Monday, November 26, 2012

New Challenges: First Person

by Annette

For the non-writers out there, one of the big decisions novelists have to make before beginning a work is what point of view the story will be told in. The most common points of view in modern fiction are first person and close third person.

Third person is when scenes are told as "he said" and "she did' and so forth. Close (or tight) third person is what modern readers are most accustomed to reading, when individual scenes get into the head of one character at a time. Some books have multiple point-of-view (POV) characters, such as a romance where the scenes switch between the hero's POV and the heroine's POV.

A great example of tight third is the Harry Potter series, which is told almost exclusively from Harry's POV. We get a few scenes here and there (usually at the beginning of books) from other points of view (the prime minister, of Voldemort himself), but most of it is Harry's.

What we don't see in those books is first person.

First person is when the character is narrating the book as if it happened them personally. "I went to the store," and "I fell down." A popular series written in first person is The Hunger Games trilogy.

An odd quirk exists with first person: For several reasons, which I won't get into here due to space, first person tends to be one of the hardest POVs to do well.

Ironically, first person tends to be the POV of choice for beginning writers, because it seems like it'll be easy.

I have to raise my hand here as one of the newbies who thought first person would be easy. One of my early manuscripts was first person, and I loved the immediacy it brought to the story. But there were pitfalls, many of them, and eventually, I realized that the story would be served better by third person. I rewrote the whole thing (which, by the way, is almost as time-intensive as writing a whole new book), and it was eventually published.

That book was originally drafted close to fifteen years ago. After rewriting the whole thing, I pretty much swore off first person, knowing that (1) it lacked certain tools I liked to use as a writers and (2) I didn't have the chops to pull it off.

Enter The Newport Ladies Book Club. 

I don't remember how the point of view discussion happened, but we agreed that each book would be in first person, from the title character's perspective.

Whoever had the idea first was right on the money: To show just how differently women see the world, and even the same situation, the books really did need first person.

So, after over a decade of swearing off the POV, I was faced with writing a book in first person. Yikes.

Turns out that writing and publishing a whole bunch of books and editing professionally for years helps hone a writer's skills. I'd learned a lot about the craft, and I didn't fall into the same pitfalls I had before.

For that matter, first person was fun while writing Paige. One of the best parts is that I didn't have to worry about how another character came across, which tends to be an issue with first person. The other characters had their own books to tell their stories! No, I had to worry about one character, and one character only: Paige.

Somehow I found myself diving into her mind and understanding her in a way I never expected. Early in the drafting process, I found myself slipping into third person here and there, but eventually, first person came naturally. The story flowed. I laughed with Paige. I cried with her. And when the end came, I was right there with her.

The only part that took a lot of work after that was the opening chapter, which I must have rewritten close to a dozen times before I felt it worked. But that's not a point-of-view issue. That's a me issue. Openings are my Achilles' Heel.

I had so much fun writing in first person, that my next work-in-progress adopted that POV without me giving it much thought. Then I wrote Ilana, also in first person, and also a great learning experience.

Alas, that other manuscript has fallen into the same pit at my initial first-person attempt: I've decided that it needs to be third person after all. I'm in the trenches of revision with it right now. While I'm sure I'll reach moments of wanting to bang my head against a wall in frustration, I know the end result will be worth it, and for now, as I write new scenes from a different POV (one that didn't exist originally), I'm having a ball, knowing that the story is coming to life in a way it hadn't before.

I don't know what points of view my writing future will hold, but for some reason, The Newport Ladies Book Club is where my first person efforts just work, and my other writing, at least, so far, does better in third.

Just one more example of how this whole project has taken on a life and certain magic of its own.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Book Club Highlight: The GG's Book Club

by Heather Moore

Last week, I was invited to speak to a book club that was holding a retreat in beautiful Deer Valley, Utah. Book Club member, Mary Margaret, wanted to surprise the group of ladies with a guest author appearance. She also asked me to bring a couple of my books. Of course I brought ATHENA, knowing it would fit right in with a book club (wink, wink).

Once a year, the GG Book Club (The Giller Girls) travel to a destination for a weekend retreat. Their group was started in 2001 with six women in Ontario, Canada, and they continue to meet once a month to discuss books. The monthly meetings developed into close personal friendships, sharing recipes, reading great books, and eventually putting together their first retreat.

In fact, three of the women wrote a book about this incredible club that includes book club recipes, summary and ratings of books read, and their amazing adventures.

Now authors, Perry Jongsma, Pat Maaten, and Kathleen Mundy, are doing book signings and booking speaking engagements about their book club and book.

These ladies even put together a beautiful website for their book Reading Between the Wines: The Story of a Traveling Book Club:

The GG's Book Club uses the element of surprise in their meetings The hostess chooses the book in advance, and the ladies arrive not knowing which book they'll be presented with, or even in which manner it will be introduced--which has become quite a creative event.

They live by the GG's Book Club 10 Commandments:
1. You are priority #1. This is your night.
2. Fun is a must.
3. LOL (laugh out loud) at each other and yourself.
4. Digression is accepted and expected.
5. Never refuse a compliment or be reluctant to offer one.
6. What happens at GG Book Club stays at Book Club.
7. Read between the wines.
8. Where the boys aren't and never will be!
9. Never apologize for your book selection.
10. Completing the book is expected but not mandatory.

Favorite Book Club reads include:

The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls

The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield

When I asked them what the secret to running a book club for over ten years, they said it was willingness to try new books, commitment to the club, and being able to accept each others' differences.

During our discussion, the energy and the friendship between the women was tangible. And it reminded me of why my co-authors and I decided to write The Newport Ladies Book Club series in the first place. Not only because we were friends and had enjoyed enriched lives because of it, but because we wanted to write about one of the greatest blessings in our lives. Then transfer that to characters in a book club who are brought together for a single common purpose in the love of reading, but walk away with so much more.

Monday, November 12, 2012

From my First Book Group to Newport Ladie's Book Club

By Josi S. Kilpack
I joined my first book group when I was about 23 years old. I lived in a ‘starter’ neighborhood in Draper where there were a lot of young moms like me who wanted things to do, were making some of our first adult friendships, and had energy I stand in awe of now that I’m pushing forty and try to be in bed by 9:30. There were twelve of us in the group and we met once a month, taking turns choosing the book we would read and discuss. There were always refreshments.

I had been a voracious reader for many years before I joined this group, but I tended to read rather narrowly; when I read Regency Romance I ONLY read Regency Romance. When I read biographies, I spent months just reading biographies. I didn’t follow Oprah’s book club or read reviews, instead I would read everything by a particular author, or other books in that specific genre. I had never been involved in book discussions until being a part of this group, and it was fascinating to hear what other people saw that I’d missed, or share a point I noted that no one else had seen. I read my first (and to date, only) Jane Austin novel because of that group. Most of the books we read were outside of my ‘sphere’ and it helped me realize just how much is out there.  

A year or so into our meetings, I had to take a break from the group when I was put on bed rest for a pregnancy. It was a difficult time and, honestly, missing book group was the least of my worries. I read a lot of books during this time and eventually started writing what would become my first published novel, Earning Eternity. I didn’t set out to write a novel; I though I had an idea for an interesting short story, but it grew and grew and grew and by the time my son was six weeks old, I had written a 300 page novel I had no idea what to do with. I told one friend about this book I’d written; she told someone else, who told someone else and at the March 1999 book group meeting someone asked me about it. Once I admitted what I had done (like it’s a bad thing, right?) they asked to read it for the next month’s book club. My sister helped me print up 12 copies of the book that I then handed out to these women. They became the first people to ever give me feedback. They also encouraged me to get this book published. They changed my life.

Fifteen years later, I get to be a part of a project that writes about members a book group. Funny how full those circles can be sometimes.