Tag Archives: writing

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 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 K

 

 

 

is for Katharsis

 

 

 

This is hard. Eleven days in to the challenge and I’ve already hit a brick wall. Outside of a few Japanese poetry styles, there are pretty much no literary devices beginning with the letter K. According to The Free Dictionary, the term “catharsis” is taken from the Greek “katharsis,” so today, K is for Katharsis.

Katharsis–better known as “catharsis”–means to achieve an emotional or spiritual cleansing or renewal.

In the Walking Dead episode entitled “Tempus Fugit”, both Beth and Daryl experience katharsis. In this episode, Beth decides to do something she’s never done before–get a drink. When her quest is realized, she has an emotional breakdown crying at the bar in the golf club with an unopened bottle of peach schnapps. Daryl shatters the bottle on the ground, symbolizing the end of Beth’s childhood. What follows is Beth’s spiritual and Daryl’s emotional renewal, for by the end of the episode, Beth sees herself as Daryl’s equal and Daryl is able to open up to Beth about his past. Neither character will be the same moving forward as a result of their katharses.

Kartharsis may be experienced by the audience as well. If a reader identifies with a character in a novel and feels an emotional release as a result, s/he has undergone katharsis.

Have your read or watched anything lately in which either you or the characters experienced katharsis? Share your examples of katharsis in the comments below.

A to Z Blog Challenge – Brought to you by the letter H

 

 

 

is for Hyperbole

 

 

 

A hyperbole is an exaggeration used to emphasize a point.

In the tentatively titled,  I Am, Have Been, and Will Be Alice, Alice is depressed and has taken to her bed for comfort when her mother comes into the room:

She digs my head out from under the blankets, brushes my hair from my forehead and brings her cool lips to them. “You’re cool as a cucumber,” she says for about the millionth time in my lifetime.

The hyperbole in this excerpt is Alice insisting her mother has used this phrase about a million times over the past 14 or so years. While it’s theoretically possible for someone to achieve this goal, it’s not very likely, which is what makes it a hyperbole.

When Suzanne leans over Palmer during a sarcophagus examination in The Mummy Wore Combat Boots, he says,

As she spoke I was enveloped in a haze of her perfume. Her scent was sweet and distantly floral.  It brought back a slew of memories—not all of them disagreeable—in a dizzying flood.

While Palmer’s memories make him neither physically dizzy, and his memories would not carry the same force as a flooding tsunami, I’m sure it would feel as if they did to poor Palmer who can’t escape Suzanne’s unwanted advances in such close quarters.

Do you use hyperbole in either speech or writing? Which ones do you use most often? Which ones have you written that you’re most proud of? Whatever they are, share them in the comments below.

How to write a book review in 3 easy steps

In today’s uber-wired society, most of us are bloggers. Think about it…you’ve probably already posted something on Twitter (microblogging) or Facebook (slightly longer microblogging). Or maybe you’ve used Tumblr (graphic blogging), Snapchat (also graphic blogging) or even YouTube (video blogging–or vlogging). Most of us have something to say about…well… something.

Most of us are also consumers of some kind of  popular culture, be it books, magazines, games, television or the movies. We watch voraciously. Some of us read that way, too. Most eBook sites invite users to review the books they read in order to generate sales. For us consumers, the people who pay the producers of popular culture, what better way is there than to voice an opinion on our satisfaction with the products we’ve purchased with our hard earned money than to write a review?

It’s not all that hard, really. Just three easy steps to reviewing success.

But if you’re going to review and post your review, you have to do it responsibly. Think of it this way–if you don’t understand a painting you see in the museum you wouldn’t stand in front of the museum with a sign saying “Don’t See This Painting!” Okay, so maybe some of you would. But that doesn’t make it okay. Authors put most of their blood, sweat and tears over the course of months or years into everything they write. That kind of devotion must be respected, no matter what you think about the end product. Just remember that at the receiving end of every review is a flesh and blood person with feelings and you should be okay.

Now, as promised, 3 steps to writing a good book review…

Step 1 – The Retell

Your first paragraph should retell some of the important plot points that lead up to but do not reveal the climax. Introduce main characters and their relationships and why they’re important to the story.

Step 2 – The Analysis

Every novel is written with a social conscience. This is the injustice the author sees in society that he thinks he can draw attention to by writing about it. Academics call this “theme”.

Discuss the theme in your analysis. Think about the voice and tone of the narrator; what about this is unique? Were there any recurring symbols or images and if so, how did they affect your understanding of the theme?

Step 3 – The Reflect

This is where you make connections with your understanding of the world around you. How does the novel relate to anything else you’ve ever heard or seen or read?

Lastly, discuss what you thought of the book, but before you do, try to figure out why you really liked or disliked the piece. Rather than say “The point of view is awful,” try to find a reason why you hated it so much. Maybe you didn’t like the idea of a male protagonist. Maybe  you are used to first person narratives and you just don’t get the second person viewpoint. Try to remember that this is your interpretation based on your life and reading experience and not about a major flaw in the author’s storytelling ability.

End your post with a call to action. Ask what others think in general or about a specific aspect of the work and invite them to leave a message with their opinion. Don’t forget to answer everyone kind enough to post.

What did you think?

Was this article helpful? Drop me a line letting me know why or why not. Feel free to post your book review here for feedback.

Guest Blog Post Announcement!

20 May 2013

 

I am proud to announce the publication of a guest blog post on TheWritePractice.com website.

Showing, not telling, is the mantra I use with my students in the first months of teaching Writer’s Craft. I tell them they must paint a word picture, using sensory information from all five senses. The trick is in finding balance between when to show and when to tell.

The post’s direct link is http://thewritepractice.com/word-pictures Please feel free to visit the site and post in the comments. I will make every effort to get back to you after posting.

2 May 2013

I am proud to announce the publication of my first guest blog post on the WriteToDone.com website.

Modelling expert text is something I learned about in teachers’ college and have used many times over the years, both as a tool with which to develop my own writing voice (as I discuss in the article) as well as with my students as a writing exercise.

The post’s direct link is http://writetodone.com/2013/05/02/develo-your-narrative-voice-by-stealing-from-bestselling-authors/. Please feel free to visit the site and post in the comments. I will make every effort to get back to you within 24 hours of posting.

Guest Blog Post Announcement – 20 May 2013

I am proud to announce the publication of a guest blog post on TheWritePractice.com website.

Showing, not telling, is the mantra I use with my students in the first months of teaching Writer’s Craft. I tell them they must paint a word picture, using sensory information from all five senses. The trick is in finding balance between when to show and when to tell.

The post’s direct link is http://thewritepractice.com/word-pictures/. Please feel free to visit the site and post in the comments. I will make every effort to get back to you within 24 hours of posting.

I am proud to announce the publication of my first guest blog post on the WriteToDone.com website.

Modelling expert text is something I learned about in teachers’ college and have used many times over the years, both as a tool with which to develop my own writing voice (as I discuss in the article) as well as with my students as a writing exercise.

The post’s direct link is http://writetodone.com/2013/05/02/develo-your-narrative-voice-by-stealing-from-bestselling-authors/. Please feel free to visit the site and post in the comments. I will make every effort to get back to you within 24 hours of posting.

Above is the Twitter announcement for the post:

If a tree falls in the forest…?

image

If a tree falls in the forest does it make a sound? Does anyone care that it’s fallen? More precisely, if I complete a manuscript, publish it, and no one reads it, can I still call myself a published author? 

That sounds weird: me; a published author. It took a lot for me to admit I aspired to be an author, as I thought it would be viewed as a frivolous pursuit. I think it was because I was pushed hard growing up to do the right thing to become independent and successful. I pursued archaeology as a career instead, something I loved and which my mother supported, my father didn’t understand and my grandfather ridiculed. Yes, ridiculed. “Find any gold, yet?” he used to joke every time he saw me. I wish I could chalk it  up to old world mentality, that archaeology, the search by those in the present seeking to understand those in the past is lost on those who have lived through it, but my grandfather was second generation Canadian and probably younger than my mother is now (i.e., not that old). My father, an avid reader of the newspaper, cover to cover, each and every night, with his grade 9 education and demeanor too weak to tell my grandfather that he should demonstrate pride in lieu of derision for his granddaughter’s accomplishments, ironically would have understood.  Though not a fan if fiction, he would have supported my endeavour, recognized it as a noble pursuit (much in the same way I marvel at my son’s artistic ability, as something I could never, no matter how many lessons or how much effort, could duplicate). With the eye for detail he’d groomed over years spent in the printing industry, he’d have made me excellent proofreader.

It turns out, people actually believe writing, publishing, is a noble pursuit. I had an interesting discussion with my cousin, just last week that demonstrated this for me. He’d asked how my book was selling. I told him I was selling copies at the rate of about one a month. He’d picked up on my disappointment and told me that, nevertheless, I had sold copies and I could call myself a published author which was more than most could say. I reminded him that I’d self-published and anyone could do that. He reminded me that few people did and he pointed out I was the only one he knew who did. I also think about my mother and how she practically begged me to get her a print copy. I reminded her that she would be better suited to an e-book with which she could adjust the text size until so she could actually read it. I don’t think she was happy about my suggestion, but she agreed. Tell people you’ve published an e-book and they congratulate you; show them the physical book and they’re impressed. Show to make an impression; don’t tell—what author hasn’t heard that old saw?

As for me, I continue to write for the same reason I continue to teach, for the same reason I cling to my lottery fantasy of leaving it all to run an archaeology camp in the backyard of an old Victorian  somewhere in the city—because it’s my passion. Always has been, for as long as I can remember (except for the lottery fantasy which has only been around for 20 years or so). I continue to cling to the “if you build it, they will come” school of thought—if I continue to write,  publish,  and publicize,  like Shoeless Joe and his teammates and fans, the readers will eventually come.

In droves.

About the Author
Elise Abram, English teacher and former archaeologist, has been writing for as long as she can remember, but it wasn’t until she was asked to teach Writer’s Craft in 2001 that she began to write seriously. Her first novel, THE GUARDIAN was partially published as a Twitter novel a few summers back (and may be accessed at @RKLOGYprof). Nearly ten years after its inception Abram decided it was time to stop shopping around with traditional publication houses and publish PHASE SHIFT on her own.

Download PHASE SHIFT for the price of a tweet. Visit http://www.eliseabram.com, click on the button, tweet or Facebook about my novel and download it for FREE!

Graphic taken from http://writers-write-creative-blog.posterous.com/quotable-donna-tartt

THE PURCHASE and Point of View

Whether consciously aware of it or not, the point of view from which a story is told can make or break the story. The most popular points of view are first person—in which the reader sees the events unfold through the eyes of a single character, including their thoughts and feelings—and third person. There are typically three types of third person narrative. The first is limited, essentially another take on the first person narrative. In third person limited, the reader can only know, see and feel what the point of view character knows, sees and feels. In third person omniscient, the reader experiences the narrative from a variety of people’s points of view. In third person objective, the narrator tells the plot as if the reader were viewing a movie, taking in all of the characters’ expressions and actions, but with none of the characters’ thoughts and feelings expressed in the narrative, other than those responses which can reasonably be observed.

The Purchase by Linda Spalding is about Daniel Dickinson, a Quaker living at the turn of the nineteenth century, who is excommunicated after his wife dies and he marries Ruth, the fifteen year old Methodist orphan living with his family as a servant. Disillusioned with his former life and feeling as if he has no future, Daniel moves his five children across the country to settle in Virginia. At an auction to purchase farm equipment, Daniel inadvertently bids on a slave and is bullied into giving up his favourite horse as collateral for the purchase and taking the eight year old boy, Simus, home with him. Thus begins (if I may borrow a phrase) a series of unfortunate events for Daniel as his family grows and he tries to build first a house and then a mill on his land.

The story is told from the point of view of an omniscient narrator, following each character’s thoughts, feelings and actions as the scene unfolds. This allows the reader to glean information that the main character(s) may not have. The following passage demonstrates Spalding’s expert use of this narrative technique:

“If we take my children to Virginia, thee could travel as a wife.” It was possible, [Daniel] supposed now, looking back at her unwashed face, that she had never had a book of her own. “Thee may borrow my Aeneid,” he called back to her, “with due care to its binding.” He turned to smile, but she had lowered her head and did not see.

But I am reading it just now, Mary wanted to say. That book was the one thing she shared now with her father. It was theirs. She stayed silent.

If this were written from Daniel’s point of view, we would not know that Mary wants to say something to her father but chooses to remain silent. Spalding also uses this technique to hide from Mary that her husband was involved in Simus’ murder. The reader knows it was reluctantly so and that he tried to stop it and gave up and left before the actual murder took place, information Mary never finds out.

The Purchase is written in third person omniscient, but it is more a cross between this and third person objective, as many character thoughts and motivations are hidden. Ruth is the best example of this. Though she is present throughout and the reader knows she struggles with her position in the family, little is shown with respect to her emotions. Next to Daniel, the well-meaning but aloof patriarch, the most detailed, well-rounded character is Simus. Though he is around for perhaps only half of the novel, his life and death act as catalysts for most of what occurs in the plot. Mary, the eldest daughter, and Bett, a slave girl with whom Mary lives, befriends, and helps escape, aren’t as fleshed out as I would have liked. Though Mary gains local notoriety as a healer while secretly using Bett’s salves and potions, Bett only expresses fear at being caught, for it is against the law for blacks to medically treat whites. I would have liked to have known more about Bett’s feeling with respect to what happens in the story, as I felt the real story lay in the relationship between Simus, Bett, Bry (Bett’s son, the result of her being raped by her owner) and Mary, who form the closest thing to a family portrayed in the book.

Spalding’s choice to use this point of view allows her to expand her story, giving the reader snapshots into the lives of characters beyond Daniel and what he knows about his family’s goings-on. In this fashion, the author expertly layers the story, drawing the reader’s curiosity, rendering The Purchase a page-turner; the pace is quick, the chapters are short and the narration is easy to follow. The novel explores the themes of perseverance in the face of adversity, alienation, religious faith, and the make-up of family. Spalding draws thought-provoking parallels between the slavery of blacks and the servitude of women. Daniel remains cold to Ruth throughout. They do not have relations until they are several years into their marriage. Even then, he is aloof with her and quick to lay judgement. In many ways, He treats Ruth as more of a slave than either Simus, Bett or Bry, figuratively lashing out at her when she disobeys him or tries to assume ownership of the new homestead, he does not forge a relationship with her and goes to her only when he wants to have relations. This parallels Bett’s plight. Her owner (the Fox family) literally lashes her when she disobeys them, they forge no attachment with her and the owner uses his female slaves whenever he wants to have relations.

The Purchase intricately weaves the stories of the members of the extended Dickinson family into the harsh realities of pioneer life using a great deal of irony in the telling. The story itself is told darkly, but the end message is uplifting and emotionally and spiritually satisfying.

Download PHASE SHIFT for the price of a tweet. Visit http://www.eliseabram.com, click on the button, tweet or Facebook about my novel and download it for FREE!