SPiN Writing Group: Ten Years, Five Books, and Counting
|Posted on: Sunday, July 01, 2012
Category: 'SPiN writing group'
SPIN WRITING GROUP: TEN YEARS, FIVE BOOKS AND COUNTING
Ten years ago, June Hutton, Jen Sookfong Lee and Mary Novik were aspiring novelists looking for confirmation that the books we were writing were worth reading. Ten years ago, we met in a room at UBC, eager to start the Booming Ground novel workshop we had each signed up for. After the workshop, we decided to stick together and form our own group. We promised that we would work through these novels all the way to publication, even though publication was never a guarantee. And we came up with a catchy name: SPiN.
Ten years later, we’re still together. Ten years later, we have five published books among the three of us and three more books in the works. And, most impressively, ten years later, we still like each other!
Aspiring writers often ask us how we’ve managed to work together all these years. Writing groups can sometimes fizzle and fade away as members move on to new projects or get tangled up with life. Much of what keeps us together is a matter of happy circumstance. We all live in or around Vancouver. We all like red wine and cookies. And writing is a serious matter for all three of us.
Looking back now, the gravity with which we approached our fledgling writing careers was pretty funny. None of us had an exit plan. All of us were organized planners, writing down every last detail of how we envisioned our publication journeys. We practiced answering questions from journalists. We discussed book tour wardrobes. And all of this with unfinished novels sitting on our desks at home.
But that early planning was essential because our meetings were about getting our books in shape and helping one another navigate the bumpy ride to publication. We were colleagues. Sure, we were friends too, but the more we saw our monthly meetings as valuable work, the more we committed to the group and to our careers as writers.
Our meetings are as much about support as they are about manuscripts. Writing, selling, editing and promoting a book can batter an ego like nothing else. When one of us is down about a negative review, the other two cheerfully point out the many ways in which the reviewer is just plain wrong. When another is feeling overwhelmed by an intense revision, we try to be good listeners as she organizes her thoughts. And when we’re exhausted by family or renovations or ornery computers, we offer wine and empathy in equal measure.
Trying to describe what makes SPiN roll along is a bit like trying to describe the ingredients to a happy marriage. We could talk about honesty or accountability or commitment, but what it really boils down to is that we found each other, we like each other, and we care about the novels that we write. Every day, we chat online, making sure that we describe what we’re working on. Every month we meet and talk about what we’ve done, what we could have done better, and what we’re going to do. We know that the group will always understand our failures. And we also know that it will always, always, celebrate our successes.
But we can’t write a blog post about SPiN without mentioning one more very important reason we’ve stuck together for so long. Years ago, we discovered that literary events are far more fun when you’re part of a trio. Why? Because you never have to lift a glass alone.
|Posted on: Tuesday, December 06, 2011
Category: 'Literary Grave-robbing'
When I began to write fiction, I was drawn towards stories set in the past because I had a love affair with literary history. Erotic poetry has a particularly strong pull for me, so it's not surprising that my two novels explore the intimate lives of real poets who wrote magnetically-charged love poems. I guess you could call this literary grave-robbing.
My first novel Conceit (Doubleday 2007) arose from my fascination with the poet John Donne and his seven children, especially his enigmatic daughter Pegge. I read his poems and studied maps and drawings of seventeenth-century London. However, the story didn't really spark until I dreamt that Pegge rescued her father's effigy out of the holocaust in Saint Paul's cathedral during the Great Fire of 1666. This was such an obsessive act of father-love, so bizarre and so provocative, that I was hooked on Pegge and set out to discover, not in history but in my fictional world, what drove her to it.
Muse, the novel that I am just finishing, is also set in an historical city heaving with life--Avignon in the fourteenth century when the popes lived there. When I visited the immense palace of the popes, I was stunned by the secular frescoes in Pope Clement VI's bedchamber and found myself wondering what exactly went on there. It didn't take much research to confirm that the Avignon popes were no saints. In fact, Clement had an unofficial hostess, the Countess of Turenne, whom he called his "niece"--quotation marks supplied by my fertile imagination.
Although the church has swept much of the dirt under the rushes, we can't ignore the poet Francesco Petrarch, who wrote scorching letters about the pope's vices. I'd always admired his sonnets about the noble, un-beddable Laura. Now I was finding out that, far from being chaste himself, he fathered two children out of wedlock. Who was this flesh-and-blood woman he never married? Was she a scholar, a nun, a courtesan--maybe even the Pope's "niece"? The facts sparked off one another and ignited into fiction. I now had my main character, Solange, who began telling the story in her own voice. As she navigates the labyrinth of her life, her eyes and ears bring the dark corners and deep pleasures of old Avignon alive for us.
Thanks to Gail Anderson-Dargatz for inviting me to write this as the first guest blog on her new website, www.gailanderson-dargatz.ca
Group Read of Conceit on GoodReads
|Posted on: Saturday, August 27, 2011
Category: 'Historical fiction'
Recently, Conceit was a group read in the Book Haven group at GoodReads, a huge book networking site. The discussion was fascinating, with lots of provocative questions about the erotic sections of the novel, which forced me to really think about my answers!
Bonnie summed it up by saying, "Wow ~ the quality of questions and comments posted here have been absolutely amazing. To say that I have thoroughly enjoyed following this discussion would be quite an understatement; I can't believe how much has been covered in such a short period of time."
Themis-Athena said: "I love just about everything about your novel, Mary, that there conceivably IS to love about a book -- characters, language, setting, imagery, the use of colors, attention to historic detail (down to the murky waters of the now-buried River Fleet) -- you name it!"
Jen asked: "Speaking of sexy, since Conceit is so full of love and lust and all those good things, I want to know how Mary writes her love scenes. Is it something that's difficult or just plain fun for you? Writers are so often divided on whether these scenes are a blessing or a curse, kind of like love itself! By the way, I do enjoy how Pegge's tussle with her feelings reminds me of the adolescent rush of hormonal energy we all feel when we fall in love as young teenagers. Yay for lustful confusion!"
Thanks very much to everyone who joined in the discussion and made it so much fun!