The school of real life

real-life-school

Silk’s Post #152 — Learning to be a writer requires honing many skills, from the obvious – like proficiency with grammar, narrative and plot structure – to the less anticipated, including more than a passing acquaintance with marketing and development of a steely, independent work ethic. Successful writers today are less likely to be dreamy-eyed scribblers or muse-driven obsessives as they are to be disciplined entrepreneurs.

My point is that, given the right temperament and a reasonable modicum of talent, all this can be learned by the wannabe writer. And there’s no shortage of learning opportunities out there, from formal classes leading to degrees, to conferences, workshops, online courses, and a plethora of books and publications.

But storytelling – well, there’s a different skill set entirely. For me, a great storyteller is able to capture the attention and imagination of readers, engage them emotionally in the narrative, and make them care as deeply about the characters and the outcome as if the story truly affected their own personal lives.

As Helga discussed in her heartfelt post, “Dare to open that vein”, that kind of authentic storytelling comes from the writer’s own emotional capacity, borne of experience.

I might dare to say that there’s only one place to learn to be a storyteller: the school of real life.

The heart and soul of it is the ability to feel emotion and share it in a way that compels readers to feel it too. But is it enough to have deeply experienced life’s emotional ups and downs yourself? And if you have led an “ordinary” life that’s relatively free of wild adventure, high drama, emotional pinnacles, sharp reversals, and personal trauma – does that condemn you to a narrow range of shallow emotions as a writer? Or is there more to it than that?

Helga’s post got me thinking about this. I’ve read works by fantastic storytellers who write with emotional authenticity born of eventful, even adventuresome, lives. Helga gave some wonderful examples, like Ernest Hemingway and John Le Carré, and it’s easy add others such as Mark Twain and Sebastian Junger. But I’ve also read deeply engaging, emotionally charged stories by authors who’ve never done anything much more exciting than sit in a coffee shop, tapping out a tale on their laptop.

So what’s the magic ingredient?

Perhaps it’s how the writer engages in her own life, and the lives of others around her. How she interacts with the people and places in her life’s narrative. How she opens up and drinks it in, makes herself emotionally available to her experiences. How she observes people and their behaviour. How she empathizes with them. How she imagines the stories she sees played out in short, unfinished chapters at the coffee shop, on the street, in the airport, at a glimpsed accident or crime scene, even in newsclips on television. How she opens her eyes rather than turning away, and notices details and nuances. How she lets herself experience not only her own narrative, but also, vicariously, what happens to others. How she engages, pays rapt attention, rather than tuning out.

It seems to me this way of experiencing life takes three things: you must be naturally curious, you must be keenly observant, and you must be deeply empathetic. These are all major contributors to intuition, which I think is not so much a magical sense as a way of looking at and thinking about the world around you.

I suspect most people believe they’re doing all these things already, that they know “what’s going on”. But I’m always surprised at how many people I interact with who seem to walk through their lives in state of semi-awareness, at best.

They’re the ones who aren’t really paying attention to what others are saying, because they’re too busy inside their own heads, thinking about what they’re going to say next. They’re the ones who fail to notice when someone close by is in silent distress, or when there’s a disturbance in their peripheral vision, or when a comment made in a group of people chills the air and turns postures rigid. They’re the ones who miss their openings to probe a novel topic, or to watch an interesting scenario play out.

The real world has an unlimited treasure of things to learn, and where there are people, there are stories fuelled by the full range of emotions. I believe that if you study and appreciate people and what animates them, even in the most ordinary of circumstances, you can use those insights to create memorable characters facing extraordinary circumstances – from heroes to villains.

And if you get the characters right, characters that resonate, characters that jump off the page, then all the rest is, in a sense, circumstantial. A stage set. It’s the people who act, who drive the narrative forward, and who take your readers with them on their journey.

There are unlimited insights to learn in the school of real life, there for the taking. All you need to do is pay attention with open mind and open heart.

 

 

Shooting fish with a slingshot in the dark

Helga’s Post # 36 — It’s a good thing that it has been raining buckets for the last week. Perfect weather to hunker down and delve into my fellow writers’ manuscripts. To read and to critique, that is the agenda for the month. The process is in full flight and I enjoy finally seeing the product of my writing partners’ hard work. An amazing collection of genres, styles and characters of all stripes. A kaleidoscope of action, emotion, and raw energy.

As I read my fellow writers’ manuscripts, I wonder how on earth five people who write such diverse stories in styles that couldn’t be more different, ever managed to launch a group. Not only launch, but work with undiminished enthusiasm to support each other by making sure we keep on doing what brought us together in the first place: to write some damn good fiction. And I hope that if any of us will start having doubts about staying the course, the group will close rank and bring the errant stray back to the fold.

Two years and counting. Probably a lot more to come, unless one or more of us get published and too busy to participate, like founding member Sean Slater (his pen name). The rest of us would understand.

So back to the different styles and stories. It struck me that regardless of the diversity, we all have come a long way since we embarked on writing fiction. Since we followed the  arduous, but in so many ways rewarding trail of the writer’s journey. Yes, all those workshops at conferences and writers’ tool-kit books did rub off. I can see it in the manuscripts at hand. We do follow certain patterns. We start our stories with action. We put lots of work into developing our characters to make sure they are anything but mainstream, so as to catch and hold our reader’s interest. We follow story arcs (sort of) and, without perhaps consciously doing so, adhere to the writing advice dispensed by the Masters.

Never forget the Masters. Their wisdom illuminates the dark trail we writers have to travel, helping us reach our destination – a story that will delight our readers. Their wisdom may be buried within our subconscious, but it’s there, ready to be called upon. And what I glean from our manuscripts, an amazing amount comes through in our collective writing. With that in mind, I found some morsels from authors in quite different genres, all offering counsel to make our writing better. Whether as diverse as Ernest Hemingway and Elmore Leonard, there are common threads that bind them.hemingway5

To start with intrepid Old Man of the Sea himself:

‘Remove unnecessary bullshit’.

His words exactly. He reportedly told F. Scott Fitzgerald: “I write one page of masterpiece to ninety-one pages of shit. I try to put the shit in the wastebasket.”

‘When writing a novel a writer should create living people; people not characters. A character is a caricature.’

‘Don’t describe emotion – make it.’

Close observation of life is critical to good writing, he believed. The key is to not only watch and listen closely to life events, but to also listen to any emotion arising from them and identify what it was that caused the emotion. If you can identify it and present it accurately and fully rounded in your story, your readers should feel the same emotion.

‘Be brief.’

Hemingway was contemptuous of writers who, as he put it, “never learned how to say no to a typewriter.” In a 1945 letter to his editor, Maxwell Perkins, he wrote:

“It wasn’t by accident that the Gettysburg address was so short. The laws of prose writing are as immutable as those of flight, of mathematics, of physics.”

There is another story illustrating the point: Apparently, Hemingway was lunching with a number of writers and claimed that he could write a short story that was only six words long. Of course, the other writers balked. Hemingway told each of them to put ten dollars in the middle of the table; if he was wrong, he said, he’d match it. If he was right, he would keep the entire pot. He quickly wrote six words down on a napkin and passed it around; Papa won the bet. The words were “FOR SALE, BABY SHOES, NEVER WORN.” A beginning, a middle and an end.

I get a sense that all five of us are instinctively trying to follow these suggestions, and more. We don’t succeed entirely of course, but as I read our manuscripts, I can feel we are aware and trying. Hemingway is one of many icons dispensing writing wisdom, but there is a common theme. And I sense we have learned a great deal from the masters, and much of this is seeping into our writing.

For a different tack, let’s look at another author: (Try to guess whose. Don’t peek)

– The only way you can write the truth is to assume that what you set down will never be read. Not by any other person, and not even by yourself at some later date. Otherwise you begin excusing yourself. You must see the writing as emerging like a long scroll of ink from the index finger of your right hand; you must see your left hand erasing it.

– Hold the reader’s attention. (This is likely to work better if you can hold your own.) But you don’t know who the reader is, so it’s like shooting fish with a slingshot in the dark. What ­fascinates A will bore the pants off B.

– You most likely need a thesaurus, a rudimentary grammar book, and a grip on reality. This latter means: there’s no free lunch. Writing is work. It’s also gambling. You don’t get a pension plan. Other people can help you a bit, but ­essentially you’re on your own. ­Nobody is making you do this: you chose it, so don’t whine.

– You can never read your own book with the innocent anticipation that comes with that first delicious page of a new book, because you wrote the thing. You’ve been backstage. You’ve seen how the rabbits were smuggled into the hat. Therefore ask a reading friend or two to look at it before you give it to anyone in the publishing business. This friend should not be someone with whom you have a ­romantic relationship, unless you want to break up. (Emphasis mine)

– Don’t sit down in the middle of the woods. If you’re lost in the plot or blocked, retrace your steps to where you went wrong. Then take the other road. And/or change the person. Change the tense. Change the opening page.

– I never have [suffered writer’s block], although I’ve had books that didn’t work out. I had to stop writing them. I just abandoned them. It was depressing, but it wasn’t the end of the world. When it really isn’t working, and you’ve been bashing yourself against the wall, it’s kind of a relief. I mean, sometimes you bash yourself against the wall and you get through it. But sometimes the wall is just a wall. There’s nothing to be done but go somewhere else.

– Prayer might work. Or reading ­something else. Or a constant visual­isation of the holy grail that is the finished, published version of your resplendent book.

Yes, it’s from none other than our homegrown Margaret Atwood, her advice as sharp-witted as her own stories. I think we follow her advice in some fashion intuitively and without knowing its source. We certainly know (I hope) not to show our draft to someone with whom we have a romantic relationship. That’s what our critique group is for.

And last but not least, words that speak louder than the picture:

elmoreleonard

                        Elmore Leonard’s 10 Rules of Writing

If in doubt

doubt

Joe’s Post #19 — Ok, so there I was, staring at the screen, my Joe-face all scrunched up, looking at the words I’d written, the scene I’d redone. Then it hit me. Doubt. I’d changed the whole scene around, but what if it wasn’t the way to go? What if the first scene was better? What if my new coffee maker wasn’t really the best one to buy?

So how does one, such as myself, overcome doubts in a story?

The Top 10 Ways to Cure (or at least get over) Doubt:

1) Phone a friend. Another perspective always helps. “So, you know, should my character have sex with a dead dog? No? Ok, thanks!”

2) Take a break. Go for a walk. Clear your head. Sometimes you just need to get away from what you’re working on. You come back, a few hours later, a Timmies in your hand, and the answer may be clear.

3) Trust yourself. Sometimes doubt is just over-thinking. Should I have the medium pizza or the large? Should I have my scene start with dialogue or description? Either choice won’t change the world.

horoscope4) Read your horoscope. (This was my horoscope for yesterday.) If it says something like, “concepts you hear about today may seem confusing and bothersome, Aquarius. You might go off alone to try to make sense of them, but this isn’t the day to do  that,”  then you may just want to fug it all and go see a movie.  But come back next day!

5) Think of similar stories. How did those writer’s handle similar situations? Odds are, they didn’t let their hero have sex with dead dogs (although, to be fair, I haven’t read all of Chuck Palahniuk’s books)

6) Consult a psychic. Ok, funny story here. I went online to see about the whole psychic thing and there was a woman sitting in front of her computer crying. Above her “Free Chat With a Psychic.” W-T-F? It was the saddest thing I’ve seen in a long while.

drunk7) Have something to drink. No, I’m not saying go all Hemingway for a day, but sometimes a glass of wine, a bottle of beer, a shot of jack (or a quick smoke of something) might actually help calm the mind (or make you care less about the perfect solution.) Hot tea can even work for some. I have no idea why.

8) Ignore the problem. Hey, you aren’t Hemingway, drunk or not, so it’s ok to realize you can’t write the perfect novel. Leave what you last wrote and move on. Ben Franklin – “When in doubt, don’t.” I love this guy

9) Realize that doubts are fears. (Oh, I have to remember this for my characters!) They come from somewhere. Is it a good scene or am I afraid people will judge me for, you know, the whole dog thing.  Again, no wrong choices here but understand where your choice and fear and doubts are coming from.

10) Write the doubts (and fears) down on a piece of paper or type it out or scrawl it on the walls in blood (fake blood, right?) Afterall, if we’re writers and having doubts about our writing, doesn’t it kinda make sense we’d solve the problem by writing it out?

Today, for example, I think I used all 10.

Anyone else have any other ideas?

Pages Rewritten: 220

Turkey Dinners in 2013: 0

Doubts Quelled (this week): 2,396

Writing in the sun

IMG_0324

Paula’s Post #18 – Okay, I admit it. Since this challenge started on September 5th, I’ve been dancing a macabre pas de deux with a certain unnamed member of the 5writers. Inevitably, we seem to end up with our train of thought running down parallel tracks.

Can you guess who? Hint, hint. Why not check out the title of yesterday’s post?

Yesterday, Silk reminded us of the virtues of ‘Writin’ in the Rain’. I love that post. I also admit I love Gene Kelly and the movie, Singing in the Rain. If you haven’t seen the film, time to hit Netflix.  But just because i like the movie doesn’t mean I’m going to dance through the rain and stomp through puddles like Gene Kelly anytime soon.

Ugh.

I’m done with that. The truth is, this 5writer has seen enough rain to last a lifetime. So you’re safe Silk, I’m not going to revisit the topic of “Writin’ in the Rain. No, I’ve another take on that topic. The difficulty of ‘Writing in the Sun’.

I’m half-kidding of course, a feeble attempt to poke a little fun at Silk with my catchy, evocative, ever-so-slightly familiar title. But this post isn’t really about the weather. This post is about a somewhat more serious topic:

Depression.

The truth is, like me, many people who live in the Pacific Northwest and other cold grey climates suffer from SAD: Seasonal Affective Disorder or a milder variant known as the “Winter Blues. Seasonal Affective Disorder is a particular type of depression marked by lethargy, withdrawal, irritability, carbohydrate cravings, excessive sleep, fatigue, a drop in energy levels and difficulty concentrating and retaining information.

Sound familiar?

I’ve struggled for years with SAD and can honestly say I hate the cold grey days of winter and rain in particular. The further north one goes, the more prevalent SAD is yet within thirty degrees of the equator, the incidence is exceedingly rare.

Historically depression, whether a variant of Seasonal Affective Disorder or the good old fashioned, garden variety kind, was often referred to as “melancholia” a quaint, old-fashioned word evocative of the Victorian era.  Abraham Lincoln suffered from it and so, famously, did Winston Churchill who called it his “Black Dog”.

According to The Guardian UK, perhaps not surprisingly, we writers are at a greater risk of depression than those in other professions: isolation, financial uncertainty and self-doubt all contributing factors, with men noted to be at higher risk, though SAD is one exception, where an astounding 75% of those so afflicted are women.

Just look back, I’m sure a few names will come to mind: Ernest Hemingway, Sylvia Plath, William F Faulkner, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Malcolm Lowry, Joseph Conrad,  C.S. Lewis and Virginia Woolf to name just a few and I haven’t even started on the poets.

Maybe that’s one of the reason I’ve always shied away from even attempting anything remotely literary. Maybe I’m afraid to dwell too deeply on the dark side, to probe bleak thoughts and morbid desires and subject them to the writers’ magnifying glass.

Sorry, not me. I’ll take a nice, plot driven cozy or a galloping thriller thank you very much. Much more my style. And this year, just to make sure I keep the Winter Blues at bay, I’ve fled to the sunny climes of Southern California.

But writing in the sun presents problems, too. To start with, it’s, well… sunny. Pretty much all the time. Maybe that’s fine if you’ve lived in California all your life. Maybe you can cope with the fact that the sun is shining and just go about your business and get things done and continue to function like a normal human being.

But I’m Canadian  for God’s sake. And not just Canadian, a Vancouverite. If the sun is out, I’m supposed to be outdoors doing something like golf or tennis or bike riding. Sun is not to be squandered. Ever.

So, of course I’m now faced with an interesting dilemma. While most of my 5writers’ colleagues with the exception of Hawaii-bound Silk will be ‘singing in the rain’ metaphorically speaking, pounding out words under a cold, bleak winter sky, I’m faced with a dilemma: how am I ever going to finish this epic 5writers challenge, with an unremitting stretch of sunny days ahead.

Sure, today, I caught a break. Today, it was so cold in the desert, it almost counted as a rainy day.

Almost.

While my fellow snowbird’s grumbled about their golf tee times having been pushed back or how the wind was too strong for their tennis match, I seized the opportunity to just hunker down and write.

The weatherman says it’s going to be cold tomorrow, too. My big chance to pile up some pages before it warms up this weekend.

For me, like Silk, weather is definitely an issue. I don’t know if ultimately I’m going to be able to type ‘The End’ on February 5th, 2013. But I do know one thing:

I won’t be SAD.

Sun

Pie’s eaten this week – Hmm… I forgot the rule… do we count cake, or not? What about cookies?

Airplanes rides this week – 0

Airports visited this week – 0

Golf balls lost this week – 3

Target Word Count:    100,000

Progress to Date:          62,643

Words short of Target:  37,357

Pages Written to Date:  225

Target Page Count:       400

Pages short of Target.   175

For Whom the Bell Tolls

ErnestHemmingway_ForWhomTheBellTolls

Paula’s Post #16 – I hope you welcomed the New Year in with style and enjoyed this holiday season in the company of family and friends.

But the holidays are over.

A ‘New Year’ is here.

And a ‘New Year’ traditionally means new beginnings. New beginnings are always welcome, aren’t they? The proverbial fresh start. In fact, were we not already in the home stretch of this 5writers challenge, perhaps more than a few of this illustrious group might welcome the opportunity of a ‘New Year’ to chuck our current manuscript and run, run, run, run towards a brand new project.

Have you ever done that? Given up half way through a first or second draft of a novel? I have. Some of those manuscripts deserved it. Others, who knows? Maybe I just gave up too soon. Maybe I’ll come back and drag the deserving survivors out from under the bed sometime. But this year, the only thing we 5writers will be chucking is our old writing schedules.

I’m sorry, but let’s face facts. It’s time for some more arithmetic. Silk wrote a lovely little post on this very subject back in September, back when we were fresh out of the starting gate. Silk cautioned us that ‘arithmetic tells the truth’.

So, since this is New Year’s Eve, and I’m stealing minutes away from a fractious two-year old who deserves to have ‘Nana’ standing up beside her, dancing the night away with Justin Bieber and his bright red high tops as the clock tick’s down to midnight, I’m going to borrow a big chunk of this post from Silk’s September 24th post. I hope she won’t mind. I’ll even save you the trouble of looking it up. Silk wrote:

So what truth does arithmetic have to tell to writers?

Well, in the case of the crazy group who launched this 5 Writers 5 Novels 5 Months challenge, and those who follow us, here’s the arithmetic:

  • The 5 months between September 5, 2012 and February 5, 2012 span a total of 153 days.
  • While some of us 5 writers may already have put some actual words on the page, others (including myself) have been busy clearing our desks and figuring out how to get a successful blog up and running, so that as of today (September 21), we have 137 days to get the job done from a standing start. Okay, not “we” … me.
  • But wait … do I really have 137 days? Of course not. There are at least 8 “holidays” over that period, including my Halloween birthday and my 44th wedding anniversary, when I am not likely to write a word … leaving 129 days.
  • I also have just a few other commitments … an 11-day trip to Boston to see old friends, a visit with my nonagenarian mother-in-law in California, 4 days at theSurrey International Writer’s Conference, and an actual paying non-fiction writing gig for the University of Victoria … so the nice, round number I think makes more arithmetical sense is 100 days of writing time.
  • Yikes!

Here’s where the buoyant bubble of optimism, inspiration and hope comes into play. I have 100 days to write, say, 100,000 words. What are the chances of that happening?

Oops!

No 100 days left now,. Nope! That was back in September, with a lot of time off built in for good (or bad?) behaviour. I was never a math wiz, but the closer we get to February 5th, the easier the math gets.

“Thirty days have September, April June and November, all the rest have Thirty-One.”

Thank goodness for that. According to the little ditty above, in the 5 months of this 5writers challenge,  we’ve only been robbed in one of the aforesaid months, to wit: November. My November was a write off anyway, a busy month filled with birthdays, house-guests, professional conferences and travel. (Don’t even ask about December!) But let’s look on the bright side.  At least December had 31 days. though you wouldn’t know it judging from the super sonic speed by which it roared past us.

But back to the math.

math

January is a 31 day month. Our challenge runs until February 5th.

31 + 5 + 36

See? the arithmetic is getting easier. It’s only our challenge that is getting harder. With apologies to Ernest Hemingway and John Donne, I’ve done the math. I know for whom the bell tolls and it tolls for… me!

Hemingway helped to make this phrase commonplace in his Spanish Civil War novel. In his story, Hemingway meant  the phrase ‘for whom the bells tolls’ to illustrate that ‘no man is an island’. He emphasized the solidarity between the disparate allied groups fighting together against fascism.

But scholars generally attribute the origins of the phrase to a work by John Donne wherein the 17th C poet explored the interconnectedness of humanity.

john donne

No man is an Island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main. If a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as well as if a manor of thy friend’s or of thine own were: any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind, and therefore never send to know for whom the bells tolls; it tolls for thee.”

In some way, the philosophy behind the phrase is surprisingly appropriate for the unique individuals who collectively comprise the 5writers. We are not working in isolation. We communicate with one another. We communicate with our followers. On the 5writers website, we share our problems, our progress and our triumphs. We get valuable feedback and encouragement from our readers and from the comments you leave here for us.

Thank you. Your support means a lot to us.

Writing can be lonely, but we’ve used various devices to make it less so. (Thank you internet, whomever invented you). In addition to this blog, we 5writers also communicate privately in a special forum set up for that purpose. Sometimes we go silent for days, like Helga did for three weeks during her South American Cruise, sometimes one of us runs into a problem and we all throw in our two cents worth in an attempt to solve the problem. Sometimes, we just rant. But the point is, we communicate. We support one another. We cheer each other on!

We’ll I’m here to say enough already. The time for cheering is over!

It’s time to point out the cold hard truth! And if no man is an Island, then that means that the bell tolls not just for ‘me’ but for ‘thee’ and for ‘we’.

From my perspective, that means that the days of cheering us on are over. Now it’s time for spurs that jingle jangle jingle, because we need to be ‘spurred on’ not ‘cheered on’! Ridden hard, whip at the ready, down the home stretch.

36 Days!

This week’s reveal:

Words Written to Date: 48,551 (Up from 42,665 last week).

Target Word Count: 100,000

Words short of Target: 51,449

Pages Written to Date: 174

Target Page Count: 400

Pages Short of Target: 226

Pie’s eaten this week –   I plead ‘the fifth’, or, for our Canadian followers, s7 and s11(c) of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

Time for a little gossip

Paula’s Post #5 — This member of the 5writers has just hit the magical number: post #5!

Ha! I bet you thought I was about to reveal something more earthshaking. Perhaps my page count to date, or the number of acts in my novel (which would be an erroneous guess, as, if you’ve read my previous posts, you would know that I’m trying to follow the traditional ‘Three Act Structure’, Not ‘Five Acts’ – at least I hope not).

But while thinking about the fact that this is now my 5th post, and trying to decide on a subject matter for this latest post, I had an epiphany!

Dear faithful readers, I fear we may be boring you to death!

While we, the 5writers,  may enjoy debating the merits of StoryMill vs Scrivener as the best writing software, or whether outlining or not outlining is the best way to go. You may be tired of these rather arcane, academic debates. After all, one cannot watch only the news, read only documentaries, or remained transfixed by C-SPAN.

Sometimes we just need to be entertained.

And while many of our posts may have been somewhat entertaining, by and large, the subject matter which I would loosely characterize as ‘the process’ of writing, may, by now,  be wearing a bit thin, even for our most loyal followers.

So, thanks to facebook, which I’m ashamed to say is responsible for more than a few of my latest ‘inspirations’ I have picked up a few ‘tidbits’ of gossip.

Gossip about writers.

Suddenly I knew what this blog post should be about. Suddenly I knew how to entertain you. All I need to do is provide you with a few fleeting glimpses into the personal lives of some of the your favourite authors.

This isn’t just base gossip mongering. I started down this road of inquiry with laudable intentions: I wanted to find out how the very successful writers I so admired somehow managed to balance their busy lives with the challenge of getting words down on paper. (If you believe most of them, almost every single day).

So, since the focus on the process of writing may have become unbearable, here, in no particular order and with no particular theme, are the gossipy tidbits I’ve learned about some of our favourite novelists.

1. John GrishamThe Firm is not, as most believe, Grisham’s first novel. His first novel, A Time to Kill was rejected by dozens of agents and publishers before it was finally published by a small regional press, with a printing run of just 5,000 copies. Only after the success of The Firm was A Time To Kill resurrected, acquired by Doubleday and turned into a bestseller and blockbuster feature film starring Samuel L. Jackson and Matthew McConaughey.

2. George Orwell: The British author’s work Animal Farm was apparently originally rejected by Knopf on the basis that ‘it is impossible to sell animal stories in the US’.

3. Truman Capote: The eccentric author iis quoted as saying: “I am a completely horizontal author. I can’t think unless I’m lying down, either in bed or stretched on a couch and with a cigarette and coffee handy. I’ve got to be puffing and sipping.”

(Now, I can relate to Mr. Capote as, I too, am guilty of writing lying down – though with my laptop, not pen and paper, and God knows I get nowhere without my typical eight shots of caffeine before noon).

4. John Cheever: this author favoured writing in his underwear, reputedly explaining this practice by commenting “why rumple and wrinkle when you can do the same thing in your skivvies?”

5. Ernest Hemingway: One of the most famous of all authors, with a colourful reputation for drinking and carousing, reputedly attempted to write 500 words a day, always in the morning, before the heat made it unbearable. He is, however, reputed to have stated, in a letter to fellow author F. Scott Fitzgerald: “I write one page of masterpiece to ninety-one pages of shit. I try to put the shit in the wastebasket.”

6. Isaac Asimov: The prolific science fiction author of approximately 400 fiction and non-fiction books reputedly never drank alcohol and wrote with his desk facing a blank wall.

7. William Faulkner:  On the other hand, Mr. Faulkner reportedly worked for a bootlegger in his early days and drank copious quantities of whiskey.

8. Dean Koontz: who prolifically pens supernatural thrillers, has written more than 50 novels, 45 of which have been on The New York Times’ best-seller list. Although his books are often ‘dark’, he has been quoted as saying: “My villains are pathetic. I never glorify a villain. I couldn’t write something like Hannibal because there’s something there that makes the villain the most glamorous person in the piece. I can’t write that. I don’t find evil glamorous. You’ll never find it that way in my books.”

9. Elizabeth George: Author of the excellent Write Away, where she recounts her approach to fiction and ‘the writing life’ is a ‘California Girl’ now transplanted to the Pacific Northwest. Her Scotland Yard detective series, featuring Inspector Lynley and his side-kick Havers, is so authentic that British readers have difficulty believing she is American. She is, and not only that, is also a relatively close neighbour to the 5writers, having taken up residence on Whidbey Island, just across the border from us in Washington State. Rumour has it that she has a passion for Dachshunds.

10. Agatha Christie: the Grand Dame of detective fiction and creator of both the iconic Poirot and Miss Marple characters, loved to surf.

So, as you may have guessed, wannabe surfer Paula has saved, what she considers ‘the best for last’. Who amongst you would have pictured Agatha on a surf board? But I promise it is true. Her real life surfing adventures are being published by Harper Collins: The Grand Tour, with diaries and photographs from author’s round-the-world adventure.  

So that is my list! And I have to admit I hate to quit now, so much more to tell. If you have any tidbits of gossip or arcane kernels of wit or wisdom regarding the lives of famous authors, please don’t hesitate to share them with us here.

I’ll be especially grateful for those that provide inspiration!

Now, time to get back to outlining (and no, I haven’t started writing yet … just in case you were curious).

Paula’s Disclaimer: the above is a result of what I call ‘surfing research’, in other words, visits to multiple, diverse web pages containing gossip, trivia and other unsubstantiated information and quotations. Please treat the above as such. I have included links for each author mentioned, but like all my surfing, there is no one source, no style manual I followed, no rhyme nor reason to the links I chose (other than, in the case of writers with their own official web pages, I have tried to provide a ‘click through’ to their own sites).