A Strange Turn of Events

nurse with giant syringe

 

Up until about six weeks ago, I never thought I’d go back to nursing.  Not that I didn’t like it when I was one. It’s just that I was quite happy working on my writing full-time. So how does it happen that I am now two weeks into the nursing refresher course? It’s a strange turn of events, that’s for sure.

Out of the blue, I wondered how long I could be out of nursing and still go back. I found out it was ten years. What? I raced to find my records – nine years I’ve been out! After next year, I might not be able to nurse, even if I wanted to.

I like keeping my options open. What if I needed to work…and I couldn’t nurse? What if I wanted to go back to nursing and I couldn’t? What if, what if, what if. So I applied for my Registered Nurses registration and found out that I would still need to do a refresher course.  So I did it – I signed up to start in the fall.

The fall is months away. Lots of time to get used to the idea. And the course is a year, part-time – should be easy.

But then I got a call from the University saying they won’t be offering the course in the fall – but I could start right now! I got dizzy, I had to go lie down. What? For real?

And so I did all the paperwork – way too much paperwork – and started the course this week. I’m three weeks behind – the course started in the beginning of May.

I’ve gone from full-time writer to part-time student/part-time writer. That’s right. In case you were wondering – I will keep writing. I’ll figure it out, adapt to the change, create a balance. I’ll finish the novel and then, hmm, you know what they say – write what you know.  I see a medical thriller in my future.

So yeah, crazy things happen in life. But I kind of like crazy. I like learning, I like new things (even though this is a new old thing). I like twists and turns rather than straight. And so here we go. For the next year, I’ll be a student and a writer!

 

 

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There’s Something About Alice Munro

I’ve recently become a fan of Alice Munro’s. I suppose I feel a connection. She’s Canadian, I’m Canadian. She’s a writer, I’m a writer. She owned Munro’s Books in Victoria, B.C. and I bought books there when I was growing up. She won the 2013 Nobel Prize in Literature, I…well…I didn’t.

To be honest, I’ve only just discovered Alice. In fact I just read my first Alice Munro book: Lives of Girls and Women.

Oh, to write like Alice! Sentences are complex, yet, oh so easy to read. Lives of Girls and Women is fiction, about a young girl, Del Jordan, growing up in small-town Ontario. Munro writes about subjects that most people would overlook, would think too ordinary to be interesting. She turns the ordinary into the extraordinary, such as when Del comes across a dead cow in a field:

“The eye was wide open, dark, a smooth sightless bulge, with a sheen like silk and a reddish gleam in it, a reflection of light. An orange stuffed in a black silk stocking. Flies nestled in one corner, bunched together beautifully in an iridescent brooch.”

And Munro writes with such truth:

“I had a great desire to poke the eye with my stick, to see if it would collapse, if it would quiver and break like a jelly, showing itself to be the same…I traced the stick all the way round the eye, I drew it back––but I was not able, I could not poke it in.”

And Munro’s mind flows in unusual but intriguing ways. In the same chapter that Del looks upon the dead cow, she also looks upon her dead Uncle, lying in wake:

“The eyelids lay too lightly on his eyes, the grooves and creases on his face had grown too shallow. He himself was wiped out; this face was like a delicate mask of skin, varnished, and laid over the real face–or over nothing at all, ready to crack when you poked a finger into it. I did have this impulse, but at a level far, far removed from possibility, just as you might have an impulse to touch a live wire.”

Throughout the book I wondered – is this really fiction? The details, the dialogue, the inner thoughts – it all seems too real. One line really stands out, and though it is Del talking, I am sure that this must be a quote from Munro herself:

“They were talking to somebody who believed that the only duty of a writer is to produce a masterpiece.”

I came across this interview with Alice Munro, where she talks about becoming a writer, the excitement and disappointment of writing stories, and what she hopes readers feel when they read her stories. Please, find yourself half an hour, grab a cup of tea and a comfy chair and enjoy the endearing Ms. Munro. It’s well worth it: Alice Munroe in her own words

On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft by Stephen King

Stephen King: On WritingI read two books on writing in the last month or so: The First Fifty Pages by Jeff Gerke and On Writing by Stephen King. Two very different books with very different messages. I talked about The First Fifty Pages in one of my posts last month – it reads more like a how to manual or a recipe book which kind of suits me, because for over forty years I have done little without a step-by-step manual. Everything is concrete, this is how it’s done, don’t stray from the recipe for fear of, I don’t know – maybe World War 3 is going to break out or something. Don’t get me wrong, I love this book and I think it has real value.

“Be honest in your voice…” S.K.

On Writing is just the opposite. Stephen King writes about himself from childhood to the present. Half the book is memoir, maybe more than half, and I have to admit I was wondering what all the hype was about. But then came the connection.  Bring out the artist. Just write what you want. Be honest in your voice, don’t write for others or the buck. Write the truth, write well, be smart and it will happen.

“You learn best by reading a lot and writing a lot…” S.K.

When I started writing I realized I needed to limit things that consumed my writing time – TV, mindless surfing, and reading. Stephen King gave me the okay to read again, insisted on it actually, saying, “You don’t need writing classes or seminars any more than you need this or any other book on writing. You learn best by reading a lot and writing a lot, and the most valuable lessons of all are the ones you teach yourself.” I like that.

“By the time I was fourteen…the nail in my wall would no longer support the weight of the rejection slips impaled upon it. ..I replaced the nail with a spike and went on writing.” S.K.

What a relief. Stephen King (and probably every other author) has been rejected. This is normal. And the creative process takes time. This is normal. Stephen King started writing when he was in his early teens, but his first book, Carrie, wasn’t published until a couple of years after he finished University.

What else is normal? There will always be those who just don’t understand:

Teacher: “What I don’t understand, Stevie,” she said, “is why you’d write junk like this in the first place.”

“Having someone who believes in you makes a lot of difference.” S.K.

“My wife made a crucial difference…If she had suggested that writing stories …was wasted time, I think a lot of the heart would have gone out of me….whenever I see a first novel dedicated to a wife (or a husband), I smile and think, There’s someone who knows. Writing is a lonely job. Having someone who believes in you makes a lot of difference. They don’t have to make speeches. Just believing is usually enough.”

And whereas many people and books will tell you that plot and outlining and theme are the most important things, Stephen King says he’s never plotted: “I believe plotting and the spontaneity of real creation aren’t compatible.” I wanted to jump for joy when I read that. The story comes first “…and progresses to theme; it almost never begins with theme and progresses to story.”

Ironically, Stephen King, who writes horror books, makes me feel normal. He’s a writer, I’m a writer. He’s been doing it for a very long time. I haven’t. He’s been through it all: rejection, waiting, acceptance. I haven’t.

What he’s given me is some more tools for the tool box and now it is time to get back to writing.

One Week in A Writer’s Life

A Week of  Writing, Head Stands, Ice Skating, and Aha Moments. Don’t worry – I’ve left out the boring parts.

December 3

  • Post blog December Update  in which I write:  I think I’ve finally decided what the first chapter will be and that’s actually a HUGE ACCOMPLISHMENT.

December 4

  • Receive six critiques on Chapter 1. Lots of really nice comments like this one:

“…First of all I would like to say it is exciting to see someone who has lived in India for two years rather than a vacation but still has the outsider’s perspective writing about India. I also thought your writing was excellent….”

Some that made me laugh like this one:

“…LOL- now that is not an Indian accent. Sounds more Mexican…”

And a couple like this:

“…This seems like an anecdote. There needs to be more tension…”

I nod my head and make note to self: Add story to anecdote. Laughs…sort of.

December 5

  • Now reading: The First Fifty Pages: Engage Agents, Editors and Readers, and Set Your Novel Up For Success by Jeff Gerke

December 6

  • The First Fifty Pages makes a lot of sense. There must be a story question. What does the main character want and does she get it? Racking brain, I know how India changed me but did I really go there looking for something? It’s not as easy as Eat, Pray, Love – miserable, divorced woman searching for love and she finds it. Or Holy Cow, which was all about a woman who goes to India and explores spirituality.
  • I need to explore what was going on in my life before we went to India: I had Meniere’s disease for six years, I had to quit work (Operating Room Nurse) because of it. I was bored – housework, grocery shopping, driving the kids around to activities. I started taking writing courses and published a few articles.
  • I won’t bore you with the rest but I’m delving into myself. Came across this funny and posted it on Facebook with the caption:

“Watch out parents I’m writing about myself today (laughs hysterically)”:

1382072_556043397803668_1625018032_n

Oh, don’t worry, it’s not that kind of book. I’m just figuring it all out.

December 7

  • Read some more of The First Fifty Pages.
  • Go to a friend’s house for dinner. Walk inside and friend says, “Bad day.” I hear the sound of a young child projectile vomiting. The Exorcist comes to mind. Friend’s husband says, “Don’t worry, I’m sure it’s just Norwalk.” Notes to self: 1) Don’t touch anything, and, 2) Possible short story?

December 8

  • Half way through The First Fifty Pages. Getting a grasp on it. Many options.

December 9

  • Finish 3/4 of the book (The First Fifty Pages)
  • Break time: Go ice-skating outside!

Ice Skating

  • Listen to Macklemore Same Love.
  • Finish The First Fifty Pages.

December 10

  • Procrastinate – now I’m a real writer!
  • Watch WestJet Holiday Miracle Video. Isn’t it wonderful? I’m crying. Tears fall onto touchpad – touchpad stops working. What the…? Panic.
  • Do headstand  and contemplate deleting Facebook “Author” Page. Of course, I don’t want to lose my Facebook Followers. Ideally I would prefer people to sign up on my website for email updates.

practice.1

  • Now that I have finished The First Fifty Pages I’m off to Starbucks create the best first sentence, the best first page: The Best First Fifty Pages and Beyond.

Any words of wisdom? What’s important to you in The First Fifty Pages of a book? Would you sign up to receive email updates instead of Facebook? Let me know what you think in the comments section. Thanks!

December Update

Writing

I am writing. My book is still untitled, but coming ever-closer to THE END. Since I began writing a couple of years ago, I’ve pounded out more than 100,000 words. Now, as I revise and rewrite a second and third draft, I know that a good chunk of that hard work will not end up in the book. But I had to write it all down. I had to go through the process.

I have agonized over the beginning of the book and I think I’ve finally decided what the first chapter will be and that’s actually a HUGE ACCOMPLISHMENT. Now I can work on putting the chapters in order, though I know I still have to work some things out with the story itself – the theme and the purpose – and weave it all together. And that is probably my biggest goal right now.

Social Media

Social Media is a love hate relationship. It  really sucks the life out of me. Strangely, I like it – maybe too much. Everyone says “you must have a platform” and yes, I think it’s probably true. But it’s time-consuming – blogging, tweeting, posting updates. It definitely takes time away from writing.

Learning

I am always learning about both writing and social media. I’ve always been an avid reader, but I’ve never really thought about how books are constructed. Where in the story does the book start? Is there backstory? What is the message or theme and how does the author make us care? So now I’m spending some time reading other books in my genre and dissecting them.  Grammar  and punctuation – writing well – is a big part of it, too, and I’m always checking the proper use of tense, apostrophes, italics, and well, just about everything.

The web plays a big part in learning. Jane Friedman’s is one of the few websites I read regularly for all things writing and publishing. And online writing groups are awesome. Ask a question day or night and it will be answered. Post work, have it critiqued, learn lots. Conferences and workshops are valuable too. The web is awesome but getting out and meeting real people is good for the soul.

I’ll keep you up to date on my writing, but let me know what’s new with you too. Also if you have any website recommendations – I’d love to hear about them. Happy Writing!

The Bliss Point

Candy

In the food industry The Bliss Point is the perfect balance of sugar, fat and salt in processed foods – the ultimate taste that hooks consumers and keeps them wanting more.

A good writer creates a different kind of Bliss Point. It’s the perfect balance of imagery, dialogue, characterization, pacing, and plot  – the ultimate combination that hooks readers and keeps them turning the pages.

Books

Scientists go to great lengths producing palatable foods that people will hunger for. Writers go to great lengths scrambling and unscrambling black specks on white paper. Revising. Rewriting.

Too much or too little brings about The Goldilocks Syndrome. Whether it is sugar or fat, description or dialogue. Too much or too little and the consumer will be unsatisfied or bored. A perfect balance is needed to bring fulfillment – it’s just right.

Of course, The Bliss Point created by the food industry is only a matter of taste. The effects? Short-lived with no benefits. It’s all a sham. On the other hand, The Bliss Point created by a writer educates and entertains, captivates and delights. The effects? Long-lasting with positive outcomes. It nourishes… for real.

The Best Places in the World to Write

Ama Dablam, Nepal

Amadabla

Imagine sipping chai, writing, and gazing at Ama Dablam. At a height of 6,856 meters (22,493 ft), Ama Dablam is a stunner. You’ll need to put your hiking boots on and follow the Everest Base Camp trek to get to Pangboche or Tengboche for this vista, but it’s well worth it.

Ucuelet, Canada

Ucuelet, B.C. Canada

Vancouver Island’s west coast is renowned for its spectacular ocean views, ancient rainforests, whale watching and beach combing. There’s no better place to storm watch and write.

Mt. Bromo, Indonesia

Mt Bromo, Indonesia

Want an out-of-this world writing experience? When I looked over the rim for the first time and saw the barren landscape, the volcanic mist and Mt. Bromo – an active crater within a crater – I thought I had landed on the moon.

The Rice Fields of Ubud, Bali, Indonesia

Bali Rice Fields

Quite possibly my favorite place in the world to write. There’s a Shangri la feel to Ubud. The soft colors, the warm smiles, the gamelan music, the swaying of the palm trees. Rice is a staple for so many people in this world, and here, while I write, I can watch the workers plow, plant or harvest, depending on the time of year. Subtle changes occur in the fields and on my page, all day long.

Santorini, Greece

Oia, Santorini, Greece

Greek legends, Greek food, and caldera views make this a fantastic place to let the imagination soar. One of the world’s largest volcanic eruptions happened here more than 3500 years ago and some say the legend of Atlantis is based on that eruption. Oia, pictured here, has the best sunsets and is the perfect place to hideaway and write for months on end.

Nrityagram Dance Village, India

Nrityagram Dance Village, India

Take a deep breath and enjoy the silence. Nrityagram is an artistic enclave, one of the few places in India where you can get away from the noise and the crowds. It is a place where dedicated dancers live and breathe dance while living a holistic lifestyle. So how does it make my list of the best places in the world to write?  I can dream about it, can’t I? To be engulfed in their world and be able to write at the same time? Now that would be bliss. Read my post on Nrityagram Dance Village.

Tuscany, Italy

Tuscany, Italy

The food, the wine, the history…the food, the wine, the history… Need I say more. Who couldn’t write a book here?

Gokyo, Nepal

Gokyo, Nepal

Inspiration from the top of the world makes you feel like you can do anything, even finish writing a book. Again, you’ll have to lace up your hiking boots, because you’ll have to trek for days to get to Gokyo. From the top of Gokyo Ri you can see five 8000 meter peaks, including Mt. Everest, one of the largest glaciers in the world, and three dazzling mountain lakes.

Ten Things I’ve Learned (So Far) About Writing a Book

DSC_00401) Getting Started is The Hardest Part

Once I decided to write my book I had to figure out how to do it. A friend suggested reading The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron. It’s a twelve-week program, “a course in discovering and recovering your creative self.” I needed that because I’d never done anything creative in my life. The book helped me figure out a good writing routine, gain confidence as a writer and find my creative self.

2) Surround Yourself With Positive People

There are naysayers and there are supporters. It’s easy to tell the difference. One group makes you feel like you are wasting your time and not doing anything important. The other group makes you feel energized; they boost your confidence and take a genuine interest in what you are writing. Write these people’s names down. They are your go to people when you want to toss your work into the garbage.

3) Find a Routine, But Be Flexible

The Artist’s Way can help you get into a writing routine. Starting small is a good idea, maybe ten or twenty minutes a day. Find a good time and place to write. For me, it’s first thing in the morning when I have lots of energy. I write at home, wherever I feel comfortable, usually a quiet room with natural light and warmth. But understand that routines change with circumstances. Maybe you have kids, or you work shifts; you go on vacation, or there’s a tragedy in the family. Life happens and routines get messed up. Be aware and be flexible, but don’t give up.

4) Writing is Work

Writing is exhilarating, fun and creative, but it is also a lot of work. It takes a lot of time to write a book. No one just sits down and writes a book from beginning to end and thinks they are finished. That’s just the first draft. Now you must go back and read it and delete the crap and begin the revision. Repeat. Writing is hard work but it’s thrilling to see your book take form.

5) Procrastination is Real

Oh, yeah. There is so much to do. So many T.V. shows to watch, emails to write and Facebook statuses to update. There’s cleaning and cooking and kids to look after. There are books to be read. Okay, so turn off the T.V. Limit the surfing and even, dare I say it, the reading. Now get organized, know what your day looks like and schedule in your writing. Write. Stop procrastinating.

6) Procrastination is a Myth

On the other hand, if all you’re doing is writing, and you’re sick of it or even feeling a little depressed, it’s time for a change. Go for a walk, do something else that makes you feel creative. Go out with friends. Spend some quality time with your family. Don’t feel guilty about not writing. Even writers have to eat, shop for groceries and pay the bills once in a while. It’s not always procrastination. Live a little.

7) Reading Helps A Lot

Tolkien, Rowling, Shakespeare. Who inspires you? Reading improves one’s vocabulary, helps us write better dialogue, and shows us the many ways stories can be told. Recently, I read The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon. That book inspired me in so many ways. Not just to write, but to write well.

8) It is Important to Write Well

The first draft is all about getting ideas onto paper. You don’t have to write well. Each draft after that, you must edit, revise, and rewrite until it is polished. You can’t send anything to an agent or publisher that isn’t your very best. Read it out loud. Take some writing classes. Join a writing group (in person or online) and have other writers critique your work. You need constructive criticism from people in the writing world.

9) Social Networking Can Suck the Life Out of You

Some people call social networking procrastinating, and for good reason. It can be addicting and time-consuming and take you away from your writing. It can seriously suck the life out of you.

How do I know? Well, so far, I’m on Facebook and Twitter, and I have my website and my blog. I started them all at once and I found it pretty overwhelming. I think a better idea is to pick one and start with that. Once you’re comfortable, add another, and so on. Set aside a reasonable amount of time each day to do your social networking. Don’t let it consume your writing time.

10) Finishing is as Important as Starting

I admire anyone who has written a book, from start to finish.

And here lies the most asked question: “When will you be finished the book?”

And there is nothing I can say but, “When the creative process is finished and I am satisfied.”

Using the Five Senses to Write About India

Jasmine FlowersA couple weeks ago I posted a comment on my Facebook site:

“How can I write about India when I’m not in India?” And then I went on to explain that my photos help me recreate scenes. Sight – that’s probably the easiest, but how can I describe the other senses when I haven’t heard, tasted, touched or sniffed India in two years?

One person commented: “Go into a public restroom and all the memories will come flooding back.”  That would be true of my first backpacking trip to India, the one where dysentery ruled and I saw little of India.

Thankfully, the aroma that takes me back to India now, is that of jasmine. I have a small bottle of jasmine oil on the kitchen counter, and every now and then I dab a little onto my wrists and breathe it in. It takes me right back to India – walking down the street, catching a whiff of something sweet and floral. Looking around for the source, it always took me by surprise: a group of sari clad women walking ahead of me; little strings of jasmine pinned to the back of their hair.

As I write about India, there are so many things to describe – what does a dosa taste like, smell like, feel like? What does a sari feel like – to touch, to wear? How many senses does one use to cross the street? And on and on.

I am lucky, because we have a large Indian population just outside of Vancouver. We have sari shops and Indian restaurants. Indian families gather in the parks and at the beaches. The women wear saris and salwar kameez; the men wear kurtas – too cold for dhotis I guess.

There’s no place like India, but little things do pop up to jar my memory. What else takes me back to India, to help me write using all five senses? Here are a few things. (Got some ideas of your own? Please add to the list in the comments section):

Sight

Masala Dabba

  • My masala dabba – one of my favorite things.
  • Scooters.
  • Women in saris – there’s a big Indian population close to where I live!
  • Traffic jams –at rush hour, sometimes it’s just as bad.

Taste

Chicken Tika with Mint Chutney

  • Cooking a good biryani or chicken tikka at home.
  • Eating dosas at our favorite Indian restaurant in N. Surrey.
  • Fresh mangos between March and June (imported of course).
  • Overdone vegetables – I recently did this and it reminded me of the ashram.

Hearing

  • Fireworks – the sound of Diwali.
  • Horns honking – almost impossible to recreate the real thing.

Touch

Silk Fabric

  • Fabrics: my saris, silk scarves and bed linens from India
  • Hot weather.
  • Dirt.

Smell

  • Jasmine oil.
  • Raw meat.
  • Incense.
  • Spices used for Indian cooking.

Is My Book Doomed?

Doom

The opening sentence, the first page: they must wow. So I’ve been told and I must agree. I read a great deal, and the best books are the ones where I read one page and then I want to read it again – it is that good.

Take The Outsiders, “WHEN I STEPPED OUT into the bright sunlight from the darkness of the movie house, I had only two things on my mind: Paul Newman and a ride home.”

And Lord of the Rings, “When Mr. Baggins of Bag End announced that he would shortly be celebrating his eleventy-first birthday with a party of special magnificence, there was much talk and excitement in Hobbiton.”

It’s not just the first sentence that must make me swoon, but the first page. And then I know we’re off to a good start.

Naturally, I want my readers to feel the same way when they read the first page of my book. And like all serious writers I researched the subject on Google. I came across a blog that turned out to be a satirical step-by-step guide for westerners writing books about India. The blogger advises:

“…Your piece has to start well. Therefore you first create, with good vocabulary, a nice paragraph on the social inequities in India. Keywords to be used are caste, poverty, illiteracy. Statistics like 80% of India lives on farms or 50% of India is illiterate or 70% of India does not use soap can be very handy…mention child marriage.”

That is why I fear my book is doomed. I have neither started my book by writing about poverty, caste or illiteracy, nor have I mentioned the above statistics.

I began to wonder, do all other books set in India start like that? I looked up my own reading list of Books set in India.

I found that The Toss of a Lemon author Padma Viswanathan is a pro. Her first sentence mentions child marriage right off the bat: “The year of the marriage proposal, Sivakami is ten.”

Author Suketu Mehta (Maximum City) is on the right track too: “There will soon be more people living in the city of Bombay than on the continent of Australia.”

The blogger (remember it’s satirical) also advises “avoid talking to maids…Try not to talk to people who are working hard so that their children are educated and their next generation gets out of poverty.”

Again, I feel my book is ill-fated. I have not mentioned child marriage once, but I do talk to maids, gardeners, drivers, photojournalists and chefs who work hard to educate their children and get them out of poverty. Oh look, I just mentioned poverty. Maybe I’m on the right track after all?