Thursday, March 15, 2012


The Pursuit of Dreams

The first novel I ever wrote, I showed to my friend, who happened to be a psychiatrist. She muttered suitable words of praise, but I had other priorities on my mind and let it languish in a drawer.

Thanks God. I was twenty-two years old. The book was awful.

The second novel I wrote, two years later, I was so pleased with that I sent it off to a publisher without seeking feedback or suggestions from a single person other than my husband. And my husband, like most spouses, knew what was good for him.

Fortunately the publisher rejected it. And the next one, and the next one. I had quite the stack of manuscripts moldering in the bottom of my basement drawer before I finally sold my first book. By then I had learned a thing or two. One of the most valuable lessons I learned is that a writer can’t write a novel by themselves. We get too close to the story, we love every one of our precious words and every delicious scene. We need an honest, discerning, objective critic who comes to the story fresh and without preconceptions or bias, who can question the words we use and the images we paint, criticize the credibility of the characters, point out the plot holes, tell us when the story is boring, confusing, clich├ęd or just plain dumb.

I’m grateful to all those rejections; each one of them sent me back to the drawing board, more determined than ever to find out what I was doing wrong. In the end, they forced me to seek out a critiquing group, and it was from and with those fellow critics that I really learned to write. Learned to polish and re-polish, to research, to question and double-check. If I had been unlucky enough to have had my first books published, I would still be trying to live them down today. Those books didn’t deserve to see the light of day. It takes time, determination and continual self-improvement to become a decent writer, a process that really never ends.

Today I sent my ninth Inspector Green novel off to my critiquing group, as well as to a couple of other technical specialists who will read it for accuracy. I know it’s not perfect, but I know they will all find interesting points to critique, and together it will make the story better. I consider each comment carefully, decide what to do with it, and make the changes to the manuscript that I feel are right. It is still my story, but by bouncing it off other people, I see how that story comes across on the page, not just in my mind’s eye.

Once it’s gone through my final writing, it goes through my editor, possibly two editors, at the publisher. One of the casualties of today’s publishing industry is the lack of good, solid opportunities for new writers. The big houses are shrinking their lists and going with big-name authors or catchy storylines. Vampires, apparently. Smaller houses, which might take risks on a new author or a fresh story concept, are struggling to stay afloat. Meanwhile, authors are being encouraged to bypass this bottleneck entirely by entering the self-publishing and ebook publishing worlds. The lines are blurring, indeed disappearing, between publisher, printer, distributor and bookseller. Amazon is all of those. In the short term, they trade in hopes and dreams and pride, but ultimately they may impede our growth as writers..

I’m not saying there is never a time for self-publishing nor that all such books are lacking. Excellent books by amazing writers are published this way every year. It is the ones that are out before their time, before they are given the chance to become the best they can be, that are losing out.

Barbara Fradkin is a child psychologist with a fascination for how we turn bad. In addition to her darkly haunting short stories in the Ladies Killing Circle anthologies, she writes the gritty, Ottawa-based Inspector Green novels which havewon back to back Arthur Ellis Awards for Best Novel from Crime Writers of Canada. The eighth in the series, Beautiful Lie the Dead, explores love in all its complications. And, her new Rapid Read from Orca, The Fall Guy, was launched last May.

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