Tuesday, January 30, 2024

Books I've Read: The Blackwoods

As anyone who reads this blog knows, I'm a film lover and anything to do with the movies and movie stars is right up my alley.  So this book instantly appealed to me because it's about a family with many generations of movie royalty.  A Black family, no less!

Spanning close to a century, the book focuses on Blossom Blackwood and her rise to fame in the segregation era where casting Black actors was rare, then parallels this with the stories of two great-granddaughters who live in the present day.  The family has benefitted greatly from Blossom's fame, with various members, including one of the great-granddaughters being actors.

Personally, I found Blossom's story more interesting than the modern day story.  The struggles and sacrifices she had to make to live her dream were heartbreaking.  But Blossom refused to give up and refused to compromise herself and her integrity even when it would have made opening closed doors easier for her.  And some of the choices she was forced to make were heartbreaking.

In contrast, the problems her great-granddaughters face seem trivial - leaked nude photos for Hollis and an uncharacteristic blow up at media for Ardith, the actress.  I felt that both these characters were a little thinly drawn and not different enough from each other to justify both their stories being told.

The book centres around a long-held family secret which is revealed after Blossom's death.  The details are spun out in the chapters outlining Blossom's life and career; the effect it has on the family as a whole are dealt with in the present day sections.

Overall, I enjoyed this one despite the present day story not being as compelling or interesting as the one from the past.  The details of Hollywood both past and present felt authentic and the author clearly shares my love of old movies!

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

From Boston Globe/Horn Book Award–winning author Brandy Colbert comes the story of four generations of a Hollywood family—an unforgettable tale of ambition, fame, struggle, loss, and love in America.

The Blackwoods. Everyone knows their name. Blossom Blackwood burst onto the silver screen in 1962, and in the decades that followed, she would become one of the most celebrated actors of our time—and the matriarch of the most famous Black family in Hollywood. To her great-granddaughters, Hollis and Ardith, she has always just been Bebe. And when she passes away, it changes everything. Hollis Blackwood was never interested in fame. Still, she’s surrounded by it, whether at home with her family or at the prestigious Dupree Academy among Los Angeles’ elite.

When private photos of Hollis are leaked in the wake of Blossom’s death, she is thrust into the spotlight she’s long avoided—and finds that trust may be a luxury even she can’t afford. Ardith Blackwood has always lived in the public eye. A television star since childhood, she was perhaps closer with Blossom than anyone—especially after Ardith’s mother died in a drug overdose. Ever since, she has worked to be everything her family, her church, and the public want her to be. But as a family secret comes to light and the pressures from all sides begin to mount, she wonders what is left beneath the face she shows the world.

Weaving together the narratives of Hollis, Ardith, and Blossom, award-winning author Brandy Colbert tells an unforgettable story set in an America where everything is personal, and nothing is private.

Sunday, January 28, 2024

Weekly goals 29/1/24

 I'm not going to have a lot of time over the next few weeks to do anything writing related, so I'm going to keep my goals very small and simple.  Until we finish the Festival on 17 March, work is going to have to be the priority.  And this week, ticketing has to be my priority at work.  There is a lot to do and each booking takes considerably longer than I anticipated.

So I will focus on getting another 10 queries out for Guide Us.  Like ticketing, querying takes longer than I remembered, with researching the agents' wish lists, finding out if they're open, finding out if their agency is a "no from one of us is no from all of us" agency...

What are your goals this week?

Friday, January 26, 2024

Celebrate the Small Things 26-1-24


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!

With the Festival only 4 weeks away, things at work are BUSY!  So I'm celebrating having a weekend.  I won't be getting one for a few weeks while we're in the middle of things.  My bestie is down from Auckland so I'm going to see her over the weekend which I'm looking forward to.  I haven't seen her since July!  She's playing a gig here which I'm going to.  Looking forward to that.

Otherwise, I'm going to try and have a relaxing weekend.  I feel like I need to sleep a bit.

I've sent out a few more queries for Guide Us and now have 4 rejections.  All from very established agents who have big client lists already.  I feel like maybe I need to focus more on newer agents who are still building their lists, but am trying to mix it up a bit.  Will try and get a few more out over the weekend.

What are you celebrating this week?

Tuesday, January 23, 2024

Weekly Goals.... a bit late

 Yes, yes...  I know it's Wednesday, not Monday.  Monday was a holiday here and we were up at my partner's property on the coast and somehow I just missed my usual Monday post.  But better late than never, huh?

My goal this week is to start querying Guide Us.  I actually sent off a few queries over the weekend, and have already racked up my first two rejections.  Way to go, me!  In case you're at all interested, here's the query.  Give me any feedback you might have. ...

Dear Agent,

I’ve seen that you’re seeking X, Y and Z, so I thought you might be interested in Guide Us, my 78,000 word YA contemporary novel.

Told in dual POV, Guide Us follows 17-year-old Juliet Capaldi as she navigates her senior year at the strict Catholic school she has attended since kindergarten. Juliet re-connects with her former best friend, Iris, who fled St. Ignatius for public school after she and Juliet shared kisses at an eight grade party. Despite trying to deny their attraction, Juliet and Iris can’t resist re-kindling their friendship.

As their friendship deepens, Iris and Juliet struggle with their feelings for each other while grappling with their faith and family expectations. Already under a cloud of distrust from her mother, Iris is terrified of disappointing her again and insists their relationship remain a secret. Juliet, who has already started questioning whether the things taught in church still apply in the modern world, wants to bring their relationship out into the open.

Desperate to prove she’s not the abomination the church tells her she is, Iris breaks things off with Juliet and sleeps with a boy. When she discovers she’s pregnant, it’s Juliet who supports her and shows her she has options. Struggling with guilt, Iris seeks guidance from the church only to be told that if she goes with her heart, she’ll be damned for all eternity.

Guide Us is a story about first love, self-discovery and the struggle to reconcile faith and desire. It will appeal to readers who enjoyed books like Red, White and Royal Blue by Casey McQuiston, We Are Okay by Nina LaCour and Heretics Anonymous by Katie Henry.

I have published five YA novels with a small press and my short stories have appeared in Halfway Down the Stairs, Residential Aliens, The Barrier Review, A Fly in Amber, Everyday Fiction and numerous anthologies including recent Voyage YA anthology Just Above Water. I am a contributor to writing blog Operation Awesome, offering weekly advice to writers as agony aunt, O’Abby.

Per your guidelines, you will find X,Y, Z below.

Best wishes,


What are your goals this week?

Friday, January 19, 2024

Celebrate the Small Things 19-1-24


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

What am I celebrating this week?

I finished Guide Us!

Yes, you read that correctly.  The book is done.  I took the day off yesterday and went to the library to read through the whole book and make any last changes that needed to be made.  There were only a handful of things that needed attention.  Maybe five.

Now the querying starts...  Give me strength.

It's a long weekend, so I plan to put in a couple of hours each day to get a bunch of queries out, then we'll wait and see.

What are you celebrating this week?

Tuesday, January 16, 2024

Books I've Read: Once More With Feeling


This was a quick, fun read that I picked up because it was set in the world of musical theatre and pop superstardom - two things I'm always into reading about.  Particularly after having just seen the hilarious mockumentary, Theater Camp.  For a second time...

Cal and Kathleen first met at a summer camp for theatre kids as teenagers. They liked each other and performed together, but nothing really happened between them.  Years later, they meet again when Kathleen has become a teen pop sensation under the name Katee Rose and Cal's boyband, CrushZone join her on tour.  CrushZone also has Katee's boyfriend, Ryan, on board and their relationship is endless fodder for tabloids and paparazzi.  So it's not really the right time for Katee to notice how hot Cal is, or how much more she enjoys spending time with him that the other boys.  Even Ryan.

Now, almost 20 years later, Kathleen is relatively contented with her life out of the spotlight. Katee Rose is a name from the past and she avoids thinking too much about the scandal that imploded her career.  Until the opportunity of a lifetime lands in her lap. The one thing she's always dreamed of - the chance to perform in a Broadway musical. The one catch?  Cal is attached as the director.

Kathleen agrees to take the role and promises she'll keep things professional with Cal.  But as the rehearsal period gets intense, she can't help noticing he's still just as hot - if not hotter- than he was when he was a teen heart-throb.  And damn it if she doesn't still enjoy his company!

I enjoyed this.  It's light and fluffy and follows all the romance novel tropes you'd expect.  It's not deep and doesn't do anything new with the genre, but sometimes that's just fine.  Sometimes you just want something light and fun with some characters who do end up with a happy ever after in spite of themselves.

So if you're looking for something like this, go for it.

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

Then. Katee Rose is living the dream as America's number one pop star, caught in a whirlwind of sold-out concerts, screaming fans, and constant tabloid coverage. Everyone wants to know everything about her and her boyfriend, Ryan LaNeve, the hottest member of adored boy band CrushZone. Katee loves to perform but hates the impossible demands of stardom. Maybe that's why she finds herself in the arms of another CrushZone member, Cal Kirby. Quiet, serious Cal, who's always been a good friend to Katee, is suddenly Cal with the smoldering eyes and very good hands. One unforgettable night is all it takes to blow up Katee's relationship with Ryan, her career, her whole life...

Now. Kathleen Rosenberg is okay with her ordinary existence, and leaving her pop star image in the past. That is, until Cal Kirby shows up with the opportunity of her dreams--a starring role in the Broadway show he's directing and a chance to perform the way she's always wanted. The two haven't spoken since the joint destruction of their careers, and each of them blames the other, making their reunion a tense battle of wits and egos. Katee reluctantly agrees to the musical, as long as she keeps her guard up around Cal. But rehearsals are long, those eyes still smolder, and those hands are still very good. Despite everything, Katee can't deny the chemistry between them. Is it ever a good idea to reignite old flames? Especially if you've been burned in the past?

Sunday, January 14, 2024

Dear Me 2024

 Dear Me,

I really didn’t do well with my goals last year, so my goal this year is to be better at meeting my goals!  Which means I need to be realistic about what I can actually achieve.  My “new” job is pretty time-consuming and looking at the year ahead, there is not much in the way of breaks between events.  Which means a lot of cross-over as we try and wrap up and report on one, while setting up and producing the next.  It’s going to be intense.


With that in mind, my writing goals are going to be limited this year. I want to query Guide Us as I think it is probably more mainstream/commercial than most of my books and more likely to get me a new agent than some of my other stories.  I think it’s really close to being ready. I just need a day or two to read through the whole thing to see if the changes to the timeline and new scenes I added have bedded in properly.  You don’t want someone talking about something in the past that hasn’t actually happened yet!  It would be nice to get another set of eyes over it too, but I think I’ve exhausted my beta-readers for this one already, so I may need to trust my own judgement this time.  


In terms of new writing, I’d love to be able to put some real work into A Stranger to Kindness.  I really love my mute foster-kid and want to tell his story. It’s a goodie! Once I’ve got Guide Us out the door, I would like to put energy into that one. I’m just not sure I’ll have the time.  But even 500-1000 words a day would help get it finished and I’m sure I can find the 40 minutes or so a day I need to do that much.  I just find it hard to write like that.  I like to fall into the story and live there while I’m writing, and writing in scraps like that doesn’t get you into that space.  But if scraps of time are all I have, I’ll use them.


In the rest of my life, that part that’s not writing or work, I intend to keep reading as much as I can.  I haven’t hit my Goodreads goal the last two years, so I’m aiming a little lower for 2024. Not a huge amount, but a little.  Under 120 books for the first time in many years.  Hopefully I’ll manage to actually hit that goal this year.


And like every year, I will keep up my exercising and go to the gym at least four times a week and do as much exercise as I can outside of that too.  I never seem to lose any weight, but at least I feel reasonably fit and healthy.  I’m getting older and I probably need to do more to try and keep myself from getting those dreadful issues that older people seem prone to.


I will also keep gong to the movies as often as I can.  Even though I don’t work in film anymore, it’s still one of the things I’m most passionate about and I am all for keeping the theatrical experience alive and thriving.  I know I can watch films at home, and I do,  but it just isn’t the same as sitting in the dark experiencing the story with a roomful of other people.  I’m re-joining the Film Society for 2024, which means I will get to see something interesting every Monday night again.  And I got a 10-trip pass for the Film Festival for Xmas, so that’s me sorted for July.  Almost…  I probably will go to more than just ten films, but it’s a start!


Looking back at this, I feel like I make mostly the same goals every year. So for something new in 2024, I want to stop biting my fingernails.  I’ve done it all my life and I think it’s time to stop.  Before Christmas I experimented with some stick-on nails and they were good, except I kept losing them.  But my nails grew a lot in the 10 days or so I used them.  I even managed to keep them long for about two weeks after I took the falsies off.  Then I was reading at the beach one afternoon and bit them all off without realising.  D’oh!  So when I got home, I went and got my nails done at a salon for the first time in my life and now I have lovely long (half-fake) shiny pink nails.  I’m hoping my real nails will grow underneath while I genuinely can’t bite them (the tips are plastic right now), and by the time the fake ends have grown out, I’ll have nice long natural nails to get manicured and polished with something that will make them too hard to bite. That’s the plan, anyway.  Not sure if it will work.  I suspect my real nails might have been wrecked after all the grinding and buffing and stuff they did.  But it was an experience I’ve never had before, so worth it even if I means I only have nice nails for a few weeks…

And that's me for 2024, I think.  We'll check in mid-year to see how we're doing.  And I'll actually try to remember to do it this time!



Thursday, January 11, 2024

Celebrate the Small Things 12/1/24


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!

That first week back at work after the holidays is always a drag and feels like it goes on forever, so I'm pleased to have hit Friday.  I feel like I need a weekend!

Not that I have much planned other than the usual housework and gym excursions.  I'm going to try and see The Holdovers on Saturday and a friend invited me to go to the Botanic Gardens for the summer season of live music they have on there.  Hopefully the weather will hold out for Saturday night; it's supposed to be crapping out for a few days.

Other than that, I'm looking forward to relaxing a bit.  I have a book to read for our book club meeting on Tuesday, so I'll get onto that.

What are you celebrating this week?

Tuesday, January 9, 2024

Books I've read: Bodies of Light


This was one of the first books I read while I was on holiday and it certainly kept me gripped all the way through!

Taking place across a range of time periods, the book begins in the present when Maggie receives a random Facebook message from someone from her past.  A past she has worked hard to escape.  As this old friend persists in contacting her, Maggie is forced to re-examine her past and the trauma that has led her to this point.

After her father was imprisoned while she was a small child, Maggie grew up in a series of foster and group homes, some better than others.  Her last foster mother believed in her enough that she began to think she was someone who could go to university, someone who actually could make a place for herself in this world.

But after her foster mother has a stroke and Maggie winds up in another terrible group home, her dream of university begins to waver.  But she pushes through and makes it in.  She feels out of place there though and even her new friends are not enough to keep her from drowning in this strange new environment.  A breakdown puts the final nail into that dream and she winds up leaving town with nothing.

It takes time, but in a small town she begins to build a new life for herself.  She finds new friends and even meets a guy she thinks she could fall in love with.  When they are married, she begins to think her life might just turn out okay despite her rough start.  But tragedy seems to follow her and just when she is at her happiest, it strikes again, and again and again.

With the law on her heels, she escapes Australia and reinvents herself in New Zealand.  She meets a man there who asks her to come with him back to the States.  Once again Maggie starts to believe she might have found happiness. But without being able to share the darkest parts of her past, her new relationship crumbles like so many others beforehand and sends her spiralling into her darkest place yet.

But Maggie is a survivor, and despite all the darkness and despair, she manages to somehow reinvent herself again and to keep moving through the world.

This was a heavy book.  Don't read it if you are sensitive to things like child abuse or dead babies because there is plenty of both.  Yet even in the darkness, there was something really intriguing and fascinating about observing this person who somehow manages to rise above it and succeed in life despite it.

It's beautifully written and observed and I particularly enjoyed seeing New Zealand and parts of Australia I know well  through the protagonist's eyes.

So I recommend it, albeit with warnings to those who may be more sensitive to certain things than I tend to be.

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

So by the grace of a photograph that had inexplicably gone viral, Tony had found me. Or: he’d found Maggie.

I had no way of knowing whether he was nuts or not; whether he might go to the cops. Maybe that sounds paranoid, but I don’t think it’s so ridiculous. People have gone to prison for much lesser things than accusations of child-killing.

A quiet, small-town existence. An unexpected Facebook message, jolting her back to the past. A history she’s reluctant to revisit: dark memories and unspoken trauma, bruised thighs and warning knocks on bedroom walls, unfathomable loss.

She became a new person a long time ago. What happens when buried stories are dragged into the light?

This epic novel from the two-time Sydney Morning Herald Young Novelist of the Year is a masterwork of tragedy and heartbreak—the story of a life in full. Sublimely wrought in devastating detail, Bodies of Light confirms Jennifer Down as one of the writers defining her generation.

Sunday, January 7, 2024

Dear Me 2024- Part one

Every year I write a letter to myself outlining my goals for the New Year.  I usually do a check in mid-year to see where I'm at, but it appears I didn't do that in 2023, so before I get into my goals for 2024, et's check in to see how I did last year... 

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.

Nope.  Didn't happen.  I got ready to query - I still have the list of agents I researched who I thought would be a good fit - but I didn't start.  Instead I entered a contest to get a sense on whether the query and first pages were working.  I didn't win,  but I was a runner up so was offered the opportunity to work with a professional editor for a fraction of her usual fee.  And since I had just been paid good money for a short story, I figured I'd invest that into my book.  It was worth it, but did mean I needed to do some major rewriting of Guide Us.  Which I have done.  I just need to find a day or two to sit down and actually go through and make sure all my changes work and that the parts of the timeline I shifted make sense.  I had hoped to do it over the holidays, but it just didn't happen.  Too much else going on.


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.

Again, nope.  I ended up spending way more time on Guide Us and this one kind of fell by the wayside a little.  I have done a bit of work on it, but I'm still sitting on about six chapters.  Yikes!


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…

Well, at least I partly achieved this one.  I polished up My Murder Year and got that out into the world.


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.

I don't know what happened with this.  The anthology is published, but it happened completely without fanfare.  And now I think about it, I'm pretty sure we were supposed to get author copies, and I never received any author copies.  Must follow up on that....


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.

I really didn't do well with goals last year!  I didn't do this either.  I did write some flash fiction and did submit a few short stories, but certainly not one a month.  And I think I only had one, maybe two, accented for publication.


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.

I did this one.  I'm now going to the gym 4 times a week and riding my bike to work whenever the weather permits.  Plus walking a bunch too.  Don't think I've lost much weight, but I feel pretty fit.


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 was short on my reading goal in 2023 too.  I finished the year on 108 books read.  Again, I put it down to the fact I read more adult books than YA.   And I blame Chuck Wendig for writing such gargantuan stories!  His Wanderers and Wayward took a  good three weeks to get through on their own because they were so long.


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 haven't even pulled the paints out yet this summer.  I would like to, but time...


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.

I did this one!  Maybe not every week, but close to it.  Plus I re-joined the Film Society which means seeing something interesting and unusual every Monday night.


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 did this one too.  After having been to maybe three operas in my entire life, in 2023 I went to two in one year!  Plus a bunch of theatre and dance shows.


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?

Tuesday, January 2, 2024

ISWG Jan 2024

It's the first Wednesday of the month (and indeed of the New Year) so it's time for the Insecure Writers Support Group.

The awesome co-hosts for the January 3 posting of the IWSG are Joylene Nowell Butler, Olga Godim, Diedre Knight, and Natalie Aguirre.

This month's question has me kind of stumped!

Do you follow back your readers on BookBub or do you only follow back other authors?

It's not something I've ever thought of before.  I barely use BookBub, and who I follow and who follows me isn't something I ever think about.  I have always found the site confusing and fairly difficult to use, so it isn't somewhere I spend a lot of time.  I probably only have about 7 followers - I've never actually looked - and I probably follow about the same number of people.  I think they are probably all authors, but authors are readers too...

So I don't have a real answer.  Maybe I'll take some time when I get back from vacation and actually look into it.  But I probably won't.  I've never found much use for BookBub other than the number of sales you pick up if you're lucky enough to get picked for a BookBub deal, something that has only happened for me once, despite hundreds of applications.

But I'd be interested to know if I'm missing something here.  Do any of you successfully use BookBub in some other way?  Tell me more in the comments...

Happy New Year, y'all!  Here's to a fab 2024.