Monday, August 31, 2009

Diary of a Storylines day...

A pinch and a punch for the first of the month - and no returns. I wonder who was responsible for that lovely little tradition - they had me pegged because I get an inordinate sense of satisfaction from getting in first amongst my family. Sad really innit.

I don't know if you got along to the Auckland Storylines Family Day last sunday. If you did I hope you enjoyed yourself. As always I was immensely cheered to see so many parents and children wanting to embrace books (and writers and illustrators) and make them part of their lives. Books rock. They feed your mind and make you strong.

I started off with a talk about my work which was a little shakey as I hadn't been anticipating an entire audience of adults. When I'd done my research in preparation (sample size of two) I'd been advised that the audience would be either a) virtually non-existant as I had an early slot or b) mostly children. While my own work is something I should know intimately it can be difficult to know what the audience is most interested to hear. The latest post on Mary McCallum's blog here talks about an interesting discussion between writers Brigid Lowry and Paula Boock she attended recently. I would love to participate in this kind of event or have a question and answer/interview style session. When several writers discuss their work, style and background so much can be revealed.

I also had book signing sessions, book reading sessions and the chance to watch a dramatisation of the Were-Nana. St Cuthberts did a wonderful job and it was a real treat to see how they brought the story to life. I was very fortunate and honoured to have my final reading session introduced by Tessa Duder. I was also honoured to share the judging of the writing entries in the Competition Zone. Judging is not an easy task and i always feel the weight of responsibility. I picked those who I thought had the best grasp of key story telling concepts and who showed some flare with words. A big congratulations to all the participants. And after several attempts to catch him during the day I finally got my chance to meet Dylan Horrocks and tell him how much I liked his graphic novel Hicksville during the group photo session right at the very end. I'm looking forward to buying my own copy when it is reissued next year :)

I didn't talk to as many people as I hoped I would. The schedule was fairly full and the judging took a fair chunk of time. I had the loveliest minder who showed me where and when i should be somewhere and who made me feel very special carrying my name around like a flag as we moved from point to point. Thank you Linda for taking such good care of me! All in all it was great fun and I hope I get the chance to do it all again one day. Thank you to Storylines for giving me the opportunity to meet so many booklovers and to Scholastic who helped make it possible for me.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

How many books are you going to write....

Q "Why did you decide to become a writer?"
A "Because its the only job where I can wear my pyjamas to work."
Q "What's your favourite book?"
A "The publisher's chequebook."

As you can see I'm working on some answers to the kinds of questions authors usually get asked at author talks. There are more in development. Stay tuned to see what comes out of this naughty brain of mine.

Was anyone else as horrified as I was at the image of that sweet pachyderm's body being loaded on a truck in yesterday's NZ Herald. The death of this beloved animal made grown men weep on national TV and the paper follows this up with a demonstration of its somewhat less than sensitive side with a tasteless and completely unnecessary photo no one wanted to see. Ack.

I was a little cheered by the picture on the back of the sports section (although it doesn't make up for what they did in the front section). Yay the Tall Blacks. What an excellent result for our basketballers against the Boomers on tuesday night (100 - 78). Way to go guys. Keep up the good work.

After being coy about the character Silas from the Graveyard Book in a blog post recently I realised today that its probably a lot more bleeding obvious than I thought and I've been a bit obtuse and anyone could have guessed what he really was by other hints Mr Gaiman dropped much earlier in the book. Someone else has to read this and discuss it with me because its hard talking about it with myself.

And OMG I have homework for the Spinning Gold conference. No one told me there would be homework. Please Miss, I can tell you right now, the dog ate it.

In other news, I will be appearing at the Thames Library on Wednesday October 21st for some NZ Book Month Were-Nana related festivities and don't forget I will be at the Aotea centre for the Storylines Family Day this Sunday if you want to come and say hi.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Sad, mad and bad...

Kashin, the elder of the two groovy elephants at the Auckland Zoo died yesterday. Her health problems got the better of her and her passing has made me sad. I knew her when she was a young girl. She arrived years ago (1972) when I was a young nipper in primary school. It was a big story and I remember how excited we all were. I have always loved the zoo (I went on to do a Masters degree in Zoology) and it never fails to give me a thrill when I visit. Last time I went with my son and his mate we were all enthralled by a dust up between a trio of meerkats and an unwelcome guest in their enclosure. It was amazing to see the three little musketeers successfully ganging up against a very large and aggressive peacock. While I am fascinated by the drama of nature in action, I have also always admired the dignity and soulfulness of the elephants. I hope Kashin knew how much she was loved.

I was also saddened about the results of the smacking referendum. It gives me the willies that so many people were so keen to preserve their right to smack. Ack. What kind of message does it send to our children? Nick Brown had it right in the NZ Herald this morning when he said the current legislation isn't there to punish parents who use the occasional smack, its to ensure the people who use excessive force can't claim 'reasonable force for discipline' to defend their actions. And isn't this legislation also about wanting to do better as parents, as a community, as a society? The referendum was a step backwards and I am horrified at how NZ responded.

The google settlement is another twisted piece of verbiage. I can either opt in and get some (most likely inadequate) recompense for the use of my material but know that my books can be digitised and potentially reach a wider audience then they may otherwise do or I can opt out which means no recompense unless I fight Google on my own, and either a) they digitise my material anyway without any payment to me or b)they don't digitise my books and the chance for obscurity yawns wider than it would have otherwise. Well, gee - don't you just love those options? This falls in to the, damned if you do, damned if you don't category. Many groups are encouraging authors to opt out partly because no one knows where this is all headed. My real chagrin is reserved for Google who have just gone ahead and digitised because they can. No one has stopped them and despite there being real financial consequences for all authors its like an out of control freight train we are powerless to stop. And lets face it, its not like its a gravy train. As it is, most authors get paid diddly for hours, days, weeks, months, years of work. This just takes more from us with little or no reward. And i can't imagine for one minute that Google are doing this just to benefit mankind. Or authors. They are a business. And they may just make money out of this at our expense. Shame on you Google.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Mr Gaiman didn't visit...

There is a lot of paper in the office where I write. I like to have hard copies of my work because although I believe in them and consider myself not a complete technophobe, some deep part of my brain remains undeniably suspicious of computers. Sometimes they eat your work and then laugh at you when you try to retrieve it. Luckily (touch wood) I have not had too many computastrophes, but a recent experience has convinced me of the benefits of hard copies. Some years back (before the new millenium) I wrote a shortish fantasy novel with a reluctant prince as the central character. I brashly submitted it for the Tom Fitzgibbon award and while it didn't get anywhere, I did get my first real bit of feedback from one of the judges, the very lovely Jo Noble who said some kind and encouraging things. On her advice I made some additions but couldn't quite fix it to a point i was happy with. But one addition in particular was rather groovy and a bit sparkly and I always thought if I could fix the bones up around the best scenes in the story I would have something saleable. Well I think I've figured out the bones but I cannot find in computer file or in hard copy that sparkly addition which has kept my faith in that story alive all these years. I am trying to write it from memory but folks before you move on from any story whether you are satisfied with it or not - TAKE A HARD COPY AND PUT IT SOMEWHERE LOGICAL. It has probably developed a mythical brilliance that it doesn't deserve but I am sure that added scene was a gem even if only semi-precious (or just needing some polishing) and I am going to be sweating trying to pull as much of it as possible out of the dim dark memory recesses of my brain over the next few weeks. Wish me luck :)

Here is a short meme to keep you amused (or surprised) in the meantime

1) I like soccer better than rugby because soccer players have better legs
2) I learned classical ballet as a child and irish dancing in my thirties
3) I like Linkin Park (the Transformers made me)
4) I'm not big on foreign, arthouse or indie films.
5) I have a magnolia obsession - these are the coolest trees in the world
6) I also have a Chrysler Building obsession. It is my most favourite piece of art ever.
6) Housework is evil
7) I have a tattoo.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

The real truth about publishing...

A while back I gave a talk about the ten most important things I’d learned so far about the publishing world. Here are the next ten most important things (with thanks to Lauren Child for No. 1). - For those of you who have already read this on this month's Kiwiwrite4kidz newsletter i have added a little value at the end:)

1. Publishers want you to write something fresh and different, but exactly like their other successful books
2. No two publishers make their decisions in the same way. The broad principles are the same – do we like this story, will it make more money than it costs, can we all agree and come to a decision? These can be run in any order and repeated any number of times. They can be made in committee or maybe not. The process differs not only between publishing companies but also between each decision. Your book may fall off the table at any stage.
3. A yes may not always mean yes. It is therefore also possible that no does not always mean no.
4. A year is one of the shortest time frames in publishing. 2 to 5 years is the norm. This can be applied to ANY aspect of publishing.
5. Stories of people who hear back the day after they submit something are like the story about the poodle in the microwave.
6. The grass is always greener on the other side. And more lush, with less weeds.
7. Waiting for a decision from a publisher may make you freeze up and unable to write although you now have a new obsessive compulsive disorder where you continually check phone messages, e-mails and the mail box. People who tell you to get stuck in to the next project are probably not writers (publishers, editors, agents, family etc…). People who say they’ve forgotten about their submissions are LYING.
8. Even if you are pathologically shy, you will need to go out and be your own PR, marketing and sales-person. It is especially useful if you have other skills like unicycle riding, guitar playing, and the ability to perform magic, preferably all at the same time. Yes, we know you are a writer who likes to spend a lot of time alone with only your own weird thoughts for company and who got in to writing because you didn't want to be a salesperson, a unicyclist, a guitarist or a magician, but you will still need to go out there and juggle and sell, sell, sell. You can only be a recluse if you’ve already sold more than a million books.
9. Adverbs are bad.
10. Trends are what happen while you’re making other plans. But don’t let this stop you writing. If publishers really understood trends, Ms Rowling wouldn’t have had to wait five years to publish her first book.

- no publishers were harmed in the making of this blog post.
- number 7 was inspired by this blog post

Sunday, August 16, 2009

The Graveyard Book...

I swallowed The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman whole, in one gulp, on the weekend. I have a writer crush. I loved Coraline, and The Boy Who Swapped his Father for (some number I can't remember) Goldfish was genius. Yes I did put Stardust down after one chapter cos I guessed what was going to happen and the movie (which I adored) proved me right. But the Graveyard Book was a different kettle of fish altogether. The resolution to the whole man Jack thing irked me a little but despite this I loved the book. It was full of all these fabu sentences which made me smile or nod my head in wonder. I loved Bod (even though he didn't talk anything like a five year old or a seven year old when he was 5 and 7 although I guess his growing up in a Graveyard gave Mr Gaiman some licence (not poetic, or artistic or drivers, okay maybe artistic) to get away with this. (I'm only annoyed about the age thing because i sometimes get comments from editors about how characters aren't talking their age in my stories and other writers get away with it ALL THE TIME). And setting the book in a graveyard seemed to add a whole new depth of clarity to the whole living, dying and death thing that Lovely Bones had a go at but didn't achieve nearly so well as this one did. This one just seemed so much more believable to me. And Silas, well I have all sorts of theories about what he really is and I won't spoil it by outing them here but Mr Gaiman should you ever read this, was that bit of information that we only find out toward the end a big clue to his true nature?

Sadly I finished the book way too quickly and even more sadly now have another university assignment staring at me very rudely and persistently. Finishing the current WIP has developed a visit to the dentist like quality that is a little off putting and I am on tenter-hooks over a number of things which I am trying to avoid thinking about but they will insist on hopping up and down at the back of my brain saying look at me. I thought reading a book would distract me...

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Celebrity Reads Picks for NZ Book Month 2009 (Kids Category)

Here is that list I mentioned yesterday...

Celebrities have been reading submissions from NZ publishers over the last months and have now picked their personal favourites to promote during NZ Book Month. A (list) of these titles will be available from the NZBM website in September.

Kids Category – Cast of ‘Studio Two’
‘Studio Two’ is New Zealand’s most popular after school kids television program.
1. The Were-Nana – Melinda Szymanik and Sarah Nelisiwe Anderson (Scholastic)
2. Awesome Aotearoa – Margaret Mahy (AUT Media)
3. Why Do Dogs Sniff Bottoms? – Dawn McMillan and Bert Signal (Penguin)
4. Salt – Maurice Gee (Penguin)
5. Five (and a bit) Days in the Life of Ozzie Kingsford – Val Bird (Random House)

The list and our celebrity readers’ reasons for their picks will appear in newspapers and online in October and will be promoted by our TV and radio personalities on-air.

Whew. I am amazed (and very happy).

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Come and meet me...

The scheduled publication dates of several projects that my work is appearing in have been delayed. I know these things happen. I feel like a pirate. Garr.

I have not written any words of fiction this week. Rats.

I got my second assignment back and I got a good mark - yay.

The Were-Nana has made another list - will tell you more soon. Yowza.

If you would like to come and say hi and meet me in the flesh or have me sign a book I am appearing at the Storylines Family Day in Auckland on Sunday August 30th. This is a free event on at the Aotea centre (the Edge). I'm in the Limelight room at 10.30 - 11 talking bout my books, at Wheelers Bookshop stand at 11 - 11.30 with Kyle Mewburn, and reading at Borders Bookshop at 12 - 12.30. I'm at Lower NZI at 1.30 - 2 (St Cuthberts are doing a performance of The Were-Nana) and at the Children's Bookshop stand from 2 - 2.30. I wrap up with some more reading on level 4 at Scholastic Books out loud from 2.30 - 3. Storylines family Days are excellent fun and a chance to meet authors and illustrators of childrens books. I'm hoping to squeeze in a visit myself to the Artists in Action event and especially hoping I will have the opportunity to meet Dylan Horrocks. There are lots of excellent people talking about their work, reading from their books and exhibiting their talents. You can check out the Storylines website here for more details about family days in your area. I hope to see you on the 30th.

Monday, August 10, 2009

I liked it more than the pirates of penzance...

saw this clip over at Meg Cabot's blog and laughed so hard....I had to share it. And there's a prize for whoever gets the reference in today's post title.

ps for people allergic to cats this clip includes LOTS of cats. But do not worry - I am not asking you to like cats. This is not about cute fluffy things, this is about physics, gravity and on many occasions the defying of these two things.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Swimming through the troughs...

Ok, should I be worried I just bettered my score on Solitaire (3 card draw) to 19,000 points plus, with a time of 38 seconds. I think I should. Is there money in this like there is in poker - maybe I should change careers (or just hang my head in shame). I blame microsoft. I wonder if anyone has sued them over the time-wasting, distracting games they provide as part of their standard software. Yes I know i had to hunt the game down when we bought the new computer and loaded the latest software and yes I know I make a choice whenever I click on the games. It helps me think - like white noise - I tell myself. And look at my great score. Maybe its a good thing my writing deadlines are all still self imposed. Or maybe I'd play less and write more if my deadlines were more strict. We may never know. How often do writers wonder if they have peaked and may never write a decent thing ever again. I can't remember where I read it but i recently came across a comment responding to the theory that it takes 10,000 hours of practice to become really proficient at something (writing, painting, golf, tennis etc..). The commentor suggested it wasn't so much that it took 10,000 hours practice but more likely that it was about hanging in there that long. 10,000 is alot of hours and most people would have dropped out because they decided it wasn't really for them, they were bored or found something else they would rather do. Of course all this means is that I can't blame anyone else if i drop out of this business. Yes, you've peaked if you then walk away and do something else. Only by hanging in there do we give ourselves the chance to climb the next peak or find that there is one even higher or better or on a completely different continent. Perhaps success in any business isn't measured by the number of peaks we reach but the fact that we survive through the troughs. I'd better go and write a few more words then I guess...

Thursday, August 6, 2009

I do like a little vitamin D...

The light has changed. I've seen daffodils, and magnolia are going crazy all over the neighbourhood. And I try not to look but there's a lot of Tui love going on out in the back garden. Can Spring have sprung? I don't like to say it out loud cos its only just gone August but shesh, you can't deny what's going on in front of your own eyes, can ya? I hope its Spring - nothing like the season of hope and renewel to make me feel just a wee bit perky. That and all that vitamin D coursing through me. Yowza.

General perkiness can probably also be attributed to holiday plans moving ahead and the dreaming's about there-of. Nothing like a laid-back, pre-christmas, tropical break to soothe the nerves.

And following up on an earlier post I couldn't help noticing in today's children's PW e-zine that the cover of Justine Larbalestier's book Liar is to be changed. Huge congratulations to Justine. And I'd also say one big tick for the internet on this one as general outrage and disappointment about the inappropriate nature of the original US cover travelled mighty fast and wide. You can read about it at Justine's blog here. This is excellent news but I'm still a little sad there was ever a problem in the first place. At least things are moving in the right direction.

Not much else to say for myself. Already at work on the next assignment. Trying to keep hopeful about all my stories out there trying to wow the publishers. Thinking too about some writing about writing to present at the Speed dating, at some author talks I have ahead of me and maybe a bit of research on how it is I write short stories. Somethings working but I haven't figured out what or how yet. Funny analysing one's self. Freud would probably have something to say about that!

Monday, August 3, 2009

I want me some focus-straightening-writer's-specs

Common advice to writers is to focus on writing the next book whilst waiting to hear responses to those manuscripts already out at the publishers. This is, in my opinion, tremendous advice. A writer always needs more work to send out and it distracts from the whole business of trying to wait and pretending to be patient. But there is a spanner in the works of this advice. Pretending to be patient, especially when a few months have passed, gums up the works. I become (for want of a better word - sorry folks) constipated with my writing. I'm not blocked (that word is frowned on in this house) as i have ideas and ways to move forward on my stories, but my focus is affected and sitting down to write is...lets say, difficult. As my assignment is finally finished and is now winging its way down to Christchurch I think I may play hookey for a day or two and see if I get my focus back. Otherwise I may need to investigate the acquiring of some special focus-straightening-writers-glasses - I woner if these will be available at the Spinning Gold conference.

I am also finding that while recent events have well motivated my writing of short works, my longer works are experiencing a dip in confidence and they have been seen wearing hoodies and milling around with bad postures in darkened corners at the mall.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

I am too miffed to discuss this further...

I was a tad miffed to see photos from the Montana Book Awards Ceremony in the social pages of both the Sunday Star Times and The Herald on Sunday yesterday. Neither carried photos from the NZ Post Children's Book Awards back in May. Why are adult writers social and children's writers aren't?

How are children's writers percieved by the public, the media, other writers? I want to know. Will I like what I find out?