Tuesday, January 31, 2023

IWSG - February 2023

It's the first Wednesday of the month so it's time for the Insecure Writers Support Group!

Thant to the awesome co-hosts for the February 1 posting of the IWSG,  Jacqui Murray, Ronel Janse van Vuuren, Pat Garcia, and Gwen Gardner!

And here's this month's question:

If you are an Indie author, do you make your own covers or purchase them? If you publish trad, how much input do you have about what goes on your cover?

I've been really lucky with my covers.  I'm with a small press and they have a really wonderful cover designer who is very collaborative and somehow manages to create the perfect covers for my books.  She doesn't always get it right the first time, but is so open to suggestions and feedback that I have never been disappointed by a final cover yet.

The process (in case anyone is interested) is that I get sent a proof of the design, and can then give feedback.  The first two covers I was sent (for An Unstill Life and Stumped) I was pretty happy with as they were.  I think I asked to remove a tagline from Stumped, and maybe to amplify the colors a bit on An Unstill Life to better showcase the MC's synesthesia.  

I wasn't initially thrilled with the covers I was sent for The Sidewalk's Regrets or Chasing the Taillights - one looked like it should be on an historical novel, maybe a ghost story, and the other looked like a rom com.  But I made my concerns known, and sent a selection of covers for books like mine for the designer to reference so she got an idea of the look and feel I thought was right for my book.  And the second attempts at both these covers were perfect.

I know some authors who have been really unhappy with their covers, so I feel very lucky that I have had such a positive experience with all of mine.  Even with my first publisher who closed their business and reverted the rights to my book back to me.  In fact, the gorgeous covers I get are part of the reason I keep publishing with this small press.  I know I'd never manage to do anything as good by myself!

What have your cover experiences been like?  Positive or not?

Sunday, January 29, 2023

Weekly Goals 30-1-23

 Can you believe January is almost over?  How fast did that happen?  Crazy!

It's a public holiday next Monday, so I'm taking Friday off to get a 4-day weekend.  It seems a little crazy to do it now, when the year has hardly begun, but I figure I should take any opportunity for time off I can get before July or so because that's when my job is going to get insane for about seven months.

So I'm going to use that Friday as a writing day and I'm finally going to nail those revisions on Guide Us that I need to tackle.  I figure I just need to add a few little bits and pieces here and there through the MS, and possibly an extra chapter toward the end.  Then I think I'll be done.

Weather is looking a little iffy this week (but at least we're not having floods like they've had in Auckland over the weekend) so I'm not sure if I'll be able to ride to work every day or not.  I'll give it a go though!  Fingers crossed I don't get another puncture while riding in the rain the way I did on Friday.  That was annoying.

And that's about it for goals this week.  Do you have any you'd like to share?

Thursday, January 26, 2023

Celebrate the Small Things 27-1-23


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 know, I know... It was a short week this week so I shouldn't be excited about the weekend, but yet... I am.

It's been a busy week with a lot of math in it for me, which is not my favourite thing by a longshot.  Spending whole days working with numbers and percentages makes me tired.  So I am looking forward to a weekend in which I don't need to do any math and can spend time with words instead.

I've had a strange stomachache for the last 3 days which I thought might be related to something I ate, but am beginning to think it's something else because it isn't going away as quickly as that usually does.  It's not super painful anymore (it was for two days), but just irritating and annoying.

The weather has been lovely all week so I have biked to work every day.  Even today.  But now it's pouring with rain so I am going to get wet going home.  Luckily it's still warm.

Meeting up with a friend to go to the art gallery and to a movie tomorrow, which will be nice.  Then I have nothing planned on Sunday, which will also be nice.  Although I do have some chores to do.

What are you celebrating this week?

Tuesday, January 24, 2023

Books I've Read: The Furies

This was a strange and quite disturbing read. Even now I'm not 100% sure I actually liked it or not, but it certainly left an impression.

Set in the outback in Queensland, Cynthia has not had an easy life up until now. Living so remotely she has little company other than her parents and sister and her father is often gone for work. The isolation and the hardship the family endures after years of drought have to take a toll.

The book starts just after that toll has left Cynthia alone. Her mother is gone after an horrific act of madness and her father flees the scene just months later. Left with no one and nothing, Cynthia has to take job at the only nearby place where work is available - the meat works.

As a lone woman in this very male environment, Cynthia is subjected to any number of indignities. Initially she rolls with it, feeling that this is a woman's role. But after a while, her sister seems to whisper to her from beyond the grave and with her, the voices of other women who are no longer with us.

Cynthia grapples with her past while she tries to forge a future for herself that will be better than the one she saw her mother suffer through and so what actually happened to bring Cynthia to this place is revealed slowly throughout the book.

Everything about this book was a little off, from the language to the extreme weather to the casual brutishness of almost all the men in the town. I wanted to feel sorry for Cynthia for everything she suffered through, but it was difficult to care for her when every choice she made seemed wrong. There is a hint of madness surrounding all the characters in this story, which made reading the book a little like trying to walk on sand - slippery and uncertain.

The language didn't help. Sentences stopped and started in random places which annoyed me and made me conscious of the writing. I know it was intentional, but it drew me out of the story every time. Perhaps that was intentional too. To give you time to reflect on the book's themes.

I'm not sure I liked this book, to be honest. But it was certainly memorable and had a lot to say about a woman's place in society and her value (or lack of it)

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

Defiant, ferocious and unyielding - The Furies is a unique and breathtakingly powerful debut novel from Mandy Beaumont. For those who love Charlotte Wood, Margaret Atwood and Carmen Maria Machado.Cynthia was just about to turn sixteen when the unthinkable happened. Her mother was taken away by the police, and her father left without a word three months later. After that night, Cynthia began to walk in slow circles outside the family home looking for traces of her sister Mallory - she's sure that she must be somewhere else now, wherever that is.

Cynthia knows that she doesn't belong here. Her mother never belonged here either. This is the place of violence. Despair. The long dry. Blood caked under the nails. Desperate men. Long silences. The place where mothers go mad in locked bedrooms, where women like Cynthia imagine better futures.

As a threatening wind begins to dry-whirl around her, seldom seen black clouds form above, roll over the golden-brown land - is that Mallory she can hear in the growling mass? In the harsh drought-stricken landscape of outback Queensland a woman can be lost in so many ways. The question is, will Cynthia be one of them?

Defiant, ferocious and unyielding - The Furies is a debut novel by Mandy Beaumont that explores the isolation felt by so many women, and how powerful we can be when we join together. It puts her firmly on the literary map, blazing forth from the terrain of Charlotte Wood, Margaret Atwood and Carmen Maria Machado, with a unique and breathtaking power.

Sunday, January 22, 2023

Weekly Goals 23-1-23

 There are a few things I want to try and do this week, especially since it's a public holiday today and I have an extra day of weekend to use.  I haven't been waiting that much this summer and I want to experiment with using a blow drier as a brush more.  I've not been successful with this technique yet, so plan to spend some time playing with it and with paints of different thicknesses to try and figure out why my paintings using this technique never look the way other fluid artists' do.

I plan to write at least one piece of flash fiction, if not more.  I've been enjoying the challenge of working with a prompt on the writing website I use.  I give myself a half hour to write a story of 1,000 words or less and see where it takes me.  They're obviously not works of art, but if they're any good, I can work more on them to make them into something else.

The weather was kind last week and let me ride into work every day I wanted to.  I plan to ride in every day this week too, so long as the weather continues to co-operate.

What are your goals this week?

Thursday, January 19, 2023

Celebrate the Small Things 20-1-23


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

What am I celebrating this week?

It's a long weekend!

At this time of year we're kind of spoiled when it comes to public holidays.  We just get back from the summer break and then there's Anniversary Day, followed closely by Waitangi Day.  And then, if Easter is early, that happens pretty soon afterward.

Unfortunately I didn't remember that Monday was Anniversary Day until yesterday, so I haven't made any real plans for the long weekend, other than going to see the epic, and apparently very flawed film, Babylon.  I shall let you know my thoughts about it on Monday.

I got my first rejection of 2023 today, so good to know nothing has changed dramatically in the new year.  I sent a bunch of stuff out in November and December, so I guess this is just the start of the latest batch of rejections.  I hate to think how many I have in total now.  It's probably over 500 between novels and short stories.

The weather has been glorious this week, so I've managed to ride my bike to work almost every day.  I didn't yesterday because I went to an outdoor concert after work, but every other day I have.  Which has been good because the bus service is so short of drivers at the moment that they're running the Saturday timetable all week which means every bus is jammed.  There must have been 50 or so people waiting for a bus by the hospital when I rode past this morning.  And every bus I saw was packed to the gunnels.

And that's it for me.  What are you celebrating this week?

Tuesday, January 17, 2023

Books I've Read: Well, That Was Unexpected

I love that there are so many more books out there now that deal with people from non-white, non-American, non-British cultures!  Like this one that is set in Indonesia and features two narrators, one who is an American-born half-Indonesian, and one who has been brought up in Indonesia.

After getting caught by her mother in an uncompromising position with her boyfriend, Sharlot's mother whisks her off to Indonesia to spend time with the extended family she's never met.  Despite Sharlot asking about Indonesia, her mother has always been loathe to discuss it, so Sharlot's perception of what the country might be like, and her attitude toward it are seriously skewed.

George is the son of one of Indonesia's wealthiest and most successful businessmen and has been primed since birth to take over at least some part of the family business.  When he's caught in an embarrassing position by his father and younger sister, George is told in no uncertain terms that he needs to get a girlfriend to improve his public image.

Sharlot's mother and George's father each take their kids' phones and strike up a conversation via a social media app.  When Sharlot and George find out, they are furious and mortified, but grudgingly agree to meet.  Both are certain the "date" will be a disaster and organise rapid exit strategies.

But neither expect the media to show up, or their large, extended families.

Before they know it, George and Sharlot are basking in the lap of luxury in a Bali resort with cameras following their every move.  Despite it all being for show, and despite both their reticence to get to know each other better, the pair soon find themselves enjoying each others' company.

But can a relationship based on lies ever become true love?

I enjoyed the examination of Chinese-Indonesian culture in this book, particularly the peculiarities both kids point out.  I feel like the view of the country was rather sanitised, viewed as it was through very privileged people whose lives are clearly very different to those of ordinary people.  While Indonesia's attitudes to LGBTQ+ people are touched on, it's a pretty light touch and the fact that homosexuality is actually illegal in Indonesia is never mentioned.

It would be interesting to read another book set in the same country but from the POV of an indigenous Indonesian (not of Chinese ancestry) and whose circumstances are less rarified to compare them.

Overall, this was a fun, quick read that definitely plays into the fantasy of suddenly being swept into the lap of luxury and treated like a princess.  Not really realistic, but not the worst way to spend an afternoon!

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

An outrageous, laugh-out-loud YA rom-com about a girl who's whisked from LA to her mother's native Indonesia to get back to her roots and finds herself fake-dating the son of one of the wealthiest families there, from the author of Dial A for Aunties.

After Sharlot Citra's mother catches her in a compromising position, she finds herself whisked away from LA to her mother's native Indonesia. It'll be exactly what they both need. Or so her mother thinks.

When George Clooney Tanuwijaya's father (who is obsessed with American celebrities) fears he no longer understands how to get through to his son, he decides to take matters into his own hands.

To ensure that their children find the right kind of romantic partner, Sharlot's mother and George's father do what any good parent would do: they strike up a conversation online, pretending to be their children.

When the kids find out about their parents' actions, they're horrified. Not even a trip to one of the most romantic places on earth could possibly make Sharlot and George fall for each other. But as the layers peel back and the person they thought they knew from online is revealed, the truth becomes more complicated. As unlikely as it may seem, did their parents manage to find their true match after all?

Sunday, January 15, 2023

Dear Me 2023

Dear Me,


Once again I’m writing this a couple of weeks into the new year rather than having it written and ready to implement on 1 January.  But better late than never, right?  I feel like I need a bit of time in the new year to reflect on what I achieved (or didn’t achieve) in the previous year in order to actually formulate realistic goals for the new one.  At least, that’s my excuse and I’m sticking to it!


So here goes for 2023.


Despite plans to address my readers’ notes on Guide Us over the break, I didn’t ever get to this.  The weather was too good before I went to the beach to want to coop up indoors working, and when it was shite while we were away, I didn’t have my computer with me so couldn’t work on it.  I know… excuses, excuses.  But I do plan to do this work before the middle of February so I can send the book to a couple more readers while I work on a query and synopsis.  I would like to start querying this one by March.


I’ve become somewhat inspired again to work on A Stranger to Kindness, the book I started with the mute protagonist.  It’s a tough one to write, given how dialogue-driven my books tend to be, but I plan to put some time into this one over the next few months.  I’d love to finish a draft before July.


I’ve been reading through old stuff abandoned on my hard drive and am startled to discover that several things I thought I’d only written a couple of chapters on have 20 or more chapters already written.  And some of it is actually not too bad….  I want to try and finish and polish at least two of these stories this year and get them out into the world.  I haven’t published anything since the beginning of 2021 and I know how quickly publishing moves on if you don’t keep pushing those books out there.  I currently have a couple of things on submission, but I’m not getting my hopes up…


I have a short story in an anthology from a major publisher that will be out in the Northern Hemisphere spring.  I’m hoping this will be an opportunity to reach more readers and get my work more widely known and available.  So my goal is to leverage the hell out of this and to make the anthology as big a success as I possibly can.


With less writing time available to me nowadays, I feel like short fiction should be a focus for me again.  I may not have the time or energy for a novel, but short stories or flash fiction can be written relatively quickly and offer me a chance to explore new styles, genres and themes.  I would like to be able to submit at least one piece of short fiction to a publication each month.  But that of course means writing them first.


Outside my writing life, I plan to keep up my exercise regime and possibly even add to it.  I am trying to lose weight (again), but even if I can’t get thinner, I can get fitter.  I feel like I’m in a pretty good place with my fitness at the moment and would like to build on that, especially when it comes to weights.  I’m ready to focus on getting stronger.


After not reaching my Goodreads reading target again in 2022, I have reduced it to 132 books for 2023.  I’ve been reading more adult books recently, largely because I’ve read most of the YA books in the library and am waiting for some new ones to be added to the collection, and they tend to take me longer to read.  I’m off to a good start though – by the time I went back to work on 12 Jan I’d already read 10 books in 2023.


I am still painting and want to experiment with using the techniques I’ve learned to create more than just canvasses.  I work upstairs from a second-hand store, so plan to find things there that I can paint on (trays, vases etc) and created useful objects that are also beautiful.


I plan to continue my ambition of going to the movies at least once a week too.  It looks like it’s going to be easy for the next month or so with something interesting coming out almost every week.  Long may that continue!  I kicked off 2023’s movie-going by seeing The Fablemans and I really enjoyed it.  Such a love-letter to the movies and making movies – something I’m beginning to see as a trend for films post-pandemic.  There are several other movies coming out in the next couple of months that also appear to be about the movies and their magic.


As well as films which I always go to, this year I want to embrace all the arts and go to things I don’t go to nearly often enough.  I want to see theatre and dance and go to gigs.  My son and I got a shared subscription to the symphony orchestra’s season for Christmas, so that’s a good place to start.  And with my new job being in arts events, I hope I will get the opportunity to explore this space more. 


I think that’s probably enough goals for 2023.  We’ll check in mid-year to see how I’m progressing.


What are your goals for 2023?


Friday, January 13, 2023

Celebrate the Small Things 13-1-22


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

What am I celebrating this week?

It seems a little on the nose to be celebrating the weekend when I've only been back at work for two days, but they've been a LOOONG two days...

What is it about those first days back after a break?  Do we just forget how long a work day is?  

Whatever the case, I'm celebrating the weekend because it's been a pretty wet and yucky week and the weekend forecast looks good.  So I plan to do some stuff in the garden, and maybe do a little painting too.  I don't have any major plans or social events, so I might even do some writing work. But with the nice weather, that might be unlikely.

But at least I don't need to spend half the weekend cleaning my house!  I had a housesitter while I was away who is a cleaner and I paid her to do a couple of hours cleaning each day which meant I came home to a lovely clean house!

And that's about it for this this week.  What are you celebrating?

Tuesday, January 10, 2023

Books I've Read: After the Lights Go Out

I' back from my holiday and have done a lot of reading since the weather was not exactly kind to us for a summer beach vacation...  So expect plenty of book reviews to come!

This was a really interesting story about a subject I know very little about: doomsday preppers.  Set in a small town in rural Australia, the book fascinated me from the very beginning.  The psychology of these people fascinates me almost as much as that of people who join cults!

Pru is 17 and lives in this small community with just her father and her twin sisters.  Their father moved them to this community after their mother left them in Melbourne, probably because of their father's increasingly paranoid thinking.  Out in the country, her has the space to act on this paranoia and the family is now prepared for any disaster - nuclear war, earthquake, pandemic, or even a zombie apocalypse.

To keep them on their toes, regular drills are staged to ensure each family member knows exactly where and what they need to do to get to their bunker with everything they need to survive.

One day while their father is away working at the mine, the lights go out.  Everywhere. All communications cease and no one knows why.  In town, things quickly descend into chaos as supplies run out and there is no way to contact anyone for medical help.  Pru's family have everything they need in their bunker and decide to keep this a secret from the rest of the town.  Their father has always drilled into them that family comes first.

But when their father fails to reappear and survival becomes paramount, Pru begins to question whether his rules should still apply.

I really enjoyed this story.  I'm not sure the science behind the actual doomsday event is realistic, but it worked in terms of the story, so I'm not going to dig too deep.  I was far more interested in the various ways people reacted to it and to the three sisters who mysteriously had the most knowledge of how to survive an event like this.

I feel like this story only worked because of its remote location.  In a city, things would have been very different and the way people reacted to the doomsday event and to everything that happened afterward would have been far more dangerous and chaotic.  Keeping the cast of characters small and the likelihood of any strangers showing up to disrupt them low was beneficial to the story being told and allowed us to really get to know them and their motivations.

So if, like me, you're interested in finding out ore about what motivates people to be doomsday preppers and how people really might react in this type of scenario, this book might be for you.

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

Seventeen-year-old Pru Palmer lives with her twin sisters, Grace and Blythe, and their father, Rick, on the outskirts of an isolated mining community. The Palmers are doomsday preppers. They have a bunker filled with non-perishable food and a year's worth of water. Each of the girls has a 'bug out bag', packed with water purification tablets, protein bars, paracord bracelets and epipens for Pru's anaphylaxis.

One day while Rick is at the mine, the power goes out. At the Palmers' house, and in the town. No one knows why. All communication is cut. It doesn't take long for everything to unravel. In town, supplies run out and people get desperate. The sisters decide to keep their bunker a secret. The world is different; the rules are different. Survival is everything, and family comes first.

Tuesday, January 3, 2023

IWSG January 2023

 It's the first Wednesday in January so it's time for the Insecure Writers Support Group!

The awesome co-hosts for the January 4 posting of the IWSG are Jemima Pett, Debs Carey, Kim Lajevardi, Sarah Foster, Natalie Aguirre, and T. Powell Coltrin!

This month's question is an interesting one:

Do you have a word of the year? Is there one word that sums up what you need to work on or change in the coming year? For instance, in 2021 my word of the year was Finish. I was determined to finish my first draft by the end of the year. In 2022, my word of the year was Ease. I want to get my process, systems, finances, and routines where life flows with ease and less chaos. What is your word for 2023? 

I've never had a word of the year before, but I think it's a nice idea.  I like the concept of trying to find a single word to guide everything you do for a period of time.

I think for 2023 my word is going to be explore.  I want to try new things with my writing as well as in my day job.  I want to try out new ways of publishing my work, new ways to get it to readers.  I want to explore new ways of writing because this year I didn't do as much as I wanted to because I felt like I didn't have the time to focus on writing a novel.  Yet I managed a lot of short fiction, some of which was actually quite good.

I want to drag some of those old stories and almost-completed novels out of my hard-drive and try to finish them.  Again, some of them are actually good and were only abandoned because some new shiny idea came along and took over my brain.  So I want to explore possibilities with them too.

And in my day job, I'm new, so there are lots of things to learn and explore as we get through what is going to be a really big and busy year.

What is your word of the year going to be for 2023?