Archive for December, 2010

Blank Page Angst

Friday, December 31st, 2010
a bad day in front of the computer

a bad day in front of the computer

When I was at the Banff playRites Colony, a very well-known Canadian playwright (who shall remain unnamed) confessed at the beginning of a session on the writer’s process that he always had a glass of red wine before sitting down to write.  Otherwise he was unable to face the blank screen.  (I dared not ask him what time of day he started this ritual, but perhaps this is an unexplored reason why so many writers seem to drink.)  Victor Hugo meanwhile is famous for – among other things – only being able to face a blank page by having himself locked naked into a room with only a desk, a chair and writing implements.  The lack of clothes was to prevent him from going out the window.  It seems to have worked.  Personally, I am very adept at self-deception:  “I’ll just transcribe some of these notes” or “I’ll just edit the last few pages.  I won’t draft anything new.”  It’s amazing how I manage to deceive myself.  Practically every time.  You would think the writing part of my brain would have caught onto the lying part, but so far so good.  But I also wonder why the blank page remains so intimidating.  I mean, I like writing … once I get myself to sit down to do it.

Happy New Year!

Reading and Eating Bonbons

Thursday, December 23rd, 2010

Ahh, the holidays.  This year I am hoping to get lots of time to do my favourite holiday thing – sit around and read.  Bonbons at hand are a plus but not necessary.  Although, I wouldn’t say no to some holiday baking, and since I made way too much gingerbread (variety ended up getting sacrificed in favour of quantity),  I won’t have to. 

Happy holidays to all of you, and here’s hoping that you too get time to enjoy a good book over the season!

Those Touchy Theatre Types

Friday, December 17th, 2010

When my play Bangkok was performed at the National Arts Centre’s On the Verge Festival, I realized why those in theatre are so touchy.  I mean tactile rather than sensitive; although they can be that too.  I was so unreservedly thrilled with all the actors’ performances that after the show, it was work to keep my hands off of them.  I kept wanting to hug them, kiss them, ruffle their hair, or at least give them a good hearty pat on the back for bringing what had otherwise been voices in my head to much better life than I could ever have imagined. 

Of course, the flip side is also true.  There is nothing like an actor massacring your words to give rise to seriously un-neighbourly thoughts.  Directors are also at risk for having cast them in the first place.  In order to protect the guilty, I will not name the particular performance I have in mind (to be fair, it was just a reading – mind you, in front of an audience that was deciding whether to advance the play to the next stage (pun fully intended)).  But it was that performance that I have to thank for having driven me to try my hand at a novel.  I wanted a medium where I had more control.  The control is, of course, somewhat illusory, but at least I don’t have to hear what a mess someone else is making of the words.  That task is reserved strictly for me.

Women’s Fiction: What’s That?

Friday, December 10th, 2010

Listen kitten, I'm a feminist.So here’s a question I have repeatedly faced in trying to sell my book(s), first from agents and, now that I have one, through my agent: “Is your book ‘women’s fiction’?”  I am of course convinced that my novel has, if not universal, at least cross-gender appeal so my gut reaction has always been “no”.  This reaction is typically followed with, “And what exactly is women’s fiction?” 

Answers varied.  Sometimes a lot.  But now I know: women’s fiction is all fiction where the protagonist is female. 

 This realization was not a happy one.  Sure I knew there was a reason why Harry was the hero of Hogwarts and not Hermione and, of course, we all knew why JK decided to go by JK in the first place, but I hadn’t realized the situation was quite so dire.  I mean, my husband reads fiction with protagonists other than Jack Reacher, Detective Rebus and Inspector Banks.  OK sure, he hadn’t got through A Complicated Kindness but that (or so he claimed) was due to a lack of plot rather than the story being centred around a heroine rather than a hero.  Is he the exception?

I do take some comfort that the female protagonist definition is at least better than some of the other possibilities: “romance but not as short as a Harlequin with possibly (but necessarily) better writing but better book covers for sure” and “any book about relationships be it between a couple, friends, or family (with a possible carve out for dogs but not cats)”.

So by the female protagonist definition of women’s fiction, Tumbling After and The Janus Affair qualify.  The Janus Affair even more so – it  has not one but two central female characters and if this weren’t enough, any remaining doubt is done away with by the fact that it is written in the first person.  Think, Wilkie Collins’ Moonstone, or either of Joseph Boyden’s novels, but without the good sense of making some of the narrators men.

Plays vs. Novels

Sunday, December 5th, 2010

The Comedy and Tragedy MasksWay back when I did a workshop called “Visceral Playwriting” with Linda Griffiths, I recall her saying that playwriting was more difficult than writing a novel.  Her reasons are now lost to me and, honestly, were not that clear to me to begin with, but I do recall reading an interview with George F. Walker who argued that plays were more difficult because they forced the writer to be more imaginative.  The confines of the space and the restricted number of characters simply made for harder creative work than a novel where, if you feel the need for an astronaut or the Russian president, or an astronaut and the Russian president in the International Space Station, you simply write them and it in.  The reader and the writer both can skip the annoying details of the nuts and bolts of actually transforming the Kremlin into the ISS.  And no more pondering whether there is time to get the Russian president from his  exit stage right to centre stage in a space suit.


In keeping with all that, I found the transition from plays to novels liberating.  Everything was suddenly possible.  I finally truly understood why play“wrights” were called this and not play“writes” (although, the annoying term dramatist seems to have entered the lexicon), and having understood, I realized how much fussing the mechanics had taken (and if you think that`s the director`s problem, just ask my playwright friend whether she`s fretting about how she`s going to deal with those dogs that are insisting on being part of her play).  But no more!  Not with novels.

But there is one thing that I will say about writing novels versus plays, which for that reason alone, still puts novels in the “harder to write” camp for at least me.  They’re longer.  A lot longer.  Sure that can be liberating, too.  Novels give you the freedom to take your time to build characters, relationships, sub-plots, to add in more twists and turns, but there is always a point where I indulge in the wonderful/horrible tool of Word Count and it tells me I have written 20,000 words and I think, “If this were a play, I would be done by now.”