I love language. It is at the heart of everything we do – sending messages, giving instructions, entertaining, elevating or conveying a scene or an emotion for example. Though I understand this on an intellectual level, it has always seemed to be a difficult task to portray what floats around in my mind, into coherent, knock ’em dead scenes on paper. I know I can write. But I wanted to challenge myself, to see if I could write. There is a difference.
After a humanitarian trip, I had some great material for a novel. But it’s a big step to transfer some lovely memories in my head and in my scrapbook into a book. Never one to shy away from an opportunity to learn and to stretch my potential, I finally completed my manuscript after seven months. The urge to write landed too frequently in the middle of the night. Or anytime, really. I can’t explain why, but the characters came to life of their own choice, and it certainly seemed as though this book ‘wrote itself’. The plot and the ending came out of left field and stayed there. Trust me, I have struggled to define what genre this book falls into. I called this story Hands Full of Ashes.
It is a story of love and loss, centering on a beautiful but heartbroken woman, who loses her husband, then finds herself travelling to Africa to spread his ashes. This woman, Olivia, discovers a completely different way of life, and she learns that what she knew is not what she thought. Her values, which she had attached to her marriage, her career, nearly every decision of her life up to that point, have shifted faster than quicksand. For Olivia, survival outweighed any quest for luxury. Fear and hunger were felt on much deeper, primal levels. Life in Africa was violent, stunning, unpredictable, yet somehow fulfilling. A jungle kidnapping, a bout with malaria, an unexpected affair all lead her to a steep cliff, overlooking the Rift Valley, and it is here where the story comes full circle. Her destiny is in her hands.
So that is the ‘arc’ of the story. How did I create the characters? The plot, and subplot? Did I write enough in the active voice, and avoid using the passive voice? Were my scenes descriptive enough? As I began to dissect my writing, it became evident that I needed to learn to write better. Was it too much for me to want to attain the level of a literary writer? Perhaps. I ran to Chapters and powered through ‘On Writing’ by Stephen King. I spent hours researching the use of adverbs until my eyes burned. I chatted with other writers (self-published and published through houses). The learning hasn’t stopped. I am like a giant vacuum, eagerly filling my mind with every grammatical and writing tidbit and self-help tool so that I will never, ever, slip into redundant writing. Phew.
What now? Big question. Wish I could provide a ‘big’ answer. The answer will have to wait. After months of writing, months of editing and revising, and then months of tweaking my query letter into a shiny, perfect document, I sent off my query to several agents and publishers. The manuscript for Hands Full of Ashes is being considered by two publishers. Of course, I would love to attain that coveted contract! If not, I can self-publish again. In the meantime, the best thing a writer can do is write, and that is my goal.