Sunday, May 30, 2010

Who was driving and where were they headed?...

From today's TV3 news headlines e-mailout "Police Find 14 Sheep Crammed Into a Car" - as a writer for children I love this kind of headline. Of course, as an animal lover, my first thought was for the welfare of the poor creatures, but the second thought following swiftly after the first was, which sheep was driving, and where were they headed? A bar perhaps...? Okay maybe not a bar if its a story for children but this is a headline ripe with possibilities. Trouble with me lately is that story ideas are popping out like, well, popping corn. I've had three new novel ideas in the last week (one the result of deciding I rather liked the word Runny as a character's name). And like me, my ideas are annoyingly impatient. I have two other must-do projects on my plate at the moment and these ideas keep bouncing excitedly into my mind's eye. I love new ideas, I just wish they had better timing. I am at the hard part for both projects which renders me especially distractable. And being generally undisciplined just adds a degree of difficulty. I need to be locked in a cell, or become a hermit or take Holy Orders.....

And no matter how pressing my deadlines are, as expectations continue to be inversely proportional to reality I have been desperately craving distraction in the form of good-dumb-fun movies. I've recently seen Iron Man 2 and Prince of Persia and while neither are optimal examples of their genre or form I have thoroughly enjoyed them none-the-less. They are pure escapism with my favourite kind of leading guy (buff, handsome, witty and smart and not Tom Cruise) and those hours in the cinema have been most fortifying.

And now, courtesy of the miracles of modern technology, this week you can find me in several locations at once. I shall be, as always faithful friends, burbling on here at my very own blog while simultaneously guest blogging over at UK blog Tall Tales and Short Stories.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Book Launch Etiquette - part deux - how to behave at one...

So I promised a part two on Book launch Etiquette - how to behave when you are a guest at a book launch. As with being the feature author of your very own book launch, the key is, be professional. As a guest, its all about someone else and their book and the promotion and sale thereof. So they won't be handing out their publishers/agents/editors details to you. They don't have time to read and comment on your manuscript - do not even put it in your handbag/briefcase to bring with you. And they won't have time to tell you how to get your book published. A book launch is the very public birth of something the author has laboured over (like a pregnant elephant) for months, maybe even years. They want it be born alive and grow up to be hugely successful like any proud parent would. Whilst birthing their own they cannot spare a moment to help you get pregnant with your very own book/baby. And if you already have a number of prodigious book children of your own they should be left at home.

If you can afford to, buy the book. If the queue is long and you are close friends with the author get them to sign it another time. If you do queue, don't chat for hours with the author unless the queue is short or non-existant in which case you should go round several times, talk until more people line up and check if the author needs some fortification or refreshments. Relax and watch how its all done so you'll have some ideas when its your turn. I think its ok to chat with the venue hosts about holding your own launch there if you are planning one and you like the set up. Its okay to meet the author's publisher/agent/editor but not ok to give them your manuscript. Let them set the tone of the conversation. Of course if they say 'so tell me about your book' or 'would you like to come in and discuss your work with me' thats different but don't kiss them or hug them too tightly if they do. Remember, good guest behaviour has a karmic quotient. Be the kind of guest you would want at your own gig.

Today's juicy link is on 9 unsavoury character traits of real authors from the tastily named Feckless Goblin blog via Maureen Crisp's Amplify Blog thing at which you can find all sorts of amazing links. I also rather liked this from The Rejectionist. I laughed.

Monday, May 24, 2010

A brief interlude...

I am nattering about all sorts of writery stuff on Wednesday June 9th at the Epsom Community Centre along with writer and sometime Iowa Resident, and all round fab person Kathy White, starting 7.30pm if you want to come along and ask me any impossible questions and reveal that you secretly read my blog. Check out the Kiwiwrite4kidz website and click on 'events and workshops' for more details.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Book launches - Part One or How to Hold One...

People often come across my blog with the search engine 'Book launch Etiquette' so I'm guessing there's a need in the marketplace for information on how to run, behave at or generally conduct oneself at a book launch, whether its one's own or someone elses. I'll split this post in two with part one covering how to behave at your own do and part two talking about attending someone elses. If your manuscript has become a book there are several good reasons to have a launch. 1) to promote your book, 2) to sell your book, 3) to celebrate the fact that your work became a book, 4) to eat cake and drink wine with good friends and family, 5) and to say thank you publicly to all the people who made it possible. These are all important reasons and the way to cope with all that may be required of you as host/hostess, guest of honour, author, family member, friend, party person and marketing sales-person is to follow one simple rule: - be professional. You can be kooky, flakey, shy, silly, and giggly but not disrespectful, arrogant, obnoxious, drunk or crass. Your book launch doesn't need to be lavish or require formal dress. The book business being what it is today, there isn't much spare cashola around to drink Bollinger and have foie gras and caviar. Do try and find a venue that can handle credit card, cash and cheque sales of your book e.g. a bookshop or other retail outlet. Also make sure the venue owners/organisers want you there/support books and it helps if they've done book launches before (although theres a first time for everyone). Its good to have some nibbly food and a variety of drinks (wine and juice or tea and coffee) and remember if you write children's books something the small fry can eat but that can still be vacuumed up if its been ground into the carpet. Marshmallows clean up surprisingly well. My last book launch was in a toy shop which sold books and the children were happy to wander round and let the grown ups spend money on their behalf and chat about grown up things which was rather nice (thank you Mainly Toys in Mt Eden Rd). Have a short speech prepared and I REALLY recommend making a few notes about who you want/need to thank because it is very easy to forget someone. I will forever be haunted by my failure to thank a whole bunch of deserving folk at the NZ Post Children's Book Awards last year. And its good to remember you can never say thank you too much.. Jokes can be hard to carry off but work more often than not so I'd say give being funny a go. Try and recruit a few willing helpers/slaves to do errands during the event (what! No plastic cups/serviettes/knife to cut the cake and the toilets locked/blocked/without loo paper?) and clean up afterwards. Dress nicely in something that makes you feel fab. Selling books is one of the aims but on the day I try not to dwell on this as it's in the hands of the Gods by then. If you have invited lots of good friends, family and publicised the event, chances are a few books will be bought. Practice a signature before hand and its good to think up a few suitable phrases that fit with your book for book signings. If nothing fits or your mind has gone blank Best Wishes and Happy Reading are trusted standbys. And last but not least try and enjoy yourself. If you are the nervous, shy type (as so many authors are) organise a reward for yourself when the launch is over - dinner out, a large block of chocolate, whats left of the wine, a sleep in with breakfast in bed the next day. This list is not exhaustive so feel free to mention any other handy hints in the comments section.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

NZ Children's Book Scene Name Dropping Alert...

Had an enormously fun day yesterday. In the lead up to last night's NZ Post Book Awards at which the baton was passed to the 2010 Children's Choice Award winner, I had a day of catching up with a host of fab writery people in town for the event. The day began with morning tea with my mentor (from the NZSA mentoring program and under whose guidance I wrote Jack the Viking) Barbara Murison who'd come up from Wellington for the awards. She'd invited her past and present Auckland mentees Victoria Azaro, Julie Scott and Elena de Roo and of course Me. After a spot of light lunching and shopping (naturally) I then had afternoon drinks with Kyle Mewburn and his wife Marion, Des Hunt, his wife Lyn, Jill Marshall, Fleur Beale and Crissi Blair. Then it was on to the pre-awards drinks put on by Scholastic where I got to chat with Diana Neild, Maria Gill and Thelma Eakin, Brian Lovelock and Sher Foley, Anna Gowan, Sarah Anderson and Kim Dovey, Dianne Boles, Sarah Forster and Rob Southam and a host of others. All of this was just such a lovely treat. I could talk books and writing all day, every day and to be able to have these conversations with such a talented brilliant group of people was totally delicious.

Well done to ALL the NZ Post Children's Book Awards finalists (thanks to the ever fabulous Fifi Colston who kept me up to date with the results as they happened) - To get there is huge. And to the winners a big congratulations:-

Non-fiction winner Janet Hunt for E3 Call Home

YA winner Mandy Hager for The Crossing

Junior Fiction winner James Norcliffe for The Loblolly Boy

Picture Book winners Kyle Mewburn and Rachel Driscoll for Old Hu-Hu

Picture Book honour award Margaret Mahy, David Elliott and Tessa Duder for The Word Witch

Children's Choice winners Craig Smith and Katz Cowley for The Wonky Donkey

Best First Book winner David Hair for The Bone Tiki

And the overall grand poobah's are Kyle Mewburn and Rachel Driscoll for Old Hu-Hu

Lucky NZ Children is all I can say :)

Sunday, May 16, 2010

He talked, he sang, he wowed us all...

I always put my mobile phone on 'silent' during a school visit and check for messages during breaks. This morning at Kohia Terrace school (yay for yet another wonderful enthusiastic librarian and supportive teachers - I hope those fab children realise how lucky they are...what good hands they are in) I checked for messages at morning tea time to discover several missed calls. I had a message and listened to discover my son wasn't at school and they were just checking that I'd forgotten to call in that he was sick or whatever. Well no, actually, I'd waved goodbye to him and one of school mates at 8am. He's not into wagging. Was he lying in the middle of the busy intersection en route, knocked off his scooter by a car? Was he some Junior John Doe in the emergency department of the city hospital? I tried ringing the school back to no avail. I tried to ring my SO so he could find out what had happened, with no luck. And I spent the last two 45 minute sessions talking and reading over my fears and concerns. This was a miserable distraction but if nothing else I'm pleased that I managed to stay calm and deliver my talk without revealing my inner turmoil. (Yay just had a phone call now at 2.15pm from the lad himself, at school, in perfect health).

Over the weekend it was the Auckland Writers and Readers Festival. As it's a festival comprised of mostly writers of adult literature which I usually don't read, in the past I haven't attended. This year I thought I'd give it a go. Lionel Shriver (I haven't read any of her books, but I have read some interesting articles about her) was smart, thoughtful, dry and funny. When she read from her own material I made a mental note to try one of her books in future. Next up was Charlie Higson. I've not been a huge fan of the young James Bond series. The writing is very much in the Iam Fleming style (as you would hope and expect it to be) but I don't think you'd find me reading much Fleming either. But I used to watch the Harry Enfield comedy show and Charlie Higson both wrote material for this and appeared in the show (as well as the Fast Show amongst others) and I rightly assumed this would make for an entertaining hour. His current venture is into mid grade horror and I liked the fact that he didn't hold back for this age group. He tests his material out on his young sons and uses them as the yardstick for how far to go. I felt jealous at his lucky breaks (he went to University with comedy writer Paul Whitehouse and Harry Enfield, and was asked by the Fleming Estate to do the Young Bond Series). Lucky breaks were an even bigger feature of the David Levithan session. I was already a fan having reading Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist and David didn't disappoint. Funny, witty, seriously talented and prodigious, he talked, he sang and he wowed us all with his energy and skills. Like Charlie Higson he didn't shy away from pushing the boundaries with his writing. There's no point being jealous at lucky breaks, as after this session I was sure lucky breaks were searching this guy out in droves. He was generous too and chatted with everyone who wanted books signed. I bought two. Go check out Tania Hutley's very funny blog post here on her thoughts about Mr Levithan. I'm glad I went. I'm not sure if its left me feeling inspired or motivated but i definitely feel the better for it.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Possibilites for fudge reduction...

Further to my witterings on synopses I just wanted to make a mention of an interesting phenomenon I have observed. This is the synopsis written before the book is finished. Sometimes we do it to try and submit and sell the book before completion. Sometimes we do it to enter the incomplete ms in a competition or short window of publishing opportunity that requires only the synopsis and a writing sample - the closing date is zooming toward you at a rate of knots and it takes them at least three months plus to judge or make a decision - you're sure you can get the sucker finished before your fabulous win/contract is announced. For some writers this is how they always do business. Their synopses are perfectly formed mini-me's of their planned novel. They've sold countless works based on synopses alone. This, however, is not me. I am guilty of perpetrating the afore-mentioned phenomenon. And for a while I thought it was only me. But I have recently had evidence that other writers do it too. And what is 'it' you might ask. Well folks its the 'fudged' synopsis. You've written at least half your novel. You know roughly how its going to end, but you're not entirely sure how you're going to get there. As a fly-by-the-seat-of-my-pantser I like to keep things a little vague. I feel like I actually get a better result that way. If my novel is too prescribed it loses some of the magic and it becomes boring to write and assuredly boring to read. The problem here, of course, is that when you try summarise something not yet written, the vagueness shows. Publishers must recognize that fudge factor. They must know your manuscript is not yet finished. And I didn't appreciate this until I read someone else's fudged synopsis. I could easily tell the novel was not yet finished just by looking at the synopsis. Now the big daring question I'm going to pose here is - does it matter? I'm thinking it depends on the novel. If the story idea is strong and the writing is strong and they like the story and the writing in the sample, and you look like you know what you're doing I'm picking it might not matter. It might depend on who the publishers/judges are. If they are keen on a completed novel then it will matter but you won't have been finished in time to submit/enter anyway - nothing ventured, nothing lost. Is there a way around this? If you work as I do, then the possibilites for fudge reduction are not great, although over time I think the quality of my fudging has improved. I guess the bottom line is there may be no solution, there may be no issue, but it pays to put yourself in their shoes sometimes to see how your submission is received. I'm going to assume that if my novel isn't finished when I submit it, they can probably tell. That won't make me stop submitting unfinished stories if thats the best course of action at the time but I have to appreciate that they know and what that knowledge might mean.

Monday, May 10, 2010

A sweaty juggler with too many pointy balls...

Been talking synopses with a writing friend over the last few days. These are slippery little suckers that are hard to tame and control. But I love discussing these things because it always seems to bring more clarity to the subject and I just briefly want to mention here a few things I reckon you should leave out and a few things that I believe are best to include. And remember a synopsis is a summary of your story. This is not the same as the 'essence', the hook or what you would write on the back cover if your manuscript becomes a book (aka the blurb). Don't include back story or detail. Your synopsis should be succinct (which is a euphemism for no back story and no detail). You won't have space for minor plot developments and peripheral characters either. Do include the answers to the following questions. Who is the main character, what problem/dliemma do they encounter, how do they respond, what happens to solve the problem/dilemma? Do write the synopsis in a way which demonstrates the style and voice of the story. Even though its one of your tools for winning over an agent/publisher the synopsis is not the same as a pitch. A pitch is about the essence of your story and this is where you wow them with the hook before they say yes to you giving them the synopsis and manuscript. Your synopsis demonstrates that your story has a beginning, a middle and an end, and that you know what's important, which will tell the agent/publisher something about you as a writer. More and more, synopses are becoming an essential part of the submission process.

I came across some very juicy links this morning. Loved this uplifting post on famous rejectees that includes the content of some of their reject letters at the examiner's blog via the always interesting and/or hilarious Rejectionist. It made me quit whining for at least five minutes about having had five rejections for one manuscript for which my writer friends have been most grateful. Another fab link today is at writer Nicola Morgan's blog, Help, I need a publisher - When is an idea not a book. Its a good post on where writers get ideas but also discusses the difference between idea and story. This post was particularly pertinent for me after my last post where I wittered on about fictionalising a true story (I should have said true experience). No matter how meaty this experience was I know that it is not in itself a good book without some control exerted over how events unfold, what these events tell us about the characters, and how things are resolved in a satisfying way for the reader. And all this must happen whilst I honour the true events and experiences and demonstrate their importance. While honouring the experience is essential, this experience cannot be shared without acknowledging and satisfying the reader as well. And its worth sharing. I feel like a sweaty juggler with too many pointy!

Saturday, May 8, 2010

A no-cook day...just eating

Mother's day. Hung some clothes out, put a load of school uniform stuff on to wash and picked up eldest from distant location. Contemplating second cup of joe. Had first in bed with sunday paper and leftover fruit pie with yoghurt for breakfast. Yum. Leftover soup with french bread for lunch. This is my deal on mother's day - no cooking. No thinking about cooking. Just eating and a few chores...

I've finally made a start on the new book. Once I'd finished the company GST tax return and sorted out a skype address with the help of one of my tech savvy children (it's why I had them) last week I wrote about 300 words. I know its not much but starting this story seemed the hardest part. I know the outline of the story pretty well although there are still decisions to be made about some peripheral characters and where I will end things. This is the other hard part - deciding on how much to fictionalise a very dramatic true story. Books make demands on structuring, climaxes and denoument and I will have do my best to honour both the storytelling and the story. It's exciting and terrifying all at once. I'm behind on my university study at the moment. Discipline is not my middle name. And the year is getting away on me again. I thought I had the year sorted in terms of plans and goals but as Lennon said, Life is what happens while you're making other plans. I hadn't anticipated the new book or the author talks/events I've been doing. And if you were wondering at all about the need for the skype address, I've just added another activity to the mix. Last year after the Spinning Gold conference there was discussion about setting up the facility for schools to have skype sessions with authors and illustrators. Touring can be expensive and to maximise the benefits of the travel required can often mean shoehorning visits to schools at times that might not be ideal for visitor or school. Skyping would give students face to face access to authors/illustrators with greater flexibility at a fraction of the cost. This fab idea has now become a reality as Booktalks, organised by research and professional development organisation CORE. It goes live tomorrow May 10th. Check it out here .

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

A scuba suit is not bullet proof....

Saw a bad-ass movie last night that I just loved. It had elements in it that I generally find a major turn off - lots of violence and a young person saying my least favourite word in the world - and yet Kick Ass was funny, moving, and thoughtful with great costumes and I would happily see it again. And again. Perhaps it was the irreverent anti-pc tone. Perhaps it was the acknowledgement that despite our best efforts we live in a scary, violent world but you can't stop fighting it and the things we truely cherish, like love and family, don't change. I especially loved the part with the bazooka and the clever things Hit Girl did with a length of string weighted with one of those ninja star things. I loved too that director Matthew Vaughan paid silent homage to his wife in one scene. And as with any good movie, there were lessons here about great writing - because this movie turned lots of conventions on their heads and was the better for it. Be daring when you write people! And character development was so skillfully done. I quickly came to care about the key characters and had to watch through my fingers when I thought bad things were about to happen. It had a comic book feel even telling part of the backstory with an illustrated comic book sequence but this fitted seamlessly with the whole vibe of the movie. The only bad thing about good movies is that they spoil you for the rest. Hoohah - I'm so getting this when it comes out on DVD.

And my own writing? I have been eschewing my writing for fun things like GST tax returns and sorting out other bits and pieces like book cover photos and skype addresses and invoices and orthodontic appointments and book blurbs. All necessary and important things. I am marinating the first chapter of my next work, as well as mentally massaging the last few chapters of my YA but there are few typed words to show for it. And for some reason at the moment I am feeling wanderlust - the urge to travel to somewhere distant for a small adventure - New York, Morocco, Spain, Egypt, Ireland. Its most unsettling and most unlikely to be realised unless I win lotto. So back to the writing. At least the new story is taking me to Poland and Russia so I guess I do get to travel after all.

Juicy link for today can be found here at the Tall Tales and Short Stories Blog, with a feature on new publishers Nosy Crow.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Lets play tag...

So I decided to have a go at this tagline thing. Here are my attempts. So the question is would you read these books?

Sally's father hasn't been dead all these years after all. But where is he and why is it a secret? (Mid grade mystery thriller novel)

Poor Margaret can't stop sneezing. What's a cow with hay fever to do? (Picture Book)

Stella Rosa's brother says their Nana is really a monster in disguise. Is she really a were-nana? (Picture Book)

Its tough enough being a schoolboy in the 21st century but the dangers are much greater when Jack finds himself in Viking times. (mid grade adventure time-slip novel)

He survived life as a Viking the first time round but with his best friends life depending on it can Jack find his way home this time? (mid grade adventure time slip novel - sequel)

This one is more of a back cover blurb...

There's something special about the gingerbread biscuits Sam and Penny's mother has baked for them. They feel it when they eat them. The snow feels it when they play outside. And in the middle of the night the last gingerbread woman feels it too when she comes alive and peers through the window at the handsome snowman in the garden... (Picture book)

Some of the above are published, some aren't. I have other manuscripts as yet untagged and I will have a go at generating taglines/blurbs for those too. I found the temptation to end the taglines with a question interesting but I guess not so surprising. Funny too that the longest tag/blurb is for the shortest story. It's a good exercise to do although its one thing to use these in written form in a query letter but I'm not sure how I would deliver them in a face-to-face pitch. I'm not a salesperson and can't see myself ever having the kind of skills required to be one. I'm wondering if there are alternative techniques that I can utilize (maybe like mind control or something) to bend the agent/editor to my will. Its one thing to have a manuscript I believe in, but another thing entirely to demonstrate its fabulosity to someone else (especially someone with all the power and an entrenched rejection habit).

I had planned to blab a whole lot of other stuff today but the cold and the need to do the company tax (due friday) have numbed my brain and pushed a whole bunch of stuff out of my head. I'll add it in if it comes back to me otherwise see you next blog...happy tagging!