Saturday, February 17, 2018

How The Next Chapter's Shelagh Rogers helped me write my YA novel

So, full disclosure: I do actually know Shelagh Rogers. We were colleagues at CFRC Queen's Radio a(n) (undisclosed) number of years ago. She was the Classical music doyenne, I was the Sports Director. (Yes, it's true. TSN's Chris Cuthbert was one of my crew as we travelled around broadcasting Golden Gaels football and hockey games over the airwaves. I like to say I taught him everything he knows - but that would be a lie. He was a natural).

But I digress...

Shelagh, even then, had a smooth, silky voice, an infectious laugh and, above all, impressive smarts. She was awesome then and she's awesome now.

The Next Chapter, her weekly hour-long all-about-Canadian-books-reading-authors show on CBC Radio is required listening for anyone who (a) loves Canadian books and authors, and (b) wants to hear some of the best interviewing skills in action. She and her guests make me laugh. Cry, too. And I always learn something.

Sunday afternoon, rug hooking
and listening to podcasts of The Next Chapter

Shelagh's questions are probing and honest and intelligent. You can hear her guests thinking, organizing thoughts, delving into their writing hearts and souls to find the answers. It's fascinating.

But the best part about listening to The Next Chapter is that it's given me a tool to help me write.

After all, who else to turn to - in a virtual kind of way - when I'm trying to delve into my own writing heart and soul to figure out just what my character is doing, and why she's doing it, and where I'm going to take her (or, maybe, if I'm lucky, where she's going to take me).

Which is why, during the writing of my most recent (still unpublished) YA novel, Weird Girl, I found myself taking long walks along the country roads around my neighbourhood and imagining myself in conversation with Shelagh Rogers on The Next Chapter.

It goes something like this:

"Welcome to The Next Chapter, Jean!"

"Thank you for having me!"

"So, Jean, why did you want to write about a teenager who's a musical prodigy?"

And I have to answer. There I am, walking around the neighbourhood talking to myself.

Actually, I'm talking to Shelagh. I'm explaining where Imogen (my protagonist) came from, how much of me is reflected in her.

"And then there's Nathan, the hockey boy," continues Shelagh. "Tell us about him. Good guy? Bad guy?"

What parts of Nathan are important? What is worth telling? What matters? I have to think and formulate an answer and even, maybe, defend my choices sometimes.

And I'm doing this all in my head as I walk along the road.

But it's so valuable, and helpful, too. At one point in the writing of Weird Girl, I was stuck, unable to move towards the conclusion (and I already knew exactly where I wanted to end up) because I didn't know the route to get there...yet.

"What do you think Imogen is most afraid of?" asks Shelagh, which is exactly the question that's been hovering in the back of my writing mind. How did Shelagh know?

Only now I have to lean into the mic and answer the question, "out loud", in response to Shelagh and with an imaginary audience listening. So I do, and as I'm working through my response I realize that I actually do have a response. I have an answer. Once I start talking about it, articulating it, I have direction, a route to follow.

Still walking, still talking. Still hoping no neighbours drive by and see my lips moving...

My dream is to be interviewed by Shelagh Rogers on The Next Chapter. Will it ever happen? Probably not. My novel is still making the rounds of publishers and the rejections are trickling in. This story may never see its way into print. I'll keep working on it, as I do with all my projects, and I'll continue to have imaginary conversations with Shelagh to help me figure out what I'm doing, and why I'm doing it.

For other writers, it might be an imaginary reader, or maybe it's an as-yet-unknown editor. But for me it's Shelagh Rogers and The Next Chapter who help me write.

Thanks, Shelagh!

Want to know more about The Next Chapter? Check out the show's website, here.

Walking and talking, and thinking, and writing...

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