Sunday, October 27, 2013

"Artist Dies of Exposure"

Things are weird. I don't seem to be a new writer anymore. Ideally I would like to read over a job description for this stage that I have reached. First I need to identify what this stage is. I'm tempted right now to call it a stage of confusion.

My confusion is exacerbated by the contradictions at play in the book marketplace. What value do we place on the written word? Much has been said on the internet recently about creative folk being expected to do work for free. We are exhorted to refuse work with no pay attached, in order to change the attitude that this is acceptable. As Tim Kreider says in this article in The New York Times, "money is ... how our culture defines value, and being told that what you do is of no ($0.00) value to the society you live in is, frankly, demoralizing. Even sort of insulting. And of course when you live in a culture that treats your work as frivolous you can’t help but internalize some of that devaluation and think of yourself as something less than a bona fide grown-up." On the one hand technology makes it crazy scary easy to obtain content for free. On the other hand some folk genuinely see what we do as indulgent and in no way the equivalent of whatever they do as a plumber or farmer or politician etc... It makes it very difficult to make a rational and objective decision about what we are worth, and then to place an actual dollar figure on visits, workshops, or anything we write. This is compounded by the fact that there is very little that is uniform about the writing process. You could not apply an amount per word because two stories of the same word length might have varied in the time taken to write them, possibly even by years. This 45,000 word story in no way resembles that 45,000 word story. Talks and workshops are always tailored to the particular requirements of each audience and the focus requested. So not only must I find a unified formula to apply a fair and reasonable value, and factor in what the market might be able to afford, I first have to have encouraged end users to see that they should pay for the work I have done.

I was saddened too to see a bit of outraged brouhaha in the media about the fact that Kim Dotcom's file sharing site Mega was offering free downloads of Man Booker prize winning novel The Luminaries by New Zealander Eleanor Catton. On the one hand I share their outrage. On the other hand I am disappointed that no one previously noticed the books by all the rest of us being downloaded thousands of times for free on sites like Mega. If nothing else I hope this new attention on the issue raises public awareness about the problem. But in an effort to preserve my own life I shan't be holding my breath for change to happen any time soon.

You might think with some years of experience under my belt and a reasonable and varied publishing history that I would have a firmer sense of the value of my work and time. You'd think I would know what point I have arrived at in this career journey of a children's author. It might seem like a leap forward to reach this next step. Yet there is strength and excitement in beginning: trying on a new idea/embracing your creativity is like being the kid in the candy shop drunk on sugar and the power of a disguise. Somehow this lovely story captures this and  having shed the beginner's dinosaur skin I must now figure out how to live as the next me. Allie Brosh understands my confusion perfectly.

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Off to do a little sprunting...

well, that was fun! As far as I am concerned, words are an endless source of goodness and entertainment. Thank you to everyone who entered for providing me with some delicious, odd and infrequently used words that I will treasure forever. But there can be only one, and (drum roll please) the winner of a copy of my new book While You Are Sleeping is Stephanie Thatcher who wooed me with nomophobia ( the fear of being out of mobile phone contact) and then clinched the deal with this link to ten outstanding-in-the-field words of dusty and obscure origin, limited meaning and fantastic roll around in your mouth fun-to-sayness. 'Uhtceare' especially seems to have been made for me. And I am now desperate to find a way to use sprunt and groke in a story although I should have no trouble with ultracrepidarianism, as this happens so often I'm surprised it isn't in current use. Congratulations Stephanie - email me with your address and whether you want a softback or hardback.

And special congratulations to New Zealander Eleanor Catton; fabulous, smart and youthful winner of this year's Man Booker Prize for her novel The Luminaries. That has to look pretty bloody amazing on the old writing CV. And it makes a nice change to have a writer getting this much press in the NZ media. It almost makes up for the lack of a book page yet again in the Sunday Herald. I am always surprised at how little is known (and how little interest is shown by the wider community) about books and authors outside my writery circles. At times I think, well it's a fringe topic that most people don't give attention to, and then I realise how much I know about a wide range of fringe topics or even just the interests of other people that aren't my own interests, and then I think dammit, books aren't a fringe topic, they are the gateway to a healthy, educated, empathetic and caring society. And then I get grumpy. I think Neil Gaiman was feeling a little grumpy too when he spoke so elegantly and eloquently on the topic of why our futures depend on libraries and reading. We shouldn't have to work so hard to encourage folk to pick up a book or two or discuss them in an everyday fashion. Books matter people.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Win a copy of While You Are Sleeping...

Time for a book give-away methinks. My new picture book While You Are Sleeping is out this month. I am having a wee launch next month to wet the baby's head (so to speak) but as this is the actual birth month a give-away seems like a good way to kick things off. If you want to know more about the book here is the front cover

here is the back cover

here is some information on the wonderful illustrator Greg Straight. And here are some more reviews to give you an idea of what it's all about. From KidsBooksNZ and Around the Bookshops.

To win a copy
I recently came across a word I had never ever heard or read before - ratiocinative. A few years before that the word gallimaufrey caught me by surprise. Especially when I came across it twice in the space of about twelve hours in unrelated sources. To win a copy of the book (your choice of hardback or soft) post your favourite obscure word in the comments and the winner will be the one I like the best. Competition closes Friday 5pm - relatives of the author, illustrator and publisher may not enter. No correspondence will be entered into. Judges decision is final cos she's in charge.

Monday, October 7, 2013

Happily hanging out in a parallel universe...

My first story was accepted for publication back in July 2002. A second was accepted in October of the same year and ended up coming out first in April 2003. Both were short stories. My first picture book was accepted 2004 and my first novel in 2006. I'd been writing for several years before that first acceptance and dabbling secretly for many years before that.

If I knew what lay ahead of me before the first 'yes' I don't think I would have believed it. Not because it is more than I could have imagined. Although at times it has been (and then there have been the other times when it has been downright depressing and way less than what I hoped for). Not because publishing and books are inexorably changed from when I started out - and they are, in ways few could have predicted. It is because this has turned out nothing like my expectations, and the more time passes the less sure I am of what will happen next.

Don't get me wrong - I like where I am at. I'm proud and excited by the way things are going most of the time. But if you'd asked me to predict where I'd be ten or 15 years down the track I don't think you would have been able to accuse me at any point of having ESP.

Which leads to a small problem I have when I think about what advice to give new writers.  Okay, all the basics are still true. The fundamental tenets of writing and editing are still the same. Characters, plots, settings and voice all function pretty much like they always have (okay maybe they have gone a bit post-postmodern). And the advice about joining organisations and writers groups is still true. Even the rules about submitting are still the same, although the range of alternatives to traditional submissions has widened. But at some point I seem to have hopped onto a parallel universe. One populated by that alien chameleon Benedict Cumberbatch. Where time runs differently, sometimes indifferently, and never uniformly. Where the things most likely to happen don't, but the most unexpected and often lovely things do. And the best piece of advice I can give you now was crystallised in my mind as I watched the weirdest sitcom on tv last night "Don't Trust the Bitch in Apartment 23". It's not rocket science. And it's not new (and that programme is really very strange). Networking is how you make things happen. Sending your CV out, honing your letter of introduction and waiting at home for the phone to ring have their place. But more things are likely to happen if you get out there and shake hands, introduce yourself, get seen and take a chance. That doesn't mean you can push things. Results are usually best when they happen organically. As in, you plant that seed, water it and walk away and wait for the sun and time to make things grow. I've had eggs in baskets that haven't hatched and yet chicks have popped up in other places. I've tossed my hat in the ring and had it flung back at me, hitting me in the back of the head. But sometimes it gets returned with an invitation. Or with bells on.

I can't guarantee you results. No one can. But you have a greater chance of being in the right place at the right time if you go places where things happen. Fill in those stretches where the only thing that happens is your impatience, by making new connections, saying yes to things that drag you out of your comfort zone and where you don't even say anything but you see and are seen.And be open to things. Because I'm discovering the unexpected is a pretty great place to find yourself in.

Now that I've exhausted all my metaphors we are off to have a rest.