YA Retellings: an Epic Infographic

I don’t have a working computer at the moment so here is a post I really thought was great!

Novel Conclusions

For generations, storytellers, bards, and troubadours — ancient and modern — have been putting new spins on old tales.  One of the oldest collections of stories, the Bible itself, even mentions this in Ecclesiastes 1:9:

That which has been done is what will be,
That which is done is what will be done,
And there is nothing new under the sun.

Epic Reads recently put together a gorgeous infographic specifically focusing on these retellings in YA — 162 of them, in fact.  It could even be argued by some that a few of these original stories, like Romeo and Juliet, were based on earlier stories.  You’ll find the infographic below, and a complete list of the retellings can be found here.

I remember loving Robin McKinley’s Beauty as a kid and thoroughly enjoying Gail Carson Levine’s Ella Enchanted some years later when I stumbled across it as…

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Surprises heighten emotions

Karalee’s Post #67

My 5Writer friends have been discussing the need to have and the difficulty of creating surprises, conflicts, and suspense in their writing. Even the joy of reading for reading sake seems like a lost pleasure in today’s generation, taken over by social media, video games, movies and TV.

So is all the time and effort worth it to keep writing stories that we fear the new generation has no interest in reading anyway?

Well I must confess that I have spent most of my reading hours in the last couple of months viewing Downton Abbey (now into its fourth season) and House of Cards (in its second season). Before now I hadn’t watched either and I wanted to understand what my friends were talking about.

Beyond a doubt I’m enjoying both series, and although the plot-lines are very different I keep watching them for the same reasons: the characters and the element of surprise and suspense.

downton abbeyI find that Downton Abbey is more predictable in its plot-line, but I’m still entertained due to the  the awesome setting in the abbey as well as the characters and their interactions and changes.



house of cardsAs for House of Cards, the element of surprise has me intrigued. The protagonist Francis Underwood (an antihero) is devious and malicious yet shows that he cares for his wife enough that he isn’t totally unlikable (although he is becoming more unlikable as the series continues). By the time Francis murdered Peter Russo, a Democrat running for Governor of Pennsylvania, I was expecting it, but when Francis pushed the reporter Zoe Barnes in front of an oncoming commuter train, I was completely blown away.

At first I couldn’t believe it. Why would the scriptwriters kill the person that I related to the most in the series? I LIKED Zoe. She had balls to stand up to Francis (now VP of the Unites States) and I was rooting for her to take him down!

To dissect this turn-of-events, it isn’t the fact that Francis murdered Zoe that bothered me, it’s the fact that Zoe is dead. Out of the series. Gone. Kaput.

zoe in house of cardsNow what? I was depending on Zoe to do great things in the series. She was bright, cute and gutsy. How could the scriptwriters get rid of her?

I found my feelings of disbelief, disappointment- and yes- anger, quite intriguing. Then, before watching the next episode I put my writer’s hat back on and asked myself: What has killing Zoe achieved?

  • total surprise, which caused my above emotional responses.
  • curiosity. Now what? Someone has to take Zoe’s place and go after the antihero Francis Underwood. Francis can’t literally get away with murder and ultimately become the president of the US!
  • Zoe’s replacement will also be in danger, so suspense is still high and I want to keep watching to see what happens.

Now with Zoe being literally killed off, it made me think about the characters I’m developing in my next story. I had NEVER thought about getting rid of one of my main characters that I’m literally telling my story through. It’s like killing the detective in a mystery.

But why not? It is absolutely a way to bring a new main character on stage to keep the story going. It may not be what I choose to do, but on the other hand it has opened my eyes to seeing other possibilities.

And it’s these other possibilities that not only keep writers writing, it also pulls in readers (or even starts people reading) and gets producers excited about turning our books into movies.

No, I don’t believe that readers are a dying breed, but they do expect a good story with unexpected twists and turns in order to devote their time to reading the book or even watching it in movie form.

Have surprises you’ve experienced through someone else’s storytelling enriched your own writing? 

A clear and present danger


Paula’s Post #65 — We live in the digital age. A time of ever-increasing distractions. Our iPhones, our iPads, our Fuel Bands and Fitbits, our 1000+ digital cable channels, our Netflix and Twitter and Linkedin accounts… all contribute to a world where the hours of the day are subjected to being sliced and diced like a French chef’s mirepoix, until there is nothing left but a few stray minutes here, an hour or so there.

I don’t know about you, but I can’t shake the vague sense of feeling ‘robbed’ by all these distracting influences.

I know, I know,  I can hear you all now: “It’s your own fault if you can’t turn off your phone for an hour or two – if you can’t push yourself off the couch and pick up a book instead of sitting rooted, like a gnarled old oak, transfixed by the Olympic’s Women’s Parallel Slalom Snowboarding event or the latest episode of Downton Abbey.  

We all make choices, this is true, but there is no disputing the radical changes the digital age has brought to our everyday lives.

Just 10 years ago, I actually visited libraries on a weekly basis. Visited bookstores too, almost as often, checking out with armloads of heavy books from my favourite authors. I recall vowing to purchase Sue Grafton’s alphabet offerings, in order, all the way to Z is for… but alas, faltered somewhere around P is for Peril.

P is for Peril

I was amongst the first to cheer the introduction of the eReader, the device that heralded the dawn of a new age, a utopian future where we could travel through Europe without fear of running out of books to read, or of being charged excess baggage fees when the 17 travel guides we’d squirreled away in our luggage resulted in our suitcases topping out the scales at somewhere north of 50 pounds.

Up until the last decade, for better or worse, actual physical ‘books’ were an omnipresent part of our everyday lives.

Now, with rare exceptions, most of my books are downloaded to my iPad. I still like to buy real hard copies of the reference books that I used in my business and  I think I will always want to buy hard copies of ‘writing’ books, for these I like to index with little stickies and dog ear the pages to mark passages that resonate with a particular sage piece of advice. But now, my purchase of ‘real’ books, as far as fiction is concerned, is more often than not confined to purchasing that special first edition of a favourite author’s book, or better yet, the hot off the presses launch of a writing colleagues debut novel.

To me, this is disturbing.

How could so much have changed in so short a time?

Not everyone is like me. I’m sure many of you are still acquiring books, whether from a genuine preference for the touch and feel and smell of ‘real books’ or from an altruistic need to ‘save’ a dying art form.

When I packed up my house to move last summer, I could have built eight foot walls from the shelves full of books we’d accumulated over the years. Some purchased, some inherited, but either way far too many to move yet again.

In case you think otherwise, there isn’t a huge market for used books – they’re difficult to even give away. But my 5writer colleague Joe was quick to step in, offering to ‘shelter’ several fine books in his collection.

Indeed, I’ve started to think maybe we need to develop ‘book rescue’ organizations, something akin to ‘pet rescue’. Noble undertakings where you offer to provide a home, temporary or otherwise, to save old books from being euthanized at the dump.

But think about it for a minute. Even if you do rescue these books, how many of these books are you actually going to read? Are we ‘book readers’ the last of a dying breed?

What about young people? Are the majority actually reading actual books these days? I know the Hunger Games trilogy and the Divergent series have captivated a certain segment of teen and young adult readers, in much the same way as J.K. Rowlings’ Harry Potter series managed a decade before with somewhat younger readers, but is this an isolated trend?

My sister-in-law Eleanor is visiting this week; a retired high school teacher, she is a life-long reader who still works with young people, tutoring ESL students. Eleanor is a true reader, having read every day of her life, from the time she learned to read. She even admits to feeling upset if she doesn’t read a little bit everyday, if only for ten minutes, before she falls asleep.

But Eleanor readily agrees that she finds it disturbing when she has to almost ‘force’ some of her young adult students to read books, even for pleasure.

I’m beginning to wonder if we may have done our children a disservice, herding them into English class and forcing them to dissect books like specimens in a biology lab. Dictating that a novel must be ripped to shreds until there is nothing left to love. Lost is pacing, plot and most egregious of all, the suspension of disbelief. Who wouldn’t rather play video games?

Perhaps what we need is a revolution in reading. Since it debuted in 1996, Oprah’s Book Club has helped to keep reading fun, social and interactive. She’s even got lists to help introduce kids to the joy of reading.

Yet even here, some have criticized the pop culture, mass appeal of the books Oprah has championed over the years: Scott Stossel, an editor at The Atlantic, wrote:

“There is something so relentlessly therapeutic, so consciously self-improving about the book club that it seems antithetical to discussions of serious literature. Literature should disturb the mind and derange the senses; it can be palliative, but it is not meant to be the easy, soothing one that Oprah would make it.”[1]

Seriously? What a snob!

I don’t know about you, but I want to fall in love with books again. Yesterday, a beautiful 80 degree blue sky day in the California desert, I launched my floatie raft and drifted about my pool. Within minutes though, I was antsy. I knew something was wrong. I didn’t have a book I could take into the pool. Two sat on my bedside table: The Spellman Files, a hardcopy, first edition mystery by Edgar nominated author Lisa Lutz bearing a personal inscription to the friend in my Bocce league who’d lent me this delightful debut novel.

No, no, no, no – definitely not taking that one in the pool.

Ditto for the second book on my night table, The Bookman’s Tale by Charlie Lovett, another hard copy first edition debut novel that is winning rave reviews. This book a Christmas present from my cousin Mark.

Not pool fodder, no, no, no.

I finally settled on launching with NumbersRachel Ward’s debut YA psycho thriller about a disaffected teen with an unusual affliction, the ability to see ‘numbers’ attached to people, the numbers the dates of each person’s death. I’d purchased the book when researching the genre for my own 5writers YA novel, but never did more than read a few of the early chapters.

Yesterday, floating on my raft under an azure sky, I lost myself in this little paperback book, if only for an hour or so before yet another social engagement. But that hour was enough to rediscover the joy of reading. I didn’t pick it up at the end of the day, when I was exhausted and destined to fall asleep in a mere 10 minutes or so. No, for once I found the time to read in the middle of the day, my iPhone and iPad safely ashore, I floated adrift and unplugged from the normal distractions of everyday life.

I can’t say it is the best book I’ve ever read, but that is not the point. Yesterday, I cherished the simple pleasure of reading just for fun.

The Atlantic’s Mr. Stossel would no doubt cringe at my choice of reading material, decrying the author’s thin characterizations, familiar themes and simple prose.

Who cares!

If we do not rediscover the joy of reading for pleasure, I fear there is a clear and present danger lying just ahead.

I fear we will have no one to write for.

For you followers of our 5writers blog, I suspect I’m preaching to the converted. If you’re following a blog about writing, your either a reader, a writer, or both. Most likely your spouses and kids are too.

But what about the rest of the people in your little world? Do you know a boy or girl who never reads? A young adult who has yet to discover ‘the joy of reading’? A spouse who may have slipped from grace, distracted by the easy ability to watch six episodes of Breaking Bad in a single evening instead of picking up a book? Even amongst yourselves, are you finding you have too many books you are ‘supposed’ to read, with little time to just read for fun?

If so, I’m suggesting a small experiment. Pick up a book you’d never otherwise read. Read it for fun as quickly as possible. Try not to analyze it. Try just to enjoy it.

When you are done. Give it to someone else.

Bonus points for anyone who can coax a young person, under thirty, into reading a book, just for fun.

Paula’s Post #65.5 — A quick update: Alas, I did not quite manage to get this post posted by Tuesday, midnight, the deadline for my once a week blog offering. As in ‘if this is Tuesday, it must be Paula’s 5writer blog day’.

As we 5writers all know only to well, the road to you-know-where is paved with good intentions. I’d smugly written this post Monday morning, leaving it to add only the insertion of a number of links to author pages, etc. I figured I had plenty of time to do that Tuesday morning before my flight from California to Canada.

I figured wrong.

Remember, suspense in fiction is created by unexpected events. Events like the misplacement of keys before an international flight. The only set of keys that would let us into our rented postage stamp apartment in Vancouver. The keys we were sure we’d taken down to California, but were no where to be found, despite a massive key hunt. The keys that made us an hour late for our flight (good thing the flight was an hour late too).

But as Will Shakespeare famously wrote: ‘Alls Well that Ends Well’: a good friend picked us up to the airport in Vancouver, stayed with us all afternoon and hung out at Starbucks with us until we managed to track down our property manager and an extra key to our apartment. Our kind friend then joined us for dinner and drove us both to dinner and home, after we realized we still didn’t have a working ‘fob’ that would get us into our locked garage where our car is parked.

The fob is coming at 9 am this morning and we’ll be back in action, even if it looks like I’ll end up with a late start for my journey up the coast to check on our renovations. No bumpy journey is without a silver lining. For me, that was being reminded of the true value of a good friend.

Thanks, Colleen!


Snow job


Silk’s Post #74 — It’s dim in the house, the light coming exclusively from the windows. Grey light, a muted reflection of the cloud ceiling off the mounding snow. One dancing orange light in the room: the fire in the woodstove. Sound effects: snow bombs sliding from the bowed limbs of our forest, hitting the roof and deck in thuds with a floury explosion.

This is the best I can do by way of a post this week. We’ve been without power for a day and my iPad is down to 15 percent. I’m racing the clock, knowing I’ll be powerless at least until tomorrow.

Our wet coast late February surprise has intervened in normal life. (I’m down to 14 percent power now). Thwarted all my plans and put me even further behind than I already was. Left me unable to answer demands, with a kind of enforced free time on my hands.

What have I been doing with this gift? Writing long hand. Writing character sketches, scene ideas, story structure notes. With a pen. In a notebook.

Wow. What a concept. Thanks, Mother Nature!

(Down to 10 percent power).

The Secret of being a bore…

Square Peg in a Round HoleHelga’s Post #72: … is to tell everything (Voltaire)

Joe’s previous post, ‘Surprise, Surprise’ opened up a vast opportunity for discussion of planning a novel. Why? Because so much of a book’s ultimate success hinges on this one part of a story. After all, who doesn’t like a story that’s unpredictable? But, as Joe said, it’s not easy.

In my own writing, I never know during the planning stage how I will surprise my readers. If I would know myself there’s the danger that my readers will smell a rat and can figure it out well before they get to the dreaded, sagging middle. Ultimately, I want to surprise myself, and I often do when I have to research a certain element in my story. Suddenly information emerges that totally catches me off guard, and this forces me to change my plot. Often it leads to unexpected opportunities that make my story more quirky, more unique. I think that’s the main reason why I keep resisting the outlining process. I realize that mine is a flawed process, but getting an organic writer to do a scene by scene and chapter by chapter outline before writing the first sentence is like… well, you know the cliché of the square peg.

I would like to chat about another important element of a good story, related, yet different to surprise, namely Suspense. I know this has been over-discussed and over-worked, but I always find it fascinating to explore new angles.

First off, what elements create suspense in a story?

Two things have to happen: Conflict and tension (no, they are not the same as suspense). Interaction of juxtaposing opinions is conflict; interaction of conflict and players creates tension. Add a time element to tension and voila, we have created suspense.

Suspense is not created equal. It comes in a myriad of forms. Readers who love police procedurals will be thrilled with a nail-biting denouement of a shootout or last-moment capture of a villain before he blows up a school. Romance readers will get their pound of flesh (cliché intended), when their heroine faces the biggest betrayal of her life – the man she sacrificed everything for has impregnated her younger sister and she has to decide on how to take revenge, or, escalating the suspense, find ways to forgive. Perhaps a mother has to choose between saving her small child on the railroad tracks or cause the train with two hundred passengers to derail. Or something.

Suspense can also be much more subtle, yet no less intriguing. In literary novels it can take on psychological or emotional suspense, like the protagonist’s spouse slowly descending into mental illness, or her closest friend revealing a personality trait that devastates her and she may never recover from the loss of loyalty. Just as antipathy, dissimilarity of views, hate, contempt, all can accompany true love, according to Canadian media guru Marshall McLuhan. That too is suspense in the hands of a skilled writer.
Either way, suspense, will keep your readers’ noses in your book and have them line up at Chapters on the first morning your sequel is up for sale. I was surprised therefore when a friend and one of my beta readers of Taste of the Past (culinary mystery co-written with Paula) said there was too much conflict in the book. “These people are always fighting”, was her feedback. “It spoiled all that delicious food and the sunsets and beautiful Tuscan landscape.”

Did she have a point? At first reflection I dismissed her feedback as coming from a reader who does not appreciate the value and necessity of suspense and conflict. After all, ‘Cut quarrels out of literature, and you will have very little history or drama or fiction or epic poetry left’, said American sociologist Robert S. Lynd some decades ago.

Upon further reflection, maybe my beta-reading friend was right – or partially so. Perhaps we missed some subtle nuances. We wrote that book eight years ago, my first serious effort at writing a full novel. ‘Conflict in every scene’ was the credo we’d been taught and that’s the one Paula and I wrote by. Could it be that the conflict my friend referred to was too obvious, too in-your-face? Maybe the stakes weren’t clear enough or high enough and we might have over-compensated with too much outward and petty fighting. I hope we find the time to do a serious edit of our manuscript. After having the benefit of eight years of learning and practicing writing with our capable critique group, who knows what good will come of it.

But I am sure of this: I am loath to bore my readers. I’d rather start knitting socks. As Jean Baudrillard reminds us, the world’s second worst crime is boredom. The first is being a bore.


Surprise, surprise

Joe’s Post #84

One of the hardest things to do as a writer of suspense fiction, is…

Wait for it…

movies-20-shocking-twists-gallery-2A surprise.

Or, more specifically, that lovely plot twist that’s essential to a good mystery/thriller. Like the ending of “The Usual Suspects”.

Why is it so hard?

Cuz it’s hard to surprise yourself. Not impossible, though, I mean I surprise myself all the time. I managed to remember where my keys were once. That was a shocker. I didn’t scream like a girl while zip lining (despite any stories Corinne may tell). That’s a huge surprise. And one time, kinda drunk, I even danced on a table which, I’m pretty sure, surprised everyone.

But writing a story surprise is way harder than all of that. It’s because you know exactly what you’re doing. It doesn’t often come as a shock that the one armed man did it because when you thought of the idea, you thought, hey, that one armed guy did it and now I have to hide it so my audience is surprised.

But how do you know?

How do you know if that plot twist has worked?

eric robertsCSI-like shows rarely surprise me anymore. It’s always someone we’ve met (an essential element to any surprise), it’s usually some semi-famous actor (or Eric Roberts – if he’s in it, he did it). And even if they always do their best to hide whodunit, it’s pretty formulaic.

So, now I tend to watch those shows to see how they do it.

So how?

1. By red herrings, for one. That’s where you make the audience think it’s Eric Roberts’ twin where it really was, well, his twin. The other twin. It’s a false clue, a person with a motive to kill the victim or a misinterpretation of evidence.

2. The red herring must distract the main character. Not like, oh look, it’s a topless girl, no, something like ALL the clues point to the boyfriend when it was actually the cat or something.

3. The big twist has to be set up in the beginning and, if necessary, reinforced throughout the story. Remember The Sixth Sense. The surprise at the end was epic, but it was carefully crafted from the very beginning (the hero just misinterpreted all that he was seeing).

4. The audience can know what’s going on, who the bad guy might be, but it’s essential that if the hero doesn’t know, it’s for a very good reason. The detective should never be stupid.

Year-7-Plot-Twist-Story_35. It’s important to make something unexpected happen. The picture to the left is a good example of this.

Oh, there are a lot more things to consider, but what I want to get across is how hard it is for the author to know if cool plot twist will be a surprise, or will it be seen a mile away?  Will it come out of nowhere and people say, that was stupid, I’m gonna kill your dog for that?

So that’s what I worked on this week. I tried to add surprises to my story. A lot of what-ifs followed by how do I introduce that, combined with “is that even plausible?” with a lot of “where the hell do I even put that plot twist?”

In the end, the only way I’ll know for sure is when the reader has at it.

Any suggestions?


Number of Birthdays I Had: 1

Number of Blogs Written: 2

Number of pages written on new novel: 0

Number of Queries Sent Out: 0

Number of Outline Pages Rumpled Up and Thrown on the Floor: 23

Number of Sting/Paul Simon Concerts Seen: 1 (an amazing birthday gift from the prettiest girl on the planet.)

Symbols in writing

Karalee’s Post #66

My husband organized a weekend away to celebrate Valentine’s Day, a ‘staycation’ in our own city of Vancouver, Canada. It’s unusual for us to celebrate this occasion as we’ve considered it mainly as an avenue for the card, flower and chocolate companies to cash in on commercialized symbols of love. 

But, as Paula has shown us through many examples of older writers coming into their own, it is never too late and one is never too old.

And I can bet one never tires of being appreciated and shown how much they are loved. Of course, it doesn’t have to be on Valentine’s Day, but who cares if it is?

I believe it is human nature for us to make generalizations according to our culture and experiences (whether right or wrong), and it is this tendency that certain ‘things’ come to symbolize other ‘things,’ such as a heart = love; flowers = love/caring; a car = travel/status/freedom; house = love/family/security; and many personal things can have personal meanings.

Often the media and marketing by companies add hype to these symbols to cash in on them in the form of gifts to celebrate occasions such as birthdays, special religious or historical events, Valentine’s Day, and on and on.

But let’s not forget that writers use symbols too. Just as a picture says a thousand words, an action by one of our characters doing something to someone/something can convey emotions or give information that otherwise takes hundreds of words to describe by ‘long-hand.’  For example:

  • a man giving his lover a bouquet of red roses as she runs to catch a plane to her new job in a new country
  • a beggar giving food to a starving dog
  • an pianist caressing a lucky necklace before her debut concert
  • a man clenching his fist at neighbours who are keeping him awake while they party
  • a man clenching his fist in excitement in a crowd that is screaming at the win of an Olympic medal

When you consider the above actions, not only do they convey emotions, they also reveal something about the character of the person doing the action. This is a powerful way to show who a character is. Conversely, if a reader expects a character to react a certain way to a situation and she doesn’t, this also reveals who the character is and/or gives information about the situation.

For instance in the example above, the man bringing roses for his lover is showing that he has strong feelings for her, and the reader would expect the woman to receive them with gratitude. But, if she throws them down and stomps on them, the reader is shown in very few words that the relationship isn’t so warm and cozy.

Using symbols  to convey emotions and characterization, whether they are cultural or unique to your character, can add depth to your writing and is another tool to keep in mind during the writing process.

What symbols do you use in your writing?

Time out


Paula’s Post #64 – According to a recent study announced by scientists at the prestigious Max Planck Institute for Demographic Research in Rostock, Germany, age 72 is now the new 30.

I swear, it is true. I read it in the newspaper.

Seriously, I am not making this up just to assuage my guilt over another week… Gone! Another week without this 5writer committing sufficient authorial anatomical pressure in the form of pen to paper and seat to chair.

According to the renowned Max Planck Institute’s findings, modern medicine has so substantially increased life expectancy in the last 200 years, evolutionarily, today’s 72-year-old is now on par, in terms of mortality, with his (or her) 30-year-old forebears.

Now, to my mind, this is a very good thing. For I fear I may need this small scintilla of hope, shimmering on the horizon, this shining beacon to console me, to assure me that when I finally do find the time to sit down and write, I shall not be ‘too late’.

I do not want to be ‘too late’

Of course, this Tigger is an incurable optimist and that helps. Perhaps part of my attitude comes from now spending winters in the greater Palm Springs area. You try spending a couple of weeks in the desert and you too will soon become convinced that a fountain of youth must burble forth from the dry, parched California landscape, populating my little town of La Quinta with lively, vibrant, active, creative seniors.

Octogenarian rollarbladers whiz by on the street, waving but not stopping. Septuagenarian cyclists, resplendent in rainbow-hued spandex, lounge in cafe chairs, sipping decaf lattes, resting their quadriceps and their $2000 bicycles for the return leg of their 40 mile morning jaunt. When you think about it, it takes a fair dash of optimism to drop a couple of grand on a bicycle at the age of 70 or 80, but these guys aren’t worried, they feel time is on their side.

One thing I love about living in the desert is how comparatively young it can make you feel.

Case in point: this past Saturday morning, while enjoying a lazy start to the day and our second cups of coffee, the phone rang: Tyler at the pro shop, calling to remind my dear husband he’d signed up for a senior men’s golf event affectionately known as ‘The Old Geezer‘ tournament.

They were teeing off in five minutes.

Well, perhaps not surprisingly, my ‘Old Geezer’ had forgotten he’d even signed up for this event. But he made it, dashing out the door still buckling his belt, shoelaces untied, hat askew.

Eligibility for this esteemed event?

Players must be 65 years of age by the day of the tournament – 75 if playing in the ‘super senior’ category. In case you’re wondering, my lovely husband barely made the cut, but not so his playing partner, a spry 86 year old who sent my husband home with a spring in his step and the realization life wasn’t over, not just yet. He still has a few years left to perfect his golf game. Or his tennis game. Or even to start a new career or even, dare say, to write the great American or Canadian novel. When you’re 66 and swapping stories with guys old enough to be your Dad, you can start feeling pretty youthful.

In yesterday’s post, my 5writer colleague Silk compared writing to that most gruelling of Winter Olympic sports, Skiathalon, a marathon requiring stamina and fortitude. As Silk pointed out, writing (and getting published) requires similar determination.

Sure, we’ve all heard tales of young phenom authors landing six figure book deals. Just look at self-publishing sensation Amanda Hocking, recently profiled in the New York Times:

By the time she was 17, Hocking had completed her first novel, “Dreams I Can’t Remember,” which she sent to every agent she could find through Google and “Writer’s Market.” All of them — “about 50,” she said — rejected her, mostly with form letters. Today she doesn’t think the agents made a mistake, and blames her query letter as much as the work itself. “I was whiny and depressed and thought life was going to be handed to me.”

But as the profile in The Times shows, Hocking didn’t give up, she persevered.

She started treating writing like a job, perusing bookshelves and studying the industry to see what exactly was getting published. Romance, a given. But Hocking, a fantasy reader, added trolls to the mix, mostly because no one else was doing it.

Yes, trolls.

Still, she got rejected. Finally, she turned to self-publishing, selling at the outset what seemed at the time an amazing five books a day. Five people who wanted to buy her book, every single day.

Yet soon, that number topped 9000.

A day! Every single day.

That’s when St. Martin’s Press came calling, offering the 26-year-old 2 million dollars for her next four books.


But my point is you don’t have to be 26, like Hocking, to become a successful first time author. Writing is both for the young, and for the very young at heart.

So, without further ado, my not really in any order, ‘List of the Day’:

Raymond Chandler, The Big Sleep, 51

His first novel was published when Chandler was 51, after years of apprenticeship writing for pulp magazines. (Oh, and if you’re interested, you can check out BaumanRareBooks.com  where a first edition, still in it’s original dust jacket, is offered for a cool $19,000 (which I suspect may have been more than the advance offered to Chandler).

Annie Proulx, Postcards, 57

A journalist who penned short stories in her early career, Proulx’s first novel Postcards, was published when she was 57. She followed it, a year later, with her Pulitzer Prize winning sophomore effort, The Shipping News.

Laura Ingalls Wilder, LIttle House in the BIg Woods, 64

The first in the wildly popular Little House on the Prairies series arose like the phoenix from the ashes when the stock market crash of 1929 wiped out the Wilder family assets. In 1930, Wilder asked her daughter’s opinion about an autobiographical manuscript she had written about her pioneering childhood, at the time bearing the not quite so catchy title “When Grandma was a LIttle Girl’, wondering if she might be able to sell her little story and make some money to support the family. Sales of her books since first published in 1932? 60 million copies, worldwide.

Think those are isolated instances? How about:

Anna Sewell, Black Beauty, 57

Karen Blixen as Isak Dinesen, Out of Africa, 50

Richard Adams, Watership Down, 52

Frank McCourt, Angela’s Ashes, 66

And my personal favourite?

Lorna Page, A Dangerous Weakness, 93

In a 2008 piece, the UK Telegraph highlighted the decision of then 93-year-old author Lorna Page to use the proceeds from the sale of her debut thriller, A Dangerous Weakness to assist her friends by buying a five bedroom house for £310,000 after securing a significant advance for her thriller. According to the Telegraph, the independent nonagenarian widow said she simply wanted to help her friends enjoy the last few years of their lives in a sociable environment. Sort of like a ‘Golden Girls’ house for elderly writers and other creative types.

You know how much I love that idea.

So, look back at these ages. Think about when success may strike and remember dear 5writer colleagues: 72 is indeed the new 30.

It is okay to take a ‘time out’, even for extended periods of time. We are, as Silk so aptly pointed out, engaged in an endurance race. As far as I am concerned, that race need not go just to the swift.

My schedule for this week:

Sunday – (day before yesterday) I showed 2 homes to clients – followed by 18 holes of golf with clients. Ate chips and drank beer and forgot to eat dinner. Fell asleep over iPad. Missed Downton Abbey.

Monday – (yesterday) showed 5 homes to clients, followed by 1.5 hours of tennis practice chasing down lobs, followed by a quick trip out to preview another new community, before scurrying through something like 11 model homes, followed by dinner with my house guests, followed by drafting this blog post (mostly) without falling asleep.

Tuesday (today) – 1:02:46 am – push ‘publish’ on blog post. Then I’ve a rare ‘free’ morning scheduled, time to fulfill my other roles of general contractor, travel agent, IT specialist, and dog wrangler, followed by another 18 holes of golf with clients while said clients try out the second golf course here in La Quinta, followed by drinks with said clients,  inevitably followed by short, whispered Unitarianish prayers beseeching said clients to actually buy a house instead of just looking at houses. If I’m lucky, in the evening I may even get to watch Downton Abbey and catch up on all the pre-recorded episodes I’ve missed.

Wednesday – I’ll once again be seeking ‘The Thrill of Victory’ pounding out volleys and lobs with the ‘Over 55’ Ladies 3.0  Senior Tennis Team. Followed by dinner with the house guests. Followed by icing my Achilles tendons, tennis elbow and wrists, before reading night.

Thursday – Writing Day (I hope) followed by dinner with friends

Friday – Writing Day (I hope) followed by a special birthday dinner for my husband’s sister and her friends.

Saturday – Housework (or so my long-suffering husband hopes).

Of course, my schedule most certainly will be turned on its head before the week is out. If I’m lucky, more clients may start unexpectedly falling from the sky, just like the subjects of the Weather Girls hit single: “It’s Raining Men”.

Only for me, my dream is that “It’s Raining Buyers”.

In the end, I don’t really mind if I stick to my schedule or not. I’m meeting so many interesting characters, I could fill the pages of a hundred scribbler notebooks. And I’m pretty sure that one day, I’ll look back on this time and vividly recall what pain, tenacity, hope, fear, greed, pride, vanity, humility and embarrassment feel like, because I’ll have experienced all those emotions in a single week.

Nay, a single hour – and that’s just on the tennis court.

Until then, I’m just going to remember I’ve got time on my side.

I just hope my fabulous 5writer colleagues hold similar sentiments. Because I don’t want any of us to stop writing, even if we’re not yet published by the ripe young age of 93.

Skiathlon for writers


Silk’s Post #73 – In the spirit of Sochi, I bring you the inevitable post comparing writing to Olympic sports. How can you be surprised?

Getting sucked in to this spectacle of triumph and heartbreak every two years is virtually unavoidable – or it is for me, especially with the winter games. If you love drama, if you’re fascinated by amazing characters, if you thrive on story arcs that soar like the trajectories of those insane ski jumpers, then you just have to watch. And, if you have a blog post to write in the middle of it all, your topic is a no-brainer.

The question is: which winter Olympic sport best mirrors the trials and the glories of the writing life? For me, this was also a no-brainer. It’s the newfangled event (2003) called Skiathlon. If you’re a writer, see if any of this rings a bell:

Skiathlon Characteristics:

1. It’s an endurance event.
The men’s event is a gruelling 30 km (ladies’ course is half that, though if I were a competitor I might easily be talked into acceptance of this inequality). For the metrically challenged, 30 km is equivalent to 18.64 miles. Almost marathon distance. Except you’re doing it with boards strapped to your feet. If you imagine that the presence of snow underneath those boards enables a smooth glide to victory, you’d be wrong. It’s a brutal course with lots of uphill ‘skating’ work, and dozens of other competitors dogging your every stroke. Most Skiathletes collapse at the finish line, heaving and flopping like newly-caught salmon as they struggle for every molecule of oxygen they can gulp.

2. It’s complicated, has two stages, and requires multiple skills.
As sports writer Cathal Kelly noted in her humorous definition in thestar.com, “Increasingly the purpose of the Olympics is to take something simple and make it needlessly complex. Case in point – Skiathlon, a race that is half ‘classic’ (i.e. done along grooves in the snow); half ‘free’ (i.e. that exhausting-looking lunging that weirds you out every Olympics). In between, the competitors will ‘pit’ at the stadium, and switch gear.” The official Olympics description merely calls it “interesting.” Oh, and did I forget to mention competitors get to go around the whole two-stage course twice? Leave your comfort zone at home!

3. It rewards individual technique and stamina in equal measures.
Skiathlon is not for daredevils – their events are on the big, glamorous slopes. It’s not for artistes – their stunning routines on ice are beautiful but fleeting. And it’s not a team sport – you’re on your own out there. Skiathlon is won by incredibly fit, well-prepared athletes who have mastered all types of cross-country skiing, are capable of changing course in the middle of a race, and have the energy and discipline to stick it out to the end, alone in their agony. That’s discipline and determination. Like all Olympic sports, it starts with a dream and requires a stupendous amount of training and practice. But, as Helga so aptly put it in her post “Unsung heroes – here’s to you!”, the key to winning is steely resolve.

Now, let’s compare …

Writing Characteristics:

1. It’s an endurance event.
I scarcely need to explain this to anyone who’s churned their way through the planning, outlining, writing and re-writing of a 100,000 word novel. Or two, or three. Yes, there are glorious days when you’re gliding across the pages, your fingers flying and the wind in your face. Then there are the brutal uphill climbs where you stroke, stroke, stroke, stroke … and get no glide at all. The finish never comes soon enough for your oxygen-starved brain and your cramped shoulders, and every chapter is a fresh marathon.

2. It’s complicated, has two stages, and requires multiple skills. 
You could argue that writing has more than two stages, what with concept development, planning, research, outlining, writing, re-writing, then the whole can of worms which is marketing your work. But the main events are writing and re-writing, and these require completely different skill-sets. One thing is guaranteed: you will travel the course of your novel multiple times before you have a manuscript ready to pitch.

3. It rewards individual technique and stamina in equal measures. 
Many people have great ideas. Many people are highly creative. Many people are good writers. But most of them never start a novel, let alone finish one – and never mind actually getting published. The ante for a writer to get in the game at all is talent, that’s a given. And no writer gets far without having a burning desire to pursue their calling. But after that, it’s all about technique and skills, along with stamina and endurance. And most of the effort writers pour into their novels is done alone, fuelled almost exclusively by their passion for their work and their belief in themselves. Much else must be sacrificed.

Alright, I admit it. Skiathlon is by no means a perfect analogy for writing. I could have picked at least a dozen different Olympic sports and made a similar case. So call this post an exercise – writer’s practice, if you will.

Because this is what writers do: when we look around us, we’re constantly seeing plots, analogies, character studies, ironies, dramatic struggles, epic tales. We can’t help ourselves. Everything in the world is about writing. About the pursuit of story.

But those writers who successfully challenge themselves to leave a legacy of published work are as dedicated as elite athletes – and as rare. Do I have it in me? Do you?

No matter. Even if we don’t medal, the exercise is good for us. Keep writing!

Unsung heroes – here’s to you!

community_imgHelga’s Post #71 – A few days ago, writing pal Silk told us that we writers are Beautiful Dreamers (BD). Try to read it if you haven’t yet. It’s a touching, feel-good and inspiring post. I would like to follow her train of thought further, given that today is special.

Beautiful Dreamers pursue their passion, creating art, even without the promise of financial gain down the road. They measure success in different ways. They are in love with their pursuit and their creativity. That is their calling. What needs to be added is that they also have a steely resolve. If success does not happen immediately – and by success I don’t mean financial, but any recognition of merit – do writers roll over and play dead?

I imagine hearing a resounding ‘no way’. Instead, like the proverbial and clichéd “when the going gets tough…” our commitment continues unabated, and often more intensely. We have learned how to take it on the chin, rejection letter after rejection letter. Like Paula commented on Joe’s last post, Kathryn Stockett’s The Help got rejected over 60 times!

Kathryn never gave up, not because she was merely a Beautiful Dreamer, but she knew with absolute certainty that she’d written an exquisite novel. She knew that her judgment was superior to those 60 agents who penned those ill-fated rejection letters. She dug in her heels and never lost faith in herself. A true BD, but with a steely resolve.

This theme came to me when I started a new project this week. No, not a new novel, but something that needed doing in a big way: de-cluttering my office, an extra bedroom converted to my very own private writing space. It’s where I started my first novel, Taste of the Past, a culinary historical mystery co-written with writing pal and friend Paula.

My de-cluttering project started when I could no longer find anything amidst the towers of bulging files piled high, mostly drafts of my writing and critiques from my writing group over the last four years. How did it ever get to this mountain of writing?

I started sifting through the files, beginning with the early ones. Several re-writes of Taste of the Past, followed by multiple chapters with typed and handwritten margin notes, of my cold war novel Closing Time. (A little history on our critique group: At that time, Sean, now best-selling author writing as Sean Slater, was still member of our group, in fact our founder. When he got too busy juggling his writing career and holding down a job as a cop, plus being father of two kids, the rest of us managed to snag Silk and Karalee to join our newly minted 5Writers5Novels5Months group.)

Next from the pile surfaced draft chapters and critiques of my sequel to Closing Time, Train Bleu, an incomplete draft as of yet, and finally chapters of my WIP, Dragon’s Blood. There was more. Much more. As I worked my way to the lower reaches, I found stuff I had almost forgotten. Novels started and shelved when I couldn’t find the passion they needed. There was one about a Canadian woman whose husband gets missing in Indonesia and she travels there to find him, only to get ensnared in all sorts of nasty stuff. A suspense story that I may pick up again when I can think of a better plot.

Next in line was an early draft of a wine mystery, taking place in the Okanagan. Some bottles of wine show up with labels drawn by Pablo Picasso. Another co-op project with Paula that may find its legs some day.

Enough already? Not yet. My next find, near the bottom and almost forgotten, a post-war story in Vienna during the Russian occupation, written in the POV of my mother. A fictionalized memoir that I found somewhat too raw to pursue. I hope to find the courage some day to give it another try.

I kept them all. As I sifted through this mountain of writing it occurred to me just how much our group has achieved in the time since we started. What an intense, determined and, yes, talented bunch we are. We stuck it out together, through plenty of hurdles in our writing life and through personal crisis and set-backs. Not once did it occur to any one of us to throw in the towel, to say, enough of that, I’m a failure because no agent likes my work.

Because we know we are good storytellers and we can write. Otherwise this group would have dissolved long ago. To some of us, getting published means more than to others, so perhaps we measure success differently. But I do know for sure: We have the resolve it takes to keep on writing even in the face of rejection letters and other obstacles.

In the end, all writers, and especially those who never give up, are success stories. They are the unsung heroes in the world of story telling. Let’s celebrate us.

Happy Valentine!show-employees-love-w372x226