creativity

Birth Of A Book

A newborn book is a touchable, lovable miracle.

Coming in March from Iguana Books

Conception
Quick and wiggly, the sperm of an idea lodges itself in the moist, fertile ground of a writer’s self, often when she least expects it. It then takes over her life. She might try to deny it, plunging into floor scrubbing, cupboard reorganizing, texting, Facebooking, Tweeting and emailing. But deep inside her storywords are multiplying, taking shape, beginning to move.

Cally’s Way, my new historical self-discovery novel, was conceived one morning in the kitchen of the apartment my daughter and I had rented for six weeks on the south coast of Crete.

I had been rising early every day, meditating and then writing random notes on what I was reading, seeing, thinking, feeling. In the afternoons we would drive up terrifying, guardrail-free mountain roads to visit villages where brave people, some of them teenagers like my daughter, had found ingenious ways to resist the Nazis’ brutal occupation of this ancient island during World War II. Then we would come back to Plakias beach. Behind the headland at the end of the bay archeologists have found 100,000-year old human tools.

Plakias Bay

Sun, rock, olive oil and wine, stories of glory and horror, all of these streams of consciousness coalesced that morning in the kitchen into a force that, holding me in its grip for the next twelve years, would become Cally’s Way.

Gestation
Words, like cells, grow according to some kind of pattern — a novel has to have characters and a story — but what characters? Which story? So many choices, of narrative and scene, style, setting and timing, of tone and pace and nuance, implication, resonance, discord, lie waiting in the place just beyond knowing. Storytelling guru Robert McKee says never be satisfied with your first idea. Sometimes he’s right, sometimes wrong. No one can tell a writer how to work.

Gestation of a novel is not seamless. Structures often sprout extraneous arms or legs and lopping them off, when characters are now as close as friends, is painful. Sometimes the heart of the story is so faint all you can hear is your memory of it.

So you get help. You also feed and nurture your creative energy and the emerging life and gradually, as construction continues, glimmers of the book’s soul appear.

My bulletin board while I wrote Cally’s Way

Labour
Oh boy. Who needs the endless hours of metaphorical gut-clenching, back wrenching contractions, pushing, pushing the baby book out into a world that has no reason to care whether it lives or dies?

At least now, in the birth of both babies and books, we have some choices: doctor or midwife? Hospital or home? Rather than exposing our innermost sensitivities to agents and publishers whose choices are dictated by marketing algorithms, many writers are now opting for new publishers who are literary gatekeepers, but also offer the author some control over this critical part of the birth.

Iguana Books

Delivery
Iguana Books will publish Cally’s Way in March. It is my third novel and thanks to the high quality of editing, production design and marketing expertise I have received, all this baby’s fingers and toes are intact. According to advance reviews, there is also lots of colour in its cheeks and for this, like all creators at the moment of birth, I am eternally grateful.

Birth Notices
“Jane’s love for Crete, its people and customs shines through and draws the reader in. Her extensive knowledge about the history of the island adds breadth and depth to the passion and romance that we find in Cally’s Way. The questions posed by Cally’s journey of self discovery are ones that any reader will be able to connect with. This book is highly recommended not only for those who are already familiar with the island of Crete but for those who have yet to visit.”
Kate Brusten, Editor, Rethymnon Bugle

“I loved Cally’s Way, not just the fascinating history and stunning island backdrop, but also the well-drawn, endearing characters of Cally, the beautiful but troubled Oliver and Wrecks, his dog. An engaging and compelling read.”
Hilary Boyd, bestselling U.K. author of Thursdays In the Park

“Author Jane Bow gives readers an engaging and deeply poignant picture of the Greek and Cretan resistance under Nazi occupation, but she also gives her readers an equally engaging story of a young woman’s transformation through hard-won knowledge and love.  Cally’s Way resonates deeply…”
Robert J. Begiebing, award-winning novelist and Professor of
English Emeritus, Southern New Hampshire University

Dante & The Chinese Backpacks

Many of my readers are in China. This blog’s for you.

A huge black and grey snake with green lines running down its sides is coiled around a ceiling on the second floor of Toronto’s Art Gallery of Ontario. The snake is made of Chinese children’s backpacks, each one representing the life of one of the 5,000 children who died when their shoddily built schools collapsed in an earthquake. China’s government doesn’t like to talk about this tragedy. It also doesn’t like Ai Weiwei, the artist who made the snake, who has been jailed for speaking out, and is now being kept from attending openings of his art shows in Europe and Canada. 

To see this extraordinary snake go to: http://www.ago.net/ai-weiweis-snake-ceiling

I saw the snake on my way into an exhibition of 14th Century Florentine Art. A hand-illustrated edition of Dante’s Divine Comedy stopped me in my tracks. Made a few years after his death in 1321, this copy of his world famous poem has been carefully preserved for nearly 700 years. When he created it he was in exile.
 

Written in Italian, the language of the street, The Divine Comedy takes its readers down, with Dante and the Roman poet Virgil, into The Inferno’s seven circles of hell, where some of the public figures of Dante’s day are among those gruesomely tortured by sins, such as greed and avarice, that consume them. Dante and Virgil then travel up, through cold, grey Purgatorio — a new concept in Dante’s day, where less serious sinners must suffer until they can achieve redemption —  into heavenly, love-filled Paradiso. 

Dante was no more popular with his government than Weiwei is with his, but his poem was copied again and again. Anyone could read it and they did, until it became one of the great foundations of western literature.

To see a beautifully illustrated, 14th Century copy of dissident Dante Alighieri’s Divine Comedy, right after marvelling at 21st Century dissident Ai Weiwei’s sensational snake, gave me hope in the unstoppable power of art.

Once, thirty years ago, Canadian novelist Margaret Laurence was battling soul-destroying censorship of her brilliant novel, The Diviners, in her hometown. For the second time.

“Why does this keep happening?” I whined. The Diviners was a Canadian literary classic. “Can’t we do something to make it stop?”

“No,” she told me, “all we can do is keep on standing at the barricades (of repression.)”

She’s right. Political and religious ideologies everywhere keep trying to smother inconvenient truths and points of view. I give thanks for the freedom I have to tap out these words today. It’s more than Canadian government scientists, or Chinese artists, or writers in many countries enjoy. 

Snakes shed their skins and grow, however, and governments have no choice but to coil through Dante’s journey. While blessed art, in all its forms, goes on refusing to be silenced.

Words’ Worth

Words are dynamite. They torture, poison, blow apart relationships, incite riots, create hope, compassion, great love. Wow. Little collections of sound, or written squiggles bunched together, how do they do all that? Fifty years of fooling around with words (I started Very young) leave me marveling at this most powerful gift/tool/weapon.

Sound is power. “In the beginning was the Word… and the Word was God,” said John in the Old Testament. Once I took a self defense course. Our homework was to practise shouting “FUCK OFF” at the top of our lungs (to shock a would-be attacker.) Even in an empty house it was hard, jarring the system, shattering conditioning. Try it. Raw sound — especially at the top of your lungs — splashes inside your cells, affects your heart, blood, nerves, skin, feelings, thoughts.

Vowel sounds, variations of ‘a,’ ‘e,’ ‘i,’ ‘o,’ or ‘u,’ are the breath of life. Ancient Hebrew words, written, included no vowels. These sounds were added in the speaking. (Deepak Chopra: Journey to the Boundless) The breath of life: in the beginning I picture humans standing up, grunting or barking to show what we wanted, murmuring our pleasure. And once we get an idea it doesn’t take us humans long to run with it. Soon we were shaping the sounds, adding syllables, prefixes, suffixes to communicate feelings, plans, ideas. Making stories, changing our world.

Some sounds are the same no matter what the language. ‘Ma,’ denoting mother, is there in ancient Sanskrit (matr), and the Romantic languages (madre in Spanish, mere in French) and German (mutter) and English. Every word carries history, sometimes thousands of years old, and that is so totally rad, man. Once I finish this blog, I’ll upload it and then? Omigod who knows? LOL.

Make up a word, something wriggly or obtuse or just plain obfuscatious. Now use it, I dare you. Have some fun watching people’s reactions. Shakespeare coined thousands of words, and look what a good time he had. 
Thanks for your visit,
Jane