Janice Dick is a Saskatchewan writer who blogs at Tansy and Thistle Press. She has written, among other things, two historical fiction series about Mennonite families from Russia, based on their history. Book 2 of the “In Search of Freedom” series is loosely based on the memoirs of a man who survived Soviet persecution of his family in China after fleeing from Siberia. Book 3 will be out soon.
Janice recently interviewed me on her blog, where I have enjoyed reading about a good number of other authors as well. The interview is posted at: https://janicedick.wordpress.com/2018/07/24/author-interview-sharon-plumb/ . Thanks, Janice!
Here is an interview I did recently with CANSCAIP Sask.
Sharon Plumb Hamilton writes stories and plays for children of all ages. She has two traditionally published books, a picture book about a bear who shovels snow off his roof and a young adult science fiction novel about a lonely dragon and his girl. Right now she’s finishing up another YA novel with all dragon characters, and touching up a middle grade adventure novel set in a garden of giant vegetables. She also writes and directs children’s Christmas plays.
Sharon is currently the president of CANSCAIP Sask Horizons, and really excited about these “Meet Our Members” posts. Other writers have been a huge help and encouragement to her, and she hopes this group can be the same for you.
Describe your workspace.
I have three workspaces: my desk and my treadmill in my bedroom, and a large table in our family room where I write regularly with two friends.
Describe a typical workday.
I don’t really have a typical workday, but one that happens fairly often (a couple of times a week) starts with my friends Alison and Marie coming over to write at the table I mentioned above. We usually talk a little bit before we get going, but then work quietly and steadily. If we ever start talking again, my son Richard, who works at his computer in the same room, reminds us why we are here. These mornings are good because we all know that this is writing time and that’s what we do. If there isn’t something else I need to do after they leave, I often keep writing. I also do my best to write on the mornings when they aren’t here.
List three of your most favourite things in your workspace and why they are meaningful.
Other than the friends I write with…
1. My treadmill desk. Sitting too long makes me sleepy and stiff, so I love walking while I work. I learned the hard way, though, that I can’t walk all the time. I did too much at first and had to stop for over a year while I went to physio and repaired the damage. Now I pace myself and stop after 45 minutes, then do it again later if I want to. Now that the sidewalks are icy, I’m extra glad I can walk inside again.
2. My office glasses, which are for seeing close and medium distances and make it comfortable to look at the screen. With the progressive lenses in my regular glasses, I had to tilt my head back to see the screen out of the bottom of the lenses. Not comfortable at all! Sometimes I wear the office glasses all day at home, because even when I’m not writing, most of the things I do are close at hand.
3. Richard, my best story coach. He analyzes everythingI write with his super-logical mind, then points out every part that doesn’t make complete sense or is inconsistent with something that happens on another page. Then he gives me suggestions for how to fix things, or discusses my fixing ideas. When I hear him say “I like it!” then I know I’m onto something good. (He likes to read other people’s manuscripts too, as long as they are fantasy or science fiction and the author is looking for honest feedback.)
Do you have any rituals in your work habits?
Not really, except that I am taking the advice Alice Kuipers gave in her Facebook talk last spring (https://skcanscaip.wordpress.com/category/workshops/) to do the writing first and leave the other things for later. I had already noticed that whatever I started in the day was what I got done. So now I try to be intentional about doing the thing I most want to accomplish that day. If I don’t answer your emails until later in the day, that could be why.
What do you listen to while you work?
Nothing. If I listen to music that’s what I think about. I like silence when I work.
What is your drink and/or snack of choice while you’re working?
Tea. Green or black in the morning, and herbal later in the day or I can’t sleep.
How do you develop your story ideas? Do you use an outline, a muse, or some other technique?
I can’t seem tocreate story content and compose nice sentences at the same time, so I do a lot of pre-writing with a pen in a notebook. I let the ideas flow and ask myself lots of questions until I have a good idea of what the story is about, who the main characters are, and where the story takes place. Then I write a general outline. Then I outline the chapter I am going to write. Sometimes I carry on without an outline, but when I get stuck or bored, I do more pre-writing and outline again.
The main thing I need to know before writing a scene is what each character wants to accomplish. I make sure there are conflicting goals and that something is going to change by the end of the scene. Sometimes the characters come to life and change the direction of the story, but that’s fine. For example, in the dragon novel I’m writing now there is an impromptu love triangle that just happened. Since I hadn’t planned it, I had no idea how to resolve it until one of the characters surprised me at the end by doing something I didn’t expect.Problem solved, and I didn’t have to figure it out.
All my planning and pre-writing is a way to bringmy charactersto life so they will take the story into their own hands.There are always plenty of things I don’t know about the story until I write it.
If you were forced to share your workspace but could share it with anyone of your choosing, who would it be?
I suppose it would be Alison and Marie and Richard, who already share my space a lot of the time. But if I had to choose someone I don’t know, it would be Patrick Rothfuss, author of The Name of the Wind and A Wise Man’s Fear and the third book in his trilogy, which I am impatiently waiting for. I would sit quietly and watch and hope to learn how he creates such a vivid and compelling story. From the amount of time between his books, I expect part of the answer is hard work and a lot of thought.
What is the best piece of writing advice you’ve heard or received?
There are a few, but I often go back to what I heard from Anita Daher at a talk on self-editing at one of our Prairie Horizons conferences. She said (and I paraphrase), “It doesn’t matter if you write horribly as long as you edit beautifully.” This advice has enabled me to write when I am painfully aware that I’m not doing justice to the story I envision. And I like editing.
Anne’s topic was creating atmosphere in your writing by describing setting through the eyes of your character. From a character’s viewpoint, setting is never neutral, and the way the character feels about his or her surroundings needs to shape the way it is described. The description, in turn, gives the reader a sense of the inner landscape in the character’s mind and heart.
Here is the example she read from p. 99 of her own book: the prairie as seen through the eyes of 20-year-old Moira, banished to the wilderness as a result of an out-of-wedlock pregnancy:
People in Ibsen had told me the prairie was harsh and unforgiving, and I’d be lucky to last the winter. But perhaps it was instead a kindred spirit of sorts, its obvious failures pocking the surface for the world to see: the slough dried up before the ducks could hatch their eggs, the would-be trees stunted into shrubs, the fledgling grasses destined always to wait for the sun. My failures simply blended in.
It’s a lovely description that tells us a much about Moira’s state of mind as about the scenery.
After listening to Anne’s joyful and inspiring presentation, I bought Dollybird. I wasn’t disappointed–it is full of beautiful, atmospheric prose grounded in the thoughts of its two main characters, characters that lived with me for some days afterwards.
My challenge now is to put Anne’s advice into practice, and write my own descriptions from the deep viewpoint of my characters. Since I write kids’ fantasy, not adult historical fiction, my atmospheres will be quite different from hers!
My current work-in-progress is a middle-grade adventure called The Mystery of the Giant Kohlrabi.
When it starts, Nero’s family is lost in the backroads of the prairie, trying to find Uncle Peter’s farm of giant vegetables. When a speeding semi runs them into the ditch and the car gets hung up on stump, Nero takes time out under the shade of a nearby tree.
The tree was very strange. Its bark was pale green and perfectly smooth, and its branches had leaves like fish fins. Each branch led up to a single dark green leaf as big as a parachute. Shivers trickled down Nero’s spine. The swaying leaves were held open by stiff, white bones, and one of them had holes the same size as the one in the road sign. Above him, in the centre of the tree, sat a bulging, alien…brain.
I’ve been back from When Words Collide 2015 for four days now, and I’m still flying high from the excitement and energy. Here are a few of my brightest highlights:
A fabulous full-day workshop on “The First Five Pages” by Faith Hunter, author of the Jane Yellowrock vampire hunter books. Her advice to “bait and hook” by giving the reader something to latch onto (an intriguing main character, interesting setting, and immediacy in writing) and wonder about (hint of conflict to come) made me realize that my FFP were completely wrong. Now I’ve rewritten them to start where the story starts, and am in the middle of “making lasagna” by sprinkling bits of the backstory throughout the story. And finding it’s better this way.
Hearing an acquisitions editor from a publisher I really like saying she wants to see my book. ♥ ♥ ♥ This was during the Fantasy genre “Live Action Slush”. In a LAS, you anonymously submit the first page of your manuscript , to be read out loud to a panel of four authors and editors. They put up their hands when they would stop reading the manuscript in a slush pile, and the reader stops when three hands are up. My page (freshly re-written after workshop #1) made it all the way to the end. And they clapped. And said it was fantastic. And…first sentence. Wow.
Learning about Eco-Fiction, or fiction that seeks to create and build dialogue about protecting and valuing the world we live on. Realizing that I write this. Draco’s Child is about restoring a damaged eco-system–on another planet, and Bill Bruin is about a bear and a raven learning to delight in winter. The ones I’m working on do this too. More accurately, I write eco-fantasy. Thus my tagline: Exploring Nature in Imaginary Worlds.
Another workshop, this one on the 20-second elevator pitch. Faith Hunter (see point 1) and David B. Coe helped me hone my pitch for the Middle Grade novel I will be pitching to an editor from Scholastic Canada at the CANSCAIP Prairie Horizons conference in September. Giant genetically-modified caterpillars, here I come!
Going to Regina writer Marie Powell‘s launch of her historical fantasy book Hawk.
A half-day plot workshop with Daniel Abraham, in which he re-told MacBeth as a story about a self-help book, computer hackers, and ballroom dancing. You can read it here.
Watching Brandon Mull channel his inner 10-year-old describing his Middle Grade fantasy books in enthusiastic detail.
Learning 10 ways to hide a clue in a mystery novel, from the Calgary Crime Writers’ Association.
Having 20 people show up to hear my WordPress Workshop when they could have been listening to Diana Gabaldon or any of the other 9 presenters.
Spending time with a whole lot of Regina writers, a bunch from elsewhere, my cousin Carol, and an anthology of other writers (collective nouns are fun) who are now new friends.