Once upon a time I started writing a novel; about three or four years ago actually. And then I ran into a few snags. The plot was getting too complicated, the action too tedious and I was starting to not really care about what happened to any of my characters. After about a month's worth of frustration I gave up and put my notebook aside.
One of the really frustrating things about this chapter in my writing life was that I had done a lot of research into the time period and location. I had worked hard on character bios and made a story outline and I had even drawn maps of the streets and floor plans of the houses. But despite all of the planning; my characters were stuck in this parlour, twiddling their thumbs, spouting boring crap about nothing. I felt like dropping a bomb into the middle of the room, just to have something interesting actually happen and to make it all end. Instead, I closed my notebook and filed it away.
Most of my stories and screenplays have ended up either being filed away, or shredded, never to be revisited in any shape or form again. Time passes and for the most part I forget about all these stories, but the failure of this particular story was really galling. There were a couple of specific points or themes that I wanted to especially share; bits of history that most people have forgotten about or don't know about in the first place. Months went by and always present was this nagging in the furthermost regions of my brain, telling me that I had a story to tell. Inspiration was nowhere in sight though.
And then one day, my partner Ian, (who's actually my husband now) coyly announced that we were going to Nova Scotia for a vacation -- in March. I demanded to see the houses he planned on looking at whilst we were on "vacation". As I poured over the listings, it dawned on me that this indeed could be just the thing both of us needed. At the very least, we would get to see a part of Canada that neither of us had ever been to.
Several things happened to us on this "exploratory jaunt" to the east coast. Firstly, we fell in love with Nova Scotia. I was born and raised in British Columbia and I like to think it's a beautiful province. Moreover, for the longest time I couldn't possibly imagine a province more beautiful and ideal to live in. I hadn't counted on the beguiling beauty of Nova Scotia. The province with all its charms beckoned to us though and we ended up buying a big old house in a lovely little town on the South Shore. Our "vacation" was short and sweet, but we went back to British Columbia with more than just fond memories and an eagerness to get packed and moved to our new home. For starters, I felt like a heavy black cloud had lifted from the depths of my mind. I felt refreshed and revitalized; I had been taking everything in and not become weary of it all.
Back in Victoria, I started reading some of the books on Nova Scotia that we had brought back with us, so that we could bone up on the province's rich history. It was exciting and for the most part totally new to me. Many of the things that I read about hadn't been touched upon in history classes when I was in school.
One night, I was in bed, just starting to doze off to sleep, when suddenly, I sat bolt upright in bed. My jaw dropped. "My story takes place in Halifax, Nova Scotia -- during prohibition!" I exclaimed.
Boom! All of a sudden these voices in my mind started talking excitedly. Not only that, but all these people started coming into my mind's vision. I quickly closed my gaping jaw and grabbed some paper and a pencil and started writing. I didn't stop writing until after dawn. Credit where credit is due; in point of fact, it was Martha, from my novel The Jolly Lobster that told me to stop gawking and to start writing.
Martha wasn't the only person in my novel to order me about. Very early on, I started having troubles with a character named Bobbie. The trouble was, Bobbie wasn't co-operating and my pencils were breaking. I'd get so far and the lead would break. So, I got yet another new pencil and some note paper and I started writing a biography for Bobbie.
It was at that point when Bobbie finally said, "You know; your problem is that you want me to be the lovable, ditzy drag queen. But you know damn well, I'm a hell of a lot more complicated than that mister."
Damn, damn, damn; busted by one of my own characters. I sheepishly agreed, and from then on, Bobbie was calling the shots on what she did in the story and how she was portrayed.
And that's the story of how I conquered two years of writer's block and wrote a novel called The Jolly Lobster. I went on a "vacation", came back inspired, and I started listening to the people in my head that were bursting to tell their story.