Sunday, June 26, 2016

Obsessed, possessed

I'm obsessed, or possessed, maybe both.  I've extricated my central character from a love affair that shook her self-esteem. Being in a foreign country freed her to fall in love, away from the friendly observation of family, but it also meant that she was far from the anchors that affirmed her sense of self.  After a "dark night of the soul" that lasted for a year and a half, she found a job to throw herself into, one which suited her talents. There, to her surprise, she found the love of her life.

Anyone caught up in a compelling writing project knows how addictive it can be.  Up at 6:30 most mornings, I'm soon making corrections on my very rough draft or retyping new and improved chapters.

My central character is based on a real person, now deceased,  who made her journals and letters available in archives, so, presumably, wanted someone to make use of them in a biography, or even a novel.  My challenge is to get away from the "telling" (the narrative form) of letters and diaries, and to "show" her (dramatize her) in scenes.  The time frame is 1928-1932 so I must use the social mores and vocabulary of that era and at the same time make the story  understandable to readers in 2016.  The standard set by Paula MacLean in The Paris Wife and Laura Moriarity, with The Chaperone,  is a high one and I have read these and other novels based on real people to see the authors' approaches.

Why am I writing this novel, when it is so demanding ,and when I don't have a publisher for it?  My reasons will make perfect sense to many Canadian Stories writers.  First, I think the real woman behind my protagonist would want me to.  Secondly, she learned lessons from her experiences and drew on them later in life to help others, and I want to show that. Also, the real-life events lend themselves to a novel with a certain shape, and, having recognized that, I feel an urge to sculpt it in that form. As well, I want to get the novel written as best I can while I still have the wits and the eyesight to do so.

This morning I intended to have a lazy breakfast and watch the news. But when my husband got up around 7:30 he found me scribbling away on a revision to pages 118 and 119.  He didn't mind. He understands, and  approves of these endless revisions of the manuscript, because he knows that soon I 'm going to ask him to read it.

Thursday, June 2, 2016

Reviewing books? Who needs it?

Recently I wrote a very positive review of a first novel for an online magazine. It contained some "spoilers." Actually, I don't believe that "spoilers" necessarily spoil a book for readers. Many reviewers reveal some of the plot as part of their analysis of the book.

 Generally  editors accept the necessity of some spoilers in a serious, thoughtful review. Years ago I read a review of Alice Munro's Lives of Girls and Women, in which the reviewer mentioned that the two young men with whom the central character gets involved were two sides of the same coin. At the beginning of the novel there is no indication that the central character, Dell, will ever have a boyfriend, let alone two! Rather than spoiling the story for me, the reviewer's comments stirred my curiosity, kept me reading and helped me to understand the theme better.

The author whose book I recently reviewed sent me several emails. Normally an author wouldn't do that. The first was innocuous enough; she asked me to let her know when her book arrived. I did. Then a few weeks later she emailed me again to ask how the review was coming along. I reported back that I had sent it to the editor who hadn't posted it yet.  

Then, soon after it was posted, the editor emailed me saying that the author felt the review contained too many spoilers and had edited it to remove them. The editor was willing to post the edited version if I approved.

I too have been a new author, and I too have sought reviews in the hope of selling books.I have never complained about a review to an editor, though, not even  when I was mystified as to what book the reviewer had actually read, because it sure didn't sound like mine.

 I consider it unprofessional of a writer to demand that a review be changed.  In the case of one sloppy review that missed the point of my novel, I didn't demand a do-over and I certainly didn't revise the review to suit myself. Other reviews were about a book that was recognizably mine,  and I used the most positive ones to publicize my novel.  

What the author did, essentially, was use my review as a framework for creating a review that she liked. I have often wanted to self-review my books, but never thought I could get away with it. Clearly I lack imagination and initiative. 

On one previous occasion, I was asked to change a review. In that instance, the author was an acquaintance of the editor and was a hypersensitive member of a minority group, so I made the changes she wanted, but I will never again read or review anything she has written. And in this second instance, I also said O.K., because I'd already spent enough time thinking about that ****** book. 

The moral:  The squeaky wheel gets the grease. Or, whining brings results.

Reviewing books? Who needs it?