Monday, April 30, 2012

Buy This Book: Losing Clementine by Ashley Ream

Fiction is full of characters but they are seldom as individual or as memorably rendered and irresistible as Clementine Pritchard is in Ashley Ream’s boldly written debut novel, LOSING CLEMENTINE. From the start it’s clear that Clementine is planning to kill herself. She’s given herself thirty days to pull off a clinical, no-muss-no-fuss suicide. The reveal of her motive develops page-by-page through Clementine’s often abrasive, yet compellingly honest voice that comes spiked with great doses of fall down laughing gallows humor.

Some say suicide is the ultimate act of selfishness, but faced with the heartrending circumstances of Clementine’s life, the tragedy that lies in her past, its horrible legacy that has resulted in some form of pain for her and those whom she has loved every day since, it would seem that killing herself would bring the ultimate relief. What is striking, riveting even, is that as the story unfolds, it becomes apparent that her decision is less to do with her own release and driven more by her concern—gallows humor aside—for everyone else. You might say in her case it is the ultimate act of love.

But will she go through with it?

This novel is a real page turner, one you do not want to miss.

For more about Ashley, visit her website.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Emily Brontë's Desk

I’ve been doing a lot of writing. It isn’t unusual for me as I ordinarily write every day. Even before I signed with MIRA, I spent hours writing at my desk. The difference now is that I have a deadline that is other than self imposed and I have editorial input from someone who cares as much about this novel, EVIDENCE OF LIFE (to be published by MIRA in April of 2013), as I do, my very talented editor, Erika Imranyi. I don’t know why exactly, but for some reason as I’ve been rewriting, picking out and adding threads in accordance with Erika’s suggestions, I started wondering about Emily Brontë, specifically, her edits for WUTHERING HEIGHTS, which is one of my all-time favorite books.

I re-read it recently and still love it. Imagine it! That story of love and loss and betrayal has lived more than 100 years. Probably because these themes are timeless. I know they contribute to the plot in Evidence of Life.

[caption id="attachment_826" align="alignright" width="300" caption="Emily's lovely fold-up writing desk with interesting contents"][/caption]

But what about Emily’s editing process, I wondered? Where I type and delete using a computer, she would have written longhand, in ink. If she wrote something that wouldn’t do, she would have had to scratch it out. I see her in in my mind’s eye pausing mid scene to ponder. Perhaps she is facing a window, gaze untethered, sightless, watching the characters in her mind, listening as they speak, writing down what she sees, feeling their words. Weighing them for their plausibility, their integrity. Asking all along the way, Is that right? At least I imagine it was this way for her because it’s how I work. But how painstaking to write in ink, in longhand! Would I? I have done short pieces by hand. I still journal almost daily that way. But a whole novel?

Emily was the fifth of six children. She lost her mother in 1821 and her two oldest sisters in 1825. That left siblings Charlotte, Anna, and their brother, Branwell. They were all avid readers and writers although Anna and Branwell are not as well known. There was such bias against female authors in the Victorian era that the three girls wrote under male nom de plumes; Emily’s was Ellis Bell. When at the publication of Anne’s second novel, written as Acton Bell, her publisher tried to pass the book off as having been authored by the more successful author of JANE EYRE, Currer Bell, aka Charlotte, she and Anne went to London to set straight the mystery of their gender and their identity. Emily didn’t go. She was reclusive for all that she was strong and at times bad-tempered. Branwell died suddenly in 1848 at the age of thirty-one from tuberculosis. He had undermined his health by abusing drugs and alcohol. Emily and Anna, who hadn’t, so far as I know, followed him shortly thereafter. Charlotte turned to her writing to sustain her through her grief and it was a surprise to me to learn that when permission was gained from the original publisher of Wuthering Heights to republish the novel, Charlotte edited the work, correcting many of the errors that appeared in the first edition. She also took the liberty of embellishing the story with her own creative voice. I wonder how much of the original story she altered. I wonder how Emily might feel if she knew.

[caption id="attachment_827" align="alignleft" width="124" caption="My less than lovely desk"][/caption]

To me, even when you love it, editing another author’s work is requiring of such delicacy. It means suspending judgment and prejudice. It means reading with as much of an open mind as possible. As an author, considering an editor’s suggestions requires the same skills: delicacy, the suspension of judgment and prejudice, an open mind. The whole thing is a true symbiosis; it is two people in different capacities working toward a unified vision for the work. It’s really a rather remarkable process, but it’s also painstaking, even laborious, sometimes confusing and occasionally frustrating. I bet Charlotte missed Emily when she was doing the edits for Wuthering Heights. I know I’m glad I have a partner.



Sunday, April 15, 2012

Three weeks ago I signed with MIRA to publish two books. The news sent me over the moon. The very day the decision was made my lovely editor, Erika Imranyi, called me and we talked about the story; she gave me some editorial direction, things she thought needed tweaking. But mostly she was so complimentary of the writing and so enthusiastic that I knew I'd landed in the right place. What struck me during our conversation was that all of what she said had substance and meaning, even the good stuff. Letting someone know what works can educate them too. She offered around three or four suggestions for tweaking that I consider major. I wrote them down. The next day, I got an email from my fabulous agent, Barbara Poelle, and among other things it listed the schedule of deadlines for each book. I looked at it and felt like a professional, but when I tried to recover my usual focus, the focus I'd had only hours before, I couldn't do it.

[caption id="attachment_815" align="alignleft" width="225" caption="Artfully displayed things from Emily Bronte's Desk"][/caption]

My head was full of change, not only the changes Erika suggested for the manuscript, but the huge alteration in my life that was shaping itself out of an opening and fantastic opportunity. I thought how quickly the status quo can change. But that’s how life is. Adaptation is key and it’s easier to maintain balance if you can train yourself to live in the present moment. I strive to do that. But it’s impossible in the big moments of life, I think. At times like these, it’s best to let go, to let the current sweep you along and trust you’ll recover your wits.

I wanted to go to work on my edits, but in those first days after receiving my news, I couldn’t settle. I kept wandering out to the garden. I drove to the nursery. I even went clothes shopping which I don't enjoy much. I cleaned house (I don't enjoy that either!) and thought: I don’t have time for this. Every time I was in one place, I would think I should be in another. I didn't sleep well. Then it began to dawn on me what the trouble was. I wasn’t letting go. Some perverse need to cling to the life plan that was in place until word of this miracle arrived refused to let the new current take me. I didn't trust that even in the midst of so much confusion, the melange of emotion, caught in the thrill of it all, I was in the right place. I love this quote from Joseph Campbell: “You must be willing to get rid of the life you planned so as to have the life you’ve been waiting for.”

I not only love it, I believe it. It makes sense to me. So now I have to walk my talk. I have to let go.

[caption id="attachment_816" align="alignright" width="224" caption="Not so artfully displayed things on my desk."][/caption]

To that end, a few days ago I finally sat down and opened Erika’s file, the one where she has put her editorial notes in the margins, and taking a deep breath, I began the process of implementing her suggestions. And as I worked, the welter of emotion returned. I am elated to have her fresh, clear-eyed direction. Her care comes through every comment, but at one point, my hands stilled on the keyboard and I worriedly thought, This isn’t only my story now. Not in the way it was before and it never will be again. Of course, the professional writer in me knows it’ll be a better story, but the mother hen part says, Oh, dear! I remember that I briefly and wildly considered not enrolling my children in kindergarten, too. As if I could have kept them from venturing into the world, as if I would have even wanted to! I don’t know what that is, the yearning to hold your creations close, while at the same time, you’re eagerly flinging them out there, praying someone will notice and want to share them with you.

This is what I understand now after having gone through a seemingly endless query process in search of the right agent who would then pair me with the right editor: that when a professional in either capacity suggests they weren't sufficiently compelled by the story to take it on, be grateful. Because no matter how flawless your manuscript is, no matter how well-told the story, if your partners, in this case your agent and editor, don't love it as much as you do, they can't help you. It isn't personal; it isn't an indictment against your ability. It's just the facts as hard as they can be to swallow. As I sit every day reading and revising and trying to maintain a fresh perspective of my own work that I've read countless times, I know it is an act of love, that it's love that fuels my determination, that love is why I have persisted, why I won't give up. But what of Barbara and Erika and their commitment? I mean it's easy to love your own child. But someone else's? And not just one someone else's but several.