Wednesday, June 30, 2010


Well, people did not exactly swarm out of the woodwork to give me feedback on Chapter 1. But that's okay. I've only had this blog a few weeks, and I'm not a famous author who everyone is dying to get close to. Yet. But the one comment I did get was very helpful. As I've mentioned, I've done a lot of revising on this novel, have rewritten the whole thing several times over. Apparently a few surgical scars remain. I will have to go back and change a word here and there to conceal them.

Getting a fresh pair of eyes on your work is always important. You get so close to your writing that it is near impossible to see what may be right in front of your face after a while. Also, if, like me, you've cut things out, added new things in, changed the order of events or anything like that, it's difficult to remember exactly what is in this version of the book. A fresh pair of eyes can point out where you mention something that you've never mentioned before, an inconsistency you may not have noticed.

So, even now, with what I consider a completed manuscript, I will be revising. A book isn't finished until it is printed, bound and on the shelf. I know that. Once you land that elusive agent, they will probably ask you to revise some more. Then if your book sells to a publisher, there will be more editing. And more editing. And then probably a bit more. So, revision is important, and if you're not willing to do it, I'd suggest giving up on being a writer.

For those of you who are revising, I heard yesterday about a contest where the prize is a substantial manuscript edit by a professional editor. I know I'm going to try to win it, but are you? Here's the link:

Big thanks to Janice for her comments. I'm off to switch some words around now, to see if I can clean up those little messy bits.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Chapter 1

Okay, as promised here is the first chapter of Assignment 9. I'll be interested to hear your thoughts on it. If you hate it, don't be nice. That doesn't help. This is a book I've written and re-written at least four times. I've been through critique groups with it and had it dissected line by line. I can handle whatever you throw at me.

Tomorrow we can look at what people come up with.


He’s going to call on me, I think. He’s going to call on me and I’ll probably puke. There are only twelve of us in this class. Seven boys and five girls. So it will not take too long before it is my turn to present my work in progress. Work in progress? So far I’ve made no progress on this so-called work. I have no idea how to start writing this. We were given the assignment almost three weeks ago and I have been putting it off ever since. Now my tutor is expecting something. A draft perhaps, or at least a detailed outline. But I have nothing. So here I am, sitting in class, working knots out of my long, red hair as I think about it. Above me a near-dead fluorescent tube hums and buzzes, disrupting my chain of thought. I have been thinking about it a lot, and the more I think, the more certain I am that the beginning was long before I ever imagined. Perhaps even before I was born.

I pray that the class will end before Ian reaches me. I even pray for Alice Wilkins to be called on before me. Alice, with her long-winded explanations and incessant questioning, her interminable need for assurance and approval. Usually it bugs me, the way it bugs almost everyone here, but today I would welcome it. It may be the only thing that saves me from humiliating myself.

I feel terrible about being unprepared. This is my favorite class. This is the reason I’m here, at this particular university. It’s a very competitive course to get into and I was extremely surprised to have been accepted. It’s not unusual to have to apply more than once; several of the other students tried two or three times before getting in. I’m the only first-year student in the class, something I initially found intimidating. Ian McCollidy is the reason for the class being so popular. He’s the tutor. If the name sounds familiar it’s probably because of his first novel, Snowshoes. It was published about ten years ago to great critical and popular acclaim. I read it for the first time four years ago, when I was fourteen, and loved it so much that I have re-read it at least once every year since. Neither of the books he has written since has been so ecstatically received, but he is still very highly regarded in literary circles. I liked both those books myself, but neither affected me in quite the same way that Snowshoes did. That was the book that made me want to be a writer. Ian has been teaching here for seven years now, and almost all the graduates of his class have achieved some success as writers.

I want that success too. I want to be a writer more than anything. Writing is the only thing I’ve ever been good at. Words, putting them together on a page, telling stories or painting pictures with them, it’s what I do best. I was twelve when I discovered the power of words. We had a substitute teacher for a week and he made us write every day. A few words of praise for a stupid little story about a stolen car, and I was hooked. Since then, I’ve written almost compulsively, filling pages and pages with what I’m sure is mostly very bad writing. Yet I got into this course, so I have a spark of hope that maybe I have talent, that maybe I can become a real writer. That spark of hope is spluttering a little now though. The first semester taught me how little I actually know, and this latest assignment has me completely blocked for the first time I can remember. I can’t seem to start anything else either. Usually if I get stuck on something, writing another piece, something completely different, will un-stick me. This time nothing’s coming at all, and that terrifies me.

Luke Stanford finishes his stammered presentation. He writes beautifully, but whenever he is asked to read his work aloud, or present an idea to the group, he stutters, mumbles and comes across as barely articulate. He’s not the only one either. I can see Ian scanning the rest of us, choosing who will be next. I glance quickly around too, trying to see if there is anyone else as uncomfortable as me. I catch the eye of a boy sitting off to the side of the boxy, windowless room. Of all the people in the class, he is the one I know the least. He wasn’t here last semester; rumor has it that he did the first part of the course last year then got called away from school for some emergency. That Ian likes his work enough to let him back in, halfway through the year, says something. I have yet to read anything of his. This assignment is the first and only thing we’ve had to do this semester. All I know about him is that his name is Mark, but as he stares across the room at me, I also know he has the most beautiful blue eyes I have ever seen. Well, eye. I can only see the left. The other is obscured behind a curtain of thick, blond hair that hangs down over his face.

Thankfully Ian does not call on me. When class ends, feeling drawn to Mark, I linger just inside the doors until he and I are alone in the room. This isn’t like me. I don’t initiate. But there is something about Mark that intrigues me and I can’t help wondering if maybe doing something different, completely out of character, might get the words that are stuck inside me flowing again.

Standing next to him, I’m suddenly aware of how tall he is. I look up at him and find those impossibly dark blue eyes upon me. When he moves, his messy, too-long hair falls away from his face and I can see the scar that twists the right side, from above his eye to a point almost in the centre of his chin.

“Hi,” he says. “I’m Mark.”

“Hi,” I reply, and before I even think about it, “I’m Casey.” I’m surprised as soon as I hear myself say it. Only my family and people who have known me since childhood call me Casey. Since I started high school I’ve been trying to get people to call me by my real name, with varying success. My full name is Kiersten Charlotte and my family always called me by my initials, KC. There is something about Mark that seems very familiar, putting me instantly at ease. It is as if I already know him, although I have never even spoken to him until now. I think this is what makes me give him my childhood nickname.

“Hi Casey.” He smiles. “Have you got time for a coffee?”

The sun is shining as we stamp through the snow to the café on the far side of the quad. It’s still very cold, but after endless weeks of steel gray skies, snow and freezing temperatures, the sunlight holds the promise of spring. Mark pushes the door open for me, letting a blast of warm air out into the cold. The café is crowded as always, but we manage to find a table by the windows and peel off several layers of clothing before going to get mugs of the thick, evil black coffee they serve here.

“You seemed a little uncomfortable back there,” Mark says as he settles himself into his chair. “In class, I mean. You haven’t written much?”

I give him a wry smile. “Much? I haven’t even started!”

“No, me neither.” Mark returns my smile. “What are you writing about?”

“My family. But I can’t figure out where to start.”

The assignment is to write something autobiographical. That part is not too difficult. The hard part is that Ian has asked us to write about something that changed our lives, something of real significance. He said that he knew it would be difficult for some of us. I’m not sure he realized quite how much.

“I know what you mean.” He looks directly at me and I see the enormous sadness shadowing his eyes. “I’m trying to write about my family too.” We sit in silence for a long moment and I wonder if his family is as messed up and crazy as my own.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Let's get interactive.

Funny. After yesterday's post where I talked about how generous agents and publishers are with their time, I took part in another Twitter chat and learned even more. Someone brought up scouting, and mentioned that as an agent, she does trawl through writers' websites and blogs, searching for something that interests her. So that gave me an idea for a little interactive project we can do here.

I learned pretty early on in my writing life to be careful about posting work online. A lot of venues consider it published, even if you've just posted it for your critique group. So all my work on WDC is only available to members, and as soon as I submit something, I lock it with a passkey. But seeing as the first 5000 words of Assignment 9 have been available on Amazon since I made it through the pitch round of the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award, I see no harm is posting a little of the book here.

So, the interactive part. What I would like to do is write a little today about what I think I've done in the opening chapter of my book. Then, tomorrow, I'll post the opening chapter and you can tell me whether it works the way I think it does. Sound like fun?

So, here goes. What I think.

1. I introduce my main character.
2. I outline the problem my main character has.
3. Another major character is introduced, both to the protagonist and the reader.
4. The chapter finishes with a hook that will hopefully leave readers wanting to read on.

It's a short chapter, but lays the groundwork for what the novel is. Tomorrow I'll post the chapter, and you can let me know if it does what I said it does.

Until then, sayonara.

Sunday, June 27, 2010


I'm fairly new to this online social networking thing. I've had Facebook for a while, but frankly it irritates me more than it helps. Too many people I don't know or like much friending me and then bombarding me with inane information. I'm sorry, but if we weren't friends then, why would I want to be now? And what is up with people who try to friend me when the only contact we've ever had is that I organized a function for them? You're a client, or a business associate, not a friend.

But I digress. That wasn't what I planned to talk about. I recently joined Twitter after having resisted for ages because I really don't need anything taking up my already limited time. I started following a few writer friends I know, and a few literary agents I have either queried, or want to query in the future and have added a few more since as I have gotten more involved with the whole Twitter thing. I have been absolutely amazed at how generous with their time some of these agents, editors and publishers are. I have taken part in several chat sessions now, and learned so much from them. Every question I asked was answered, and more than once, other people in the chat jumped in too.

I know these are busy people. They constantly tweet about the number of queries and manuscripts they have to read, yet are willing to put that aside and help out all of us aspiring writers out there. It's amazing and I for one want to let them know that I appreciate it greatly. It shows what passion these people have for their jobs and for the industry. I want that. If I get an agent - no, when I get an agent - I want someone with this passion and enthusiasm, because those are the people who will sell a book.

So thank you to all the agents and publishers out there who take the time to mingle with us, the great unpublished, and give us so much helpful advice. You know who you are...

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Saturday night at the movies

I work almost every Saturday night. At the movies, Saturdays tend to be the busiest night of the week. Reports can tell me how many people came to each film, but I need to be there to feel the reactions of the customers, see which sessions are busy, and which are less so. It's always much harder on Monday to write the next week's schedule when I haven't worked the Saturday night.

The flow tonight was odd. The sessions that went in around 5pm were busy. That's not too unexpected. 5pm is a good time to see a film if you have plans later in the evening, or even if you just want to go out for dinner afterward. Choosing films that will work in this time slot is never too difficult. The sessions that went in around 7pm tonight were also, with one exception, busy. But that time slot tends to be. The older people like that time slot because they won't be out too late. My cinema is located right in the middle of the party zone, and a lot of our older audience prefer to get out of Dodge before things get too messy. I have to admit, I agree. Leaving at 3am is.... well... an experience. Not one I want to have too often.

But I digress. Where tonight was odd, was in the later sessions, those that went in around 8.30pm. This is a trend I've been noticing the past few weeks, and have been experimenting with putting different films into those later slots. But nothing seems to work then. Every cinema I've worked in before, those 8-9pm slots are the busiest on a Saturday. But not here.

Is it the weather? In the summer those slots were busy, but then, the earlier ones were less so. Perhaps in the cold, wet, windiness of winter, people don't want to venture out to the cinema later in the evening. Or perhaps they get so comfortably ensconced in whatever bar or restaurant they've chosen for before their movie, they forget to leave. Some weeks I can blame sports events for the lack of customers. A rugby game on a Saturday night pretty much takes everyone off the streets until it's over. I know, it's a sorry state of affairs.

Perhaps the films are the problem, yet I can't see that. The three films programmed into those slots were all edgy films that would appeal to sophisticated audiences or students. Yet did they come? No. In fact, I have noticed the number of student admissions dropping over the years, probably as a result of digital downloading. But we won't get into that here because I could rant for hours on that subject.

I wrote a draft of next week's schedule yesterday, but because I worked tonight and saw the people coming and going, smiling or frowning, I will rewrite it. And maybe next Saturday night we will have a few more people to our 8pm shows.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

First impressions

First impressions count. It feels shallow, and often your first impression can change after you get to know a person, but often that first gut feeling you get about someone is right.

For example. I was walking to work yesterday and a woman was walking in front of me in opaque white stockings and some very hugh heeled shoes for 9am on a Thursday. She wasn't wearing anything slutty or revealing, but I instantly pegged her as a sex worker. Don't know why, but something about those tights and those shoes just screamed that at me. So, when she turned down the alleyway toward the private entrance to a gentlemen's club, I wasn't surprised. She'd just confirmed my first impression.

I was thinking about this later in the afternoon when I was conducting job interviews. We have the film festival coming up and every year I hire 6-10 extra people to work over this period. I get on average 30 resumes handed in per week, so you can imagine how difficult it is to wade through them all and pick 10 or so people to interview.

This year wasn't actually quite so difficult. A few people from previous years wanted to come back. They were all good and reliable, so it was kind of a no-brainer to take them back. They know what to do, how it works. Another two were people I know, one from another cinema I worked at, and another because she's the girlfriend of one of my existing staff. Again, an easy decision to make because I know them.

The others, were people I'd chosen from their CVs, mainly travelers because the short period of employment works for them better than for those who are looking for a permanent job. I don't want to get anyone's hopes up, you know. So when each of these people wandered into the foyer, that first impression was important. For this job, I'm not looking for people who are immaculately turned out. In fact, if someone was to turn up in a suit, I'd probably be less likely to hire them. My team is a motley crew of artists, dancers, actors, circus performers and students. I'm looking for people who will fit into that group, and anyone who wears a suit to an interview probably wouldn't fit in.

So I ended up taking the French-Canadian couple who came in glowing with enthusiasm and who I recognized as having come to see a film the night before. They just looked like they would enjoy working there and they looked like they would fit in well with the team. They were friendly, outgoing and made me laugh during the interview. More importantly, I wasn't itching to get away and do something else, I felt like I could talk to them for much longer.

Sometimes that's enough.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010


I think all writers procrastinate. Even though we love what we do, sometimes it's hard to force yourself to sit own and do the work that needs to be done. I find revising and editing particularly onerous, and will do almost anything else to get out of it. That doesn't mean I'm not writing though. No, what it means is, rather than finishing something I've started, I move on to something else.

Example. I have two novels in various stages of revision. Plus three or four stories that really only need a final polish before they're ready to be sent out. So what do I do? I hear about an anthology of zombie erotica that has a deadline next week. It's zombie erotica. How can I resist?

Now, having written the zombie erotica (and I have to say, it was huge fun to do), I have to decide if I'm going to submit it. As someone who wants to publish YA novels, is it appropriate to publish erotica under my own name? Is this going to be a problem later in my career? I could use a pen name, I guess, but then when I list my credits, do I list those as "and under the name......"?

I'm not ashamed of writing erotica, although writing it still makes me blush sometimes. I'm just concerned that having my name associated with it may make me less desirable as a YA novelist. Or even just a novelist.

And of course, thinking about this, worrying about it, is just another way to procrastinate and not edit my novels. Now, off to start a story about sexy female vampires for another anthology... Or maybe I should go back to editing Prayer and Prey. The bath looks as if it could use a scrub though....

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

A little premature perhaps?

I should never have mentioned the dearth of rejections of late. Today I received two. One was for a story that I like a lot, but can see why others may not. The other is more disappointing because I know it has an audience. It's a story that has come close to publication before, several venues holding onto it for a second look before rejecting it. I wonder what might be wrong.

That's the thing about rejections, especially the terse form rejections that are the norm from most publications: you never know what it was they didn't like. A few publications are good enough to give you a personalized response, a few lines telling you what they feel was wrong with the piece. Sometimes that's helpful, in fact, often it is, especially if you plan to submit something else to that venue. You have a better feel for what it is they want. Unfortunately, most places don't.

So we keep going, searching for the perfect venue. Do we go for the one that pays the most? Or the one with the most prestige? Do we try one with a high acceptance rate, just to boost our ego? I'm guilty of that, I have to admit. After weeks of rejection after rejection, I submitted a story to a venue with an 80% acceptance rate. And surprise, surprise. I was accepted.

But you know what? It felt cheap. I knew, even then, that I was better than that. Easy is easy for a reason, and when you see your story, something you slaved over, ensuring each comma, word or phrase was perfect in print next to another story with spelling and grammar mistakes sprinkled liberally throughout, you know it wasn't worth the little thrill of seeing the word 'accepted' in your in-box.

These days I only go for the tough ones. And that's probably why it's almost always a rejection. Maybe I'm wrong in thinking this way, because I don't exactly have a huge body of published work behind me, but I'm not in this for a one night stand. This is what I want to do, and I'm serious about it. Getting a credit for the sake of getting a credit isn't part of that. If it's not a good credit, well, I'm not sure I want it.

Does that make me a snob?

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Happy Birthday

My baby boy is three years old today. Not really a baby anymore, as he tells me all the time.
"I'm a little boy!" he says. And he's right. He's much more of a little boy than his brother was at the same age, probably because his brother has taught him all the tricks. For me, it's a huge learning curve.

Boys are different to girls. I know there is all this debate about nature versus nurture, but I believe absolutely that they are different. Innately. I've done nothing to influence my boys toward liking any one thing more than another, yet both of them are obsessed with machinery. Especially flying machines. My now three year old can identify military aircraft from pictures. What's more frightening, so can I...

I spend a lot of time watching my children. They seem like a pair of little aliens sometimes. They run everywhere and playing usually ends up as wrestling. They talk their own private language and get exasperated with me when I can't understand the things they're talking about.

It's going to get worse as they get older too. There are so many things I will end up knowing about that I never I thought I would. There will be sports, I'm sure. Endless Saturday mornings spent at the side of a field watching them kick or toss a ball around with other boys. I'll end up knowing the names and positions of the players on all sorts of teams, the same way I can identify a Nighthawk or B2 Spirit.

Even now their pop culture is beyond me. My older son comes home talking about Bakugons (or something), some sort of game that the boys in his class love. Apparently all the boys have them and he's some sort of misfit because he doesn't. The same thing happened toward the end of last year when Ben Ten was their hero and a Ben Ten watch was a much coveted item. We gave one to our older son for Christmas and for about a week it drove us crazy with its beeps and whirs. I haven't seen it for a few months now. It's probably stuck at the bottom of a toy box, forgotten.

The younger one just likes what his brother likes. At three, his brother is his best friend and he just wants what he does. But already they are so different. This friendship won't last. It's just a matter of time before they start fighting more seriously. As the little one gets more articulate, hr's going to be able to say no to his brother, refuse to follow the rules he sets. And he will refuse. From the start he has been a much more strong willed and assertive child. You can't make him do anything he doesn't want to do.

It's going to be an interesting ride. I look forward to all the things I'm going to learn. Don't grow up too fast, you hear me?

Friday, June 18, 2010

Dejection and rejection

It has been a quiet week. Usually I get at least one rejection for something, but this week, there has been nothing. You'd think that would make me happy, but I'm a writer and as such, terminally insecure. I keep telling myself, no news is good news, but I'm not convincing. So what is wrong with me?

A couple of weeks a ago I checked my in-box first thing and got a rejection from an agent I'd sent an Assignment 9 query to. A little later in the day I snuck back in and found a rejection for a short story. Then when I arrived home after work and opened the mailbox, there was a rejection for Jessie and The Witch, the kids' picture book I wrote to go with David Boyle's illustrations. Rejections in every arena I work. Damn, that hurt.

I'm used to rejections. It's taken a while for the sting to lessen, but after almost a year of submitting work, I'm getting used to it. According to Duotrope, my acceptance rate is sitting on 9.52%. That kind of sucks. But at the same time, if I didn't submit my work, I wouldn't even have that tiny percentage of success. At the end of 2008 when I finished (okay, finished is a subjective word when it comes to writing, but at the time, I felt I'd finished) Assignment 9 and Holding It Together I had no idea what to do next. I'd never really shown anyone my writing. In fact, most people who know me, didn't even know I wrote. But what's the point of writing books if no one reads them? So I gathered up my courage and gave copies to a few people, asked them to read my books and tell me what they thought. At the time, I was aiming to enter both books in the Delacorte Press First Novel Contest (which, foolishly I ended up doing, way before the books were ready to go anywhere) and wanted some feedback.

I got feedback, but most of it wasn't really helpful. It's really nice when people tell you they like your work, but when that's all they say, it's not helpful. And for someone as naive and inexperienced as I was then, it was particularly harmful. I made a few tweaks to the manuscripts and sent them off to the contest, thinking they were the best I could do.

Surprise, surprise. I didn't win.

But with nothing real to work on, I was searching around for something and discovered I cannot begin to tell you what a monumental discovery this website was to me. I found a community of writers who were willing to support me, tell me where my stories worked and where they didn't. My writing has improved immensely as a result of finding this site, and both my novels have been completely re-worked through careful and thoughtful critiques. And I'm talking completely! In Assignment 9 I ended up bringing a dead character back to life and removing an entire story thread. I'm still working on Holding It Together, having decided that writing in third person is definitely not my forte, and deciding to change the POV to first person.

Through working with other writers, I gathered the strength and the knowledge to be able to submit my work. Imagine how thrilled I was when the first story I submitted to a magazine was accepted! I wonder now how quickly I would have sent out another if that first one hadn't been an acceptance... Now I'm a regular submission junkie, trawling through Duotrope like a pro, searching for the ideal venue for each and every one of the stories I have that I feel are good enough for publication. And I get a lot of rejections. I'm up to 6 on Angels, Oddities and Orthodox Habits now, and am beginning to think I need to re-work it as a novel or novella, but I keep sending my stuff out. Because you never know, that next one, well, it might be an acceptance. Right?

So I'm off to check my in-box again. You know, just in case.

Thursday, June 17, 2010


I'm no saint. I complain about things as much as anyone. In fact, I think complaining is part of human nature. It's in-built for us to feel dissatisfied with things and to tell other people about that dissatisfaction. But I am constantly amazed at the things some people complain about.

Last night I had a big function at work. It was the launch of the programme for the upcoming film festival and 300 or so film people, media, sponsors and other guests were invited. We had three wines on offer, a chardonnay, a pinot gris and pinot noir. There was also beer and sparkling water available. We gave out goody bags as people arrived and each goody bag had a bottle of juice or fizzy soft drink in it. A pretty good selection of drinks, right?


As soon as people started coming to the bar to get drinks, the complaints started.
"What? No bubbly?" asked at least three people.
"You haven't got a sav? You always have to have a sav." I heard.
And, the one that really got my goat, was a man who asked for a soft drink. I handed him a sparkling water and he just looked at it. "Is this all you have?" he asked.
"Well, there's a soft drink in your goody bag too," I told him.
"It's not good enough,"he replied, beginning to look grumpy. "An event like this, it should be better."

Should be better? The drinks are free! It's not like we're asking you to pay for anything. If this was an event where you'd paid money to get in, maybe then you have a right to complain about the drinks being served, but this was an invitation-only event. The drinks are a bonus and what we have to offer is based on what sponsors give us.

So that got me thinking about complaints in general. I've worked in customer service throughout my career, so complaints are something I've dealt with a lot. Sometimes the complaint is genuine and justified; other times I feel like the person is trying to get something for nothing.

I had a regular customer at the first cinema I managed who came in every Thursday when the new films came out. Every Thursday, without fail, she wold complain about something. As a new manager, this upset me and I worked my butt off to make sure everything was perfect the next time she came. But every time, there was something she complained about. Eventually I realized that for this person, complaining was a part of her experience, and if she didn't find something to complain about, then she wasn't going to enjoy herself. Once I figured that out, I relaxed, and I made sure to give her a latte when she asked for a flat white, or send her to Cinema 2 when her film was on in Cinema 3.

She complained, but she always left with a smile on her face.

Because I hear so many complaints, I am far more conscious of how complaining makes people feel, and I find that I don't complain about things I possibly should complain about. The service at a restaurant has to be pretty terrible before I comment on it, and more than once I've eaten the wrong meal just because I didn't want to complain. And that is probably no good thing. If things are wrong, the staff need to know, or they will keep on doing the wrong thing.

But there is a limit. And complaining about the free drinks at a function is, in my opinion, beyond that limit.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

The long and the short of it

I finished a short story yesterday. I write a lot of short stories. In fact, a big chunk of my writing time is devoted to short fiction and finding venues that might publish each individual piece. As I whipped through the story I finished yesterday, cutting out superfluous words, I wondered if perhaps I should not be spending so much time on my shorts.

I have three novels at various stages of completion. Maybe rather than writing new shorts, I should be focusing on them. My list of published work is growing, and I'm actually quite proud of it, but does that mean anything? Does that little paragraph in my query letter make an agent more interested in looking at my manuscript, or does she just skip over it?

I never used to write short stories. My writing time was always about the books. When I did start writing shorts, I realized I had to completely adjust my style or every story would ramble on forever. Writing short fiction, especially when guided by a word limit, is extremely challenging. In a novel you have the freedom to explore side streets, go on tangents and go into great detail describing anything and everything you feel is worthy of it. If you're working within a 2000 word limit, you need to make each and every word count. There is no room to follow interesting side routes. You have to have a clear idea where the story is going, and just find the most direct way to it.

It is important not to try and introduce too many characters too, which in a novel is not a problem at all. In a novel, you can spend an entire chapter on a character who may only show up one time in the book; in a short story, if they're not integral to the plot, cut them out.

Short stories give me the opportunity to explore different genres too, without making too big a commitment to them. For instance, I doubt I'll ever write a sci-fi novel, but I had terrific fun writing a short story called After the Rains, which sits firmly within the parameters of the genre.

I can explore different styles of writing too, experiment with form. I recently wrote a story called The Light in which the protagonist is in shock. The present reality and her memories of the events that brought her there weave in and out of each other in a way that makes both surreal. I would never experiment in this way in a novel, but by doing so in my stories, I think I'm extending myself, learning and growing as a writer.

So the next time I feel guilty about writing a story instead of editing a chapter of Prayer and Prey, I'm going to give myself a break. It's all in the name of education and doing what I can to become the best writer I can be.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Following on...

...from yesterday's post. I took part in a chat with agents yesterday, and Amy Boggs suggested that if you're not sure where your book fits, think about where it would be shelved in a bookstore. I thought about it long and hard, and have to come to the conclusion that it would be in the YA section. There is nowhere else it would go.

So I will continue on the path I'm on for the time being, with that one, and just hope I find an agent or publisher who loves the book enough to get it on the shelf in the place it deserves to be.

But now the questions have been planted, I can't help thinking about my other books and where they might fit. Holding It Together has just been through major surgery and probably won't be ready to send out for another 3-6 months, but when it is ready, where with it fit? Once again, one of my protagonists is older, at 19. This book is kind of a companion piece to Assignment 9 in that they share some common characters. So if A9 sells as YA, will that help pave the way for HIT?

And then there's Prayer and Prey, my western. Where will that one sit? It's a western, but set in Australia. It's a romance, but it doesn't follow the formula for a romance novel. At around 55K, it's currently too short to be seriously considered as an adult novel, but despite having some important teenaged characters, this one is definitely not YA. I guess I'm going to need to try and expand this one by around 20k, something I'm not entirely sure I can do.

I think I have my work cut out for me, not only in polishing and honing these books, but also trying to categorize them so I approach the right person for the book.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Possible roadblock

On Sunday I took part in a chat with publisher Elizabeth Law. It was a fantastic and very illuminating experience, and answered many of the questions I had. Unfortunately, one of the answers I got has thrown me into doubt as to whether I'm pitching my novel correctly.

In Assignment 9, the protagonist, Casey, is 18. Apparently 18 is too old for a YA protagonist. In the parallel story, Casey is 10. Too young for a YA protagonist. So where does my book fit? At a pinch I could make her 17 in the 'NOW' sections, but it would not really work - not a lot of 17 year-olds are at university. And no, I can't make the university a boarding school because she has a brother 4 years older who is a big part of the plot and he wouldn't be at boarding school.

It's not an MG book, despite the 10-year-old. The themes are too adult for that. Yet it is not an adult book either. I'm not quite sure what to do now, because it seems I have written something that is completely outside the lines. And it was completely unintentional. In my mind, this is a YA book. It has always been a YA book. The voice, language and themes are all geared for a YA audience. Assignment 9 is a book I would have loved as a 14, 15, or 16 year old.

I'm completely flummoxed as to what to do. Perhaps this is the reason I have not gotten far with my queries to agents...

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Print or not?

On Friday a package arrived for me in the mail. It was a copy of an anthology I had a little piece in, a writerly grocery list of all things, not even a story. Yet there was something very thrilling about opening up the cover, finding my name in the table of contents and flicking to the page my list was printed on.

Being published is not new to me. This was not my first published work. Yet somehow, it was almost the most thrilling to see. Why? Because most of my other published work has been online. I'm a huge fan of the internet, spend a lot of time here, but I am a writer because I love to read. And what I love to read are books. Real books. I love the sound of the spine cracking the first time you open a book. I love the sharp edges of the pages, softer if it is a book that has been read a few times. I love the dusty smell of old books. I love choosing books by their covers sometimes.

I have been reading a lot about e-books and the myriad new e-book readers that are pouring into the market. While I can see the value in them for some situations (traveling especially), I don't think an e-book reader will ever replace an actual book. Reading is a tactile experience, turning the pages, folding the corner over to mark your place. You don't get the same experience from scrolling down a screen.

I'm sure that e-publishig will open a lot of doors for writers too, but again, as a writer, I like to have something tangible to hold in my hand, something I can point to on a shelf. That's why that little book of grocery lists meant so much to me.

Plus, I somehow doubt an e-book reader would survive being dropped in the bath the same way a book does!

Friday, June 11, 2010

Stealing time

How can we fit everything we want and need to do into a day? This is something I've been struggling with for many years. And I still have no real answers. The housework can only be ignored for so long!

I am guilty of stealing time to do the things I want to do. Ten minutes stolen out of my work day to write, five minutes stolen while cooking dinner to reply to those last minute work emails, half an hour stolen from the time I should have been playing with the kids to polish and submit that short story.

Stealing time creates guilt and I don't believe you should feel guilty about doing the things you love, the things you need to do. And writing is the thing I need to do.

Earlier this year I took on the challenge of writing an entire novel in a month. When I started, I had no idea how I was going to find the time to write the requisite 2000 words a day. In the end, I decided to get up earlier, spend the hour before the kids got up writing. This hour at 5.30am has become my most productive hour of the day, and is something I don't think I will give up. I think having a goal in mind helps too. I try at the beginning of each week to plan what I will work on, so I don't get distracted. Last week I went over the entire manuscript of Assignment 9 again, polishing sentences and phrases and just making sure it is as good as I can possibly make it. This coming week, I plan to finish a short story I started and do some editorial work on Prayer and Prey, the novel I wrote in that month.

The same goes for my work time. I like to spend ten minutes at the beginning of each day planning what I will do. Most of the time that list does not get completed - people call me, come and visit, staff are sick and can't do their shift, equipment breaks down - but at least I begin my day with a plan.

There are all kinds of pockets of time you can borrow from too. Multi-tasking is not only possible, but invaluable. Read while you eat, while you ride the bus, in the bath. While the water boils for that cup of tea, research venues for that short story. It's amazing how much time you discover you actually have when you try to wring every possible moment of its full potential.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Beginning the blog thing...

Allow me to welcome you to my blog. I have no idea what will end up happening here, but hopefully it will be an adventure.

I am in the process of trying to get my first YA novel, Assignment 9, published. I have also just agreed to co-write a feature film screenplay. So I guess we'll track the progress of those to projects here, along with many others.

We shall see what eventuates!