Monthly Archives: March 2013

My favourite books

I don’t intend to review books on this blog, but I thought I would share some of my favourites because they’re so friggin’ good!

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Quiet, please. Writer at work.

I get tired of people. I don’t just mean the ones who are annoying or crazy (and if you live in Toronto you get a lot of both). I mean people in general. It’s why I can’t write in cafes. Their very presence, those individual vibes, bother me.

In her book Quiet: The Power of Introverts, Susan Cain makes the distinction between those who are shy and those who are introverted. Shy people feel anxiety around others. Introverts aren’t anxious so much as they get exhausted by the sheer number of people. (Rather than extroverts who feed off that energy)

I can be extroverted at times. I enjoy speaking in front of crowds and I like the attention I’m paid when I tell a good joke. But for the most part, I like being with small groups of people or alone. Case in point, around the holidays this year the majority of my co-workers at my day job took holidays. I did not. During one particular day I had the entire office to myself for an hour. I marveled at the silence. The phones weren’t ringing, there were no hallway conversations, no drone of the photocopier or mail machine. I’m no J.D Salinger, but I understand the appeal.

Are all writers introverted? I think we have to be. Sure, there are writers who are accomplished public speakers, who enjoy having the attentions of others, but in the end writers have to want to be alone with their thoughts.

Quiet, please. Writer at work.

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No, really, what’s it like?

If you go to a reading or a festival you see writers on stage looking so confident. They get asked questions like what’s changed since you’ve published. They answer that they write faster, that they think of themselves as a professional. They get asked how they found an agent and they talk about queries and rejection. Rarely do you hear an author talk about the inexplicable joy of holding their creation in their hand.

Damien Walters Grintalis is the author of Dreams of Ink. I haven’t read this book (and since he defines it as horror I probably won’t since I don’t like being scared) but I love his blog post about how he felt when he published.

Fourteen hours until Ink is released and I feel as if I’m standing on a precipice, yet what waits below is not a deep chasm of treacherous rock and stone.

Today, I’m a published author, thanks to my short fiction. Tomorrow, though, I become a published novelist. Maybe it’s only semantics and this whole thing is worthy of nothing more than a rolling of the eyes.

Except… Except…

Over the years, I heard things like “agents don’t rep horror”, “horror doesn’t sell”, and when I received the first rejection for the first query letter, I wondered if they were right. Second rejection. Ouch. By the fifth, they didn’t hurt as much. And then came a request. I don’t remember if it was a full or a partial, but what it meant was a maybe, a step up on a climb to somewhere that was a dream.

More waiting, more querying, more maybes, more nos. And then a yes. Another step.

And then came submission. More waiting, this time for editors, more maybes, more nos. Sometimes the nos cut so deep, I thought I’d bleed out before too long. Then came a yes. Another step. A huge one.

And now this.

I know tomorrow will bring giddiness and laughter and fear and anxiety, but right now, I have this almost ethereal feeling of accomplishment that tastes of honeysuckle and candyfloss. Call it luck, call it hard work, call it talent. But I didn’t quit. I kept taking those steps. I kept climbing.

Now I’m standing on that precipice and what waits below is a dream I dared to believe in, and I hope I never forget what this feels like.I hope he doesn’t, either.

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Dee Tales: No Time

The Clock

Dee Tales are whimsical stories inspired by photographs taken with my i-phone. A tiny story for you, a wee sense of accomplishment for me. Enjoy.

It changes locations. Germany. South Africa. Lisbon…

It changes shapes. It’s been a stop watch. A clock radio. A grandfather clock…

It keeps time. All of it. Everywhere in the world.

And I’ve come to destroy it.

I’ve tried before, but I’ve been too late. The committee got word of what I was trying to do and moved it. A time terrorist, they called me. They don’t understand. Once I’ve done what I’ve come here to do, there will be no hours, no minutes, no seconds. People won’t be early or late. But most importantly, there will be no past and no future. Only now.

I hope I brought enough C4.

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How-to Books

STOP! PUT THAT DOWN! You do not… need… the how-to… book…

How-to books are dangerous because it feels like you’re writing. But how-to books are not going to make you a better writer. You know what will? Writing.

Now, if you’re reading how-tos because you need to feel inspired, energized, then I’d recommend the following books. (These are only to be read after you’ve done a good days’ work of writing, of course) Feel free to add any biographies of your favourite writers to the list.

For Writers Only
By Sophy Burnham

My mom gave me this book when I was a teenager. With chapter titles like as “On Knowing You’re A Writer” and “Walking Around Time”, you’re sure to feel a sense of community within these pages. (Thanks, Mom)

Double Lives: Writing and Motherhood
Edited by Shannon Cowan, Fiona Tinwei Lam, and Cathy Stonehouse

Speaking of moms…

This book is a phenomenal collection of essays written by women trying to balance two of the hardest jobs in the world. Mom or not, you should give it a read.

The 101 Habits of Highly Successful Novelists: Insider Secrets from Top Writers
By Andrew McAleer

There are a few how-to tips in this one, but there are also sections like “Believing You’re Talented Enough” and “Making Sacrifices to Write”. Most of the contributors are mystery and crime writers, but you will identify with their advice no matter what genre you write in.

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John Steinbeck and Advice for Beginning Writers

Dear Writer:

Although it must be a thousand years ago that I sat in a class in story writing at Stanford, I remember the experience very clearly. I was bright-eyes and bushy-brained and prepared to absorb the secret formula for writing good short stories, even great short stories. This illusion was canceled very quickly. The only way to write a good short story, we were told, is to write a good short story. Only after it is written can it be taken apart to see how it was done. It is a most difficult form, as we were told, and the proof lies in how very few great short stories there are in the world.

The basic rule given us was simple and heartbreaking. A story to be effective had to convey something from the writer to the reader, and the power of its offering was the measure of its excellence. Outside of that, there were no rules. A story could be about anything and could use any means and any technique at all – so long as it was effective. As a subhead to this rule, it seemed to be necessary for the writer to know what he wanted to say, in short, what he was talking about. As an exercise we were to try reducing the meat of our story to one sentence, for only then could we know it well enough to enlarge it to three- or six- or ten-thousand words.

So there went the magic formula, the secret ingredient. With no more than that, we were set on the desolate, lonely path of the writer. And we must have turned in some abysmally bad stories. If I had expected to be discovered in a full bloom of excellence, the grades given my efforts quickly disillusioned me. And if I felt unjustly criticized, the judgments of editors for many years afterward upheld my teacher’s side, not mine. The low grades on my college stories were echoed in the rejection slips, in the hundreds of rejection slips.

It seemed unfair. I could read a fine story and could even know how it was done. Why could I not then do it myself? Well, I couldn’t, and maybe it’s because no two stories dare be alike. Over the years I have written a great many stories and I still don’t know how to go about it except to write it and take my chances.

If there is a magic in story writing, and I am convinced there is, no one has ever been able to reduce it to a recipe that can be passed from one person to another. The formula seems to lie solely in the aching urge of the writer to convey something he feels important to the reader. If the writer has that urge, he may sometimes, but by no means always, find the way to do it. You must perceive the excellence that makes a good story good or the errors that makes a bad story. For a bad story is only an ineffective story.

It is not so very hard to judge a story after it is written, but, after many years, to start a story still scares me to death. I will go so far as to say that the writer who not scared is happily unaware of the remote and tantalizing majesty of the medium.

I remember one last piece of advice given me. It was during the exuberance of the rich and frantic ’20s, and I was going out into that world to try and to be a writer.

I was told, “It’s going to take a long time, and you haven’t got any money. Maybe it would be better if you could go to Europe.”
“Why?” I asked.
“Because in Europe poverty is a misfortune, but in America it is shameful. I wonder whether or not you can stand the shame of being poor.”

It wasn’t too long afterward that the depression came. Then everyone was poor and it was no shame anymore. And so I will never know whether or not I could have stood it. But surely my teacher was right about one thing. It took a long time – a very long time. And it is still going on, and it has never got easier.

She told me it wouldn’t.

– 1963

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