Contemplating

Writing is more than a gift. It is a struggle that blesses those who see it through to the end — Nona Mae King

Even though I’ve finished writing the manuscript for my second novel and all the moving parts needed to turn it into a book are in play, I still don’t see myself as an author/novelist.

I’m fine with the word ‘writer.’ But ‘author’ and ‘novelist’ seem to carry a bit more weight and I hesitate to think of myself as having earned the right to describe myself as such.

I probably should wear the mantle of ‘author’ or ‘novelist’ more readily and without complaint considering I did complete two novels. To imagine the number of folks out there who have started writing a novel/story but never got around to finishing it for a variety of reasons, I should be proud of my achievements.

And I am proud of what I’ve done so far. As a storyteller, the second book will show the progression I’ve made from the first novel. My writing mentor has told me that my growth as a writer has been huge. I’m grateful for his comments especially when everything about the second book has been guided by research and instincts. I challenged myself on a number of levels. I’ll elaborate more on that later when the book comes out. But it’s always been my intent to push myself as a storyteller and the only way to do that is to challenge myself with the kinds of stories I want to write.

I have heard that once you write one book, the others that follow become easier. That may be correct in terms of knowing what needs to be done once the story is written. You know, all the post-production stuff (excuse the use of terminology that is more common with filmmaking) — the editing, determining the design of the book cover, where the book will be printed, etc. I’m speaking as a person who has done nothing but self-publish. Publishing houses and literary agents are foreign concepts I have not encountered yet. 

But when it comes to the actual writing of the novel or story, you do develop a better or more defined sense of how you want to map out and plan the story arc and the story arcs of your characters for the next book. But it doesn’t make telling the story any easier.

It’s kinda like when you workout. As you get stronger, the exercises and movements don’t get easier. They get harder because you know what you’re doing, you have your technique and you expect higher standards for yourself. You automatically set new goals for yourself.

The differences in approach between my first and second novels are not quite night and day but they sure as hell look that way. The story dictated my approach to each novel. Different stories, different needs, different approaches. I already know my approach for the third novel will be some sort of hybrid of the previous two with some options thrown in.

Yeah, I’m already thinking about a third novel when the second one hasn’t quite made its transition to book form. To be honest, the idea of laying the groundwork (let’s call it pre-production) for a third novel so quickly is a little surprising to me.

I dawdled and dicked around for almost two years before the premise of the second novel hit me full-throttle a over two years ago. Four years between books. I guess that’s normal for some folks. I don’t remember what I was doing exactly for two years after the first book came out. Again I was probably dicking around. But I know I was trying to figure out what the fuck I was going to write as my second book.

And it seems I won’t be dicking around for another couple years before the right story idea pops into my head. I’m quite pleased that I can gradually start working on the third book idea and then really start tackling the pre-production once the second book comes out.

I did have a story idea I was trying to develop before my boys charged into my psyche and demanded they be the second book. They were awfully persuasive. How could I resist.

That story idea is still on the board. I have a feeling it’s going to morph into something else but I haven’t figured what that will be. And no, this idea is not what I’m contemplating for the third novel. The set of characters are entirely different.

And I have a music playlist for the third novel already. Yeah, I know. What the fuck, right? There’s a certain aesthetic that’s been running around in my head for awhile since I finished the manuscript for the second novel and it’s reflected in the playlist.

The biggest question I need to answer is, can the aesthetic, that has been crawling around in the nook and crannies of my imagination, work in the story or do I borrow bits from it and create something new or different to suit the story and its characters? It’s a big-ass question that needs to be answered before any more pre-production can be done and before any writing can be done.

I think I know what the answer might be but it’s something I’ll need to bounce off my mentor. Maybe hash out a few ideas. He’s always good for that.

It should be interesting.

Disequilibrium

Disequilibrium can be a gift. Great art doesn’t come from comfort Delilah S. Dawson

For a writer or an artist, disequilibrium can definitely be gift.

I think about the ways I’ve challenged myself as a writer in regards to the some of the themes/subject matter in my next novel.

The challenge was not so much in dealing with the topics themselves. The challenge for me was not to allow anybody to negatively affect the story I wanted to tell. The minute I allow anyone to hold me back from being faithful to my characters’ stories, I have done a disservice to them. I would not have been faithful to them.

So far, I’ve been fortunate in not having to wrestle heavily with anybody’s concern about the language (i.e. swearing) that I use in my writing. When I started figuring out and exercising my literary voice, I had the odd person express their discomfort in how freely I used coarse language.

All that tells me is they have a limit to what they’ll tolerate in their reading material. I’m fine with that. But let’s be clear – I’m not changing a fucking thing just to make my writing more palatable for one person or anyone who has a ‘delicate constitution.’

So, either let your toleration levels limit you or gird yourself and see what else I have to offer as a storyteller aside from turning the book pages a beautiful jewel-toned shade of blue.

Reining in or dialling back my creativity means reining in or dialling back who I am. If you want milquetoast, you’re not getting it from me. You’re more likely to get nothing but murderous silence from me. And that’s not a good thing.

If my unbridled creative tendencies to have my characters swear like a mad motherfucker (among other things) turns your stomach, I would like to say thanks for trying to read my writing, and have a nice life.

Disequilibrium can be a good thing for the reader. As a reader, I like to be sucked in and challenged by the author. I’m saying “Bring it on. Do your best to wreck me.” I have mentioned I have masochistic tendencies in previous posts, right? Well, I bounce between masochist and sadist, to be honest.

So as a result of the kinds of stories I’d like to and want to tell, I can’t help but inevitably make life interesting for anyone who is willing to read my stories.

When I decided I wanted to try my hand at fiction writing, I didn’t set out with the intention to make people uncomfortable with my storytelling. I just wanted to figure out how to tell a good, if not great, story.

But it’s starting to look like I’m comfortable with the uncomfortable. I seem to have a tendency to want to explore things that some folks might have set specific boundaries regarding anything uncomfortable. My willingness to ‘go there’ with certain topics probably makes some folks nervous. But as an artist, the uncomfortable is interesting, exciting, probably unnerving and makes my imagination gleefully unruly and chaotic.

To be honest, an unruly, chaotic but focussed imagination is my happy place. That’s what it’s been like for me and my characters since I started writing the second novel. My happy place is untouchable. And yeah, life’s bumpy roads have tried to pry me away from my happy place in the past. That’s when disequilibrium had become too much, too heavy, and threatens my happy place. That’s when I get unruly and maybe a little too feisty to handle. At that point, I’m pretty much ready to fight anyone who gets between me and my happy place. Actually, I would do more than just fight.

I’ll just leave that thought right there.

Great art doesn’t exist solely to make the viewer or the reader feel good about themselves and about the world around them. Great art will also ask the tough questions. Great art will make the grotesque beautiful. Great art will make you think and ask questions. And great art will challenge you.

Through words or through images, those are some of the reasons I embrace disequilibrium and push myself to create.

Look of colour

Characters of color are crucial but are not a replacement for creators of color — Saladin Ahmed

The first time I became aware that I was deliberately including a character of colour in my writing was when I started writing The Raven Sonata.

The female lead character is Chinese/French-Canadian. Another female character is Chinese/Scottish-Canadian. Yes, I have a thing for interracial or biracial characters. I just naturally lean towards them.

Maybe deliberate is a strong word when it comes to my first fiction novel. I didn’t set to deliberately, to purposefully choose to have one of the lead characters be a character of colour. It just happened. 

After that, I became more aware of the issue of representation in the arts and entertainment industry. I’m not sure what category writers/novelists fall into within the industry but I made a point to tell the stories that included characters of colour.

It was also during that time I became aware of how I really felt about representation. How representation affected me when I was growing up. I grew up in a neighbourhood and in schools where ethnicity was everywhere. But on TV and in movies, ethnicity in lead characters were slim to none. 

Anyway, I won’t harp on that. I’ll leave that to those who know the history of representation.

During the writing of the second novel (don’t worry, I will reveal the title of the book when the time comes), I realized that none of my characters are ‘white’. But given the storyline and the setting, its not surprising that there isn’t a caucasian character. I suppose you could insert one, but why? I didn’t think it needed it. Also, it was a question that never came up.

I’d rather not think about the ethnicity of my characters but it seems I eventually have to. But I don’t think about it until I’m well into writing the story. That’s what happened when I was writing the second novel. My reaction to what I had done? I shrugged my shoulders, thought it was interesting and went back to writing. I didn’t care to ‘whiten’ anything. And in the same token, I didn’t vigilantly stay ethnic to avoid ‘whiteness’.

I think, for the most part (but I could be wrong), readers don’t notice these things unless they’re wired that way or taught to notice them or someone brings it up and then it becomes a footnote or a trivia question somewhere down the road. 

I don’t put extra emphasis on ethnicity when I’m creating my characters. To be honest, my characters decide their ethnicity and who they are. They tell me and I roll with it. I may refine the small stuff but, on the whole, the question of the ethnicity of a character has already been decided for me.

Other factors go into creating a character, ethnicity is just one piece of the puzzle. But it is an important piece that shouldn’t be overshadowed by everything around it or overshadow everything else. There is a balance. What that balance is, I have no know idea. I go by instinct.

The stories I tell and will tell in the future, and the characters who inhabit and will inhabit these stories, are framed by my experiences, my hopes, my dreams and my desires. They won’t be to everybody’s liking. And I really don’t give a shit.

But as a person of colour (if one wants to think in those terms), I believe my voice should be out there, along with other creators of colour. How loud my voice will be depends on who is willing to listen. I can’t make people listen to me. I don’t plan on making grand statements. Too much responsibility. Plus, I’m not narcissistic enough for that bullshit.

I just have stories to tell. I have characters whose voices want to be heard. Like me, they’re happy to have the ear of one person or a hundred people.