Thursday, November 26, 2009

Crime on a Dime - my first big CWC event

It was my first big event with the Crime Writers of Canada, and it was an adventure, let me tell you!

We advertised the "Crime on a Dime" event through book clubs and writing clubs, through community newspapers, websites, and so forth – and Louise even posted it to her blog, which drew out at least one additional fan. My friend Mady did the flyers, the posters and the community news notifications (plus translations). And I rented a sound system with four mikes, so everyone could talk at once (I hate when you have to share mikes, because then all attention is on the squabble, rather than what’s said). So we were well-prepared.

Unfortunately, we weren’t prepared well enough in advance. We had a turnout of only about 15 people, including the librarian, the janitor, two book sellers and five of my own friends. Michael Blair tried to make me feel better by telling me at one of his own book launches, nobody showed up. (That made me feel great about the event, but a little leary of my own book launches!) Then Louise Penny and Mary Jane Maffini chimed in, telling me the same! How encouraging!

Right before the event, a library tech and I set up the table mikes, the Fender mixer/amplifier and the speakers, and when it came to powering everything up, I discovered there was no power cord for the Fender. I plotzed. Fortunately, the power cord that goes into a Fender is the same power cord you use on most computers or monitors, so he and I ran around the whole library and invaded offices in search of a spare power cord. (Turns out the power cord was hidden in a secret chamber in the Fender case. I learned that the following Monday when the vendor left me an email.)

All three of the authors were great, though. I only had to ask leading questions, and they took it from there. The challenge was for each of them to “sell” me one of their books, because I had put up the money for the sound system and was therefore only able to buy one book from each. They had misunderstood me and thought I could only buy one book, period! Michael picked up one of his books and said “It’s thin and it’s the cheapest on the table!” Mary Jane said, “Well, when money’s a factor, you’ve got to go with quality,” and she held up her own book. Louise looked at the audience, she looked at the other two authors, and then she turned to me and said, “Buy Mary Jane’s book.” They played off each other perfectly.

But during the event, I discovered that writers are immune to my magical middle-management powers. Normally, I can keep a 60 minute meeting to 50 minutes or less. But authors are like train engines. It takes oomph to get them started, and it takes even more oomph to get them to stop! So at quarter to five, I was sweating because out of the corner of my eye I could see itchy hand signals from the librarian, who wanted to close soon. Even after I did my wrap-up comments and thank you’s, Louise Penny, bless her heart, kept asking if there were more questions in the audience, and there always. After hearing all their jokes and a sample of each book, one audience member said, “You guys seem like so much fun, and so well-adjusted! Why do you write about killing people?” Michael sat forward with his hand on the mike stand, and he confided, “Well, you’ve heard what we’ve read, and it really isn’t all that dark!”

At that very moment, all the lights went out.

(It was the fifteen minute warning for the library closing time, but we couldn’t have timed that if we tried.)

So eventually people got up to buy books (the vendor was actually quite impressed – she had more sales that night than she normally did with an audience three times that size), and as I packed, I apologized profusely to all and sundry about the small turn out, and about our lateness getting everything knocked down again.

Then the librarian said, “Oh, you have time. We haven’t closed the library yet. Apparently a little girl was taken from the library and now her mother’s looking for her. We’re waiting for the police to show up.”

“Only during a Crime Writers event,” I thought, “does somebody gets kidnapped from the public library.”

They found the girl a little while later.

Not bad for my first big event, eh?

Sunday, November 8, 2009

NaNo - Day Eight - Adapting

What a beautiful weekend.

Instead of jumping into writing on Saturday, (or more likely, complaining about not writing), I went for a walk.

Montreal is an incredible place, isn't it? I've been here for more than two years now, and I still get lost. But every time I get lost, I end up in another small "town" within the greater city.

Imagine: you're walking down streets you've been down a million times before, and because you have a little extra time on your hands, you make a right, following the street until it ends. On one side: the setting for a perfect werewolf attack scene. The train yard is barricaded by some of the flimsiest chain link fencing, but the ground is rife with cinder blocks and patches of concrete foundation, reclaimed by nature. On the other side, you can follow a side street along a row of old houses - duplexes, triplexes, all of them with brightly coloured shingles, or decorated with stark, black Gothic trimmings. Go a little further, and you find a cobblestone side street, bracketed by stores selling high fashion, diamonds, artwork, rare books and sculpture (and at least three different coffee shops, each with a fireplace and soft lighting).

Imagine, heading back home, and because it's still only three in the afternoon, you take another back street. The road ends, and a sprawling park opens up before you. Well-dressed couples stroll hand in hand in the afternoon sun; teenaged girls take pictures of tame squirrels they've charmed with make-believe peanuts. The park is laid out before an enormous, stone building, complete with greenhouse, turrets and a crenelated roof - a castle in the middle of the city. And that's just the library! Go for a walk around the park, admiring the venerable oaks and the nodding willows, pause under a tree where the squirrel has dropped his chestnut on your head, and realize, the man behind the greenhouse is saying his evening prayers.

Head further uphill, out of town, and you enter into yet another world. Fantastic houses on corner lots are three stories tall, with spiky widow's peaks, steep stairs, and a general air of haunted houses. A little further down, if it's dark enough, you can peer through windows without ever leaving the sidewalk, and attach dollar values to the immense, chrome-plated kitchens, and to the cathedral windows, to the paintings and the Swarovsky crystals in the glass cabinets, and to the field stone walls and the solid oak doors.

Imagine walking through this urban sanctuary, smelling the crushed maple on the warm, autumn air, see how the yellow-leaved trees bow over the shady street; listen to the gentle conversation of men and women as they pass by, walking their dogs; and realize: this is where you live.

I didn't write yesterday at all. I gave myself the day off to get outside and absorb this fantastic November weekend.

I made up for it today: I sat in that same, castle-like library, joined to the imposing Victoria Hall by the greenhouse (which will feature in the story I'm working on now), and I wrote. Then I came out here, to Pointe-Claire to sit and enjoy the company of my fellow writers, Mady and Michael.

This has been a very good weekend.

It's given me something to write about.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

NaNo - Day Three (the DTs)

Take out garbage. Check.

Write 2000 words! Check. Oh boy.

Walk 5 kms. Check.

Buy ink, paper and sunflower seeds. Check.

Pick up the garbage the squirrels chewed through. Check.

Work 8 hours. Done.

Whine on Facebook chat. Done.

Send church emails. Done.

Clean living room. In Progress.

Print stuff to edit. Also in progress.

Make more hot chocolate. Good idea! Don't mind if I do.

Wash dishes. A woman's work is never done. A bachelorette's work is never done either, but that's because she rarely STARTS it.

Check blackberry! Yes, an email to reply to! Done.

Chat on Facebook. Play Facebook games. Done and done.

Uh...uh...shower again and clean the bathroom! Visit upstairs neighbours! Hang pictures!

Blog about sticking to the dare: Done.

Okay, so that brings us up to quarter to nine...I wonder what Sarah's doing tonight...

Monday, November 2, 2009

Day Two - NaNoWriMo, and The Nine Day Wonder

My first NaNoWriMo was in 2007. Tobin and a couple of other friends had flirted with the idea of participating, but me, I hadn't really considered it until Hallowe'en, 2007.

Then, the problem was, I didn't know what I was going to write about. For the preceeding five years, I had been working on a massive project in epic fantasy, and I was losing hope. I'd also just been "sharpening the quill" on a few radio plays, so mystery was fresh in my mind. Other than that, my brain was running on fumes.

So, Halloween night, I tossed myself into bed, giggling at the thought that I was going to launch into this venture. I'd never written a book in such a short time before - especially without having a single idea.

Having decided I was going to work on a new mystery (*toss, turn), I figured I would need a unique character. Deaf? No, that's been done - Sue Thomas, F.B.Eye. (*toss, turn) Confined to a wheelchair! No, that's been done - Ironside. (*toss, turn). He's a drunk! He's a hobo! He's jinxed! He's a red head! He's...he's...He's really a SHE! (*toss, turn...)

Out of nowhere, around 1:00 or 2:00 in the morning (dizzy and tangled in the sheets from all the tossing and turning), it came to me: He has no tongue.

Immediately after that, I thought, I'll call it Mummer's the Word.

Immediately after that: "It would have to be Halloween. I don't know if that helped or hindered." They were the opening words to the story. I heard the voice of the narrator in my head, fully formed, sarcasm intact. I could see him, I could hear him, I could laugh with him - I swore, I could reach out and touch him.

For the next few hours, alternating between fussing and giggling, scene after scene fell in place. I gave up sleep, threw my stuff in my backpack and hit the coffee shop before going to work that morning. After that, the story just kinda...fell out of me.

I wrote over 36,000 words in the first week, and I took a day off. Sarah and Tim (my friends in Ontario) were coming down to visit Sarah's newest nephew on his baptismal day, and I really wanted to finish the story before they arrived. I didn't quite make it. But I did have it finished by the 10th. Sarah and Tim, I swear, are the most patient guests ever to walk through the Hobbit Door.

So, between November 1st and 10th, with one day off, I had Mummer's the Word completed in nine days.

Early December, after I'd done my first edits, I received an email from Invisible Cities Network (an artist's forum here in Montreal), championed by Christina M. It was a notice about the Crime Writers of Canada's Arthur Ellis Awards, and how, for the second time ever, the CWC was going to offer the category for "Best New Unpublished Author". I thought...what the heck.

Who knew by April, 2008, Mummer's the Word would be shortlisted for that category? And by December 31st, 2008, I would have an agent representing the series?

I met up with Christina and some friends late 2008. I had been trying to come up with a good website address to register, but I was coming up blank. I didn't want a website for just Mummer - I wanted it for the Author of Allsorts! More than just mystery, more than fantasy - a page for every major project. I had mentioned to one of my friends there that I had continued writing stories for Mummer - I think I had most of the series done by then, actually. So, knowing I had written Mummer in such a short time, he turned to Christina and told her what I had done. Christina gave me a bit of a smile and said, "You're a real nine day wonder, aren't you?"

I had the title to the website.

Granted, a "nine day wonder" is also a bit of a let down. According to Wikipedia, a "nine days wonder" is a sensational event that evokes widespread interest but is soon forgotten.

So I guess I'm just going to have to update Wikipedia! Nine Day Wonder is the story that is Mummer's the Word.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

NaNoWriMo, Day One

This is, without a doubt, the silliest way to do a marathon.

National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) is celebrating its tenth anniversary this year, and I'm sure Chris Baty, among others, is amazed at how this venture has grown.

In 1999, it started as a pod of 21 amateur writers in the San Francisco Bay area, challenging each other to write a book in 30 days. That was the challenge: write 50, 000 words in one month. He (or she) who made it to the end of 50,000 and survived won nothing but bragging rights.

Thus began the international craze that is NaNoWriMo. The "contest" grew beyond their server capacities: more participants, more referrals, more neat ways of procrastinating... 21 people swelled into tens of thousands of participants. Last year, I believe it was well over 100,000 participants from umpteen countries (most of whom, I've realized, I've "friended" in Facebook).

I think they'd considered changing the title to International Novel Writing Month, but it just didn't have the same ring to it. InnaNoWriMo? GloboNoWriMo?

(Wanna learn more about the history of NaNoWriMo? Click here. But until about Nov 10, be prepared for delays.)

And it's more than just a contest. As you may have read from previous posts, I'm big on organizations that encourage young people to explore their talents as well. The Office of Letters and Light (the angels behind NaNoWriMo and Script Frenzy) collect donations for youth events they organize and equip. I plan to donate, and I think anyone who signs up for this should at least consider the $10 gift.

This will be my third year participating! In upcoming blogs, I'll tell you about the projects in the first two years, and where those projects have led me.

This year, maybe in retribution for my "NaNoTriMo" last year, Michael Lorenson put the challenge to me, and he was backed by his newfound co-conspirators: Mady Virgona and Tobin Elliott. The challenge was to not exceed 2000 words per day. Foolishly...FOOLISHLY, I SAY...I accepted the challenge, with the terms that all three of them would participate in this year's NaNo with me.

Today, the first day of NaNo'ember, I went to Mady's place to cheer her on, work on some CWC stuff (event on the 21st - more about that later), and to write my 2000 words.

Okay, let's do some math.

The first time I did a WriMo, I wrote 50,000 words in 9 days.

The second time I did a WriMo, I wrote 177,000 words in 30 days (hence, NaNoTRIMo - three times what I was supposed to do).

The last marathon I was in was 72-hours long, and I wrote 55,000 words. Okay, granted, it was crap, but STILL!

It took me just shy of an hour to overshoot 2000 words, and another 30 minutes to bring it back down to my quota. Mady heard a lot of weeping and cursing tonight.

And it's still Sunday! Why did I agree to a cap of 2000 words, for goodness sake?

But here's the thing I love about marathons like NaNoWriMo. If it wasn't for them, I wouldn't have met Mike, Mady, Maryse, Chris, Brian, Hendrik or JayBee; if it wasn't for the Muskoka Literacy Council, I wouldn't have met Martin, Amy, Paula, Tracey, Tracey, Susan, Susan, Karen, Jacqui...

Heck, if I excluded every writer from my friends list in Facebook, I wouldn't have any more neighbours in Farmville!

Any writer can chunk out 50,000 words, and any writer can challenge themselves to write it in 30 days. But events like NaNoWriMo are more than just marathons, they're more than just excuses for friends and family to roll their eyes at us, and it's more than just another excuse for leaving dirty dishes in the sink. It's a social networking phenomenon, and I love every second of it.

Follow my progress: Margo Lane is my screen name.