Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Genre count

As I think I may have mentioned in an earlier post, I began this year with the plan to write and publish in as many genres as possible. I had an acceptance on Monday which adds horror to my list of accomplishments. So I thought maybe now would be a good time to look back and assess my progress, look into which genres I've neglected so I have an idea where I might need to focus next (yes, I know I'm supposed to be rewriting/editing novels...).

So what genres have I 'conquered' thus far?

Horror - yes. Mercy is not a traditional vampire story, but there is enough lore in there to be considered horror.
Fantasy- yes. Etched in Stone is about as fantastic as I'm going to get.
Chick Lit - yes. The Choice, while also containing fantasy elements, is mostly chick-lit.
Young Adult - yes. Free is that most YA of YA, a coming of age tale.
Erotica -yes. Although under a pseudonym...
Flash Fiction - yes, yes, yes... I've had several pieces of flash fiction published.
Sci-Fi - no, not yet. The story's written, has been sent out several times, but has not yet been accepted.
Historical fiction - not yet. Again, it's written, but not yet sent out.
Literary fiction - I'm not sure. I actually consider most of my work to be fairly literary, but I think In The Bedroom would be considered literary, so let's check yes for that one.
Humour- yes. Cakewalk, my silly little story about a fat lady on a diet locked into a cake shop over night.
Tragedy - yes. Swansong, my first ever published story, is tragic. So too are many of my other stories, really.
Western -no. Again, written, but not yet published, or indeed even sent out yet.
Sports - no. I have a surfing story, The Beautiful Paradox, that's been out once, but is now entered in a contest.
Romance -no. I'm not great at it, but it's a big part of Prayer and Prey, so will be getting sent out soon.
Bizzarro - no. I barely know what it is, let alone how to write it...

So what have I missed? Are there any genres I've forgotten here? What do I need to work on next? Other than my novels and the novella, which, thanks to the lovely Laura, I now know what to do with....

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Spring Cleaning

Yesterday the weather was horrible so I decided to do something I've been meaning to do for a long time: clean the house. I don't mean the little clean and tidy-up I do a couple of times a week, but an massive, epic spring clean. Okay, technically it's not spring until Wednesday, but I like to get a jump on things.

So I did absolutely no writing. Instead I pulled all the books from my bookshelves and dusted them, resorted them, moved them around the house so they made more sense. I got the kids to throw away all their old broken toys and put what remained in the toy boxes. We now have four huge sacks of garbage, and the house looks and smells much better.

I'm also hoping that having spent a day away from any of my writing work (I don't count adding a couple of lines to a short story, and moving a few commas), I might find the inspiration and impetus to really work hard on the two most pressing projects I have on my plate. It's 2 weeks until the big reviewing marathon for our novella projects, and I've written nothing more on Angels. I have also made only incremental progress on my rewrite of A9. But at least I'm inspired there, which I can't say about Angels. I also got some fantastic feedback on the opening chapter of P & P (thanks Em!) which I will implement this evening. I'm all too aware of how important those opening pages are now.

So here I am, refreshed and full of new determination and vigor for the new week. Just watch me crash and burn from here.

Friday, August 27, 2010


Having gotten that pesky beach house story out of my system, I knuckled down and have made some progress on my rewrite of A9. But it's hard. Really hard. I've pulled the two strands apart and am working solely on the present day story which needs more work than the assignment section. I think I'm writing too much. And I'm not sure any of what I'm adding is helping clarify things. I mean, do I write the whole scene in the restaurant, or just have my narrator tell us that they ate in the restaurant? I know telling is bad, but when the scene does little to advance things, do we need it? I need them to go out, because they need to go back to the house so K can tell M he can't come inside. But do I need to show the part when they're out?

I think that's the hardest thing: showing. How do I show a couple, desperate for love, but totally ill-equipped to deal with the intense complex emotions that are associated with it? There are only so many times they can get close and pull away before it gets repetitive.

But on the positive side, I've found a place and a reason for K's determination to be K and not C. In fact, it's integral to the story now, it's the journey she's making, from the child, C, to the woman, K. But it's not an easy journey. You can't just change your name and hope to be a new person.

I'll keep slogging away at it. Eventually I'll get it right. At least, I hope I will...

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Keeping to the plan

I'm terrible at staying on target. A few days ago, in an attempt to keep myself focused on what I need to be doing, I wrote my plan of action for this week. I was going to dive headlong into my rewrite of A9. For two days, I stuck to that. I rewrote the opening, expanded on the second NOW section and I think made it better. But....

Then a story came to me. A new Beach House story. An important part of the series. And I had to write it. So yesterday was very productive. I wrote 2600 + words. But not on A9.

I thought I could probably knock out at least half the A9 rewrite this week, but with my Beach House kids haunting me, I can't do it. I have to follow this story until it's finished (which it nearly is).

Why is it that whenever I try to knuckle down to one project, something else decides it has a desperate need to be written? When I was writing the first draft of P & P, The Kite came to me and I had to take a day off working on the novel to nail that story before I lost it. I have to follow these whims too. Often my best stories come at these inopportune moments, while when I'm searching for one, I come up blank.

Ah. Inspiration. It's a quirky beast. But I figure you have to grab it while it's there because tomorrow it may have flitted elsewhere, leaving you with nothing.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Beach House Stories

Over the last two years I have been writing a series of stories I call The Beach House Stories. They are about a single family and their summers at their beach house. I never planned for it to be a series. I wrote the one that will come last in the collection first. Then I was inspired to write another one, using the same characters, but two years earlier, and the series was begun.

I now have 4 beach house stories, and I believe they are some of the best stories I've written. In fact, 4.5 really. I wrote another perspective on one of them, and thus far, that's the only one to have been published. Here: http://bit.ly/aZIaDv The others have been out, some several times, but so far, no joy.

I think I need to write more of these stories. Probably another 3 or 4, and put them together as a collection. It won't be a novel, but it could be an interesting short story collection or novella. One story for each summer from when my narrator is 4 until that last summer, at 11. Although where and how to publish it is another question.

Just another thing to add to my list of writing jobs. I think I need to win the lottery so I can quit my day job.

Friday, August 20, 2010

The plan

I'm not great at sticking to plans, but I have a lot on my plate the next few weeks in terms of writing, so I thought I'd try to write a plan of action. Having finally (I hope) fixed my plot problem in P & P, I'm going to do my line edits tomorrow night. Then I can put that book aside for a couple of weeks and work on something else.

Unfortunately no great inspiration as to what to do with Angels has struck me, so I'm going to leave that another week. We have a big reviewing marathon coming up for these novellas, and if I'm still stuck by then, maybe a review or two might give me a few ideas to kickstart that again.

There is also a big review marathon coming up in my YA Novel workshop, so this week's focus has to be Assignment 9. Changing Casey's age to 17 may not sound like a big deal, but it will change a lot of other aspects of the NOW part of the story. I think I'm going to attack this rewrite in a very different way than I have any other. I'm going to break the two stories apart and work on each individually, as if they were two mini-novels. NOW needs more work than the assignment sections, so I will deal to that first, then revisit the assignment and see if I can't tidy it up some. Then, when I'm done, I can weave them together again. I'm hoping that by doing that, each story will end up being more complete and linear. Maybe it's a crazy approach. Maybe not. I've never done it before, so who knows. If it ends up being terrible, I can always go back to the existing draft and try again from there.

Wish me luck!

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Plotting problems

A friend of mine was mentioning today that for her, plot is everything. The characters have to fit her plot and if they don't she chains them up and forces them to bend to her will (I'm paraphrasing here, Laura, but you know what I mean). I'm the opposite. When I start a story I often have no idea what will happen in it. I just have a character. What that character ends up doing, is, for a large part of the time, out of my hands. I know that sounds crazy, but that's how I write. I don't understand how people can outline a story or novel because for me, I don't have any idea where my characters might lead me.

Okay, I may have some idea about a central theme, or where I want the character to end up, but for the most part, I just write and see where I go. I guess it's like taking a mystery holiday, where you don't know the destination, but know you're going by train.

Which is why I'm having a problem now, in Prayer and Prey. In every scenario I try, Danny is acting out of character. Even in my latest attempt, the one I'm happiest with, I'm not sure it works. Through the writing of the book, he has become so real, so fleshed out, that it is impossible to force him to behave in a way that doesn't fit his character. Yet to move the plot forward, these events need to happen, and he cannot intervene. If I'd plotted it all out first, I would have discovered this problem, and perhaps his character would have been different as a result.

I'm curious about the whole outline thing. Does it work for you? Do you stick to it religiously? Or do you let your characters have the freedom to digress from the path you think you've set them on. If you use an outline, do you write from beginning to end? I write scenes all over the place then join them up at the end. One day I might write something at the end of the book, the next something from the middle. It is not unusual for me to write the ending before I write the beginning.

Am I weird?

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

On editing

I'm busily editing P & P, start to finish at the moment, having received comments from two out of three beta-readers. Chapter 27 is still a mess, but I have a solution to it (after 5 failed attempts. I owe you M, for continuing to challenge me on every re-write) I think. I'm going to take a stab at actually writing it tonight, and see where I get to.

I know a lot of writers hate revising; others love it. I'm fairly ambivalent to it, in general. It's one of those things that has to be done. It's not as exciting as writing a first draft, just letting the ideas flow out of you in a rush, but it can be inspiring. Often whole new scenes come to me when I'm revising, things that make the story that much better. Other times, I see things I need to take out and wonder why I ever put them in there in the first place.

I also notice how often the same words or phrases come into my work. Is it okay to keep them there? Clearly this is part of my own personal style. But then again, repetition isn't a good thing in writing. I think a happy balance between the two may be the best idea there.

How do you revise? I keep experimenting with different approaches to it. With P & P, the whole writing experience has been so different to my usual one, I have decided to approach editing differently too. I actually have a paper copy of the whole book and am going through with a red pen. Usually I do this chapter by chapter over a matter of days. Doing it all in one blast is making me far more aware of my repetitions and other quirks. I'm also very aware of how engaging the story is, how easy it is to read and get absorbed in. I wrote the damn thing, yet I still find myself getting carried away with the story, wanting to turn the next page to see what happens next.

I think that's a good thing, right?

Sunday, August 15, 2010

The verdict

The first of my beta-readers returned P & P to me today with her notes. As I suspected, the exact same plot problem M pointed out to me, was the main problem she found. Luckily, I rewrote that part last night. I'm going to finish revising the whole end section of the book tonight to make it fit with the new scenes, then get M to go over it again. Hopefully it will work better now. I think it does, but it's easy to think that way. There is no way I can stress how important fresh eyes are.

Then, the next step is to do another pass through the whole manuscript, line by line, to make sure everything is as smooth and fluid as possible. My beta pointed out a few places where the timeline is a little unclear, and it has become apparent that the section I had at the beginning identifying the time period has been cut in one of my revisions.

So far from being finished, there is still considerable work to be done. But I feel as if I'm not the right track. At least, I hope I am!

Saturday, August 14, 2010


The deadline for the SS Times Short Story Award is approaching. I sent off one entry a while back, but decided to hedge my bets by entering a couple more stories too. I just posted them off. Gulp.

I'm not sure why it makes me nervous, but somehow dropping those fat little envelopes into the mailbox seems more final or serious than submitting online. Crazy, huh?

Now there's just the inevitable waiting. Late October for the other contest I entered, early November for this one. It feels like a long way away, but I'm sure it will fly by. Time has a way of doing that at the moment. I opened my eyes and all of a sudden it's mid-August. It feels like it should still be March.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Feeling okay

I've been struggling the past couple of weeks. I haven't been able to figure out how to add 12K to Angels, I've been waiting on responses to P & P before I do any more revision, and haven't had any really great ideas on what to do with A9. I also haven't been able to write anything else that was any good. Frustrating!

But I think the dam has broken. I wrote an entire short story today. Not a long one, only 2k, but I wrote it. And I had a brilliant idea about what to do with A9 to keep it YA, and to keep much of it intact. It's still going to need a little work, but then, don't all books? My friend Airdale just got a contract with Dial and she's pretty much rewriting her book now. And I'm lucky enough to be able to be a part of that process in one of my critique groups! I figure, I just make my protag 17 instead of 18. It changes a few things, but nothing significant. It even makes a few things more relevant than they were before. If she's been skipped up in school, it's quite possible that she could be in her first year of college at 17. Am I right? Or is this a really stupid idea?

I know I'll need to flesh out the Mark relationship a little more, but that's not a problem. There are several A9 sections that are too long, and by slotting a few extra NOW sections in, it will make things more balanced. Or at least, that's what I'm hoping.

One of my readers found a huge flaw in my new ending to P & P, so I will need to address that before I do anything else. Then I'll have to go back to Angels with fresh eyes, I hope a week away is long enough. Then once that's done, I can go back to A9 and make a few changes.

By then it will be November and time for NaNoWriMo. I just have to decide which of the two books lurking in my head will be allowed to come out and play.

Monday, August 9, 2010

My not-so-glamorous life part 2

Okay, we didn't get far yesterday, so today I'll try to speed things up a little. Can you tell I have nothing writing-wise to blog about at the moment? Just waiting for betas to get back to me with their thoughts on P & P....

So. The schedule for the week is done. What next? Well, you need to let people know about it. Firstly, I have to let the media know. I have a document that lists the films, ratings, run times, session times and a brief synopsis and I send this out each week to the media. The newspaper takes this info to make up our press ads and other media use it for their own purposes. I also have to update our website and another one that lists session times for films all over the country. I also load the session times into our ticketing system so if anyone is keen to buy tickets in advance, they can.

That's the schedule out of the way.

Once that's done, I then turn my attention to the staff. The roster is also super-important, because if you don't have enough people on, things spiral out of control really fast. I write my rosters with the schedule in front of me, checking what time films that are likely to busy are one, when we have private bookings that will need extra attention and other small details. Because we are a small business, I have to try and keep the roster as tight as possible. I have an awesome team, but this is a casual job for them, and most have other interests outside the cinema. They're dancers, musicians, actors, students and circus performers so often have commitments outside work. Not mention social lives! But most weeks I manage to fill all the available shifts without too much trouble.

Once I've drafted a roster, I set up out a report that breaks down each day. During the week I fill this in daily to see what percentage of revenue the wages are, how many admissions each film has, what the average ticket price is and how much is being spent at the bar/candy bar. I slot in the hours I've rostered so I can see during the week where we've used more or less hours than I planned for. This happens often if people need to stay on later because it's busy, or if we send someone home early because they are not needed.

And that's my typical Monday. Of course, there is also banking and trips to the post office and phone calls from people wanting to book functions and all the other day to day stuff, but that's the core stuff I do every week on a Monday.

Sounds exciting, right?

Sunday, August 8, 2010

My not-so-glamorous life part 1

I thought I might break a few illusions for those of you out there who think a job in the movie industry is glamorous. People are always telling me how lucky I am to have such an exciting job, but like all jobs, once you get into the day to day of it, it's not that exciting or glamorous. So I thought I'd take you through 'a day in the life', so to speak.

Today is Monday, so the busiest day in my week. On Mondays I have to wrap up the weekend and plan for the new week which begins on Thursday. New movies always open on Thursdays, so our weeks run Thursday -Wednesday which often confuses people who use a regular Monday - Friday week. So, first thing this morning I had to look over the figures for the weekend, checking which films did the most business and what titles did well at what times. At the moment we have seven films playing in 3 theatres, so the schedule is not terribly crowded. After sending the figures to the appropriate distributors and writing a list for myself of what did well and when, I had to sit down to work out he schedule for the new week.

Writing the schedule is the most important job of the week. A bad schedule will stress projectionists and irritate customers, as well as causing problems with flow to and from the theatres. So it is important to think about it. First I write in any special events or private bookings, double checking that I have the right date and time on each. Then I start programming the regular sessions. I usually start at the end of the day, working backward from the latest session to the earliest. First I decide which films are likely to work at an 8.30pm or 8.45pm session and slot these films in there, starting the longest film at the earliest time possible. Then I work out what films might work at the 6pmish sessions, how long each film is, and slot them in. And so on and so forth until I reach the earliest time of the day which for us is usually around midday.

This might sound simple, but it isn't always. Distributors have requirements for how many times a day each film is screened, so it is important to keep that in mind. Once you've been doing this as long as I have, you will have a feel for what films work at what time of day. I find a lot of the time when I watch films now, I have in my head by the end of it whether it's a matinee film, or an 8.30 film, or sometimes, just a Sunday afternoon film.

Once the schedule is set, it has to be approved by the distributors. So I send them the session times for their titles. Usually this is as far as it goes, but sometimes a distributor may want to negotiate more time slots, or different time slots for one of their titles. So the session times remain fluid until everyone has approved. Then the rest of the work can start.

But since I've written so much just on scheduling, the rest may have to wait until tomorrow....

Friday, August 6, 2010


In my job I have ample opportunity for people watching. I spend quite a bit of time behind the counter, and this affords me a great view of the customers coming and going, sitting and waiting. The cinema I run draws a very broad audience because I try to programme a very wide range of films. So there are always interesting people around to observe and study.

Last night a woman came in who I know. I also know her husband and father of her kids. She turned up with a man who was not the man I know. Initially I kind of dismissed it. I often go to movies with men other than my partner. In fact, I can't remember the last time I did go to the movies with my partner... But then she did something odd. She poured herself a cup of water from the cooler, drank half of it, then offered the other half to her date. This struck me as being an oddly intimate thing to do with a man who is not your partner.

She went into the cinema and I did not see her again on the way out (probably doing dishes or putting rubbish out. Who said the the film business was glamorous?) so did not have a chance to ask for an introduction, or ask after her husband. Now I'm curious. It has been quite a while since I spoke to her, so perhaps in the intervening months she's split up with her partner. Or perhaps this guy was her brother or cousin and I'm reading way too much into it. But I don't think so. I see couples together all the time at the movies, and I've got to the point where I can tell when they've had an argument over dinner by the way they come to the counter. I can tell which couples have been together only a short time, and which have been together longer. Body language tells you so much.

I'm looking forward to running into this particular acquaintance again soon, so I can find out what the real story is. I hope she and her husband have not split up, because they are both lovely people and when I found out they were together, it felt right.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

I wonder sometimes...

I've been reading a book to my older son recently that has me asking myself a lot of questions. He's about to turn 6, and like all little boys, finds toilet humour utterly hilarious. So, when I saw a book in the library that other day called The Day My Bum Went Psycho, I had to get it for him. Usually when I choose a chapter book to read to him, I pick something I liked as a kid. We've read through Roald Dahl, large chunks of Beverly Cleary and, most recently, Emil and the Detectives.

This Bum book is something of an unchartered journey.

It is completely absurd. From the very first page, where the premise was set up, I was shaking my head in wonder. How does a book like that get published? How does the author get anyone to take him seriously when he asks for critiques? If something like this showed up in one of my review groups, I wouldn't know how to review it. I'd think the author was playing with me, that the whole thing was a joke.

But this book is real. And even more amazing, there are two sequels, both of which my son is amping to get to next. When you get right down to the nitty gritty, there is nothing much that makes this book any different to hundreds of other adventure type stories for young boys. It's just the villains are bums that have escaped and want to take over the world. Or at least the place where peoples' heads currently live.

With references to poo and farting on almost every page, and an utterly vile description of a volcanic pimple on one of the large, smelly bums, this book is not for those easily offended. But for six year olds? It's perfect. I find myself looking forward to reading him the next chapter because he takes such obvious delight in every rude noise, fart joke and reference to the hero's self-wiping false bum. If this is what it takes to get little boys to read, well, I'm glad the author managed to find a critique group to take his off the wall premise seriously enough to help him out.

I'm just glad it wasn't mine.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Re-finding the voice

I've been working on my novella for a proposed anthology based around my story Angels, Oddities and Orthodox Habits, and I've been struggling a little. It's partly because I'm not 100% sure what I need to add to the story to make it fuller, and better, and party because I'm finding it very hard to get back into my narrator's voice. Angels was originally an experiment in writing Southern Gothic and uses a very overblown, lush narrative style. When I wrote the beginning part of it, many years ago now, I found the florid language funny and enjoyed pushing myself to write in a style completely unlike my usual clean, simple and straightforward one. When I extended and finished the story last year, I found it a little difficult to find my way back in, but managed. Now, I'm having trouble.

I wrote at first part of this story after practically overdosing on Nick Cave's music. I've been a huge fan for about 25 years now, but had kind of let my passion for his work slide a little. I owned all his older records on vinyl or cassette, and with CDs becoming popular (guess I'm showing my age here), I didn't re-buy everything again. Then, after more than 10 years of trying, I finally had the opportunity to see him on stage for the first time. I was completely blown away. He held a second show a week later and I went again and loved it just as much.

I went out and bought all the old records again on CD over a period of about 6 weeks, listening to each and every one over and over again, remembering why I had always loved it so much. If you're not familiar with the work of Nick Cave, his songs are very narrative driven. There are characters and stories in every one, usually not very nice ones. But there's always a sense of humour about it. Death and murder and blood feature often, as do criminals and spurned lovers.

So I guess it's no surprise that the sordid little town in which Angels is set sprang from my imagination after being mired in this music for several months. Maybe to find River's voice again, I need to listen to Nick Cave a lot more than I have been recently - to be honest, except at work where it's just background, I barely listen to music anymore - and then I'll find my path with this particular project.

Now, where did I put my headphones?

Monday, August 2, 2010

A Time Of Nervous Waiting

Over the weekend I gave out copies of Prayer & Prey to a group of people to read and critique. Now I just have to wait until they get back to me with their thoughts. This first group of readers are all women, one a workmate of mine and a fellow writer, one a friend who also happens to be the wine rep for the cinema, and the third, a complete stranger who is here on holiday from Australia. I think this is quite a diverse group, and will be interested to hear what they have to say. When they have finished with it, I have another group of readers lined up, this time including two men.

I'm really unsure whether the book will appeal more to women or men. I've always thought of it as a mixture of romance and western, but having had a discussion about what makes a romance novel with one of my writing groups, I've realized P & P doesn't fit the structure of a romance. Apparently your lovers have to meet in the first chapter of a romance novel, even if they don't fall in love right away. It took me almost two thirds of P & P to get Danny and Alice into the same part of Victoria!

The inspiration for the novel was the Gauntlet challenge laid down by one of my writing groups. In this, we were challenged to write in a genre or genres that we did not consider our own. In the first round we picked genres for each other; in this, the second round, we used a random generator. My genres were sports and western. I started writing a short story, but it kept getting bigger. When I got close to 10K, I realized I had way too much to say about these characters and the story was demanding to be a novel. So I did the March NoWriMo challenge and knocked out a first draft between the 1st and 31st of March.

The draft my readers got over the weekend is somewhat different to that first draft, most significantly the ending. I wonder what they will have to say. I'm intrigued because I'm sure more work is needed. I find it difficult to believe a book can come together this quickly after having worked on both Assignment 9 and Holding it Together for so many years. Even my first book, the one I barely admit to having written, took longer than the five months I've spent on P & P. But I believe very strongly that I was a better writer going into this project.

So I shall just wait and see what comes from these critiques. And then I'll be diving back into rewrites. Again.