Competitors or Comrades?

I visited Maeve Binchy’s website the other day. I was looking to contact authors for an endorsement for my new book. I knew it was a shot in the dark with big-name authors like Binchy, but I thought, what the heck. I was surprised and dismayed to see this note on her Contact page:

Do remember, those of you who are writers too, that I’m in competition with you; so please don’t send me your manuscripts – send them to publishers instead.

While I completely understand that many authors may not have the time or interest to help other writers, I was surprised to see her note about being in competition with other writers. Am I the only one who thinks this is the wrong approach?

I have always viewed fellow writers as comrades – not competitors. When I meet a successful author, I don’t think, “You took my spot!” Or, when I meet children who love writing, I don’t think, “Hey kid, you might take my job one day!” 🙂

Writing is a lonely enough occupation – why view all those doing the same thing as competitors? Sure, there are a limited number of spots for authors in the renowned publishing houses, but there is room in this world for all writers.





For the Love of Writing

I was honoured to present at the Calgary Young Writers Conference this weekend. More than 1,500 elementary and junior high students from around the city congregated at the conference to meet authors and illustrators, and to learn new skills in writing/illustrating. In my workshops, the students participated in writing exercises. Afterwards, a number of them read their short stories out loud. I was blown away by their imagination and writing talent. One thing was apparent: these kids loved to write.

Writing simply for the love of it. Or, for that matter, doing anything just for the love of it. Do you remember those days?

I met a fellow presenter at the conference – a professor in his sixties who had been writing stories for years. He had received one Governor General’s nod during that time, and after that, he said he didn’t feel the need to publish anything else. He said the need to get published and the self-promotion took something away from the writing itself.

I had to agree. Promoting your writing, vying for recognition and trying to please others – it strips some of the purity out of the writing process. As writers, it’s likely that many of us started writing as children. And, I would venture a guess, most of us did it simply because we enjoyed it, because we felt compelled to create stories or poems or plays, and because we lost ourselves in it.

One of the keynote speakers at the conference was a young published author in Grade 6. At the very end of his speech, he told us not to write because we want to get published – to write because it’s what we love.

That’s when the magic happens.


Books Where Nothing Really Happens

I’m reading a book right now by Carla Neggers. It’s called Secrets of the Lost Summer. I’m almost half-way through the novel, and, well, nothing has really happened. And yet, I’m hooked! This is a book that falls squarely in the “romance” genre, and yet the two main characters have shared only one quick kiss so far. 

I find the same thing with Nicholas Sparks books – the stories build ever so slowly… and yet I’m a huge Nicholas Sparks fan.

I think as long as the characters are believable and interesting, the writing is easy to read, and there is a continual building toward something significant, we as readers can be quite patient.


Real Life in Fiction

I’m scheduled to speak at a young writer’s conference next weekend, and my topic is Real Life in Fiction – writing about what you know. The more I looked into the subject and the more I thought about it, I realized, as writers, we are all inspired by our real lives and experiences.

Even fantasy and science fiction writers are inspired, to some extent, by their real-life experiences and the people they know. Hermione in Harry Potter is based loosely on JK Rowling as a kid. Ron Weasley is inspired by JK Rowling’s best friend.

Stephenie Meyer admits that her faith (as a Mormon) has influenced her Twilight stories and characters. She says that her characters “tend to think more about where they came from, and where they are going, than might be typical.”

As I started to dissect my latest book – I realized all the ways my real-life experiences had inadvertently seeped into my novel. The main character has a very different personality from me, but our experiences are similar. Meanwhile, the secondary character is strongly reminiscent of my mother.

I suspect you could find remnants of the author’s life and experiences in every work of fiction. We are inspired by our own experiences, by the things that interest us, and by the events, situations and people around us.

The Paranormal in Pop Culture

You don’t have to look far to witness society’s fascination with the paranormal. From Harry Potter and the Twilight series to the many ghost-hunting reality programs on TV to shows like Supernatural, our love of the paranormal is practically ubiquitous.

One third of Americans say they believe in the existence of ghosts, according to a 2007 poll by the Associated Press and Ipsos. According to a 2005 Gallup survey, 41 per cent believe in extrasensory perception, 26 per cent believe in clairvoyance and 31 per cent believe in telepathy or psychic communication.

A few years ago I produced a documentary for television about people who work in the ghost business (ghost hunters, ghost tour operators, psychics/mediums). But my interest in the paranormal started long before that. As a kid, I remember my grandmother on my mother’s side shuffling Tarot cards and reading my palm, giving me messages “from the other side.”

I grew up with the paranormal. The paranormal was even kind of normal for me. So, it’s probably no surprise that, as an author, elements of the paranormal seem to seep into everything I write. The new novel that I’m finishing up has psychics, Tarot cards, palm reading, a haunted house and a ghost.

People have always been curious about the unexplained. It’s mysterious and it takes you away from the mundane every day.

The paranormal is this whole other realm where anything is possible.