Monday, 22 May 2017

How I became an Overnight Success in 26 years (with nods to Anne R. Allen)

By Melodie Campbell (Bad Girl)



Three years ago, I wrote a crazy little book that won two crime writing awards.  (Okay, not three years ago.  It won the Derringer and Arthur Ellis three years ago, which means I wrote it two years before that.  Trad publishing takes time…but I digress.)


That year, I also won a national short story contest, with prize money of $3000.  The year after, I was shortlisted along with Margaret Atwood, for another fiction award.


The Toronto Sun called to interview me.  They titled the article, “Queen of Comedy.”


“You’re famous!” said an interviewer.  “How does it feel to become an overnight success?”


“That was one long night,” I said.  “It lasted 26 years.”


This blog post was inspired by Anne R. Allen


Yesterday, Anne had a post on her Top 100 blog:  10 Reason Why You Shouldn’t Publish that 1st Novel


(It’s terrific.  Click on the link, to see why.)


But that got me thinking about my own “overnight success.”


Here’s the thing.  I started writing fiction for money in 1987. (Nineteen Eighty-Seven!!  Big shoulders and big hair.  Wasn’t that two years before the Berlin Wall came down?)


I won my first award (Canadian Living Magazine) in 1989.  By the time my first novel hit bookshelves, I already had 24 short stories published, and had won six awards.


Plus The Goddaughter’s Revenge – the book that won the Derringer and Arthur – wasn’t my first novel published.  It was my fifth.


My Point:


I’ll drill down even more.  It wasn’t even my fifth novel written.  It was my seventh.  The first two will never see the light of day.  One has gone on to floppy disk heaven.  Although if God reads it up there, he may send it to hell.


I would never want ANYONE to read my first two novels.  Writing them taught me how to write.  I got rid of bad habits with those books.  I learned about the necessity of motivation.  The annoyance of head-hopping.  And the importance of having a protagonist that people can like and care about.


Yes, my first novel had a TSTL heroine who was naive, demanding, and constantly had to be rescued.  (For those who don’t know, TSTL stands for Too Stupid To Live.  There.  You learned something from this blog post.)  Even I got sick of writing about her.  Why would anyone else want to make her acquaintance?


In my first two novels, I learned about plot bunnies.  Plot bunnies are those baffling side trips your book takes away from the main plot.  Each book should have an overall plot goal, and ALL subplots should meander back to support that one plot goal in the end.  My first book had everything but aliens in it.  All sorts of bunnies that needed to be corralled and removed.


Speaking of bunnies, I’m wandering.  So back to the point:


IN 2015, many people saw me as an overnight success.  I was getting international recognition and bestseller status.  One of my books hit the Amazon Top 100 chart at number 47, between Tom Clancy and Nora Roberts.*


But that overnight success took 26 years.  I had one long apprenticeship.


Keep in mind that being an author is a journey.  No one is born knowing how to write a great novel.  You get better as you write more.  You get better as you read more.  You get better as you learn from others.


Being an author is a commitment.  You aren’t just writing ‘one book.’  You are going to be a writer for the rest of your life. Commit to it.  Find the genre you love.  Write lots.


And you too can be an overnight success in 26 years. Right, Anne?


(*Rowena Through the Wall.  She’s a much more likeable protagonist.)

Saturday, 13 May 2017

YOU KNOW YOU'RE A WRITER WHEN...



By Melodie Campbell (Bad Girl)

Recently, I read something  that got me thinking.  (Okay, have your little laugh.  I can wait.)

The quote was:
“A writer who isn’t writing is a monster.”

At first, I wasn’t sure if that meant a writer who wasn’t writing right now and every minute was a monster.  Or whether it meant a writer who was prevented from writing was a monster.

For the sake of all concerned (at least in this house,) I’m goin’ for the latter.

Which brings me to this little list.  If you are a writer, tick off the ones that apply to you and leave a comment before.  Or better still, add your own.  If you are not a writer, stand back.

You know you’re an author when:
1.  You’d rather spend time with your characters than your friends.

2.  You’ve been at the computer all day and Nachos seem like a major food group.

3.  Your spouse yells “Are you all right in there,” and you’re pretty sure you’ve heard that voice before.  Somewhere.

4.  Your idea of a vacation means hours and hours of time to write.  And nobody bugging you to “do something.”

5.  You reach for Glenlivit when the internet goes down.

6.  You could be arrested if the Feds look at your search history.

7. You actually know the difference between less and fewer.  And consider it a hanging offense when people misuse them.

8.  You have been known to ignore phone calls from your mom, kids, husband, boss, and possibly God.

9.  Your idea of supreme hell is being trapped at a cocktail party for three hours with people who aren’t writers.

10.  You have seriously considered murdering people who say, “I have this great idea for a book, and if you’ll write it, I’ll share the profits with you.”   And the ones who say, “I think I’ll write a book someday when I get more time.”  And the ones who say, “Of course, it’s just a mystery/fantasy/romance genre book you’ve written.  When are you going to write something important?”

Excuse me now.  I have a lot of people to murder, and I’m behind.


Saturday, 6 May 2017

Comedy ain't so Light (in which Bad Girl explores the other, more serious purpose of humour)



Everyone likes comedy, right?

Wrong.


I’ve written comedy professionally since 1992.  I got my start writing stand-up. In the 1990s, I had a regular humour column in the Toronto region, and I now write humour for The Sage (a Canadian satire magazine.) 

Any seasoned humour writer will tell you that consistently writing comedy is difficult.  What looks easy doesn’t write easy.  The old actor saying, “Dying is easy. Comedy is hard,” stands for writers too.  In books, not only do you have to pay attention to plot, characterization, dialogue, viewpoint, motivation, etc. like every other author, but you also have to add an additional element, comedy.  It’s like there is an addition test for you that others don’t have to pass.  And you don’t get paid any more for doing it.

And it gets worse: Comedy writers take risks that other writers don’t.

For here’s the thing:  comedy is by nature dangerous.  It (often) makes fun of things that other people take seriously.  In fact, it’s almost impossible to write comedy and not offend someone, somewhere.

Even the most seemingly inoffensive broad comedy (the sort of thing I write) will attract criticism.  The Goddaughter is the first in a series of five comic capers from Orca books.  These are meant to be humorous entertainment. Nothing blatantly didactic.  No preaching.  I am hoping for smirks and laughter to lift your mood.

It’s satire.  A loony mob family is chronically inept.  A reluctant mob goddaughter wants to escape the business, but is always pulled back in to bail them out.  What results is a series of whacky capers and heists-gone-bad.

What could be offensive about that?

But ah.  The heroine of the story is a mob goddaughter, even if she doesn’t want to be one.  “You don’t get to choose your relatives,” she says.  I’m writing stories about the mob, in which we are actually compelled to want certain members to succeed in their crazy plans. 

I’ve found that even writing about the mob can invite outrage.  Operating outside the law is bad, even evil, a reader wrote recently. How dare I make light of serious crime? 

Which brings me to the point of this post (get to the point, Mel).  Comedy, done well, has a secondary purpose to making us laugh.  (Some would say primary purpose.)  It has the ability to threaten power.  Throughout history, writers have used comedy to satire and gently (or not so gently) ridicule the people who have power over us.

If we were to limit the ability of authors to write about certain subjects or groups of people in light and humorous ways, we would lose the ability to ‘bring them down to size.’  To show their weaknesses. 

My satire is gentle.  But it is there, all the same.  In my humour columns and books, I poke fun at people and organizations that seek to have power over us.  To maintain that power, they must be taken seriously.

And boy, do they hate comedy writers like me.

The Goddaughter books are sold at Barnes & Noble, Chapters/Indigo, Amazon, independent bookstores, and all the usual suspects. Please buy them, so our Bad Girl can continue to go straight.