Deborah Jackson

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

How to Kill your Writing Career

1. Write like someone else. Be inspired by Hemingway or Dickens and adopt their style. You’ll produce some amazing work and everyone will hate it in this day and age. In fact, the better you write, the more people will hate it, anyway. Guaranteed.

2. Listen to the critics. They’re critics for a reason. If they could actually sit down and write a book, do you think they’d be writing lousy reviews? Often their reviews are related to their last meal: if it was burritos and beer . . .

3. Change your novel every time somebody tells you to, especially editors and agents. If you pass your first chapter to enough “experts” at conferences, eventually you’ll find they contradict each other. These experts are guided by their own preferences—some of which has to do with good writing, the remainder related to genre, style, and the last episode of Grey’s Anatomy.

4. Write to the latest trend. If you have a fabulous idea for a vampire, no wait, fairy, no, just a minute, angel . . . Just don’t!

5. Don’t experiment. Keep to the code. The Writer’s Code, not the Pirate’s Code, ’cause if you kept to the Pirate’s Code, you’d realize that it’s simply guidelines. So if you’ve written a “different” book and your critique group or editor tells you to adhere to formula, what do you do? You listen, because you don’t want to grow or challenge yourself or your readers. You just want to be an average writer anyway. Not an artist.

6. Ignore social media, because you heard of a study that said it makes absolutely no difference to a writer’s career. Bah! Hide in a hole because people are only interested in your books and don’t want to get to know the real you. It’s not like you spill the most intimate parts of yourself into those books every day, right?

7. Stop reading or taking workshops. I know, I know. You’ve read everything, you can’t possibly learn anything new, you should be teaching. Well, then, teach, because you can learn from teaching, and when you stop learning and trying to improve, the work shrivels up before you do.

8. Never write about something you’re not an authority on. God forbid you take on a challenge.

9. Don’t pay attention to your readers or fans. Only Lady GaGa does that, and she’s crazy (like a fox). Never follow anyone back on Twitter, because you’re amazing and everything you have to say is golden and everything everyone else says is dull and superfluous: Followers 20,000 Following 3

10. Reject those speaking engagements, because public speaking is hard. After all, you’re an introvert, your talent dwells within your mind but can never flow past your lips. Let’s face it, you have the speaking ability of Frankenstein. You can only speak decently when there’s something you’re passionate about, and that can’t be writing, can it?

11. Never follow the latest news in the industry, reject change because it doesn’t exist. The publishing industry will stay the same forever and you don’t have to adapt. You don’t care how cute those Angry Birds are, you will not buy an iPad, or any other snazzy gadget from the future (doddering old fool).

12. Never write a blog because you hate writing short informative pieces or silly lists.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Book Bash with the Kidlit Authors

Come party with children's writers and illustrators! On Friday, October 14 from 6 to 9 p.m., authors from near and far will gather to celebrate at Collected Works Bookstore (1242 Wellington St. W., 613-722-1265)

Come meet the people who are creating the latest books for young adults, tweens, and children. Hear about new releases directly from the authors, and have them autographed on the spot.This party launches the SCBWI Canada East fall conference (October15-16).

Those who will present their latest work at the party include author R.J. Anderson (Ultraviolet, Spell Hunter, Wayfarer) and illustrator Ben Hodson (Richard Was a Picker, Jeffrey and Sloth, Hear My Roar), both featured speakers at the SCBWI conference. Governor General Award winner Rachna Gilmore (That Boy Red, The Flute) will also be on hand, along with writers Catherine Austen (My Cat Isis, 26 Tips for Surviving Grade 6, All Good Children), Lizann Flatt (Let's Go! The Story of Getting from There to Here), Alma Fullerton (Burn, Libertad), Deborah Jackson (Time Meddlers, Time Meddlers: Undercover), Caroline Pignat (Greener Grass, Wild Geese, Timber Wolf), and Marsha Skrypuch (Stolen Child, Daughter of War). Both adults and kids are welcome. Refreshments will be available for purchase.

SCBWI Canada East's fall conference ("The Courage to Create," October15-16) is open to adults who want to learn more about publishing. Please pre-register if interested. For more information see SCBWI website.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

What You Shouldn’t Write (But I Do).

In recent years, I’ve heard this phrase commonly used by editors and agents: “nothing didactic.” Or this one, “eliminate the deep moral themes.” Ruled by my defiant nature, (a quality my son shares, although it exhibits itself in his refusal to read, an issue that gives me constant pain) I ignored them.

My books, although laden with adventure, always explore complex issues, deep moral themes and are sprinkled with facts, scientific jargon and hopefully fresh material for kids and adults to learn and grow (as I did, when I researched them). Every learning opportunity for me is another for my readers.

Why would I ignore trends, the voices of experience? Have you ever re-read a book that was superficial, empty, and reiterated old and dreary facts? Have you ever recommended a book that didn’t touch you in some way? You might have said to a friend: “It’s okay. It’s a light read.” You might have even thrust it into their hands so you wouldn’t have to get rid of it yourself. A light read might make it up to the bestseller list—we know who you are—but it won’t be talked about for years to come (unless it’s mocked and scorned). Dracula, however, will never go away. There’s nothing sparkly about real evil.

The Hunger Games fled my shelf recently, (because my daughter lent it to a friend who lent it to a friend, etc.) and I had to re-purchase it for my class, because it’s an example of a book that doesn’t shy away from complex issues: communism/fascism and the importance of that one defiant voice (such as Martin Luther King or Nelson Mandela). A student told me how a friend borrowed The Book Thief from the library, and then someone stole it. ;) No doubt this happened because it’s such a good read: Nazi Germany, death—are those light themes?

Books rich with details of history or science, Wilbur Smith’s Egyptian series or Cryptonomicon, are examples of those that I will not part with (unless someone lends them to a friend, who then lends them to a friend, etc.)

I do write fast-paced, action-packed thrillers. But I still want the book to linger in your mind long after you've read it. I want you to say, “Wow, I didn’t know that the Piri Reis map, copied and recopied over hundreds of years, and originating long before modern ground-penetrating radar and satellite images, displayed all the contours of Antarctica without the ice sheet.” Or something along those lines, but not quite so longwinded. Or you might say, “Cool,” regarding nanobots that could replace heart surgeons. Maybe the description of a cave in Sinkhole will inspire you to visit caves, even those slick with “bloody” bat urine from vampire bats. Or maybe not. But if they will make you ponder the desperation of people caught in the trap of poverty, or the shades of grey to every human being, even apparently evil ones, or the injustice of the past that filters into the present, then I have done my job. Because I refuse to write an empty book. (If you haven’t noticed, generally Book 2 of most trilogies is simply “filler.”) And even if you’re picking up a book to escape the real world, I hope it will still touch you on the journey.

Monday, September 12, 2011

The Ordinary Hero—Far more to admire than the celebrity.

In light of the tenth anniversary of 9/11, I think it’s time to consider the ordinary hero once again and pay tribute. We spend so much time creating heroes for our fictional projects, sometimes never realizing that we may see these extraordinary qualities every day and need not look to fiction.

The fire fighter, the policeman, the nurse, the neighbour next door—they do exceptional things on a daily basis and are often never given credit. Credit goes to the sports figure, the movie star, the author for simply having talent and working hard to rise into the spotlight, but how often do these figures put their lives on the line or rescue someone from certain death?

One day my son came home from school and told me he had to do a project on “heroes.”

“Whom should I choose,” he asked. Actually he said “who.” His teacher suggested the usual heroes, amazing people like Terry Fox and Nelson Mandela—and they certainly are my heroes. But most of the students in his class had heard everything there was to know about these extraordinary people of courage and conviction. Would his classmates learn anything new by studying them once again?

I pulled out the DVD I’d been looking at while researching Nubia for my next book. I said, “Why don’t you write about Adam Sterling.”

Of course my son had never heard of Adam Sterling. Not many people have. He’s a waiter in a restaurant in California—not a spectacular career to make him notable. But it was what he did that made him exceptional. He decided to protest the genocide that was taking place in Darfur. Not only did he stand beside the notables: George Clooney, Don Cheadle and Luis Moreno-Ocampo, the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court in The Hague, he also educated himself regarding law and introduced a bill to the then governor/ator, Arnold Schwarzenegger. This law forbid companies in California from investing in the oil prospects in Sudan until the genocide had stopped. He had no idea how to do this, he had no experience with law, but he got involved and he learned what was required because he cared. He did something difficult in order to make a difference. That is the type of person to honour. That is the hero I most admire. Someone willing to get involved, sometimes at great peril.

Needless to say no one else in my son’s class chose this man as a hero. The teacher had never heard of him. But now, everyone in that Grade Seven class has.

I’ve always been fascinated with ordinary/exceptional people. It’s why I focused on the Dutch people who harboured and protected those targeted by the Nazis in World War II in my second TM novel. I discovered my grandparents hid Jews beneath their chicken coop at great risk to their own lives. I can’t imagine the courage it took to do that. To stand up for what is right, even under the threat of Hitler's retribution. To run into a burning building on verge of collapse and rescue people. I can only write about it and admire, and hope, if I’m ever faced with that kind of situation, that I won’t run the other way.

Monday, September 05, 2011

Off-the-Cuff Commentary

It's interesting how writers have made the transition from closeted fiction writers with a wealth of editors scanning their material and demanding perfection before it hits the shelves to "off-the-cuff" columnists. It seems to be a necessary transition, since newspapers are disintegrating, publishing houses are spiralling downward and people are still looking for quick news feeds or, in particular, opinion pieces in which they can weigh in, either to object to or agree with the blogger. It's the era of instant connection, therefore the painstaking effort of scrutinizing every word is thrown aside for the quick news flash.

I find this particularly difficult, since I'm somewhat of a perfectionist where language is concerned. Not that I get everything perfect, but I'd like to see my pieces as polished as possible before they're released. I'm now writing on topics related to my expertise: writing, science and science fiction, history and historical fiction, but what I find extremely daunting is the new miniseries I've begun: Matt and Sarah's Misadventures. I pore over it before posting, I ask my daughter to do a quick read (since she's a lit student) and I ask my son to tell me everything a kid would not say, in this day and age. Then I post, with a tingling of apprehension.

If you haven't noticed, so much of what is posted on the web today is done without forethought and definitely without spell-check. I keep wondering do other writers find the transition nauseating? Or at least somewhat uncomfortable? We're so used to spending months discussing manuscripts in a critique group, then trading commentary with an editor, then passing the work on to the copy editor to tidy up any loose ends. I've seen bestselling award-winning authors post entries that were riddled with typos, and sometimes even grammar errors. It should be plain by now that many authors are not grammar gurus, but are blessed wordsmiths in other ways, or have such a vivid imagination they can transform any mundane plot, that has been repeated over and over again in the past, into something fresh and exciting. We have varied skills.

So I wonder, do readers forgive imperfections? Do they look at an author's book and feel the same way once they spot the warts? Or is it that they come to like the author more, for being human. I know I love James Durbin. Not just because he's such a talented singer/performer, but because he overcame his human difficulties to become such a talented singer/performer. We are who we are.

So I blog. I resisted for a long time, writing every few months in fits and starts, where everything I wrote emerged consistently as a story. But I am nothing if not adaptable, just in a stubborn-mule fashion. So I make a concentrated effort, I opine, then I scan, then I post. But I wonder, will I ever feel good about it?