The Adrienne Journals
The Adrienne Journals
Welcome to the Adrienne Journals! A weekly blog that explores all things literary! And of course, stay updated on the forthcoming release of Losing Adam, including book launch dates, Q&A's with Adrienne, and book giveaways!
Welcome to the Adrienne Journals! A weekly blog that explores all things literary! And of course, stay updated on the forthcoming release of Losing Adam, including book launch dates, Q&A's with Adrienne, and book giveaways!
Adrienne's First Blog Entry!
Adrienne's First Blog Entry!
September 21, 2017
In praise of new beginnings!
Welcome to the first post of the Adrienne Journals! After an obscenely long hiatus from blogging, during which time I wrote another novel, taught my daughter how to read, tried to understand Buddhism, stared out the window contemplating the meaning of life, and wondered whether I have what it takes to be an independent writer. After years of chasing the dream of traditional publishing, securing the help of two agents along the way, my novel remained unpublished, so I finally decided to go it alone.
Daunted by the task of becoming the CEO of my own publishing venture, I found excuses to put it off, but that’s a dangerous way to live. Now I’m present, writing, and continually inspired by the success and dedication of other indie authors who embrace the challenge. I don’t know what the future holds, but for right now I’m happy to celebrate the idea of new beginnings. If I have learned anything about the writing life it’s that perseverance is everything (well maybe not everything – having a great book helps too!)
I’ve accumulated many inspirational quotes over the years, but lately it’s C.S. Lewis that I’ve been turning to most. He says, “It’s never too late to dream a new dream.” So, with that in mind, I’m going to follow my new dream of becoming an independent author. Many have been there before me, some with great success and others not so much, but for me the experience is still shiny and full of promise. I hope you’ll stay with me through this new beginning, an interesting middle, and of course, a much wished for happy ending!
September 27, 2017
Finding your people (and hoping they’re readers)
Write the kind of book you’d like to read. One of my favorite pieces of writerly advice and one that I’ve taken deeply into my craft. It feels intuitively right to write the kinds of books you’d like to read, but lately, I’ve begun to worry that there aren’t enough readers who share my sensibilities. Part of the insecurity, perhaps, comes from constantly reading agents ‘wish lists’ that don’t seem to match up with what I write. It’s hard not to come away feeling like you are out of step with age you’re writing in. Did Emily Bronte feel this way? Or Daphne du mauier? Not that I’m comparing myself to these gifted authors, but it does help to think there have been other writers who didn’t ‘fit’ with the times they were living in.
Sometimes, I wish I was more market savvy. There do seem to be writers out there, very fine writers, who have their finger on the pulse of ‘what’s hot right now.’ But as much as I might admire their success, I also realize that’s just not me. I don’t know how to write for anyone but myself. Writing can be a lonely business, but nothing compares to disappearing into the secret world of your imagination and losing yourself there. The feeling when you emerge, your notebook or screen, full of beautiful new words, is incomparable. I would never want to give up that feeling, even if the people who join me in that sacred space are few.
In a few months, I will be sending a new novel out into the universe, and I certainly hope it will find readers. I realize this won’t happen on its own. In these challenging times, without a marketing powerhouse behind you, it’s no longer possible to believe that if you build it they will come. My hope is that through hard work, and a little bit of luck, I will find my people. Reading is a way to know you are not alone, and I have been fortunate enough to experience that feeling many times over by connecting with wonderful books. I truly believe the right book can change your life. So, I will continue to believe that somewhere out there, are readers who will pick up my stories and think, ‘I’m not alone. I’ve found one of my people.’
October 7, 2017
Celebrating beautiful prose with a review of Pico Iyer’s The Lady And The Monk
Every now and then a book comes along that reminds you of the power of beautiful prose and inspires you to read and write more of it. The Lady and the Monk is that kind of work. Although published in 1991, I’d never heard of the book until I stumbled across it while doing research for a middle grade novel I’m writing. I hoped the book would give me a better sense of the sights and sounds of Kyoto, Japan. Far more than a travel book, The Lady and the Monk not only creates a physical description of Kyoto, but evokes the hopes and the dreams of a city caught between the present and the past. Most importantly, it is a book about someone looking for something, but who is not entirely able to grasp what that is.
I have never been to Kyoto, but Iyer’s lyrical descriptions of temples, hidden streets, invitation only tea houses, and even, the ever-changing moon, transport you out of your own life and make you feel as though are seeing through the author’s keenly observant gaze. A writer’s writer, he weaves many of his observations through literature, illuminating even the most ordinary details with his words.
Iyer’s experience of Kyoto and the people he encounters, especially a young Japanese woman named Sachiko, are at the center of The Lady and the Monk, and his characterizations of those relationships were tinged with both wonder and sadness. The difficulty of truly understanding another person is sensitively explored with the added complication of cross-cultural misunderstanding. One of the things I appreciated about Iyer’s reflections on cross-cultural relationships was his awareness of the contradictions within cultures. While many books on cross-cultural communication are eager to itemize cultural traits and attitudes, Iyer avoids such oversimplifications by offering a more thoughtful glimpse of Japanese mores. Of course, the fact that the book was written almost twenty years ago means that much has changed in Japan, but the power of Iyer’s insights into Japanese aesthetics and the love of ritual and tradition still resonate today.
One risk of reading this book is that it inspires a powerful desire to experience Kyoto first-hand. I am already dreaming up ways to afford to visit the places Iyer talked about in his book, especially the cherry blossom festival that is often described as one of the most beautiful sights on earth. But whether or not a trip to Kyoto is in your future, you will not regret sharing Iyer’s journey in The Lady and the Monk. The beauty of his writing is enough to make me follow him anywhere.
October 18, 2017
Great Beginnings! The opening pages of my unpublished novel Whispers in the Dark
The first pages of a novel are so important (and hard to get just right), so this week I'm posting the opening of my novel Whispers in the Dark. I hope you like it! If not, you can tell me that too!
I never cried in front of people. Crying was meant to be done alone, in private, not on a train in front of strangers. But now, here I was on the first-class train to Kingston, with nothing but a cocktail napkin to press against my face streaming with ugly tears. I made an awful hiccupping sound that caused several passengers to look in my direction before quickly turning away, embarrassed. People were more discreet in first-class. I only paid for an economy ticket but my car was overbooked so I got bumped up to business. Leaning back into my expensive, extra luxurious seat I wished I could disappear into its cracks.
The first-class car was also nearly full but so far I’d managed to keep a seat to myself. Every new person who boarded took one look at my ravaged face and kept walking. I probably would have done the same, but their carefully averted eyes only increased my feeling of being utterly alone in the world.
I glanced out the window and the sight of my reflection in the glass made my throat constrict in sudden terror. Swollen and grotesque, the face staring back at me was unrecognizable. Two black eyes burned like lumps of coal in a ghostly white face, my mouth, wide and gaping, looked frozen in a scream. I blinked and the image disappeared. My own face, small, pale, and tear-stained looked back at me. “Calm down,” I whispered to my reflection. Still shaken, I leaned into the window and pressed my fingers against the cool glass, needing to make sure the other girl was gone. What was wrong with me? Why was I suddenly so out of control?
“Don’t make it into something it wasn’t, Gracen,” Andre had told me in the gallery cafeteria that morning. “There’s nothing special about us. I could have been anyone.”
I felt the bile rise in my throat remembering how eager I’d been to believe all of his lines: “You’re so talented, Gracen, so different from anyone I’ve ever met. When I’m with you I want to see everything through your eyes,” and the biggest lie of all: “I wish this summer would never end.” I settled back in my seat and closed my eyes. Andre made it painfully clear that the six weeks we’d spent together meant nothing. He was probably already back home with the girlfriend he never told me about. “His real life,” he called her, as though I were a ghost, a specter, his imaginary summer hook-up. In truth, I felt like a ghost. Sometimes, I was overcome by a strange feeling of weightlessness, like I might float away if I didn’t find something strong and solid to hang onto.
“Excuse me. Is this seat taken?” A soft, male voice asked.
I wiped my eyes with my sleeve. “No.”
“Very good.” The man sat down beside me and I breathed in the smell of his cologne, subtle and expensive. His close presence helped me to regain some measure of control. I stole a glance at him. He was definitely older, maybe close to sixty, but handsome in a refined, buttoned up sort of way. When he spoke I detected a faint English accent and I wondered where he was from.
“May I offer you handkerchief?”
No one had ever offered me a handkerchief before. I thought they only existed in period dramas like Downton Abbey. Still, I accepted the creamy square of linen embroidered with the initials AC and pressed it against my damp face. It carried the same fresh scent as his cologne, verbena maybe.
“Thank you.” My voice sounded high and breathy, like a little girl’s, and I had a sudden intense longing to be a child again. I wanted to turn the clock back before all the bad things.
“Are you on your way home?” The man asked, once I’d finished drying my face.
I nodded, feeling an absurd desire to confess everything to this polite, handsome man. “I just finished a summer fine arts program at the Art Gallery of Ontario.”
“So you’re an artist?” His voice sounded impressed.
“I paint, mostly watercolors but I also work in oils, and I’ve been experimenting with mixed media as well. Painted photographs,” I added, before reminding myself not to babble. I loved talking about my work. It meant more to me than anything.
“I admire you,” he said. “So few young people have the courage to pursue their passion. Youth is wasted when it devotes itself to the mundane.” He smiled at me, the skin around his eyes crinkling. “Settle for nothing less than the stars.”
I smiled, thinking how clichéd expressions sounded more sincere when spoken in a charming accent. “I’ll remember that.”
The man held out his hand. “Alistair Carrington. An enthusiastic patron of the arts at your service.”
October 26, 2017
I feel about Halloween the way most people feel about Christmas. More than presents under the tree, eggnog or candy canes, I crave magic and mystery, sometimes with a more than a hint of darkness. Once the leaves begin to shed their green in favor of red and gold, I feel a stirring in my heart and my imagination wakes up from its summer sleep. I am awake and dreaming of ghosts with long streaming hair, moaning of lost love and betrayal. I am not afraid of being haunted by spirits – I welcome them with open arms – eager to hear their stories.
A common theme in ghost stories from around the world is the belief that at certain times of the year, the walls between the living and the dead grow thin, and spirts mix with humans, sometimes with dangerous consequences. But as any horror movie lover will tell you, fear can be exhilarating. What might happen if we let our guard down for a little while? If we are open to the idea of a world beyond our workaday reality, perhaps a brush with the supernatural can change our mundane lives for the better. If we only embrace the horror of Halloween, the idea of trying to engage with the monster under the bed might seem terrifying, but if we embrace that fear, we might emerge from the haunted house stronger, better able to fight ghosts both real and imaginary.
On Halloween, don’t miss the opportunity to let a little magic enter your life. When night falls, open the door to more than trick or treaters searching for candy. Let in a spirit or two. An encounter with someone on the other side of the wall might change your life in ways you never imagined.
November 2, 2017
The highs of writing what you don’t know
One of the great joys of reading is the ability to visit new and exciting places. A good book can transport you to another country, another continent, or even a different universe. Inside the pages of a book, new cultures, customs, mores, and philosophies can de discovered by anyone willing to take the journey. But what if you are the author looking to evoke the sights, sounds and smells of that journey? Can you create an authentic reading experience about a place you’ve never been?
The first time I ventured outside of my small town Canadian girl experience, I asked this question, but once I began to explore new places as a writer there was no going back. Write what you know can be good advice, but writing is also about the unlived life. The imaginative impulse to say what if? The only caveat of writing outside your experience is research is definitely required. Fortunately, most writers are also readers and won’t be deterred by the thought of devoting hours to discovering the details that will bring their story to life.
From my own experience, I have never felt as excited about a work-in-progress as I do about my new middle grade novel that takes place in Kyoto, Japan. The writing process has led me through the lantern-lit streets of Gion; taught me the ancient art of Japanese tea ceremony; introduced me to the art of drawing Manga and pushed me headlong into the scary supernatural world of Yurei. I still hope to go to Japan one day. Writing this book has given a long list of places I want to visit, but in the meantime, writing is its own journey.
November 15, 2017
The Enduring Power of Agatha Christie
My love of mystery began with Nancy Drew, but as my appetite for sleuthing became more sophisticated, a favorite librarian introduced me to Agatha Christie and her formidable world of quirky, gifted detectives. From the fastidious Hercule Poirot to the empathetic Miss Marple, a Christie novel pulled you into its privileged, civilized world, where murder shouldn’t happen, but always does. Many people love a good mystery, but what makes Agatha Christie’s refined sensibility endure in a modern world where serial murderers and gratuitous violence are almost ubiquitous?
A keen observer of human nature, particularly as it defined by social class, there is much to admire about Christie’s writing. And of course, she is a meticulous plotter (most of her crimes are nearly impossible to solve in advance of the ending), but I think the reason for her staying power is her passion for simple morality. Christie’s world is a place where the guilty are punished and the innocent are vindicated. There is little room for ambiguity in Christie’s world. A rare exception being The murder on the Orient Express where the murderers are declared ‘good people,’ driven to a heinous act by intense grief.
Most of Christie’s characters adhere to a well-defined view of good and evil. While some might argue Christie’s morality is hopelessly out of fashion in a pop culture where the lines between hero and villain is increasingly blurred, and sometimes, non-existent, many readers continue to find pleasure in Christie’s ability to bring justice to those who deserve it. On the surface, Christie’s rigid distinction between good and evil might seem simplistic, judgmental even, but I also think it is the main reason Christie endures while other authors fall away. Christie’s novels are a triumph of idealism over cynicism. Murder is always an act to be despised, and the innocent are always worth fighting for. Despite what often seems like our post-modern disdain for idealists, there are still, and I hope there always will be, a type of reader eager to embrace Christie’s promise of justice in an unjust world.
November 24, 2017
I trust my instincts, I think
I trust my writer’s instinct. I can sense when something’s not working. A character who’s too one-dimensional; a line of dialogue that doesn’t ring true; an ending that feels contrived, or an opening that doesn’t sing. I often don’t catch these things right away. They are revealed to me gradually, through the process of revision. After years of practice, I don’t worry too much if I’m telling rather than showing, or using too many clichés. I don’t worry because I know my writer’s instinct will eventually find a way to transform a terrible first draft into a piece of work I can be proud of. My most confident moments as a writer happen when I disappear into my imaginary world and find the words that I know will bring it to life. However, as any writer who’s tried to get published knows, there’s a business side of being a writer that requires a different set of instincts.
The business side of the writing life is where I feel lost and confused, especially when trying to find a home for one of my manuscripts. After months of querying, and accumulating several rejections letters, some very encouraging, and others not so much, I finally received an offer to publish my book. However, after much thought (and research), I realized it just wasn’t the right fit. I felt confident about my decision when I made it, and yet afterwards, I immediately began to second guess myself. Did I do the right thing? Do I understand the current publishing landscape as well as I think I do? And worst of all: what if that was my last chance and I turned it down? In my calmer moments, I believe there will be other opportunities, but writing can be a lonely business, and it is easy to fall into that dark place of doubt.
Now that a few days have passed, grace is somewhat restored, and I do think I made the right decision. Perhaps, one day I will begin to trust my instincts for the business side of writing, but for now the only thing I really trust is my craft. Writing makes me happy in a way that the business side of publishing doesn’t, and maybe, that’s OK.
November 30, 2017
Opening lines: how to make a great first impression
First impressions are important. This is especially true of both first dates and writing novels. I may not have had a first date in a long time, but I’m very familiar with confronting that first blank page and hoping something utterly fantastic is about to happen. A writer can’t afford to get the beginning wrong, because if you don’t capture your reader right away, you may not get a second chance. In an age of shrinking attention spans, and an unlimited number of books in the Amazon sea, readers don’t need to ‘persevere’ if the story doesn’t engage them from the first page. So, what does that mean for writers? Polish those opening pages until they shine like a thousand mid-day suns! Good advice, but not always easy to follow. Sometimes, I get overly attached to my own words. If a beginning feels right, I am happy to leave it there. After all, I know where the story’s going, and (most of the time) I have confidence in the author. The writing process has taught me, however, that intuition, while important, is not always enough. The writer may know where the story is going, but if they want the reader to commit to the journey, he or she must be wooed.
There’s no mystery surrounding a great beginning. It has one purpose: convince the reader to keep reading. This simple goal is not always easy to achieve. Stories take time to build and a lot must be accomplished in the space of a few paragraphs. Characters need to be introduced; time and place needs to be established; a sense of what the story is about needs to be conveyed. And most importantly, the reader needs to be given a reason to care. With all these things in mind, I still need some inspiration.
Here are a few of my favorite opening lines:
“Last night I dreamed of Manderley again.” Rebecca, Daphne DuMaurier
“I am an invisible man.” The Invisible Man, by Ralph Ellison
“This is the saddest story I ever heard.” The Good Soldier, Ford Maddox Ford
“A story has no beginning or end; arbitrarily one chooses that moment of experience to look back or from which to look ahead.” The End of the Affair, Graham Greene
“The morning express bloated with passengers slowed to a crawl, then lurched forward suddenly, as though to resume full speed.” A Fine Balance, Rohinton Mistry
Now that you’ve been dazzled by these famous openings, I’ve included one of my own (daring, I know!) Below is the first paragraph of my work in progress: a middle-grade novel called Nia and the Yurei. I’ve rewritten the opening twice, but I think it still needs work. What do you think? Have I made a good first impression? Or would you leave me in the slush pile? I’d love to hear from you!
The airplane lurched to one side, causing my pencil to slip down the page. I groaned. The sketch of the wood dryad that I’d been working on for the last two days, now had a jagged line down the center of her face. I could probably fix it, but felt angry anyway. Angry at the pilot flying the plane; angry at the weather pattern over Hawaii for causing turbulence; angry at the flight attendant with the giant poodle hair who kept asking me if I wanted a cookie, and most of all, angry at Mom for making us fly to Japan in the first place. - Excerpt from Nia and the Yurei.
Adrienne's Latest Blog Entry
Adrienne's Latest Blog Entry
December 12, 2017
A reader’s Christmas wish list
One of the things I love most about Christmas, aside from the gift giving, food and family time, is the opportunity for guilt-free reading. A devoted bibliophile, of course I read all-year round, but I’m prone to twinges of ‘you really should be writing, or editing, or working on that marketing plan you keep talking about….’ But during the holidays, I somehow feel like I have the universe’s permission to put aside (almost) everything and just read. Every year, I look forward to planning my holiday reading list. An eclectic reader, my list usually includes a couple of new titles that have caught my attention during the year, but most of my Christmas ‘wish list’ is comprised of old favorites. Books I love that I know will never disappoint. So, what’s on this year’s holiday reading list? Here they are, in no particular order:
The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield
This remains one of my most loved novels that I read as an adult because it is a masterful example of storytelling at its finest and it features one of my favorite lines: ‘What good is truth, at midnight, in the dark, when the wind is roaring like a bear in the chimney? What you need are the plump comforts of a story.’ And most of all, I love the novel’s gentle, introverted heroine, Margaret Lea. A kindred spirit, her love of story and the beauty of words, captured my sympathy immediately. While it may be fashionable to feature difficult or unlikable protagonists, the characters that stay with me are the ones whose happiness I care about, and who I miss, long after the story ends.
Persuasion by Jane Austen
Without a doubt, my favorite Jane Austen. There is something so poignant about second chances, especially when one is past the first flush of youth. Curiously, I’m not a huge fan of Austen’s work in general. A Bronte girl at heart, I tend to agree with Charlotte, who wrote that Austen is more concerned with the surface lives of genteel people than with the passionate human heart, but I think dear Anne Elliot is the exception. I love Anne’s kindness; her generosity; her depth and sensitivity. And, no matter how many times I read Persuasion, my heart always lifts when we begin to believe that Anne will have her happy ending after all.
Dreams of Distant Shores by Patricia McKillip
This is my new book selection, but I am confident it will become a new favorite. A beautiful, lyrical writer with prose so elegant it seems to float off the page, I have been a fan of McKillip since the age of eleven when I read The Forgotten Beasts of Eld. Fortunately, she continues to quietly write one fantasy gem after another, so I still get to enjoy her work as an adult. Her writing always reminds me what I aspire to in my own work.
An Artist of the Floating World
Kazuo Ishiguro is the 2017 winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature for a reason. His writing is exquisite. After reading his haunting novel Never Let Me Go, I knew I would follow him anywhere. I chose this novel for my Christmas reading list because I’m fascinated by Japanese history and the Japanese concept of ‘The floating world.’ A master of delicacy and subtlety (qualities I deeply admire), Ishiguro is one of the few novelists that expertly conveys that what is not written is sometimes more important than what is written. No matter what the subject, his work always leaves a deep impression on me.
So, what do you think of my choices? Do you have a holiday reading list? If so, let me know what you’ll be reading over the holidays (I can always use a good recommendation!)
Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to you, dear reader! The Adrienne Journals will return in 2018.
January 10, 2018
The irresistible allure of hope
If hope were a colour, I think it would be a brilliant pure white, bright enough to light the darkest night, but never harsh or glaring. Light to bask in, not shrink from. If hope were a colour it would be my favourite color and I’d want to surround myself in it. And yet, when I picture it in my mind, I’m also afraid of it. Afraid of the moment it begins to fade. Experience has taught me hope involves an element of risk.
If you’ve suffered loss, disappointment, heartbreak you become wary of hope. Sometimes, it feels safer not to give yourself over to its comforting warmth. Better, perhaps, to remain in the chill of low expectations where there is less chance of being hurt again. I’ve experienced enough disappointments in my writing life to know what if feels like to build up your hopes only to have them dashed by an unexpected failure or rejection. But I also know that a life without hope or expectation is no life at all.
I remind myself of this as we begin a new year, bright and shiny, full of promise, and the most dazzling rays of hope. For the next twelve months, hope will be my favourite colour and I will try to paint each day with its pure white light.
January 18, 2018
Crossing the Veil
A passionate reader of fairy tales and other magical stories, a thread of the mysterious or unexpected runs through all my work. As I child I used to sit in my mother’s closet for hours, waiting with bated breath, for the moment that those slippery silk dresses would transform into the rough branches of Narnia’s enchanted woods. Raised on C.S. Lewis, Lloyd Alexander, and Patricia McKillip, I believed that if I wished hard enough I could cross that enchanted border into another realm where magic reigned and anything was possible.
‘Crossing the veil’ is one of many ways to describe entering the world of Faerie, an enchanted paradise where all its inhabitants remain young and beautiful forever. I like the image of the veil because it suggests we might catch glimpses of this other realm so long as we’re looking at the right time. Faerie lore is full of recommendations for the best moment to ‘cross the veil.’ All Hallows’ Eve is thought to be the time when the veil between worlds is as insubstantial as Faerie mist.
My mother’s closet was not, as it turned out, my portal into the fantasy world I dreamed about, but I never lost faith that such a crossing was possible. I simply needed to find another door. I conducted more experiments: long walks in the conservation area near my house (the closest thing to a forest in suburbia), dancing hopefully around an enormous apple tree in my neighbor's backyard, and of course, reciting several spells I discovered in an old book at the library. Eventually, I discovered that the most satisfying method of entry to that ‘other’ realm was writing.
Writing my first novel gave me the chance to realize my dreaming of ‘crossing the veil’ with my characters. Through them, I have been able to explore the glittering, ruthless world of Faerie; the supernatural world of ghosts and apparitions; and most recently, the Japanese spirit world of the Yurei. My fictional adventures have taught me that ‘crossing the veil’ is a perilous journey, fraught with danger and sacrifice, from which no one returns unscathed.
Explored in a variety of ways, ‘crossing the veil’ is an enduring theme in fantasy literature. Readers like me continue to hear the siren call of that other realm whether it be a Faerie forest, a thriving urban metropolis, an alternate steampunk reality, or an enchanted kingdom long ago and far away. And I suspect that will never change. After all, which one of us hasn’t longed to escape the work-a-day world even if only for a little while? I know I have, and I’ll continue to ‘cross the veil’ as a reader, a writer, and all-round daydreamer.
There. Have I convinced you yet? Cross the veil – new worlds are waiting.
January 25, 2018
Can Books Change Your Life?
The best books make us think; a word or phrase evokes a powerful feeling that makes us see ourselves and the world around us in new, exciting, and sometimes painful ways. Art is undeniably powerful, but can it change our lives? My first reaction to this question was a resounding yes! Of course it can. I asked some of my friends, who responded with a definitive yes, detailing some of the books that changed their lives. My second question: Has your belief in the power of books to change your life lessened as you’ve gotten older? Was met with distinctly less enthusiasm.
‘What does age have to with it? One friend, who’s also a writer, asked, more than a little indignant. “If anything, my appreciation for literature has gotten deeper, more profound.’
Another friend, a passionate reader and mother of five was less sure. ‘I love books, I adore them. I’ve read lots of books that have moved me, made me think, or challenged me to see things in a different way, but change my life, I don’t think so. People change your life, not books.’
What got me thinking on the whole question of whether books can change your life was of course a book, a good one. Emma Morley one of the main characters in David Nicholls’ One Day reflects on the differences between her younger and older self. She comes to the rather disappointing realization that she no longer believes a book can change her life.
This line gave me a jolt. I love books. I’ve devoted a large part of my life to both reading and writing them. Books have made me happy, sad, furious, ecstatic, and everything in between. I’ve shed passionate tears over books whose characters were so real to me I couldn’t bear to let them go. And yes, I have a list of books that I would say changed my life. But has this feeling changed as I’ve gotten older? Has it, gulp, faded a little? I love books as much as I ever did, but like Emma, I think my life has been taken over by things I wouldn’t dreamed possible when I first fell in love with books as a child. So what does this mean? I’m surprised how much I resist the notion that I’ve lost the tiniest bit of my childhood idealism. But a part of me fears I’m a little like Emma, who thinks her days of being shaken to the core by a work of art are behind her, and yet maybe there’s nothing to fear. Maybe that next life changing book is waiting for me around the corner. I hope so.
Do you believe that books can change your life? If so, I’d love to hear about some of your life changing reads.
February 7, 2018
Why I Write YA
“Run away with me.”
“And live on what?”
This snippet of dialogue is from Slumdog Millionaire, one of my favorite movies. I chose it because it beautifully captures my feelings about the YA genre and why it’s so much fun to write. For anyone who hasn’t seen the movie, the context for this scene is a ghetto in India where both characters have known unimaginable hardship and poverty, and yet, the hero Jamal is still able to envision a future where true love will be enough to keep body and soul together. For me, this kind of passion and idealism is the very essence of YA. Young adulthood is a time of almost limitless hope: the conviction that we can do anything, feel everything, be with anyone. Nothing is beyond our reach.
Of course the teenage years can also be a time of tremendous doubt and insecurity, but it’s this juxtaposition of fear and idealism that makes YA literature so compelling. I think that’s one of the reasons YA has become so popular with older adults as well as teens. People of all ages are drawn to the intensity of experience revealed in the pages of a YA novel. Although we often associate issues of first love and identity with teens, the feelings associated with these universal themes resonate with many of us at any age.
Someone once suggested to me that my penchant for YA is evidence of my unwillingness to grow up, a kind of Peter Pan syndrome. I’m a writer, not a psychologist, but that explanation doesn’t ring true for me. There’s a great deal of quiet wisdom in YA books, just as there is in the audience they’re written for. The best YA authors have tremendous love and respect for the young adult voice and do their best to illuminate the truth of that experience. That’s certainly what I strive for in my own writing.
There are many reasons why I write YA, but perhaps most importantly, I still feel very close to the girl I used to be. Although I’m no longer technically a young adult, I think reading and writing YA has helped me to keep my youthful idealism intact, even the notion that it’s possible to live on love alone. I’d give it a try. It would be beautiful while it lasted.
True love, still
I am a hopeless romantic and I’m not sorry. While some might find it cool or edgy to bemoan Valentine’s day, expressing disdain for a holiday bursting with all things pink, I savor every cinnamon heart that comes my way, grateful for all the love in my life. I suspect some people give Valentine’s day a hard time because it seems only to celebrate couples, but it doesn’t have to be that way. As my seven-year old daughter wisely pointed out, “Valentine’s Day is about feeling happy and sparkly and being kind to people – and chocolate.” A Valentine’s philosophy that could surely work for most of us.
Fraught with hope and expectation, Valentine’s day also appeals to me as a writer because there is no better impetus for story than love. Not the romance novel variety with the promise of a happy ending, but the longing for love and acceptance that informs so much of what it means to be human. In real life, love is lost and found, and sometimes, destined to be unrequited. Even when there is no one, there is the dream of someone, and that dream sustains us in moments of loneliness.
Critics may sneer at the crass commercialization of red roses, candy hearts and Hallmark cards, but I will continue to draw giant pink hearts, send valentines and chocolate kisses, and leave a trail of red glitter in my wake. The dream of love is a good dream to have and I will never ever stop celebrating it.
Falling in love with a new genre
The best thing about being an avid reader is that you’re making new, potentially life-changing discoveries every day. Because reading doesn’t require a travel budget (or a passport), it doesn’t matter how much money you have or where you live. All you need is the willingness to make the journey.
Like many readers, I have a list of favorite authors and genres, and it’s easy to stay within the comfort zone of familiar plots and characters. After all, if you know what you like, why risk being disappointed? But sometimes it’s worth taking a risk and trying something new. Reading a book outside your comfort zone can shake you up, put you in touch with parts of yourself you’ve either abandoned or forgotten, and even reignite your creative impulse. I experienced all three of these things when I recently started reading middle grade fiction. For me, it wasn’t so much as falling in love with someone new but being reunited with my first love. When I actually was a middle-grader, I devoured books. I couldn’t get enough of C.S. Lewis, Lloyd Alexander, Nancy Drew, R.L. Stine and many more. Books were my friends and I loved them with the white-hot intensity of a thousand mid-day suns. I read them in closets, in cars, window seats, under the covers, and less successfully, in class, which earned me regular visits to the Vice-principal’s office. As I got older I moved on to more ‘mature’ books and left my first loves behind. I’ve come to realize, however, the expression that you never forget your first love is definitely true for me. Reuniting with middle grade fiction has meant mixing old favorites with new author discoveries.
Immersing myself in middle-grade fiction has not only enhanced my reading but ignited the desire to write my own middle grade novel. The age range for this genre offers so many opportunities for adventure and exploration. Characters are awakening to the world around them, curious, intelligent and brimming with imagination, and best of all, free from the cynicism that seems to creep up on us all too quickly. Writing in the middle-grade voice has put me back in touch with parts of myself that were getting a little rusty. Now, when I sit down to read, or to write, I feel a new wind beneath my wings. The feeling of exhilaration that comes from taking a risk and setting off on a new journey. So, have I convinced you yet? Try kickstarting your own creative juices with a wholly new and unexpected read.
Writing what you love (even if it probably won’t become a bestseller)
If you’re a writer who spends any time on social media, you’re constantly bombarded with tweets, articles, blog posts, podcasts, and every other medium promising you the key to publishing success. Scroll for a minute or two and I guarantee the words ‘How to write a bestseller,” will appear on you screen. I sometimes wonder who clicks on these seductive titles and what their expectations are. After all, if there was such an effective formula, wouldn’t the much-overused title ‘struggling author’ disappear? But maybe I’m wrong – maybe there is a formula that can help you write a bestseller, providing you can bend your creative mind to follow the prescribed steps. For me, writing is a far more mysterious and complicated process.
As much as I would love to have a large audience embrace my writing, I know myself well enough to know that the only way to get the words to flow is to write for myself. Sometimes, I worry that the kinds of stories and ideas that appeal to me won’t resonate with anyone else. Writing is a solitary activity, and when you spend a lot of time in your own head, it’s easy to be overcome by self-doubt. I’ve often been in the grip of a wonderful writing streak where story is coming together, only to stop cold and think, what if no one ever reads this but me?
I love writing – it’s the only thing I ever wanted to do – but it can also make me feel lonely. After a series of rejections, I’ve wondered if I’m strong enough. Do I believe in my work enough to weather the sometimes-painful disappointments that come with the writing life?
I’ve given these questions much thought over the years and the truth is I’m still not sure if I’m strong enough, but I keep on keeping on, because writing what I love because it’s the only way I know how to be. I write because I must and there’s no question of stopping. In another month I have a new novel coming out, and while I don’t expect it to be a bestseller (although that would be wonderful), I’m proud of it because I know it’s the result of writing what I love; the kind of story I would like to read. And, hopefully, my book will find other readers who feel the same way!
Art inspiration for the uninspired
Do you sometimes find yourself in need of a creative infusion? You want to write, you’re ready to write, but the words just won’t come? Some people call it writer’s block, but in my experience the situation’s usually not that serious. You just need a bit of creative commotion to awaken the stories sleeping inside you.
There are lots of tips and tricks for finding inspiration, but visual prompts work best for me. Whenever I’m struggling with getting started on a new writing project, I turn to paintings, photographs, manga - anything to get my imagination working. If you don’t have a story in mind, or you have a story idea but it’s struggling to take shape, a powerful visual can get your pen moving again. Pinterest is my favorite social media for inspiration because offers a treasure house of images for every mood. Storytelling happens in many forms and when you’re struggling with your craft, it can be helpful to see how story comes together in different mediums. Painting and photographs are my holy grail of inspiration, but for other writers it might be films, or theatre or listening to classical music. If you’re not sure what will work for you, try exploring different mediums and see what evokes the most powerful response.
Once you discover what ‘gets you in the mood,’ I suggest creating your own inspiration board, whether it’s a Pinterest board, a playlist, a comic reel, a virtual museum, an old-fashioned scrap book or something else. Once you have a trusted source of inspiration your storytelling voice will be less likely to fall asleep. If you want to see what inspires me, visit me on Pinterest and check out my Fairy Tale Inspired and Amazing Art boards.
Do you have an inspiration tip you’d like to share? If so, I’d love to hear from you. After all, inspiration is one thing you can never have too much of!
Writing what scares you
I confess, the phrase, ‘write what scares you’ is not my favorite piece of writerly advice. Emotional honesty is important to me, and I always strive to be true to both the story and my characters, but I’d be lying if I didn’t say there are some subjects I consciously steer away from. I don’t think it’s wrong to want to feel safe in your writing, or to use your words to illuminate whatever subject you choose. Creative expression, like most things, should be about choice. However, I do believe there’s a benefit to taking risks and pushing the boundaries of your comfort zone. Sometimes, being uncomfortable helps you to find your writer’s voice.
During the process of researching and writing my YA/NA novel Losing Adam, I experienced many moments of discomfort and anxiety. For me, writing about mental illness tapped into my greatest fear: losing my identity. My character Adam expresses it this way: “I was a stranger to myself. The thoughts in my head, the things that made me me, twisted into something scarier than anything in the worst horror movie.” Writing about my main character’s struggle with Schizophrenia, I felt some of my own fears rising to the surface. During my research, one mother compared watching her son struggle with mental illness to witnessing a death. The son she knew and loved all his life seemed to have disappeared, leaving a stranger in his place.
Like most writers, I feel a profound sense of attachment to my characters. I care about them as if they are real people, and in a sense, they are real because I brought them to life. Sometimes, writing is like having parallel lives; the worlds you create often feel just as real as the physical world. The intensity of an author’s connection to their characters sometimes forces them to feel things they might not otherwise experience or want to experience. There are times when I have felt conflicted about my character’s fate. How much suffering did he or she have to endure to serve the story? To a non-writer, this question might seem odd. After all, the author is always in control, isn’t she? But trust me when I say characters have a way of taking on a life of their own – of pushing you in directions you never intended to go.
When the idea of Losing Adam came to me, I knew I wanted to write something real and true. An emotionally realistic story that would resonate with people living with mental illness and with the people who love them. I now realize that I wouldn’t have been able to write the story I wanted to tell if I hadn’t given myself the space to be uncomfortable. So, ‘write what scares you’ may not be my favorite writing tip, but now I understand the value of doing just that.
Learning from fairy tales
The words ‘once upon a time’ are forever imprinted on my mind. I love fairy tales and all the various forms they take, from the animated Disney inspired, to the dark and bloody realms of Angela Carter, and everything in between. I think the power of fairy tales continues to endure because of their ability to continually reinvent themselves and adapt to new forms of storytelling.
Writers are not the only ones drawn to fairy tales. Artists of all kinds have used their medium to recreate a specific tale or have incorporated fairy tale motifs into their work. Recently, even a famous car company created an ad campaign based on fairy tales. Proof that even in the modern age fairy tales show no sign of going away. So why do fairy tales continue to hold us in their grip? It is an interesting question, especially in an age where the pop culture landscape seems to reject black and white notions of good and evil in favour of a narrative that is decidedly greyer.
I think part of the reason fairy tales continue to resonate so strongly is that they offer a study of the human condition. Their often-deceptive simplicity makes them relatable. Most human beings, regardless of background, have felt jealously, fear, greed, desire, and most of all, love, at some point in their lives. Like the wicked queen’s magic mirror in Snow White, fairy tales show us the best and worst versions of ourselves. Because these images are so powerful, so elemental to the human condition, we long to revisit them again and again in different forms.
In my writing life, I often turn to fairy tales for creative inspiration. Because fairy tales often involve high stakes and take the reader on some kind of quest or journey, reading them encourages me to think deeply about conflict. The dark versus light dichotomy in fairy tales helps me flesh out what my own characters must win or lose when they fight their way through whatever wall of thorns I’ve created for them.
Reading fairy tales has taught me a lot about storytelling. And while the stories I write may not result in a happily ever after, I am always seeking endings that satisfy – that make sense – and hopefully leave the reader with the feeling that their time with me was well spent. Fairy tales have affected me in other ways as well. No matter how dark or hopeless a situation might be, I am always looking for a bit of ‘magic’ to come along and lead me back into the light. Perhaps reading fairy tales has helped me become someone who doesn’t expect happy endings, but still hopes for them anyway.
Celebrate Losing Adam's Release Day by reading my guest post 'Re-imagining famous fairy tales' at Evermore Books! http://www.evermorebooks.weebly.com/blog/book-blitz-for-losing-adam-by-adrienne-clarke
Finding Losing Adam: My unexpected path to publication
I truly believe the universe gives you a sign to keep going when you need it the most. And three days ago, I received a sign that I want to share with you, not just because of what it means to me, but because I hope to remind other writers who might be struggling with self-doubt not to give up. My sign from the universe came in the form of news that my novel Losing Adam was awarded the silver medal in the YA category of the Independent Book Publisher Awards (IPPY). The feeling I got when I read my name on the list of medallists was pure happiness. Not because of the award itself, or because I now had an excuse for a trip to New York City, but because it gave me the validation that I’d been searching for.
Writing is a lonely business. And in some ways, the life of an indie author can feel lonelier still, in the absence of an agent or editor whose presence can feel like a validation of your writing dream. But no matter what your situation, it’s the writing that matters; the act of writing is what makes you a writer, and it’s the love of writing that must sustain you when you feel like no one in the world truly cares if publish another word.
Losing Adam’s path to publication was anything but straightforward. Once I finished writing it, I began the process of querying agents and publishers. Despite being warned to prepare myself for rejection, I was surprised by how much early interest my manuscript received. It seemed the process of getting my first novel published was going to be easier than I thought! Two Canadian presses expressed strong interest and for a few months I thought Losing Adam had found a home. Ultimately, however, both presses decided to pass and I began the process all over again. After being told, repeatedly, that I needed an agent, I devoted myself to querying, and, finally, I found one, a good one. She was excited about me and my work and I was thrilled. I thought, this is it! The hard part is over. This savvy agent, who knows what she’s doing, will sell my book! But as the rejection letters rolled in, all complimentary, but with editors mostly saying the same thing: ‘Not a good fit for my list right now,’ I began to lose hope and my agent became slightly less excited about me.
Disappointed, I parted ways with my agent and wondered what to do next. I tried to dutifully follow the reams of ‘how to get published’ advice at my disposal, but it just didn’t happen. During several dark nights of the soul I thought maybe the reason no one wanted Losing Adam was because it just wasn’t good enough. I even tried not writing for a while to see how it felt to give up. I quickly discovered my petty acted of rebellion against the ‘establishment’ harmed only me. Not writing felt worse than the most stinging rejection. Finally, I understood the only way to move forward was to keep writing. I also realized that I still believed in Losing Adam, and I wanted someone, hopefully a lot of someones, to read it. So, I decided to stop querying and publish it myself.
Self-publishing isn’t easy, and I’m still struggling with how to market my book in a sea of other worthy titles, but my silver medal from the Independent Book Publisher Awards is the sign I needed to keep fighting for my book. To keep trying to put it in the hands of readers who will let me tell them a story. And if you’re reading this because you’ve experienced your own dark night of the writing soul, my message to you is: don’t give up. The universe is waiting to whisper to you too.
The challenge of writing about the recent past
Why 1994? The question most people ask when I explain that my YA/NA novel Losing Adam is set at a college campus in 1994. The agents and editors who expressed interest in the manuscript early on, were particularly concerned that the ‘historical setting’ would put off readers who preferred stories set in the here and now. I listened carefully to these concerns, but in the end, I chose to move forward, or backwards if you like, with 1994. The setting felt right for several reasons. First and foremost because I wanted to create a setting with a timeless, romantic feel, free from the technology shorthand that dictates the way modern teenagers communicate with one another. I wanted my characters to express themselves in letters, rather than through texts, and to do this I had to set my story before smart phones took over the world. While I don’t consider myself old-fashioned, I do long for the lost days of letter writing. I believe letters allowed people to reveal themselves in ways that texts messages just can’t. For those who claim that today’s teens don’t care about letters because you can’t miss what you never had, I think that for some, the past always holds a certain amount of fascination. Especially for those who might sometimes feel disconnected from the modern world. No matter what age you’re living in, I think there is always a certain amount of nostalgia for lost things.
My second reason for setting Losing Adam in 1994 is because that’s the year I started university. The first year of college is different for everyone, but there is a kind of rhythm and emotional language that’s difficult to recreate the farther you get away from it. The advantage of setting my novel in 1994 is that I would be familiar with the music, world events and pop cultural references relevant at that time. When it comes to music, many of the bands I reference in the novel including, The Clash, The Cure, Nirvana and Pearl Jam, are still popular in 2018.
The more I talked to the young adults I work with, the more convinced I became that setting my novel in the recent past wouldn’t affect the novel’s ability to find readers. Just like in 1994, or at any other time in history, there are always teens who feel out of touch or disconnected from their generation. What matters more than the time period is the emotional connection readers feel to a specific character, and my hope is that readers will feel pulled into Adam and Jenny’s world. The adage, ‘the more things change the more they stay the same,’ holds true in the way that although our ways of communicating with one another may change, a lot of the emotional baggage stays the same. The struggle for self, for understanding, for compassion, for love, are eternal concerns. But don’t take my word for it. Take a journey with me in Losing Adam to the recent past and tell me what you think!
Adrienne's Latest Blog Entry
Adrienne's Latest Blog Entry
“You are not too old
And it is not too late…”
-Ranier Maria Rilke
A couple of months ago I wrote a post about falling in love with a new genre, and today, I’m revisiting that idea with poetry in mind. I truly believe that the experience of falling in love, whether it’s with a person, a style of music, or a person, requires the cultivation of intimacy and a burning desire to know everything about the object of your affection. I discovered my first love of the novel by reading everything I could get my hands on. The more I read, the more my love grew, along with the feeling that maybe I could write a novel too.
Now that I find myself in between projects, having just published a novel and finished writing a new one, I’m beginning to ask myself: what’s next? A lover of beautiful words, the inspiration for my writing projects always comes from reading. Usually, I’ve been inspired by books I’ve read, but lately I’ve discovered a new rival for my affection: poetry.
I don’t consider myself a poet. I’ve tried my hand at writing verses here and there, and even managed to have one of my efforts published, but the craft of writing good poetry always seemed out of my reach. Novels give a writer room to move, to wander, without losing their way, but poetry requires discipline. Every word matters. No short cuts or lazy sentences allowed. The more wonderful poetry I read, the more I want to try my hand at creating something of my own.
Learning a new craft is both daunting and exhilarating. Once you’ve attained some confidence as a writer, it can be disheartening to find yourself a beginner all over again. But I think that’s what falling in love is all about. Every time you give your heart away to someone, or something new, you’re allowing yourself to be vulnerable, knowing its possible your love won’t be returned the way you hope. But as I continue to put down words, one after the other, I’m willing to take the risk. After all, falling in love is too wonderful a feeling to miss out on!
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