Monday, 26 May 2014

How It Began

Even before I could write, I was fascinated with words. It amazed me how they could be strung together to form thoughts, emotions, and sometimes, beauty. The way they roll off the tongue or produce such vivid imagery is incomparable. Even now, twenty-odd years later, words still have the ability to captivate me. Wherever I am, whether I want to be there or not, I can pick up a book and escape until it's time to leave.

So how did I pick up a pen and decide to write?

Well, there is no easy answer, but there were many little things that propelled me into a life ruled by writing, where the only thing that is able to distract me is my daughter (and work, but that's necessary). First of all, I was born and raised in Canada, which is where I still live. My family - all my aunts and uncles on my mother's side - are from England. Now, I'm not sure if that means I was raised in a stricter household, but it certainly set me apart from my friends. Instead of watching Winnie the Pooh or cartoons, I sat beside my grandfather - a perpetual academic with multiple PhD's and Masters - and watched Romeo & Juliet... in black and white. After spending so much time with my nanny and gramps, I was writing letters - not the alphabet, but full 'Dear Sir' correspondence - before starting kindergarten. It wasn't pretty, and it wasn't long, but the structure was there. My mum still admonishes me for writing my teacher a letter on my very first day of class:

   Dear Teacher,
   I am really bored.
   Love Sasha

But, no matter the excellence of the education I received at home, and despite the fact that I was more advanced than my peers, I never skipped ahead. In fact, I did my best to coast through. Never a nerd, I even failed an exam when I was dubbed a 'brainiac'. It wasn't easy explaining that away, but after a short but very succinct conversation with my grandfather, I never did it again. By grade six, I was correcting the teachers and winning the 'Who Reads the Most' awards. By grade eight, I began my first novel. This is when the Sweet Valley High books from Francine Pascal were popular, and laptops were brand new - a novelty that were as thick as a set of Encyclopedia's and as heavy as a backpack full of text books. My mother wouldn't let my sister and me play on hers, so I had to be sneaky. She worked with the Health Region, so she was gone before we left for school, and home after we'd already returned. I used to stay home until 11:30, go to class and be marked late, and then go back home for lunch at 11:45. By the time I returned, it was usually 2:30, and class let out at 3:15. It took nearly a year for my mum and the school to figure out what I was doing because my grades never suffered along the way. I didn't go out and get in trouble. I wasn't sleeping in. I was writing.

But once it was finished, I deleted the entire thing. Writing it down took the story out of my head, and I was happy.

In grade nine, however, I was set apart once more. Because of the time spent with my grandfather, the teacher decided I knew too much about Romeo & Juliet to be graded fairly compared to my peers. Instead, I had to spend my class time in the cafeteria reading King Lear, for which she later tested me on. My sister was in her senior year of high school at this time. She had an assignment due in English that she hadn't completed, so she 'borrowed' the booklet of poems I had written in grade five for a class project, complete with the drawings I'd made on each page. She received an A. That made me think. If what I wrote in grade five gave someone an A in grade twelve, did that mean it was good? So I started to write poetry:

Written for my grandfather when I was seventeen.

 For years, I filled notebooks with my thoughts. Through trouble and sadness, I wrote and drew pictures for each poem that I crafted:






 It helped me deal with moving out at the age of sixteen, finishing school by correspondence, and the death of my grandfather when I was seventeen-years-old.

When I finally came back to where my family was, I spent four years being a little bit wild. Having grown up so fast so young, it was time to let loose, right? I was young. But even then, when my friends were suffering from the indulgence of the night before, I always had a book on hand to stick my nose in as they had their heads inside a toilet bowl. There were so many stories to discover, I couldn't understood how they thought I was odd. And then I found out I was pregnant.

It's an old tale: girl dates boy for over two years, girl gets pregnant, and boy leaves. Well, maybe it's not so old, and every situation is different. But I'm not writing my life story here, just what pushed me into writing. This one event, combined with the influences of my youth, forced me to grow up (again). I chose to be a single mother.

While on maternity leave, I wrote another novel. This time is was much more detailed than what I had written in grade eight. It was about a girl who discovered she had powers, was adopted at birth, and hailed from a Kingdom full of magic. In the end, though, I deleted it once the story was out of my head. I went to university and concentrated on being a good mum.

When my daughter was two, I decided to wait until she was in school to continue my own education. Being the only one responsible for our finances, with no support from her father, working full time and going to school full time was wearing me thin. Once the choice was made, suddenly I had free time again. Not one day didn't go by that I didn't read at least a chapter. My shelves filled past capacity, my calendar was marked with when the next books in my favourite series were due for release (boy was I mad if that wasn't met), and I could devour a six-book series in a weekend - and then read it again to see what details I might have missed the following weekend.

That started to get expensive. I was spending +-$200 a month on novels, and I still read faster than I could purchase. It wasn't unusual for me to leave a bookstore with 10+ books and be back again two weeks later for the next batch. I didn't like ebooks, so there was no compromise. After about a year, I started to notice that most of what I was reading had similar qualities. Each story made me think of other stories - my stories. So I started plotting and kept notebooks for ideas for other books than what I was working on.

Then I started writing.

The reading slowed. The books were packed away, replaced instead with binders filled with research and new books on the art of writing. Plotting, character sketching, grammar . . . I bought everything I could find. But still, I didn't know if I was any good. How could I find out? I was too shy to ask my family for their opinion. Everyone is so accomplished in their chosen profession, I didn't want them to criticize me or judge me and say that writing was a waste of time. I continued to write and learn in secret, locking the documents with passwords nobody could ever guess in case someone visited me and needed to use my computer. Did I mention I didn't want to be mocked?

One day I was searching the internet for a worksheet for timelines and accidentally stumbled upon a critique site. It was amazing! I could post my writing and receive feedback from strangers, and it was nowhere as harsh as I thought it would be. Of course, with any skill, there are tools to be learned. I discovered what purple prose was, the art of balancing show and tell, active voice vs. passive voice, and of course, the overuse of adverbs. There are too many tricks to mention in passing, but I intent to shed light on what I've discovered to be the most important for me to know.

All it took was one person telling me I was good. I found other sites similar to the first, but perhaps better suited to my needs. I didn't want to be limited to posting 2000 words at one time. I wanted to post the whole novel and hear what people thought. I mean, once you start to discover the nuances of constructing interesting paragraphs and dialogue, you want to see how your plot and characters measure up, right? I did. And I met a wonderful lady along the way whose encouragement pushed me to tell my family. She talked to me about literary agents and publishing, and I was hooked. This pushed me to research, and although I completed a query letter at one point, the pros and cons for traditional publishing vs. self-publishing brought me to a simple conclusion: self-publishing was the way that I wanted to move forward. Now, a year later, I have written the first four novels in one series and two in another - nothing was deleted. I hope to have them through the editing stage and beta readers by the end of summer. To learn more about what I am up to, please check out my website.

This is my start. How did you start? Or have you always known you wanted to write novels? I would love to feature someone else's tale. Join me as I review my favourite novels, showcase up-and-coming indie authors, and share the do's, don't's, and how-to's that I've learned along the way. I still have a lot to discover. I can't wait to share it all with everyone.

Sincerely,