Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Observations on Me by Me...

Unity Books (on facebook) linked to this interesting article in the Guardian - a piece written by an author about how success affects you. I liked this bit - "The thing is that nobody becomes a writer because of his or her tremendous ease with social interactions and the spontaneity of the spoken word." (ain't that the truth) and the bit about consistency of style: how we work hard to figure out how to be consistent and then once we are, have to figure out how to change.

Whether we are successful or not, time changes us. I am no longer the wide-eyed rube that I was in 2000, toiling away in free-wheeling isolation. Whether my writing is better or worse for the influence of my experiences over the last eleven years, there is no denying it is different. I think though that you can still clearly see ME in my writing from either end of that time period.

And as my brain is fried by finishing my current WIP (now at 40,913 words - having started with a goal of 40,000) here are some observations on ME by ME
1.Straight down rain makes me think of Beatrix Potter - I expect to see Peter Rabbit in his blue coat running across the front lawn any minute
2. I am craving rare steak but don't blame the vampires or were-wolves.
3. I've been researching what dates Easter fell on in 1943 and all about cotton seed oil and the (potentially fatal) by-product left behind by pressing the seeds
4. Wishing the instant departure of my e-mails was matched by an instant reply
5. I'm thinking of changing my favourite colour
6. Would like to question the birth certificates of all those people questioning Obama's - see how they like it to be perpetually doubted with no chance of 100% proof
7. Would like to write a novel based in Ancient Egypt
8. I am afraid of....ha ha like I'm ever going to tell you that
9. My favourite numbers are 3 and 7
10. I'm not keen to meet my writing heroes because I would be speechless in their presence

So there :)

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Just the facts ma'am...

There seems to be a new trend on blogs, with bloggers wanting to warn us not to get our hopes up - over at Nathan Bransford's we have this post on the Fate Factor. Publishing is a strange beast that is constantly at pains to remind us it is a business which then acts like no other business we know. The success of a book is not necessarily linked to the hard work pre and post publication, promotional effort or creative talent behind it. Fate/luck/call-it-what-you-will has its part to play. Commenters on the post thanked Mr Bransford for calling their attention to this and reminding them that it was better to acknowledge what they couldn't control and focus on what they could. I want the happy drug they are on. I couldn't get past the idea that working my arse off, being nice in the face of difficulties and hypocritical rudeness and writing some very cool sentences might get me nowhere. I acknowledge the truth of what he says but I'm not sure how to respond. Sure I probably should give more attention to the thing I can control: the quality of my writing. But I am also toying with the idea of being more lazy and less accommodating and seeing how I get on :) (Don't worry folks I am not really intending to change my work ethic or my personality - I'm just a bit bewildered about how to find the positive spin on this ).

Maureen Crisp as always has smart stuff on her blog and her latest post is no exception. The world of publishing is in a phase of rapid evolution and Ms Crisp has some fantastic advice on how writers might best prepare themselves for what's ahead. If you aren't reading her blog regularly than you may be killed off in the next meteor shower/ice age - get wise folks. One particular link caught my eye - a blog post on what a writer can do in the face of persistant positive rejection: when your work is good but doesn't tick the money making box in their opinion. My eyes lit up - this has happened to me. The link is a good one. But I am hesitating over the mathematical logic of this. Writers are notoriously impatient (okay maybe thats just me). In the past they had no choice but to keep resubmitting their work. If rejections were positive then you made less or no changes to the ms before it went out again. It might take 40, it might take 100 goes but you kept trying until all traditional publishing avenues were exhausted or you were accepted. Now we assume a handful of positive rejections are a sign that no publisher wants our work? Do we give up too early because there is now an alternative route? Is it true that publishers are less likely to publish things they would have accepted twenty years ago? I studied statistics at University. I know how malleable and fickle they are. The idea of e-books and self-publishing are so seductive because we love the idea of controlling our own destiny. Fate? Pah! Take that!! I have a book I want to publish as an e-book for a number of good reasons, but I am not going to rush into this option for my other work just yet.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Facebook has the word 'book' in it for a reason...

Facebook - at the Spinning Tales conference one of the speakers recommended Facebook as a way to connect with readers. As writers (and/or illustrators) for children we cannot ignore the way they interact with the world around them, and these days so much of that happens online. Facebook can suck up a lot of time and distract you from more important tasks at hand. Privacy issues are continually being debated and revised. Not all connections made via facebook are happy ones with positive outcomes. People can be cruel in any medium. But Facebook has a lot to recommend it as well. My eldest let us know she was just fine and having fun in Las Vegas via facebook (using her i-pod). I keep in touch daily with people all round the country in a way that a phone would not facilitate, and I am grateful for this. Creatives in particular can be isolated due to the way they work. In many ways we are solitary creatures destined to forge our gems alone. But for writers, stories are filled with people and you cannot write good characters without knowing a few. I can make new friends all around the globe. I can connect with old friends. I can join in a conversation on contentious topics with a bunch of like minded individuals (politics anyone?). I can keep up with the gossip (also known as industry news) way faster on facebook. And of course having a presence on facebook means potential fans of your work can find you from anywhere in the world. And one of my favourite benefits is the way a facebook conversation can cheer me up, teach me something, advance my thinking on a subject or just settle those awful doubts we all have from time to time. When wondering aloud the other day if I was going about things the wrong way and potentially stymieing my writing career, a fellow writer (you know who I mean Mr Mewburn) wisely pointed out that the nature of the industry itself was prone to making us feel as if we were approaching it all wrong. I also liked the debate about statistics - yes they are depressing, but its better to be informed. And the lovely link this morning, from Mr M again, referencing a movie I had just seen (and enjoyed - 'Limitless' with the always charming Bradley Cooper) which talked about the biology and psychology that influences our creativity. Yes (as Frank Herbert pointed out some years back) fear is the 'mind killer'. But there are always strategies to move past these internal inhibitors - and a nice symmetry to the idea that our mind can come up with ways to trick itself. Of course I still don't believe in writer's block - the cliche much beloved by movie makers - but do think you can be 'stalled'. Being stalled is never permanent and even if you have run out of gas or the battery is dead just find a natural incline somewhere to get yourself rolling again. Facebook is what you make of it and it is filled with potential. And if you haven't already checked it out go see this remarkable online magazine about writing put together by a very cool thirteen year old I know.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

The road less travelled...

Ran around all week getting last minute things for travelling daughter who left on Friday for the US for this years World cheerleading competitions. She is carrying an injury, but she is nearly eighteen and said "I'm part of a team. I can't not go. The girls with the broken ankle and the shot knee are going." I had a friend who died of cancer at 30 who once said my SO and I didn't take enough risks. We lived careful lives and playing the radio for long periods in a stationary car was the most adventurous thing we ever did in her company. I thought of her when my battery died in my car the other week while the radio played as I waited with my youngest for my middle child to finish her screen acting class. My super SO came and rescued us with the jumper cables which took a long time to work (I've been driving around fine ever since with the thought in the back of my mind that the battery is on its last legs and may conk out completely when things won't work out so well). I also thought of my friend when I was at the Specialist with my daughter and he was giving us disapproving glances for the decision he could tell we were about to take. My daughter and I talked about religion as we drove along in the car on the way to the doctors. We agreed Buddhism had a lot to recommend it; with its zen philosophies and embracing living in the now. We let her go. She's not getting in the car with a drunk driver. Or taking a whiff of P. Like Robert Frost and The Road Not taken or Ursula at Parakakariki by Fiona Farrell I have to let her take the path with the uncertain destination; jump off the edge and see if the wings work. The day before she went I told my eldest I was jealous of her. I don't want to travel to the cheerleading competitions with her. They are stressful. I am not a calming influence and seem to pick up on and channel everyone elses nerves. But I am jealous that she is travelling to do something she loves. I dream of travelling for my writing. In recent weeks I have queried several US agents. At Spinning Tales, Jill Marshall spoke passionately about the realities of publishing internationally. She has experienced some fabulous highs but the tyranny of distance has contributed to some wretched lows. Theoretically new technology should ease some of the difficulties - emailing makes correspondence quick and easy, skyping can close the distance for any discussions needed and the internet can help writers anywhere reach fans anywhere else. But as is everything else with writing, publishing and books, things are never that simple. And I don't just have ambitions to be published in other countries - I want to go to those other countries and talk about my books there. I would love to go to the London Book Fair or Bologna (one of my publishers has just come back from this year's Bologna Fair - there has been interest in my book but now we have to wait and see whether this translates in to any translations). I would love to go to one of the two annual SCBWI conferences, in Los Angeles or New York. I would love to do a residency - to be paid to write uninterrupted - what a fantastic endorsement of the establishments belief in your writing skills. I would love to be invited to participate in a book festival. But for now I will sit in the office at home looking out at the lush emerald green of my garden and up to Mt Eden just beyond and try and write the things that might put me on the path to future travel.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Be brave...

Further to my last post on wot I got out of the conference I want to add the following observation/advice (with reference to Tania Roxborogh's presentation on Presentation chaired by moi) - "Be Brave". This is a good mantra for the industry we are in. To send that submission in, be brave. To open that email/letter from the publisher, be brave. To get up and talk in front of a room full of strangers, whether they are adults or children, be brave. Whether it is fair or not that authors now must take more responsibility for their own marketing/publicity/promotion; as Vicki Allpress-Hill noted in her talk on The New Era at Spinning Tales, you are the best person to promote yourself. Who knows you better and will commit more to that task than you will yourself? Be brave, and as with the writing itself, the more you do it the better you get at it. We are not all born performers and some speakers make it seem effortless to have the crowd rolling in the aisles and eating out of the palm of their hands. But if you avoid author talks because you are not a born performer you are missing the opportunity to 'learn' how to be a performer. If you are not a 'natural' then you must find what you can do that does connect you with the audience and leaves them smiling at the end. All the talks I have done so far have taught me plenty of things that do and don't work. They have taught me how to recover if things go astray. They have taught me what I need to know before I begin. This was one of Tania's other gems. Be prepared. You need to not only know what your audience is wanting to know, how big the audience will be and what environment you will be meeting them in but also what tools of the trade you will need with you and what your own strengths and weaknesses are so you can plan how you personally will address their needs and interests. Be prepared, be brave! Like a triage nurse going on to the battlefield with a first aid kit, my box of tricks means I can adapt to just about all situations, no matter the size of crowd, the type of venue, or the range of equipment at my disposal. I have my laptop, my memory stick, (both with several powerpoint presentations loaded) my whiteboard pen, a range of stories for reading and a couple of drafts of several of my stories to show my process. I have a selection of writing tips and exercises on, and examples of, things like show not tell, tone and POV. And I am always listening out for other exercises and ideas I can incorporate for future talks and workshops. And because I have my fantastic box of tricks and always try and wear something quirky or humorous I feel ready to face my audience. They are my lucky charms, my dutch courage and my security blanket.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

The writer in the glowing neon suit...

As my mind slowly unwinds from the conference last weekend I am thinking of some of the underlying truths about the children's book industry that emerged over the course of the three and a bit days. 1. You HAVE to talk to other writers, other illustrators, other players in the industry (publishers, booksellers, librarians, teachers, readers) to move forward. If no one knows who you are now it is less likely they will know who you are in the future. Trust me, if you are serious about making children's books your career, you WANT to be known. People will not come looking for you and your works of genius when they can see that other writer over there glowing in a neon suit that says 'Look at Me!' 2. You HAVE to talk to other writers, other illustrators, other players in the industry to survive. As any gazelle will tell you you are more likely to survive if you are part of a herd. Not because you will escape the lion if you can run faster than another gazelle, but because you are stronger when supported by your peers and you in turn can provide strength to your herdmates. Share knowledge - it doesn't diminish any of you, it makes you all stronger. And with the current rates of rejection it is nice to have someone who can commiserate, stand you upright, dust you off and then send you out into the world to try again. 3. There is NO excuse for ignorance about the industry. There are TRUCKLOADS of information about how EVERYTHING works available out there. If you have not found out it is because you have not bothered. Do your homework. It will make you smarter. It will make success more likely. However if you do not, you are now the SLOW GAZELLE and that makes it easier for me. Are you happy to be the slow gazelle? Okay thats enough for now. I'm sure I'll have some more post-conference revelations and you can be sure I will post them up. In the meantime you will be shocked to learn I am keen as mustard for a rejection so I can send the publisher this letter in reply. And here is a handy link with some excellent advice from the always informative Nicola Morgan.

Monday, April 4, 2011

The Spinning Tales Effect...

The Queen of Pitches lost her britches

Going to the Conference

when alerted to the fact

she said that's utter

nonsense! (Jane Bloomfield)

Since October/November last year my life has been dominated by two things - writing a novel and organising a conference/hui. There have been other things; preparation for my eldests application for a student exchange to the US, preparation for her separate travel to the US for cheerleading worlds (she leaves April 15th), being part of the team on producing my new picture book The House That Went to Sea (now off at the printers) and of course being Mum, wife, daughter, pet owner, housefrau, company co-director and student. But the conference and the novel have occupied the majority of my thoughts. Spinning Tales happened last weekend. The culmination of all the running around, the meetings, the emailings, the plannings, the plottings and the stressing. I think it went pretty well. We had a last minute cancellation from an overseas speaker due to illness but were able to offer a brilliant alternative (thank you Jill Marshall) and make different arrangements for other things affected by this turn of events. The venue, the food, the speakers, the chairs, the volunteer helpers, the drivers, the technical engineer were all really quite stunning in their professionalism and generosity. By thursday I felt that everything the organisers could do had been done and now we just had to see how it all played out. And it played out like a charm. I have been overwhelmed by the thanks and the positive feedback. And I want to say a thank you right back. Writers and Illustrators for children have to be the nicest bunch of people you could ever hope to meet. They are warm, welcoming and caring. And the reason everything went so well is because they made it so. Everyone engaged with what was going on, and with each other. I have watched with a lump in my throat as folk who met up at Spinning Tales now connect up on facebook, forging stronger links of mutual support and encouragement. This is a tangible result - the Spinning Tales effect. I feel so privileged to be a part of this community. Now of course I am down to just the novel and I have no excuses to not focus more time on finishing this....gulp