Monday, July 30, 2007

Scary computer stuff

Today was the day I had been avoiding/putting off/trying to ignore for several weeks. The day my husband took on the task of moving my files and programs onto a new computer. I had backed up everything (I hoped) onto a small hard drive and given instructions - minimal but clear - about where things had to go, file- and directory-wise.
Then I went to work. And spent most of the day either trying not to think about it or crossing my fingers.
Came home and he's all grumpy. Uh-oh. What happened?
Well, the transfer worked fine, but when he was carrying the old computer (which I wanted to keep for a while just in case) outside, he tripped on the steps and dropped it. Not a good thing to happen to a computer. It won't talk to us anymore. He's still working on it.
In the meantime, I have realised that all my bookmarks in my net browsers are gone. Thankfully, my emails and address book moved OK, thanks to good instructions from Eudora. The bookmarks may be a benefit. I have to try and remember what they were, so any I don't use regularly are gone from my memory as well as the computer's.
This will be an ongoing process. Patience is required.
Saw an interview tonight on the ABC with Tom Keneally, and laughed at some of the things he said. Talking about writers, he said a novelist has to believe the world wants and needs his/her book - that requires a huge amount of confidence and a huge amount of ego (paraphrasing here). He also said his family has kept him sane, and that being on your own all the time as a writer encourages dark things like self-doubt. A writer needs to go out in the world to talk to people, and it's why he likes talks and book signings. It's a chance to see that people actually do buy and read his books - I know the feeling. Often you feel like no one knows your book even exists, and if they do, they're going to ignore it!
It occurred to me that school visits do the same thing for a children's writer (provide that contact with real people and real readers). Good to keep in mind.
In August during Children's Book Week I will be in Canberra for three days, doing nine school visits. Once upon a time that would have scared me witless, but I'm getting better at it. I just wish the kids would get my jokes more....

Sunday, July 29, 2007

100 x 100

Monday of last week, I started the 100 x 100 thing (running via a YA group I'm in) where you commit to writing 100 words a day for 100 days. At the same time, I made a personal commitment that, when possible, I'd try for an hour of writing instead of 100 words. So it's been 12 days of meeting either the 100 or the hour, and yesterday I ... didn't.
I could say it's because it was the day I set aside to clean out two rooms in my house - the two that accumulate the biggest amount of stuff that eventually gets to a point where we have to do something or we can't get into the rooms. Sadly, one of these rooms is my office. After doing Randy Ingermanson's seminars earlier this year, sorting out and clearing out my office was a big goal for this year. The other room was just full of junk - bits of computers, discarded things like clothes for the charity shop pickup, old books and papers, old bits of cars - you name it, it was probably there. So I spent the whole day on it.
There was still no excuse for not writing a measly 100 words. Except ... I had decided to use this writing thing to work on a new YA novel and because I haven't planned enough of it out yet, I'm winging it. Which I hate. Because I start to feel like I'm writing a load of rubbish that will all have to be taken out again later.
Someone (might have been E.L. Doctorow) once said that writing was like driving on a dark road, and you only see as far ahead as the headlight beams allow. At the moment I feel like I'm driving along at about 100km an hour, shining a torch.
For the next few days, the 100 words or one hour will have to be spent on planning and character work and building new plot possibilities, or this novel will be put out with the stuff for the charity pickup!
In the meantime, reading continues. Finished Ranger's Apprentice by John Flanagan, which is about a young boy who becomes a Ranger rather than a warrior. Has the standard evil lord who is trying to take over the world, etc, but also some humour and good characterisation to carry it. Also read Dead Weight by John Francome, a crime novel set in the world of horse racing. When someone is touted as the next Dick Francis, I get suspicious. Francome is not bad, and is different to Francis in that he uses several different 3rd person viewpoint characters. I've always like Francis's characters and thought they carried his plots with extra dash, but then I am a first person kind of reader. Francome kills off a character unexpectedly and this raises the tension level for the rest of the book quite considerably.
I tell students (and constantly remind myself) that you have to raise the stakes and keep the tension working in a novel, no matter what genre it is. Being too nice to your characters ends up being pretty boring!

Friday, July 27, 2007

Winter Blues

I received an email from a friend yesterday who said she'd had the winter blues, but she was over it now. It sounds like a strange thing to say, but here in Melbourne it's actually a recognised condition, due to not enough sunlight (well, that's one explanation). After years of telling us to stay out of the sun, now we need more of it in winter. Vitamin D and K, I think.
We see it in classes at uni - this is the time of year, running into mid-August, when students are likely to drop out. Especially from night classes, where the effort required to come out on a wet, cold, dark night to class each week can get too much, and if you come down with the flu, it's another big strike-down that's hard to struggle back from.
As a writer, you'd think that staying inside by the heater, writing and reading ... what more could you want? But the cold and wet and darkness does start to get to you.
Gradually, the book you're working on starts to seem like the biggest load of garbage you've ever written, you feel like you'll never have another decent idea ever, the rewrite looming when the editor's comments arrive will be impossible (and she's going to hate the story now anyway), and all the other stuff that's crowding into your life threatens to smother you.
A desert island starts to look like a viable option. One where there is no electricity, no pens or paper, and no one wanting anything. But with lots of sunshine and lazy days. Aahhhh....
Not going to happen. Instead, you (and that does mean me, too) have to find ways to revive, restore and re-inspire.
1. A good movie, at the cinema, that you can get lost in. No, haven't seen the new HP yet, so might go this weekend.
2. Poetry. Billy Collins' poems are the best for this, I find.
3. Footy, or any sport where you can go outside and scream your lungs out.
4. Long walks, even if it's raining. The winter air is terrific for recharging your energy.
5. Finding something new to try. Something active that gets you out of the house.
6. Lunch with a bunch of writers, and no one is allowed to grizzle or grumble. You all have to celebrate being writers, talk about great books you've read (and swap titles), and celebrate your achievements.
That's a start, at least. And the next time the sun is actually shining outside, I'll be out there, gathering as many rays as I can.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Close Reading

It's that time of year again, where we've spent a lot of time in class developing characters and plot, writing, talking, reading and analysing (generally focusing on character and plot again), and a modicum of workshopping. Now I want to get serious. I want to get pedantic. I want students to examine sentences, words, figurative language, metaphor, and get down to nuts and bolts on style. To me, this is how you figure out what a writer is doing.
So the Poetry 2 students copped it first. Last year I put the Short Story 2 students through it. They moan, they groan - I don't care. I believe if you really want to improve your writing, you have to get down to the nitty-gritty. You have to take a good example and pull it apart, to see where the joins are, examine word choices, think about why the author chose this word over another, why this sentence is short and that one long, and how all of these things create the work in front of you.
From this, I take students into the same examination of their own writing, word by word, phrase by phrase. It's slow. It's heavy on the brain. And if you do it properly, if you tackle it as a writer wanting to learn the guts of what makes writing work, it's a goldmine.
But always for some, it seems pointless (and if I'm honest, I have to say maybe it's the way I teach it). After teaching for ten years, I have no sympathy. If there's something offered to you that will help you be a better writer, why would you say no? (You can supply your own answer here.)
A little more on The Overlook - review by Simon Clewes in the Age last weekend came to the same conclusion as me. Skimpy book.
Evanovich's latest had me laughing out loud - great antidote to winter chills.
Now I'm reading Ranger's Apprentice, the first in a YA fantasy series. Heard a lot about this and got a copy from the library (spent too many $$ at the bookstore lately). It's got me hooked because of the humour. Could well be the cold here in Melbourne making me yearn for a good, warming laugh.

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Grumpiness is catching

When you live with someone, you can't help but be affected by their moods. For a writer, this can be a problem. If they are driving you nuts, it can keep you from your writing, or make you so uptight that you can't concentrate.
You can't get into your novel when someone else's grumpiness is crowding you. Or if you are writing humour, maybe someone else's joy can overshadow your fun. Moods create atmospheres. A lot of writers do things like putting on certain music to help create the writing atmosphere they want. But when the house is grumpy ... it takes a lot of willpower and the ability to shut out everything and everyone to write what you want, when you want.
Luckily, I've had lots of practice.
Another 800 words today. Total for the week since Monday? 6,800. That's because I decided to do the 100 x 100 (100 words for 100 days) from the YA writers' list I'm on. And when possible, stretch that 100 words to one hour of writing.
So far, it's going OK. Onward and upward.

Friday, July 20, 2007


One of the best things in the world that a writer can have is someone who is a great editor and critiquer. I am super lucky because I have two. My friend K is also a children's writer, so she 'gets' what a children's novel needs. She also understands stuff like the level of complexity - you can have a lot more in a children's novel than you think - what you can't be is obscure.
She has just done a critique for me on a novel that I've been working on for about four years (on and off, because I have to have time out between drafts). She saw an earlier draft, which she really liked, despite its problems. I had changed a lot this time around, including point of view and a lot of the plot, and I wondered what she'd think of the new version.
Her insightful comments were terrific, and I love it when someone is really picky. Even little things that jar can pull the reader out of the story, and it's hard to pick them up yourself. I plan to return the favour soon.
My other friend T is also a great editor. She's picky in a different way. She doesn't write or even read children's novels, so she critiques from a different perspective. She's the person I go to when I know something is wrong but I can't figure out what it is. Through discussion, we often succeed in identifying where the problem lies. She is also merciless.
Now, neither of these two are going fix everything, and neither should they. Ultimately it's still my job to get the manuscript to the best I can before handing it over. They're not there to fix my punctuation and spelling, although they might pick up occasional awkward sentences. The grammar stuff is MY job, and this is something I try to drum into students.
An editor picking up an unsolicited manuscript is not going to bother reading something with five or ten mistakes on every page. There are always some people who honestly believe that the brilliance of their writing will overcome the obvious fact that they don't know how to punctuate a sentence so it's readable. The sad truth is: if you can't construct a good sentence, your writing is not going to be brilliant.
Or publishable.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Books to heat you up

Finished The Overlook by Michael Connolly. Felt let down. Wondered why.
Read an explanation in the back of the book that said he originally wrote the story as a serialisation for a newspaper. It ended up as 48,000 words, and then when he decided to turn it into a book, it gave him the freedom to add stuff and deepen the story.
Sorry, Mr Connolly. Didn't work. Should have left it as a serialisation and then I wouldn't have paid $29.95 for it and felt ripped off.
I went back and checked a couple of his earlier books (because I can get really picky about sentence stuff) - in The Overlook, hardly any sentence has a comma in it. Not necessarily because they are all simple sentences, but because nobody put commas in where there could have been a few. In earlier books, not only are there commas (correctly) but the sentences are more meaty and have more impact on the style. Was this comma-less writing from the author, or the editor?
Will I ever know? (I'll stop being pedantic now, but this stuff impacts on style and substance so much that you can't really ignore it.)
On the other hand, I'm now reading the new Janet Evanovich - Lean, Mean Thirteen - and loving it. Must have laughed out loud six times already. Great winter reading, and lots in the story to warm you up (not the least of which is Ranger).

Sunday, July 15, 2007

The Writing Life

Over on Speculating About Fiction, my friend T has been speculating on what a writer's life entails. The full-time job, writing eight hours a day and doing nothing else? Or fitting writing around a life that includes a job, family, hobbies and other commitments?
I posted a comment, then thought I might expand. I've had this conversation before with my friend K, who is a full-time children's writer in Texas. And it came up again with my 7 Day Writing Plan recently. I found it quite difficult to sit in the chair for a solid two hours, seven days in a row! And felt like a writing wuss. You read all the time about writers who go into their office and shut the door at 9am and don't come out until 5pm. I think: If that was me, I'd eventually go nuts. I love being home alone and writing, but not eight straight hours. Apart from anything else, my RSI would kill me.
So I ask, how many 9-5 writers are spending 8 hours pounding the keyboard? Feel free to comment or reply to my question!!
K and I decided that the full-time writer's life is actually a mosaic of reading, research, thinking, planning, diagramming, letting the subconscious help out, daydreaming, and typing. That's what, to me, being able to write full-time does. It gives you total headspace for your book. You live the book. You dream it. You can hold it in your head. You think up new stuff for it, you solve plot problems, your characters grow and become more real, you have time for extra research for setting and atmosphere as well as facts.
Not being a full-time writer means:
1. When work takes over (or family, or whatever that's unavoidable when you have a life to manage), the book moves back. And if you're out there too long, the book moves so far away from you that it takes you quite a bit of time and work to get back inside it again.
2. You can't hold the book in your head. Sometimes you will, for short periods, then you lose your grip on it again. Instead, you learn to make lots of notes. Lots of them.
3. You can only work on one book at a time, in terms of your devotion. I've tried juggling several, and have given up. The books suffer. You have to decide which one matters the most to you, and give it your all. If it happens to be the one that turns out to be not publishable, you feel like you've wasted valuable time.
4. When your time is precious, but you want the book to be publishable, you can fall into the trap of making it too safe. It's a dilemma.
5. But the other side of this can be - if you are earning a living with your job, you are able to write whatever you want. The money doesn't enter into it. It's a juggling act for most people.
6. Being a teacher of creative writing adds to the problem. I am often inspired by my students and my own enthusiasm for what I'm teaching. But reading, commenting, workshopping and grading their writing can kill my writing zest for weeks at a time.
Over the years, I think I've developed my own writing methods that suit my life - I do a lot of thinking and planning (more than I used to), so that when I sit at the keyboard, I can type fast and get it all on the page. If I get stuck, I go for a walk or do something else for a while. Usually when I come back to it, away I go again.
I wrote 21,000 words in the 7 Day Plan I committed to. I couldn't have done that if I hadn't already known probably 60% of what I was going to write (because it was a 7th draft, starting from scratch again). A completely new novel would be half that pace.

Friday, July 13, 2007


Today was six hours of revision. Minus a quick lunch break, plus a quick trip out into the rain to try to find a window (have to replace the whole window, and of course it's an odd size). I keep telling myself, don't complain about the rain, because our water storages for Melbourne have only just passed 33%. But when you want to get out and do stuff, the rain is a pain (on the plain).
I've recently discovered the blog of Paperback Writer, who puts up a lot of stuff about writing, plotting and revision. She has also put up some interesting links for a heap of other stuff, including using Wikis for plotting, and a site where you can get copyright free photos and images.
I'm feeling pleased, not just because I've put in quite a few hours, but because a new series idea looks like something I'm definitely going to develop (research required, but that's OK). It's true - the more you write, the more ideas you have and the more things become possible.
I'm still reading the new Michael Connelly. And have noticed that hardly any of his sentences have commas in them. Many of them are short, that's true, but even longer ones don't. It doesn't affect clarity. It adds to it. What it does affect is a sense of flow somehow. It also feels a little like I'm reading at a sixth grade level.
What really bothers me is that instead of being engrossed in the characters and story, which I expected, I'm picking on sentence punctuation. Either revision is making me overly anal, or this book is not up to Connelly's usual standard. I am totally resisting doing a sentence comparison with Echo Park, his last book. Until I've finished reading.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Crime stuff

News about our own Peter Temple (crime writer, lives in Ballarat, writes great crime novels):

"Ballarat-based author, Peter Temple, has won the most prestigious award for crime fiction in the world. Held in London, the Duncan Lawrie Dagger comes with a healthy $47 000 cheque, also the world’s largest prize in this category.

"Formerly known as the Golden Dagger, past winners include literary giants John le Carré, Ian Rankin, and Patricia Cornwell. Peter Temple has made a habit of winning praise; the South African-born writer has captured four Ned Kelly awards for best Australian crime fiction.

"Short-listed against well-known writers James Lee Burke, Gillian Flynn, and Giles Blunt, Temple thought his chances of winning were slim. "It’s fairly difficult. You’re up against writers from all around the world, but it’s terrific to win," said the modest prize-winner. "They preserve absolute secrecy on the winner, and I never had any idea I’d win." (from ABC website)

Now this is my bit: "The Broken Shore" is a great read. Complex, deep, and doing what I talked about a day or so ago - it integrates social and racial and small town issues seamlessly into an engrossing story.

Wish I was feeling that positive about the new Michael Connelly, "The Overlook". Started it last night and after four chapters, was feeling an enormous sense of dread. Surely Connelly hasn't fallen victim to the horrible "get another book out as soon as possible even if it's crap" syndrome? "The Overlook" did appear to be a bit slender, with lots of extra leading/white space inside. I do hope not...

(apologies for all the italics - Blogger formatting has gone a bit weird on me)

Branding quandaries

Earlier this year I did a teleseminar series with Randy Ingermanson and Alison Bottke. I confess the main reason was the first session offered, which was about cleaning up your office. Mine has improved, and when Officeworks decide to supply me with the bookcase I have been waiting for for nearly three weeks now, it will improve further.
I also looked at strategic planning and vision statements - all the stuff I've done in previous jobs in a business context, but not for myself. Writers tend to be haphazard. We live from acceptance to acceptance, hang out for the twice-yearly royalty payments (if there are any) and generally don't think further ahead than the next book. At what point does a published writer decide to get to grips with the business side of it all?
I've been telling students for years that the publishing industry is a business, that publishers accept and publish your book because they believe they can make money out of it. There was a huge article in the Weekend Australian newspaper about how commercial publishers have given poetry collections the big A (dumped the lot), but if you need to sell 4000 copies of something to break even, then 500 copies of a poetry book doesn't have a hope. That's why I believe so strongly in good small presses and quality self publishing, especially for poetry and things like family histories.
However, I digress. Randy's most recent seminar was on branding. I've been wondering about this for years, ever since the SCBWI conferences started running sessions on it. What is branding? How is it done?
Firstly, I thought about some children's writers. What makes them recognisable as "brands"? Andy Griffith - bums. Paul Jennings - funny short stories for reluctant readers (usually boys). Terry Pratchett - humorous fantasy. Ursula Duborsarsky - literary fiction for kids and YA (Sonya Hartnett, same). Morris Gleitzman's books are all for and about 11 year old boys, and when you see his books in the shop, all the covers are the same kind. Series have brands. Penguin's Aussie Bites and Nibbles are totally recognisable.
So I have been pondering on this whole branding thing. Wondering what use it might be. Where I fit. Or don't fit. Is it even necessary? (And the answer to that last one is - if you don't find your own brand, you might get one pushed onto you, whether you like it or not.)
I know a lot of writers gag at this stuff. Bring out the vampire garlic and silver crosses. But the one thing that has been clear to me in all the research and thinking is: it's not going away, so it's better to educate yourself and make your own decisions about it.
Randy's info is mainly on his blog but if you search further, you'll find more. Or just Google "branding for writers" and see what comes up.
More later as I work this stuff out for myself.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Work (that pays the bills)

Back to work. Some people don't know what I'm complaining about. "You had two weeks off? Golly, you teachers do well, don't you?"
Well, no. I get paid for just under 23 hours a week. I average 30 or more hours a week on preparation, planning, marking, and actual teaching, plus the admin I do in the office. I do it because it's a great job (where else do you get to write poems and stories with your students, talk to them about the stuff that matters in writing, read lots of different stories and poems and hopefully give useful, encouraging feedback, read writing books and come up with great new ideas to share, talk to fellow teachers about same new ideas, etc etc?). Yes, there are times when it sucks, but I'd much much much rather be teaching writing than working in an office any day.
A writer friend and I have just discovered that we both worked at Pizza Hut back in the 1980s, and we both had awful bosses (in different countries, I might add). There's a few stories in there somewhere...
Finished Garry Disher's Chain of Evidence last night (because I couldn't bear to go to sleep without finishing it - a very good sign). He has really excelled in this book, particularly with the setting and description stuff. I think every politician should read it to get some understanding of Australia's working and under-class society. Disher's descriptions of life on the Mornington Peninsula near Melbourne are stunning, as is the stuff about rural South Australia. The MP is seen, around Melbourne, as a place for rich people to buy coastal properties and swan around the local wineries, but there is a whole other population there that he brings to life with stunning detail, enough to make you despair. To me, this is what terrific crime fiction does. It reveals the reality of all the people in this world who live among affluence but have virtually nothing, and what that does to them.
Don't let me put you off! It's a great story, with strong, interesting characters.
Writing today? Rewriting. I do this weird thing where I write a draft without chapters. If I come to a place where there could be a chapter ending, I'll leave a space, otherwise I just keep going. (My friend, T, thinks this is very strange.) So now I am going back, finding the best place for chapter breaks, rewriting cliff hangers and chapter beginnings, and also adding and adjusting all that stuff that I realised I'd left unfinished or unclear.
This week, I've had two great reviews of my new book Sixth Grade Style Queen (Not!). One reviewer actually said "A brilliant book." I think I'm about to fall over and die. What more could you want? Now I can go and put quotes on my website!
And the advance copies have arrived of my new Nibble (out in August), The Littlest Pirate in a Pickle. As this has already sold to Happy Cat Books in the UK, it's obviously time for more champagne!

Sunday, July 08, 2007

Day Seven

Aha! You thought I was going to skip Day Seven. Well, I didn't write as such. I have filled a page with all of the things that I have forgotten to explain or tie up or develop to a resolution in the novel, plus I did a writing exercise from the Sellars book that resulted in something exciting and surprising for me in terms of story ideas. I have done two hours of writing, just not two hours of typing, and it's sorted out quite a few niggly bits for me.
I've been emailing a writer friend, K, about how much time we spend writing. I think both of us have decided that we don't do enough - not so much in words, but more in terms of focused, extended writing time. My two hours per day for seven days has shown me quite a few things about my current writing routine (things that I need to address). I tend to write in a "snatch and grab" kind of way, fitting it in between teaching stuff, but I can see that in a lot of ways I've been slacking off a bit. I'm terrific at procrastination!
There's been nothing on TV to interest me, so reading at night has continued apace. I finished Jerry Spinelli's There's a Girl in my Hammerlock, which is about a girl who goes out for the wrestling team to get a guy (so she thinks). This was fun but also was a good example of a character journey - starting with one goal and ending up with another.
I've also read The Fall - the first book in Garth Nix's The Seventh Tower series. I didn't expect to like it, as I don't like the Mr Monday series at all, but I really enjoyed this. He creates some great fantasy worlds, and sets the scene very deftly, giving the reader plenty of information but all via action and description (not info dumps). I've been reading a number of kid's/middle grade novels this week to keep my head in middle grade space.
Now I have started Garry Disher's new crime novel. More on this soon.

Nature 2

This is only the second winter at Lancefield that I have seen such an array of fungi - little toadstools and mushrooms of all shapes, colours and sizes. They grow everywhere - pop out of the ground on the tracks and push aside everything in their way, out of the old tree stumps, and even out of the gaps in the bark in the gum trees. Everything is damp, and most of the gum trees have masses of seed pods on them. It's the easiest way to tell the difference between the species sometimes - by the different seed pods (or gum nuts). I'm hoping this means that the butterflies will lay more eggs this spring, and that eventually we'll return to how it was five years ago, when everywhere we walked, dozens of butterflies would swoop around us.

Nature 1

No, our fence is not on fire! We've had a few days of rain, then this morning the sun came out and it was pretty warm for a little while, and the fence began to steam! Amazing.

Day Six

Three hours. Because I was near the end and I wanted to keep going. The draft is finished, but it's a bit minimal (it was written fairly quickly). However, that's often the case for me. I'm not a writer who overwrites by many thousand words and has to spend revision time cutting.
I tend to write lean and then build the characters and story up more in the revisions. Mainly, I wanted to get the plot right this time, and I still have some threads that need tying up.
That's a job for Day Seven, and the rest of the two hours will be rewriting on something else. Can't stop yet!

Friday, July 06, 2007

Random Facts

Fellow blogger, Snail, has "tagged" me on Random Facts. I freely admit that usually I throw away chain letters, and email chains too, but this one is at least interesting, and it makes a nice break from my Seven Day thingie.
So - Eight Random Facts About Me:
1. I have two very elderly spinster great-aunts who run a B&B somewhere near Ulverstone in the UK, and one day I plan to visit them (hopefully soon).
2. The only dog I have ever owned was a Basenji, and the reason I got her was because she was described as the dog most closely resembling a cat in behaviour. Also Basenjis don't bark, and as I grew up on a farm with constantly barking dogs, that sounded like a good deal to me. And she was a lovely dog.
3. My first bout of RSI came when I was typesetting for a printer, on a broken chair, with a double keyboard (I'm going back 20+ years here) and I still haven't learned my lesson about ergonomics, but I'm trying.
4. I used to waitress at Pizza Hut. Enough said. (Again, 20+ years ago.)
5. The worst haircut I ever received was in Salisbury, Rhodesia. It was so bad that when I was in Europe not long after, the border guard at the France-Spain post checked my passport photo and then couldn't stop laughing.
6. Yes, I lived in Rhodesia for four months when it was still Rhodesia, and don't ever get me started on how Robert Mugabe has absolutely gutted that country.
7. I am an All Blacks supporter, and Chris Jack is my favourite player (and you probably didn't want to know that, but watch him play sometime...)
8. When I was at high school, the absolute last thing I ever wanted to be was a teacher. Ha! Second abhorrent career was nursing, but the world is totally better off for me not being a nurse. Hopefully my students don't feel the same way.

Day Five

Day Five started with a movie. T and I went to see "Nancy Drew", not because I was a big fan of the books (I've never read any that I can remember, and I never saw the TV series, although T says she did), but because my current work-in-progress is a mystery/suspense novel for middle grade. More suspense than mystery. Definitely not of the sleuthing kind.
I was astonished at the beginning of the movie, which is a bit overdone in terms of the 1950s- type town and soppy townsfolk, but once we got into the danger and daring part of the story, and I got a grip on what Nancy's character was supposed to be, I quite enjoyed it. About two-and-a-half stars out of five for me, probably because Nancy was so ... Nancy, whereas often in kid's movies, I cringe at the acting. For some reason, I loved the over-achievement at high school bit.
Anyway, it didn't inspire my writing at all, but I knew those two hours were ready to be counted, so off I went. And spent about fifteen minutes re-reading previous bits, trying to work out where on earth I'd been planning to go next. Luckily I had written notes for myself yesterday. I actually think the fact that my other half decided to sit and drink coffee with me was the problem. But shouting "Go away!" at one's nearest and dearest doesn't add to your relationship much.
I'm writing at the kitchen table, by the way, because the rest of the house is like an iceberg. I put the heater on low, so my ankles are warm and the rest of me is still kind of in motion. Probably being cold helps keep the brain working.
So two hours passed, around 3300 words appeared again, and I'm happy. Rewriting is in the distance (next week, before I start teaching again, I hope) and so for now, first draft flow carries me on.

Thursday, July 05, 2007

Day Four

Ah, Day Four. Two hours zoomed by, in one block, filled with words. 3300 of them. Lovely.
Plotting continues, with diagrams, notes and reminders to myself. I like this new method I've developed, of having just one large notebook to put everything into. No more scrabbling for bits of paper - want to know when Great-Grandfather was born? Flick back a few pages to the family tree I drew. Finished writing these scenes I'd plotted? Turn the page and start again, or carry on the thread.
Beats me why I never thought of this before, although with the historical pirate novel, I have ended up with half of a filing cabinet drawer full of research, maps, timelines, photocopies, pictures and diagrams. The various drafts occupy another half of a drawer.
I'm not even thinking about Day Five yet.
Last night I finished "Stanford Wong Flunks Big-Time" by Lisa Yee. She has managed to show both the outer always-in-trouble boy and the inner vulnerable boy so well. This is a book to re-examine for that very reason. She says in the back of the book that she had to go and eavesdrop on some boys of the right age to find out what they talk about and how they act together, as initially her boys were too "girly" (meaning they talked about their feelings etc). Her descriptions of how boys eat food are so gross but so real.
I was interested to see that this book is a re-telling of the Millicent Min novel, but from Stanford's point of view. And that she has written a third book from Emily's point of view, still about the same summer experiences. I hope to get hold of a copy of "Millicent Min, Girl Genius" and see how she's done it, as I'm the kind of reader who hates to know the ending. I also hate to know the endings of movies, and football games. It takes all the anticipation and fun out of it for me, yet I know someone who cannot read past Chapter 1 until she's gone and read the ending first. I think this is also why I resisted plotting and planning for so long. I had the idea that if I knew everything that was going to happen in the book, it wouldn't be so much fun to write. Now I realise that I always know what my ending is going to be anyway - the planning just helps me to weave it all together better, and not have great sagging holes in the middle.

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Day Three

I was dreading Day Three. Not because 3 is unlucky, or guaranteed to be Writer's Block day. No, it just seemed as though, after two days of writing and 6000 words, that Day Three would be when I'd get well and truly stuck in the mud.
Isn't the psychological side of writing incredible? There was a chance I'd talk myself out of writing at all, but that's where the Seven Day Commitment kicked in. I had absolutely promised myself that I'd do two hours a day, even if that meant two hours staring out the window.
The first hour was mud-wading. Mud up to my metaphorical armpits. I ate lunch. I went for a long walk, planning to think about what would come next in the story. My mind was a blank, and I was blown around by the wind (but the sun was shining so the walk was great).
I came home, made myself sit down at the table and started writing. The mud slowly disappeared. By the end of the second hour, I was still going. Another few hundred words and I was able to sit there and work out the rest of the plot (with some major changes from the last draft that hopefully have solved my motivation and credibility problems). Day Four might not be less muddy, but at least I feel confident about where I'm going now.
While those of you who write six or seven hours a day might be thinking - two hours is nothing! - I can tell you that two hours equals around 3000 words for me, all going well. Not always, but if I have plenty of thinking/vegetating time around those two hours, I can usually write a couple of thousand at least. I'm a fast typist. It's the brain power that's slow!
Finished "The Crazy Horse Electric Game" by Chris Crutcher last night. Another great CC book. His novels are always top of my list for recommendations.
I've started "Stanford Wong Flunks Bigtime" by Lisa Yee. Had to buy it on Amazon (not available here, and her earlier novel not available anywhere) - and ordered it after reading Cheryl Klein's blog entries about Yee's books. Klein is an editor at Arthur A. Levine Books and her blog is here. She has some terrific articles on her website as well. And yes, she is one of the editors who works on the HP books.

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Day Two

Two hours again. The first hour went smoothly, words came, stayed, sounded OK. Then I had a break, a phone call, lunch ... the words started squeezing out like half-dried glue stuck in the tube. I persisted. Lasted the hour and fifteen minutes more. Around 3000 words. Only tomorrow will tell if they are worth keeping.
I keep telling myself it's the rhythm that counts, the sticking-at-it until the flow happens on its own. That's one thing I learned from doing NaNoWriMo one year - the more you write on a daily basis, the better it gets. It's the times when you can't write for a week or more that causes the blockages. You're not inside the story and characters anymore.
I am persisting with fp/pt, despite the fact that late in the second hour I found myself accidentally back in fp/simple past for a few paragraphs.
My reward for today's toil was to go and sit in the sun, weak and wintery though it was, and read some of my Chris Crutcher novel. It's old (published 1987 - now that is a solid backlist when someone can still pick up a 1987 book in the bookshop), but good.
I am still trying to move a whole heap of books out of my office, but as the bookshelves still have not arrived, they are sitting in boxes. What this does do is remind me that I said I would put a list of my favourites on my website. It's coming soon ... but first, two hours writing every day.

Monday, July 02, 2007

The Seven Day Plan

I felt like I wasted an entire week last week. Horrible. I think I managed 6000 words of editing, plus 500 new words. And after my comments in this blog about first person/present tense, I was horrified to discover that this new draft of the novel has elbowed its way into exactly that - fp/pt. Arrgghh! I'm going with it for now, knowing I can always change it back later, even if it will be an excruciating process, because ... that's the way it's rolling out on the page.
And if nothing else, it's making me very conscious of showing instead of telling, and making sure there is plenty of movement and action. But at the same time, it's slowed me down, and today I felt as if I was wading in thick mud most of the time.
This was Day One of my Seven Day Plan (sounds like a diet), in which I committed myself to writing a minimum of two hours each day, no matter what. That two hours does not include research - today I was researching crime in Melbourne in the 1920s, and Squizzy Taylor in particular, who died in 1927 as the result of a shoot-out in Carlton. I got briefly sidetracked into an article about a murder in a rooming house in Carlton around that time, along with some really interesting background info about how Carlton was a slum area then with lots of brothels and illegal businesses, as well as extreme poverty. Hard to imagine it, as Carlton is now known for its Italian restaurants and great coffee, as well as very expensive restored houses.
The two hours also does not include plotting. As I have put aside all earlier drafts of this novel and am starting again from scratch, I need to keep track of the plot elements I want to keep, but re-order them and add more. I have cut out one main subplot, and need to build up the others.
The commitment to write every day will keep the novel firmly in my head, and it's the thinking time that contributes as much to the novel as the writing time.
At a 50th birthday party I went to yesterday, a writer friend was telling me how she is reading "The Artist's Way" by Julia Cameron at the moment, and is up to the part where she has to read absolutely nothing for a whole week. Not even the newspaper. Not even the back of the cereal packet. I'm not sure I could do that. I'm not sure what that would do to me, or my sanity.

Sunday, July 01, 2007

Book signings vs Book launches

Yes, this is me at Dymocks Southland, doing a book signing gig. Notice the lack of people? Unlike a book launch, where you invite lots and lots of people and have champagne and celebrate, a book signing is "people by chance". The bookshop arranges for you to be there on a day when they are usually busy, with lots of customers and passing traffic, and you sit and look happy and approachable and wait for lots of people to buy your book and then you sign it.
I did meet some very nice people, and the bookshop staff at Dymocks were terrific, and we did sell two books. While sitting there, I noticed the number of kids who stopped and looked at the poster for the new Harry Potter book (due out in July) and argued over whether the cover on the poster was going to be the cover on the book ... and wondered if I should have hinted in some way that I was related to JKR ... (except I'm not).
Book signings are often like this, believe it or not. I think it's good to be there, to have your books on display, and chat to people. They might come back later and buy a book, or they might remember your books next time they're in the shop. Linda at Dymocks had made up little giveaways with my postcards, and I will go back next year when the Littlest Pirate picture book comes out and read at their Storytime morning. It's all good.
Unlike my rugby team, the All Blacks, who lost last night to the Wallabies. Grrrrr. We went to the game at the MCG and were overjoyed that not only did our team lose, but we had a bunch of idiots in front of us who spent most of the time standing up so we only saw half of the game. Makes me almost glad I can't afford to go to the World Cup in France in September. Children's author assaults rugby spectator never makes a good headline!
Onto books - just finished Golden by Jennifer Lynn Barnes. I wanted to read something in YA that is part of the latest hot genre - paranormal. Golden is about a girl who can see auras, and tell from their colours what the person is like and what mood they are in. All of the females in her family have the Sight in one way or another. It was interesting, but the aura stuff went on for ages and ages, focusing on the teenagers in the school and their relationships, then suddenly in the last 25% of the book, it turned into a murder-suspense story. It was an OK book, but felt a bit unbalanced, almost as if it changed horses mid-stream (excuse the cliche). I think teen and tween girls would like it. I felt an urge to ask the author to do another draft and make the first half stronger. But that might be the grumpy All Black supporter in me coming out this morning.