Saturday, 25 May 2013

Reading, A Writer's Perspective

We’ve already established the fact that I am a writer (even if I do write somewhat sporadically.) We have also established that my mind doesn’t work quite like anyone else’s. I think that being a writer gives me a different perspective than many people, on a lot of things. This morning I was lying in bed thinking and I started to wonder if a writer looked at their reading material the same way as other people.

Like most of the writers I know, I am a book collector. There is no way in the world I will ever catch up on my to-be-read pile. I have over six hundred unread books on my Kindle and at least that many on the shelves littered about my house.

In the past, I would read books and then evaluate them. If I thought I might want to read them again, I saved them if not, I took them to the second hand store and traded them in. Lately, with the advent of e-readers I find myself increasingly reluctant to part with the few paperbacks and hand-covers that cross my desk. As much as I love my Kindle, it just isn’t the same as the printed word, so my print library continues to grow.

I must confess that I have not yet read all of the print books in my house. I intend to, but there are so many things I want to read; stories, biographies, history, self-help, poetry, children’s books, science … anything. I keep finding new things to read. I keep on reading and taking items from the to-be-read list, but I add to the list faster than I take things off of it.

I read a lot. I read every single day. Earlier this week a friend said to me, “Reading again?” He smiled when he said it. I replied by saying “Ya, I’m like that,” and he laughed with me. He teases me a lot about how often he sees me reading. But then, I am usually waiting for my husband when we see each other, and reading is the perfect way to pass time when you are waiting for someone else.

I cannot finish a book that I am not enjoying. I admit it, if I am not moved by a book I will set it aside and approach it again later. Sometimes the story you pick up just isn’t what fits your emotional needs of the moment. That is when a story gets set aside to be re-visited later. On occasion a book is so poorly written that I just cannot read it. Often, I can get beyond poor editing and ignore some grammar and spelling mistakes. (Lord knows editing is a big pain in the ass.) But plot holes incense me. I’m sorry but if the heroine’s house burns down in the second chapter, she sure as hell better not be wearing last year’s Halloween costume in the middle of the book. Grrrr. By the same token, if she puts on a blue dress to go to the party, it better not be red when she gets home (sexy plot-line notwithstanding.) Those kinds of mistakes are unforgivable. As is changing the hero’s name half way through the story or leaving loose ends untied. Those are things that will get your book pitched across the room and earn you a bad review. Sometimes, it is all I can do not to launch my Kindle into the wall and only the cost of replacing it stops me from hurling it against the brick hearth.

Story length doesn’t matter much to me either. Sometimes it only takes a short space to tell a story, other times it takes longer. I can enjoy a short story or novella just as easily as I can a lengthier tome. In fact, sometimes I am looking for a quick read and choose accordingly.

I read for pleasure, to educate, to entertain, to research and for pure escapism. Give me a good book over television or a movie any day. My mind can take another author’s words and twist them and paint a picture that suits my impression of the story and I am not left with dissatisfaction that the movie makers failed to see the story, setting and characters the right way, the way I see them.

I have friends who don’t read at all, they find reading boring. I can’t even fathom that. Reading can take you to so many places and into so many different realities. You can watch from the sidelines or let yourself become totally immersed in a new world and become someone else entirely for a while. I like that. Other friends read, and are drawn into the story for the few hours it takes them to finish a book. Then, they are onto something else. Unlike them, I often find myself wondering about what comes next, or what the secondary characters in a story went on to do. Occasionally, I make up my own stories about the world I have just left.

So yeah, I guess I would have to say that as a writer, I view my reading material differently from other people. And you know what? That isn’t necessarily a bad thing.

How about you? Do you revisit fictional worlds?
Are you a print reader or do you prefer digital books?


Sunday, 5 May 2013

Creative Genius: Donald Maass

This has been a fabulous weekend so far. Friday I managed to have a very productive writing day, which is always a good thing for me, and for my readers. Yesterday I attended a workshop hosted by CaRWA (Calgary chapter of Romance Writers ofAmerica.) Yes, I consider myself a romance writer (among other genres.) In spite of what I have published so far, my focus is on romance. I love a good romance! Unfortunately, not all the stories running amok in my head are romances. Many of them don’t fit into any specific category or genre. I’m good with that. I just want to tell stories.(And with any kind of luck at all, people will want to read them.)

Anyway, back to the workshop … While the workshop was hosted by a romance writer’s group, romance wasn’t the focus at all. The focus was on writing a story that would draw your reader in and keep them captive for the entire story. Creating a page turner. Our special guest was Donald Maass, author and literary agent. He is definately a man who knows what he is talking about, and is an inspiring, entertaining speaker.

We talked about sympathetic characters that were also realistic characters. People with quirks and foibles and conflicting emotions. People who feel those deep, dark and secret emotions that we all feel and refuse to acknowledge to ourselves, let alone to another living being.

We revisited high-school English class and talked about hidden and overt symbolism and how it helps reinforce the story and the message behind the story. I cannot tell you how much it kills me to admit that Miss Morrison knew what she was talking about in English class.

We took notes, did hands on exercises with our current WIP’s (works in progress.) We worked with our own ideas and with other attendees and the work of published authors as well. By noon, my head was abuzz with ideas and ways to improve the projects I am working on. By the end of the day, I was hitting information overload. It was crazy how many improvements to my stories leapt into my head. There were a couple points where it was all I could do not to whip open my laptop and dive into a story.

I know that there is a lot of information not covered in class that is available in his books. So I have ordered them and eagerly await their arrival. (Yes for some things, many things, I still prefer a printed paper book in my hot little hands.) If you are interested, you can find more information on Donald and his books here.

I am optimistic that I have taken away some valuable information that will improve my writing. I like to think I craft a decent tale, but I am certain, beyond doubt, that there is great room for improvement. And, I believe that my readers are worth the extra effort it takes to re-think how I sculpt my characters and worlds to make them better.
Oh yeah, did I mention that
Donald is as cute as a bug's ear?

As for me on this sunny Sunday … I am sitting in the sun, coffee and laptop at the ready. I’m going to have a productive day putting Donald’s advice into action. Maybe today is the day to begin my evil plot to write the mixed genre novel. It is going to be an erotic, shape shifter, vampire, steampunk, sci-fi, murder mystery, adventure, romantic, western, historical, thriller. It will be my biography. Okay maybe it won’t be my biography. But the story I have waking me up at night is definitely a mixed genre one and I have decided to go whole hog and chase after it. (How’s that for mixing your metaphors?)


Wednesday, 1 May 2013

Finding Time for Your Passions

Have you ever noticed that life has a way of throwing curve balls at you? Just about the time you think you have everything under control, shit hits the fan. You know what I mean. You finally get the credit cards paid off and the car goes KLUNK and dies on the freeway. The Christmas bills are paid and the furnace blows up. You finally free up a four day weekend for relaxing and doing nothing when Great Aunt Bethany calls to say she’s coming to town for a few days. It is easy to get caught up in the little things and lose sight of your passions. A few extra hours at work; a couple dinner invitations; people making demands on your time and asking you to do things for them; it all adds up and eats into your time.

How do you find time for those passions? When do you say no? When do you start to let things slide? When do you shout at the world, “Enough is enough?”  But most importantly, how do you decide which things occupy your time?

Personally I am selfish. I try my best not to neglect my needs. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t mean I refuse all requests or tell people to take a flying leap when they ask for a favour or for some help. I just do my very best to make time for the things that I love to do, for the things that nurture my soul. I try to hear what my mind and my soul are telling me.

I am a creative person and I try to be aware when my creative side screams for an outlet. I NEED to do crafty things. I need to write stories. Some are good, some are awful, but they need released from the crowded confines of my mind or my head will explode. My house is littered with the detritus of my creative side. There are piles of partial manuscripts, writing materials and reference manuals. There are balls of yarn, knitting projects, needlepoint canvases and half-finished baby afghans. My studio looks like a fabric truck exploded inside of it. Fabric is stacked and draped on every surface, pattern books stick out of weird places, all higgety piggety.  Generally, I have so many projects on the go that I can’t decide what to work on. My husband says that I have Magpie Syndrome; I get distracted by bright shiny or colourful objects. He may be right. Personally I think it is just my creative side trying to escape and express itself to save my sanity.

The trouble is that sometimes it is hard to fit that creativity, that passion into my life. But somehow I manage it. It is a very rare day that goes by when I don’t indulge myself. Sometimes it is with writing (most days); sometimes it is a couple rows of crochet or a bit of applique or quilting. To find the time, I have turned down invitations to coffee, to home clothing parties, dinners, and on occasion, I tell my man that I cannot go with him to Home Depot, or that he has to wait an hour while I stitch this. Recently, I have told my kids I don’t have time to visit. That isn’t as cruel and heartless as it sounds. I see one daughter and her family at least five days a week, so a missed visit isn’t a big thing for any of us. My other daughter is as busy as I am, so I rarely turn down the chance to see her.

For years and years, I cleaned my house from stem-to-stern at least once a week, sometimes more often. Now, I’m doing good to get it done once a month. We don’t live in squalor. I’ve just changed my priorities. Things are clean enough. Nobody who comes over complains, in fact one fellow says, “I like coming here, I feel comfortable, like I was at home. I’m not worried about destroying a show-home.” The first thing he does when he shows up is take his socks off … so the floors can’t be that dirty.

The joke around here is that if I have cleaned up, someone must be coming over. (And usually that is true!) And hubby has taken over the dishes and the laundry. This leaves me more time to play with the things that nurture me and keep me sane and happy. Because we all know that if Katie isn’t happy, no one is happy!

It’s about balance. It’s about not neglecting your needs to meet the needs of others. It’s about being who you need to be and not feeling guilty when you say no or when the toilet doesn’t get scrubbed exactly on schedule.

Remember the move Goonies? They were under the wishing well and had to choose between following a dream and searching for One Eyes Willie’s treasure and returning to the world of their parents. Remember Mikey’s passion speech about time and staying a Goonie? “Our parents, they want the bestest stuff for us. But right now they gotta do what's right for them, 'cause it's their time. Their time, up there. Down here it's our time. It's our time down here. That's all over the second we ride up Troy's bucket.” Mikey had it right! Stand up for your time, not what is right for the people in your life. Be strong, be a Goonie and make time for your passion. Make time for you! Stay out of Troy’s bucket!

What is your passion and how are you going to find time to fit it into your schedule?