Alice Soon

My Literary Life & other obsessions…


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Tale #1: Developing a new obsessive hobby in your 30’s – ROCK CRAZY!

A strange thing happened to me almost exactly one year ago.

I went away to Austin, TX for a work convention & bought 2 innocuous rocks from an art gallery. Then, before I knew it, this spontaneous purchase had ballooned to a downright OBSESSION.

rocksBut wait a minute, did I just say rocks?

That’s right, you read correctly. I said R-O-C-K-S. I am obsessed with rocks. It’s not a euphemism for drugs or sugar or the latest tech gadget. It’s the stuff in the earth, beneath your feet.

So why is this a tale?? Or rather, it could also be entitled, Tale #1: Descension into Crystal Madness. I’m a grown woman in her thirties that has suddenly become enamoured with rocks. (Ostensibly, to avoid actually writing, I’ve somehow managed to replace it with a new hobby.)

But is there an age limit to developing a new ‘rock’ hobby?? Isn’t this something little kids are into when they are young, foolish, picking up dirt in their back yards, only to abandon it at a much more reasonable age? (Say, 12 or 13?) So why now? I’ve never even given rocks a SECOND thought until now.

Let-s-Go-Rock-Collecting-9780064451703

I cannot say. All I can say is perhaps the rocks found me; at the exact time I needed them and would be open to them. Maybe they had to wait until I was no longer writing day-after-day at my desk, inventing the next plot twist or belabouring over character development. They waited until I would have the time and space to explore the rocks further and get to know them. Who knows? #mysteriesoftheuniverse

What I do know is that since that time, I have read countless books, joined an “official” gem & mineral club in my area, blathered on & on about the uses & benefits of rocks & crystals to any friend, colleague or family member who will listen, spent thousands of dollars of rocks…And will now blog about it.

And for those who care or are interested, my next tale will be about how it all began… 🙂


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Is Writer’s Block a Real Thing or Just Laziness?

So…I’m at that stage in my writing journey where I have completed 2 novels and I’m waiting in bated breath to hear back about my 2nd book currently on submission to traditional publishers. Eeecckk! (That alone, requires oodles and oodles of endless patience, plus a thick hide to handle the rejection.)

So what now?

Write a 3rd book of course! I feel like I wrote my first two novels with relatively ease, I should be able to bounce back and start a third one no problem!  (I liken it to giving birth…it doesn’t seem so hard after it’s complete, yet I’ve totally forgotten how painful gestation was in the first place.)

Just do it

Everything starts off well. I already have a topic I want to write about: a literary mystery/thriller based loosely on the true story of the murder of a sea turtle conservationist in Costa Rica. (Don’t ask me how I come up with these ideas; it’s just trolling the Internet I guess, or whatever piques a writer’s imaginative interest.) I’ve even decided on the format: told through the eyes of multiple characters, à la AS I LAY DYING, or my favourite book of last year, A BRIEF HISTORY OF SEVEN KILLINGS (not ambitious at all)…so I make a long list of at least a dozen characters I will create.

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Then, I actually start to write.

I write a catchy opening scene/prologue, detailing the actual attack. Then, even a backstory of the conservationist’s origins and his love for nature. And, even more pages as I dabble in three different character voices and write at least a page each of their stories, told through their perspectives…

And then, something strange happens.

I don’t want to write anymore. WTF???

Chalkboard-Writers-Block

No matter, I’ve been through this twice before. I’ve written TWO novels for goodness sakes!! Most people have never even written one. I know the discipline it takes to write, rewrite, edit, rewrite, edit and write until you never want to see your manuscript again. My office is filled with paper and file folders tall enough to eclipse and six foot man! So, what gives?

I go back to my desk and try to write some more. OK, let’s work more on the main female character. I think up the details of her life, what she’s doing now, how her life eventually intertwines with that of the sea turtle conservationist…How do they end up in Costa Rica, what type of story does she want to tell, etc…etc…

I write some gibberish. It’s bad, but no matter, I’ve been through this chartered territory before. I just need to tough it out, work through it and keep writing.

SuckItPricess_SilverPurple

Except I don’t want to. Something bizarre has happened that has never occurred to me during my 1st two novels: I feel like I’ve lost inspiration. MON DIEU! My muse has left me and I feel like I’m forcing the story.

Whomp, whomp, whomp…

So what I do now? Admonish myself to being a lazy ass and just suck it up? Force myself to keep writing? But I am, by nature, NOT LAZY – so what should I do???

I try to convince myself to stop being a whiner already and just write this damn story…the voices will come, the narrative will mesh together, if only I keep showing up at my desk, but for some strange reason, a very faint murmuring in my gut tells me to stop. It’s not the right time or it’s not the right story.

With my previous books, I felt like when I started writing, it was almost like I was possessed with my narrative. Yes, it required a Herculean amount of sheer effort to show up at my desk every day, but for some reason, it felt good and actually, not that hard. I was fascinated by the topics I had chosen and felt absolutely driven to tell those stories.

Except this time around, everything about the writing process feels different. So, am I merely LAZY or is that something more sinister here at play? Dare, I say it, WRITER’S BLOCK?? An affliction I have largely dismissed as a psychological excuse for lazy people?? How can a person have writer’s block??? There are so many interesting topics in the world; this condition is surely a lame justification for poor twiddling souls who just need an artful way of saying they just don’t want to do it anymore.

So, if it’s not laziness or writer’s block, what the F*** is it???

This is my current state of affairs. If I’m honest, I’ve been wrestling with this dilemma for the past six months or so and I’ve decided the ailment which possesses me is neither idleness nor artistic angst.

I think it’s an opportunity for me to explore. To learn more about who I am and what I want to give to the world. This might sound a tad altruistic or downright big-headed, but I’ve decided that for the next year or so, I will just follow my curiosity and see what it takes me.

I love to learn and cultivate my mind, so nothing’s really being lost here.

Already in the first six months of 2016, while NOT writing, I have exposed myself to countless new concepts that absolutely enrapture me. I’ve decided I will blog about it and try and be more disciplined about posting here. And I shall call it: MY YEAR OF CURIOSITY – Tales of a non-writing writer.

My hope is that at the end of this year (or two?), I will have gained clearer insight into who I am and what it is I want to write for my next novel.

So strap yourselves – you’re in for a bumpy (and hopefully somewhat captivating) ride! 🙂


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THE CASE FOR READING – Why everyone should read more (even CEO’s, business people and anyone who wants to communicate anything)

My co-worker made a joke last week about adding new letters to my title – C.E.O. – Chief Editing Officer. It turns about our actual CEO had written something that he wanted me to look over and fix. Why? I have no idea. Apparently being a fiction writer also makes me qualified to edit EVERYTHING.

And that’s when I realized – Every day, I read stuff in the corporate world by people who are highly educated & intelligent, but that makes me want to poke my eyes out. These emails, letters and articles are filled with run-on sentences (not the stream-of-consciousness kind you would find in Faulkner’s work*), commas in the wrong places, terrible slogans & marketing euphemisms.

They cannot write. They think that writing should be the way you speak. WRONG. Writing is about communication. It’s about crafting words specific to your audience (remember, overwriting is just as bad as poor grammar; it’s not a contest to show how smart you are) and about communicating a message.
i.e. How do I get these swirling ,complicated thoughts outta my head and onto the computer screen in a series of letters, words & paragraphs that make sense? (You would not believe the number of people I see staring at the cubicles every day, struggling to craft a simple email.)

Look, I’m no expert; I’m no William Shakespeare, but I have good taste – I know good writing when I see it. (See Ira Glass’s quote below) By default then, I also know BAD writing when I see it.
Ira Glass 2

In an age filled with BUZZFEED articles, Top Ten This and Best Tips for That, it’s no wonder we don’t know how to write anymore. Our gold standard for journalistic excellence is a one page article about “KimYe’s Post-Baby Body Tips”.
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So then, what’s one to do? How can someone improve their writing? Well, there’s only one surefire way I know how: READING.

When you read something well-written, something strange & magical happens to you – somehow, those words & sentences manage permeate your brain, and against your will, your cranium expands. This is not a scientific answer, but the art of writing is not a scientific practice.

So I implore you – Students, youth, business people of the world – READ.
Pick up a book. (Audiobooks don’t count.) Preferably by someone who writes complex, meaningful themes that you can infuse into your own thoughts and into your own writing.

(So that one day, when you are CEO, a lowly manager will no longer have to spend half an hour on a Friday afternoon trying to edit your words & make it better.) 

Over & Out.

*If you don’t know who William Faulkner is, you’ve just proven my point. Please refer to the title of this article.


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My 2015 in BOOKS!

All right, peeps! It’s that time of year again, where we reflect upon the books we’ve read this year…And see if we managed to reach our GOODREADS challenge! 🙂

I just barely made it to 50 books and would’ve liked it to be 52, but my travel schedule has been a little insane this year. (And unlike popular myth, being at airports waiting in line or trapped inside an airplane for 5 hours is NOT actually conducive to reading at all!)

Here’s a quick snapshot of the books I read this year:
2015 ALL
(I’m missing 2 books ‘cuz they wouldn’t fit nicely at the bottom. They were “Out of Africa” & “Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore“.
2015 GR

BEST BOOK I READ IN 2015:
A Brief History of Seven Killings” by Marlon James
I read this before James won the MAN BOOKER PRIZE (I’d like to think I was ahead of the curve :-P) and it should be required reading for every writer.
It’s a virtuoso of writing – the way James is able to weave such a complex political, social, personal narratives into each of the characters is truly stunning.
It’s a very long book, but well worth it!

OTHER RECOMMENDED BOOKS THAT WERE VERY GOOD:
– “The Most Dangerous Book” by Kevin Birmingham about the legal battle to get ULYSSES published. Also, a great bio on the legendary writer himself, James Joyce. I learned a lot from this book and Joyce’s life really inspired me as a writer. Like, the dude kept writing even when he was broke, freezing and going blind!!! It makes you question your own dedication as a writer. What are YOU willing to do to write at all costs???

– “The Lord of the Flies” by William Golding – A classic novel that will leave you feeling very disturbed and thinking about its’ themes even weeks after you’ve finished the book. That’s what every good piece of literature should do! Leave you questioning its themes and make you feel uncomfortable.

– “Far from the Madding Crowd” by Thomas Hardy – Another classic novel that reads like a modern day novel. I picked up this book after seeing the movie and it’s just wonderful! Hardy is a great novelist.

– “Curious” by Ian Leslie about the importance of curiosity (especially in raising our children) and the dangerous delusion of the GOOGLING age and easy access to mass data & information. And hey, here’s a cool quote poster I made when I visited the Boston library this year! (Photo credit to my friend, Stephanie C.)

Photo by: Alice Soon & Stephanie C.

Photo by: Alice Soon & Stephanie C.

Here’s to a great 2016 y’all! May your heads and hearts be filled with wondrous words this coming year.
Eat Sleep Read


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MY 2014 YEAR IN BOOKS!

As always, another year has gone by and I usually like to reminisce about the books I’ve read. In 2014, I had to revise my reading goal down to 40 books (because I’ve been a little busy & unable to reach my usual goal of 1 book per week), but here are the highlights:

BEST OF THE YEAR/MY FAVORITES:

• “As I Lay Dying” – William Faulkner – So exceptional, I’ve added this book to my ALL-TIME FAVORITE BOOKS EVER LIST
• “The Interpreter of Maladies” – Jhumpa Lahiri – Also exceptional, mostly in the way she structures her short stories. It’s masterful.
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VERY GOOD/HIGHLY RECOMMENDED:
• “The Blazing World” – Siri Hustvedt
• “Animal Farm” – George Orwell
• “The War of Art” – Steven Pressfield
• “Euphoria” – Lily King
• “A Single Man” – Christopher Isherwood

DISAPPOINTING/OVERHYPED:
• “The Luminaries” – Eleanor Catton

There you go, my quick & dirty list!
Next year, my goal in 2015 will be to read 42 books (which is still almost double Mark Zuckerberg’s New Year’s Resolution to read 26 books. Hahaha!) 😛

HAPPY READING!


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Interview with Brenda Corey Dunne – Author of DEPENDENT

I’m pleased to have a chance to speak to the author of DEPENDENT – Brenda Corey Dunne!
But first, a bit about the book:

SUMMARY:
When 45-year-old Ellen Michaels loses her husband to a tragic military accident, she is left in a world of gray. For 25 years her life has been dictated by the ubiquitous They—the military establishment that has included her like chattel with John’s worldly goods—his Dependents, Furniture, and Effects. They—who have stolen her hopes, her dreams and her innocence, and now in mere months will take away the roof over her head. Ellen is left with nothing to hold on to but memories and guilt and an awful secret that has held her in its grip since she was 19. John’s untimely death takes away her anchor, and now, without the military, there is no one to tell her where to go, what to do— no one to dictate who she is. Dependent deals with issues ever-present in today’s service families—early marriage, frequent long absences, the culture of rank, and posttraumatic stress, as well as harassment and abuse of power by higher-ranking officials. It presents a raw and realistic view of life for the lives of the invisible support behind the uniform.
Dependent
MY TAKE ON IT:
A terse, no-holds-barred and uncompromising view of spousal life within the military. Dunne paints a realistic portrait of the husbands and wives who stay behind when those in the uniform go on to serve their country, illuminating the silent sacrifices demanded of a military spouse.

Elegantly structured, Dunne chooses to organize her book in chapters based upon her family’s multiple military relocations. (i.e. House #1, House #8, House #13, etc…) This works, because it clearly illustrates the challenge all military families must face when attempting to find stability amidst a career filled with uncertainty and potential chaos.

Ultimately, the novel explores one woman’s journey to realize her own identity and self-worth after years of being overshadowed by her husband’s accomplishments, while bravely attempting to conceal a terrible secret. Ellen Michaels must reach deep within herself to reclaim the strength and the vitality she once knew she had.

Overall, this book exposes difficult, but worthwhile themes that are essential for discussion, particularly in light of our contemporary political and societal landscape.

(My only suggestion is I would have liked the setting to be more concrete. I felt the locations where untethered, flopping about in some vague ‘North American” city or village or town that may or may not have snow. I would have liked the settings to be more specific. i.e. We are in New Brunswick, in the town of XXX. Or we are in Wisconsin, etc…It helps to keep the reader more oriented in the story.)

Otherwise, a swift read and faithful representation of the valiant spouses who support our men and women in uniform every single day.

CONGRATULATIONS BRENDA!

And now, to the best part – THE INTERVIEW:

1) What inspired you to write this book?

About 8 years ago I was a stay-at-home mom and military spouse. My husband was a military pilot who was away for months at a time, and my kids were young. But I was also an ex-military physiotherapist who had let all of her personal achievements slide. One day I took a really good look at my life and realized that if I didn’t do something—and quickly—I was going to be in my forties, and still home with no kids to look after and nothing but my husband’s military status to base my self worth on. It terrified me. And so I sat down and wrote those fears in fictional form—what later became DEPENDENT.

2) What was your favourite part about writing this book?

DEPENDENT was not an easy book to write. There is a lot of emotion in the book and I had to put down the manuscript down many, many times as I wrote it. I think my favourite moments were those moments when I picked it up again, re-read what I had written, and recognized that I had succesfully captured the feel of being a military spouse in a certain situation—moving with toddlers, missing a spouse who is away, dealing with broken household equipment on your own, or meeting new spouses at a new base. It’s very rewarding to recognize reality in your own writing.

3) The structure of the book (using the various houses) was very compelling & interesting. What prompted you to structure the chapters this way?

Military spouses move frequently (case in point, my family and I spent early July driving from Ottawa to Vancouver Island—a 5000 km trip—to our 10th house), and we often remember the timing of life events by what house we were in at the time, or what city we were living in. I thought it was appropriate to use this structure because this is the way military spouses describe the timeline of their lives.

4) Were there any drawbacks to this structure?

Many. When I finished writing the first draft, DEPENDENT was really just a jumbled bunch of snapshots. I printed the manuscript off, paper-clipped each section off, and then reorganized them into some sort of structure. It was difficult to make the story flow and not confuse the reader. I wanted to move the story forward in both past and present, eventually colliding the two. Hopefully I succeeded.

5) Who is your favourite character in the book & why?

I do love John…his joie de vivre, and his love of his wife. He’s really just a happy guy doing his job, and in his defense, it’s not really his fault that he doesn’t recognize his wife’s troubles. I also love the steady friendship of Jennifer. She has qualities of several of my closest military spouse friends—quiet strength, patience, and the intuition to offer help when it’s needed most.

6) What are some of your favourite books of all time?

I have so many! Books are friends that never change, they just reflect the changes in my perception. I really love a good escape book and I’ve read just about everything by Anne McCaffery. I loved her DRAGONSINGER/DRAGONSONG/DRAGONDRUMS trilogy. Tammara Webber’s BETWEEN THE LINES series—a wonderful relationship series that was originally self pubbed—encouraged me to go the self-publication route for my first novel. And who can beat PRIDE AND PREJUDICE for wit, dialogue and dreamy romance? I could read it a hundred times and never be bored.

7) Where and when do you prefer to write?

My absolute favourite place to write is the kitchen table. With a fresh cup of coffee, the kids off to school and some quiet piano music playing in the background. Heaven.

8) How long have you been writing? When did you start?

I wrote for the school newspaper in high-school, and had several small articles published in local newspapers through the years. As mentioned above, I also wrote a few chapters of DEPENDENT in 2004, but I didn’t consider writing a real, honest-to-goodness novel until I was living in the Cotswolds in England about 6 years ago. The scenery around me screamed WRITE! And so I did. I sat down and started my first full-length manuscript, a middle grade fantasy, which I completed about eleven months later. It’s an amazing feeling writing those two words: The End. I was hooked and haven’t looked back.

9) What other books are you currently working on? What are they about (if you’re allowed to say)?

I have two completed YA manuscripts in the hands of Jennifer Mishler, my agent—one is an urban fantasy about selkies, the other is a pre-dystopian similar to THE DAY AFTER TOMORROW. And I’m working on two others. One is a YA historical fiction—a sequel to my self published debut, TREASURE IN THE FLAME. It’s set in early eastern Canada, and has a mix of pirates, romance and magic. Kind of like PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN meets ANNE OF GREEN GABLES. The other that I’m working on is a story about the meaning of ‘home’ to military families who move around every few years.

10) What advice do you have to aspiring authors?

I think all authors need to figure out what they want from their writing. To make goals—realistic goals—and stick with them just like with any other career. Short term, long term and dream goals. If your goal is just to write your memoirs that’s one thing. But writing as an actual career rarely happens without many, many years of work, patience and perseverance. If that’s what you want it’s up to you to find the way to make it happen.
My other advice, ironically, is to take all advice with a grain of salt. There are SO MANY conflicting opinions out there…about everything from query letters to numbering your manuscript pages. The internet is full of 20 easy steps to making a million as a writer! It just about drove me insane when I was starting out. Now I realize that there are few hard rules in writing. And sometimes the people who break the rules are the ones that are the most successful. The key is to find what makes your writing unique, and stick with it.

A BIT ABOUT BRENDA:
Brenda grew up in rural New Brunswick, Canada. She originally trained as a physiotherapist and worked several years as a Physiotherapy Officer in the Royal Canadian Air Force before meeting the love of her life and taking her release.
BDunne2
WHERE TO BUY THE BOOK:

Amazon:
http://www.amazon.com/Dependent-Novel-Brenda-Corey-Dunne/dp/1939967368
B&N:
http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/dependent-brenda-corey-dunne/1117389190?ean=9781939967367
Goodreads:
https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/18755012-dependent

And, if you’d like to enter for a free giveaway:
a Rafflecopter giveaway

FIND BRENDA HERE: http://brendacoreydunne.blogspot.ca/


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CANADA READS 2014: Battle of the Books

I’m not sure what kind of hovel I’ve been in during the last 13 years that CANADA READS has been on the air, but I guess now is better late than never! This year (for the first time), I happened upon the 2014 Canada Reads broadcast with the indomitable Jian Ghomeshi and a brilliant panel of celebrity panelists ranging from an Olympic athlete, a diplomat, a journalist, an actress and a comedian.
CR2
What struck me the most about this FOUR day broadcast on CBC was that here were 6 people (including the host), speaking, arguing, debating so vehemently about BOOKS! These people were on TV talking about BOOKS!!! *Gasp* It pleased me to no end. I was riveted, compelled, glued to the television for 4 days to see what the panelists would say and how they would vote. Even my partner, who does not read regularly, was utterly captivated by the broadcast.

The top 5 books!

The top 5 books!


Both diverse and intelligent, all the panelists bravely championed and defended each of their books with such an ardor, it felt as if they had written the book themselves! As a writer, I could not think of any higher compliment or the extreme joy to be gleaned from the idea of perfect strangers/celebrity panelists vehemently defending the merits of your book as if they were a mother bear protecting her young.

It was gripping television and it proved that yes, books CAN be exciting!

THE ORENDA by Joseph Boyden emerged as this year winner’s, brilliantly represented by Wab Kinew – And it is now sitting on my coffee table.

Thank you CBC, Canada Reads and of course, great CANADIAN LITERATURE! 🙂

http://www.cbc.ca/books/canadareads/