly. All I had to do was close my eyes, listen to the music and experience life as Valerie knew it. Every time I hear that song now, I'm back there with Valerie, broken, defeated and yet prepared to die.

It sounds so noble to hear a parent say that they'd be willing to make the biggest sacrifice; and while it's easy for me to assume, until I am in that situation, who knows. Still, I can't count how many times I've seen parents outside their burning house, screaming for someone to rescue their son or daughter. Or what about the mother who races down the beach, yelling for someone to save her drowning child? Why isn't she in the water? And why did those parents escape the house without their children?

Ah, but that's a story for another time. The point is to write that nightmare, the scene that tears at your heart and renders you a blubbering idiot, you have to separate yourself from the character and yet still write it from their perspective. You have to be as deep inside that character as humanly possible without subjecting yourself to the horrors of what they're experiencing.

Not an easy task.

Case in point:

In Dead Witness, Valerie is stalked by a killer with the means to destroy everyone she cares about. The authorities can do little to stop him. When Valerie realizes this, when she accepts that her children will never be safe until she's dead and no longer a threat to the killer, she sees no alternative but to end her life. He's not going to stop hunting her. He has strong motivation: self-preservation. Either he stops her or her testimony sends him to the electric chair.

That would motivate a lot of people.

To write that scene as convincingly as I was capable of doing, I listened to Dire Straits, and jumped inside Valerie, then wrote what I experienced. It wasn't enough to simply report what I saw. I had to believe it.

Afterward, when I knew I couldn't write anymore, I put down my pen, had a good cry, then went and watched my teenage sons play touchball in the front yard.

Seems like yesterday. But it was September 1991.

Which book would you pick up?

Friday, November 21, 2008

Keep Dreaming.

There are some wonderful blogs out there. I can't keep up with all of them, but I'm trying. The information they provide is mind-boggling. I keep thinking if only I'd had the Net when I was in high school and college and university. Maybe I would have achieved more. Maybe today I'd have six books published instead of one.

It wasn't that long ago that I equated my self-worth to publishing. If you're in the profession, whether it's writing, teaching or reading, you've probably heard one or many ambition writers say "If only I was published." Or "I'm not a writer until someone pays me." Or "I dream about the day I can hold my book in my hands; everything will change. Then, people will respect what it is I do."

That's all true. Yes, publishing changes the way old friends and new friends treat you. There's exceptions, but on the whole people that generally wouldn't notice you, suddenly do. You can see the admiration in their eyes. You wrote a book and now you're one notch higher in their book.

Dreaming about getting published is like dreaming all your life about being 115 pounds instead of 215 pounds. One day, you luck out, fate intervenes, and voila your dream comes true.

Yeah, right!

It takes work, lots and lots of hard work. There is no magic pill. You work hard, you exercise and one day you look in the mirror and see the body you've always dreamed of. Or you hold the book you slaved over for ten years.

If you've ever lost fifty pounds or more, you know what I'm talking about. If you've recently published and now you're marketing, you get where I'm coming from. And you don't need me telling you that the new body or the new book won't change what's inside. That's a whole different equation.

Don't stop doing whatever it takes. If your goal is to get published, use the astronomical amount of information available to make your dream come true. Learn your craft. Revise, edit and rewrite until you're positive your manuscript is as good as it will ever be. Build a query package that is equal to none. Build your readership. Learn how to blog. Send out submissions. Start networking. Write the perfect blurb, synopsis and cover letter. Keep writing. Prepare yourself for that moment when somebody says, "Yes, we want your book."

Sometimes I wonder what I was thinking. Being published is not the be all and end all. It's just the beginning of a whole new set of job descriptions. And that probably sounds as if being published is a letdown. Something that never quite measures up to what you thought it would be. All those changes you expected are replaced with demands that you can't imagine fulfilling. You, the storyteller, the one who would rather sit at the computer hour after hour, day after day, composing what you hope is the great novel, are now required to sell yourself on a nonstop tour of duty.

They call it marketing. I'm in the middle of it right now. It is daunting. I do wonder what the heck I was thinking. But during those moments when I actually do sit down and write, I feel more alive than I have ever felt. Writing is who I am. The storyteller, the writer destined to doubt, question, worry, fret and keep writing.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Tums or Rolaids, Anybody?

Dead Witness has been shipped. My distributor is contacting Chapters.Indigo's head office and the Save-On stores in B.C.. I had hoped to visit Kelowna and do some book signings before Christmas. As luck has it, those personnel in charge of my signings are unavailable until the second week in December. Too late. Winter is unpredictable. The highways could be closed because of snowdrifts or slides or become too treacherous to travel on because of freezing rains on top of big snow dumps. Another reason why I'm hating winter more and more each year.

And that's a shame. There is so much to appreciate about the season. The beauty of it. You know what I'm talking about. It snows two inches and all the trees are laden with a white fluff that quickly freezes, making the landscape look like a magical wonderland.

And the silence. So quiet you can hear the whish of air when a transport truck motors down the highway a kilometre away. Or you feel a eagle gliding past without sound before you ever see him.

And then there's the steam rising from the snow melting on your deck and evaporating in the sun.

Being the optimistic person that I strive to be, (not always successfully) I think things happen for a reason. I can either wallow in self-pity or accept that a trip to Kelowna would work better in the spring. I could concentrate my efforts in the Prince George area now, giving me some public relations experience and allowing me to market my book first on friendly ground. Besides, I'm not under the gun; I don't have deadlines to meet.

We've lived in the Buckley-Nechako distinct since 1979. We raised our family here. We have lots of wonderful friends and relatives. What better way to prepare for the outside world than on home turf.

In the meantime, on my next trip to the store, I'll make certain to stock up on Tums and/or Rolaids.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Lest We Forget


In Flanders Fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly

Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow



HISTORY OF THE POPPY

Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae, the Canadian doctor who wrote the poem "In Flanders Field," wasn't the first soldier to make a connection between a barren battlefield in Europe that exploded in red poppies after the fighting was over. When the First World War ended the lime was absorbed and the poppy disappeared.

Although Lt.-Col McCrae had been a surgeon for many years, the horror of his time in Ypres never left him. After the battle at Ypres, he wrote:
"I wish I could embody on paper some of the varied sensations of that seventeen days... Seventeen days of Hades! At the end of the first day if anyone had told us we had to spend seventeen days there, we would have folded our hands and said it could not have been done."
It was after this relentless battle that he sat at the back of an ambulance and pour out the anguish in his heart. Believing he couldn't adequately express what it was he saw, he tossed the poem away. A fellow officer picked it up and later sent it to a publisher in England. It was rejected. Punch published it on December 8, 1915.
The first person to wear a poppy in memory of those who died was American Moina Michael. Two years later Madame Guerin, on her return to France, decided to use handmade poppies to raise money for orphaned French children. The first poppies appeared in Canada November 1921.

Canada lost 116,031 soldiers in the Great War. Every November since, we wear the poppy to remember those soldiers and the soldiers who died in Korea, World War II, Vietnam, the Gulf War, Bosnia, and the war in Afghanistan. The red scarlet poppy represents the blood of those soldiers who fought for our peace and freedom.

My family and I also wear a poppy in honour of our son, who is currently serving in Kandahar, Afghanistan.



Stay safe, Cory.





Friday, November 7, 2008

My Best Friend Doesn't Talk Much

In preparations for the second release of my suspense novel Dead Witness, I've spent a lot of time at the computer this month, and away from my friends. There's no end to the things I have to do to promote my book. My friends and I managed an impromptu tea one afternoon, but I haven't seen as much of them as I'd like. Writing is a solitary act, there's no doubt about it. Maybe that's why I've become so attached to our dog, Bandit. He's my constant companion these days.

Bandit would much rather be running through the bush and down the road, stopping long enough to sniff out friends, or leave his special "Hi. I was here." When he goes up to Tchentlo Lodge on the Nation Lakes, there are two foxes he plays with. Though they continually try to coax him into the forest. He knows.

Bandit's a dog. He enjoys living outdoors more than indoors. Generally.

All summer long, we had to bribe Bandit in at night. We can't chance a bobcat or bear going after him. That was this summer. The last few weeks, though, apart from his walk/run with his dad in the morning, he stays outside only long enough to relieve himself. Then it's back indoors.

The first few days I thought maybe he wasn't feeling well. But it's not that cold out. He's eating. Drinking normally. There's nothing that exciting on TV. Bandit has a special spot on the end of the chesterfield where he curls up and watches HGTV during the day. At night he likes football or hockey. He loves Dog Whisperer.

One day, I asked him what was wrong, why did he suddenly want to stay indoors. His reply was simple. He nudged his cold nose under my hand and looked up at me with those sad icy blue eyes. He wanted pats?

After a few rubdowns, he laid down on the floor beside me and closed his eyes. It was only when I got up to find a particular reference book that he followed me. I sat down. He laid down. A little while later, I threw a load of laundry in the dryer. I turned and almost tripped over him. Once I was back at the computer, I looked over and he was curled up on the couch. Maybe he was feeling insecure? Do dogs even feel that?

This has been going on for weeks. Bandit runs in the morning. He plays with his bone on the floor beside my desk. He lies on the couch. Or he stretches out on the throw rug in the middle of the floor. But when he goes outside, it's only to pee, do some quick sniffs, then he scratches to get back in the house. Unless I go out with him.

Gads, have I turned my pooch into an old man before his time? Maybe I should hire one of the neighbourhood kids to take Bandit for a run after school? I would except there aren't any kids big enough. Bandit doesn't walk, he pulls. Great sled dog.

As I type this he's stretched out under the dining room table a few feet away. Maybe I'll have to settle for my best friend simply wanting to spend time with me.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

FISHING FOR FISH IS FINE, but...

Global BC's meteorologist, Mark Madryga warns it's going to snow this afternoon. That's a perfect time to sit back and watch the bald eagles fish -- Oops, I mean a perfect time to edit, write, or revise. An eagle just flew by my window and interrupted my thoughts. Which illustrates just how easy it is to distract me.

Cluculz Lake is approximately fourteen kilometers long and a kilometer wide. Our home is situated roughly in the middle on the north side of the lake and about fifty feet above water level. We can see approximately four to five km to the west and two to three to the east, before the lake disappears around the bend. At this time of year, there's a lot of activity with large flocks of birds preparing to migrate. The robins have long gone. Occasionally a lone swan flies past. (Did you know although they mate for life, they will "divorce" if there's a mishap building the nest?) I haven't seen a loon in weeks. There are still plenty of ducks.

Yesterday morning, I spotted two eagles fishing out front. I called to my husband so he could also appreciate them. Eagles are such majestic creatures. It wasn't until I looked closely that I realized they weren't fishing for fish. Fifteen to twenty ducks were swimming past, fighting the waves. The eagles took turns dive-bombing the ducks, then flipping over with talons extended. The ducks turned fast and swam toward the eagles, and literally "ducked" underneath those talons. They don't turn away from eagles, ever. It as if they're saying, "We're scared to death, but bring it on, buddy."

I live in the wilderness and yet it never fails to make my stomach lurch when I see nature at its most ... I want to say savage, but it's really MotherNature's way of balancing nature. I had to turn away from the window. My husband stood guard and reported that the eagles were unsuccessful and now sitting in my neighbour's trees. The fifteen or so ducks were hiding under the wharf.

I let out a deep sigh and went back to my desk overlooking the lake. Forty minutes passed before the eagles took off to the east. Seconds later, the ducks popped up from under the wharf and headed in the opposite direction.

Nature has its moments. And this article definitely encapsulates my favouritism. Fishing for fish is fine, but not for ducks.

Back to editing....

Monday, November 3, 2008

What's Your Book About?

synopsis
noun

a brief summary or general survey of something: a synopsis of the accident - an outline of the plot of a book, play, movie, or espisode of a television show.

ORIGIN early 17th century: via late Latin from Greek, from sun-'together' + opsis 'seeing.'



The hardest part of being an novelist is writing a synopsis of your book. Try to described your child in three sentences or less. It's a daunting task. Not impossible, but difficult. On the eve of Dead Witness's new release date, and in full edit mode with Omatiwak: Woman Who Cries, I'm determined to write a synopsis for Omatiwak's prequel Broken But Not Dead. I'm determined to do so because I need to understand why I wrote the book. If I can summarize the plot in its best light, maybe I'll learn something about myself.

Each time I begin a new book it's because I've changed. My ideals, dreams, fears are different. It doesn't mean I'm smarter. As each stage in my life comes and goes, I seem to evolve into something more complicated and yet perhaps a mite smoother, like a rock on the beach. Enough wind and the waves are bound to sooth away my jagged edges.

It took me fifteen years to write what I hope is an effective synopsis for Dead Witness.

Canadian wife and mother, witness to a double murder in the States, has her life torn asunder when the FBI kidnap her so that her family and the men hired to kill her, believe she’s dead.

To come up with this short, brief, but effective synopsis, I stepped outside myself and discovered why I'd written this story. It started with a 'what if' question. What if I disappeared and my brother didn't believe I was dead? Would my children survive without me? Would I survive without them? At that time in my life, early 90s, what was the worst thing that could happen to me?

My first manuscript, Always Father's Child was a bid to keep my dad alive. I understand why I wrote that book, and I understand why it will never be published. I know, never say never. What I learned was I am a storyteller. I write about characters I can relate to. The stories become their stories. Their questions.

English professor, Metis Brendell Kisêpîsim Meshango is being stalked by the two deranged sons of a powerful politician. I have nothing in common with this woman. Or do I. At fifty, I also wasn't willing to sit back and let my life continue without direction. I needed to reevaluate what I wanted out of life. Just as Brendell does in the opening of Broken But Not Dead. She goes off to her cabin out at Cluculz Lake to reassess her life and to make changes.

And so it would seem that I've answered my question. I understand why I wrote Broken But Not Dead.

Well, then why did I write Broken's sequel: Omatiwak: Woman Who Cries? How am I connected to 60 year old Sally Warner, widow, mother of two dead sons, a woman who believes she's losing her mind?

No wonder 'they' say writing is a solitary, private, personal journey. I'm not even sure I want to answer these questions.

I say this and I worry. Sally isn't Broken's Brendell Meshango or Dead Witness's Valerie McCormick, or Kiss of the Assassin's Marina Antonovna Abramova. Sally isn't attractive, sexy, exciting, or deadly. Will my readers care about Sally? The way I do? She's not young. She's not on an adventure. All she has are her wits, and they're shaky. But maybe it's no coincidence that she has RCMP Corporal Danny Killian keeping her on her toes.

Danny is more than Sally's equal. He's an intelligent seasoned investigator. He's damaged though, in a way that Sally understands. He's grieving for his murdered wife, Angie. Sally grieves for her destructive sons Declan and Bronson. As the story opens, her nasty-husband-turned-nice has just been murdered.

In the end, it seems the most important reason why a novelist needs a synopsis on each book is pretty basic. When someone asks, "What's your book about?" it's our duty to know. When somebody asks, "What's Omatiwak or Broken or Dead Witness or Kiss of the Assassin about?" I owe it to myself and my characters to say, "Omatiwak is about ...."



What's your book about?

Saturday, November 1, 2008

I'm Editing!

I'm editing. I know in itself that's not very exciting news, but honestly it's big news to me. I'd gotten so accustomed to finding other writing-related jobs to do that I'd become an expert on generating diversions to stop me from writing fiction. This editing I suddenly find myself doing is the closest thing to real composing in months.

Blogging isn't the same thing. Blogging is work. I don't know too many writers who enjoy it. Blogging takes dedication because you have to pull personal data out of your brain. Storytelling requires simply writing down what your characters do. If their actions and goals are exciting, all the better. If they aren't, well, that's where editing comes in.

I'm a writer. More than that, I'm a storyteller. I've been procrastinating for so long that I'd begun to wonder if I'd ever finish the other 5 manuscripts I'm so close to finishing. Close as in: except for number six, four are probably one draft away from being marketable.

I've been busy promoting Dead Witness since its release July 2ND of this year. Then I started this blog. For me, it takes hours of revising. And just recently, last week in fact, a few friends and I started a new joint blog. Which I'm proud to say is going strong.

But all that means hours and hours of prep work. Not to mention the critiquing I do for friends and colleagues. Then there's my all time favourite pastime: reading.

You get my meaning. I'm good at procrastinating. I've made a fine art out of making excuses. And now that I'm editing again, it's amazing how invigorating I feel. I'd forgotten just how wonderful it is to see my fingers coursing across the keys. My brain's coming up with juicy new ways of energizing my scenes. It's as if my old friends, my characters were off on vacation and decided it was time to get home and back to work.

Experts call what I've encountered as writers block. I don't like using that term because it implies a deficiency. Like a clot in the brain, stopping information from traveling from the cerebral cortex down the arm, past the fingers, keyboard and onto the screen.

Besides, I needed to get caught up on a lot of other important issues. Like spending three weeks with our youngest before he was shipped overseas to Kandahar, Afghanistan to serve a seven-month tour. Some people can work under this kind of pressure. I needed to formulate a positive attitude first. It was only yesterday that I concluded it wouldn't do to fret about Cory's duty in the middle east. He's good at his job, he's well trained, and I need to trust that he'll make it home safe.

So, the question remains, what was it that set me on this fabulous creative journey? I have to think on that for a while. It may have been the recent opportunity to read a draft of an unpublished work by Martha Engber titled Winter Light. It's the haunting story of a fifteen year old burnout. Suffice to say, I think you'd be wise to put Martha Engber's name on your watch list. She's an outstanding literary writer who will eventually catch the eye of a publisher. Then you can say, "Joylene told me so."

Meanwhile, all this negative talk about blogging begs the question: if it's so hard to do, why am I doing it?

That's a question for another day.