Monday, May 14, 2018

AUTHOR GUEST POST: Guilie Castillo {Mexican expat, writer, dog rescuer)

Donna, thank you so much for having me here today to share a bit about how this book happened—and, hopefully, to share one or two things I learned that might help your readers.

My passion has always been for fiction, not just to write but also to read. My shelves are full of novels and short stories; I can get lost for hours in a Neil Gaiman book, a García Márquez novel, a collection of Margaret Atwood’s stories.

And when it comes to writing, nothing beats giving a what if the wings to fly. Creating a character from scratch and watching them come alive draft by draft—that’s joy. Those middle-of-the-night bursts of inspiration when the perfect plot twist comes to you, and you just have to get out of bed and get it down, at least scribble a few notes so you won’t forget—that’s my high. (And let’s not forget the addictive factor of that escape from reality that fiction supplies.)

Which is to say that no one is more surprised than me that my second book wasn’t the novel that I’ve been working on since 2011, not even the ‘new’ novel (I started that one in 2015) about the LGBT community here in Curaçao. No. Instead, it turned out to be a non-fiction how-to guide to dog rescue.

Hard to get any farther from the tender arms of fiction than that.

The whole thing began innocently enough with an April A-to-Z series in 2016. My publisher saw the posts and suggested turning them into a book. How hard could it be? Everything was already written. A little editing, a little reshaping, some additional material, maybe, and finito.

Oh, boy.

What I thought would take me a couple of months at most took me nearly two years. The original date the publisher had suggested for the book was November or December 2016. Instead, the book was (finally) released this April.

Why? What happened?

I wasn’t hospitalized. No deaths in the family. (Well, one: Sasha, one of our dogs, died last June. But at that point the book was at the publisher’s, for the umpteenth revision. I refuse to use her as an excuse.) My computer didn’t crash, my hard drive didn’t get erased. Nothing major happened, really—except a rapid series of those fierce lessons life is so fond of hurling when we’re not looking.

Research
It’s one thing to claim something on a blog—a statistic, a percentage, a source. Translate it to a book, though, and suddenly the whole thing takes on a rather solemn tone. For one thing, it’s not just my reputation that’s on the line (for whatever it’s worth), but the publisher’s. Also, a blog is—well, just a blog. An online, public journal. Personal opinions. A book carries more weight, more gravitas. It was no longer enough to think I knew something; I had to back it up. Double- and triple-check facts, obtain sources, add footnotes.

Formatting
Bullet points, lists, headers, sub-headers, footnotes, margins, indents—it was a nightmare to keep them all uniform. Even when the manuscript (in Word and in PDF) looked okay, the first proof copy revealed all sorts of irregularities: sub-headings that looked like headings, shifts in indents, lists that weren’t properly spaced. In fiction this kind of formatting hardly ever comes up, and when it does it’s limited to a section or two. Working through an entire manuscript like this was… torture. And not just for me; for the publisher, too.

The Issues of Voice
A blog is an informal thing, and blog posts usually have a rather informal tone. The original dog rescue series was no exception. Which worried me. Wouldn’t that personal feel influence how seriously readers took the book? Wouldn’t it take away from whatever authority I was claiming in writing a guide for beginner dog rescuers? I considered rewriting the whole thing, trying for a more professional, ‘authoritative’ voice; that know-it-all attitude so commonly associated with nonfiction. Then again, I could hardly claim to know even a fraction of ‘all’.

To quote the book’s introduction, “The only thing that qualifies me to talk about dog rescue—and I use the word qualify rather loosely—is the fact that I’ve botched more than my share [of rescues].” Also, dog rescue isn’t a popular subject (most people would much rather not know, let alone do), so maybe a more personal, informal approach would make the book more palatable? How to walk the line between sounding like a crank and coming across like a snooty grandstander? (I’m still not sure I figured this one out.)

The Gamechanger
When the final (final-final-final) draft of the manuscript was approved, when both publisher and I agreed that this was done, I thought to myself, “Never again.” Nonfiction was clearly not my thing—and maybe that’s true. But I did discover something unexpectedly beautiful about it: nonfiction can get a lot more personal than fiction. This morning I received a photo of It’s About the Dog from an acquaintance; it had just been delivered. I can’t tell you how weird it felt. As if a part of me had been teleported to her kitchen counter.

When my first novel came out in 2016, several friends sent me photos of the book in their homes, in their cities, in selfies—and it was exciting (and much, much appreciated), but… not like this. Maybe it’s because the dog on the cover is my own dog (and the photo is mine, too). Maybe it’s the subject matter; dog rescue has been a defining force in my life, after all.

Or maybe it’s more than that. In fiction, there’s a certain ‘curtain’ between author and reader, even between author and the characters, the world of the book. We inject parts of ourselves in it, certainly; tell our truths through them. But there is a distance, however small, that separates ‘them’ from us. I thought nonfiction would be even more so, that it would feel impersonal, that I, as the author, would feel further removed from the reader than with my novel or my short stories. And I was wrong. Seeing this book in the hands of a reader feels like I’ve given over a piece of my heart.

I really didn’t expect that.


This post is a part of The Dog Book Blog Tour; during April and May, author and book will be making the rounds of dog-loving sites on the blogosphere to talk dogs and rescue—and to give away THREE signed copies. (More about both tour and giveaway here.)







Guilie Castillo
, Mexican expat, writer, and dog rescuer, is the author of It’s About the Dog: The A-to-Z Guide for Wannabe Dog Rescuers (Everytime Press, April 2018), a hands-on, less-tears-more-action, 100% practical introduction to dog rescue. 





13 comments:

  1. Nice to see Guilie on your blog, Donna. ☺ Thanks for this eye-opener about turning blog posts into books! On the surface, it does seem like a fairly easy task. Glad you persevered and got the book published, Guilie. Interesting observations about writing fiction vs non-fiction, as well.

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    1. Guilie is a long-time friend from, I think, my first A-Z back in 2012. I am so pleased she asked if she could guest post here. Keep sharing!!!

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    2. I think you're right, Donna—2012, wow! That was my first A-Z, too :) Thank you so, so much for the super warm welcome; it's an honor to be a part of this lovely space you've created!

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    3. Debbie, great to see you here, too! I'm glad you found this interesting... Yeah, I really jumped in without any idea if I even needed the parachute, haha. Thanks for all your support and encouragement; you were there right at the start, and have never faltered since then. I'm lucky to have you as a friend :)

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  2. Donna, thanks for pointing me to this post when you left a message on my blog. And Guilie, thanks for writing the book and for guest posting here. As Donna knows, I have adopted a couple of rescues, one from Mexico (I'm in Canada) and only more locally. The Mexican one, while she has progressed by leaps and bounds, is still quite skittish and uncertain even after a year with me. I'll read your book and am sure I will learn a lot.

    By the way, I've published half a dozen nonfiction books and know exactly what you are talking about in your post. I love to research so it wasn't foreign for me to make sure my books had all of the gravitas they needed. But what I found endeared those books to my readers were the personal stories. On reflection, that made perfect sense. After all, we learn through story.

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    1. Oh, Karen—bless you for giving these two darlings such a caring, loving home! Love really does conquer all, and although rescues tend to hold on to even just a bit of their 'past', in the end maybe they come into our lives to teach us acceptance, and adaptation.

      I have to warn you that the book is about actual rescue—catching a dog and getting them off the streets—so it deals with behavior issues, especially longer-term, only very briefly. I'm of course thrilled you want to read this, but I don't want you to feel misled or disappointed in any way if/when you do :)

      I do plan to write two more, one to do with fostering, and the third (finally) to deal adopting a rescue—and I'd love your input for that, if you're willing. Like you say, we learn best through stories, so if your experiences can help illuminate certain points, I'd be honored to include them.

      You don't know the relief it is to find empathy from someone who's a regular resident of the nonfiction world... Halfway through the revision process, I came across a one-star review of Alexandra Horowitz's Inside of a Dog (one of my all-time favorites), and one of the things this reviewer complained about was precisely the informal tone and the personal stories, arguing that they detracted from the 'seriousness' of the book's subject and turned it into some sort of memoir instead of a science-based essay. When I read that, I thought, well, I hope this person never comes across It's About the Dog, haha. It really was discouraging to read that. I mean, Horowitz really is a scientist, and her books are steeped in scientific fact, whereas I am, at best, a hobbyist. If she can be perceived as lacking seriousness, then I have no hope at all.

      All of which is to say I really—really—appreciate your comment and your feedback here.
      Guilie @ Life In Dogs

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    2. Hi Guilie,
      When you get to the point of writing about adopting a rescue, I would be delighted to offer any input I can. I've written a few blog posts about my gorgeous Shylah and have detailed notes from her first couple of months.
      I'm looking forward to staying in touch.

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    3. Thank you, Karen! I'll look up your posts and bookmark them—thanks! I look forward to staying in touch with you, too :)

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  3. Hi Guilie & Donna!
    I actually wondered about the writing voice that would be used for this non-fiction book... and how Guilie settled on the voice.
    Does one 'settle' on the non-fiction voice, or does it evolve depending on the subject matter?
    Guilie, I'm eager to see how you "walked that line"...

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    1. Hoping Guilie will pop in and answer your questions, Michelle. Thanks for dropping by!

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    2. Hi ladies! Sorry about the late reply; it's been a busy day on this side of the world :) I think the voice of It's About the Dog got shaped significantly by the fact that this started as a blog series, and the informality of those blog posts. I don't know how it would have turned out if I'd conceived of this as a book from the start, but I suspect it would have had a different tone. I also think you raise a good point in whether it evolves depending on the subject matter... I do know that, from the moment I came up with the idea of writing about dog rescue, I wanted to avoid any sort of tear-jerker feel; there is way too much of that already, and the (few) people who want to learn to rescue really don't need any more of it—they need the how-to, the practical bits.

      Now that I'm thinking about this, I realize that I wrote the book that I wanted to read. Or, okay, the book I would have wanted to read when I started rescuing. That's probably what shaped the voice the most, in the end.

      I'm hardly an expert, this being my first nonfiction book, so I'd be really curious to hear from other nonfiction writers about this. How do they do it? How does voice take shape in their projects? Is it something they strive to achieve, or rather something that emerges naturally as the project progresses? Or is it something unique to individual writers? Hmmm...

      Thanks so much for coming by, Michelle, and for the excellent food for thought!
      Guilie @ Life In Dogs

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