Thursday, 11 August 2011

I Don't Follow Umbrellas

I travel abroad every year. My favourite destinations are Greece and Italy, the settings I used for my novel, The Memory of Roses, to be released on October 3rd by Rebel Ink Press.

Whenever I’m in some popular tourist destination, such as Venice or Florence or Athens, I see large groups of people mindlessly following tour guides who have umbrellas raised high in the air to keep the group together. I suppose it must be easier in a way to let someone else figure out what’s worth seeing and what’s not. Whether Michelangelo’s David is worth ten minutes or only five because it is necessary to get the paying customers into some shop where the guide gets a cut-back.

My point is, people who follow umbrellas miss a lot. Whether it’s in traveling or in life. I’ve had many years of experience as a writer. I’m a published author of six professional books as well as numerous articles and speeches. However none of this prepared me in any way for writing fiction. I’d always wanted to write stories, but never had the time. Then suddenly I had all the time in the world.

So I wrote my first novel and submitted it to a publisher.  People started throwing terms at me I’d never heard before.  I had no idea what they meant.  POV?  What’s that? Voice? Doesn’t everyone have a voice? Formatting? Show don’t tell?

Just to show how dumb I was I thought people told stories. Not too surprisingly my first book ended up in the recycle bin.

I survived the criticism, but the book didn’t. I decided to start all over again with something completely different.  This time I asked people to read and critique as I worked. One was a Hollywood film editor whose notions about scene were extraordinarily helpful.  I took courses—not the on-line kind. The kind where you have to sit and listen to fellow authors tear your work apart.  I took three, all offered by published novelists. The shortest but most useful of these was the one given by Dean Wesley Smith in Oregon. If you aren’t familiar with his work, do yourself a favour and look up his website . It’s a gold mine.

I’ve never worked as hard in my life as I did in that workshop with Dean Wesley Smith. And I never learned as much in so short a time. It was brutal, but wonderful.  And at the end of it I knew what I had to do to make my book work. I came back home and rewrote the whole thing. That was the third draft.  And it worked. Part of my problem had been that I was trying to follow umbrellas. I had read books and taken courses on how to write romance and I was trying to squeeze my story into their format. But it wasn’t a formula romance. It was women’s fiction – a book with four central characters, not two. A story encompassing two generations and two love stories, one of which didn’t end happily ever after. No wonder publishers of genre romance didn’t want it.

Then I found Rebel Ink. It’s funny. That week two publishers accepted my manuscript but the first one wanted me to change it into a traditional romance.   I’ve never been sorry I went with Rebel Ink, a publisher that doesn’t follow umbrellas.

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Blair McDowell