10 Words from Writers

10 Words from Writers

It’s a new year and, while last year’s issues linger on, we writers are ready to take on whatever else 2021 will hand us. After all, it’s life’s experiences that fuel us, inspire us and challenge us to pull out the best possible words in the best possible order and place them on the page.

At least, that is the theory. To underscore that concept and to keep you in a positive creative space, we’re sharing 10 quotes about the craft from 10 different writers. Energizing? A calorie-free fill-up, we hope. Inspiring? Probably. Challenging? We surely think so.

You be the judge.

What is a writer?

Aristotle: We are what we repeatedly do.

Susan Sontag: A writer is someone who pays attention to the world.

John Updike: Writers may be disreputable, incorrigible, early to decay or late to bloom but they dare to go it alone.

How does a writer work?

Anne Lamott: Very few writers know what they are doing until they’ve done it.

Anais Nin: The role of the writer is not to say what we all can say but what we are unable to say.

J. K. Rowling: Anything’s possible if you’ve got enough nerve.

Robert Frost: Poetry is when an emotion has found its thought and the thought has found words.

Why be a writer?

Jorge Luis Borges: When writers die they become books, which is, after all, not too bad an incarnation.

Franz Kafka: A book must be the axe for the frozen sea within us.

Last word on writing

Stephen King: An opening line should invite the reader to begin the story. It should say: Listen. Come in here. You want to know about this.

We expect that at least one of these intriguing quotes from writers might nestle next to your muse and help keep your pen filled with unstoppable ink. As the year unfolds, keep in touch. Let us celebrate your wins and soothe any scrapes or bruises that might come your way.

The Gifts of 2020

The Gifts of 2020

Gwynn Scheltema

As Ruth said in last week’s blog, I’m a master planner. I’ve always set goals, had a plan, been S.M.A.R.T. But I gave up writing New Year Resolution lists years back because, for me, they always seemed to be lists of my future failures, lists of not meeting my own expectations.

Instead, I switched to thinking positively about myself, mentally listing all the small and large achievements over the past year. I also began allowing myself to dream and visualize and imagine what I wanted to do—and not do. I learned to strive for balance in my writing life and life in general.

If there’s one thing that I have learned over this last year, it’s the importance of kindness and acceptance and the finding of joy and fulfilment in the unexpected, big and small. And part of that is the acceptance of self, flaws and all. 

So, in 2021 I’ve decided I am going to put kindness to myself first in any plans I make or goals I set and strive for participation and passion, not perfection.

Unexpected writing gifts

Someone once said that if you think your glass is always half empty, then pour it into a smaller glass and quit whining. I tried to take that approach in 2020 whenever new annoyances and problems arose, and realized that out of a seemingly all-bad year, a number of things did go well for me in my writing life.

I live out in the country, a good hour from all the people and events and activities I like to engage with. By May, a general acceptance of ZOOM and work-from-home meant I didn’t have to spend so much time travelling. That gave me more time for myself and my writing—a true gift.

And technologically, ZOOM was just the start. I gained a whole gift bag of new skills:  I learned how to make videos, how to work with MP4s sent to me from people’s phones and convert and edit them for podcasting. Ruth and I took a stab at giving online workshops, learning all about break-out rooms and gallery views and split screens and converting in-class learning materials to the screen. An arts group I volunteer with went virtual with Google Groups and Google Meet and is planning virtual arts activities I would never have imagined were even possible.  

I took part in virtual critique group meetings, online workshops and paint nights. I had time to read more. I enjoyed countless free offerings of art of all disciplines from around the world. So much to fill my creative well and give me new ideas. Another wonderful gift.

Being stuck at home allowed me to work on habits—breaking old bad habits and cultivating new good ones to replace them. On the writing front alone, I have been able to get back into journalling morning pages, into genuine regular creative time. I’ve had time to sort through years of journals and boxes of scraps of paper to find half-written poems and story ideas and put them into digital files where I can find them again. I’ve been able to spend quality time on putting together my poetry collection, so that in 2021 it may actually finally be done! The gift of moving forward even when everything seems static.

Of course, my 2020 gift list is much longer, full of good things that happened or that I came to appreciate, but you get the drift.

Moving forward

So now as I head into 2021, a big part of my plans and dreams and visions for the future is going to be influenced by what I learned in 2020:

  • Be kind to yourself and don’t expect perfection
  • Do more of what feeds your soul, your passions and your creativity
  • Do less of what others say you should be doing
  • Be flexible and willing to change direction and do it positively
  • Be present, mindful, grateful, and notice and appreciate
  • Go with the flow

Achieving writing goals is all very well, but if they are achieved at the expense of your health or your family relationships and other important aspects of life, then perhaps you need to reconsider. Take time to live.  Take time to grow. Take time to love.

Above all, be kind to yourself and others. Look for the good in everything. Enjoy the writing journey you’ve chosen for yourself. Enjoy life. Be positive and you’ll get there. Have a wonderful 2021.

Season’s Greetings

Season’s Greetings

Thank you to all our subscribers and clients for your continued support of Writescape. 2020 has been a tough year for so many, so we hope our wee bit of holiday lyric editing puts a smile on your face and ink in your pen.

With a tip of the toque to Winter Wonderland*

The muse is calling, are you listening?  
Poems and stories; ideas glistening
So pumped we can write
We're happy tonight
Writing in our winter wonderland                                  
Go away 2020 
Here to stay words aplenty
Good wishes to all
As the words form and fall
Writing in a your winter wonderland
May the muse be always with you,
Gwynn and Ruth

*Winter Wonderland: composed in 1934, lyrics by Richard Bernhard Smith & music by Felix Bernard. The song is so popular, it has been recorded more than 200 times. Now, how’s that for inspiring?

Does Size Matter

Does Size Matter

Gwynn Scheltema

A couple of weeks ago, I shared my thoughts on writing short fiction and in the comments, someone asked, “How short is short fiction?”

That’s a loaded question because, like poetic forms, short fiction comes in a host of forms and lengths and changes with the times.

This sample list of interesting short fiction forms and their word counts comes from a seminar I gave a few years ago at the Ontario Writers’ Conference:

Six word stories

Should provide a moment of conflict, action, and resolution that gives the sense of a complete story transpiring in a moment’s reading.

@twitterfiction

Fiction in 140 characters or less.

Expresso Stories – 25 words or less

A literary form for today’s frothed-up, on-the-hoof, want-it-all-now consumer lifestyle: complete stories that take no longer to read than an espresso takes to slurp.

Hint Fiction – 25 words or less

A hinting story, should do in twenty-five words what it could do in twenty-five hundred, that is, it “should be complete by standing by itself as its own little world.”

Trifextra – exactly 33 words

Stories written from prompts, and having something to with the number three.

Trifecta – no fewer than 33 and no more than 333 words.

A competition in which writers are given a one-word prompt, use the third given definition in the Merriam-Webster dictionary to write a story between 33 and 333 words.

Minisaga, mini saga or mini-saga – exactly 50 words [AKA ultra-shorts or microstory.]

Started by The Daily Telegraph and used in business as an educational tool to stimulate creativity. They are often funny or surprising and are described as “bite-sized lessons for life and business.”

Dribble Fiction – exactly 50 words

An offshoot of Drabble with the word count reduced to 50 words.

55 Fiction – 55 words

From the New Times short story contest. 55 Fiction has: a setting; one or more characters; conflict and resolution.

Postcard Fiction – usually 50 words or less but up to 250

Literary exploration, usually inspired by photographs and able to fit on a standard size postcard.

Micro fiction – under 100 words

A complete fictional story in a limited number of words in any genre.

Drabble Fiction – exactly 100 words

Originated in UK science fiction fandom in the 1980s. Drabble calls for brevity, testing the author’s ability to express interesting and meaningful ideas in a confined space.

Feghoot or Shaggy dog story – usually 100 to 250 words

Usually sci-fi, centers around or concludes with a pun, has a title character in a dangerous situation, any place in the galaxy, any past or future time. Can involve the travelling device with no name, represented as the “)(“.

Haibun – usually 100 to 1000 words.

English haibun is of one or more paragraphs of prose coupled with one or more haiku. It may record a scene, or a special moment, in a highly descriptive and objective manner or may occupy a wholly fictional or dream-like space. Accompanying haiku has a direct or subtle relationship with the prose.

Short Story 1000 to 15000 words.

Word count varies with publication form: collections, anthologies, magazines, or journals; print or on-line; genre or not. Print costs for journals, magazines and anthologies usually keep the count between 2000 – 4000.Genre stories for anthology collections can go to 7500 words. Single author collections often have one longer story up to 15000 words coupled with shorter stories.

Novellette – 7500 to 17500

Novella – 17500 to 40,000, sometimes 50000

Bottom Line:

  • Write your story the length it needs to be without thinking about word limits. Decide afterwards if you want to edit it to fit a certain count.
  • If you hope to sell your story, figure out what magazines or anthologies would be the best fit for the content/genre/style of your story, then look up their submission guidelines.
  • For contests, don’t ever exceed the stated limit.
Writing The End

Writing The End

Ruth E. Walker

These days, we’re seeing a lot of endings. Some endings are permanent as favourite retailers and restaurants close and jobs disappear. Some endings are temporary; personally, I can hardly wait for hugs and kisses with my family to come back. And many of us have experienced terrible endings in our lives: separations, divorces or heartbreaking deaths.

With such massive change in the world and so much coming to a close, how is a writer to stay focused on getting words onto the page? Is the opening scene of a story sitting untouched in your laptop? Have you got three great chapters finished but is your mind a complete blank about the rest of the story? Are you in a state of despair?

Here’s something to try:

Create Your Story’s End

Wait a minute, you might say. How can I write the end of the story if I don’t know what happens in the middle? In fact, I don’t think I even care what happens in the middle. I can’t wrap my brain around all that second act stuff, the character arc, the rising tension and bigger and bigger challenges. It’s too much.

Right. That’s the point. Give yourself a Writing the Middle Break, send your imagination off on a kind of vacation or, better yet, a writing retreat with just one goal in mind: The End.

When you write the end of your story, you have a signpost just waiting for you and your pen. Crafting an ending will give you a place to aim the middle of your story toward.

And yes, I hear you: What if I choose the wrong ending? How can I know how it ends if I don’t know all the middle stuff?

Please, just listen to yourself. The ending is always found in the beginning. You’ve already written the beginning and if the sacred heart of your story is missing then your problem is not the middle, it’s the start. Your main character needs something – not wants but needs something that is part of their growth.

Essential End Ingredients

Main Character: a solid ending features your MC as a changed person. Maybe they accomplish something they didn’t believe/know they could. Or they learn something startling or perceive something they didn’t see before. It’s a revelation or a gentle coming-to-terms moment. No matter what you write, it has to be about, and directly involve, your MC.

Time: This is not a rushed project with a deadline so take it slow as you sketch it out. Allow the pieces to come to you bit by bit. And for heaven’s sake, use the senses.

Think for a moment about the lighting in this scene. As you imagine it, what shadows are cast? Does anything catch and reflect the light? What’s the temperature and how does your MC’s body react to it? Is there a scent and is it pleasant or stinging? What sounds are present – thundering cacophony or whispering winds? What is now silent? Is your MC’s mouth dry or do tears run down their cheeks?

Are they alone? Is your MC touching something or someone? Who, or what, is absent?

Using the senses will immerse the reader in the scene. Bonus for you, writer: engaging the senses will draw you into the scene like nothing else. And double bonus: when you get back to writing the middle, keep using the senses and your story will sing.

Back to Main Character: Consider the MC’s wants and needs that you, of course, have laid out in the opening scenes (if you’re uncertain, stop right here and go back to the beginning to make sure you have.) Bring closure to those wants and needs. Maybe the MC figured out long ago (in that middle you haven’t written yet) that their want was wrong all along. Give your MC a moment to acknowledge that one last time. And then wrap your arms around that essential need your MC didn’t even know they had and give us one last reflection.

Be Open to Change: Remember this is just your first draft and by the time you finish the whole story, you may know that the ending you wrote isn’t quite right. Maybe you’ll need an entirely different ending. But this is not a wasted exercise. Far from it.

I warrant writing the imagined ending scene will, at the very least, give you a greater connection with your MC and inspire a return to writing the rest. Or maybe it will help you realize your beginning isn’t working and you’ll need some serious editing to craft the right opening.

But what if writing this exercise IS the ending of your story? Our subconscious is constantly steering us. If you allow it to work its magic, it just might move you from Why the heck did I even start this book? to Why the heck did it take me so long to get back to this book?

And with that, I can only offer you this: The End.

Thoughts on short fiction

Thoughts on short fiction

Gwynn Scheltema

With the shortest day of the year around the corner, I thought I would write today about short fiction. I began my writing journey writing short stories and poetry and in many ways , I think the two are alike.

Here are some of my random thoughts on writing short fiction. Interestingly, the same perspectives can be applied to writing poetry.

  • Short stories are like poems in that they steer the reader into reading the piece more than once, and the reader finds something new on each reading.
  • A “mainstream” short story can be about anything: a mood, a character, a setting, even a flashy writing style. A genre short story is about an idea. The fictional elements—character, plot, setting, etc.—are only there to dramatize the idea.
  • One idea is enough for a story. Two is more than enough. Three is too many.
  • The more extraordinary the idea, the more ordinary the language. For experimental writing choose everyday events. The stranger the idea, the more real the world must seem to be.
  • Know whose story it is, who is telling the story, and why.
  • The short story is a controlled release of information. Never rush or compact it. The fewer the words, the more air it needs to breathe.
  • Symmetry is more important than plot. A short story must make a pleasing shape, and close with a click. Repetition is good for symmetry but must be used sparingly, like salt.
  • One world only. Dreams are out of place in a short story.
  • One POV is enough. Two is more than enough. Three is too many.
  • Go easy on character descriptions. Nobody cares what your characters look like. They only need to be able to tell them apart.
  • Leave stuff out. It’s what’s left out that makes what’s left in do its work more effectively.
  • Withhold as much information as possible for as long as possible. When the reader knows everything, the story is over.
Written in the Dark

Written in the Dark

Ruth E. Walker

At night, when the objective world has slunk back into its cavern and left dreamers to their own, there come inspirations and capabilities impossible at any less magical and quiet hour. No one knows whether or not he is a writer unless he has tried writing at night.

H.P. Lovecraft, early 20th century horror writer

H. P. Lovecraft had a point. There is something magical about writing when the rest of the household is fast asleep. It’s like a space “between” where creativity vibrates just on the edge of sound, and artists of all kinds allow their minds to search the shadows for change and possibility.

Given last week’s post by Gwynn on light, it made me wonder about the ideas, images, stories and characters that arise from turning out the lights and just sitting still in the dim after the sun has set. As I write this, I’m at my cottage where, if we choose, it’s easy to create a natural darkness.

But in the city, unless there’s a power out (as happened during the recent windstorm for much of Ontario and Quebec) a total absence of unnatural light is not possible. Even if you use blackout curtains and line the walls with soundproofing, knowing that beyond those walls artificial light still exists lingers in your mind.

Nonetheless, in the wee hours just past midnight, when traffic lessens and media sources and lighting shut down, the magic still happens. At least it does for me.

Nudging the muse

Some of my deepest and most satisfying writing arrives in that between stage. Is my tired mind more open to my muse? Is the silence charging up my right brain? Are the distractions no longer pulling my attention elsewhere?

  • No thanks, honey. I don’t need a cup of tea right now…
  • Can somebody let the dog out please…
  • Oh sure, I’m happy to chat. Nope. Not busy at all…

…moments from a writer’s life

Maybe some of that sounds a bit familiar, or at least, variations of the theme. Or maybe you live alone, have no family or friends or interests other than writing brilliant prose 24/7. I’m guessing not if you’re reading this blog.

So, besides H.P. Lovecraft, what do others offer us about the gifts found in the dark?

Other voices on darkness

Using the dark as a theme to develop characters, Sarah Maas gives us information on two different characters through one character’s words and the other character’s reaction to those words.

“There are different kinds of darkness,” Rhys said. I kept my eyes shut. “There is the darkness that frightens, the darkness that soothes, the darkness that is restful.” I pictured each. “There is the darkness of lovers, and the darkness of assassins. It becomes what the bearer wishes it to be, needs it to be. It is not wholly bad or good.” 

Sarah J. Maas, A Court of Mist and Fury

And before we start thinking that fear of “the dark” is a modern concept, let’s trip back to Ancient Greece and our old friend Plato’s take on it all.

We can easily forgive a child who is afraid of the dark; the real tragedy of life is when men are afraid of the light.

Plato

The Dark as a tool

As Samuel Clemens (Mark Twain) famously said “Everyone is a moon, and has a dark side which he never shows to anybody.” So, too, the most skilled memoirists shed light on that dark side of their lives. Biographers know that no subject can be perfect, so they look for the human being behind the myth.

For writers of fiction, our characters — especially main characters and heroes — benefit from being dipped into the dark.

Here’s an exercise adapted from our workshop vaults. See if it brings a bit more light onto the dark side of your character’s moon:

A moral compass

Imagine a scene in which one of your characters must make a moral choice:

  • To kill or set free
  • To steal or resist the impulse
  • To enter a forbidden place or walk past

Allow your character to make a choice. And then rewrite the scene with them making the opposite choice.

After you’ve given this a try, let us know if you made any discoveries. At the very least, you might have uncovered some secrets your character was holding back.

Celebrate light

Celebrate light

Gwynn Scheltema

In these stressful times, Diwali, the five-day Festival of Lights, celebrated by millions of Hindus, Sikhs and Jains across the world November 13 to 18, seems like precisely the sentiment I want to occupy my brain at the moment. This festival of new beginnings and the triumph of good over evil, and light over darkness and knowledge over ignorance is such a hopeful state, it lifts my spirit, gives me a break from the stresses that seem ever present in the shadows.

One of the ways people celebrate Diwali is with strings of celebratory lights and with fireworks. For this week’s blog, I decided that I would lighten up too and celebrate by giving you a fireworks display of writing prompts based on light and shadow.

So fire up your pens, and have fun!

“Someone I loved once gave me a box full of darkness. It took me years to understand that this too, was a gift.”   Mary Oliver

  • Write a scene that “shines light” on something to see it as it really is.
  • Story starter: What appeared in the flames was certainly not what she was expecting.
  • Write a scene where “It’s always darkest before the dawn.”
  • “It’s okay,” she said. “There’s light at the end of the tunnel.”
  • What imagery does the word “fireworks” evoke?

“When you light a candle, you also cast a shadow.”  – Ursula K. Le Guin

  • Story starter: The light blinded her….
  • It’s the holiday season and outdoor lights are everywhere…
  • Write a scene around the campfire.
  • Write a scene that takes place during an eclipse
  • Write a scene involving the lighting of a candle.

“There is the darkness that frightens, the darkness that soothes, the darkness that is restful. There is the darkness of lovers and the darkness of assassins. It becomes what the bearer wishes it to be, needs it to be. It is not wholly bad or good.”       Sarah J. Maas

  • Ask your character, “What’s the most evil thing you’ve ever done, thought or said?”
  • Is darkness a lack of light or a conscious decision to stay out of it? Write about someone who chooses the dark to hide from the world.
  • Are dark and light symbiotic? Write about a character who believes “It’s only in darkness you can see the stars.”
  • Every hundred years, the seven deadly sins meet for a tournament. The winner gets to be humanity’s most prominent sin for the next century. Who won in the year 2000?
  • Story starter: On Tuesday I discovered I had no shadow…..

“Monsters are real, and ghosts are real too. They live inside us, and sometimes, they win.”  – Stephen King

Virtually, a Conference

Virtually, a Conference

Ruth E. Walker

To suggest that this year, in particular, has been a challenge for all of us is an understatement. Disappointments, detours and disruptions govern all aspects of our lives, from the mundane to the extraordinary. And in some weird way, that upside-down-ness is becoming ordinary. Perhaps that’s why more and more, people are finding ways to deliver what we once took for granted.

I signed up for this fall’s Canadian Society of Children’s Authors, Illustrators and Performer’s annual conference, Packaging Your Imagination. It’s been a few years since I attended my last PYI, so I was ready to learn what’s new. But with a switch to virtual, I confess to wondering if sitting all day in front of my laptop was going to be worth it.

I was not disappointed

Beforehand, I worried about video quality. I was at the cottage where our satellite internet is not always great connection-wise. But the cyber gods were smiling, and I had almost no issues on that front. Each of the sessions – from the opening remarks through to the final sign off – were presented from the homes and/or offices of the speakers. Overall, they were delivered issue-free through a live-streamed broadcast.

The day before, I was sent links for each of the sessions I’d registered for as well as links for the opening and closing keynote speakers, the after party and the trivia game. There were no glitches.

The one-to-one I booked with an editor was scheduled in advance, and Katie Scott from Kids Can Press and I chatted privately over the Zoom platform at the end of the day.

I learned

photo by John Fredericks

Each session presented me with new ideas and a couple were absolutely inspiring. Children’s author and journalist, Monique Polak’s dive into research had me scribbling like mad to capture everything she offered. And that was between laugh-out-loud moments because Monique is, frankly, hilarious, engaging and slightly off the wall.

And I learned:

  • Get excited and engaged when interviewing & sometimes quiet people open up
  • Be like a buzzard on roadkill – real life situations can be ridiculous but also inspire your muse
  • When people drink something warm (tea, coffee) they’re more likely to reveal more than when they’re drinking something cold – when we can return to in-person interviews, I’m going to test that one out

Multiple award-winning author and senior editor, Shelley Tanaka focused on finding the theme in our book. She started with exploring what many of us face when we sit down to write a book.

We start strong and in love with our story, and we go merrily along, writing with our authentic voice. We’re on a roll, we’ve sorted out all the wants, the obstacles and the stakes in our story, it’s going great.

And then…thud.

We’ve lost our way, lost interest and admit to ourselves that the story is simply not working. She suggests this is a good time to sit back and ask ourselves: What is this story about? In writing for children, she says we should consider the following when thinking about a story’s theme.

And I learned:

  • Theme is not a “message” or moral
  • It’s also not simply entertainment
  • Whatever it is, it should inspire kids (and adults in my opinion) to ask questions about themselves

Industry insights

The professionals’ panel shared what three different publishers were looking for. They discussed the pleasure of seeing a growing market for BIPOC books and they briefly discussed trends. Forget about trends, they encouraged – write the story you want to write. By the time you finish writing to a trend, readers have moved on.

From a focus on Nadia L. Hohn‘s Malaika series, I learned what goes into an illustrated picture book that is linked to another: collaboration. Between the author, the illustrator and the editor/publisher, they build on each other’s ideas and artistic qualities to connect the books in the series while bringing in freshness with each new publication.

Beginnings and endings

Both keynote presenters were perfect for their respective tasks: storyteller and author Adwoa Badoe brought the music and literary flavours of her birthplace Ghana into her opening remarks. From her welcome song to the consistent thread of “Story is an Old Woman”, we were shifted in time and place, ready to absorb what the rest of the day offered.

by Matthew Wiley

Teresa Toten, on the other hand, took us through her journey of ups and downs, sharing rejections and personal difficulties but always offering a counterpoint of touchstone music and joyful celebrations. An award-winning author of 10 books for young adults, Teresa was remarkably candid and inspiring at a time when many writers are facing challenging times. It was a perfect closing keynote.

Virtual is not in-person

Of course, there were so many conference elements that couldn’t be replicated. Networking with colleague writers, chatting directly with industry professionals over lunch, and browsing the book tables were sorely missed. While we could post questions online, the energy of a live Q&A in the same room with others wasn’t there.

Pixabay

Bio breaks, on the other hand, didn’t mean a rush down crowded hallways to the cafeteria or standing in line outside the bathroom. Nobody cared if I brushed my hair or had spill stains on my homestyle attire. And yes, I could stand up, stretch, pace the room for exercise and not miss a single detail. And I didn’t disturb a single soul.

I look forward to more conferences and gatherings with real live people in the same room with me, breathing the same air and no one wearing a surgical mask. As I said last week to my six-year-old grandson: When this is over, Reid, I’m going to hug you for 27 hours straight. He just grinned but he knew exactly what I meant.

In the interim, I’m sticking with virtual. Gwynn and I are dipping our toes in as presenters next week with our Find & Fix editing masterclass. Sponsored by The Writers’ Community of Durham Region, you can find out more about it here.

Characters Can Stick Like Glue

Characters Can Stick Like Glue

Ruth E. Walker

Recently, I filled out a Query Manager form as part of my search for an agent for my YA sci-fi manuscript. Query Manager is an online form that writers complete with samples, query letter, synopsis – whatever the agent’s submission guidelines state.

Most agents’ Query Manager forms are similar, with generic questions designed to get information on the book, the writer, etc. This particular agent had some interesting additional questions, such as: Are you a Marvel or DC fan? That was a no-brainer: Marvel all the way. Except, I added, I still had room in my heart for Superman and Batman. (Call me old-fashioned but classic DC had a steadiness that served as a nice counterpoint to Marvel’s edge.)

Back to the agent. For me, that question was an intriguing insight to the agent’s personality. A response time of 8 to 10 weeks means it will be a while before I can ask her why she uses that particular question. But I’d like to thank her for another couple of questions on her online form. It’s a question that reminded me of the power a character or storyline can have, even if it’s been abandoned for some time.

What inspired you to write this book?

Character, I answered. (It’s always been my entry to almost all of my writing.) But then I went on to explain how my protagonist Garnet was a character rattling around in my brain while I worked on literary manuscripts. Some years before, I imagined this young feisty female in a warrior role she’s born for despite the odds. She’s a battlewipe – a job loosely combined with field medic, battlefield scavenger and skilled assassin. Don’t ask me how. She just was—and still is. I wrote a single paragraph to get her out of my system and filed it.

Despite the intervening manuscripts, Garnet wouldn’t leave me alone. And finally, I had a chance to dust off her one-paragraph character study and see if she could sustain a longer work. I signed up for the Muskoka Novel Marathon, a 72-hour writing marathon to fundraise for literacy in the Muskoka Region.

Garnet could – and did – sustain the longer work: 27,000 words approximately. By the time I’d worked and reworked her over the years, she now fills 98,000 words and is clearly part of a duology. (and yes, I’ve started the sequel.)

Why are you the author to write this book?

My fingers quivered at this one. My published poetry, stories and novels are in the literary stream. I have no stories in The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction or Strange Horizons. And I’ve published nothing in the Young Adult genre up to now. Was I kidding myself?

I hope not.

I’d loved science fiction as a young reader, and continued to selectively read sci-fi over the years. Ray Bradbury’s R is for Rocket (which I stole from the school library–and still have) and The Martian Chronicles kick-started my interest. And then Star Trek and James T. Kirk, et al, captured my idealistic heart. The stories told in science fiction are stories about the human condition, even those termed “hard science” novels. From Asimov’s Foundation series to Andy Weir’s The Martian, science is the brain but characters form the heart.

And I had a character who happened to exist on a planet with two suns. This feral teen had hopes and dreams that she kept whispering in my ear until I had the chance to breathe more life into her. That early draft I wrote at the marathon won the YA category, high praise from the editor judge and, later on, a Works-in-Progress grant from the Ontario Arts Council.

When characters insist

Notice I used the relative pronoun “who” in the paragraph above instead of “that” which is what you are supposed to use for non-human things. My character is quite real to me and I won’t be able to let her go until she has a home inside a book.

So she’s a who.

And that’s what I mean about a character who sticks like glue. I’ve got a few more rattling around in my brain but Garnet is one insistent voice. She even shows up when I’m focusing on other things. And that’s a good thing because one other question this agent asks in her Query Manager form: If your book was a movie, who would play your main character? That one was easy: Maisie Williams (Game of Thrones) or Millie Bobby Brown (Stranger Things.) Fierce and vulnerable.

I may only get a “no” from this query. But that’s okay because it let me dive even deeper into the who of my character and firm up my confidence on being the one to tell this story. The heck with all the rest. As my friend Sue Reynolds says: follow the energy. So I did. Do you?