Saturday, September 7, 2013

8 Questions a Writer Should Consider Before Attempting a Novel

Writing a novel requires commitment. Not only to the writing process, to your agent, editor, critique group, or writing partners, but first and foremost, writing a novel requires a commitment to the story you wish to tell.
In an exercise to help writers determine how well they really know the story they wish to tell, I posed the following 8 questions to the Northshore Wordsmiths writing class today:

1/ Living, dead, or imaginary; who is the person you would most like to be, or to spend a lengthy period of time with? While answers ranged from Abraham Lincoln to Mother Theresa to Daisy Duck, each participant gained insight into the type of character they would most want to write about.  
2/ Explain the appeal: The second question followed naturally upon the first and elicited answers that were even more revealing. While I would like to spend time with Daisy Duck because she has a mix of great friends and in her world simple everyday events are exciting, the writer who would choose to shadow Lincoln wanted to learn more about his legendary strange quirks. Elements of theme and detail began to percolate among the group.

3/How would you spend the next year of your life if family and finances were not a concern? By answering this question, writers began to understand that by choosing plot lines and settings that were personally exciting to them, it would be easier to sustain their writing over a lengthy project.  

4/ If you could have 300 of something, what would it be?  One member surprised herself by answering, “dogs”. Do you see a children’s book in her future?  

5/ If you had a staff, what would you have them do? Answers to this question can bring to light those daily activities that steal our time, energy, and joy.

6/What is the most interesting thing you have thought about in the last 3 months? Whatever it is—a stray thought, a news item, or an unusual occurrence—if you found it compelling, others will too.

7/ What is the first thing you remember being curious about? Thinking about this question can bring a sense of wonder to your writing.   

8/ If you had to reread a book a dozen times, which book would it be?  By now you will know what type of story will sustain your interest long enough for you to put pen to paper or fingertips to keyboard until your dream of writing a novel has been realized.   


Saturday, September 15, 2012

Empty Cradle, Full Heart

Congrats to my friend and colleague, Diana Walsh, on the occasion of the launch of her first book, Empty Cradle. Anyone who has lived in Burlington or Stoney Creek long enough to remember the Christmas kidnapping of a newborn infant from Joseph Brant's maternity ward will be interested in this poignant memoire, as will devotees of the true crime genre.

Diana has a natural talent for storytelling and as such has become a valued member of the Northshore Wordsmiths Writers Group, appreciated as much for her capable and insightful critique as for her generous heart.  It is thrilling to note that Empty Cradle has already been listed at #5 on the Globe and Mail Best Sellers list. I look forward to Diana's launch tomorrow.   

Monday, July 2, 2012

Acrostic Writing Exercise

Ever tried an acrostic as a writing exercise? Here's an example: 

Any Child Knows by Norma Shephard

Any Child Knows (the title of my third book and first best seller), became an instant catch phrase; in fact, t-shirts proclaiming the slogan in latex lettering were offered for sale on the internet almost overnight.

Burdened parents, overcome with fears of not providing their children with the ultimate in every sphere of human endeavor settled into my book as if it were a familiar recliner at the end of a long and tiring day. Collywobbles and headaches disappeared as pregnant women found solace in the pages I had so carefully written. Drug stores, supermarkets, and book shops kept distributors busy with unprecedented orders. Everyone was reading Any Child Knows.

Fiberboard notices and newspaper ads announced a series of book signings and author appearances; my suitcase was always at the ready. Greater London went so far as to plaster my picture on five area billboards as television news shows scheduled me for interviews. Harry Norton, my publicist, quadrupled his fee.
I must admit, the attention and financial success was intoxicating. Just when I had planned to give up on writing, my ship had come in. Kismet—that's what Harry called it! Label it whatever you like, I was in my glory. Money was no object. Negotiations with the major television talk shows were the order of the day. Oprah had me on her program first. Perhaps that is when the trouble started.

Questions like "Why did you select the words ‘any child’ and not ‘every child’?" began to haunt me. Ridiculous speculations spun like dryer contents in my mind. Suppose I am asked to answer another question that makes no sense? Tablets, capsules, and powders began to appear with my restaurant meals, courtesy of Harry. Useless potions designed to quell my nerves were later prescribed by a doctor who recommended I "reside" at his institution between public appearances. Vanbrugh was his name. Whispering behind my back, shock treatments, and endless Jell-o was his game. Xenophobia was Vanbrugh’s final diagnosis; I was free to go.
Yesterday, I aired out my study, dusted the book-lined shelves and placed a foil-wrapped pot of yellow tulips on the desk next to the picture of myself and Dr. Phil. Zip—I opened the black canvas case that contains my too-long-idle lap top and began to write; after all, lightening sometimes strikes twice—as any child knows!

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Placed 2nd in the Brucedale Press Acrostic Contest 2012

Ibsen’s Doll

Against all odds of surviving the voyage, the fashionable young woman had eagerly purchased her ticket for passage to America on the Titanic.

Benumbed by the boarding experience, her ears ringing with the babbling colloquy of fellow passengers competing to be heard above the fanfare of orchestral strains, Aoefa McFee accompanied the steward to her cabin—albeit inattentively—where she set about to unpack the hat cases and Belles Malles her betrothed had obtained for her.    

Could she be more fortunate the girl wondered, as she took inventory of her trousseau; the embroidered net wedding gown, limerick lace veil, and wool crepe walking suit, all of which had been custom ordered, filled her with tremendous pride, and not a little wonder at the way her life had changed over the previous year.  

Disturbances of sleep—dreams of fading lights and frigid waters—lay forgotten, buried within her subconscious as she worked to find space for each precious gown within the luxury cabin.    

Everything I need is here, she mused. Fans of every description, folded and pressed together, rested in a brightly painted wedge-shaped box. Gloves of doe-skin, lace and hand-painted silk—a pair to match every carefully chosen ensemble—awaited her fingers to provide shape and form. Hats from the millinery salons of Paris, each a sculptural marvel, lay in readiness to herald her social status for seasons to come.

Ibsen’s play, The Doll House, came to mind; an intrusion on her thoughts that seemed to occur each time she contemplated marriage to the wealthy stranger who had convinced her to make a new life with him. Jackanapes were the only fellows interested in her back home, she thought. Kilkenny County was no hotbed of romance, or common sense for that matter. Legends and superstitions were more the order of the day there.

“Marriage proposals are one thing,” she’d been told by her mother and her aunties, “but to accept a lock of hair from a lover is certain to bring disaster.” Now that she was alone, memories of such pronouncements gave her pause.

Overcome by momentary dread, Aoefa McFee yanked a pearl-studded locket from beneath her collar, breaking the fine gold chain that had encircled her neck for months.
Perhaps the step she was taking was ill advised.

Quarterdeck activities accelerated, as preparations for launch neared completion. Rumbling engines chugged to life from somewhere below. Soon it would be too late.

Trembling fingers secured a winged hat to Aoefa’s upswept raven curls.

“Understand this,” her mother had said, “I’ll not be there t’assist ya when the babies are born.”

Vacillating scenes appeared and disappeared before her mind’s eye like expanding soap bubbles blown from a straw: Mother and Da waving goodbye, her husband-to-be promising love and devotion, siblings wishing her good luck through tear-stained faces. Would she be able to live with herself, no matter what her decision?

Xenophobia overcame her suddenly like a wave of poisonous gas. Yggdrasil images swirled before her eyes.

Zombie-like, she progressed through the torrent of travelers, not bothering to excuse herself as she bumped against women with wide-brim hats and long-rod parasols, until, having made her way back whence she had come, Aoefa McFee, her chest heaving with breathlessness, exited the ship to leave her carefully planned future behind.

Monday, April 9, 2012

Victory at Vimy; Defeat at the Burlington Public Library

As the granddaughter of a Canadian soldier, killed at Vimy, I am happy to see the effort that many Canadians have put into commemorating the 95th anniversary of this nation-defining event.

Most of us have never experienced war firsthand, paying lip service only at Remembrance Day.

We cannot remember what we have not learned, which is why I contacted the Burlington Public Library last week in order to donate a new copy of a book entitled, Dear Harry, The Firsthand Account of a World War I Infantryman. The late Lt.-Col. Gordon Atkinson, said of the work, “Fascinating and evocative of war. Tim Cook, First World War historian at the Canadian War Museum called it, a thrilling opportunity to gain insight into a little taught era in our heritage.

The Burlington Public Library said, “No thanks.” It seems there is no room in their stacks for a compilation of World War I letters, even at this time of commemoration. Some might view this as one more skirmish in the battle for support of the arts. I see it as a failure to honour our war dead.

It left me to wonder what they do have room for at the library.

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Thursday, April 5, 2012

Why The Oatmeal Burns

Everyone in my household knows why the oatmeal burns. And not just the oatmeal—bacon, eggs, toast—you get the picture. When I wrote my firstbook, Dear Harry, I learned that we are at our most creative early in the morning, which is why every day, after a five-minute exercise routine (that's right, five minutes), I head for the computer and begin working on my various projects, after stopping in the kitchen to get some sort of breakfast started.  

I start it and forget about it; that's the problem. By now (7:45 A.M.),  the dog is on my lap trying to cute me into taking him for a walk, and my husband is calling "What's burning?" Strangely, I never notice the smell myself, I'm so focused on my writing. 

Occasionally I've endured smoke and caused flames to leap out of the microwave, and twice my husband has found me outside sharing a puffer with the dog. He relies on the smoke alarm for his wakeup call (my husband, not the dog) and each year, spring thaw reveals the number of blackened pots I've had to throw into the snow over the winter.    

Whether it's original content for a blogsite, a manuscript appraisal for a client, or the latest chapter of my novel, it all takes priority over the activites of daily living which I quite enjoy once I finish my creative writing and start on my To Do list. 

That reminds me; with Easter coming I'll have to go shopping for cookware. My husband will be preparing the meal, but he'll need some stainless steel to work with.   

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