Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Soul chocolate stat...I don't care what flavour

Must blog to preserve sanity. Every day, I think SURELY, today must be the day. And by 5pm I know, no, not today, maybe tomorrow. I cannot think straight. I cannot get my show straight, or my metaphors or any other motifs, imagery or otherwise super styley writing straight. I thought this week would be a lovely week to myself but it wasn't to be. There are trends in this household that I am familiar with and one of them is it always rains on the last few days before we take an overseas holidays (no, I don't want to pack clean but still wet washing in my suitcase) and the other is that due to sickness school holidays always last one week, sometimes two, longer in this house than what the ministry of education had planned. School holidays officially start next week. Next week the rellies come to visit. Next week there is a birthday in the family. Next week. Ms Crisp, bless her cool cotton socks, posted the official trailer for the Harry Potter movies 7 & 8 on facebook and now I cannot wait for november. If 7 came out now I would have hope for my sanity. The DVD of Kick Ass does not come out till August. Sigh. I was going to do a post on short stories but it will have to wait. I need some soul chocolate but the supermarket did not have any when I asked. I think the checkout operator wanted to suggest a strait jacket instead. Just get me some answers I should have said. Maybe tomorrow.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Turtles vs. Iguanas....

While we wait for things to cook, here's something I prepared earlier...this appeared on Tracy Baine's Tall Tales and Short Stories Blog recently and in the Kiwiwwrite4kidz newsletter.

Anonymous Gripes writes…

If my manuscript was the publisher’s girlfriend and they seemed to be getting along fine, why did they just break up?

Well dear Anonymous, sometimes there is nothing wrong with your manuscript. You have polished that gem to a blinding shine and non-publishey people who read it go, ‘Gosh, this is just like a bought one.’ You know you have something good on your hands but every publisher you have sent it to has said no, usually with their standard ‘NO’ form from which there is no chance of gleaning why your masterpiece isn’t grabbing their attention. You thought only the slushiest slush got a form no. A ‘this is good, but…’ would be sooo helpful. And then, heaven forbid, you begin to wonder if your manuscript would be better on the bottom of the bird cage.

STOP. Don’t line the bird cage yet. And don’t change your story just yet either. It is important to remember that there are lots of reasons why publishers say no to good writing.

1. They had a bad experience with a pet turtle as a twelve year old and your story is all about turtles.

2. Turtles are so yesterday. Iguana’s are hot right now.

3. They just contracted their THIRD book on turtles and that’s their turtle quota for the next three years.

4. Lagoon amphibian stories are something they just don’t publish.

5. The publisher doesn’t think there will be quite enough interest in a book with a turtle as the hero to enable their investment in it. Turtle lovers are too small a subsection of the population

6. Their last turtle story bombed

7. There is a world wide recession

For all of these reasons the publisher has said no, none of them is about the writing. When I sent out a novel I’d written to six publishers, I had three straight out form no’s (one of which I doubted that they’d even read the manuscript), one no but they’d take another look if I fixed a problem they saw with the main protagonists voice, one we’d like to see a rewrite and one straight out yes. The book was ultimately published pretty much as I’d first written it. Tastes vary. Publishing lists vary. Publisher’s are individuals with opinions. Yes your manuscript will ultimately be judged by more than one person but it will still be decided upon by a small group of individuals who invariably have an agenda that includes much more than just the quality of the writing. And opinions on trends and reader interest are not fact, just opinions. There are also lots of reasons that have nothing to do with your writing for why they just send a form response. There are some crazy people out there who have made the form response essential for publishers. The publishers probably realize you are not crazy too but it’s more than their sanity is worth to take the risk of responding personally to you. Don’t take it to heart, just blame it on the crazies and tell them to stop making it difficult for the rest of us when you see one (although I’d say nothing if they are carrying something sharp).

And don’t try to fix your story unless you are SURE it is broken. The reasons I have mentioned above are not telling you your story is broken. It’s a perfectly good turtle, but the gap on their list is iguana shaped. Keep submitting it to other publishers. Maybe the gap on their list is turtle shaped. Maybe the publisher had a special relationship with a pet turtle as a child. A story I once had accepted reflected a sibling relationship the editor had had as a child. I didn’t know that before I submitted the manuscript but that’s one of the reasons she loved my story enough to say yes. You can’t stop at the 39th publisher, if the 40th is the one who will say yes. And don’t forget to keep writing new things in the meantime. I hear Iguana stories are hot right now.

Thursday, June 24, 2010


I finished my assignment at long last and truly discovered what a burden it had become once it was finally lifted off my shoulders. My next assignment is due July 15th and the study guide for this one is twice as fat as the previous one. At the moment I don't feel particularly depressed about this. Perhaps it is my application of my variation of Einstein's theory of relativity. Time is relative and if I wait long enough, it WILL pass and I will get through and come out the other side. My SO is now back at work after his knee surgery and I survived all the driving, fetching, carrying and cleaning. I have the house to myself and hopefully at least a week to enjoy it before the school holidays begin and it is all about the children. I'm looking forward to getting back to my writing. It has been parked for a couple of weeks now while I've worked on my studies and I've missed it.

This weekend I am part of an authors and illustrators group meeting with some university students from the US. I'm not sure what we will be talking about but I'm looking forward to it. An afternoon of talking about writing and books can NEVER be a bad thing. I'm going to make a cake to take along. Chocolate I think. And now that I have a new oven (you wouldn't believe how sexy it is, I may have to post a picture) and the freezer is working again now that six years worth of ice has been chipped off its supposedly 'frost free' inner workings, the cake baking will be a breeze.

My middle child was a participant in her school's Stage Challenge performance on the Wednesday night (three evenings of competition, first second and third place getters selected for each evening along with awards for lighting, stage design, costume, music etc....). They won first place and I was an extremely proud Mum. She had a lead role and did a fantastic job. Thats her in the picture top right. And I may have some good news to report shortly...we shall see.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Queen of the living room pillow...

Dagnabbit, wunderblogger Maureen Crisp has been at it again searching the blogosphere for tasty things for the rest of us to is something on 5 handy writing superpowers via her amplify page. I fancy the superpower of making the publishing editor (and associated acquisition committees) say yes to my manuscripts :) maybe by using ESP.

I have come to the awful realisation that the tools of rewarding and distracting that I have recently recommended to help us retain our senses of humour in difficult times cannot be used over and over again without losing their potency. Hmm, back to the drawing board to think up some new survival techniques.

I had fun with a submission letter the other day for a picture book I sent in...about an old cat, queen of the living room pillow, and the new chihuahua who threatens her domain. If I intend to send more submissions overseas I am going to have to master the query letter. This could take some time...

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

The unvarnished stuff....

I'm suffering from an acute attack of impatience. It's itchy and annoying and just won't go away. It ain't helped by the cold (the only good thing about winter is soup), or the fact that while my SO recovers from his knee surgery I get to do 10x more of my least favourite thing - driving. I had thought myself very cunning in sending out lots of submissions at regular intervals, the theory being that there would be responses at regular intervals to keep me from going completely crazy. Over the last 9 months I have sent out probably 15 plus submissions and I am still waiting on more than 10. The responses are either too quick (efficient rejections) or too slow (sadistic rejections). Yes I have had a yes in there and this is a crumb I am clinging to but it is not a publication crumb and is therefore smaller and a little more crumbly. Like the fairytale of the three wishes granted by the genii that don't quite go as planned, I have used up all my enquiries (less than the number which labels you a stalker) about my submissions and am none the wiser. Now I can't enquire again and all I can do is sit on my hands (so i don't scratch that itch) and wait. It is doing my head in, just like when I think about quantum physics or what an infinite universe looks like.

And then something happens like a major publisher from NY googling the title of a book of mine and visiting one of my blogs and all i can think about is 'what does it mean' and my SO helpfully reminds me it probably means nothing. Rats! Sometimes information can be a bad thing. All I have now is more questions which cannot be answered. Ack.

Here is some of the things I said last week at the talk I gave for Kiwiwrite4kidz.

I have always had an obsession with books. Not too strong that I fill up every spare space with books and buy books instead of food and electricity, or the kind where I stroke them like Gollum stroking the one ring, and not too mild that I don't know the difference between James Joyce and Joyce Carol Oates, or that Tolkien is not a scandinavian currency. I was always pretty good at English in school. Actually I was good at Science and Maths too, so when I started sucking at English in 6th and 7th form (I never ever suspected the teachers might have been the problem - it might have been better for me if I'd blamed them whether they deserved it or not) I focused on the other subjects and then went and did a Masters in Science at University and got a job in Hospital Administration when they let me out. But the trouble with administration is a need for organisation and this was never my strong suit. I realised I was in the wrong job and started an English degree part time as an extramural student. Then I started a family (1993) and as much as children can take away some of your freedom, mine provided me with the perfect cover to surreptitiously try writing. I kept on with the degree, I attended a week long continuing education course in writing, and went to Wellington for a weekend writing course with Fiona Kidman. I discovered the Tom Fitzgibbon Award, and Storylines and started submitting manuscripts and attending Storylines AGMs. I eavesdropped on my children. Then I did the Writing for Children university paper. I've blogged about this paper before. This was a breakthrough for me because I wrote a couple of short stories for an assignment which looked and felt like the real thing. The lecturer was not overwhelmed when she marked the assignment but the editor told me I could write when I submitted these to Learning Media. I cried. I sold some short stories. I had a picture book, Clever Moo accepted and I joined Kiwiwrite4kidz. I was awarded a mentorship on the NZSA's programme in 2005 and wrote my novel Jack the Viking with the guidance of my mentor Barbara Murison. I was shortlisted for The Joy Cowley Award in 2006 with my story being Joy Cowley's favourite (although this story is still, as yet, unpublished). Then I wrote the picture book The Were-Nana and Scholastic accepted both this and the novel. 2006 was an exciting year. I had my foot in the door at last (little did I know they are always leaning on the door with all their might from the other side). Both novel and pb came out 2008 and some booksellers weren't too excited about The Were-Nana. It was dark and scary and the mean brother didn't get punished sufficiently. Sell in wasn't spectacular. Then it was shortlisted for the NZ Post Children's Book Awards. While I had some great reviews, one reviewer commenting on the NZ Post picture book shortlist couldn't see which age group would like this book and felt that it might win the category against their better judgement. Needless to say when I got dressed for the awards I felt like i was going to make up the numbers. I didn't do much preparation for a speech - I wasn't going to need it - and apart from not wanting to embarrass myself completely I didn't limit my drink consumption either. Once Roadworks deservedly won best picture book I relaxed, sat back and forgot the threads of a speech i'd mulled over in my head for a couple of minutes. Of course when they read out the top polling books for the children's choice award in each category I suddenly got very excited. other people probably thought I was having apoplexy. While it's not guaranteed, the award usually goes to a picture book. The Were-Nana was top polling picture book and sure enough we won. Children did like the book. In fact the book was popular over all the different primary age groups. And what did the award mean for me? It meant children liked the qualities which some adults were worried about. Publishers would give me the time of day but sadly were no more inclined to say yes to new work from me then they had been before. The big change for me has been my raised profile in the wider community. Schools request me to come visit them and other groups have asked me to do talks and workshops. I did a radio interview. And the win taught me that I had reached my target audience. Children wanted to read my book. I sold more books too. It will always be an edgy little number but the kids have embraced it. And I try not to get upset or worried so much about reviews now: better to be talked about then not talked about, whether the comments are positive or negative.

So how do I stay sane in this difficult and crazy business that operates like few others? I say sanity is overrated. Be a little crazy. Try different things. Trust your instinct. I keep my eye on what's happening in the industry and try and have something new/available to throw at competitions or new publishing opportunities. Be brave. You will survive the no's. Make sure you have some writer friends because no-one else will know like they do, the trials and tribulations you will have to go through as you traverse a career in writing. Get together with them regularly to winge about the difficulties and share the good news and the industry updates. Take holidays from your writing when you feel anxious, burnt out or frustrated. Distract yourself with a new book, or tickets to a movie when the impatience and frustration become overwhelming. Because we aren't paid a regular salary, which even if it comes without praise is still recognition of efforts made, we are at risk of devaluing our own hard work. Treat yourself when you've reached a writing milestone. Written ten thousand words? Finished that picture book? Had a breakthrough? Submitted a story? Give yourself a pat on the back and a nice reward.

Friday, June 11, 2010

This has really got my noodle in a twist...

Thank you to all the fab contestants. I will have to run more competitions!! The winner of this one is Welshcake who was first in, with both answers correct (as competition convenor I decided to allow Googling having realised I was unlikely to find someone who grew up on a diet of exactly the same list of books I did). I have always been a great fan of the book The Outsiders by SE Hinton, within the pages of which, Ponyboy lurks. And Phronsie comes from The Five Little Peppers and How They Grew by Ms Sidney. I enjoyed this as a child and was reminded of it recently as my stove has been behaving badly like the one in the book. My new oven in sexy black arrives Monday and I am very excited as I cook a lot.

I am swamped with my current assignment (sadly still not finished) and other chores while my SO is incapacitated after knee surgery so will not dally long at the blog today. Much to say but it will have to wait. But here are two things you might like to check out. One is this list of 5 Tips for playing the smart publishing game found over at Maureen Crisp's blog Craic-er. Over the years I've found that no two writing careers play out the same. I can't expect my path to follow that of other writers. But these 5 tips are true for everybody and make a solid foundation on which to build whatever crazy path you end up taking. The other link is from Tracy Ann Baines who runs at which I blog-visited recently. She had this smart link up on facebook, about how risk-averse publishers have become and what impact this is having. This has really got my noodle in a twist. Very thought provoking. I love the comment that the best novels are those written without interference (i.e. without thought to filling a particular genre/market) but I am disturbed about publishers reducing their lists and going for what they believe are sure bets. This can't be healthy for writers or readers. I'd love to know what you think...

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

I've cracked twenty....

Yay - I have 20 followers. I have been watching that 19 for weeks, with 20 being the Holy Grail and now that I am there I have decided to run a competition. I will send a copy of my books The Were-Nana and Jack the Viking (anywhere in the world) to the person who correctly states the title and author of the two books with the characters Ponyboy and Phronsie in them. If no one gets these correct I will pick my favourite response (best wild guesses??) and of course if no one participates then I will go to bed for a week and sulk. Don't put your address in your entry, I will contact the winner to sort out logistics (so you do have to identify yourself at least).

Tonight I am giving a talk on how I got started as a writer, what it was like to win Children's Choice and tips for surviving in this industry and I will post up my talk in a few days. See you then...

I cunningly managed to do something I didn't want to do :) and delete a comment. Here is the first entry in the competition, from Welshcake (sorry Welshcake):-

I have to enter this!

Ponyboy is from The Outsiders by SE Hinton.

Phronsie. Well, Google is my friend here. The Five Little Pepper series (by Margaret Sidney) is where Phronsie belongs, it tells me? Am I disqualified for cheating?

Friday, June 4, 2010

Adverbs get a reprieve...

Read an article on 'luck' in the weekend paper's magazine this morning and decided that your luck improves if you are a little crazy. Crazy means taking some risks, doing things outside the routine, speaking to complete strangers and more, and all of these things can expand opportunities - all good if you are an author. The more I think about maintaining a little bit of craziness in order to survive being a writer, the more I realise that it may actually advance your career as well.

I had an e-mail this morning to say a story of mine (one of my personal favourites - yay) had been picked as one of fifty finalists in the third and final round of the Smories Competitions ( ). It will be up on the website July 1st. This is very nice. I also managed to finish one of my projects (well the part of it I had to complete by now - there's still a lot to do but I've taken the all important first step and will hear back about this hopefully by the end of this month - fingers crossed in a major way). Now I just have the other project - a university assignment - to complete which has a strong whiff of 'I don't really want to do this' about it. I am going to have to force myself to complete it and of course once its done I will need to start all over again on the next one. Still as my SO likes to remind me I brought this on myself. Right back at you baby. He goes under the knife next week for a knee operation followed by several weeks of convalescence and yet again 'No driving!' Next time he wrecks a joint I will just pass him the panadol and the duct tape and they will have to do.

In recent times I have given adverbs a hard time and argued against their use. I softened my stance a little as I realised they should not be eradicated wholesale (I certainly couldn't do entirely without them myself) but now I can send you to this juicy link at Nicola Morgan's Blog which really does explain how adverbs don't totally deserve their bad rep and provides guidelines for their safe use in your writing. And because this gave me a lump in my throat and beautifully summed up what the gift of a love of books really means here is part of Kate Di Camillo's speech when she was awarded Indies Choice Award for 'Most Engaging Author', which I first came across at Beattie's Blog. Enjoy!

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Should sanity be the goal?...

Recently I linked to a lovely bitter and twisted little list of 9 unsavoury character traits of real authors as laid out over at Feckless Goblin. And I cannot help but confess to owning at least a few of the qualities on this list. It is a tough business folks. Tough businesses produce some tough characteristics. Suffice to say I am not going to tell you which of the nine I possess but I am the bipolar, magpie, jealous type - take from that what you will. This list made me laugh, but in a slightly uncomfortable, is-anybody-looking, kind of way. How much should we reveal about how we really feel? Next week I am giving a talk which includes some tips on how to stay sane. And as I pondered this topic I considered the question - is it better to vent and let all those frustrations and gripes out or keep them inside behind a lovely veneer of yes, I'm fine about that one millionth rejection, no it doesn't bother me at all, I live for the no's, they let me know I'm alive, its all okay on the inside of my head. Then I began to wonder - should sanity actually be the goal? As I thought on this I came across a new juicy link over at Nicola Morgan's blog where she warns about the highly competitive and potentially humiliating nature of our profession. Sure, fore-warned is fore-armed, but I'm actually coming to the realisation that sanity may be a little overrated, and may not help you survive as a writer. So now I'm rewriting this part of my talk as Managing Your Insanity because it helps to be a little crazy in this business...

Update: here however is a very positive and uplifting blog post by Rachelle Gardner which reminds us that even if, yes, you will probably survive better as a writer if you are a bit of a fruit loop, good things do happen and you should always have hope and hold on to your dreams...