Thursday, July 31, 2008

The well of ideas...

So a deadline for a response from a publisher to a submission came and went (a month ago to be precise) and still nada. This is more than a little irksome when considered in relation to a friend of mine who submitted something to a publisher like a week ago and its already been read and is going to the editorial meeting next monday. Grrrrr. Why are the publishers I submit to the slowest in the bunch? Probably as a punshment for my impatience. Still, the outline of my attempt at YA (currently on a go slow as I'm in a bad mood) has been forwarded to an american publisher so this is progress and I like progress. I like offers of publication even better. I have no idea what their time frame is though so its back to the waiting game. Although the last time I did a multiple submission I was left in agonies trying to decide between two offers, I am at the point where multiple submissions seems like a good idea again.

I have an idea percolating in my head for a short story too. This developed from a comment a friend made recently. I hope I can bring it together and make it work as I haven't written any short stories for a while. When I go looking for ideas I never get them. You just have to be listening and observing all the time so when that comment/image/feeling turns up you recognize it and take a hold of it. Ideas grow in their own sweet time too. Some take hours, others years. The idea for my novel Jack the Viking was a happy marriage between a story beginning I'd written two or three years earlier about a bullied boy who always had his nose stuck in a book about Vikings and the image of Merry and Eowyn waiting to ride down together into battle in the 3rd Lord of the Rings movie. What would it be like I wondered to be a kid, never faced with anything like that before to suddenly be required to go into battle with a high probability of injury or death. My best stories are those that just turn up unasked on the doorstep. I'd like to have a magic well of ideas I could draw on whenever needed but i don't but hey thats a good idea for a story...

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

When things turn to mush...

I don't get it. I have had some successes and felt a bit proud of myself. Wondered if it was time to call in a little confidence and puff my chest out just a tad. The theory was, or so i thought, that success breeds success and to best capitalise on what had gone before I should stand a bit tall and call (not shout cos that would be too much) my name across the rooftops. Well when this happens watch out for the yawning great chasmic pothole that is opening up a metre in front of you, happy to trip you and swallow you whole if it gets a chance. So I am squinched down to my usual size (maybe a tad smaller) and trolling for chocolate as its the only magic that might save me from turning a sorry shade of blue.

Suffice to say an opportunity I thought I had is getting more complicated by the hour, some other opportunities were pie-in-sky or castle-in-clouds: take your pick, and my current efforts are turning into an unmanageable monster which needs to have its head lopped off quick before it kills. Chocolate, I need chocolate, chocolate with a high alcohol content, and lashings of it, STAT.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Rain, rain, go away.....

Its all very blah at the moment. The rain just keeps on coming and i'm sick of having cold feet because a) my socks are wet cos of the rain or b) because its so cold. I saw the movie Dark Knight on the weekend with my SO and my kids and i loved it. This is one smart, complete, well thought out, well acted masterpiece. AND i saw it in imax which is amazing when you think if you lean forward in your theatre seat you will see down the side of the building on the screen. My first thought when the movie finished (besides what a nice complexion that boy Christian Bale has) was i wish all movies and tv programmes were written this well. Still i'd be glued to the screen 24/7 if that were true so maybe its really a blessing that so much tv and so many movies are crap. But it was tres' satisfying and I have already vowed to see it again. Yes Heath Ledger (or is that Legend) acted his pants off but everyone else was right there with him doing a damn fine job. I guess i should shut up about it now because raising people's expectations can be a dangerous thing. So just go see the movie okay?

Anyways I was talking about the blahness of all things (except the Dark Knight) and especially for me at the moment that includes my WIP. I had some feedback from a critique group last weekend and a friend during the week and I'm thinking its too hard to do a good job and I should just stop now before I invest too much time and bits of myself into the story which will then get shoved into a dark file folder for the rest of all time. I'm having a short break from it but its troubling me. I have also had no news from people about submissions which is perpetually tiresome.

I am a shy person. That is why i have a blog to hide behind. In particular, book promotion is hard work for me. I would prefer not to do it but I do want my books to succeed and while I cannot be sure that any appearances I make sell more books in the long term, the chance that the two are related keeps me at it. And I remember how much I adored books as a child and what a thrill it would have been to meet an author. If I had, maybe I would have been braver and started my writing career sooner. It would be nice to make that kind of difference to a child. I keep hoping I discover a format that is easy and fun that I can adapt and apply to every situation. Maybe thats just the thing to divert me from my unhappy WIP and my lack of any other distractions.

Friday, July 25, 2008

The new phone is here...

I'm liking my new phone. It arrived safely in good condition and does what i wanted it to. I feel sad for my old phone though - I thought I heard it crying last night, rejected and abandoned for a newer, glossier model. Can report too that I did eat chocolate, but didn't get any timely distractions. Frustration levels high and now I've got so much work to do on the new WIP after attending a critique meeting this morning but its a miserable wet weekend so everyone and their dog wants to use the computer. I never work well with someone breathing down my neck. I also need to write a column for the august Kiwiwrite4kidz newsletter and i'm not feeling inspired by any topics at the moment. If anyone has any burning questions or issues they want discussed please let me know.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Need Chocolate STAT...

Nothing much is happening. I've read everyone else's blog and although a few made me laugh (especially US writer Maureen Johnson at ) there was nothing particularly relevant to me today or inspirational either. I have two sick children at home who aren't that sick and probably should have gone to school, no news about any of my manuscripts working their little butts off trying to get noticed and I am no longer needed for that local school writing workshop. Yesterday I wrote about a thousand words on my new project which is a lot for me. And they were pretty good words. Most of them i was very happy with. I did about the same the day before. Those were two good days. I felt pretty chipper yesterday afternoon. Of course i haven't written anything yet today and the chipperness is all gone. Need chocolate stat.

I think i'm up to about 12 and half thousand words now with My Sister's Shadow, but i'm at that point where I'm thinking OMG, I'm like a third of the way through and i've only got 12 and a half thousand words, I need like twenty thousand by now. And once i finish and tidy it up it'll get a little shorter too. So I'm doing the time honoured tradition of panicking about something that hasn't happened yet. I'd really like the novel to be over 50 thousand when its finished. I guess I'll just have to finish it so I know whether I have a problem or not. Thats at least another 24,000 words. Eeeek. There are no distractions now either ( apart from sick children and a scratchy flea ridden dog) from my writing. I've sent in my funding application, my books aren't out till september/october and I no longer have to write a workshop plan. I NEEED a distraction. Maybe a publisher accepting a manuscript, maybe a request for an author visit or something unexpected but extremely cool. See! I'm not after much really. Chocolate and distraction STAT.

I did a slightly crazy thing yesterday too and now i'm worried bout that as well. I bought me a almost new mobile phone over the internet. On Trade Me. I's paid me monies and now i'm hoping, fingers and toes crossed, that the phone turns up. I will cry if it doesn't as it was a thing of beauty at a sparkly, fantabulous price that will meet my every need. I'm hoping it has other hidden qualities too like the ability to make dinner and pour me a glass of wine at the end of a fretful day. Chocolate, distraction and phone STAT. I shall report back later on phone and distractions. You don't need an update on the chocolate, suffice to say I got some and ate it STAT.

Monday, July 21, 2008

The harsh realities of the business...

I was reading a very sobering article the other day written by an Australian author about the harsh realities of publishing. About the difficulties of getting published, staying published, getting funding, getting noticed, and selling books. I couldn't help nodding my head as I read along. I recognized so much of what he was saying to be true. Some things made me realise how lucky I am to have got this far, other things were daunting. I wondered would I want to know these things if I was just starting out and it got me thinking....

Deep down, when I first began, I did know how hard it is to get published. Its one of the things that stopped me writing when I was younger and kept me looking for a 'proper' job. But once I did give in to the desire to write, if I hadn't had an inkling of how tough it is I probably would have been devastated by my first rejection. Knowing rejection was inevitable helped me through it. Knowing some of the other hurdles made me push a little harder to get over them.

Since my first acceptance letter, through subsequent events in my writing career I've learned most of the other stuff. How getting your first book published is just the beginning of the journey not the end and how tricky every step is and how unforgiving the terrain. Even though I wished I 'd known more at the beginning its probably better that I didn't. And you kind of have to experience some things to know about them. To a certain extent, in writing, everyone's journey is a little different. Especially in New Zealand where the sample size of children's writers is pretty small, to find two people who have had the same experiences with publishers, contracts, agents and book buyers, written similar things, and followed the same pathway is unlikely. And what worked for me may be a disaster for someone else. Some things you have to discover for yourself.

Some of the things I read in that article made me feel better. The statistic about how many people recieve arts funding showed me i'm not alone in my failure to be funded. But much of the article was bleak and depressing. Will i battle on regardless? - I'm in too deep to stop now. Especially as I know its the right job for me. I'm stuck with this uncompromising career of pushing something runny uphill with a pointed stick. Its the only job i've ever wanted to try this hard at. And for every 80% of bad news, there's 20% good news. Someone's got to be in that 20% I'm going to see if it can be me!

Friday, July 18, 2008

Life would be easier if...

It has been the school holidays and therefore difficult to get to the computer. Not because i'm busy entertaining the children. They are old enough now to entertain themselves and actually prefer not to have me involved in their social activities. No, its because I have to take a number and wait in line to use the thing. And as if that wasn't bad enough, for the last two days the internet has been a bit 'ethereal'. Truly it has come and gone, like a selfish teenager, indifferent to my begging and moody about what it would and wouldn't do for me. I hate these technological advances that suck you in until you are a complete slave to them and then they just toy with you and tease you and only work when they feel like it leaving you high, dry and frustrated. And i've been cutting down on wine and chocolate so i'm extra crabby over the whole thing.

However I did get enough time on the computer on thursday to complete my funding application to Creative New Zealand, closing date July 25. I have to say, as I posted it off yesterday, that I felt like I was whistling in the wind. My chances are probably no better then if I bought a lotto ticket, but at least I have my ticket.

I found the funding guide very difficult to interpret and even when i've asked for advice from applicants, previous judges (or whatever they call the people who make the decisions on the applications) and staff within the organisation its a little like I was asking for a state secret from the CIA. Answers were as vague as the guide. I appreciate some of the reasoning that may be behind this vagueness - the guide must be applicable for many different art forms and an even greater variety of possible projects. Judging panels will be different from year to year and the measurement of any art form is so subjective. I guess if you've been a successful applicant you a) may not want to share the formula for your winning entry or b) not even know what part of your application won them over. But I never felt confident, as I prepared my application, that I truly understood exactly what they wanted from me and I would be very surprised if I am successful. I have applied before and at least I felt like this application was an improvement on the previous one. I am hoping I can get feedback when i find out the result in October.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Whats been happening in the writing world recently...

Fifi Colston at mentioned the YA manuscript competition Text Publishing in Australia are running, closing date 31 July with $10,000 prize money ( ). Of course I'm only 10,000 words into my YA novel and there's no way I could finish that in time to send it off. Drat and double drat. I keep telling myself that even if I could write that fast I wouldn't be sending in a terribly polished version which would do the story a disservice. I do wish I could write faster though. There are so many things I want to work on but I can only really concentrate on one thing at a time unless the other thing is short like a picture book or short story but i haven't had any of those kinds of ideas recently. I guess i just have to work with wot i got.

Justine Larbalestier has a nice little comment about rejection in her blog today in response to a commenter not yet brave enough to submit her own material anywhere. Justine says:

'Rejection is a huge part of this business whether you’re published or not. I know some people say that if you’re neurotic about rejection you shouldn’t try to get published. But I can’t think of a single writer I know who isn’t neurotic about it. Obviously, some more than others, but we all feel the sting of rejection. We all fear it.'

I agree. Nobody likes rejection. Its just a part of the job you have to somehow cope with. But the desire for publication outweighs the fear because no matter how many rejections we get we keep sending our writing out.

Justine has also been blogging about the proposal for parallel importing of books into Australia which poses a threat to the local publishing industry there. I wish i could explain it better. If you want to read more about it you'll need to check out Justine's blog because its a complex issue i don't know enough about. Its scary though as I wonder can/does it happen here in NZ and could we cope with any more threats to our already hard pressed industry.

At least booksellers here are doing okay right now with the Paper Plus chain investing in upgrading their stores and Dymocks opening some new shops, including one in my neighbourhood. Both companies say business is good and are happy to be investing for the long term. Yay. I'll be checking out that they stock my books.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Do you really want to know?...

A few weeks back i blogged about my starry son scoring a hat trick at soccer, of which I was extremely proud. Now I want to brag about my daughters also. My younger daughter Geneva has just been voted captain of her junior elite Cheerleading team, the Stormz and this week also my older daughter Elora, in the senior elite Cheerleading team, the Viperz, learnt a very impressive new tumbling trick. I tried to upload the video but i don't think blogger likes the format its in so instead here is a link

I was also intrigued by this posting on Nathan Bransford's blog ( ).

"We're going hypothetical today. It's like a thought experiment on steroids, only if the steroids had themselves had been taking steroids in order to become super steroids on steroids. Or not. Here goes.Question #1: Let's say there was a seer who could tell you definitively whether or not you have the talent to be a published writer. Absolute 100% accuracy. But. If the seer person said no, that's that. Final answer. Would you want to know?Question #2: If the seer person said no, you don't have the talent to be a published writer, would you still write?"

Last time I checked there were over 180 comments to this post. There have been times when I have wondered whether somebody should be told to stop writing but I reached the same conclusion that Nathan reached. I would never stand in the way of someone's dream (as long as it wasn't hazardous to their health in a big way), I would have no right to. And writing (or any creative endeavour) is about taste and I don't have universal taste, I only know what I like. I also don't have a crystal ball which shows how much someone might improve or change. I cringe looking back on my early efforts. I think I've improved. If I'd checked with Nathan's oracle in the early stages of my writing career, the resounding 'no' probably would have been heard several continents away.

I'm also currently grappling with a Creative New Zealand funding application for the July funding round. The big questions are will I ever understand exactly what it is they're asking for and is there a novel way (heh!) of getting their attention. This could take some time and need some good wine and brainstorming. Wish me luck.

Monday, July 7, 2008

If muses exist they are best friends with writers block...

Ah, the writer's desert that is the school holidays. Even though I have time at the computer writing coherently seems near to impossible. I have written some e-mails, some blog comments and of course am now writing this posting but as far as fiction goes, well i'm hopeful that I might get some words down later in the week. Maybe my muse is looking after his/her own kids these two weeks. Although today Justine Larbalestier thumbs her nose at the idea of muses and declares there is no such thing along with her writer friend Maureen Johnson. Writers invoke 'the muse' when they are unable to explain how they get their ideas. Makes me laugh though that muses are out but magic is in. I must admit that I am a bit amazed at what I come up with sometimes when i am writing. After forty something years you'd think I'd have a bit of a handle on how my thinking works. You'd think as its my brain i'd at least be able to exert some kind of control but when i'm writing there really does seem to be some kind of magic involved. If Einstein's thinking suggests we are only using a small proportion of our brains, who knows what they are really capable of. While I REALLY like the idea of the involvement of magic (not so much the muse because thats relying too much on one individuals involvement) I suspect that the sum of all my experiences, reading, watching and thinking is just combining in ways you wouldn't suspect looking at the individual parts. Maybe being a writer is just being someone more able to surrender to those random couplings of individual stuff swirling around in our brains. Fun!

Along with questioning the existence of muses I'm a long time non-believer in the idea of writer's block. Writer's block feeds on its own myth. Give it the time of day and it will wreck havoc on you in reply. If you breathe life into it it will take over like some noxious weed growing out of control. It is what you make of it. There are times when I don't write, or when my writing feels stale and cliched or just deadly dull. But if i chose to name that, it would become something. Instead these are the times when I need a rest, a break, some soul food, some reviving and rejuvenating. Its a time of movies, dog walks, coffees at the cafe with friends, watching the sun come up over Mt Eden, and watching Sponge Bob on tv. Sponge Bob has magic rejuvenating powers and an imagination to die for. Long live Sponge Bob, writer's block is dead.

I am also currently contemplating the benefits of the media. Will appearing in the paper, on radio or tv have an impact on my book sales. There is a cost to me in trying to do this so the question is a valuable one. But can someone who has succeeded in getting media attention demonstrate increased sales due to this attention alone. Its a bit chicken and egg. Do you get media attention because your books are no-brainer best sellers or do your books become no-brainer best sellers because you've had that exposure. Sometimes I curse that I did statistics at university. I think this whole publicity thing is one i'd like to try someday. Maybe its a good time to do it now.

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Obsessing, rationalising and teaching...

Writers seem born to worry, fret, obsess and agonize. This one does anyway. I thought for a while obsessing might be a bit of a bad habit but I've decided its part of who I am and I intend to embrace it instead. Why make one bad character trait (obsessing) into two (obsessing and feeling worried about obsessing)? And lets face it, being obsessive about writing has got me to where i am today. Being obsessive has sent me out in search of more knowledge and understanding about my craft and the business associated with it. Its made me wiser, more persistent and keener to succeed. Sure, when I'm desperate to know what a publishers decision is about a manuscript of mine I can become a little unhinged and probably horribly annoying but I'm better then i used to be. Distractions such as blogging and moaning to writer friends about how long everything takes are helpful.

These publishing decisions do take too long. On a good day I can rationalise about the length of time and understand that the manuscript has to be seen and approved by a number of people or groups. I can rationalise that my manuscript is not the only manuscript being considered and publishing staff don't just sit around considering manuscripts all day. There is the whole turning of ms into books thing that needs to be done too. But on a bad day rationalising is evil and should not be contemplated, let alone applied. On a bad day I need good news and I need it fast. I guess I should avoid bad days.

I have a new feather in my hat. I have been asked to conduct a writing workshop for some keen writer school children. I am excited about this, looking forward to the challenge of incorporating my own writing style and methods into exercises and lessons that are instructive, inspiring and age appropriate. I don't have a teaching or library background but I was a school kid once, and back then i loved books and writing just like i do now. I hope I get more opportunites like this in future.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Are those positive words sincere?

This morning over breakfast I chatted with a writer friend about sincerety in criticism; is the person critiquing your writing, assessing it or giving feeback being honest with you? How much can you believe their words and how much weight can you give them?

When I give others feeback I always want to say something positive. I know I like to be encouraged so I want to encourage others also. I speak postively about the things I truly believe are done well. But when you are a writer you want to do well enough to become published. At the end of the day this is the first of two measurements that are truly sincere. Yes someone wants to invest time and money in turning the story into a book. Its not just that your mother or your daughter liked it - it is percieved by those experienced in such things that it is commercially viable. The second measurement comes from readers who have been able to choose your book without influence at the bookshop, who have taken it home and enjoyed it enough to tell you so unasked. Critiquers, advisors, mentors and assessors can give you support, advice and encouragement but they cannot tell you if it will sell or be enjoyed. You have to have faith in yourself and test your story out with the publishers and the customers in the bookshops. Sad but true, it is when people part with their money that they truly critique your work. Any other time you have to trust your own inner critique. Reaching your own standards is what you must strive for first.