Monday, April 30, 2012

fears and such

Secret: I am a fearful person. For example: I have never actually outgrown my fear of the dark. Also: I have a serious fear of dying. Things like blood clots and brain aneurisms and cancer terrify me on a daily basis. (Weird? Mmm, yes.) Another fear I have is Failing with a capital F. I look around me at the people my age and see them acquiring careers and mortgages and – gulp – children. Inevitably, when I look myself up and down in the mirror, I think, “Is that what I should be doing?” At tax time, the accountant asked, “Do you contribute to RRSPs?” and I had a mini panic attack. (Does anyone else get heart-palpitations when they hear that question?)

Needless to say, I have a great many fears.

I actually don’t want to talk about my fears, though. What I want to talk about is the thing that saves me from them. I was in my favourite coffee shop recently working on revisions when a thought burst into my head: This is what saves me.

Writing is what I meant. And in a much broader sense, stories save me. Stories about living and dying. Stories about struggling. Stories about being true to yourself and the things that are most important to you (or not being true to those things and watching the fallout). Stories remind me that I’m not alone. They re-orient me.

The reason I fear careers and mortgages and RRSPs is because these things assume a sense of permanency and stability. But when I looked around me, I see uncertainty everywhere. Situations change. People change. The world as we know it changes. I myself am the most changeable thing around. Trust me. But stories? Stories don’t change. (That’s actually false in almost every way but the one I mean.) Stories have been around for as long as there have been people living and breathing and surviving alongside each other. When life is good, stories are there. When life is not so good, stories are still there. Stories tell us back to ourselves, like mirrors. They're true in the rawest and wildest sense of the word.

Just like stories, writing is a tool I use to make sense of the world. It helps me not be so afraid. It's the thing I fall back on, again and again and again. And in that sense, writing is for me what RRSPs are for other people. It's a form of security in an ever-changing world. Writing is my saving force.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

WIP inspiration

Two images I used when writing the first draft of my most recent novel.

Monday, April 23, 2012

the chaos that is revision

My revision process looks a lot like my bedroom. It might seem like a tangled up mess to my friend who just opened the door looking for the washroom, but to me, there is a precise order to the chaos.

To start with, I have at least three documents open that I go back and forth on. The first is full of revision notes given by readers. The second is the manuscript itself, reduced to single spacing (because double spacing drives me batty, for some reason) and in this second document there are always tons of review tabs highlighting text and shouting: “This scene is unnecessary!”, “Character X should be more upset about Y!”, “THIS NEEDS MORE DESCRIPTION!”. (Review tabs can be aggressively bossy.) The third document is a mishmash of every thought I have about the book and what it needs. Sometimes these are roughly sketched ideas about plot or character. Sometimes they are actual bits and pieces of scenes that need to be expanded on or inserted into pre-existing scenes. This is the most unruly of the three documents, and kind of functions as an out of control To-Do list. As I’m filling up the list, I’m also picking one or two things and working them into the manuscript. Sometimes, it can be as simple as “Insert lilacs into scene 24.” Other times, it’s things like, “What are Character Z’s strategies for remembering? Figure this out and layer them in.”

The process can get ridiculously messy. But it’s also a ton of fun.

Often, the best parts of my stories come when I least expect them, which means I have to strategically distract myself so that my subconscious can go to work. Some ways that I do this: I bury myself in books or watch a lot of movies (not a usual activity for me - the movie watching, that is). I find that stuffing my mind with stories is helpful. There are intuitive patterns in the way that all stories are told, and I want to absorb them. Going for really long walks is also helpful. As is listening to my writing playlists over and over and over.

The thing that works best of all, though? Naps. Yep, that’s right. If I’m stuck staring at the screen with no ideas, I will sometimes tell myself: "I’m just going to go put my head down for twenty minutes…" This is a trick. The reason I do it is because the moment I place my cheek on the pillow, ideas start whacking me over the head. Which leads me to the next thing:

Because I’m relying on my subconscious to do a lot of the grunt work, I keep a pen and notebook handy at all times. (I do this even when I’m not revising.) If I’m walking and I think a thought but can’t hang on to it (or perhaps I’m thinking three thoughts and am struggling to juggle them all), I whip out the notebook and start scribbling furiously. When I get home, I transfer the scribbles into my tangled up list-like document, and get to work.

In some ways, revision is like trying to put a puzzle together - except without the lid that shows you what the picture looks like when it’s finished. Which can be frustrating at times. But it’s also kind of like an adventure.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

magic and hope

Hope can be a powerful force. Maybe there's no actual magic in it, but when you know what you hope for most and hold it like a light within you, you can make things happen, almost like magic. – from Daughter of Smoke and Bone

The other reason I love writing for kids is because, to paraphrase Katherine Paterson ("The Bridge to Terabithia"), you're duty-bound to end the story with hope. I love that notion. I think hope and magic are probably connected. - Kate DiCamillo in this interview

All good literature provides hope, but the best of fantasy literature provides extraordinary hope, and I guess that is what I am after -- extraordinary hope. - Jack Zipes in this interview

Monday, April 16, 2012

new in the shop

I have loved the stars too fondly to be fearful of the night. - Galileo Galilei

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Sibling Love

A video wherein my good friend (we'll call him Baloo) is in 
the middle of a tutorial on corn dogs when tragedy strikes:

Don't worry, though. It all turned out all right in the end. Little sisters were
reprimanded. Corn dogs were eaten. And coffee was enjoyed by all.

Happy Pascha!

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

This is what writing a book looks like.

First, you pluck an idea out of the ether. Or it plucks you. Either way, the idea starts to embed itself into your subconscious, weaving itself into the rhythms of your life until you barely even know it’s there. It sits with you, for months. Just sits. Maybe you mention it to someone, this idea that’s been following you around, or that you’ve been following around. People look at you funny or tell you, 'hey that sounds like a short story, not a novel'. You don’t listen because you don’t write short stories. You think in novels.

The idea lingers for half a year, and then you sit down to write it. The first chapter pours out of you, and you think, this is the best idea ever. This is going to be the best book ever. I love this!

You will soon change your mind, however.

After reading and rereading that first chapter dozens of times, you’ve decided that it’s actually perfect, and the rest of the book is going to pale in comparison, so you should just give up now. You tuck chapter one away.

At a conference, a big time editor sits down with you to talk about your manuscript. She’s not really interested in the finished one, the one that got you into the conference. But when she asks if you’re working on anything else, you mention ‘the idea’ and show her that shiny new chapter you just happened to bring with you and she hands you her card and says, “That one. I want that one. Send it to me when it's finished.” You leave the conference feeling dizzy.

The next six months are hell. You stare at chapter one. You sit at the desk, forcing yourself to pound out words. You give them to Joe to read, and then pound out more. Some weeks, you write thousands of words. Some months, you write no words. That’s right. Total monthly word count = zero. Some days, you love this book. It’s the best idea ever, remember? Other days, you hate it with a thousand burning hates. It’s boring. The protagonist is whiney. (Where did she get that from, I wonder?) Nothing happens. There’s no chemistry. Nothing is at staaaakkkee!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

You put the book away and go back to the first book. That finished one, the one whose characters you know so well, they can’t surprise you. You re-write that book. You re-write it again. You send it out, trying to snag an agent.

Meanwhile, there’s the idea. The shiny one. The one you love-hate. Your cousin takes you with him to Florida and you make yourself work on it. You start to fall in love again, you write lots of words, lots of shiny new scenes. And then when you get back, it quickly fades away. Too boring. Not enough happening. You don’t know how to tie it all together. It's the worst idea ever.

And then one day, as you're walking home through the park, lightning strikes. You get in the door and viciously start cutting scenes, putting some that were at the end near the beginning and some that were at the beginning near the end. You cut the timeline in half. You change the whole story around.

You finish the damn thing.

Wait, what? Seriously? Did that just happen? You sit there, staring at the very end of the very last scene, and it’s glorious. Or at least it’s ten times better than the first draft of your first book (which, let's be honest, was grotesque). You look up from the screen and think to yourself, “Whoa. Writing a book is SO EASY.” You think this because at this point you are completely delusional.

You give it to Joe to read. He confirms your feelings (about you being delusional, but also about the book being pretty good) and then he carefully or not so carefully nudges you with all the things that are wrong. So you sit down to fix all the wrong things, and all the crazy starts all over again.

This is what writing a book looks like.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

I love mail.

Because sometimes the post person brings me beautiful things. Like this.

ZOMG. I love it so much, I want to squish it.

(But I won't.)

Wednesday, April 4, 2012


It's officially Spring. Which (for me) means craft shows! Here are two that are coming up in the next month (they happen to be two of my all-time favourites):


 And here's evidence of my preparations:

And now back to work...

Sunday, April 1, 2012

The Secret World of Arrietty

For a long time after this film ended, I sat in my seat quietly crying and my heart was glowing and I just felt so... full. Here are some of the reasons why:

The world. Arrietty's bedroom, full of wild, growing things. The way the grandfather clock bangs. The initial introduction to the kitchen and how it seemed to a Borrower. How you can hear Sho's heart beating in almost every scene he's in.

The attention to detail (in typical Studio Gibli style). I love the way a scene will linger at the end, after everything has played out, and focus in on something small and almost insignificant - for example, a lady bug climbing up a leaf.

Arrietty. Her strength. The way she looked one way when she was being brave and going out into the world (her short red dress and boots and pin-sword), and then looked another way when she was being more domestic (her hair down and clothed in a long yellow dress). And I loved loved loved her relationship with her dad!

Sho. His soft-spokeness (totally reminded me of Howl). His sadness and tenderness. How he was always reading a book or lying in the grass. How he was slow moving, never wanting to intrude on Arrietty, always asking to see her but would never look at her without her consent.

The soundtrack (entirely by Cecile Corbel). The harp takes front and centre, making the music light and heavy at the same time (just like the story). And magical.

I also just really loved the concept of "Borrowers" who only take what they need, and how this is never actually an inconvenience for anyone, but some people find it intolerable and want punish them for it. I can think of a lot of situations in real life where this is the case.

I haven't read The Borrowers, but definitely will now.