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Revisions in Life and in Writing

Beyond Book No. 1 – the short story collection

“Half my life is an act of revision” – John Irving.

Most of us writers are familiar with doing many revisions of their short story, their poem, their novel – whatever they are writing. But did it ever occur to you that our lives are full of constant revisions and we often have to “rewrite” parts of our lives? And that sometimes these life revisions affect our “revisions” in writing.

If this sounds absurd, let me give you a few examples from my life.

From when I was a teenager (back in the grey ages, of course) I wanted to write and get published. I accomplished the first, but the second was not so easy, Around the age of 20 I was writing short stories and when I finally got up the nerve to send them out (in those days by snail mail), I got what I thought was a devastating rejection from a journal in Alberta. “This is not a short story; this is an incident”. I was so upset that I stopped writing short stories and switched to non-fiction – newspaper and magazine articles. But first I took various courses i  magazine and newspaper writing at a local community college.

Then my husband (at the time) and I moved just north of Toronto to Aurora, Ontario. This was the mid-1970s and Aurora, unlike today, was a very small town. But that local college from Toronto had a campus in a smaller town just outside Aurora, so I took another course in freelance magazine and newspaper writing. This class was a turning point – all of the students got published.

My publishing started with me cold-calling a local newspaper in Bradford to pitch a story idea. The idea was actually my husband’s and he had to stand by the phone and give me moral support to call the editor. I was a real chicken then. But I did it. Then I go brave and added, “I also sent you a humorous personal essay.”

tBoth stories were published and I ended up freelancing for that newspaper for a few years, then moved geographically (getting published. i was still in Aurora). I wrote a weekly column on Aurora’s community groups and their activities – first with a newspaper in Newmarket for a year and a half, and then with one in Aurora. There is a story behind those gigs, but that is for another posting. My next regular writing  freelance gig was for the  Toronto Star – at the suggestion of one of the editors at the local paper. So I was freelancing for that newspaper as well as a few small magazines – writing profiles of quirky people (my favourite), theatre reviews, some business stories, stories of local organizations and their members.

And then I moved back to Toronto in fall 1998, and expanded my writing to higher profile magazines, wrote freelance for another Toronto newspaper The Globe and Mail and began to focus more on writing health-related articles – something I had become interested in when I started getting migraines.

But this was all non-fiction. Oh, yeah, I wrote a few poems and some were even published – in local newspapers and in a few literary magazines.

But what about fiction? I began writing what would become much later my first novel  in the Beyond mystery series. Actually I started that in Aurora not long before I moved.

And at some point in there I began writing short stories, one story in particular, Porcelain Doll. The idea for that came from my background way back. I was a railway brat – my dad worked as a timekeeper for the CNR and he, Mom and I got free train rides. So I started thinking like a writer. What would happen if? The father in the story is very different from my real father except for working for the railway and the three of us travelling to Grandpa’s farm in the summer.

Porcelain Doll went through many revisions and some of the writing critiques (from various writing groups, including the one I started – the East End Writers’ Group) tore it apart. But I kept on writing it and a few other short stories. Some of these other short stories were published in anthologies.

A new small book publishing company, Blue Denim Press, started up. One of the publishers in this husband and wife enterprise, used to come to my EEWG  group when he still lived in Toronto. so we were familiar with some of each other’s work from there. and after pitching a short story collection idea (originally with two of us authors), the publishers were interested in my stories. But I didn’t have enough stories to make a collection; still I signed a contract, and began writing frantically and furiously. Short stories travelled by email back and forth many many times with many many revisions. It seemed as more than half my life was then in constant revision

But Porcelain Doll finally made the cut and was one of the 13 stories published in Beyond the Tripping Point (Blue Denim Press, 2012). From there I (slowly, lots of revisions), I wrote and Blue Denim Press published my (so far) two Beyond mystery series novels – Beyond Faith (2014) and Beyond Blood (2017).

Now I’m writing two books and wondering if I have finally gone mad, crazy, off my rocker (well, I am a senior). One is a memoir, getting my most attention as it is the next one for publication next year, and the third Beyond novel, which has a beginning and I am also doing research with it and a constantly changing the plot outline – much of the changes going through my head.

So you can see where your life going through constant revisions can affect what you write (or don’t write) and when. All from the wisdom in a short story rejection – “this is not a short story; this is an incident”.

I use that one in the short story workshops I teach – but that’s another “story”.

And that’s my cue to get out of Dodge – for now.

Question: What revisions or changes in your life have affected your writing? And how have they done so?

Cheers.

Sharon A. Crawford

 

With Crime Writers Canada at Richmond Green library

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Taming your main fiction character.

PI Dana Bowman, main character Beyond books.

She’s done it again. Private Investigator Dana Bowman has jumped out of Beyond Blood and Beyond Faith to run amok in the real world. Is she going too far? Has she taken over?

When your main fiction character takes over your story, what should you do? Scream? Kick her or him back into the manuscript? Go with the flow (or flood)? Or listen to what he or she is saying?

Often you get so deep into writing your short story, novella or novel  that it seems like the story is getting away from you.  You are sitting there writing away in a creative fog or focus (take  your pick) and suddenly  it dawns on you. Hey, just who is writing the story?

First, take a deep breath. A character getting involved in their story  is not always a bad thing. It is a sure sign that your character is alive and you are deeply connected to his life. You know better how he operates because he is telling you this – or so it seems. That can be a good thing. Maybe your story was getting dull with something missing. Then it was as if your character jumped in to save the story? Your character is also telling you who he is and how he acts and speaks..

But what if the character is way off base? Not necessarily adding on to what you envisioned as the latter can be a big help. But what if the character has turned so unrecognizable that he just doesn’t seem to be himself?

Sometimes this character reveal develops your character in ways that makes the plot work better. It is as if you are getting insides from deep down. But….

If your character really seems to have gone off the rails and it is not because he  is drunk, on drugs or hasa psychological condition…then you need to stop and take stock.

Sop writing and sit back. Go over your character descriptions and what you have written in your story so far and remind yourself where you as a writer want to go with this character, with this story and with the two connected.

Ask yourself:

Are your character’s actions and diaogue things he would do and say in character – even when he is angry; even when he is sad? For example, if your character has a habit of swearing when upset, and suddenly is throwing plates,. you .need to step back and think. Was the situation something that would push your character over the edge? And how would he react when pushed over the edge? This latter would tie in with his traits. For example. if big on justice and the law, and somebody in his life has crossed the line – maybe beat up his spouse – would you main character beat up the wife-beater? Is that how hat character would exact justice? Maybe, if you have made this character the type of person who when pushed too far takes the law into his own hands. Or maybe not.

Sometimes you might just need to sit down and have a conversation with your character and ask “Just what were you thinking when you…?

And yes, I do carry on conversations with Dana bowman. But she still leaps out of the Beyond books and does her thing – which consists of mostly dissing me, her author. And she even says she wrote Beyond Faith.

Now tthat’s when you start worrying about your character taking over.

If you want to see Dana Bowman in action, she opens all my Crime Beat Confidential TV shows on thatchannel.com and here is a link. This is the third episode where Dana actually returns later in the show to do some of the interviewing of our guest, a real life private investigator. At least it gets Dana off my back…momentarily.

Now if Dana would just use some of that energy to take care of the crap in my life – you know cleaning the house, doing the dishes.

But she won’t. I didn’t create her that way. She doesn’t  even cook. It’s her fraternal twin PI Bast Overture who cooks.

Maybe i should rethink Dana and have her take cooking lessons in the next Beyond book. Yeah right. the books are murder mysteries so Dana is liable to poison someone with her cooking..

Cheers.

Sharon

 

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The tools of creative writing

 

Sometimes we get too caught up in the tools of our writing  trade. Our computers act up and give us grief. Or we can’t get on the Internet and can’t connect with anyone. Or…or…

Hold on a minute. Aren’t we forgetting the other tool of the writing trade? Our imagination. Which leads to being creative. Which leads to some interesting and creative writing.

It you can’t get online, count it as a blessing in disguise. Or a message from the universe to get writing. If the computer is misbehaving, try another way to write. Type on a typewriter – you know that ancient pre-computer method of creating story. Sure, not as good as a computer (copy and paste it was not).

Do any of you even have an old typewriter hidden in your basement or attic? Try a garage or yard sale. Old school, I know. But remember I’m going on the thread that you can’t get on line. But for your info, typewriters are available on e-Bay.

Create a story in your mind and tell it out loud. And if you have a recorder – digital or otherwise – that can operate without being connected  – record your story.

Or if all else fails, go back a century or two and do what writers did then. Write with pen and paper.

And maybe write about the problems and pitfalls of writing while being connected.

And yes, fellow and sister writers – I do have an old typewriter. It’s an electric typewriter. Not the best choice if there is a power outage.

Guess I’m heading for some  yard and garage sales.

How do you get writing when the technical tools of your trade let you down and give your grief?

Cheers

Sharon

My third Beyond mystery. Written creatively despite computer snafus.

 

 

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Don’t forget your research

Beyond book No. 3

You may be writing fiction, but you still need to do some research. Sure, you can make up your story, your characters – and you better be doing the latter – but some things such as a place, a date, a real life event will pop up that you need to check out, even if you are writing science fiction. And if you are writing anything – sci-fi or other – and there are police in it, you will need to do research. Ditto for any other career involved even if you have worked in it.

Then there are stories set in countries other than the one you live in – or oven another part of the country you live in. Peter Robinson, who writes the Inspector (now Superintendent, I believe) Banks mystery series sets his novels in Yorkshire, England. Peter has been living in Canada for many, many years, but he makes regular trips back to Yorkshire.

And if you are writing historical novels – romance or mystery, or any novel set in the past, you need to do some research. My Beyond Blood and Beyond Faith are set in 1998 and 1999 respectively. Computers, the Internet, etc. were quite a bit different then. If you set your story in the late 1990s you can’t have people running around with smart phones. Yes, there was email and Internet then, but on computers.. My twin PIs, Dana Bowman and Bast Overture do have cell phones, but the type that flipped open and closed and no email or text on them, although text was just coming in across the pond in Europe. But not in Toronto, Ontario and north of Toronto.

Even though I didn’t have a cell phone then, a real estate agent/friend of mine did. So I could go back to what I remember about that phone, which I did use a few times. Not enough though, so I did a lot of research on cell phones from the past, what they looked like, their size (fortunately in the late 1990s they weren’t still the big clunkers from four or five years earlier). I was able to do enough research for that on the Internet. But not all research on the Internet is sufficient. Sometimes you have to get off your laptop, off the Internet and off your butt, off your smart phone, and get out there and do other research.

There is the obvious one with police and I’ll go into that in another post. Today, I want to talk about one of my in-your-face type of research – not exactly interviewing someone – which I did a lot of when I was a journalist (and some was via phone and email). No, something else I used to do for research for a story was to get out their and “absorb the scene”.

One of my stories in Beyond the Tripping Point is set in present day Toronto. There is an alley in the story, so I re-visited the alley behind a street of row houses where relatives used to live many years before present day. I walked up the street in front of the houses to see what they looked like today and then I went around the corner and into the alley behind and started walking there. I visualized the scene in the story (Missing in Action) and decided this alley fit the story. So when I wrote that scene this was the alley I was thinking about. Yet I didn’t pinpoint where it was in Toronto in the story.

In the story “Unfinished Business” I have the main character revisiting her childhood home area in Toronto with her 12-year old daughter because the daughter insisted. Something really bad happened to the mother when she was around the daughter’s age and she had only been back once just for a ride-through with a friend and she ducked down in the car so she wouldn’t see the place. When she came with her daughter, I envisioned where I grew up and had her drive in past buildings and on roads there up to the house (but I changed the street names). However, the whole street was in my mind as I wrote it as were most of the changes outside the house like for my house – except the rickety old garage at the back  of the driveway. It had been replaced  just before I moved back to Toronto in 1998, but I left it in my story, because it was crucial to the story. The people in the story and the bad thing that happened to my character didn’t happen in my life. (I had other things that happened instead). And for the record, I have a son, not a daughter. And also for the record, I took many walks along that street and even talked to the current owners before I wrote my story. Unlike my story’s main character, I don’t drive.

And how the latter happened is the “fault” of a couple of cousins visiting from Michigan, well, one of them. Here’s how that went.

My cousins, G and K and I were driving downtown from my place to meet my son for dinner. As we drove past the street where I grew up, big mouth me mentioned this. G turned onto my street, stopped outside the house (big mouth  me again telling him which one). A man in his mid-fifties was hauling a golf set from the trunk of his car. G rolled down the window and shouted out “My cousin used to live here.” So the three of us had to get out and we got into a conversation with the man and his wife. Turns out they (particularly her) are interested in the house’s history and the street’s history too. And the garage came into the conversation. The wife asked me if the original garage was so far back and I said “no.” Some more comparisons of outside were made and I learned some of the history of the property from after I moved. And I saw more inside when a few months later (I had their permission to call to make an appointment for this) I visited the couple inside the house.

Unfinished Business did not take place inside the house, but it did have scenes on the street, in the driveway and the old rickety garage.

So research is not all boring and you can get some physical exercise doing it. Just remember to go beyond the Internet.

Cheers.

Sharon A Crawford

Author of the Beyond mystery series.

Short story collection (2012)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Public Libraries Help Writers and their Readers

How many times have you been at a table trying to sell your books? Maybe it is a writer’s festival or maybe a church bazaar or some other event. And you get some interest in your book from someone until they look at the price. Then it is “is it available in an e-copy.” Or I don’t have enough cash on me/spent all my money/I’ll be back later when I’m leaving.”

Instead of frowning, yelling, whining or going into extreme book selling mode, why not suggest the person borrow your book from their local library branch? Maybe you don’t think about that because you figure you won’t be paid if someone reads a borrowed copy of your book.

Wrong.

If you as an author have your book(s) signed up with a Public Lending Rights Program (over 30 countries have them), you can receive royalty payments annually. Some library systems base the amount on how many times your books are borrowed or if your book or books are in the library catalogues (tcatalogues are online on most library websites). Canada follows this latter method and the payout annually has to work out to not under $50. But it can go up to $4,000. My Beyond mystery books haven’t reached a $4,000 royalty, but for last year, the amount was more than a 100 per cent increase from 2017.

Canada’s Public Lending Rights Program has a window of time to sign up – usually from sometime in February to May. And then that’s it for another year. Forms are online and are downloadable. This year the timeline ends May 1.

See here for more information on Canada’s program.

So how do you get your books into the library? Most libraries have book submission forms – in print at the branch or online, although sometimes the former are set up for  you to recommend a book by any other author who isn’t you. So get another author you know to recommend your book and you do the same for them.

The best way is to have a librarian get your book in. I have cold-called some librarians and persuaded them to carry my book. Depending on the library I may mention that I have family in their city or town (this has to be true – don’t make up stuff – leave that for your fiction books). Or I may say my books are set in their city or town or a city or town loosely based on their city or town (true for York Region just north of Toronto).

My favourite is actually doing a presentation (with other authors or on my own) or teaching a workshop at a library branch. Now, I have been doing the former for eight years and the latter six years. Particularly if the presentation or workshop is connected to your book – i.e. creating compelling fiction characters and you write fiction. Also, if you are presenting at a library, the librarians usually do order in a few copies of your book ahead of time.

Although one didn’t. So, one of the five of us crime writers reading asked the librarian if copies of our books were available in the library.

No. But they were soon afterwards.

Probably the best-case scenario is the librarian, Janet, at the library branch where I teach one or two workshops a year and my East End Writers’ Group partners with this branch to hold our meetings there. The librarian actually suggested it after we did a presentation at the library and I decided to get the group out of my house to meet and the two places after that where we met briefly went out of business. So, we are in partnership with the library with this and the program gets under the branch programs umbrella. Janet has made sure my three Beyond books are in that branch.

Of course each library system has its own methods for getting in programs and presentations. How I got into some (besides the East End Writers’ Group one) is fodder for another post.

The bottom line is getting your published books into libraries is a win-win-win situation – for your readers, for libraries and for you.

Cheers.

Sharon A, Crawford

Author of the Beyond mystery series

Available for borrowing in the Toronto Public Library system, some in the York Region Library system, etc.

And I am teaching a memoir writing workshop and doing two presentations with other authors, all in Toronto library branches. See my Gigs and Blog Tours Page on this website here to find out when and where.

 

 

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Can Point of View help Character Development?

No matter what genre of fiction your write – mystery, romance, science fiction or if you writer literary fiction – your characters are very important to your story and to your readers. Readers want to get to know your characters so they can connect to them – whether they like or dislike them. If you just skim the surface of your characters they become too superficial and your readers just won’t care about them. They may even stop reading your short story or novel before getting to the end. This does not bode well for the fiction writer.

How can you make your readers connect to and care about your characters?

One way is getting inside their head. The best way I know how to do this is by using another fiction-writing technique – Point of View.

Point of View is often misused, especially if you use more than one POV in your novel. And using more then one POV is not wrong. You just have to remember the cardinal rule. One character’s  POV per scene or per chapter. So stay only in that character’s head during that scene or chapter. Otherwise you are doing what we call in the business – “jumping heads”. Perhaps if you think of lice doing that it will give you some incentive not to jump heads.

How can POV help you see and develop your characters?

Basically,if you are inside that character’s head, you have to think like him or her – not like you would think for yourself. For example, how does he react when things go wrong ? What makes him scared and what does he do because of it? Is he shy? Is he a bully? Is he being bullied?  Reactions include actions, dialogue, inner thoughts and how others react to him? And these will depend on the character. For example if the character is a child, the reactions will be different than an adult. But adults also react differently to situations and that is based on their background, their characteristics – physical (are they short and fat and subject to a lot of derogatory comments about that? Do they cringe, hide inside themselves, stand up for themselves or bully the attacker – maybe punch him in the nose?)

All depends on your character and yes, doing a detailed character outline of your character helps. Just remember like real-life people, characters change and evolve – often because of what goes on in their life. So your character outline is fluid.

How do your characters react to being insulted? Frightened? To trauma?

Let’s look at one of my main characters in Beyond Faith – seven-year-old David Bowman. He was kidnapped in the previous book, Beyond Blood, and is suffering from Post traumatic stress disorder because of it. This affects how he speaks, what he does,what he thinks and what others, especially close family, think of him.

The best way is to use the writing axiom of “show not tell.” So here are a couple of short excerpts from Beyond Faith (published Blue Denim Press, fall 2017). Please note all copyright of all excerpts,  is with me, Sharon A. Crawford, the author.

First, his mother’s inner thoughts about him. The first chapter is from her – PI Dana Bowman’s POV. She is walking up Main Street dreading returning home. Two short excerpts here:

THE WIND WHIPPED my back and the cold rain pelted my face. Hunching further inside my jacket, I pulled the hood tighter. Despite chattering teeth and an oversized purse sliding down my sleeve, I continued plodding forward.

Late November in Thurston Ontario could weave a wicked wind, leaving you out of sorts and gasping for life, a feeling I had experienced a lot lately. Couldn’t seem to put my finger on it. Bast said it was because we would turn 40 the end of next month and to get over it. But that wasn’t it. Just when I seemed to find the proverbial hole, something always kept me from crawling in. But what was really stopping me?………

 

I should be happy. Not only did my son David survive his kidnapping last year, but this July he finally started talking again after months of silence. First he wouldn’t shut up, then he took to following Bast around again like he did when still mute. Since summer disappeared into autumn, when not at school, David was spending more time alone in his room—drawing. I didn’t like what erupted from his crayons—devils, fires with heads sticking out the top, hands wielding axes or guns. Where did he get all these ideas? Had he not healed from the kidnapping? Maybe the aftermath was like grief—going back and forth and all over the place in uneven stages……

What’s happening here? How does this clue the reader in on David’s character? And on his mother’s too? What do these short excerpts tell you about mother and son?

Let’s hear from David now in another scene. A little bit of info first. Partway through Beyond Faith, Dana is attacked from behind, falls to the cement and suffers a concussion. This is part of the scene a few hours later in the hospital from David’s POV.

“Uncle Bast, can we go see Mommy so the detective can find out who hurt her?”…..

Bast turned to the doctor. “Very well, if you don’t have any objection, Doctor? I would like to see my sister, too.”

Dr. Richards scratched his cheek. “She is sleeping now. She should get more rest, no excitement.”….The doctor shrugged his shoulders. “Fine. But just family. And just for a few minutes.”

He led them back to Mommy’s room. The cop sitting outside seemed to be asleep on the job. David went to him and shook him. “Wake up. You’re supposed to be watching Mommy’s room to keep the bad guys out.”

Constable Biggs looked up, but before he could say anything, Uncle Bast was leading David into the room, behind the doctor. The doctor said something to the nurse about giving them a few quiet minutes alone with the patient. The nurse stood up and she and the doctor left the room.

Bast sat down in the chair on one side of the bed. David moved his chair closer to Mommy on the other side. He sat down and took her hand. And started to talk about school, Ms. Dugan, and Buddy. He was there and he wasn’t going to leave her. If he did, he knew she would die……

What does this excerpt tell you about David? What techniques were used to show the reader David’s character? And as this is a child character, are his thoughts and language appropriate for a seven-year-old boy?

If you wish to find out more about the Beyond characters, Beyond Blood and Beyond Faith are available at amazon.com, amazon,ca, and other online places as well as some bricks and mortars stores.

But I am also suggesting you read a variety of novels (or short stories if that is your writing area) to see how a variety of other authors handle POV and character. Two caveats: unfortunately a small portion of published fiction messes up the POV – blame the editor here. And don’t copy what another author does – reading is for your learning and inspiration. In the end it’s your story and your characters.

Cheers.

Sharon A, Crawford

 

 

 

 

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Crime Writers of Canada 35th Anniversary book signing

CWC Book Signing coming up

Authors brandishing swords, pointing guns, rushing with knives? Not quite. All this murder and mayhem we may create is between the covers of our books. Of course, our lips are not sealed about what goes on between the book covers with our characters and in our plots and in our minds. We will be glad to share. And Chapters Newmarket will have copies of or books should you wish to buy. And we will sign copies of our books – but not in blood – with pen and ink.

Here’s the blurb from the Crime Writers of Canada website events calendar:

The 35th Anniversary celebration of the Crime Writers of Canada continues to be at hit at Chapters Newmarket, this time on October 27, 2018.

Join CWC authors Tracy L. Ward, Nanci M. Pattenden, Sharon Crawford, K.J. Howe, Lorna Poplak, and John Worsley Simpson at the Newmarket Chapters for a day of crime.

Hope to see you there.

These are my two Beyond mystery novels that will be at Chapters Newmarket.

The second Beyond book (2014) and first novel

 

The third Beyond mystery book (2017) second novel.

 

Cheers.

Sharon A. Crawford

 

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