Ghosts and goblins

Hiding in plain sight

Karalee’s Post #7 — Ooooooo… Halloween time again. What’s the intrigue? Is it the free candy? The spookiness? Or is it the hiding in plain sight? All three are worth getting costumed up for, but I bet the thrill comes from “being” someone or something else, even if only for a few hours.

Author and founder of our writing group, Sean Slater, literally has his villain hide in plain sight in his book The Survivor during the Parade of Lost Souls in Vancouver, Canada. For me the book is extra special. Not only do I know the author, it is so cool to read a thriller set in my own city and being able to follow (in my mind) the cop cars chasing down streets in my neighbourhood. Reading the book felt far more intimate than if it was set in places like New York or London (even though I’ve visited both but not lived there).


For me it’s because my own experience fills in the five senses. If you live in Vancouver you feel what a rainy day is: its dampness; the smell of moss and mustiness; the grey skies hoarding the mountains; the wet dogs and children splashing in puddles, etc. The sound of traffic is louder and the pounding of rain on the roof can be soothing, or annoying if it drips off a crack in the eaves. And if it’s a sunny day in winter, you truly enjoy it because the rain will be back.

So, how does a writer give all this visceral experience to readers unfamiliar with the setting? Pages of explaining can’t do justice to actually living in the place, not even 100,000 words, but if you make your characters experience the setting using all their senses, the reader can “be” there too.

Now back to Halloween. What’s the thrill of hiding? We seem to crave it as children. Who hasn’t played hours or days of Hide-and-Seek? I can still feel my heart pounding while standing in a dark closet or lying under the bed waiting to be caught. At first I wouldn’t want to be found, but if I hid too well the game went lame and the other players would give up.

Now doesn’t that sound like the challenge of writing a novel? How does the author build suspense and follow it through to a satisfying conclusion?

At the beginning our characters start off unknown, as though fully masked. The author reveals a little bit at a time to intrigue the reader and have him/her relate to the characters. If too much is told up front there’s not much left to discover. If there’s not enough revealed along the way, the characters’ actions may seem unrealistic.

It’s a balance. But where’s the thrill?

The reader needs to be entertained. That means being emotionally involved and being in the closet with the protagonist knowing the villain is in the house hunting her down. The protagonist must survive if the book continues. And even more, once the reader feels the thrill, he/she wants it again and again.

Suspense. Climax.  Survival.

Suspense. Climax.  Survival.

And just writing this I can feel the thrill of Hide-and-Seek, not only hiding, but being found, and then racing against my assailant to touch the designated spot in the house that keeps me safe. For me, this is an epiphany, a feeling I want in my writing; a goal to reach two or three times before the last major climax where my protagonist truly must run the race of her life.

I can’t wait to get it all down in writing.

I’ll be interrupted tonight when the ghosts and goblins arrive at my home. But this year when I open the door to the dressed up creatures I will be more in tune with their feelings.

Especially the ones hidden in plain sight.

Real writers don’t give up

Paula’s Post #7 – One of the things I like best (and fear most) about the 5writers challenge is the new sense of discipline that this unique endeavour brings to one’s writing. The new sense of urgency it brings to one’s writing.

Specifically, to my writing.

But to err, as they say, is human and this week, I must confess, I’ve been weak.

I erred.

Discipline, in fact, flew right out the window. Evaporated. Gone.  Hasta la vista, baby!

But what about urgency you ask? Ah, (to borrow from the Bard)  all I can say is ‘aye, there’s the rub‘. Urgency, alas, has remained my faithful friend and follower, not only this past week, but throughout the first seven weeks of this 5writers challenge.

Seven weeks! OMG!

I know, I know, I can hear you now. A cacophony of disapproving mutterings and murmurings, echoing through cyberspace.  Worse yet, if I am to continue with my ‘true confessions’ I must admit to not having written a word since the end of the conference on October 22nd.

No further plots plotted, period, full stop.

In terms of progress, my outline is still languishing somewhere amidst the muddled middle, and, while I have no real idea of how productive my fellow 5writers have been, (we’re all holding our cards a bit close to the chest) I fear that I’m the one who is eating dust in this 5 horse race.

In the circumstances aforesaid, I have no choice but to enter a plea of guilty, or, at the very least, a plea of nolo contendere. In retrospect, I could have planned better. In retrospect, I should have planned better.

But the simple truth is that I did not.

In mitigation, I could plead extenuating circumstances. To wit, the fact that for most of this past week, I found myself confined to an overstuffed vehicle, whizzing down I-5, with all waypoints, rest breaks and accommodations dictated by the capricious whims, physiology and needs of a rambunctious, 85 pound Standard Poodle and an incontinent, blind and deaf, 17 year old Miniature Poodle that needs to go ‘outside’ every three hours, day and night.

I could also respectfully submit that for the balance of this evaporating week, I dutifully (and quite happily) entertained house guests.

Shoulda… Coulda… Woulda…

Nevertheless, much as I would love to write a post on the subject of Procrastination, with a capital “P”, I fear that train has already left the station. Not once, but several times.

Done and overdone.

I hear the distant voice of a curmudgeonly judge, admonishing me to get on with it: ‘I have your point, counsel, move on.’

Yes indeed, time to think of something new to write about for this week’s post. But what?

And then it came to me. A brilliant, bright new idea. As bright and clear and fully formed as a humongous meteorite hurtling not just through cyberspace, but real space. By this point, you see, I knew I would be up late, writing, well into the wee hours of the morning. So why not write a post about writing at night?

How clever! I thought, smugly congratulating myself on my bright new idea. Brilliant!

Voila! Perfect! Eureka!  I found it.

Filled with a renewed sense of discipline, and with my constant companion urgency hovering somewhere just over my head, I powered up my laptop, clicked on this blog and… and… and…  found Writing in the Dark. Silk’s post #7 from today, (oops! I mean yesterday, since it is now well past midnight).

Silk, Silk, Silk, how could you do this to me? How is it that, mere days apart, we somehow hit upon the same brilliant topic for a blog post?

Mouth hanging open in disbelief, I stared at that gorgeous image of your magnificent,  wide-eyed owl. Read with a mixture of joy and dread your passionate, lyrical, evocative exposition on the joys of waiting ’til the midnight hour’ (with apologies, to Wilson Pickett, for ‘borrowing’ his deft turn of phrase).

Once again, I find myself back of the pack, eating dust.

For not only has the race gone to the swift, Silk also trumped me with her evocative title, her gorgeous photos, her powerful, almost poetic prose and vivid imagery  Owls? Larks? Hummingbirds? My God! Not mere ‘writing’ in the dark, but rather ‘dancing’ in the dark. Bravo Silk!

2:16 am – Okay, time for a reality check. Although I am, most assuredly now ‘writing in the dark’, I find I cannot make that activity the subject of this blog post for, to borrow from the realm  of Canadian Constitutional jurisprudence, the field has clearly already been occupied.  (And don’t even think of asking me where that arcane tidbit came from, though, if pressed, I’d have to admit to a vague recollection harking back to my moot court topic in second year law school).

But I digress.

What I really want to say in this blog post is that sometimes, in the world of writing, just like in real life, not much gets accomplished. Sometimes, the wheels of the bus just fall off. Sometimes, this is due to some human failing, some blameworthy conduct, (to wit: p-r-o-c-r-a-s-t-i-n-a-t-i-o-n). Sometimes, this is due to the many exigencies of real life.

And sometimes, this is due to mere unfortunate happenstance. Like the man who invented the light bulb…. right after Mr. Edison.

Sometimes, we writers face roadblocks. Sometimes, we face setbacks. I’m feeling a litte battered and bruised this week, some of it is my fault, some of it is not. But I did (eventually) smile at the fact that Silk and I had both, independently, come up with the same idea for a blog post. I mean, you have to admit it is funny. And I smiled even further when I remembered a similar situation, several years back, when I hit upon what I thought was not only the perfect premise, but also the perfect title for a mystery novel:

Deadly Lies.

Scandal, intrigue and murder at an elite golf and country club. Fully formed characters whirled through my mind, all as vivid as the images one sees on television or on the silver screen. I saw my novel’s golf pro; I saw my novel’s clubhouse; I saw my novel’s cute little red golf carts, I smelled the worn leather club chairs in my men’s locker room, the whiff of whiskey and cuban cigars. I heard the whispered bickering of my novel’s stuffy dining room staff, and saw the hardy, 90 year old Scotswomen who still turned out for the shrimp bisque and watercress sandwiches at the “Ladies Day” luncheons.

I compiled notebooks full of character sketches and feeling the first flush of excitement over my wonderful idea, I did what all writers do. I googled the ever so clever title of my novel-to-be: Deadly Lies.

And that is how I discovered Buried Lie, a golf mystery by Roberta Islieb, featuring LPGA  golfer/sleuth Cassie Burdette. I stared, mouth open in disbelief, at a photograph of the author standing over a cake decorated with the book’s title and depicting, in some charming fashion, a golf course sand trap.

My heart, as we writers try hard not to say, sank. Jealousy coursed through my veins, (Ugh – that sounds like it hurts). Not quite my title, sure, but close enough to discourage me from writing that book, at least back then.

Tonight, another google search reveals five Cassie Burdette golf mysteries published by Berkley Prime Crime. author Roberta Islieb is now working on a series of culinary mysteries set in Key West.

And my title? Deadly Lies? Another quick google search revealed that author Cynthia Eden used that title for her second in a series suspense novel about an FBI agent still traumatized by her encounter with a serial killer.

Not quite the book I imagined at all.

My version of Deadly Lies never took flight. But I didn’t quit writing, just because I found out someone else came up with a similar title, and a similar book, right before I did.

But real writers don’t give up and I haven’t either. Maybe I haven’t quite mastered the concept of discipline, but with each passing day, urgency becomes more omnipresent.

I still like my title, Deadly Lies, and my idea for my own ‘golf mystery’. And one day I just might write that book.

So, sorry, Roberta and Cynthia, I haven’t yet read your books. I hope to when this 5writers challenge is over on February 5th, 2013. But I still love the title Deadly Lies. Oh, and  guess what? I checked it out. You can’t copyright book titles.

4:44 AM

Besides, I thought of it first!

Writing in the dark

Silk’s Post #7 — I love to write at night. Not in a civilized, disciplined after-dinner session, rationally timed to finish off a chapter before the late news hour. No, no, no. I mean an all-night, insomniac marathon conducted with the red-eyed passion of the addict.

I love to write during that unclaimed time of darkness, when the world is sensibly asleep, leaving the empty hours to those who relish the void. This time belongs to me. My mind runs free. I’m a night hunter pursuing words, insights, patterns, ideas that lurk in the peripheral vision. I feel like a day-shy vampire who rises unafraid in the silent time unwanted by others, stalking the hours until I fall into bed with exhausted satisfaction as the sky begins to blush.

Is my night writing my best writing? Not necessarily. It often needs a good slap in the face when I re-examine it in daylight. But it is certainly the most imaginative stuff I write. It’s more like play than work. There’s something about breaking the rule of circadian rhythms that encourages rule-breaking in general. At night, my writer wakes up while my self-editor goes to sleep.

I don’t do this every night, of course. This behaviour is episodic. First, I literally have to have the energy to stay up. Second, I have to feel obsessed. Third, I have to have the time to sleep in the next morning. But lately – driven by this crazy 5 Writers deadline, which is rushing at me much, much faster than the pages are accumulating – I’ve been thinking about how to discipline my work habits to be more productive. And I realized that night writing is when I seem to be capable of churning out serious wordage.

The writing nation is filled with stories – apocryphal and literal – of great night writers, literary giants who burned the candle late, and, in our romantic imaginations, burned themselves up at the same time. There’s an iconoclastic appeal to the image of the tortured, driven writer pursuing his craft alone, in the dark, with only the muse looking on. This image works best if one imagines the writer scratching out a manuscript on parchment with a quill pen. Perhaps with a raven tapping on the window and a lone wolf howling in the distance.

Yet, writing at night is more common than one might suppose after reading all the claims of advice-giving writers who promote the first hours after waking as the optimal time for creativity. (These tend to be the same writers who chant the mantra “write-every-day-write-every-day-write-every-day,” preferably to a quota). But a bit of research found a surprising number of references to night writing and the famous authors who indulge(d) in the practice.  First, let’s remember that many authors – successful and aspiring – must pursue their writing in ‘spare time’ not taken up with commitments to working for actual money, raising children, feeding themselves, looking after various matters of hygiene, or engaging in social intercourse. Most of that spare time can only be found late at night.

Then, there’s insomnia and other circadian ‘abnormalities’. Charles Dickens’ 1861 essay, Night Walks begins with a gorgeous premise:

“Some years ago, a temporary inability to sleep, referable to a distressing impression, caused me to walk about the streets all night, for a series of several nights …

In the course of those nights, I finished my education in a fair amateur experience of houselessness. My principal object being to get through the night, the pursuit of it brought me into sympathetic relations with people who have no other object every night in the year.”

I learned – in a wonderful blog on The Guardian website contributed by Matt Shoard (who wrote the post between 4:00 and 5:30 am) – that not only Dickens, but also Robert Frost, Alan Ginsberg, Pablo Neruda, Carol Ann Duffy, James Tipton, Richard Brautigan, James Joyce, Franz Kafka, TS Eliot, JD Salinger and many other luminaries famously wrote at night. I learned “Why You Should Be Writing at Night” from Jonathan Manor, guest blogging on Jeff Goins’ website devoted to writing practice.

And I also learned the secrets of circadian rhythms – what I call the Circadian Cha Cha – in an inexhaustible series of articles by psychologists and chronobiologists who have studied this thing to death. It seems each of us has a natural biological clock – our personal time zone – which is genetic as well as environmental. Scientists like to classify people as ‘Larks’ (morning people) or ‘Owls’ (night people), with many variations between. I took a quick survey to determine which type of bird I am, and came up with the result that I am neither a ‘Lark’, nor an ‘Owl’, but a ‘Hummingbird’: “ready for action both morning and night, in sync with our culture’s demands” (lucky me).

Given that finding the time, and the will, to get words on paper is a perennial obsession of writers – especially those of us on a frightening deadline – it might be worth your while to learn the steps to your own Circadian Cha Cha. Writing is about more than discipline and determination. You have to work with your own rhythms. So figure them out.

Check out this simple test on the Psychology Today website to find out what kind of bird you really are.

Then fly with it!

Famous first lines and apple tarts

Helga’s Post #6 — One week after our return from the Surrey International Writers’ Conference. Information overload on books and writing. How to write the perfect book, how to avoid pitfalls, how to pitch your manuscript to agents, etc. etc. Three days filled with dozens of workshops on those and many more topics, keynote speakers, and sharing stories and laughs among ourselves. Among 700 or so people connected by the passion for the craft of writing. 700 women and men who keep on writing bravely even in the face of formidable odds against seeing our work published; to continue writing endless hours without getting paid, simply because we want to tell a story.

I would like to share some of what I’ve learned at one of the conference sessions.  It is about the perfect formula on starting a novel. Literary agents and editors are deluged with unsolicited manuscripts and submissions, hundreds a week or more, way beyond their capacity to read them all. So they have developed a method to quickly scan and evaluate which ones are worthy of their time. Sadly, most end up in the trash can. So how do I make sure these good folks are sufficiently motivated to read my work?

If you think it’s by writing a perfect first page, or paragraph, you are wrong. Nothing of the sort.

The reality is that my work may be read if I have written the perfect first line or sentence. In case I can pull it off: not only will my manuscript snare the agent’s attention and get the reading it deserves (in my opinion), but it will also entice future readers to get hooked on my story and buy the book. So let’s look at some famous first sentences and judge for yourself if you would be motivated to read on:

“They shoot the white girl first. With the rest they can take their time.” (From ‘Paradise’ by Toni Morrison)

“Ignatius Martin Perrish spent the night drunk doing terrible things.” (From ‘Horns’ by Joe Hill, Stephen King’s son)

“Three men at the McAlester Penitentiary had larger penises than Lamar Pye, but all were black and therefore, by Lamar’s figuring, hardly human at all.” (From ‘Dirty White Boys’ by Stephen Hunter)

These are examples that tell the reader up front that they can expect a fast-paced action thriller. It’s both a promise and a warning for those who are not up to it. For somewhat slower-paced stories, here are a couple of others that are supposedly snagging readers’ attention:

“Once upon a time – for this is how all stories should begin – there was a boy who lost his mother.” (From ‘The Book of Lost Things’ by John Connolly).

“I’ve watched through his eyes, I’ve listened through his ears, and I tell you he’s the one.” (From ‘Ender’s Game’ by Orson Scott)

“The circus arrives without warning.” (From ‘The Night Circus’ by Erin Morgenstern)

What they all have in common is that they intrigue readers. Who can resist a good tease or hint? These first lines are hooks that will keep them turning the pages.

And then the instructor said something that heartened me immensely: chances are, he said, the beginning of your manuscript, the first few chapters, are boring, with too much fluff and non-action stuff, and too little conflict. A good start is always in the middle of an action scene. Forget about back-story, elaborate description of settings, the weather, or – worst of all – someone just waking up or taking a shower. His advice: throw away your first three or four chapters.

Start your book with chapter four or five. Hah!

Why did this hearten me? Because I haven’t written the first three or four chapters in my 5 writers challenge novel. So that means I am actually ahead of the game, because I am supposed to throw them out anyways. Now, if I compare this to Joe’s first 20 pages that he tells us he has written, it means that I am far ahead of him. According to my (female) logic.

Last but not least, a note on how I deal with writers’ block (the subject of another workshop). Lots of advice given. None that work for me. Forget yoga, meditation, long walks in the rain, and so on. When the dark cloud of writers’ block descends upon me, I get up from my chair and head for the kitchen.

And I start doing what I like best after writing – putting together what I hope will be a delicious meal, or some baking. So I made a Normandy apple tart today, with Gravenstein apples from our tree. Big fat chunks of apples arranged on a blind-baked buttery pastry shell and smothered with a custard of eggs, creme fraiche, sugar and copious amounts of Calvados. Baked for an hour while heavenly smells wafted through the house.

My temporary writers’ block was much appreciated by my spouse. Maybe I should write a cookbook instead of a thriller, he suggested.

I wouldn’t go quite that far, rest assured.

Normandy apple tart

Speed blogging

Joe’s Post #6 —

Once again, a quick post.

Pages written: 20

Pages rewritten: 10 (but I finally got the beginning to work!)

Villains created: One great one

Fabulous characters created: 2. Cinnamon and Sprite

Number of characters named after food I love: 2

Notes made to self: 1 (eat before I decide upon character names)

Pieces of pie eaten: None.

Number of characters named after pie: 0

Conference dinners attended: 1

Number of writers I talked to at conference: 20+

Number of women writers I talked to at conference: 18

Number of books sold: 0

Number of times I was told I was amazing and handsome: 0

Feeling after conference: Pretty positive (despite the above statistic.)

Hard to believe that a nerdy, shy, introvert like me could have a good time at the Surrey International Writers’ Conference Dinner but I did.  Ok, I may have had a glass of wine or two but, for the most part, it was great to be with other people who are struggling with all the same issues.

Writing can be a lonely thing to do but it was so very nice to know that I wasn’t alone.

Shoot ’em up

Karalee’s Post #6 — I went to Vegas a week ago to write while my husband David went to a conference. It’s a great place to get distracted but I hunkered down and got work done. The conference ended Wednesday and on Thursday and Friday it rained. It was a torrential downpour. We felt quite at home coming from Vancouver , but that wasn’t what we expected in Vegas.

David shoots great pictures and we enjoyed seeing the sights, but I suggested we do a different kind of shooting. So instead of throwing more money away in slot machines or on gambling tables, we took a pilgrimage to The Discount Firearms and Ammo store that fellow 5Writers member Joe has gone to before. He told me it was great. He was wrong.

It was flipping awesome! We bought two packages that gave us four automatic rifles and two pistols to try. The next two and a half hours were spent with six guns  and a gun geek that knew so much trivia he could have easily been a Jeopardy champion.

I’m competitive (but not in a dysfunctional way in my opinion). Apparently the gun geek that showed us the way had never seen a shooter like me. (On the other hand, he could say that to all his customers.) For some reason, I hit the bulls-eye. Not once, but with nearly every shot blasting the red center. I think he got tired of continuing to say “bulls-eye” so he said, “Why not try for the head?” So I did.

Bang. Dead center.

Not even close to the edge of the black outline. Good eye-hand coordination must run in the family. My brother is a great shot and usually gets his elk during hunting season in Canada.  No matter, I took it as an omen and  relished all the details of this “hands on” research for my mystery thriller that I’m writing for this 5Writers challenge.

Later after the adrenalin had settled, I asked myself, “What does it really take to shoot a bulls-eye?”

All the steps must come together. First, the stance is imperative to absorb the kick back. Stand as though taking a large step, keep your weight forward, and push your shoulder into the butt of the gun (when using a rifle that is). Second, the aim has to be accurate. The gun sights must be lined up with the target with a steady hand, especially when pulling the trigger. It’s best if you can keep your eyes open. Third, ignore the bra strap that digs into your shoulder (for women mainly). Keep going even though you can feel that metal ridge biting your skin. What’s a little bruise compared to controlling a fully automatic rifle that a Canadian would never get the chance to shoot in Canada?

Now, I realize there are some questions you may want to ask:

Q – Why didn’t I just pull down my bra strap? A – Not a chance. It would interfere with my shoulder movement and impede my aim. Never give up the bulls-eye.

Q – Why not take my bra off? A – What? In front of strangers? You’ve got to be kidding!

Q – Why put up with the pain? A – Oh, I complained and joked about it at the time, but it would never stop me competing and succeeding! After all it was fun and I was whipping the ass off my husband.

And that sums up writing.

Don’t let anything distract you, don’t expose what you don’t need to, take the pain because you can see the reward, and strike when you’re hot.

Photos by David J Greer

Transfixed by transmedia

Paula’s Post #6  – If you checked out Silk’s post from yesterday, you’ll already know that the 5writers came away from this year’s Surrey International Writers’ Conference with our collective heads swimming with new ideas.

For me, the highlight of this year’s conference was the emphasis on social media as a necessary tool for writers.

Now I take it as a given that if you are already following this blog, you have more than a passing knowledge of the basics of social media: WordPress, facebook, twitter, Linkedin and perhaps even Pinterest.

Even before the conference I had signed up for all five of these social networking sites, so I was feeling pretty smug. Convinced that I was already social networking savvy. Convinced I was already a ‘modern writer’. A connected writer. A writer ready to take on the world and promote my blogs, my books and myself.

But wait, (as they say in the late night tele-pitches for Ginzou knives and other obscure products) there’s more. Much more. A frightening amount more. Or so we learned from Vancouver’s own social media guru, conference presenter and all around cool guy, Sean Cranbury.

But wait! That’s not all. At this weekend’s conference, we also learned a strange new word:


As Joe would say: “What the heck?”

Here on WordPress, when I type the word “Transmedia” I ended up with those little dotted red lines underneath. The little dotted red line that mean that you have spelled a word wrong, the little dotted red lines that mean that the WordPress dictionary doesn’t recognized a word that you have used. In other words, in the world of WordPress, the word “Transmedia” doesn’t even exist.

But wait, there’s more.

The word “Transmedia” not only exists, it is, apparently, a word that we as storytellers should know. A word that, dare I say, we must know if we are to survive and flourish in the creative community.

The SIWC conference brochure listed the Transmedia course as:

“Transmedia, Audience Engagement and Franchise-Building: The Future of Storytelling”.

I’ve reproduced the blurb for the workshop directly from the SIWC’s description of the course:

Every area of entertainment media is rapidly evolving and there’s never been a better time to be a content creator. No matter what form your creativity takes, the future of storytelling lies in building a unique world and set of characters and then purposing the stories that spring from them across as many platforms as possible. Taught by a guy who’s truly obsessed with this stuff and working with various IP owners to evolve their content along these lines, this class will explore the core principles of transmedia storytelling and world building, techniques for engaging and motivating an “active” audience, as well as the emerging app space and virtual worlds/mark.

Now I was intrigued! Especially since the ‘taught by a guy’ guy was Luke Ryan, a pretty big name in Hollywood: Executive Vice-President of Disruption Entertainment, ex-studio executive at New Line Cinema, Paramount/MTV Films, and MGM. Another pretty cool guy.

By this time, I’d already attended Mr. Ryan’s very thorough and entertaining course on ‘Writing for Television’, so I knew he was a dynamic and generous speaker. During that presentation, my fingers raced across the keyboard of my Mac, trying to keep up with the deluge of information Mr. Ryan provided on this topic. So I was pretty keen to check out his subsequent offering on Transmedia, whatever the heck that might be.

I cannot possibly, in the limited space allotted to my once a week blog post, even begin to tell you all about Transmedia. What I can tell you is that the future of storytelling, whether you are an author, screenwriter, or film-maker, is now about cross-platform promotion of ideas.

Now I can already hear some ‘rustlings’ in this virtual room we share, rustlings that remind me, (ever so politely of course), that cross-platform marketing already exists. That it has done so for ages, since Star Wars anyway, if not before. Why, what about all those little Star Wars figures that McDonald’s included in their ubiquitous ‘happy meals’? What about all those Star Wars Lego sets?

Why, of course you are right. The Star Wars numbers are not insignificant. A recent article on the 24/7 Wall Street blog pegged the value of the Star Wars franchise at 30 billion and growing. That’s ‘Billion’ with a “B”.

So what’s so new about “Transmedia”?

Well, according to Mr. Ryan, the difference is that the Star Wars franchise ’emerged’ after the release of the film, that these ‘post-release’ products merely capitalized on the success of the film.

According to Mr. Ryan, in today’s brave new world, authors and other ‘creators’ of creative content should begin thinking about “Transmedia” at the very outset of their projects. Should be thinking about how their project could be promoted and distributed on a variety of platforms. How their product will capture the attention of an agent or editor or producer in a world where the competition is stiffer than a James Bond shaken, not stirred, martini.

I don’t have all the answers. But right now, I’m transfixed by the topic of Transmedia, and since attending the SIWC conference, I think all the 5writers are beginning to worry a lot about Transmedia.


As if we didn’t have enough to do! Thanks a lot, Luke Ryan!

Citizens of the writing nation

Tribal gathering: SIWC banquet 2012

Silk’s Post #6  My epiphany at the Surrey International Writers’ Conference over the weekend was that I’m now a citizen of three nations: the United States, where I was born; Canada, where I live; and the Writing Nation, where my heart lies.

Writers are a hidden nation, scattered across landscapes and borders, practising our rites of passage in solitary spaces, physical and mental. We seem normal and unremarkable, for the most part, pursuing our invisible craft alone, yet in plain sight of the rest of the world.

There are usually few outward signs that reveal writers’ rich interior lives to the non-writers we live amongst. The evidence of what we’ve been up to attracts attention only rarely, the most remarkable of those occasions being the book launches of the modest percentage of writers who actually publish. It sounds like a lonesome life, doesn’t it? This self-exile from the mainstream, spending days or months or years writing words that may or may not ever be widely shared.

But this writing nation is connected by a remarkable network of intellectual and emotional sinew. We create our own small cells – writing or critique groups like our 5 Writers. We reach out to each other in cyberspace through myriad social media links and online interest groups like the Fiction Writers Guild on LinkedIn. We organize ourselves in national and international associations like the Mystery Writers and Romance Writers groups. We meet and cross-pollinate at retreats put on by the exploding writers’ workshops industry. And we come together for the ritual of writers’ conferences, where the various writers’ tribes – mystery, thriller, romance, sci-fi, fantasy and the like – convene to learn, pitch, connect and celebrate the writing life.

Tribal icon: our group mascot “Sweetie”

It was my seventh year attending the SIWC, but the first year I could say I’ve actually written a book. Written the words “The End”. The first year I’ve had a book in rewrite instead of unfinished. The first year I didn’t mentally cringe when someone asked me what I’ve written.

Okay, the first few years I was just flirting with being a writer of fiction. I was still running a very demanding business where I was writing advertising, websites, promotional materials, strategies, proposals and other non-fiction all day long. Until about three years ago, my relationship with writing fiction was all just foreplay.

Then in the spring of 2010, I was invited to join the critique group now known as 5 Writers. Now I was having a serious affair with the writing life. Like most affairs, it was a transporting experience, punctuated by thrilling spikes of elation, gut-wrenching fears, and immobilizing self-doubts. Two years later, my patient and persistent writing friends had pushed, prodded, cajoled, cheered and pummelled me towards a completed first draft of my first book.

That sealed the deal for me. I took my vows and married into the vast family of writers for better or worse, in sickness and in health, for richer for poorer. I joined the writing nation. I’m a full citizen, not a visitor anymore.

And now you’ll never get rid of me.

Tribal ritual: 5 Writers catch some lounge time at SIWC

Back home to the Surrey briar patch

5 writers members at SIWC 2010 with James Scott Bell and Carolyn Swayze

This weekend, the 5 writers join the hundreds of other aspiring writers – and the generous agents, editors, publishers and bestselling authors who support us – at our favourite annual literary get-together: the Surrey International Writers’ Conference.

Why do we love Surrey? Well, like B’rer Rabbit and the briar patch, we were born and bred here, so our brave critique group members know no fear at SIWC. Not at our blue pencils. Not at our pitches. Not even at SIWC Idol. It’s all part of the learning curve – and besides there’s a very nice bar where we can always drown our sorrows when necessary.

Three of us at SIWC 2009 with writing buddy Jo Cooper

Here at the event that’s been called “the best writers’ conference in North America” by presenters and participants alike, we get to take master classes with the best of the best, like authors Jack Whyte, Hallie Ephron, Michael Slade and Robert Sawyer. We get to pitch top agents like Don Maass, Nephele Tempest, Jill Marr and Dean Cooke. We get to learn from great editors, film industry professionals, social media experts and writers in all genres (far too many to mention here, but it’s a weekend full of awesome talent).

So how did our writing group start? A few years ago, our group’s founder (and now famous bestselling author!), Sean Slater, decided to cherry-pick some likely co-conspirators from among the local writers he met at SIWC to form a critique group. Since that time, there have been a few changes in membership, including Sean’s “graduation” to the big leagues, but the spirit of mutual support is still alive and well.

Sean’s first published crime novel in his Jacob Striker series was The Survivor (2011, Simon & Schuster), which was nominated for the Arthur Ellis Award for Best First Novel. It was translated into multiple languages and has sold like hotcakes in Canada, Great Britain and Europe. His first success was quickly followed by a second Jacob Striker outing, Snakes & Ladders, and Sean now awaits the publication of book number three. Oh, and did we mention that Sean is also a police officer who managed to establish himself front-and-centre on the bookshelves of several countries while holding down one of the world’s toughest jobs?

Sean, you’re our hero.

And fortunately for our group of 5 writers (the ones who have not yet been published), Sean still acts as our informal advisor, provides inspiration, and came up with the kick-ass idea of having us all write brand new novels to a deadline – triggering this 5 Writers 5 Novels 5 Months madness.

Gee, thanks, Sean. We think.

Seriously, though, Sean was right. After a couple of years critiquing each others’ works-in-progress in 30-page monthly increments (and producing several completed first draft novels along the way), the 5 writers needed a shake-up. We all love to write, but we’ll love getting published even better. This game is not for the passive. We needed to kick it up a notch … demand more of ourselves … re-kindle that fire in the belly that makes you uncomfortable, keeps you up at night, pushes you to do more than you ever thought you could. Yessirree. The 5 writers challenge is all that and more.

Paula and Joe with our muse at SIWC 2010

The question is: will we survive it?

(Note that Sean is a very generous guy, and readily shares his experiences with aspiring writers. Visit his website,, not only for the latest on his novels and his soaring career, but also for advice on getting published and other writing challenges.)

But back to SIWC. For those of you who might be reading this blog while attending the conference, we’d love to hear from you. Tap us on the shoulder if you see one of us. Leave a comment on our blog and tell us what you think. And by all means follow us as we slog and blog our way forward to “The End” by our self-imposed deadline of February 5, 2013.

Karalee, Helga, Silk and Paula at SIWC 2010 Idol

And even though the 5 writers are, at this moment, still unpublished wannabes – like many other SIWC attendees – we offer our own advice from our writing group experience. Look around you. Are you seeing some of the same faces at all the workshops you attend? Introduce yourself. You may be talking to a fellow writer who can become a friend, an inspiration, maybe even a member of your future critique group. Having the support of a like-minded, and demanding, group really does help spark the courage needed to take on both creative risks and crazy commitments.

We hope all who attend SIWC 2012 really do take away the courage, inspiration and commitment needed to be a better writer. A published writer. We want to sincerely thank all the organizers, the volunteers, and the mentors who share their knowledge and time with us at this wonderful conference.

Write on!

The facts of life

Ok, Detective Joe Friday here.  Just the facts, ma’am, just the facts.

Sunday: Sent off novel to Harper-Collins.  Excited.  Exhausted.  580 pages reworked.  150 pages deleted.  30 odd new scenes written.   Old book, though.  Pages don’t count.

Monday:  Did math in head.  Can still get a book done by Feb.  Finished world map.  Bought big sheets of paper for brainstorming.  Had pie.  Liked pie.  Had more pie.

Tuesday: Brainstormed my brains out.  Used Don Maass’ book. Writing the Breakout Novel Workbook.  Used mindmapping.  Ate more pie.   Ate aspirin.  Took dog for a walk and talked to myself.  “Oh, a tree, she has to arrive atop a tree!”  Thought about plot.  Thought about character.  Bought sticky notes.

Wednesday:  Sticky notes not sticking to wall.  Hmm.  Cleaned off desk.  Wrote scene notes on stickies.  Ate pie.  Looked at writing doomsday clock.  Curled into fetal position.  Wished I had more pie.  Sticky notes piling up, spreading out.  Found sticky note on crotch.  Not sure why I put that there.

Thursday:  Outline of outline will be finished.  Friday – writing begins.

Page count 0.