Thursday, December 21, 2006

Finished ... shopping

I finished the last of my Xmas shopping on Wednesday. The feeling of relief was immense.
Today in Melbourne it is very hot and dusty, but not as smoky as yesterday, when we had the highest pollution reading ever (I think), comprised mostly of airborne particles, i.e. smoke from the bushfires. Right here in the middle of Melbourne, my house is not likely to catch on fire (unless someone is silly enough to leave Xmas lights going and they short out). But there are a lot of people out in the bush who have been on high alert for more than a week. As one said yesterday, "I wish the bloody thing would just come so we could fight it and be done."
Our house seems to be suffering from pre-Christmas bah and humbug (not me, I'm hiding from them all and writing). You would think the joy of being on holiday and not having to go to work would cause some level of happiness. Apparently not.
Having spent many $$ on gifts, I was reluctant to spend more on books (a good reason to hate Xmas actually) so I decided to do something I'd been considering for a while - get out some old Patricia Cornwells and read them and try to work out why I dislike the last two Scarpetta books. And I think I've figured it out. The recent books have been written in first person/present tense. The old ones are in first person/simple past tense. She seems to be one of those writers who can't handle present tense. She's not alone. It can be clunky, slow and verbose, the opposite of the immediacy you might be trying to achieve.
Go back to simple past, Ms Cornwell. Do us all a favour.
And I also read (in one day - you can tell I'm on holiday!) "Small Steps" by Louis Sachar. Terrific book. Great example of raising the stakes for the main character, making things gradually worse and worse, while you're biting your nails, hoping that this time the guy makes the right decision.
OK, back to the rewrite I'm working on. I've read Miss Snark's crapometer for the day - it'll be days and days before she gets to my entry. I can wait.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

This Writing Job

Most jobs in life are noted for their sameness - you do the same thing day after day, week after week, or things go in cycles but are usually predictable. While many people declare they hate their jobs (95% according to a recent survey), they would probably say what they hate is the boredom and sameness. Yet, paradoxically, this is the very reason why they don't quit. Sameness is safe, predictable, secure. You work your hours and you go home at the end of the week with a nice paycheck that pays the bills and buys food.
Writing? Never the same. Just because one story or novel worked out well, that's no guarantee that the next one will be easier, or even work at all. If you write the same story over and over, the critics will lay into you and you'll be labelled unadventurous or boring or predictable. If the new book is deemed of a lesser quality than the previous, you'll get it in the neck for that too.
Money comes and goes. Usually, it goes. Last year's bestseller is this year's remainder, and that healthy royalty cheque dwindles alarmingly, so that you start to think about going back to waitressing or driving taxis.
Output surges and dies. One year you produce three books, the next year(s) you strike a story that just won't work and several years later you have to abandon it. No product, no sales, no advances, no royalties.
The exciting flush of the first draft dies under rewrite after rewrite after rewrite. Your agent stops answering your calls. But you have to keep writing. What else can you do?
Actually, you can stop. I've known several writers who have written three or four novels, then gone off to do something else. I've known talented writers who decided it was all too hard. No one is knocking on your door, begging for your latest manuscript. No one cares much whether you write or not. Your mother keeps hinting that you should get a real job.
Depressed yet?
Not me. Not right now. Oh, there are times when I yearn after my old waitressing job (except now I'm such a cranky person I'd probably be a reincarnation of Carla from 'Cheers', only worse). But the lure and promise of the story idea not yet written, the vision of the story that haunts me for several years until I just have to write it no matter what, the high that comes from having written, the way in which my own words can surprise me at times as if it wasn't really me who wrote them ... there are a million reasons not to give up, and they are all to do with writing. Not with getting published. That's the honey bee on the hibiscus (well, you didn't think I was going to say 'icing on the cake', did you?).
That's my quiet Wednesday evening rumination after lunch today with my writers' group, the best group of women writers I'll ever know. They're my Christmas present every Wednesday afternoon, all year.
Write on, girls.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Bookshop Addiction

A lot of writers I know suffer from the inability to walk past a bookshop. Even worse, many of us cannot enter and then leave a bookshop without buying at least one book. This is only partly solved by visiting the library more often, as they have this unfortunate rule that you have to take the books back to them (and they even fine you when you're late!).
But there is nothing more joyful than wandering along the shelves and finding a new book by one of your favourite authors. Such was the case last week when I discovered a new book from Louise Rennison. First of all I had to check it really was new (her books are often released in the UK and US with different titles, and here in Australia we get both), and then because it was hardcover, I had to hold my breath and check the price. US and UK hardcovers here often cost AU$35-40, which puts them out of my reach.
Lo and behold (a suitable Christmas expression), it was a "cheap" version at only $20. So it went into my shopping basket immediately. If you want a good laugh, try her books - YA humour written in diary form - they are guaranteed to make me laugh out loud.
I'm still waiting for Kate di Camillo's book, "The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane", to come out here in paperback. That's one HC that does pass the $35 mark.
My holidays are looming so now is when I start stockpiling "good reads" for my time off. Christmas? What Christmas? Don't bug me, I'm reading. Yes, and writing lots instead of little bits. Headspace is gradually returning, filling with words instead of admin and chores and grading and enrolment stuff-ups.
Books I would recommend from this year's reading? I tend to go with the ones that stay in my head - to me that means they were strong enough to be memorable. "Whale Talk" by Chris Crutcher, "Dairy Queen" by Catherine Murdock, "Kira-Kira" by Cynthia Kadohata, are three I can think of right now.
I've enjoyed the new Ian Rankin, James Lee Burke and Tess Gerritson. And my binge on literary fiction in the middle of the year was great for thinking and writing. I've also got "We Have to Talk About Kevin" on my stockpile, along with "Thirteen Moons" by Charles Frazier.
All that reading will be wonderful, and it will keep me away from the computer which has caused my neck and shoulder to seize up again (serves me right for not doing something about the ergonomics). The laptop will be allowed on holidays with me as long as it stays on my lap and doesn't sneak up to the table (too high and screen at bad angle). I have to get this ergo stuff right, because the dictation software programs all hate my voice and make millions of errors.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Nearing the End of the Year

No time to catch up on all the blogs I missed while I was away (other people's, that is) so have skimmed a few and discovered that we are coming up to the Dead Zone in publishing. Agent Kristin Nelson says she is madly submitting this week because after that, most editors are off on early Christmas breaks or trying to clear their desks. Useful to know, if you are about to submit something yourself.
Where I work, we are madly interviewing new applicants for 2007, and it's a very interesting process. These are people who want to be writers or editors or something like that (we once listed 34 different jobs our students could do after completing the Diploma, and novel writer was only one), but we have learned the hard way that we need to screen more effectively. So we created a grammar and punctuation test. One page long, three short sections. Some people still manage to make more than 20 errors. We have also learned the hard way that these people do really badly in our course and often either fail or drop out.
The bald, unvarnished truth is - if you want to be a writer or an editor, you have to know how to use the English language, how to make it work to its ultimate best, and if you can't punctuate properly or keep your verb tenses consistent or spell reasonably well (and know how to use a dictionary for the tricky ones), you haven't got much chance.
I sometimes feel very lucky to have gone to school when all that stuff was taught - I see young people coming out of high school who didn't get the early grounding and have very little idea of even where to put a full stop and end a sentence. I've come to believe that if you don't get it early on, it's five, or even ten, times harder to learn it later on. I have seen a few who have managed it, but not easily.

Hong Kong Pics

Fish shop in Wanchai on the left- most things are still alive (and moving - if something isn't moving, apparently you bargain for a cheaper price). And the other photo is of Tai O, a fishing village on the south end of Lantau Island. I caught the fast ferry to Lantau - a half hour trip - and then the local bus to Tai O. The village is famous for its shrimp paste.

Friday, December 01, 2006

All Business?

Have returned from Hong Kong, and Melbourne seems quite sedate. I had to do grocery shopping today at my local centre (mall) and found myself greeting people and being very friendly - a HK hangover, as everyone there is so polite and helpful, even if you are asking dumb questions (such as "where is the tram stop?" and they point just behind you).
We packed in a huge amount while we were there, running a wide range of classes and seminars, building our "client base" (feels strange saying that - I still think of everyone as students or fellow teachers or trainers - the difference between business and education, I guess, but don't get me started on the new university culture where business takes precedence over education).
We had classes at the YWCA, training sessions in editing and writing with Women in Publishing, more training in creative writing with secondary students with Chinese-school teachers, I had a great day with the Grades 4, 5 and 6 at Peak School and another inspiring day writing with kids in Repulse Bay. Also spoke to SCBWI members one night. Time off? Well...
One day in Shenzen, shopping in the madness that is Wo Lu - a building filled with five floors of little shops, all with sales people who follow you and tug at your arm while trying to persuade you to buy something (and offering lower and lower prices the further you go from their shop). We had a shopping guide book that helped us to find our way around what must have been at least 1500 shops.
Another day at Hong Kong Park in the huge bird aviary (and by the turtle pond), then over to Kowloon to look at clothes, ones which I was more likely to afford. The branches of Gucci, Versace, Chanel etc were avoided.
One afternoon at Stanley Market, which was a welcome change as no one pursues you down the street and you rarely need to think about haggling. I think only the strong and the brave can endure more than two full-on haggling days.
My favourite place was Wanchai, where our hotel was - lots of lanes filled with the local market stalls selling everything from live fish to dried seafood, all kinds of vegetables and fruit, and live chickens beheaded and plucked while you wait (no, don't look, Sue!). Once again, I ate many bowls of noodles and drank my favourite ginger tea with black honey.
My last night was spent at the Happy Valley race track with the EMB social club outing. All my chosen horses did dismally, so I came home with a lighter purse but a happy heart.