Sunday, July 21, 2013

"This"~The Night of the Writer

(This particular blog post is for ‘The Writing Contest: You Are A Writer’ by Positive Writer. It’s not just a contest entry, however. It’s the story of how I got started, bits of which I’ve shared scattered throughout other posts, but here is the rest. The relevant details.)

Late one night two years ago, I wrote the words The End to one of the worst novels ever written.

And I was elated.

I saved my Word document, fixed myself a bowl of ice-cream and poured some Nerd candies on top. I felt I deserved that special treat.

No one’s experience is ever the same. For some the moment that they ‘became’ a writer was the most transformative, brilliant, shocking, wonderful moment of their life.

For me? Well, it wasn't the night that I knew, exactly. It’s been more of a process. Like someone learning French. You don’t start out learning bonjour, comment allez-vous and then think “I speak French now.” It doesn’t work like that. And when you carry on conversations in French with a computer program, you don’t think “I speak French now.” When you are in France having a conversation with French-speaking people and using all the slang and mastering the dialects…that’s when you think “I speak French.” That’s when it’s real. It’s a process. A journey.

So when I finished my first novel and sat back in my chair smiling, I wasn’t smiling because I thought “I am a writer now.” I was smiling because I had written. Some days I wonder if that thought would change if I became the next J. K. Rowling. Maybe it would and I’d wake up in the morning thinking “I am a writer”. Or, maybe I’d just wake up and say “Time for another go.”

If it’s a journey, maybe it’s not about the destination.

That night I discovered an emotion I had never known and never felt before. ‘Bliss’ is the best word I can find to describe it. I was walking on air. I was also on a sugar high. I loved my life.

I knew something then. Something extraordinary.

When I finished my first novel I didn't say, “I'm a writer now”. It wasn’t that concrete. Instead, there was a quiet thought: This. I love this.

I grew up in a house that loved stories, I was weaned on Seuss and Dahl, then Lewis and Tolkien. My mother read me stories, my dad told me his favorites, my sister wrote. Sometime before I was quite twelve the idea had taken a firm root in my head that I wanted to write stories too. I didn’t—not for a long time, at least. But the idea, the dream, was there.

I started dabbling with poetry and animal stories, and then I began writing a novel which was basically a fan fiction of my favorite books at the time. My dad, wonderful and patient man that he is, painstakingly translated my scribbles onto a computer document so that I could post it to be read online. (Which was probably the most stupid notion I’d ever had.)

Time passed and I slogged through a tale for which my well of love had long-since run dry. There was a span of time in the middle during which I started writing for the NaNoWriMo self-competition—a competition I’ve returned to again and again with new enthusiasm. NaNo has taught me a lot, including what I can do on a deadline and what I cannot do without one. NaNo is easy. Finishing a tale on its own? That’s hard.

But through that blissful night of finishing my ‘first’ novel I learned that writing has given me more pleasure than any other pursuit I've gone after.

I couldn't stop smiling. I cried a little. I was a bit hysterical, I think. Even with a terrible story whose beginning was rocky, whose middle was dull, and whose ending was less than satisfactory, there was still a feeling of unfathomable joy.

I realized that maybe writing was not just something to enjoy doing, but something that was worth doing. Worth the sleepless nights when you're desperate to figure out why your heroine is falling for your villain. Worth the necessary caffeine addictions. Worth sitting in a cafe at closing time with your face pressed against your computer screen, trying for the life of you to figure out where in the world that singing turtle came from. Worth ink-stained hands, going nearly blind, and confusingly swapping your personality between introverted and loquacious. Worth mispronouncing your favorite new word in front of everyone…

It’s worth it.

Since then I've written three more NaNos, published a poem, started new projects, and learned so much. But you know something? I haven't finished any other novel outside of those spectacular November races and my first story.

That one project, that first novel, is the only one I've written from start to finish on my own. So that makes it special. And it taught me what it is to be a writer, to go on that journey. That makes it more special.

I hate that old story, I really do. I don’t know if I’ll ever have the guts to fix it into something better. But it is very dear. It's not my favorite story. It might be my least favorite, but its significance makes it something else, something I can treasure.

I am a writer. I tell stories. I want to break your heart and put it back together again. I want to make you angry, sad, hopeful. I want to make you wonder. I want to show you something beautiful. To make you say: This.

I am a writer.

That night I turned my computer off, a disbelieving grin stretched across my face, and I thought: This.

I love this.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Book Review: The Deep Freeze of Bartholomew Tullock

Title: The Deep Freeze of Bartholomew Tullock
Author: Alex Williams
Genre: Steampunk/Children’s Fiction
Rating: 5

The Deep Freeze of Bartholomew Tullock is one of my all-time favorite children’s books.

Following the lives of Madeline and Rufus Breeze and their parents, along with a salesman named Sabastian and his dog Mesmer brave the frozen world of Pinrut. Bartholomew Tullock is the name of the local tyrant, a man intent on crushing all of Pinrut and the Breeze family in particular.

The Breezes are fanmakers by trade and not even the years of constant ice, no sunlight, and the frosty Pinrutian flu can curb their art. Living within the safety of an ingenuous house, the family continues to believe that the sun will return and their beautiful fans will be needed again.

But when the snow clouds show no signs of leaving and Tullock breathing down their necks the Madeline, her father, and Sabastian decide to make a treacherous journey to find somewhere else to sell the fans. Rufus and his mother stay behind to keep their home out of Tullock’s hands, but with their family separated, Tullock gets closer to his goal and disaster befalls the family on all sides.

A lovely, crisp steampunk tale—the first steampunk I ever read—the tale of Tullock’s deep freeze holds a wondrous world of exquisite fans, frightening monsters, sunlight and shadow, the strength of family, and the revelation of hard truths.

Rolling action that never lets up, dry humor that never fails to crack a smile, Williams’s book is a work of art and fan-tastic read. (Pardon the pun but, really, how could I resist?)

Williams makes you feel the cold and the warmth—both of the alternating weather and the opposing characters—and brings the story home with a shocking twist and a last-minute charge of bravery. Delightful.