Monday, January 30, 2012

Procrastinator's anonymous...

Just in case you've ever wanted to learn how to do a Standing Back Handspring, here is my eldest showing you how its done. If you are a novice don't attempt this without a trainer. Ideally you and the trainer should be in a gym at the time - preferably one with a sprung floor. There is a hint of an American lilt in my girl's voice. The venue for the video is the home of her host family in Homestead, Florida. Suffice it to say she landed on her feet in more ways than one. She is about half way through her time there.Things are going pretty well.

I have one child back at school and one not due back till next Tuesday. It is February tomorrow. It is fair to say that the fear of the year is now upon me. So many things I want to achieve and I am twiddling my thumbs instead. I am now an expert thumb-twiddler. Sadly there is little call for thumb-twiddling and none that pay. Ah well, off to put some wine in the fridge for later, work my fingers to the bone writing on all three of my current projects.

Friday, January 27, 2012

Your title is a grain of sand on the world's beaches...

I have felt sick and overwhelmed by the sheer volume of books available on Amazon and talked about on sites like Goodreads. Every day there are more. New series or their offspring being published at a rate of knots by traditional and not so traditional publishers. Plenty are being given away for free. And what chance do I have in the face of so much competition for the reader's attention.  Jeff Bennington says over at The Writing Bomb your book is just one in a sea of books and I feel like I am drowning in that sea. If no one knows who you are why will they pick up your book instead of someone else's. The only path out of obscurity is by building your platform. As Mr Bennington says, there is no quick answer to growing an audience. And in the early stages it may seem as if we are not achieving any kind of growth at all. You can pop up on every book-fan site and comment on 5 blogs a day as recommended, beg friends to review you on Amazon and still not sell a single copy. And then when growth shows we may have already overstepped the too-much-promotion mark. I think we overcompensate by doing as much as we can possibly do, then end up writing less and annoying the pants off people as Nicola Morgan suggests in a recent post over at an Awfully Big Blog Adventure where she asks 'Do You Do Too Much Promotion'. To avoid book obscurity we flaunt ourselves and our wares in every venue available to us. Nicola wisely points out that too much can be a bad thing and as a citizen of the world I have to concede I am suffering from over-promotional fatigue. I feel inundated by product placement, this is the best-largest-smallest-most efficient-cheapest-most luxuriant messages, and sheer variety of products/experiences/interactions/services from which I must choose as I go about my daily life. I don't want to be one of these people flogging myself, my brand and my product in a loud voice to people suffering information overload.  But if I don't promote and work on growing my audience, is obscurity guaranteed? I cannot keep selling to the same twenty friends and family members. Some promotion would seem essential. How much is too much? Where is the tipping point? And as Nicola says, if we promote and then don't actually follow up our first book with another book we run the risk of having our audience drift off like a school of krill on a heavy swell. Successful writers succeed because they keep supplying their fans with something new to enjoy.

Somewhere is a balance between writing and promoting/building a fan base. I think the balance shifts depending on a variety of factors like dates of publication, number of titles, any unsolicited praise/reviews or awards, experience, other events. I think Nicola is right - you have to keep writing to make any kind of promotion pay long term dividends and too much promotion will make your writing suffer. Bennington has a point too - building an audience is a slow (sometimes glacially so) process that never really stops. My award winning picture book The Were-Nana came out in 2008 but reading it aloud the other day won me some new fans.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Trust them, they know what they're doing...

Hmmm, character motivation ... I should be thinking about this at the moment because the book I am rewriting has problems in this area. Character motivation is not a driving force, nor is plot, as historical events sweep the people in my story along. This kinda happens in 'memoir' but memoir is usually autobiographical so character motivation is kinda still evident. This whole writing experience is very different for me as the story was not devised in my head but is based on real experience. As it is not non-fiction, some fiction must be added. And as it is not self generated fiction it is requiring some novel thinking.

Usually character motivation is not an issue. My main protagonist turns up with his or her own identity and like a sculptor I slowly chisel them out of the rock, not so much revealing, as discovering what they look like and who they really are. And the important thing for me is to respect who they turn out to be and not impose on them what I would like. Writers often say that their characters do unexpected things they hadn't planned on and this is true for me. But by respecting the character that is emerging I find it easier to write and plot. Characters will behave according to their nature and personalities and other factors like socioeconomic status, background etc... If you have a feel for 'who' they are, 'how' they will behave becomes apparent. Once you place them in the plot and throw your juicy 'precipitating event' or predicament' or 'problem' at them how they react won't be so hard to figure out. What drives them? You'll know. And it's not enough to have a juicy, awesome problem to throw at them.Do we care whether they solve it or not? What will the solution of the problem do to them? Some rules of thumb: 1) Do you like your character? 2) Do you care what happens to them? 3) Do you believe that they could do the things they are doing? If it works for you there is a good chance it will work for the reader.

Watch out for perfect people who are too beautiful to be true and never put a foot wrong. No one is perfect. Everybody makes mistakes. They don't always have to do the 'right' thing. But they should be true to their own nature. They might mature, they might learn, they might change but only in response to the stimuli you, the author, applies. And if your character is doing something you don't want them to you may just have to suck it up and work it in to your story. Trust them, they know what they're doing.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Finished The Hunger Games - could eat more...

I have just finished The Hunger Games - a book I enjoyed immensely for its novelty, its plotting and the spunk of its main characters fighting to survive in a barbaric 'entertainment' devised by a cruel and heartless society. I wished I could write like that.  I thought it an excellent read even though I felt frustrated and more than a little annoyed when I finished it. Folks, the main protagonist seemed inconsistent to me. So wise, so practical, so intuitive and yet with a bit of a mental block when it came to male/female relationships. But in every way the author showed her control over her plot, and her characters - maybe it was just that this reader didn't always like how Katniss Everdeen behaved? I wanted her to do things differently, to understand what she refused to grasp. She could read between the lines when the gifts turned up from her mentor. She could 'read' the subtleties of the game she was participating in and respond just as subtly. She understood the emotions and psychology of other events in the book, why couldn't she understand Peeta's motivations? She didn't really seem to even understand herself. Okay, I know she's a teenager and that's par for the course, but she was too knowledgeable about everything else to get away with this. And sometimes she seemed to 'get' it and then do an about-face in the next chapter. So no, it wasn't just that I wanted her to do things differently, I think it was a bit of a cheat, with one result being that people would feel compelled to read the next book. Its like those tv series where the sexual tension between characters is almost another person in the room, its so fully realised, but they refuse to even kiss. Its a cheat to keep us hooked. I guess its effective because I'll read the next book and really, I loved the first one. But I wish the author had been more true to Katniss's character, and not pulled the strings quite so much.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Shiny new things...

I drove over to publishers Duck Creek Press this morning to pick up some more copies of my picture book The House That Went to Sea. I'm appearing at the Bloom Festival in Matakana this Saturday morning (storytelling at 10.30 and 11.45 and workshopping little stories from 11 to 11.30) and I wanted some books for prizes. Was most excited to be handed, hot off the press, this

Woot! My new picture book title with Duck Creek Press - Made with Love - Releasing in April!! And then was handed this

not only because there is a fiesty adventurous gingerbread woman featuring in the story but there is another sweet and unexpected connection. All will be revealed soon.

My good writery friend Maureen Crisp (who can be found blogging here) has just released an exciting new contemporary novel Craic in a range of digital formats for 8 to 12 year olds. Go check out this fab looking book here. Or better yet, buy a copy :)

Saturday, January 14, 2012

A muse on the inside...

Okay so while I was busy disproving sacred cow's theories in my last post I think I succeeded in proving that at least part of what she said is true. Old Kitty you are right, it is 'how you say it'. A specific topic is not the problem, the way we deal to it is what engages potential readers. You learn something new everyday - this is a good thing.

Today's juicy link is a lovely long list of things to pique your interest and tickle your grey matter. I particularly liked Meg Rosoff's run down on how to write a book and the lovely link on revision“If I stop believing, I know I won’t have a book at the end of this.” I inherited a sound logical brain and smidge of pragmatism from my Dad, and a more spiritual and artistic world view from my Mum. I tend to err on the side of pragmatism in my day to day life but when it comes to writing there is an elusive magical quality that defies a rational approach. In the course I took last weekend on Writing for Children I kept telling the class to trust their intuition, to write what spoke to them and to believe that solutions to problems would come. Most of all you have to believe in the story you are telling. Sometimes the way it appears in your head, beautiful and stunning and perfectly formed, refuses to transfer to the page in front of you. How can that clever plot twist so clear in your head refuse to take shape in the letters you type. Why won't the words behave? After all, are we not responsible for what we write? Do we not control the story? I think we are, and we do. I used to wonder where the ideas and inspirations, the phrasing, style and humour cam from. I don't talk like that, so how do I write like that? Plenty of writers/creative folk talk about the muse and how all those things come from some external source. For a long time I agreed. But now I think its all in me. A seething soup of everything I've ever read and heard, seen and learnt. A mishmash of my favourite stories and poetry; fun, escapist movies and television programmes, Greek myths and legends told over the radio in primary school, science and history and literature lectures I've attended, personal experiences I've had and people I've met.  There has been an awful lot over the years and now I know somewhere in there will be the answer to my problem, the ending I need, the right metaphor or imagery. Its all there and it will bubble to the surface when the surface is a little less cluttered or when I am not searching so hard. Sometimes the harder I try the more distant the answer becomes.  The bubbling is more effective when i am more relaxed. Running hot water is a successful trigger (shower anyone). I don't have to know how it happens I just have to trust that it will. I just have to let my mind do its own thing and believe the answer lies within - cos if I believe, i will have a book at the end of this.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

If we ever met in the street you'd shake my hand...

So fellow writer Yvette Carol alerted me via facebook to this juicy post about writing about writing perhaps not being the best thing to write about (in my blog), and it has me thinking. I'm thinking this person has a point. There is only so much you can say about writing. And what many people want from writing advice is the penny dropping moment when they get what they need to do, write or say to make all their writing dreams come true. Which doesn't happen. Like magical diets or exercise equipment or fitness regimes (Zumba anyone?) nothing works like eating less and exercising more. Its the same with writing. Write more, and follow the rules of good writing. The magic has to come from inside. Its in there already. Its growing from the seed planted by the way you felt when you read that book that you loved. That book you loved that made you think "I want to do that too". And its getting in touch with that magic that I reckon makes all the difference. So maybe telling you things about writing in general isn't the best use of my blog?

So okay I do think its good to share the ups and downs of the writing to publication journey sometimes. When you are on that road it can seem endlessly long (are we there yet?) with no glimpses of the destination. And to know you are not alone on that road can help you place one foot in front of the other and keep going. And writing is not all I am and think (okay it is mostly) and...and...okay actually I'm thinking that link is a little cynical and I don't write this blog just so I can find readers and sell my books to them. My blog is me thinking out loud, forming my opinions, sucking it to see. And in this current publishing climate when things are changing and morphing and evolving faster than you can say dinosaur, its good to surf the internet and find out what's happening, how it's happening and how people are responding and share what I can with y'all. Its good to try different things, maybe even new things, and realise that mistakes and failures are not the worst thing that can happen and actually if one book dies a death or never gets to see the light of day, maybe even because I did the wrong thing, I'm still breathing air, my heart is still beating and my brain is still thinking oh my god how young did Daniel Craig look in Lara Croft Tomb Raider and I am so going to buy the latest Vanity Fair with him and George Clooney and Matt Damon on the cover... And I hope that reading this you nod your head, or laugh out loud (no loling here thanks) or think you'll keep writing a bit longer or search a little harder for that magic, or think if we ever met in the street you'd shake my hand or give me a hug and laugh with me about things like old friends.

Monday, January 9, 2012



The Half life of Ryan Davis in all its glorious e-formats is on SALE for the month of January ONLY. For the fabulous price of only $US2.99 ($NZ3.99). Available at an e-tailer near you, including Amazon. Also available via the Pear Jam Books Shop.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

The international water cooler of the book reader's world.

I have been having great fun recently with goodreads. What an amazing community it is. A place where book-lovers from all over the world can hang out and talk about the books they've loved and loved not so much. I am cementing local friendships and meeting new people. I am talking about books and some people are even talking about mine. If you have read a book that blew your mind or changed it, that you are keen to share with other people who have also read it, then goodreads is for you. It is the international watercooler of the book readers world. If you were concerned that people might not be reading books anymore, at goodreads you can see them in their thousands consuming books like 2012 was gonna be the end of the world. And oh the books. Many more than you can hope to discover on your own, and reviews you can read to help you choose. Happy sigh - my faith is restored.

On goodreads I have discovered some new book review blogs here and here (feeling very curious about Amanda Hocking's upcoming series) and checked out a blog post arguing in defense of negative reviews here (save the fluffy pink unicorns?) . Over the weekend I taught a two day workshop on writing for children at the University of Auckland's Centre for Continuing Education. If any participants are reading this I just want to thank you for being a fantastic group. You made my task a real pleasure and I am looking forward to seeing your names on the front of books for children in the future. It is always a revelation to examine your own process to share the nuts and bolts of it with others. Writing is an inexact science underpinned by highly individualistic philosophical, cultural and psychological beliefs. None of it is gospel - it is a starting place from which you can develop your own opinions, beliefs and strategies. During the course of the afternoon session of the second day we were discussing the necessity and merits of having an online presence as an author. There was some concern about attracting negative reviews or comments online so Shiloh Walker's post defending negative press is timely. We live in an age where communities flourish online. It makes up a significant proportion of many people's social interactions. People hang out, chill out, and shop online. They make decisions based on what they see and hear online (no licking or sniffing the screen yet folks). It is a part of the social fabric of the world we live in. We can't prevent people from drawing a negative opinion about what we say, do, write or publish. And reactions to the products of creativity are highly personal. We all have different tastes. I know what I like and I assume you know what you like. Truth be told  negative reviews do hurt. My books are my babies that I want to protect from unpleasant comments. But it would be foolish to think everyone is going to like/love my book or even this blog. I figure by having a presence online I can let people know who I am, and what I believe in and value. Then others can read my words, read the words of others and form their own opinions. As people much more famous than I have said, (and I paraphrase), "there's no such thing as bad publicity" and "it's better to be talked about negatively, then not talked about at all". I'll take my lumps, and then I can express my own opinion in my turn.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Help save an author...

Readers, you can make a great difference and help writers keep writing. If you like a writer and their work, please buy their book. The sale of books is the measure the bookseller and publisher use to gauge the writer's value. They are commercial businesses and must sell sufficient product to keep their doors open. If you want to keep reading work from a particular person, buying their product will potentially help them keep writing and keep being published. If you really like them telling others about them will also help. If you cannot buy the book, talking about it is hugely helpful. Recommending it is even better.

If you are on the bones of your arts it is understandable if you would rather borrow from the library then buy a new book. If the library does not stock a particular title perhaps asking for it will encourage them to buy it. This is better than borrowing the book from a friend. In NZ every copy of a book held by a library potentially contributes to the total payment of the Public Lending Right to the author of the book (if they are NZers). Payment of this will also help them keep going.

Writer's can work hard on marketing and promotion of their books with little result. Their best advertising is you, the reader. If you like something, please talk about it. If you don't like a particular book, you don't have to say something negative about it. Saying nothing at all is probably more effective.