Monday, 28 April 2008

Back at the grindstone

Tonight I have taken the plunge and immersed myself back in the rewrite again. As is my wont after a substantial break (in this case around 5 weeks) I have eased myself back in with an editing pass of an earlier chapter.

When I opened the working file, I found that I could barely remember the last three chapters I wrote, primarily because they were written in a rush around Easter. Worse, I found that I didn't much like them. This was rather disconcerting! So I went back to the first of these and have "improved" it. There are always stronger verbs, better images, additional senses to be retrofitted! Not to mention addressing dialogue and accompanying reflection.

I find this process helps me get back into both the story zone as well as the writing zone. By the time I have worked over the last three chapters, I should be ready to tackle the next chapter, which I seem to recall is a totally new one.

It's good to be back, I must say. The past 5 weeks have been good, but I've started to become bored by long evenings with nothing on TV and no-one to talk to. There are only so many blogs one can read, or DVDs one can watch. When it's a Monday night and one starts to fantasise about who one can drag out to dinner, just because being at home is too dull, that's a worry! This is what made me realise I was ready to start up again.

What do non-writers do in the evenings?

Wednesday, 23 April 2008

When is the right time to submit?

We had a writing group meeting on Saturday, another lovely brunch that lasted all day. Although most of us have known each other for at least a couple of years, I feel that by meeting as a small group, regularly, we are really starting to get to know each other on a different level. The vibe felt different this month, stronger, as though we hit a wavelength or something. For one thing, we talked more about writing and related topics than usual. We still allowed ourselves to digress, but I sensed a growing trust within this group, which is fabulous.

One of the things we discussed at length is when you should start submitting your novel to either editors or agents seeking representation. By this I mean at what stage of the manuscript's development.

There are two basic points of view. The first is that you commence once you have three chapters (or whatever the standard submission amount is) and a synopsis that you're happy with. The advantage of this is that the first three chapters are being assessed while you complete the novel, meaning that you don't "waste time" waiting once you've finished. Because, as we all know, it takes six months to hear anything back and we will most likely have to send our three chapters to many many publishers/agents before acceptance.

The second point of view is that you write and rewrite and rewrite and edit and make it perfect before you send it anywhere. The advantage of this approach is that your manuscript is probably a lot better than it would have been at the three-chapter mark, thus you give yourself more chance of acceptance. Also, you can spend the waiting period writing your next novel, which, if you're a fantasy writer, makes a heap of sense. Because we all know that publishers want fantasy trilogies generally, so books 2 & 3 will be required post-haste!

I confess I subscribe to the second point of view. Others in the group are trying to convince me to start sending my first three chapters out, but the thought makes me shudder. While it is confidence-boosting to have others believe that it is ready, in reality I know that it is not. They just think I am being paranoid and a perfectionist. Well, perfectionist I can handle. But I don't think I'm paranoid or self-effacing. The hard fact is that I know it can be better! And I would much rather have finished the entire rewrite at the very least before sending any of it out. Besides, I haven't yet exhausted my list of potential readers yet. Surely an aspiring novelist needs a trial audience.

So for the moment I will withstand their buffeting and cajoling and teasing. I will finish my rewrite and then I will edit it and then (and only then) will I consider submitting it anywhere. But I'd better actually start writing again soon, or all this will be moot!

Sunday, 20 April 2008

Page Turners - The Road

Again, I am very late with this post. Our April reading group book was The Road, a recent Pulitzer prize winning novel by Cormac McCarthy. It's a post-apocalyptic literary work about a man and boy (both unnamed) who are travelling south along a road in search of more hospitable climes. Along the way they battle starvation, freezing temperatures, illness and the threat of cannibalistic groups of savages.

It's a book where not all that much happens, and many of the events are extremely repetitive. Nor are there any major turning points -- the story is essentially linear and ends up more or less where you expect it to. But, for all that, McCarthy does a remarkable job of keeping the narrative compelling and interesting. The writing is beautiful -- stark, crisp and poignant. The shattered landscape and the ever-present ash are major characters. (This description on Wikipedia provides much more detail.)

Most of our group found it a bleak book. I found it less bleak than I expected, however. The writing carried me away with it, and I found this tempered the bleakness for me. I finished it, in fact, with almost a sense of wonder, and a definite sense of appreciation. But there wasn't really any hope in this book. It depicts a sad degradation of civilisation and it's difficult to see how the people who had survived the cataclysm (whatever it was) so far, could survive much longer.

Our group discussion was more disjointed than usual, because we had it (unsually) in a restaurant, owing to extended power failures at the home of our would-be host. Nevertheless, I seem to recall that most found it a worthwhile read, even if they didn't precisely enjoy it.

Thursday, 17 April 2008

What the Interrobang


I have recently learned of the existence of an obscure punctuation mark known as an Interrobang. It is basically a combined question mark and exclamation mark and is used instead of ?! or !?

I must say that this could be rather a useful punctuation mark for me. Especially for use in texting. What‽ You mean you can't get it on a normal mobile phone‽ That's preposterous!

In fact, it doesn't even appear to be available in MSWord -- or, if it is, it's buried so deep that it would take months to dig it out.

For more information, see this Wiki entry.

5 favourites - like about job

As work hell continues, it'll probably do me good to think of five positive things about work. Here they are in no particular order:

1. I like learning about a diverse range of new technologies on an ongoing basis.
2. I like the team I work with -- for the most part we're friends as well as colleagues.
3. I like the location of our office -- both because it has a great range of food & cafes, plus it's close enough that I can walk to work 2-3 times per week.
4. I like the sense of achievement when projects are completed and they hit the mark with both clients and media. In this job our projects are short and we get regular results. There's no such thing as a project that takes a year, let alone a decade!
5. I like getting my teeth into something unfathomable and nutting it out until I understand it and then communicating that in words. If I'm not under time pressure (which is rare these days), you could see my grin all the way from China.

Tuesday, 15 April 2008

Agent blogs

Just to prove that I haven't chucked it all in, here are some new literary agent/editor blogs I've been reading this evening. That is, they're new for me. I'm not sure which of these I'll continue to read on a regular basis -- when I do know, I'll post the links in the sidebar. But some of them are looking promising!

Nathan Bransford
BookEnds, LLC
Editorial Anonymous (children's book editor)
Pub rants

There is so much to learn, and so many things to get right. These blogs offer advice about query letters, what questions to ask agents, how to find a literary agent, synopses etc etc. It seems that Miss Snark really started something. I figure it's good to get opinions from a variety of different agents, since presumably they all have their quirks and preferences. They also have links to other agents, so it should make it easier to find 'just the right one' when the time comes.

One of the posts was in answer to a question from a reader (wannabe author) about what one should write next -- should it be part 2 of a series, bearing in mind that part 1 might never make it, thereby dooming book 2? Or should one tackle something completely different until book 1 is acquired?

This is something I've been wondering myself, and which we've been discussing in my writing group. It all boils down to whether you're writing because the story must come out, or whether you're intending to make a career out of being a novelist. Ideally, we all want both. But if you have to choose? I know some writers who vow that telling the story that 'needs to be told' is the most important thing. Me? Part of me wants to be pragmatic and accept that book 1 is probably not going to make it (being a first novel and all) and that I really should go onto something new. Something to which I can apply all my newfound wisdom.

But the other half of me is not so sure I can leave a certain story only half told! It's a real dilemma! (The answer, according to this particular agent, is a resounding 'write something new'! However, I have a feeling this referred to 'series' in the crime/common protagonist sense, rather than the fantasy story-isn't-over-yet sense.)

Another post of interest was the story of what happens to a requested manuscript once it reaches the editor . . .

Friday, 11 April 2008

Feeding the muse

There's something about a great love story that always gets me inspired to write. Tonight it was the eternal, the brilliant, the impossible-to-surpass Pride and Prejudice. I watched the recent Keira Knightley version on DVD. Sigh. How can you go past it? Some days I think I like it even better than the BBC version, lack of Colin Firth (and that scene) notwithstanding. The new version has so much more passion. Very non-19thC, but oh-so-appealing to my 21stC sensibilities!

Not that I'm going to write. Not tonight anyway. I'm in a period of storing up inspiration. Feeding the muse like you do a succulent. Soon I will see a way clear to commence again, but for the moment I'm bolstering resources.

Tuesday, 8 April 2008

Decluttering

Yeah, well, so there hasn't been much writing happening in the past fortnight. In the process of work hell (which continues) and trying to get as much of my novel rewrite as possible done, a few other things around the house went to the pack. Now that the novel pressure is off (briefly), I've taken a break to get my life organised.

This has resulted in a period of dedicated decluttering. I am in full "sort & chuck" mode. I have been through the wardrobes, the bathroom cabinet, the laundry cupboard . . . and I'm not done yet. There's still the kitchen and all the paper/contents of filing cabinet in my study to sort (and chuck). And probably places I haven't thought of yet.

Decluttering is therapeutic. Now I can walk into my study and smile, instead of feel oppressed by all the junk in there.

It is also effective. My immediate goal is to install a sofa bed into my study -- before it gets filled up again!

Sunday, 6 April 2008

Vixens rise from Phoenix ashes


This weekend marked the opening of the new ANZ Championship -- a trans Tasman netball competition between 5 Australian and 5 New Zealand teams. The mighty Melbourne Phoenix is no more, and instead we have the Melbourne Vixens, which has been dubbed "The dream tema". In truth it is a formidable team on paper, comprising the best of the Phoenix and Melbourne Kestrals teams. They are already favourites to win the championship.

Netball on TV is both better and worse this year. Better, because all games are being televised live. Worse, because this is all happening on Foxtel. I have been debating whether to take the plunge and subscribe to Foxtel. Mostly I am against it, because the last thing I need is more TV to watch. and this would be $60 a month for a minimum of 2 years. But how to survive without seeing the netball? There are only six home games all season.

The best solution was to go watch it at a pub, but then the challenge was to find one that would show netball instead of football or some other sport. I was at my wits' end, until I received an e-mail on Friday announcing that the Vixens club had arranged for a North Melb pub to show the netball. Yay! So off I went yesterday to the Leveson to watch the first Vixens game.

It turned out to be great. Not many turned up, but that meant I could grab a stool, sit at the bar and have an unobstructed view of the screen. I couldn't hear the commentary too well, but you can't have everything I suppose! I was really glad that I could watch the game. And as an added bonus the girls won the game convincingly, 50-33.

Saturday, 5 April 2008

Another rodent

More squeaking, stalking, tumbling, playing. Rodent hides behind box in bathroom all evening. Peace. Chenna waits, patient . . . then impatient, sitting on the box batting down behind it . . . then patient again.

Night. Sleep. Rodent vetures out and Chenna is waiting. More squeaking, stalking, tumbling, playing. Wrap head in pillow to drown out the noise.

Morning. Quiet. Empty floors through the house. Where is it? What has she done with it?

Wardrobe. Chenna waits outside it, reaching under the door with little black arm and paw. Avoid opening wardrobe -- lucky enough clothes outside of it! Not looking forward to cleaning up the mess in the wardrobe if it's anything like the mess behind the box in the bathroom. Pellets of poo.

About to leave house. Wardrobe still closed. Chenna bored and sleeping on lap. Little devilcat. Why can't she just kill it?

Thursday, 3 April 2008

Blackout

A bittersweet irony of what I perceived to be the failure of Earth Hour came in the form of a 12-hour blackout yesterday. From about 3:30 in the afternoon until 3:15am, my suberb was without any power as the result of some very wild weather, leaving me to scoff at the farce that was Earth Hour and do it for real!

I walked home, arriving at about 8pm, and reflected that the utter blackness, save for some starlight and sporadic car headlights moving through, was more like what I had expected of Saturday's effort.

I stumbled through the front door, tripped over the clutter that erupted from my study cleanout on the weekend, fumbled for my head-torch (cheating!). Went out to dinner. Came back and played Yahtzee by candlelight, sipping port.

It's amazing how utterly black it really can be with no illumination from the clock radio, wireless modem, powered USB hub, microwave clock etc. Absolutely black.

Although part of me revelled in this adventure, another part of me resented it of course. I had a million things to do last night, once of which was watching the 2h season finale of Cashmere Mafia on TV. I was also supposed to be sorting the study-cleanout-clutter, plus doing some other computer work that required the internet . . . pre wireless modem I might have achieved this with the laptop battery, but my new modem is powered so that was impossible.

It's amazing how dependent we are on electricity these days. How would we have entertained ourselves for night upon night in days gone by? Told stories by the camp fire? Played music? Slept?

What do my various characters do every night in my non-tech fantasy world?