Wednesday, June 30, 2010

And the truth was revealed

In early May, I traveled to my first writing conference. It was, in a word, phenomenal. I attended sessions, met wonderful writers, and even rubbed elbows with some charming published authors and literary agents. I came away energized and, most importantly, with a sense of mission.

At this conference, to be a bit melodramatic, the scales fell from my eyes. I learned, through the critique of disinterested but kind observers, how much work my writing still needs. I also learned, thanks largely to the effervescent Ann Hood, a little bit about how to approach that work. (If any of you writers out there have a chance to attend a conference session with Ann, particularly on revision, I highly, highly recommend it. If this book I'm working on now ever gets published, it will be in great part due to her lesson on revision.)

I had wondered before how to figure out what wasn't working, how to determine if and where my writing was falling short. Though I'd had feedback from family and friends, I wasn't sure that they could be as honest as I needed. (Truth in publishing though - I think what I most needed from them was support and encouragement, which was amply provided. Thank you!) In two personal sessions and numerous group sessions, I realized how far I have to go.

So that's where I've been. Not on this blog, not on Twitter, but digging deep into my novel. I'm loving the experience, though I can't say I'm not a little appalled at how much work it needs, particularly since I've already passed it around to a number of people (and agents, ack!). Opportunities lost - but lessons learned. So it's back to the grind, now. How have others learned the truth about their writing? How did you take it? I feel like I've found religion, but I suspect, unfortunately, that I have more nasty surprises waiting for me ...

Sunday, June 13, 2010

A Place of Greater Safety, by Hilary Mantel

This review is for Historical Tapestry's blog challenge - M is for Mantel.
This novel about the French Revolution and its famous protagonists begins well before the fighting starts - at the birth of its main characters, in fact. This seems, at first, to be a flaw, but as the story draws on this prolonged beginning turns out to be a boon, for by the time the conflict boils over, the reader is deeply enmeshed in Parisian politics and, more importantly, the lives of Mantel's characters. Camille Desmoulins is a brilliant, fragile lay-about and seducer of men and women; Georges-Jacques Danton is a bulldog of a lawyer with passions he is sometimes willing to compromise; Maximilien Robespierre is a sickly, socially timid man whose personal conviction far exceeds his physical frame; Lucile Duplessis is a young girl who develops a crush on Camille, the dashing young man wooing her married mother. Together, they are caught in, and make, the political storm that overtakes their country.

I picked this book up at the bookstore after a long period of anxious browsing. I wanted a book written by a woman, but not one about sisters or mothers or long-lost-loves; in other words, not just about relationships and inner lives, but about action and history and stories. Finally, I found this. I'd never heard of Mantel before reading this book, but A Place of Greater Safety has assured her a pedestal of honor in my heart. This book was everything I'd hoped when I bought it, and more.

Mantel's special skill is combining the details of history with the flesh-and-blood characters that she creates, often sketching them right over the outlines of historical people. Even though we may know the fates of Danton, Robespierre, and Desmoulins, Mantel has a lot to teach us about their lives, loves and passions. As she does so, she sweeps us into the tumult of 18th century France, and I can't imagine finishing this book without a deep respect and affection for the people who inhabited that world. As with Wolf Hall, Mantel is a bit self-indulgent (though less so than in the later work): not attibuting dialogue, shifting perspectives and verb tenses. But she's so damn brilliant, she gets away with it.

Princess Nijma

Princess Nijma