Monday, June 30, 2008

Blogging keeps me (relatively) sane....

Today it is Justine Larbalestier's blog that is driving my thoughts ( ). Her latest post talks about the statistics behind her blog and how over the past 3 years comments have grown from almost nothing to 13 per post. That gives me hope that people may one day leave comments for me. I dream about having to turn on the comment moderator.

The other thing Justine said that really struck a chord with me was that blogging is her antidote to the glacial pace of publishing. Everything takes so long (measured generally in half years and years) when you are a fiction writer, in terms of submissions, responses, editing, and if you are lucky enough, actual publication. Blogging is instantaneous. Have a thought you want to share? You can blog about it and it appears immediately. Your thought can provoke a discussion or send someone off on their own thought process ( ) and it all happens very quickly. Ms Larbalestier says blogging keeps her sane in the slow world of writing and I can only agree. My sanity has too long been at the mercy of the vagaries (or should that be vagueries) of the publishing business and here at last is something under my control. I love you blog world, you are my life preserver.

Sunday, June 29, 2008

How a writer really pays the bills...

Trolling through Andrew Kelly of Australia's Black Dog Books blog today, he quoted Jacqueline Woodman, the director of Australia's Writers Guild, "You have to be prepared to be what's called a jobbing writer. If you want to be an artiste then you won't get work all the time. If you only want to work on your own ideas then there's no way you can make a full-time living as a writer. You have to be prepared to write other people's ideas as well to pay the bills. That's also how you learn and hone your craft." I've gradually been realising this for myself recently as despite some successes I make very little from my writing. A friend told me if she could make the minimum wage of $12/hour for her writing this would be a big leap forward in annual income. I suffer from a great deal of guilt because i contribute so little to the household coffers. At least being at home i can do household chores and meet some of the needs of my children but i still feel bad and wish that what i love doing was adequately recompensed. The bottom line is I will have to do other things to supplement my income and I will have to be extremely clever if i am to find a way that utilises my best skill - writing.

I had another little realisation today. A discovered the sad catch 22 inherent in having a book that becomes a class text. If your book is chosen teacher notes are developed that set out comprehension questions and activities related to the content of the book. Having a book that becomes a class text must have a positive impact on sales. This along with increased name recognition amongst your target audience is great news for an author. But the downside is that your book becomes associated with schoolwork which can suck the joy out of reading it. Nothing is as much fun when you are required to study it. So what do i wish for? That my book is picked as a class text or not?

Friday, June 27, 2008

Because it makes me think of Spring...


Don't pick the flowers
The bees might follow you home
The cows will come for the buttercups
Forget themselves
And eat the grass
Leaving little half moons in the mud
That remind you
Of milky way nights
And cream and honey on your porridge in the morning

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

The alchemy of publishing...

Got a call for 'expressions of interest' in a proposed writer's conference down in Wellington September 2009 to be run by the Wellington Children's Book Ass. yesterday. I've already replied that I'm keen. I asked them to sign me up for the masterclass in wine drinking for writer's. I am looking forward to meeting all the wellington writer's and illustrators. The ones I've met so far are an excellent bunch. I wonder if there will be any Learning Media or Creative New Zealand folk attending. I have some questions...

I discovered that a decision on whether a book of mine will be published next year may rest on the interest shown by booksellers in an earlier work about to come out. I guess thats fair enough. Publishing is a business and if the first book doesn't make it out to too many bookshops then there is no point in investing in the second book. I am keeping my fingers crossed and thats about all i can do now because i can't change the content, the cover or any other aspect of the book anymore to help it succeed. I guess it does show the importance of being happy with how your work ends up both in terms of editing and the final look. That book has my name on it and my personal future success depends upon its reception. Like the alchemy involved in a publisher deciding to publish a book, there is alchemy involved in a books success. Will the booksellers take it, will people pick it up in the shop, will they read the back cover, will they like it enough to buy it. For a long time the holy grail of writing for me was being published but once that happened the rules changed completely. Now i want to keep writing - I want a writing career. To have that i need to keep writing books that someone wants to publish and that people want to read. As much as publishers try to guess correctly what the public will want, the Harry Potter experience shows that there is a large unpredictable element in publishing. Everything is a risk for the publisher. Sure its calculated but i bet the publishers keep their fingers crossed as much as i do. I hope it works on this occasion.

By the way you can now check out my author's bio on the Storylines website and The Christchurch City Libraries website as well.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Should you break the rules?

There are a lot of rules in writing. Grammar, word length, technique, spelling and thats just the actual writing. Once you've left the page and its time to turn it in there are a whole bunch of new rules about how and who to submit to and what happens once you've sent your work away. And one of the most frustrating things for people who follow the rules, is that those who succeed often succeed partly because they've broken the rules. Why follow the rules if these people get away with breaking them?

I like rules. Following the rules is a good place to start. It gives me a platform to build my work on or to design my submission around. They give me a sense of security and I feel confident if I follow the rules I give myself a good chance of hopping into the slushpile at the least. Breaking the rules carries an element of risk and this is okay as long as you are aware of this and you are willing to take the risk. We only hear the rule-breaking success stories. Like the bulk of an iceberg being underwater, there will be a much greater proportion of rule-breakers who never break the surface. I've followed the rules and so far I'm doing okay. I don't let the rules take over though. Its important to let who you are shine through. The most important rule is write well, because that is what a publisher is after. The rest of the rules are just the good manners that will get you into the publishers office so you can show off your writing skills.

I like naming my characters. Most of the time the name comes first and fits perfectly. I have a little collection of names in my head that I am busting to use but the stories haven't formed around them yet. But interestingly i don't like a couple of the names in my latest work-in-progress including the main protagonists. While walking the dog last sunday I was trying to think of alternatives and actually came up with a couple of names I preferred. When I thought them through I realised they still didn't fit. They were posh kids names and my characters aren't posh and i didn't want anybody to think they were. So for the moment it seems I'm stuck with the names. It just seems wrong to write a character whose name i am unhappy with and i'm worried he'll be less appealing because of that. This is the first time this has happened to me and i'm keeping fingers and toes crossed it does not become a trend.

After walking the dog i went out to dinner with my husband and my brother and sisters and their husbands and wife. Last time we did it was two years ago and we had such a lovely time (both times) we are all vowing not to leave it so long until the next get together. Its great that we all get along so well, siblings and partners included. It wasn't all 'sweetness and light' growing up together but i guess that just shows that those early disagreements had nothing to do with real serious issues but were just a part of normal development. You hear some terrible stories about siblings that don't get on. I'm lucky.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Please don't tell me the rules. I'm more likely to follow them if i don't know what they are...

Finished my first draft of my YA novel outline and e-mailed it off to my agent. On different days i love/like/hate or loathe my new story. I was reading about plots this morning and became convinced I didn't have a plot. The writer (Nathan Bransford again at ) talked about theme, hook and plot as individual yet essential elements that need to be in place before you beging writing. All the commenters on his blog waxed lyrical about how clear he'd explained it all but i just felt confused. Another of my favourite bloggers, Justine Larbalesteir, had only recently explained how she is an idiot savant writer who works without recourse to the acknowledged conventions of novel writing. Her stories just happen to come out like a bought one because her subconscious automatically follows the rules. I guess if you read a lot of books you can absorb the rules contained therein without even realising it. I like to think thats kind of how I work too. If i think too much about the rules the wheels fall off and i can't move forward. I wish Nathan Bransford hadn't said anything about plot.

On a cheerier note it looks like there will be another book by me out next year. Yay!! I guess it was kind of obvious it was going to happen, but any hint of doubt is a hint too much as far as i'm concerned. People say you need to come out with a book each year to stay current and keep your audience. That may not apply directly to me because i write for different age levels. I probably need to have at least one picture book and one novel a year. I'd better get cracking.

Monday, June 16, 2008

The indefinable factor...

I'm finally making a bit of progress with my outline. I have to say it makes the story seem very pedestrian. The novel itself is so much more dynamic with tension and drama but the outline is just blah. Is this how its meant to be? Its hard to make 'they have an argument' sound as tempestuous as the scene is in the novel. I'll finish up a first draft and fire it off to the agent tomorrow and see what she says.

I'm a bit divided over outlines. Its fantastic to have a clear idea of where i'm going with the story and how all the different bits fit together and play out and then tie up at the end. But on the flipside i find the whole concept a little like a straightjacket. When I begin I don't have every single element of the story sorted and I want to see what my characters do before i get over prescriptive about how they're going to end up. I also don't have the story properly broken down into chapters either. Chapter endings and beginnings tend to present themselves as I go along and at the moment I prefer this. Outline styles must differ depending on who is writing them so i will assume that I can do it my way within a broader framework.

I came across an interesting post today on Nathan Bransford's blog (Mr Bransford is an agent in San Francisco). While he's always looking for queriers who have followed the submission guidelines, are polite and professional with good grammar and have spelt his name right, there is always the indefinable factor that will get him to ask for more from the author. There are no rules or guidelines for this factor. No lessons available on how to 'do' it. The indefinable factor is different for different agents and different publishers and different readers. Its the same factor that makes you go wow or keeps you reading when you pick up a new book. If the book doesn't have it, you put it back on the booksellers shelf or the library shelf or where-ever. We don't like every book we see but someone at some stage saw something in the story that made them want to represent it or publish it or pick it up and buy it - or borrow it - and read it. I can't tell you how to put the indefinable factor into your story. For me I sometimes feel like it happens by magic. Sometimes the harder I reach for it, the more elusive it becomes. But if someone rejects your story and didn't see that indefinable factor, that doesn't mean the next person won't see it. One person's rejection is not the final word.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Good to see so many book readers at storylines...

Things have been busy. Medical appointments, sick children, preparing my talk for last week, children's after school activites (soccer practice and cheerleading), and yesterday my daughters' cheerleading national competition and the Storylines Festival Family Day in Auckland. Somewhere in all of this i have been trying to up my word count for my YA project and of course trying to get my head round the prospect of writing a stunning outline that will sell the book. The doesn't even 'sound' easy. Ack!

My son scored a hat trick for his soccer team on saturday and as karma would have it (go karma!) this was the first game i've been to watch this season. I'm so glad i was there. My daughters didn't fare quite so well at the cheerleading especially compared to previous years when they've stolen the show, but both girls performed well and showed off some new skills. I am in awe of all my children. And incredibly proud.

Storylines was again a great success. I always feel hopeful for the state of the book industry after this event because of all the parents and children who come to hear all about books. Its a fun day of activities, with a chance to make things, get face painted, see favourite characters like Clifford and Hairy MaClairy and hear stories read aloud. And in all of this the families are buying books and passing on a love of literature to their children. Yay. I sat on the Kiwiwrite4kidz stand with a host of other authors displaying our books and talking to keen readers and writers. A personal highlight for me was having one woman tell me that 'Clever Moo' was her daughter's favourite book and they read it together every night. People were also interested in my new books. The other highlight was sitting with the nicest people all day talking books. What a talented, generous, supportive , friendly bunch you all are. I feel lucky to be amongst such company. I think joining Kiwiwrite4kidz has been one of the best moves I ever made for my writing career. I have made such good friends, received brilliant advice and been encouraged and supported over the last four years that I have belonged. Thanks guys. I will be doing my best to pay this forward in future.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Waiting on some research

Someone's hammering on the roof next door. This is not conducive to writing. And I've hit a small hiccup with my writing because the scene i'm working on now needs some convincing trick bike riding lingo. I'm obviously not hip enough because when i tried to find some books to get out of the library to do some research on the topic i can't even find any. I don't know the right words for the search engine. I'll have to go in and do it manually. i'm waiting for the library to cough up Darkly Dreaming Dexter because after watching the Dexter tv series I'm hooked (despite the fact that he's an emotionless serial killer) and as tv series are never as good as the books they're based on i can't wait to read it. Can my trick bike riding scene wait until the book i've requested turns up? I'll give it a few days, keep my fingers crossed and see what happens. And then I'll probably end up making two trips anyway. My patience always runs out before the waited for object,event, reply arrives. You'd think I'd learn from this but no, my impatience is a demanding little thing.

I also need to do an outline for my new project to give to my agent so she can try and sell it for me. I have never met anyone who says outlines are easy to write. Darn. I'm so lazy i like easy things. I've made a few notes which roughly correspond to an outline which i'm pretty happy with but the strangest thing is i can't seem to do an outline for the bit I've already written. Turns out fiction is stranger than fiction too, along with the truth. if anyone has some outline writing tips (or wants to do it for me, she says optimistically) let me know.

Monday, June 9, 2008

I survived and I learned something too...

So I did my talk last night and I'm happy to report...I'm still alive. I always feel like a stunned mullet during those things and then I can never really remember the details. Everyone looked very serious in the audience - I don't think that thats a good thing. But the question session at the end of my talk went well and then I got given a nice bottle of wine as a thank you which was a pleasant surprise. It took all the strength I had to not open the bottle there and then and empty the entire contents into my very dry mouth. i am saving it for tonight and looking forward to it very much.

I learnt something new last night too. Its better to have someone other then yourself do your press releases. Apparently the media frown on self written releases. We really are a country where you aren't allowed to blow your own horn. Its a little like that whole circular argument of 'can't get a job til i have work experience, can't get work experience til I've had a job'. Until I become interesting who will want to do my press releases. I might have to bribe someone, or pay them - god forbid? Its not like i have a lot of money from my writing for this kind of thing. Promoting mey next two books would probably cost more than i earned for them!

The other thing i learnt last night was how contradictory it all sounds. I advised people on how important it is to follow the rules but then i said don't be afraid to make mistakes. Following the rules is a comfort thing and helps us feel more confident about our submissions. If (like the CNZ application guidelines) you have no structure its harder to compose a professional looking submission. But a mistake won't prevent you getting published. Other things might - is your story idea, and your writing, strong enough? You might not be quite there yet. But making a mistake won't get you black-listed forever. I think you have to work really hard to get a black mark against your name - I hear stories about people who have been incredibly rude, arguing with a publisher about their rejection. I hear stories about obsessive stalking behaviour (i have to confess I'm a borderline stalker but I've been making a real effort to rein myself in). Its a pain really because it makes publishers and agents more coy about dealing with the rest of us. But if you're normal, my advice is not to worry so much. That one spelling mistake on page 23 won't make them say no. That missed full stop on your covering letter won't stop them reading it. If you have 20 missed full stops they might question your grammatical skills but then i would too. Of course its easy for me to say don't worry about all this stuff as i am the classic worrier and quite a big wuss as well. But I'm not afraid to ask the questions anymore, although that doesn't mean i get the answers every time. If Jill Marshall doesn't get the red carpet treatment, i feel lucky if i'm not shown the tradesmans entrance everytime. But i refuse to dilute my ambition. I will keep dreaming of red carpets, real and otherwise.

Sunday, June 8, 2008

Public speaking

I have been at this writing thing for around 9 or 10 years and you would think i'd be used to the slow pace of everything by now, but I'm not. I find it hard to keep my head together some days wondering when i'm going to hear about stuff. i know i should be working on my next project and its not like i'm stuck on it or anything. I know where i'm going with it and all. But as with all my writing its still a big time investment that may never pay off. I'd love to have my current project contracted before its finished.

It doesn't help that i am giving a talk tonight to other writers on ten important things about writing. I feel pretty happy with the content of my talk but i enjoy public speaking like i enjoy my annual check up at the dentist. I know i need to get out of my comfort zone and practice these things. The more i practice this whole public speaking, public appearance thing , hopefully the better i will get at it and more importantly, the more comfortable i will feel doing it. I would love to do more of this, if it just didn't scare the bejesus out of me quite so much.

And of course the other aspect to all this, is that everything i read points to the ability to self-promote as an essential tool in the toolbox of any writer. As much as i believe in my own writing self-promotion is a tricky prospect. Perhaps its part of our kiwi psyche of not trumpeting our own successes, but in this country if you don't trumpet your own success in writing there aren't many other people who will. So i have to do everything i can to learn the best ways to self-promote and then suck it up and go out and do it. I was too cheap to buy any rescue remedy today and there's not going to be any alcohol at this event so i'm just keeping my fingers crossed. Wish me luck

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Good omens

Things are going along swimmingly with my new project. I'm feeling reasonably in control and i'm liking how its developing. These are good omens. Stories tend to go better when I have these good feelings about them. I guess its ready to be written and i'm ready to write it. I find i can't really plan these things. i can have an idea i like but if it doesn't have that good vibe its hard to write and never turns out as well. I always file these things away for a later date though as sometimes the vibe turns up and its all go. I do envy people who can write to a prescription though. When the theme for the next Random House NZ anthology comes out each year, i'm lucky if i have a story that already fits. I have never written something as the result of the theme that has come out well enough to be submitted. Maybe this is something that i will learn in the future.

I'm still wishing i was pre-empting the YA trend but must keep in touch with reality and realise i cannot turn back time or write my story and have it published in two months time. Just hope i can sustain the positive vibes for the entirety of the story, and that it turns out a decent length. This is one of the draw backs with my style of writing. Writers who do a load more planning and organising than i do will have a much better idea of the final word count. Still it wouldn't be my writing if I didn't do it my way.

Storylines family day in Auckland on June 15. I'll be there. Always a good event, its incredibly heartening to see the hordes of children and their parents wanting to ride the smart wave on books. Its also good to watch what the seasoned professionals do when talking about their own books and I will be taking notes for the future. Hope you are all going.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

working on my trendy new project...

I am working on a new project. I am happy with it so far but its only a tiddler - nearing 4,000 words and there's obviously a long way to go. My only gripe is its a YA and being a YA in itself isn't a problem but the fact that i'm suddenly reading how YA's are hot sellers right now. I'm not trying to jump on some bandwagon with this, it just happened to be the one idea of about six ideas floating round in my head that i got most excited about and its the one that most demanded to be written (my ideas are like that - stubborn demanding, independant sorts that won't be told - just like children really). In fact ideally the bandwagon would have just been beginning to roll when i'd finished the ms. Still you can't predict these things and i'm keeping my fingers crossed that its such a strong ms when its finished, that trend or no trend, it gets bought. I have a lot of work to do.

As much as I like the YA story idea though, i find myself distracted from the process of writing by thoughts of what is happening to all the things of mine out there in hopeful land. I have a couple of picture books and a novel out with publishers right now and i'm just busting to know if they're wanted or not. I've had a lot of news recently, so you might wonder why i am so desperate for more, but the trouble with all the news i've been getting is that none of it is definite. Its a whole load of maybes and might happens and i am a concrete kind of girl. I want to know for sure. The ole' impatience kicks in and then i find it hard to settle to anything.

I have to divert myself with the thought that my daughter is going to be in a sky tv advert (Mysky) soon which is very exciting and i'm looking forward to seeing that. I also had a clean bill of health from the specialist doctor i saw yesterday. Its a follow up to a problem i had about five years back so its nice to know that some parts of me are in good shape. Other parts feel like they're about to drop off but despite some evidence to the contrary i should feel pretty happy with the state of my health right now. If only i could eat less chocolate and drink less wine i'd be a darn fine specimen (but wheres the fun in that). I'm very pleased with myself that i've been so proactive about my health though. I hope everyone out there is taking care of themselves and seeing the doctor when they should and keeping an eye on things like blood pressure and cholesterol and glucose levels etc...