Saturday, October 30, 2010

Tomorrow it begins...

That's right. Tomorrow is the official starting date of the madness known as NaNoWriMo, and therefore the beginning of my new book. How do I feel? Excited? Yes. My characters are alive in my head and just waiting to come to life on the page, the story is as outlined as it's going to get, in my head at least. I have whole chapters written up there in my skull and I just need to spew the words out onto the page.

I'm also worried that I won't make it. I've been having trouble with my right arm for most of the year, and it seems to be getting worse. It's Radial Tunnel Syndrome. I'm trying to change my typing position and wear a wrist brace while on the computer, plus I have a series of exercises to do which may or may not help. I'm going to try and write through the pain, but if it becomes too much, I may have to abandon ship.

So what am I writing? Interestingly, I had planned to write an adult book about these characters. When they came to me, they were in their mid and late thirties, and their story was very plain to me. But as I delved deeper into them, I realized their backstory was as interesting as the story I thought I'd tell. And the more I thought about it, the more I realized it couldn't be just a chapter of backstory in my grown-up book: it needed a book of its own. So now I'm going to write a YA novel about them in their teens instead. But I still have their mid-life story hanging about in my head. Could make for an interesting sequel of sorts somewhere along the line.

Whether or not I make the 50K is yet to be seen. But I'll give it the best I can. And by December we'll all know if I did it. And then I'll set this project aside for a month or two while I get to some serious revising on my three earlier books. By mid-Jan or Feb I should be ready to dive into the NaNo novel again.

Anyone else have a plan of action? Anyone have any miracle cures for RTS? Would love to hear from you....

Oh, and if I'm not blogging as much as you're used to, you understand, right?

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Who says no one reads anymore?

I take public transport a lot. I also walk a lot, but that's another story, and not relevant to today's topic. This week I've been very conscious of how many people read on the bus. I know I always do - when I don't have kids to wrangle that is- but I thought I was kind of unique in that. I panic if I realize I've left the house without something to read, but again, an whole other post, maybe for another day.

People bemoan the fact no body reads anymore. But I'd like to dispute that. On a full bus this morning, I'd say well over half the people on board were reading. A couple had newspapers, one had a woman's magazine, a few were obviously doing some last minute cramming before an exam, but the vast majority were holding books. Real, paper books - e-readers haven't really taken off here yet, probably due to the fact you can't get Kindles.

It makes me feel good to know there are still a lot of people out there who like to lose themselves in a book. Especially when I spoke to one of my staff last night and he said he hadn't read anything except assigned texts all year. ALL YEAR! That blows my mind.

There are still readers out there. Lots of them. So keep writing those books y'all. They're needed after all.

Monday, October 25, 2010

re-reading old favorites

One of the best things about having kids is getting to read all your old favorite books again. Although, having boys, most of the books I loved as a kid get sneered at and passed over in favor of something with airplanes on the cover. But last time I went to the library in search of a new chapter book for my older one, I came across a series of books that I absolutely adored when I was a child. For about three years, between the ages of (I'm guessing, it was a long time ago) eight and eleven, I was obsessed by Willard Price's Adventure novels. It began with either Volcano Adventure or Whale Adventure, the two titles the Apia public library held. I loved them so much, every time my Dad went anywhere on business, he brought back a new one.

Now my six-year-old and I are reading Underwater Adventure and it is a strange experience. I must have read and re-read all these books about 50 times each. I remember reading through the entire series (14 books) several times over. Yet while I remember some things about the book we're reading now, a lot of it feels brand new. I'm also noticing a lot of things about it that I'm sure I failed to notice as a child.

Firstly, characterization. There isn't any. Our heros, 19 year old Hal and his 13 year old brother Roger are just there. They have no really distinct personalities and don't seem to have much of a relationship with each other, despite the dangerous situations they get into. And frankly, I'm not sure a 13 year old would be capable of many of the things Roger seems to do. The only character who gets any real personality is the villain.

The second thing I've noticed is how detailed the descriptions of everything are. From the aqualungs to the fish to the diving bell. Every part of the inner workings of the machinery is detailed, all kinds of scientific detail about the marine life. It's no wonder I know so much trivia about the various subjects covered in these books.

The third thing, is how much my son is enjoying the book, despite the things I now see as failings. It's an exciting story, with heros and villains and shipwrecks and sharks. And I guess sometimes that's enough. I hope so, because we have 13 more of these books to get through.

Are there any childhood favorites you've re-read and found serious flaws in?

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Preparing for NaNo

...Or not. I have no idea what to do to prepare to write a book. I've always just written them. I start somewhere, usually with a single scene, and then keep writing. Where I start is not usually the beginning - in fact, I have in one case written the end before I even thought what might happen earlier. That book's not finished, and may never be at this stage. With Assignment 9, I started somewhere that's now toward the middle of the 4th section, and where I started with Holding it Together, is a scene that no longer exists in the MS. Prayer and Prey began as a short story that wouldn't stop growing, and the story began more than halfway through what is now the novel.

So the idea of trying to write a novel in sequence bothers me a little. I don't know if I can do it. But I'm up for the challenge. I'm also planning to write in chapters, something I've never done before, probably because I've never written in sequence. It will be interesting to see if the more structured approach, and more linear approach, makes a difference. Certainly, I hope to avoid the boring part of trying to make all the little bits and scenes I've written fit together as I reach the end of the book.

I think the advantage of writing fast is that you get momentum. You don't have time to pause and think too much about why or how characters are doing the things they do. And hopefully by writing in sequence, the events will spring naturally from one to the next. I guess each chapter is like a short story, although rather than concluding, they need to end with a hook leading into the next chapter. Or, since I'm going to be writing from two first person POVs, maybe the hook at the end of each narrator's chapter will lead into the one following the next... Hmmmm..... Things to think on. I'm not deluded enough to think the book will be done by the end of November. If I'm lucky, I'll have a good first draft to work on. Or a flawed and messy first draft. Or perhaps an unfinished mess. We'll see.

Is anyone else planning to write in a new and different way during this year's NaNo? How do you usually write your books?

Thursday, October 21, 2010

The Waiting Game

I feel like I'm always waiting these days. And I'm not a patient person at the best of times - just ask my kids about the bus stop each morning. Being in limbo is a waste of time, and I don't like wasting time. I have little enough of it as it is. I think learning how to wait is an essential lesson every writer needs to learn.

Every time you submit s story, a query, a partial, a full, you end up waiting. Sometimes for a VERY long time. I have one story that has been out for almost 200 days now. That's a long time to wait. I also have 2 queries that have been out for a long time (over 6 weeks anyway) and a full that's been out for about a month. Plus the 4 stories I have entered in contests and am waiting on the results. That's a lot of waiting.

Add in the waiting for critiques on your work by those in your critique groups and there's more. What's an impatient girl like me to do?

Well, write more. Revise more. Try to forget the babies you've sent out into the world. They'll come home when the time is right (probably needing a hot meal and their laundry done). I just started doing more revision on Prayer and Prey, even though I know the full is out there. I know the answer on that one is most likely to be a no, so I figure I should use the time to make the book better. And I'd like to get through another round of editing before NaNo.

How do you you manage the waiting time? Do you forget about the things you've sent off? Or are you a serial email checker? Can you write when you have things submitted, or does the knowledge they're out in the world make you too snaky to sit at the keyboard?

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Book vs. Film

I recently saw the film that I think will be my number one film of 2010. It's called Winter's Bone and is based on a book by Daniel Woodrell. As part of the promotion for the film, we're doing giveaways of the novel and I managed to get my hands on a copy. Nine times out of ten, I say the book is better than the film. Somehow my imagining of the story always seems more compelling than that of the filmmaker. But every now and again, the film is just as good, if not better than the book. I think Winter's Bone is a case where the film is just as good, but I want to talk here about the few occasions I think the film is better.

The first case, is Atom Egoyan's film of Russell Bank's novel The Sweet Hereafter. Now Russell Banks is one of my favourite authors. Rule of the Bone, Affliction and his short story collection Trailer Park are all on the top shelf of my bookcase where the treasure, many-times re-read books go. And I liked the book of The Sweet Hereafter, don't get me wrong, but I think the film just works better. Egoyan's trademark fractured narrative style works well with the multiple perspective approach Banks takes int he book. But the main thing that I think makes the film better, is the addition of the pied piper story as a motif running through the film. It underlines the film's central theme, and connects the before and after times in a subtle, non-obtrusive way.

The second film I believe is better than the book on which it is based is Francis Ford Coppolla's Rumble Fish, based on the novel by S E Hinton. Shot in expressionistic black and white, the film doesn't take liberties with the plot of the book. But by taking it out of a specific time and place, the story becomes a universal one. It is also an incredibly beautiful film with an unsettling soundtrack by Stuart Copeland. Interestingly, it was shot back to back with Coppolla's glossy, sentimental cinematic adaptation of Hinton's The Outsiders, a film that doesn't hold a candle to the book in my eyes.

I am sure there are other examples. Certainly I think both The Green Mile and The Shawshank Redemption, adapted from Stephen King by Frank Darabont are better films than they are books, but then, I've never been a huge fan of Stephen King as a writer.

Can anyone else think of examples where the film is better than the book? Or probably a much longer post, where the film completely ruins a book?

Saturday, October 16, 2010

More on setting...

I've been thinking a lot about this, as you probably realize. And here's another way you can look at it. When you go into someone's house for the first time, how much do you learn about them from even a first cursory look around? A lot. I'll use my own house as an example.

First, the outside. It's a small house, wooden, around about the same age and design as the rest of the houses on the street. The paint is faded and peeling in places, but not enough to look derelict... yet. The garden is overgrown and weeds choke the flowerbeds at the front. Whoever lives here doesn't do much in the way of gardening.

As soon as you walk through the front door, you'll see toys or kids' shoes strewn across the hallway. So there is at least one kid living here. The hallway has bookshelves in three places,two crammed with children's picture books and the other filled with non-fiction books about writing, motor racing and the technical side of recording music.

Bedrooms branch off the hallway. Two belong to kids, toys dropped carelessly on the floor, pictures on the walls of cartoon characters and fighter planes. Probably boys. The third bedroom has a double bed - the parents' room. Clothes lie around in sloppy piles and there is a stack of clean laundry stacked on the bed. The people who live here aren't that fussed about housekeeping.

In the living room, a large television sits at one end. Nearby is an impressive collection of DVDs and racks and racks of CDs. These people are serious about movies and music. More toys in this room too. The furniture is baggy and a little stained, definitely not new. Crumbs litter the rug under the coffee table. They probably eat in front of the TV.

In the dining room sits a table, lost under piles of mail, newspapers and other stuff. Doubt the family eats there. Only room for one person to sit and eat, at the end. A small plastic table sits across the room, next to two floor to ceiling bookshelves jammed with books on film and music, plus an eccentric selection of novels, biographies and short story collections. These people are definitely interested in film and music.

The kitchen is surprisingly clean. They may be messy, but not unclean. Appliances litter the bench and a large collection of cookbooks is piled on a shelf. More recipies, torn from magazines or scrawled on pieces of paper, are stuck to the fridge with magnets. Someone likes to cook. Closer inspection reveals most of the recipies and cookbooks are vegetarian. At least one person here is a vegetarian, or at least, they want to eat more vegetarian food.

In the bathroom, an empty teacup sits on the edge of the bath, an open book facedown beside it. Someone likes reading in the bath. A few bath toys are scattered around the rim. The kids are still young.

And that's just a very quick walk through, glancing around. If you look closer, read the paper pinned to the noticeboard by the front door, study the papers left on the table or by the computers, you'd learn a lot more. These small details can be thrown into your writing, showing the reader what kind of people live in the house rather than having to tell us through narration, or dialogue that may not advance the plot. By describing the house, you're not only giving valuable character information, you're also grounding the reader in the environment your story takes place in.

Assuming of course, your story or scene takes place in a house. But the same concept applies to any setting whether it's a space craft in some unheard of galaxy or a shack in the middle of a fairy tale forest.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Description & Setting

A couple of my writing friends have been talking about how to know what to describe, and how much setting you really need to throw into your work. I have fairly definite ideas about this, so thought I'd outline them here. If there is one thing that frustrates the hell out of me, it's too much description or setting detail. But equally frustrating is not enough.

In terms of description, you don't need to describe everyone or everything. If they are important to the story, then describe them. To use an example I used the other day, if in a scene a character is startled by a car driving by too fast, and that's the only time you see the car, you don't need to describe it in any detail. If though, that car comes back later in the story, filled with thugs who kidnap the MC, then describe it the first time we see it. By taking the time to show us details of the car (crumpled back bumper maybe, dangling headlight, whatever) you're giving it an importance, showing the reader the car is important to the story and should be remembered for later.

In terms of setting, I'm a great believer in not giving the generic details. We all know what an office cubicle looks like. But what makes this particular office cubicle different? What can you tell us about it that shows us who works in there? Describe the precarious piles of paper drifting across the surface of the desk. Describe the lewd picture the guy uses as a screen saver. Describe the neatly lined up jars of pencils and pens. Whatever makes that cubicle belong to the character who works in it. You'd be amazed how much you can learn about a character with just a few details of their environment.

How do you like to use description and setting?

Tuesday, October 12, 2010


In an effort to prepare myself for NaNoWriMo and the daunting task of throwing together another novel, I decided to make myself practice. I've set myself a 2000 word a day target for November, so I'll hopefully end up with a novel closer to 60K than 50K. So as an exercise, I decided to see how long it took me to write 2000 words. I know from doing flash fiction contests that I can get through 1000 in half an hour or so, but there is a big difference between a 1K story and a 2K story.

So I sat down to write. I had a prompt to work with, so that helped. And the story just came. One hour and ten minutes later I had my 2K story. In fact, 2040 words.

So I'm relieved. I know it will be harder when I'm midway through a book, and my characters won't go where I want them to, or do the things I need them to do, but at least I know it is possible. And on those days where everything is perfect, the stars are aligned just so, and the words just seem to be there to pluck from the air, well, maybe I'll be able to get through twice that. Then on those other days, where you just can't find it in you to even sit in front of the keyboard, I'll still be okay.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Home again

Well, the great Aussie adventure is over. Back home, and already it feels like I haven't even left. Well, apart from the fact I don't usually have 240 emails to wade through on a Sunday afternoon. I was actually surprised it wasn't more...

I'm not sure what the boys are going to have taken away from this trip. The elder one spent two days at the War Memorial which has an outstanding museum behind it. Unfortunately, it appears he got entirely the wrong message from the place, and keeps saying he wishes we could have a war. The younger one was happiest at home, whining and complaining everywhere we went. I know it was tiring for him though. Keeping up with the older one is a challenge, even for me!

Lots of little things to catch up on this week on the writing front too. I had a story accepted for an anthology yesterday, which is cool. Except I never submitted it. The editor read it as a contest entry early last year, and remembered it. He emailed me and asked if he could publish it. I agreed, but looking over the story, one of my very early efforts since becoming a more serious writer of short fiction, it needs work. Quite a bit of work. So I'm onto that.

I also need to get some kind of idea where my NaNoWriMo novel might head. I've always been a complete pantser, but I have a feeling I may need to write myself a few notes before I start. I know my characters, I know the inciting incident in the novel, I know a few events I'd like to see on the journey toward the end, and I have an idea where we might end up, but can't be certain I'll get there. But I guess that's part of the fun. It could also be traumatic if I hit the 25K mark and get stuck, or lose my way. So perhaps a few guidelines would help. I'm going to write in chapters for the first time, and plan to write in sequence which I usually don't do when writing novels. I think writing chapters may require more thought in terms of structure.

We shall see....

Thursday, October 7, 2010


It has been a long time since I've had this much concentrated time with my kids. It's great, but it's totally exhausting! They want my attention, or the attention of their grandparents, 24 hours a day. At home, they quite happily play with each other and let their father and I get on with the chores, or whatever we need to do. Here, five minutes without my attention, and they're pretty much climbing the walls. It's hard work!

I'd write more, but they're pounding up and down the hall outside my room, demanding breakfast...

Monday, October 4, 2010

Some observations

Being on holiday, I have a little time to be reflective. So let me blather on for a bit about a few things I've noticed.

1. Why can't I sleep more? I'm on vacation. I don't have to wake up in the morning to rush kids to school and daycare, and get to work. Yet 5.15am arrives, and I'm wide awake. Good writing time, I guess. But the same thing happens at the other end of the day, too. I find that I'm incapable of getting to bed before 11.30 or so. Even when I try.

2. Canberra isn't so much a city as a garden. My dad took me on a drive around Canberra yesterday and I was struck by how green the city is. In fact, it's not really a city at all. There is no real center to it, just a bunch of suburbs dotted around with vast expanses of parkland and nature reserve in between. It's pretty, much more so than the last time I was here which was during the drought, but it doesn't feel functional to me. And it's weird having kangaroos just hopping about behind the house.

3. Why will my kids listen what their grandmother says, but ignore me entirely? They've been driving me nuts this trip. Neither of them will listen to a word I say. And if they do, they don't do whatever it is I ask them to do. Yet Nana asks, and they jump. Unfair!

4. Australian birds are loud but not tuneful. They screech. Loudly. But you can't really get mad about it because they are so beautiful.

Just a few random thoughts....

Saturday, October 2, 2010


Well, I made it. The trip was a little stressful, especially getting two small children through the throngs at Sydney airport, but we managed to get to Canberra. My suitcase didn't though.... Apparently it happens a lot in Canberra. There were about 10 other people in the queue to complain about their bags not arriving. Weird that the kids' bag made it though, when mine didn't.

But in the end I got it. A courier delivered it at just after 7pm, so I didn't have to go to bed without brushing my teeth. And the trip back will be less trying because we're flying through Melbourne instead of Sydney.

Yesterday we went to the glassworks where you can watch artists and students blowing glass. It looks incredible. I'm hoping to use it as a background for a story because I can see so much potential for it as a setting. Huge amounts of frustration, searing heat, a real dependence on your team members to help you out, be there at the right time or the piece will be ruined. It's something that I'll mull on for a while, but don't be surprised to find it in there at some point.

Hoping to get some re-writes on Angels done while I'm here, but so far haven't found the time to even look over my revision notes. The newspapers are too good here. Too much to read...