Tag Archives: Alice

Overcoming Writer’s Doubt

This blog post represents my entry in the “Overcoming Writer’s Doubt” Writing Contest held by The Positive Writer.

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“I wish I could write like that,” I said to my husband. We were in the car heading home from the theatre having just seen “The Mummy Returns.”

“You can,” he told me, and for the first time, I shared the story that had been tumbling around in my head for the twenty or so years prior.

The rest of that summer was spent in the eye of a perfect storm of creative fury, spurred on by my love for science fiction, the abundant resources of the Internet, and the fact that I had been tasked to teach Writer’s Craft that coming September. As I researched the finer points of structuring plot, character, imagery and theme while preparing my lessons, the trickle of words I’d only ever been able to muster soon became a deluge. In my dreams I saw my novel on the shelves of bookstores and on bestsellers’ lists worldwide.

Nearly ten years passed before my masterpiece was complete and I was ready to shop for the perfect venue for my book. Back then, few publishers and agents were accepting submissions via email. Printing out my novel and mailing it was cumbersome, not to mention expensive. I soon succumbed to doubt and gave up on my writing career before it had even begun.

Then the next idea took root.

I ignored it at first, reluctant to take another ride on the writing roller coaster. Before long, the incessant chatter of the characters could not be silenced by anything other than my transcribing their story.

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Five years later Phase Shift was finished. A few more publishers and agents were accepting unsolicited manuscripts than before, but not many. After a year of fighting the good fight, and another twenty or so rejections added to my pile, I realized my submissions had amounted to nothing more than expensive lottery tickets. Actually, I’d convinced myself, I probably had a better chance of winning the lottery than getting published.

I took time to lick my wounds, wallow in writer’s doubt and decide if the writing life truly was for me.

I was teaching grade ten English at the time. Over a period of about three years, I’d listened to near a thousand student presentations on young adult novels. Every semester my awe at the torture YA novelists foisted on their characters grew; global apocalypse, false accusation, abuse, addiction, pregnancy, murder–no topic was sacred.

In my discussions with them, the librarians at my school encouraged me to write YA. At first, I had no clue where to begin. I’d always wanted to write a vampire story, I thought, so I began where I’d begun almost every project I’d ever tackled–doing research. It was during the  research phase I discovered revenants, kissing cousins to vampires in traditional lore. I soon realized I’d stumbled upon an untilled field of possibility. As little was known about revenants, I could shape them into almost anything I wanted.

Coincidentally, Nanowrimo was not far off that year. If I could force myself to stick to the regimen the contest demanded, I could bang out most if not all of my first draft in as little as thirty days. In spite of the demands of my job and my family, I “won” Nanowrimo and spent most of the next six months finishing and polishing my manuscript.

I felt good. I’d written my best work yet. I was going to be published by a traditional publishing house, but not before a knock-down drag-out bidding war between publishing bigwigs for the rights to my book. I was going to be the next Stephanie Meyer! The next J.K. Rowling! Bigger!

And then I began to send out queries.

When the responses started to roll in, elation was replaced with the first buds of writer’s doubt.

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“Your book doesn’t seem right for us.” I could deal with this kind of rejection;  the problem wasn’t me, it was them. I soldiered on, but with each successive rejection I started to realize maybe the problem was me. What if It was worse than me? What if it was my writing? I could always change a plot or write a new story, but if my writing was the problem…?

With each new rejection it became harder to navigate the waters of the river of writer’s doubt without slipping under.

I decided to focus on my next novel (which I tentatively titled I Am, Was, Will Be Alice), allowing The Revenant to stew on the back burner for a while. I liked my Alice novel. I liked The Revenant, too, but if it wasn’t meant to be then I’d have to write another magnum opus and try again. I believed in The Revenant, even if no one else did. I took a course on how to market a book, resolving to self-publish and run with it myself if no one had picked it up by the summer.

Then the gloriously unthinkable happened: one of the publishers I’d contacted was interested in publishing my book. A week after I’d heard the news I’d signed the contract. The stormy waters of self-doubt settled, the clouds parted, the sun came out. I might have heard harp music and choral angels sing.

I was going to be published!

I’m not going to lie and say I’ve managed to permanently banish writer’s doubt from my life. As long as my success hinges on how well others receive my work those thin tendrils of writer’s doubt, the ones that threaten to take root and sprout buds will always be there.

Let’s just say I’ve managed to prune back the branches for the time being.

The Revenant, a YA paranormal adventure novel by Elise Abram is set for a 10 July 14 release by Black Rose Writing.

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Literary Devices from A to Z – Brought to you by the letter Y

 

 

 

is for Young Adult

 

 

 

Young adult (YA) novels are novels that appeal to adolescents and teenagers. In YA the main character is usually a pre-teen or teen and theme is often emphasized over the more traditional elements of storytelling such as plot and character. I’ve recently begun my foray into YA novel writing, with the soon to be released The Revenant and next year’s release (hopefully) of I am, Was, Will be Alice.

YA novels are usually subdivided into 3 genres, middle-grade (10 – 13ish), true YA (14ish to 18 or so) and new adult (19+). Most of the time the main character is the same age as the target audience.

The actual target audience of YA is hard to gauge as, quite often, adults enjoy these novels, too. This accounts for the popularity of such blockbuster series as Twilight or Harry Potter.

Do you read YA? Do you purposely seek out YA or do you read a book if it appeals to you regardless of it’s intended audience. Post your opinion of YA novels in the comments below.

 

 

Literary Devices from A to Z – Brought to you by the letter S

 

 

 

is for Symbolism

 

 

 

Sometimes a red rose is just a pretty flower sitting in a vase on the shelf while others it is a symbol of love. Visual symbols, like the rose, are usually linked to imagery. Other symbols may be linked to theme. The bottom line is that if something recurs in a story and means something other than the obvious literal meaning, it’s probably a symbol and not just another pretty flower.

In The Revenant, Morgan is a symbol of good, his brother Malchus, a symbol of evil. The sum of their lives show that good and evil are more than simple black and white divisions. There is a little bit of evil thought and good intentions in the best of us, but in the case of Morgan and Malchus, their personalities ultimately polarize and repeated references to this polarization is what makes them symbols (and foils).

In I am, Was, Will be Alice, the ability of Alice to control her time traveling becomes a symbol of hope. If she can control when she travels, maybe she can save the lives of her teacher and student peers and ultimately, herself.

Likewise, in the short story “Hope Floats”, a butterfly found by a child in a dystopic world becomes a symbol of hope. Having settled underground, a child ventures to the surface and captures a butterfly to give to his mother to show her there is still hope for returning to the old way of life. But when the butterfly dies, he realizes there is no turning back the clock.

Symbols are all around us in everyday life and in popular culture. I prefer the puzzle of the subtler symbols, no rose = love in my writing! Do you think of symbols at all? Can you think of any you noticed recently? Share examples of the best ones in the comments below.

Literary Devices from A to Z – Brought to you by the letter R

 

 

 

is for Repetition

 

 

 

Repetition occurs when a word or phrase is repeated for emphasis or effect.

In I Am, Was, Will Be Alice, when Tina learns Alice and Pete have not had sex yet, she tells Alice, “Maybe he’s just not that into you.” Through her adventure, Pete has been her faithful sidekick and the thought of losing him is horrifying. As Alice lies in bed that night, the phrase plays over and over like an ear-worm in Alice’s mind:

Maybe he’s just not that into you.

He tells me he loves me every time he sees me.

Maybe he’s just not that into you.

He took care of me that time at the ROM, got me out of a bad situation and took me to safety, clothed me, and fed me.

Maybe…

The point of this repetition of phrase is for the reader to identify with Alice’s stress in anticipation of another time leap.

Can you recall an effective use of repetition in something you’ve read? Why did you think it was so effective? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

 

Literary Devices from A to Z – Brought to you by the letter O

 

 

 

is for Onomatopoeia

 

 

 

The term onomatopoeia describes when a word sounds like what it means. Some examples of this are hiss, bark, bang, and boom.

In my Alice Untitled YA novel, Alice finds she time travels when stressed. One of her triggers is onomatopoeia:

I’m having that dream again.

Footfalls tick in the hall, the beat slow and regular, counting down the seconds left in my life.

Click. Clack. Click. Clack.

A momentary pause outside of the grade three cloak room.

Shuffle. Spin. Click. Clack. Click. Clack.

The muzzle of the gun, shaft pointed directly at me like a dark, unblinking eye.

The flash after the trigger is pulled.

Tick, beat, click, clack, shuffle…these are examples of onomatopoeia. The use of them in a narrative helps to add the sense of sound. Rather than say he walked into the room, readers can practically hear the sound of the stranger’s footfall as he enters the room and Alice’s growing stress, foreshadowing another leap through time.

Take some time to write a passage using creative onomatopoeia. Share them in the comments below if you’d like feedback.

Once Upon A Time is Coming!

In preparation for the new season of ABC’s Once Upon A Time, I took some time to go over some of the classics associated with the show. I re-read Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass, partially to “borrow” allusions and create symbols for my Alice Untitled story, but also in anticipation of the premiere of Once Upon A Time in Wonderland. I also went back to read up on Rumplestiltskin’s origins.

In the Grimms’  version, a miller boasts that his daughter can spin straw into gold. The greedy king of the realm locks the daughter up demanding she spin a roomful of straw into gold. The daughter cries and Rumplestiltskin, a plain-looking dwarf of a man, helps her in exchange for a necklace. The same thing happens the next day and, thanks to Rumplestiltskin, the daughter delivers. On the third day, the king promises that if she spins the gold he will make her his queen. Having nothing else to trade, the daughter promises Rumplestiltskin her first born. After the child is born and she decides she doesn’t want to give the child up, Rumplestilstkin tells her that if she guesses his name, she will be allowed to keep it. They hire someone to tail the dwarf and hear him singing his name as he gloats. The next day, the queen “guesses” his name and is allowed to keep the child.

OUAT’s version incorporates much of Rumple’s archetypal story in “The Miller’s Daughter”, and in snippets woven into other characters’ origin stories. OUAT’s Rumple starts out as the fearless trickster imp, granting favours in exchange for what each of the characters holds dear. The character is broadened by the writers to personify Belle’s Beast and Hook’s Croc. The Trickster, the Cowardly Lover and the Adversary are portrayed with most excellent skill by Robert Carlyle. The same goes for Gold, Rumple’s real-world counterpart.

In my search for an online version of Rumple’s origin story, I found “Rumpelstiltskin in Love“, a flash-fiction short story by KC Norton that tells the story of the dwarf as he raises a child. We learn Rumpel is not the child’s father. He has also raised other children, now grown and moved away. The child asks about his mother and Rumpel answers vaguely, hoping to spare the child the heartache of knowing his mother gave him up to save herself. This shows that in addition to being a trickster who is vain and greedy he is caring and lonely, someone who longs for human love, someone who cannot find a woman to love him because he is ugly, so he settles for the unconditional love of a succession of children, each of which winds up breaking his heart when they grow to maturity.

OUAT‘s Rumple embodies the characteristics of both tellings. As previously stated, he is a trickster, someone who makes deals with desperate people without compassion. But he also has a human side, one that is achingly lonely, and believes himself unlovable, in spite of–or maybe because of–his power. This Rumple has compassion, though begrudgingly so. He is a romantic who believes in his own happy ending in spite of himself.

I don’t know about you, but I can’t wait for OUAT season 3 to unfold as the crew travels to Neverland to rescue Henry and discover new facets to the characters, especially Rumplestiltskin. In the mean time, go to the Flash Fiction website and read “Rumpelstiltskin in Love” to tide you over. Let me know what you think about this poignant addition to the mythology.

“RIPD”: “Men in Black” meets “Ghostbusters” meets lots of other things

RIPD (Rest in Peace Department) is where good cops go when they die. Their job? To track down escaped demons from Hell and return them or terminate them altogether. Ryan Reynolds plays Nick with one-note aplomb. His partner, Hayes (played by Kevin Bacon with similar gutsto), kills him over parts of a golden talisman they recover from bad guys. In the afterlife, Nick is drafted into the RIPD without ceremony and partnered with old west lawman Roy (Jeff Bridges) for training. On the first day out they happen upon the same case Nick was working when he was killed. They follow the trail to recover the rest of the talisman, failing to catch the demon when he is revealed. When the demon goes on a rampage in the city and Nick and Hayes are threatened with termination (which means meeting their final death), they take matters into their own hands.

I firmly believe there is nothing new under the sun; everybody works to put new spins on the same old archetypes. ABC’s Once Upon A Time, which puts a new spin on old fairy tales–especially on old Disney fairy tale properties–is case in point. The fun comes not in watching something new, but in watching a new spin on what must be an ages old concept. Many writers, I’m sure, set out to write something one of a kind and alternately cringe and scream when they see their original ideas manifested elsewhere (this was a regular occurrence while watching Fringe and working on Phase Shift). Other writers take someone else’s idea as a start and go from there (as is the case with every vampire property I’ve ever seen or read and The Revenant or The Time Traveler’s Wife and my untitled Alice piece).  RIPD has the typical old-timer-trains-newbie framework present in Men in Black or Lethal Weapon series. Unlike those movies, the old-timer is the strange-duck, while the newbie plays straight man.   Like Men in Black, the beings the cops hunt can hide in plain sight, appearing somewhat quirky, but for the most part normal. As is the case with Ghostbusters and television’s Reaper, RIPD detectives have a device to quickly dispatch the spirit back to the underworld before they wreak havoc on the living. Similar to Buffy the Vampire Slayer, there is a Hellmouth that is in danger of opening if the detectives don’t thwart the bad guys in time. Similar to Ghost, Nick’s love for his wife transcends death. Also similar to Ghost, his best friend/partner is the bad guy and his wife is ultimately put into jeopardy. Nick and his wife also have a brief reunion scene near the end, as do Sam and Molly at the end of Ghost.

RIPD is lots of fun. In addition to it being a police procedural, it is a love story, and involves superheroes of a sort. There is a lot of comic book violence as well as interesting villains. Jeff Bridges steals the scene in the role of talkative, cynical Roy, and much of the comedy comes from his deadpan responses and odd behaviour (such as driving the car facing sideways with his right leg up on the seat, or the way he is more concerned that he loses his hat than that he loses the demon). Though it borders on the cliché, RIPD is a light-hearted romp worth a look-see.

Did you see RIPD? Leave me a comment to let me know what you thought about it.