When people find out that I’ve written a novel, (or at least two drafts of it) they do two things. First, they congratulate me saying how cool it is that I’ve written a novel. I tell them thanks and then because I can’t take a compliment, I hide behind the nearest grown-up’s legs.

The second thing that people do is ask me if I’m going to publish it.

Now, I’d be lying to you if I said I didn’t want to be a published author. From the moment I hit my word count quota during NaNoWriMo in 2012 I daydreamed about finally, maybe getting published. To be honest, the dream was nice, but unproductive (see Mirror of Erised). It got in the way. Instead of committing my novel to the page, I was distracted with thoughts that one day I would be a published author. I’d wave, delicate as the queen from the top of the stairs while a herald shouted my name to adoring fans. There would be confetti and revelry and…

It was all an illusion. It’s a nice place to visit, but as far as distractions go, it’s about as productive as coming up with a clever metaphor here. I focused and finished the first draft. Once the daunting task of fixing that hot mess appeared, I started actively distracting myself with information on how to get published. Would I self-publish because e-readers have really lowered the barriers to authors? Perhaps, but there’s something about the majesty of being an honest to goodness traditionally published author with my name on a book in a bookstore and everything. I wanted to try.

I soon found that having your novel published is a completely other world than the wonderfully naive world of writing your first novel. I started reading terms like “unsolicited manuscript” or “form rejection” and couldn’t wait to find out what they meant. Shorthand like SASE, STFU and GTFO enticed me to read on.

I reverse engineered an understanding of how to get my novel published. It involved from what I understand, writing a novel worth publishing (but let’s not talk about that) and then submitting it to literary agents who will champion it to publishers. It was really heartening to see that I wasn’t alone either, there were millions of other books out there trying to get published! Surely the process would be streamlined to accommodate all these books.

Unfotrunately convincing a stranger to invest in your book takes effort that my millennial brain couldn’t understand. However I’ve kept looking for resources to help me query and found Query Shark. This snarky, anthropomorphic shark offers to critique your query letters (and will eat you if you don’t follow guidelines). There are 200+ query letters, critiques, and revisions available and I highly recommend reading it even if you aren’t planning on querying anytime soon. They give you insights on how to pretend to be an author (until you actually are an author).

I’m aware that it’s Thursday when this was published but I was super crazy busy this past week so I wasn’t able finish this in time.

Perspective

This week’s writing prompt comes from a recent episode of Writing Excuses about Character Perception vs. Narrative.

Your writing prompt:

Take something that you believe to be false, that you completely understand to be false, and write a character who has the absolute opposite belief. Do it in such a way that you take actual umbrage at the idiocy of your character and now find ways to hang flags on that so that you’re not mad at yourself as an author.

The podcast was an interesting discussion about how to write characters that hold opinions or beliefs that are contrary to those of the author. For example, authors writing scientifically or technically wrong opinions intentionally, and doing it in a way which isn’t distracting. Personally, nothing will kill my ability to get into a book like an author confusing concrete and cement. To me, it’s as glaring as a typo. Yes, I am a special kind of bad person.

Now it might seem silly, but if instead of a character using the wrong technical or scientific terms they were espousing ignorant or discriminatory opinions that’s entirely different. The guest speaker Nancy Fulda talks a little bit about her experience writing historical fiction involving, but not centered around, racism. She says that she relies on subtle clues about peoples response to racism to point out that the opinions are ignorant. In this case, the modern reader will also see the racism for what it is because of where they’re approaching the novel from. This is totally reasonable, but what if it’s too subtle?

I say this because some discrimination isn’t so obvious. In stories where the discrimination is allegorical or isn’t well recognized, it may reinforce certain behaviours in the reader, intentionally or not. While a modern reader might be able to point to racism in a story because, obviously, the bad guy used a racist epithet. It’s harder to recognize when a sympathetic character used homophobic language or espoused transphobic opinions, despite being basically the same thing. The only difference is that in this case the already poorly recognized bigotry is hidden because of who said it. The best example that I ever saw, was in Harry Potter when Hermione was challenging people’s exploitation of House Elves and everyone dismisses her. The readers may have let it go because it’s an allegorical kind of racism in a kids novel set in a fantasy world. However it illustrates that good people like Ron or Harry, who repeatedly expressed disgust at the term Mudblood, were unmoved by other forms of discrimination in their world.

While it might be easy to defend these behaviours in your character as being authentic or true to their characters, authors aren’t powerless over their work. They can employ little hints from other characters to help editorialize the point. The panel in the podcast call it, hanging a flag on it (or Lampshade Hanging on TvTropes).  Now, it might not always be easy to do this artfully, but I have faith in you. Unless of course you mix up cement and concrete, they we’re through.

Harry Potter 2/4/7

It’s the end of the year and so, like everyone else on Facebook, I’m already tired of year in review posts. I’m introspective enough and don’t need to review photos where I look awful of nights I barely remember. Further, I’m not usually one to comment on how blessed I am because normally I make fun of people who do. Instead, I’m going to Disneyland with my husband, because we’re adults.

Before we’ve even left for the airport, however, I can’t help but get excited. Not just because I’ll be at Disneyland, but because like all bibliophiles, I get excited at the thought of long trips of uninterrupted reading time. To me, the idea of a long car/plane/bus/packhorse is almost as exciting as whatever lies at the end of it. Pensively I recall some of my road-trip reads, Geography Club on the 10 hour trip through the Rockies, or And Then There Were None while hungover on the way home from my Fagette party. But some of the best, the very best memories of books were when I read Harry Potter 2, 4, & 7.

Nostalgia grips me as I recall each of them. I disappeared into The Chamber of Secrets largely on the way home from Disneyland when I was in grade 8. It was early January and I remember picking it up at a bookstore on one of the last days of the trip. I assumed at the time that it was some kind of serendipity that I would find the sequel to the amazing book I finished the night before we left. Of course this was me being stupid as at that point in time, the third book had been out for some time and J.K. Rowling was to readers (and non-readers) what One Direction is to 12 year old girls and gay men.

In any case, I burned through it quickly but reverently as though each word were scribbled on parchment. While the rest of my family was sitting in the airport sad to be leaving, I was enthralled by a book and was eager for the return home. The trip itself is that much more memorable because of The Chamber of Secrets. In the same way, reading The Goblet of Fire on the way to my parents cabin (and obsessively re-reading it while there) has created a distinct association between the two. It was like how some people smell freshly mowed grass and think of their childhood.

By the time The Deathly Hallows came out, I was fortunate enough to pick it up from a convenience store at 6 am when my nightshift in North Vancouver ended. Instead of going home, I headed out to my future-husband’s parents’ house which was a trek in an of itself. We were going camping that weekend and I didn’t have time to go home so I sat immersed in the book on the skytrain. I didn’t care that I was covered in concrete and smelled like sweat and tobacco. I was already at Godric’s Hollow and couldn’t be bothered. Eventually I had to look up from my book, but only because it was my turn to hold my newborn niece.

I suppose the point of this whole rambling, anti-nostalgic inspired, nostalgic entry is that books aren’t just isolated adventures that you put down once you’ve finished them. They aren’t distractions or a time consuming pastime. Good books aren’t just amusing words which come together to form a story, good books are part of what makes your own story. Now when I think of The Chamber of Secrets, I remember the excitement of going to Disneyland (and can gloss over the arguments that my brothers had in the airport). The Goblet of Fire conjures up me sitting with my family around in a small cabin, heated by a wood stove and illuminated by a flickering candles. The Deathly Hallows reminds me of the dewey grass on the morning I was going camping  on our inaugural annual Siblings and Significant Others Camping Weekend Extravaganza. At some point in my life, books stopped being something I read, and became something I participated in and gladly share this with others (even if no one gives them back).

And what they did, what they created was greater than art because you live your life in it.

~Stanley Tucci as Nigel, Devil Wears Prada

So this week I’ll be thinking of my favourite things, and hope that on this, my first trip to Disneyland with my husband, I’ll have chosen a really excellent book.