Tuesday, September 27, 2011

COMPETITION!!! - Win the e-book of The Half Life of Ryan Davis

Hang on to your hair straighteners ladies and gentlemen, this weekend my all new shiny, smart, super-satisfying young teen novel will be out as an e-book, and available at Amazon. The Half Life of Ryan Davis is a contemporary thriller for 11 to 15 year olds.

"Having an older sister go missing three years before has defined Ryan Davis’s life ever since. All he wants to do is be normal and get on with the difficult business of growing up but the repercussions of Mallory’s disappearance aren’t over yet."

Here is a wee taster. The first person that correctly answers the question that follows will win a copy of the e-book. As I plan to give away more than one copy, if you are not the first to provide the correct answer, try the second question. I may give away an extra copy if I feel like it to other contestants too. I will run another competition when the book comes out in print in December.

Chapter One

Apparently my older sister Mallory was perfect. That’s not how I remember her, but it’s what my mother tells me when I’m doing something wrong. My sister certainly looks perfect in all the photos mum has plastered her bedroom with; photos that sit next to trophies for netball and gymnastics, photos that hang next to certificates of merit for academic achievement, and principals’ awards for community service. But she was just my sister. A sister who fought over the TV remote with me and complained if I took up more than my fair share of the couch. A sister who told me my friends were rude and smelly and called me names. But I guess it doesn’t matter whether she was perfect or not. It’s impossible to be as good as someone who’s just a memory.

“What are you doing Ryan?” Mum asked, glancing over to where I sat at the kitchen table.
I covered my work with my arm. “Nothing,” I said.
“Is that homework?” she pestered. “That better be homework. Mrs Penman wasn’t very happy with your homework last term.”
“She’s just one teacher. I have lots of teachers … and Mrs Penman doesn’t like me.”
“So what did you do to make her not like you?” Mum said, standing at the kitchen bench, squeezing the last home-made muffin into an old ice cream container.
“Nothing. She just doesn’t like me,” I repeated.
“You must have done something, Ryan.’ I could feel her looking over my shoulder. “So is this for her?”
“She’s my Science teacher, Mum. This is for English.”
“Ok. Well, make sure you do your science homework.”
I didn’t bother saying I didn’t have any.
“I’m off to a meeting,” she went on, sitting a knife and a small tub of cream cheese on top of the muffins in her basket. “It’s time to organise the Candle-light Rally for Missing Children again. Gosh, they come around quickly. I need you to look after Gemma.”
“I told Alex I’d be down to see him at the skate park with my bike as soon as I did my homework. You said nothing about going out.”
Mum pointed a wad of paper napkins at me. “Don’t be smart with me. There’s no one else to sit with Gemma and I can’t take her to the meeting. It’s too hard for some of the other parents. Too soon.”
Jeez. Mallory wasn’t here any more but she was still wrecking my life. I wanted to hate her but I couldn’t. It’s hard to hate someone when something bad has happened to them. I wondered if she’d felt this hacked off about babysitting me.
“Can Alex come here?” I don’t know why I asked.
“No. Next thing you know he’ll be texting his mates and there’ll be twenty of them round here. Or a hundred …”
I didn’t bother saying Alex didn’t have a mobile phone at the moment. I’d already told her enough times but she chose not to remember or blocked it out or something. She was good at blocking stuff out. I guess it helped her cope with what had happened to Mallory. I’d see Alex at school tomorrow. In Science class.
“I’ll lock the back door on my way out,” Mum said briskly, brandishing her over-full, jangling key ring like a jailer.
Mallory had just turned fifteen when she disappeared on the way home from netball practice, I wrote as I heard the lock click and the back door slam. I’m older then my big sister will ever be.
I didn’t make Gemma go to bed until an hour after her usual bedtime. Gemma’s okay for a little sister. None of this is her fault. She is a bit of a cry baby, but she’s a girl. Its kind of what they do. She hadn’t moaned at all when I’d asked her to clear the table and wipe while I washed. So I just said nothing while she watched an extra hour of television. I guess you’d call it a silent protest. It’s not like Mum would find out or anything, but the program was a bit grown up and full of swearing. Gemma’s always been on about watching it so I knew she wouldn’t dob me in. I didn’t even bother to make sure she did her homework. That was Mum’s job.
After I’d said good night to my sister I wandered aimlessly around the house. I wasn’t going to do any of the chores Mum would have made me do if she was here. I had a few more days to finish my English assignment and there wasn’t any other homework because the new term of school had only started a couple of days before. TV was rubbish and I didn’t want to ring Alex. He’d be hacked off I never turned up, although he had to be used to it by now. He’d met my mum enough times.
I found myself standing outside Mallory’s bedroom. The last door on the upstairs hallway. I’d seen those forensic crime shows on television. I know what dead people look like. In the beginning I’d imagined Mallory, pale, lying in long grass, her eyes closed. Just her face because I didn’t want to see beyond it. But I couldn’t do it any more. Mum kept telling me she was still alive somewhere. And one day she’d come home and we’d be a happy family again but that was one big fat stupid lie. Mum could tell it to herself but I’d stopped believing it ages ago.
Don’t get me wrong. I wanted Mallory to come back for so long. I waited and waited and waited and the police kept coming back with developments and new ideas and then questions and then, eventually, they stopped coming. I cried bucket-loads of tears – I was a lot younger back then - with Mum and Dad and Gemma, and by myself in my bedroom, and then they just dried up because they weren’t going to bring her back. For a while I hated everything and everyone because what had we done wrong, why was everyone else’s life going along okay and this shit thing had happened to us? And I hated and cursed the person who had taken my sister and wrecked our family and made it break apart into five lonely pieces.
And sometimes I blamed Mallory.
In the end it was Gemma who kind of saved me from becoming a pathetic crying hermit because they were forgetting about us and we had to stick together. Poor Gemma.
I felt a little guilty standing outside Mallory’s room now. It’s not like she’d chosen to be abducted and murdered. For ages I blamed her for all the bad things that happened after she’d gone. And then I did my best to shut her out of my head, except when it suited me to blame her for something else. Like having to babysit Gemma tonight. Even if she was here, she’d be eighteen. She’d probably be going out with a boyfriend. Probably some jock like Mike Crenshaw who played rugby for the senior first-fifteen at my school. Or maybe someone older to piss Mum off. Or she’d be hanging out with her girlfriends and I’d still be minding Gemma although Mum wouldn’t be at the meeting to organise the Candlelight Rally for Missing children. I couldn’t imagine what else she might be doing if Mallory was still around. There wasn’t anything else.
I felt for the light switch and flicked it on. For a second I thought she’d probably be annoying me like crazy if she was here. She’d find a way. And suddenly I desperately wanted to be annoyed. And this flood of sadness swept over me like a wave and threatened to suck me down. As if casting off from the safety of the shore in a leaky boat, I let go of the door frame and drifted into Mallory’s bedroom.
I didn’t know why I was in here. I gave up on the idea long ago that I could find some clue in here myself, something that everyone one else had missed with their fine-toothed combs and their specialist equipment but I couldn’t help feeling a small stab of hope. Then I remembered it all happened three years ago and any clue would just lead me to a pile of bones or a faded empty netball uniform.
When she first disappeared the police spent hours in here, looking through her clothes, flicking through her books as if she'd left a secret coded message in lemon ink in a pocket or between the pages of a favourite book as a clue to what had happened; like she was someone in a Nancy Drew mystery. But she didn’t keep a diary and there was nothing in her room to show what she’d been thinking those last few days before she was gone. There were posters on her bedroom walls of people famous three years ago, but they had nothing to say now. She’d kept a whole lot of stuff in her school bag. She never let anyone else look inside it but she had it with her when she disappeared. They searched for her mobile phone but it was missing too. They monitored it for weeks but there were no calls or texts. Mum had convinced Dad to get a mobile phone for Mallory, saying it would help keep her safe. But a phone can’t protect you if someone has bad intentions. Mobile phones don’t know kung fu and can’t dial for help on their own. And they can’t tell you where they are when the battery’s dead. Just like a person.
A frilly pink duvet lay smooth over her bed with a couple of soft toys propped up on the pillow. The one on the far side was Mr E, her first teddy that I always wished was mine, but I didn’t recognize the other one. It looked brand new; as if no one had ever held it or dragged it through the mud or wiped their nose on it like had happened to Mr E. I punched the new one off the bed. Mallory would have hated it.
Like I’d seen a hundred times before, there was Mallory’s hairbrush, and her earrings and heart necklaces and other jewellery and a bunch of face junk on the top of her drawers. Mum had tidied her girly magazines into a pile but you could see strands of paper sticking out where she’d cut out her favourite hot guy to pin on the cork board above her bed. A chill ran over me as I thought that these things were all that was left of her. Her celebrity crushes in May the year she disappeared and the big plastic rainbow heart that Tyler had given her in year seven, that she wore on a cheap rusty chain. Forever stopped at fifteen, just a roomful of stuff that wouldn’t mean anything to anyone else but us. Like when you take your hand out of a bucket of water and the water falls back into place like you were never there.
I heard the car door slam outside and footsteps climbing the wooden back porch stairs to the house. The key rattling in the lock. I sprinted for the door, quietly let myself into the hallway and along to my room at the other end. It wasn’t worth the trouble I’d be in if Mum found me mucking around in Mallory’s room.

QUESTION: How old is my eldest daughter?
QUESTION 2: Where did my daughter go?

clue - answers can be found on this blog :)

Winners will be announced Next Week.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Ahh technology...

I now have a kindle. My next novel is out as an e-book as well as in print. I am putting Jack the Viking 2: Magnetic North out as an e-book as soon as I get my A into G. It seemed like the right time to embrace the revolution. Is it better or worse then reading the paper version? - well, no, it's just different. Some things don't work as an e-book. And cuddling up with your kids in bed with a good book will not work with a kindle for several reasons. And I don't think it will work with an I-pad either. I like print books. But I like the electronic version as well. E-readers are here to stay. They are not a flash in the pan, fly-by-night trend like tamagotchi or furbies. They are a practical and smart idea that makes sense for a lot of people. And as an author I should know how it works and what it means and how I get my books on to these devices. Whether I liked or approved of the e-reader trend was never the point. The fact is, readers have embraced the new technology and it would be dumb for me to stick my head in the sand now.

Yet technology can be a mixed blessing. A few contentious issues have been flaring up on the interweb recently: Authors at odds with agents and or publishers over content and contracts. First we had a couple of authors horrified that an agent was suggesting they cut a gay character from their novel in order to make the book more saleable. The agent responded saying the authors were using the situation to find a publisher. It all became he said, she said, but whatever the truth of the matter is, it raised an interesting point about what Sarah Rees Brennan calls the Circle of Suck and you can read about it here - http://sarahtales.livejournal.com/189748.html. As a white middle class female, an awful lot of literature is aimed at me and I have nothing to complain about because I can easily read about people just like me, in books that reflect my circumstances right back at me. Thats one enormous comfort zone of reading for me. But if I was gay or coloured or some other minority group I would have to be reading about straight white people because thats what is mostly out there. That would suck. I don't know that I could write with an authentic voice for other groups, but I would like to think that those who could were free to write their stories and able to get published. However the original issue gets resolved (if it does at all), debate like this over the content of books is hugely important.

And then there is author Kiana Davenport who apparently fell foul of her print publisher because she was releasing short stories in e-format by herself. I found her story via Welshcake here - http://welshcake.blogspot.com/2011/09/evil-publishers.html. Although self-publishing these e-books shouldn't matter, depending on what Kiana's contract with the publisher says, like Welshcake I hesitate over what the truth of the matter is. I was a little shocked to see it all layed out in a globally public forum. I was horrified that the publisher could dismiss Kiana so unprofessionally. Was I missing something? Is there more to this story? Can e-books and self-publishing really be causing this sort of reaction? Is telling her story on her blog going to help or hinder Kiana?? I hope she can sort it out. I'm interested to know what happens.

A few more points...1) as my wise and wonderful friend Maureen Crisp www.maureencrisp.blogspot.com pointed out on facebook, if you are in this writing business, it pays to know your rights. It is your writing - a publisher cannot do or expect more than what has been agreed in the contract. And 2) it is your writing - whatever happens to it is up to you. Know what rights you are handing over to the agent/publisher. Make sure you know exactly what your relationship is with them. You are responsible for what happens to your writing.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Will they want to take it home?...

I have had some more nice reviews for The House That Went to Sea, in the Magpies Magazine (volume 26) and the Sunday Herald (18th September issue).

An excerpt from the Magpies review by Rosemary Tisdall, - "Melinda tells a delightful story of subtle and clever manipulation by Granny Gale, as she tempts Michael to try new things. One can well imagine Michael's determination to resist her methods. Gabriella's full-page evocative illustrations create the perfect matching moods and excitement beyond the windows. The sparsely furnished cottage is balanced well with the busy-ness of the mermaids and pirate scenes. I like the way the story develops and I can see young readers wishing it were them on the floating house."

And from the review by Crissi Blair in the Sunday Herald which provides a lovely summary of the story - "A quirky adventure with a delightfully odd grandmother."

And in further developments, The House That Went to Sea may be broadcast on Radio New Zealand - if and when, I will let you know.

Reviews are nerve wracking things for writers and illustrators. Its better to be talked about then not talked about. Its better to get good reviews than bad reviews. Do book buyers read reviews and act upon them? I must say I do, but I am a lonely sample size of one so its hard to extrapolate from this.

And as I did with The House That Went to Sea, I am now reaching that unpleasant phase in the process of publication with my new book The Half Life of Ryan Davis where I know I love my story and I know the publisher has loved it enough to get behind it but now its poised on the edge, ready to throw itself at the public. What will reviewers say? Will they even review it? No matter what you have poured in to your book: the love, the sweat, the tears, the agonies, you cannot tell anyone what they should think of it. You cannot tell them how to read it and how it should be interpreted. They won't know which are your favourite bits, or your proudest. You have to let it go and hope they feel the same way reading it, that you felt writing it. Yikes, I am nervous for my new baby. Will they think its handsome? Will they want to take it home? So you other writers/illustrators/book makers - do you feel like this when your book is released out into the world?

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Any minute now...

Things are cranking up for Pear Jam Books. I have been reading and re-reading The Half Life of Ryan Davis in preparation for print (December 1st) and e-publishing (October 1st) which is getting close. Pear Jam Books' first new publication The Rapture by Phillip W. Simpson is already available as an e-book at Amazon. The first in a YA trilogy, go check it out at http://www.rapturetrilogy.com/
or http://www.amazon.com/Rapture-ebook/dp/B005IF8SYM/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1315695115&sr=8-1 . Pear Jam Books will have books for all ages from board books for the very young to an adult title. Watch this space...

Now as I have the lurgy this will be brief today so I don't germify the intramaweb. After my musings on promotion the other day I saw this lovely post (http://jetreidliterary.blogspot.com/2011/09/promotion-ideas.html) over at Janet Reid's blog which seemed a perfect fit with my witterings. I guess you don't always have to work harder, sometimes you just have to work smarter. Those are very smart suggestions...go take a look.

Okay...I'm off to lysol the keyboard...

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Charm offensive....

A writer friend mentioned on facebook that they wanted to avoid promotional work for any of their books published. They had considered using a pen name to help with this.

Firstly I can totally understand why folk might not want to get involved in promotion. Its hard work, it's generally very public and it is difficult to know to what extent it is paying off. For some there are barriers to them doing conventional promotion. Some book folk relish the public face of their business. They are naturals: witty and amusing, charming and able to have the crowd in the palm of their hand in minutes. People chase them for public speaking engagements, workshops and literary festivals. But if you are not a natural you must learn how to do it, face a thousand fears as you do so and you must do all the chasing which can be demoralising (as if we need extra rejections) and exhausting. And, always,there are no guarantees of the outcomes of any promotion you do.

If you are set against promoting your work, from all my experience and observations so far, I don't think a pen name is needed to avoid it. In this industry in New Zealand most authors and illustrators have to work long and hard to get some attention going their way. If you don't do this, 99 times out of 100 (sadly) no one is knocking your door down or ringing your phone off the hook to get a hold of you to promote your work, interview you or buy 1,000 copies of your stunning work of genius. There are exceptions, but then there are usually mitigating circumstances as well. And if you do get the hordes chasing after you when your debut book comes out, there are effective ways to respond and make use of your popularity without running round promoting yourself like a chook with their head cut off. Publishers do like authors and illustrators to promote their work but a) I don't think a pen name necessarily makes a difference as Emily Rodda will attest and b) here in NZ I don't think it is a make or break issue to signing a contract.

Of course the other side of this issue is - can you forge a writing career without any kind of promotion? I do what I feel able to do because I am afraid the answer to this question is no. I also do what I feel able to do because there is something very special about meeting the children who have read and enjoyed your work. Sometimes they are passionate readers and it is unbelieveably heartening to know they have chosen to include you in their library. Sometimes they are budding writers and meeting you is a turning point for them. Both of these things will blow your socks off. Wear two pairs in winter in case this happens.

I know there are other people who are better at promotion than me and I envy the ease with which they expand their fan base and improve their sales. I know some people who don't promote at all and some have successful careers and some don't. There are also new ways of promoting your work through the social network and with the aid of technology and these mean so much can be done from the comfort of your own home. If you are uncomfortable or unable to promote in conventional ways, it pays to check out the alternatives. Ultimately it is up to you what you feel able to do and how you manage your writing career. As with so many other aspects of writing there is no right one way to do this. Do what works best for you but make sure you are well informed about it before you make those decisions.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

The title Minefield...

It can be nerve-wracking when your publisher wants your input on things like covers etc... For all the times you might think 'I wish I had more control over this' remember that with great control comes great responsibility. What makes a great cover? Who will it appeal to? Will it make your target audience pick the book up? Will it make a wider audience pick it up? Will the people who pick it up feel that the cover represented the contents and feel satisfied with their selection. Or will they feel duped or cheated? Or will they think its better than they expected? Do certain colours put people off. Is the cover too juvenile for the target audience or too mature? Will it attract boys and girls. See - it's a minefield. When you are already sweating and fretting about whether your book will sell or not, if the cover was your idea it can make you sweat and fret more. And yet to be able to share your thoughts on things like this is exciting. For my next book - a teen thriller - I knew from the beginning the title didn't work like it should and a change was likely. It took some brainstorming and some down time where I shoved it to the back of the grey matter for me to come up with a useful alternative. It was weird, as 9 times out of 10 I really like the first title I think of. My instinct has worked well in the past I think, to the point where I feel compelled to stick with the first thing I come up with. But when it isn't right you have to a)recognize the problem, b)be prepared to change and c)do your homework on how titles work. When I felt the need to change the title for this new book I didn't realise how much I had subconsciously been learning about titles and covers (hence the nervousness about having the control and getting it right). I mulled over other titles and occasionally fired off my best suggestions to the publisher and when I came up with the one that stuck, it felt different. Same as the idea for the cover. I had a few but they were too arty or juvenile/mature/cliched. Then when I had my latest idea, it not only resonated with me but with the designer also and her wonderful creative response made me very happy. Here then is the cover of my next book.

And on the back it says

“I found myself standing outside Mallory’s bedroom. The last door on the upstairs hallway. I’d seen those forensic crime shows on television. I know what dead people look like. In the beginning I’d imagined Mallory, pale, lying in long grass, her eyes closed. Just her face because I didn’t want to see beyond it. But I couldn’t do it any more. Mum kept telling me she was still alive somewhere. And one day she’d come home and we’d be a happy family again but that was one big fat stupid lie. Mum could tell it to herself but I’d stopped believing it ages ago.”

Playing second fiddle to a ‘missing, presumed dead’ sister is soul-sucking for fifteen year old Ryan. As he tries to move on with his life he begins to appreciate just how difficult growing up can be. And now there’s a stranger watching him. Will his family ever be whole again? Or did Mallory light the fuse that will blow it apart forever ...

And for all the times when I've wondered about 'my online brand' I rather enjoyed reading this post (http://blog.nathanbransford.com/2011/09/on-internet-theres-no-such-thing-as.html?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=feed&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+NathanBransford+%28Nathan+Bransford%2C+Author%29) from Nathan Bransford this morning. Folks I think he's right.