Sunday, February 26, 2012

500th post some books!!

I resisted reading The Hunger Games books by Suzanne Collins for a long time. I'm not much into dystopian /futuristic or sci fi stories. I find wading through someone's world building can be a bit of a drag. I like a light touch. I want to feel like I'm there in a story without having to do the engineering to construct the whole world in my mind. The hype was off-putting as well. Too much hype makes it harder to approach a book objectively. I like to make up my own mind. And I wasn't that struck on the premise either - a game where teens have to kill each other to win? And then I saw the trailer for the movie and I bought the first book. While busy trying to get someone else in my family to read it so we can talk about it, I bought the other two in the trilogy and read them back to back in less than five days. Now I'm feeling mighty tempted to start back on the first book again. I haven't had this kind of reaction in a very long time (maybe reading Lord of the Rings as a teenager? I think I read it around twelve times). The books are not without flaws. Plot flaws, annoying qualities in the characters, inconsistencies, some repetitiveness, especially in the last book. But I didn't care. I loved it all. I felt satisfied by the twists and turns and clever resolutions. I loved the politics and the machinations and the uncertainty. This is why I love books. This level of satisfaction is what I aim for when I write.

My book, The Half Life of Ryan Davis, has been reviewed again (yay!). You can check out the review by the fabulous Bookie Monster here. (BTW I am discovering that some adults are enjoying this book too and have been wondering about its crossover qualities).

I have finally decided on a competition to celebrate reaching 500 posts on this blog. I will give any two of my books (your choice) from the following list (picture books The Were-Nana, The House That Went to Sea, or Made with Love, and novels Jack the Viking and The Half Life of Ryan Davis) as a prize to be posted anywhere in the world to the person who comes up with the best crime writing pseudonym for me. Competition closes March 9th. Please submit your entry in comments to this post. Multiple entries allowed.

March is New Zealand Book Month here in our fair country. I am involved in a number of events some of which I've posted below. To support these events I was encouraged to write educational resources for my new books and while I complained about doing it at the time (sorry Maria), especially as I don't have a teaching background and I have only a small sample size of three to base any understanding of developmental and comprehension levels of children, with the aid of my starry teacher sister Halina I have been able to produce the educational resources and I will be making these available here on the blog. If you are writing for children these are a terrific thing to have to support your books. They give teachers the necessary material to help utilise your books in the classroom which seems a win-win situation all round to me.

Kiwiwrite4kidz and NZ Book Month present
A trio of events for those who love children’s books, this March:
  • Know Your NZ Children’s Authors & Illustrators: Test Your knowledge, Win Prizes -
    6pm Tuesday 6th March,
    Takapuna Library, Cnr The Strand & Gibbons Rd, Takapuna, Auckland
For more information or to RSVP
  • Stories Over Supper: Get the inside scoop on our authors and illustrators
    6.30pm Wednesday 21st March,
    Paper Plus, Westfield Shopping Mall, Cnr Glenfield & Downing St, Glenfield
For more information or to RSVP
  • Stories Over Supper: Get the inside scoop on our authors and illustrators
    6.30pm Wednesday 28th March,
    Paper Plus, Meadowbank Shopping Centre, Cnr St Johns Rd & Gerard Way, Meadowbank, Auckland
For more information or to RSVP
Enjoy a relaxed evening - Hear from new and established New Zealand Children’s Authors and Illustrators –
Find out about the latest New Zealand children’s books.
Featuring Jill Marshall, Chris Gurney, Maria Gill, Nina Rycroft, Melinda Szymanik and many more.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Stop what you are writing and watch this

This clip is full of wonderful advice and even more wonderful writers. Watch it, take notes and feel heartened. Thank you to Brian Falkner for bringing it to my attention

Monday, February 20, 2012

You musn't be afraid to dream a little bigger, darling...

I am tired of all the prognosticating about publishing that seems to be filling up the intramaweb these days. I have been trying to distract myself with other things but it doesn't help that one of those other things is book award season here in New Zealand. Sometimes I get a bit headachy from jumping up and down to get people's attention: publishers, reviewers, readers. And the trouble with jumping is that you are only in their view for seconds before you are heading back down again and trying to get ready to jump just as high if not higher the next time. Jumping can be jolly tiring. But if I stop jumping will that group that finally noticed me and who are looking for me at my next jump going to stop waiting and turn their attention elsewhere? It is coming up to announcements for the finalists in the NZ Post Children's Book Awards and I have been feeling nervous, hopeful and downright sick about the whole thing. There are too many wonderful books out there and I don't fancy my chances. Don't worry, people say, there are plenty of great books which miss out. Missing out is not the end of the world. Its not an indictment against your book. Others might look at me and think its a bit arrogant to think my books are good enough. I think its healthy to hope they are good enough.

Awards nominations put a spring in your step that give a bit of height to your jumps and, well folks, as Eames says in Inception, "You musn't be afraid to dream a little bigger darling..." I guess there's always next year :)

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

The Myths and Legends of Authors Incomes

Do people think authors are rich? I mean, sure, James Patterson and JK Rowling and Neil Gaiman and Stephen King must be doing all right for themselves but on the whole do most folk think that all authors are similarly blessed with an abundance of readies? While I might be considered reasonably successful as a writer by some here in NZ I do not earn anywhere near the minimum wage from my writing. Advances are on average (in my experience) in NZ anywhere from $0 to $1000 for children's authors. How many books does your average author put out in a year? I earn more from author talks and workshops but when all income streams are counted up I still earn nowhere near the minimum wage. My SO likes to talk about retiring on the proceeds from my writing, and most of the time I just chuckle to myself. Sometimes I get a little hysterical. Many writers diversify their writing and appearance/teaching/related work portfolios to maximise their income. Most would rather just be writing. Few writers are rich. So when I read about another threat to author incomes over at Stroppy Author's Blog and further comment on the issue here at Catdownunder I wonder how long writers can keep going this way. Sure these blogs are overseas but NZ is not immune to these kinds of issues. There are few careers out there where you work for months on end with no guarantee of payment. There are few careers out there where you can produce an original and critically acclaimed product and be out of pocket. It is disturbing to think the income streams we do have are being chipped away at. I cannot help thinking this is an unsustainable model. If the people who chipped away at these income streams were un-salaried as we are, would things be different? I guess we better start talking about this and finding a way to turn the tide. I don't need to be rich but I would like to earn for the work I do.

And here for further reading, some good advice on successful blogging from Nicola Morgan here. And a good argument on the state of publishing from Kristen Lamb here, (thanks to Yvette Carol).

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Just what I needed ...

I was very excited to read this:

It is perfect. It says what I have always believed inside about picture books. These are the kinds of picture books I aspire to write. Thank you to the wonderful Crissi Blair for bringing this to my attention.

And my brand new picture book Made with Love (out in April) has been reviewed over at KidsBooksNZ.

Friday, February 10, 2012

And then there will be muffins...

Our oven is on the blink. Less than two years old and still, in my eyes, a thing of beauty, turning the oven on results in a complete electrical switch off. As the hob is gas we have been limping by on stove top meals but I yearn to bake. An oven fixer and an electrical fixer both came on Thursday. "Its an electrical problem," said the oven fixer. "Everything looks fine," said the electrical fixer after I said I wanted reassurance I wouldn't set the house on fire next time I made muffins. Friday evening and the oven did a complete electrical switch off as I went to prepare dinner. Neither of the fixers (once the oven man decided it wasn't his problem and wrote out his invoice) were particularly worried 'why' this was happening. They addressed the symptoms, dealt with those and moved on.

Last night, after a stove top cooked dinner and some liquid restorative I enjoyed "The Graham Norton Show". Kenneth Branagh, Zac Braff, and Frank Skinner were all witty, smart and interesting people. They told a good tale. I laughed a lot. But the stand out moment of the programme for me was Branagh's story about writing a letter at age 19 to venerated thespian Sir Laurence Olivier. Branagh was attempting a role in a Chekov play that Olivier had successfully played. How had Olivier played the character? What advice could he give him. Olivier replied. Yes he'd found a way to successfully play the character. No he wouldn't pass on how he achieved this. Branagh would have to figure out how to play the role himself. Olivier was right.

If you do not understand what the role is about, if you play it according to some received wisdom, you are less likely to make it work. This is also true of writing. Some one else cannot fix it for you.You have to understand what your story is about to know how to play it. You will do a better job if you understand 'why' you are doing it that way. Then it will work...and then there will be muffins...

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Waxing lyrical...

Here is a juicy read on the key differences for publishers of print versus digital publishing. We come at it differently as authors but this is useful information. As I've recently learnt a whole bunch of stuff about e-books with the digital publication of The Half Life of Ryan Davis I nod my head at a lot of this. Knowledge is power. Even if you choose not to go down this route with your own stories it pays to understand all the implications. Jonathan Franzen can wax lyrical about print books all he likes and lament their demise but I think his real fear is not print-versus-digital, but a worry about the ease of digital publishing dumbing down the quality of the stories. Mr Franzen, there is some serious rubbish in print. And whether quality or format is the concern, ultimately it is all (as it has always been) in the hands of the readers. Readers like me. I think reading all books by e-reader would do my head in. But I can't afford to buy everything in print, either financially or physically. I still look for quality in both formats. I've rejected buying a whole bunch of e-books despite their .99c price (even some that were free) if I didn't like the look of the prose. Readers will read what they've always read. They will look for writers they prefer and try and stick with them where possible.I don't think the number of people buying Mr Franzen's books in whatever format will change. And in the end, even if publishers could no longer afford to publish him, there is nothing to stop him self-publishing.

And I have harped on a fair bit about promotion in recent times too : the hairy necessity and the fine line of not enough/too much. Waggle your eyebrows the wrong way and you will be over the line. I like the guiding push-me-pull-you philosophy of Stroppy Author on this topic. Go read it here.

I am still thinking on what competition I am going to run in honour of reaching 500 posts. Feel free to let me know what you would like - old books, new books, the promise of not another 500 posts?

Sunday, February 5, 2012

The undecidedness of it all...

Yayayyayayayayayay - tarantara - 500th Post. I'm thinking I may have to run some kind of competition in honour of this auspicious milestone. Look out for details soon!!

There should be a rule or something that the next season can't turn up until the previous one has been and done its thing. Summer, you have been a bitter disappointment. And all those ads and catalogues for Autumn just rub it in that I haven't really had any value out of the summer clothing I bought. Pah! A decent Summer is the only thing that makes Winter bearable. I am VERY annoyed.

A multi-talented friend who read my latest novel suggested I should write an adult thriller. I must admit I'm developing a taste for reading them. I would like to write a darker story but I am still keen to write more for the YA audience. Would it have to be for adults if it got darker? Was interesting to see recent news that actor Daniel Radcliffe was drunk at times during filming for Harry Potter - based on earlier reports I suspect it was during HP and the Half Blood Prince. He says he got off the booze and cleaned up his act for the final movies. Another minor HP regular was dropped from the final movies due to a weed habit. I think that one might have been involved in the recent riots in Britain as well. What's interesting to me is that these things aren't reflected in the HP stories or in many others. Harry has a very chaste kiss or two in the last four books/movies. He gets a little jolly occasionally on Butter Beer and the 'liquid luck' made him very laid back but on the whole he's almost a monk.  Is he a real teenager? The only thing that really gets explored is violence. I loved the HP books and movies. There is a lot to enjoy in them. But these teenagers aren't living the life of your average teenager. Where are the pimples, and the experimentation with sex and substances? Where are the arguments, the raging hormones, the flip-flopping of tastes, opinions and emotions. The undecidedness of it all.  I don't think teenagers are quite as bad as the ones portrayed in the UK series of Skins (and more recently Misfits) where it is nothing but sex, drugs, violence and alcohol. I know the HP series began as children's books and it would have been inappropriate to dash too far ahead of this readership even though Harry was growing up as the books progressed. One of the perils of long series I guess. But if I write for teenagers I want to keep it real. Their lives are messy. Do I want to pretend otherwise? I remember wanting to read the kinds of books I'm now thinking about writing when I was a teen.  I wanted to know about the messiness of growing up. I want to write about it now. Or am I just afraid of writing a book for adults.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Spread Love, Not Hate

I'm joining in on an anti-bullying event: Spread <3, Not Hate today. It's an issue I've always been concerned about. Some one I know and love has been bullied. I struggle mightily to understand why people get satisfaction from seeing others suffer. I don't get how it's amusing or empowering to them to drive someone to feel worthless, or depressed, or worse. Who made them the arbiter of what's cool, successful or smart?
I tell bullied people that they are better people than their bullies will ever be. And the best revenge is becoming the decent and successful human being that their bully is unlikely to become. Because the bullied know how people want to be treated. They know friendships should be about mutual respect and trust, not about fear or who has the power. They are too busy working on becoming someone to take time out of their schedule to belittle someone else. Because if you unjustifiably think you are the best thing there is; if you feel invincible, if your self worth depends on crushing someone else's, if you spend your time destroying other people, there aren't a lot of job vacancies for folk like that. Don't be that person! And if you have been bullied I hope you are able to find the strength to survive and become the person you want to be. The wise Eleanor Roosevelt once said, "No one can make you feel inferior without your consent."  Don't buy the fiction the bully is trying to sell you.

Spread Love, Not Hate

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Getting steamed...

The act of reading itself, understanding how people communicate; both ideas in written form and through interaction between characters - the interaction between book and reader - the power and satisfaction of coming to your own conclusions, even if these conclusions are that it was nothing other than fun - is enough. That there is one correct meaning for a written text is a terrible burden to lay on a reader . So I might have had something particular in mind when I wrote my story? Well that is a necessary part of the process. But while my intent enables me to write my story, it is not what enables the reader to read it. Some folk will see what I saw, others will enjoy the story for its own sake, and some will find new meaning because of their own experience, or in spite of it. And that is the way it should be.

And yes too many cooks do spoil the broth  Its not wrong to show your work in progress to someone else as you go along. A spot of support, an encouraging word, a gentle touch of guidance to put us back on track can be just the ticket to a publishable manuscript. I should know - this is how my novel Jack the Viking came to life, with the terrific advice of the wonderful Barbara Murison, when I was on the NZSA's mentoring programme back in 2005/6. But I don't share my WIPs with too many people. Especially if I am unsure about what is happening in my plot. Group solutions never work. I need to nut out solutions on my own and maybe, just maybe test them out if I am unsure. Don't let the steam out folks. However hanging out with other writers regularly is good for you and your manuscripts.

As I pointed out in my last post (and I am suspecting most, if not all of you will have noticed) it is now February. February has a lot to recommend it.  For a start it has Valentine's Day in it (yes I am a sentimental fool and proud of it) and my wedding anniversary in it (best decision EVER to marry that man) and the weather is usually rather good and the offspring are back at school but my own studies haven't really started yet. However there is a huge BOGIE in the month. On February 28th the finalists for the NZ Post Children's Book Awards are announced. It is a special form of torture for eligible authors and illustrators. Bring on March 1.