Books about Writing

Long ago I took one English course at University. At the time, I was so intent on medicine and my science courses that I failed to take advantage of an opportunity. The teacher was Tom Marshall, Canadian poet. He was working on his MA that year and I think we were one of the first classes he had to teach. What an ordeal that must have been— bored medical students and engineers, most of us.

I remember being terrified most of that first year, felt unprepared and well out of my depth. I produced nothing good enough even for a B. I’d closed my mind to writing.

Now, I’m trying to catch up, to learn what I should have then, and so, I read books about writing.

Sol Stein: On Writing, St. Martin’s Griffin, New York.

I didn’t know his name when I found him on a list of writing teachers. He has written several books including On Writing, How to Grow a Novel, and Sol Stein’s Reference Book for Writers. He worked as an editor and publisher and playwright and successful novelist.

He also has developed a computer programme to teach the writers craft: the new Write Pro.

I haven’t bought the programme, but I have read the books, and tried to use his techniques in my writing. His lessons about revision, what he calls his triage method, focus on plot and character, major areas that always need work. When he does get to the front to back revision, he suggests scene by scene decision. Does it work? If not, out it goes.

Nancy Kress: Characters, Emotion and Viewpoint, Writer’s Digest Books.

I took a brief on-line course at Writer’s Digest some years ago, on character development and recently read the book that accompanied it again. Or rather, am  reading it, because I’m in the process of revision and need to understand characterization more than I do. Nancy Kress taught the course and the characters I developed with her and their conflict form the nucleus of the book that I’m revising.

Theses are just two of the books on my shelf. Useful additions to any writer’s library.

Turning Leaves and other lovely things

Just got back from Writescape’s Turning Leaves retreat at Fern Resort. What a gift to spend a weekend with old friends and new, writers all, concentrating on projects and the writer’s craft. I learned valuable lessons in characterization, especially the Sunday morning session with Gwynn Scheltema and Ruth E. Walker.

Back home, it’s Monday, snow is falling and the carryover from the weekend had me spending it on my work-in-progress. The voices of my characters are  distinct and clear in my head, less so on paper(or the computer screen).

I just started reading Russ King’s Defiant Spirits: The Modernist Revolution of the Group of Seven. A giant Black Willow at the river’s edge, the black water, dotted with a gaggle of Canada Geese who seem to be practicing take-off and landing this morning while working on their group harmony, ice forming, and in the distance a row of white—seagulls resting on a half-submerged log— turn the view from my kitchen window into a Group of Seven landscape.

I’ve started “pinning” to a few boards on Pinterest, a process I didn’t understand until recently. Several writers I know are using it as a sort of giant white board, pinning portions of their wip or research or clippings, to private boards. I am using one for clippings, but the rest to collect and share books and paintings and photographs that I especially like. http://pinterest.com/virginiawinters.

A true tragedy this: the mayor brought down by his fatal flaw, his apparent inability to understand that the rules apply to him.

Book Review: The Judgement of Paris: The Revolutionary Decade that gave the World Impressionism

I’ve just finished reading Ross King’s The Judgment of Paris: The Revolutionary Decade That Gave the World Impressionism (2006). The painters of Impressionism had always interested me, so I was happy to find a writer who placed them in their world, and explained the influences that shaped their work. Ross King does that in a very readable book. My only quibble is with the dearth of coloured plates. Expensive, I know, but I wanted to see more.

The most interesting personality King reveals is that of Meisonnier, a painter, obscure until he began to play a role in King’s book, but a giant in French 19th century art. King contrasts his story, one of success and riches, of obsessive painting and repainting, of intense research into such unlikely subjects as equine locomotion—at one time he built a small railroad on his property and used it to make hundreds of drawings of horses as they ran alongside— with that of the Impressionists, obsessed with light and colour and painting in the open air, and catching the fleeting beauty of a sunrise or a day in the park. Meissonier emerges from King’s pages as a fully realized character, with all his flaws and genius.

King writes so well, I was disappointed when he, or rather events, ended the story with the last Impressionist exhibition. He has gone on to write about The Group of Seven in Defiant Spirits, and more recently Leonardo and the Last Supper, the latter winning him his second Governor General Award. The first was for The Judgement of Paris. Defiant Spirits  is next on my list.

Interest in art history has led me to The Great Courses, and Professor Richard Brettell, teaching From Monet to Van Gogh: A History of Impressionism, an audio-visual course, and excellent companion to King’s book.

Marketing—an update

I’ve been investigating different avenues for marketing my books and the latest is Goodreads at http://www.goodreads.com. If you haven’t found this site, check it out. There are millions, yes more than five million of them—reading, reviewing, interacting with each other and with authors, suggesting books, and making friends. My two first books are posted there and yesterday I uploaded a short story as a sort of appetizer. Reviews gratefully accepted.

What startled me about the site, aside from the ease of use were all those members. So much for the death of the book. Rather than sound the death-knell for the written word, electronic media seems to be resuscitating it.

Marketing for writers, cont.

http://preview.tinyurl.com/cldz5s5 

This link takes you to a Globe and Mail article this morning about publishing and marketing. The writer interviews Martin Crosbie, author of  My Temporary Life, an e-book, self-published megahit. He offers 10 pieces of advice here.

Number 4 talks about that promotional tool peculiar to the e-publishing industry, the freebie, or how to make money by giving goods away. He says the rule-of-thumb is: for every one you give away, you make one sale, so lots of freebies equals lots of sales, and moves you up on the Amazon ranking, which also means more sales.

Number 3 discusses the self-publishing programme at Kindle, and especially its lending programme, something new to me. When did Amazon become a library of sorts?

Beverly Akerman, author of the article and of  The Meaning of Children, listed in the top ten for the Giller People’s Choice award, chose to keep her electronic rights and  self-publish the e-book version on Kindle.

My latest novel, No Motive for Murder, the third in the Dangerous Journeys series, is at the publisher. Marketing is now a huge part of the author’s responsibility, although I’m fortunate that Write Words Inc. handles all the nuts and bolts of production and distribution. Coming from a profession in which the clients found me(Pediatrics), I’m struggling to learn this marketing business.

Writers’ Retreat/Turning Leaves

i spent the weekend at a writers’ retreat—Turning Leaves—at the Fern Resort on beautiful Lake Couchiching. Writescape, a joint enterprise of Ruth E. Walker and Gwynn Scheltema who produced the event and taught. http://writescape.ca/writescape/

The resort itself is old, turn of the nineteenth century old, but with modern amenities, at least in the section we inhabited. The spacious room assigned to me overlooked the long breakwater out into the lake, and the ducks and geese that lived within the calm waters. It faced west, with glorious sunsets.

I have stayed in resorts that promised a fireplace in every room, only to be disappointed by the ersatz fire with its electrically-produced flames. Not this time. A genuine log-burning fireplace, with supplied artificial(and therefore easily started) logs.

Otherwise—clean, comfortable, spacious. My only quibble concerned the lack of electrical outlets for my various electronic devices. I solved that one by unplugging the clock, substituting my phone. It has a reliable alarm clock!

We met in the same building which provided a boardroom and a spacious living room(yet another fireplace), supplied with coffee, tea, juices, snacks, comfortable chairs and good lighting.

The package included three meals a day which were delicious and generous. My only complaint would be that the distance from the kitchen to our small dining room meant some dishes arrived, not cool but not hot either.

Poet and author Jonathan Bennett filled in at last minute for a scheduled guest speaker Barry Dempster. He spoke on point of view, a subject I find very interesting as was the discussion that followed. He also read some of his own work, including his award-winning poetry and answered questions about the writing life.

What else—free writing time, lots of it; workshops which we could attend, or not; discussions at meal times with other writers; the privilege of talking with Gwynn and Ruth.

Writescape. What a resource for writers.

Writing

I’ve started on a project suggest by James Scott Bell in his book Plot and Structure in the Write Great Fiction series from Writers Digest Books. Essentially it’s a method for internalizing plot structure. it involves reading and then analyzing the structure of six novels of a type you would like to write. It will take time away from the actual writing of the sequel to The Facepainter Murders. It’s close to completion, but will need a rewrite for the second (or 10th) draft. I tend to revise as I go along, but I think, after reading Bell’s book, that I should consider just writing, and revising with a second draft of the whole thing. That is for the next book, however.

If you’re a writer or want to be one and haven’t looked at this series of books on writing, I’d recommend it.

Our lovely fall resurgence of summer seems to be over. The temperature is falling and so is the rain. A good time to begin my reading.

Another plan is to catalogue the books in this house and they are everywhere. Fortunately, I have a program on my Mac, called Delicious Library 2, that uses the InSight camera to read the bar codes on the books and record them in a library format.

I was glad to see that the Saudi King had the good sense to rein in the driving police or whoever they are that wanted to flog that woman in Saudi who dared to ?!drive a car. How subversive. And how sad that so many countries can’t or won’t understand that they and their people will never advance while keeping more than half their population unengaged.

Sakineh is still in prison. Please sign the petition. http://freesakineh.org/

Summer, cont.

Summer:

Gardening: Our hot, very hot and mostly dry summer continues. The garden, all except the roses is loving it, since we are able to water it from the river that flows past our home. The roses fear they have been transplanted to the deep South and have shut down production until more reasonable conditions return. Daylilies, hostas, echinacea, clematis and blue mallow are the stars of the moment.

I planted delphinums and staked them moments before a battering thunderstorm went through, so they are standing and about to bloom. I understand they are short-lived, so I will buy more next year to ensure a good clump.

Writing: Finally the last revisions are done, and the Facepainter has gone off to be set for paper production. Meanwhile, I’m at work on the sequel. A new character has stepped forward and I have to find something for her to do.

Do you know the organization called Great Courses. They finally have released a dedicated Canadian catalogue and some of the professors will be Canadian as well. Find them at http://www.thegreatcourses.com/ I followed one of their courses called Building Great Sentences, and now I’m doing a 30 lecture series on Analysis and Critique, How to engage and write about anything. The lecturer is excellent, my only quibble being that the lecture ends too soon.

Italy: We’re talking with our travelling companions about a trip in the fall of 2012 that would see us spending a few days in Venice, while they celebrate their fortieth anniversary, and then a road trip to Vienna, where we spend a few days to a week.

I’ve been studying Italian, through Rosetta Stone for several years now, with a year’s break to learn some rudimentary Spanish. I began again at the beginning with Italian and now approach the end of the third dvd. I received four and five at Christmas so I will press on. Learning a language, besides good for travelling, is supposed to be good for brain health.

Politics: Very sad news about Jack Layton. To be struck down like that in his moment of achievement is truly tragic.

What is going on with the Americans? They are just recovering from an economic disaster and now want to plunge into another one. Where are the adults?

That’s about it: writing, gardening, learning. Retirement is great!