Many posts in writers’ groups and questions in writerly gathering surrounds the fear of family or friends finding out what they are writing.
Surprisingly, some of these are fiction writers. Although many are memoirists, poets, fiction writers and essayists are also concerned with offending someone they know.
My response to this is: They’ll probably never recognize themselves! The truth is many people see themselves far differently than others do.
Furthermore, studies show that we remember events differently; to be more accurate, we remember different details of the same events, and our memories are not as reliable as we’d like to think.
Legally, in memoir, if names are changed, there is little a person can do if they do recognize themselves. One attorney told me: They’re welcome to write their own version of the events.
Fear should never hold a writer back. A small change in details or location can allow for some question if someone does think the story might include them.
Even if you think you’ll never publish it – write it. You’ll feel better!
Some authors are unhappy when readers see something in their story, novel, or poem that was not intended.
I subscribe to the theory of reader response. Our work is going to touch different people in different ways; readers are going to get out of it something related to what they bring to it, so if they don’t see what we originally intended, they are not wrong, nor did they read it wrong, they are merely giving the writer an insight.
I, personally, am thrilled when readers see something I hadn’t intended. For my novella, West End, one reader said the melancholy of the main character haunted her. Other readers believed some of the characters might have actually been spirits or ghosts. One of the characters, I left open. His questionable appearances deepened the story and the effects on the main character who is dealing with depression.
However, when another reader felt that the son might have been a ghost – it made me go back and reread my own work!
Once the story, novel, or poem is out there, readers are going to take away or put into it whatever is in their own toolbox and we can not control it. We may not like it – I had one person mistake me for one of my characters – but we do have to accept it. I usually thank the reader for their insights, regardless of what I feel about the response.
All readings are good readings!
If you’re interested in reading West End – it’ll be on sale Saturday and Sunday. And – then let me know what you think!
January 19th, is the 210th anniversary of Poe’s Birth.
Although many people are content with the reason of Poe’s continued relevance in our society is the stereotypical tortured artist. There is no doubt he was tortured, and for reasons of which we are all familiar; he was an orphan who lost every women he ever loved.
His battles with alcohol, I believe, are highly exaggerated. But it makes for a good story. I’m not saying he never drank – he drank to excess plenty of times, he may have officially been an alcoholic as we understand the word today; however, it was not a constant. There were many years through his marriage to Virginia that he did not drink or drink to excess. Before his death in 1849, he’d joined the Sons of Temperance Movement – to get people to stop drinking.
The reason Poe has remained relevant throughout the years is his work touches our deepest fears and deepest desires. He has continued to inspire other writers
and artists of all types.
He wrote far more than what we, today, consider horror. He wrote essays, literary analysis, investigative pieces. He wrote about street paving, Stonehenge, and he was inspired by what he read in newspapers. Berenice and others were inspired by stories of grave robbers in local papers.
The famed portrait of Edgar Allan Poe was taken three days after his suicide attempt in 1848.
And, Eddy, my imaginative fiction, was inspired by that suicide attempt. He bought two bottles of laudanum on a cold winter night meaning to do himself in. He’d lost Virginia and felt he had no one. (Laudanum contained opium and derivatives of morphine and codeine.)
For Poe’s Birthday, I offer an excerpt from the novella:
He stumbles from the pub, slips, and falls on the iced over bricks of Boston’s November streets. Save for the muddled voices beyond the closed door, the street is quiet as his body thuds to the ground. His breath billows in front of him as he gasps and grumbles and struggles to his knees, then his feet, to regain his drunken balance.
The gaslamp on the corner offers a wavering yellow glow for the struggling figure on the lonely winter night. Thin strands of hair blow in the chilled breeze; he runs his hands over his head, straightens himself before he pulls at the sagging overcoat and tugs it closed.
Remembering the tinctures of laudanum pried from the chary pharmacist, he hurriedly shoves his hands in his pockets, retrieves the bottles.
His heavy breath mounds in front of him and, for a moment, he can’t see; then the luminous cloud of brandy scented air dissipates. The medicines are intact. Relieved, he stuffs them back in his pocket and buttons his jacket.
“Edgar,” someone calls from the corner; the noise from the pub trails the swarthy figure out until the door slams to a close behind him. “You alright?”
Edgar waves him off without turning around.
The thick shadow chuckles as he staggers in the opposite direction.
The winter is freezing cold, but the snow hasn’t endured. Small white crystals pile in corners and fill the air. The icy rain soaks him before he reaches his chamber on the second floor of the boarding house. The room is small, impersonal, but warmer than the street. An unlit lantern shimmies on the desk as he unsteadily seats himself, glances out the window.
A barely discernable outline disquiets the otherwise muted darkness on the corner of the street below. He knows it’s the black dog that’s stalked him his whole life. Suddenly angered, he shoves himself forward, pushes the unlit lamp aside and topples the ink jar.
“Get outta here, you wretched creature.” The incensed command lost in the night.
Recovering the secreted bottles of opium from his coat pocket, he sets them side by side in front of him. Unsteadily he tugs the lid from one and snorts in a single gulp.
Much love and luck.
Close your eyes for a few seconds and think of the word ‘inspiration.’ What comes to mind? Are there images of magnificent places you’ve been, impressive people you’ve met, or extravagant stories that stimulates your soul, sparks your imagination and almost brings you to tears? These everyday inspirations lead me to be the best version of myself, however, this is not a source of inspiration for my writing.
What if I told you my writing inspiration is in the overlooked, the forgotten and the displaced? I see potential in the bleakness of a shadow. I take interest in peculiar sights. I notice the unnoticed. My desire to write stems from the stories that are cut short. Not just unrequited love stories, but stories attached to the abandoned—whether objects, people or places. I am intrigued by ghost towns, and the remnants of memories left behind.
Sometimes inspiration comes from one word. I have a fascination and love of words. Maybe it’s a name, a word I overhear in conversation, or one that stands out while I’m reading. To me, words hold weight and are springboards for the fine details of characters, setting and, sometimes, plot. I call these words, triggers. One word triggers a plethora of infinite possibilities. Couple this with an innate curiosity about the little things in life and inspiration calls out from every direction.
Inspiration also comes from pain. Writing is a resiliency of spirit. It provides an avenue to unleash hurt by navigating emotions through an alignment of fictitious stories. I also believe the act of writing is an acute desire to heal. This is true for reading as well, as there is nothing more enjoyable than being whisked away in the transfixation of a book.
I wonder sometimes if writing is a window into the subconscious. Much of what I write is not intentionally thought about, but comes out in a stream of consciousness that can surprise me. In dreams, I hear the music of the most haunting melodies and poetic lyrics. In the middle of the night you can find me scribbling what I remember by the light of my phone, blurry-eyed. Unfortunately, in the morning the indecipherable lines can never match the beauty of my dreams. Words that enter my mind are often ones I’ve never heard of before, and after I’ve written my word count goal, I will look up the definition of the word, to find it fits perfectly with the meaning of the sentence. Although it’s likely words stored in my subconscious, that I’ve encountered somewhere along the way, it shocks me nonetheless.
When I wrote the novel ‘Saltwater Joys’ I had inspirations from childhood memories of oral Newfoundland folktales and ghost stories—ones I still love to hear again and again. I explored these memories and extended the stories into what might have been, had the story taken a different turn. It is like a scavenger hunt in my mind. One idea gives me a clue to where I might go with the story or character next. Other inspirations for this literary fiction novel came from the works of Edgar Allan Poe, as well as many classic tales and poems that made me see the unimaginably intricate, and sometimes horrific, connections in life.
I like to explore the darker sides of life, which is interesting to me because I am naturally a good humoured optimistic individual. There are an unbounding instances of inspirational dualities in life, the play between light and dark, life and death, vice and virtue, and I realize as a writer I am one of them.
“Most of what writers write about their work is ill-informed bullshit.”
You gotta love Stephen King, if not for his fiction, for the way he sets things straight and to the point.
This is the line that begins King’s rewrite for his novel The Gunslinger, originally released in 1970, rewritten and rereleased in 2003.
He rewrote and released the novel – only Stephen King could do that.
In any case, I found his forward notably valuable. His words are not only ever for his readers, but for writers as well.
His approach to revision he says, “hasn’t changed much,” and it is “to plunge in and go as fast as I can, keeping the edge of my narrative blade as sharp as possible through constant use…. Looking back,” he says, “prompts too many questions.”
I agree. I’m one to power through and not consider edits until I’m completely finished. This way I don’t get hung up wondering if this is right, if that flows, should I change this word here? Nothing is finished until the end is on paper, then comes the time for change; however, King puts his work away for a time. I, personally, give it an edit or two or ten. I give it to my friends, I reread, fawn over every word, sentence and…. it still has errors I don’t catch for six months or a year.
For the original writing of The Gunslinger, King has this to say about his younger self, “too many writing seminars, and had grown used to the idea those writing seminars promulgate: that one is writing for other people rather than oneself; that language is more important than story; that ambiguity is preferred over clarity and simplicity…”
I was once in one of those very seminars when someone brought up Stephen King, “don’t worry,” the professor announced, “he’ll never be remembered in the annals of history.”
The same professor, the same class, a few sessions later, eyed me after my story had been workshopped and discussed. “I’m still trying to figure out the reason for writing the story.”
“I think,” braved another student, “she wrote it for pleasure, for publication.”
The Professor’s eyes narrowed, her lips thinned, and she sat forward in the old wooden desk, “we don’t do that in this class,” she hissed.
My nervous smile slipped away as silence rose from our feet up. No one moved. No one breathed. One girl had already run out crying, perhaps they were waiting for me. I didn’t want to cry, nor run out, but I’d felt everything I’d done up til that point undeniably wrong.
I learned to write, over the next few year, the way of the MFA, ambiguous, language heavy, story slipping under the covers of darkness of words and rhythm.
Stephen King, I thought then and now, by sheer volume and honesty of craft, will not be forgotten. And I’m not sure he cares one way or the other.
I think we can all learn a thing or two from Professor King.
I’m happy to have P.S. Malcom’s writing advice to offer today. Enjoy!
Three Ways To Come Up With A New Book Idea
I’m so excited to be here on the blog today, and I wanted to chat about writing.
Us writers sometimes get the urge to write something—anything—but often find ourselves with a lack of ideas or inspiration. This is a really tough position to be in because you have the motivation to create and write, but nothing to work with. *Cue frustration*
Of course, this is worse when you have deadlines to meet or depend on a good portion of your book sales to pay the bills. You gotta keep those books coming! So today, I’m going to share three tips to help you come up with a new book idea:
1) Get inspired
I know, best advice of the year right?
It sounds simple and blunt, if you’re not giving yourself space to get inspired, you can chase all the inspiration in the world and still end up with nothing. Stress from work, family life, responsibilities and pressure can all contribute to a block in your creative energy, and if you don’t make time to relax, unwind, and just chill, you won’t be able to imagine and envision your next story idea.
So my advice?
Do something different, whether it means going for a walk or a drive, spending an hour reading at a quiet café, heading to the beach for the day, painting or playing a musical instrument for an hour, or sitting in a hammock with your earbuds in. Whatever it is, make sure it’s an hour of distraction free time, and don’t force yourself to think up ideas. Let them come to you in the flow of the music, or the visuals of the painting, or the concepts of the book you’re reading.
It might take a couple of tries, but if you stay consistent in giving yourself space, you’ll find your inspiration again. I always get my best ideas (such as the inspiration for my Ryan Rupert Series) while away on vacation or immersing myself in something new.
2) Ask yourself questions
I’m not telling you to sit there like a lunatic and talk to yourself. What I mean is ask yourself questions about your current WIPs, or journal your thoughts, and ask yourself what you don’t know about your budding story idea yet.
Quite often, we come up with a simple, small concept but fail to expand on this idea enough to turn it into a feasible, book-length story. This results in us sitting down to write with our amazing new story idea and being stuck on where to begin because we have no clue what the story is about yet or who’s involved and why.
While this is all a process undertaken as we write, it’s a good idea to get clarity on the bare basics before you begin putting pen to paper, so ask yourself what you don’t know, answer what you can come up with, and go from there. I use this method all the time for my own books, and it’s also something I teach my writing students too.
3) Pick a topic and expand on it
If you’ve got nothing—not even a concept to work with—this is where you pick something you’re interested in and expand on it.
If you love mythology, you might browse through some of your favourite stories until you find an idea or concept that interests you, and find a way to put your own unique twist on it.
Or, if you love a particular country, you might immerse yourself in it’s culture and think about how you can tell a story from the perspective of somebody living that lifestyle.
There are so many possibilities to choose from, and you can turn any personal passion into a story. Just try it! You might not end up with a book-length story, but even the practise can help you get back into the swing of writing and help you conjure a new idea for a full-length book.
I hope these tips help anyone struggling to write!
Also, thank you for having me on your blog Noreen.
You’re welcome. And, Thank you. Simple reminders are the best.
Monday – a new food section on food on this blog. Who does not love food?