Disordered Thinking

•November 9, 2014 • 2 Comments

It’s rare that I get all the way to the end of a book before discovering I hate it. It happens (I’m looking at you, Veronica Roth) but usually I can tell if it’s not going to work out in the first couple of chapters. And that’s fine. I don’t mind walking away if all I’ve given is a quarter-hour of my time. But when a book disappoints with its ending, leaving me with the sense that I’ve wasted a good three hours, I get cranky. And that’s starting to happen more than I like these days.

I’m finding that there are far too many books relying on the old trope of “s/he did it because s/he’s nuts!” as an easy solution to the story. It leaves a bad taste in my mouth. First off, because it’s weak. It’s the easiest way out, out of countless easy ways. Readers deserve better. We deserve something original, something that will make us think, leave us questioning what we thought we knew. You can’t achieve that if your entire plot rests on some caricature of mental illness.

And that’s my second reason. Why does it seem like every villain does what they do because they’re batshit crazy? And not even a specific type of mental illness. I’m talking generic looneytunes. Where’s the motivation? Where’s the complexity, the subtle character nuances that really get the reader deep inside their head?

Because here’s the thing: mental illness does not a villain make. There’s this huge stigma surrounding it. If you sit down next to a stranger and tell them you have cancer, you get sympathy and compassion. Probably also some half-baked medical advice. If you tell that same stranger you have a mental illness, they shift themselves a little further away. They shelter their children from you. They have important things to check on their phone.

The reality is, one out of four people will suffer from some form of mental illness in their lifetime. That puts you at 25% odds, whether you like it or not. If not you, maybe one of your kids, or your partner. Some of your friends and family members are mentally ill. And I’m guessing they don’t go around attacking people on the street or stuffing them into trunks of cars.

The trope of using mental illness as a crutch in fiction to explain negative actions isn’t going to go away as long as we keep fearing those who are mentally ill. We need to talk about it, openly, the same way we talk about our diabetes, our heart disease, our oddly-shaped mole that keeps growing. It should be just as acceptable to say “I can’t make it into work today, I’m going through a period of depression,” as it is to say “I can’t make it into work today, I have the flu.”

I address mental illness head-on in my fiction, and I plan to always do so. But you’ll never see me ending a novel with the bad guy being carted off to the psychiatric hospital. No, the characters in my fiction that have mental health issues are protagonists. That’s right. They’re the good guys. My current main character has a severe form of aphephobia, the fear of touch. Maybe in my next book one of the players will have an anxiety disorder, or bulimia, or PTSD. And maybe the people who read it will come away with a little bit of a better understanding of how a mental disorder is only an aspect of a person – it does not define him.

…And We’re Back.

•October 1, 2014 • 1 Comment

I forgot to compose a blog post for the last two months, it seems. Writing has just been writing. Sometimes I do it. Sometimes I don’t. Sometimes I query. Sometimes I don’t. There have been no major revelations or hurdles in my authorial life lately.

I had surgery at the beginning of September and thought I’d spend my prescribed weeks of recovery at home with my feet up, writing thousands of words every day. It turns out I can’t even comprehend reading on morphine and Percocet, much less writing. I haven’t produced a single word in a month. Yes, it’s my old familiar friend, the midpoint blahs. I’m familiar enough with my routine now to know that the stretch from about 30K to 60K words is rough going even when I’m clear-headed.

I’m also indecisive as hell. Sometimes choices paralyze me and I end up doing nothing at all while my brain parses every single pro, con and outcome in an endless chain of inactivity.

Case in point: I find myself preoccupied with what path to take my writing time on going forward.

  1. Continue writing The Unknowing until I’m finished my first draft. I have about 35K words now and I’m aiming for 100Kish. At my pace, this represents another 4-5 months of work. Complete the trilogy and put it to bed, while continuing to query for it. Pros: the satisfaction of finishing something that’s occupied me for close to three years. Cons: those midpoint blahs. Spending more time on a project that so far has not resulted in any promise of publication.
  2. Put The Unknowing aside for now and begin a new story that so far has only a two-page outline and some scattered ideas in various notebooks. Pros: That new book glow writers get. The excitement of developing new characters and plots. Cons: The fear that I’ll lose the voice of my current project. The self-imposed perception of quitting or giving up.

I’ve been mulling for the better part of a month and I just can’t decide, so I’m going to put it to you, the reader, with the aid of the handy poll function I just discovered I can use. I will wait a week and then base my decision on the results.

A Side Project/Shameless Plug

•August 8, 2014 • Leave a Comment

If you’re a regular reader, you probably know that one of my other pastimes is canning and preserving.

My cold room.

My cold room.

I spend a great deal of my free time from May-October putting up anything and everything in season to feed us through the winter. This past week, for example, I canned 75lbs of tomatoes into pasta sauce, turned a case of apricots into jam (with amaretto and vanilla, yum!), went foraging in a couple parks in my city for saskatoons and sour cherries, which I made into a juice concentrate for smoothies, and bought a further 15lbs of Lapin cherries to make into preserves. In short, I’ve been busy. Oh, and I scored this lot at a small-town thrift store today:

That's around 100 jars. YOU CAN NEVER HAVE TOO MANY JARS.

That’s around 100 jars. YOU CAN NEVER HAVE TOO MANY JARS.

It only made sense then, for me and my canning partner-in-crime and longtime friend Lindsay to open our own store supplying canning products and accessories.

The Cannery - Now Open!

The Cannery – Now Open!

We supply the Canadian market with hard-to-fnd products like Tattler reusable lids and Pomona’s Pectin as well as your favourites from Bernardin and more. We also strive to make mason jars more useful by offering products that will turn your jar into a cup, a coffee- or teapot, a soap dispenser or even a martini shaker! And if it’s recipes you’re after, we carry a large selection of books on canning, pickling and dehydrating. But wait, there’s more! We’ve also just started up a blog, Pretty Little Jars, focusing on skills, tips, recipes, stories and more. We hope with these two sites to become one of Canada’s leading sources for canning supplies and information. And now back to our regularly scheduled content :)

A Writer Writes. Except When She Doesn’t.

•July 27, 2014 • 4 Comments

I’ll admit it. I commit the cardinal sin of writerdom.

I don’t write every day.

I know, I know, I know. Get into the habit, blah blah blah. Writing requires dedication, blah blah blah. You’re not a writer unless you’re writing, blah blah blah.

Good for those people.

I prefer the words of one Burton Rascoe:

“A writer is working when he’s staring out of the window.”

Or perhaps this quote from Donald M. Murray:

“Even the most productive writers are expert dawdlers…”

Here’s the thing. I don’t think sitting with my fingers on the keyboard is the only way to write. I am writing all the time. What I call ‘future-writing.’

I think it’s fair to say that about 75% of my writing happens in my head. It’s collecting experiences, bits of emotion or imagery and filing them away to use later. Jotting a few words in a notebook that will form the basis of a novel. Remembering the rawness of receiving bad news, the delayed shock and feeling of betrayal that follow. Taking an extra few seconds to really look at a piece of graffiti in a foreign city, or the way tree roots crack through the mortar of an ancient stone wall. These things are all writing, to me. They inform the words that are yet to come. I think they’re just as important, because they make the words feel real.

That’s not to say that the actual word-writing part isn’t important too. I go in fits and spurts between the two – sometimes I’m only at the laptop, sometimes I’m taking in the world around me. These past six months have taken me all over the world – to Iceland and Vancouver and California and Hong Kong and Japan, and I’ll see Belize and Wales and Scotland and Amsterdam before the year is through – and the things I’ve taken away from those places, whether they’re specific to a location or just an encounter with someone who I wouldn’t have met had I stayed home, make the words that I have written brighter. Last year I visited a coastal town that’s going to be the inspiration for my next novel. Could it feel half as real if I’d never been?

Now that I have a bit of a lull before I hit the road again (two whole weeks!) I’m eager to reconnect with my laptop, for although I’ve lugged it around the globe, I produced nary a sentence. Who would want to travel such distances to keep their nose buried in front of a screen?

You can’t write unless you’ve lived. Right now, I’m doing a whole lot of living, word count goals be damned.

On the Benefits of an Honest Critique

•June 1, 2014 • Leave a Comment

As a writer, probably one of my least favourite things to do is share my work with others and ask for a critique. Not because I’m worried they’re going to tear it apart, but because I’m afraid they’ll just say “I think it’s great!” and hand it back.

A critique like that is exactly 0% helpful. I don’t want my ego stroked. I want to know what doesn’t work so I can make it better. Whether it’s something I know needs work but I can’t figure out how to fix it, or feedback that takes me entirely by surprise, a good critique can only be helpful, if you listen to it.

This article from the Huffington Post sums up how I feel about the subject nicely. It’s worth a read by anyone who strives to improve themselves, whether at work, at a creative pursuit or even aspects of their personality.

I’m not saying critique doesn’t hurt. My dad is a particularly thorough critic of my writing and some of the stuff he says makes my cheeks burn when I read it. Instinctively, my reaction is always along the lines of “well you’re just wrong.” And I vow to ignore it.

A few days later I read his critique again. And even if I don’t take every word to heart – there’s no rule that says you can’t stick with your original thought or plot device or whatever – I still consider his reaction and why he might feel that way. You can’t make everyone happy, but you can listen to everyone’s complaints and assess them. All feedback is useful in some way, as long as it’s constructive. I often end up coming around to the critiquer’s point of view and make some changes.

I kind of love critiques. Like in a sadistic, “hit me ’til it hurts” sort of way. I mean ultimately, even if it makes me squirm, my goal is to be a better writer, right? I used to hate it in school when I’d get a paper back all marked up with red ink and I didn’t have the opportunity to re-write based on the feedback to improve it. It was just done. With the long editing process and multiple drafts involved in writing a novel, I finally get to do that. You’re damn right I’m going to listen to someone who has an opinion if they’re willing to take the time to offer it to me.

 
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