Saturday, 28 November 2015

The doors we open and close each day decide the lives we live. —Flora Whittemore

Like many people, I follow a number of forums and blogs as well as Twitter feeds. They are often entertaining and I usually learn some things along the way. In the last few weeks I have been following discourse on some American hot-button issues: gun control, profiling and emergency immigration. I am both enthralled and appalled by the conversations. I equate it to passing the scene of a car accident—you know you shouldn't gawk, but you can't look away.

Politics can be polarizing and it has never been more evident to me than it has been in these online threads. Some folks, when they cannot convince others to concur with their opinions, have resorted to petty statements and personal jabs that fall just shy of getting the boot from moderators. These are folks who are well-spoken, well-rounded and, no doubt, good people. Most of them are Americans banging heads with one another. Now, that's gotta hurt.

As I watch American political candidates grandstanding, listen to the horrific news of mass shootings and police brutality, and then see how it trickles down and plays out on such a personal level in these online venues, I can't help but reflect upon my own country and my own beliefs. And, for the record, I am not looking to present a case or woo the masses. I am merely sharing my thoughts. Feel free to walk away at any time. It's easy. There's a little x in the top corner that works magic at making things disappear. With that out of the way, let me share my immediate thought: I am so fortunate be a Canadian.

Make no mistake, I am not claiming I live in a perfect country. Since it is run, and populated, by humans, I doubt I'll ever be able to make that extraordinary declaration. We too have problems, not the least being our inability to address head on the abuse and murder of indigenous women, our total disregard for mother nature as we continue to support things like the tar sands or grant corporations permission to dump toxic soil near life-sustaining lakes, and the existence of corruption at all levels of government—ranging from Senate scandals down to misuse of funds at the municipal level.

But, there has been a shift. It is small, but a tree grows from a seed; I am filled with hope and optimism for my country. Conversation is once again flowing between our premiers and our prime minister. I don't know if good things will come from this renewed approach, but I know for certain we cannot have cohesion or shared goals when there is no dialogue across our nation.

Much of the dissension, in the social media I follow, stems from the fear ignited by recent terrorist attacks. I acknowledge that fear, for it is substantial and it is real. One cannot un-feel it once it has dug into one's psyche. It is unfortunate that the media encourages it, nourishes it with every news story on refugees. They show images of the flood of people fleeing now, as if they will be the folks who fall over the threshold when we open our doors. This amplifies the anxiety that haunts the best of us: What if there are hidden terrorists seeking an opportunity to wreak more havoc? In truth, the folks who will arrive over the next month or so were vetted long before the terrible events in Paris and elsewhere. It is an incredibly long arduous process and there are much easier ways to get into our country to do harm—if that is someone's agenda. And those desperate souls you see in the news? If they are lucky, they will take our new immigrants' places in the camps and await their turn.

We have slowed the process a wee bit and I think that is wise. It gives Canadians a chance to digest how it is done, to thoroughly understand it so that we don't fear it, and it also allows us a little more time to prepare a warm welcome. For that is what these people need. It is what we all need. A safe place to call home.

I am proud that we are open to new people, that we feel compelled to help out to those who are in need and that we will not demand they shed their heritage at our shoreline. We are a mosaic. A beautiful colourful work of art that glows brightly from sea to sea.



Saturday, 21 November 2015

Hooked on Stories

Last night, DH and I attended our first theatre performance since moving to the island. The venue is a wonderful space with perfectly raked seating, terrific acoustics and not a bad view in the house. Musical theatre is my first love, and I waited with great anticipation for the show to begin. It was one I'd never heard of but it drew on music from the fifties, so I knew it would be a treat. It was—just not the treat I expected.

It is billed as a musical and, by definition of a musical, it fits the bill: having pleasing harmonious qualities of music; set to or accompanied by music; of or relating to music. But, I thought I was attending the other kind of musical—a movie or play that tells a story with songs and often dancing. I found myself disappointed despite the fact that it was upbeat with lots of fun songs and terrific dancing. And, it bothered me that I felt let down...until I pinpointed why.

I'm hooked on stories. The main character, based on a real-life DJ, had a story. I caught a glimpse of it a couple of times, but I left knowing very little about him except that he was popular with teens, he met Elvis and he was inducted into the Hall of Fame. I wanted to know more: What roads did he travel down, what did he think about it all, who broke his heart, who made him whole? The teens in the show danced and sang up a storm. But, they had no story either. The hint of a connection would catch my interest but it was just schtick and was dropped as the next number came along, leaving me wanting once again. I wanted a story set to music and what I got was a musical revue.

Once I realized that, I relaxed. It was my expectations that set the stage for disappointment, not the show.  I started to watch the audience as well as the performers. I would put the average age in the theatre at 65 years plus. They laughed, they sang and they reached for each other's hands. Trisha Yearwood sings a poignant song called The Song Remembers When and I slowly realized that that was what was unfolding all around me. These songs were sparking memories, reigniting moments shared and it was a joyous, amazing thing to watch.

There were stories last night—that large auditorium was bursting with them. They were told with a look, with a touch, with a smile. I squeezed DH's hand, sat back and drank it all in. I so love a good story.

Saturday, 14 November 2015

A little reading is all the therapy a person needs sometimes.—Unknown

A writer friend of mine is struggling to write a scene that hits too close to something she herself has experienced. It turns out she has never dealt with the incident; she found it too traumatizing. Yet, she is about to incorporate it in her novel. She insists that it must be there for the sake of the plot. I say, you can start a tale anywhere you want and by making it backstory, you don't need to delve as deeply. But, she holds fast to using it authentically. Why? Perhaps, it is time to work through her own anxiety. I think writers have that marvelous and unique opportunity to work personal things out through their stories.

I believe this is true for readers too. Many fictional novels mimic real life events, both on a large scale and on the miniscule level of daily human existence. They make us laugh, they make us angry, and, sometimes, they scare the bejesus out of us. More importantly, they allow us to explore hurt and sorrow, recreating moments that may have caused profound pain in our own lives—letting us weep, wrapped in the comfort and safety of their pages. It can be cathartic.

Other fiction provides delightful diversion as well. Escaping into the other worlds provided by SciFi and Fantasy allows us to leave this one. Thrillers, Mysteries and Adventures keep our adrenalin high and we become heroes for a brief time. Romance is probably the epitome of escapism. There is a reason that Romance novels are among the top-selling genres in the industry. They too can provide emotional release and all of the elements listed above, but they come with a positive caveat not given by any other genre. They guarantee a happy-ever-after.

In light of the ongoing turmoil in the world, I crave comfort. I think I'll grab a romance and curl up this afternoon. At least, for a few hours, I can be assured of a happy ending.

Saturday, 7 November 2015

An Amateur's Guide to Publishing

Last month, I mentioned that an agent had asked for my full manuscript. Friends and strangers alike squealed in delight—yes, sounds transmit quite well through email J—and they congratulated me profusely on my accomplishment. It was then that I realized that I have a whole passel full of non-writers who read my blog and that, perhaps, I should take some time to review the process of moving toward publication.

While a request for a full manuscript is terrific, it is but one step on a very long journey in the world of a writer. I did not start out writing with an eye to publication. I began because a story kept percolating and bubbling into my consciousness and I was curious about whether or not I could get it down on paper. Two and a half novels and three novellas later, it seems that I can.

As I refined my writing through beta feedback, multiple edits and endless revisions, it was inevitable that the thought of entering the competitive world of publishing should enter my mind. After all, it's a lot of work to simply tuck away in the proverbial drawer. My betas (for the uninitiated, these are folks who read your manuscript and tell you, either in a broad or narrow sense, what works for them and what doesn't) are strangers and have no vested interest in humouring me. They give constructive feedback and assure me that they like my stories, enjoy my writing. So, between the hours of creation and the stroking of ego, I decided to enter the business side of writing.

In this day and age, there are basically two options: traditional or self-publishing. Now, self-publishing is filled with success stories and certainly has proven to be lucrative for many. As an added bonus, you don't have to jump the often-defeating hoops of traditional publishing. I won't say any more about it because, quite frankly, I haven't explored it in great detail. I am old fashioned enough to want to make an honest go at the traditional route. So, this is what that looks like:

1.       Agonize, fret, gnash your teeth and pull your hair out…that's the writing the novel part.

2.       Build an online presence so, if you are ever published, people can find you. This blog is part of that. You can also find me on Twitter @roserambles1.

3.       Search far and wide and create a list of agents who are interested in your genre, who seem like a good fit (you stalk them on Twitter and their blogs to make this decision) and who are actually open to looking at new authors.

4.       You query the agent(s) of your choice. Now, the query is your talent in a nutshell, disguised as a business letter. In 200 or so words, your letter must grab the agent's attention enough for him/her to want to see what you've got. Keep in mind, in any given week, this letter hits that agent's inbox along with a hundred or so others.

5.       Agonize, fret, gnash your teeth and pull your hair out…waiting to hear back from agent.

6.       Odds are in favour that you get a polite, usually kind, form rejection. You don't know if said agent has even read your query or if an assistant has decided it's a "no go." (A no response means no interest is the worst of these. Did they even receive the query? Are they just behind in reading their emails? Not even being worthy of a standard rejection does make one feel like the lowest of the low.) Now, if you're lucky, you go to #7. If you're really lucky, you jump to #8.

7.       Agent likes your query and requests a partial, which is literally a piece of your manuscript—30 pages, 50 pages; it depends on the agent. You go back and hang out at #5, hoping it won't take too long and that you'll be able to move on to #8.

8.       Agent likes your query and requests full manuscript. You ship that puppy off faster than you can shout "Yahoo!" and then you go directly to #9.

9.       Agonize, fret, gnash your teeth and pull your hair out…waiting to see if you actually have an agent.

10.   This is the best stage of this part of the game or the worst. Either you get a rejection on your manuscript, that baby you slaved over and love oh, so much, or you get a phone call offering representation. If it is the first, you go back to #4 and start all over again. If it's the latter, you pull out that special bottle of champagne you've been keeping just for that moment. (Well, you pull out a bottle of champagne because the first ten you've saved for that moment have already been consumed because you keep stalling at #6, #7 or option one in #10. J)

Then, my dear non-writer friends, you know what happens with your book? Absolutely nothing…yet. This process starts all over again, only this time you have a partner in agony—your agent—and you both get to work through the pain of finding an editor who wants your work. And, do you know what happens when you hook an editor's attention? You got it, they have to present to the acquisition board and it has to pass muster to move into the publishing process…which is a whole other blog. And, I haven't even touched upon the potential rewriting that occurs between agent and acquisition!

The road to publishing is not an easy one to travel. Writing is my happy place and I hate leaving it to make the journey. Self-doubt hides around every corner, discouragement sits waiting at dead-ends. But you, dear readers, with your interest and your curiosity, are part of the fuel that fires the dream. I thank you for dropping by each week, for sending me emails, for making me feel like I am someone worth reading.