Tuesday, October 31, 2023

IWSG - November

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

The awesome co-hosts for this month are PJ Colando, Jean Davis, Lisa Buie Collard, and Diedre Knight!

And this months's question?

 November is National Novel Writing Month. Have you ever participated? If not, why not?

Why, yes.  Yes I have.  I have participated several times.  NaNo suits the way I like to write - draft fast, edit slowly.  Many of my published books (and several unpublished ones) started their lives as NaNo projects. I love the time pressure and the fact that you basically have to live your November inside your story to be able to pump out 50,000 words in 30 days.

But I know that kind kind of writing doesn't suit everyone.  One of my critique partners couldn't even bear the thought of doing NaNo because she liked to get every chapter right before she moved on to the next one.  NaNo doesn't let you do that.  And to her credit, her first drafts were always a thing of beauty because of the way she polished each chapter as she went.  She also outlined extensively before she started writing, so she knew exactly what was going to happen in each chapter before she got there.

I don't usually even break my books into chapters until I'm right at the end of the editing process.

So NaNo isn't for everyone.  But if you can overcome that urge to go back over what you've written before you start, silence that inner editor and give yourself over to the restive process, then it's a really good way to get words on a page.  Get that story out of your head and into a form you can start working on it.

I like to think of a NaNo draft as a zero draft.  It's never going to be perfect or even very good.  But at the end of November you have something you didn't have at the start, and there's a lot to be said for that.  Even if you don't "win" you have more than the blank page you started with.

Have you ever done NaNo?  Love it?  Hate it?

Sunday, October 29, 2023

Weekly Goals 30-10-23

 Can you believe it's the end of October?  Where the heck has the year gone?  The shops already have Christmas decorations up, for chrissakes!

The jazz festival finished last night and it looks like it was a success.  There were certainly a bunch of shows that had big numbers attending.  Now to do all the reporting that's required.  And get ready to go on sale for the big Festival in February/March.  All of which is happening in the next two weeks.

No rest for the wicked, eh?

So my goal this week is to try and take at least one day off work to try and get some writing done.  I had kind of hoped to do NaNo, but it has become abundantly clear that that's just not going to be possible.  Not without possibly killing myself.  Maybe next year...

And that's kind of it for goals.  I'm too tried to really think about anything else.  What are your plans for this week?

Thursday, October 26, 2023

Celebrate the Small Things 27-10-23


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

What am I celebrating this week?

Jazz Festival!  That's what I'm working on this week and so far it's to be going really well. We've had our two big, international Headline acts (GoGo Penguin and C├ęcile McLorin Salvant) over the last two nights and the weekend Headliners are all great local musicians.  Plus there are gigs to go to all over town at the bars and cafes etc.  It's going to be a pumping weekend!

Which means, of course, not a lot of free time for me.  Especially since I'm also taking my son to a  film at the Italian Film Festival tomorrow.  He's been studying Pompeii in his Classics class, so we're going to go and see a doco about Pompeii.  Hopefully it will inspire him because he has to write a couple of extra paragraphs for his final essay to pass that assignment.

Hoping to be able to take a day off at the end of next week to recover and maybe get some writing work done.  Guide Us is certainly not editing itself while I'm ignoring it.  Wouldn't it be nice if books did do that?

What are you celebrating this week?

Tuesday, October 24, 2023

Books I've Read: The Guncle

I really enjoyed this author's earlier book, Lily and the Octopus, so when I saw this at the library, I thought I'd give it a go.

It's about a lonely gay man who has to take in his young nephew and niece after their mother (who was once his best friend) dies and their father (who is his brother) goes to rehab to recover from a pill addiction.  Patrick is not a natural at being a surrogate parent.  He has cultivated an existence for himself in Palm Springs which relies very much on routine and self-imposed rules.  Children, especially children who are grieving and unpredictable don't really fit into this carefully constructed world.

But Patrick takes on the challenge and begins by developing new rules that will work for their new reality - Guncle rules.  And as the summer stretches on, he finds himself coming to life again, something he hasn't allowed himself to even consider since he lost his partner in a car crash several years earlier.

I enjoyed this one even though Patrick started off feeling a little like a gay best friend character in a sitcom.  As the story developed, I warmed to him more, even though he did continually toss out one-line witticisms like said sitcom character too often.  As I got to know him better, it became obvious that this was his way of keeping himself aloof from others while seeming both charming and friendly.

The kids were a delight too.  They weren't precocious sitcom kids, but real, hurting children whose lives had been turned upside down.  That it took them so long to adjust to Patrick's world just felt natural.

So I'd recommend this one.  It's funny and poignant and I enjoyed it.

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

Patrick, or Gay Uncle Patrick (GUP, for short), has always loved his niece, Maisie, and nephew, Grant. That is, he loves spending time with them when they come out to Palm Springs for weeklong visits, or when he heads home to Connecticut for the holidays. But in terms of caretaking and relating to two children, no matter how adorable, Patrick is honestly a bit out of his league.

So when tragedy strikes and Maisie and Grant lose their mother and Patrick’s brother has a health crisis of his own, Patrick finds himself suddenly taking on the role of primary guardian. Despite having a set of “Guncle Rules” ready to go, Patrick has no idea what to expect, having spent years barely holding on after the loss of his great love, a somewhat-stalled career, and a lifestyle not-so-suited to a six- and a nine-year-old. Quickly realizing that parenting—even if temporary—isn’t solved with treats and jokes, Patrick’s eyes are opened to a new sense of responsibility, and the realization that, sometimes, even being larger than life means you’re unfailingly human.

Sunday, October 22, 2023

Weekly Goals 23-10-23

 It's going to be a super busy week so I'm not going to set myself any important goals.  The Jazz Festival starts on Wednesday so I'm working every night, and there is a ton of other work to do too, so I'll be working during the day too.  I might take a couple of late starts, though...  We'll see.

But since today is a holiday, I hope to get a few hours to write.  I changed my mind about a chapter I we-wrote earlier in my revising Guide Us, so now I'm having to go back and change it again.  I suspect I may do quite a bit of that, now that those revisions are a few months old.

What are your goals this week?

Friday, October 20, 2023

Celebrate the Small Things 20-10-23


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!  Yes, Monday is Labour Day for us here in New Zealand, so I have a three-day weekend to enjoy.  Which is great, because the Jazz Festival starts on Wednesday and that's going to take up a bunch of my time and energy for the five days it runs.  And then we have a big event two days later.  Plus a whole pile of funding rounds ending at the end of October that I need to get applications in for.


So this weekend I'm going to rest.  And get a haircut.  And go and see the new Scorcese film (which is close to 4 hours long).  And maybe do a little writing too.  Definitely some reading.

What are you celebrating this week?

Tuesday, October 17, 2023

Books I've Read: If Tomorrow Doesn't Come


This book was sad.  It was sad at the beginning and it was sad at the end.  But it didn't feel dour or overwrought.  It was kind of perfect for the subject matter.

At the start of the book Avery is about to kill herself.  She's depressed and has been for some time.  Darkness has been following her for years and she just can't see a way out other than to end it all.  Then her best friend calls.  The girl she's been secretly (and not so secretly) in love with for years. Cass tells her that scientists have discovered an asteroid hurtling toward earth.  The planet has nine days left until impact.  And Cass wants to be with Avery in that time.

The last time Cass and Avery spoke, they fought, so the knowledge that Cass still wants to see her is enough to spur Avery into action.  And not the action she left her dorm room to fulfil.  With panic rising everywhere, Avery, her roommate and her least favourite professor hit the road to try and get to the people they love.  

Once in the city, it becomes apparent that traveling anywhere far is not going to be possible.  Avery's roommate is not going to be able to get home to Nigeria.  The professor is probably not going to make it to Louisiana.  But by some miracle, Cass does manage to get back from New York, so in a stolen car, the group head to New Hampshire and Avery's family home.

With a finite time left to live, Avery fights to make it through these final days with the people she cares about.  But as time grows shorter, secrets come out and Avery finds that she not only has the strength to save the people she loves, she also has the strength to save herself.

This book depicts depression in a very real way.  That sense of hopelessness and dread permeates every page.  Yet the book doesn't feel too heavy.  I mean, it is heavy.  It's about the end of the world.  But Avery's depression doesn't drag the book down.  There are moments hope, sparks of light, and it is these things that keep people waking up day after day.  Even in a world days away from destruction.

Avery's family are a key part of this story and the clash between their values and Avery's go a long way to understanding Avery's fears and self doubt.  They have secrets and fears of their own, but have tried desperately to keep them from their children, to allow their kids to grow up without these shadows hanging over them.  

I'd recommend this one.  It's not a cheery number, but it's well written and opens the doors for some tough conversations about mental health, queer identity and more.

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

We Are Okay meets They Both Die at the End in this YA debut about queer first love and mental health at the end of the world-and the importance of saving yourself, no matter what tomorrow may hold.

Avery Byrne has secrets. She's queer; she's in love with her best friend, Cass; and she's suffering from undiagnosed clinical depression. But on the morning Avery plans to jump into the river near her college campus, the world discovers there are only nine days left to an asteroid is headed for Earth, and no one can stop it.

Trying to spare her family and Cass additional pain, Avery does her best to make it through just nine more days. As time runs out and secrets slowly come to light, Avery would do anything to save the ones she loves. But most importantly, she learns to save herself. Speak her truth. Seek the support she needs. Find hope again in the tomorrows she has left.

If Tomorrow Doesn't Come is a celebration of queer love, a gripping speculative narrative, and an urgent, conversation-starting book about depression, mental health, and shame.

Sunday, October 15, 2023

Weekly Goals 16-10-23

 We're just over a week out from the Jazz Festival so things at work are pretty crazy.  Especially since two days after the Jazz Festival finishes, we launch the programme for the big 3-week Arts Festival in February.  So things at work are pretty busy!  So I'm not setting any major goals for myself this week; I'd just fail to meet them and feel guilty about it.

It is a long weekend for Labour Day this week, so I'm hoping I might be able to use one of those days to write, but depending on the week I've had, that may not be possible.  Once we've got through the Jazz Fest and the programme launch and everything is on sale for the main Festival, I hope I can take a couple of days off to write.  I'd really like to finish Guide Us before the end of the year. 

Then I can start working on A Stranger to Kindness again.

What are your goals this week?

Friday, October 13, 2023

Celebrate the Small Things 13-10-23


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

What am I celebrating this week?

It's Friday!  And boy do I need a weekend this week...  So glad I have nothing of any significance planned.

My Murder Year has received a few more good reviews, so that's good news.  People seem to be enjoying it.  Even one of my work colleagues!

In not-so-good-news, one of my cats has gone missing.  It's been over a week now since I saw her and I've listed her has missing all over the place, put flyers in all the neighbours' letterboxes and messaged the son of my elderly neighbour who doesn't seem to be in her house anymore.  No sign of Lola.  She has done this before a few times and always come back, but this is getting on toward being the longest she's ever been gone for.

I hope she shows up soon.  I don't think Frankie likes being an only-cat.

What are you celebrating this week?

Tuesday, October 10, 2023

Books I've Read: Don't Know Tough


This probably seems like an odd book for me to pick up given I have no interest in sports whatsoever, have only the most basic understanding of American Football and don't tend to sympathise with born-again Christians.

Having read it now, I still think it's an odd book for me to have picked up.  I didn't hate it, but I didn't love it either.

Set in Arkansas, the book opens with Billy, a poor, trailer park kid whose only real talent is playing football.  And even on the football field he's kind of a liability if he loses his temper.  His narration is in dialect which was initially a little hard to read, but I quickly found myself sinking into his rhythm of speech.  In fact, when the story switched to a new POV in the second chapter, I found it a little jarring.

The other main POV character is Trent, the high school's new football coach who has just moved from California with his reluctant family in tow.  Trent is burning to be a success here after the team he coached back home suffered such humiliating losses, he was fired from his position.After seeing Billy play, Trent knows this big, angry kid is the key to having a winning season.

But keeping Billy on the team might be harder than he initially thought and when he discovers the reason behind Billy's uncontrollable rage, he makes it his mission to save the kid, body and soul.

When Billy's abusive step-father is found dead in his trailer, all eyes are on Billy as the murderer. With the pressure of the football playoffs mounting and fear of being imprisoned for life becoming a reality, no one is getting out of this town unscathed.

For a book written by a former football player, there was very little football in the book.  I still know as little about the game as I did going in.  

And I found the characters difficult to engage with because they all seemed to be just "types".  The born again Christian trying to save his soul through rescuing the abused young man whose life reminds him of his own before being saved.  The unhappy wife whose father gave young Trent all his chances.  The innocent young daughter who gets caught up in the whole mess.  The poor wife who stays with her abusive husband because she has no other choices.  No one felt like a real person with real thoughts and emotions.  Even Billy, whose voice is the strongest throughout the book.  And don;t get me started on Billy's older brother Jesse...

I also felt like the mystery aspect of the story was kind of buried beneath all the suffering and angst going on around it.  No one seemed very intent on finding out what really happened to the dude, even the Sheriff.

So while there were aspects of this book I quite liked, I can't really say I really enjoyed it much.  I felt like there was a really compelling story in there somewhere, but it wasn't realised by the characters as they were drawn.

Shame, really...

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

Friday Night Lights meets Southern Gothic, this thrilling debut is for readers of Megan Abbott and Wiley Cash.

In Denton, Arkansas, the fate of the high school football team rests on the shoulders of Billy Lowe, a volatile but talented running back. Billy comes from an extremely troubled home: a trailer park where he is terrorized by his unstable mother’s abusive boyfriend. Billy takes out his anger on the field, but when his savagery crosses a line, he faces suspension.

Without Billy Lowe, the Denton Pirates can kiss their playoff bid goodbye. But the head coach, Trent Powers, who just moved from California with his wife and two children for this job, has more than just his paycheck riding on Billy’s bad behavior. As a born-again Christian, Trent feels a divine calling to save Billy—save him from his circumstances, and save his soul.

Then Billy’s abuser is found murdered in the Lowe family trailer, and all evidence points toward Billy. Now nothing can stop an explosive chain of violence that could tear the whole town apart on the eve of the playoffs.

Sunday, October 8, 2023

Weekly Goals 9-10-23

 With My Murder Year out in the world and generating reviews (there are 7 now on Goodreads), I feel like I can actually get back to writing again.  It feels like far too long since I last did that.

I hate taking a break from what I'm working on because it's often really hard to get back into it.  So this week I'm going to try and find my way back into Guide Us so I can (hopefully) finish the revising I was in the middle of.

I already know there is one part I added that I want to change and there's the whole two chapters I need to write to slow the timeline down a little which I'm not sure I know how to do.  I may need to switch around a whole lot of stuff to make things work.  I'm also not 100% sure I like extra party scene I added, and I feel like I could lose that if I moved everything down the timeline a little.

Ugh!  Revising is so frustrating sometimes. 

What are your goals this week?

Friday, October 6, 2023

Celebrate the Small Things 6-10-23


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

What am I celebrating this week?

My Murder Year
is out!

And it got its first 5-star review too!

***** "This book right here, is the reason I love being a book blogger and getting to work with authors. I get to work with amazing authors like this one, that I may not have known about otherwise. I can't recommend this book enough." Fiction Lux

So I feel like that's a good start.  I'm hoping a few more reviews might come in over the weekend too.

What are you celebrating this week?

Tuesday, October 3, 2023

Insecure Writers Support Group: October

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

 The awesome co-hosts for the October 4 posting of the IWSG are Natalie Aguirre, Kim Lajevardi, Debs Carey, Gwen Gardner, Patricia Josephine, and Rebecca Douglass!

This month's question is very topical: 

The topic of AI writing has been heavily debated across the world. According to various sources, generative AI will assist writers, not replace them. What are your thoughts?

I'm sure there are ways AI will be able to help writers.  I'm just not sure exactly what they are yet.  I haven't played enough with ChatGPT to have figured out how it could help me as a writer, other than for things like form letters and more business-focused stuff.  I've used it to shorten text where I needed to meet a set word limit to fit in a form.

The one time I tried it out for some creative writing, I gave it the prompt I get daily from a writing website I use and asked it to write an 800 word story based on that prompt.  The results weren't spectacular.  The AI wrote words, but it wasn't a complete story to begin with and wasn't the full 800 words I'd asked for,  A bit more prompting and refining did leave me with a story based on the prompt and at the correct number of words, but it wasn't a great story.  The language was simplistic and lacked any emotional resonance.  The plot was pretty generic and it really didn't sound like something I would write.

Maybe I need to try again.

But maybe I don't.

I like writing.  When things are going well for me, I love the feeling of falling into my story and seeing where it might take me.   Because I don't plot ahead or outline, and rarely write in a linear way, I'm not sure how I could use AI to help me write my books.  Maybe there could be some uses in the editing stage?  If I need to lose some words from a MS?  I don't know.  It's not something I've thought a whole lot about.  I know how to write a book - I've done it 15+ times now - and I've done it without using AI.  I'm not sure why I'd change that when it works for me.

Especially when what ChatGPT puts out is so flat and uninteresting.  I guess you could use the bot to create something for you to work with, but from what I've seen, you'd end up rewriting pretty much everything it spat out, so why wouldn't you just write it yourself in the first place?

I would be open to experimenting with using AI to help with editing and revising, but wouldn't really know where to start with that.  And to be honest, I'm not sure how comfortable I am with loading my unpublished manuscript into ChatGPT to try it out.  How do I know that manuscript won't get spat out in its entirety to someone else who asks the bot to write a novel about X Y and Z?

So for now, I'm happy to let AI help draft my business letters, write forms and generic policy documents, or help me cut my funding application narrative down to the right number of words, but I'm not sure I'm ready to ask for its assistance with anything involving my creative writing.  Maybe I'm just old fashioned...

How do you feel about using AI as a writer?

Sunday, October 1, 2023

Weekly Goals 2-10-23

 Can you believe it's October already?  Where has this year gone?  It'll be Christmas again before we know it!

What are my goals this week?  Well, with My Murder Year releasing on Friday, I'm working to give that some profile when it hits the market.  It's been on pre-order for a while now, so I'm hoping some people have ordered it in advance and that some of the reviewers I've lined up get their reviews out around the release date.  And that the reviews are good!

With only three weeks now until the Jazz Festival, it's going to be busy at work.  Especially since the launch of the full programme for next year's Arts Festival is only a few days after the Jazz Festival finishes.  That's a lot of stuff going on at the same time.  So I'm not really anticipating having a lot of spare time for anything else until after that launch has happened.

What are your goals for this week?