Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Bringing Dead Politicians to Life

I was working in Toronto, helping my husband run his pool hall, and not writing at all. I vaguely still dreamed of writing one day, but after trying to write one book in my twenties and junking it, I was pretty sure I had no talent and could never make it a career. To compound my negativity, I was fed up with the way local government seemed to be on a sabotage mission to put our bar out of business. Since I normally hate the helpless victim role, but for some reason at that moment I felt powerless to change things, I decided I should kill the mayor.

I have never dived more happily into a project. My fingers flew across the keyboard, creating a secret society with a murderous mandate, a young cop who could speak her mind more freely than I could, and a supporting cast I wanted to spend time with. In my fantasy world, I could kill anyone. I didn't care anymore about the socialist hypocrisy running rampant in the real world; I had my personal power back.

I wasn't a very good writer. I'd taken one writing class in high school fifteen years before. I signed up for a workshop course at Humber, and I was matched with a group of enthusiastic and honest critics. They helped me transform Clare from a beat cop into a rookie undercover, which later helped me shape the series. They suggested making her younger, so she'd blend in more convincingly with the students-another bonus, because starting her young means I can play a lot more with her learning curve. (Belligerence can be amusing at 22, but might be immature at 28.) And - probably the most significant part of the course - they took a lot of my bad writing habits, slaughtered them, and replaced them with real skills.

I also learned at Humber that writing isn't some elusive Shakespeare-or-nothing dream where you either have heaps of talent or you might as well pack it in, but a series of steps (like anything else), where we can start where we are and get better over the course of our lives.

I left that week-long course buoyed with confidence. I didn't suddenly think I was a fabulous writer, but I felt-finally-like publication was an attainable goal. I took a few night courses, moved to Vancouver (we ended up closing our fun but ill-fated pool room), and made it a mission to turn my first twenty pages into a kickass crime fiction manuscript.

This was my favourite time of all: the writing part. My amazing husband told me to take a solid block of time and devote it to just writing, and we'd figure out in a year or two if it was worth continuing. So when he went off to work, I worked, I shaped, I deleted, I despaired. I Rollerbladed into the nearby fishing village for groceries most afternoons. I stared out my window at the North Shore mountains when I couldn't figure out where to take the story. And I found out that this is exactly what I want to do with my life.

I'm thrilled that my first book is actually going to hit shelves this September. I love the people I'm meeting and the things I'm learning about the industry. But I miss the year I had to myself - the year I started writing.

Robin Spano

Don't miss Robin's great Virtual Book Tour, coming all month to blogs only a click or two away!

Friday, August 27, 2010

An editor on the editing process

One of my authors says that when I point something out as weak, he either cuts it (knowing I’m right) or re-doubles his efforts to make it work. I think that’s a great response to editorial feedback.

Andy Meisenheimer

From "Novel Journey"

What cops take along on narcotics work

From an officer with years of experience working plainclothes drug investigations. Plain clothes being, in some cases, really plain.


Tuesday, August 17, 2010

What goes in a query letter?

There's a simple way to figure out what goes in the first paragraph of a query.

1. What is your main character's name?

2. What problem/choice does the character face? (20 words or fewer)

3. Who wants to foil the main character's plan and why? (20 words or fewer)

Query Shark

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Guest Nadine Doolittle: On becoming a published author

On becoming a published author...

I was just as eager (and just as desperate) to get my manuscript published as any writer. But after ICED UNDER was released in November 2008 at a wildly successful launch party hosted by my local bookstore, I was stricken with terror. I lost five pounds. I couldn't eat, had trouble sleeping, and certainly couldn't write. Not anything worth reading at any rate. What I thought would be the most exhilarating time of my life turned into an intense year of trying to understand what just happened. When I was an unpublished novelist, I knew what I wanted-to get published. Now that I was published...where did I go from here?

My publisher is a small press: advances are not paid nor does my contract extend beyond the book under contract. No three book deals here. I had a book out but I was back in the starting gate for the next. I had to earn a living, promote the book that was on the shelves and somehow write the next novel. No problem, I told myself. Getting published was the hard part.

I drew up a plan of action. I scheduled my day. Write, do "business" and somehow earn money. I sharpened my pencils, sat down at my desk to launch into the next book-and promptly developed writer's block. (Which I thought was a myth until I had it.) Writer's block doesn't prevent you from putting words down; it prevents you from wanting to. I felt physically sick every time I faced the computer.

Panic set in. If I didn't produce another book, the first book would be for nothing. All that work, the struggle to get published in the first place-for nothing. And I was broke! I'd burned every employable bridge I had to write this book. I was aging too. Starting over again in another career was out of the question-I'd already had three. I spent long hours huddled in my office, sobbing. I was suffering a severe crisis of confidence, second-guessing the intuitive voice that led me to write in the first place. If getting published was so great, then how come I was so miserable?

At this time, readers started to pop up expressing how much they enjoyed ICED UNDER. I was almost too ashamed to hear their compliments. I felt like a fraud. Until it dawned on me that the only person I had to please in all of this was the reader. If the reader liked my book, who was I to say it was a mistake?

Then I fell in with a couple of writers who wanted to form an online critique group. We would send pages to each other twice a month. I was terrified but took the leap. The process restored me to the computer. Progress!

Writers are shy to begin with when it comes to promotion, but for a writer who has lost confidence, promotion is the seventh circle of Hell. Local writers and booksellers came to my aid with advice, wisdom and common sense and a bit of promotion of their own. The best tip I received was from a savvy old author and marketer extraordinaire who said to regard my first book as my loss leader. I should do what I could do to promote it, but this one book was not the career. A weight lifted off my shoulders.

One day while rocking in front of the computer as I worked out a tricky bit of plot, I had a revelation: Writing wasn't something I chose to do-writing chose me. In sickness and in health, for richer or poorer, I was a writer and there was no going back. I finally finished my second book. At this writing THE GREY LADY is with an agent in the U.K. who requested the full after reading the first ten pages. ICED UNDER continues to sell well through word of mouth and has received three decent professional reviews.

And I've plunged into my third novel.

Nadine Doolittle is an award-winning reporter formerly with the Low Down to Hull and Back News, and On Track columnist for the Ottawa Metro News covering transit issues in the nation's capital. "Iced Under" (published by Bayeux Arts Inc. in November 2008) was short-listed for the Arthur Ellis Best First Novel in 2009.

Podcast on Sherlock Holmes

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle speaks on film about the development of his famous sleuth, Sherlock Holmes.

Thanks to Janet at Mystery Fanfare.