Tuesday, August 31, 2010

The sap is rising...

Must be Spring. How can I tell? I posted off my funding application on friday, I sent off a flurry of submissions (12 in total out at the moment, mostly to overseas publishers), I finished off my fourth assignment for my studies and got organised for the two final essays, and then I bought an embarrassingly large quantity of books at the local indy bookshop today, including Wasted by one of my favourite bloggers, Nicola Morgan. My eldest sister (part inspiration for a picture book of mine) made a comment yesterday that has my creative brain frothing with interest and on monday night the Fabo Team received an e-mail from a fabo participant which included this paragraph:

By the way you are my inspiration because since the FaBo story started I decided I want to be an author. Keep up the good writing and continue to write and maybe I can be an author.

I never anticipated how children might respond to our crazy writing experiment. I was hopeful they would want to join in the fun but results so far (not even half way through yet) have exceeded my expectations and I was thrilled to find how much it is inspiring some kids. If you'd like to see what its all about click here . The quality of the children's writing is very high. Make a note of the names of these kids - they are the writers of the future for sure.

Yet again Maureen Crisp has found some wise advice on the intramawebby you should be checking out - two items needed in every author's book promotion toolbox.

Had fun yesterday with a small but dedicated crew of intermediate students in our third workshop together, with the highlight a diversionary discussion on the significance of the book titles of a particular series.Fascinating for everyone concerned I think. Looking forward to next week.

Oh, and huge congratulations to fellow fabo team-mate and all round excellent writer Brian Falkner for winning the Sir Julius Vogel Science Fiction YA Award for his book Brainjack. Brilliant stuff.

I'm off to smell the new grass - the aroma of vigor and potential. Quite a heady fragrance.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Who de we write for?...

I am not getting much writing time at the moment. Still another assignment due (should be finished tomorrow or next day I hope) and there are two essays due by October 20th. I am keen to get stuck in on the contracted book but can't, quite yet. My offspring are up to their eyeballs (and mine) in out-of-school activities. If I charged for taxi driving duties I would be nicely rich. September is almost solidly booked out with tournaments, competitions, and events. I am at the top of the stairs leading to the longest slipperiest slide you have ever seen and yes my heart is pounding and my knees knocking out a lively little ditty. I am closing my appointment diary on October.

Although they are keeping me busier than I want to be, my studies are interesting, enlightening and ultimately motivating. Read an article in my study guide by Mem Fox yesterday about who we write for. Here is a little of what she said:

As a writer for very young children I often struggle with the question: just who am I supposed to be writing for?

Do I write for publishers, so they can make a dollar? Do I write for the critics, so they can make smart remarks? Is it for the bookshops, so they can pay their rent? Or is it for academics, so they can deconstruct the text, write articles and seek promotion? Is it for the bestseller lists and the book awards so they can make or break me? Or is it for librarians and teachers, so they can use my books in some teaching/learning program they're planning? Do I write for illustrators, so they can share my royalties? Or is it for parents, so they can do the right educational thing by their children? Or do I simply write for me, so I can pay the mortgage I've saddled myself with? Or, in the final analysis, do I write for the very young children so they may be enchanted, informed and comforted? The answer to each and every one of these questions is: yes. To write at all is to write for everyone.

How ever, while I know that when I write I cannot control my audiences nor ignore them, I know my primary audience must be very young children. If others read my work meanwhile, so be it; but if I consciously write for all those others I'll find that failure is all that I achieve...

...It is far, far better to ache with caring for the children for whom I write, to keep those little kids firmly in mind, far away from the ubiquitous bottom lines on the bank statements, to see their wide eyes and bright faces, to imagine them curled up in bed, caressed by parental voices, or sitting cross-legged on the mat in school as a teacher reads the words aloud, weaving the magic spells of literacy.

I am writing to conjure young under-five-year-old children into loving reading, to inform them, to entertain them, to enchant and affect them, to provide escapist delight, to challenge values and assumptions, to present my own values, to assist in the development of literacy, to make them feel good about themselves and their world, to present hope and ideals and possibilities, and to enhance relationships between reader and read-to.

Ok, so a touch more cynical in places than I can manage but I will not argue with the last two paragraphs.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

A new book, by me

The publisher has said yes to a chapter book I am writing. Publication date (unless the wheels fall off) is March 2012. Although experience has taught me that things can change I am going to savour this moment. For the 10 to 12 year old reader, this is the project I have mentioned before that is very dear to my heart and I am excited it will be in print.

One of the issues many writers can face is the feeling of powerlessness. Stories are essential to the publishers but they are spoilt for choice. Chatting with some writer friends yesterday, one described her recent strategy for dealing with that issue. She has now developed an action plan which has given her back some control over her situation. I realised that I had come to the same conclusion/result via a different route. Over the last month or two I have been advocating for myself, asking questions, and putting myself forward. The results have all been positive and in addition I have to say I feel very proud of myself. Too many times in the past I have been a shrinking violet but the funny thing is when you take more control and act confident people treat you differently, and in a good way. I know my new approach won't always have positive results but at least I'll know I tried. I might fail if I try, but I can guarantee I will fail if I don't try. Don't hang back in the shadows people, no one can see you there!!

Friday, August 20, 2010

Because folks, what doesn't kill me makes me stronger...

I am trying to wrangle a Creative New Zealand funding application into submission. I swear when I look at the guidelines the words magically transform into a foreign language that I do not understand. Or I am missing the 'funding application' gene in my body that decodes the information appropriately so I can digest it and gain the nutrients from it. Sigh. I have applied before to no avail but I do have the dominant form of the 'glutton for punishment' gene (I am a writer) so I am doing it all over again. And as I have not been successful in the past it does not seem wise to do it the way I've done it before. I have obviously not decoded the guidelines correctly in the past so I must try and read them differently. I have a couple of things on my side this time - a project at the right size of gestation, for a start. No matter what, I continue to have hope...maybe this time...

Anonymous asked how the bottle opener story (aka The House That Went To Sea) was faring and I must report that despite several attempts and some favourable comments it has failed to find a home so far. It is winging its way overseas to a US publisher at the moment as I continue to try and find someone who loves this story as much as I do. No matter how good I think it is, it must convince a publisher that it will delight enough potential readers to make them buy it and then tell their friends about it so they buy it too. There are so many other factors at play as well. Do they have something similar just published? Can they convince the educational market to buy into it if it is a more sophisticated book, is it super fresh but not too edgy/different/weird that people just don't know what to make of it. Are they just looking for something else although they don't know what that something else is but they don't think this is it. Is your brain tied in knots from all the possible permutations that lead to a no? Are you tired now? I think this book is different but not too weird. Its uplifting and cute and funny in places. It conjures up some cool images. It has good themes. There is nothing 'wrong' with it. This is when perserverence and patience might be the key. Time will tell.

Anonymous also asked how a successful author deals with rejection. I don't know. I am stuck on the idea that 'successful' equates with not having to deal with rejection. But for me, I know that being published in the past is no guarantee of being published again. Ideally each manuscript should be judged on its own merits. There are some books I've read that weren't judged on this basis but were published because of an author's previous success and it would have been better if the budget for that book had been put to better use. And while my manuscript might have merit I need to find a publisher who agrees. Being a bestseller makes you more desirable and I haven't had bestseller status - not yet anyway (its in the 50 year plan). I've won an award and been nominated for another but unless this translates into big sales this is no guarantee of anything either. There are a number of things I tell myself when I receive a no, that are designed to make me feel better. First I remind myself that I like what I wrote and I believe in it. The second thing is that it is better to have a publisher who feels the same as I do about my story who will turn it into a lovely book and want it to do well. The third thing is that the publishing industry is suffering in the recession like most other businesses (except possibly the manufacturers of prozac, chocolate and alcohol) and is in turmoil as it wrestles with new technology (and despite all the words about the demise of books and the surge in e-books, ipad apps and the kindle I have not yet met a child who uses any of that stuff). I refuse to give up on my good stuff and I have not yet exhausted all possibilities and the beauty of this business is that the longer I hang around in it the more I know about how it all works which makes me better equipped to exist within it and find new opportunities for my work. Because folks, what doesn't kill me makes me stronger. So I just package my darling up and send it out into the world again in search of new friends. One downside to rejection that I don't appreciate that I haven't yet figured out how to deal with is a growing cynicism. Cynicism is a poxy quality for a children's writer. If anyone knows how to dissolve cynicism please let me know.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

I'm dreaming of tee-shirt weather...

I went visiting on Tuesday up to Murray's Bay School on the North Shore. With my trusty sidekick, new author Elena De Roo (her gorgeous picture book The Rain Train, illustrated by Brian Lovelock was launched on August 7th) by my side for some school visit observations, I talked to all the middle and senior classes and gave a workshop to a group of budding writers in the afternoon. The children were attentive and enthusiastic and I love how they continue to embrace books. Books rock. Where there are books, there is hope.

Today I'm starting a series of writing workshops with some older budding writers at the local intermediate school and tomorrow morning I'm off to chat with some fabostory enthusiasts at Maungawhau School. Whew. Its a busy week. On Sunday its the Auckland Storylines Family Day and I will be there (Aotea Centre, on level 3 I think?) on the Kiwiwritekidz table if you want to come and say hi, ask questions or pick up any fabostory writing tips.

I've recently had some good news (sorry this is embargoed till the i's are dotted and the t's are crossed) and some bad news - a 'no' on something that I thought was looking pretty good. I am allowing myself some grieving time and then I'm going to put this result in my past where it belongs and move forward with new submissions, and new writing, because really, what else can you do when you're a writer. I hate the no's. I hate that sinking feeling as you read the rejection and the sinking plummets from a greater height when its been a long wait. In rational moments I will remind myself that a longer consideration means the writing/story was in the ball park. And I will send this story out to another publisher to start the whole process all over again.

I am ready for some uninterrupted sunshine and some warmth. The first of September isn't far away. Bring on Spring I say...

Friday, August 13, 2010

Dear Bottle Opener...

Thanks to Old Kitty for reminding me of another lovely magical piece of writing. I think A.A.Milne has had a lot of stick over the years for his sentimentality (Dorothy Parker's 'tonstant reader fwowed up' comment comes to mind) but that bit Kitty quoted beautifully and succinctly sums up the true meaning of a good friend.

Here is something that I am rather fond of from my as yet unpublished picture book The House That Went to Sea about a shy boy Michael Mariner whose parents have disappeared while studying monkeys in the rain forests. Michael goes to stay with his grandmother in her cottage by the sea and one night granny pulls up the anchor and away the house sails...:-

Michael checked for mermaids, sharks and pirates before he dropped into the water. It wasn't quite as warm as a bath which was just as well, he thought, for you shouldn't use soap and shampoo in the sea. He frog-kicked around the house and when his fingers and toes got wrinkly, he climbed back on board. As he did so, a bottle with a message knocked at the porch.

The message read, 'Dear Bottle Opener, We were pushed in the sea by some bad tempered monkeys. The log we managed to cling to, took us to an island. We shall be available to be rescued any time after 3 o'clock on Friday.
Yours most sincerely
Mr and Mrs Mariner

Enjoyed this handy little guest blog on the topic of coincidence over at the Rejectionist. I like the last paragraph especially which wisely says that its okay to have coincidences in your stories but only if you make them believable.

Also found this lovely piece on the importance of doing your own thing as a writer over at Janet Reid's blog. Like Sean Ferrell it took me a while to realise that I didn't have to write like other people wrote. I didn't have to follow their methods. Didn't have to do it the way they did to produce something good. I guess its a matter of confidence. Like shoe horning an ugly sisters foot into cinderella's shoe, its uncomfortable and impossible to walk forward. When I started out as a writer I spent a lot of time stressing that I couldn't do what needed to be done the way it should be done. Simultaneously I kept scribbling down things in my own cack-handed fashion and after a while the cack-handed stuff began to look better then the method writing. What an immense relief it was when I finally settled on the right shoe for me (nothing too orthopaedic or sensible) - how comfortable it felt and now I could walk a lot faster with ease, maybe even sprint or jog at times. I had to hand make that shoe myself but boy it fits like magic.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Proof of the existence of magic...

Sometimes when I am reading I come across a line in a book that is so cunning, and so lyrical it really does prove the existence of magic. I am re-reading Philip Pullman's Northern Lights for my university course at the moment and I came across this line yesterday which definitely proves it.

It was about as long as Lyra's thumb, and dark green, not black. Its wing cases were erect, like a ladybird's about to fly, and the wings inside were beating so furiously that they were only a blur. Its six clawed legs were scrabbling on the smooth glass.
"What is it?" she said.
"If you was to crack it open," said Farder Coram, "you'd find no living thing in there...There's a clockwork running in there, and pinned to the spring of it, there's a bad spirit with a spell through its heart."

Its kind of the holy grail, these sentences that blow our minds, that make us want to work harder and strive more to write these things ourselves. To touch this magic and reveal it for other readers. Sigh. I've been thinking about things I've written and sentences that I've been especially proud of. Sentences that have a hint of this kind of magic. I can't quite bring myself to post any up today, so close to Pullman's genius. Maybe tomorrow. Or the next day. In the meantime I'd love to hear about the sentences that made you feel this way - in your own writing or the writing of others.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Grease is the word...

Chapter Three is now posted at fabostory with the most excellent artwork by ***** ****** (name embargoed in case we run an illustrator guessing comp). I would rather be a ***** ****** (btw the number of asterisks bears no relation to the number of letters in the illustrators name) picture than a Salvador Dali one right now.

My daughter finished reading my draft YA and gave it her seal of approval. She's been talking about it with her school mates and tells me they want to read it. So I started wondering if I should just do the e-book thing and my daughter promptly said none of her school friends have something to read an e-book on. So back to considering the traditional route, I am at that horrible point in the writing of a book when I need to turn it from a first draft into a final draft and I just can't face the prospect, I'm not sure why. I like this story and I'm happy with how the plot developed and finished up. I know its common practice to put a first draft away in a drawer for a few months to let it ripen like a smelly cheese but I have to say this is one writing rule I've never really followed. I want to get on with this one. A publisher has expressed an interest in having a look and I sent the first three chapters to another publisher some months back and if they do decide they'd like to see the whole thing its probably best I whip it in to shape as soon as possible. I have some other things that need working on and if I don't attend to the YA soon, it may be a while before I can get back to it. Update: I asked if they wanted to see it in its raw state and they said 'send it now'...so i did. As these things take a while to consider it makes sense to be doing the titivating whilst they weigh up the project. As I am happy with plot and voice and only working on improving grammar and style this seems sensible to me.

Took my YA reading daughter to a live performance of the musical Grease last night. It was loads of fun and she loved it. She has aspirations in that direction and felt very inspired by the whole thing. My only quibble - whenever we go see a movie or show together we always end up sitting next to, directly in front of, or behind the person with the hacking cough, the loud-voiced seat-kicking rudely-behaved children or the crying infant. I am acquiring some good aural blocking skills but I would rather I didn't need them.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

My life is a Salvador Dali painting...

I feel like my life is a Salvador Dali painting but without any of the humour. It is all very surreal as I have been dragged unwillingly into the universe of that sad ass drooping clock. I thought for sure I would go mental about a month ago as I waited impatiently to hear back from anyone in any of the different publishing houses at which I have thrown my work. And here we are a month later and nothing has changed (except maybe that a bunch of publishing professionals have gone on holiday - at least three from three different houses - which pushes any decision making back another 3 or 4 weeks). My clock is definitely wilting. As Tim Roth (in-character) said on Lie to Me the other night, "patience is overrated." I'm with you Tim. I find the only reward for my patience has been more waiting. I am choosing to self medicate with chocolate, wine and DVD watching and managing to plod through the days in a weird kind of haze. How did Dali know?

And whats with all the mud. I spend too much time scrubbing mud out of boy clothes. That'll teach me for having a son, especially one who likes to wallow in the stuff (he does have a nice complexion though). Elinor Dashwood knew what she was talking about when she lamented that she was experiencing all the punishments of loving someone without any of the rewards. I feel that way about mud. I don't know that that was what Jane Austen was trying to tell us but it just goes to show her themes are timeless and widely applicable.

Loved this post over at fellow writer Tania Hutley's blog. I am curious to know what the website where Tania found that lovely quote is trying to sell. Luck perhaps?

Monday, August 2, 2010

Apparently I am an adult - surely i can write a story for them

Fabo has its first winners and the second chapter is now posted over at http://www.fabostory.blogspot.com/ . One of my favourite things is all the children who have rocked up to participate in our crazy scheme. I am so impressed by what they are writing. It is quite a thrill to find so many book loving, great writing kids. My second favourite thing are the illustrations that accompany the two chapters. We love them so much we are doing our best to organise some more. This juggernaut is growing and gathering momentum and who knows where it might end up. Yeehah!

Special mention also needs to go to fellow writer and blogger on the other side of the planet, Miss Windsor (aka Welshcake) for her fabulous win at YouWriteOn.com for Children's Fiction Book of the Year 2010 with The Scarlet Heart. Fantastic news!!!! This must become a book!!!!

I have finally shoved another assignment in the post and will shortly be beginning the next one. I am thinking right now that I may take a sabbatical next year so I can actually do some writing. Yesterday I had a go at getting down on paper the adult short story that has been knocking around in my head. Ha ha - it reads like a short story for kids with grown up themes. Ack. I shall persevere. After all, I am an adult and I do occasionally read fiction for adults. I also have to do some research as its set in Pakistan where I have never been and of which I know little.

It is raining again but earlier this morning the water just hung in the air in a gloomy fog. It would have annoyed me if I hadn't been so fascinated. The rain was so light it was suspended, fixed in an earth bound cloud. Much better than the poxy stuff thats falling now. Even the vegetation is over it.