Tuesday, December 11, 2012

The Nostalgic Effect

Nostalgia plays a big part in my writing, or should I say, rather, plays a big part in the inspiration of my writing. I used to assume that everyone was nostalgic, but as I've grown older I've begun to realise that some people are and some just aren't. For a start, and not to sterotype, but I've noticed that generally women are more nostalgic than men are.

Recently I celebrated my 40th birthday. Yes, I'm a woman and I just admitted my age. I'm forty and fantastic. Forty is fantastic. I've spent a lot of my life worrying about impressions I make on people and appropriate behaviour for appropriate situations. Generally I'm a shy person. Friends who know me well will shake their heads and say I'm not, but if they recall what I was like when they first met me, they will remember. I was the one who sat in the corner and didn't say much until six months after you got to know me. I'm the turtle who emerges from the shell only when I know it's safe to do so :) When I was in my twenties and thirties I had a very poor self-image. But now that I'm forty I actually feel pretty good about myself.

Many things take me back to when I was younger and feelings associated with those times or events are often very strong. Certain smells remind me of things...the smell of lipstick always reminds me of my paternal grandmother. She always had Ponds and lipstick in the top drawer of her dresser. I inherited this piece of furniture when she passed away, and the drawer kept the smell of her for many years. Sadly, nothing lingers of her now except the memories I will always carry with me.

We lived with my nana for about a year while Dad was building our house in the Kenepuru Sounds and it was a very mixed time for me. I was going on nine. Man, what a time. Dad was away, so it was Mum, Nana and three girls in the house...Oestrogen overload at the best of times. Over the course of this year I found out I had to wear reading glasses, was continually harrassed by the boy who lived across the road, developed a stutter, sprouted breasts and changed schools twice. I often have vivid dreams of my grandmother's house, and looking back now, knowing what I know about spirituality, I'm pretty sure there were more than just the living residing there. When I think of her house, there is a strong connection and feeling of nostalgia that brings about thought-provoking inspiration which is quite apt for certain writing situations it would be a crime not to use them.

Using nostalgia to aid the writing process also keeps me on track with the age old rule: show, don't tell. It prompts me to think about the senses. What does my character see, smell, hear, feel? As a reader, I want to know what the character feels like when she takes off her shoes and walks in the sand. Is the wind blowing through her hair? Is the sun warm on her face? Can she smell the salt in the air, feel the sand between her toes and hear the waves crashing on the shore?

That's the magic to being a writer...I know what's in my head, but I want my reader to feel the same when they see the words on the page...

Friday, November 16, 2012

Walking the Talk

Okay, so it's time for me to join the Blogger revolution and get on the marketing and social band wagon. Oddly, it's taken a few things lately to spur me into action, both with my writing and with gaining some much needed self esteem in my own abilities.

Recently I was in a social situation, conversing with a new friend of mine about a much talked about book - which everyone will know, pertaining to a colour which is not really a colour at all - when said friend said something to me which sparked an epiphany in my mind. Well, not really an epiphany, because I'm sure, somewhere in the recesses of my mind I did once know, but had seemingly forgotten the whole reason why I had become a writer in the first place. It seems lately I have become so absorbed in the writing world, and more to the point, the publishing world, that I temporarily forgot what it was to be a writer. So it's not a literary piece of genius. This is what I've heard lately and I tended to agree. But my friend spun a different light on it - one that put me back in to the mode I should never have escaped from. The reader's point of view. Why, oh why, did I ever let myself deviate from this? I'm a writer for goodness' sake. How did I ever let my readers' opinions slip from my conscious thought? Said friend, politely, and without even realising she had done it, reminded me why I write at all. From her vantage point, being a married woman with two young children, the book was an escape. It was also a realisation of what might ultimately be missing from her own relationship. And in this respect I'm not talking about the fancy fringing of ultimately what the story is about, but more appropriately the way the Protagonist makes our heroine feel. That was my lightbulb moment. How the reader feels while he or she is reading, is the whole point. This is why we write.

Secondly, I was lucky enough to see one of my idol authors this month. When my husband first used reverse psychology on me and I found myself knee-deep in a creative writing course at the Canterbury University, one of my fellow classmates pointed out that if I was going to write romance, I must check out Paullina Simon's Bronze Horseman series. I hastily went away and bought my own copy, and quickly devoured all three books. I can't say that Paullina's story was the only thing responsible for my own writing, but she was certainly there with me when I embarked on my life-changing 'hobby'. Seeing Paullina in the flesh was one of the best things I could have done for my own self esteem as a writer. Like most writers, published or not, we share many traits and beliefs. She's very passionate about what she does, her characters, her stories, and I was sitting there thinking how unabashed she was about sharing what she does with her readers. She believes in what she's doing.

So, it's time I do too.

Between me and Helen, we have four published novels under our belts, with another one on it's way. I'll be the first to admit, if I went back now there would be plenty I'd change about all of them - including edits and rewrites - but ultimately, they're great stories, with well fleshed-out characters and emotion-invoking plots. They're not epic sagas. They're not historic dramas. But they are beautiful stories about real women in the real world who will take their readers out of the mundane on the journey to find love.

Did Virginia Woolf have this trouble?

What's in a blurb?

I've pondered on this question for a while now, and the importance of this almost afterthought to the writing process is probably one of the most important things you can provide your book if you want someone to pick it up and read it.

You've done the hard yards, the thoughts, the insights, the pouring out of your characters - thousands and thousands of words that you've carefully crafted into a story that you want others to read and enjoy. So, then, how do you sum that up into something less than 200 words, which still captures and retains the essence of your story, without giving too much away?

You don't want to spoil the story. You don't want to tell the reader something that's going to interrupt their enjoyment or ruin the surprise. But you also don't want to hold too much back, so that the blurb offers them no tasty Hors d'oeuvre of reading appetite.

People who can effortlessly write good blurbs make me envious. I'm sure large publishing companies hire people specifically for this purpose so that the author doesn't even have to think about it and that the book has the best, objective marketing tool it possibly can.

I think that's the key. Objective. As a writer, it's hard to take that step back after months of personal investment in a story, which to a writer, is more than a story. It's a part of their life. These characters are real, we lived with them for months and know them intimately. And now we're asked to sum up this life in 200 words that will entice a reader in to our world.

I think Miranda Richardson, who played Virginia Woolf's sister in the movie 'The Hours', hit the nail on the head with her line: "Your aunt is a very lucky woman, Angelica. She has two lives. The life she is living, and the book she is writing."

It's so true. I know I 'wear' my characters and carry them with me day to day as I'm writing their story. Even when their stories are told, it's hard to just take them off and leave them behind. They live with us. They are a part of us. They are real people. We know so much more about our characters than what makes it to the page. So much so, for me, that when someone asks me what my book is about, I struggle to answer. What do you mean, what's it about? It's about Cassie, and Nick, and this is their story. Simple. To me anyway. That doesn't make someone want to read the book. It tells them nothing :)

That, I think, is my main problem. My books aren't fancy, detailed stories with major plot twists or fantastical tales of worlds that don't exist in reality. They're not medical mysteries, crime busters or tales of the macabre.  They're down to earth tales of the human condition. Real women that you might meet on the street or see at the mall. How do you make that sound interesting?