Picking up the Threads

Emma & Brit - Guenette photo

In his book, On Writing, Stephen King tells us that he produces a first draft over the course of one calendar season. We’ve all seen the length of some of his novels and that’s after he’s shaven off about ten percent. To accomplish this type feat, I expect Mr. King is able to stay focused. He probably doesn’t choose summer as his draft writing season while living by a lake, having family and friends visit, tending a garden and attending out of town weddings and fun-filled barbecue weekends.

Leaving the Lake - Guenette photo

Summer visitors have hauled their suitcases up the road. Our extended time of warm weather and bright blue skies seems to be coming to an end as Labour Day approaches. The calendar is blissfully blank. It’s time to pick up the threads of that first draft and get back to work.

My friends, I’m here to tell you, this task is easier said than done. Mr. King is right. Better not to take too many extended breaks while draft writing. I opened up my files yesterday afternoon and they resembled the contents of a knitting basket full of brightly coloured balls of wool after a dozen kittens had done their worst.

Brit - Guenette photo



So, like any writer worth her salt, I digress from the task at hand. I must write a blog, create a Facebook album of the granddaughters’ visit, update some of my social media sites, make some exciting announcements, clean up the cabin and . . . well, you get the idea.



I actually do have an exciting announcement. After three months of back and forth negotiation, I have managed to have both my books accepted for sale through a major BC and Alberta grocery chain – Save-On Foods. Trade paperback copies of Disappearing in Plain Sight and The Light Never Lies are now on the shelves of the Campbell River Save-On and will hopefully be showing up in more Island and lower mainland locations soon. Many, many thanks to Sylvia at the Campbell River store for working with me to make this happen.

Save-on foods logo

Lest I be misleading here, I still have to approach each store and ask if they might like to put a few copies on their shelves. I am the vendor of my books. But since I am already in the system, (all tagged and scannable) this task is more easily accomplished.

Emma - Guenette photo

Well, this blog is written, the Facebook album is up, my exciting news is out there and the cabin is clean, well . . . clean enough. Time to get to work on that basket of snarled yarn. As we say in the Twitter-sphere, #amhopeful that I will soon be #amwriting.

Family - Guenette photo

Finding an Outline Plan that Works

I’ve been working on a couple of interesting outlining ideas for The Light Never Lies and they’ve really paid off in terms of word output – I managed almost 3000 words yesterday and if even every second word of that is usable, I’m pleased by the outcome.

A couple of days ago, I took twenty sheets of blank paper and cut them all in half so I had a stack of forty pieces of paper. I went for forty because I think the book will have about forty chapters (mostly based on the fact that Disappearing in Plain Sight was that long). I then dug out a few packages of sticky notes in two colours – bright yellow for current action and a lime green for back story. I started writing action segments on the sticky notes and putting them onto the chapter pages.

This task was fairly straightforward for the first ten chapters of the book – the first draft of these chapters are already written. Chapters eleven through thirteen were sketchier but still doable. I can see that far ahead to where the story is going.

After Chapter thirteen, I had to switch gears and move to the bottom of the pile of chapter papers to fill in stickie notes for the last four chapters – these aren’t written yet but were pretty easy to outline. I’ve known how the book would end for a while now.

That left me with quite a stack of blank pages to cover the middle of the novel. So, I just started brainstorming every idea I could come up with for action scenes, descriptions, and back story, writing each idea onto a sticky note and placing it at random on the leftover pages. The time will come to arrange the ideas in some kind of storied order. The most important thing now is to have a sense of what the action could be. And naturally, the more I write and think about the characters, the more connections I make related to how they interact with one another. The characters definitely begin to drive the action of the story and I need to leave space for that to happen.

The other thing I have been working on are drawings for the layout of certain settings in the novel. By no means to scale (my architectural design trained husband would double over laughing looking at these sketches) – but they give me a spatial understanding of how characters can move around the settings and what they might see in a given location.

I learned something important writing and editing Disappearing in Plain Sight. Well, I actually learned several things but in the interest of brevity, let me stay on track here. I created elaborate back stories for every one of the characters in that book and wrote endless notes and descriptions of the various settings. What I didn’t realize then, was that only a fraction of that stuff would ever find its way into the finished novel. I’m glad to have learned that reality. I think it will make it easier to distinguish, in subsequent drafts of this newest novel, what really needs to be cut. Parts of the story are written for me so I can continue to explore the characters and allow them to move the action of the story forward. This is a necessary process for the author but not something readers need not be subjected to. What is it Stephen King says – first draft minus 10% = finished draft.


Falling in Love with Your Own Characters

I have just had the most amazing experience. I am slowly reading Stephen King’s book, On Writing – and thoroughly enjoying it. It excites me (because I have written a novel and I have actually experienced more than one of the things King writes about) and it terrifies me (because I have written a novel knowing such a tiny fraction of what there is to know). Anyway – King advises writing a first draft and then locking it away in a lower desk drawer for at least six weeks. Only after this time in the dark do you take it out, dust it off, and re-read what you wrote. He says you will feel as if you are reading something someone else wrote, but at the same time it will all be so familiar.

This has just happened to me – exactly as he described. Almost two years ago, I wrote up 25 single-spaced pages of notes for a story called, The Jennerville Women’s Chamber of Commerce & Knitting Club. This story revolves around the lives of five women, all in their forties, who live in the small town of Jennerville – once a prosperous forestry-based community; it has now morphed into one of those funky/bohemian/artsy/kitschy tourist towns that dot the landscape of the Pacific Coast. These women find themselves un-partnered and engaged in various types of businesses that contribute to the tourist atmosphere of their small town. Amanda Guthrie owns the Jennerville Hot Tubs and Coffee House; Charlotte Brunner operates a Laundromat out of a storefront on main street; Gwyneth Brookdale, a big city artist, manages The Gallery off Main; Lindsay MacDonald has turned her home into a pizza place; and Catherine Jenner has converted the three-story Victorian mansion that has been in her family for generations into a bed and breakfast. She is the great-great granddaughter of the town’s founder – resource baron, Jeremiah Jenner.

The inspiration for this story came from a trip my husband, Bruce and I took to Northern California. We stayed over at a small town on the Coast and discovered a funky house on the main street that had been turned into a hot tub and coffee place. The large, backyard held eight hot tub enclosures. Each private tub was open to a canopy of trees above. The center of the area was devoted to a beautiful garden complete with outdoor tables where you could enjoy a cappuccino or chai latte after your dip in the tubs. The place was pure magic and as our trip progressed my mind kept working away at the memory of being there. I kept imagining what kind of story might take place in a small town where so many people had converted their homes to tourist businesses. This one small town combined in my mind with two or three others we visited – one had the most awesome art gallery. When I got home I wrote as fast as I could and got the basic outline of the story in place.

I’m not sure what happened then – why these pages went into a drawer and never emerged for two years. Having just re-read those 25 pages I am itching to write this story. It’s filled with interesting characters and situations. It’s a story of lost love and redemption. There’s even a ghost thrown in there. One character description caught me so much by surprise that I choked up when I got to the last line. Here it is:

Joel was always thin but now he’s really thin. The muscles on his arms stand out like well-defined ropes. His hands are artist hands with long slim fingers – perfect for guitar and piano playing. A pair of faded button fly Levis hang on his hips – mostly held up by a brown leather belt tooled with a Mayan design – something he picked up somewhere. He usually wears a black Tee-shirt but he’s always cold, so he throws on a faded jean jacket to complete the look. Joel looks exactly what you would think an aging rock star would look like – a bit gaunter due to the drugs, a bit paler than usual due to recovery and illness, but he still exudes something of that sex, drugs, and rock and roll aura. But there’s quiet desperation in his eyes and a slight tremor in his hands.

Around his neck he wears a gold chain with a pendant that consists of two gold block letters – JC – and underneath these letters the tiny gold word “forever”. Over the years the fan magazines and interviewers have asked and everyone has speculated about this pendant. Religious conclusions were obvious, but Catherine knows that isn’t the case. It gives her a funny feeling every time she reads about Joel’s trademark necklace, or sees it swinging against his bare chest in a photo or on a music video. She had given this necklace to Joel – a birthday gift that last night, the night before Joel left for LA. Neither one of them knew he would never come back – he was going down to see if he could get some sessional work. He had a few songs he was going to shop around – he was going to be back before the end of the summer.

Joel was in the right place at the right time. He arrived at the sessional gig for Spartan Revolution’s new album to be greeted by the band’s bass player, Reuben Josiah, who was so over the top high he could hardly stand. Amidst the mess, Joel grabbed his guitar and began picking out one of the band’s new songs straight from the sheet music, singing some of the vocals as he went. He was killing time and trying to warm up a bit. The drummer started to jam with Joel and the rest was history. Reuben Josiah was off to treatment and Joel was in. His talent quickly moved him up to front stage – his blonde and blue-eyed look a perfect foil for lead guitarist Steve Ashley’s dark almost satanic look. Two of his songs were featured on the next album and once he started touring with the band he never looked back – or so it seemed, except he never took the gold chain off. It was a bit of a loose thread that Catherine found irritating, but she knew if she ever picked up a magazine or saw a clip of Joel on the TV and that chain was gone she would feel devastated – Joel and Catherine forever.

Wow – where did this come from? I’m already in love with these two characters. Well – that is how it is for me as a writer – the characters become real. Can you love your own characters? Can you help it? I don’t know, but I have to get back to Jennerville and soon.

The inspiration for the Jennerville Hot Tubs & Coffee House