Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Too long a to-do list to do

It is now December here in the antipodes. It is now no longer possible to avoid Christmas and all its attendant business. I have too long a to-do list to do. Lots of twiddly little administrative stuff for my eldest and the exchange programme she will be on next year, things that need to be tied up, wrapped up or signed off before the long holidays start, dog vaccinations, cattery bookings, prescriptions updated before holiday mode makes everything inaccessible and no longer bookable. Hams to be ordered, presents to be bought, finances to be fretted over. And in amongst it all a book to write. I thought up a lovely little paragraph this morning whilst shampooing the noggin in the shower - a hundred profound little words that pack quite a wollop. Now only 31,820 to go - yikes :) (thats a lot of shampoo and showering).

And yesterday I found myself straying from my work in progress. I was going over my Young Adult novel and it sucked me in. I love this story. It has some difficult elements to it - it contains a difficult subject. When I described some of it to another writer last friday she looked aghast but as a whole I think it works. But I must hide it away for now. I want to spend more time with it, to fluff, titivate and massage it till you need to wear sunglasses to look at it. But I must focus on the WIP and make lots of lovely little paragraphs join hands and dance around the room together in perfect harmony. The grass is always greener eh? I didn't love my YA quite so much when I was in the middle of it trying to push through to the end. When it was hard work that made me want to tear my hair out. Its an easy date now, familiar and comfortable. I know what to say to it and what it likes to eat. I still have strong feelings for it. I'm still getting to know WIP and it doesn't always say what I want to hear, I'm not sure what it needs and I have to concentrate on what it is trying to tell me. I just keep telling myself as the story grows we will grow closer and when it is finished I will know it just as well as I know my YA.

Friday, November 26, 2010

our psychedelic and phantasmagorical experiment is at an end...

Well folks the amazing, psychedelic and phantasmagorical Fabostory experiment has come to an end for 2010 - there were laughs, drama and illustrations, there were crazy one-upping authors, dedicated and encouraging teachers and talented student submitters and worrying things like jewel encrusted trapeze pants, vomiting dinosaurs and posh english accented alien gorillas. The best thing is everyone survived - except me. In a stunning twist our final chapter winner Angus Smith wowed us all by pulling the nine fabo authors into the story and tying everything up incredibly smartly. I am not sure how to feel about the ending Angus gave me. Go read it here and let me know what you think. I am sure we will be seeing more of Angus in the future (although not on the dinosaur populated planet Awe in 3629). And you will also, most likely, be seeing more of Fabostory. Watch out for new Fabo developments in 2011, when like Lazarus, I rise from the dead...

I participated in a Meet the Author event (organised by the human dynamo Maria Gill and Kiwiwrite4kidz) on wednesday afternoon at Albany Junior High with a bevy of other writers and illustrators, speaking to and talking with school teachers and librarians from around the area. A good time was had by all, I busted some fiction myths (no Virginia, not all authors are rich and famous), spilled all my state secrets about writing and hopefully gave some useful tips for teaching creative writing in the classroom. It is very encouraging to find so many teachers and librarians keen to foster a love of books and writing amongst their students.

Not so encouraging? Once again I was turned down for Creative New Zealand Funding. The money would have been incredibly helpful and it is always a knock to one's creative confidence to be unsuccessful. I can't imagine having a better project to apply with than a contracted novel, with letters of support from several important industry folk. I am at a loss to know what is missing from my application. I now have a cold (to add insult to injury) and am feverishly applying lashings of chocolate and alcohol. I have a ship load of writing to do :)

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

too sad...

I never thought a message from the Queen would have the power to make me cry, but her message of condolence to NZ on the Pike River tragedy this morning was heartbreaking. I think the whole of NZ had been holding its breath since the first explosion in the mine last friday, hoping that there would be some miraculous positive resolution as there had been in Chile, but it wasn't to be. We all followed the story so closely and hung on news of any progress or change and then yesterday afternoon came the news that no one wanted. A second explosion turned it all into an unmitigated nightmare. It's hard not to be affected. I didn't know any of the 29 miners lost, or their families, but I feel so very sad for them. I hope they feel the love, support and sympathy from everyone around this country. I know what the loss of one of my family members would do to me.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

a mixed blessing...

Yesterday was a great day. I meet with some writery friends for an early afternoon drink and a bite to eat and a big chat about writing, books, publishing, writers and all sorts of industry related news and gossip. One of the hottest topics was the snobbish attitude of some writers towards children and YA fiction. This is an ongoing issue, as if writing for younger minds somehow renders the writing inferior. There is the opinion that writing for children is automatically easier and the target audience's expectations of content are lower. Wherever you are you may hear my teeth grinding right about now. The most frustrating thing is knowing there are people out there getting paid good money to teach this propaganda. I can only imagine they aren't taking the time to read any books for children or young adults. And I can't understand why they continue to perpetuate this myth when there is plenty of evidence to the contrary and why they feel the need to divide the writing community in this way. We also talked for some time about e-books. These are now a confirmed part of the publishing landscape and I am realising that a) I need to learn everything I can about how they work and b)need to figure out how I can make use of this publishing format. We talked about agents, editors and publishing opportunities. We talked about our projects and our plans. We laughed alot. The sun shone, the company was excellent and I came away feeling equal parts heartened and disheartened - which in many ways fairly represents the writing business. My family picked me up and we went on to see Harry Potter 7.1 at Imax (sigh - I am as much a fan as ever) then wandered downtown to Sal's for some fabulously impossible to eat New York Pizza and we reminisced about one of our best family holidays ever eating New York Pizza our first night in New York (sigh - going to this marvelous city is not a cure, it is merely a temporary 'fix' which leaves you craving more).

Today I must add a certain amount of words to my WIP to keep it progressing towards the March 2011 deadline. Dealines are a mixed blessing: a wonderful ego boost of contract before book, a show of faith in one's writing 'chops', and the knowledge that this book 'will' be published. But now I march to the beat of the clock ticking drum. I must have done this much by this date. Freedom is gone. Do it and do it well no matter where my head or my creative skill might be at. I will do it. Progress is currently slow but steady. Meeting deadlines is part of the business that I must master and I relish the opportunity.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

like we need any more distractions...

Here are some juicy links (I am too busy fretting about some impending responses to some important submissions due by the end of this month to blog much today). I love this post that references Schrodinger's Cat to explain why we fear opening the long awaited e-mail - opening it will clearly make it the dreaded 'no'. I laughed and then thought that is so true. Here at Nicola Morgan's blog she recommends we stop obsessing over perfecting our synopses and query letters. And I haven't finished reading this one yet by Sarah Rees Brennan but I want to read it and thought you might like to too.

Talk to you again soon :)

Monday, November 15, 2010

So 2010, were you a good year?

Ha ha - I just love the awkward silence after posting some of my writing up. I confess the piece I posted comes some way through a novel so it seems a little legless because there is no set up for the reader at this stage. Completing this novel is one of the things I have achieved this year. That's right folks, its time to reflect on the year that's been now it is nearing the end. At the end of last year my plan was to finish some of my bigger writing projects, keep submitting, including to overseas publishers and do another university paper. I've done the university paper. I completed two of my bigger projects - one I am very happy with and one that still needs work to iron out some kinks and fudges. I embarked on a new project after bravely pursuing and successfully getting a contract for it. I had some rejections, some bearable, some hard, I had an unexpected success and there are still some submissions out there from the beginning of the year. An anthology of short stories including two of mine came out last month (Pick 'n' Mix Volume 1, Scholastic NZ). I conducted a half day 'writing for children' workshop for adults, have done several talks to adult groups, have been invited to three or four schools for author visits and have run a creative writing extension programme at the local intermediate school which ironically was extended. I have been part of the most wonderful fun writing project which is now sadly coming to an end (the story is nearly complete - the last chapter will be posted next week) which you can read here at http://www.fabostory.blogspot.com . I joined facebook and have made friends here and overseas. I am on the organising committee for a conference for children's writers and illustrators to be held in Auckland next April - Spinning Tales (check it out here). I have learned more about writing, I have kept writing and I have learned more about presenting and public speaking. I have learned how to drive over the harbour bridge. It would be fair to say it's been a busy year. All in all its been a good year. What about you? Have you been busy? Have you completed a project? Have you submitted your work? Had a great result? Done something new or different? I am going to pat myself on the back and give myself a treat. You should too. Bring on 2011

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Just a little taster...

Here's some of my writing from a recent project.

I hung my school bag off the back of a kitchen chair and helped myself to some biscuits from the cupboard. A packet of store bought chocolate chip ones. I tore the plastic wrapper along the length and sitting down, placed them in the centre of the table. Alex turned the seat opposite me around and sat in it back to front, leaning forward to grab a handful of the cookies.

The back door opened and Gemma walked through.

“Hey,” she said, doing that upward nod of acknowledgement thing before surveying the kitchen table and picking up the last few biscuits for herself. “You guys are pigs.”

I smirked. Alex ran his fingernail along a groove in the table top.

“When’s dad home?” Gemma asked, opening the fridge and grabbing the chocolate milk. She poured herself a glass, her schoolbag still slung on her back.

I shrugged. “Late. I’m cooking dinner.”

“I hate nacho’s” Gemma said as she walked through to the sitting room, glass of milk in one hand, biscuits in the other.

“You can cook if you want,” I called after her retreating figure, but the only reply I got was the jangly theme tune of her favourite afternoon TV programme wafting through the open doorway.

I watched Alex keep digging away at the groove, his long fringe obscuring his face as he bent forward.

“Don’t break my kitchen table,” I ventured.

“Shut up.”

They’d broken up. No fight, no discussion. It was just over. But Alex hadn’t been out with anyone else since. We didn’t talk about it.

After Alex gapped it to make tennis practice in time, I wandered into the sitting room.

“Dad’s looking at another house after work tonight,” I said flopping on to the couch beside my sister.

“Hope its better than the last one he looked at,” she scowled. “I want a bigger bedroom.”

“As long as it’s close to school … and we don’t move until after exams,” I said, grabbing the remote and flipping through the channels. The X Games was on one of the sports channels. I have to get my bike fix vicariously now. They put a couple of screws in my wrist and I’m off the bike for at least six months. It aches a lot. My freestyle riding career is on hold.

I ran my hand over the bristles popping out on my scalp. I liked the way they felt.

“Does it itch?” Gemma asked.

I looked over at her. Dark circles framed her eyes. The summer sun hadn’t made any impact yet on her paleness. I don’t know that it had the power to put some colour on her.

“Not anymore … Kim’s getting used to it now too. She likes the fuzz better than what it was like before anyway.” When I cut all my hair off, I shaved every last bit and my scalp had been baby-butt smooth.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

self doubt sober...

The other day a writery friend said she'd been feeling 'rubbish as a writer' (paraphrased for my younger readers). She is a published author of a fantastic picture book and has more books coming out. She is skilled and imaginative and clever with her writing.

If you are serious about writing it is likely you have experienced doubt about your skills at some point. Someone once said that feeling doubtful about your abilities or the product of your writing was a good sign. They suggested that a good writer will question what they have written, and that those who never ask if their writing could be better are the ones who probably need to question it the most. I suspect this is only true to a certain extent. The supremely confident are not always self-deluded. There are always exceptions to rules and thank goodness there are. If there weren't exceptions to rules I doubt there would be any life forms on this planet, let alone humans. Anyway, I digress, where was I....oh that's right...self-doubt. So there will be a lucky few good/successful writers out there who feel perpetually confident. The rest of us, (far and away the majority I'm sure) have those moments, moments that sometimes stretch out to horrible days, weeks or maybe months, where we feel unhappy with what we have written, where no amount of mental massaging makes the sequence of words any more appealing in our eyes, where we are sure we will never get published/be published again. Or someone reads your most beloved, precious manuscript and says, "well, yes, that was...interesting," (as happened to me the other day) and your heart sinks. We read or re-read our favourite books by the most fabulous authors (hers was Suzanne Collins. I go for Neil Gaiman, Ian Rankin, or JK Rowling or Meg Rosoff or Lauren Child, or the guy who writes the Olivia books or...oh God I'm depressed) and say 'look how good this is, I'll never be able to write this well'. We take to our beds, pull the covers over our heads cos then we're invisible, experience a sharp decline and mutter about never writing again.

So, what to do when self-doubt strikes? First a piece of chocolate. Then, pat yourself on the back a bit and say soothingly, "thank goodness, I'm normal." Then hide all the books by all your favourite authors in a room that you can lock. Hand the key to someone trustworthy and tell them not to give it back until you are no longer 'self-doubt sober'. As soon as you are drunk on confidence the keys can be handed back and you can read anything you like.

But seriously? There is no cure. Self-doubt happens. But remember self-doubt also passes. Remember it is good to question what you have written. It is good to ask, "can I make this better?" It is good to push yourself to work harder and improve what you have written. When you are feeling in the grips of self-doubt step away from the best writers. Go look at the book that always reminds you you can write better then that. Go look at the piece of your own writing you've always liked best. The one that makes you smile, the one that made you think, yes I can write, the one that makes you choke up because the emotions are so convincing. And when your confidence is restored get out a book by your favourite writer and remind yourself what it is your aiming for. Go write people. You can do it!

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Books deserve more...

One of the reasons I have been slaving over the Diploma of Children's Literature is to give me a greater understanding of the heart beating inside children's books. Should I get the chance to review books in future I want to be able to give potential readers guidance in choosing good books (and other kinds of books if they so choose). I want to give readers a taste of what's inside without giving anything away. I want them to feel a twinge of excitement about where reading the book might take them. I want to perhaps give them a key to getting more out of their reading experience without taking away from that experience. Its a big ask. Reviewing is a responsibilty I would not take lightly. Thats why I am learning what I can about approaching books with an objective eye, a reader's eye, rather than the writer's eye I am so familiar with right now. I like to keep informed about the books that are coming out. I discuss new books with other people. I read them. I read what others have said about them. I try and respect the time and effort that has gone into every book whether I like it or not. Its not enough to say I like it or I don't like it. Books deserve more.

Here are some rules I keep in mind when writing. None of them are about the use of commas or adjectives or dialogue. They are rules that over the years, I have realised, keep my writing going in the right direction. You might be surprised.

1. Keep it simple
2. Less is more
3. Trust your intuition
4. Have faith the right solution will come
5. The more you give the more you receive
6. Friends are the greatest wealth
7. You can never read too many books