Got a message on my facebook page from a reader and writer, Alex Isaac Rogers
, yesterday that said this:
" I read your book earlier today and as a fellow writer it inspired me. If possible could you give me some insight on your writing process or what inspired to create this story."
So. A few different things.
When I knew I wanted to write fiction, I knew I had some work to do. I was always a pretty reasonable writer, but I didn't really get how plot and story worked so the first step (boring, I know) was to do some self-education. I read everything in the local library on writing craft. Some things were more helpful than others.
The best resources I found were these:A Million Miles in a Thousand Years by Don Miller. (I also loved, loved, loved his Blue Like Jazz, but that's another whole topic.)Save the Cat by Blake Snyder. (This one's about screenwriting but it's mostly about story, and I loved how simple it was. Obviously I'm a bit of a dummy.)One Year Adventure Novel by Daniel Schwauber. (This was a whole course for homeschoolers, basically about the essential elements of story. Really worthwhile, just for the workbooks alone.)
I plowed my way through them and learned a lot. And at that point I sat down and started to plot out the novel.I wanted to write about a girl who found her voice on the stage. But to do that, she had to have a reason for not having a voice in the first place and she had to have a lot to get over so that we'd all be cheering for her at the end.
I picked the two things I knew about: moving a lot and bullying. And then added in a couple of things I didn't know about, but knew I could research - bipolar, a parent's death, and deafness. The combination was pretty potent.
At that point, I had to start to climb into Jazmine's skin and write it from her perspective. I'd been reading a book about brains and neurology (my son has autism and I read a lot of stuff like that) and one of the main things it said was that if one part of your brain doesn't fire so well, other parts tend to compensate. In other words, if you're deaf, your eyesight and your other senses are a lot more acute. I figured that if Jazmine couldn't hear, she was probably a lot more aware of the sensations in her body and the colours she saw, so I tried to feel and experience just how she would experience the world around her, mostly without sound. I focused on the sensations in her body, vivid colours, the interplay of light and dark and the feeling of dirt and grass on her fingers and concrete on her feet.
When I wrote each scene, I tried to block out my own circumstances and thoughts and feelings, open this little door in my brain and look inside it. That was where Jazmine was and if I stuck my head in and looked around and then tried to inhabit her body, I found I could write just what I saw and how I felt. That was probably the most fun bit of the whole writing thing. There were times when I wrote for an hour and a half, losing myself in the story. When I read back those bits later, I could see there was something a little bit magic.
The Secret Garden references came about because of the play. I'm not smart enough to make up a play, and the plot of the play really did have to tie into what was going on in Jazmine's life, so I decided to pick an old classic and try to make it fit. I skimmed through all the books on my daughter's shelf and scoured back through my memory to remember what I used to love to read. I found a beautiful version of The Secret Garden with artwork and pictures that really inspired me and it seemed to come together.
The bullying scenes were made up, obviously. But I've seen enough mean kids and experienced enough to know just bullying works. A few years ago I read Please Stop Laughing at Me by Jodee Blanco and I've been reading on power and abusive relationships for years, both of which helped. I really recommend Blanco's book to anyone who has ever been bullied, or to anyone who works with kids.
In one way, having Jazmine stand up to Shalini was really cathartic. It took me years before I could even start to stand up to abusive people and even now, being assertive makes me anxious. I wish I'd been as strong as Jazmine when I was 11 and at boarding school with some mean girls.
However, having been bullied (and having gone to boarding school, and had a few other hard things happen in my life) does mean that I've cried a lot and it seemed appropriate that Jazmine should cry a lot too. Poor kid. I feel so sorry for her, pouring out snot and tears all over her bed, but boy, does it help when you're in a tense or uptight situation. I should know! So, yes, the crying is all personal experience.
So, dear reader, basically, my writing process is pretty boring, quite technical and reasonably painful. It's a little bit better than pulling teeth, but not that much. And doing the editing and rewriting and adding bits and thinking through other bits is really tiresome and tedious. But when you have a book in your hand, and a character who seems to have actually come to life, it suddenly all seems worthwhile - even easy. So then you sit down to write another one...
By the way, check out Alex Isaac Rogers' books on Amazon or follow him on twitter on @AlexIRogers. Definitely worth a look if you've been bullied or if you work with kids.
I've got an older brother and when he was five and went to school my Mum started to teach him to read. The thing was, I thought everything that my older brother did was super-cool and worth doing, so I sat alongside him and my Mum every day while they did their reading practice.
And of course, I learned how to read too.
I was three at the time.
One of my favourite quotes comes from my favourite books, To Kill a Mockingbird, where the main character, Scout, is told off for being able to read when she starts school. She's confused and says that reading to her is kind of like breathing. She can't think of a time when she couldn't do it.
For me, reading was like breathing and books were fresh air. Every day when I came home from preschool, my first stop was my bed, where I had a little suck of my dummy (yep, at four, and that's a whole OTHER story) and a read of my favourite book. (This one is my fuzzy donkey book, a definite favourite.)
Where's your favourite place to read? And do you have a photo like this?
Here's a meme I've made with one of my favourite quotes from Invisible. Tell me what yours is and I'll make another one and post it up.
So excited about my bloggy book tour. Check out the first review here
and go into the running to win a paperback copy.
Invisible is having a bloggy book tour organised by Megan of Reading Away the Days. If you'd like to be part of it, check out Megan's site
and sign up here
. Plus there's a free paperback copy of Invisible to be won if you participate.
Nah, he doesn't do it for me. Liam's cuter.
Today I saw an article about Stephenie Meyer, the author of the Twilight series.
My husband said, "That's the kind of thing you need to write. Everyone loves that stuff."
I shook my head. "Even if I wanted to, I couldn't do it."
Basically, I just like *real* stuff. I'm not into vampires, zombies, hobbits, angels or demons. It just doesn't do it for me. Sci-fi isn't my thing and futuristic tech stuff makes me bored. (I kinda think my husband wishes I was a little less strong minded about it because he ends up having to watch 'his' movies all alone.)
I like real people in the real world, dealing with real situations and real emotions. That's the interesting stuff. That's the stuff that really matters. Tell a good story about an interesting character here and now, and you've got me.
As I said in this blog yesterday, I'm a big believer in mentors. That's why I wrote Miss Fraser into Invisible. What does Guy Sebastian have to do with all of this? Check out this article
on mentors I wrote on my blog for grownups.
I'm a big believer in mentors.
A mentor, in case you don't know, is an adult (usually not a parent) who you like, trust and admire. It's someone who has time for you, someone who challenges you and someone you aspire to be a bit like.
A mentor is basically another person who is a guide for your life.
It could be a teacher, a youth group leader, an aunt or uncle or older cousin or a family friend. It could be a sports coach or trainer or someone a few years ahead of you at school.
I had two people I considered to be wonderful mentors when I was growing up. They were both houseparents at the boarding school I went to. Auntie Eunice was the housemother for the little boys and Deb was the housemother for senior girls so I didn't have a lot to do with them every day (although I did used to go and drink warm Horlicks with Auntie Eunice when I needed a break from the girls who were giving me a hard time), but they inspired me hugely.
One thing I really loved about them was that they were always positive. You never went away from them feeling down or negative. They always said great things about me, and about everyone else around me. I found it amazing that they seemed to be able to like everyone SO much because (quite frankly) I wasn't that crash hot on a whole lot of people, but they seemed to find the positives in every situation.
I also liked that they had real, living faith in God, and being a Christian, that was very important to me. They weren't fake or pretend about it. Their beliefs matched up to their behaviour, which is not always that common.
Plus, they were fun. They were all about the party and going out and enjoying all the good things life has to offer.
I couldn't believe it when Auntie Eunice told me she was actually an orphan. She'd lost her parents at the age of 13! She wasn't bitter or twisted or miserable or anything. You can read her story here
if you like.
I've had other mentors too. One thing I've learned about life is that you can't do it on your own. You need help, and help from wise, trusted mentors is just about the best kind you can get.
Who's your mentor?
I got bullied at school. It was in year 6, when I changed schools and started at an international boarding school. (I know, I've got a bit of an unusual background.) For some reason the girl with the power in our class decided she didn't want to let me have any of it and I became her target for pretty much the whole year.
I didn't stand up to her.
I wish I had.
The very first time she told me to stop doing something that annoyed her, I could have said, "I'm fine the way I am thanks." But I was scared of what might happen if I had my own voice and used it. I think the biggest fear was that no one would like me. Ironically, it turned out that when I just adapted to everyone and pretended that their opinions were mine, no one liked me anyway.
Standing up to a bully effectively means being assertive. Stating what your boundary is without being aggressive. It still scares me today and I'm nearly 40 (I know, I know...) But I'm getting better at it.
How do you do?