Posted in Book trailers, Books, Writing, Writing books

When a story takes over – a writer hangs on for the ride

In modern parlance, I’m what might be called a “plotter” when it comes to my writing. This is in contrast to those of you who are called “pantsers,” although I’m not sure why anyone would accept that slightly dubious moniker. Anyway, plotters plan things – characters, timelines, settings and, yes, plots. Pantsers go “by the seat of their pants” evidently. I plan.

I think my planning comes from my background as a nonfiction writer. To sell a nonfiction book to a publisher, a writer has to learn to write a dynamic book proposal. An, what is a book proposal except for a big, detailed plan? That’s what it is. So, when it comes to fiction, my tendency is to take the same approach. Up to a point.

I have a new book out this past week. I think it’s the best book I’ve ever written – but, as my mother used to say, “Self-praise is no recommendation.” Thanks, Mom. The thing about this new book is that I started out with a plan, but something or someone took over. I think it might have been Charlie. Let me introduce you to her in a minute. First, I want to talk about this writing process.

I started this book with a thin outline and an idea for a character. This character would make a discovery that would take her on a journey of discovery. I just didn’t know at the time that it would be a journey of self-discovery – for both her and for me. Charlie was supposed to be a kind of wise-cracking, sarcastic thirty-something with a penchant for seeing humour everywhere she went. Sort of like Jenn, the main character in my novel Plan B. I suppose the universe must be telling me that I need to diversify my contemporary women’s characters a bit because Charlie is not much like Jenn!

(When I write historical fiction, characters don’t seem to be wise-cracking, sarcastic women – but I suppose that’s an idea!)

As I began writing this book, it took on a whole different dimension – a whole different kind of disposition. It felt different to me as I was writing, and it looked very different when the story was out there in front of me.

Here’s what happened.

The book is The Year I Made 12 Dresses: The almost-but-not-quite-true story.

A struggling writer, an enigmatic shop clerk, an old sewing machine and an inspirational journey of discovery – where every dress is more than it appears to be.

After her mother’s unexpected death, struggling writer Charlotte (Charlie) Hudson moves into her family house after her older, mostly absent sister Evelyn instructs her to empty the family home of objects and memories to ready it for sale.

When Charlie stumbles on a dusty old sewing machine hidden away among the clutter of detritus in the basement, she has no idea of the journey it will take her on, or of the secrets it might reveal about her mother, her family and herself. If only she will let it.

With the help of an enigmatic fabric-guru named Al, Charlie discovers how little she really knows about anyone – especially herself.

So that’s it. And here’s the trailer…

Posted in Co-authors, Writing Nonfiction

Collaborative writing: Advice for when a writing partner makes sense

I can hardly believe that it’s been eight years since I first wrote about my adventures in writing with a partner. As I said at the time, “I don’t play well with others.” And that has not changed. That being said, I have, indeed, collaborated on four books in my distant past, and I’m doing it once more. Recently someone asked us (my writing partner and me) how our system works. So, how does writing with a partner work? I don’t know how it is for others, but here’s what I know about it from my own experience.

First a bit of backstory.

I have always considered writing to be a solitary activity. In fact, that’s the way I like it. Perhaps it’s even clearer to say that it’s one of the things that I like most about writing. Through all of those years when I was a university professor, I observed with growing horror, the number of academics, whose very livelihood depended on their ability to publish (or perish – it’s true), who were singularly unable to pen anything on their own. In fact, it occurred to me on more than one occasion when I sat on peer review committees, reviewing others’ work, that we had already promoted someone else based on the exact same publications since both names appeared on all of them. And sometimes there was a lengthy list of authors. What this really means is that many of them wrote not a single word. They may have contributed something to the data collection, but there was certainly no writing involved. Remember publish or perish? There is nothing there that says “write or perish.” There’s a difference. Then I came along.

At this point in my writing life – post-academic career – I am proud to say that every single article and book that formed part of my upward academic ladder has only one author – me. That is, except for those four books I mentioned (which my peers at the university probably largely ignored anyway) that I wrote with one other author. That author happens to be my husband. Which is probably why that person asked us about our writing process. In fact, I believe he might have added, somewhat incredulously, “And you’re still married?” Well, yes, and very happily, I might add.

Back in 2011 when I first wrote about our collaborations, I said this: “…There are good reasons to collaborate and publish a co-authored book – such as when the knowledge and skills of more than just you are needed…” And this reason still holds true. But now I have another reason.

I’m currently collaborating on a book with my same co-writer (my husband) because there was a book he wanted to write, and he spent 45 years working as a physician while I wrote to my heart’s content. This means that his expertise in medicine coupled with my “expertise” as a writer would be the combination needed for him to write the book he has always wanted to do. Am I ghosting it for him? Not really, but I have decided that there is no need for my name to be on this cover. It’s his book.

Because it’s his book and not our book, I have had to take a slightly different approach to the process. I have been his mentor and editor, but I have to try to ensure that the ideas that are finally on the page are his, not mine. That might be easy for some people who have not written in this area before, but once upon a time, I earned some of my income as a medical writer (I have a graduate degree in a medical-communication-related discipline). So, we had come up with a process.

Like puzzle pieces, each co-author’s contribution has to fit the other co-author’s contribution to the process and content.

We began with a very detailed book proposal. I’ve been selling non-fiction based solely on proposal ever since I’ve been writing (my fiction is another story all together). This means that before we even started, we had worked through what would be in the book, how it would be organized, what approach we would take and what he wanted the style and voice to sound like. This was my blueprint.

Then, as we moved into the writing process, I fleshed out the chapters, he reviewed each one as we went along, then I took that review back and reworked each chapter. We moved through the whole book this way, with me conducting mini-interviews with him along the way to capture his experiences in specific areas, and so that it would have his voice. Once this first draft was completed, we started the whole process again. After the third iteration, we were ready for external copy-edit. And that’s where the book is now.

What would my advice be for collaborative writing? Here it is.

  1. Choose your writing partner carefully. It needs to be someone you respect and are compatible with.
  2. Ensure that you are prepared to take criticism as you move through the process.
  3. Don’t be afraid of giving constructive criticism.
  4. Be prepared to disagree.
  5. Be prepared to compromise.
  6. Be prepared to commit to clearing up each disagreement as you work. Don’t let those disagreements pile up.
  7. Write from a collaborative outline.
  8. Find a rhythm of writing/reviewing/editing that you can both agree on up front.
  9. Use this process to learn something about your own writing habits.
  10. Have a drink together on a regular basis to chew over aspects of the book that you can’t always figure out while sitting in an office in front of a computer.

I am currently being accused by my co-writer of pushing hard at this stage as we approach the end of the process so that I can return to my novel. I can’t argue with that!

The book is being copy-edited as we speak and has a September pub date.  We’ll be having a glass of our favourite champagne on that day!

Posted in Creativity

Finding Writing Inspiration in Creative Cross-Training

I was honoured to be a guest blogger on “A Writer of History” thanks to historical fiction author M.K. Tod whose own work is well worth exploring.

A Writer of History

Grace-Note-by-PJ-ParsonsI met Patricia Parsons, author of several non-fiction and fiction works, at my daughter and son-in-law’s wedding. In that strange process of serendipity, Patricia has now moved from Halifax to Toronto and become a friend. Her novel Grace Note: In Hildegard’s Shadow is a compelling story with the premise that Hildegard of Bingen may not have written all the music attributed to her. Today, Patricia muses on the notion of creative cross-training.

Finding Writing Inspiration in Creative Cross-Training by Patricia (P.J.) Parsons.

A few years ago the magazine Fast Company published a piece by writer Jane Porter (who writes both fiction and non-fiction herself) called “Five Ways to be Inspired by Your Everyday Life.” Her suggestions about feeding our curiosity, learning to manage risks, un-programming our thinking, using creative exploration and scrutinizing the unfamiliar all carried within them a single thread of commonality: each of them suggests to us that inspiration is fired by doing something different

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