Friday, October 14, 2011

No Retreat and Baby, No Surrender

Yes I am an unabashed Bruce Springsteen fan.  And I love this song.  RIP Clarence.  But I digress.

So the NV top 21 have been announced.  Yep 21.  Not 20.  And I wasn't on the list - yeah yeah whatever.  I had that gut clenching, light headed disappointment hit me and it held on for about half an hour.  But instead of entertaining thoughts of hanging up my keyboard all I could think of was positives.  Like these:

*Those cheeky monkeys at M&B promise twists to come - and I lurves me a surprise (as long as it doesn't involve amatuer strip tease dancing by drunken boyfriends - seriously guys, please just leave it to the professionals.  It's less embarrassing for both of us that way);
*My Hero (umm no that sounds wrong) my Heroine (no that sounds like she's in one of my books) my Idol (ahhh nope too gushy) Ah I know - my Romance Guru!  My Romance Guru: Maisey Yates didn't get anywhere in the NV equivalent but she regrouped and entered via the slush pile and now she's an uber famous published author/Romance Guru;
*Christmas is only 71 days away.  Now I can hear you asking what does Christmas have to do with me not being on the shortlist.  Quick answer: nothing.  However I am a HUGE fan of Christmas and my sister and I are planning on a day trip to a massive Christmas shop at the end of November and I am super dooper rooper excited about that and then there's Christmas itself - best and quickest cure for any case of the blues;
*And with Christmas just around the corner that means it's time for my annual top-to-bottom-complete-house-clean-up.  I know, I'm sick.  But it was something my Gran did and my Mum still does and I'm a sucker for tradition - we clean everything: curtains, walls, ceilings, carpets, windows, behind fridges etc with Christmas songs playing full bore (my neighbours must hate me).  Anyway that starts on Monday;
*And finally there's my story.  I really like my Hero and heroine (actually I love them) and I want to write their story so I'm going to give myself one day off and I'm holding a Prep Party as opposed to a Pity Party.  Prep as in prepartory - getting ready for writing the rest of the story.  So a few cocktails, lots of chocolate and a bit of Bruce and I'm set for a doozy of a shindig.

Then it will be back to the ms.

And the next one.  And the one after that.  Oh and that other one.  And ......get the idea?  I ain't going nowhere, baby.

No retreat and baby, no surrender!

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

This Is Me Not Caring

This post is remind myself why I entered NV in the first place.

NOT because I thought I would win;
but because I wanted to see if I had improved from this time last year.

NOT because I thought I would win;
but because I wanted some feedback on my work.

NOT because I thought I would win;
but because getting my writing out there in front of real live breathing people was scary but necessary.

NOT because I thought I would win;
but because it was so much fun last year.

So why is it that this little voice in the back of my head keeps whispering: "But you might....".  I mean did Leah Ashton think she was going to win last year?  I know it's not the PC thing to say: "I think my writing is good enough to win" but I think deep in each entrant's heart they harbor the hope that this will happen:

Scene: Inside editors office at M&B HQ.  A group of fabulously gorgeous women in utterly divine shoes and to die-for hair sit around a large highly polished oval table with piles of paper work set neatly in front of them.
Editor 1: How will we ever chose from 1092 entries?
Editor 2: I read so many great entries that my head is spinning.
All: (make agreeing noises)
Editor 3: (Pulls one entry from the pile in front of her)
Cue: Shaft of brilliant sunlight shines through the window and illuminates the papers in her hand.  Celestial music plays loudly.
All: (breathily) Ohhhhhhhhh
Editor 3: I think this is it!  (Turns paper work to camera and we see "Chapter One by Elissa Graham"
All: Raptuous applause

At least I imagine that's what it would be like.  You know, in that deep part of my heart that harbors dreams about Gerard Butler sweeping me off my feet, and how one day I will be able to gush about how much I like excercise and sound convincing (instead of talking through clenched teeth and waiting for lightning to strike), and about Sandra Bullock being my BFF - you know, those dreams.

So, as the time draws near to when the top twenty are going to be announced (24 hours or so) I will read and reread and reread and reread this post to remind myself that I didn't enter with any real expectations of winning but that it would be beyond squealtastic if I did.

Oh and Gerard and Sandy, if you're reading this - contact me and we'll get together and do lunch (and other stuff wink, wink, nudge, nudge, say no more heh heh).

NB This is not me - just what I would like, deep down in my heart, to look like *sigh*

Saturday, October 1, 2011

It Is Done

Okay so I did it.  I bit the literary bullet and now it's done.

It's up there, for all the world to see (and hopefully comment on) and really really hopefully like and super duper hopefully show the M&B people that I have something worthwhile.

But you know what?  Even if I get the same result as last year, I'm good with that.  Because this is all a learning experience and my learning curve in just doing this chapter has been incredibly steep and I'm extra super duper grateful for that.

And I have promised myself that if nothing comes of this competition that I will polish three chapters from another project and send that in by the end of the year and try the slush pile avenue.

So now I guess all I have to say is:

"Hey Gerard!  I'm ready!  Come get me!!!"

Thursday, September 29, 2011

So Why Am I Waiting?

Good question.

Divine intervention?  The planets to align?  To win the lottery?  For Gerard Butler to knock on my door and swagger off with me? 

Hmmmm now that last one has its merits but.........

Alas none of these answers is the truth.  The truth is I am waiting to submit my chapter into the New Voices competition because I have a massive case of the 'not readies'.  Not just the oh-I'll-just-nip-to-the-loo-to-put-off-the-ineviatable-for-a-few-minutes type stalling.  Nope.  This is the serious stuff.  The hands-and-feet-gripping-the-doorframe-while-two-big-burly-bald-guys-try-and-pull-you-through type stalling.  This is the big time.

I suppose the next question is: why?

Bear with me here - when I heard that NV was running again I decided this time that I was going to make the most of the four weeks we had to enter, so I could read responses and guage reader's reactions to entries.  I could take advantage of the feedback that the other writers got and apply it to my work.  Imagine my delight when I found out that some of the mentors were commenting.  I was like that sneaky creepy kid in movies, lurking in the shadows, rubbing my hands together in glee at the thought of getting all those free hints and tips.  It was like getting being handed half the answers to a really important test.

But now I'm addicted.  I'm reading comments more than I am the entries (although I am trying to read lots of them too - especially after I read on the Fb site that someone had found a storyline similar to theirs and was now busy rewriting their chapter).  And then M&B unknowingly enabled my addiction further by publishing an ebook: Secrets Uncovered. Blogs, Hints and THE INSIDE SCOOP from M&B editors and authors (capitalisation is mine).  It was like hitting the mother load.

Now I had THE INSIDE SCOOP.  I felt like Charlie when he found that golden ticket in his chocolate bar.  I opened the document and you can't imagine my disappointment when I didn't read:

Dear Elissa,
Here is what you were looking for:
Chapter One: What To Write If You Want Us To Notice You (and maybe ask to see more of your work)
Chapter Two: What To Write If You Want To Make The Top Twenty
Chapter Three: What To Write If You Want To Win
Thank You
Sincerely Yours
The M&B Team

I promise I was just going to read the first chapter.  Instead there was just lots and lots of great information and hints and tips.  Actually now that I come to think of it - kinda exactly what the title suggested was in there.  Utterly fabulous but not what I had hoped for.

I have revised and rewritten and edited and proofed and scrutinised and deconstructed and I still can't say I'm satisfied with a FINAL version.  There's always one more tweak, one word added, one taken away, one substituted for a better one - it never ends.  And this is just the first chapter.

So I guess I'm going to have set a final deadline (confession: it was supposed to be the 27th but then I found out about the ebook but more importantly I began thinking that my chapter didn't have a drop dead gorgeous opening line that would mark it instantly as suitable for the Passion line so I started writing something else..............yes yes I know - forgive me Father for I have sinned *sigh*).  Well I've parked the new book and come back to the original and now I am giving myself one more day.

Tomorrow afternoon is D-Day.  Zero hour.  Da limit.

Maybe waiting for Gerard will be easier .....

Thursday, September 15, 2011

True To Your Heart

Hello.  My name is Elissa and I'm addicted to animated movies.

You know the ones that are meant for kids?  The ones that other adults look at you like you're some kind of perve because you turn up to watch it without any kids.  The ones that have the most catchy songs EVAH! and feature the voices of the Hollywood A-List celebs.  The ones you come out of with a huge grin on your face and feel like everything is not so bad in the world and like if you started singing, everyone in the cinema and the shopping mall would start singing and dancing right along with you (well okay that last one was just a thought - I have never actually done that).

So I was reading through Maisey Yates' latest blog about Timing and thinking about when to reveal the backgrounds of my Hero and Heroine and such stuff and one thing that Maisey said that was the aha moment for me.  Now please remember I'm paraphrasing here and you really should do yourself a favour and read ....well all of Maisey's posts actually because she's got a whole heap of solid gold insights for unpublished authors, BUT she said something like: when you reveal things is heavily dependent on the storyline and the characters.

And I started thinking (yes I know: dangerous but it has to be done every now and then) about just how important it is to really know your characters.  It's the difference between the heroine that the reader feels emotionally invested in, even if they don't agree with some of her decisions/actions and the cardboard cut out that personifies all the worst romance tropes. 

I never really understood it when writers would say things like "and then my characters took the story in a whole different direction".  But I think that's when the writer is trying to force a character to a certain point in the story because they have the "story" mapped out and to get the heroine from A to D the writer has planned for her to do X, Y,  Z.  Unfortunately it may not be in the heroine's nature to actually do X, Y, Z - she might be more of a J, K, L sorta gal.  You can't have a fiery, ballsy lady and then all of a sudden she's a simpering weakling unable to do more than sigh and giggle whenever the Hero is around.  I know when my writing starts to become stilted and it gets more difficult to write, it's my intuition telling me I'm forcing my characters in a direction that's not true to them.  True as in kosher - sincere - concordant - authentic.

And that got me thinking of the song True To Your Heart by 98 degrees.  And that got me thinking about the movie Mulan (ah now you see how all this ties into the admission about the Disney films *winks*). 

So I'm going to have another (in the long line of many) looks at my NV entry and make sure that especially as the story evolves into chapter two and the pivotal moment which (I think it was Shirley Jump suggested) should be at the end of chapter three, that my Hero and heroine are being true to their hearts.

And just to get you in the mood (because everyone's day can be made a little better with a bit of Stevie Wonder) take a listen:

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

New Voices 2011

It's finally here.  The day that the New Voices competition opens. 

 Cue hysterical screaming like a tween at a Justin Bieber concert.

Only problem is that I have to wait until about 7pm tonight because of the time difference and I just can't seem to concentrate on the micro edits my chapter needs.  I've done four major edits (aka rewriting the whole stinking mess from start to finish until it stopped making me want to give up writing and take up selling tupperware for a living instead).  Not that there is anything wrong with selling tupperware.  I'm sure there are loads of lovely people out there making a killing selling plastic storage containers - it's just that I can't see it giving me the same sort of satisfaction.

Or wait, do hugely successful tupperware sellers get to sign lids at storage shops and pose for photos with fans beside pyramids of synthetically manufactured bowls with brightly coloured lids?  If so then I may need to reconsider my career path.

Last year was the best writing experience I've ever had.  I got some fabulous feedback and I just wish I had been able to keep a record of the lovely comments people made about my chapter.  This year (if I get any) I would like to try and copy them onto the blog.  Not for vanity reasons or because I think I'm so hot that I want everyone to read how hot other people think I am - but because they are so motivational when you're feeling like....well - you should be selling tupperware instead of writing. 

I went back to the 2010 website months after the competition was over and Leah Ashton (that clever gal who won) had been named as the winner and found that people were still reading and still commenting.  It's a lovely feeling knowing that someone, who has no reason to, has said they liked your work.

It was like when I was young(er) and would fantasise that Tom Selleck would turn up out of the blue and well let's just say the older I got the more explicit the ending became - but reading those comments from complete strangers was like Tom did turn up and while the whole fantasy might not have come true, he at least told me that he thought I was kinda pretty (in a pasty-white-chick-whose-nose-is-always-in-a-book kind of way).

So when that website officially opens, I'm going to be all over it.  I'm gonna be the New Voices Flash.  Dashing from one entry to another, reading and commenting and enjoying the heck outta myself.

I'm going to bring a little bit of Tom to everyone (whether you want him or not - and honestly, who wouldn't?)

Photo courtesy of FanPix.Net

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Not Proper Writing

I've been reading through a lot of the posts on the New Voices Facebook (or if I'm really super trendy I should write Fb shouldn't I?) and one of them struck a real chord with me.  One woman posted that her 23 year old daughter suggested that her mother "try to be a proper writer".

Upon reflection two things occured to me:

1. The use of the word "proper".  Now there are several ways one can use the word proper.

a) established standards of behaviour or manners.  Eg Proper writers only write once they have clothed themselves in a floaty dress, applied copious amounts of baby blue eyeshadow, ensured they have an opened bottle of Moet & Chandon champagne on hand, donned their multi-strand pearl necklace, plonked a tiny yappy dog on a pillow beside them, teased ones hair up into a coif high enough to frighten small children and THEN they can begin to write.

b) applicable.  Eg After marrying seventeen times to multi-millionaires, magnates and playboys and being seduced in every manner imaginable, it was only proper that Venezuala become a writer.

c) fitting, right.  Eg Jaenypher had spent six long months writing, editing and polishing her manuscript.  She and her critique partners had worked hard to ensure the finshed product was as good as it possibly could be.  She had sent off her frist chapter and a synopsis to the publisher and today she had received "the call".  At long last she felt like a proper writer.

To me, anyone who slogs it out and goes through the emotional rollercoaster of writing is a "proper" writer.  Anyone with the guts and determination to see their work published and who works towards that goal every day (or at least tries to every day) is a "proper" writer.  Anyone brave enough to enter the NV competition and plonk their beloved first chapter up on a website where ANYONE IN THE WHOLE WORLD can read it (and let's not even get into the whole leaving comments thing) is a "proper" writer.



2. Some genres are much put-upon whereas others, that deserve an even greater amount of disparaging, remain unscathed.  No genre is trope free and how shocking you find them is largely determined by your own prejudices.  I for one, cannot for the life of me see the value in Westerns.  My father would blow a fufu valve if he knew I'd said that, being a Western addict for decades but I can't stand them.  Now I will preface this next statement with an admission: I have only read (and by that I mean scanned) one or two Westerns and they were fairly old ones so I am, by no means, a connoisseur of the genre.  BUT the men are bigger than life, they also seem to sweat, swear and swagger more than any real person possibly could and still keep breathing; despite reassurances from the author that the hero is actually a sharp witted, extremely clever and astoundingly cunning fellow he still manages to get himself into some really dumb situations; and when women are featured in these sad books the reader can only assume that they all come from the same family (where the genes run to buxom beauties who pant, pout but only put out for the hero) but can't do anything for themselves forcing the hero to constantly ride in and rescue them, bed them and then ride off again; oh and the whole my-gun-is-bigger-than-yours thing?  Ewwwwwwww.  Gives a whole new meaning to sharp shooter ;)

But fear not gentle reader, I'm not selective in my criticism.  Whilst contemplating genres I stumbled upon one I bet very few of you would think to impugn: the fairy tale.  But think about it - how "proper" are they?  Each and every one of them is a big FAT LIE!  And not only that they contain plots that, upon examination, would make a "proper" writer cringe.  Don't beleive me?  Here's a few examples:

1. Rapunzel:  Even before we get to the whole rope-made-out-of-hair-that's-still-attached-to-someone's-head part, let us examine the beginning of the story.  Pregnant woman has cravings for fresh vegetables.  Being poor, her doting husband risks stealing them from a witches garden but he's caught and to escape being punished himself, he promises to give the witch his baby when it's born.  WTH?  Now tell me how many women you know, when advised that their husband has just promised to give away their first born baby, would sit back and go "oh really?  Well that broccoli sure does look tasty so I suppose it's a fair swap"  I don't think so Tim.  She's going to all hormonal on her hubbies bee-hind and then she's going to pay a little visit to Old Witchipoo.  And once that baby is born - Lord help anyone trying to take that child away.  I once heard a Mummy-blogger describe a situation where she perceived her child to be in danger as it "bringing out the Mama Bear" in her.  Magic Wand vs Mama Bear?  I'm putting money on those post partum hormones every time.



2. Sleeping Beauty:  Girl sleeps for 100 years.  100 years.  That's 5200 weeks.  36400 days.  36400 days without brushing or flossing.  Let's be honest here folks.  When that girl woke up her morning breath could have melted solid rock.  What man in his right mind is going to pucker up to that?  And even if he downed a couple of six packs right before he hacked through the sea of thorns and the bruskies dimished his sense of ewwwww and he was still prepared to lay one on her what woman in her right mind is going to wake up and go: "Ta for the kiss possum.  Marry you?  Sure!"  I mean after 100 years of beauty sleep I'm thinking she could have gone to sleep Ugly Betty and woken up Megan Gale - y'know what I'm saying?  Any girl worth her Prada pumps is going to politely thank the guy and then spend a few months making up for lost time.

Photo courtesy of Disney


3. Snow White:  Hair as black as ebony.  Skin as white as snow.  Lips as red as blood........Brain the size of a peanut. 
Dwarves: We're off now, love.  Don't let anyone into the cottage 'k?
Snow White: What cottage?
Dwarves: This cottage.
Snow White: Oh!  Oh, okay! I'll just sweep and clean up and cook and sing with the wee little birdies and fluffy cute animals in the forest.
Dwarves: Er........yeah sure, that'd be great.
Witch: Hello my lovely.
Snow White: Hi creepy old witch looking lady.  Sure I'll eat your susicious looking apple but you can't come in.
Witch: Er.....whatever.

And hello?  Who in their right mind would marry a guy who fell in love with a girl everyone told him was DEAD?!  Imagine telling that story to your kids: 
Snow White: Yes and then I fell into a coma and everyone thought I was dead and one day your father rode by and saw me and fell in love with me.  Then he kissed me -
Kid: Wait a second Mum, are you saying Dad thought you were dead but he kissed you anyway?
Snow White: Yup.
Kid: That is like so many shades of ick!

Photo courtesy of Disney
So to sum up: Westerns = 0
                       Fairy Tales = 0
                       M&B = 1

I'd call that a right proper victory I would!

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Chapter One ............. Eventually

Firstly I would like to thank both Lacey and Suzanne for their lovely comments - yes I should be replying to them in the comments section of the previous post but for some reason Blogger won't let me!  You may have not forgotten me Suzanne but I think Blogger has!

So the first chapter............

Cue the Pointer Sisters and all together now everyone:  "I'm so excited!  And I just can't hide it!  I'm about to lose control and I think I like it!"

Then cue me:

Sitting down in front of the computer.

Forgetting my coffee.

Justifying surfing the internet because I can't really be expected to sip super hot coffee and write at the same time.

Finding inane videos on YouTube to watch, snorting in contempt at what people are willing to screen to the entire world but then scanning the suggested videos for more.

Realising that it is now lunch time and I can't possible write on an empty stomach.

Stuffing myself Eating lots of healthy salad and falling asleep on the couch while trying to tell myself that I am  working through the "conflict issues" in my head.  With my eyes closed.  With a pillow and blankie.

Waking up and being shocked to find it's almost dinner time.

Preparing dinner all the while scolding myself for sleeping when I should have been plotting or conflicting or characterising or something.

Eating dinner in front of a blank page, doing my best to ignore the fact a semi-but-not-really interesting show is on tv.

Eating dessert (ahem of course it's fruit - strawberry ice cream counts doesn't it) in front of the tv looking for conflict ideas within the New York cop show that started after the semi-but-not-really interesting show that was on during dinner finished.

Realising that despite the nap I had this afternoon that I am actually stonkered* and that an early night means an early start and tomorrow I will really start writing.

Just as soon as I have breakfast........


Actually I did manage to get a first draft done - correction:  I got three first drafts done.  Two false starts where the beginning just didn't feel right so third time lucky and now I have a starting point for editing.

*stonkered = an Aussie term for really super dooper rooper tired.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Lazarus Calling

Bonjour! Je suis de retour.

I heard a voice crying in the wilderness...........well not the wilderness - more like cyberspace.......and it wasn't exactly crying - more like just making a statement.............and it wasn't just any old voice - it was Maisey Yates..........Okay enough! This is what she said:

"Due to the upcoming New Voices contest..."

And then everything went all fuzzy and I think I must have passed out with my eyes open and without actually losing consciousness because the next thing I remember is googling New Voices and seeing that they were running another competition.

So it's been like 19 weeks or something ridiculous since I last blogged.  Probably in blogging terms that's the equivalent to writing something hideous enough to offend every single last person on the planet and then expecting to have people waiting to read your next post - so if there's no one out there listening anymore, well that's cool, but I needed some time.

Okay so the quick story is my sister died.  We had time to prepare and we laid down some lovely memories with her but her death was still an awful shock.  I don't like to talk about it so if anyone is out there reading this, say a prayer for my family if you feel comfortable doing that or send some positive vibes my way but I'd prefer not to discuss it.  Instead I'd love to hear some encouragement regarding my writing.

See I thought that writing would be the one thing that I would be able to use as a viable distraction but it didn't turn out that way - I found it really hard to work up enough motivation to sit in front of the computer and when I managed that, what I did write was disjointed and I couldn't sustain one project for very long.

So I gave up.

I knitted and I cooked and I watched and read Jane Austen (my goto gal for literary comfort) and because of the cooking I sorta plumped out a bit a lot.  Cue the sit-down-and-have-a-serious-talk-with-yourself-about-your-diet-and-lifestyle chat.  Which was pretty awesome even if I do say so myself and now that I'm eating better and exercising fairly regularly I felt ready to start lurking around some of the sites that inspired me to start writing again in the first place (Maisey, Jackie, Megan Crane et al).

So I click on Maisey's site first and voila! I find that New Voices is running again and my first reaction is: omigodomigodomigodomigod squeeeeeeaaaaaallllllll.  Which surprised me really - in a nice way.

And now here I am, blogging again, writing again, wondering if people will remember me if I comment on their blogs, getting all psyched up to hear what the changes they made to the comp, getting all antsy about which idea I'm going to use...............

but most importantly:  I'm here.

:)

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Un Au Revoir Petits

I won't be blogging for a little while.

A tragedy that was looming finally descended and I'm going to take a bit of personal time to deal with it.

I doubt I'll be able to go cold turkey so don't be surprised if I comment on your blog but I won't be writing so I won't be posting here.

Talk to y'all soon.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Day Five and Six

You don't have to say it - I know there was no cheating in the Bible.  But God wasn't running behind because he had to share a computer so I'm catching up the best way I can!

Day Five and Six in Eden saw the creation of all the animals and finally man.

I made a man too.  Not in my image of course but one that I wouldn't mind finding hanging out in my garden sans loincloth.  An extremely alpha French chef.  I took Gordon's Ramsay's talent and quite a bit of his arrogance, added Gilles Marini's accent and those dark brown eyes *le sigh* and then some of Eric Christian Olsen's hair (all dark blonde and unruly-ish) slapped it together and threw it on a Harley (yes I created them on the sixth day too)! 

And while it's easy to 'make' a man physically, fleshing him out is quite another feat altogether.  That old saying that a man is more than just the sum of his parts is very true.  I'm getting to know him via my heroine and by writing through the story (aka writing lots of guff that will be pared back to the bone or hardly used at all) I'm working out how to introduce and resolve their individual and combined conflicts in 50k words.

I was a tad blocked today but I wrote through it and I think I'm back on track.

Oh and just a side note - Eve didn't make an appearance until after Day Seven when God had rested. 


No, no pictures of a half-naked Gilles - something much sexier: a tall man with a french accent, dancing.  Oh be still my beating heart *swoon*.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Day Four

On the fourth day there was a great light.  And Elissa did call it an "aha moment". 

The Good Book tells us on the fourth day God created the sun and the moon and the stars to separate day from night and to mark seasons and the passage of time.

So more washing up and more thinking and I decided to totally re-write from about chapter four onwards.  I mapped it out and ......it sucked.  I had a very busy day yesterday: appointments, errands and meetings and the fact my deadline is only days away and I'm having all theses revelations about the characters and the plot line and the conflict issues being resolved (or not) means that I really am no where near ready to finish this baby.

That doesn't mean I'm giving up - just realising that what everyone has been saying about how hard editing can be is true.  But the fact it's hard and that I'm finding all these issues with my work shows me something else - that I know more than I did a year ago.  Back then I would have probably already sent this ms off, thinking it was a pretty hot dish with an outstanding chance of being published.  Now?  Well now I'm applying all my research and I hope that my end product will be much better for it.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Day Three

Yes I know - technically this is Day Four but hey the Big Man upstairs took some time to get his achievements down on paper so I don't think a 24 hour time lag is such a big deal!

Ok.

On the third day Elissa did realise that she had completely messed up the middle and if she wanted her Hero to be a three dimensional character and actually have his conflict all sorted out by the end of the book then she was going to have to do some serious cutting.  So Elissa did call for the good stuff to be separated from the bad stuff.  And Elissa said let the bits happen at the end of the manuscript come forward and let the bits that come after be cut and removed from sight.  And she called the good bits The Right Part and the other bits some words that can't be repeated.  And Elissa saw that it was better.  Not great.  Maybe good.  But definitely better.  And the good bits did yield new ideas for a better ending.

According to the Good Book on the Third Day God separated the land from the seas and gave them names and then called forth the first plants into being.  Me?  I did lots of writing and then whilst doing the washing up last night (primetime for thinking folks) I realised that if I kept going the way I was, this book was going to be WAY too long. So then I started thinking about why it was so long and of course I realised that it was because I was writing 'filler'.  The stuff that pads out that saggy middle.  Rambling.  Nice enough but not good enough.  I needed to change things and the Hero was bothering me - the heroine is torturing him nicely, making him rethink his life and decisions but there's this deeper issue and it just wasn't going to get resolved if I kept going the way I was.  So..........back to the creationist blackboard so to speak.

More detergent, a couple of stubbornly stained pots later and voila!  I needed to bring events forward so he has the last third of the book to address that issue (with the heroine's 'assistance' aka interference of course).

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Day Two

On the second day Elissa separated the sucky sort of ending she had written from the rest of the manuscript.  And Elissa made another document into which she pasted the thousands of words she had written in error.  And she called it Cut Material and it was truly sucky (with some not so sucky bits that she will probably use later).  And even though it was exceedingly difficult to click on 'cut' she did it and then saw that it was good.

Biblically God separated the waters on Day Two and I cleft my manuscript in twain.  It was not easy clefting but it was a much needed cleft and it is liberating to now have all that white space begging me to fill it up with scribble erudite composition!

Photo courtesy of RGBStock.com

Friday, March 25, 2011

Day One

In the beginning Elissa created the manuscript.  And the manuscript was without an ending and rubbish writing was entrenched in the deep.  And Elissa said Let there be an ending.  But in order for there to be an ending much middle-ing needed to be recreated and that was good. 

Small deviation:  Scientists are estimating that in between Genesis Chapter 1 Verse 1 and Verse 2 approximately 10 billion years elapsed (that's in between creating the universe and creating Earth) so I would just like to point out that in relation to that kind of time span, my teensy weensy lapse in my deadline is not so big.

So on the first day God created Night and Day and on my first I created a new middle.  Well part of the new middle.  A good bit of it, actually.  Tweaked a few things here and there.  Wrote a whole new part and cut several other parts out.

All in all, an inspiring start.  It doesn't rank anywhere up there with Night and Day I grant you, but it's a good start.

Photo courtesy of NASA

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Great Beginnings, Solid Middles and Super Endings

Okay so I'm batting 0 for 3.

I have a so-so beginning.  I thought it was great.  (Don't you always?) but after reading it countless times I'm convinced I can do better, and if I think that, of course an editor will too, won't they?  Of course they will!  So I need a better beginning.

The Girlfriend's Book Club is doing a very interesting set of posts at the moment on beginnings with a nice one about six must-have elements for a successful beginning.  I think I have them all.  But who knows about the voice one - I think I have a voice but is it like when you're tone deaf and think you're the next Celine Dion and you can't tell that you're not because you're...you guessed it....tone deaf?

Okay so I need to tweak the beginning three chapters.

A Solid Middle.  No can do.  I'm sagging here like one of those Biggest Losers after the weight loss when you look at them and think, yep with clothes on you look pretty good, much better than before.  But you KNOW that hidden underneath the clothes is all that floppy skin, previously stretched taut by unwanted, unhealthy fat but at least it padded out the skin.  Now the fat is gone the skin just hangs there and the only thing that's going to move it is a scalpel.  After highlighting all the 'fat' that padded out the middle of my ms and losing it, I'm left with sad, floppy skin.  I know what I have to do - attack it with a scalpel and then pilates the heck out of it so it's all toned and rippling muscle.  You know the kind that you just want to run your fingers down - the kind when you're reading the middle of someone else's book and you don't even realise you're in the middle until you almost at the end and then your Writer's Brain kicks in and goes: "Hey!  We missed the middle!"  That kind.

Tweak the beginning
Tighten up the middle

A Super Ending.  Hmmmmm.  I'm sure I'll be able to nail this one.  You know, when I actually do it.  Write the ending that is.  Yep, you heard right.  I haven't written it yet.  It's not that I don't know how it ends.  I do.  I just can't bear the thought of it 'ending'.  I think that's the worst bit of a good book.  Not knowing what comes next.  All the How To Guides categorically state there's nothing worse than including mundane details of a character's life but you know in a good book I'd happily read 421 pages of washing up and ironing and cleaning and inane chatter with the neighbours if it meant the book didn't finish and my connection to those wonderful characters wasn't at an end.

Tweak the beginning
Tighten up the middle
Write a super ending.

And it all needs to be done in 7 days.  Which instantly brings to mind (well mine anyway) Genesis - the biggest creation story EVAH!  So over the next seven days I hope to bring you my version (without offending too many people I hope!).  Fingers crossed I can do it.  While you're waiting, watch Ricky Gervais talk about Genesis:


Excuse the language - but he is a funny bloke!

Thursday, March 17, 2011

MIA

Not intentionally but with good reason.

A combination of wanting to work on the ms as well as take out some time to spend with someone very important to me.

But I'm back and despite being WAY behind on my self-imposed deadline, I'm still keen to see if I can whip this baby into shape by the end of the month.

Hear that?  It's my WIP taunting me so I'm off to pick up that gauntlet it's thrown down and slap it around the moosh with it a few times and maybe inflict a few flesh wounds (aka lop off a few thousand words).

But if it threatens to wave its private parts at my Aunty, there's no telling what I might do!

Saturday, March 12, 2011

What's The Deal?

Random things occur to me at the oddest of times.  This is one of them.

Men have A Package.  If you haven't heard of this term before check it out on Urban Dictionary for a full description.

So now we're all on the same page: Men have A Package.  What do women have?

*Cue lightbulb moment for Elissa whilst doing housework and pondering storyline for future book*

Aha.  Women have The Deal. 

And you know what, the cool thing about having The Deal is that it's completely subjective.  If you think what you have is The Deal, then it's The Deal.  And by The Deal I mean the whole boob/butt/leg thing because those are the three main areas men express a preference for.  Women will tell you they're a Hands Girl, or a Butt Girl, or an Eyes Girl. There are Smile Girls and Sense of Humour Girls, Witty Girls and Height Girls.  In fact there are probably just as many Girls as there are attractive features.  But men, they keep it simple:  Boob Man, Butt Man or Leg Man.  The only men who say they are Beautiful Soul Men are being interviewed for a women's magazine or trying to get into your pants!

So back to The Deal.

Women come in all shapes and sizes and The Deal celebrates them all.  But there are people out there who will try and confuse you about The Deal so I have compiled a little cheat sheet for you.  Now you can talk The Deal like a pro and never utter a Deal faux par again.

Sweet Deal: When a gal gets all gussied up for a night out or whatever.
Raw Deal: What you see at a nudist beach.  Or a nightclub.  Or a music video.
Seal The Deal:  What Heidi Klum's husband does.
Deal Breaker: Chocolate.  Donuts.  Deep Fried Mars Bars.  Ice Cream.  Cheesecake.  Fudge.  Alcohol.  Any substance that causes The Deal to lose it's "i-Deal-ness"
Closing The Deal:  What happens when a woman dies.
Deal With (insert name): Doin' the nasty with someone ie Oh I could totally Deal with Pete!
Deal or No Deal: The eternal question that flits through a girl's mind as she contemplates going on a diet/detox/fitness regime
A Better Deal: What a gal has after her diet/detox/fitness regime
Big Deal: A gal who believes her Deal is "da bomb" ie Listen here, Mr Clooney, I'm a Big Deal! or Get your act together Georgie or you'll lose the Biggest Deal of your life!
Deal Finder: A man.
A Done Deal: An overly tanned woman.
Cut a Deal: What plastic surgeons do for a living.
Dirty Deal: 1. A woman who desperately needs a shower, or
                    2. A gal who's feeling a bit naughty (reference: Christina Aguilera's song Dirrty)
Package Deal: Do I really need to explain this one?
Square Deal: A nerdy or geeky gal.
Shady Deal: A gal who's had some surgical assistance in improving her Deal.
Blow The Deal: 1. When a guy totally messes up in the process of trying to ask a gal out, or
                           2. Yes.  That.
International Deal: A gal who's not from around here.
Online Deal: A gal who's addicted to her computer (see also Square Deal).
No Deal: A gal with low self-esteem who desperately needs her friends to take her shopping and a night out and convince her she's a Big Deal (see above).

And there you have it.

The Deal.

Monday, March 7, 2011

In The Footsteps Of Giants

I mean that in a literary sense.  Not a physical one.  Please remember that as you read.

I'm trying lots of things to improve my writing and this is just one of them, but omigosh what an eye-opener.  Grab a couple of your favourite author's books (I did this with Maisey Yates' The Inherited Bride and Nicola Marsh's Deserted Island Dreamy Ex) and type out their first chapter.  Just into a blank document.  Yes it takes a while but, trust me, the results are worth it.

What I learned:
  • Punctuating dialogue - I used to be okay at this but somehow I lost the knack.  I found that nothing can drive home the principles of punctuation like copying someone who already mastered it.  It was a lightbulb moment for sure;
  • How long is a chapter (approximately) - I used the old method of approximately X words to a line, Y lines to a page, Z number of pages to a chapter and then applied that to my documents but I was way out.  Now I have a better idea and can rewrite accordingly;
  • How often adverbs are used and where - extremely valuable lesson.  While you can pick them out when you do a multiple reading of a chapter (See my post The Perfect First Chapter) it's something else when you're typing it out and really seeing how you can write without using them in every single sentence.
  • Dialogue tags - I'm addicted to the "he screamed, she whispered quietly, he roared fearfully" type of writing and so I have to constantly remind myself that writing can be done and done really well without all that guff.  A really great lesson in showing and not telling by copying;
  • Breaking some rules - after I finished typing out the first chapter I ran it through spellcheck which of course comes up with passive sentences and fragments of a sentence etc and I could see that sometimes it is okay to break some of the rules as long as it's done well.  You can't write an entire book in fragments but you can write some of your heroines thoughts in fragments - because that's how we think sometimes; not in grammatically correct, BBC English.
I would recommend copying a few chapters from different authors so you get the maximum benefits of learning from people who have actually been through an editing process and been published as well as different styles of writing.

N.B.  Please remember that these chapters are covered by copyright.

Monday, February 28, 2011

How To Make Editing Fun

I've set myself a goal.  I want to be finished editing this book by the end of next month.  So that means I officially have 31 days (not counting today) to redraft, rewrite, re-tweak, rephrase, reword and rework my baby until it's bewdiful.

But there's a small problem.

It's boring. 

The editing, not the book.

Well not so much boring as labour intensive.  It's hard work.  Much harder than just gushing out the first draft.  I'm on a seek and destroy mission for passive sentences.  I'm tracking down speech tags and obliterating them.  I'm hacking off flabby, superfluous parts that don't move the story forward and I've got my two main characters under the harsh, unforgiving spotlight of my interrogating room, firing questions at them and banging my fist on the table when their answers aren't good enough.  Like I said, it's hard work and it's not even burning off any calories!

Being the creative type, I thought to myself: there must be a better way.  An easier way.  A way to make it fun.  Cue Julie Andrews:

Unfortunately I'm a bit like Michael and I just can't seem to click my fingers!

So I came up with a list (in case you've forgotten, I'm big on lists).  I could:

1. Hire someone to do it for me (great idea except I can't afford it)
2. Send it in as is (I mean those hardworking gals at M&B hq deserve a laugh every now and then don't they?)
3. Pull on my Big Girl Pants and just get on with it
4. Pretend I'm editing someone else's work - especially someone famous and then I could scoff at all the silly mistakes and feel better about myself because if Sandra Bullock can make a rookie mistake like including dialogue tags then there's still hope for me.   Isn't there?
5. Pretend the book has already been accepted and I just need to finish these edits before it can go to print
6. Pretend that once it's finished George will turn up on my doorstep and be so utterly impressed by my willpower that he will whisk me away somewhere dreamy to celebrate
7. Ask my Mum to do it for me
8. Ask my dog to do it for me
9. Set up a website like those ones where that woman had all those debts and she asked everyone to donate $1 so she could pay all her bills - except I could ask everyone to just do one correction eg just spot passive sentences and someone else could correct them and someone else could fix my punctuation and so on
10. Continue to find new and outrageous ways to ignore my edits and waste what precious time I have left until my deadline
11. Set a new deadline and then just keep setting a new deadline each time I come close the last one
12. Reward myself with little things each time I finish a chapter (eg shoes, chocolate, champagne, more shoes, a holiday, a massage, more shoes, a Bentley etc)
13. Build a shrine to the patron Saint of writers and pray that all my edits will be mysteriously finished for me
14. Write a computer program that edits books for you.  Then retire on all the money I make from selling the program to Microsoft
15. Start a newspaper column where I publish a chapter each week and ask readers to write in with editing suggestions
16. Start a writer's course called Learn To Edit and give each student a chapter of my book and editing it will be their major assignment
17. Start a new religion where the founding tenet is that editing is a bad, bad thing
18. Bribe some models and celebrity A-listers to start a fashion that editing is a bad, bad thing
19. Visit a hypnotherapist and ask them to brain wash me into believing that editing is the Best Thing Evah!
20. Ask Byonce, Jason Derulo, Bruno Mars and Ne-Yo to write me a theme song to motivate me to get off my big fat dupa and JUST DO IT!!

Obviously some of these are doable and other are well......not so doable.  How do you make your editing process more fun or are you just resigned to the fact that it's like cleaning your oven (you put it off as long as possible but after a while you just can't ignore that smell so you pull on your big a*# gloves and haul out the Mr Muscle and get to it)?

Any additions to the list are most welcome.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

The Perfect First Chapter

Yep, that's right.  I wrote it. 

And then I woke up.

Alright, what's happening is that I'm trying to write it.  I've got this story that I just love and that I wrote last year and now I'm revising and editing and polishing (and completely rewriting the ending *wrinkles nose in distaste* 'cause it reeks).  Being the clever chicky that I am I thought I would apply all the great tips I've read on various blogs plus all the advice posted by Harlequin editors for the New Voices comp last year AND try and deconstruct a few first chapters from some great authors.  So I ordered, and have received, Nicola Marsh's Deserted Island, Dream Ex, Kelly Hunter's With This Fling (both Rivas - so I can check out the new 'voice' and line) and two of Maisey Yates' books: A Mistake, A Prince and A Pregnancy and The Inherited Bride.

I am limiting myself to the first chapter in each book and just reading it over and over again.  I highly recommend doing this because the results have been amazing.  Each time I read the chapter I learn or see something new.  So I thought I would share why the first chapter from The Inherited Bride (the first book I started to read in my experiment) is perfect.

1. Get the Hero and Heroine together as quickly as possible:  Isabella and Adham meet in the very first sentence.  You can't get much faster than that.  And it's a non-cliched meeting so it feels real.
2. Introducing the characters to the reader:  In the third sentence on the second line of the page we are given both Isabella's name and her title so already we know a little bit about her but not too much; it's a teaser making us want to know more.  The first two paragraphs are a description of the very tall, dark and handsome stranger so we're in the same situation as Isabella - impressed with what we've 'seen' but we don't know who he is or what he wants or why he's here (more teasing).  In fact Adham's name isn't used until almost the very end of the chapter but before that we find out he's the brother of the man Isabella is engaged to and he tells us some very important things about himself - all of which serve to build a picture of him.  Most of this is achieved via dialogue, in conversation with Isabella and it's cleverly done.  No "Well I'm a man of mystery with a dark past and no room for love in my life because ....well I can't tell you because I'm a man of mystery" sort of thing.  It's what he says and how he says it that we come to know these things about him.  Isabella on the other hand is so easy to relate to because what she wants is simple but by going after it she's potentially caused so many problems and we feel for her.  I'm trying to isolate the words, phrases and tools that Maisey uses to make the reader so empathetic towards Isabella (excellent skill to have).  Again through dialogue we see that Isabella's a woman who understands about honor and duty and we respect that but at the same time she's a human being, not just a pawn and the unfairness of her situation really pulls you in and onto her side.  So by the end of the chapter, although I'm intrigued by Adham, I'm totally with Isabella when she tells him she wants him to go away.  Maisey's written a character I can relate to even though I'm a million miles away from Isabella character-wise.
3. The attraction: It's there, simmering under the surface but complicated by the fact that Isabella doesn't know what it is or what to do with it.  Adham is attracted but she's totally off-limits plus a clumsy attempt at flirting/wheedling by Isabella makes Adham believe she's not a nice girl.  We know why Isabella's feeling what she's feeling even if she doesn't and it made me feel a bit protective of her.  And I know what she's in for once she does know what to do with those feelings.......ooooh the anticipation!!!
4. The back story:  Obviously each of these characters has an entire lifetime of experiences and have made decisions that have led them to being in this place at this time and we want to know about them.  Maisey has offered just a few hints of the past - instead of dumping great paragraphs of back story in the first chapter, they are sprinkled cleverly across the chapter: a line here, a small paragraph there, just enough for us to start to fill in some blanks and also to tantalise us.  We know a little more and as a result we have more questions.  Instead of just asking "who are these two people?" we are now asking "why is she doing this?" and "why is he here?" and "why does he look like that?" and "what happened in his past to make him react like that?" and "what kind of life has she led that she would think that?"  All questions we want answered which means we want to read on.
5. Dialogue: There's a goodly amount of dialogue in the first chapter mixed with descriptions and thoughts and reactions.  Via the dialogue we learn so much about the two characters but more importantly we see how they interact with each other.  His verbal, and non-verbal responses to her and hers to him effectively demonstrate showing and not telling.  He may say "The sky is blue blah blah blah" but he's interrupted her to say it, cutting her off showing us he has little patience, and that he's not happy about why he's there. 
6. Pace: The first chapter moves at quite a clip because Maisey has made us feel how Adham is rushing Isabella.  The theme of time is evident in the chapter.  The amount of time left until the wedding.  The time she wants to take for herself.  The time he is prepared to give her to get out of the room.  The time she needs to convince him to let her stay and so on.  While I never felt rushed, I did feel Isabella's desperation that she wasn't being given the time she wanted as well as the time she needed to make the decisions Adham was demanding of her.
7. A strong likeable Heroine: I do like Isabella.  She is in a position of weakness but she shows us she has backbone and in her situation I'm not sure I could be as self sacrificing so I find her admirable as well.  You've got limited time to ensure your readers relate to your heroine.   If they don't relate few of them will read past the first chapter so there needs to be a balance.  If she's smart mouthed then the back story or the situation needs to give hints as to why; if she's shy we need glimpses of the ballsy chick she hides inside; if she's doing something wrong then we need a few hints as to why she's doing it for the right reasons.  Maisey has done this with Isabella, she's dutiful and honor bound but the feisty girl inside her peeps out for just a moment, long enough to take back her polite greeting and tell him what she really thinks.
8. Conflict:  In this first chapter we see two major conflicts and one minor one.  Major conflict #1: Isabella's internal conflict - what she wants versus what she knows is the 'right' thing to do.  This conflict is set up very neatly: when is it right to do the wrong thing and vice versa beautifully illustrated by Isabella's situation.  Major conflict #2:  Isabella wants to stay and Adham is intent on taking her away - they each have their reasons and each believe they are in the right.  This places them in opposition but they are both able to see things from the other's point of view (if somewhat limited).  Minor conflict: Adham's attraction to Isabella.  It's only minor at the moment but it's there and he knows it's wrong and so do we.  He's determined to do the right thing too so it sets up that whole I-know-what-you're-going-to-do anticipation for the reader.  It's delicious because we suspect it's going to get a whole lot messier very soon - yet another reason to keep turning those pages!
9. The Hook: If you only knew the willpower I have had to exert not to keep going after chapter one!  I think it's a sign of a good book that when you're reading the chapter for "research purposes" and trying to deconstruct what the author has done to make it work so well, that you keep forgetting that's why you're reading it and repeatedly get caught up in the story.  There's a promise made in the first chapter (both literally in this case and metaphorically speaking in other stories).  The literal promise in this case is one that sets up the hook - the thing that makes you want to keep reading.  Will Isabella keep her promise and get what she wants and will Adham keep the promise he made to his brother and the one he made to Isabella?  I need to know......so I will keep reading.  The metaphorical promise the author makes to the reader in the first chapter is this: I promise it will be worth your while to keep reading, it only gets better and better and you will enjoy reading this book.

So I think you will agree that Maisey has ticked all the boxes for a perfect first chapter.  I'm going to read the first chapter a few more times just to see if I pick up even more gems and then I am going to treat myself and read the rest of this book all the way through.  And knowing Maisey and the standard of book she writes, it will be exactly that: a treat.

Monday, February 14, 2011

What's Romantic?

It's Valentine's Day.  Big deal.  Sorry but it just leaves me cold to think that we've come to this point where we have to designate one day a year to be all lovey-dovey with our partner (be they long or short term).  I like my romance like I like my chocolate: intensely delicious, sweet, a little naughty (perhaps even inspiring a little bit of guilt) and generously on offer every day of the year. 

I'll ignore the fact that I have to buy it and console myself with that saying "There's no such thing as a free chocolate".  Yes, I know.  I took a little poetic licence with the whole swapping "lunch" and "chocolate" thing but hey, it's my blog!

But then I got to thinking, romance is kinda like beauty: it's all in the eye of the beholder (or chocolate consumer as the case may be).  What constitutes romance for me may be dead boring, or tacky, or immoral to you.  So I thought I would go through some of the most common romantic things I've heard of/read about/experienced and give you my thoughts (take 'em or leave 'em).

Flowers: Can't say they do it for me.  I mean I love the gesture but then I have to remember where I put the vases and then I have to remember to change the water and then they die and I have to remember to throw them out ......get the picture?  But the rose petals sprinkled on the bed sheets - mmmm now that's appealing!
Chocolates: Oh yeah baby.  The darker the better.  This scores VERY highly on my romance-o-metre.  But chocolate body paint is an instant turn off.  Sorry, but the chocolate's for me, right?  And the easiest, cleanest way to eat it would not involve smearing it all over my body first.  So if someone else wants to lick my shoulder while I gorge myself on Valrhona - fine.  Just don't ask me to share!
Champagne:  Please.  Do you even have to ask?  Just keep pouring the bubs, babe.
Dinner In/Dinner Out:  Happy with both but baked beans on toast does not a romantic meal make.  It should be a special restaurant or an equally special dinner at home.
Sharing a bath: Ick!  I mean ICK.  Two people sitting in a puddle of their own dirt - still sound romantic?  Pass.
Jewellery: How could it not be romantic?  Unless it's an engagement ring from someone you've only dated twice before.  Then it's scary.  But if he's a multi-millionaire Italian whose fallen for you hard, then bring on the sparklies Mr Signore.
Whisked away to Paris for the weekend:  Sadly no, it hasn't happened yet but while there's life there's hope I say.  But I'd swoon almost as much for a whisk away to Melbourne or Sydney as long as there was a plush pad and a bit of faux-promenading thrown in.

My current WIP (the one I'm rewriting for submission) has a Frenchman as the Hero and of course the french co-wrote the bible on romance (with the Italians) so my guy knows all the right moves.  But I love reading (and swooning) over all the things that Heroes do in other people's books.

So what does it for you and what's the best romantic thing a Hero's done in a book you've read/written?

                                                             Photo courtesy of FreePhotos.com

Monday, February 7, 2011

I've Met Someone........

The room was dimly lit and the first time I noticed him was when he walked past to join his mates and then he turned around and smiled.

Alright it was at another woman but I saw that smile and something just clicked.

He spent the next few hours smiling and laughing, drinking and falling in love.  Yeah, okay again it was with another woman but by now the damage had been done.  I'd fallen.

Afterwards I spent some time thinking about him.  And how perfect he was.  Not perfect as in had no faults.  But perfect as in just the right guy for me.  Well for my new WIP anyway.

Confused? 

The other night I watched The Holiday and saw this fabulously sexy beast:
Jude Law.  Apparently The Holiday was his first RomCom and I think he did rather well in it.  I like to think of it as his audition for the Hero in my new WIP.  I wanted an Englishman and had sort of settled on another muse but it wasn't a great fit, but then Jude smiled and, well the rest is history.  So that's Evan all mused up.

Now for Leila.  I'm not big on the stick-insect figure (and not just because I don't have one myself) I just think they're an unhealthy goal for young (and some not so young) girls to set themselves.  So I decided that none of my heroines would ever be thin.  Slim? Yes but in a healthy-still-with-curves type slim.  With that in mind, please ignore this young lady's bod and just focus on the face - especially the eyes (and the hair - god what I wouldn't give for her hair!).
Photo by Lester Cohen courtesy WireImage.com
Emmy Rossum - seriously beautiful.  Don't they make a gorgeous couple?  They will, after he gets over himself and she reaches down deep and finds that little bit of naughty she never knew she had!

Wish them (and me) luck.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

5 Things I Will Never Do

In my skipping about in Blogland I'm still finding people chatting about New Year Resolutions and while I'm quite happy with mine, I thought it would be interesting to explore things I will not do.  As in Never.  Under No Circumstances sort of things.  I know it's customary to write lists like these in groups of ten but I know how much I ramble on so five will be plenty.  Trust me.

I Will Never.........

1. Appear on a reality TV show.  Most of them are just plain stoopid.  You want to watch starving people, sweat and generally look ridiculous - visit a gym.  And as for those family based reality shows?  Oh.  My.  God.  If they put my family on one we'd all be hauled off to the loony bin before the end of episode one and you'd hear people muttering "It was all fake.  No one could possibly be THAT strange!".  What about a Writer's Reality Show?  Could be interesting.  Not watching me write because that's about as exciting as bat poo but seeing the lengths I will go to in order to avoid writing.....that could be amusing.  Ah but cooking shows?  I lurves ma cookin' shows.  First it was Ready Steady Cook and then Masterchef and now My Kitchen Rules.  I saw last year's MKRs and I was hooked.  The food.  The infighting.  The planning and conniving.  The judges.  Ooo la la Mr Feildel's hairy face and Mr Evans' hairy chest, Mr Feildel's accent and Mr Evans' eyes.  I'd like to tip them both into a giant (gentle) blender and have one uber chef emerge.  I thought about calling him Penu but that just made me giggle every time I said it.  So it will have to be Mate.  He could be My Mate.  All mine yer hear?  I won't share a whisker or chest hair.

2. Release a CD.  I sound fabulous in the shower.  When there's no one else around.  As soon as another human being comes within hearing my voice remarkably and inexplicably goes from having a vocal range of Celine Dion to sounding like a duck with a cold.  Doesn't stop me from hoping one day the Voice Fairy will take pity on me (or just not be able to take listening to one more rendition of I Have Nothing) and grant me the voice I've always dreamed of having.

3. Eat offal.  My mother tried when I was young to feed me what she called Lamb's Fry.  It was her attempt at calling it something less hideous.  She could have called it chocolate and I still wouldn't have eaten it.  I can distinctly remember opening the fridge as a young child and spying a set of sheep's brains sitting cheerily on a little tray waiting for my mother to cook them in a white sauce which she still says is lovely.  Pardon me while I puke!  I have an Aunty who used to like eating chicken's feet.   Please.  There is plenty of meat available on the rest of the bird without having to resort to eating it's feet!  And my father delighted in telling me it was possible to buy cow's tongue in a tin.  Now I'm no fool and of course I didn't believe him.  Until he brought me home a tin.  Pass me the bucket again will you?  No, I will not eat anything that someone else has walked on, thought or licked with.

4. Appear naked in public.  I love little furry animals.  Very much.  But I feel that my personal appearance unclothed would do nothing to further their cause.  In fact it could possibly do a lot to harm it.  Same goes for Art (note I spelled it with a capital).  All those artistes who throw a bunch of naked people together and then take a photo and call it Art - it's not Art.  It's just a bunch of naked bodies and most of them aren't worth looking at.  It would be so easy to pick me out - I'd be the one amongst all the free-spirited, open-minded, unselfconscious naked people trying to cover myself up or hide behind someone else.  So I'm afraid naked skydiving, skinny dipping and risque sex in public places are all off the menu.  Bet you're happy about this one, aren't you?!

5. Camp.  As a society we have worked very hard to raise ourselves above the level of our fellow animals - namely the invention of the toilet. The idea of abandoning all those advances is ludicrous.  I refuse to disrobe in public (see point 4) and expose my nether regions to all the dangers inherent in offering it to a bug, insect and rabid animal infested wilderness.  The closest I will come is staying in a less than four star hotel.  I've done it in the past and trust me there were bugs and wild animals enough to satisfy any boy scout. 

It's amazing really when you sit down and think about it - all the things you were sure you would put on your list of 'Never Evers' but when it comes down to it, there may not be that many.  I can probably stretch myself to another five but I'll save them for another time when the mood needs lightening - or like today when I'm at a loss for helpful advice and/or observations.

Monday, January 31, 2011

I Prefer A Real Book

Please remember that the following opinion is just that - my opinion and I very well could be wrong.  Doesn't happen often but there has to be a first time for everything...... :)

Kindles and eBooks - wanna know what my immediate reaction to them are?

Yuck.  As in - no thanks.  As in - get that thing away from me before I do something nasty to it.

I'm not a luddite.  I just don't like electronic readers.  I know the word on the street is that they will replace real books and to people who spout that belief I say: piffle.  Wanna know why?
  • Because books are part of our culture - real books, the ones made out paper with a cover and a spine.  History marks a huge turning point in our evolution when the printing press was invented and information (that glorious ethereal substance) became available to the masses.  Power, in the form of the written word, was available to the everyday man where once he was completely at the mercy of the ruling classes and religious figures.  Women now had the opportunity to form their own opinions, even to express their own. And you can't tell me that an electronic reader is going to help the inhabitants of third world countries improve their lot in life - but a shipment of books? now that's a different story.
  • Ask anyone who loves (and I mean really loves) books what they think of libraries and bookstores and there's another HUGE reason why an eBook will never replace a real book. 
  • Funnily enough the research is showing that students HATE electronic readers.  Yay for them!!
  • Be honest, how many times have you seen someone at the airport, on a train, waiting for a bus, during their lunch hour reading a book and snuck a peek at what they were reading and then formed an opinion (even just a sketchy one) about them?  Knowing what someone is reading is like them giving you a piece of information about themselves without saying a word.  As a writer that's priceless.  It's impossible to tell what someone is reading on a Kindle unless you ask them - and who wants to do that?
  • Kindles break easily, are not satisfying for tactile people like moi and they don't format poetry properly.
I know the majority of people who like/love Kindles do so because they're lightweight and convenient.  If I had a dollar for every time I read how they make life easier, I'd retire now.  But you know what, maybe life shouldn't just be about the quest to make everything easier.  As a race we are now becoming so sedentary that we are plagued by obesity and early death because it's easier to eat take away than to cook healthy food, it's easier to drive everywhere than to walk, it's easier to pick up the phone to talk to your neighbour than to go next door.  Now it's easier to download a book from the convenience of your home than to take a trip to a bookstore or library.  It's easier to carry around something that weighs next to nothing and can hold 3000 books than to carry a proper book.

It might be easier.  But it isn't right.


In the words of Dr Ian Malcom from Jurassic Park:
"Your scientists were so preoccupied with whether or not they could, they didn't stop to think if they should."

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Torn Between Two Covers

Well not the covers really.  More what's on the inside.  But that doesn't really remind you of the song and that's kinda what I was going for.

What am I talking about?

Well ever since we got the results back from the New Voices competition last year I have been banging away on a single title manuscript and while it's going okay I sorta got stuck.

And I know that getting stuck, or writer's block, or whatever you like to call it can mean one or so of several things:
  • You've gone down the wrong path and this is your psyche's way of telling you that you've taken a wrong turn; or
  • You're trying to make your characters do things they just wouldn't do; or
  • You haven't planned enough, plotting enough or you suck as a pantser; or
  • You need a break to weigh up which of the above is the correct answer and decide what to do about it.
Me, I think it's a case of the last one.  I'm not sure what I've done wrong but at the moment it's like wading through old jelly (you know the stuff that's been in the fridge for about 3-4 days and parts of it are going hard like garishly coloured leather?) well you get the idea - it's not fun.

And it used to be fun.  And I want it to be fun again.

I still like my story.  I still love the characters.  And I still believe that it's appealing and so worth writing.  I'm just stuck.

So aside from moaning about it, what am I going to do?  Well this is where the torn between two covers reference becomes clearer: I've started writing another category.  I'm plotting at the moment but I have written the opening scene.

I had to because the imagery just wouldn't leave me alone.  It plagued me like the memory of some nefarious act I had committed while under the influence of something noxious and hammered my resistance with seductive whisperings and flirty images. 

And anyone who knows me knows that I'm no good at resisting temptation.

So I caved and started writing.  And now I'm in love with two other characters.  I'm so fickle!

But I'm having fun again.  And right now (can you believe I almost typed 'write now'?  Whoa!  Freudian or what?) anyway right now I need to be able to just let 'er rip and write myself into happiness and then once firmly ensconced in that state I will then tackle the big question of What Is Wrong With My Manuscript.

Sounds like a plan to me.  So let me introduce you to my new word counter.  Ladies and gentlemen, please meet Evan and Leila.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Being a Passive Aggressive Writer

Not the kind that "accidently-on-purpose" forgets to write with aim of punishing crit partners, beta readers or agents......although it does sound like an interesting secondary character now doesn't it?  I mean by and large most writers are a little batty but what about one that was really batty?  (Note to Self: File this idea for later use).

No I mean the SuperWriter.  The Champion of Chapters.  The Guardian of Gramma.  The Scurge of Soggy Middles.  The Purger of Passive Voice!

Writing passive sentences is a mistake common to new writers but it's a stylistic error - not a grammatical one.  I do it all the time and I'm constantly re-reading my work and doing the old palm to forehead thing.   Surprisingly, a passive sentence is quite easy to spot (once you know what to look for) but when you're typing at a squagillion miles a minute, desperately trying to get down that scene or conversation or setting, it's easy for a few passive villains to sneak in.  Their aim is to weaken your writing, infiltrating it from the inside and steal your opportunity to write something powerful and strong.

I thought about going into all the intricacies and casually tossing about words like past participle, and subject and object and other hugely impressive words but I think I should leave that to the professionals.  So try this handout from the University of North Carolina and this post from the wizards over at edittorrent (a blog well worth bookmarking if you ask me).  They ought to set you on the right path.

The worst outcome of writing passively is that your work ends up being a monument to 'telling' as opposed to showing.  Now that could mean that your baby ends up on university english course lists across the country - for all the wrong reasons!  I mean who wants some erudite English Professor holding up your book and proclaiming "This is the finest example of what NOT to write ever written!"? 

Politics is one of those things I decided not to get into on this (or any) blog but it is interesting to note that most political speeches contain a lot of passive voice eg "things must be done" and "it can be achieved" etc.

I'm off to seek and destroy all the useless passive sentences in my ms.  I'd post a piccie of me with my undies on the outside and a tea towel around my shoulders and a capital P on my front but I think you'd probably lose your lunch. 0_0

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Deep POV

At first I thought it was some new yoga/pilates move. 

"Now we will move from Downward Dog into Deep POV."

And then I thought I was being completely clueless again and it was some new sexual reference.  Perhaps it's some new hip description of really really really poor people?  I even thought it may be some new gadget that one attached to ones 4WD SUV like ABS or EFI.

But no.  It's actually a writing term and I'm not the only one out here that had to look it up.  After half an hour of research I came to the conclusion that it had the potential to be the Universal Panacea For Writers.  Well what else would you call something that, if used according to the directions, will work to Show not Tell, minimise use of dialogue tags and enable a reader to really get inside the character's head?

Sounds fabulous doesn't it?  Well don't get too excited because it takes time to perfect the dose and dosage.  Too much too often and you end up waffling on about nothing else but thoughts and feelings and anyone who wants to read that would be better off picking up a self-help book.  Or poetry.  Not enough and you'll end up with a so-so manuscript that fails to grab the reader.  Death by Shallow POV.  Ahhh!  Code Red!  Code Blue!

So what is Deep POV?  In short it's getting right inside the head of your character and describing how they feel, what they see, smell, hear, taste etc.  There is more focus on body language being used to show reactions and emotions.  Instead of ACTION --> EMOTION --> REACTION --> DIALOGUE they are all layered on top of each other providing a much richer reading experience.  Here's the part where I do an example:

BAD: Catherine paused uncertainly at the post box.  She wondered, not for the first time, if she should post the letter.  Maybe, she thought, I should just hold on to it for a bit longer. 

BETTER: Catherine stood quite close to the post box, holding the letter to William in her right hand.  It was heavy, the paper carrying not only her words but so much emotion.  Would it fit through the slot in his door or would it stick there, choking the door like some overly greedy animal only to be hacked up and spat out into the cold where it would try and limp home to her but ultimately be consigned to a gutter where a homeless person would find it and burn it for five seconds of warmth?  Catherine clutched the letter even tighter, pressing it against her stomach as she chewed her lip.  Her left arm ached from the grip she still had on the post box handle but to let go without posting the letter was as good as shouting "Coward!" but all the reasons for not posting it had equally loud, pushy and irritating voices.

You'll notice I didn't use the headings BAD and GOOD because the second example is far from good (I'm still in medical school here).  But if you google Deep POV I'm sure you'll find some of the sterling examples I found and you'll have your aha moment (and no I don't mean the Norwegian boy band).

One piece of advice that I found extremely useful was to imagine yourself as your Deep POV character.  Immerse yourself in that character by whatever means necessary: music, smells, clothing, food, wine, scenery.  When you've captured the essence, start thinking like the character in the situation/scene you're writing.  Two points here:
1) You will probably notice all sorts of things that you hadn't before because you're "in character".  Things like how you react to things, what you're thinking/dreaming of, perhaps even memories (backstory).  These things will help to flesh out your character and make them so much more real; and
2) When you (as the character) think about things take note of the fact you don't use tags or superfluous information eg I can't believe, I thought shakily, what I'm seeing with my large cornflower blue eyes.  Yes, that is over doing it somewhat but I hope you get my point.  With the experience fresh in your mind just get it all down on paper and then edit it later.

Actors use this process when preparing for a role, and I've even done it myself in a version called Teacher In Role where you "become" a character from a book and then the students ask you questions.  It worked quite well actually and got more than one kid to take another look at Shakespeare. 

Of course none of the sites I looked at were able to say exactly how much Deep POV was the precisely perfect amount - but who can say that about any crafting tool?  It all depends on your story.  

Go well.  Go Deep.

                                                             ***   ***   ***

Addendum: I did promise the bubbly and sassy ABSOLUTELY*KATE a new pair of teal heels.  Hope you like them Miss Kate.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Point Of View

Or POV as all us hip-with-the-writer-lingo call it *guffaws at calling herself a writer in a public arena*.

Once upon a time a very famous comedian made the observation that in nature films, we tend to cheer for which ever of the animals is the focus of the film.  For example if the film is about lions and we see a lion chasing an antelope then we're all like "Go Lion!  Catch that antelope!  You can do it!  Yay the Lion caught the antelope and now the Lion will live!"  but if the film is about the antelope we're like "Run Antelope!  Duck.  Dive.  Run faster damn you!  Don't let him catch you!  Oh, you let him catch you!  You horrible lion.  We hate you lion!"

That, my friends is the power of POV.

The extremely clever K M Weiland from over at Wordplay put it very succinctly in her post about how many POVs are too many when she gave the tip that
"POV is most affective when assigned to the character who has the most at stake in any given scene".

When I heard that it was like hearing something you kind of instinctively knew but really needed it to be affirmed by a higher authority before actually believing it. 

But you have to be careful not to spread the love too thinly.  Too many POVs and the reader runs the risk of not investing enough in your main characters because your minor characters have had too much to say and the main characters not enough.

How have you handle POV in your work?

Monday, January 10, 2011

Unconscious Writing

I won't bore you all with my interpretation of what unconscious writing is when so many brighter and more competent writers can explain it much better.  If you don't know what it is then this post will help. 

Okay so now you're back (or you're just roolly roolly clever and didn't need to read the explanation) here's the rest of my post.

I love knitting.  Right now I guess you're thinking: "oh the poor dear she's pasted in part of another blog and not realised it" but work with me here.  It will all make sense in the end.  Or close enough.  Anyway, back to knitting.  I find it extremely cathartic to rhythmically put knots in wool (or acrylic, or bamboo) in a specific pattern and in the end it turns out to be A THING (sometimes attractive, sometimes cute, sometimes even recognisable).  But it's what happens to my brain while I'm doing it that's relevant to writing.

Imagine, if you will, having a complex problem to sort out at exactly the same time that you need to cook dinner.  What if some wonderful helpful person came along and said, let me sort out this problem while you whip up some culinary masterpiece?  That's what my unconscious does for me (except it doesn't talk like that although I wish it did).  If I'm stuck at a certain point in my WIP or thinking about plot points or character backgrounds, I pick up my knitting and while my conscious mind is following the pattern, my unconscious mind is working on the problem I set it and after a while - voila! I have the answer.

And the good thing is that it works with all sorts of activities, not just knitting.  It works with doing the dishes, vacuuming, grocery shopping, cooking and even gardening.  Of course it's not the be all and end all of helpful writing tips - just because I come up with an answer to a problem doesn't mean it's the perfect answer.  Or even the right one.  But it's something.  And when you're stuck, something is always better than nothing.

At least that's what my unconscious tells me.