Monday, June 6, 2011

Guest Post: Katharine Britton author of Her Sister's Shadow

I'm so pleased to welcome Katharine Britton today to talk about writing. Katharine is the author Her Sister's Shadow.

Thanks, Amy, for inviting me to guest blog today. Because it’s the release date for my novel, Her Sister’s Shadow, I thought I’d share a Few Notions about Writing.

Writing is a privilege.
I have always felt this way about writing. For years I only fantasized about, someday, writing a novel. I believed that people who wrote books were members of a special, elite group, one to which I clearly did not belong. So I didn’t write; I just read. A lot. Then I realized that writing and getting published are two entirely different pursuits. Shyly, hesitantly, I started writing stories. The stories were pretty bad, but I was writing. And I kept writing. And then I started to meet some writers, published writers, and they were actually pretty normal (most of them). So I set about writing a novel manuscript with the goal of getting published. Why not me, I wondered? Still, this notion that writing is a privilege hasn’t gone away. As one sits at a desk, hour-after-hour, trying to improve a piece of writing, it’s hard not to think about all that time that you could be devoting instead to, say, helping improve the human condition. At these moments one can’t help but see writing as a privilege. The best fiction, of course, teaches us something about ourselves, and then moves us to change for the better. Or maybe we read a story that just makes us happier for a while, and so we do someone a good turn, and then that person pays it forward, and so forth…

I acknowledged this privilege at a whole new level when my novel, Her Sister’s Shadow, was accepted for publication, and someone spent time editing it, and someone else designed a cover, and someone sent out galleys to media outlets, and somebody started contacting booksellers. I don’t know most of these people, but they made my book their business. Yes, I know, book publishing is a business and that these people were being paid. Nevertheless, I feel privileged to have been the one to set all that in motion.

Writing is both a joy and a challenge.
A fiction writer invents a character, and then listens as they talk about themselves. As you listen, a plot begins to develop, a location becomes populated, houses spring up, and a history suggests itself. You check back with the character, “Is this really what happened?” (Sometimes you’re shocked, sometimes amused.) “Yes,” your character assures you, “It really did.” You, then, dutifully supply them with a present and a future to resolve that past. Your characters will correct you if you get it wrong. The stubborn ones remain silent for days, making you guess. The outspoken ones talk so fast you have to race to keep up. Writing fiction can be exhausting, exhilarating, discouraging, demoralizing, frustrating… be a joy and a challenge–sometimes all in one sitting.

Writing requires patience and friends (and patient friends).
Always, many more details remain lodged in a writer’s head than ever make it onto the page. Then, too, events, artifacts, and even characters remain resolutely on the page, despite your best editing efforts. Why is Aunt Evelyn’s feathered hat still on the coat rack in the back hall, when you deleted the entire scene about Aunt Evelyn’s visit? And what of your treasured two-page treatise on fertilizing orchids, which took you hours to research and resulted in your ordering several orchids, pots, potting medium, grow lights… and launched a whole new hobby. Your friends, whom you’ve asked to read early drafts, will gently ask you, puzzled, who Aunt Evelyn is and, hopefully (unless you have written a book about orchids) in the kindest terms, suggest you shorten or, even–yes, really–delete the entire bit about orchid fertilization.

Writing is, above all else, a privilege.
Despite the challenges, the snarky passive-aggressive characters, the countless revisions and the shifting landscapes, I believe that writing is, above all else, a privilege.

We often write alone and we often read alone, but stories are meant to be shared. Please leave a comment below, if you’re so inclined: what are some of your notions about writing? And, if you read Her Sister’s Shadow, please get in touch and let me know what you think. Thanks!

About Her Sister's Shadow: Lilli Niles is at home in her North London flat when she receives an unexpected call. Her elder sister, Bea — at the family homestead in White Head, Massachusetts — has just lost her husband, and she'd like Lilli to fly home for the funeral.

Lilli, a painter, is preparing for her latest gallery opening. And more to the point, there are reasons she moved all the way to England to escape her older sister, reasons that have kept them estranged for decades.

But something in Bea's voice makes Lilli think it's time to return to the stately house in New England she loved as a child, to the memory of a shared loss — and to a time when simple sisterhood was enough to overcome betrayal and resentment.

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