Monday, March 30, 2009

You meet some really nice people in the blogosphere...

Had huge fun yesterday participating in a pitch party at How Publishing Really Works. Basically commenters were invited to pitch their blog in the comments section and the only rule was that each commenter had to visit and comment at three other blogs pitched. As you can see I have now added two new blogs to my list of cool people (and may yet add more). I might never have come across these blogs otherwise so big thanks to Jane Smith at How Publishing Really Works. You too should go say hi to Katy and Welshcake.

Loved this post the other day at hey, There's a Dead Guy in My Living Room, where an editor talks about the moment during editing where he doubts the book (called The Moment of Suck) and he compares it to the phenomenon I feel all too familiar with where writers look at their manuscript and say this is the worst story ever written on this planet, why go on? It usually comes just past half way when you've made a big time and effort investment. I'm falling in and out of love with my current WIP on a weekly basis and it has been hard to push myself forward. Sometimes these things aren't a moment long, they are weeks long. As an editor, at least there must have been a point at which you looked at the completed manuscript and said this rocks but as a writer with only half a story written and the other half a vague tangled mess inside your head it can be difficult to find that passion that lead you through writing the first half. Oh for short stories and picture books that don't mess with your head anywhere near as much.

I have also been scratching my head over this google settlement business. It doesn't seem to apply to me - none of my books have made it to the US (yet) but based on everything I've read about the whole thing so far I can not be entirely sure. Trying to figure it out makes my brain hurt and I had been planning on ignoring the whole thing but I'd rather be 100% sure it doesn't apply to me before I dismiss it. If i ever reach some sort of understanding I shall pass it on.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Who'd a thunk it...

Now Tania Hutley's book launch isn't the only one I've been to recently. I also went to the launch for the gorgeous picture book The Cat With No Name by Sher Foley and Brian Lovelock the weekend before last at Mainly Toys in Mt Eden. Another wonderful event at another fabulous and supportive shop and the speeches included one of the most romantic touches I've heard in a while. Suffice to say the journey of coming up with this book resulted in a love match between the author and illustrator. It definitely put a very rosey glow over proceedings.

Life has a slightly surreal quality to it at the moment. Last week a school made a request to the NZ Book Council to have me visit their school as part of the Writers In Schools scheme. This is my first time to be asked (I've always thrown myself at schools in the past) and I feel very honoured. Schools only get one author visit a year under the progamme and I am thrilled they picked me. And then on Friday a friend told me that The Were-Nana made it on to the NZ Fiction and Non-Fiction - Childrens and Teens Bestseller List for the week. You could have smacked me with a fish and I would have been less surprised then I was by this piece of news. I am super excited that people are buying my books. I love that the NZ Post awards remind people about all the fabulous benefits of books and encourage them to go out and get some. I love that in these financially testing times people still see spending their hard earned cash on books for their children as a good investment. IT IS, IT IS!!! BOOKS ROCK! And I feel very, very lucky...

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Go buy a book now....

When I was growing up books gave me the world to look at. Not just the world at that time but the past, the future, and worlds of the imagination. I read about pioneering americans in the 19th century, I read about ancient egypt, I read about warring gangs in the 50's, and wizards and warriors and kings from Earthsea, and Middle Earth and talking animals in Narnia. When I was growing up books gave me a sense of wonder. I read and re-read them, devouring them quickly and searching for more. They gave me a lot of pleasure and they gave me advice and information. Books didn't isolate me - I had friends aplenty, but books made me a part of the wider world - I guess the forerunner to the world wide web in a way. I was sad to see in this report on why some people don't buy books (thanks to Bookman Beattie for this link) that some people viewed reading as an "anti-social activity (practiced by people who) don't know how to live". Crikey. Not only do I consider I have a fair idea of 'how to live' I also feel like I have an appreciation of how some other people live too. Books have given me a window onto the lives of others . Sometimes they are sad or bad people living horrible tragic existences, suffering circumstances that I could not have imagined without the benefit of a book showing me. Sometimes they are living risky, thrilling, action-packed lives. If I lived a lifetime twenty times longer than the one I live now I could not hope to have all the experiences I have read about. I have learnt so much. I am still learning. Books can give you hope and understanding. They can make you laugh and cry, sometimes all in the space of a single page. They can wake you up, tune you in and switch you on. Yowza. Go buy a book now. Who knows where it might take you.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Etiquette for writers and avoiding the drought...

Went to the Tough Enough book launch last night. Celebrating the birth of a new book is always a good thing but even better when the book is a good 'un and the author (Tania Hutley) is a talented person. And after lamenting the lack of opportunity to meet the new Publishing Manager of Scholastic she was at the launch too and I got the chance after all to mosie on over and say howdy. I hope I didn't shout too much - give me a drink or two in a crowded place and thats what happens. Afterwards I wondered about book launch etiquette and hoped I hadn't transgressed too much. Like the witty retort that always rises to ones lips well after the relevant conversation is long past, I always realise how I should have behaved well after the fact. Someone should write up some rules and I will have them tattooed on my forearm like a cheat sheet. BTW the folk at the launch-hosting book store, Jabberwocky are the most wonderful people and incredibly supportive of local writers. You should go down there and check out their very smart and well stocked shop.

Yesterday someone mentioned they'd had a rejection from a particular publisher to whom I also submitted something and now I'm itching to know if my rejection is pending. Its still too early to enquire but news of someone else's news has accelerated my impatience. While I toil away at a longer work of fiction its good to have other things out there doing the rounds so I don't feel like I've dropped out of the loop completely. As you all know, the whole publishing business is interminably slow and if I'm not submitting things now I would ensure an upcoming publishing drought. Don't like droughts. Droughts are dry.

Was having an interesting discussion last night about the inclusion of swear words in children's books. I am happy to include the occasional semi-salty word if the moment warrants it. Don't like gratuitous swearing and don't feel compelled to try and imitate some of the incredibly bad language that often litters actual teen conversations, especially as in written form it would run the serious risk of becoming entirely meaningless (as it probably is in spoken form as well). However I believe swear words are an inescapable part of teen culture these days and sometimes it just seems the most natural response for a character. I wouldn't include such words in works for a very young audience but think for intermediate age and up the occasional blue word is not going to cause the collapse of civilization as we know it. What do other people think?

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Be prepared...

It is Tania Hutley's book launch for her debut children's novel Tough Enough this evening at the wonderful jabberwocky Books in Mt Eden - 6pm. See you there!

Went to see the movie Duplicity yesterday on a daytime date with my SO. We both loved the movie. Weren't so sure about Clive Owen (no, he shouldn't have been James Bond instead of Daniel Craig - he cannot run like JB should and his shoulders are not broad enough to take on all those bad guys - Daniel Craig has 007 stamped on his DNA), Julia Roberts went up in my estimation and I will be watching out for other movies written and directed by Tony Gilroy (of Michael Clayton, Bourne trilogy fame) in the future. I found myself straining to hear every word of dialogue so I didn't miss one single gem. Loved the scene where Julia Roberts said very little but almost killed the other women with her icy stare, and the very first scene at the beginning of the movie when the two main characters first meet. Their conversation sucks you in and you know you have to stay and hear everything else they say until the credits roll and the lights go up at the end.

From across the blogosphere I loved this list of ten lessons from romance writer Michele Dunaway on the Bookends Blog the other day and this incredible video clip today on Kristen Nelson's pubrants. The video clip must be very cleverly edited to produce the miraculous skills it displays but the basic question of how to put your best, most compelling foot forward is an intriguing one. How do we best sell ourselves to potential publishers, agents and book buyers? Everyone has ideas but so often the answer seems out of our hands. Not even the publishers and booksellers can say what makes some books go like a rocket. And agents and publishers can't tell you exactly what they want until they see it in front of them. This is why persistence is a necessary skill. And being prepared. The other day Janet Reid admonished a querier for submitting a query and then going on holiday making himself and his manuscript unavailable for two weeks. The number of people who responded with comments about how they carry their ms around with them electronically wherever they go got me wondering. My first reaction to this whole thing was to think that agents and publishers train us to expect a wait of several months and we imagine those magical stories of being read overnight and contacted the very next day are myths or only apply to anyone else but us. Give the guy a break Janet - you've trained us too well and we've learned not to expect much. We are in a system where many agents/publishers can opt not to reply to submissions at all. However I know I have been lucky a number of times and luck is partly about being in the right place at the right time and being prepared when opportunity comes knocking. I guess I can say the system has its shortcomings or its downright negative side but its the system were in and if we want to succeed we have to be ready.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

All over the place....

With thanks to the NZ Book Council, you can find a review of Jack the Viking by Crissi Blair here. Its just a little ways down the page :)

I finished The Tomorrow Code yesterday. Nice crisp writing, strong characters and with increasing tension as it went along, it had a very satisfying ending and one that will keep my brain ticking over for quite a while. Some time back I toyed with the whole future-past, mobius strip looping concept for a story idea and as it hurt my head a lot I put it to one side. Its good to see someone making it work and gives me fresh hope. Haven't decided what book to read next. Maybe I'll do some more work on my YA, before I crack the spine on someone else's work

I believe the new publishing manager is now at work at Scholastic NZ. Yay!! There would have been a few tail chasing moments over the past few months there as two people worked hard to cover a three person plus job. I'm looking forward to meeting the new person. Of course the Margaret Mahy day would have been the perfect opportunity to mosie on up and say howdy but drat if it isn't down in Christchurch this year and I'm too cheap to go. I'm still hoping to get to Wellington this September (please let me register in time, please let me register in time) for the Spinning Gold Conference and can't really afford too many trips. And there are just too many other things on over the next few months so a quick trip to Chch was always going to be in the hard basket.

In other good news the White Ferns (NZ's women's cricket team) are now in the final of the Women's cricket World Cup (facing England) following a great win against Pakistan which featured a record breaking, outstanding 168 runs off 105 balls by Suzie Bates. Yowza. England are the only team to beat them in this competition so the final could be very exciting indeed. Go Kiwis.

And in one of those "its not like I knew her but her death really saddens me," moments, the news of Natasha Richardson's untimely demise has bummed me out. It is shocking that something so seemingly insignificant can have such tragic results. Human beings seem so robust at times and then just incredibly fragile at others. As she was my age (way, way too young to die) and the mum of two young children I guess its had more of an impact on me. And we shouldn't need reminding, but folks, don't put things off. Don't put off writing if its your secret dream, don't be afraid to show other people your work, don't file things in the bottom drawer - send them out. Get off your butt and live your life NOW.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Persistence is the name of the game...

Jack the Viking has just been reviewed by Crissi Blair in the NZ Book Council's online publication for Schools - The School Library. If I am able I will post a link to this shortly but here is a brief snippet:

Exciting reading, with plenty about how the Vikings lived (and died), and issues like bullying and self-esteem to consider. One thing’s for sure, Jack will never be the same again..

And Justine Larbalestier has great advice on her blog today to counteract some of the worries we experience as writers, as well as debunking the myth of the tortured artist. I certainly worried for some time that the even-tempered uneventfulness of my life might hold me back in my writing but I've managed so far to come up with ideas and either research or imagine the rest. Good ole imagination. Its served me well and with all the encouragement and warm-fuzzies I give it, it seems to have grown, perhaps even blossomed. However it is easy to be calm happy and rational when your luck is in and things are going well, and there is a bit of a tendency to torture ones self and be visited by self-doubt when the words aren't coming and the publishers aren't looking your way. Just remember that bad days are bookended by good ones and persistance is the name of the game.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Turrible misssspellings...

I am mortified. I has been misspelling Brian Falkner's name and I apologise. I can not blame anyone when it comes to my name because, really, it is jolly complicated. If you only hear it said, you have a snowball's hope in Hades of spelling it as it should be. But after a lifetime of this I have always made an effort to get other people's names right. So Brian, I am sorry. And folks, it is Falkner, not Faulkner. And Brian, not Brain although Brain is probably a good alternative if you read his books. I have severly punished myself with a large amount of chocolate.

I have been dreaming of international travel recently, possibly prompted by the fact that my daughters are off to the States soon for a couple of cheerleading competitions in Florida. This time we are not accompanying them. I keep looking up residencies but know my children are not yet old enough for me to be absent for several weeks or several months, even if I was fortunate enough to be awarded one. The travel bug is pesky like superbugs resistant to antibiotics or an incurable hangover. I am plagued by wanderlust. My loftiest dreams include travelling overseas because of my books. I try to keep my feet on the ground but experience has shown me you can never tell what's around the corner.

The agent is soon off to Bologna and although Bologna has not yielded me international success and worldwide domination so far, I am ever hopeful. The Were-Nana is making an appearance in Scholastic Australia's very attractive brochure this year and I have given my agent some very eye-catching postcards of my most recent books to lure overseas publishers in, and compel them to sign up overseas rights, or look at other stories of mine still available for first time publication. They are good. Better than chocolate and less fattening too. You know you want them!

Friday, March 13, 2009

Jack and I do like a good review...

I'm off to a few book launches over the next three weeks - for a picture book, The Cat with No Name by Sher Foley and Brian Lovelock (on Saturday 14th at Mainly Toys, 4pm), a junior novel Tough Enough by Tania Hutley (at Jabberwocky Books on Monday 23rd at 6pm), and an adult novel, Weathered Bones by Michele Poweles, (details tba). This feels good on so many levels: books are still being published, good things are happening to my friends, people are still celebrating. This weekend at the Auckland Festival Brian Falkner will be reading from his new book The Tomorrow Code on saturday in the Spiegel Tent and Lorraine Orman from her new book Haunted on sunday. Go hear them. I'm enjoying The Tomorrow Code so far, and certain elements of the story are really appealing to my secret inner science geek ( I am a science graduate after all). I have to say, the whole concept of a mobius strip may do my head in though. Good fun!

An author friend and also my agent alerted me to the happy fact of a nice review by Jenny Millar in the latest Magpie magazine (volume 24, page six of the NZ section) for my book Jack the Viking. Yay. The review is a bit spoilery so I will not quote the whole thing here but it closes with:

This is a great adventure story that describes the everyday life and ordeals of the Viking people. The novel also explores the world of adolescent boys, their secret attraction to girls, competitiveness, and power struggles. Highly recommended for the school library.

Also perfectly good for home libraries as well!

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Work must come first to get love, adoration, contracts and book sales...

Over at Mary McCallum's blog she has a link to this which I agree is terrific advice for writers, although writing isn't quite like other work because you don't necessarily get paid for the time you spend. When I write I don't intend to come up with something to be rejected. I do my best to create something that I hope a publisher will feel compelled to accept. From all those hours/days weeks/months I hope payment will come. And even after a string of no's and unrewarded time I must knuckle down and spend more time beavering away at new material that also may be unrewarded. Sometimes this is depressing and its hard to push myself on to more creating. Other times I just feel downright lazy because it is, as Ms Frame so rightly said, work. Right now I am being BAD and avoiding work I MUST do. Blech. Don’t want to do stinky old work, just want love and adoration and book sales and new contracts. Pooh – work must come first to get all of those.

Writing for me is not a hobby although sometimes it has the qualities of a hobby (something done for love/enjoyment but not money). There are times when i call it a career because I work at it to improve my skills and sometimes the writing community or the world at large responds with positive noises and/or a commercial transaction takes place. But all the time, as Kate Grenville said in her submission that I linked to yesterday, it is a vocation; something I can and must do because of an undeniable desire and a belief that this is where my skills lie. And of course now I have to stop blogging, stop avoiding the work I should be doing, and go do it with the undying hope of the writer that at some point someone might say yes and I will get published and paid.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Why I love the blogosphere...

Wandered over to Justine Larbalestier's blog this morning, as I do most days. Its always fun to read but also often a source of inspiration and education. This morning was no exception. Today's entry contained a list of things she loves right now. I love lists! I may have to do one of my own. But my favouritist thing on Ms Larbalestier's list this morning was this - Kate Grenville's second submission to the Productivity Commission Inquiry into Copyright Restrictions on the Parallel Importation of Books. The Australian Government is considering allowing the parallel importation of books and I have been trying to understand the issue and keep up with developments on this. I am unsure what the status of this issue is in New Zealand (although I must find out) but Kate Grenville's submission was brilliant. It not only clearly outlined the potential downsides of parallel importation for the local publishing industry and writers it was also an insight into the career of a tremendous best-selling australian writer which has not always run as smoothly as you would hope for someone of her calibre. Thank you to Justine Larbalestier for the link and thank you to Kate Grenville for clarity on a complex issue. Everybody go read it now.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

When the voice isn't quite right...

Went to see the movie Watchmen last night. I can't say I was keen. This movie contains what I call extreme excessive violence. Ack. Now I ain't too squeamish. I like a good action flick and heck, I've even autopsied dead animals at 2 o'clock in the morning while all by myself, in the name of science, but this was a hard watch when I wasn't busy covering my eyes with my hands. I do have to admit, however, that I was fascinated by other aspects of the movie. I loved the idea of exploring a world where superheroes are part of the normal fabric of society. And that they weren't all good and noble. I loved the idea of the Dr Manhatten character - finding his humanity while being able to understand and control the physical nature of the universe. But after presenting a world where violence is the answer to just about everything and man is his own worst enemy, I didn't buy the characters rejoicing in the miracle of being human. And how many people was the most philanthropic character willing to kill? And that final act of altruism? The Dark Knight did it so much better. I'm glad I'm not immune to that level of violence but I'm worried about all the movie goers who might be. I also have to say it was weird being in town on a saturday night. I hope all those drunk young folk, especially the ones in their flimsy mini dresses didn't freeze to death and got home safely. Their parents were probably worried.

I have a truckload of writing work to do at the moment and I have been putting it off. However there's a deadline appraoching at a hundred miles an hour on this and I will have to suck it up and get on with it. I have this story idea I am very keen on and there is interest in it. I have already written an outline and a few chapters but I just know I haven't got the right feel yet. The voice is too old and too inside his head. I'm going to expand my outline and then try switching from first to third person and see what the result is like. The main issue behind the idea is quite a weighty one too and while respecting it, I don't want young readers to drown in the message so i have to keep a firm yet light control. I shall keep you updated. Oh and one of the short stories I submitted for this year's Random anthology edited by Barbara Else was accepted. Yay!!

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Still giddy...

Still feeling all thrilled and squeeful on the inside about being a finalist in the NZ Post Book Awards. I'm not sure what it all means yet but I do know it means an author tour to Westport in May which I am very excited about. I have never been to this part of New Zealand before so its already feeling like a really big adventure and i love talking books and writing with children.

I can't get my head to stop doing mental cartwheels so writing is off the agenda this week but reading has been wonderful. Stopped in at a bookshop yesterday and was happy to see near the front entrance of the shop a big stand dedicated to the NZ Post Book Awards. Yay this was fabulous although the stand only had about three of the listed books on it. I guess its early days yet. I hope they are planning to fill up the stand. The only picture book finalist they had was Duck's Stuck (Kyle Mewburn, Ali Teo and John O'Reilly) so I got to read that and loved it. I reckon its guaranteed to make any child fall in love with words, its such a fun read. And I'm now reading The Tomorrow Code by Brian Falkner. Only just started though as I finished The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer last night. After successfully luring me in with the fun title and the light humorous beginning, this book takes twists and turns, describing the German occupation of Guernsey during the Second World War which was not at all light or humourous. I like a book that's smart without being too tricky and I'm a bit of a sucker for history without a text book feel so thoroughly enjoyed this. Now I have quite a bit of reading ahead of me to cover all the other finalists so I'd better get on with it...

Monday, March 2, 2009

The Were-Nana - NZ Post Book Awards finalist...updated

BREAKING NEWS! - my picture book The Were-Nana is a finalist in the picture book section of this year's NZ Post Book Awards. Yay!!
'There's nothing Simon enjoys more than scaring his little sister, Stella Rosa.And now that the mysterious Nana Lupin is coming to stay, Simon is having great fun. Stella Rosa is afraid. Is her nana really a monster?'
Congrats to Sarah Anderson too, co-finalist, who produced such fantastic knock-out illustrations and did such a wonderful design job. And thanks to Scholastic NZ for taking a chance on a story thats a little different.
Whoops - due to an error by the NZPA The Were-Nana and me were omitted from the list of NZ Post Book Awards finalists in yesterday's NZ Herald. They also got illustrators a bit mucked up and a book title too. Don't worry, you can read the correct list here by clicking on the side menu.