St. Martins Idyll (2)

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Writing brings a few perks – a bit of travel, the ability to work at your own pace and set your own deadlines, the pleasure of being greeted at school doors by students when you arrive to read and talk about writing.

And encountering the hospitality of people like Kathy and Rudy Zinn, at the Tidal Watch Inn, in St. Martins, New Brunswick, where I just paid a third visit to read to a group of Road Scholars (formerly Elderhostel) who came from all over the United States.

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The inn was built as a home over a century ago by a prosperous family, the Skillens. In the 1800s it was the social hub of St. Martins, at that time a major shipbuilding centre and one of the richest communities in the British Empire.

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Introduction from Kathy …                                 … and the ‘story so far’ before reading #1  

Now the house, in the form of the Tidal Watch Inn, is another kind of social hub, one for visitors to the serene and pretty little seaside town with its outrageously picturesque movie-set-unreal harbour, and its long sweep of beach with the famous sandstone cliffs and caves at one end and marshes at the other, and only a few kilometres beyond the stunning Fundy Parkway.

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                                                         Covered bridges beside the harbour

Thanks to Kathy and everyone at the Tidal Watch Inn for their welcome and kindness, and to the members of the Road Scholar group for their interest and company and ready friendship.

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The sweep of beach from marsh to rocks                     Nancy R. on the bridge in the lush gardens between the covered bridges     

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A Festival, a Fall Fair, a Fabulous Wedding, and Another Wearisome Week of Not Writing

With the band playing at a festival, a wedding and a fall fair, and my getting ready for a new year of teaching music, as well as the actual start of teaching, it’s been a busy month on the music front, while writing has hit the doldrums as I wait to hear the fate of one teen story (i.e. rejection) and the release date of another (but almost certainly something will go wrong and it won’t happen).

In fact, writing has more than hit the doldrums.

I mean – why bother, when it’s going to end up as yet another story destined never to reach the world?

You may have noted the tone – just a hint – of scepticism in the paragraph above, a conviction that things will not turn out as hoped. It’s a kind of self-defence mechanism learned from the writing business which dictates that you assume the story you’ve just spent a year or more working on is rubbish (every time you work on it or re-read it you become more convinced of that) and will be rejected outright by every publisher in North America, or, if it’s accepted for publication, before it’s released the publisher will have a change of heart or will go out of business or the publishing house will be burned down or flooded or hit by a cyclone so that the release date becomes … never.

(My record for frustration is the publisher who had one of my stories on the publishing schedule for over a year and then decided not to do it after all.)

Hands up if you understand the source of my inveterate pessimism.

Ah well. There’s always the more productive music scene with which to cheer oneself up. Here we are – the band, Stepping Out – getting set up to play at the hugely and deservedly successful Charlotte County Fall Fair, at the Ganong Nature Park near St. Stephen, New Brunswick.

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I don’t know what I write.

What I mean is – I don’t know how to pigeonhole it. Not that a book necessarily needs to be pigeonholed, except for the various and ubiquitous blurbs (“Robert Rayner is the author of three adult novels, four teen novels, and nine young adult novels …”), and so that book stores know where to put it (unless they simply shelve all books alphabetically by author; would that work?), and so that publishers know where to place it and distribute it in their catalogues and promo stuff.

So – okay – I write novels, adult, teen and young adult.

Which prompts the question: What’s the difference – apart from the ages (YA 8-13 years, teen 14+ years) often noted on the back cover – between an ‘adult’ novel and a ‘teen’ novel and a ‘young adult’ novel (not to mention a ‘new adult’ novel)?

And when do you become ‘adult’, anyway? Driving age? Drinking age? The old ‘age of maturity’, twenty-one? Should ‘adult’ novels have an age classification on the back cover (adult 18+)? Maybe there should be an upper limit (adult 18-65. Not suitable for seniors.)

Partly, I suppose, it’s the reader the author has in mind as she or he writes. (Most important thing to keep in mind as you write, I tell students is – Who are you writing for?)

Trouble is, as many adults as teens read so called ‘teen novels’ these days, and as many older teens as adults have been reading so called ‘adult novels’ for years, in school if not out of it. (My friends and I were reading, amongst other writers, Jack Kerouac and William Burroughs when we were in our early teens.) (Maybe that’s what did the damage.)

To compound the confusion, ‘young adult’ and ‘teen’ are often used interchangeably, and ‘young adult’ sometimes covers a wide age range. Although my ‘Libby’ books are classified as ‘ages 6-10’, and the Brunswick Valley series as ‘ages 8-13’, they tend to turn up on the same ‘young adult’ shelf in bookstores – alongside my ‘teen’ books.

Maybe the classification rests (arbitrarily) on the age of the protagonists, so that if a story is about 8-13 year olds, it’s YA, and if about 14+ year olds, it’s teen (or new adult).

All of which reminds me that my book website (www3.nb.sympatico.ca/raynernr) starts, Stories – for adults, teens, young adults, and children.

So maybe I do, after all, know what I write. Just not sure which books fit into which pigeonhole.

And still wondering if it matters.

Beginnings and Endings 5

I like ending stories on an ambivalent note. (Song arrangements, too. You can’t beat finishing on a major seventh.) I like to leave a little (or a lot) of doubt about what the future holds for the characters, and the reader wondering whether the ending is ‘happy’, or if tragedy is about to fall.

I think one of my best endings (by my own – highly suspect, of course – judgement) was in the teen novel, Footprints (Breakwater/Jesperson 2008).

(I’m tempted to ponder what I mean by a ‘teen novel’, but that’s a topic for another time.)

Here’s the end of Footprints:

Harper watches his friends from the corner of his eye. They are holding hands. Drumgold is saying something about worldwide injustice and oppression. He talks like that all the time.

Isora gazes at the sea. Harper wishes she’d pirouette in the sand, the way she used to. She’s not listening to Drumgold. She’s wearing the outfit she wore the day she set the bomb. She doesn’t talk much, and when she does, it’s of revenge for Dexter and George.

Droopy and Diamond Head are at the iron gate. They wave and smile. Drumgold and Isora ignore them.

Harper, glancing at his friends again, wonders which of them he fears the most.

Footprints