Sunday, July 31, 2011

Vancouver Library on Sunday

It is Sunday. The sun is shining and it is a scorching 75 degrees. Yesterday morning I went to the orientation for the Willamette Writers members who will be volunteering at next weekend's writer's conference. I'm very excited about it. I'm volunteering all three days, which I hadn't planned to do, having only signed up for two days, but Carol Doane's and Don Weston's silver tongues had me scratching out my name on that last spot on Sunday before I knew what was happening.

Right now I'm at the new Vancouver Library with my computer whirring on a table in the corner. It is quiet and peaceful and I have a view of downtown Vancouver. I deliberately chose a table on the side of the library without the river view, hoping I'd buckle down and do some writing.

I'll let you know how that goes.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Vancouver Library Opens

The new downtown Vancouver Library opened today. Months ago the people in charge set the opening for July 17th, thinking we were sure to have lovely weather. They arranged for a few awnings to be erected, just in case the awesome heat we are known to have (about three days a year) were to happen on that day.

Opening of Vancouver, Washington downtown Library

Instead people who showed up for the opening ceremonies huddled under massive amounts of umbrellas and dumped water off the chairs under the awnings and sat on the dampness. The rain didn’t stop me. I clapped after all the speeches, cheered the ribbon cutting, listened to an fabulous children’s drum and chime band, and rushed into the line to be among the first hundred people to visit the five-story, window lined, Wi-Fi connected, coffee-shopped public library. I thumped past the community room, the check out stands and jumped on the elevator, whirring past the second floor administration area, the third floor children’s books, the fourth floor non-fiction section and strolled off on the fifth floor, housing fiction and an outside deck with a view of downtown Vancouver, the Columbia River, and Portland, Oregon in the distance.

I found the tables I’ll go to on the fifth floor; the one with the outlets and the view, and the one with no view for those days I don’t want distraction. When I meet a member of my critique group, there are little glass enclosed circles on the fourth floor where we can read out loud our troublesome passages. I checked out the coffee shop, and located the washrooms. It is all scoped out.

I’m ready. I voted it in, and I wrote out the checks for the extra tax dollars for the last five years. I declare it a smashing success. Money well spent. And it is mine.

Bravo, Vancouver.

Fifth Floor Deck with trees, overlooking the Columbia River

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Tension and conflict on the high seas

Guest Blog by Author Linda Collison

HM Bark Endeavour replica.
Photo taken by John Hill

I’m packing my duffel to go sailing and feeling so conflicted about being at sea again.

Topaz is our sailboat, a 36-foot sloop moored at the Ala Wai Small Boat Harbor in Hawaii. Bob and I have sailed her many thousands of blue water miles around the Hawaiian Islands; we’ve sailed to Bora-Bora and back. Oh, that sounds so romantic, I know. But as Samuel Johnson once said, “Being on a boat is like being in prison – with the chance of drowning” Or words to that effect.

I have a love/hate relationship with Topaz. With water. I am both attracted to the ocean and repelled by it, I find voyaging sometimes thrilling, sometimes tedious, and sometimes scary as hell. At sea I struggle with both claustrophobia and agoraphobia. To tell you the truth, I have an abiding fear of deep water and it is this fear, this underlying tension that fuels my writing.

Star-Crossed, my first published novel, was conceived in the middle of the North Pacific Ocean aboard HM Bark Endeavour, an Australian built replica of Captain James Cook’s famed vessel. The Endeavour was a floating time machine that transported me to the mid-18th century during the three weeks I served as ordinary seaman, along with 54 other time travelers sailing from Vancouver to Hawaii. For three weeks we stood our watches, patched sails, braided reef points, scrubbed the deck and the dishes, climbed aloft and out on the footropes of the yards to make and furl sail, took our tricks at the helm. We lived by the striking of the ship’s bell, by the orders of our superior officers, and in the camaraderie of our mates.

Bob and I signed on together and, although we are married, we slept separately in hammocks strung from the deckhead 18’ apart, as per 18th century British Navy regulation. And because my last name begins with a “C” and his begins with an “R” we weren’t even swinging in tandem, but were half a boat length apart. My billet was next to Joe, a former dentist from Southern California. We bumped elbows as we swung in our canvas hammocks, listening to the creaking and groaning of the living ship and the voices of those on watch above us..

At first going aloft was terrifying, but terror soon gave way to exhaustion. Then gradually we started to actually enjoy the process and by the time we reached Hawaii we were scampering gleefully, almost agilely, up the ratlines and we were familiar with the maze of hempen lines that were Endeavour’s rigging.

It was aboard ship on a night watch in the middle of the North Pacific, when the character Patricia showed herself to me and insisted I write her to life. When I got off the ship in Kona, Hawaii, Patricia came with me. For the next six years I researched the Georgian Navy and mid-18th century British history, while writing Patricia’s story. Finding an agent was like finding a needle in a haystack, if you’ll excuse the cliché. It took nearly a year.

In 2006 Star-Crossed was published by Knopf! Now I was sailing with a bone in my teeth, baby! And the reviews were awesome. But Knopf didn’t want to continue the series, though I had written a bomb of a sequel. My agent didn’t think any other publisher would be interested in publishing the sequel to a book Knopf held the rights to. She lost interest, we parted ways. I took a break, published an article in Cruising World, started a new novel, set at sea.

But Patricia would not be forgotten. Nearly five years after the publication of Star-Crossed, I found a publisher. Or should I say my publisher found me – on Facebook – and Surgeon’s Mate; book two of the Patricia MacPherson Nautical Adventure Series was published by Fireship Press!

I’m writing the first draft of book three now; Patricia just won’t let me go. It’s never easy, writing down someone else’s life, reliving their fears and desires. She keeps pushing me to deeper water where there’s no land in sight. I’m still afraid of capsizing, of drowning, but that’s what drives me to write my way home.

Follow @lindacollison on twitter or click here to see her website.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Nautical Fiction at its Best

I've been working hard to talk Linda Collison into doing a guest blog, and she had graciously agreed. I discovered Ms. Collison when I was doing research for my own manuscript. She is the author of two fabulous nautical fiction books taking place back in the age of fighting sail. On the rolling deck of a Royal Navy vessel, what sets her protagonist apart from Patrick O'Brian's Jack Aubrey, or C. S. Forester's Horatio Hornblower, is that her protagonist is female.

And she isn't supposed to be there.

Her newest book, Surgeon's Mate, has recently been published. Join me tomorrow for "Tension and Conflict on the High Seas," to get a glimpse of where Ms. Collison was when she got the idea for the first book, Star-Crossed, and what it took to write it.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Independence and Revisions

The First Critique Group

All month long, in the June heat, Thomas sat at his desk, scratching out the first draft. It was National June Writing Month, and he had to finish the entire manuscript by the 30th. He pulled a handkerchief from his pocket and mopped his brow, jumping up to pace across the room. He jerked to a stop and stared beyond the growing pile of crumpled papers before he moved his gaze to the opened window, aware of the sounds of traffic below, but too immersed in his manuscript to consider it an interruption. "I've got it," he said. Excitement shivered through him. "I've got the end."

He rushed to his desk and wrote long into the night, finishing just as the clock struck five on June 28. He wrote out a text message and it was delivered to two of his critique partners, John and Benjamin. "I've finished my manuscript and I need to do a pre-read right away. Can you meet me?"

Benjamin and John agreed to meet him at the local Starbucks and listened as Tom read the pages aloud.

"Wow, Tom, that is fabulous." Benjamin said, "Absolutely fabulous. Except, I really don't think that second paragraph does it for me. Do you think you could change that?"

Thomas' shoulders sank. Of course, he'd wanted them to love it. He'd wanted them to say it was perfect. He'd wanted them to say, "Tom, it is ready for publication." But, the moment Benjamin pointed out that second paragraph, Thomas knew Benjamin was right. He'd have to change it.

"I agree with Ben,"John said, "Except you also lost me on that fourth paragraph where you start doing an information dump. And you repeated the word "freedom" about six times. You'll need to think of a few different ways of saying that."

Thomas gathered up his manuscript, nodding and sighing, and thanked his critique friends. Except for one or two things that he truly believed were just right the way they were, the rest he would change. He shuffled back home and up to his study. He opened the ink and began his revisions.

He worked on them for the next two days, writing and rewriting until perfection stared back at him. He smiled. They are going to love it, he thought.

The next morning, July 1, he headed off to work, his manuscript in the trunk, and let his mind drift to the regular meeting of his entire critique group. This would be a terrific night. It would be the night they said, "Tom, start trying to find an agent."

He whistled as he walked into the meeting, and sank onto the hard wooden chair, arranging his manuscript in a neat pile.

"Let's let Tom read first everyone," Benjamin announced. "I really think he has something there and I think you'll think so too."

Thomas read to the silent room, and when he finished, the entire critique group burst into applause. Never had Thomas felt such a thrill. Then Samuel said, "That is a great first draft, Tom. Excellent."

Thomas sighed.

"Now, in that fourth paragraph, I'd like to see you take out some of that wording. It sounds like a lot of information dump. And are you aware you repeated the word "freedom" three times?"

And so it went, more changes, more revisions, more re-writes. He groaned.

"Geeeeez, Tom, if you don't like our suggestions, that's okay, it is just that it is hard to get something published in today's market," Benjamin said.

"Yes, I know," Tom agreed, a decided lack of enthusiasm coloring his voice.

"He could always try self-publishing," George said.

"I'll do the revisions," Tom said. "And maybe I will self-publish." He took the work-in-progress home and over the next couple of days, carefully revised, read, revised, read and revised. He brought it back to the group on July 4, 1776. His fingers shook and his voice cracked as he read it aloud. When he was finished, the members of his critique group nodded.

"I think you are ready for publication, Thomas," they all said, slapping him on the back and breaking out a bottle of champagne. "Let's all sign this copy and go down to Kinkos."

And that is the story of how our Declaration of Independence came to be. I'm not exactly sure about Starbucks or Kinkos. But I know exactly how Thomas Jefferson felt every time he thought he had it finished, only to be told by his critique group to get back to revisions.

Thanks to all the critique groups out there that help an author succeed. A special thanks to the Dead Bunny Club, my own critique group.

Happy Independence Day