Monday, May 30, 2011

The Power of the Ocean

I'm on a brief break from novel writing at the moment. Last week's scramble to meet the deadline for Taillights exhausted me, and I decided to let myself have two weeks off. Of course, by Monday (the deadline was Friday), I was scratching around for something to do. So I decided to write another Beach House story. I'm getting near the end of this collection of short stories tracing the lives of one family through their summers at the beach house. My protagonist and narrator starts the series at age four, and finishes at eleven.

When I started writing this latest installment, I realized the sea and beaches feature in a lot of my work. The ocean is very important to me, I think because I live on an island. Even though I can't see the beach from my house, I know that walking for fifteen minutes or less in either direction will take me there.

The times in my life I've had the most trouble, been the most out of control, have been the periods where I was landlocked. In Beijing as a child I went a little crazy, got into huge trouble at school and was generally a pretty terrible little kid. And later, in London as an eighteen-year-old, I went a little nuts and ended up drinking far too much and using too many illicit substances.

I've never been out of control of my life when I'm near the sea. It's like a balm, a steadying influence on me. Weird, huh? But I guess it explains the thread of salt-water that runs through my stories. The beach plays an important part in Chasing the Taillights too, and features in so many of my short stories. Etched in Stone, begins and ends on the beach; The Beautiful Paradox is all about the sea and surf; Captured (my most recently published story - check it out in Cutlass and Musket: Tales of Piratical Skulduggery) winds up on the high seas, and of course the five stories that make up the Beach House series so far are all set by the ocean. And I'm sure there are more I haven't thought of.

What influences your life so strongly it seams through all your work?

Friday, May 27, 2011

Made of Awesome Contest

Shelly Watters is having a contest! Head over to her blog and check it out. You post the first 250 words of your MS, then critique other people and on Tuesday, send your polished version to Shelly. She'll then pass them on to an agent, Judith Engracia, who will pick her favorite for a 10 page critique. Sound like something worth winning? I think so! So, without any further ado, here is my first 250. Apologies to regular followers who have probably seen this before... It has changed a little since last time you read it, but please don't feel you have to critique if you have before.

TITLE: Chasing the Taillights
GENRE: Contemporary YA
WORD COUNT: 87 000

The darkness is absolute. I’m not sure if my eyes are open or closed. I strain to push the lids up, but they’re already wide. Not a pinpoint of light penetrates the space I’m in. Something covers my mouth and nose, making breathing difficult. My lungs burn for air, but I can only suck in tiny mouthfuls through whatever smothers my face.

I turn my head, crying out as a savage bolt of pain shoots through it. I teeter on the edge of consciousness, wavy grey lines wafting across the blank space before my eyes. I struggle to keep my wits about me - what’s left of them - fighting the darkness threatening to drown me. I gasp for breath, certain now I won’t pass out. Reaching out my left hand, I try to find something to hold onto. My fingers scrabble over small objects, pebbles perhaps, that skitter away beneath my touch. I reach further, wrapping my fist around them. Pain prickles my fingertips. Not pebbles. Glass. Small, sharp shards of glass.

Using my torn hand, I drag myself forward, an inch, maybe two. A huge weight pins my legs to the ground. I can’t move them, can’t even feel them. Raising my head, I see light. Not a lot of light, but light. Red light, bright at one end, dull at the other. I know what this is. I do. My heart thumps at the side of my head and I can almost hear the gears of my brain creaking to make sense of this weird red glow.

There you go! Now, make sure you head over to Shelly's blog to find some other entries to critique...

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Poetic thoughts

Last night a well known poet came and performed at my cinema. He's kind of a rock-star poet in that he is as well known for performing his poetry as he is for writing it. While I was watching him, I realized that because the poetry is so personal to him, only he can read it the way it is meant to be read. I've never been a fan of his work; on the page it isn't that interesting. But seeing him say the words himself, imbuing them with the personal experiences behind the words, they took on a new life.

Which made me think about poetry in general. I'm not a huge fan. I know it's supposed to be the most difficult and pure form of writing, but I've never really enjoyed reading poetry, and I like writing it even less. Not because it's difficult, but because the various structures and styles always seem constricting. I guess I just don't like rules.

I wonder if it is possible to truly understand poetry without the author's voice reading it. Which would make understanding much of the 'great' poetry of the ages difficult...

Any thoughts on poetry? And just to finish off this post, here, have a poem. I wrote it, but I hope you can understand it without me reading it for you.


Music pulsing, pounding;

ears humming and buzzing with bass.

On stage,

writhing rockers shriek their wailing lament to the beat.

I join,

screaming approval,

twisting my body in time.

Outstretched hands contact famous flesh.

Palms touching,

an electric current flows between us.

Eyes - blue meets brown

sparks fly.

Instant attraction promises

fulfilment of carnal desires.

Backstage sex is brief,


Fiery breath searing hoarse dry throat,

tongue probing,

sudden stabbing pain.

Commitments made,

broken moments later when he leaves,

leather scent following skeletal frame.

Crumpled doll me,

left on a filthy staircase,

glass shards underfoot.

Abandoned again,

used up.


Tuesday, May 24, 2011


Anyone who knows me or has been following this blog for a while will know I'm the ultimate pantser. I don't do outlines. I don't write in sequence. I don't write chapters. In fact, I usually write a scene from somewhere in the middle of the book first and then work both ways from there. It's a process that's always worked for me, although cobbling the various pieces together is hard work.

Now that I'm coming to the end of a long and arduous revision process, and beginning to think about the new book I'm going to write, I'm wondering if flying without a map is the best idea. Sure, as far as being creative goes, and letting the characters guide the story, it's brilliant, but in terms of how long the rewrites take, it sucks.

I've discovered that while I have a very strong idea of what the story is in my head, by the time it reaches the page, it's not quite as clear. Character and plot arcs don't appear on the page they way they appeared in my head. The logic of their decisions is muddied.

The idea of outlining terrifies me. I know it's a guide, and not set in stone, but I know myself. If I veer off the road for whatever reason, I'll beat myself up about it, and I may miss the opportunity to find gold in a scene the character demands but doesn't exist in the outline.

But at the same time, this new book is complex. There are several plot threads that need to be addressed, and I have more central characters than I've ever dealt with before. I'm a little scared to dive in without a map because I may end up with 60 000 useless words that don't tell the story I want to tell.

If you're an outliner, explain the pros and cons to me. How lenient are you on yourself if you stray from the plan? And the big one, does it actually work?

Sunday, May 22, 2011


As a writer, I love words. Big words, small words, slippery words, spiky words, I love them all. Apart from a few that I really hate. Some words are just nasty, not because of their meaning, but just because of how they sound, how they feel to say.

For example, the word 'socks' is lovely to say. It kind of slips off the tongue in a whisper of breath. It's a happy word, and one of my all time favorites. 'Spongy' on the other hand, is one of my least favorite words to say. It's harsh and just feels icky. I don't know why...

Another word I love is 'morbific'. This one is just fun to say. I also love its meaning: so filthy as to be death inducing (I'm paraphrasing there). I also like 'preposterous' which is a criminally underused word for something so delicious to enunciate. 'Wither' is another great word, one that actually sounds like its meaning.

All kinds of words that describe actions with specific sounds are great: 'crinkle', 'crumple', 'smash', 'shatter' - all fantastic verbs that sound like the noise they make. A lot of verbs are like this, very much like the action they portray. 'Sprint' for instance is a short dash of a word, while 'meander' kind of ambles all over the place. 'Tumble' bounces and drops from the tongue, while 'soar' just flies up off it.

What words do you love? Which do you loathe? Why?

Thursday, May 19, 2011

The Burden of Talent

I watched a film about The Doors last night. I'm not a huge Doors fan or anything, but I was interested because the film was by Tom DeCillio whose films I like a lot. What struck me, was how many extremely talented people have died young. Jim Morrison is just another name to add to a long list Van Gogh, Kurt Cobain, Janis Joplin, Hendrix, James Dean, Jeff Buckley, Sylvia Plath.... The list is too long to write.

My question is why?

What is it about being talented that leads to an early grave? Is being talented a burden that becomes to heavy to bear? Or is it that once your talent has been recognized, expectations follow?

I think it probably comes down to both. Being talented means being good, or even great at something. Sometimes, I imagine, the thing you're good at may not be the thing you're passionate about. Then the burden of your talent could become a millstone around your neck. In other cases, maybe it is the thing you love. Yet once you've put your genius out there for the world to see, the world wants more and more of the same thing. Perhaps you're ready to branch out, do something new, explore new and fascinating territory. Yet the people who gave you success are demanding something else.

There is possibly something different about the minds of people who have talent. Perhaps their brains work on a different plain, move faster than the brains of us regular folks. That would explain the way so many talented people seem drawn to drugs and other mind-altering substances. Maybe they're just trying to get their minds to work the same way the rest of us do. Perhaps they're trying to comprehend the way we see the world.

Sometimes talent can be constricting. My best friend is a very talented singer/songwriter. She loves her work, loves performing and writing music, but over the years I've seen her struggle with it too. Especially when other people (her band, manager, crew etc) are relying on her. In that case, her talent is holding a bigger thing together, and it takes only a seed of doubt to have the house of cards come tumbling down.

I've always longed to be talented, but the more I look at the madness and destruction talent has wrecked upon those who have it, the luckier I feel to be average.

What is your experience of talent? Is it something to fear, or something to covet?

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Ideas and where they spring from

Any writer probably faces the dreaded question: "How do you get your ideas?" I don't know about anyone else, but I find this really hard to answer. Ideas come to me from everywhere. From books I read, movies I see, people whose stories I overhear on the bus coming home from work. I watch a couple arguing on the street about something and by the time I've reached the end of the block I have a story.

A lot of the time the stories come and go quickly. They're the ones that don't get written, or only get written years later when something else triggers a memory of them. The ones that get written are the ones that stick. Something gets stuck in my mind, a seed of an idea, a germ of a character. It often takes time for anything to happen, but one day I'll realize that germ or seed has grown into something more. These are the ones that get written.

For example, the book I'm planning to write next came from a newspaper article I read a long time ago. Probably two years ago? Maybe a little less. It appalled me, so it stuck. It's taken this long for that initial idea to become anything else, but it's definitely taken root, and is growing steadily. The characters are coming into focus with all their foibles and eccentricities. I know how the book's going to end (which is pretty unusual for me, since I usually start somewhere near the middle), and I even know some of the things that will happen along the way.

No, I'm not outlining. That would be too far out of my chaotic comfort zone, but I do feel as if I have much more of an idea of the plot going into this one. Perhaps it's a result of the pacing issues I've been struggling with in Taillights. Maybe I've actually learned something through the process.

Where do you find ideas? Do they come to you fully formed, or do you need to work for them?

Monday, May 16, 2011


Sometimes a few people need to be acknowledged before a book is published. And this is one of those times. I just want to shout out a few people who have been absolutely integral to my finishing and polishing Chasing the Tail Lights. Because yes, we're on the home stretch now. By the end of the week I think I'll have it as finished as it's going to be.

It's been a long journey. One that started about this time last year. But now it's coming to an end. And I have to give a huge, huge thank you to my fabulous critique partner, Laura. She gave me the best birthday present ever when she figured out a way to solve the pacing problem that had been plaguing my ending. I'd been re-writing and moving and playing with it for a week, and she takes one look at it and says, "Here's what you need to do." A lightbulb brightened above my head and I laughed, "Why didn't I think of that? It's so simple." But sometimes it takes someone else's eyes to see what's right in front of you. I'm just lucky Laura has such great eyes.

I also have to thank Juliana who also, purely by coincidence, sent me her notes on my birthday. In terms of tightening the prose and making my book more stylistically appealing, her insights have been stellar.

I cannot stress how important critique partners and beta readers are. I'd be lost without mine, and I value them more than they could ever know. Who do you trust with your work? And what makes them perfect for you?

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Dreams and daydreams

How can it be the middle of May already? I swear I just put away the Christmas stuff, and now the middle of the year is looming! Time sure is getting screwy. On Friday I had three whole hours in the morning to write. THREE! That's a huge block of time for someone like me who usually squeezes a paragraph out between phone calls and scribbles a page or two on the bus on the way home from work.

But that three hours disappeared faster than a blink. I got a lot done, but the time just seemed to melt away. Imagine what I'd be able to achieve if I had three hours every day. Or more. I dream of that. Of having more time to write. Of not having to get up at 5.30am to get an hour or so before the kids get up and start demanding breakfast; of not staying up until all hours to finish that chapter. I dream of sleeping more than five hours a night.

I also dream of having a space of my own to write in. I share a desk with my partner, and it's in the dining room, right in the middle of the thoroughfare between the kitchen and the rest of the house. So people are always wandering through, and the dirty dishes and crumbs under the table stare accusingly at me if I'm writing instead of taking care of them. I read real-estate ads obsessively, staring at the photographs of the new houses and imagining my own little writing room somewhere in them. It doesn't need to be big; it just needs to be mine.

I want a space where I can spread my notes out next to the computer and leave them there. I want to be able to leave my marked-up drafts where they are so I know where I'm up to when I come back.

What do you dream of? Do you ever have enough time to do everything you want or need to do? What about space? Do you have your own dedicated writing space?

Thursday, May 12, 2011


Do you need a deadline? Is creating an artificial one helpful in any way? I'm intrigued. Personally, I work best under pressure. When I have no time to do something, that's usually when it's going to get done. Unfortunately, creating a deadline for myself never really works, because I know it's only me that's going to be disappointed if I don't meet it.

So, in order to kick my butt into gear with this round of revisions, I've found myself a deadline. An Australian publishing company is holding a contest for YA novels. The entries have to be in by June 3rd, which means I'll have to get my MS into the mail no later than May 30th or so. Yes, May 30th. That's really soon! And at this point, my MS is kind of in shreds. I have to finish completely re-writing chapter 30, tweak the ones after that to reflect the new information and then go back to the beginning and see where I can't hint at this earlier. And that's all in one character's arc. I haven't even started revising the other one.

Will I get it done? I'm not sure. But having a goal in mind, a deadline to work to, is helpful. If I feel like taking a night off to watch crap on television, or to go out drinking with friends, I'll just remind myself it's only a few days until May 30th, and that will remind me what's important, and what I need to do.

Do deadlines help you? Can you create them for yourself and stick to them? What motivates you to finish something?

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Conflict and where to find it

Conflict is the core of drama, and without drama, there's no story. Therefore, without conflict, there's no story. But how do you choose which conflict is central to the story, and how do you resolve it?

There are two kinds of conflict: internal and external. The external conflict tends to be the bigger one in most stories: the bully who refuses to let the scrawny kid pass through the school hallways in peace. The internal conflict is smaller, but in my opinion, the more important one. A character cannot grow and change without resolving or at least acknowledging the inner conflict.

In our bully story (not great, I know, but it's what I plucked from the ether just now) the external conflict is about how the kid is going to make it through the school year without getting creamed by the bigger kid who's making it impossible for him to move through the school. Clearly this would be a scary situation, so the inner conflict is in that fight or flight reflex that's built into us all. Our scrawny young hero needs to overcome his terror and face up to the bully in order to win his respect or to show him up as the coward he really is.

In that situation, the conflicts are fairly simple. They don't have to be. I'm rewriting a section toward the end of Tail Lights right now, to add more conflict and up the tension in that particular part. Because I have two characters' stories running through the book, maintaining and balancing the conflict in both threads is a little like walking a tightrope. When one character's conflict begins to resolve, the other one's needs to ramp up. I've discovered a point where this doesn't happens, and need to up the stakes.

Do you find balancing the conflict and resolution in your work a challenge?

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Saturday night on the street

When I finished work on Saturday night, town was just beginning to fill up with the party crowd. While I waited for the bus, I watched a mini-van full of really drunk 20-somethings try and negotiate paying the driver and getting out to continue their night out. There were three girls, all dressed in tiny black dresses that barely covered their asses. In fact, when one of them bent over to talk to the mini-van driver, nothing covered her butt, and she wasn't wearing any underwear. Luckily it wasn't too cold on Saturday night, but then again, even if it had been, I doubt these girls would have felt a thing.

The guys had on weather-appropriate clothing, but were possibly even more drunk than the girls. One of them took a piss against the back of the taxi van rather than walking the few meters across the road to the public toilets. And this van was parked on the bus stop where at least 15 or so people were waiting.

Eventually they managed to sort out their bill and the van drove away. The five people, toting a plastic grocery bag of those ready-mixed cocktails, stumbled off down the street. All three girls were wearing shoes with ridiculously high heels, the kind I wouldn't dare to attempt even when stone cold sober. They wobbled and teetered their way along, often weaving out into the middle of the road for no reason. One of the guys, the one who pissed on the car, insisted on walking on the street, ignoring the wide sidewalk.

I lost sight of them once they turned down one of the side-streets. I wonder where they were going. No bar would have let them in; they were too intoxicated. Maybe they were going to a party, dragging along their pathetic little sack of RTDs. I doubt any of them would even remember if they had a good time or not. I overheard them saying that the taxi into town had cost $95.00 ( which is probably why paying the driver was such a huge mission) so they must have come a long way for their night out. I hope it was worth it.

Do you enjoy watching people on the street? Do you find yourself wondering what the hell they're thinking a lot of the time? Or am I just getting old?

Friday, May 6, 2011

Revising & Restarting

It's been a crazy time for me, that weird no-man's land between major projects. I'm still revising Tail Lights, and have just found some new beta-readers which is awesome! I'm so excited to hear what they say. I've also had some very encouraging feedback on my opening chapters from a contest I won. All in all, I'm feeling pretty positive about this book. I'm hoping to have it ready enough to send out to a contest in Australia, deadline June 3rd. Arg! That's soon!

But I haven't started working seriously on anything else.

I've just finished a second chapter of my re-write of an old book. So far I'm quite happy with it, but I'm not feeling on fire about the project. Maybe because this will be the third or fourth time I've written this book. Also, my new book idea (tentatively called The Boyfriend Plague) is beginning to nag at me. I've written a lot of notes, and even found my MC's name (Livvy Quinn), but there are whole swathes of story and detail I don't know yet. I was going to wait until NaNo to write this, but I'm not sure Livvy's going to leave me alone that long. It's going to be quite a different book for me. It's about friendship and first love, and while there is a complex sibling relationship going on in there (it wouldn't be one of my books without that), it's not the central plot line.

So, do I keep going with my rewrite of Holding it Together, or dive right into this new story? Or go a completely different route and get onto that rewrite of my western/romance novel I've been putting off?

How do you decide which project to go with?

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Thank You!

A huge thanks to Melanie for giving me this award. I'm beginning to feel like I need a trophy case! Thank you everyone who has been kind enough to give me awards.

This one comes with a few rules.

1. Thank and link to the person who nominated you.
2. Share seven random facts about yourself.
3. Pass the award along to 5 new-found blogging buddies.
4. Contact the winners to congratulate them.

So here are 7 random things you may not have known about me.

1. I don't have a middle name. My parents thought Katharine Larkindale was long enough without one.
2. I grew up a diplo-brat, so I've lived in Vienna, Washington DC, Beijing, Apia, Wellington, London and Melbourne.
3. My favorite city in the world is Berlin, closely followed by NYC.
4. I worked as a chef for 6 years while I paid my way through university.
5. My first real job was as a tea-lady at a lawn bowling club.
6. My favorite word to say is 'socks'. My least favorite is 'spongy'.
7. My three favorite foods all start with 'a' - avocado, asparagus & artichokes.

There! And the five people I'll be passing this on to? Well....

Congratulations winners! I'm off to notify you all.

Monday, May 2, 2011


I just got a blog award from the lovely Christine, and part of this award involves passing it on to 5 other awesome bloggers. So here are 5 of my favorites, in no particular order.

Loralie Hall whose blog deals with writing and life in such a quirky, interesting way. It's never boring over there, I swear.

Cherie Smith who is an Australian writer whose blog always forces me to think about difficult questions.

YAtopia which is an absolute haven for writers of YA. They also host a lot of fantastic contests.

Juliana L Brandt for her often witty blog about the struggle to write and publish.

Tamara Hart Heiner for her blog which is always entertaining, whether it's about going to the gym or writing a sequel to her first published novel.

So, come and pick up your award, and pass it on to five people you think deserve it!

Sunday, May 1, 2011

I need you...

I just looked at the number of followers this blog has, and was shocked to see there are almost 100 of you! Why, hello there! Hello! Wow! Pressure's on to be entertaining and informative now. Wonder if I can live up to the challenge.

Over the past few weeks, I've been visiting many of your blogs and have been so impressed by the diversity of interests you all have, and how many writers there are struggling with the exact same journey I'm on.

So I'm going to ask for your help. I have just finished a new draft of a book, and need people to read it. Really read it. Tell me where it drags, where the characters act in incomprehensible ways, where the writing is clunky and awkward, where things are confusing or boring, and to give me an overall impression of the book. Would any of you like to read for me? I'd be happy to return the favor and do a read of your work in return.

Ideally, I'd like readers who either write or have an interest in contemporary and literary fiction. The book, Chasing the Tail Lights, is contemporary YA.

Is anyone interested? You can let me know in the comments or email me at katelarkindale(at)gmail(dot)com.