Monday, October 24, 2016

The Involuntary Pause - Misadventures In Writing & Other Things.

I wasn't feeling it today.

Maybe it was because I'd indulged a little more than I'd planned to last night at the Pub when I was catching up with family. Maybe it was because it was such a lovely morning this morning and I found myself tending to my garden and lawns while listening to an ever enlightening episode of the Osher Günsberg podcast.

Whatever it was - I just couldn't engage my creative impulse today and, despite the eventual two hours I spent at my computer, my output wasn't good. I think I stared at my screen more than I did input anything of value. I'm struggling with the challenge of bringing two people together in a way that is gentle and convincing - and not soppy. So far, it has involved my protagonist, Hayden Luschcombe, helping my co-protagonist, Isabelle Sampi, with a blocked fuel line in her car and her showing him her bakehouse that she pretty much built herself. There's gotta be romance in there somewhere right.

It's a long story...

...And it's not easy.

Traditionally, I've been really hard on myself and overly criticized myself for not being productive. It's sonething that has caused me considerable distress - unnecessary distress. But I've slowly learned to accept that, sometimes, I'm simply not going to be able to tap into whatever it is that allows me to write freely and easily. When that happens, I've given myself permission to step away and disengage and it actually helps a lot. Of course, as with any learned behaviour - particularly those that have been learned over a long period of time - it's not easy to shake the anxiety and the tendency to be self critical. It takes effort to deprogram yourself and that can be pretty tiring. As I sit and I type this however, I'm okay...

...I think.

To contrast this with something completely opposite, something ratrathgroynd shaking has happened with The Recipient in the past couple of weeks. Back at the beginning of this month, my publisher wrote to advise me that The Recipient had been accepted for a Goodreads promotion that would see it be featured prominently at Goodreads as well as being included in a subscriber email mail-out.

Well, as the result of this promotion, The Recipient embarked on a rapid climb up the Amazon charts, peaking at a ranking of 735 a couple of weeks ago (out of several million titles) and it entered in the Top 100 across several fiction categories. It's since settled back into the mid 10,000 range as I write this but, it's selling at least a half dozen copies daily rather than say one or two copies a week. It's safe to say that I've never experienced anything like this and I'm kind of unsure how to see this. Further, I've just been informed that Amazon itself has selected The Recipient for its Kindle Monthly Deal mailout for November which has the potential to continue this run of high sales through its high visibility promotion. This includes prominent placement across the Amazon site as well as its social network.

In a word, I'm flabbergasted.

In the six years since my first novel, The Hambledown Dream, was published, I haven't had this level of exposure nor sales and it's a little hard to believe it's actually happening.

It's all a little bit of yin and yang today (is that right?)

Have you experienced something similar this past week? Let me know in the comments section below.


Saturday, October 15, 2016

The Writer's Emotional Investment.

I've somehow worked myself up into an emotional state this afternoon. 

In my continuing development of my latest work in progress, I've been working on the back story of my central character, Hayden Luschcombe, that involves a falling out with his father Russell that remains unresolved at the beginning of the story. 

See, Hayden's mother Lavinia died around four years before the events in the story, having suffered from ovarian cancer. His father Russell, who devoted himself to being her sole carer, died about a year later - ostensibly from a broken heart. During his mother's illness, Hayden made many trips over to Walhalla from Adelaide but often had difficulties in getting away from his demanding job in a hospital's emergency department to be with his parents and help with his mother's care.

When Lavinia's illness took a turn for the worse and Russell warned Hayden that there was much time left, Hayden tried to get a flight over but, due to circumstances at work and, possibly, some intransigence from his unsympathetic wife, he didn't make it in time. Lavinia died before Hayden got to her bedside.

Russell, in his grief, turned on Hayden and, I guess, blamed him for not being there at the last moments of his mother's life. This developed into a rift between father and son that went unresolved. When Russell died a year later, father and son never reconciled and so Hayden is left to live with guilt and regret. This is part of the reason why Hayden appears as something of an introvert at the beginning of the story and doesn't find it easy to mix with others.

Family dynamics can be really complex when cancer visits a loved one and relationships are often strained. Sometimes they can break. I was reminded of this, this afternoon as I sat trying to flesh out this aspect of the story and I couldn't help but feeling an overwhelming sadness as I considered how I am going to incorporate this back story into the main story. Part of Hayden's journey will involve him 'reconciling' with his father in a posthumous sense and I have an idea about how that will play out but getting to that point requires a bit of work. And it's not easy. 

When considering weighty issues such as these, it's inevitable that I become emotionally invested in these characters and these situations. It's a little surprising just how invested one can become. I'm not gonna lie, it's more affecting than I anticipated.

Do you find the same thing happens to you? Do you find yourself being affected by the situations you place you characters in? Tell me in the comments section below.


Monday, October 10, 2016

The Tangential Author.

I go off on tangents.

A lot. 

Having the kind of mind that just won't quit is both a blessing and a curse. This past week, it has been a blessing. 

I think.

I began the week strong, in a writing sense, and I found myself advancing the tendrils of my current work in progress forward. It was really satisfying. I tend to work in a linear fashion but often I'll get bursts of inspiration that will have me going back in the time line of a given story in order to add nuance to earlier scenes or help me to clarify things that I was struggling with in those earlier parts of the story. Or, I'll go off on tangents. 

Big tangents.

So, I arrived at a scene in which my protagonist, Hayden Luschcombe, had identified a problem with a motor vehicle owned by my other protagonist, Isabelle Sampi - simply by hearing the sound of the engine. Let's just say that Hayden has savant qualities. He declares that the problem with Isabelle's van (she's a Baker/small business owner by the way) is a blocked fuel line and he offers to help her fix the problem until she can get it properly appraised by a qualified mechanic. They live in the mountains of Victoria, Australia in a town that is far from a mechanic.

(I'm shipping these two.)

This presented two problems for me. One - I am not a mechanic. I know a little bit about cars that will help me out of a jam but that's about it. Two - what homespun, ridiculous-but-effective method could I come up with to unblock a fuel line of a 2011 Holden Combo commercial van.

Here's where the tangents kick off. I started by researching the basics of modern motor vehicle fuel systems. What they comprise of, how they pass fuel from the tank to the engine, what the ingredient of modern fuels contain and what scenarios contribute to the blocking of a fuel system. I learned quite a bit from this exploration although a lot of it went quite over my head.

Once I had the anatomy and physiology of a modern motor vehicle fuel system worked out, I progressed to coming up with a homemade method for unblocking a fuel line. Now, as I write this, I'm still trying to nut this one out. See, a fuel line is essentially, a metal reinforced rubber hose which is capable of getting clogged up with a number of impurities from motor fuel. And there are any number of solvents out there that are capable of unblocking said hose. But, for the purpose of my story, it has to be home made and it has to sound - on the surface at least - totally ridiculous. At the moment, I have three ingredients that could be employed, either singularly or perhaps in combination - bicarb soda, citric acid and vinegar. 

I probably need to sound out an actual mechanic as well but, given I still have major problems with my voice, I'm reluctant to introduce myself to people I've not met before. 

I'll work it out I'm sure but if you have any suggestions or know a motor mechanic who can offer up a suggestion, please do point them in this direction. 


On the subject of my voice - I know it's been a while since I've spoken about it here but things aren't really progressing in that regard. It's painful to attempt vocalization and when I do, I have this over sensitive gag reflex that kicks in. On a full stomach, it is not pretty. I've lost a few meals because of it, so I avoid it as much as possible. 

It's depressing. 

As someone who enjoys conversation, to not be able to engage in it is isolating. I recently attended a family party and it was a stark experience. I found myself sitting quietly in a corner, observing others rather than being in amongst them. I mean, contributing a handful of nods here and there isn't really very engaging. And the totally acceptable noise level at a party make broken speech impossible so...yeah...

It's still a work in progress but I fear, at this point, there isn't much work left that I can do.

Here's a lovely piece of irony for you though. 

I returned to work a while back and it has been good, even though I've been essentially mute.

One of the first patients I nursed on my return was a young woman who had a large, malignant brain tumor removed. In the immediate aftermath of her surgery, she was doing okay but she unexpectedly had a bleed that rendered her unconscious and she was in a coma for a long time. Gradually she recovered her consciousness but she was mute - really only able to communicate with her eyes and broken hand gestures. 

I was allocated to her and it became a great partnership because we both developed a method of communication with each other that transcended speech. She made it possible for me to nurse despite my impediment and that gave me a much appreciated boost in confidence.

She can speak now. She's actually doing very well and we now have a kind of running joke that she got her speech back faster than I did. 

It's heart warming you know. 

I can take *something* from this situation. 


Monday, October 3, 2016

Walhalla - Immersing Myself into a Setting.

Back in September, I took a much needed trip back to my home town in Gippsland, Victoria to visit family and celebrate my grandmother's 90th birthday. Nana has been a huge influence in my life and has been one of my biggest champions of my writing career, so I was really pleased to be able to share in her birthday celebration. 

While I was in Victoria, I took the opportunity to visit a place that is very special to me. It is also the setting for my new work in progress, a romantic fiction novel that carries the working title "Walhalla". 

Walhalla - the township - is a picturesque little mountain hamlet, situated roughly a 2 hour drive east of Melbourne. It's origins go back to the Victorian gold rush of the 1850's when, in 1862, prospectors exploring the mountains in that region happened upon a natural valley and creek flat that was, not only, suitable for settling, it was also the site of a rich gold deposit. So rich was this deposit that the resulting township became one of the richest mining towns in Australia. By the 1880's, Walhalla supported a population of thousands and was considered a regional center, rivaling that of Ballarat to the west of Melbourne and yielding gold hauls that were unprecedented.

(Walhalla c. 1897)

By the 1910's however, Walhalla's gold rush was in a stark decline and the narrow gauge railway the township had fought for decades to get, arrived just in time to hasten the exodus from the town. However the town itself refused to die, despite dire predictions for it's future. For decades it languished in obscurity, with a permanent population that fluctuated in the dozens. However in the 1990's, a group of locals came together with a dream to resurrect the town's narrow gauge railway in the hopes of kick-starting a tourism renaissance. Their efforts paid off and a section of the line was rebuilt, from Walhalla to the Thomson River a little over 4 kilometers away. 

Today, Walhalla is experiencing something of a tourist boom, with people visiting from all over the world to take in the gorgeous mountain town with its rich mining and railway history, its beautifully preserved architecture and its seductive romance. 

(Walhalla c. 2015)

For me, I have had a life long fascination with this little town which has refused to die and I'm really excited to be setting my next novel there. In the context of the story, Walhalla serves as a place of healing. A young doctor returns there in the aftermath of his wife's infidelity and reconnects with a cast of characters who influenced him during his childhood. At the same time a young mother, escaping a violent past, seeks to resurrect the township's long dormant Bakery in the hope of making a new life for herself and her daughter who is profoundly deaf. 

I spent a morning in Walhalla, taking a series of photographs and video footage as well as talking with some locals, to reacquaint myself with the "feel" of the township so I can translate that faithfully to the page, albeit in a fictional setting. I want to immerse myself, not only in the physical appearance of the township, but the smells of the place, the flora and fauna, the sounds of the mountains, the trickle of the creek that meanders its way through the township. And I also wanted to experience the people in-situ - to get a feel for their daily lives so that I can infuse some of that into the cast I have created for this new story. 

So here's a little sampling of my visit there.

Elliot's Bakery.

Walhalla Lodge Hotel.

Town Center with Post Office & Mechanics Institute Building.

Magnolias in bloom.

Spring in the Mountains.

Windsor House.

Mechanics Institute & Free Library.

Trembath's Corner Stores.

A working breakfast.

Trembath's Corner Stores.

Spring Blooms.

Spring Blooms.

Post Office in frame.

Feel free to hit me up in the comments if you'd like to know more about the specific buildings featured herein. Of course, I'm reluctant to divulge too much about the story I'm writing - for obvious reasons. Know this though - it will be a return to my romantic roots which fans of The Hambledown Dream will enjoy.