Thursday, July 29, 2021

Celebrate the Small Things 30-7-21

It's the end of the week, so it's time to Celebrate the Small things...

What am I celebrating this week?

Well... this:

See that #1 best seller banner up there?  Pretty cool, huh?  I've been kind of buzzing about it all afternoon!  

This might just be the news to kick start me into writing again.  Maybe...

Just not this weekend because I have a lot of cooking I need to do this weekend.  My team at work are in charge of running celebrations for Epetoma o te reo Māori Kūki ‘Āirani  -  Cook Islands Language Week, and my role is to bring the delicious Cook Islands treats for morning tea on Monday.  Which means a big chunk of my weekend is going to be baking said treats...  Luckily I like cooking and baking!

What are you celebrating this week?

Tuesday, July 27, 2021

Books I've Read: In the Time of the Manaroans


For some reason I seem to have picked up a lot of memoirs lately and this was one of them, loaned to me from a friend.  I was interested in it because Canvastown is a place we drive through on our way to Kaiteriteri every year, and I never suspected that it was a hotbed of hippy activity in the 70s.

I wish I could say I enjoyed this book, but I really didn't.  I never felt any connection to the narrator or any emotion about anything that happened to her.  The book is written in a way that keeps the reader at a remove, telling us about the events of her life rather than drawing us in and showing them.

Some pretty awful things happen to this poor teenager as she moves from place to place, struggling to get an education and to find a place in the world to call her own.  Yet I never felt any emotions about any of these events.  Unwanted sex with older men is written about in much the same way as painting a caravan.  It's all very beautiful and lyrical, but the language doesn't allow the reader in.

The characters in this story are fairly well drawn, but there is a kind of sameness about them.  For people who professs to care passionately about changing the world, they seem remarkably selfish, focused solely on their own personal journeys and desires.  It seems incredible to me that not one of these people did anything much to ensure these young people living among them were taken care of.

For anyone who has ever imagined hippy life as being free and easy, this book will bring that illusion crashing down.  The hippy world described here is one of poverty and hard work.  Just getting a cup of tea made in the Manaroan commune is a task that will take most of the morning.  Living off the land isn't easy when the land you're living on is unforgiving.

While I didn't particularly enjoy this book, I'm glad I read it.  It gave me insight into a world I was only vaguely aware existed in my own country.  I just wish the author had given more of herself in this memoir as I think it would have been far more impactful if we'd been allowed more deeply into her thoughts and feelings about the places and events described.

But don't just listen to me.  Here's the blurb:

At fourteen Miro Bilbrough falls out with the communist grandmother who has raised her since she was seven, and is sent to live with her father and his rural-hippy friends. It is 1978, Canvastown, New Zealand, and the Floodhouse is a dwelling of pre-industrial gifts and deficiencies set on the banks of the Wakamarina River, which routinely invades its rooms.

Isolated in rural poverty, the lives of Miro and her father and sister are radically enhanced by the Manaroans—charismatic hippies who use their house as a crash pad on journeys to and from a commune in a remote corner of the Marlborough Sounds. Arriving by power of thumb, horseback and hooped canvas caravan, John of Saratoga, Eddie Fox, Jewels and company set about rearranging the lives and consciousness of the blasted family unit.

In the Time of the Manaroans brilliantly captures a largely unwritten historical culture, the Antipodean incarnation of the Back to the Land movement. Contrarian, idealistic, sexually opportunistic and self-mythologising too, this was a movement, as the narrator duly discovers, not conceived with adolescents in mind.

Sunday, July 25, 2021

Weekly Goals 26-7-21

 I don't really have any goals again this week.

I looked at the garage and decided there's no way it's ever going to be enough space in there to fit what I need for my painting.  I guess I'm going to need to find a space somewhere else if I'm going to try this.  Or go to a class of some sort.  When I used to make jewelry, I did a class and then because I was part of the school, I could use the jewelry studio at other times when it wasn't being used.

Or maybe I should stop procrastinating and just write something new.

What are your goals this week?

Friday, July 23, 2021

Celebrate the Small Things 23-7-21

It's the end of the week, so it's time to Celebrate the Small things...

What am I celebrating this week?

It's the weekend and that's always worth celebrating.

And this weekend I have very little planned at all, which is lovely. I do need to take my older son to do some barista training, but other than that, I'm pretty free.

I was hoping to get started with my new creative project, but it occurred to me, I don't actually have anywhere I can work.  The type of painting I want to do is messy and I can't do it inside the house.  Which means I need to make some space in the garage for a table of some sort.  And our garage is pretty full of bikes and other stuff.  Writing is actually a very compact creative pursuit, when you think about it.  Most others require a lot of space and equipment.  I'm maybe starting to re-think this whole thing.

What are you celebrating this week?

Tuesday, July 20, 2021

Books I've Read: Pumpkin

This is the third book in Julie Murphy’s series featuring larger than life characters in a small town. Characters from the other two books pop up in this one, but never tear the spotlight away from our hero, Waylon.

Overweight and ginger-haired, Waylon is one of the only out and proud gay boys in his small Texas town. He’s just waiting for high school to be over so he and his twin sister can leave town for college and he can finally become the person he knows he’s meant to be.

But then he discovers his sister’s plans have changed right after he gets dumped by the guy he’s been having an elicit affair with and he starts spiralling out of control. On a whim he creates an audition video for his favourite television drag reality show, never expecting it to get into the hands of the entire student body.

But it does, and as a result, Waylon finds himself nominated as prom queen.

Rather than back away from the humiliation, Waylon and his sister’s girlfriend who has been nominated as prom king, decide to go through with it. Waylon knows he’s the biggest queen in school, so why not?

But who knew there was so much involved in becoming prom royalty? And when Waylon is paired up with the very cute and very masculine king nominee, Tucker, things might just go a little differently than planned…

This is a fun, frothy book very much like Murphy’s previous ones, Dumpling and Pudding. There are serious undertones, but for the most part, Waylon’s outrageous adventures will keep a smile on your face throughout. And how nice it is to see plus-sized characters who take charge of their lives and find their happiness without losing weight?

If you've enjoyed Murphy's other books, I can pretty much guarantee you'll enjoy this one.

But don't just listen to me.  Here's the blurb:

Waylon Russell Brewer is a fat, openly gay boy stuck in the small West Texas town of Clover City. His plan is to bide his time until he can graduate, move to Austin with his twin sister, Clementine, and finally go Full Waylon, so that he can live his Julie-the-hills-are-alive-with-the-sound-of-music-Andrews truth.

So when Clementine deviates from their master plan right after Waylon gets dumped, he throws caution to the wind and creates an audition tape for his favorite TV drag show, Fiercest of Them All. What he doesn’t count on is the tape accidentally getting shared with the entire school. . . . As a result, Waylon is nominated for prom queen as a joke. Clem’s girlfriend, Hannah Perez, also receives a joke nomination for prom king.

Waylon and Hannah decide there’s only one thing to do: run—and leave high school with a bang. A very glittery bang. Along the way, Waylon discovers that there is a lot more to running for prom court than campaign posters and plastic crowns, especially when he has to spend so much time with the very cute and infuriating prom king nominee Tucker Watson.

Waylon will need to learn that the best plan for tomorrow is living for today . . . especially with the help of some fellow queens. . . .

Sunday, July 18, 2021

Weekly Goals 19-7-21

 It's weird trying to write these weekly goal posts when I'm not writing.  What kind of goals do people have for their weeks when they're not trying to hit a word count or submit to agents or publishers?  Or maybe regular people don't have weekly goals?  I just don't know...  I've spent the last 15 years or so always working on something and focusing my goals around whatever the next step for that something might be.

I guess one of my goals this week is to actually buy the canvasses and paints I want to experiment with.  I don't have anywhere really to do this, so I'm going to try and make some space in the garage where it won't matter too much if I make a bit of a mess.  Because I will make a mess.  It's inevitable!

And that's about it, really.  Seems a little sad, to be honest, but I can't think of anything else I really want to achieve this week.

What are your goals this week?

Thursday, July 15, 2021

Celebrate the Small Things 16-7-21

It's the end of the week, so it's time to Celebrate the Small things...

What am I celebrating this week?

It's the weekend and that's always worth celebrating.

I have quite a busy one planned this week, with lost of socialising with family etc.  Especially on Sunday.  So Saturday will have to be my chore day.  I just hope I get a bit of free time to read.  I took a whole pile of books out of the library almost two weeks ago, and I've only read a couple of them.  I need to read more!

I had planned to buy some paint and canvasses so I could do some artwork this week, but I don't think I'm going to have time.  Maybe next week...

In terms of writing, I haven't done much.  I sent Standing Too Close out to a different small press, so we shall see if anything comes of that.  Not really expecting it to, though.

And I'm thinking about writing some short stories.  Maybe that will kickstart something exciting.  It's been a while since I wrote anything short.  Maybe even some flash fiction...

What are you celebrating this week?

Introducing Fractured by Shay Siegel


Mason Vance is the guy everybody wants to be, and he knows it. He’s the best high school quarterback in New York, a shoo-in for a football scholarship at any school he chooses, and he’s expected to land in the NFL one day. That is, until a broken wrist leaves him fearing whether he’ll ever play again.

Desperate to save his damaged ego, Mason sets his sights on Lace. No cheerleader or homecoming queen like his usual type, she’s too wrapped in her own misery to fall for his pickup lines. Even though she tries to shut him out, she’s surprised to find he’s there for her when no one else is. Slowly, she lets him into the sad workings of her mind and less-than-perfect life, and Mason finds himself caring about Lace more than he’d ever thought possible. That’s why neither of them sees his huge mistake coming—one that instantly fractures everything between them.

Will Mason confront the ugliest side of himself, and in the process see who he’s capable of becoming, or will he fall back into the life he knew before Lace and his injury?

Shay Siegel bio:

Shay Siegel is from Long Island, New York. She is a Tulane University graduate with a B.A. in English, and former member of the women's tennis team. She has an MFA in Writing from Sarah Lawrence College. Shay splits her time between Charleston, South Carolina and Long Island with her boyfriend, Pat, and their giant-headed rescue dog, Bernie.

Tuesday, July 13, 2021

Books I've Loved: Tweet Cute


Okay, so this is totally not the kind of book I usually fall in love with, but something about this just tickled me in the mood I'm currently in.  I mean, seriously, how can you not enjoy a book where crazy delicious desserts and gourmet grilled cheese play an essential part?

Pepper moved to New York just before her first year in high school and was not expecting the city and her new school to be so intimidating.  Her family's business, Big League Burger, is booming, but her family has fallen apart.  To try and keep those thoughts at bay, Pepper has become the ultimate over-achiever, captaining the swim team, acing every test and topping every one of her classes.  She also basically runs the business's Twitter account.

Jack is pretty much the opposite of Pepper - which is probably why they clash every time they meet.  A twin with a massive inferiority complex, Jack spends most of his downtime working in the family deli, a business he has a love-hate relationship with.  When he isn't helping out on the shop floor, he spends his time designing apps including the school's number one social platform Weazel.

When Big League Burger introduce a new sandwich which looks suspiciously like the one the family deli made its name on, the one developed by Jack's Grandma Belly,  Jack declares war on the chain using the deli's Twitter account.  When Pepper sees the attack, it's all on.

Neither Jack nor Pepper are aware that while they wage war on one social platform, a close friendship is developing between them on Weazel.  

As the public war hots up, so does their secret relationship.

I loved this book.  It was fresh and funny and very contemporary.  Jack and Pepper were just the right amount of smart and clueless and their mutual love of crazy food mash-ups made me want to rush to the kitchen to experiment.

Sometimes a pretty straight forward rom-com is just what you need, and I think this weekend, this book fit the bill perfectly.

So I'd definitely recommend this one for anyone who enjoys fun, flirty romantic comedies, especially ones that involve food.

But don't just listen to me.  Here's the blurb:

Meet Pepper, swim team captain, chronic overachiever, and all-around perfectionist. Her family may be falling apart, but their massive fast-food chain is booming ― mainly thanks to Pepper, who is barely managing to juggle real life while secretly running Big League Burger’s massive Twitter account.

Enter Jack, class clown and constant thorn in Pepper’s side. When he isn’t trying to duck out of his obscenely popular twin’s shadow, he’s busy working in his family’s deli. His relationship with the business that holds his future might be love/hate, but when Big League Burger steals his grandma’s iconic grilled cheese recipe, he’ll do whatever it takes to take them down, one tweet at a time.

All’s fair in love and cheese ― that is, until Pepper and Jack’s spat turns into a viral Twitter war. Little do they know, while they’re publicly duking it out with snarky memes and retweet battles, they’re also falling for each other in real life ― on an anonymous chat app Jack built.

As their relationship deepens and their online shenanigans escalate ― people on the internet are shipping them?? ― their battle gets more and more personal, until even these two rivals can’t ignore they were destined for the most unexpected, awkward, all-the-feels romance that neither of them expected.

A fresh, irresistible rom-com from debut author Emma Lord about the chances we take, the paths life can lead us on, and how love can be found in the opposite place you expected.

Sunday, July 11, 2021

Mid-year Goal Check in....

I'm a few weeks late, but I guess it's time to check in and see how I'm tracking with those goals I set myself back in January.  As usual, the original text is in black, my comments in purple...  I'm pretty sure I'm going to have done really, really badly with this....

Dear Me,

Writing this annual letter outlining my goals for the year seems almost presumptuous given the shitshow 2020 turned out to be.  But it's human nature to live in hope, so I'm writing this in that spirit of hope, crossing my fingers that 2021 turns out to be a much better year.

So what do I hope to achieve in 2021?

I started querying Standing Too Close in October, albeit in a very slow, quiet way.  So far, no bites, so I will continue to query this widely.  I'm confident it's one of the best things I've written and I love the characters almost as much as my own children so I want this book to be seen and read widely.

Well, I did this.  I've sent out almost 100 queries now.  Not a single request.  Three different queries too.  I still love this story, but maybe I'm wrong about being the best thing I've written.  Or maybe this isn't the best time for this book and these characters.  I just don't know...  I've never had such a low request rate when querying, ever.

I have a book coming out in March.  Chasing the Taillights was originally written about ten years ago, but has been rewritten several times since.  It's another story where I feel very close to the characters so I'm very glad other people are going to get the chance to meet Lucy and Tony.  I plan to throw everything I can at marketing this book in the hope it will generate some sales and possibly even boost sales of my other published books.  They need it!

I did this too.  Got some of the best reviews of my career. But sales are still not that hot, for that book or any of my others.  But I do seem to have a couple of fans, which is great.

In February I plan to dig out the book I wrote during NaNo to start revising and editing it.  By then I'm hoping I've forgotten enough about it to look at it with fresh eyes and really see what needs to be done - other than the 700 things I left myself notes to fix later.  I'm hoping this will turn out to be good once it has been through some revision.

I've done this too.  I just haven't finished revising it.  And it feels like there is such a huge, overwhelming amount of work to do to make it good.  I will do it.  One day.  I swear.

At some point in the year I want to write the other book I had in mind for NaNo.  A Stranger to Kindness is going to be a challenge for me, but the characters are living and growing in my head and eventually they're going to want to get out to play on the page.  It's going to be kind of a companion piece to Stumped in that Ozzy's little sister, Meg, is a character in this one.  Not exactly a main character, but an important one.  The main character is a boy who doesn't speak, and given how reliant I am on dialogue in my books, this is where the challenge lies...

I still want to do this.  The story is a good one, but I don't know if I have the energy or the will to do it right now.  I need to wait until I'm feeling more excited about writing again before I can do justice to Harley and Wolfe and Meg.

So those are my main writing challenges for the year.  I'm hoping to be able to find other opportunities too, but as I don't know what they are yet, it's difficult to know how to plan for them other than to be open to things.

I didn't hit my reading goal this year.  In retrospect, 160 books in a year was probably always going to be a stretch, but libraries closing over lockdown definitely didn't help.  I'm going to set a more realistic 145 book goal for 2021 and already have the first nine or ten lined up to read over the next ten days.  I can't wait!

Been doing a lot of reading this year.  Turns out that there's all this time to read if you don't write...

Other goals for the year include continuing to exercise regularly and to go to the cinema as much as possible.  COVID-19 has made significant changes to the way films are being released and viewed, and as someone who has devoted much of her life to cinemas, I want to support them as much as possible.  I cannot imagine a world in which movies are not seen in theaters.  As much as I love the convenience of being able to watch what I want at home, nothing will replace the experience of sitting in a dark theatre with a community of strangers and sharing a story.

Done this too.  The gym more than the cinema, although I have tried hard on that one.  There's just been so little on I want to see!  But as soon as there is something I want to see, believe me, I'll be first in line.

And I think that's it...  What are your goals for the new year?

So I didn't do too badly, did I?  Let's see how things look by the end of the year.

How are you tracking with your yearly goals?

Thursday, July 8, 2021

Celebrate the Small Things 9-7-21


It's the end of the week, so it's time to Celebrate the Small things...

What am I celebrating this week?

It's the weekend which is always worth celebrating.

My older son and I have tickets to the orchestra on Sunday afternoon which I'm looking forward to.  We're meeting a friend for lunch first, which I'm also looking forward to.

My slow cooker is a great success.  So far I've made a curry which was delicious, and the best cauliflower cheese I've ever made.  Going to try something with meat this weekend since it's my turn to host Sunday dinner.

Not going to get a lot of time to relax over the weekend, I'm thinking, but if I do get a few moments, I do have some good books to read.

What are you celebrating this week?

Tuesday, July 6, 2021

IWSG - July

It's the first Wednesday in July, so goes what time it is?  Yes....  It's the Insecure Writer's Support Group monthly post.

The awesome co-hosts for the July 7 posting of the IWSG are Pat Garcia, Victoria Marie Lees, and Louise – Fundy Blue!

This month's question is an interesting one:  What would make you quit writing?

This question has come at the perfect time for me because I feel a lot like quitting writing at the moment.  I'm going to take a break for a few weeks and try something else to exercise my creativity for a while because writing just isn't working for me right now.

I've been doing this writing thing for a long time, and while it may look like I've been relatively successful with four published novels and umpteen stories published in journals and anthologies, I don't feel very successful.  My books have all had pretty wonderful reviews overall - there are always going to be a few people who don't like them and give them one or two stars - and I regularly get contacted by readers who enjoyed or were moved by my stories.  And all that is great.  I love it.  That connection with readers is a big part of why I do it.

I've spent a lot of years working at this.  A lot of hours.  I've missed out on doing a lot of other things (especially sleep) to pursue my writing.  Yet I don't feel like I'm a lot further along the road to having a career than I was fifteen years ago.  My royalty cheques are regular, but depressing as hell.  Some quarters my royalties are not even enough to buy a bottle of wine. Bottom shelf wine...

I don't get to see my books in stores because my publisher doesn't distribute to bookstores and doing it myself costs me too much.  I lose around $10 on every copy I sell in a store in my city, between the amount it costs me to freight the books over here, the cut the store takes and the limit to the amount you can charge for a YA paperback.

I can see them in the library, but again, that's at my cost.  I donate copies of my books to the local library system and my sons' school library because I want people to be able to read them.  But I have to buy those copies and freight them here first.  But at least I know people are reading them when I go to the library and they are not on the shelves.

And then there's my newer books, the ones that I haven't published yet, the ones I'd like to see published with a larger, more established press.  I've been querying again for several months with a book I feel is the best I've ever written, and haven't had any requests.  Even my first, really terrible novel got a few requests, and that was before I knew how to write a proper query letter!

I know that was a long time ago and times have changed, but so have I.  I'm a much better writer than I was back then and I certainly know how to craft a query.  Yet... crickets.

So it's time for a break. I know I will come back to writing at some point.  I love it too much to give up entirely, and I know a new story idea will come barrelling in and blindside me when I least expect it.  And I guess there's always that tiny spark of hope that the new one, that shiny idea that won't leave me alone, will be the one that breaks through.

Do you ever feel like quitting?  How do you move past it?

Sunday, July 4, 2021

Weekly Goals 5-7-21

 Oddly, I don't really have many goals for this week.  I'm going to let my last pass on Juliet x2 sit for a week or two so I can think about what I want to do next and how I want to implement the changes I need to make.

I should be thinking about writing something else, but I'm just not inspired to do it.  I'm thinking about doing something else creative for a while.  Just until I get consumed with a new writing idea.  I'm pretty confident it will happen.  It always has before.

I have a lot to do at work this week, and a new boss starting next Monday, so things are likely to be pretty chaotic for a while there.

What are your goals this week?

Friday, July 2, 2021

Celebrate the Small Things 2-7-21


It's the end of the week, so it's time to Celebrate the Small things...

What am I celebrating this week?

It's the weekend!

I found a slow cooker while cleaning out a room at work, and since no one else seemed to want it, I've brought it home to experiment with.  I've never used one before, so I'm interested to see what I can make.  I'm going to try a curry first because I feel like those really flavorful dishes are the kind of thing that would benefit most from slow cooking.

I finished a pass on Juliet x2 during the week, so now I have even more notes to address and more things I need to add or change.  I need to figure out a good time to take a day off to make a good start on that.

And that's about it for me this week.  It has been a fairly uneventful week in the grand scheme of things.  We're back to level 1 after no community transmission of COVID by the infected tourist.  Amazing how that happened considering how many places he went and how crowded they all were.

What are you celebrating this week?