Feel Good February

Further to my post on Thursday, here’s a primer for how to do some good in your community.

feel-good-feb-2

This graphic came from my new friends at Feel Good February.  A friend put me on to them the other day I thought it was a fabulous idea.  The graphic below explains the concept, but you might want also to visit their website or Facebook page. Continue reading

I’ve been tagged…

Fortunately, not with anything permanent!

No, this kind of tagging is for a blog hop.  Which is a lot like Chinese whispers as I remember it in primary school.  You come up with something to say, whisper it in the next person’s ear and end with ‘pass it on!’  Except, I suppose, one hopes that this version of passing it on results in something a little more coherent than the primary school version!

My friend Gabrielle was the one who tapped me on the shoulder.  She is a writer (which probably comes as no great surprise) but she is also a film maker who makes trailers for books, which hits me right two of my favourite things, books and films.  I like her a lot and I’m really looking forward to reading her novels, when they eventuate! (Hint, Gab. 😉 ) If you would like to catch up with her, you can find her writing blog at http://gabbawrites.blogspot.com.au/ (on which she answers the same questions as I’m about to below) and her fabulous trailers for books are at http://www.trailermadeproduction.com/.  I suspect I might be in the market for one of them one day soon! (And just because I love a video link, here’s her promo video for the trailers.)

So, onto the questions:  There are only four, but some are doozies!

1 What am I working on?

What am I NOT working on might be a shorter answer!  I have decided that this is the year of productivity, and I have decided that one way to achieve that is to make a start on several things at once.  That way, if I get stuck on one, I can at least do something useful on one of the others.  Currently I am planning and/or working on one full-length romance and one novella (although knowing me, it might not stay a novella), two young-adult books and one book which, for want of a better term, I’ll call women’s fiction, with a splash of danger, a dash of romance and a lot of friends getting each other out of trouble.  I figure that should keep me busy for a few months!  I’d also like to finish the short story I started last year for the Scarlet Stiletto, Malice Domestic division.  It appeals to a gruesome side of me that I haven’t explored in fiction before…

2 How does my work differ from others of its genre?

Ooh, tough one.  I think I’d have to say first, in the humour.  I like to have a laugh where possible, even when dealing with serious subjects – in fact, especially then.  I know I can improve at combining the serious and the silly but I hope my books are always fun to read.  Of course, there are plenty of other writers who use humour too, but I can’t seem to help myself.  If there’s a laugh, I’m going after it.  Also, my romances vary from some in that I like to write about people I can imagine knowing.  I’m not especially interested in the super-rich and glamorous and bossy alpha heroes give me a pain.  I like male characters I can imagine actually having a drink with, without wanting to strangle them.  The most exciting one isn’t really about me, but I’m the only writer I know of who has had works of art made, inspired by the books.  You can find them here and here and they are a source of constant joy and encouragement to me. (Hi Resa!)

3 Whey do I write what I do?

The short answer is because I have stories to tell.  I am interested in people.  I want to know why we do the things we do and especially why we are so often sad, lonely and broken.  Writing stories helps me answer those questions, at least for those characters!  (It also makes me realise that I will never get to a definitive answer, but that just means I need to write more stories, to explore more angles.)  I have said before that I write romance because its values appeal to me and that is true.  But I think part of it is wanting to give everyone a happy ending – or at least the hope of one.  My little romances probably won’t change anyone’s life, but they might bring some light into it for a few hours and that seems a worthwhile goal to me.  The other things I write come from a similar urge to entertain and to share the way I see the world.

4 How does my writing process work?

It’s still a work in progress!  I started out a complete panster (as in, start at the beginning and write by the seat of your pants until you get to the end) but I’m moving towards more prior planning, as I get less scared of it and more interested in getting the job done a bit faster.  I like to do my ‘thinking’ with a pen and paper.  That includes character and setting notes, plot ideas and even snippets of scenes, but when I start writing the story in earnest, I move to the computer, because I can type faster than I write.  I’m trying to be more disciplined about getting work done every day, which means starting early in the morning whenever I can, so that if the day gets complicated (as they often do) I haven’t lost my writing time.  And that’s about as much process as I have!

And those are my answers!  I hope they’ve been a bit interesting.

a-basic-renovation_finalAnd now I would like to tag another friend.  Sandra Antonelli is a pocket rocket who I met at a Romance Writers of Australia conference and immediately fell in love with.  She writes, by her own description, ‘quirky romance novels for grown-ups… and smart asses’.  She is whip-smart (she has a PhD!) she’s got a smart mouth (and pen) and her stories of lovers who are no longer in the first flush of youth but still have plenty of living and loving to do are a delight.  You can find her at her website and blog and I highly recommend that you do and that you check out her books while you’re there.  She’ll be answering the questions next Monday, so if she takes your fancy, bookmark the page!

Now I must away, as I’m only just going to get this in technically still on Monday as it is!  Hope your week is treating you well!

Things I Learned in 2013: The one about reading

You may be wondering what a woman of my age (viz, no longer in the first flush of youth) can have to learn about reading.  The answer is, apparently, plenty.

You see, last year, I discovered, about half-way through the year, that I wasn’t reading much. Books, that is.  I was reading things on the internet – and no, not just status updates and captions on cat pictures.  In the course of a couple of quasi-scientific studies I conducted on myself during the year, I found that most of the time I spent on the internet was reading proper article-type things – serious newsy ones and amusing ones and a lot to do with the craft and business of writing.

The internet has, in effect, become my newspaper, my professional journal and my very own comedy channel.

And that’s all well and good (although, as I said in the previous post, the time spent on that needs to be controlled).

But I wasn’t reading many novels.

This, I hardly need to say, is not good.  I am a novelist.  For a novelist not to read stories is like an artist eschewing galleries, or a musician deciding to wear earplugs 24/7.  It’s as necessary for a writer to read as it is for some who likes living to breathe.  And it has never been a problem before.

But I wasn’t doing it.

Continue reading

What I learned in 2013: The one about writing

This January, I am looking at what I learned last year, so I can do better this year.  The first post was about Christmas, but now the festive season is well and truly over.  Epiphany (the feast of) has come and gone, the Christmas decorations have been put away (with the exception of the one that got missed, which will now sit on the windowsill until Michaelmas*) and it’s time to think seriously about what 2013 has taught me about writing and what that means for 2014.

*I don’t know when that is either. But it’s a long time from Christmas and it sounds good!

First, partly because it’s the most recent lesson, and because it encompasses some other things I’ve learned about me and writing this year, I have learned that…

…NaNoWriMo is not for me (don’t all faint at once).

For those who don’t know, NaNoWriMo is short for National Novel Writing Month.  It’s a joint effort where people around the world commit to writing a 50,000 word novel in November.  People do it as a way to encourage them to write.  The idea is to give yourself a challenging word count every day for a limited time as a spur to persist, push through and get down some words.

It sounds like a good idea and for several years now, I’ve given it a go.  In none of them, have I got anywhere near writing 50,000 words.  More to the point, I think I would have written more in November if I hadn’t attempted it.  And here’s why:

  • Arbitrary goals set by someone else (or even set by myself) with a ‘win’ or ‘lose’ status attached to them get my back up.  There are a few reasons for this.  One is that I think I’m naturally ornery.  I don’t like being told what to do.  Even when it’s good for me.  Maybe especially when it’s good for me.  But it also stems from my long and disastrous relationship with weight-loss dieting.  I have learned the hard way that diets don’t work.  They set you up by making you obsessed with food, then telling you not to eat.  They divorce you from your natural relationship with hunger, by dictating what, and sometimes when, you will eat, with no reference to individuality or circumstances.  They make you crazy.  (There is a much bigger post – indeed, thesis – in this, but I’m restraining myself because that’s not what THIS one is about.)
    And I worked out this year that NaNoWriMo feels like a ‘diet’ to me.  An arbitrary set of rules, that may or may not mean anything useful, that you ‘win’ if you follow and ‘lose’ if you don’t.  This makes me cross.  It Continue reading

Of Mice and Progress and the Undertoad…

First, allow me to explain the concept of the Undertoad.

It’s a concept I learned from the Victorian Storytelling Guild.  I’m sure it has it’s origins in a mis-hearing of ‘undertow’ and there is undoubtedly a story that goes with that (really, undoubtedly 😉  ) but that’s for another day.  Today is for what it has come to mean.

Oral storytellers are performers and, as all performers who have been doing it for more than five minutes know, when it comes to performance, planning ahead and rehearsal is really important.  But no matter how hard you plan and rehearse and think you are prepared, there is always the risk of the undertoad.

The undertoad is that unexpected something that you can’t plan for, that you couldn’t forsee, that can throw you for a loop and disrupt the best-laid plans.  It’s the school that overinvites, because, surely, there’s no difference between telling to 20 children and 200?  Or the festival that thinks that putting you outside on a stage with a microphone is exactly the same as inside in a library, as long as the weather’s good.  The only way to handle the undertoad is to know that he could appear at any moment and to be flexible enough to manage the situation.

Well, that’s how my November’s turning out.

Monday was supposed to be my first full day of planning for my new book, in keeping with my NaNo commitment to plan first and write next, I had my Alexandra Sokoloff board all sectioned off and my index cards and was raring to go.  I have very little of this story nutted out to date.  I have one character, possibly two, who I know quite well and some ideas and that’s about it.  But I had faith that with some work it would all come together.  And it would have.  Except…

Except my child woke up in a very bad way and needed looking after.  And in the course of looking after her, I discovered that I had a mouse resident in my under-sink cupboard.  And that he’d ventured into the cupboard next door as well and left his calling cards everywhere.  I actually picked him up, accidentally, in a cloth that he’d made his house, but sadly didn’t realise in time to catch him and put him outside.

So Monday, instead of a wondrous flurry of planning, became a day of disinfecting and washing things and nursing and all manner of things I didn’t intend.  Undertoads, in fact.

Tuesday was a holiday here and we had plans, so it was always going to be difficult.  And the mouse is still in the house somewhere.

Today I discovered that the voluntary commitment I thought I had for Friday is not for approximately three hours, but rather for the whole day – and indeed, a long day.  I still have cordial and brownies to make for the fête on the weekend (because there’s nothing like a mouse in the kitchen to put a crimp in your cooking plans).

And Saturday is Dancing Concert Day (forget getting anything but hair, makeup, ferrying, feeding and watching done on that day).

And the mouse is still resident.

And did I mention that the dog has done an anterior cruciate?  Not as funny as it sounds.

Very soon, this undertoad will qualify as an overtoad, or indeed an ubertoad.

So here’s what I’m doing.  I have let myself off my solid 3-hour-stint plans for the rest of this week.  There is only so much stress I can take without snapping at all I hold near and dear and it really isn’t worth that.  I have index cards in my bag, by my bed and on my desk.  While I’m cooking and shopping for mousetraps, I am thinking constantly about my story and jotting down scene ideas and character notes as they come.  I’m also writing down snippets of scenes as they come to me (in the gaps between disinfecting) and today I think I might have struck on an opening! And next week, after this toady mess has passed, I will put them together and have a running start at framing this new tale.  I can make this one better, stronger, more gripping and I shall.

Just as soon as I climb over this toad.

How’s your November going?

Where I’ve been and where I’m going (NaNoWriMo may be involved)

Heavens to Murgatroyd, it’s happened again.  Shameless, hopeless, blog neglect.  You would be forgiven for thinking I was dead.

Well, I’m not.  But I have been  in a funk.

The Cambridge dictionary defines ‘being in a funk’ as ‘being very unhappy and without hope.’

Yep.  Little bit.

You see, I got some bad news about my book.  Not the ones you see on the side of this page.  They’re out in the world (digitally anyway) and people are being mostly kind about them (although I could do with some more sales, so if you feel like a light-hearted romantic romp, do buy one!).

No, the one I’m talking about is the one I thought was the next big thing.  Which WAS the next big thing, for me.  A longer, more involved story, dealing with themes that are important to me, that I researched to death and worked very hard on for a very long time.  I finished it.  Finally.  I neglected the blog and quite a lot of other things to do it, but it was finally DONE and I was happy with it.  I thought my big resolution scene was strong.  All of that.  My beta readers loved it.

But my agent, not so much.

Now, I could have ignored her opinion and of course, I was tempted.  But her comments were industry related and knowledge of the industry is why I have her, so that would have been foolish.  Tempting, but dumb, and I try not to be dumb.  So I was forced to take the comments seriously.

Hence, funk.

I am not going to go into the details of the crying and throwing things.  They didn’t last that long.  (It is possible that I am finally growing up.) But the fear that maybe I should chuck the whole thing and become a plumber lasted a little longer.

However, I am pleased to say that, thanks to my friends in the Romance Writers of Australia, my friends in real life, my wonderful husband and child and my own bloody-mindedness, I think I am out the other side of the funk.  Now, I have an idea, I think I know what I did wrong and I am all fired up to write something new which will put my agent’s objections to rest and, oddly enough, make it easier to rework the existing story.

I am also beginning to believe that anything worth doing will break you and that only wanting it really, really badly will get you through the pain.  I kind of knew that before, but with each step further along the path, the breaking gets worse.  However, I am not giving up yet.

So, I have cast off (mostly) the funk and I am throwing myself into the insanity that is NaNoWriMo – at least in a manner of speaking.  For the uninitiated, NaNoWriMo is a writerly piece of lunacy where writers attempt to write 50,000 words in the month of November.  The idea is to get a novel written in a month.  Or a draft of one, or half of one.

Now, I have never been good at word counts as a measure.  I write in chunks – a legacy of my copywriting background – so although I may write thousands of words in thrashing out that scene, chapter or whatever, I only count the ‘finished’ words.  So word counting tends to give me hives and is not, for me, terribly productive.  Also, for this new project, I want to have a stab at doing a much more detailed plan – which means that first cab off the rank is not word count, but index cards and brainstorming.

There is also the fact that November is a completely crazy month for me in my non-writing life.

But the discipline of committing to a much larger than usual output is, I think, useful.  I can certainly use a boost to my productivity and since I am starting something new and need a kick to get out of my funk, I am going to commit to productivity measures this month.

So, here’s what I’m planning:  During November, I will commit to working a solid three hours on my novel five days a week (given the aforementioned craziness of November, 7 days is unrealistic).  That’s three hours of actual, worked time.  I will stop the clock for tea making or any other kind of break and during my three hours there will be no internet whatsoever.  Nor will there be research or other time-sucks.  Just story work.  I will work as fast as I can and once my plan is done, I will commit to producing a minimum of five pages in my allotted time.

And I will (deep breath here) report on my progress, every day that I do my three hours.  Gulp.  I will try to make those posts useful, for the writers among you looking for NaNo inspiration (or procrastination) but there may also be some inarticulate wailing, should the day go badly.  There may also be pictures of flowers and puppies, for purposes of sanity. It remains to be seen.

For those doing NaNo, best of luck – if you get a moment to breathe, wish me the same!

PS: If you are doing NaNo and are scared witless, you might want to check out Alexandra Sokoloff’s fabulous blog for writers, and the indefatigable Chuck Wendig at Terribleminds. Just sayin’… 😉

Character is in the eye of the beholder…

Hello, my lovelies!

I must apologise for the radio silence. I have been editing the BOOK THAT REFUSES TO KNOW WHEN IT’S BEATEN and my anal brain will not let me play on the blog until it is done.

But I have beaten my brain into submission for a moment, to share some thoughts about the book that I have coming out tomorrow (my time – 16th of September, all going to plan…)

DESTINY_Playingbytherules_cvr smallIt’s called Playing by the Rules and I think I have mentioned it before. 😉  Once or twice.  Not going to bore you with the details (you can follow the links if you want more info), because there’s something particular I wanted to talk about.

See, with this book, I have spread the word that it is available on Netgalley, for reviewers, with the result that I have some reviews on Goodreads already.

And I’m FASCINATED.

First, because not everyone gave it five stars.  What’s that about? 😉

Not really, folks.  Seriously, though, I am fascinated by how differently different people see characters.  Of course, not everyone is going to like every book.  And I can easily accept that some elements of the story don’t suit some readers.  But I’m intrigued by the reaction to characters, particularly, in this book, the heroine, Kate.

Now, Jo, the heroine of my first book, Rules are for Breaking, I can understand people not liking.  She’s prickly and difficult and set in her ways (although also very likeable, at least according to me).  But I thought Kate was a bit of a love.  In fact, the first time I wrote her, she was so nice she was boring.  Part of the editing process I went through with this book was toughening her up a bit.  And some people agree with me, that she’s nice – but others think not.  It seems she is a little like Mort, the cute lemur from the movie Madagascar.  For some people, he (and Kate) are like this:

A little sad, a touch vulnerable, but mostly adorable.

But for others, Mort (and poor Kate) come off like this:

A little annoying.

So I have a challenge for you, should you choose to accept it.

Playing by the Rules will be available very soon from all the usual outlets, for a very reasonable price (on the Australian Amazon pre-order page, it’s only $3.67).

If you would like to, buy the book, read it, and let me know what you thought of Kate and Josh and their story.  I would love to hear what you think!

(If you’d like to also leave a review on Amazon or iTunes or wherever you bought it, or on Goodreads, if you’re on there, that would be lovely too.  But I realise finding the time to read at all is a big ask for many of us, so please don’t think it’s expected.)

Thank you for considering the challenge and I hope all is well with you and your sometimes-adorable, sometimes-annoying friends (real or imaginary)!

~

PS – note on outlets.  It’s hard for me to check international sites.  It SHOULD be available from the 16th of September in your timezone.  If it isn’t, can you please let me know and I’ll get on to the publisher to sort that out.  Thank you!

Sisters as inspiration…

Image courtesy of Paul Martin Eldridge/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of Paul Martin Eldridge/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

I have literally dozens of half-baked posts lined up waiting to be fully baked, but I must break into transmission with some exciting (to me, anyway) news.

My big sister is, as I type, in sunny Torino (that’s Turin, Italy, for the non-Italian savvy among us) for the world Masters Games.

In case you don’t know, the Masters Games is an international sporting meet for sportspeople over 30.

I’d like you to notice that word, ‘sportspeople’.  It’s kind of important.  Because, as looking at a picture of me will probably indicate, I don’t come from a massively sporty family.

Not, mind you, that you should infer too much about the rest of my family from me.  They almost all played more sport than I did and in the case of cricket and my brothers, I believe with some skill.  And in their time they have run and played squash and been gym members and all those things that people – even me – do to try to be healthy.  (Although not squash, in my case.  Don’t have the knees for it.)

But to the best of my knowledge, none of my family has ever participated in a world competition in any sport.  And now my sister, my older sister, professional, business owner, wife and mother of two grown-up children is competing as part of a rowing team in the Masters Games.

And I am so proud of her, I could burst.

She did a bit of rowing at uni, but this recent endeavour was really started as a fun way to keep fit with some friends.  Then their coach started to get ideas and now she has a training regime and she’s got muscles on her eyebrows and knows more about her heart rate than is quite decent.

And this is the woman who, as a child, was praised by her physical education teacher for being – and I quote – ‘a neat worker’.

I have recently decided that I need to get serious about improving my fitness.  The karate is helping, but I need better general fitness to do that better.  Exercising does not come naturally to me.  ‘Bone idle’ may not quite be my second name, but ‘naturally sedentary’ is in there somewhere.  But if my sister, who is several years older than me, can make the Masters Games, then I figure literally anything is possible.  The sky – or Torino at any rate – is the limit! I’ve reached that age where you need to decide whether you are going to be fit or slid into premature old age.

Thanks partly to my sister, I’m choosing fit.

So go get ’em, girly rowing team from country Australia.  I’m barracking for you!

Beating carpets: or, why I don’t write historical novels

Yesterday, I beat my back door mat.

Those of you who read my previous post about my aversion to housewifery of the cleaning variety may find this odd.

Those of you who are aware of the existence of vacuum cleaners may also find it odd.

To the former, I say, even I get fed up with the crud eventually (and there is no end to the things a writer will do when the words are not co-operating).

To the latter, I say that, a mat walked over my by dog many times a day from our muddy back yard would challenge any vacuum cleaner (and there is a limit to what I am willing to ask of my nice, gently nurtured vacuum cleaner).

220px-Carpet_beater

A carpet beater, courtesy of Wikipedia. Not the human kind, you understand, but what the human kind would do the job with…

Now, as is often the case while my hands are involved in such tasks, my mind was busy doing other things – namely, wondering about the days when vacuum cleaners were not available and beating mats and carpets was the only option.

Inevitably, my mind wandered to the people likely to be doing such tasks, who were probably maids, at least in the times I was thinking of.  What would they be thinking of while they were so engaged?  Would they be happy to be outside in the sun (since you would be unlikely to beat the carpets in the rain, methinks)?   Would they be learning the right way to do it from an older woman?  Would they have the chance to chat while doing it, or would the billowing dust mean they were better off with a hankie tied over the mouth and nose?  What sort of household were they in?  Was it well run and adequately staffed, so that they could do these jobs with any level of enjoyment, or would they be so overworked that they could only think of how they would never get this done in time to finish their other chores in time and how their back ached and their feet hurt and they’d give the world to just sit down for a minute?

One of the lesser-known facts about me is that in my Arts degree, I studied history.  It wasn’t my major – that was English – but it was pretty much everything I studied other than English and I loved it.  But I stopped pursuing it as an academic subject when I realised that the history I was most interested in was not what is usually covered in history books.  I was interested in how people lived.  When I read of the movements of the court from one great house to another, I wanted to know who had to organise the provisioning.  I wanted to know if the cooks had nervous breakdowns before, during or after such an event and if the scullery maid got any sleep at all.  And I wanted to know, when they swept the rushes out, what they swept them with.

I’m not suggesting for a moment that these things aren’t studied in academe – they are.  But it’s the hardest area of history to study.  Piecing together people’s day-to-day lives is the work of lifetimes and involves many complimentary disciplines to do well – or at all, really.  It’s absolutely fascinating, but it takes forever.

And herein lies the rub, for me.

If I started in to write historical fiction, I would spend so much time tracking down what kind of button, say, that the hero had on his shirt that I would never get the story done.  In the joy of digging through the vast library of material on the internet, I might end up with a Masters in history, but the novels would lie sadly neglected.

So, for now, at least, I will stick to contemporary stories and enjoy other people’s historical stories – and the freedom to wonder about previous carpet-beaters, without having to know for sure!

~

Speaking of contemporary stories, I’m pleased to say that the print version of Rules are for Breaking is still available at Australia Post outlets for a limited time and that the companion story, Playing by the Rules should be available digitally later this year!