Thursday, February 25, 2010

Googling yourself is like a box of chocolates...

Both The Rejectionist and Jet Reid have linked to this lovely blog post on Failure by Rebecca Brown at The Stranger Blog. Failure can be soul sucking, so its nice to view it through a different lense and be reminded that it is just a small part of the whole, that it can be essential to the process, and does not neccessarily mean you are doing the wrong thing. Ha ha - take that Failure. Failure is not, and should not be, the end point.

It is excellent fun googling myself. Sometimes it is as good as chocolate. And if you were Forrest Gump you might say googling is like a box of assorted ones. My last googling discovery was that the Singapore Public Library system had purchased my novel Jack the Viking which tickled me pink. This time I have discovered that my book The Were-Nana is on the 2010 picture book list for The Sakura Medal voted for by readers from international schools across Japan. That my books are being read in other countries is a thrill.

Went to see Shutter Island with my older daughter on Wednesday evening. Based on a Dennis Lehane novel, this psychological thriller made for an interesting watch and one where concentration was required to take in and make sense of all the evidence and clues provided. I felt a little cheated/manipulated as the twist unravelled at the end, although post movie thought processing has made me feel a little more charitable. It really probably needs at least a second viewing to pull it all together although lines are conveniently blurred in places to fudge some of the story line. All that aside the final line of dialogue of the movie is a stunner which made up for any failures and easily justified the ticket price. This reminds me of the final scene in A History of Violence. The physical violence of the movie is a stomach churning difficult watch but is pretty much essential to the story. Yet, although I saw that movie months ago, that final scene has stayed with me and gives that story an emotional intelligence that raises it above the average dramatic action movie. I want to write stories that have the same effect (without the violence though). That make the ending a surprise you didn't see coming but make you think 'of course'. That stay with you after you close the back cover, that leave you feeling satisfied while making you wish you could see what happens next. Now producing something like that would be a thrill.

Have a good weekend folks

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

A big tick, a smiley face stamp and a jellybean...

My side of the family has a history of heart and blood pressure related health issues so after experiencing some dizziness over the last three or four weeks, today I took myself off to my doctor to get my blood pressure checked. I got a big tick, a smiley face stamp and a jellybean and I can now report blood pressure isn't an issue for me right now. The dizziness is just me (yes I know you already knew this) but its nice to have a health professional confirm it. Heh. She told me to try breathing with my diaphragm but I'm incredibly shallow and this makes me look fat so as long as its not life threatening I think I'll stick with the dizziness.

My recent attempt at a new picture book has come a little unstuck as I realise it is a picture book in the body of a short story (with a slightly Frankenstein's Monster quality about it) - rats! I like the story; it has some darkness, some charm and some originality about it - some of my favourite qualities - but it unfortunately lacks some other qualities essential to a successful picture book, especially in these financially difficult (ie best to write something commercially viable) times. It is at the older end of the picture book age range (always a hard sell here I think), and I don't know that it manages to conjure up a sufficient number of different images to satisfy the requirements of the picture book format. The story itself is resisting pagination. Easy, I hear you say - make it a short story instead. Sadly I don't think it has short story chops. As is so often the case with my stories, it is a fantasy-reality hybrid which makes it less saleable in an educational short story market, and the trade short story market is tiny and usually theme driven. I guess I have two options. Either 1) euthanasia, or 2) put it away and see what happens. A story has to be pretty bad for me to put it out of its misery and this is definitely not one of those. With option 2, I have learnt over time that a number of things can happen while a story is in hibernation. Sometimes the market place changes or hitherto unknown or impossible opportunities present themselves. I am learning and developing as a writer all the time and sometimes either experience or events will provide a writing solution to my story problem. For example, my last completed picture book story (started february 2006, completed march 2009) required years (although I wasn't thinking about it that entire time) for me to figure out an appropriate workable plot line. If nothing else, experience has taught me never to throw anything with potential away. So this story is going for a little lie down in my filing cabinet while I wait to see what fate and the passing of time has in store for it :)

Today's juicy link is this fab little guest spot by writer Varian Johnson on 'Battling Time Suck' over at Justine Larbalestier's blog. Good stuff.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Existing in a state of hesitation...

After dubbing young Johnny Weir 'fallen angel' the other day on my blog I was somewhat surprised to see him skate to Fallen Angel for his free programme yesterday at the Winter Olympics. I didn't know, really, I didn't. I must have ESP...or spooky coincidence syndrome. I know very little about him having read no press and seen only a small item on the news t'other night, but based my naming in my post on this and on his magnetic and mischievous presence and performance in the short programme. More than ever I want to base a character on him...

Found an interesting post at Nicola Morgan's blog today on the question of how risk averse publishers are right now. Love the comparisons she makes with the publishing world of the 60's and also enjoyed her link to the Kidlit blog where they also talk on this topic. I don't know how much Kidlits comments can be applied here in our small but perfectly formed country. Things are certainly leaner and tighter and a shade more conservative. With Google, and technological developments and even the way we communicate in a state of constant transformation the playing field seems to be adjusting itself daily and everyone seems to be existing in a state of hesitation. Is this a pause before a complete transformation or just the state we must now work in?

For a spot of extremely cute light relief go check out the fab hamster in the sidebar at Old Kitty's blog. Now I don't need anymore fun things to distract me from tasks at hand - and I am emminently distractable - but there are also good posts to read, useful links and like following Alice's white rabbit, even more blogs to go check out.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Satyr, imp, fallen angel, bad boy?

New guilty indulgence - watching Johnny Weir at the Winter Olympics. Satyr, imp, fallen angel, bad boy? Definitely. He's just itching to be written into a story. Just not sure how it ends.

Other new indulgence, although I don't feel at all guilty about this one - watching old favourite movies (Say Anything, The Breakfast Club) with my younger daughter. She loves them as much as I do and its been fun to share them with her.

Current challenge - writing a talk on 'writing' with a prescribed topic. The brain cells need a bit of a boot up the backside but I am relishing the task. I never used to think about 'how', I just used to 'do'. But author talks and school workshops have forced me to undo the engine and check out the mechanics. When I do school workshops its usually 60 to 90 minutes plus, which enables a more in-depth approach. Last challenge I had like this I came up with something on understanding characterisation I wish I could patent, I liked it so much. I'm excited to see if i can do the same again this time.

My university study guides are huddled in a corner whispering about how I haven't given them any attention yet. I've been thinking about needing to get on to it, which of course is the first step in any course of study. My WIP edit is going slooooowwwww, and I am stuck on two picture books which are not behaving. For one, the plot is jumping round like a flea. I need a sturdier shoe horn to fit both of them into something a little more conventional. Esoteric is not what publishers are after right now - rats. One of the pb's even has an inanimate object as the main character, with no dialogue. This illustrates (but not in a picture book sense) my style of writing which is to be a slave to the idea/inspiration until I've taken it as far as it can go. The difficulty here is that this is not the style of choice during a recession. Still its the style with which I produce the best results so I shall box on. If I can pull these two pbs off I'll let you know more about them.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

The 'other' writer's block...

I have previously (and still continue) to dismiss Writer's Block. I reckon it is one of those problems for writers that only works if you buy into it. For me, my writing productivity goes up and down like an out of control yo-yo but I always accept that there will be unproductive days when the writing doesn't want to come and I just need some time and space and maybe a little brain holiday to get things rolling again. If I say I am blocked, I become blocked. If I accept instead that I am in a writing trough, I look for things to do that feed my creativity or educate my writing brain (reading books, going to movies, catching up with friends, etc...) and take comfort in the fact that peaks follow valleys - yahoo. I do like a good peak.

But there are other kinds of writers block. There is the kind when you have dug yourself a hole (with very slippery sides) of impatience and obsession over replies from agents and/or publishers (or any other kind of industry professional) and cannot write until you have 'heard back', also known as 'I will write again just as soon as I've checked/refreshed my e-mail/post box'. There is the kind of block you can get when several bad results put the 'fear of failure' wind in your sails. We deliberately put the breaks on our creativity to wait for or protect ourselves from the opinions and decisions of others. These kinds of blocks are the ones we put up ourselves as a result of things that are outside our control. What a waste of time!!! If you cannot control it, it is best to avoid being a slave to it. Of course this is easier said than done. I myself have often been a slave to the postie's arrival and have recently blogged on a little self sabotage I was indulging in. Like alcoholism, the first step is to recognize and acknowledge what you are doing. The second step is to break the cycle. This can take a bit of time and retraining if large parts of your brain have been devoted to obsessing and sabotaging and dwelling etc... One method is to pick a new focus for the day, the week, the month (or however long you may need to retrain yourself). Go do some research on something you have always wondered about/found fascinating (my daughter is studying the Russian revolution for level 2 history this year - she says 'meh', I say Rasputin, haemophiliac son, did Anastasia survive, winter palace, Nicholas and Alexandra, Dr Zhivago). Go indulge yourself - long walks, new haircut, pedicures, read trashy novels till your eyes hurt. Make holiday plans (even fake ones), make a bucket list or learn a new skill. I even say 'put the writing away.' In fact this is the best plan of all. Put the writing away until your hands positively itch with the desire to write - and then wait another day or two. And while you are waiting read some of your own favourite writing; your own stories that you like the best.

Are you re-freshed and refocused now? Did you remind yourself why you continue to submit yourself to this crazy business? You have no control over the opinions and decisions of others - forget about them, measure your successes by your own standards and move yourself forward. Moving yourself forward is the best way to influence the outcome.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

The world is not all sweetness and light...

I found this handy list of 20 Attributes that make a Good Children's Book over at Tall Tales and Short Stories today. Not all bestselling children's books can tick everything off this list but it is great advice if you are taking on the heady task of being a children's writer. This is the list you pull out when some non-believer says writing for children must be easy. And it is given an extra degree of difficulty by the fact that you can't just please the child reader, you also usually have to please the adult buyer and reader as well. I have been toying with a new picture book idea recently and wonder if it is too dark. My last published picture book The Were-Nana was dark in places and although it got a big thumbs up from its younger audience, it was harder to win over the adults. I am heartened by the likes of Neil Gaiman whose book Coraline was very dark indeed but has gone on to great success. Of course I do not have Mr Gaiman's name or fame. What to do? I do not wish to give children nightmares but I also do not wish to paint the world all sweetness and light when it is not all sweetness and light. And I like the idea of empowering children by demonstrating solutions to dark problems. Like the list above suggests - it is all a balancing act to produce a well risen, evenly cooked result that appeals to a wide range of tastes. I'm off to bake a story... after all, it starts off normally enough...

Reggie wanted a pet.
"Mum. It's come to my attention that there is a space in our family where a pet should be."
"I think we should fill that space," Reggie persisted.
"Well, we've got Frankie."
"It's not the same Mum. He's just a little brother. That's all he'll ever be. He won't even play fetch."

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Leapin' lizards...

I have a solution to my self-sabotage but I'm still undecided whether I'm going to sabotage the solution. Besides resisting finishing the WIP to avoid the attendant frustrations of trying to get it published, there is also the undeniable fact that finishing it will require some effort on my part. However I believe the key to overcoming the self-sabotage is to take advantage of a friend's kind invitation to participate in an authors collective. This involves hanging out with a bunch of other authors at a neutral (for me) location with no house work or other distractions. If I use my laptop I won't be writing blog posts, facebook entries or checking my e-mails a thousand times a minute because its a hassle to do on the lappy. I'll have other authors standing over me expecting me to do some work. This could get results and I'm hoping to give it a go this week. I'll let you know whether its a success or not...

I received my first posting for my university paper today. Anything over an inch fat is a little scary. This package is in the two inch zone. Leapin' lizards! I know I do this to myself and it is completely voluntary and on some level I love doing it (and this year its studing children's lit looking at story and meaning in myths, legends and folktales which rocks) but there is also an element of masochism. But hey - I can look on the bright side - its another distraction :)

My juicy link for today is over at one of my fave blogs - Help I need a Publisher . Today Ms Morgan has herself linked to another post on querying, but rather than giving advice on how to write a query itself (something we haven't really yet needed to do in NZ) the discussion is on what you should be querying and it makes some very good points which Ms Morgan goes on to further expand on. These are good things to know, especially if you are as yet unpublished. I don't think all the advice should be applied wholesale to all writers, but the underlying message about 'how' you choose what to send in and that 'holding back' is most often the right move makes sense. Put yourself in the agents/publishers shoes - piquing their interest is better than overwhelming them with a deluge of material. And always put your best foot forward...

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Harder than getting blood out of a stone....

Reading 'Neverwhere'. Sigh. V. good book. Double sigh. Cannot now look at own stories. Might be useful as toilet paper...

Actually I've come to the realisation (accidentally engaged brain last night and fell over startling insight - note to self, engage brain more often) that I've been indulging in some self sabotage. If I don't finish edit of recently completed WIP first draft, then no one can reject it (you were right Fifi, I just didn't know it was happening in my own home). Clever huh? I know what needs to be done, and with children back at school, time is now available. Easy peasy. Just fix up story and send away. Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha (insert hysterical tone here as tone can be hard to demonstrate with repitition of a two letter onomatopeic word). Anyway I am now looking for antidote to self sabotage. Any and all suggestions are welcome. I can confirm reading 'Neverwhere' is not the cure (damn you Mr G.). Girding up one's loins and just getting on with it is not happening. It is never a good sign when I start a new story before an old one is done. And the new one is so much fun and cool and I am in love with it and it was inspired by a previous blog post title. I've googled the title and its free to a good home - even better. And in that first phase of a new WIP, writing just gushes from my fingertips, instead of requiring brute force to get blood from stone.

I am off to make home-made crumpets for lunch...yum...

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

A different path to publication...

This house (taupe thing with dark green roof at about 10-11 o'clock on the picture above) is my house. We are five minutes walk from Mt Eden, part of which appears in the photo in my last post. If you come and visit you'll find a very pretty part of Auckland. And now you know which house I live in there are no excuses (unless you're a stalker - thats different - the rest of you are welcome). Today I read an interesting post called 'The Five Rules of Getting a Book Deal' here. Its good solid advice although there is nothing new or surprising in it. But I am currently contemplating eschewing conventional methods for getting published and am seriously considering trying something new. I think what I need is a miracle so I am going to be hoping for one of those. Its not a big ask really - just one small little miracle, maybe two. Thats my new plan. I believe this may be a more realistic and reliable path to publication then the current methods. I will let you know how it goes.

Came across this handy run down on ten commonly misspelt words at The Oatmeal via BookendsLLC which had some great tips on remembering which to use when for those pesky words like lose and loose, than and then etc...

On a completely different note, also checked out Terry Pratchett's lecture on Assisted Death over at Welshcake's Blog. Incredibly sad, moving and well argued.