Alice Soon

My Literary Life & other obsessions…


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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.

leatherback

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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AUTHOR INTERVIEW – EDDIE MARK

I’m pleased to feature an interview with a fellow author and Torontonian, Eddie Mark, as he discusses the process of writing his debut novel, THE GARDEN OF UNFORTUNATE SOULS.

But first, here is a brief synopsis:

In 1980s Buffalo, New York, the recession has transformed the city’s proudest African American neighborhood into a ghetto. Loretta Ford, an eccentric single mother and religious fanatic, survives for years by masquerading as the owner of a dead woman’s house. Her reclusive life is interrupted when an unlikely incident brings the mayor of Buffalo to her home in the middle of the night. Their secret meeting sets off a chain of events that will leave two families altered forever. With all the passion of a Shakespearean tragedy and a cast of characters never to be forgotten, The Garden of Unfortunate Souls vividly depicts the consequences of violence, sex, and gender conflict in African American communities.

Now, the fun part – THE INTERVIEW:

1) Where did you get the concept for this novel and what inspired you to write it?

For years, I taught in an inner city public school where I knew quite a few children who were being physically and emotionally scarred by their parents’ use of corporal punishment against them. Often I would hear parents speak of it as a necessary evil to protect their children from the greater dangers of the urban environment (gangs, drugs, police violence, etc.). I’ve always questioned that theory and wanted to write a novel that explored this issue from the perspectives of the children and their parents—sort of present both sides of the debate. And then I wanted to look at it through the eyes of two culturally different African American families.

As for the specific scenes and characters, all of those are completely imagined. Some writers construct their storylines from actual experience. I get most of my mine from daydreaming, although the scene with the young man crashing into the main character’s home was inspired by a real-life event back in the nineties when this actually happened at a house I was living in at the time.

2) You have developed many conflicted and interesting characters – How do you conceive and develop your characters and decide how they will interact with one another?

For me, the key is to take an interest in people. Developing convincing characters is less about what I do on paper and more about how I handle my interpersonal relationships with others. The more a writer understands the motivations and backstories of real-life human beings, the more authentic and interesting his or her characters will be when it’s time to write the story. All people interest me, regardless of their backgrounds. I’ll meet and have a conversation with a university professor just as easily I’ll have one with a homeless man on the street. It helps me understand people in the world better, which leads to more complex and convincing characters on paper.
Garden
3) You are originally from Buffalo, NY. How much of this contributed to the setting of your novel?

Well, naturally, I’ve always found it easier to be authentic when I write about a place I know well. But Buffalo is the kind of city I’d love to write about even if it weren’t my hometown. It has its challenges, but few cities have as much history and scenic beauty. And the people are genuine. I think all of that is reflected in my novel.

4) What do you want readers to take away from reading your novel?

I’d want them to consider the long-term consequences of corporal punishment. Because in many ways, the rampant violence in our urban streets is simply an outgrowth of the violence practiced in our homes. When children are whipped, slapped, pinched, grabbed, and beaten with weapons, we’re teaching them that the way to handle conflict is to somehow hurt the offending person. So we need to find alternatives to corporal punishment. Sure, society often condones and celebrates it. But if the exact same level of force were turned against an adult, it would be a criminal assault. Just because the victim is a minor doesn’t make it better or right.

5) What is your favourite part about writing? What is your least favourite part?

My favourite part is probably the revision process. I don’t write very good first drafts. So it’s fun to watch all that bad writing morph into something more presentable. It takes a long time, but it’s worth it. My least favourite part is the long, drawn-out process of actually trying to get stories into print. Not a lot of fun.

6) What books are you reading right now?

As far as non-academic literature, I’m currently reading Dear Life by Alice Munro. I’ve actually been reading a number of Canadian authors lately, which is fitting since my next novel will most likely be set in Canada.

7) What advice do you have for aspiring writers?

Be patient. Writing something worthwhile and getting it published is not a quick process. Actually, it’s quite long and exhausting—full of rejections, revisions, and delays. But don’t give up. Good writing will get published eventually. Maybe not today. But eventually.

Thanks Eddie for your time!

Rosa Wang Photography (

Rosa Wang Photography


To purchase the book, visit:
http://www.amazon.ca/Garden-Unfortunate-Souls-Eddie-Mark-ebook/dp/B00WBXHLQ0


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5 REASONS WHY I READ

For years, many people in the publishing industry have been bemoaning the lost art of reading – citing that livelier distractions and new technologies have taken away our focus and veneration for the written word. Movies, television, video games, social media…you name it, these are all reasons NOT to read.

This is a difficult fact to argue. I mean, who among us, between our grueling daily commute, tedious 9-to-5 jobs, school classes, home responsibilities has time to read? And why bother? There always seems to be a new, more enticing flashy object to lure our attention. #selfiepost
Book Love
But here I will argue that to give up the profound experience of reading is to do yourself a disservice. Though I myself am a self-proclaimed book-lover and book snob who tries to read at least 40-52 quality books per year, I realize I’m in the minority. I know of NO ONE I know personally, who reads as much as I do (except the nerds in my online book club, but they are a different breed altogether). And this is not to show off or prove how cool I am; rather, it’s to illustrate how sad it has become that the average person in North America reads only between 5-12 books to year (and most of them best-sellers, commercial fiction, celebrity-endorsed books, etc…). Books should not be just as a passing fancy, to see what the fuss is about (here’s looking at you, FIFTY SHADES OF GREY), or something to carry with you to the beach.

So, without further ado, are 5 reasons WHY I READ:

1) TO LEARN

Oprah recently did an interview with mega Hollywood producer, Brian Grazer, on the nature of curiosity and how it has shaped his career. I turn to books because I realize there is just SO MUCH I don’t know about the world. And I want to know more. I want to learn. Why? Learning for learning’s sake? Well, yes. Every time I learn something new, it’s like having a badge of honour pinned to my chest – it means I have accomplished something. I know something now that I’ve never known before. And to think all of this KNOWLEDGE is just squished somewhere in the crisp pages of a book…AMAZING!

I used to walk into a library and think to myself in awe – Why, if a person can READ, they can literally learn anything they want. Just pluck a book from the shelf and it’s right at their fingertips. Knowledge is power.

2) TO SEE ANOTHER’S POINT OF VIEW/GAIN EMPATHY

I don’t know what it’s like to live with a fundamentalist Muslim. I don’t know what it’s like to survive in the ghettos of Kingston, Jamaica. I don’t know what it’s like to be a Suffragette who is jailed because she is fighting for basic human rights.

Yet, when I read books on topics like these (THE BLIND MAN’S GARDEN/A BRIEF HISTORY OF SEVEN KILLINGS/My own research for my 1st novel) – I start to understand another person’s point of view. I may never go to Afghanistan or Pakistan (nor, may I ever want to); I don’t have access to a time machine to go back 100 years, but through reading, I can experience all of these facets of life. To see the world through another’s eyes makes you a more empathetic person. You may not agree with everything they say or do, but at least you can have a more informed, well-rounded perspective.

3) TO LEARN PROPER GRAMMAR AND SPELLING

I don’t even have to try with this one – it just happens automatically. You want to learn how to spell and write properly? READ. Just read. You will learn how good sentences are made (and even the bad ones).

4) TO LIGHT UP YOUR IMAGINATION

Two words: HARRY POTTER.
Muggles

5) IT MAKES YOU A BETTER HUMAN BEING

I would never purport to be a perfect person, but I would say that books have made a huge impact on my life and have taught me many things. The best books are sometimes the ones that make you the most uncomfortable. But through this discomfort, you are forced to hold up a mirror to yourself and ask: Why do I feel this way? And examine your own innate prejudices and insecurities. I don’t think I would be the person I am today without books.
Love
So go and pick one up today (any book) and let it change your life. :-)


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How to Face Rejection as a Writer

This month, my literary agency asked its’ authors to feature a guest blog post on various topics and my assignment was “How do you continue to go on after you’ve been told NO?”

Here was my response:

How do I go on?

It’s simple: Either you find the strength to persist as a writer or you don’t.

So what happens if you don’t? Logically, nothing bad will actually happen to you – you will not dissolve in the sunlight, your life will not end, and you won’t turn into a pumpkin at midnight…But something far more insidious may happen to you: You become an empty shell.

If you are an artist and you are called to write, something whispers inside your head. Call it the Muse, call it Divine Inspiration, call it Crazy Voices…but most writers acknowledge this has always existed within them – the need to tell stories and the need to write. If you stop writing because someone has rejected you, the only person you will disappoint is yourself.

Something happens when you quit: You lower yourself, you diminish yourself to the banality of abject forces – You essentially give up on yourself. You become lesser of a person and you admit defeat.

Maybe it’s the Ram in me (my astrological sign is an Aries), but I don’t want that type of life for myself. I want to reach my maximum potential in this lifetime and beyond.

How do I go on?

It’s simple: I believe in myself and I don’t take things personally.

Yes, your manuscript is like your child – you have poured every ounce of what is good and imaginative and true into your book and no one wants it. It’s like a slap in the face; the utter rejection of everything you’ve worked hard for. It’s like saying your BABY IS UGLY or being dumped by the love of your life. NO ONE WANTS YOU.

But these are things you cannot control. You must remember that editors and publishers have subjective opinions – they are in the business of making money from publishing books and they are not always right.

So I keep working hard – I read books like my life depends on it and I constantly strive to improve my writing. I read about others who have succeeded even in the face of terrible adversity and this encourages me to go on.

If you look closely enough, the success stories are always there. The only difference between these writers and the rest of us is they decided not to quit.

• Eimear McBride’s, A GIRL IS A HALF-FORM THING, was widely rejected for nine years because it was “too difficult, too risky”, until a tiny, independent press picked it up. It has since won the Bailey’s Women’s Prize for Fiction, the Desmond Elliott prize, nominated for the Folio Prize and many others!

• Lionel Shriver had been a commercial failure for nearly 20 years when she wrote, WE NEED TO TALK ABOUT KEVIN. Her own literary agent rejected it, 20 additional new agents she approached rejected it, until a small press decided to publish it. This book went on to win the Orange Prize and became an international best-seller.

• Ngũgĩ Wa Thiong’o, internationally renowned Kenyan writer & candidate for the Nobel Prize, wrote DEVIL ON THE CROSS while being imprisoned without a charge on toilet paper. If you think you have an excuse not to write (you’re too busy/you’re too stressed/you feel dejected/you have writer’s block, etc…), remember that writing while being thrown inside a prison cell scribbling on scraps of paper that people use to wipe themselves with, trumps ANY EXCUSE you will ever have.

So in summary:
Excuse

HAPPY WRITING! 🙂


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WHEN WRITING DREAMS DIE…AND WRITERS TALKING SHOP!

Let’s face it, this business is tough. Any industry that involves the arts: singing, dancing, acting or writing requires a lot of fortitude, rejection, general malaise and mayhem.

Case I point: I recently went through what most authors would define as a DREAM COME TRUE scenario – I had a publishing offer!!! Normally when you dream of this, you imagine lots of screams of joy, hot tears and cart-wheels, but instead, it was marred by indecision, sleepless nights and strife (for reasons I will not go into here)…

Ultimately, I turned it down. But I also read a post from literary agent, Sarah LaPolla last month about the virtue of patience. It was a wonderful success story that was at least 4 years in the making that ended in a wonderful book deal for her client!
So – in honor of perseverance and optimism, I encourage you to read it here:
http://glasscasesblog.blogspot.ca/2014/06/the-truth-about-patience.html?spref=tw
Also, because I love reading quotes and stories from other successful writers to placate my sorry self – I bring you the first installment of “WRITERS TALKING SHOP”. Hopefully this will inspire and motivate us all to keep going and to do the one thing that is ultimately in our control: KEEP WRITING. And never stop. If it’s the one thing you are meant to do, you owe it to yourself to keep going. The only failure is quitting too soon.

FROM “WE WANTED TO BE WRITERS” & “WHY WE WRITE”We Wanted to be Writers
SANDRA CISNEROS: “You need to do whatever you can to keep the work going. It helps if you have a trust fund; it helps if you can do without a lot of sleep. But you have to be OBSESSED; it’s not discipline, but obsession.”

JOY HARJO: “Keep the faith. There is a larger shape of reason & meaning, much larger than our small human minds.”

ANTHONY BUKOSKI: “Really, there’s no mystery: one either finds the strength to persist as a writer or one quits. No one cares either way whether you write or don’t, so my belief is a person has to make people care. How? By keeping at the writing, by NOT quitting. My approach isn’t logical. This said, I proceed on assumption in the end, I will succeed…things must get better.”

DOUG UNGER: “We are in the age of the ‘debut’ novel…skews culture in a wrong direction, part of ‘false marketing’ that’s been created around fiction; the writer’s career depends on their debut…The obscene consumerism allowed to take over the artistic process and kill off anything that’s original or alive in writing.
I believe that is how writers make it – by sticking out in the cold, then getting lucky enough that readers find their work. Readers find the good work, the work that lasts, and that’s all that matters. The rest if all about a bunch of business people figuring out how to make the most money off of the writer’s art so they can…what? Buy a bigger house or private golf course?
No self-respecting literary artist hoping to become a great writer should give a shit about any of that. None of that has anything to do with writing well. Writers should work on their stories, novels, poems, essays…Make them as perfect as possible, make their art. Nothing else matters.”

WALTER MOSLEY: “People who fail at writing are the people who give up because of external pressures, or because they didn’t get published in a certain amount of time. Writing is a long-term investment. If you stick with it, you’ll reach the level of success that you need to.”