Saturday, February 26, 2011

What's in a Name?

I was recently asked why I would give a protagonist who is the proverbial plain Jane an interesting name such as Willow Mae Pillbean. Why didn’t I choose something more common, like Mary, Anne, or even Lucy? (although I really don’t find Lucy all that common)
Writers name their characters with the same care they name their children. Willow Mae Pillbean was no exception. At first glance she is a self-confident, routine oriented, content young woman who seems to be wandering through life on a path to nowhere. As the book progresses and the inner workings of her mind are revealed, she gives the reader a glimpse of her true personality. While she is resilient and strong, there is also a fragility about her to which I think we all can relate.
The Willow tree is tremendously resilient and able to grow in even the most adverse conditions. It is one of the few trees that can bend in outrageous poses without snapping. The message here is to adjust with life rather than fight it. As Willow Pillbean meanders through the challenging month of Newvember, she learns to draw from her strengths so that she can grow and adapt to her ever-changing environment.
Likewise, her best friend Angela is very much like the guardian angel her name suggests. She sees Willow’s life from a different perspective, knows her friend has the strength of character to be more and pushes her forward. Without her presence, Willow never would have strayed from her path to discover some very important truths about herself.
Then we have Sawyer – a name blatantly taken from one of my favourite books, Tom Sawyer. Full of mischief, slightly misunderstood and confused, Sawyer leads Willow down a path that could have destroyed her, but she manages to yield her flexible nature and comes out so much stronger in the end. Sawyer’s name is also reflective of his personality, it literally means “one who saws wood” – without giving too much away, we can see how his name on its own is a detriment to Willow.
Finally, I’ll tell you just the tiniest bit about Olive, who is so dear to me that I can hardly write about her without feeling as though I am giving away a small piece of my soul. Originally she was named for my great grandmother Olive Finch, just because I like the name and have very fond memories of her from my childhood. As you’ll see if you read the book, even Olive’s name fits in with this wooded theme when she offers “an Olive branch” and helps Willow to restore her inner peace.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

How do you write a novel in 30 days, or less?

How do you write a novel in 30 days, or less?
Well . . . the short answer to that question is: perseverance.

The long answer is far more complicated. First, I signed up for the NaNoWriMo  Challenge – which is a challenge to produce 50 000 words during the month of November. (That works out to be approximately 1667 words a day, or about 3 pages of text.) Broken down like that, it really doesn’t seem like all that much. But – if you skip a day, then you have to figure out how you’re going to make up that word count. If you skip three or four days the challenge can become overwhelming. At the end of it all, should you achieve your 50 000 word count goal – you get a shiny web badge and a coupon for a free proof-copy of your novel through CreateSpace. Believe me, there is nothing like receiving that proof copy in the mail – but that’s another story altogether.

 In addition to writing actual words, I needed to come up with a story.  I needed a theme that would easily carry me through the month of November as I had not taken the time to develop characters or create a plot outline, and I knew I would not have time if I was going to achieve the impossible. So, I came up with a concept that I knew wasn’t original but would carry me through the month and force me to write every day. My main character (Willow) would keep a journal, which would in turn pretty much force me to write one journal entry for each day of November.

Of course, Willow needed something more interesting to write about than the doldrums of her day to day life. And let’s face it; November has to be one of the dreariest months of the year for us Canadians. Thanksgiving and Hallowe’en are left in bright, colourful October, Christmas and News Years’ are in far off December. The only thing we commemorate is Remembrance Day, which is important, but doesn’t exactly sparkle with excitement and intrigue.

I don’t know where the dare idea came from; perhaps it was the shadow of my girlfriend daring me to try the NaNoWriMo challenge. Or perhaps it came from me wanting to spice up my own mundane existence. Regardless, Willow’s best friend challenges her to try one new thing every day for 30 days – and to make my life easy, part of the challenge is that Willow has to document it. So, violà, I had a theme that would easily carry me through the entire month. I had no idea where it would take Willow and me so I decided to leave that for my Muse to figure out.

In the meantime – the month of November passed by in a blur. My family got used to digging for clothing in the mountains of clean, but unfolded laundry that lived in our family room; we ate a lot of soup, sandwiches and frozen entrées; and my kids learned how to make their own lunches for school. November is the perfect month to settle into the warmth of your own imagination to lay the groundwork for a novel that will evolve and perhaps even take on a life of its own.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

This is Dedicated to the ones I love . . .

Once you get past the cover design, and all the copyright information (and yes, for the record my book is registered with the Canadian Intellectual Property Office - not entirely necessary but it made me feel more secure) there is the issue of acknowledgement and dedication. With so many people helping me along the way this is a hard one to nail down - possibly even more difficult than the actual writing of the book. I didn't want to offend anyone, I didn't want to leave anyone out, and I couldn't include the entire world - or could I?

Some authors do a full page of acknowledgements, spewing out lists of people who helped them research, provided valuable information and offered inspiration. After the giant list they then dedicate their work to the one person in a particular moment they feel is deserving. Usually that person is their spouse, parent, child or close friend. Occasionally I have run across all-encompassing dedications such as "the women of Africa" or "all the children yet to be born" - as if any of them would even know the book was written for them.

I do have a page of acknowledgements listing friends, family, and figments that all pushed me along the way to get the words out and the book completed. I was careful to make special mention of the select friends who read and encouraged while I wrote, and of another close friend who has critiqued, edited and pointed out inconsistencies. Of course I made mention of the multitude of social network friends who kept me going without even realizing they were contributing to my small work of art.

I tried to be fair about who I listed, but the list seemed to become an endless chasm of "I can't forget so & so", and "I don't want to hurt so & so's feelings", or "if I include so & so I also have to include so & so". The end result looks something like this:

Special thanks to:
Joanne, for introducing me to NaNoWriMo
(and subsequently the NaNoWriMo team) – you really can write a novel
start to finish in one month; it’s the edits that cause all the trouble.
Sharon, for helping me get through all those edits and revisions,
your help and support are invaluable.
Vik, for providing numerous “vikopedia” references.
All of Olive’s friends, for laughter and continuous encouragement.
Special thanks to all my wonderful family and friends
who helped me along on the way with support, encouragement and patience.

Thanks so much to Lucy for daily reminders and being the best figment ever.

The Dedication page is another dilemma. Who, exactly is deserving of this honour? I actually considered leaving out a dedication for this first attempt at a book because in all honesty, I wrote this book for me.
I'm still not sure I managed to include all those that were deserving in the acknowledgements, but in all sincerity I am grateful for the abundant support I received from everyone over the past year. Those same people are encouraging me along on my second book.
Then I realized that in writing the book for myself, I also wrote it for my family - not so much my mom and dad, although I did acknowledge their support, but my husband and children who didn't complain too much when I neglected to make supper or they had to wear mismatched socks. In my opinion your family is an extension of yourself, and they were the most deserving of the dedication. In the end it looked something like this:
This book is dedicated to
my wonderful family who endured 
late dinners, forgotten homework,
 neglected laundry and a little bit of moodiness.

Thanks for putting up with it all.

Most importantly for my husband.

I love you.

Without them, I can't say I wouldn't have written a book, but I know that I wouldn't have been able to write this book.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Remember Newvember - Cover Design - the Dilemma

Ok, I'll admit it, I like pretty things. For anything to catch my attention, it must be visually appealing. So - first things first in this crazy journey to getting this book out to the world - it needs an eye-catching cover. I won't pretend to be an artist, but I do know what I find visually appealing. I started with a simple idea and with some help from a few friends the concept developed into something I might be able to work with. Of course - if my work ever does get swooped up by a real publisher (as opposed to a vanity press) I'm sure my original design will be tossed out the window and replaced by something polished and professional.

My idea for the cover is very much like the book itself; after all, the cover should reflect the interior contents. When the book cover doesn't hold a strong bond with the meat of the work, I somehow feel as though I have been mislead or in some way swindled out of the limited visual experience the cover offers.

The cover for Remember Newvember is a collage of all the new experiences Willow takes on during her 30 day dare of self-discovery. Thanks to a good friend, we collected the individual pieces, glued them onto a piece of Bristol board and then snapped a digital photo of the ensemble. The first step was easy - but it had a very amateur feel to it.

I decided the colours were a little too sharp and needed some blurring around the edges. I tried B&W - but that seemed too 1940's for the feel of the book. A little colour was necessary as it's a very colourful story. So, then I went with sepia tones - but again - it was washed out just a bit too much. Using my limited graphic software (I won't even share how abysmal the selection is), I converted the colours to orange-ish tones and violà . . . I liked the result.

And then - I added some fancy writing - but unfortunately for lack of appropriate software, the quality is awful. I guess I am going to have to invest in some decent software if I am going to continue at playing bestselling author and cover designer . . .

Now - this wasn't a done deal - and I am very much open to suggestions because there is something that isn't quite "right" about it. Something lacking (aside from the quality of the text). So - another very good friend offered to give me a helping hand, and her professional expertise. She did some research, took my amateur photo and created this little masterpiece:

At first, I honestly didn't love it - but the more I look at it and compare it to my first attempt - the more it grows on me. I think if I were browsing through my favourite book store whether it is an actual physical one, or a virtual one - I just might pick up this little treasure.