There’s a novel in everybody

Over two years ago, I challenged myself to write a novel. I’d been thinking about it for a while, and was enamored with the idea that I could create a story with a plot, characters and setting.

Clark Hoskin writing

Clark Hoskin

Always a wannabe-creative type, I was stuck in that head space: reading a lot, enjoying certain writers and finding out how they wrote their stories. Then I’d buy Writer’s Digest magazine from time to time and surf on websites about writing. That’s when I found a podcast called Writing Excuses.

  • Writing Excuses: “Fifteen minutes long, because you’re in a hurry and we’re not that smart.”

Inspiration

Listening to Writing Excuses while working out at the gym motivated me to move beyond thinking about writing, and to actually start writing. The podcast is aimed at aspiring writers who are always finding excuses to avoid writing. By offering up fifteen minutes of motivational chatter, you feel a certain guilt about not turning on the laptop.

It was on Writing Excuses that I learned about NaNoWriMo, short for National Novel Writing Month, the annual worldwide grassroots effort that encourages people to write a novel in 30 days. So, I registered (no cost) and started writing. The month of November passed and I didn’t achieve the 50,000-word goal. Not even close. I tried again the next year, this time with a story outline prepared over the summer. The second time around, I achieved my goal. It felt good. Well … I almost achieved it. I wrote over 50,000 words, but it definitely was not a novel. Even so, I was hooked on fleshing out the new world I had created.

Method

While participating in NaNoWriMo and listening to Writing Excuses, I learned one basic thing about writing a book. Success is only possible if you follow the AIC Method. Many amateur writers complain about this demanding procedure. It’s torture, they insist. Others believe in the AIC Method theoretically, including me, but have difficulty putting it into action. All professional novelists absolutely insist that AIC is the only way to go. It’s a simple, universal rule that must be followed. Just sit your Ass In Chair and write.

You know what. AIC works. And it works with just about any kind of chair. Personally, I prefer something slightly uncomfortable: kitchen chair or lawn chair. It only works with your ass, though… no one else’s.

Atmosphere

Atmosphere, ambience, whatever you want to call it, is important for writing. If you’re going to sit on your ass for so long, it should be located in a supportive environment. I did most of my writing on the back deck in hot weather, which helped me a lot, given the setting of the novel. Also, I need focus… no noise. I think my brain has concentration issues. But I also like people to be around – but just not disturbing me. It’s a hard balance, because you may feel bad if you’re squirreled away from the rest of the world.

Direction

Some writers can just sit down and write a story from beginning to end. I can’t do that. I needed an outline — a beginning, middle and end. I wanted to incorporate my community into the novel … but the thought scared me, too. In the end, the basic premise for the novel came from a vacation. While on a dive trip on a Caribbean island, I thought, maybe a bunch of friends get caught up in a murder and end up risking life and limb.

Writing cards Clark Hoskin

Recipe cards and a small photo album helped keep track of plot and characters

So began the bulk of the process that took two years … figuring out the plot, creating a world half way between reality and fiction, developing a wide range of interesting characters, laying out the story on a calendar, researching everything from firearms to paper weights. It was fun — and distracting when I had writer’s block — to brainstorm about what kind of a car the love interest drove (an old Toyota Delica) or the drink my murder victim preferred (an Old Fashioned).

At this point, it also helped to tell a couple people what I was doing. “I’m working on a novel,” is all I’d say. I didn’t provide any more detail – none. As long as I knew they knew I was writing something, I couldn’t hide behind the secrecy of telling no one of my plans.

First Draft

Eventually, the basic first draft of the story appeared on my laptop — all 220,000 words of it. The complexity of the thing was overwhelming, and I had to insert headings within chapters to keep track of the twists and turns of the story. Then, reluctantly but proudly, I asked three people close to me to give it a read. A few weeks later, we gathered in a friend’s basement rec room and my “Alpha Readers” told me what they thought. For the most part, it was positive – which you should expect from family and friends – because they don’t want to hurt your feelings.

Around that time, I read Wired for Story by Lisa Cron, a self-help book for aspiring authors that is pretty dismissive about asking friends to read your work. I disagree. My readers were very frank about which characters stood out, what plot points were lost to them, and what they thought about my protagonist, and so much more. Their criticisms were very helpful, despite being shrouded in bubble wrap.

Second Draft

Narked novel cover Tracy Haskett

Draft novel cover by Tracy Haskett

I recorded the suggestions of my readers and tried my best to tackle those issues head on. Meanwhile, from a technical perspective, I explored a few rabbit holes that were important to ensure the story was as believable as possible. A family vacation to the setting of my novel helped facilitate this. Ahead of the trip, I reached out to several people on the island, and a few responded. I set up appointments, and they generously met face-to-face and answered my questions. Then, through winter and spring, I hunkered down and cleaned up the second draft. Characters got melded together, names changed, and writing was tightened up. Setting goals was important (“I’ll have it done by Easter”; “I’ll have it done by Father’s Day”; “It will be done by Canada Day”…) and eventually I triumphed. Encouragement from those you love is very, very helpful, too. (Thanks Tracy for pushing me to keep at it, and for designing the cool book cover!)

The Way Forward

So, what now? My second draft is back in the hands of my readers, and I await their feedback. Others have expressed interest in reading the novel but, sorry, no. My goal now is to get it published, and then the others can buy it! I’ve decided against self-publishing so the search for an agent has begun. Yesterday, I sent out my first query, including bio, synopsis, and first ten pages of the novel. I expect a rejection eventually, but will keep shopping it around. In the meantime, I’ll continue to tinker with it, fix typos, and incorporate any feedback I receive. I’ve already started thinking what the next story will be.

Your Novel

So, what is your story? Over the past two years, I’ve spoken to many people who have the desire to write a novel. Everyone has a story to tell. It’s up to you to decide what it is. And then … get your ass in a chair and write.

Clark Hoskin

 

 

 

 

 

 

Simple things my Dad taught me

Simple things my Dad taught me

When I was a kid, my Dad would take me on his service calls to fix farm equipment. Walter Hoskin was a Badger dealer. In the 1970s, Badger Northland was a Wisconsin manufacturer that built silo unloaders, barn cleaners, forage boxes, bunk feeders, manure spreaders … and other “farm materials handling equipment” for farmers in the U.S. and Canada.

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Badger Northland logo

The Rolodex on my Dad’s service counter in the implement shed was thick with names and phone numbers of farmers across Haldimand and Norfolk counties. Those were the days when one hundred acres of clay soil could almost support a farm family. Back then, agriculture was a way of life for hundreds of families along dusty concession roads. Practically every kid at my elementary school grew up on a farm. Today, maybe six or eight cards would hang sadly from that Rolodex, given the farm amalgamations that have happened over the last two generations.

Selling the equipment meant repairing it, too. Cattle had to be fed, no matter the day of the week or the weather conditions. If the mechanical unloader inside the 100-foot silo broke down on a cold Christmas Eve, my Dad was called in to fix it, because without it, a dairy herd would go hungry.

Badger Silo Unloader

Badger silo unloader

The black rotary-dial phone on the wall at home would ring, and a farmer would ask my Dad to come out. He would push the tool box onto the back of his Ford 350 stake truck, along with a few metal parts, and we would drive to the Sowden dairy barn or the Breedyk beef feedlot. It was always cold and damp, and the wind would whip through the cracks in the buildings. Machinery broke down more in winter.

Little did I know I was learning things as I stood there in the barn, my feet freezing in my work boots.

Dad would climb up the dirty silo chute with the end of a rope, then I would attach a trouble light and a power cord to the other end and he would pull them up. Then, he sent the rope back down for the tool box, then the five-gallon pail full of parts, nuts and bolts.

Sometimes, I would climb up too. Usually, I would stay at the bottom of the chute and listen for instructions. He would fix the machine, then he would tell me to turn on the silo unloader for a few seconds to make sure it worked.

Funny how I didn’t argue with him, or question his judgement, or refuse to take direction. I trusted he knew what he was doing. I was a weird kid.

When the repairs were complete, tools went back in the 350. The electrical cord became a tangled mess at the bottom of the chute, and I had to roll it up and get it out of my Dad’s way before he climbed back down.

My Dad Walt Hoskin

My Dad

One of the things he taught me on those cold, dusty outings was how to roll up a cord. That may sound boring and mundane, but I am so glad I listened to him and learned.

At high school in Hagersville, I played trumpet in the band. The guys and I had to help set up equipment for concerts. Knowing how to roll a cord came in very handy.

At York University, where I studied film production, we worked in groups to produce short film projects. Lighting and sound equipment on film sets need cords and cables, so I could easily roll them up when we were done.

After my daughters were born and we were living in an old house, I needed to fix stuff around the place. You guessed it – more cords to roll up.

Years pass. I don’t play the trumpet any more. I didn’t become a film director. And we now live in a modern home that doesn’t require as much repair.

And now, in my day job as an economic developer and tourism promoter, trade shows and exhibits are part of the regular routine. That kind of work requires – that’s right – the ability to coil an extension cord properly. The last cord I rolled was at Eat & Drink Norfolk last month. It made me think of my Dad.

There are days when I wish for simpler times, when I just waited for instructions and did what I was told. When playing First Trumpet and being Band President was really cool. When I aspired to live in Hollywood and make movies.

Life moves on and becomes more complicated. Luckily, my Dad taught me the value of working hard, of enduring uncomfortable situations, of listening to instructions, of trusting people, and looking on the bright side.

And, yes, he taught me how to roll up a cord, so it would be ready for the next guy to use. Luckily, I didn’t resist taking his advice. I just learned how to do it. I didn’t try to design a better way, or criticize his old habits. I guess I had sense enough just to take his wisdom at face value, because it would make my life a lot easier.

Thanks, Dad.


© 2017 Clark Hoskin

Video: How to coil and extension cord (Source: YouTube This Old House)

Video: What is a silo unloader? (Source: YouTube FarmerSchneck)