Sunday, September 30, 2012

Your mind is a temple too...

An old unpublished junior mystery manuscript (oujmm) I wrote a while back has been whispering sweet nothings in my ear and I confess I have been cheating on my university studies with it. Just a few little trysts on my laptop, sneaking around behind research project's back for an hour or two in the evenings. Oh, the guilt. I know I will pay for this. But oujmm looks better than I remember him. He's kept in shape. He wants to change. I can't resist him. Please don't tell on us...

Over the past eighteen months or so I have discovered an interesting fact about publishing, hitherto unknown to me by virtue of the fact that up until that point I had effectively only had one publisher (that's not entirely true as I had multiple publishers for different short stories over the years but they kind of have a separate set of rules to begin with so I expected differences). Anyways, what I discovered is that one publisher is not the same as another publisher. Its not just that the people involved are different, with different tastes and interests. Its also that different publishers can operate in completely different ways. Their contracts are not the same, their advances and requirements and expectations of you are not the same, their sales, marketing and publicity are not the same. Their submissions processes are not the same and how they interact with you is not the same. Justine Larbalestier says it very well here. Sometimes the only common factor across the different publishers you might get to work with is you. This doesn't make them better or worse, it just means you shouldn't expect the same experience.

I also liked this link this morning. I have talked about feeding your creative mind before. Its extremely important to put new stuff in when you are busily taking so much stuff out as you write. Running on empty isn't pretty. But Maggie Stiefvater has taken a different approach. Its not just the experiences your mind requires. Be careful about the food and drink you consume. Its not just the reactions to some substances you personally have that can dull your mind. Its not just your body that's a temple.

And this too at Stroppy Author's Blog - nothing like a call to sanity, eh? She's right - we can't go back so there's no point in whining about how things used to be. They weren't always wonderful anyway. Be smart and embrace the future. It might be better, it might be worse, but either way, with or without you, it'll be happening.

And if you haven't been over to Maureen Crisp's blog recently, you should. She's had some excellent and most useful links in recent weeks.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Sherlock analysed...

So, I'd been hoping I would be able to show you the cover of my new book A Winter's Day in 1939 today but there has been a slight change of plans. Do not be alarmed faithful friends as the changed plans are not problems.

Instead today I am forced to change topic and talk about one of my current obsessions, shoes, chocolate, Sherlock. As we head in to the summer television season the quality of programming is already dropping. I am forced (and okay I am not really having my arm held up my back here) to watch my Sherlock DVDs to ensure the continuing quality of televisual entertainment. And not only am I entertained but I can feel my writing improving from watching things like this with smart plotting and characterisation, creating an effective villain, sowing clues, satisfying conclusions and awesome dialogue. Of course the experience is elevated by great production values, effective direction and superb acting but, really, these are essential in a book as well so its all good training. We writers have the best boot camps. I feel fitter already.

As any good fan will know the final episode in the second series of Sherlock was quite a cliff hanger and it is difficult to imagine how they are going to explain the main character surviving a very busted head and large blood loss on the pavement after his fall from the top of the hospital. One of the writers Steven Moffat has said there is a clue in that final episode to how its done and it is specifically something that Sherlock does that is out of character. I have watched and re-watched and have seen what I think are a few clues but haven't been able to formulate a solid explanation. I think I understand the Higgs Particle better. Damn you Mr Moffat et al - I would have watched the next series anyway but now I am forced to suffer in between times and have much racking of the brain trying to figure it all out - consider my brain severely racked. My suspected clues so far include the front page headline of the newspaper Sherlock reads in A Scandal in Belgravia (with The woman) that says Refit for Historical Hospital. I can't imagine this is just a casual production effort and I can't see any other reason for its inclusion. In the Fall episode Sherlock makes tea (for Moriarty) which he never does otherwise but this doesn't seem to be terribly meaningful. There are several plot developments that have potential such as the little girl screaming at the sight of Sherlock and the blood?/mark? at the spot where Holmes steps up on the ledge, the van parked below, the cyclist knocking Watson over but none of these is an out of character thing for Holmes. That Sherlock is indifferent to Mrs Hudson's being shot is out of character but this is clearly part of his effort to get Watson out of the way. I guess I'm a little surprised Watson didn't question this. Holmes includes Molly in his plans because he recognizes that his previous behaviour towards her has led Moriarty to ignore her, thereby excluding her as a potential target for Moriarty's final plans. She can fly under the radar so to speak. So Sherlock has guessed some of what Moriarty is planning (wheels within wheels) but fails to see that the binary code tapped out is a red herring??? He knew he was going to have to appear to die, how did he not see the code?? That's unlike Holmes. His statement to Molly that he needs her, is unlike Holmes. So Molly and the Hospital are crucial to Sherlock's great escape. I'm hoping there's not some look-a-like/great switcheroo involved (the screaming girl, the convincing dead body). They did whisk the body away with unseemly haste - not enough time to draw a chalk outline round the body folks - don't they usually wait for the police in these circumstances?? Mr Moffat am I warm with any of this? I hope I believe the denouement when I finally get to see it. Either way I'll be learning from it.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Wearing my cranky pants today...

I was a bit bummed to see articles in recent weekend papers commenting on the (gasp, shock, horror probe) six million dollar price tag for sending authors and a coterie of associated folk to the Frankfurt Book Fair this year. In case you didn't already know (if you've been hiding in a closet or under a rock or like, ya know, just not reading my blog) New Zealand is country of honour this year in Frankfurt. It's a big deal. Its a very big deal for authors in New Zealand. We got very excited. If you have been reading my blog you will also know I have had a few issues with certain aspects of New Zealand's Frankfurt programme. Like why aren't more children's authors and illustrators included. And why are so many other non-booky interests getting involved. But lets face it, even those who disagree with me over these issues should understand it is part of my job to try getting as many opportunities as possible for my work to reach a wider audience. Wouldn't you think less of me if I didn't try at all? I would.

Anyways, I digress. Whatever I have thought of the programme, I wish it well. Any greater interest in New Zealand writing in general has the chance of having positive spin-offs for me and my fellow writers. They are a great bunch. I like them very much. And there are lots of tremendous people in New Zealand writing deserving of greater things and if greater things happen for them I will be stoked (and more then a smidge jealous - I am human after all).

But I do not like that folk might be suggesting writers in New Zealand should not be helped to export their product. I feel sad that the public might be encouraged to be outraged at this expense. It reminds me of the cutting of the Queensland Literary Awards earlier this year when members of the public were incensed by the bludging authors in their midst sucking the public coffers dry. I don't know any bludging authors. We are not plundering the public coffers. None of us are rich. All the ones I know work very hard to create the best writing that will inspire, motivate, inform, educate, entertain and feed readers. They feel passionate about words and their potential. The big thing that makes us human is our ability to communicate in complex ways. Books foster our ability with words. Our culture should celebrate this. Recent articles have also lamented dropping standards in literacy in schools. Perhaps if our culture saw its literature as more valuable then our standards would improve. I can't imagine its only 6 million dollars that was spent on last years Rugby World Cup or New Zealand's attendance at this years Olympic Games. I think its important to encourage and celebrate this kind of excellence. I also think we shouldn't be limited to just encouraging sports people financially. Maybe runners sell more gatorade or rugby players more life insurance but writers feed more  minds. Holy moley, public money supported that televisual crime that was the GC. I know our economic situation is grim and people are doing it hard. I thank my lucky stars every day that my SO can cover our bills because I earn diddly even though I have what some might consider a pretty successful writing career. But I also think if we sent a better message about the value of our literary culture in New Zealand then it wouldn't seem so embarrassing and cringe-worthy for children to be picking up a book instead of playing Call of Duty or watching Snooki give everyone an unwelcome eyeful on Jersey Shore. And whatever you might think about literature, reading books does improve a child's chance of future success. So please don't say NZ writers don't deserve this kind of international development. It sends the wrong message.

Friday, September 21, 2012

Writing explained simply....

Hallelujah!!! - We have booked ourselves a fabulous family holiday and the hardest part is reminding myself it is still a few months away and I have some big jobs to complete before we pack our bags and check in with immigration. Because, really, I am ready NOW!! As we did a few years back, we depart these fair shores on December 12th and return just after midnight on the 24th. I love leaving the craziness of pre-Christmas behind and coming back just in time for the Szymanik Family get together. Tis perfect and I will be well rested and maybe a little tanned for the festivities.

Things are still busy, busy, busy. There is my fabostory chapter to finalise, judging to be done and posted up. How will all the Titanic Games dramas end??? There is university research to be nutted out and written up. I have been a school visiting (big waves to the lovely children of New Windsor School, Westmere Primary and Sunnynook Schools where I have been this month) and have hung out at the Kiwiwrite4kidz stand at the NZ Ed show over three days. Somehow, for a driving phobic, I have put a lot of miles on in the car, either ferrying myself or family to our appointments, workshops, classes, trainings, entertainments and the like. When we are away on holiday letting someone else do the driving (or steering, or flying) will be a highlight. I have been reading and rereading and sweating a little over my soon to be pubbed novel. This is my last chance to get all the facts, figures, commas, spellings, pronunciations, and story telling right. Sometimes this feels like the hardest part (although really the part of the process you are in at any given moment is always the hardest part). I am currently casting my eyes over the final, final proof. Time will tell if we need a final, final, final proof.

I am also currently being interviewed for a magazine article and I must say it is a very strange thing. There will be times when I will have to invoke 'magic' to explain my writing process. Tis a bit like when people ask where you get your ideas and at times I just want to say "can't you see them? They are everywhere..." But I know it isn't that simple. I just can't remember how I learned to see them and find them now like I do. Maybe its just because I love words so much, and some words when they come together create a kind of frisson or fusion - maybe like a nuclear reaction, where when separated the two elements are inert but then, when you join them up they create a lot of energy and power - yes maybe that's it. Anyways when you see those particular words together your mind kind of explodes and a story is created, or maybe at least born, and then you have to grow it to maturity. So if you have a fantasy background you call it magic but if you have a scientific nature you call it a nuclear reaction (or if, like me, you owe a lot to both fantasy and science, you just throw your hands up in the air). And then you spend a lot of time putting words in and then the rest of your time taking words out and then you have your story. Simple really.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Take one with each review...

I got quite grumpy over the whole sock puppetry issue the other day but I found this post by Fiction Bitch a very interesting counter argument. Mmmm, I think authors, like any other folk, should be free to form their own opinions on the work of other authors. But it might make it look more credible and less devious if they didn't do it under an assumed name and weren't simultaneously anonymously praising their own work. An author's opinion of their own work is likely to be the least objective :) In the end, your enjoyment or otherwise of any book is no one elses but your own. If you would like to know how good or bad a book is you must decide for yourself. As a reader you may come to trust the opinions of a known reviewer when your views regularly coincide with theirs, otherwise reviews must be viewed as nothing more than the opinions of one individual predicated on their personal experience, baggage, belief systems and probably star sign as well. A grain of salt, folks, a grain of salt. Take one with each review.

If reviewing your own books lacks objectivity and comes out weird and awkward then the argument can be made that authors shouldn't be required to hand-sell their own books either.  Some authors are naturally gifted at selling but not all authors are. That's ok. We have other skills. But I choose to have others sell my books for me. Being author, brand manager and promoter (as well as mentor, mother, SO, responsible pet owner and chief cook and bottle washer) is pretty much a full time occupation and I am not going to spread myself too thin - its never a good idea and means no one really properly appreciates the flavour.

I'm off to go through a final check of the proofs of my WW2 novel as I ignore things I can no longer change (darn it) and look for any lingering typos etc... that I can. Talk soon

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Things everyone should know (in no particular order)...

Committing to be a writer is a bit like starting a family - you don't appreciate the hard work involved until it is too late to turn back. The good thing with both is that the hard work is worth it and not so much like hard work if you are enjoying yourself. Of course there are times when it is just hard work and nothing else and you think the stress of the job may kill you. But, like countless other parents/writers before you, it doesn't kill you and you get some happy, shiny, smiley moments which make up for the cold-sweat, heart-in-mouth moments. Even though its hard work I'd rather be writing (and parenting) than anything else. Good times.

My most recent writery task has been helping the publisher put a map together for the new book. I have been poring over maps and cross checking historical place names and plotting locations and agonising over whether it should be Uzbekhistan, Uzbekhskaya or Uzbekh SSR in 1939. My advice to you dear reader is to never write about a real place during the first 50 years of the 20th century in Central Europe. Write about a fantasy place - the map will be a lot easier.

I have been thinking some more on social media. A while back I lamented that social media was not the automatic fountain of popularity, fame/notoriety and sales success that some would have us believe (you can buy that instead for 29.99 in three glorious colours at The Warehouse). Getting noticed by anybody is really one of the greatest challenges for writers and illustrators everywhere. Social media isn't a magic bullet. And it can be a big time suck. But better to have a presence than not I think. Social media is everywhere and millions of people use it, yet it is still a small percentage of all of those attempting to get noticed that actually succeed. Yet I want to be there if someone wants to find me, or mine is exactly the kind of book they are looking for. I thought I would share some of my observations as part of the social media audience (a consumer rather than a producer) on what I think works/helps.

1) don't try too hard. Relax. If you are a writer you are most likely a reader as well. Appeal to the reader in yourself. And do it because you want to.
2) don't hard sell. If you do nothing but try and sell your product I will go elsewhere to find something interesting/entertaining/unique. If I like you because you are interesting/entertaining/unique I might buy your product. Your blog, goodreads profile, facebook fan page should be about you and your books and your journey and stuff like that, not just a shop front or quest for more 'likes'. Create an enticing environment that your audience will voluntarily 'choose' to like
3) don't tell me you are the next big thing - I like to decide these things for myself.
4) I like substance. If your social media is glittery and flashy with bells and whistles but little actual content I will go somewhere that has substance. Of course some audiences love the glitter, and the bells and whistles and if this is your target market, your investment was worth it. Therefore it pays to know something about your audience. Mine seems to be the fringe with little disposable income but I can't help but keep writing for them.
5) If you are not writing new material I will drift away and find someone who is writing. Promotion is not an end in itself (unless your job is as a promoter). Make some product too
6) everyone loves the chance to win free stuff. Give some product away
7) don't despair if you work your fingers to the bone and you don't make many sales. Keep making your social media forays a reflection of who you are as a person and a writer. This is a long game. I am now finding that my long game approach is paying unexpected dividends.

My daughters recently had an experience that kind of proved all of this. One of them in particular is an ardent fan of and shopper at a particular online American vintage clothing shop - The Cobrasnake. The shop owner is a noted photographer in the LA indie fashion scene. Whenever she receives a parcel from this shop my daughter tweets and facebooks her delight in her purchases. The shop owner came to NZ for fashion week and my girls went to the pop up Cobrasnake shop sale yesterday. Without them saying a thing the shop owner recognised my girls, addressed them by name and took photos with them. Needless to say, they were thrilled. The good fortune was in him coming to Auckland and being there at the shop in person. But what happened was the luck my daughter had created. Its a long game and you never know how its all going to come together. Share your highs, lows, triumphs and disasters, talk about the things you love most and you may find the world (and some very interesting people in it) take an interest.

And here is some entertaining and edumacating advice from writer Maggie Steifvater. Things everyone should know in no particular order (and I think vinegar can be used to keep dried up felt pens/markers going a little longer - vinegar certainly seems to be multi-talented).

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Adopt an author?....(generally house-trained)

Feelin cranky about the evidence of sock puppetry that has been emerging on the intramawebb in recent weeks. Authors, some established with good books and careers behind them, made up 5 star reviews on their own books and one star reviews on their competitiors using fake identities. Of course we also know some folk are paying for others to make up lots of lovely five star reviews to bolster their cache. On the one hand, after reading what Justine Larbalestier had to say on the topic of reviews, I guess I shouldn't worry. Your ratings don't seem to have a great influence over book sales, better to be talked about than not talked about yadda, yadda, yadda. On the other hand I think the minute someone discovers that some reviews are fake, it casts doubt over the integrity of all reviews. And I'd just like to say I haven't faked any reviews for myself or any other book I've reviewed online or elsewhere. If I haven't read it I won't review it till I have. If I tend to have a lot of positive things to say its because I pick books I think I have a good chance of liking. And I try my hardest to be fair and straight up. I feel proud of the good reviews my books have, and intrigued by the not so starry. And I couldn't bring myself to give a bad review with the object of hurting another author's success. What is with some people?? And if doubt is cast over all reviews than reviews have no meaning at all. Why would you do that to authors everywhere. That is a huge cost for some very selfish behaviour. Shame on you

I'm also feelin a lot more cheerful over some other things. I had my second session (and fourth visit) as author-in-residence at New Windsor School yesterday. Usually a school visit is a one off, or I run a series of workshops over a number of weeks with a small group of students (something I've done previously with Auckland Normal Intermediate and Hebron Christian College). Being an author-in-residence offers a very different kind of opportunity, one that's new to me as well as to the school. I have to say, so far, its a terrific experience. It allows you to build a special kind of relationship with the school and the children. I've had hugs, hellos and fan mail. We've been chatting and extending some things we started in the first visit. Maybe schools could have an adopt-an-author programme  where they have a particular author make several visits over a year providing more structured workshops along with informal chat or Q and A sessions, or as I am doing with New Windsor, working with their book club. Everyone benefits. What a great start for the book creators of tomorrow. Maybe the NZ Book Council might like to consider this as an alternative or option to their writers in schools programme.

In other news I think the latest MS is off to the book designer today. That text is closed to alterations now - it is what it is. I feel incredibly excited and nervous all at once. Yeehah!!