Tuesday, September 27, 2011

When You See Dead People

When you open your mind, when you open your heart, you don’t always know what will come out. Not really. You can think you see the story. See its shape and what kind of box it will be; what kind of magic it will hold. Then when you build the box, sometimes it will hold a different type of magic entirely.

Let me tell you what I mean.

I have been a writer – a B.C. writer – for most of my adult life. It’s possible that, if you’ve read BC magazines and newspapers pretty consistently for the last couple of decades you’ve seen my byline or read something I somehow had a hand in.

I’m a decent journalist and I’m a good editor but, like a lot of writers, what I’d always wanted to do was write a novel. I made several starts on topics that were important to me, but was never able to ride it through to the end. I know that writing a book is a very different journey for everyone, but for me, the novel form is… well, it’s not that it’s difficult, exactly. But it’s hard. It drains me. It takes exactly everything I’ve got. It took me a while to learn that. And it took me a while to learn how to get to that place of supreme letting go.

So there were all these false starts. Stories that were important to me. They were all too big for me, those stories. They were all too big for the writer I was then. But, one day, the shadow of a story crossed my heart and, finally, it wasn’t too big. In fact, in those first moments (hours, days) I thought the words would add up to a short story. About 7000 words in, I realized I had something different. Maybe something more. And I kept going. Not heroically; it was never anything like that. But I was curious. I wanted to know whose life I was building. I wanted to know where the story would end up.

One day – not terribly far in – I realized I had a book. More: I realized it was a book I’d never thought about writing. Some of the people died. And though there was some laughter – life always has some laughter -- sometimes bad things happened to the people in my book. I’d started out telling the story in my heart and ended up with a mystery; a novel of suspense.

Once the book was finished, I was Cinderella. I didn’t have all the pain you hear about writers going through. Once I got down and did it – once I had a finished book in my hand – it all came together in amazingly stylish fashion. Almost the first agent that saw the manuscript wanted to represent it. Within a couple of months of her taking it on, we had a six figure, three book deal with a major house.

It hasn’t all been perfect. There have been bumps: I have a different agent now and the world outside of my books has changed. But I’ve gotten better at finding the story. Better at building the box, I guess. And then delighting at the magic that sometimes – luckily – seems to flow out.

No comments: