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.

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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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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Why You Shouldn’t Only Read Non-Fiction

All right, I’m deliberately calling out to you readers of so-called “NON-FICTION ONLY”.

How many times have I asked someone what they like to read (especially men), and their most common answer to me is: “I only read non-fiction.”

Like, really?

Sometimes I wonder if they are telling me that because they think reading non-fiction automatically makes them seem smarter, or they couldn’t bother with something so useless as fiction, because who wants to read stuff that is made up anyway?

Granted, I have tended to heavily skew my reading repertoire towards fiction for most of my life, but this year for some reason, I have been reading more NON-FICTION than ever.

And although I can always glean wondrous facts from all of these non-fiction works, be they biographies, business books, memoirs, academic texts, I still find I get a lot of out reading fiction.

This got me thinking about the difference between Fiction readers vs. Non-Fiction readers.  Of course, reading anything is better than reading nothing at all, but I will argue that all of you NF folks are really missing the boat.

Here’s 5 reasons why:

1) GET SOME IMAGINATION

Though it’s very important to learn about facts, sticking exclusively to non-fiction can make you seem very cut & dry.  Like you’re that stuffy, snobby guy in a silk jacket smoking a pipe, regurgitating scientific facts, but you can’t stretch your imagination to imagine a world with unicorns, wizards, magic, flying on hoverboards or a human colony on Mars. Remember, many of the best inventions and concepts the world has ever seen came from very imaginative people who thought outside of the realm of possibility and didn’t just allow their brains to be imprisoned by facts.  They daydreamed, they conjured up impossible theories and they changed the world.

Alice Soon Photo

Alice Soon Photo

2) IMPROVE YOUR CRITICAL THINKING SKILLS

When you are reading a piece of good fiction (and I’m talking about quality fiction here, not escapist literature), you are forced to THINK and analyze what it is you are actually reading. Exceptional fiction is always filled with multiple points of view, unreliable narrators, creative twists and turns, and conflicting themes.

So what’s a reader to do???

Make up your own mind, of course.

Employ your critical thinking skills, and examine why it is that you feel the way you feel.  And it is this act of thinking; this ability to clearly articulate your point of view, that makes someone a good communicator vs. a blathering moron.

Reading a good piece of fiction, even if you disagree with it, will always makes you THINK.

3) LEARN HOW TO WRITE BETTER

I think it’s pretty arguable that most fiction writers are just better writers in general.  (e.g. Michael Pollan recently admitted this on Oprah’s Super Soul Sunday.)

What this means is not that they are better at grammar.  You can say the same thing in 10 different ways, using a variety of word choice, word order and punctuation, but NOT all sentences are created equally, even if the meaning is the same.

This difference is called STYLE.

When you read a wonderful piece of fiction, you are learning how the writer has used a creative metaphor to express a place or a feeling; filled the pages with images and symbols that make your head spin. In short, can express the most complex, deepest, truest feelings of a human being using 26 letters.

4) YOU CAN LEARN FACTS TOO

Many good fiction books employ hundreds of hours of meticulous research to fill their stories with believable characters, realistic settings and a sense of history. Many writers even spend months or years in a particular city or country where their story takes place or painstakingly interview countless people to get their facts right.

(e.g. THE ORPHAN MASTER’S SON  or A BRIEF HISTORY OF SEVEN KILLINGS).

As one 70-year old bookseller I met in New Orleans once told me: “I have learned more truths from reading fiction than from any non-fiction book.”

5) INCREASE EMOTIONAL INTELLIGENCE & EMPATHY

This is my favourite and final point.  Studies are beginning to show that readers of literary fiction actually score higher on emotional intelligence and empathy. One study by the New York School for Social Research (featured in THE WIRE), found that:

Readers of literary fiction must draw on more flexible interpretive resources to infer the feelings and thoughts of characters. That is, they must engage Theory of the Mind (ToM) processes. Contrary to literary fiction, popular fiction, which is more readerly, tends to portray the world and characters as internally consistent and predictable. Therefore, it may reaffirm readers’ expectations and so not promote ToM.

In other words, by forcing you to think, empathize, and assume instead of handing you prototype characters whose actions and personalities can be squarely understood, literary fiction is literally making you a more caring and emotionally intelligent person.”

Another study done by a trio of University of Toronto scholars led by psychologist Maja Djikic  (featured in SALON Magazine) reported that:

People who have just read a short story have less need for what psychologists call cognitive closure. Compared with peers who have just read an essay, they expressed more comfort with disorder and uncertainty—attitudes that allow for both sophisticated thinking and greater creativity.

Therefore, it requires people to become insightful about others and their perspectives.”

Alice Soon Photo

                          Alice Soon Photo

Check out studies here – http://www.thewire.com/entertainment/2013/10/now-we-have-proof-reading-literary-fiction-makes-you-better-person/70191/ and here – http://www.salon.com/2013/06/15/book_nerds_make_better_decisions_partner/

Not convinced having emotional intelligence is proven to be an essential skill of top leaders? Read this article in Harvard Business Review – https://hbr.org/2004/01/what-makes-a-leader

To summarize, I think my arguments are clear: Don’t relegate yourself to the realm of one-dimensional non-fiction. Open yourself to the delights & thrills of a great fiction novel and watch your mind reach new heights.

Your brain will thank you. 🙂


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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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WRITERS WHO START EARLY

This month I had the privilege of visiting Austin, TX on business and I managed to make a stop @ BOOKPEOPLE- The largest independent book store in Texas!

While I was there, I could not resist buying 6 books (which I thankfully managed to fit into my suitcase after much wrestling and wrangling…), one of which was ODD TYPE WRITERS, by Celia Blue Johnson.
BookPeopleBook stash
In this book, Johnson chronicles the interesting and often odd habits of famous writers. I love reading books about other writers in order to get inspiration (AKA to stop being lazy and get off my ass!!).

Here is a very interesting list of authors who were keen early-birds. (Sufficed to say that although I LOVE Sylvia Plath, I will not be waking up at 4am to write!!!) 😛

I thought it might also inspire writers to stop making excuses and keep writing, because after all, true professionals punch-in each & every day to work:

4:00am – Sylvia Plath
5:00am – Jack London, Toni Morrison, Katherine Anne Porter
5:30am – Anthony Trollope, Kurt Vonnegut
6:00am – Edith Wharton, W.H. Auden, Graham Greene, Ernest Hemingway, Victor Hugo, Vladimir Nabokov
7:00am – Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
8:00am – Flannery O’Connor, Wallace Stegner
9:00am – Virginia Woolf, Ray Bradbury, Thomas Mann, Leo Tolstoy, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Gore Vidal
9:30am – Carson McCullers
10:00am – W. Somerset Maugham

Happy Writing everyone!


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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.”