Gareth Gaudin: The Graphic Novel as Literature

The first Wednesday of the month brings another Victoria Writers’ Society general meeting. This month, we have Gareth Gaudin, owner of Legends comic shop and creator of Magic Teeth, an ongoing comic series.

Eight years ago, he started doing a daily comic strip. He’s made himself do a comic every day since. Creating every day based on what he’s done has lead to saying “Yes” to a lot more – like speaking here, or being a pallbearer. It’s an interesting phenomenon, that there are a fair number of people who put themselves out there every day who feel obliged to be interesting and try to stay that way.
The difference between a comic and a graphic novel was brought up, and Gareth’s answer was simple: “Nothing,” and then elaborating that the term originated with Will Eisner, who was having a hard time selling his serious comic relating to the death of his daughter and rebranded it to get in past the door.
He talked about publishing the daily strips, and having to move on when it’s done, and we digressed into creators who come up with the pictures and words at the same time, and circled around the idea of drafting. In comics, especially daily, you create and move on. It’s interestingly opposed to the frequent approach in writing of drafts and edits and drafts again.
It was a fantastic presentation.

Victoria Writers’ Society AGM

I’m up for re-election again for my position as webmaster of the Victoria Writers’ Society. Everyone who arrived at the meeting with their membership form already filled out was eligible to be entered in a draw. I, of course, despite putting that announcement on the website, completely forgot. We’re having a reading after, an open mic night for all members. Up for re-election are all of the executive, including the members at large, and we get to approve the budget for the upcoming year.

The exec for 2012 stands as follows:
President Carol O.
Vice President Michael Mcgovern
Treasurer Laura Smith
Secretary Sheila Martindale

Members at Large:
Edeana Malcolm
Margo Malcolm
Eileen Young
Derek Peach
Jerry Hayes

Sheila Martindale won a thirty dollar gift certificate from Bolyn Books from the draw.

Island Writer Launch

Volume 9 Issue 1 of Island Writer launched tonight. It was my first issue as Editor In Chief.

There were a few minor crises, of course: un-synched lists meant that there were three people I wasn’t sure were reading until tonight, the final cover with the price on it wasn’t the one that went to print, Claudia de Veaux and her poem Waiting didn’t make it into the table of contents, and the 2010 contest honorable mentions were forgotten from my list altogether (sorry!).
But it was a fantastic launch: the readers were funny and moving by turns, the magazine was there, with enough for everyone who attended. Marianne Altos from the City Council came by and said very nice things. The magazine looked great! There was punch and cookies and fruit and cheese!
And I’m utterly exhausted. This is the result of six months hard work on the part of myself and Kim Nayyer, the Creative Non Fiction Editor; Sheila Martindale, the Poetry Editor; Catherine George, the Fiction Editor; and Simeon Goa, the Art Director. And then a week of living on nerves making sure the details for the launch were finalized. I’m utterly elated that it went this well, and I’m crawling into bed as soon as I type this last period.

Peter Grant

Peter Grant grew up reading very different material than I did. He read the New Yorker, travel writers, creative non-fiction. I grew up reading sword and sorcery, the more escapist the better.
Thomas Wolfe said that creative non-fiction supplanted novels as the font of all wisdom about the world.
He doesn’t differentiate deeply between journalism and creative non-fiction, holding creative non-fiction to a higher literary standard with the same core of fact. More widely, creative non-fiction needs to meet four criteria. It must be:
1. Must be based on real life.
2. Must be deeply researched.
3. “The scene” The context of events
4. Must be literary, have the style of literary prose.
The issues investigated in creative non-fiction provide the central motivation for the people, the characters. You let them emerge as you tell the stories of the people. It’s about investigating a community, worming your way in to find the way the threads weave together.
In a way, that’s what all literature aims for, though some genres focus on micro-communities (romance, and couples) and some try to tell the stories of entire worlds (high fantasy, like Tolkien or Carey).
Grant says that he’s very aware of place in his writing, and place is almost always about people.
A considered speaker, he seems most comfortable relating stories already written down, stories about other people. Hearing him speak, it’s easy to see how he’s drawn out other people’s stories to put on paper.

Sex Scenes with EC Sheedy

“The two most powerful words in our vocabulary are love and hate. The most loaded word is sex.”
Tonight Edna “E.C.” Sheedy spoke to the Victoria Writers’ Society about ‘the warmer side of romance.’ An author of romantic suspense, Edna had sharp and funny insights to share about the adventure of writing sex scenes.
One of the first things Edna addressed was the difference between sex scenes and love scenes: many writers in her genre prefer to call them love scenes, as they’re stops on the path to two people falling in love. Sex scenes can happen in any kind of writing, and the Victoria Writers society has creative non-fiction and short fiction and novel and speculative fiction writers amongst it, who might not necessarily be writing about love when they write sex.
Audience is one of the primary things to keep in mind when writing a sex scene. Harlequin publishes 30 different lines a month, each appealing to a slightly different demographic, so “it’s worth knowing that even with the diehard romance fans . . . warm, warmer, and warmest are always still in play.”
In fabulous fashion, Edna broke down an approach to writing romance into simple steps. First, the rules:
Rule 1 – You never. ever, ever have to write a sex scene.
Rule 2 – If you do write a sex scene, never ever ever go beyond your personal level of comfort. It’ll be hard to write, and awkward, and it’ll be awkward to your readers.
Rule 3 – It is a far better thing you do not to write a love scene than to write an egregiously bad one.
She talked about Rowan Somerville’s adventures after getting the award for ‘worst sex scene in fiction,’ and read the offending line. It was quite, quite deserving of the award, though I was too busy horrifiedly picturing it to capture the quote accurately.
Then, if you do decide to write a sex scene, it’s time to ask yourself some questions;
1. What do you want the scene to show the reader other than sex?
If a sex scene doesn’t contribute to the book, moving the story ahead in some way, ask yourself if you really need to do it. Sex shows character. It’s about as intimate as two people get. Sex can be a powerful plot device in almost any genre. This gives the sex scene, the love scene, a purpose.
2. What kind of sex scene does the tone of your book require?
“Tone sets up expectations, so if you jump from light and frothy to dark and dirty like a kangaroo on steroids, it’s going to jar the reader.”
3. What kind of sex scene fits your characters?
4. Have you strewn enough rose petals and have you thrown enough curves? Have you built enough sexual tension?
Sexual tension is the compelling force in fictional romantic relationships.
“What keeps your characters apart is more important than what brings them together.”
The group had fun listing off pairs with great sexual tension – the iconic Mr Darcy and Elizabeth Bennett, Booth and Bones, even Edward and Bella.
Edna’s tips:
1. Watch your words – language matters.
2. Watch your body parts – remember so far that no limb or appendage can be in two places at one time.
3. Use sensory writing. Avoid clinical description. Engage any and all of the five senses.
This is sometimes where comfort level comes into play.
4. Set the scene. Show enough detail so your reader is in that scene.
5. Choosing your point of view with some degree of care. Choose the character that has the most to get out of the love scene or the most to lose. Point of view is hard for a lot of writers; Nora Roberts, the queen of romance, slides rather sloppily from one character to another in the middle of a scene in some of her earlier works. Jacqueline Carey, on the other hand, has excellently consistent point of view throughout.
6. Don’t forget the dialog.
Near the end of her talk, Edna mentioned something that’s been coming up consistently for the last year and a bit in the circles I frequent: that publishers don’t want to fix anything these days. You want your manuscript as perfect as possible before sending it in. She addressed this in part by taking classes in grammar.
Overall, a very informative talk, and hugely engaging. I need to go find some of her books, now.

Navigating The Ebook Jungle

So, this is where I usually put my writeup of the most recent Victoria Writers’ Society general meeting, as it’s the first Wednesday of the month.

And I get to do that tonight, but tonight it is more awesome than usual, as I was one of a panel of speakers on how to get your book out there, with Melody Poirier and Iryna Spica. Since I knew I wasn’t going to be able to cover in depth everything about my area of expertise, I put together an ebook about it.

Robert Wiersema

Last Wednesday Robert Wiersema came to talk to the Victoria Writers’ Society about writing in the real world and his new book Bedtime Stories. He will be touring the Island and the Gulf Islands for the next eight weeks. His wife will drive, to protect society. In the book, father and son bond over bedtime stories, since father is a big reader – a writer, actually – but the son is dyslexic. Despite the similarities to Wiersema’s own life, he reiterates often that his main character is not him. They may both get up at 4am to get in an hour and a half of writing before facing the day, and both write everything longhand in fountain pen before typing it up, and both have sons the same age. But the character is not him. “Chris is not me. I want to be very clear on these things,” Wiersema says with a smile.

The very funny Wiersema never plans what he’s going to say . . . ever. Which has gotten him in trouble on more than one occasion. He doesn’t specify the occasions, but talks of surreal moments in his career as a writer. “Some days are strange. Some days you stay after work getting your picture taken for the Globe and Mail lying on the floor with the book open on your chest like publishing it has killed you.” He nods at the VWS audience, “some days you give speeches you’re in no way prepared for.”

His topic for the night was “writing in the real world,” so he elaborated on how and why he got into writing. He started by as an English Literature student, commenting that “there are few things more arrogant than a second or third year English Literature student, especially one with creative writing pretensions.” Working in a bookstore was one of the two more important things in his career as a writer – the other being getting together with his wife. Working in a bookstore exposed him to what people actually read, not just what was considered part of the CanLit canon. “That was a great moment for me as a writer, realizing that there was value outside of what was considered normal.”

He then posed the question, “What part of your real life gives birth to the writing?” For him, it’s fear. What kick-started his first novel was he and his wife getting pregnant. He realized that he was going to be a father, and thirty. He was happy, then terrified, then wrote Before I Wake in three months in a white fear of “what’s the worst that can happen?”

As a last point, he said, “If you take nothing else away from this, take this. This is the double underscore point. Write what you know is bullshit. Write out of what you know. If you have a happy marriage, don’t write a happy marriage. Write about someone else’s happy marriage, or about someone’s bad marriage. . . . Give your characters their own tragedies.”

He finished with a reading, then entertained questions he promised to answer entertainingly; a promise he fulfilled. As a writer and reviewer and bookseller, Wiersema has a lot of insight into the local book world.

An interesting note from the question period is how he got his agent; he already had a reputation as an honest reviewer who didn’t pull his punches, and that got his name moderately well known, and known for integrity. That came up particularly glaringly in my notes as I’ve been writing this, as this is the first time I’ve let a speaker know I’ll be writing about them for my blog.