A life sentence with mortal punctuation: part 8

How did what was supposed to be a mere two-part guest post get to be this huge?  I think it’s what project managers call “scope creep.” 🙂  Essentially, the story demanded something more, and as with many of the things I write, it told me the shape it wanted to be in.

Thanks to everyone who’s stuck with me through this very personal tale.  If it touches you in any way, I encourage you to like, share, comment, or subscribe as your conscience dictates.

I’ll take the opportunity here to remind everyone that while this story is based on my life, that it is filtered through my frame, and is, no more and no less than anything else I write, a story.

Last week: I discussed some of the things that I do to keep the wolf of my depression from the door, or perhaps invite it in, let it curl up by the hearth, and make itself at home.

This week I’m going to pick up the original thread of the tale where I left it.

Those sixteen years

The years during which I was “growing up,” getting a job, and learning how to deal with my depression were largely fallow ones for me creatively.  I got off to a good start in my undergrad years, both at Guelph and at Laurentian, but faltered during my struggle to achieve my master’s degree.

Though my primary poetic publications, NeoVerse and Battle Chant, emerged around the time that I finally received my graduate degree, I found it difficult to continue writing.  A handful of scattered publications in poetry and a short-lived foray into publishing weren’t enough to validate my still-fragile writer’s ego.

I’ve never had a thick skin.

As I slowly worked through my issues, however, I started to realize that writing wasn’t something I did or didn’t do.  It’s something I am.  My inability to commit to the writing life on a regular basis made me question my calling.  If I couldn’t write, how could I call myself a writer?  Maybe it was time to throw in the towel and commit to a life without magic.

The sheer impossibility of that thought told me that writing was what I was meant to do.  I just had to find my way to it without a map or any orienteering skill whatsoever.

Upon my triumphant return from Windsor and contract jobs interspersed with unemployment, Phil and I decided to get a puppy.  We already had two cats, one a three-legged refugee from my days at the Veterinary Emergency Clinic in Mississauga, the other a sweet-natured black cat that Phil got me for my birthday one year.

Our dependent quadrupeds helped me immensely.  I believe that pets have a lot to teach us about unconditional love and being good people.  My pets are some of the best people I’ve known 😉

I got my full time job with my current employer.  Phil and I got a house and a car.  I made use of my new benefits to get some serious work done on both my body and my mind.  I figured out that medication was not the way to address my feral disease.

My mother was still working, part-time at the local hospital, at home, taking care of my father, who had graduated to a disability pension and therapy, and at the seniors’ residence where my grandfather now lived.

I went out with her to see my grandfather about once a week, and helped her to transport him to his various appointments.  My father began to have issues with his heart, eventually diagnosed as arrhythmia and congestive heart failure.  He got a pace-maker, and a new suite of medications.

Shortly after retiring from the hospital, my mom developed diabetes.  Dad started to fall.  If it happened at home, either Phil or I, or both of us would have to help Mom, because Dad couldn’t get up under his own power and she couldn’t lift him.  If it happened outside home, it generally involved a hospital stay.  Dad was on Cumadin by this time and as a result, even the smallest injury could become serious due to the complications of the medication.

Then my dog died

ZoeIt wasn’t something sudden.  Zoe developed hemangiosarcoma and though we caught it early, the vet wasn’t able to catch it all with surgery and internal lavage.

The issue with this particular type of canine cancer is that it likes vascular areas, that is, places in the body where blood vessels tend to gather, like the spleen and the liver.  Once it takes hold, it disseminates quickly and almost always results in death.

The biopsy taken in the surgery came back malignant.  It would only be a matter of time.  As it turned out, we only bought Zoe a couple of weeks.

At first, it seemed like she was recovering.  Phil and I had taken to sleeping on the futon in the living room so we could be close to her if problems arose.

The morning she woke me at 5 am looking for comfort was her last.

I won’t describe that morning other than to say that I called in sick.  I was devastated.  For the first time, I cried legitimately over the loss of a loved one.

Papa

My maternal grandfather was the only one of my grandparents left alive.  He’d been a hard-core smoker, and alcoholic for most of his life.  When my grandmother passed away, he reacted poorly and within a few months, a fall resulting from TIA, landed him in the hospital.

From there, arrangements were made to move him into a seniors’ residence and for many more years, he lived happily, adjusting to the fact that he couldn’t drive anymore, that he had to go outside the residence to smoke, and that he had to depend on my mother to ration him a few beer on special occasions.

Some irregularities regarding his heart landed him in the hospital and when I got the call at work that I should come to the hospital, I had a bad feeling.  In the time it would take me to get the car, drive to the hospital, find parking, and get to his room, I could walk, so I sped along as quickly as I could, hoping that he would hold on long enough for me to get there.

Turns out he’d already passed away when I got the call.

Papa’s passing wasn’t all that traumatic for me.  He’d lived 94 years despite his addictions and was, so far as I know, happy.  I also felt confident that I had been there for him as much as I could.

I helped Mom settle his estate.  Being able to help her out in that way made another big difference for me.

I received a small inheritance, just enough to invest in my first laptop computer.  That year, I started to get back to my writing and the novel I’d conceived of all those years ago in university.

In another year, Phil and I felt that we could bear the love of another pup.  That was when we got the Nuala-beast.

The butt-in-chair breakthrough

Though I was writing more, I wasn’t writing daily yet.  It wasn’t until Nino Ricci came to town to do a workshop with the Sudbury Writers’ Guild that my head got turned around the right way on that.

It was his sharing of his own guardian tale that helped so much.  Every writer has at least one, that big name, well-established Author who tells you that your work is crap.

The breakthrough was that I could choose not to let the well-meant, but unfortunate words of my guardian keep me from entering the inner sanctum and gaining my prize.

Productive or not, I’ve been writing every day since, and that, as the poet said, has made all the difference.

The diabetic cat

Our little black cat, Thufir (named after the Mentat Thufir Hawat due to his fondness for Thufir Hawat the Mentat Catflashing lights) developed feline diabetes.  Phil and I were surprised because he wasn’t obese or showing any of the other signs, but his blood glucose level didn’t lie.

He was on Metformin for a year and graduated to insulin after that.  I became very adept at taking his blood sugar levels and injecting him daily.  He came to tolerate, if not anticipate his injections, like he knew that they made him feel better.

Once again, however, it was a matter of time.  Eventually, organ failure took out little guy.

I wasn’t sad this loss either.  I’d been the best kitteh-mama I could have been and I knew that I’d done well by him.  I’d kind of made my peace with death by this time.

I’m going to leave things here for now.  The next big event for me was the death of my father, and that’s going to need a post unto itself.

After that, I’m going to delve into my insights into happiness as a result of all I’ve learned and that will be the culmination of the series.

Tomorrow I’m going to be writing the Wordsmith Studio Anniversary post 🙂  What’s that, you ask?  Read and find out, my friends.

Coming soon: I have a few wonderful authors who have agreed to do interviews for little ole me.  Look out in the next few weeks for six questions with fantasy author J. L. Madore, poet Barbara Morrison, and D. J. McIntosh, author of The Witch of Babylon, and the soon-to-be-released The Book of Stolen Tales.

I’m finding all sorts of writerly goodness to share 🙂

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Caturday Quickies: The Very Inspiring Blog Award

Vikki Thompson nominated me for the Very Inspiring Blog Award!

Very Inspiring Blogger Award

It’s so nice to be recognized by your peers!

So without further ado, here are my seven deadlies:

  1. I’m a scorpio.
  2. I was born on Hallowe’en.  Yes, you can say it … I’m a witch 🙂
  3. I received my Master of Arts in English Literature and Creative Writing in 1999 from the University of Windsor.  Certain of my professors are probably cringing right now!
  4. I play the lottery in the vain hope of winning one day and being able to retire early.  I did say it was a vain hope, didn’t I?
  5. I used to play MMO’s (massively multi-player online role-playing games, for those of you not in the know).  In reverse order: Champions, WOW, Free Realms, Atlantica, City of Heroes/Villains, EverQuest, Asheron’s Call, Ultima Online.  Never hard core.
  6. Similarly, I used to play pen and paper RPG’s, but though the experience may have fed my creativity, I would never write a book based on any of my gaming sessions.
  7. I listen to music when I write, from Kate Bush to Lacuna Coil, Crosby, stills, Nash, and Young to 3 Doors Down.  Occasionally, I pull out the Eddas, Berlioz, or the Carmina Burana 😉

And my seven virtuous nominees:

I know some of you have been nominated before, so you don’t have to go through the process if you don’t want to.  Just want you wonder ladies to know how your online efforts inspire me 🙂

Tomorrow:  A life sentence with mortal punctuation continues with … the friends wars!

Caturday Quickies

Character sketches part 3: Dairragh McKillian

Previously of work in progress: Character sketches Part 1: Ferathainn Devlin and Character sketches part 2: Eoghan MacDubghall.

In the beginning …

Dairragh was pretty much what he is now, a young lord, but originally, he too, fell in love with my heroine.

You could have called Initiate of Stone Everyone Loves Ferathainn 🙂  Eoghan loved her, Dairragh loved her, even the character that became Khaleal (more on him and some of the other antagonists next week) loved her.  It was terrible. You’ll remember I was seventeen when I first came up with the idea.

Back then, after the monk left her to become the Kas’Hadden, Dairragh came into Ferathainn’s life and their fiery conflict turned to love, but she couldn’t quite get the kindly monk out of her mind.  At that time, there was completely different climax in the King’s City, what I’ve since renamed Drychtensart.

Instead of the potential Kas’Hadden (Eoghan’s brother Callum) being executed for heresy at the start of the novel, Eoghan as the Kas’Hadden is captured by Kane’s army and publically executed at the end.  Dairragh and Ferathainn try to save the Kas’Hadden, but Dairragh only manages to get in the way of the executioner’s axe, an enchanted thing, and die along with Eoghan.

Kane kept the souls of those he vanquished that version of the story, much like a voudoun priest keeps his fetishes.  Ferathainn escaped and had to try to figure out how to get the souls of Eoghan and Dairragh out of Kane’s collection of enchanted artifacts.

Enter Khaleal, who remorseful, repentant, and tragically in love with Fer (yes, this is why I changed this whole sequence of events … too saccharine) sneaks into Kane’s soul chamber and retrieves the two artifacts for Ferathainn to prove his switch to her side is genuine.

In the epic battle that originally ended the novel, both artifacts end up broken, and Khaleal makes the decision to house both lost souls until they can somehow be restored to human form.

Like Ferathainn’s original story line with trauma heaped on top of trauma, it was too much.  Moving forward, it would be too confusing, and the three-person spiritual chimera was too contrived.

How he evolved

First, I decided that Dairraigh couldn’t be a legitimate love interest for Ferathainn.  That didn’t mean I couldn’t play …

Thanks to a course I took on Renaissance Romance at the University of Windsor, I got an idea.  One feature of the pastoral romance was two siblings, separated from birth, discover each other again, and usually through a romantic near-miss.

So I decided that Ferathainn and Dairragh would grow attached to one another, only to discover that they were brother and sister.  Then to ratchet up the drama, I made Fer his half sister, fathered by his mortal enemy.

Halthyon Morrhynd (again more on him next week with my villainous gallery) is the author of every tragic event in Dairragh’s life, as he understands it.  Because Halthyon is a mage/sourceror (more on my magic system in a future world-building post), Dairragh has a hatred for everything having to do with magick, and when he first meets Ferathainn, he sees her performing magick.  This hatred also gives a little more pop to their story line going forward.

Love is a sub-plot/theme in my novel, and I decided that Dairragh needed a partner other than Ferathainn.  This gave rise to the people that became the anogeni, the hidden people.  When Halthyon, in the service of the Black King (another of my villains) destroys Dairragh’s home and gives Dairragh a wound that will kill him, the anogeni find him, restore him, and shelter him through Vedranya, the season of storms (again, part of a future world-building post).

One of their number, Shia, is his chief caretaker, and tries to teach him the anogeni way.  Because she is both his healer and teacher, Dairragh falls in love with Shia, but he doesn’t realize it until later.  Why not?  Because the anogeni are tiny people, and the physical impossibility of a complete relationship prevents him from seriously entertaining one.  This changes though.

The Sketch

Name: Dairragh McKillian of Gryphonskeep

Nickname: Dair

Birth date/place: 22 years ago in Kirksea

Character role: Secondary protagonist

Age: 22

Race: Tellurin (Eiran)

Eye colour: Dark blue

Hair colour/style: Black

Build (height/weight):  6’, athletic, 180 lbs

Skin tone:  Caucasian, but tans well

Style of dress: breeches and hose, tunics, as a young lord, he can afford his own armour, coat of arms: gold Gryphon rampant on a red field.

Characteristics/mannerisms: Grinds his teeth when irritated.  Anger management issues. Has an unbridled hatred for magi.

Personality traits: Stubborn and wilful.  Innate sense of nobility and the obligations of his class.  Values family and history.  By virtue of his station, he believes he is always right and he doesn’t realize he’s being self absorbed.  Frequently acts impulsively but is lucky.  All of this hiding a devastating insecurity.

Background: Dairragh is a descendent of the de Corvus line, and thus a person of power, but he hates magick and resists this part of his inheritance.  He is related to Ferathainn, the original Kas’Hadden, and Raven Margrove (who is actually his cousin, Nicolas de Corvus).

Dairragh is the only son of Killian and Aline.  He was born on the family estate of Tulach Daire (oak hill) for which Dairragh was named.  The neighbouring estate is Cúas (the den) and Eamon O’Faolin fostered Dairragh periodically at their other estate in Drychtensart while Killian fought for his right to Gryphonskeep. Killian’s father, Adair, did not think Killian deserving of the privilege of lordship or care of the Gryphons.

Dairragh was brought up as a noble knowing all of the privileges of his class.  His mother was from the Parimi lands and his parents’ marriage was arranged.  Aline never loved Killian and after Dairragh was born, she refused to attempt to have another child.

When Dairragh was still a child, she had an affair with a visiting mage (Halthyon Morrhynd) and became pregnant.  Rather than face Killian’s rage, she fled, found her way to Hartsgrove where she gave birth, then abandoned the child (Ferathainn) and returned to Gryphonskeep never speaking of what had happened.

This is when Killian became embittered and turned to abusing his son verbally and physically.  Aline withdrew and except for court occasions, drank herself into oblivion.

When Dairragh was 12 years old, Morrhynd returned and Aline willingly left Killian after years of misery following the sourceror’s last visit.  Killian became enraged, declared all-out war on Morrhynd and tried to retrieve Aline, who he thought of as his property.  He brought his young son with him to teach Dairragh about his obligations.  Morrhynd appeared to have holed up in an old fort with Aline, but when Killian breached the building, he only discovered Aline, dead.  Actually, it was the young Dairragh who first found his mother’s corpse.

This event entrenched Dairragh’s hatred of magi.

Dairragh loves the Gryphons.  They are his solace and he takes great pride in caring for and training them. Dairragh is an accomplished warrior, archer, and jouster.  He has competed in and won several tournaments.  He has also defended Gryphonskeep and its lands against bandits and other threats.

Dairragh looks forward to the day when Killian will cede lordship to him, but Killian continually finds ways to undermine Dairragh’s accomplishments and worth, and denies his son his inheritance.

In reality, Killian fears that Dairragh will be killed and he will lose his only heir.  He also fears that his son will prove to be more worthy than he of Gryphonskeep and its responsibilities.  Aline always loved the boy more than him, and the Gryphons respond to him better as well.  He doesn’t believe that Dairragh should get anything without a struggle.  Nothing won easily will be held dearly.

Internal conflicts: Dairragh is full of pride and a sense of self-importance that hide his deep insecurities about his worth.  He has to overcome this before he can care enough about others to become a true hero.

Shia and the anogeni try to overcome Dairragh’s hatred of magick and magi because only by learning to use the weapons of his enemy can Dairragh defeat him.  Dairragh is stubborn, however, and old enmities die hard.

When he first meets Ferathainn and realizes she is a mage, he hates her by virtue of her talent.  Eventually he comes to respect her talent, and begins to feel affection for her.  His growing affection becomes confused with lust, but when Dairragh learns that Ferathainn is actually his half-sister, he is thrown into guilt over his inadvertent but incestuous desires and has to find some way to deal with his feelings of hatred for Halthyon.  Ferathainn is his sister and the only family he has left, but she is also the daughter of his sworn enemy.

External conflicts:  The physical injuries that Halthyon gives him at the destruction of Gryphonskeep.

Vedranya.

Halthyon wants to humiliate Dairragh and destroy him.

The Black King and Yllel seek to kill Dairragh because he is part of the force working to destroy them.

What Dairragh might look like

Again, my drawings of Dairragh are incomplete and I’m not satisfied with them.

My early inspiration for Dairragh was that character of Madmartigan, as portrayed by Val Kilmer in Willow (one of my favourite movies of all time).  Just give him a beard.

Which brings me to my second exemplar: Colin Farrell.  Dairragh is my world’s version of Irish after all.

That will give you an idea of Dairragh.

Next week: The Villainous Gallery

Until then, my friends, good luck and good writing!

The Windsor years and what they really taught me

Last time on My history as a so-called writer: I found awesomeness at Laurentian University 🙂

I should have just kept writing.   

Unfortunately, I was still insecure about my craft and all of my friends were either heading to teachers’ college, or graduate school, or had already left.  So I thought it was the thing to do, something that had to be done to show that I had “the chops.”

Still living at the mercy of events, I applied to UVic, UNB, and Windsor.  Victoria rejected me outright, New Brunswick said that they would accept me to their academic program, but not to the creative one, but Windsor said they’d take me, so that’s where I went.

Phil was still completing his degree in computer science at Laurentian, so I was on my own.  We took a trip down in August apartment hunting and I signed a lease for a year for a room in a house that was within a five-minute walk of the campus.

I started off filled with hope, but struggled.  My courses in research and methodology, the Pre-Raphealites, and the new Canadian writers were great, but early Canadian women writers was a bomb and because my primary interest was in writing genre, the creative writing part of things did not go very well either.

I even tried to resurrect pieces of the novel idea I conceived of at Guelph, but a very dim view was taken of my fantasy.

I was nearly shamed away from my novel.  It wasn’t worthy.  I wasn’t worthy.  I kept on being asked questions like, “You have this character smoking.  You know that tobacco wasn’t discovered until Europeans reached the New World, right?”  It was all about historical detail.  But my fantasy world isn’t this world, and its history has little to nothing in common with the real world.  “But you just can’t go picking and choosing what you want from history …”  Why not?  Seriously.  What’s to say that I have to write my fantasy like a historical novel?  If I wanted to write historical fiction, then I would.  But I don’t.  (At least not right now.  I have this idea though …)

Therein lay the difficulty.  Submitting two to five pages of my novel at a time wasn’t allowing anyone to really get into the story.  Things would just get to a point where they were developing into something interesting, and then everyone would have to wait until the next week.  Momentum was lost and most of my classmates felt nothing but contempt for my chosen genre.

A lot of comments focused on the impossibility of what I was writing.  “She couldn’t survive what happened to her.”  “That defied the laws of physics.”  My characters are heroes in the epic sense, though.  Their survival hinged on the fantastic nature of their gifts and talents.  They have to be “bigger than life” in order to merit their place in the overall plot.  And magic does defy physics.  Actually, my magick has its own physics (more on that in a future world-building post).

Fantasy, especially the high, epic fantasy that I like to write, is all about the impossible.  I wasn’t trying to straddle the improbable but plausible line that defines most science fiction.  (Although I have an idea or two in that direction as well …)

I tried other stories and genres:  A YA fantasy about a girl whose figments turn out to be real; a post apocalyptic tale featuring a male protagonist; poetry; more traditionally literary short stories.  With the exception of my poetry, my work was largely panned.

My classmate, Laurie Smith, got me involved in the Wayzgoose reading series and some of my poetry was published in the Wayzgoose anthology.  I became editor of Generations, the student-published poetry anthology, and tried my hand at presenting a paper at the ACCCSAL conference (speculative fiction).  So it wasn’t a complete bust.

I have to admit though, with respect to the idea that would become Initiate of Stone, that my characters had no character.  They were merely vehicles to move the plot, which was also evolving at the time.  Theme was also a work in progress.  Still, by the time I was finished at Windsor, or rather by the time Windsor was finished with me, I was well and truly wounded.

My advisor at the time, Alistair MacLeod, did not hide his dismay regarding my choices, and to his credit, I’m sure he was doing his best to guide and support me.  He praised my poetry, and I’m certain that if I’d chosen to move in that direction, we would have gotten along swimmingly.  As it was, the presentation of the work I chose to do, confused him at best, and disappointed him, in the most tragic of senses, at worst.

He was a mentor, a writerly father figure, and his dismay was hard to take.  I was still tender then, and I retreated in defeat.

I’ve talked a lot about teachers, the good, the bad, and the ugly.  You may get the idea that I dislike them, but I don’t.  I’ve had as many positive and supportive teachers as I’ve had teachers that just didn’t understand me, and it’s a matter of timing and circumstances as anything else.

What I took away from my experience at Windsor, though it took me years to discover, is that a teacher’s job is to teach.  The teacher may not agree with the way in which the student wants to apply their knowledge and experience, but that should not be the issue.  Even if the teacher believes that the student is only setting themselves up for failure, it is not the teacher’s responsibility, or even right, to deny the experience of that failure to the student.

Instead, what the teacher should do is his or her best to impart the skills that will enable the student to meet that failure and learn from it, rather than being crippled by it.  If the teacher has such strong reservations that he or she feels that they can honestly not discharge their duty to the student, then she or he should refer the student to someone who can.

It’s not too much to ask.

Mind you, the student should stand up for herself and demand the help she needs.  I still wasn’t very good at confrontation and fled at every turn.  What happened at Windsor was my fault more than anyone else’s.  I have to take responsibility for my poor choices.

I took a year off and once again tried to sort things out, but I was badly damaged.  I worked at both the Huntington and Cambrian College libraries and subsequently became unemployed.  I was entering contests again though and won several, in short fiction and in poetry.  I participated in more readings, and more writers’ groups.

With Kim Fahner, I embarked on what might have been a foolish enterprise: a poetry journal.  The aptly named … like lemmings … only lasted 2 years.  The name was more about the editors than about the poetry, but I’m sure you get the idea.  Kim and I moved on to bigger and better things after that.  It was brilliant while it lasted though.

Then Dani Harris, a former student of mine (I was a Graduate Assistant at Windsor—doesn’t every grad student teach?) let me know that there was a new professor in the English department, Di Brandt.  With Dani’s encouragement, herself and excellent poet, I registered for another year and determined that this time, I would succeed.

I found a new mentor, but I still couldn’t bring myself to trust her fully.  My experiences in writing to that point had only taught me that editors, friends, and teachers couldn’t be trusted with my work.  They’d also taught me that the stories I wanted to tell weren’t the stories that should be shared with anyone.

So I compromised and chose stories that I thought I could tell, that I thought would be accepted.  That was my problem though and not something that I would overcome for some time.  My stories were all of young women finding their way by means of dream, and spiritual quest, and damn good friends.

The one risk was a story that did cross the line and tread into the dreadful world of fantasy.  Initially presenting with obsessive-compulsive disorder and insomnia, my protagonist developed precognitive dreams and telekinesis.  It was the one risk I couldn’t refuse to take.

I wrapped the collection up in shamanism and called it Whispers in the Dark.

Di Brandt was the teacher I needed .  She encouraged me and saw me through to the successful completion of my master’s degree.  For that, I will be forever grateful.

As you might be able to guess, my next great teacher in life was Di Brandt.  With her assistance, I conquered my fears, defended my thesis, and completed that chapter of my life.  I also met Miriam Toews, a friend of Di’s and author of the Governor General’s Award-winning A Complicated Kindness.

Was there a time when you cut and ran?  Did you rally and fight back?  What did you learn from the experience?

What got me going again

Last time on work-in-progress:

In an environment rich in creativity and ideas, I started to write my first novel.  When I left that environment, I abandoned the project … sort of.

The thing is that those two spiral-bound notebooks full of my scribbling, typewritten pages full of corrector tape, and the few scattered dot matrix print-outs, never really left me. The novel was called Rain then, after the main character.  As the title might tell you, my idea started with my protagonist.  The story was hers, and all about her journey.  All the other characters grew out of her story.

Over the next years, I tried refining my opening paragraphs.  I worked on a prologue, and a couple of pivotal scenes.  I wanted scope, breadth, space.  I felt I had to develop my world and my characters kind of got lost in the shuffle.

I enrolled in a creative writing course by correspondence and received my first computer as a part of that deal.  In between writing assignments, I worked at my novel again.  It was in fits and starts though, no dedicated time.  I wasn’t really sure what I wanted to do with the story and where I wanted it to go.  The name changed to Rayne.  Could that count as progress?

After some soul searching about what I wanted to do with my life, I decided to complete the bachelor’s degree I started at the University of Guelph.  I chose Laurentian University in Sudbury, and felt that focusing on an English degree would be my best bet.  My ambition was to become the best writer I could be.  I’d turn the academic world to my purpose.

My writing improved substantially during my years at LU and workshops like Susanna Kearsley‘s gave me a boost.  So too, did my slew of writing successes: a contest win; a short story written for the premiere issue of Parsec Magazine; a regular column in Llambda (LU’s student newspaper); an article in Slin Roller Magazine.  It never translated into my opus though.

I made another fateful (and ultimately foolish) decision to pursue my education by completing a master’s degree in English literature and creative writing at the University of Windsor.  Though I trotted out my novel (and other novel ideas) there, because my chosen genre was fantasy, my work was disparaged.  After leaving discouraged, and returning to complete my degree with a thesis composed of vaguely literary short stories framed by the shamanic journey, I felt defeated rather than victorious, and couldn’t look at my novel for a long time.

After Windsor, I had some modest success in other creative endeavors: poetry and short stories.  Every once in a while, though, I’d have to pull out the old notes.  Once I got my lap top computer, things took off a little more.

By the time I’d joined the Sudbury Writers’ Guild in 2004, and attended Rosemary Aubert‘s workshop in 2005, I’d closed in on the fifty-page mark (oft-revised and agonized over).  I still wasn’t writing every day though.  I just couldn’t get my butt wedged firmly enough in the chair.  There was always something else that needed to be done first.

Then came Nino Ricci.  One of the SWG had met him and managed to arrange for him to come to Sudbury.  It was to be a weekend of workshopping our stories/novels/poetry.  In the course of the workshop, Nino talked about his own development as a writer, his years at York University, and his own challenges with his thesis advisor.  From that weekend, I learned that perseverance and passion win out.  I also knew that I had a long way to go on my novel, but the only way I could get there would be to write it.

Writing

Writing (Photo credit: J. Paxon Reyes)

Another thing Nino said that settled in was that his first drafts, at least at that time, were written to get his ideas out.  Sometimes the next draft was completely different.  Sometimes, he didn’t even refer to the first.  I’d heard the message many times over the years that first drafts didn’t have to be perfect, or even particularly well-written.  First drafts have to be written, though.  I finally understood.

I started writing every day and was amazed at how easy it was.  I made a commitment, a decision.  I was finally taking control of my creative life.  The initial goal was simply to write.  Once my practice was consistent and the habit ingrained, I aimed for a page a day, then two.

I emailed Nino after the workshop to thank him for the opportunity and to let him know the influence he’d had on my creative life.  Always gracious, Nino wrote back with some kind words of his own.

Even though I had a full time job by this time, I kept at it, and two years later, I’d finished my first draft.

How did you start writing your novel?  Was it a focused effort, or did you struggle?  Did mentors appear to guide you, or were you confronted by guardians at the gates?