Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Off-stage, behind the curtain ...



I finished my work-in-progress a few weeks ago. The writing of it had fair galloped along, and it was an enjoyable process for the most part. The muse had been awfully kind and given me something not far off fully formed. I felt more like a conduit than a creative controller, although I know the old brain is deceptive and that in reality my noodle had probably been assembling something quietly off stage behind the curtains for some time, waiting for that moment when the tale was ripe for the picking and there was enough energy, space and motivation on my part to do something about it.

It seemed to come out in good shape, and revising was a fairly swift affair. I'd pitched the 'idea' to several folk, and now the manuscript was complete I followed up with a few others. I naively thought they would share my speed, my excitement and enthusiasm. You have to wonder how some one at my stage in this business can be that naive. But there it is. Even though I've ridden round the block a few times I'm still surprised by that blind entrance.

So now I am playing the author's favourite, the waiting game. I wish I could say it gets easier but I don't want to be naive AND a liar. It is, as always, torture. I know the best way to wait is to work on new content but the last story was such a gift in its completeness that I am resistant to anything that requires more significant brain gymnastics. I will get over my laziness at some point. I suppose. (see voodoo comment below). Folk also suggest that completing a story is an achievement in itself and requires its own kind of acknowledgment and celebration. It has been a while since I've completed a novel and it IS nice to think I still have it in me to reach The End. Woohoo. Look at you, you cute-as-a-button complete little manuscript, you. I am so proud of you :)

I often get asked, when I am talking about the nuts and bolts of publishing, whether it's okay to do multiple submissions. I think it is. Some publishers ask that you mention you have submitted to other publishers, and other publishers say nothing about it at all. I assume that they've just naturally assumed I'm doing multiple submissions. I think that is pretty much the norm in places like the US. I feel like it should probably be the norm here too. That assumption. Just assume that no one has time to wait months for a response to a single submission before sending it out to someone else. Of course multiple submissions mean you exhaust your potential publishers faster but I think that just enables you to get back to the writing of new content sooner. I find submissions can sometimes cast some voodoo spell of writing paralysis over me.

So I wait in submission-limbo, nervously contemplating my empty calendar for next year, and hope the noodle is busy, secretly back at work behind the curtain.

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

The 2017 Storylines Hui and what I learnt there ...

Weekend before last I attended the 2017 Storylines National Hui for Children's Writers and Illustrators with other delegates from all over New Zealand. There were plenty of familiar faces but a whole host of new ones as well which I thought was a terrific sign. The mood was collegial and a positive hum accompanied every gathering. I attended keynote speeches, workshops and panel discussions. I engaged in more 'active listening' then I've done since university and man that stuff is seriously tiring but totally worthwhile.

I gave a workshop on the business of being a writer, or 'What They Don't Tell You at Writing Class' (and discovered that when you are worried about providing sufficient content for 90 minutes, you end up with 180 minutes worth of content),


and I was part of a panel where I talked about Fabostory, with the other panel members talking about cool initiatives such as NZ Read Aloud, SCBWI, Getting Kids Into Books, and Storylines itself.



There were some sobering moments where people talked about the realities, difficulties and disappointments of their own experience and/or current local and global trends. There were some moments of envy when established writers talked about close relationships with publishers and agents, 6 figure advances and long successful careers. Nearly 60 delegates pitched to publishers and agents during the Pitch Slam and I really hope we get to hear some success stories down the line from these. Agents talked about what's hot, what's not and what's downright dead. I made some pitches of my own. To two agents and two publishers in the end and now I wait too to see whether anything has 'taken'. It's part of my attempt to get 100 rejections this year. The philosophy is that the more submissions/applications/entreaties/pitches you make the more chance you have of something being selected/accepted/supplied. There is merit in this idea although it does mean working harder submitting and applying often enough to achieve this, and it does mean preparing yourself for a higher than usual rejection onslaught. But the truth is there is no yes without the submissions, the applications and the nos. I can't go soft on that stuff. And all the submitting and applying gives off a nice aura of possibilities.

So, back to the Hui. My favourite workshop? Poetry with Paula Green. Hands on word play is like a happy drug. And I wrote some things I really really like. Stacy Gregg ran a close second with her realistic insights into the life of a series writer. Not for the faint-hearted. My favourite keynote? Brian Falkner. Honest, unexpected, and a testament to all the things that make up a career - self belief, hard work, luck, more hard work, and gripping on for dear life during the tough times. I felt strangely buoyed by his words. I learned that success is a strange creature with many faces. And that is a useful thing to know. I felt grounded, and encouraged and motivated by the whole experience. And I felt reminded yet again that my community is a wonderful one. And whatever happens it is very clear that we are there for each other. Love you all guys.


Thursday, September 28, 2017

A brief stint on the high wire ...

Well that month went super fast. It was already looking pretty busy with a bunch of school visits for the Otahuhu Project and one or two others, as well as some planning, plotting, organising and wrangling for the Storylines Hui and then, what-ho, at the 11th hour I got an invite to take part in the Storylines Nelson Tour with some other wonderful writers right smack dab in the middle, and I couldn't resist saying YES!!


So here we are - Apirana Taylor, Gareth Ward, myself and Juliette MacIver looking fresh and shiny on our first day (all photos by our intrepid driver, and all-round awesome author and schedule wrangler, Vicki Cunningham). We toured around Marlborough and Tasman, visiting schools and libraries, and school groups in libraries.


I did my best Hobbit impression.


The scenery was beautiful (on the way to Takaka) ...


... and pretty as a Picton (photo by me).



and we had a fabulous time! What wonderful schools, stellar students, amazing teachers and librarians, and brilliant travel companions!

I hadn't run away to the circus after all, like some of you might have been thinking. Well I had. But only for a week. Now the month is nearly done I will be putting my nose back to the grindstone and tickling the keyboards as I get on with my WIPs. But before I do I will be taking part in the Storylines Hui in Auckland over the first full weekend in October. I'm looking forward to catching up with old friends, making new ones and talking shop. Events like these are always a terrific boost, lighting a fire under my creativity and making me itch with excitement over my chosen career. October here I come....

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

And the winner.....

We have a winner  to last post's competition!!! A copy of Fuzzy Doodle will be going to the first commenter, Girl For All Seasons. Congratulations! Email me your details and I will sign it forthwith and pop it in the post :)

And as a cool bonus in addition to the competition announcement ... one of my favourite-of-all-time writers, Maggie Stiefvater (The Scorpio Races, The Raven Cycle and many more...), recently responded to a question on twitter about 'Imposter Syndrome' with a somewhat unexpected but totally genius answer. I've often felt the sting of this syndrome. I've picked myself up from the fraudsters' floor and reminded myself that I have a few clues about how stories work. But I love how Ms Stiefvater embraces the idea as a mechanism of keeping ourselves grounded, and a reminder that many things contribute to any success we might enjoy. You can read it for yourself below and I also recommend you pick up one of her books and give them a go too. She is equally smart (and linguistically lyrical) with fiction.  And as always, writing itself, word by word, is what we need to keep doing.

On Twitter, Connor Allen asked: "do you ever deal with imposter syndrome as a writer? If so, how do you get past it and just make yourself write?"
My answer:
Dear connorallen94,
I think everyone does to some degree or another.
Career success and artistic skill are only poorly correlated. What do I mean by this? I mean that you have to get a certain level of skill in order to get published/ put in a gallery/ get musical gigs, but after you get to a certain level of competency, greater or less skill doesn’t seem to have any relationship to how commercially successful you are. Other factors begin to take over in exposing your work to buyers, and moreover, the more rarified your skill becomes, the fewer the punters are who can appreciate it. You can turn a beautiful turn of the phrase while juggling 47 themes and delicately drawing an allegory for the pain of man’s condition? Great. Most people won’t notice. And while that additional skill will get you noticed among peers who are also writing beautiful novels with 47 themes and delicately drawn allegories, it is a bad predictor for commercial success. If you use that skill to delicately render specific lizards, for instance, you still run the risk of only appealing to lizard people.* But mostly it’s just excess — the average person doesn’t care if Coldplay’s Chris Martin can play Bach’s Cello Suite No. 1 in D on his guitar. (I don’t know if he can. But I hope so.)
This is because in the commercial art world, most consumers are not also artists. Other factors are nearly always more important to the non-artist consumer: a strong story, a topical subject matter, a celebrity name, a catchy tune, a wicked hook, a pretty cover, the creator’s funniness on Twitter, the creator’s ability to speak in public, the creator’s actual and literal hotness because wow, relatability of the themes, a movie tie-in, an omnipresent advertising campaign, availability of the work in places that rhyme with BallMart.
It’s why you can be an international bestseller without being the best in your field. It’s why you can be an international bestseller without being remotely the best in your field.
Whenever I say this online, people like to shout “what kind of a self-drag!” I suppose because as an international bestseller, I am supposed to think I am 100% fantastic and have definitely earned my title at the top of the heap by some objective measure of wonderfulness. Also because people are weird and possibly don’t understand how self-awareness, confidence, and humility really ought to play well together if you want to be a happy professional artist. It’s crucial to understand just how big of a role you play in your own success. This is so that you can focus on only the things you can control (you can’t make your subject more topical, you can’t suddenly become a famous rock star with a memoir, you can’t guarantee you have a beautiful, eye-catching cover; you can only work on writing faster, writing more accessibly, writing well), so that you don’t take it too hard when all of your career dreams fail to come true overnight. But it’s also to keep you from being a self-aggrandizing asshole about success. You’ve sold millions of books? Great. Remember, Stiefvater, that your skill is only poorly correlated to that number. You wrote a competent-or-better book at a good time for that genre/ subject/ cover/ something, and it took off. Good job, that was nice. Get back to work.
I don’t generally mind this push-pull, actually. Imposter syndrome whispers that I might be a fraud, a just-okay writer wrapped in accolades I don’t deserve. But mostly I think that’s all right: let the voices whisper. The opposite of the imposter syndrome would be letting myself believe that I am entirely to credit for my success, and that’s just as false. The truth is a middle ground, and this truth is also why imposter syndrome doesn’t get in the way of my work.
Because the truth is this: I’m a writer who works hard, puts down a quarter million words of fiction each year, shows up for work even when life throws health or family or world crises at me, and doesn’t make excuses. Those things aren’t subjective. Those things I can control.
So get to work.
urs,
Stiefvater

Thursday, August 17, 2017

Time to do a book giveaway ...

T'was the big awards night earlier this week and despite my most fervent hopes, Fuzzy was not a winner on the night. There were just too many excellent books to pick from. Big and most hearty congratulations go to all the amazing winners:

Best Picture Book
That's Not a Hippopotamus
Juliette MacIver and Sarah Davis
Gecko Press

Esther Glen Award for Junior Fiction
My New Zealand Story
Bastion Point: 507 Days on Takaparawha
Tania Roxborogh
Scholastic

Elsie Locke Award for Non Fiction
Jack and Charlie: Boys of the Bush
Josh and Jack Marcotte
Penguin Random House

Copyright Licensing Award for Young Adult Fiction
The Severed Land
Maurice Gee
Penguin Random House

Te Kura Pounamu Award for Te Reo Maori
Te Kaihanga Mapere
Sacha Cotter and Josh Morgan
translated by Kawata Teepa
Huia

Best First Book Award
The Discombobulated Life of Summer Rain
Julie Lamb
Makaro Press

The Russell Clark Award for Illustration and Margaret Mahy Book of the Year
Snark
David Elliot
Otago University Press


But neither Fuzzy Doodle nor I have been completely without some good fortune lately 😊 As mentioned previously, Fuzzy will be published across Asia (China, Taiwan, Hong Kong, South Korea, Japan, Philippines, Malaysia, Thailand, Singapore, Indonesia, Vietnam, Myanmar, Cambodia) by Scholastic Asia in October. And in more good news I have been awarded Creative New Zealand funding toward completing my new project, in the most recent quick response round. I have applied many times (at least 7, maybe more) for direct funding over the years and it is a thrill to finally be successful. And I am VERY EXCITED by this project.

So ... I have decided to do a little giveaway to celebrate. I have one signed copy of Fuzzy Doodle and one signed copy of A Winter's Day in 1939 as prizes. Please tell me in the comments section here on the blog how many countries Fuzzy Doodle will be in across Asia, and tell me whether you want the picture book or the novel as your prize. I will pick randomly from any and all correct entries.You have until 5pm next Thursday. And ... go




Sunday, July 30, 2017

August ...

I suspect there may be an assumption outside the publishing world, that if your books are published they are automatically sold outside of New Zealand as well as locally. Just as we see all sorts of books from overseas for sale here in New Zealand, so must our books travel to other countries.

But it's not a given. The reality is generally pretty modest. Many books that start their publication life here don't escape the gravity of this country. I guess it's partly that some overseas publishers may find our stories too local in flavour and believe they won't fly in other parts of the world. Or that without the authors/illustrators presence to drive promotion the book might struggle to succeed. Or maybe it's something else. Several of my books have been published and/or sold in Australia in addition to New Zealand which has been great. One of my picture books has had a modest foray into other territories. We all hope that our books will be picked up by overseas publishers. That their appeal and value is international. That they have a life, an audience, beyond this country. I have watched wistfully as some other NZ children's authors and illustrators have had some international success.

So I'm really pleased to say that an English language edition of my picture book Fuzzy Doodle, illustrated by Donovan Bixley, is to be published by Scholastic Asia in October. This is the first time one of my books has been picked up by a major publisher outside of Australasia and it's quite a thrill. I'll post up some more info as it comes to hand. And watch this space as I think I'll have to do a give-away soon in honour of this cool news.

July has been almost solely for writing and I have made good progress on my new WIP. August, however, will be focused on other things and I'll have to manage my time more carefully to enable me to hang out with my manuscript. I have some school visits at the start and end of the month and the big night for the New Zealand Book Awards for Children and Young Adults on August 14. I'm off to Dunedin August 11th and 12th for some events associated with the book awards, and on August 19 I'll be running another workshop on Picture Book Writing at Selwyn Community Education. There will be lots of information on what picture books should and shouldn't be, some hands on writing exercises and some good oil on publishers, competitions and submitting. If you think you might be interested in attending you can find more details and register here. If I don't see you there, I'll see you on the other side.

Friday, July 14, 2017

Fuzzy genesis...

Late one night, late in 2013, a funny little phrase popped into my head as the engineering inside my conscious mind began to power down for the night. It was a rhythmical rhyming phrase and I liked the idea, sound and shape of it so much, I got up, found some paper and a pencil and wrote it down.

Evidence!!


The next morning I didn't muck around. I grabbed a piece of paper and started writing, to see where that first stanza might take me. Maybe my subconscious had worked on it overnight, maybe a clear head after a good night's sleep was what did it, but it all came pouring out. The central conceit, the metamorphosis, and (what I felt was) a most satisfying conclusion. I transferred the story onto the computer and began to rewrite and refine. While not strictly rhyming, the text had developed a particular rhythm and it was fun to play with language techniques, particularly as the techniques, in addition to the words themselves, supported the key themes. As I reflected on what I'd written I felt excited at the destination I'd arrived at from that very simple beginning. I could see one main thread of the text gave a mental nod to The Very Hungry Caterpillar, but there were other influences too. The first thought as I'd lain in bed the night before had been of Beedle, which has a lovely structure/mouth feel/rhythm all it's own. Of course many of us have heard this name through Rowling's The Tales of Beedle the Bard, but I was just playing with the word in my head, and words like beetle and doodle and a few other two syllable sound alikes. It was just random thinking, word play, where I suspect a lot of good ideas are born. I'd thought about Emily Gravett too, and the self-referential metafictiveness of her work. Of course dear reader, as you will know, Beedle became Fuzzy. Despite the buzz of inspiration that first night, 'Fuzzy' became a better fit with the picture I had in my mind, of that first little doodle. More reader friendly too, I thought.

Once I'd launched off with the idea of a doodle that comes to life in the margin of the page (where many doodles start their lives in the real world), it seemed obvious that (like a caterpillar) the doodle would be hungry and on a page what is there to eat but words and pictures. The act of consuming culture can make us creative ourselves. Just like the doodle, we can experience a creative metamorphosis. The ideas grew and wrapped back around themselves and the more I thought about it, the more layers I could see in what I was writing. I love layers. It is always my goal when writing to make an iceberg out of my narrative with the text visible above, and a whole lot of ideas going on below. Or maybe it's a cabbage. Or an onion.

Of course the text is only part of the story when it comes to picture books. I sent the manuscript off to the publisher, Scholastic, and in November 2013 they signed the story up for publication. The hunt began for an illustrator and in 2014 Donovan Bixley came on board. His schedule meant waiting until mid 2016 for publication, but it was so worth the wait. His artwork picks up on everything in the text and extends it. All deceptively simple and yet it is what good art should be. Beautiful, and inspiring and empowering.

Since Fuzzy Doodle has been published, readers have broadened the discussion of what it all means. During a school visit on my recent tour of Northland with Storylines, a teacher asked me if the book was autobiographical,and straight away I said yes. I hadn't consciously thought of it that way but of course he was right. On that very first night when that phrase popped in to my head, and when I began to work the story the very next day I knew that things I've seen and read and watched and smelt and tasted and touched coalesce into ideas, and become my books. And then in the best kind of magic, my books can become grist in the creative mills of others. One of my biggest thrills has been discovering that young readers previously not confident in their own creative skills have been encouraged by the book to make all kinds of art.  After all, stories begin with one simple idea popping into our heads last thing at night, and art can grow from that little doodle in the margin at the edge.