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!