Friday, October 01, 2004

I know the idea of a blog is that you post regularly, but I guess I only really started this for myself so I'm probably the only one who knows when I have been lazy! Well, not lazy really. I have been doing a lot of writing, including stuff for a book packager which is a whole new ballgame.
I've also been to two plays, the first I've seen in over a year. "Dinner" was fantastic, the kind of play that has you entranced from beginning to end, and then talking and thinking about it for days afer. Also saw "Take Me Out" which suffered in comparison to "Dinner". It was good but at times the actors sounded forced, as if they were "performing" whereas in "Dinner" it never felt as if I was seeing a play. More like witnessing an awful evening.
Just finished "Fat Boy Rules the World" by K.L. Going. A YA novel, one of those I'd heard a lot about. I really liked it - the main character is a bit self-pitying but I felt he was struggling to overcome that all the time and in the end he does. It did focus a lot on his fat and how he felt but unlike an Australian novel I've read about a fat girl (which had the whole losing weight/happy ending thing) this one didn't resolve the fat issue by weight loss so it felt more realistic and true to the character.
Am also still reading John Murray's short story collection "A Few Short Notes on Tropical Butterflies" - very good - and trying to whittle down the pile. Should stop getting books from the library but then I should also stop buying so many.
At least I am getting more selective... well, seeing as how the prices have gone up so much, I don't have much choice. I refuse to pay $30 for a paperback.
No time to read today - too much writing to do!

Friday, August 06, 2004

Saturday 17th July – on the way to Chatauqua.
At the airport my bag was 52lbs which was 2lb over the limit but he didn’t penalise me. I had no hope of putting the other bag through so had to carry it. Security was tough and the woman made me take the laptop out of the plastic bubble wrapping – first time anyone has made me do that. I staggered down to my gate and found I had about an hour and a half to wait. Again I could have lain down and slept. Instead I read for a while, ate some fruit salad and coffee at the café and waited some more. Wanted to go to the bathroom and then it was too late. On the plane at last, delayed, took off, tried to go to the bathroom on board but it was locked and we couldn’t get it open. Finally after half an hour it was opened and when I went I think my bladder must have contained about 3 gallons.
At Buffalo I had to hike for miles again with my bag – don’t know why it was so heavy but it did have the laptop, cameras, books and folder of all my paper stuff. Oh well. The guy from Highlights was waiting in plain view at the bottom of the escalator so was easy to find. (The Highlights Foundation runs the Chatauqua workshops and so the Foundation and magazine and publishing staff all take part). If you’re interested see

Got my suitcase and joined a group of others – it turned out that most of them were tutors and one was my manuscript person, Kristi Holl. It was great to talk to her and she said my manuscript was really good – very nice of her! Also Carolyn Yoder (historical fiction) and Floyd Cooper (illustrator) were there.
Ended up sitting on the bus with a guy from Texas called Brian who was very nice and good to talk to. Made the trip go faster. It took ages to get here – well over an hour – and the scenery was boring until we got off the freeway. Then it was great – trees and streams and even some Amish houses and farms.
Chatauqua is amazing. It’s hard to describe. It’s an enclosed community, with front gate and security. Little streets, like a village except the houses are not village size. They are old style (Confederate?) with several storeys and made of wood with shingle roofs and shutters. Lots of porches, gardens, flags and huge green trees. I am staying in the Summer House, up on the 3rd floor and thank goodness there were some young guys to take bags up. I turned out to be opposite Brian but I have my own bathroom – wonderful. The room is quite small but the bed is flat and OK to sleep on.
I unpacked a little bit, changed my top and pants for dinner and off we went. The dinner was at the Atheneum Hotel and first we had to stand around on the huge porch and talk to each other (mingling!). Met a few nice people and kept having to explain where I come from. In for dinner and I went and sat at a table with people I hadn’t met yet – trying to be sociable – but it was heavy going for a lot of the time. A bit too noisy to talk or hear people so I sat and watched and listened as best I could. The dinner was nice and I ate dessert again – I must stop this!
After dinner (no wine) Ron Jobe gave the opening address. He was very entertaining and had lots of good things to say – tonight is the start of the New You! But I was dog tired, as was the girl next to me (Pam Calvert) and we were both dozing off.
Finally it was over and I headed for my room. Unpacked more, read the information package and went to sleep. Slept quite well.

Sunday 18th
Alarm went off but I went back to sleep for another half hour. Showered and got dressed. Sick of clothes! Walked down to the Square and rang Brian (at home). That was nice to hear his voice and catch up on news. Then I walked around some more, had a look in the bookshop, went down to the lake and took some photos.
By the time I made it to breakfast I was really hungry but in the end I just had cereal and fruit and that filled me up. Talked to some more new people, then shifted to Brian’s table and his mentor came past so they gabbed on for quite a while about nonfiction writing so I listened in a bit.
The Highlights people did an information session at 11am about the magazine and how it gets put together which was interesting and useful for class stuff for me as well as if I want to send them stuff. Someone asked the question about rights (they buy all rights) and they were very open about it, said they did share payments with the author when something gets sold to a publisher. I guess the credits look good on your CV.
After that I booked the library computer for later in the week, then paid to use the one in the Business Centre. Finally got around to emailing Kendra and explained that I’d been having trouble. Got soup from the Café because I had a feeling it would be a while before we got our chicken BBQ.
Relaxed in my room and then walked up to the buses. We were taken out to Westchester to David Brown’s house. It started to rain, quite heavily, and although they had tents in the back yard, it was wet and uncomfortable which was a shame (forgot to bring my brolly this time). I ended up sitting opposite Kristi Holl and had some good conversations with her. She also teaches but for the Institute of Childrens Literature which I think is an online or correspondence course place. She has 300 students! They seem to have a good reputation. I hadn’t heard of them before.
There was actually wine and beer – I was beginning to think it would be an alcohol-free week – mind you that would be a good thing for me. Food was good and I did eat dessert again. Sigh.
Sat next to Kristi on the bus too and talked some more. We share a lot of the same experiences, especially with the teaching and writing.
Early night coming up.

Monday 19th July
The day started with breakfast and I sat with Kristi – also with Ron Jobe and made contact with him. Need to give him the business cards tomorrow. He told me that Australian Standing Orders has been bought by Scholastic. Handy bit of news/info.
After breakfast we had a talk by Peter Jacobi. He was funny and interesting, talked generally about writing and nonfiction.
After that, I had time off so I headed to the Square, wandered around the drug store, bought a box in the PO and posted a postcard, had a coffee and then headed for the library. Thinking, of course, of half an hour free email time. Within about 20 seconds the system went down on our bank of computers and it took about 12 mins to get it up. So I still had to rush and didn’t really say what I wanted. No one turned up to take over at 11.30am so I just kept going. How come we have learned to rely on emails for communication so quickly? Addictive but sure cheaper than phone.
Back for lunch and I had signed up for an extra session on marketing. Another woman and I went where we thought we were supposed to be but no one arrived. We waited and finally went back to the lunch room, discovered we’d been in the wrong place, went to the right place and caught the last 5 mins. Darn.
The afternoon sessions were pretty good. Patty Gauch on characterisation was great. Within about 5 minutes I had had a great breakthrough about what my picture book needs. She talked a lot about language, how writers create character through the words they choose which was very valuable for me.
Jerry Spinelli kind of danced around his topic a bit – theme - and then went to questions and no one really focused on the hard stuff. Probably the best thing he said was about Maniac Magee, that he had too much in it and it wasn’t until he focused on the theme that he pulled it all together and streamlined it. There were people there who seemed a bit starstruck but I’m more cynical I guess, I always want more!!
Kristi’s session on Creating and Maintaining Tension was great – lots of information. She gave a long list of tension “creators” and I could see how in places I had dropped the ball with tension, letting the characters and also the setting off too easy. She said she will email the full list to us if we request it.
After the class I gave her my synopsis, which she had asked for as she didn’t get it, and she said that if I was interested in teaching at Chatauqua, I should talk to Kent Brown about it at the end of the week. So I might do that. You never know, in twenty years they might consider me.
Dinner at the golf club was nice. Linda Sue Park gave a great speech about writing and what it was like after she won the Newbery Award. The Newbery is like the Holy Grail of awards to children’s fiction writers. I talked to Marsha from Seattle who is really nice and is in my house, and a few others too. Walked back to the compound with the woman who is taking all the photos – she is on the job 20 hours a day.
Then I happened to end up walking with Pam (from Texas) and Katherine (from North Carolina – they are friends) and talking to them.
In my room I turned the fan on high to get rid of the stuffy air. The sun came out this afternoon and suddenly everything heated up about 10 degrees.
I need to try really hard to remember everyone’s names. Keep confusing people.

Tuesday 20th (I think!)
Already it feels a bit other-planetish. Hard to remember what day it is. Everyone seems to be getting more comfortable with each other and so far, from what I can tell, there are no total loonies here. Usually there is always one!
The speaker this morning was Patti Gauch (it took me a while to remember that – it seems like yesterday she spoke). She was great, talking about what originality is and I took lots of notes. Wish I had taped it. She was very inspirational and gave me a lot to think about, and talk about with my writing group.
My critique with Kristi was straight after and I did tape that, although I probably didn’t need to as she had written notes on my ms (but in the future when I am doubting myself, her words may well pick me up again). She got exactly what I was trying to do with the novel and she thought it was great, not too complex at all, unlike Kendra who wanted me to simplify it. She also saw stuff – resonating elements with other characters – to do with the bullying theme which I hadn’t really seen, and which made me realise that it resonates in other ways too that I can build on a bit. She had some excellent comments to make about the relationship between the girl and grandmother. She has said she is happy to read more for Thursday so will try to get that printed off tomorrow at the library. Half an hour was way too short.
After lunch I walked over to the square with Pam and Katherine for an icecream but I was too full. I investigated the flavours for next time (we have been given a free icecream voucher) and need to choose between Amazon Storm and Moose Tracks, both of which have large amounts of chocolate in them.
Just to backtrack a bit, I woke up at 6.30am and couldn’t get back to sleep so ended up doing some … WRITING … and before lunch, when I had a spare half hour, I did even more!! Wonders will never cease. But the whole atmosphere is about writing so I did hope it would kick in at some point, even though there is no assignment to finish like there was at Fresno.
The afternoon sessions were OK. Linda Sue Park was very good on conflict and tension (totally different approach to Kristi so lots to think about), giving some clear examples and talking about how to write scenes. I asked a question about the structure of a scene and she kind of misunderstood me but gave an interesting answer about how the scenes build up to the whole novel.
I was in two minds about the next session with Jerry Spinelli but it turned out OK. He talked about character – gave lots of examples of where his characters have come from and also said some good things about what a character needs to be/have.
The last session on point of view was a waste of time for me. All stuff I know – basic stuff – and that I teach. It was mildly interesting to hear someone else do it but I was hoping for more advanced stuff. I do know that people struggle with it. It’s interesting though how the reading thing continues to be a strong element. Everyone is using examples from published books, reading and discussing them to make their points, and saying over and over that that is how to learn for yourself. Read read read!
I went to the pay phone and booked the Newark-JFK shuttle for when I fly back to NY so I just hope I get there in time and make my international flight.
Then it was off in the big yellow buses again, this time to a local museum of natural history. They had an exhibition of paintings and some drawings by Charles Bateman who is this amazing nature artist. I took some photos but they probably won’t do the paintings justice. We went outside for drinks and snacks and Ron Jobe came and talked to me for a while, then Laurence Pringle came and talked to me about his trip to NZ and about Australia, then when I sat down at a half-empty table to eat my dinner, Jerry Spinelli came and sat next to me!!! Talk about gob-smacked.
I had a long talk with Jerry about books and publishing in Australia and when I said I had 24 books published he shook my hand. He was very interested in the movie Rabbit Proof Fence and other things like that (Whale Rider) and then when it was nearly time to go, I was also talking to Eileen and Floyd Cooper and his wife. Quite an amazing end to the day, but a very good indication of the whole philosophy of this conference – that the faculty mix with us participants all the time. It means you feel relaxed even talking to really famous people and can ask questions. I think it also means some of those people who might be demanding and rude to faculty don’t really get the chance or have the excuse because they can talk anytime to anyone. And the faculty are all friendly and open.
On the bus back I sat next to the girl from India and we had a really good talk about publishing in India and what she was doing and then we got onto arranged marriages and how she is “on the shelf”! I have promised to write down directions for her to B&N on 6th Ave and also Strands.
I lingered by the open air auditorium for a while on the way home to listen to the orchestra which was nice and soothing. A good day all round.

Wednesday 21st
First session was Sharon Creech, which I was really looking forward to. She didn’t look at all as I expected – she is tall and slim with short thick blonde hair. About 40-45, quiet. She gave a great speech about writing, about how she got started and what it was like to win the Newbery. Also talked about how 50% of readers probably won’t like your books and about a website in the UK where kids made comments on her book (part of an award process). Some of the comments were horrible. One boy said he’d rather brush his teeth with sulphuric acid than read her book again! Kind of puts bad reviews in their place.
Afterwards I got my book signed by her and told her that her book Love That Dog had inspired my own – Farm Kid. Gush gush. Some people seem to have limitless gush to spill out – hopefully I am containing mine most of the time (Sharon Creech is the exception).
Went to the library and thankfully managed to get my chapters printed out for Kristi Ok, did some emails.
Afternoon classes were good. First was the genre session with Ron Jobe. He went into all the stuff about the categories – early readers up to novels – and the word lengths which explained a lot to me about how I was getting them wrong. He had lots of great handouts.
Second session was on plotting – very basic but I got a few hints that I can use in class. Not that much for myself. It did show me how short magazine stories can be structured which was helpful. They analysed a story that had appeared in Highlights magazine and the structure of that was clear. Good to remember also for things like readers and picture books.
Last session was Kristi’s on writing mysteries. She is so generous with her material. She gave us a solid hour of notes and said the whole thing was actually 27 single-spaced pages so we can email her for it. I learned a lot in that session that I can use in my new series, so am looking forward to the full notes.
For dinner we got on buses again and went to the Browns’ cottage by the lake. A kind of plain small house with a huge back lawn that went to the lake’s edge. It was a more relaxed night – not many people went (about 60%) which was good. Ron had suggested I talk to Larry Rosler from Boyds Mill about Farm Kid because they do a lot of poetry, so I approached him and ended up talking to him for about 20 minutes. We started with books but got onto Peter Weir movies (he wanted to know what Hanging Rock is really like) and then wine. Dinner was a plain BBQ with beans and stuff. I had a nice sauv blanc from California.
When we got back about 8pm, Katherine and Pam went to the dance concert. I watched for a little while from outside, then went and had my free icecream (which was huge – I had Amazon Storm – vanilla with chocolate sauce and choc covered nuts in it) and then for a quiet walk down to the lake. A bit of time out. Sat on the little dock for a while, then walked along the drive. Stopped to watch the bats – they are so small they looked like big moths – but couldn’t see them close up.
Came home and went to bed. My neck is playing up so will have to take care with it and sit up straight. Which is not what I’m doing right now, of course.
It continually amazes me how generous the faculty are here. I was very sorry to miss a session Patti Gauch did yesterday – impromptu on the steps – where she sat and read the first few pages of people’s manuscripts and made comments on the spot. That would have been great. Oh well.

Thursday 22nd
The first session was a panel on nonfiction writing and it was terrific. Made me feel inspired to have another go at it. As they point out, the market is more open but you need to take on board the stuff you have to have like a bibliography and consulting the experts. But I did come away with new enthusiasm (yeah so I’ll write it in my ample spare time).
My second one-on-one critique session with Kristi was good – she really has picked out the weak bits and how to improve them. Wish I had her as a critique person all the time. I taped the session again but she has made lots of comments on the ms so that is useful too. She is very good at pointing out the things she likes which makes you feel positive.
I went to lunch later on, including the session on ‘Meet the Editor’ with Randi Rivers and Larry Rosler. Quite useful. They said school stories have been done to death. And they also said they rarely read cover letters! They look at the manuscript first.
First afternoon session was Humour. I got a bit out of this one – that you should use humour in a way that wins the heart of the reader rather than being cynical or nasty. Lots of picture books have animals as characters because it’s easier to make bad/sad things happen to them rather than child characters.
The second session was Eileen Spinelli on Poetry. She talked a lot about what and how she writes – she does use a rhyming dictionary. And she said she “shows up at her desk” every day, no matter what.
Third session was on online opportunities. The stuff on websites and blogs not really new to me but again I got some good pointers, and am becoming more convinced that I need to add articles to my site.
Thursday night was dinner at the golf club again. I got talking to Juanita Havill about emergent readers and chapter books and she was very enthusiastic about my chances of getting in there. At dinner I sat with Peter Jacobi and Marcia from Seattle and Pam and Katherine. And also I had Iris next to me. She is an illustrator and she was just lovely. We got on really well and decided we would both leave as soon as it finished to go to the poetry reading. They actually put wine on the table and I had one or two glasses too many. Never mind. Dinner was buffet yet again.
After dinner they held the auction which raises funds for the scholarship program. What a shock to the system that was. People went berserk. The woman from Delaware in our house ended up paying about $1800 for one of Floyd’s artworks and someone else paid about $1300. Apparently Floyd was greatly embarrassed.
Marcia ended up paying about $350 or $400 I think for a manuscript edit from Patti Gauch – that was probably a bargain, but in Aust $ it would have cost me about $650 so not a bargain for me perhaps.
Apparently they made about $15000 altogether – I shouldn’t complain because I benefited from the scholarship money so I thought I would send something for next year’s auction. A sweatshirt with a fluffy koala on it maybe!
As soon as it was over Iris and I took off at top speed to walk back to the Author’s Corner for the poetry reading. I read 3 poems from my book and got a good reception. You had to fill out an info sheet about yourself beforehand (which didn’t stop people from going way over their time – what is it about readings? Why do the crappiest poets and writers go on and on? It is the same all over the world!) Iris was last and she only read two poems but they were great. I’ve told her to email them to me and if they read as well as they sounded (you can never be sure) I’d love to put them in Poetrix.
Home to bed.

Friday 23rd July
The day’ schedule was altered as it was the last. I sat at the same table as Chris Clark (editor of Highlights) and she said how “low maintenance” this year’s group was. And she was right. There was nobody who was really obnoxious and dominated sessions. Everyone was polite and sharing and everyone got on really well. People also didn’t harass the writers and faculty like I have seen them do in other places.
The first session was with Patti Gauch about fantasy. I was hoping for lots of good writing stuff but she stuck pretty much to theory about fantasy generally. Referred a lot to Tolkien, read lots of excerpts, and even did a diagram of the hero’s journey. I thought – oh no, what a bore – but in fact she gave it a new slant, a much more psychological one which was interesting.
It seemed to me that she was very much a traditionalist in her tastes and she read from books that I would say are pretty standard classics in fantasy. Considering that everyone keeps saying ‘do not duplicate Tolkien’ it was refreshing to hear an editor who is OK with that. Besides Tolkien kind of did everything already so it’s hard to avoid!
Second session was the beginning readers with Juanita which was good. I got a few hints and more info on categories and publishers. A girl I was sitting next to gave me some publishers/editors’ names for submissions. I had to leave Juanita’s session just before it finished, but I caught the bit about the Fry index which will be handy if I want to test vocabulary levels. It’s on the internet.
Off to the library to do emails. Tried to post my box of books at the PO but they said it would be $58 airmail and $30 surface mail (10 weeks) so I thought I might as well cop the $25 weight penalty at the airport!
Back for lunch and then the last session – Historical Fiction with Carolyn Yoder. Very good, and lots of handouts, but made me realise that I need to make it very clear to publishers that my historical novel (if I ever get this draft finished) is a fictionalisation and not necessarily sticking to facts exactly. A lot more research needed to create those vivid details. I also need to keep good track of my sources just in case.
A guy came to the afternoon final session to talk about the organ in the hall we used for meeting and eating, and he played a tune too. Wonderful.
We were divided into our four teams and went outside to practice our cheer which Marileta had written. I was asked to do a little thing afterwards about one thing I had learned during the week. I had written a poem (like a chant or cheer – Marines style) and I was to go after Randi. Very nervous, but I decided to do it as I had written it. A performance challenge.
Ron had worked it all out – we did our cheers first, and the blue team did a Marines chant just like my poem! That nearly put me off doing it but I thought, what the heck. We went around, Red was last, everyone was pretty pathetic throwing their streamers across the room. Finally it was my turn and I shouted as loudly as I could. It went down really well and everyone clapped in time. It was an “Ode to Patti Gauch”. God only knows what Patti thought. I threw my streamer like a baseball pitcher and nearly knocked someone out! But at least mine made it right to the other side of the room.
Then we did this thing where we had to weave the streamers and move around the room. Very chaotic but fun. Very American? Cheers and stuff…
Final thing was we were shown the CD of photos that Pam had created. I imagine more might be added at the end. It was great and I had tears in my eyes. So sad to think it was nearly over.
I had given Larry Rosler a copy of Farm Kid so met him on the steps to talk about it, and he asked if he could pass it on to their poetry editor. I didn’t ask him if he liked it! Just assumed that if he didn’t he would have given it back to me, so we shall see what happens, I guess. More fingers crossed, and toes.
We had free time before dinner so I went down with Brian and a few others for icecream. Had to try Moose Tracks – not as good as Amazon Storm, but close. It had little tiny peanut butter cups in it. Went home, packed 2/3 of my bag, ironed my dress and tried not to think about how heavy my luggage would be.
Dinner was at the Atheneum Hotel so everyone was really dressed up for the last night. I had asked Kristi if we could sit together so she saved me a seat. She had to say Grace (or the blessing they call it). Dinner was one course after another – very fast – and then we had Kent’s final speech thanking everyone. It went on and on and on, for about ¾ of an hour, but it was good to acknowledge them all.
After dinner, there were lots of photos and hugging people – Leda gave me an enormous hug – and then we wandered up to see Bobby Vinton at the auditorium. Not really my cup of tea so I went home. Had missed out on coffee at dinner so made a cup of tea. Some of the others were in the kitchen with Peggy who was singing and playing her guitar, but I managed to quietly leave. Almost finished packing and went to bed.

Saturday 24th
Up at 5.45am to shower and get ready. My bag weighed a ton but I got it down the stairs without breaking my back. The bus came and away we went. Got about five minutes down the road and I realised I had forgotten my purse!! I still shudder to think what might have happened if I hadn’t realised until much later. I probably would have missed my flight as the next bus out wasn’t until 7.30. Everyone was lovely about it but the girl who had the 9am flight wasn’t very happy. We went back to Chatauqua, Marcia raced in and found it where I had left it on the chair and away we went again.
Kristi was sitting in front of me and we had a great talk about work habits and how we were going to change our writing lives!
When we got to the airport, somehow she just disappeared and I didn’t get to say goodbye. I will have to email her. Saw her way ahead in the security check queue but that was all. I was sorry not to be able to give her a hug.
Sat with Carolyn and she was very pleasant. The flight was OK apart from an Indian woman who kept doing that horrible sinus/snot sniffing thing that makes me ill.
At Newark I had a lovely 1-1/2 hour wait for the shuttle (not). I had all of my luggage and nowhere to leave it so had to take it to the toilet with me, and drag it to the café. Had a horrible sandwich that cost $6.50 or so but it filled the hole.
The shuttle to JFK went via Staten Island which surprised me. Never got to see Manhattan again, but did get to see a bit of Brooklyn from the freeway. JFK airport was a madhouse – how drivers ever find their way around beats me.
Got to the United line and saw a sign saying “Take your films out of your check-in luggage as the Xray will ruin it”. Great. My bags had already been through Xray twice going to Buffalo and back – thank you Continental. Anyway I thought it was worth the trouble to find them and take them out, so I was down on my knees in front of everyone, ferreting through my undies and hairspray and clothes to find the two film canisters. And in the process discovered that the bag had been searched yet again. Which was why the second zip was open. They couldn’t get the stuff back in again.
The guy put me on an earlier flight to LA so I left at 4.35 instead of 6.30. Meant I had to spend 4 hours at LA instead but with the stuffing around changing terminals, it was OK. Just hope my bag and box turn up in Melbourne at the other end.
Went into the bar in the Int Terminal (after waiting in a queue for half an hour to have my boarding passes and luggage tags doublechecked) and this guy bowls in who was a Marine, home on leave for the first time in 18 months. So loud and brash, but he was interesting – good for a character. From South Carolina, which is what I would have guessed. One thing about all the people at Chatauqua is that I am starting to recognise regional accents.

Monday 26th July
Having missed Sunday because we crossed the date line, I arrived at Auckland airport, filling in another 4 hours while I waited for my final flight. LA to Auckland was OK, I slept for about 6 hours, I think, and read and watched movies.
I am already missing Chatauqua. Keep thinking about all the people there, all the things I learned, friends made, lots of laughs.
I read ‘Walk Two Moons’ (Sharon Creech) on the plane(s) and it was great – I kept thinking about what she’d done with moving around in time, and I did wonder if the ending could have been better. It seemed like she ended up telling us a lot of stuff, but then you could argue the whole story was being “told”. I also finished ‘Pictures of Hollis Woods’ and that also played with flashbacks – it goes back and forth between the past and present. Again, you could argue that the sections in italics aren’t flashbacks, it is really just interspersing two time frames because one illuminates the other, and vice versa. It just shows that you can use these kinds of structures in middle grade novels, no matter what they say.
As Kristi said, you have to teach your students the rules first, then they can go out and break them. I have decided to read them stuff in class, and make them read even more. They don’t read enough. I can just imagine if I told them what Linda Sue Park said – you should read 300 books before you start writing your own!
I want to make this big plan when I get home about how I’m going to organise my life – especially the writing part – but I feel too overwhelmed right now. Too much travelling and sitting in airports.
Looking forward to slowly letting it all sink in and getting back to some writing.

NEW YORK BLOG - read if you are interested in my travel stuff.
9 July – the flights
Dreading the long hours but it wasn’t so bad. Melbourne/Auckland – by the time I got on the plane I had already read about half of my Evanovich book, and finished it on the plane or soon after. Movie was “Jersey Girl” with Ben Affleck and Liv Tyler. She didn’t do anything to make me believe she wasn’t taking a vacation from Lord of the Rings. Maybe she is not such a good actress? Mind you, the movie was pretty mindless.
Auckland/San Francisco. 11 hours + and it went faster than I thought. Watched “Hidalgo” (movie) and lost most of it because of poor sound and terrible screen quality. After that came “Miracle” which was bearable but only just. I went to the toilet (sorry – the bathroom – have to change my terminology) just before the climax… guess that says it all. Kurt Russell really suited being a 1970s nerd.
Arrived in SF and was searched pretty thoroughly at security – had to take my shoes off as well but all was OK. At least this time I remembered to put the wine bottle opener in the suitcase.
After a call to Kendra’s (my agent) cell phone we finally found each other and sat down for tea to talk. She seemed so delighted to see me which was lovely. Of course I should have taken notes but I did write down as much as I could remember later, which I hoped would be useful when I had my manuscript consultation at the conference.
She said I should contact any publishers/editors I knew in New York and ask to visit them – gulp! And she promised to set up a meeting with an editor at Simon & Schuster to discuss my series concept.

On the flight to NY I was sitting next to this Af/Amer guy and finally I asked him (about an hour out) where he thought we were because there were some interesting things below. He said we were over Utah and the “red paddocks” were actually the salt lakes which were fascinating to see – huge and very red. We got talking and it turned out that he was a high school principal. He’d been in the military, served in Vietnam and had taken up teaching eventually. Must have been really good at it because he became a principal pretty quickly from what I could tell. He was on his way to a conference for HS principals, then he was visiting various family members around the East. He was interesting and happy to talk to me about all sorts of things. I fell asleep trying to watch “The Whole Ten Yards” which was really bad.
In the airport, it was the same old story. Where the shuttle said it would be, there was no one and no sign outside to say where to wait. Apparently I should have rung on the phone but I didn’t get that far. This guy came along and asked me what I was waiting for and when I said, he told me the shuttles didn’t run after 12 and did I want to share a cab? This young Asian guy and me ended up in this guy’s car. It wasn’t a cab. He turned out to be a freelancer – charged me $30 which was a little more than the shuttle but a lot less than a cab. I was pretty nervous and thinking I’d done a really dumb thing but it turned out OK. The guy was genuine and he didn’t rip me off. Plus he was very talkative and a bit of a story teller. Got me to the hotel without any dramas.
The Allerton. Well… I guess you get what you pay for. And I have become very fond of my room. I have a large “balcony” outside a double locked door. The balcony is about 8 foot by 14 foot, asphalted with a 6 foot fence around it. But it’s all mine and when it’s so hot, it’s great to be able to open the door. The balcony is surrounded by other buildings, mostly about 10-12 storeys high so there are lots of windows but no one looking most of the time.
The room is basic and the bed is wonky but it’s hard to sleep in the heat anyway. I have a TV and a little sink (and stove but nothing to cook with). The bathroom is clean even though the drains back up a bit and I end up showering in 3 inches of water. It’s all mine and like a little haven. My credit card wouldn’t work so I had to give them $100 in lieu. The next morning it still wouldn’t work but the girl keyed it in OK. Just as well I brought the email reservations printouts to verify the rate. I was still awake about 2am but eventually slept a bit.

Up about 9.30. Showered and dressed, went down to sort out the credit card and stuff, then had a small bowl of cereal. Too hot already. After much consulting of maps and stuff, I decided to walk with a list of things to see and let things happen as they would.
Headed up 7th Avenue to the flea market which went for about 7 blocks. Lots of market stalls selling sunnies, Tshirts, jewellery etc. I tried to cash a travellers cheque in a bank and they wouldn’t do it because it wasn’t Amer Express! In the end a guy on a Tshirt stall said he’d cash it no worries so of course I bought my Tshirts there.
Also bought a bracelet (which broke when I tried it on in my room – spent 10 mins scrabbling on the floor for all the bits). Had a huge cup of lemonade (the real thing) but no food. Too hot to eat! Bought new sunnies as my other ones had broken in the suitcase. Found a 99cent shop and bought a clock, and plan to revisit when I have more time to wander.
Took a couple of photos of the market including one of a candy apple store. The food was everywhere. Not many clothes apart from said Tshirts.
Went to quite a few bookshops, including B&N and Books of Wonder. BoW was quite small and quiet and not very inviting. It was hard to find anything, I’m not sure why.
I loved the streets with all the different cafes and shops. All mixed in with apartment blocks and brownstones. At the delis you can get all sorts of stuff, kind of like a milk bar but with made up salads and beer too.
I also went into an internet café (found one at last – they are much more rare than I expected) and tried to do my emails but Yahoo seemed to be playing up. I spent ages fiddling with it and finally got to read and send emails. Then went into Strand Books – 2nd hand and cheap newies – and got sucked in. What a great shop. Like a rabbit warren. Amazing how many shops have no air conditioning and it was sweltering inside.
I had arranged to meet with Sydelle (friend of a friend – and she is an agent) at B&N on 6th Avenue and realised suddenly that I had about 10 minutes to walk about 14 blocks. Arrived about 8 minutes late, sweating profusely. She was lovely and didn’t mind at all – there were no tables in the café so we went across the street to a bar/restaurant. Had a wine and beer and sat and talked. She told me lots of good things to see in NY, then we got onto books and agents. She was very helpful and gave me lots of information and sensible advice. We talked about what different agents do (and was scornful of a certain Aust SF writer who had said some agents act like their clients’ “mummy”). She also had a lot of knowledge about how the children’s book industry works although her agency represents only adults and her specialty is nonfiction.

Monday 12th
Well, today was an up and down day. I got transferred to the new room to share with John – that was an Up as it has two bedrooms and overlooks the street (more interesting) and has a fridge! TV is crap, very fuzzy, but as there is nothing on worth watching… Hope I can get John out to some night action. There is a Cajun jazz bar not far away that sounds good.
The day started with a rain forecast and the rain itself started about 10.30. Yay for the umbrella I packed after reading the guide books!
So I ventured out again into the subway. Got to 42nd St no trouble – an Up – and it looks even better than the movies. Lots of neon everywhere, not just in one place. I was surprised at how many Broadway shows are actually at Times Square, including the Lion King and 42nd St. I found a big internet place, much cheaper than the cafes I have been using, and was about to tackle the payment machine when this guy came up to me and offered me his 5day internet usage for $3. I asked him what the story was and he said he paid for the whole week (24 hours a day unlimited) and he was offering me the computer for $3 for as long as I wanted. So I had a look and it seemed OK so I gave him the $3 and ended up staying on for about an hour with no pressure. Really good. I imagine that if he did that every day, or even 2 or 3 times a day, he’d make money out of it! Anyway I got to do emails (Yahoo is still playing up, damn it) and also go through all my Optusnet emails and sort them out which was great.
So that was an Up.
Then I went down to the NY Public Library and it was closed. That was a Down. I took a photo outside and had a flatbread sandwich thing for lunch and headed up 5th Avenue. Finally found Gotham Book Mart and it was closed for Inventory (Down). But I walked up and down 47th Street where all the diamond trading happens which was very interesting. Lots of Jews with the little curly bits and black hats. That has to be a NY thing!
Rain kept falling – umbrella kept me mostly dry. Headed on up 5th Avenue and found a B&N, couldn’t resist because I needed a restroom and to sit down for a while. Of course found some books I just had to buy, but this included Tracey’s request of Walter Farley’s “Little Black goes to the Circus”. The girl I asked led me straight to it, unlike the so-called specialist children’s bookshop where they had no idea. God, B&N wins again. I have to say that I have not seen ONE Borders since I have been here, but it seems like B&N is on every corner!
I have to, at this point, mention some NY things. The street smells – lots of food vans cooking things on the street corners, like hot dogs and souvlaki and pretzels, and also sugared nuts which smell so good. And then today when it rained the street smells around Chelsea became overwhelmingly of dog pee! By the afternoon it had all washed away again.
And the horns. Everyone toots as soon as anyone slows down or gets in their way or is a bit of a nuisance to traffic flow. Toot toot! Especially cabs. And the ambulances and fire engines… today, being wet, brought them out more and do they ever let you know if you are in the way. Siren goes whoop whoop and then they get on the horn. GET OUT OF THE WAY!!! Just like Third Watch.
Back to the day’s outing. I decided to move along to MOMA, thinking I had read in the book that it was being renovated but you could still see some stuff. Yeah, right. The stuff on show is out at Queens. (Down) So I went into the MOMA shop and marvelled at how much money they were charging for stuff just because it was to do with the museum.
From there I wandered down 6th Avenue, hoping to see the Simon & Schuster building but instead walked past Radio City and on to the subway. Maybe I am just timing it right but it seems to me that the subway runs all the time and you hardly have to wait at all for the next train. Melbourne is way way behind. And there is an expectation that you move your ass and get on and off that train without delaying everyone. Again, Melbourne people are way too slow in comparison! I took a photo at 23rd Street station – they have these amazing mosaics on the walls at every station.
Got back to 23rd St and staggered into my new room. Wet, knackered and not sure what I wanted to do next. Ended up hanging up some clothes, reading, relaxing and then going out for dinner and drinks. Read the NY Times while I ate – too bad if they thought I was rude! No one seemed to care.
Am now waiting on brother John to arrive. Don’t know if he will be tired or wide awake.

Tuesday 13 July
John arrived OK and we talked for a while. On Tuesday morning we got up, did washing, went to the shop and finally got moving. It was raining – again – but we both had umbrellas which was a save. Went to Kinkos to check emails as John needed to print out an e-ticket to get to Aaron’s up near Boston but the link wasn’t in his emails and it wouldn’t open without a password so I emailed the travel site for him. Also emailed the stuff to Kendra. There was a reply from Robbie Mayes, an editor at Farrar Strauss & Giroux who I had emailed about meeting, big surprise, so emailed back a yes to quick meeting if possible.
We caught the subway downtown to Cortland St and walked around to Ground Zero. In one way it looks like a big construction hole in the ground but in another it looks awful. You can see the walls with stains and damage, and where they are drilling in ties to hold it more strongly. And behind GZ there was one building in particular – an older style one – that had a big chunk out of it and was showing lots of damage. I got a bit teary standing there. Couldn’t help but remember the TV footage and imagine what it must have been like. Incredibly terrible.
Went into the World Financial Centre, which is 3 big buildings joined by walkways, and had lunch on the marble steps along with hundreds of tourists and workers. There was a big display of the process of restoring the area and a model of what the final GZ memorial area and buildings will look like. Two “footsteps” as water features to show where the original towers were. We walked across the Vesey St walkway and took more photos from the other end, then into Century 21, this huge shop that was just like Forges, only more upmarket clothes at cheap prices. Versace, Hugo Boss etc, very cheap. Bought a couple of things but it was almost too crowded to shop easily.
Finally found a place for lunch – deli salads which was nice – and then visited a golf shop, and wandered down to Battery Point. The NY Unearthed exhibit/museum should have been open but wasn’t for some reason, which was disappointing. Instead we went into the oldest house in NY (actually into the chapel) and lit votive candles for Bev and Karen. John took a video with his camera.
Raining, raining. Along Battery Point, could hardly see the Statue of Liberty for the fog and rain. Just an outline in the distance. Went into Castle Clinton fort and walked around, watched a squirrel climb up a roof, found out that the boat trip we wanted only goes from Pier 83.
Decided to walk up Wall Street and gaze at the huge banks. Wall St is so narrow! Nothing like I imagined. In the movies it always looks about half a mile wide. And it’s not so long either. Saw more old buildings and taverns, went inside one to look around and it had two muskets on the wall.
Finally got back to the subway station, home to rest for a while. Had a drink at a bar around the corner while John showed me all the photos on his camera from Europe. Dinner at a Thai restaurant. Chelsea is a fabulous place to stay – so many bars and restaurants within walking distance, and a great atmosphere.

Wed July 14
Up late and so got a late start. Subway to 42nd Street and had a coffee (breakfast was disgusting muesli in our room – we are trying too hard to be healthy!). Went to the internet place and got 40 mins for $2. A bargain. John got his e-ticket printed off which was great – I got an email from Kendra with details to contact an editor at Simon & Schuster. Wonderful. And another from Robbie Mayes at FSG to meet Thurs at 3pm at the offices. Scary.
We wandered up 42nd St and along to the library. It had stopped raining at last so everyone was out in Bryant Park with the book trolleys (open air reading room) and chess games. The Library was amazing – marble floors and walls, gold ornate ceilings and paintings. Baroque? The reading room was huge with gold lamps instead of green like Melbourne.

Up Fifth Avenue to the Rockefeller Centre where they iceskate in winter – it was much smaller than I thought. Lunch and by then it was time to stand in the queue at the half price tickets booth. The line was so long that we thought there wouldn’t be anything left. Couldn’t decide whether to see ‘Frozen’ or ‘Fiddler on the Roof’ – in the end at the window John said Fiddler so got the tickets for $54 each, Dress Circle, 8pm. Into the Information Centre and got some money out and all day train tickets for the next day, then we went back to Chelsea. Walked over to the Piers and John found the golf driving range.
Pretty amazing – it’s on 4 levels. Rows of tee areas with tees that pop up the balls. It was expensive – about $26 to hire 2 clubs and 80 balls so he decided to just watch. We went up to Level 2 and were watching a couple of people. One guy was having a bad day and John started talking to him – the rain began to take off again and it turned into a thunderstorm. What the weather forecast said would be “clusters of potent thunderstorms”. Lightning (fork too) and enormous claps of thunder. The guy we were talking to decided to sit down for a while and told John to have a go. He had this $500 titanium driver John had been looking at in the shop so J had lots of goes with the guy’s various clubs. All the while the rain pelted down and at one point it was so heavy that all we could see was white – Jersey across the river disappeared!
J was having a wonderful time and I talked the guy and then the rain eased off again. So it was one of those things where you do something ordinary and it turns out to be quite memorable.
Got back to the room in the drizzle and I was checking the theatre location when I realised that the guy at the booth had given us the WRONG bloody tickets. Instead of Fiddler on the Roof, we had tickets for 42nd Street! Bugger. Nothing we could do about it so just got ready and went on the subway to Times Square, looked for a restaurant that didn’t have a queue and ended up in Chevy’s Mexican restaurant. Very busy and noisy but good atmosphere. I had a margarita in a huge glass – lovely – and John had the Mexican beer. Very hot shrimp cocktail with lime juice, which was a bit too strong, and a variety plate of all sorts – fajita, taco, burrito, etc, and a stuffed deepfried pepper with cheese that John really liked even though it was pretty hot.
My credit card wouldn’t work, even with keying in, which was a worry. I used a traveller’s cheque. Off to the show.
It was lovely, very much “old Broadway” with lots of tapdancing and singing and several thousand tons of sequins. Shirley Jones was in it and was having trouble reaching most of her notes. Most of the other singers were great and the dancing was amazing. Also wonderful staging with things like huge mirrors and a house with three floors with windows that lit up to show the singers inside. Hard to describe but the sets really made the show. Home on the subway (I was a bit nervous – had a death grip on my bag – but it was fine) and to bed.

Thursday 15th July
Tried to phone Visa when I got home last night and after a lot of mucking around, the voice told me to contact original card supplier. What a great help that was. I ended up ringing Australia the next morning (thank god I brought my phone banking numbers) and the amount in the account seemed about right, so I don’t know what has happened to the stupid card.
Bought John and I coffee and tea from Starbucks for breakfast. I like the old crunchy Granola but my teeth are really playing up. Have several sore gum spots now as well as the tooth ache. Have to keep taking the Nurofen I brought for my back.
We got off to an early start and caught the subway up to 49th St, then walked down to Pier 83. There was a huge queue but they sent two boats out so plenty of room in the end. We were told the boat couldn’t go all the way around as the Tillborough Bridge was jammed closed. It was lovely on the boat, quite slow but fast enough I guess. We went down past Chelsea Piers and took photos of the golf range from the river side. Saw the Winter Garden from the water too – it’s huge, much more than it seems inside the World Financial Centre. The tour guide on the boat was an older man, pretty cynical but interesting. He loved to talk but was really bossy sometimes! Told us lots of odd facts about places we passed. We went out past Ellis Island and the Statue of Liberty. The Statue looked kind of small until you noticed the ant-sized people at the bottom.
Round the bottom of Manhattan, past Staten Island and Wall Street and up under the bridges – Brooklyn, Manhattan and Queens. Past Roosevelt Island where the small pox place and the asylum used to be. Got a photo of the ruins of the small pox place – very creepy looking. Past the NY mayor’s mansion, the only house in Manhattan that sits alone – every other dwelling is either attached (row houses, brownstones) or is an apartment. Turned around and back the other way, up the Hudson river as far as 83rd St and back to the pier. By about the end of the second hour, we’d had enough but of course with a boat you can’t get off.
Raced down to the subway at 42nd St, caught it to Union Square, bought lunch but I couldn’t eat half of mine. Tidied up and found my way up to Farrar, Strauss and Giroux to meet Robbie Mayes. Very tight security. I had to sign in at the bottom and when I got to his floor, I had to phone him on an internal phone to come and unlock the door.
He was very nice – quiet, mid 30s maybe, and his office was quite small and very tidy (unlike mine). I asked lots of questions about how he decides to publish stuff. He showed me his slush piles, talked about how many ms he gets, who sends them, what he reads (all from pb to YA). Found out he especially likes humour which was a bonus. I asked him about picture books, explained I teach them and what does he look for, is there something in particular? He couldn’t really answer it (I didn’t expect him to) but he did say he likes a plot, and of course humour again. I also asked about the length of middle grade and he showed me several examples which were quite varying in length. I told him a bit about my middle grade novel – didn’t want to push it too much – and he said I should tell Kendra to send him my stuff, which was a good sign. After half an hour I left, which was probably a relief to him!
Then I had to wait for John who had walked up to the Flatiron building. He took a while to get back which made me anxious but we made it up to 49th St by about 4.10pm which was good. I went straight across to the Simon & Schuster building and the security guard phoned up, then gave me an entry card with a bar code on it so I could get past the barrier. A souvenir!
Jennifer Klonsky was waiting at the door for me. She was young, early 30s at most, and very friendly. We went to her office and she printed off my series outline and 4 chapters, then we talked a lot about the series and what my ideas were for it. She asked good questions and I think I answered them pretty well. I also talked about other things I was doing, the differences in publishing – S&S published Margaret Wild’s “Jinx” a few months ago which was a good sign I think. Hard to suss out whether they are being really nice because they are always nice or whether they mean these things. She is away this next week but promised that she would read it and let me know by the first week in August what she thought, and whether she wanted to see the rest. Fingers crossed!
John and I walked down to Houlihans bar and I had a martini to celebrate (I had promised Lisa at Penguin that I would have one). It wasn’t as strong as I thought it would be, and not as nice as the margarita I had the night before. We went back and got tidied up and I had booked us into the Cajun restaurant a few blocks away. I wasn’t sure what to expect but it was great. The band was a jazz/swing band that played 40s stuff on Thursday nights. Lots of music I kind of knew – very toe-tapping and uplifting.
I had gumbo, which I wanted to try but wasn’t sure about. It turned out to be lovely. A mix of shrimps, crab, sausage, okra, onions and spices in a stew. The cornbread was great too. John had blackened salmon which was delicious (I tried a bit) and we had some champagne too.
Stayed for two sets of songs, the band was very enjoyable and they played my request – Pennsylvannia 5-6000 – which was fun. We pigged out and had dessert too. Pecan pie and some deepfried sweet pastry things. Staggered home.

Friday 16th July
We were starting to flag by now. Went to the Empire State building and the queue was huge, rows and rows of people winding back and forth around barriers so we decided we had better things to do with our time. Went into Macys and looked at bargains as the sales were on. I dithered over shirts for Brian while John tried on a trendy black silk Tshirt. We had coffee downstairs in the café and it reminded me of the old Coles café in Footscray. Same wooden escalators too.
Caught the subway up to 79th St and found our way eventually to the Museum of Natural History. I was rapt to see they had a frog exhibition on so I went to that. We had lunch first, salads and coffee, and then I saw lots of frogs from all over the world (live ones in glass display units) and took lots of photos. In the shop I found a Navajo ghost necklace so just had to buy that.
We saw a few things in the museum – dinosaurs, Indians, stuff on what pollution and environmental damage is doing to animals and people, and various bits we walked past – but in the end our feet got the better of us. We were exhausted.
Made it back to the emails at 42nd St but mine were playing up and I don’t think anything actually went properly. Yahoo is being hopeless.
Went home and had a drink in a café/bar, then crawled up to our room. Couldn’t decide what we wanted to eat so I suggested The Half King pub which is owned by Sebastian Junger (the guy who wrote The Perfect Storm – he bought it with his advance). It was crowded and noisy but the food turned out to be good. We both had seafood chowder and I had salad and John had crabcakes.
Staggered home and started repacking our bags. I was getting very worried about mine as by the time I finished I could hardly lift it. The carry-on bag wasn’t much better. We went to bed and crashed.

Saturday 17th July
I got up early and went to the supermarket to get some Motrin, also bought yoghurt and some hot tea. We ate most of the leftover cereal and took a beer each to pack in our bags as we never got to drink it. John’s shuttle came first and I had an hour or more to kill before mine came. Very boring and I nearly went to sleep. Vacated the room and fixed up the phone account.
I was panicking a bit about my shuttle but he turned up eventually and we had a very fast trip to Newark. Went through the Holland tunnel under the Hudson River, which I had been over in the boat. Very narrow and all tiled with white tiles like the subways. The trip to Newark airport was not as far as I thought.
On my way to Chatauqua!

Tuesday, June 01, 2004

It took me over a week to read 'Brick Lane' by Monica Ali. For about the first half of the book I kept thinking, Why am I reading this? Why don't I give up?
Of course I had bought it so therefore I had to finish it. I was glad in the end that I did. It was a struggle. I think that the main character, Nzneen, was so passive that I wanted to scream and make her more active.
In the end she does finally take some action, has the affair and eventually stands up to her husband. A very interesting insight into a different culture. I did feel at the end that I had got a lot out of reading the book.
She (Monica) writes well, lots of detail and description so you really feel you know how Nazneen lives and why. I found the letters from the sister to be annoying though. Not sure why. I think because they seemed to go on and on and often had little point to them.
But that is probably part of the story, the way people live their lives, just going on and on, no matter what. This book reminded me of 'The Corrections', that obsession with lives that seemingly go nowhere and no one seems to learn anything. Is this the new face of literary fiction? A long, detailed, obsessional version of Carver? Give me Carver any day.
He allows the reader into the story much more, whereas I feel like Ali and Frantzen batter you with absolutely everything.
On another tack, I've just finished 'This Lullaby' by Sarah Dessen. I loved the main character. Her voice is really strong and she doesn't take crap from anyone. She is also really cynical which appeals to me, of course! Dessen is very good at keeping the action moving and making all the characters very real, while giving you an excellent insight into the main character's thoughts and feelings.
I would like to go back and read specific bits and analyse them. Overall the book is a romance, in the classic way that she meets, resists, they break up, they get back together. But the whole cynicism about love thing is very believable, as is the mother's growth at the end.
My own writing is stalled, as often happens, on the 'plot thing'. I hate getting to that point when suddenly I am just writing, writing but it feels like it is going absolutely nowhere. How to tease out the best bits of this novel from earlier drafts?
A whole new ball game. I must must must make myself sit down and sort out the plot, even though I resist it mentally and am not very good at it.
The alternative is to give up again. Giving up produces nothing, not even fun!

Saturday, May 22, 2004

So many books, so little time. And no time for blogs. Hmmm where do I start?
Crime. Jonathan Kellerman "Therapy". He is definitely writing well in this book, after one or two earlier dips (unlike Cornwell who seems to go from bad to worse - what on earth is this first person/present tense rubbish?)
Anyway, "Therapy" was a great read and I was glad to get away from the romancey stuff that had blighted the storylines in previous novels.
Also read "The Torment of Others" (Val McDermid) this week. It's been a long time since I stayed up really late to finish a book but this time I did. Another terrific read. I hesitate to buy Michael Connolly's latest now - don't want to be disappointed!
Have also read a lot of YA from the library. "After" by Francine Prose. Hmmm. A novel about a high school shooting and afterwards a nearby school goes into total crackdown with rules to excess, leading to brainwashing and apathy etc.
Don't know what it was but it just didn't click with me. Felt predictable somehow.
Thoroughly enjoyed "Born Confused" - an Indian girl as the main character living in New Jersey (sub continent Indian, not American). It felt a bit wordy at first but once you get used to the voice, it's a lot of fun with some serious stuff underneath about families and loyalty and tradition and also appropriation.
Had a long discussion with a teacher/poet friend K about the effect teaching has on your own writing. She said what wew've all said but we have been gently stepping around it - the problem is not with teaching writing, it's with teaching writing to dull students and having to read and mark a lot of really bad writing.
I have been feeling so discouraged over the low standards in my class, and also feeling like I'm pushing s**t uphill with a teaspoon trying to get through to them.
Maybe there is no getting through. Maybe this also needs to be a topic for discussion at the teachers' day.
My writing stutters and stops. Feel as if I keep losing the strong thread of the pirate novel, purely from lack of application.
Perseverance, I tell myself. Yes. Yes. Yes.

Friday, April 16, 2004

Madly trying to read more and more as time runs out and I am back to work sooner than I want to be. That's my dream life I guess - free to read and ponder and write and do what I want all day every day.
Amazing how when I have all these days to myself that I even manage to start sending things out again. When work takes over, all the little extras (and sometimes those extras are what get you published - the perseverance part) get pushed aside.
Finished "Lucas" by Kevin Brooks - a UK author. The story is set on an island, the narration is first person. It provoked an interesting conversation with a writer friend this week about when does first person voice NOT work. At times in this book I felt it was too explanatory. The voice that tells the story - looking back and using the storytelling as a cathartic thing - does a little too much of the "if only I'd known that this would be..." It becomes annoying. You feel like you just want to read the story, thanks, so quit reminding me that it will all end in disaster. Overall I liked the book. The whole idea of an island being an enclosed community that could go feral if given the right circumstances ... hmmm. Felt a little contrived but maybe I am just being way too picky.
Also read "Thamberoo" by Jane Carroll last night - Australian. A good story, well done, not as complex as Lucas in terms of what the author was trying to do but it still was very readable. I liked the main character and could identify with the need to have a place of your own that's special. I wasn't very convinced about the father's redemption - in fact the author may have done too good a job of portraying him and the reality of family abuse! This one was in third person. Raised the whole issue again of how to make third person feel close to the reader. I think she does it well.
How to do it better myself is the big challenge.
After having read YA fiction almost non-stop (thanks to the local libraries) I am now tackling "Lighthousekeeping" by Jeanette Winterson. Time to move back to adult fiction for a while (although I did finish the last few stories in Best American Short Stories 2003 in the past 2 days). So far I'm finding the language very musical. The style and the voice remind me of someone else - Annie Proulx? Joan Clark? The story is the whimsical, almost magic realist kind. Interesting contrast to recent reading.

Thursday, April 08, 2004

Finished "Watermark" - it had a dramatic, quite satisfying ending but I still feel the initial premise didn't convince me. Oh well.
New issue of Writer's Digest has a big section on copyright and internet stuff, where they talk about the various options if someone puts your stuff on the net without your permission (or payment). There is a piece also about Harlan Ellison and his law suit against AOL. He sure is out to make a point.
It is a big issue now, I guess, especially if you write articles or the kind of thing which is easily "pinched" - shorter pieces obviously, like stories and poems. What I have a bigger problem with is the scams via vanity publishing and people who promote themselves as agents etc when all they do is take your money and run. There have been several big court cases in the US lately involving these "agencies" but it doesn't seem to stop them, just slow them down a bit. The desire to be published often overrides common sense.
I have noticed that at the top of this blog there tends to be ads for writing stuff (not under my control - sorry - in order to have a free blog site I get the ads too!). The bottom line, which people don't usually want to hear, is that if you have to pay to have your writing published, then you are, 99% of the time, being scammed so don't fall for it.
The hardest thing in the world is to accept that your writing isn't being published because it isn't good enough, or sometimes because there isn't a big enough market for it (publishing is a business, never forget it). If you believe you have something worthwhile, then self-publish. You retain control and make all the decisions, and you get to keep all the money.
I often talk to people who write poetry who have had a poem or two in one of the International Library of Poetry anthologies (or similar). Yes, it is exciting, but you don't get any free copies like you would if it was a real publisher. Instead you get to buy copies at around $60-70 each. Now, if they are paying a printer in Asia to produce those books at, say, $5 each, and they cram in 1000 poems, and each poet buys a copy, or two or three .... you do the maths.
That was all pretty much of a downer, wasn't it? But I too have a huge folder of rejection letters (and some acceptances, thank goodness, so I don't get too depressed!!!). It goes with the territory.
What makes a published writer? Yeah, some talent. But mostly perseverance - the drive to be better, to improve your craft, and then the sending out, and sending out, and sending out.

Wednesday, April 07, 2004

At the moment I'm reading a YA book by a NZ writer, Penelope Todd. The book is "Watermark". It's a library book and I was interested to see that a reader before me has gone through the first couple of chapters (with a pencil) and underlined all the multi-syllable words such as traipsed and stupefied. I don't know whether the reader was doing it because she/he didn't understand them or because they were annoying?
It's a strange book in some ways, a story of a girl who has never taken any risks and then decides to go to the West Coast of New Zealand to stay in a hut at the invitation of two people she doesn't know. She is mostly on her own, apart from the two who come and go and another man who turns out to be ... but I don't want to spoil the "surprise".
After all the stuff I have been working on since the last SCBWI conference where my novel got ripped to shreds (oh thank you ms critiquer who put me off rewriting this novel for 2 years!! but I did learn a few things) - the emphasis was on character arc and plot arc. I am much more aware of these now, and I guess for me this is where this book falls down a bit. Rather than an arc, it feels to me like a series of dips. Maybe it's like the Gantos book - the initial premise didn't work for me. Just a bit too unbelievable. And so the rest of the book never quite makes it. A personal reaction. Others will probably disagree.
Character arc. Hmmm. I am 7500 words back into a new rewrite of that novel and already the arc rears its ugly head! Time to stop and regroup. I cannot write a 40,000 word version of a novel that struggled to get below 100,000 words. So I have to replot the first half and make it into two books. I know this but I had to start the new draft before I could fully get to grips with what was going to be necessary.
That's OK. I can do this.
Amazing how much of the original material I have forgotten. I wasn't going to use the old draft but even some of the minor characters have faded so will reread it and take what I need. And the language - all those great words (this is a historical novel).
Blogs are interesting. I look at other people's and wonder what we get out of it. Like an open diary?

Tuesday, April 06, 2004

A friend emailed me today - she had just been to a children's writers' conference in Sacramento. Very interesting as all the speakers were publishers and editors. This is the kind of conference I wish we had in Australia - where you get to hear editors talking about what they want, how to submit etc. At least one of them works for a publisher that doesn't accept unsolicited manuscripts, yet at the conference she told attendees how to send to her directly.
One issue that came up is that of writing for middle grade. It seems that the preferred page length is 80-140 pages, no more, no less. This seems like a big leap to me from chapter books up to middle grade. Ms pages for a chapter book would come in at around 40 tops. Is there a middle ground between these two? If so, who is doing it?
Finished "Breaking Point" by Alex Flinn today. Very good, with a redemptive ending that didn't make things turn out all happy. There is something about having a main character who learns something about themselves. The whole change/growth thing. And she manages to also send a message - all those kids who get picked on and harrassed at school because they're different, i.e. don't fit the mould, well this author makes one of those kids real and presents a believable point of view. "Desire Lines" felt unreal to me, almost too excessive and yet it is probably based on a true event. I've struggled long and hard with that problem before - to say "but it really happened" just doesn't cut it in fiction.

Monday, April 05, 2004

I've been inspired by Judith Ridge's blog of her trip to the US, meeting all kinds of writers and visiting libraries, so here goes!
I'm not a fan of diaries - my focus is books and writing, obviously. I read a lot of children's and young adult books, I write children's and YA books, but I also read adult novels, poetry, and short fiction. I write poetry and fiction, and this is what I teach.
My writer friends and I grapple with the writing stuff all the time. Some of my friends teach with me.
Can writing be taught? I think the craft can. I have seen students make huge improvements in their writing. Some to the point where they eventually get published, but they have to work really hard at it.
Others just have a gift. Even without attending a class or course, they would get publiished if they persevered.
Ah, perseverance! I have also seen a lot of talented writers give up. It's hard, it's like being stuck under a huge rock. The rock is often other people's expectations - why don't you get a real job? it's a nice hobby, dear, but... You've probably heard a few of your own. And then there are our own hopes and dreams. It's about keeping your own dream alive, long after everyone else has given up on you. It's about the rejection letters, and not taking them personally. About sending that manuscript out again and again and again. And if you are still getting rejected, then taking a good look at the words on the page and rewriting - AGAIN.
No one asks us to be writers. No one comes knocking on our door, saying "Please write poems and novels and stories - I'll pay you a million bucks no matter how bad it is."
I try to teach people the basics. Plot, character, dialogue etc. Then I try to push them deeper into what these mean, what they need to do to make a story "grab the reader by the throat and not let them go". I said that to one of my classes last week and they just looked at me. Oh well, I'll keep on saying it, because if you can't do that, if you don't understand why you have to do it and then work at your novel until it happens, then you won't get published.
I remember at the SCBWI conference in LA 2 years ago, three different people (agents, editors) saying that if you have a great character and a weak plot, it can be fixed. If you have a great plot but the character doesn't engage the reader, if the voice isn't working, it can't be fixed. So I tend to teach character and voice first, especially in my Writing for Young Adults class.
Enough about writing. Books? Just recently read "House of the Scorpion" by Nancy Farmer. Is it just me or are there quite a few books about clones out there at the moment? I enjoyed this book. It made me think about what a clone might be (we don't know yet, do we?). How much is cloned? Just the body or the mind and experiences too? I agreed with some of the reviews - the ending was a little too neat and happy. But I thought the concept of the story, the themes and characters, were all well done.
At the moment I'm reading the second Alex Flinn book, "Breaking Point". I'm interested to see how it goes, having read "Desire Lines" by Jack Gantos not long ago. DL was a book that really unsettled me. No happy ending, no redemption for the main character. Chilling. BP is heading along the same track - loser/loner kid who teams up with troublemakers in order to have friends and fit in. We'll see.