Monday, February 28, 2011

Oscars Roundup

So unless you live under a rock, you probably know that yesterday was the Academy Awards. As someone in the film biz, I have kind of a love-hate relationship with this particular awards ceremony. I love it because an Oscar can boost a film's box office revenue by about 30%. So I'm very happy about the Oscars for Inside Job (which I have exclusively here) and In A Better World.

There are others, that on a purely personal level, I'm not so happy with. I don't think Tom Hooper should have won the Directing award for The King's Speech. With that script, and that cast, he would not have needed to do much in the way of directing. Darren Aronofsky should have won for Black Swan. That's film that really needed a strong hand at the helm.

I also don't think Sorkin should have won the Adapted Screenplay award. He's a great writer and his dialogue rocks off the screen. I admit I haven't read the source material, but the film of Winter's Bone is just as good as the book, and how often can you say that about any movie? That's the adapted screenplay that should have won.

Other than that, I think the awards were pretty well spread. I don't think The King's Speech was the best film of the year, but that's just personal opinion. And to be honest, I think having 10 nominees for Best Picture cheapens it. Go back to five.

In terms of the actual ceremony, I didn't have too much to complain about. Celine Dion singing over the obits? Blerg! But it's okay. I have a mute button on my remote. Anne Hathaway looked like she was having a good time. Shame about Franco. He looked like he wanted to be anywhere else.... But I'll put that down to nerves. It must be hard presenting when you know you're up for a Best Actor award, and that's not announced until almost the end of the event. It went on too long, but when has an Oscars night not gone on too long?

What did you think?

Sunday, February 27, 2011

On critiquing

I've read a lot of posts over the last week or so about critique groups and whether or not they work. It's got me thinking.... I have several different critique groups because I write so many different things. For instance, I have a group which focuses on YA novels. I also have a group for novels in general. I also have a group for short fiction, although that one seems to be teetering on the edge of collapse at the moment.

In all these groups there are fantastically helpful reviewers. There are also reviewers whose comments just don't ring true with me, and whose opinions just don't carry the weight that other reviewers do.

I think the trick to getting something out of a critique group is to find the people who you trust. It may take some time. You also have to be ready to take criticism. When I joined my first group, I don't think I was. I was still convinced my book was brilliant and perfect and anyone who disagreed was a moron. It took a few months of critiquing other people for me to have enough perspective on my own work to know some of the comments I was getting were right.

Now I have a solid group of reviewers whose feedback resonates with me. I know I can trust their judgement, and if they say something doesn't work, well, I believe it. These are my go-to-guys. When I'm stuck somewhere, they're the ones who can unstick me. I still get critiques from people who don't get my work, or are just copying the comments the person before them made, but it doesn't bother me. I just thank them politely, and move on. And every now and then, one of them points something out I've never thought of before, and none of my other reviewers has mentioned.

As a writer your work is going to be read and misunderstood by (hopefully) a wide range of readers. A critique group can be your first introduction to the diversity of your audience. And yeah, it's kind of scary!

Thursday, February 24, 2011


The wait is over. The first round Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award results are in, and I made the first cut. Phew... I had managed to convince myself I'd be dumped in the first round this year, so I'm feeling very relieved right now.

And very sad. Some of my writing friends did make it through, but my only friend to enter in General Fiction as opposed to YA, did not. Her book's good too! And I liked her pitch. But perhaps the subject matter is not the right fit for this particular contest. Or there were other books that had a similar plot, or theme. Or perhaps the stars were not aligned correctly. There is no way of knowing. Everyone who got cut, don't give up. This is only one route to publication, not the only one.

Time will tell what happens next. I have 26 days to wait until the next round's cuts are announced. In the meantime, I'm going to keep my head down and keep working on my new book. I'm not expecting to get through to the final 3 in ABNA (although it is nice to dream about it), and it would be good to have something fresh to enter in 2012....

If you entered, did you make it through the pitch round? Let me know so we can root for you.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011


I just finished doing our monthly stocktake at the cinema. As usual, after entering all the figures, I had to run around downstairs to find all the things I'd missed while counting the first time. Then I had re-enter the figures, check that what I'd entered as coming in was correct and then re-check everything again.

It's a lot like editing a book.

You go through the first time to see if everything that needs to be there, is. Plot? Characters? Motivation? Action? Dialogue? Then you go through and tweak all that stuff so it works better. Then you go through to polish individual sentences and words and phrases. And finally, you go through to check it all still makes sense.

Somehow though, counting candy bars and coffee beans is easier....

Monday, February 21, 2011

Life changing literature

A couple of weeks ago, one of the guys in my critique group asked us all what book changed our lives, and why. At the time, so many book titles rushed into my mind, for so many different reasons, and I couldn't answer the question. With two weeks or so to think about it, I now have an answer. So, Kurt, if you're reading this, here's your answer.

I don't have just one. I have two, and they changed my life for very different reasons. Firstly, The Outsiders. This is the only book I've ever finished then turned right back to the beginning to re-read it. It's also the book that led me to write myself, way back when I was twelve. I'd written before that, but that book set me on fire and made me determined to do it. I still have the fifteen notebooks I filled with mostly terrible stories from that time.

My copy of The Outsiders has been read to rags. The cover is long gone, and several pages are held in with tape, but even now, I take it down and re-read it every year or so. And I still love it.

The other life changing book was life changing for an entirely different reason. Volcano Adventure by Willard Price saved my life. It saved my family's lives too.

I'm a diplo-brat (kid of a diplomat) and we moved every couple of years. When I was about 10, we lived in Beijing. We traveled around China quite a bit, often to places foreigners didn't go often. This was back in the early 1980s when foreigners needed permits to go anywhere the Chinese thought you might see something unsavory. We were in some back country area, looking at farmland, and it was cold at night. The kind people whose guest house we were staying in, left a coal brazier burning for us overnight so we wouldn't get too cold.

My sister and I were sleeping in a back room, further away from the door and the fire than my parents. In the middle of the night, I heard a thud near the bathroom door, and realized my dad had fallen to the floor. I felt kind of foggy and light-headed, a little sick, but it didn't take too long before I remembered reading in Volcano Adventure about the effects of carbon monoxide, and realized we had carbon monoxide poisoning. I managed to get the door and windows open to clear the air, and when my parents revived enough, we all got outside to breathe fresh air.

If my sister and I had been in that front room, we would all probably have died in our sleep. If I hadn't read Willard Price, I wouldn't have known what to do. So I have to say that one changed my life. If I hadn't read it, I'd be dead.

So, two life changing books for me. What books have changed your life? And why?

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Animal Behavior

I took my kids to the zoo yesterday. We're members, and it's not that far away, so we really should go more often. Especially since they're doing so much to improve the environments in which the animals live. It's a completely different place than it was when I was a kid, or even a teenager driving the little train around the duck pond.

I was struck by how many behaviors animals and people have in common. And not just with the chimps and other monkeys! We all have a desire to be clean (actually, some of the animals seem far more fastidious in that regard than people), we all eat regularly, we all seek out the company of our own kind. But with animals it's less complicated, it appears. Human animals manage to mess it up somehow, hurt each other often without meaning to.


Friday, February 18, 2011

A Heartfelt Thank You

I just want to offer my thanks to everyone who commented on my last post. I have the most awesome followers in the world! You guys knew exactly what to say to pull me out of my funk. I got another query rejection today, and because of all the support I got yesterday, I was able to brush it off. I'm beginning to realize that maybe 21 query rejections isn't a lot. It feels like a lot, but in the grand scheme of things, is it really?

I'm amazed at how supportive and helpful the writing community can be. And I'm grateful for it. I'm lucky. I get to do what I love doing every day. Even if I never get a book published, that will still be the case.

So thank you everyone, especially my brilliant critique partner who made my day by sending her notes on my book just when I needed them the most!

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Discouragement and lessons learned

I'm feeling a little down at the moment, having one of those existential crises when I wonder why the hell I spend so many hours working on books that it seems nobody is ever going to read outside my critique groups. Yes, I got a couple of query rejections, and they bummed me out. It's not personal, I know that (in my head), but it still hurts. And after having queried this book for quite some time, I'm beginning to wonder if anyone is ever going to get to know and love my characters as much as I do.

When I first sent the book out, it wasn't ready. I wasn't ready. I didn't know what a query was, or who to query. I think I wasted some really good agents with a terrible query letter and a book that wasn't ready to be sent out. Knowing what I do now about good query letters, and how polished a MS needs to be before submitting, I cringe with humiliation.

After the book semi-finaled (is that a word? If not, it should be) in ABNA last year, my confidence in it was buoyed, and I spent a long time working on a new, much better query letter. But still no results. So I went back to the MS, and realized there were things about it that needed changing. I ended up writing six new chapters, and cutting out huge sections toward the beginning.

So with the new, very much streamlined version of the book ready to go, I decided it was time for a new query letter, and knocked out another one, better again than the previous one. I've only sent it out three times, so far, but with two of those three coming back as a rejection, I'm not hopeful. So my question has to be, is it the query that's not working? Or is it the pages?

It's impossible to know. While I'd much rather get a form rejection from an agent than silence, those form rejections don't tell you anything about what you need to do next. I could spend weeks working on yet another query, but if it's the pages that are getting me rejected, I'd be wasting my time.

Do I give up on this book? Do I keep going, fumbling blindly through the darkness? I believe in my book. Will anyone else?

Monday, February 14, 2011

Almost halfway...

I just finished editing chapter 13 of Tail Lights, which means I'm just about halfway through the original draft.

And I'm not sure it's working.

The first 18 chapters or so deal with about six days of actual time. Then the next section is only 3 or 4 chapters long, and deals with a period of weeks. The final section is about 9 chapters long, and deals with another period of weeks, but the finale takes place over just a few days and takes up five of those last chapters.

So the pacing is off. Or something. I know I need to add chapters to the middle section, and I even have some stuff I want to add in there. But I can't add too much, or I'll head into the 95 - 100K zone, which is getting too long for YA.

So I need to look for things to cut in the first section. Or maybe move some of the things that I have happening early in the book toward the middle. Even as I was writing it, I wondered if chapter 12 was really necessary. It's fantastic insight into who Tony is, but in terms of driving the plot forward, maybe it's unnecessary. And then the events that precede chapter 12 might be able to slide into that middle section. I'm not sure though. They work where they are. They're crucial to the development of the relationship between the siblings. But then I'm back to the first section of the book being too long....

How do you deal with pacing in your books? Having never written in chapters before, I've never looked at my stories in this way, and it's challenging. Maybe if I was an outliner.....

Sunday, February 13, 2011


Wow! In the last 24 hours I seem to have gained a number of new followers. Welcome! I hope you'll make yourself at home. Pull up a chair and help yourself to a cup of tea and a scone. Or something stronger, if you prefer.

I'll do my best to be entertaining, or informative, or at least, not dull...

If there is anything is particular any of you might be interested in knowing, let me know in the comments. You never know, it might end up being a blog post!

Friday, February 11, 2011

#RANDOMfest Blogfest

I actually found two interesting little snippets I wanted to share. This was filed on my hard-drive under dead kid.doc.

There is no word for what I am now. When my husband died-suddenly at thirty-six- I became a widow. When my parents died - a car wreck when I was sixteen - my brother and I became orphans. There is no word for a mother who loses her child. Is this because losing a child is so wrong, so against the forces of nature? Or because no single word can adequately express the anguish of such a loss?

When I re-read it, I realized what it was: it's the opening of the novel that by a long and convoluted process became Chasing the Tail Lights.

You see, when I originally came up with the characters, this was going to be an adult novel. It dealt with abortion and divorce and gay marriage and a number of other things. Lucy was 34 and Tony was 38. I wrote the snippet above as a beginning and then sat back to think about the book. While I did this, a lot of plot came to me, but I kept getting back to why Tony and Lucy were so close. And when I came up with that backstory, it became so interesting and so involved, I knew I needed to write it as its own novel. And Tail Lights was born....

And here's my second random snippet. This one was found under obsession.doc.

Obsession. The very word leaves the taste of darkness on the tongue. Ob-sess-ion: a word that is all black velvet, red wine and starry skies. The hissing of a viper, poised to strike, poison skewering the heart. To obsess is to be in the throes of madness. Not always a bad thing, of course, but it is unusual for any obsession to end with trumpets and roses. And certainly not mine.

This one was in fact the beginning of my story, Fireworks. I cut it out in the end because it weighted the story in a way that I didn't want it to be weighted. But I like it, and kept it in case I had another story in which I could use it. So far, I haven't. But maybe someday...

Wednesday, February 9, 2011


I was with my kids the other day at a huge, indoor play area. It was a wet day and the place was heaving with children and harried looking adults. The noise was spectacular. Yet even through that noise, I could recognize my own son's crying when his brother ran away and left him in the dust. There must have been four or five other kids crying at the same time, yet I recognized O right away, even though he was on the other side of the room.

When my oldest child was born, we were in a hospital room with three other mothers and newborns. I could recognize his cry from the hall outside the room, or the shower from the day after he was born.

I find it fascinating. I can even tell the difference between a 'I'm not getting my own way' cry and a 'I'm hurt' cry. One sends you running; the other just makes you roll your eyes.

Is this something that's in built in mothers?

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Loss of radio contact!

At about 11am this morning, for no apparent reason, the modem in my office died. I didn't realize to begin with because I was busy programming the ticketing system and that doesn't use the inter-webs. But when I finished that, and moved onto the next set of chores, I discovered the loss and was flummoxed. Sending session times to distributors - no. Re-doing websites - no. Sending media the schedule - no. Hmmmmm.... What was I going to do? I realized I have become way too dependent on email as a means of communication.

I think we all have. And it's a good thing. Can you imagine having to do everything we do now by mail? Instead of things taking a morning to confirm, it would take weeks! In my job, I would have to have schedules and session times set weeks in advance which would mean if a film was a surprise flop/hit, I wouldn't be able to re-schedule to address its popularity or lack of.

But at the same time, it would mean less last minute stress, less rushing around at the last minute to generate publicity.

But I'm glad it's back on. I feel very isolated when my main line of communication is cut off. Do you?

Thursday, February 3, 2011


Time. It's one thing I never feel I have enough of. I don't have enough time at work to finish everything I'd like to finish, and I don't have enough time away from work for my own projects. Why can't we stretch the days to make enough hours for everything we need to do?

I have a dreadful habit of over-committing myself too, which doesn't help with my time management. At the moment I'm trying to revise Tail Lights, critique my friend's novel, remain active in all three of my writing groups which means providing at least one review a week per group and still find time to scribble out the odd short story. And that's on top of working and spending time with my kids. To top it off, my house is being painted and when I am home, the whine of sanders and saws and the heady scent of paint thinner is enough to send me screaming out of the place.

But I'll get there. There's no time limit on finishing my revisions. I said 4 chapters a week, but it's not going to kill me if one week I only get 3 done. And the short stories are an optional extra. But of course I am my own worst critic, and slave-driver, and feel like a failure if I don't do everything now. In reality, there is no way I can squeeze anything else into my days. As it is, I sacrifice sleep to write, getting up at 5.30am to work when I often don't get to bed until after midnight.

How do you manage to find time to juggle everything you want or need to do? I'd love some tips! Other than sneaking tiny moments from other jobs...