Writing is a discovery

Kevin Curley
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Clarenville author publishes second book

Lee Stringer's sophomore novel touches on themes Newfoundlanders may find familiar.

It deals with a fisherman who gives up the crab fishery and goes out west to work in the oil fields as an apprentice.

While not autobiographical, Stringer draws inspiration from his own life. He is a welder and has spent his fair share of time working in the oil fields.

Lee Stringer has just finished his second work - Provider's Son. The novel, published by Creative Book Publishing, is now available in stores.

It tells the story of Levi Conley, who spent his life making a hard living off the water. After being betrayed by his business partners, who are also his brothers, he heads out west to make big money. The work is well paid but hazardous and along the way he finds himself collaborating with a young native and contemporary artist.

"The fisherman is really good at building rocking chairs, so they combine their talents. He builds the rocking chairs and the native carves it. It's kind of political too, with the things that are carved into it. They become semi-famous throughout the country for their work," says Stringer.

His latest novel comes five years after publishing a collection of short stories set in Newfoundland , Watching the Road.

The gap between the two works is forgivable considering writing is not Stringer's primary occupation.

"I was working on the book for about five years. I do it in my spare time so obviously it takes a long time, especially when you've got a family."

Stringer is originally from Little Heart's Ease but now lives in Shoal Harbour. His work has taken him to Alberta many times but he also works in his home province. When at camp he is fed and his room is cleaned, leaving him to tend to his novel as he pleases.

"One of the really good things about being out west was that I had all evening to just write. When I'm home, I've got the responsibilities of home and I have an eight-year-old son. It's good to be home but I don't get much writing done."

The 38-year-old author says he read a lot as a kid, and started reading Stephen King at age 17. He continues to read frequently and draws inspiration from authors such as Cormac McCarthy, famous for the novels, No Country For Old Men and The Road.

Stringer first started writing in his mid-20s.

"There was a lot of discipline involved. I found it really hard and I still do. It doesn't come easy to me, and there is no one looking over your shoulder to make you do it, so you are always coming up with excuses."

Stringer admits he is a victim of procrastination. But his efforts are commendable when taking into consideration all of the people who resolve to write a novel and don't make it past the first chapter.

"Writing is hard, no doubt; there are days I'm more productive than others. The most I write in a day is about 2,000 words. But on average, less than 1,000," he says.

The book is published through Creative Book Publishing. Stringer found the process much easier, as he already had his foot in the door.

"With the first book I didn't know if they were going to like it. Once you get a relationship with the publisher it's obviously a lot easier for every book afterward.

I didn't have to send a query letter telling them the synopsis of the book and a comparison to other books to pique their interest," he says.

Back when Stringer was first trying his hand as a short story writer he found he received more rejection letters than acceptance letters from literary journals. But after he made the decision to put all the short stories together, Creative Book Publishing accepted his first submission.

Joan Sullivan, editor of Newfoundland Quarterly and freelance journalist, served as Stringer's editor for Provider's Son and he says he owes her a debt of gratitude.

"I had more revisions with this book than I did with my first book. I may have been trying too hard in certain areas instead of letting things come naturally," says Stringer.

The author says it is hard to accept some of the changes, especially when you think you have written a strong passage or piece of dialogue.

"But after I made the changes and looked at it I realized I made the right decision. I didn't make every change Sullivan suggested but she definitely improved this novel."

His writing is his own and he won't let friends or family read his work until it is completed. Even his wife can't sneak a peek at a chapter until the novel is completed.

"I let her read it before I send it out; she always wants to read it before it's done but I don't even let her look at it."

While those around him offer him praise for his work he doesn't allow it to inflate his ego.

"I don't really trust the opinions of friends and family because they are biased. It's someone they care about, so they will try and look at the good side," he says.

One of his big concerns while writing is the fear that someone he knows may see himself or herself in the work. Stringer says your own surroundings can trickle into the fiction.

"It's one thing I worry about. I don't take any individual person and say 'I'm going to change the name and then write about them.' But I do notice when I'm writing, I'll look at a character and realize it is kind of like 'so-and-so.' But it's not a conscious decision," adding, "Especially in a small town, someone might see it and say 'is he writing about me?' No, it's not a true story, it's all fiction."

For his next project Stringer plans to turn a screenplay he has written into a novel. He spent a year working on the screenplay but was unable to get it produced. He says it will be easier because the content is already there.

"I tried sending it around but I couldn't really get anywhere with it; it's a crapshoot, screenplays are tough," he says.

For the screenplay he used the computer program Excel to map out his scenes. He doesn't like the approach of storyboarding when it comes to his novel.

He writes off the cuff and feels the work is better if he allows the story to develop on it's own, "which is tough because you are trying to keep things in mind and then get halfway through and decide I may want to change something. But when I change that then I've got to go back through and change everything else. It's like a puzzle trying to make sure everything matches up," he says.

Stringer says his approach is inspired by writing instructor Robert McKee's quote "writing is a discovery," and Robert Frost's "No tears in the writer, no tears in the reader. No surprise in the writer, no surprise in the reader."

 

Geographic location: Newfoundland, Shoal Harbour, Alberta

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  • connie
    January 30, 2014 - 23:02

    I enjoyed reading this & I look forward to the book! I met your parents & they are wonderful people!