Thursday, October 29, 2009

Hi Honey....I'm home

Hi Honey, I'm home....sorry I was away so long...been busy with non-writing related things but now I'm back...

On sunday its November. Most of me is ready for September now. It usually happens around this time of year - the months are flying past faster than I can keep up with. I might be ready for christmas by next February. On Halloween my middle child turns fourteen.

I am writing an article at the moment on 2010 (even though I am obviously not ready for it yet). At this time of year we tend to spend a lot of time looking back and making 'best-of' lists and things like that. Its a good idea to look back at what was achieved over the year but also now is a good time to think about what might be achieved in the future. Okay, as writers, this is a bit tricky because so much of what we might achieve is out of our control. The only things we can control are the words. But now I'm thinking about the stories I have on-the-go that need finishing and polishing and how long realistically it might take me to do this. I'm wondering about how far afield I want to submit my manuscripts next year and how I go about this. Who might be the best fit for my work and how should I present myself - should I do things differently or stick with the same MO. Next year I think I would like to try some face-to-face meetings with local publishers but I would also like to send some things overseas and in order to put my best foot forward I need a starry query letter. Janet Reid, literary agent and blogger in NYC recently posted a summary on writing a good query letter. Go check it out here - its good advice. I'm also debating whether to do more study next year and wondering whether I can afford to go to the SCBWI conference in Australia (which I think is on in October). I guess attending the conference will depend on what manuscripts I will have to offer at that point, what has happened with my work between now and then, and what use I can make out of such a visit. It might be good to do an Australian based pitch slam if they have one.

Catching up on writery news on Beattie's blog today I saw that Mallinson are being taken in under the Penguin umbrella. The children's publishing industry in NZ needs to buy even slimmer fitting trousers now. Like the ones in that doctored photo of the model with the impossibly tiny waist.

In other news, Noddy, like Winnie the Pooh, is attempting a comeback. Sigh. If booksellers are saving their christmas budgets for Dan Brown in the adult section, will they be setting their childrens allotment aside for Winnie and Noddy? And superstar merino Shrek will be mixing and mingling with Queenstown shoppers this weekend to launch his new book. He's a bit of a dag but he has a good angle and as his needs are simple his royalties go to charity. If he sells more books than I did at my last launch I may cry.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Brain wrecks!...

Ha ha - people go on a lot about silly folk whose lives are like train wrecks but this week I am suffering from brain wrecks. I visited the lovely town of Thames on wednesday, reading to children from Thames South School and their parents, grandparents, aunties and uncles in the morning, and then conducting a workshop with adults in the afternoon. Thank you to the kind and welcoming staff of the Thames Library, especially Rachael who made me feel like one of the gang. Gorgeous place.

Friday, I was co-visiting author and official co-library opener with Kyle Mewburn at Owairaka Primary School in Mt Albert. Again I was made to feel so welcomed and staff and children, who had dressed up as favourite characters in some pretty amazing costumes, were wonderful. And to chief organiser Angela, congratulations for organising such a wonderful event. But today I suffer from brain wrecks - the poor little old melon is sucked dry.

Here are some juicy snippets that caught my eye this morning....

1) From today's Weekend Herald - in a review of Cut and Run by Alix Bosco (a pseudonym), reviewer Paul Thomas says, Ego, as revealed by a greater interest in recognition than achievement, often fuels the drive to be a published writer... Wow, thats a bit snippy. There are about a million easier ways to feed one's ego; a million ways over which you have more control, with much better odds of succeeding. Sure, having a publisher say yes or seeing a book with your name on the front cover are ego boosters, but there are many more ego deflating moments than there are ego boosting ones. Your average writer spends most of their time surviving with the aid of something much less fragile. And suggesting recognition rules over achievement - grrr don't get me started...

2) From Graham Beattie's blog posted saturday 24th, Patricia Wood, author of adult novel Lottery, takes a different, and I think very wise view of the relationship authors could be building with booksellers. She suggests it is useful to go past the book signing/launch type deal and the 'do you stock my book and how many copies have you sold' kind of interation, and find ways to help booksellers get more buyers (of any kind) in the shop. If bookshops survive, more authors might survive too, and in the great karmic wheel of life, what goes around, comes around.

3) During my workshop on Wednesday several people asked about how you go about getting an illustrator for your picture book manuscript if you are not an artist. The short answer is, you don't. Check out the latest post at Editorial Anonymous where she discusses this very topic. If you have not submitted a picture book manuscript before I can see how you might believe it essential to have illustrations to accompany your text. I can even, at a pinch, understand how you might wonder that the publisher will see the illustrations as you would like them to be. But folks, this is why they are professionals. They are in the business of producing books that sell (although they aren't always successful at this but it is still their goal) and they know what picture books look like, how they work and 98% of the time they will see the pictures your words suggest. And they know lots of talented and skilled artists/illustrators who will do a fab job. I did not meet the illustrator for The Were-Nana until the book launch but she knew exactly what I was trying to say. So it is best to submit your manuscript by itself. You do not need to attempt your own pictures or find someone to do it for you. If they like your story the publisher will try and find the right illustrator for it.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Children are not afraid to be a little afraid...

So I'm still hanging out at the insane asylum of writing. T'is an addiction I cannot be cured of. I am a slave to its vagaries. What does it say about you when you know all the drawbacks and you still insist on queuing up for another round of craziness - if the strait jacket fits?

I checked out a lovely post on Libba Bray's blog t'other day. She waxed lyrical about the movie version of Where the Wild Things Are seen the night before. Her review makes me want to see it. I want to watch the snow fort scene. But one of the things she said flicked a lightbulb switch on in my brain. Some adults have worried my picture book The Were-Nana might be too scary for their children. Folks, Ms Bray has this to say about such things...

"Some folks on Twitter asked if the movie was too scary for a five-year-old/seven-year-old/fill in with age here. I loved Maurice Sendak’s response. Apparently, he said that if the adults were too scared, they could go and let the kids stay. LOL. But it’s true. I think kids are much less afraid of the darker, sadder aspects of life than we give them credit for. It’s the adults who can’t quite bear that sadness. It’s as if we, too, fall victim to magical thinking; we think we can protect kids from life’s inherent injustices and cruelties, from the knowledge that things fall apart, that our anger is powerful, and that, ultimately, underneath it all, we are alone in a big world in a vast universe. And we try to bridge that loneliness with our connection to other people, people who disappoint us as much as they love and complete us. Life is hard. Growing up is hard and it never stops. Thank heavens for art."

I wish I had been this eloquent on this subject in the past. And isn't it better too, to come across difficult topics in a book or movie where they can be discussed and understood and learnt from, rather than facing them, unprepared, in real life. Books can teach you all sorts of unexpected things that can help you overcome all sorts of troubling and difficult things in life. Don't fear books that deal with hard subjects. And children value these book experiences. Children love The Were-Nana. They are not afraid to be a little afraid.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Unassailable truths...

Unassailable truth # 1 - if I do not sell enough copies of this book I may not get the next one published. However what constitutes 'enough copies' varies widely from publisher to publisher. Sometimes they apply their sales counting formulae in intriguing ways. But publishing is a business. Book sales = good. This is why I do try to promote my books. (Horrible question that I don't want to contemplate - how many books have I sold through my promotional efforts to date?)

Unassailable truth # 2 - authors/illustrators do not agree on whether they should charge for appearances or not. What I can tell you is that the income from the sale of my books this year would almost pay for my coffee habit but nothing else. I would be whippet thin if I lived on my book income alone (or dead). My income from public appearances is 7 or 8 times that. Don't get too excited, I still couldn't cover my living expenses, even if they were significantly reduced from their current levels. And I cannot rely on invitations to speak, read etc... being regular or even continuing. Which makes my SO a patron of the arts. Suffice to say many authors/illustrators rely on a range of income sources to survive. I don't know that charging for visits /readings /appearances is the ideal model to support authors and illustrators. I wish there was more grant money available to assist full time creatives to pursue their art and not be faced with the sometimes difficult side of charging for visits. And more fellowships etc..which didn't involve travelling far from one's family (yay - go the Beatson Fellowship! Not only generous but understanding and forward thinking too). The way many fellowships etc..are structured means my role as mother precludes me from applying. Anyone who is not a mother/parent therefore has more fellowships, awards, grants etc they can apply for. This isn't a criticism of those with more freedom to apply for a wider range of things, but more a lament that such things are out of reach for me. Having my children goes a very long way to make up for that but all the benefits of such awards would sometimes be very handy and would look fab on the CV if i was a successful applicant (and of course hard times mean more competition for these things). And maybe a tax break for the arts patronage my SO is required to take on because he loves me would be good as well.

Unassailable truth # 3 - doing an exam at home is harder because there are a million more distractions and a greater sense of pressure to perform. Ack... Give me a 3 hour exam in an echoey community hall any day.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Excited about writing...

I got my last assignment back in the post along with the exam to be sat this saturday in the comfort of my own home with my study guides open. It will not (despite possibly appearing otherwise) be easy. I am sure they factor in that it is done at home with the books open and expect a little bit more accordingly. I am required to assess and analyse something previously unseen. And then on Sunday it will all be over. I love being a student but I am always glad when the exam is done. I can smell freedom already.

I have been tinkering away with a new, old manuscript in a happy way on my new toy. If things go well I could have another piece of junior fiction finished and submitted by the end of the month (35 to 40,000 words - yippee). The YA is currently on hiatus. Bahamas I think. Hope it packed sunscreen. It needed a break and it better come back rearing to go is all I can say. In breaking news apparently R Patts and Kristen have finally (FINALLY) come out as a couple. Quel surprise.

Next week as part of NZ Book month (got your book by a NZ author yet?) I am reading The Were-Nana at Thames Public Library (Wednesday 21st) in the morning and running a writing workshop in the afternoon. Then Friday 23rd I am at Owairaka Primary in Auckland for the opening of their new library, along with fab author Kyle Mewburn. They are devoting the day to a love of books - how cool is that!! In early November I am part of a days workshop for children's writers run by KiwiWrite4Kidz on the topic of Before and After Publishing. With most events over and the academic year wound up I will have some large chunks of writing time after this which is a dizzyingly exciting prospect. My eldest has NCEA exams and I will be doing what I can to help her but the rest of the days will be mine. Folks I feel about this like a five year old feels about Christmas.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Its not just about the lollies....

The house is empty of children (except for the pyscho kitten who seems to see ghosts - I think she fell down the chimney one too many times - well she would insist on going into the crawl space). The silence is divine but now that I have time I am squandering it shamelessly. I have things I want to write but I have been feeling a little steamrollered of late - like something out of a Warner Bros cartoon and I am the flat shape on the sidewalk. And I've just signed myself up to give an hour long talk to a group of paying adults which for some reason I am happy about. Maybe its because I now have a laptop that can run power point presentations. Typical 'person with a new toy' reaction. I could easily waste some time hunting out some appropriate comic strips to support my talk. Now I just have to decide on my topic. The theme for the day is "Before and After Publishing." I'm doing my best to think of things that won't frighten the punters away.

Have you bought a book by a New Zealand author yet this month? If you haven't, make sure its on the list. You have until Halloween. We are off to Geoff's Emporium this afternoon to check out some Halloween costume stuff. Halloween is fantastic. Sure the lollies rot your teeth and its a strange American Autumnal tradition that doesn't quite fit with our Spring vibe but that whole mystical idea of All Hallows Eve followed by All Saints Day on November 1st just gets my imagination going. The air always feels different on the 31st. As if it was filled with something more than just the chemical constituents of the stuff we breathe. I feel inspired already.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Normal transmission will resume...

The holidays have gone like an overexcited chihuahua. Here we are at the second friday and the kids have only just hit their holiday stride - poor things - back off to work they go on monday. Of course, you can guarantee that the sun will finally come out then too after playing hide and seek with some pretty aggressive rain clouds over the last fortnight.

Well the good news is I finished my final assignment, or more truthfully, I printed off what I had, put it in an envelope with sufficient postage and bunged it in the post box. Its not my best work but I ran out of time and the love just wasn't there anymore. It is what it is. I hope I pass. Just the exam to look forward to now.

I finally got to sit down (in the flesh) with the lovely and talented writers Tania Roxborogh, Michele Powles and Jeannie McLean round my dining table last wednesday afternoon. One of the benefits of blogging that I never anticipated was the opportunity to make friends with people round the country (and round the world). Tania lives in Dunedin but blogging has bridged the gap and when you do get to meet the people whose blogs you read all that awkward first meeting stuff isn't there. We had a fab afternoon supping some wine and chatting. This would be one of the benefits of sharing some space with other writers - a collective of sorts - to overcome the otherwise solitary nature of this business. My experience on wednesday and at spinning gold has shown me how much fun and how beneficial socialising with other writers can be. More please! BTW Tania launches her latest book Banquo's Son this saturday at 5pm at Takapuna Library. It looks like a ripping read. Go buy a copy, stat.

I have been interviewed by Little Miss Pink Hair and you can read it here!

And because I'm in a state of writing/writers confusion right now here is an interesting bit of advice related to the debate on whether you should market and promote your own work, pinched from here via Maureen Crisp's blog, which should be the cattle prod to your grey cells - just what you need when you're winding down on a friday.

I heard some excellent advice from Lisa Earle McLeod at the Foothills Writers Guild workshop last weekend, which she heard at the beginning of her career: Many talented writers will never be successful due to mediocre marketing skills. Many mediocre writers will be successful due to marketing talent.

This comes from a much bigger post here with a horde of publishing advice that is definitely worth checking out.

Have a good weekend folks...

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Thomas Horler won first prize with his book review...

I got sent this wonderful review of my book The Were-Nana. Thomas you made my day!! I would like Thomas Horler to be in charge of marketing and publicity for my books because his advice is solid - he would recommend this book to everyone in the world!

It is NZ Book Month during October. make sure you go out and buy a NZ book and let the bookseller know that this is what you are doing. Yeah!

Friday, October 2, 2009

The great divide

My new baby just arrived - the cutest little netbook with the sweetest smile (no its not wind) and we have bonded already. It is just adorable and I am very happy with it. Oh, that everything in my life was being as cute and adorable. I have one last assignment to do for my university course and I cannot wait for it to be completed and in the post, except that i actually have to do the work for it to be completed and in the post - argh! Life will be simpler when I have finished the assignment, done the exam and the university year is over. Still I have learnt a lot and its all good information. And best of all I have been forced to buy some gorgeous picture books for the course as text books. Today I picked up Chicken Thief by Beatrice Rodriguez (Gecko, 2009), which I needed to finish that last assignment. This book is annoyingly genius. It shows that you don't need a totally new or complex idea - sometimes the simplest twists are the freshest. This book deliciously subverts the fox stealing the chicken cliche in a most satisfying and poignant way and worst/best of all, does it all without words thereby making people like me feel horribly redundant. And I love it to bits and feel very pleased that I had an excuse to buy it. You should read it. I defy you to be unmoved.

I have been grumbling recently about the huge variety in quality of books that are getting published. I cannot help but look at some and think my story is better then that, why does it keep getting rejected. Of course I may just be delusional about my own stuff but when I stumbled across an old post of one of my current fave bloggers Nicola Morgan on the very topic of why the quality varies so much it made annoying but helpful sense. Whether I'm personally deluded or not, Nicola made some great points here. Two of Nicola's points stood out for me. 1) Publishers produce stuff they believe will sell. If it didn't sell they would stop producing it. Its that simple. 2) And one of Nicola's comments on why great stuff isn't getting published -although it's genuinely beautiful in many ways and you are a talented writer, you have not yet crafted a book which is good enough to be in the "great book" category but it is way too great to be read by readers of the crap category.

So for all of you great writers out there writing beautiful things - there is a ruddy great ditch that you have to claw your way out of to get to the far side that is publication. I think the recession made the ditch wider and a little deeper as well. Books like Chicken Thief and some of my other favourites like The Library Lion and The Lion in the Meadow and The Boy who Swapped his Father for Two Goldfish show me what to aim for. Jeepers, do I have some work to do.