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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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Book promo in person with a twist May 29

 

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Previously I blogged about using videos to get the word out about your book(s). Now, I’m going to talk about old school – well, only in the sense that it is an in-person presentation. But it is not only a reading or readings. A writer-friend once told me that authors reading more than five minutes can start to bore the audience. I suppose that does hinge on what and how the author is reading.

And this is not a lesson on how to read book excerpts in public. Maybe in another post…

My publisher, Blue Denim Press, has come up with a unique presentation setup that guarantees not to bore the audience. Here’s the blurb for it and below a bit more info.

Small Presses: Guerrilla Book Marketing in the Digital Age

Join the East End Writers’ Group for an evening with the Blue Denim Press Gang. Readings from Shane Joseph’s latest novel, Milltown, and Barb Nobel’s debut short story collection, Edgy People, with a duet by Sharon A. Crawford (Beyond Faith) and Michael Dyet (Hunting Muskie) featuring characters from their books. After a mix, mingle and snack break, join these authors and their publisher in a panel discussion on how the Small Press is filling the void in publishing today.. Hosted by Gail Murray.

I start the whole she-bang off with a short (promise) welcome to all including a brief (really) history of the East End Writers’ Group, then turn it all over to our real host, Gail Murray a poet and travel writer and longtime member of East End Writers’ Group. Gail will introduce each presenter, one by one.

Barb Nobel is up front to read a short funny excerpt from her short story collection Edgy People.

Michael Dyet and I are up next – we get a bit more serious except for one of my reading excerpts which is a bitchy fight between two women in Beyond Faith. Michael and I will be doing something we do in our War Between Genre Fiction and Literary Fiction presentation – taking on the roles of each other’s characters in our excerpts from our books – :”Slipstream,” from Michael’s short story collection Hunting Muskie and my mystery novel Beyond Faith. As with the “War” presentation, Michael gets to read a variety of characters. But we have a switcheroo in here. And there is a dog in my presentation – but he has no speaking parts, but he is there as he is important to our reading’; theme – relationships in families and all the things that they entail.

And no, Michael and I won’t be dressing up as any of our characters. But there are rumours circulating that a character from one of the books by one of us authors will make a surprise appearance.

The fourth author in the presentation, Shane Joseph will be reading from his latest novel (launched this spring) Milltown.

Then we are going to break for what has become a tradition of East End Writers’ Group gatherings – the networking snack break or mix and mingle and eat and perhaps buy some books. (the latter is not at all of our meetings). Hey, writers, readers and most everyone else likes to eat.

After the break, we four authors return to the stage and the table for a panel discussion that will hit on and expand the title of this presentation. Gail Murray will moderate and keep us in line if we get too chatty. There wil also be q and a as we want some audience participation.

And afterwards  – some more chatting with anyone from the audience who hangs around. Books still available for sale then, too.

And clean up and clear out.

And a thank you to the S, Walter Stewart library branch for hosting our East End Writers’ Group meetings and presentations.

Below are the location, time and date details and the covers of the books for the remaining two authors.

Location:

S. Walter Stewart Library branch

170 Memorial Park Ave., Toronto, Ontario, Canada

Time and Date:

6.30 p.m. to 9 p.m., Wednesday, May 29, 2019.

All welcome And did I say that admission is free?

See you there.

Cheers.

Sharon

 

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Using videos to promote your books

Beyond book No. 3

An online presence is crucial for authors to promote their book or books. Posting videos is one way some of us do this, even me who has no clue  how to take videos. Yes, my camera does videos but even with instructions I am video-making challenged – with the techniques. (Note: I focus on improving my still shots with my digital camera and they get posted – not just book promo, but family and friends and my garden).

So, I have had to get creative to get the videos out there. My secret is I let others do the videos in a variety of ways. Here is how videos of me and my books bave gotten out there on the Internet. Hopefully they will give you some ideas.

Doing an Internet TV show

This  one I’ve probably mentioned before. I host Crime Beat Confidential on thatchannel.com which is an Internet TV station based in Toronto. My main Beyond books’ character, PI Dana Bowman opens each show and she even did part of the interview when the guest was a real-life private eye. Here’s the latest episode with guest Lorna Poplak. Dana and I have also guested on Liquid Lunch, hosted by Hugh Reilly on thatchannel.

Guesting on a cable TV show.

A few years ago I guested on a Rogers Cable TV show called Writers and Readers hosted by author Tom Taylor. I actually did two – 10 minute interviews – one about my Beyond books and one about my writing and editing business. Although the show (and actual studio) no longer exist, I do have the two segments, posted on Goodreads (scroll down through the videos; most, if not all of my book promo videos are here)

Letting somebody else video-tape an event or part of an event

Last month I was part of a Crime Writers of Canada panel on Hogtown Homicides: setting our books in Toronto. The five of us did this presentation at a Sisters in Crime meeting. One of the panelists had someone else tape part of it. I gather it was edited and it came out short and sweet. She sent us panelists (and probably others) the link to it. So I posted it on my Facebook page  and on my author gigs and  blog tours page connected to this blog.

Someone else posts a show clip on their website

My most recent Crime Beat Confidential guest, author and researcher Lorna Poplak, who wrote Drop Dead: the horrible history of hanging in Canada, is posting a short clip from her appearance on this show to her website – she even asked my permission to do so and of course, I said “yes”.

Facebook is a good place for me to post links to these and share them with my friends. Also my blog posts are automatically linked to my Facebook author page (which is part of my main Facebook account) and to Linked In. And my website home page, at the bottom of the page, has automatic feeds to the last two author blog posts, which my son, who helped with the website built in.

So, there are ways to get you and your books moving (literally) on the Internet. Maybe you have other ideas for this.

How do  you promote your books using video?

And while we are on the topic, click on the cover of Beyond Faith at the top and it will get you to my Amazon page for my Beyond books . And oh yeah, the latest two author blog posts get there on my author profile. Ditto for Goodreads.

Cheers.

Sharon

 

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Hogtown Homicides: Setting it in Toronto

Authors are often faced with whether to set their novel in their own backyard so to speak, do a fictionalized place loosely based on their city or town, or create an entirely fictional town or city.

I tend to do a little of both. I have lived most of my life in Toronto, Ontario Canada. In fact I grew up here. So I know a little about some of Toronto’s past. I’m back in Toronto now – for the past 20 years – but I lived just north of Toronto in Aurora, Ontario for 23 years.

Two of my Beyond mystery books have settings in Toronto. Most of the short stories in Beyond the Tripping Point are set in Toronto – from 1965 to present day – not exactly historical, but still Toronto. In the two Beyond novels, Beyond Blood and Beyond Faith, my two main characters, fraternal twins Dana Bowman and Bast Overture set their private investigator agency just north of Toronto – in the fictitious Thurston and Cooks Region – loosely based on Aurora and Newmarket and York Region – so far around the time I lived in Aurora. But Beyond Faith has several scenes with both PIs in Toronto as it was in 1999. And the next book, Beyond Truth (still being researched and written) will have much of it set in Toronto.

What is interesting to me is how and why writers, particularly mystery writers,set their novels in Toronto. (Okay, I am partial to Toronto). And the research they do. Five of us Crime Writers of Canada authors are going to discuss this on a panel April 18. Here are the details and there should be links to their – make that “our” (disclaimer here – yes, I’m on this panel and honoured to be with the other four).

Hogtown Homicides: Setting it in Toronto

Frequently Canadian authors have been told to set their stories in some generic or easily recognizable city in the US, to guarantee sales. Well, this panel has successfully defied those voices and set their works in a very recognizable Toronto. Presented by Sisters in Crime Toronto in conjunction with their friends at Crime Writers of Canada,  Here is the powerhouse panel who loves Toronto.

They will discuss their choices, their research, and the subsequent marketing landscape.

Thursday, April 18, 2019, 7 p.m. to 9 p.m.

Location: Northern District Library, 40 Orchard  View Blvd., Room 200, Toronto

Sisters in Crime members get in free. Non-members $5.00 at the door.

https://www.torontosistersincrime.ca/

Check it all out. And if you live in Toronto or nearby (yes, including York Region), why not come to this presentation and get an earful. We will also have copies of our books to see and sell.

Cheers.

Sharon

 

 

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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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