BIRTH OF A BOOK


Have you ever had a dream of wanting to write that book that’s in you—deep, deep down? Well, I did and I have. Not that it all came easy. No, it’s a whole lot of work getting a book published, much like the path of a dung beetle that crawls up a hill—backwards–to push that ball of dung a few times bigger than its own body over a distance that’s more like a kilometre in that bug’s world—to eat the ball at its leisure or to inject its semen or eggs in. When the scarab happens to loose hold of the ball, it has to start again, back from where the ball of shit rolled down to, if it had traveled uphill.  By the way, the ancient Egyptians believed that life came from those dung balls by the male injecting its semen into it, and self-propagating that way without females. They revered the scarab; its cycle of dung rolling was a metaphor for the sun moving through the sky in daytime and at night through the underworld.

I always thought that to be able to write a decent book, one had to have something to write about, so I waited, and waited, until I suddenly turned 60. Holy shit, where did the time go?  I said to myself, Write that book already and I set out to do just that.  Not that I had a lot of dung collected in my life, comparatively speaking, but nevertheless, there was some.

So how does one go about to becoming a writer after 60 years of doing something else? I don’t know about others, but I have a suspicion that I am not the only middle aged woman with that same mission from observing the other ladies in my creative writing classes and at the local writing and publishing events. That’s where I started: with writing classes.

At first I took classes at the entry level with the Continuing Education programs at the local college that offered courses to adults in search of life-long learning goals.  I owe Dona Sturmanis and Rand Zacharias for those first forays into the writing world: Publishing Your Book; Editing; How to make a living writing.

I did not ski a lot that year on Sundays, having lost my ski buddy after our break-up. To practice my imagination and writing skills, I set aside Sundays for my first writing attempts. It just so happened that I did not have enough ideas to write a novel, so I dedicated my time to writing short stories about events in my life that I thought were unusual, or intriguing, and possibly worth writing about.

To my surprise, my pen was flowing and the time flew by: suddenly it was four hours later and I had a foolscap pad full of my long hand, well, let me call it by its proper name—shit. But I didn’t know that at the time and felt pretty good about the products of my flowing, fancy Parker fountain pen that I had been given some twenty years ago by my ex and had not used much.

Then I got more courage and signed up for some intensive summer classes in the UBC Creative Writing program. That class for serious writers opened my eyes. The slow analysis of the art of writing and discovery of the specific skills involved was to me, as if undressing a person and putting that human in front of an X ray machine (one of my jobs in a previous career) and suddenly seeing all the bones and soft tissue outlined on the screen in the darkness–otherwise invisible. Especially the workshop and commentary from other students inspired me to continue and use the skills I learned, and wanting to get better at it. The professor’s gentle and encouraging guidance was leaving my ego intact. I owe her for lifting the veil and want to thank her here, Laisha Rosnau, author of The Sudden Weight Of Snow.

The challenge to continue writing was not that much of a sacrifice for me–single and in control of my time, at least on weekends. Focusing on just writing without distractions produced its own rewards: I was feeling like a runner after a good run: high on my efforts and the stories that came from me–somehow. I just love that creative process, that my mind goes where it wants to go without control of my super ego, that the story takes shape and even I don’t know where it will end: it’s fascinating.

The question came up in class why a writer is writing. Would you write if nobody ever got to read your work? I knew I was not satisfied with just writing. Somebody should read my stories, so I started sending some to a close relative, my sister, and to friends. Their replies were as to be expected from loved ones: positive.

The question of why we write lingered on and I am not completely aware of what other motivations kept me going. Perhaps because I always tried to entertain my family at the dinner table: I was the youngest and a funny, cheeky kid, a bit of a tomboy. That urge has not completely left me, although my sense of humour is not always understood in this part of the world, so I assume providing entertainment value still is a goal of mine, as well as possibly a bit of an extra income, hoping people will buy my stories.

It was not long before I thought I could write that book I probably have in me, but it will have to be a collection of short stories. I approached an editor, as a good edit makes or breaks the book, I was told, which was confirmed on line by authors, publishers and self-publishers.  My choice was Dona Sturmanis, as she has been a published writer and editor for many years and she operates a editing company with Rand Zacharias. My editors were brave enough to accept the assignment and take me–a first time writer—through the process. They dedicated a lot of their time to my drafts of the book and to its individual stories.   I am eternally and wholeheartedly in debt to them for helping me through this process in a forthright and honest manner, not gilding the pill when it had to be swallowed. Many of the initial stories just were not good enough, or not interesting enough for a wider audience, or needed work, etc. In the end, 12 interrelated stories remained and together make the novel about Adrienne and her friends titled ON THIN ICE.

It happened to be a lucky time for beginning authors: the first E books were being published shortly after I got serious about writing. Self-publishing lost is low status as a vanity press=low quality books from people who just want to see their name in print. We were no longer prepared to wait for some agent’s or publisher’s nod to be published. Within two years electronic readers like Kindle and Kobo took off, and iPads were sold by the millions. All those gadgets need books. The publishing industry turned on its head. Books that started as a lowly E book now get a run like never before. An example of this is Fifty Shades Of Grey by E.L James released in June 2011 that made her a household name, reviving the sex lives of millions of stale marriages.

I chose BOOKBABY.com that started publishing books last year, after having created expertise with publishing and distributing music and videos. With a manuscript professionally prepared by the editors and a great photo by a friend in my hands, the process was really easy. Within two proofs and ten days the book is published and can soon be downloaded from the retailer of your choice: after May 15, 2012 for your E reader at i Bookstore, Sony, Amazon Kindle, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Baker & Tyler,  Copia,  Gardner’s and eBookPie.  

By the way, I don’t write long hand anymore, as too many rewrites made that very onerous. I may ask Bookbaby to print a limited number of books if there is a demand for print copies of ON THIN ICE. Please, leave me a comment when you are interested in a printed copy. In that case, I will use my fountain pen for future book signings….

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About BABYBOOMER johanna van zanten

My name is Johanna van Zanten. I am a baby boomer, interested in writing and connecting with other writers and readers to engage in discussions and information sharing, to share a point of view about current global issues, writing, and publishing, diversity, immigration, travel, music, life, specific baby boomer issues, and dating/relationship issues. I have written a novella, ON THIN ICE about baby-boomer Adrienne and will link this blog with the information website for this novella. Right now, I am trying out the blog.
This entry was posted in Babyboomer, Canadian publishers, Creative fiction, Dating, Dealing with aging and dating, E Books, eBook, latest news items, memoir writing, Parenting, Publishing, sexual politics, Short story, the Netherlands, travel, world issues, Writing life and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to BIRTH OF A BOOK

  1. Hi Johanna. Your words in this post really hit home with me. I too turn 60 next year and it is a case of ‘where has the time gone’. I took on line courses in freelance writing last year and tried that out. Unfortunately, working full time, I found I didn’t have the time to commit to the freelancing seriously. I need to write and, like you, have also written several interrelated anecdotes about instances in my life. Thank you – I know I love to write and it comes relatively easy – I need to keep going for myself. 🙂

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