Writing as a Form of Cocoon…

I tend to write the most and the best when the process is driven by a personal memory or feeling – something that might have been evoked by a unexpected sound or smell, or a memory triggered by that. Sometimes, a new perspective or pattern of thought evolves, which was brought on by a recurrence of events during the day.

I tend to write the most and the best when the process is driven by a personal memory or feeling – something that might have been evoked by a unexpected sound or smell, or a memory triggered by that. Sometimes, a new perspective or pattern of thought evolves, which was brought on by a recurrence of events during the day.

When I start digging into this raw material – often unconnected or disjointed – it takes shape as things that one of my fictionalized alter-egos, Jack, Jim, or maybe Mike – might say, do or have a strong opinion about.

Writing from the Gut?

In short, it’s a chain reaction: gut, sensory experience evokes a thought or a theme, which finds resonance inside my current cast of characters, until one or more scenarios begins to form.

This whole process happens in my skull, with often little or no input from outside parties. It’s like writing inside of a cocoon. Research comes later, when I realize that I’ve painted myself into a corner – when I don’t understand a particular aspect of what I’m describing – or if I’m dealing with things and places, rather than people.

Working this way is largely solitary, and I wonder if or how this process may limit me.

Most of my favourite writers are dead.

I’m largely ignorant of “the book market” or popular writers, save for a have dozen of the biggest, most famous names. I’m not up on new fiction, period. Most of my favourite writers are dead. Raymond Chandler. Dashiell Hammett. John Steinbeck. O. Henry.  Ernest Hemingway. All dead.

A few writers I like are still kicking.

Canadian crime/adventure author, Brad Smith. I love his blue-collar humour and crime tales. His voice sounds so familiar to me.

Douglas Coupland. I loved Generation X, and I loved Microserfs even more. I relived my own tech bubble meltdowns reading Microserfs. Life After God was pretty good too. (I’m puzzled as to why Coupland needs his own Roots clothing line. Oh well…)

Elmore Leonard. His is a tough, contemporary voice, that reminds me of how much of our cop/crime fiction we get from TV shows like Law and Order.

But, here’s the thing… I’m selfish.

I read often – almost all the time, but I’m really much more interested in writing my own stuff than in reading someone else’s stuff. What does that mean? Does that mean I’m insensitive to readers and writers who aren’t me? Is it Art School all over again, where no project is as fascinating to you as the one you’re currently working on? It’s taken about 14 readings for me to see my own novel, Owe Nothing, in anything resembling an objective light.

I don’t really know. I suppose all I can say is that in time, I will see my audience more clearly, and when I do, I should listen to them as carefully as I can.

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Owe Nothing: Taking Writing and Marketing to the Next Level…

Ah, Spring. A time for growth, renewal, and positive change. And spring cleaning.

My personal web presence at www.ejohnlove.com has been in play since 1998, and over the years, it has been the home of all of my online personal shrines and pet projects, not the least of these is “True Life”, my personal family memoirs project.

Creating Characters, and a world…

In 2002, during a particularly bleak period of unemployment, I reacted to my frustration and lack of control with a familiar and comfortable escape into fiction. However, instead of reading spy novels, comics or graphic novels, I began my first attempts at writing fiction. Scribbling in my notebook on the edge of my bed during the late nights and early morning hours, I created a cast of characters and a world through which I could tell stories that spoke about the events and values of my personal life.

I created a mythical family and friends – composites based upon real people. Jack Owen and his family, friends, his motel home, and his fictionalized Vancouver-Kingsway neighbourhood all resulted from this. After seven years, countless Starbucks runs, and seemingly endless paragraph-by-paragraph writing and editing sessions, my first novel, Owe Nothing, finally came into being in April 2009.

September through October of 2002 turned out to be an incredibly productive time for me. Not only then did I begin writing the first scenes of Owe Nothing, but I also developed basic outlines for many of the characters who appear in the novel, and a few who don’t.  This burst of activity, seemingly automatic in nature, spurred further ideas for related stories, all of which could occur at different times within the same world as Owe Nothing. I was sketching out a new world inside my dog-eared, spiral-bound notebook.

My second novel, The Two Sisters (currently in progress towards a first draft), was originally sketched out as a short story outline in 2002. Not long after Owe Nothing launched online with Trafford in April 2009, I revisited my notes for Two Sisters and started trying to flesh out the story. It was around this time that I realized that I might actually have a second novel in me, and maybe even a third one after that. I realized that this fiction writing thing was starting to become a major preoccupation, and that perhaps I should consider developing it into more of an occupation.

Taking my book marketing to a new level…

In the first year since the publication of Owe Nothing, I’ve confined my marketing and sales efforts to anything I can accomplish online, particularly in some sort of semi-automatic manner. From this came a Facebook page, AdWords ads, one hundred Twitter tweets, and promoting and linking my old fiction page (http://fiction.ejohnlove.com) in directories, blogs and message boards all over the web. I tried a number of tactics. While these may have helped somewhat to get me web visitors, none of them seemed to result in any actual sales (if Trafford’s records are to be believed, anyway). I began to feel as if I were flailing around ineffectually, so I decided to find myself some good advice.

Nowadays, I’m taking counsel from a book marketing pro, and thinking more about the future of Jack Owen, the character, and of E. John Love, his official biographer. It has become the right time to move Jack and the “Owe Nothing Universe” off of my personal hobby site, and to develop a separate new web presence – one that gives Owe Nothing and any related stories the focuses they need and deserve.

It’s time…

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Owe Nothing has Advanced in Amazon’s 2010 Breakthrough Novel Awards

A good start: I’m excited to report that Owe Nothing is now one of 1000 entries that has advanced to the second round in Amazon’s 2010 Breakthrough Novel Awards!

This fiction contest is sponsored by Amazon and Penguin USA. I’ll keep you posted…

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Owe Nothing, reviewed by Apex Reviews

On February 23rd, Owe Nothing received a great review from Apex Reviews:

You can download the full review here.

[callout title=”Reviews Callout”]”With an effective balance of wit and suspense, Owe Nothing is an equally compelling and entertaining read. In skillful fashion, author E. John Love has crafted an enjoyable tale of a lovable loser in search of a bit of adventure. In Jack, Love has created quite the sympathetic protagonist: a ne’er-do-well everyman with which readers from all backgrounds are sure to relate. An engaging, endearing tale with a deft humorous touch, Owe Nothing is a rewarding literary treat.”
– Renee Washburn, Apex Reviews[/callout]

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Real ink on paper? Where’s it going?

In my life, I wonder if ink on paper is slipping away from me, just a little bit. There’s something reassuring about a newspaper: you know what it is, it’s size and shape and depth are self-evident.

Yet, I now receive much more info each day on my Pre than I could ever read (or need to, for that matter). Online news text has replaced the newspaper for me. I have never subscribed to one of the local dailies, and rarely pick one up. I think that eventually, I’m going to do most of my reading on my handheld.

Podcasts (mostly the CBC) and MP3 music files have started to replace my radio. It seems like more motorists listen to the radio than others, these days. (I’m just guessing…)

The “convergence” that people have referred to in mass media is the tri-fold convergence of broadcast, print and computer technologies. At leat, that’s what I learned back in Media Class, back in 1988. Like Vannevar Bush’s idea of a “Universal Machine”, computers and digital tech have co-opted, transformed and consumed the roles of older analog media. Digital is a medium for media, or a medium about other media. A meta-media?

Now, is the “convergence” truly occurring between my mind and the Internet? It seems like that digital immediacy that I’ve become used to in the past 5 years is the kinds of convenience that’s most likely to change my perception of the world around me.

http://www.cs.sfu.ca/CC/365/mark/material/notes/Chap1/VBushArticle/vbush-all.html

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A Metaphor for the Creative Writing Process…? (Part 2)

So, finally, here’s an answer to one of the questions I posed earlier:

“Am I really writing more for myself, or more for my (hypothetical) reader?”

The answer to this is both.

I certainly write for myself, as a creative outlet (“I gotta be me”), a personal challenge (“Can it be done?”, or more to the point, “Is it any good?”), etc. That is my selfish personal development stuff, exorcising itself.

For my reader (you know who you are, and I look forward to finding a few more like you), I hope there are engaging-enough characters presented, in an interesting and sympathetic world that makes you want to return. I want the people, places, circumstances and imagery to resonate with you.

Actually, I want to visit these people and worlds again myself too.

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Process: Casting a play with composite characters…

My first novel, Owe Nothing, was finally published on April 17, 2009. This is, of course, the achievement of a personal goal that took me years to accomplish (I write slowly). It’s also an accomplishment in how it has allowed me to continue writing about my family history, using surrogate characters instead of directly writing about the real people.

Owe Nothing takes scraps and bits of my own personality and embeds them into the main character, a twenty-ish young man named Jack Owen, and to a lesser degree, his father Jim. Jim embodies little pieces of my Dad (also Jim) and of my brother David. Aspects of my sister Kim live on in the characters of Jack’s older sister Kelly, and in Regina Coffey, whose struggles with her abusive partner Ted form a central theme in the book. Old men look back with regret on the mistakes and losses from their past, women struggle in abusive relationships, and young people try to learn about who they are and where they are going in their lives.

The list goes on and on and on through the dozen or more characters that appear throughout the novel. Structurally, it represents the method and challenge that I put to myself when originally embarking on this long writing project: How can I use the memories, emotional energy, joy, anguish, smells, temperatures and opinions from my scattered memories, and form them into a cohesive and compelling story.

Almost like a form of psychological recycling; taking images and impressions from my past, reforming and refocusing them, and spinning them out there in a new form. My hope is that it will result in a story that others will recognize and enjoy – something that resonates outside of its pages.

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