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martes, 12 de febrero de 2013

The craft of writing by Rosemary Van Deuren (Part I)

It is always a pleasure to read a book that grabs you from start to finish. This was the case of Basajaun, a self-published novel by young talented girl. If you want to know how he made ​​his creation, I recommend reading the following interview. Really interesting and all secrets and curiosities are exposed. 

Basajaun is your first self-published book, and you already have two editions. Even if it already was, in its first edition, a great novel with a lot of rhythm, in this revised edition you chose to make some changes. Why did you think this was necessary? What made you want to incorporate these changes?
   Thank you. The revisions arose because I was working with an entertainment representative, which I didn’t announce at the time. Unfortunately, that didn’t work out in the end. But the rep advised me on changes that he thought would make the book more viable to shop around to a publisher. I also spoke with agents, editors, a lit manager -- all of whom had different advice to offer. Basajaun was in limbo for about a year and a half while this was going on, and that was difficult. By the time I came out the other side of this process, I had received so much conflicting information -- mostly about young adult fiction marketing -- that I no longer had any idea who I should listen to. 

I called my good friend, freelance editor, Shawna Gore, to ask for her thoughts. Shawna is very mindful of publishing trends, and I asked if she would look at both versions of the manuscript and share advice on what revised elements to keep and what to scrap. But she loved the revisions, and felt they’d made the narrative stronger and more dynamic. She offered to work with me as editor on the book if I chose to self-publish again. After a lot of thought, I truly believed this would be the best option for Basajaun. And it was. It was the best decision I made for my project. 

What would you say is the main feature of your book? 

  I wanted to create something that felt like old folklore, but delivered in the type of prose / novel format readers are accustomed to today. The most important aspect of the story is the relationship between Cora and Basajaun. But for that pairing to feel compelling and meaningful to the reader, there had to be a strong backdrop that created atmosphere, enriching the universe where the events that these characters experience take place. My goal with the magical elements of Basajaun was the capture that feeling of “old magic” -- quiet, contemplative, and secret.

I really like the story you have created. What do you think is the main idea you wanted to convey?

   Thank you. One of the recurring themes of Basajaun is bravery. In fiction, courage is sometimes painted as though it is this simple attribute people either innately have or can easily obtain. Bravery as it applies to real-life situations is more complex. Courage can separate you from people you care about, make you a target for violence. Everyone knows what it’s like to feel young, powerless, and afraid. And certain struggles with bravery -- like choosing to protect or abandon another person -- can profoundly affect one’s sense of self. In Basajaun, I’m applying these qualities to beings who are not traditionally associated with bravery. Rabbits are prey animals in the wild, and their every movement is wired on fear and self-preservation. As a result, their capacity for courage is compromised, and the dangers of it are amplified. Placing these creatures into a scenario where they’re forced to face the idea of bravery helps highlight the things about it that are difficult for everyone.

Can we find homages to other works in your book?

   When I was thinking up names for some of the human characters in Basajaun, I browsed a birth year database to be sure they would be period-accurate. For the young farm-hand, Cora’s adolescent friend, I thought “Henry” was a good fit -- a strong, sensible name, just like his character. Henry is also the name of Fern’s friend in Charlotte’s Web, so I left that in as a little nod to one of the wonderful books that inspired me.

While imagining the characters, what do you have in mind to create them? How do you design them?

   Author John Mortimer once said that if you craft your characters well, you don’t have to worry about writing dialogue for them, because they’ll just open their mouths and say it for you. I love that perspective. 

I use different methods depending on the character, and depending on how much time they’re going to be given in the story. Main characters should be the most multi-dimensional and the most widely relatable to your target audience. You can also let different aspects of their personality “trickle-out” gradually, as this helps the reader get to know them at a natural pace, and become invested in them on a deeper level. The traits of supporting characters can be revealed more quickly so that the reader knows early on what purpose they serve in the narrative. Supporting characters can help establish atmosphere as much as settings do, and these characters exist in part to create tension for the major characters, and enrich them through interaction. 

For the more peripheral characters in the story, I chose different traits for them to represent. Henry, for instance, represents basic human ethics and motivations. He’s altruistic, but not without his own desires. Artulyn symbolizes the toxicity of ambition. Etasi the rabbit chief symbolizes wisdom and balance. He’s lived a long life, learned from his mistakes, and tries to look at every angle of a problem -- and the well-being of everyone affected by it -- before he makes a decision. Other characters represent weakness, and show how it manifests in different ways -- both passive and malicious. 

During the creative process, do you need to document yourself on the topic you’re writing, or isn’t it that important when you write fiction?

   Before I start a novel, I know what will happen at the beginning, at the end, and fragments of stuff in the middle. I do fairly minimal notation. While I’m in the midst of plotting or writing, things will come to me -- when I’m doing the dishes, showering, walking in the woods. Often it’s fragments of dialogue, or event or story elements. I write these down so I won’t forget them. But it’s a very basic skeleton compared to the in-depth outlines or pre-writing I know some other novelists do. I don’t do outlines, or plan ahead how many chapters will be dedicated to a specific segment of the story, or anything like that. When I decide “what will happen next” in the story, I write that part until it’s done. When revising, if I feel a scene needs more depth, I’ll detail and lengthen it. If parts seem too long or to drag, I streamline them. 

This may seem overly simplistic, but it is more precise than it sounds. I have a very specific rhythm I like my writing to follow, so when I read my own work, I can tell immediately if sequences need revising, or even if whole scenes need to be re-ordered, which I’ve done occasionally. Much of what you’ll read on basic how-to’s for novel-writing will caution against writing without an outline, but there are authors who have, and do. It’s important to remember that there is no one right way to create -- do what fosters your best work and makes you most efficient. 

Do you recall the exact day when you decided to write Basajaun? How did you organize your time to accomplish your goal?

   I do remember the spring afternoon when I sat down at my computer and typed the very first paragraphs of what would be Basajaun. As I mentioned above, I’d made only a few notes ahead of time -- I just started writing. And then I chipped away at it until it was done, really. I didn’t plan how long it would take to write the manuscript, because I didn’t have the experience to predict how long that might be. I think I wrote the first draft in about seven months. For the most part, writing it was easy and natural, like breathing. I don’t remember any significant struggles -- writing Basajaun was just a joy. I started out at 500 to 600 words a day, but worked up to 1,000 pretty quickly. 1,200 is probably my high-average now. The most I’ve ever written in one day is 2,200, I think, but that’s unusual. My main works days are longer and more full after I’ve taken time off.

The best way for me to manage my goals is to work in secret, or semi-secret. I don’t like to talk a lot about what I’m working on while I’m doing it, or at least not until I get pretty far along in the project. Time organization is not my strong suit, but persistence is. Viewing the entire process in small pieces -- one chapter at a time -- is a huge help. I think the sheer magnitude of writing a novel is what sometimes intimidates people and derails their efforts. If you think, “Today, I’ll just write half a chapter,” and scale-down your focus to that segment, it’s a much more human-feeling task. 

I assume you have several favorite writers. Who are the authors you like most? Are they also the ones who most influence your writing?

   Yes. And yes. One of my favorite writers is my friend T. A. Barron -- author of The Lost Years of Merlin epic. Tom is a person who writes and lives with the same integrity. In addition to being an exceptional writer, he’s also an amazing human being. He’s the one who suggested I part ways with my rep when it became clear that partnership wasn’t the best fit for Basajaun. 

A big influence in writing Basajaun was Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials Trilogy -- The Golden Compass books. I adore Pullman’s work. Another was one of my own childhood inspirations, The Last Unicorn, by the marvelous Peter S. Beagle. I also love classic animal fiction -- Charlotte’s Web by E. B. White, Robert C. O’Brien’s Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH. My favorite book and film as a young child was Watership Down -- I think Richard Adams helped start my love of rabbits at an early age. Other favorite writers include Heather Lewis, Jim Carroll, Oscar Wilde, and John Irving. 

I am sometimes inspired by other media too -- Jim Henson’s The Storyteller series, which has a great fairy tale / folklore feel, The Night of the Hunter -- one of my favorite classic films -- and the British I, Claudius miniseries, which contains, among other things, one of my favorite father / son relationships in the arts. 

What would be the best professional advice you have received which has made you be a better writer? Who gave you this advice?

   Some of the best creative advice I ever heard was a quote from my fiance, concept artist and illustrator, Guy Davis: “Take your work seriously, but don’t take yourself too seriously.” It was advice he gave to another artist. Don’t let your feelings about yourself as a person negatively affect your relationship with your work. Entitlement, or conversely, extremely low self-esteem, can both be detrimental in your professional dealings.

Want more? Do not miss the second part of this fantastic interview!

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