by Melodie Campbell
I'm guilty of this one. I'll say it right up front.
Janice Law and O'Neil De Noux got me thinking serious thoughts, which is always risky for a comedy writer.
make a living as an author. But not a particularly good one.
Probably, I could make the same working full time at Starbucks. As
authors in these times, we don't expect to make a good living from our
fiction. It's a noble goal, but not a realistic one for the average
well-publisher author with a large traditional publisher.
This isn't a new observation. F. Scott Fitzgerald said something similar about his time: The book publishing industry makes horse racing seem like a sure thing.
So if we can't expect big bucks from all this angst of writing fiction, what do we expect?
When The Goddaughter
came out, there was quite a fanfare. I was with a large publisher that
agreed to pay for refreshments. Eighty-five people overflowed the
place for the launch. Local newspaper and television brought cameras.
This doesn't happen in mega-city Toronto. But in Hamilton, a city of
500,000 where my book was set, I got some splashy coverage.
eighty-five people included some of my closest friends and cousins. I
was delighted to see them support me. We sold out of books quickly.
had another twelve books published since then. I've won ten awards. I
am still fortunate to get people to my launches. But the mix has
changed. The people who come to my launches now are fans, not relatives
and friends. With a few exceptions (and those are friends I treasure.)
when I first started writing - when big shoulders were a really cool
thing - I expected my friends and extended family to be my biggest
supporters. I've been fortunate. My immediate family has been
But expecting your friends and extended family to celebrate your success in continual ways is a road to disappointment.
come to realize this: if you work, say, in a bank and get a massive,
very difficult project done, there are no parades. Your friends and
family don't have a party for you. They don't insist on reading the
report. Your paycheck is your award.
Yet as an
author, I have expected that sort of response from my non-writer
friends. I expect them to buy my books. (First mistake: all your
friends will expect to be given your books for free. For them, it's a
test of friendship.) I expect them to show up to support me at my big
events if I am in their town. Maybe not every time. Is once a year too
It's been a lesson. I have people in my circle who
have never been to a single one of my author readings or launches.
I've given my books to relatives who are absolutely delighted to receive
a signed copy - but they never actually read the book.
- I've done the most masochistic thing an author can do. I've casually
searched friends' bookshelves for my books. Not there. (Note to new
authors: NEVER ask someone if they have read your book. You are bound
to be disappointed. This is because, if they read it and liked it, they
will tell you without prompting. If they read it and didn't like it,
you don't want to know. If they didn't read it...ditto.)
along this perilous, exhilarating and sometimes heartbreaking journey,
I've made a discovery. Your closest friends may let you down. I no
longer see my closest friend from ten years ago. I write crime
and fantasy. She let me know that she thought that unworthy.
People like her will find excuses not to go to your events. I don't know why. It could be a form of envy.
the best thing? Some people you least suspect will be become your best
supporters. This came as a complete surprise to me. A few friends -
maybe not the ones you were closest to - will rise to the occasion and
support you in every way they can. I treasure them.
wrap: Most authors need approval. We're doing creative work that
involves a lot of risk to the ego. There is no greater gift you can
give an author-friend than full support for their books. Be with us at
our events. Talk enthusiastically about our books to other people. We
will never forget it, and you.
Do we expect too much from those around us? Is it because we don't usually get a constant paycheck? What do you think?
22 September 2018
28 November 2015
by Melodie Campbell
My college Crafting a Novel students often hear me say, “You can’t make every character sound like yourself.” And it’s true. Most beginning novelists (at least the ones in my class) write themselves into their books. The star of the book – the protagonist - sounds and looks an awful lot like the writer himself. Has the same likes, dislikes, and insecurities. But is of course, more heroic.
In fact, we come slamming up against the famous saying, “Write what you know.”
And some know themselves pretty well. (Others, not at all, but I digress…)
A protagonist who is a barely veiled, idealist version of yourself? We’ll allow you that for your first book. But if an author persists in writing the same protagonist over and over again, in every book and series they write, things get pretty stale.
So that prompted me to look at my own series to see what I had done. Ten books in now, I held my breath.
The Character I wish I was
I started the Land’s End Fantasy Trilogy when I was dearly in need of escape. My mother was dying. I remember looking at her hospital bedroom wall, and thinking, ‘if I could walk through that wall into another world right now, I would.’ That’s how the first of the series, Rowena Through the Wall, came about. I started writing it in the hospital.
Rowena isn’t me. She is the ‘me I wish I was,’ at least at that difficult time. I wrote the character I wanted to be. She’s prettier than me, more generous than I am, and in the end, more courageous. I was dealing with the issue of courage at that time. Courage to face what was coming and what was inevitable. I wonder how many readers of that series would nod their heads, hearing me say that now?
The ‘Me’ my Mother Wanted Me to Be
Next I grabbed A Purse to Die For off my shelves, a book I co-wrote with Cynthia St-Pierre. This book is in a different genre – it’s amateur detective, or classic mystery. The second book in the series, A Killer Necklace, has just come out.
The protagonist is a fashion diva – a television personality from the Weather Network. She’s drop-dead pretty, and always put together.
I am not. Spending more than ten minutes on my long hair is an impossible chore for me. You won’t find high heels in my closet. I like clothes, but am not a slave to fashion.
But my mother was. My mother was a fashion diva until the day she died. We’re pretty sure she was the longest subscriber to Vogue magazine, ever. Mom dressed me in designer clothes all my childhood. She was delighted when I did a little modeling as a young woman.
I never quite came up to her standard of fashionista though. “Put on some lipstick,” she would say.
“You look like a ghost!”
Looking at the series now, I can see that the main character is the ‘me my mother wanted me to be.’ It was, in a way, my tribute to her. Wish she could have been here when the first book was published.
The Closest I get to Me
So where am I in all my books? That’s easy.
I’m The Goddaughter. Sort of. In this wacky crime caper series, the protagonist is a mob goddaughter, who doesn’t want to be one.
I’m half Sicilian. I had a Sicilian godfather. I had to wait until certain people died in the family before I wrote this series.
In Gina Gallo, the ambivalence is there. ‘You’re supposed to love and support your family. But what if your family is this one?” Gina says this in every book of the series. Those words came directly from my mouth.
This book is meant to be laugh out loud funny. I let loose with my own wit, and shook off the inhibitions. Not that I’m very inhibited normally. But in The Goddaughter series, you get the real me peeking out. Not idealized. Not always upstanding. Sometimes just looking for a way out of a real mess, possibly of my own creation. But kind of fun to be with, I think.
So that brings us back to the beginning. One of the delightful things about being an author is allowing yourself to ‘become’ a character other than yourself, as you write. Fitting yourself into their skin, so to speak. As you write more, this becomes more fun, and more of a goal. I LOVE putting myself into the mind of a killer in a short story, if only for a little while. It’s a kick to ‘pretend’ to be someone else, by writing their story.
Let’s be honest: who needs drugs, if you’re an author? THIS is the ultimate escape.
Do you relish creating characters and living their lives through your fiction?
20 June 2015
“Why would you ever want to write about murder?” said the horrified relative. “Why not write a nice little romance?”
As I quickly added another relative to kill in my next book (you would be shocked how often that happens….) it occurred to me that there were many reasons to write about murder.
1.. It’s the challenge of creating the clever puzzle. Plotting a mystery is like playing a chess game. You always have to think several moves ahead. Your reader is begging you to challenge them, and is working to beat you – meaning to guess the killer before your detective does - to the end.
2. Plot is paramount. Murder mysteries start with action – usually a murder. Yes, characterization is important, and particularly motivation. But murder is by nature an action, and thus something happens in the book you are writing. And quite often, it happens again and again.
3. It’s important. This is murder, after all. We’re not talking about a simple threat or theft. A lot is at stake. Murder is the final act. The worst that can happen. The end of it all.
4. It’s a place to put all your darkest fantasies. There are a few people I’ve wanted to kill in my life. They did me wrong. And while I do have a bit of a reputation for recklessness, I value my freedom more. So what I can’t do in reality, I relish doing in fiction.
5. Finally – it’s fun. This is the part I don’t say in mixed company (meaning non-writers and relatives.) I can’t explain exactly why it’s fun – you’ll have to trust me on this part. But plotting to do away with characters in highly original ways is a real power trip. I’m smiling just thinking about it.
Of course, I can understand where some of the relative angst comes from. In A PURSE TO DIE FOR, a gathering of relatives for a funeral results in the death of one or two.
In THE GODDAUGHTER’S REVENGE, a cousin of Gina’s does her wrong. So she does him back, in a particularly crafty and oh-so-satisfying way.
It was entirely accidental, that use of relatives. Honest. I wasn’t thinking of anyone in particular.
Not much I wasn’t.
(You can follow Melodie at www.melodiecampbell.com. Better still, buy her Goddaughter books. It's an offer you can't refuse. Especially since her maiden name was 'Offer' - not kidding.)
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