Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Weight training for my writing muscle...

I bang on regularly about how writers should read. A good book is one of the best teaching tools. I have been reading a lot lately and I have discovered it has been like weight training for my writing muscle (hope that doesn't provoke any ghastly mental images folks) - from just the sheer weight of word consumption I think my writing has really benefited. And rather than taking me away from writing I feel way more inspired and motivated. I am reading even more and writing more as well. In a few weeks I am conducting a workshop on writing for children and I was asked to talk a bit about my own writing history. My first breakthrough (in 2002 or 2003 I think) was selling a short story to educational publishers, Learning Media. I wrote this short story, about a summer holiday from my childhood (nothing groundbreaking), during a Writing for Children paper I did for my BA at Massey University. One of our assignments had required analysis of excerpts from several texts (The BFG, Harry Potter and the Philosophers Stone) and I remember somehow the penny dropped. I can't put my finger on what exactly changed but my writing took a leap. Perhaps it was getting the concept of tone, or subconsciously seeing how everything had to be relevant to the tone, the voice, the plot of the story as I worked through the text. Description is pointless if it doesn't support one or more of those things. Especially for an audience of children. That first short story I sold was almost all tone underpinned by the central child character's voice. I love that that character is never named. Its not important to the story. Any reader will become that character and submerge themselves in that tone and share that experience. The story has a strong sense of who it is. I wish now I could remember the exercise I did so I could encourage others to do the same. Would it have the same impact on them that it had on me? I don't read every book with that same level of analysis, and there is a lot about writing I am still to learn but reading is definitely part of the education.

If you are not too squeamish (this is definitely not for the faint of heart) or have a slightly sick sense of humour, as I do, here is a juicy link from the Rejectionist. This made me laugh out loud! Its a worry.

Now go read a book. (I'm reading Skulduggery Pleasant - ripping yarn but I have a bone to pick with Derek Landy - ha ha)

Sunday, March 28, 2010

It didn't need a rest so I sent it out into the world...

Just finished reading 'The Complaints' and no this is not a book/article about (insert your industry here). Its a very smart, well written, police procedural by Ian Rankin. I enjoyed it. One perk of feeling rotten is having the excuse to put my feet up and read way more pages than I might normally manage. Downside is I don't feel like writing anything of my own and I have a university deadline looming for assignment one. Ack... I guess I also don't feel particularly creative because I've just finished a junior novel and my brain always goes on holiday after writing The End.

Now I made sweeping statements the other day in several forums about not letting my MS rest before sending it off to a publisher and I thought I'd better qualify that before folk get the wrong idea. I think letting your MS rest on completion of the first draft can be incredibly useful. This particular MS is an old one I have been reworking. It has rested for several years before I cast my eyes back over it. Letting it rest again would have been overkill. Sure it has undergone a lot of change but the fundamental story is the same so it did not need any more ripening. Also, my general style of working is to redraft and redraft as I go, so reaching the end for the first time is not the same as it would be for someone who goes hell for leather start to finish. Redrafting as I go means by the time I reach the end of my story I might have already been over it 15 times plus. My first draft therefore is not the same as some other writer's first draft. The months it takes me to write through to the end, have elements of letting the story lie within them. That first draft can take longer but then I don't have that mandatory 'sitting' period at the end. Do what works best for you. I am also congenitaly impatient and a three month wait at the end would do my head in. I'm crazy enough without exacerbating the problem...

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Short and sweet....

Feeling unwell today so will be short and sweet and then I'm off to rest on the sofa with a hottie and some bad daytime tv. I finished editing my WIP, then went over it again and reached that magic point where I felt I never ever wanted to look at it again (don't worry, its a normal part of the process for me), so I e-mailed it to a publisher today. (yay, yay, yay) Have also spent some time today going over the publisher's edit of one of my short stories to be published later this year. I must say a short story edit is a joy - just the right length, no chance to get too confused and done in minutes. And there is an illustration to go with it. Sweet! Did a short talk yesterday (along with 3 other writers) to school principals, teachers and librarians and although I'd been having trouble deciding what i should say despite a fair amount of brain application, and stressing yesterday as I wrote my speech notes I felt happy with the final result. Its very reassuring when someone in the audience nods at a nod appropriate time, or nods and then hurriedly scribbles down some notes. I think in amongst it all I said some useful things as I 'exploded some fiction myths' and provided some 'tips for creative writing in the classroom'. I'm off to tend to my unwellness and await the homecoming of my faithful and diligent slaves (yes i do mock) also-known-as my children.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Thats what friends are for...

One of the problems of being a writer is that in my isolation I can drive round the same problem in circles for hours (days, months...) without finding a solution or a way forward. This is why you should not shut yourself away. Yesterday I walked the dog and had a coffee with a writer friend (thanks Elena!!) and as I explained to her the difficulties inherent in a particular plot element of a WIP of mine, I had a lightbulb moment. I had been handling this plot element all wrong. I had spent time taking this plot element out of the manuscript. I then decided its absence showed and started putting it back in...and thats when it all became too hard. I was avoiding work on this story because it was such an effort to make progress. In describing it to someone else I realised that it wasn't the plot element that was necessary, but the change that that plot element was responsible for. There could be other solutions to support the changes in this character. That plot element was like a whole other plot in itself and forcing it back in was inexorably forcing the story in a direction I didn't want it to go. Maybe one day this plot element will become a story of its own but I couldn't let it be a parasite/succubus on my little mid-grade mystery/thriller. Of course its not just the importance of talking writing with other writers here - its also about trusting your intuition. The fix I was working on was soooo hard this should have been a big red flag. It was so hard because it was WRONG. The relief when I realised all this was immense. Having been stuck at about a third of the way through editing this after 3 months of trying, I am now two thirds of the way through after one day. I can't wait to have this baby finished so I can e-mail it off and get stuck in to some other juicy things I have lined up.

Love the post over at Fifi Colston's blog today. Should we tell the whole truth and nothing but in our blogs? I try keeping it as real as possible and i'm sure many of you out there are experts at reading between the lines sometimes but ultimately my right brain usually asserts itself and does a little cost benefit analysis for me before (or sometimes soon after) I publish a post - (or a friend e-mails me and says 'you can't say that'). Sometimes I want to say more - sometimes I think silence can speak volumes. What do you think...

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Sprained eyeballs...

I'm sleeping badly. Yesterday my eyeballs felt like they'd stepped off the kerb and twisted themselves. Sprained eyeballs - weird - but thats how it felt. They're a little better today. I only missed an hours sleep last night while I surreptitiously (excellent word btw) co-ordinated eldest daughters return from party between 1am and 2am via text message on mobile set on vibrate so as not to disturb SO who had an early start this morning to take son off to all day soccer tournament. Daughter taxied in the end and I didn't have to do a late night run - whew.

I got an immense thrill out of a post (see below) from Beattie's Blog the other day...

check this out

(Graham was tipped off to this clip by Mary Varnham of Awa Press. The bookshop featured is Maria's Bookshop in Colorado.)

Booker Prize winning The Bone People by Keri Hulme was first published in 1984. Its one of the best sellers in Maria's Bookshop and one of their favourite books in 2010. One of the things they like best about the book is its lyrical quality. This is cool book news of the first order!!

I am trying to order, sort and catalogue my writing brain for some upcoming talks. If only all parts of my brain would come to an agreement on my take on writing and publishing. My style and approach is continually evolving. And even when I have my own rules I know these are just for me and other people use their own variations to great effect. For example, a fab auckland writer I know aims for a high content of show over tell with brilliant results. I like to go for a more even mix and then read bestseller books that don't even seem conscious of what 'show not tell' means. But it can all work. A good piece of writing is the sum of all its parts. And even then you must still add the reader to the mix to get the final result. I used to be more fly-by-the-seat-of-my-pants (still true of short stories and picture books) but I'm becoming more pre-planned and organised about my novels.

I have a YA bodice ripper novel lurking in the background which I would one day like to finish. (This has been the writing affair I have been having recently while my two main projects have been waiting patiently for me to come back and finish them off). In this bodice ripper I have two love interests and a major plot development/twist involving both and I cannot decide how to let it play out. In this case planning probably won't help me. I have to write the story to find out who the sweet and wise female lead Plum will end up with. And thats only about 40 or 50 thousand words away. Argh....In which case the one true golden rule to be a writer is, you must actually 'write'.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010


The SO is off crutches (we have them on stand by just in case), he's had an MRI and we are waiting for confirmation that he has indeed turned the inside of that joint in to knee soup. Surgery is most likely - he's my very own six million dollar man (except much better looking but unable to leap tall buildings or run faster than a freight train - he could probably beat a fully laden burro if he had a tail wind). He's back to driving which is a bit of a relief as I found the roads very trying today. Wanted to ram a few cars but luckily managed to resist. Whew.

Did a couple hours writing on an old, new thing. About 12,000 words in. Am back to avoiding completed first draft of WIP which has hard to solve issues. Wondered today if solutions are not possible. Didn't like this train of thought and am hoping it will pass. Was greatly cheered by this link found today at The Rejectionist. Sometimes the simplest things have the greatest affect. I laughed out loud...

Monday, March 15, 2010

The couch makers win...

Life is what happens when you're making other plans - personally I blame John Lennon. So my uber-fit SO has gone and damaged himself playing soccer (ruptured ACL most likely) leaving me as sole taxi-driver for the foreseeable future. I do not like driving (just a touch phobic really) and avoid it wherever possible. And his excuse is better than any excuse I can come up with to get out of all the chores that need doing. Yesterday we went to hire some crutches, today we are off to the sports medicine specialists over in the hinterlands, and I'm not sure what is on the agenda for tomorrow. Poor thing - it is a cruel twist of fate that sporty people, who by their very nature find it difficult to put their feet up and do nothing, are often forced through injury to put their feet up and do nothing. Couch potatoes on the other hand, who are not really using their limbs, don't get injured at all. I guess the couch manufacturers are happy either way.

I was surprised (and gratified) to hear that my picture book The Were-Nana had recently topped the library list at Owairaka Primary, a school I visited at with Kyle Mewburn last year. And I have been invited to Greenhithe School for an author visit next month as my book is popular there also. I hadn't expected this second wave of interest and activity so long after publication but I am delighted it is happening and very excited and happy to go and meet the children who have been reading it.

The Bologna Childrens Book Fair is on soon and as a member of the NZ chapter of SCBWI my books will get a bit of an airing over there. Thanks to Frances Plumpton, regional SCBWI organiser and one of the few children's author agents in NZ who is taking over a heavy suitcase so she can tout local members books. I made up a little brochure about myself to accompany my books and I'm hoping that at least one gets taken away. Someone once said that taking an author to a book fair is like taking a cow to an abattoir but I have heard rave reports from attending authors and if I could ever get myself there I would love to go, just to see the books, the hopeful artists gallery, feel the atmosphere and try and understand the process. I guess if you are a hot property it is easy to feel the love. If no one knows who you are I guess it might be depressing and disappointing, so the best strategy might be anonymity. I'd be happy to be an anonymous author in a small but perfectly formed italian town on a book jag.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Karma loves me today...

Don't look! (you looked didn't you) - I'm about to eat a meat pie. I don't have them very often. I am not going to think about the calories or the fat content. I KNOW on my deathbed I am not going to be saying 'I wish I ate one less meat pie'. Sometimes a little of what you fancy does you good. Excuse me while a take a bite. Mmm, mmm, mmm. The best pies (that I have ever tasted IMHO - I don't what to get into an argument about something as sensitive as the issue of who makes the best meat pies) are from The Fridge in Kingsland but the one I'm having now (Mackenzie High Country Roast Chicken Pie) is a close second - even better than home made and I make a pretty mean meat pie.

If you are a regular reader you will know I am interested in the phenomenon of coincidence. Most of the time I can tell myself that coincidence is random but today's coincidence has freaked me out a little. Folks, I have a new writing project. I am particularly excited about this one and a publisher has more than a passing interest in it. I need to do some research before I begin and I already know what info I need to be reading around to enable me to get started. I called my brother this morning and before I said anything out of the blue he mentioned one of my key sources. Okay there are reasons he said this so its only a semi coincidence (although I had like two minutes before been discussing it with someone else on a different phone call - cue twilight zone theme tune), but then I said I needed to ask him some questions because this particular era in history is a hobby of his. "Oh," he said. "I just got this book and it has THIS and THIS in it," and folks I honestly felt that spooky old chill down my spine because this is EXACTLY what I needed and I had been scratching my head a little about where to get started to find this info. I cannot help feeling that karma would really like me to write this book and the way I am feeling about it I am very VERY happy to oblige. One day I am also going to write a story about karma and coincidence. Probably when I figure out what the universe is really trying to tell me :)

And after posting last time about the perseverence of Stephen Parrish, and asking the question 'what kept him going', it was excellent to get a response from the man himself (yay, I love the global community that is blogging!). Yes folks you need writing skills and imagination and sticktoitiveness, but without a doubt you cannot survive in this business without believing in what you write. If you don't, how can you expect anyone else to. And the beauty of 'belief' is that it is independent of the genre you write in, the age you write for and the literary/commercial qualities of your work. If you don't believe, maybe its not the right project. When it is, you will know, and it will show. Have an excellent weekend!!!

Monday, March 8, 2010

A bad fairy breathed on my story...

Rats - I have written another picture book that doesn't quite hit the mark. Love the idea but when all is said and done and written up, even though the story hangs together like a proper one and I can see the illustrations and the page breaks and it has a good resolution and a cute last line it is less than the sum of its parts. Now I am not going to get upset and bent out of shape over this because of two things. 1) I'm actually rather pleased with myself and see this as progress that I know it has issues. I know both practically and intuitively that it can't go to a publisher and I know why. Now this does not mean I can fix it and then post it off. One of its issues is that it has the wrong sort of magic. All good stories have a certain magic that breaths picture book life into them. I think I got the magic breath of life for this story from the bad fairy in Sleeping Beauty. Suffice it to say i think this story is probably unfixable. And 2) I think I am building up to something better. I have now written several slightly-not-right picture books in the last few weeks and I feel like I am on a bit of a forward roll, still gathering momentum and sharpening the brain up with every effort. I feel strangely excited about what might be coming next.

Read a comment the other day from a much published local who said don't mention multiple/simultaneous submissions in a covering letter as it discourages publishers from reading your work. Just let them know if you get another offer after the fact. I blogged a while back on multiple submissions. I was in favour, as I'm not getting any younger and publishers can take a very long time to respond. Most overseas advice on this topic urges full disclosure and I was sticking with this but now I'm not so sure. I don't know if any publishers read this blog but if you do I would love to know how you feel about multiple submissions and the disclosure thereof. Anonymous comments welcome.

Loved this post at Janet Reid's blog the other day. It is truly inspirational if you are a writer. What I want to know is how the author knew to keep perservering with this novel rather than throwing his hands up in the air and moving on to something new.

Friday, March 5, 2010

She liked my story...

My sympathies to the family and friends of Jo Noble who passed away a few days ago. A committed and hard working member of Storylines and a significant part of the Children's literature scene in New Zealand for many years, Ms Noble made a great and landscape-changing contribution during her lifetime. Most writers know how even the smallest positive comments and praise can make a huge difference to their careers. There can be long periods of time when no praise is heard at all. Any such comments received are closely guarded and cherished in case of future drought. Jo Noble was one of the first people to give me a positive comment about one of the first manuscripts I ever sent out into the world. A judge on the 2001 Tom Fitzgibbon Award panel when I chanced my luck and entered, she took time out, even though I hadn't even been shortlisted, to give me some feedback and encouragement. She liked my story. She thought it might be publishable. She likened me to a few starry writers. She suggested some improvements. Maybe I should keep trying, I thought. Thank you Jo. I will be forever grateful. Rest in peace.

I have been feeling up and down about this writing business for the last few months (yes i'm sure you can probably tell from my witterings) and the frustrating thing is whenever I am ready to tear my hair out and move on to something far less stressful and distressing (like maybe being a spy or a brain surgeon) I get a story idea. I wish the universe would stop messing with my head. Mooching round some blogs I came across this incredible little youtube clip which cheered me up and slapped me round the chops a bit. I want to grow up to be like this person - Victoria Schwab. She is amazing and has her head screwed on just right. Whenever i am feeling the writers blues this will be my medicine. Thanks to writer Dawn Metcalf and her Officially Twisted blog from whence this comes - in fact as I haven't yet figured out how to upload the clip (technological noob that i am) you will have to go see it here or here. But I THOROUGHLY recommend it. You will be glad you did.

And to honour Jo Noble and my first praised manuscript (still in my bottom drawer but definitely not forgotten or given up on) I'll keep soldiering on.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Big congratulations! Envy reigns...

A big congratulations to all the finalists in this years NZ Post Children's Book Awards - list will be available on Booksellers NZ website soon here or can be seen here at Beattie's Blog Well done. Happy touring! Happy anticipation! Best of luck to you all. I am very excited to see some friends in the lists - I can still enjoy the experience vicariously :) Envy Reigns (actually thats a good character name don't ya think) - I am horribly jealous of you all and forever trying to worm my way on to a future list by writing something good.

Having known the highs (childrens choice last year - SQUEEEEEEEE) and the lows (missing the cut with my two other books) lots of hugs to those on the list and those not on the list. I share the joy and the disappointment.

And because we all know we spend too much time sniffing the (intramawebby) ether and not enought time creating our potentially award winning masterpieces here is a link to the latest brilliant post of the very smart and funny Rejectionist

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Yes ladies and gentlemen I can keep a secret...

I was very proud of myself yesterday. I actually did some editing on my WIP and some university study. So proud of myself that of course I am giving myself the day off today :)

Tomorrow the finalists for this years NZ Post Children's Book Awards are announced. This year they went back to the previous format of advising the finalists a few days before the list is made public. Last year the format was a subtle and ingenious form of torture whereby finalists were advised around six weeks before the public announcement but sworn to CIA-like secrecy. My picture book The Were-Nana was a finalist and I couldn't even tell my SO. It was really HARD as I was busting to share my GOOD NEWS the entire time but I felt very proud of myself that I said nothing. Yes ladies and gentlemen I can keep a secret (but get me to sign a form first). So this time last year everything was very bubbly and exciting. This year I am not on the list as I had no books published in the preceding year. Award finalist lists are powerful things (check out Fifi Colston's blog post on the topic here). Being a finalist makes a difference, and winning adds a whole other dimension of different on top. But its important to note that the difference it makes is different for different finalists and winners. It can affect book sales, author profile, author recognition, publisher interest, international interest and probably a few other things besides but it affects each of these things in different ways for different people. It is also important to note that there are plenty of really good books published that didn't make the list - lists by their very nature are limited to a certain number of titles and tastes and opinions will always vary. This is not a criticism of the awards so much as a request that folk don't dismiss the non-finalists. This year, from a distance, the awards (both last years and this years) are still having a profound affect on me, both good and bad. Those award lists can mess with your head, whether you are inside amongst it all or on the outside looking in.

PS - Now this is not to say that I think the awards are a bad idea. I was very proud and honoured to be shortlisted and a winner last year. The NZ Post awards are huge with lots of positive repercussions. They are an essential part of the writing/publishing industry and to make the list again one day is one of my goals. But this means I also have to have strategies for what happens when I don't make the cut. Not making the list has repercussions as well, and the more invested I become in this business the more it matters to me.