A Lonely Trade?

I have read numerous accounts by writers about how “lonely” writing can feel. You are sitting there before the PC, alone with the page, alone with your thoughts. The lack of an out of home workplace, and the stimulation of colleagues – including annoying ones – leaves you feeling isolated.

But I can say that, over the last year, I have almost never felt that way. Having previously worked in education, and then as a consultant, I have been used to working on my own and sometimes at home. While writing fiction is new to me, my new routine is not much different from previous ones.

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A long-published writer relation of mine years ago told me he even found it difficult to avoid being bothered during the day. The assumption was that, being home, he must be “available.” He reached the point where he would rarely answer the phone (his answering machine always picked up), and never answered his door. “If I was in an office somewhere,” he said, “I wouldn’t be home to answer the door. When I’m working, I’m not here.”

He would write early in the day, and then head out to the gym or meet friends, and then return home to write more in the afternoon. It worked for him. That was also then pre-social media.

Being distracted vs. being “isolated” are two different issues. First, you need discipline and determination NOT to be distracted. As for “isolation,” seek out some daily companionship.

In our social media world, I find Twitter also helps me break down any feelings of isolation. It serves almost as the proverbial “water cooler.” Having Twitter open during the day – in fact, anytime, as it is 24 hours – while writing, often provided me a few minutes here and there to recharge.

Liberated (Until The Next Book)

Writing fiction is liberating. If you have spent much of your time composing work that demanded citations and providing lists of sources, suddenly not having to do so is a strange sensation. The page is yours entirely.

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Weaving Fact Into Fiction

A few months ago, I came across a tweet from an American woman. She wrote of how she wanted to read true stories of relationships between American expats and the French. Unsurprisingly, that got me thinking.

“Stories” like that, but which are “true?” Hmm. On one level, her observation indicated she could not be alone in that desire. However, I wondered also where that request might leave my effort here?

This is a novel, not a documentary or biography. Yet are fact and fiction always mutually exclusive in novels? Of course not.

When we are reading “fiction,” how often do we ask ourselves, “Where did that really come from?” We assume at times instinctively that an author did not concoct something out of thin air. The writer “must have gotten it from someplace,” we feel.

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Briefly, let me put it this way. “Isabelle,” “James,” “Valérie,” “Bill,” and all the others, were not, and are not, real people. Neither are Editions Dupleix and the University of Long Island (ULI) a real publisher or a real college.

That said, aside from obvious public figures and locales, the characters and core storyline institutions here are products of my blending together and fictionalizing various individuals and institutions I have encountered over the years in the U.S. and in France. (In the sequel, I plan some Britain too.) In addition, events I have witnessed, and anecdotes shared with me by others and about others, contribute to the storyline and to the characterizations in numerous ways as well.

The results are the varied people and institutions on these pages. Whatever their inspirations, they are what they are in this book. They are not anyone, anything, or anywhere, else.

No doubt that addresses any questions about, uh, “How much fact is in this fiction?” 🙂

A Man, Writing For Women Characters

Hope you had a good weekend.

It’s probably no shock to read that producing a book appealing broadly both to men and to women is no easy task. But when writing and faced with the stark reality of that, you have to ask yourself questions. I wondered (and worried) if aiming for “gender balance” – while laudable in theory – was even a reasonably achievable goal story-wise?

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From Ideas, To Scraps, To Book

This novel had been in the back of my mind for years. Bits and pieces of ideas were stashed on PCs, to be retrieved and saved on the latest newer PC, and so on. We all think we will write a book at some point, don’t we?

A little more than a year ago, though, in one of those small coincidences that pepper life, I found myself thinking on the lyrics in a certain pop song. Why then, and not a hundred plays before? Who knows?

Suddenly I was drawn to the “recent past.” By education, I’m also an historian and a political scientist. The notion of pulling together a tale rooted in history, but built around fictitious characters, their lives lapping around the events, the styles and the tech of that time, began to jell more clearly in my mind.

Free Stock Photo: The young woman pictured here was photographed while she was reading a book outdoors in the fresh air, on what appeared to be a beautiful Georgian day.
Free Stock Photo: The young woman pictured here was photographed while she was reading a book outdoors in the fresh air, on what appeared to be a beautiful Georgian day.

Having decided I would finally to try to compose a book, the next thing I did was what anyone must do to write anything: I just started writing. We’ve all heard how frightening a “blank page” is. The solution? Fill it up. And just keep going. It makes not a wit of difference if you delete much of it later. Just write.

Suddenly, I had a full chapter (but not the first one – the book “started” a few chapters in), and then another, and another. Within days, I found I was now well and truly moving ahead. “Okay, friends,” I more than once asked myself as I started a writing session, “what are we going to do today?”

I wrote regularly, setting a goal of 3-5 decent pages daily. I did my best to stick to that goal.

Eventually, I had to tell my wife what I was up to. (I waited until it looked like I would actually have a finished book.) She was stunned, but was fully supportive of the effort. If you have a spouse/ partner in life, don’t even think of writing if they are not fully on board, backing you.

When A Character Takes On Unexpected Prominence

My earliest (non-spouse) proofreader was a close English friend of ours – a woman who has been in book clubs and reads lots of fiction. I had told her I wanted perfect honesty, that I needed to know what she thought. She did not hold back in her critique, but is also the rare type who knows how to offer clear and targeted feedback (not just, “Oh, that’s nice,” etc.) in a constructive manner.

Among other suggestions, she told me point blank she craved to read more about, and from, “________.” She said she liked her a lot. She thought the character had loads of potential.

I pondered that. Originally, I had had that character in mind as largely a tertiary player. Taking my friend’s advice, I added more from her, and about her, wherever possible.

However, by then, it was also too late to do much more than that, but I had agreed with that “first reader’s” point. So, for the sequel, there will probably be more from her….

…but, uh, I’m not saying who she is here quite yet. Stay tuned. 😉

An Experiment

An experiment: tell select friends and family you’re writing a novel.

After surprise diminishes at the statement (meaning, if you have never hinted previously you wanted to undertake such an endeavor), be prepared to hear this question asked by someone (or more than one someone) at some point: “Am I in it?”

And your answer will be?: “Of course not.”