Wednesday, December 21, 2005

I have a writer friend who absolutely loves rewriting. And almost hates first draft. I have another friend who rarely rewrites, loves the 'rush' of the first draft and then just puts things away and starts a new piece.
Both of these have their drawbacks. The rewriting fiend can't send work out because it always needs one more rewrite. The first draft fiend sends things out occasionally and after one rejection, tosses it in the bottom drawer and moves on to the next story.
I'm somewhere in the middle. I don't enjoy fiddly rewrites, where I'm doing very little to the story, but I recognise they need to be done. It's where the sentences matter, where the language improves, where the characterisation deepens. But it can also be where I step too far back from the voice and the action and then I start to lose the depth of character. I try now in rewrites to imagine myself into the heart of the story and work from there. This is where the silent house is important. Nothing to distract me from the heart.
A few years ago, I listened to Adib Khan speak (he is an Australian literary author) and he says he does four drafts, but for the first three, he puts the previous draft aside, doesn't even look at it again and starts the new draft from scratch. Each new draft is like a distillation of the previous.
I have found this also to be useful. It helps to re-vision the story, rather than just fiddle around the edges.
But everyone is different. What to do with a new work that suddenly develops into something unexpected? That's where I am with a YA novel right now. I thought it might work based on emails, but the character has other ideas. This will be a novel where I do a lot of experimenting, on the basis that not all of it will work, and I might have to throw out lots of pages. But the central story and character excite me, so it will be fun. Even the rewrites sound promising already!

Saturday, December 17, 2005

This is that time of the year when a great "tidy up" tends to happen in my chaotic office (i.e. the spare bedroom). By tidy up, I mean two things. The first is obvious and requires the use of a large rubbish bin.
The second is about following up on anything that has been bugging me or left hanging or just plain needs to be finished. Thus the tidy up list includes: copying all 58 poems in my verse novel into one computer file so it can have page numbers and a set order and be printed out properly (and sent to agent for reading); following up on manuscripts that have been sitting on someone's desk for way too long; following up an an advance that should have been paid to me a couple of months ago; updating industry news and networking stuff; sorting out what projects I have completed this year and where I am with the rest (kind of like a progressive goal setting thing I've started doing); having Xmas lunches and stuff with various writers and friends; buying books that I will devour over Xmas when there is nothing to do but relax; planning what writing I will work on while away with laptop; debating whether to buy a second laptop battery.
And making decisions about some important writing issues that have come up. Outcomes will be deliberated on in the New Year.
Have started reading "Best Australian Short Stories 2005" and got right back into short fiction all over again. Want to read more poetry. Am hoping that my copy of Meg Files' new anthology, published by Pima Press, will arrive very soon. It's a collection of poems on aging and the samples she sent were great.
Also I have been reading "Wolf Brother" by Michelle Paver and loving it. One of those books I plan to photocopy some pages from and analyse the writing. She is so good with setting and voice. But first to simply enjoy it.

Monday, December 12, 2005

It's a funny thing, being really tired and yet twitchy to write. The brain says, "No, no, sleep or veg out or something" but none of those things satisfies.
I'm end-of-year tired and grumpy, and wishing I was about to have 3 months off instead of 3 weeks (if I'm lucky). A country far far away sounds good right now but I might have to settle for Narnia.
Tried to be a vegetable last night and watch mind-numbing TV but it wasn't working. The twitching grew worse and in the end I had to rev up the laptop and write something - anything! Turned out that the beginning of a short story I wanted to add to had disappeared; thank goodness for hard copy and my need to print stuff out to "see" it. So I retyped it and made a few changes and seeing as how I had just that day made some notes on where I thought the story could go, I kept writing and have ended up with 2500 words. It's not finished yet but I'm happy.
It's a fantasy short story, not something I write often, but the Firebirds anthology has been inspiring so I thought I'd take another look at what I'd started.
I loved the story in Firebirds by Diana Wynne Jones - from a cat's point of view, which I have seen a few people do a miserable job on, but the story was great. An excellent example of how to have seven characters (cats) and keep them all clear and defined in the reader's mind. No confusion at all. I can't speak for dog lovers or cat haters, of course.
Miss Snark's blog continues to entertain. I even entered her 25 word competition and did about as well as I do in baked bean slogan competitions - zilch. But it was fun, and more fun to read the winning entries.
I also have read a children's classic - "The Midnight Fox" by Beverly Cleary. It felt old-fashioned but still very engaging. I think the old-fashioned feeling came more from the main character than anything - he was a funny sort of boy. But a lovely book.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Even though I didn't reach my 50,000 words for Nano, I seem to have inspired (for lack of a better word) a couple of others to try it in December as November just wasn't the right month for them. I really appreciated the Nano site with the graph on my page - there was something about seeing the graph go up that was encouraging. Maybe that's a bit sad, I know, but sometimes that outside "poke in the ribs" is just what you need. For one of my friends, I've created her own graph. Will it help?
In the past, when I've ground to a standstill for one reason or another, I've done various things to reignite me. One was to write a poem every day for a month. Sounds easy until you get to about Day 10 and end up writing a limerick about your bathroom! I've also used books like "Wild Mind" by Natalie Goldberg - very useful.
The Sue Miller book was "Lost in the Forest" - I think I gave the wrong title earlier. I enjoyed it - and envy her ability to get right inside her characters and make each one so interesting.
Currently reading "Firebirds" which is a fantasy short story anthology edited by Sharyn November. Most of the stories so far have ranged from pretty good up to great. Often with an anthology I hit a spot in the middle where I get a bunch of stories that just don't grab me and it takes a lot of perseverance to keep going (last year's Best American Short Stories did that - it's still sitting there half-finished).
I was asked recently to contribute to the Read Alert blog at the State Library - my favourite book for the year. That was a hard choice but I went for the Chris Crutcher book in the end (Whale Talk) - the voice of that character has just stayed with me for weeks.
After writing about 3000 words of a new YA novel at the end of Nano (and I had to stop because I had no idea where to go next) I am now ready to do some planning and exploring. I know the story I want to tell - the central one - but this novel needs much more than that. It's multi-layered and the other layers have to work too.
So the next couple of weeks will be thinking, writing, exploring, and then there's still rewriting on other projects to do.
Who has time for Christmas?

Saturday, December 03, 2005

Today I did what any sensible writer does - I rewarded myself for writing. With a 45 minute Chinese massage. It was meant to be 20 minutes but the guy said my back was very stiff (it's called computer scrunch, a new medical term I invented) so I went for the extra 25 minutes. Floated home and promptly attacked a rewrite of 'The Littlest Pirate Number 3' which has been waiting for my scalpel for several weeks. I was hoping my brain had returned from the hidey-hole it had crawled into, but it only put in a pale appearance and then went again, so I struggled on by myself. I did manage to cut 400 words, only 100 short of what the editor asked for. And I left in most of the funny lines, I think. I hope.
On Friday I went to the Dromkeen lunch. For those of you not in Melbourne, Dromkeen is the homestead at Riddell's Creek, an hour from the city, which is a gallery and exhibition and workshop/school visit place that focuses on picture books. The lunch is an annual thing which honours librarians and has illustrators doing demonstrations. The guest during lunch was Marc McBride who does the Deltora covers and he created an airbrush painting of a dragon while we watched.
Every time I see what illustrators do, I go green with envy. They create such marvellous things. I did a little bit of video/filming for my teaching materials project at the university, but it was a horrible rainy day so not much scope.
Still reading the Sue Miller book.
Finally got around to copying some old files off my ancient computer in the office and now am not sure what to do with them. After having several floppy disks die on me recently, I'm loathe to leave the files on them. These file depositories in cyberspace sound interesting, but the mainfile at work might be more convenient. Ultimately I should print out hard copies too, but all that paper ... and as it is I have spent 3 hours today trying to tidy up the office. To add more seems self-defeating.
More rewrites coming up. I wish I could do both at the same time, i.e. alternate between first draft stuff on one book and rewriting on another, but this is one area where my brain seems to need to do one or the other, not both.

Thursday, December 01, 2005

Nano sure does take up a lot of time! But it was inspiring and educational, if nothing else. It showed me I can write any time, any place (I have a photo of me with my laptop out in the woods, writing), and also fit in writing in the odd half hour if I really want to. It cured procrastination (not once did I have to use the alarm set up on my computer that is supposed to tell me to get writing or else!) and I got back into that old habit of continually keeping the novel in my head and thinking about what comes next so as soon as I sat down, I was ready to go.
All of that was very satisfying (but not always fun).
I also found that those people out in library research land are still being wonderful to me - hence an email to South Carolina resulted in an answer to a question that I had spent hours trying to find out via books and internet. Thank you!
On the down side, I am absolutely exhausted. As well as Nano, I had marking to do, then stuff started going wrong at work and things piled up at home, waiting for me to do them, and the pressure built. Mind you, chopping down a bouganvillea tree and feeding it into a mulcher did wonders for my aggro.
I did not reach 50,000 words. For one simple reason. I finished the novel I was working on. It came in at around 75,000 words (it was already started when I started Nano) and although I did start on a new novel the very next day and managed a couple of thousand words on it, I just couldn't continue. But I am very happy with my novel draft and looking forward to working on it more (probably cutting some of it for sure).
Now I am a vegetable, a reading vegetable, taking great pleasure in soaking up someone else's words. First up was Tess Gerritson's new book (yes NEW, unlike the last one) called "Vanished". That got four stars. Now I am reading Sue Miller's new book "A Walk in the Forest". Very different, not crime. And a weird point of view, as in many points of view. She changes from section to section, and you can't really call it omniscient POV because it's not distant. It's right inside each character's head and emotions. One to study.
Next on the pile is Marcus Zusak's new book "The Book Thief". Hope it's as good as everyone says it is.

Thursday, November 24, 2005

Work stuff (that's the 9-5 thing I get regular money for) has obliterated my week. Here it is, Thursday, 24 days of Nano and I have only added 4000 words since last Saturday. So disappointing.
I think I'm also brain-dead, again work-related, and so I'm reading a lot of poetry right now to feed my creative brain rather than add more "work" to the mix.
No sense blogging though, when I could be Nano-ing!

Saturday, November 19, 2005

After 18 days of Nano, I'm up to 25,000 words and still going. The novel I am working on has just hit 60,000 words, and my aim to complete it under 70,000 (because children's publishers don't like long novels unless you are JKR or writing fantasy) is looking possible. Even if I go over, I know I can still cut.
I have two manuscripts on my desk, waiting for editing and small rewrites to go back to an editor and I must start working on the first one ASAP. But it's so hard to stop Nano once you get into the swing of it. Any day that no writing is done feels like an empty day!
It has spin-offs too. I am writing poems at night, and rethinking a couple of half-finished short stories. But the novel is first.
Reading Michael Connelly's "The Lincoln Lawyer" and enjoying it. It's that thing where you know you are in good (writer's) hands from the first few pages. Initially I was a bit worried that the main character was going to be unlikeable, but the author does that thing where you see other sides of him - in other words, complexity!! By the end of teaching and grading this year, I was becoming convinced that it was the key to the next level of improvement in so many novels I saw. Too many felt one-dimensional, focused only on the main character and even then his or her life and back story was so limited. No material for subplots or depth of feeling or motivation or any of those important things that draw the reader in.
As entertainment, I continue to read Miss Snark. There has been a bit of debate about whether she is really an agent but a lot of what she says sounds too industry-savvy and sensible to be a writers. On the other hand, another blog by someone called SammyK who says he is an agent is just too stupid and rude and obnoxious to be real.
Bought Rosalie Ham's new novel yesterday. Everyone I know to whom I have recommended her first book "The Dressmaker" has loved it. Fingers crossed this one is as good.
She writes adult fiction, by the way, and is Australian.

Friday, November 11, 2005

Grading is almost finished at last and NaNo is good! I passed 10,000 words on Wednesday, a miracle considering what else I have been doing. I'm amazed at how I really can find an hour to write at odd times, just because I have this target and don't want to fail by TOO much.
I am now a third of the way through "Icemark" and it still is a struggle. Having read lots of good reviews of it (and then reading the publisher's note which says that the author rang him up and pitched the story and it sounded so terrific that he just had to read the manuscript), I thought What am I missing here? What is the problem?
Maybe I'm just tired? But every time I think about it, it's that the main character is too flat. Yes, she's courageous and headstrong and brilliant at everything she does, but she doesn't feel real to me. And after about 80-90 pages, I think that is a problem. Other comments welcome!
I've bought four new books this week, as rewards for finishing all the school work. Started the Tess Gerritsen book and was very cross when I realised it wasn't new - it's a reprint of an old one with a new cover to match the others. I got sucked in by "branding"!! It's like Tami Hoag's early novels - way too much romance and not enough crime. Hoag changed the balance later in a big way, as did Gerritsen, but the soppy bits in this are too M&B for me.
Bought Marcus Zusak's new book "The Book Thief" and also Michael Connelly's new one. Ah... holiday reading. Nothing like it. Once work is finished I tend to read until my eyes fall out of my head.
But I will still be writing, never fear.

Sunday, November 06, 2005

Student grading is nearly finished, and NaNoWriMo keeps going. I'm up to 4315 words, not keeping on target but good considering the workload of all those student novels to read and comment on. I can't see me hitting the 50,000 but I am writing every day, even if only for 30-45 minutes. That's all it takes!
Have started reading "The Cry of the Icemark" and so far it's not doing much for me. Maybe I'm a bit impatient with fantasy at the moment. Sometimes I just have to be in the right mood for it, which I guess says I'm not a dedicated fantasy reader. Well, I already knew that.
Two of my classes this week have focused on "The First Five Pages" - it's been a good exercise to briefly look at the main points from the book. Then I asked them to evaluate the first five pages of a fellow student's novel. I didn't read their comments, just told them to pretend they were overworked editors at publishing houses! It's always good for me to be reminded of that stuff too.
One of my other goals this week is to add some photos and other stuff to my website. I also have to alter the work website as our course is changing next year so a lot of the info has to be updated. I practice on the site at work, then I come home and feel more confident about altering my own!
As an aside, I'm wondering when Miss Snark might be inspired to write her own book?

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

My internet connection is being incredibly slow this morning, so things had better not disappear into black holes - mind you, there is an apartment building in Sydney at the moment that is doing exactly that. Disappearing into a hole, thanks to tunnel construction.
NaNoWriMo has started, and so have I. Tally so far - 500 words. Probably nothing today, although my writing group is having a writing session so if I carried my laptop inside from my writing hovel in the back yard... Yes, good thinking. I did have a short story I wanted to work on, but I guess it could wait.
Finished reading Doris's novel last night - "Forgotten Dreams". I kept thinking it was going to have romance in it, but of course it didn't. It was a good read, lots of twists and turns, and with the religious connections and mystery in it, it felt a little like Australia's answer to the da Vinci Code. Except Doris would probably bop me for saying that!
Student grading goes on, and on. I made the fatal mistake of doing all the good ones first, and so had to tightly rein in my impatience when I got to the not-so-good students and discovered there were still people not able to work out how to indent their paragraphs. How hard is it, for gosh sake??
Reading Miss Snark's blog daily at the moment - such a tonic!

Friday, October 28, 2005

I cannot believe I just finished typing this long entry and it has now disappeared somewhere, simply because I tried to Bold a word - and the whole thing vanished! Grrrrr. There are times I wonder if LiveJournal might be more cooperative.
So a quick reading summary: "Simon Says" Elaine Marie Alphin - very intense and dark.
"The First Five Pages" Noah Lukeman - reading again to present the main points to my novel writing students at the end of the semester (which is very soon - yaayyy!)
"From Where You Dream" Robert Olen Butler - also about writing, focus on literary fiction. Lots to take in. A slow read but very interesting.
"Forgotten Dreams" Doris Leadbetter - novel by my dear friend who died last December and never got to see her book in print. For all you procrastinators - write now! And submit when it's ready.
I have signed up for NaNoWriMo - write a novel in a month - November 1-30 to be exact. I am determined to get this historical novel finished (draft 6) and hope the November thing will get me moving. Never mind how much student writing I have to grade!
Now to post this before it vanishes again.

Sunday, October 16, 2005

Having lugged home a box of books weighing about 26 pounds, plus another 8-10 pounds in my carry-on bag, I thought it was time I did a short round-up of what I have read so far.
"Catalyst" by Laurie Halse Anderson (YA fiction). I loved her first novel "Speak" and enjoyed this one almost as much. She has a wonderful way with voice, and with seeing right inside a teen character without making her sound whiny or immature. Recommended.
"Olive's Ocean" by Kevin Henkes (mg fiction). I did like this, but felt at times that the character and the story he was trying to tell was bigger than he could manage. Very occasionally it felt slight somehow, and I didn't feel that the whole thing about Olive dying and the ocean was as well handled as it could have been. But still a good book and very accessible to mg readers (who wouldn't be as critical as me!).
"Dead Run" by PJ Tracey (crime fiction) - excellent - up to their usual standard (it's a collaboration like Nicci French), with lots of twists and turns, and female characters who are very real and full of guts.
Two novels by John Harvey while I was away - both very good - that I passed on to a friend.
"Word Work" by Bruce Holland Rogers (writing book). Full of stuff about being a writer rather than writing craft and how-to. I really liked the bits about Pig Will and Pig Won't - did the exercises which was enlightening - and also about writing rituals. Later chapters on rejection and sticking at it also good value. This was a very intensive read, there was so much in it. Worth going back and re-reading bits for more thinking later.
As for writing, I did about 3 hours today (yaaaayyyy!). OK, it was rewriting but what is writing but making it better? This is draft No. 8 of my mg novel, and the ending needs more fixing. Obviously since I have spent a year working on my plotting and have improved on that, now I need to spend another year working on my endings! Thank goodness for honest writing friends who can critique fearlessly. Thanks, you lot.
I have downloaded an alarm clock for my computer which is designed to get me off the internet (my favorite procrastination tool). When the alarm goes off, a siren sounds and the words pop up on the screen, telling me it's time to WRITE!!!

Friday, October 14, 2005

The inclination is to say "Now I'm back in the real world' but of course Tucson and San Antonio were the real world too. It was just that it was a world with no bills, no teaching to prepare for, no student work to grade, no phone to answer, and lots of new things to see and do. It's kind of a jolt to come back to day-to-day living and realise how little time I have to write, how many small chores there are to do that fill up the hours in a flash, how I am going to have to get back to strong determination just to carve out time to write.
Stupidly, I had set all three classes an assignment due in this week. The advantage is, once they're done, it'll be another 3 weeks before the end of semester work piles up, waiting to be graded.
But then (I raise my head for a moment and gaze at the distant horizon where the word HOLIDAYS hovers) I really will have more time to write.
I collected my second film from the photo place today and gazed longingly at the photos, especially the one of the InTown Suites. A very boring building to look at, but that quiet room ...
OK, I'll stop complaining now. Besides, there is rugby on TV to watch, glass of wine in hand. The day is over.

Sunday, October 09, 2005

Back in Australia. Weather brisk and sunny, not as cold as I feared. Either that or I am still retaining inner warmth from my trip. Bones not coping well with the long flight home. I began seizing up around Hour no. 5 and still feel like someone attacked my hips with a hammer. I know they say to get up and walk around in the plane, but that is easier said than done when the aisles are narrow and there is nowhere much to go except around and up and down, annoying people. I had an exit seat (which means the flight attendants ask you if you are willing to help people get out of the plane if it crashes - oh yes, of course, you say, while wondering how likely it is that you will still be alive yourself) so plenty of leg room for exercises. However, 13 hours of sitting in one place tends to make the body groan.
No movies worth watching again so I read and read and read, ending up with scratchy eyes but it passed the time. Also managed a bit of sleep. I seem to remember flying to the US a few years ago and being fed about 4 times until I thought I would explode (when bored, it is always a diversion to eat, even when not hungry). Now you get 2 meals, and a snack halfway through the night if you are desperate. I have never been served meatloaf on a plane before and never wish to again. But the breakfast pancakes were quite edible.
Kristi and I packed in more writing and talking about writing and critiquing and discussion and reading in 5 days than I've ever had. I think we both found it inspiring and I hope we can also use what we gained to help us into better writing "mindsets". We both experience the dilemma of teaching (as a regular income) and then finding that it drains us for writing. And also the dilemma of needing at times to sell work and trying to balance that with writing the "heart" books.
Publishing has changed in the past ten years. She has been publishing longer than me, and agrees that things are more difficult, especially the aspect of knowing where you are with a publisher. Often your editor leaves, or there are cutbacks, or a change of direction - no one tells you what is going on, or if they try, it may be inaccurate. So you are left hanging in the wind, waiting for a contract that may never come, even after having verbal offers made and dates set. It all can disappear in a week. At least I have not had the experience of having a book of mine published without my permission (or a contract).
These kinds of experiences for authors (effects of changes at publishers) seem to be such a common occurrence now. Witness the changes and upheaval at Simon & Schuster children's publishing over the past few months.
Enough of this philosophising! I have done a lot of clothes washing, half of my class preparation for this week, opened a foot-high pile of mail, caught up on most emails and restocked the cupboards with fresh food. Now if I could train my brain to stop waking up at 3am, thinking it's time to get up, I will be OK.

Friday, October 07, 2005

Sitting at LA airport, pounding away on a fold-down terminal. I have tried this before and I can tell you that: a) the keyboards always require concentrated pounding with much correcting, and b) the Control C function that usually allows you to copy in case your email goes to the great black hole does not work, so that any email carefully constructed will immediately disappear, leaving you to say a variety of words that would make hair curl. So. Whatever appears on this blog will be serendipity, and all spelling and spacing errors are to be ignored.
Kristi and I have spent 5 lovely days talking writing. We have managed some tourist excursions, a lot of eating, some visits to the gym (to counteract eating) and much talking. And some critiquing. All very good.
Now I am on the way home, inflatable pillow in hand (new because I can't find my other one) and books handy in case I can't sleep. Luggage includes box of books and a range of souvenirs. Snake photo will appear on website soon!

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

Monday - a quiet day, reading writing books and talking. I am reading '78 reasons why your book may never get published and 14 reasons why it just might' by Pat Walsh. Some great observations on the publishing industry. A few to depress you, a few to make you feel optimistic (if you are an optimist!). Went to the gym and worked off some sludgy couch-potato feelings and limbered up some muscles and sciatic nerves. We also did some stuff on close reading and talked about language and style a lot. Good things for writers to do!
Today Kristi and I went into the city on the bus and walked along the River Walk. It was created in 1941 but only made really beautiful and safe for the tourists in the last 15 years or so, I think. Before then it was a great place to get mugged, apparently. Now you walk down steps from the street to the river level and then walk along under bridges and through gardens etc. There is one place which is a theatre, with the stage on one side of the river and the amphitheatre on the other (the river is only about 20 feet wide, by the way). Looked in some shops in the little Mexican village behind the amphitheatre - there was a shop there called the Starving Artists' Gallery so of course we looked in that one too.
Did a little shopping in the River Centre - big shopping centre - and had lunch outside by the water, listening to a Mexican band, which was very relaxing. Then went to the Alamo. The buildings are made out of limestone, or at least the actual mission is, and you weren't allowed near the walls or to touch them. The guide showed us a doorway where the stone was dark and scuffed from people touching it. Saw a 15 minute movie about the battle, then went into the mission. No photos allowed inside, which was a pity as the postcard I got doesn't do it justice. Nothing like the one at San Xavier, which was all painted. This one is just the original walls - stark and full of a different kind of history.
Saw four squirrels in the gardens and spent some time in the gift shop getting little bits of stuff.
The museum part wasn't open unfortunately - being renovated.
Came home tired out from the walking and the heat and humidity - had to soak my feet in a tub for a while! Then we ordered in pizza and watched a video.

Monday, October 03, 2005

I obviously am time-zone addled, for several reasons as will become apparent. But I have just realised that my blog is using Australian time for posting, therefore my day out with tour guide Al was really Thursday, Arizona time.
Friday morning I spoke to a class of trainee teachers at the Pima College Desert Vista campus. They were a lovely group, and I focused more on children's books and publishing and school visit experiences. It was a shorter session that I expected, but good value. I gave the course teacher some of my books and she is going to pass them on to some of the schools she visits in the poorer areas of Tucson where they have few resources. I did think I would donate some to Hurricane Katrina library causes but they are all saying no more books, only money.
Lunchtime I went to the gym to iron out some aches and pains, then I gave my car back to the rental people. Meg and I went downtown, looking at Mexican furniture shops and then craft shops. We finally went to 4th Avenue, had dinner at a Guatemalan restaurant, then went to a poetry reading at Antigones book shop. A poet - Barrie Ryan - and a novelist. Very interesting readings. I like to hear people's different reading styles. Antigones is a feminist book shop, with some great Tshirts and gifts too. I particularly liked the huge coffee cup that read 'She Who Must Be Obeyed'. Managed to restrain myself from buying 3 books, including the new edition of Best American Short Stories. It will be 3 months before I can get it in Melbourne. Oh well.
We finished the night with a margarita, as you should do on your last night in Tucson! Early rising on Saturday to get to the airport. I had loaded most of my books into my carry-on bags, and then wished I had someone large and muscley to carry them for me. Meg waved me off and I was very sad to leave.
Had to travel via Denver, and that's where the problems occurred. After wasting $5 on an internet terminal that had a terrible keyboard which then deleted my 15 minutes worth of mad pounding on the keys, I thought - go and have a coffee and relax, so I did. I had a large coffee, I read my book, I wrote two poems, I relaxed.
Then I went to the toilet, then I wandered down to my departure lounge. On the way I double-checked the gate number and ... funny, I thought. My flight has disappeared off the screen. Then I checked the clock, to discover that there was one hour time difference in Denver from Tucson and my flight had gone without me.
Panic. Went straight to the service desk (which sounds like a simple walk except I am carrying about 20kilos of books in my two carry-on bags so it was more like a stagger) and luckily they got me on the next flight but I had another 2-1/2 hours to wait. As you can imagine, I stayed right by the gate for the whole time! After calling Kristi to tell her I was going to be arriving 3 hours late.
San Antonio is way greener than Tucson - trees, lawns and not a cactus in sight. But it is very muggy, like the difference between Melbourne and Sydney in the middle of summer. I don't do well in humidity but it is still 10 degrees F cooler than Tucson so I guess I will survive. There's always good old air conditioning for wimps like me.
Today Brian (who Kristi and I met at Chatauqua) came down from Austin to visit and we spent the whole day talking about writing and publishing. It was very entertaining but also instructive and inspiring - we shared publishing horror stories and talked about what we're writing and why. When we came back from having dinner down the road, there were two deer on the side road.
Brian told me his two daughters have pet snakes, but yes, their cat is quite interested in the snakes. They live in aquarium-type containers so it would be like having fish or frogs. But I still don't think I could feed a snake live mice. That seems too mean.
At some point this week we are going on the River Walk and to the Alamo. Am looking forward to it, and to finding out from the airline if I can pack my books into a box to go with my suitcase.

Friday, September 30, 2005

Touring day today. My special tour guide, Al, took me first up A Mountain, a small mountain (hill?) by Tucson that has a huge letter A on top of it. Symbol of the University of Arizona. Many stories about the painting of the A, and how each year newbies to UA have to climb up and repaint it. Great views of Tucson. And we also saw another road runner that stopped and posed so I could get a photo of it.
Then over Gates Pass. We diverted into the viewing area near the top, to interrupt half a dozen motor cycle police all neatly lined up with their shiny bikes having a photo taken. From the viewing point, we could see across to the mountains (including the observatory) and the water recharging area where they are taking water from the Colorado River and putting it back into the underground water table.
The mission of San Xavier was very old and beautiful. Many relics and icons and statues, as well as paintings on the walls. As it was a weekday, there weren't many tourists and it was very quiet and peaceful. Celebrations for St Francis of Assisi are coming up so the statue that they carry around was out of its resting place, ready for the ceremonies. They have candles that people light for blessings and prayers but you can only use the ones there which are specially developed so they don't make more soot and pollute the paintings. I only had my digital camera with flash inside so I hope the photos are light enough to see the details.
From there we drove to Tubac, which is a small town on the way to Nogales (Mexican border). Many craftspeople live and exhibit there - there are more than 20 shops selling everything from pots and garden ornaments to jewellery, Tshirts, paintings. sculptures, every kind of craft you can think of. Plus galleries showing artwork of all kinds. I saw many things that I would have loved to buy, especially some of the large pots and ceramics. There were also a lot of Indian crafts, including arrows, wall hangings and beadwork.
On the way back we were stopped by the Border Patrol for a check. A large sign by the road said they had apprehended over 9000 illegal immigrants - I presume they meant this year. And 2.2 kilos of cocaine.
Home again and a big thank you to Al. He was incredibly knowledgeable and I have a potted history of Arizona now, as well as a number of interesting facts and stories. I collected my photos (thankfully OK) and investigated posting some of my books and papers home - $46 minimum, from what I was told, so that isn't going to happen.
Have relaxed tonight, done some laundry (all currently hanging around the room as yet again I didn't have enough quarters for the dryer) and catching up now on emails.
Tomorrow I am off to speak to a class of trainee teachers, then have to return my car to the rental place and meet up with Meg for dinner and poetry reading.

Thursday, September 29, 2005

Another busy day, although no classes today. I'm starting to lose track of the days but I think that's because I did the weekend workshop and those two days felt like a Monday and Tuesday. Hard to believe that I only have two full days left.
This morning I went to the Poetry Centre at the University of Arizona. The Centre has a huge library of poetry books and journals and magazines - I got to have a quick look at a few, including a few I have never heard of. They have poetry from all over the world - I saw books there by Les Murray and Alan Goudge, among others - and a lot of videos/DVDs and audio CDs of poets reading. They have a big program of visiting poets and many of their photos were on the walls.
I talked to Maurynne, who works with lots of kids, doing poetry classes with them, mainly out in the schools. She has just finished working on a book which is about "teaching" poetry to 4-6 year olds. It sounds really good so I have put in an order. Arizona has an artists' register so schools can contact artists to work with their students. It sounds a little like our Artists-in-Schools program.
I would love to see a poetry centre at Vic Uni, but don't know how much support I would get! Maurynne said there is a very active, enthusiastic poetry "network" in Tucson so lots of things happen.
Then I walked around the university - up the main boulevard under the palm trees, enjoying the sun for a little while before it got too hot. I had a salad in the caf and visited the bookshop (of course). Tonight is the memorial service for the young female basketballer who died the other day - she had a clot in her lung, apparently. Only twenty-two. Very sad. She was a popular, well-liked girl.
Then I drove to the biggest Borders in Tucson where I finally found a copy of the one writing book I had been after - "From Where You Dream" by Robert Olen Butler. Then I wasn't sure if I wanted it or not (hard cover - $24 - it was the weight more than the price!!) so sat and read bits for half an hour until I decided yes. I liked the bit in the introduction that talks about two different writers inside us - the one who wants to write and the one who doesn't. In order to write, you have to fool the one who doesn't.
Wandered around the shopping centre for about an hour, looking at clothes - didn't buy anything but saw some lovely things (in the really expensive shop of course). The shops here are a shopaholic's paradise. I could have gone to the third Bookman's but I was very stern with myself and went home instead.
Got home and there was a message from Meg - inviting me out to dinner with her husband and Robert, the journalism teacher. So we went to Li'l Abner's and the steaks were very very good. That's my iron for the week!
Tomorrow I am off touring with my tour guide again - the mission and a place called Tubac where there are a lot of crafts and some very old buildings. I put my first 35mm film in for developing tonight, with some trepidation. I've had two films damaged in processing recently, and I just hate to lose photos, but I decided if something happens, I would have time to take one or two replacement photos, whereas if the film gets damaged by security Xray on the way home, that would be it.
Am also taking digital photos but the SLR produces such quality landscape photos that I prefer it.

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

What a long day, but extremely interesting. Three classes, and each one slightly different. The first I posted about earlier. The second was similar to our Industry Overview class at Vic Uni - I talked about writing fiction as a career, so covered the things that make it different from non-fiction freelancing, some stuff on how royalties work, record keeping etc. The third session was with the journalism students who work on the Pima student newspaper - Aztec News. They were on a deadline to write a front page story about a student who had been shot and died on the weekend, so they talked a little about how they had been gathering material for their article.
At lunchtime a writer friend of Meg's, Nancy, took me out to her house in the desert, over Gates Pass - the road has been closed for a few weeks for widening and resealing. It is still a fairly winding narrow road but the views are great. Lots of saguaro cactus and also teddy bear cactus (it's fuzzy).
On the way to the campus this morning I saw a funny bird run across the road and when I asked Nancy and described it, she said it was a road runner. So now I have seen the real thing!
When I got home tonight, I was so talked out from the classes that I had to get out and do something where I could just listen (and TV wasn't it!) so I went to the movies up the road. Saw "The Constant Gardener" with Ralph Fiennes. It was OK, not madly exciting, but the ending wasn't totally predictable.
I'm starting to get a bit worried about my luggage, and considering posting some stuff home to avoid weight problems. I might have to investigate postal rates tomorrow, but I seem to remember last year that it would cost a fair bit, more perhaps than excess luggage penalties. I shall see...
It's time they invented books that only weigh a few grams or ounces each. I think one of the ones I have bought feels like a brick.
Back in the journalism class - a different one this time. But in the same room. I wonder how this would work with a fiction class - set a writing exercise and everyone has to type it up and print it out for me. Too confronting? There is something about putting fiction out there straight away that sounds scary. No time to rethink and rewrite.
The class I am in right now asked me lots of questions and now they are (like yesterday) writing up their short articles. I am intrigued with the idea of "the angle" and how they will approach what I said. So while they are madly trying to come up with their angle and write something that is accurate and interesting, I decided to add to my blog - a kind of reciprocal thing!
Today we have three copy editors checking on accuracy. Every now and then someone comes up and asks me an extra question or for a clarification. Several students used tape recorders too, so now I can hear several versions of myself echoing around the room.
I wonder if our nonfiction teachers at Vic Uni will be interested in this process? We struggle to get access to the computers, but I'd like to try it too. It might bring out some very different kinds of writing, especially in poetry and fiction classes.
Time for coffee!

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Off to the gym this morning, to work up some sweat and create some energy. Otherwise I was going to lie around and be a blob all morning. Did some grocery shopping on the way back - there are some really weird cereals around. No wonder sugar growers are not in danger of going out of business (unless of course you are in Australia and the government decides you can sink or swim against cheap overseas sugar). I settled for good old Raisin Bran. Now I need to drink more water!
Today's class at Pima was with 1st year journalism students. This class was very news-oriented so I gave a talk and answered questions, then their task was to write a short piece on me, with a lead and at least one quote. It was very interesting to see who focused on what! Everyone was different. I must ask the teacher tomorrow what he thought the outcome "should" have been. The class was in a computer lab so they all wrote straight onto the computers and printed out their stories on the spot. What I found really intriguing was that one student was designated as the copy editor for the day, and everyone had to run their pieces past him first.
At 5.30pm Meg took me to a local community radio station KXCI (91.3) to read two poems as part of the poetry moment program. My reading will be broadcast 4 times this week. I worked it out that for those in Australia, if you go the the website and click on the streaming link on the left, you can listen to the 2am reading - which will be 7pm Friday night Australian time. The wonders of the internet!
I am still working on another Tucson poem. With another idea percolating.
Tomorrow is more journalism, and a short trip out to the desert in the afternoon. I still want that 4.30pm photo of the Santa Catalinas. Maybe tomorrow?

Monday, September 26, 2005

The workshop is over and I wonder how the students are feeling - exhausted? overwhelmed? Hopefully not despondent or depressed, which sometimes happens. Although shorter things (like a weekend) tend to be more energising than attending a class for a whole year.
In a year-long thing, your feelings about your writing can change from week to week, depending on how you think it's going, how much you have written, whether someone in the class that day annoyed you! It's like any kind of long-term "project" - you have to keep at it but at times it's hard. That's why I keep saying that perserverance is the key (although sometimes I have a momentary sneaking wish to be instantly brilliant! until I think about how that would take the challenge out of it, and therefore half of the enjoyment - the other half is completion, the self-pride in having actually written).
It was interesting to see all the different things they were writing, and how they used the writing exercises I set. We ended the day with a session on publishing. I wish I had some really good examples of query letters - I think I will have to find some to use in class as it can be difficult to explain without samples to discuss.
Today I raced down to Bookman's in the lunch hour, and it took way longer to get there than I thought. I still look at the map and think, That's pretty close, it won't take long, and then it does. But I am learning. Found a book on writing personal essays (by Sheila Bender) which I bought. We have been doing some of these in Short Story 2, and it will be good to have a useful, user-friendly guide.
Called my husband last night and now he says I can have a pet snake if I really want one! Hmmm. I think he might change his mind when he sees one. And as for the cats... this could cause a mutiny.
Tomorrow is the Journalism class in the afternoon. My morning is free, a good thing as I need to wind down a little. I started a new poem today and am putting into it all the things I have seen and heard so far that have appealed to me or made me laugh. A personal poem that probably no one else will be the slightest bit interested in.

Sunday, September 25, 2005

Tonight I have the table right by the front door. Reception is marginally better. Connection only drops out every five minutes instead of every two.
If I could work out how to place a photo into this blog, I would show you some photos of me with snakes. Yes, me. And a photo of a woman not too far from me who has a tarantula on her hand. No that is definitely not me!
Today at lunchtime Meg and I went to the reptile show (she is so nice - hates snakes but still came along with me and took photos). I got to handle three snakes -a black snake (I have to find out what it was exactly), a very small boa and a huge boa. The big one was a posed photo thing - they drape it around you and take a photo for $6. But Meg also took photos of me. I did like the little ones a lot. But I don't think my cats will be very impressed, and neither would Customs at Melbourne, even though I could have had a king snake (a very pretty patterned black and cream one) for about $45. Oh well.
After the introductory session last night, today was a full day of writing and lectures, 9-5. I think a lot of the students came in with a picture book and as we have done a lot of character work, their ideas have developed into something longer. Not necessarily a bad thing, considering how difficult the picture book market is right now.
I have sent them off to do homework tonight. This is a credit class, therefore they have to do extra work beyond the class to ensure the hours are met. It is hard to come up with a project and then work on developing it within a weekend, but I stress the experimenting part of it. If you don't give it a go and see where it leads, how will you know what is possible?
Too tired tonight to even contemplate the movies. If the man next door gets up at 5.30am tomorrow and starts reconstructing his room(or whatever it is he does in there that makes so much ^%#@* noise), I might have to have words with him. So instead I am doing washing (laundry) and relaxing and getting ready for tomorrow.

Saturday, September 24, 2005

Having carried my laptop all over my room in order to find a place where the wireless internet connection would stay connected instead of fading on me, I am now crouched on the edge of my bed, madly typing before it dies again.
Hurricane Rita is still all in the news, more now for the terrible things happening to the people trying to get out and the fire in Galveston than the hurricane itself (which is down to Category 3). The levees in New Orleans are gone again - just awful.
A very cheery man on the weather report has just now informed me that it was 101 today, and I hardly noticed. Well, that's a bit of a lie as I was inside most of the day. Attended the poetry workshop this morning that some of the teachers at Pima have every Friday. A great idea - would love to do it at Vic Uni if it wasn't for the fact that we all work different days most of the time (it's OK, Sue and Moss, I wasn't going to make you write poems!).
Sat in on an interview Meg did with a Tucson journalist about self-publishing. I was very interested to hear that going with iUniverse and PublishAmerica is called self publishing here. The lines are blurring more now that the court cases have got rid of the worst scams (there are still plenty around - beware anyone who calls themselves a publisher but requires you to pay for everything!). It will be very interesting to read the final article in the paper.
I also spent a little bit of time at the Tucson Mall, shopping of course, but also window shopping. Always fascinating to me to see what shops sell, what's trendy and the latest fashion. Saw some beautiful earrings handmade by Indians but at $199 they were out of my price range, I'm afraid.
Tonight my writing for children workshop started. 16 students, mostly all just getting started. I think they will be a good group, and most seem to be writing picture books or have ideas for them. How to fit in all the things I want to do with them?

Friday, September 23, 2005

What do they say about mad dogs and Englishmen? Today it was mad me, covered in sunscreen but still out in the Tucson sun. Amazingly I am a little sunburnt but not too bad. If I am going out in the sun again, a hat is definitely the thing.
A student at Pima College has a father who is a retired tour guide and he offered to take me around Tucson. So this morning we went out to the Sonora Desert Museum. On the way we travelled through the Saguero National Park and saw lots and lots of cactus. Al, my guide, is very knowledgeable so not only did I get geographical and geological info, he also identified all the cacti and vegetation for me.
At the museum, quite a few of the animals were out (as the morning went on, more of them were asleep or hiding from the sun). I saw a Mexican boa, but wasn't allowed to touch it as they can get grumpy and bite. Also saw more snakes behind glass, and then a lot of geological stuff, including a bit of a meteorite.
Other animals included a wolf, beavers, otter, gophers, lizards, squirrels and a multitude of birds (hummingbirds too). All quite amazing and I think I got some good photos.
Then we went to Sabino Canyon which is north of Tucson in the Catalina foothills. We caught the trolley up the canyon but saw virtually no wildlife (probably being sensible and staying out of the sun, unlike moi). On the way back I thought we could walk the last two stages but it was further than I thought. Talk about 'are we there yet'!! Took me ages to cool down. Did see a couple of tiny lizards and an antelope squirrel. There were lots of warnings about mountain lions but not a one in sight. I liked the instructions that said if you come across one, throw rocks at it. Next instruction said 'don't bend down or take your eye off it'.
Got home in time to visit Bookman's which is a huge second hand book and CD/DVD shop. Found a couple of interesting writing books, plus some magazines that will come in very handy.
Tomorrow I will be doing washing (laundry) and then going to a poetry workshop in the morning. This means I might type up my snake poem and workshop it. Tomorrow night the first part of the children's book writing workshop starts.
My two pairs of shorts from Goodwill are very handy (the new clothes shops here all have their winter clothes in stock). More sunscreen, less sun, I say.

Thursday, September 22, 2005

Have just finished reading all my emails from "home" - after giving a public lecture tonight on writing and place. At first we had technology problems (don't we always?) but eventually the laptop talked to the projector and we had action.
I didn't want to just give a lecture-type thing where I did analysis and theory stuff. It was at 7pm so I figured everyone wanted at least to stay awake! So I had lots of photos in a Powerpoint thing, and I interspersed the lecture with poems. The audience totalled about 30, I think. Quite a few people came up to talk afterwards, including a young man from Sydney who has been living in the US for 5 years. You just never know who will turn up. I wasn't sure if I had insulted him somehow? He commented on how his perspective of Australia was different. I would have like to talk to him further. I guess I was in some ways saying that New Zealand is greener and has better beaches than Australia, plus other stuff. That is something for me to ponder on now - how would that lecture be received in Australia? Maybe I should present it when I go back and then ask people to say what they thought!
Today I visited a children's writers' group in Tucson - all published writers. Their topic was self promotion - very interesting and I picked up a couple of extra good ideas. They were all really nice and welcoming. The problem for writers is always that once the initial hoo-ha over a new book is over, the marketing dept moves on to the next book. So then it really is up to the author to continue the promotion and marketing. A lot of people find this difficult, but it is the reality.
I also went shopping. Tried out Barnes & Noble, mainly for writing books but only found one new interesting one. They didn't have the one I wanted by Robert Olen Butler. I also found a new Billy Collins poetry book, and some literary magazines like Glimmer Train, which was very useful.
All the shops here have winter clothes now! For a suffering heat blob like me, this is not a good thing. So I went to the local Goodwill and picked up two more pairs of shorts. 39 degrees is not jeans weather!
Now to tackle Bookman's which is all second-hand books and CDs.
Tomorrow I am off on a tour of Tucson. Maybe this is the opportunity I have been hanging out for - to pick up and hold a snake!

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Couldn't sleep last night and began thinking about how to write a poem about the snake I got to pat at the county fair. And after a little while, the words started coming and I had to get out of bed and write.
So I now have a snake poem, and what is even better, today while Meg and I were having our lunch at an outside table (in the shade) this guy came along with his boa constrictor! It had been in his car and he was exercising it - which meant putting it on the grass and giving it some fresh air, I guess - and I was able to pat it as much as I wanted. So cool. It felt really warm because it had been in the hot car. I was tempted to run inside and get my camera but that seemed a bit OTT so I just kept stroking and patting it.
This morning I found a gym where I could go as a casual member - at last I don't feel quite so couch potato-ish. Then I made it to Pima College in time for the Advanced Short Story class. I talked to them for nearly an hour and answered questions, and we talked about my short story they had read. It's really interesting to see what people ask, and then you have to try to give helpful or responsive answers. As this was a story that came out in bits and has many small elements that kind of wove themselves together, sometimes it's hard to answer properly and usefully.
Tonight is Advanced Novel, and then I will also visit the other poetry class. Already I have sat in on workshopping and learned new ways of approaching it in the class - very interesting - and bought Meg's short story text which will be a great resource. It's called "3 x 33: short fiction by 33 writers". I found a second hand copy in the bookshop, and a pocket rhyming dictionary which I can also use in class.
Tomorrow night is my talk about Writing and Place. I still haven't found the USB drive with my back-up copy of my photo presentation, but it's on my laptop. And I have made another back-up copy! Nothing like being anal.
I need to flesh out my notes now, as I have talked a bit about place in the classes so far and I don't want to repeat myself. Also I need to make sure I have the photos in the right order.
This may well be the most nerve-wracking part of my exchange project!

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

94 today, so they tell me on TV. I thought it was cooler and then thought I was imagining it.
News Item 1: I have a car, a rental. Dodge. Maybe if you see me driving along, get out of my way. This right side of the road thing is a challenge. I am the person driving like a little old lady. Beware.
News Item 2: I am finding that margaritas are very cooling and a great way to end the day. Now to discover the perfect recipe.
Today was my first class day. First of all, Poetry 1. A lovely group, very quiet, and it seemed that I talked and talked, but those who know me won't be surprised, I guess. Does the phrase "Talk the wire off a fence post" mean anything? Yes, I did make that up today. I was only asked to translate once (serviette to napkin).
Then Fiction Writing 1. No poems to read to them, but we (Ok, I) talked a lot about fiction writing, plotting, novels vs. short stories, and where ideas come from. Quite a few more questions this time. Another very nice group.
I have to remember that this is only about 3 weeks into first semester, whereas back home we are up to Week 9 in Semester 2.
I'm really looking forward to having Meg visit us next year. I think it is going to be just great.
I ate Mexican again tonight. It's like the national food in Tucson, and the more avocado the better, I say.
All the new seasons of TV shows seem to be starting here, so last night I watched the new season of "West Wing" (can be bribed for a summary). Tonight it was a new series called "Surface" which seemed like a TV series of the movie "Sphere".
I have cable in my room but none of the channels match the TV guide so it's pretty much hit and miss what I find. Missed CSI last night because it wasn't on the channels I tried. Oh well, it's only TV, and I am supposed to be writing.
Hmmm, yes. Soon. Head is nearly back in the right space for new words.

Monday, September 19, 2005

Another 99 degree day. And I got sunburnt. Forgot the sunscreen, but didn't forget the water. I went for a walk about 9am, thinking it would be cooler then. Well... it was. It was only about 85 (28-30). I visited the 99cent shop to buy more water.
At 10.30 I was off to Sonoita to visit children's writer Juanita Havill who I met last year at Chatauqua. A friend of hers (also a children's writer) and his family picked me up and we drove for about 80 miles south of Tucson to where Juanita lives.
While there, I went to the County Fair and saw many entries of quilts, onions, peppers and tomatoes as well as kid's projects. With lots of prize ribbons. And I also saw a reptile exhibit - lots of rattlesnakes and other non-venomous snakes. I even got to pat a big orange and brown snake. Amazing. I thought it would be kind of hard, but it was soft and a bit squishy. The handler said it was because the snake is basically all muscle and spine.
Beautiful lunch at Juanita's house, and then a walk which is where the sunburn comes from. The trip back to Tucson seemed almost soporific.
Tomorrow is first day of classes at Pima College, which should be fun and interesting. I have met a couple of the students already. I am planning to get a rental car soon - it is just too far to get anywhere, and there are lots of things I want to see - squeezing them in between other commitments.
Writing seems limited to emails and blog so far. Maybe being in a class will stir some inspiration!

Sunday, September 18, 2005

Tucson, Arizona. 39 degrees (99F). Very hot. Thank goodness for air conditioners.
Flights from Australia were amazingly on time leaving, and 35 minutes early getting into Los Angeles (a fact that the captain reminded us of four times!).
Managed to go the wrong way in the airport and had to go through security again. I had also had my bags searched at Melbourne Airport which at least got me to the front of the check-in queue.
How is it that during the flight they can show 5 movies and I have seen 4 of them? And the one I hadn't seen (Sahara) was on while I was asleep? Also I think they should make it a rule that seat-kickers and snorers be banned on all flights. I always think of a long flight as a lovely opportunity to read, eat and watch movies. I forget about how you are in very close quarters with a lot of people, some of whom are smelly and some of whom cough incessantly.
Arrived safely in Tucson, found the wonderful Meg Files and am now at what I thought were the Untown Suites. Strange way of writing their Is. It's actually Intown, and I am, as you guessed, in town.
Tucson is very spread out and it is miles to anywhere but the roads are wide and it feels very relaxed. I love the cactus (saguaro)- was told they don't start growing arms until they are 80 years old so the big multi-armed ones must be several hundred years old. Before I got here I thought 'cactus - and?' but these are amazing. The vegetation is all amazing. Lots of different cacti and some bright orange flowering bushes. Tucson is flat but surrounded by hills and mountain ranges that change colour during the day.
Today I met a friend whom I originally got to know at Fresno. She was visiting Tucson for the weekend which was a coincidence (she lives near Phoenix) so we had breakfast and spent some time catching up. She dropped me at the bookshop - Reader's Oasis - where I did my reading and book signing this afternoon. Only half a dozen people there but then the Dalai Lama is in town apparently so how could I compete?!!
The reading was good but I realised as I read out different things how many of the words would be a mystery to the listeners so I did periodic translations (gorge is a canyon, had to explain what a flying fox is, and also that chooks are actually hens or chickens!). Sold ten books which was pretty good really.
The problem was that I bought ten!! The bookshop (one of only two independents in Tucson) is going out of business - result mainly of online book buying and B&N/Borders, so they had a sale. How could I resist?
Tucson has lots of Mexican restaurants so I've had one Mexican dinner so far, including a Margarita, with the promise of more to come. The Mexican border is close but I don't know if I will go shopping there - there is too much to see and do here, and I don't have large blocks of time.
No writing done, apart from a poem on the plane, but I have wireless internet in my room which is great.
A busy time ahead. Should be great fun.

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

There were many moments when I thought - must do my blog now - and then something else came up and I never got to it. I've just been away for a writers' retreat weekend with my writing group, to Mansfield in Victoria. The house we stayed in was on the edge of Lake Eildon, or should I say, what used to be the edge. We've had a fair bit of rain over the past year, probably exceeding the average, but when you see the lake, with its "normal" water line etched across the hills and the water itself way way below that, it reminds you how low our water reserves are. Lake Eildon is artificial, dammed to provide water back in the 50s (I think) and when I look at the old waterline, I wonder if it will ever get back to where it was.
Anyway, I did manage some writing while I was away, as well as vast amounts of eating. I did a final edit and polish on a short novel, and finished the first draft of a short story. The story has been sitting there for about 4-5 months. I wrote one bit, was happy with it but then couldn't see where else to go with it. It has turned out shorter than I expected, but that's not a bad thing probably. This week maybe I'll get time to look it over again and think about it.
I've also had my brother staying for 6 days, which was lovely - more eating, but also lots of walking.
And being the end of term (mid-semester) I've had lots of student assignments to mark. Mostly a pleasure as many of them were very good.
Right now, I also need to print out the poems from my new verse novel for children. I have written 32, which amazes me. They seem to come out in bunches, and I type them up and put them away again for a while, then more come. But now it's time to lay them all out and see what I have, and where I can go. The story is the thing, and how to write poems to fill the gaps yet make them meaningful in themselves. It's always the way - you do it once and it works, but it doesn't really make the next time all that easier.
On Friday I am off to Tucson, Arizona, for a 2 week teacher exchange. I will be teaching classes and a weekend workshop at Pima College, working with Meg Files. Then I go on to San Antonio to stay with a friend. She is a writer so I am looking forward to a special writing/talking time.
This blog will become what it started as - a travel diary for friends and family to read if they're interested. It may well have more readers than it's ever had! I'll have to mind my Ps and Qs.
Notes from the Writers' Festival? Well, I had good intentions... Now I just remember Carrie Tiffany and Kate Grenville, and the session where publishers and editors and agents and marketing people talked about the realities of publishing - will this sell? And how many? then no, sorry, we won't publish it.
I have since read Tiffany's book and was a little let down by it. She read some great stuff from it and it has some wonderful moments, but overall it felt a bit like it didn't really go anywhere. I attended a session with Alexander McCall Smith, who has the greatest giggle ever, and he was very entertaining but didn't talk about writing much at all.
I did feel sorry for the brand new writers (first novels) who were struggling with being on stage at the festival and expected to "perform". A hard task, to sound intelligent, entertaining, worthy and likeable, all at once!

Sunday, August 28, 2005

The Melbourne Writers' Festival has just finished and I will post some notes from the sessions I attended in a day or two.
Today I wrote - just a little. Took my new laptop out into the wilds (the Australian bush) and wrote 4 more poems for my new verse novel, plus a half page of a short story that has been bugging me for a couple of months.
I think I have also worked out how to fix another short story that has been almost there but not working properly. One of those that niggles at you. You send it out, you get rejections, you know something's not working but what?....
We'll see if I can fix it.
Finished a crime novel from the festival (or should I say, one of its guests, John Harvey). It was OK, but not as good as Peter Robinson, IMO.
Have started an Australian novel 'Everyman's Rules for Scientific Living' - good so far. A main character who promises to cause trouble.

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Writing accomplished! Very pleased that I wrote more of the short novel on the weekend and I think I have got over the plot problem (the problem was I had no plot). Now I can see the end in sight, but as usual, I have to take care that I don't rush it.
I also think I have finally discovered the secret of talking to school children. Relax and be silly and talk about the stuff I'm interested in rather than try to give them a 'nice author talk'. I had a lot of fun yesterday with two different school groups, teaching them how to talk like a pirate. (There is actually a website for this - as 19 September is international "Talk Like a Pirate Day".)
I sold 25 books altogether, which was astonishing as both schools were in less than affluent areas of Melbourne. A great morning.
This week here in Australia is Children's Book Week. I think quite a few schools have visiting authors, although I have spoken to one who said they wanted me to come later as they don't do authors during Book Week. But mostly there are lots of activities and things to do with books and reading.
The discussions are often about who won the CBC awards, with much dissention. That, of course, is what is great about books. Everyone likes something different.
The time for me to fly off to Arizona is getting closer, just a bit over three weeks. I am quite excited and looking forward to it, and I will talk to lots of students at Pima College as well as do a bookshop reading and give a talk on writing about place. For the latter I will need to put together some of my photos.
I am feeling quite productive for a change. It's a pity my desk is covered in stuff as usual, and the place is a mess. But I am making headway.

Friday, August 19, 2005

After several delays, my website additions are finally up and running. I need to keep adding more stuff, including links to other sites and some articles I've written, but most of the main material is there. School visit information and some photos. Haven't yet worked out how to put up my small video. Apparently I need a plug-in from Macromedia which I'm putting off getting (ah, procrastination). I've added a link to this blog too.
No new writing this week. I had good intentions and then suddenly had to write a synopsis for a YA novel I've finished reworking. I thought I had an old version on my very old computer in the back room but couldn't find it so had to start from scratch. It took several hours and who knows if it's any good. Synopses seem to be the thing everyone hates writing (so hard to make them sound interesting!) but are becoming standard in a world where most editors only want to see the first three chapters.
We are all time-starved and I often wonder why.
An old friend who writes family histories has asked me to help her on the one she is writing at present. Previously I had said I couldn't manage it. However I am now going to be doing quick edits (slash and burn, I call it) and handing it back for her to decide whether I've done it the way she wants.
I finished the 'Rise and Fall...' book - interesting but ultimately depressing. I wonder what teens think of it. The main character seemed so conflicted and unable to work out who she was, and the depressing part for me was that I didn't feel she'd made any progress by the end. In fact, I thought the ending was fudged - not really resolved in terms of character growth and a bit too neatly resolved in terms of plot. Left me feeling uneasy, as if the author had tried to make life simple and failed.
Then I started 'Sea of Trolls' by Nancy Farmer, which I had been looking forward to after 'House of the Scorpion' and haven't got past half-way. Found it very disappointing - the main character feels shallow and slight somehow, and I just haven't been able to involve myself in the story. Is this HP hangover, I ask myself? So I've put it away for a while.
And moved on to crime - Kathy Reichs - 'Cross Bones'. It reads like a clone of the Da Vinci Code - same religious stuff, as in did Jesus really die/live/whatever, except this is about bones and tombs and ossuaries. Yawn. It's just interesting enough to keep me reading, but she falls into the 'As you know, Bob' thing of using tons of dialogue to provide a mountain of information.
Maybe I need to pull out my Annie Proulx (That Old Ace in the Hole) and try that for a complete change of pace.
For an addicted reader, there's nothing more frustrating than not being able to find a book that I can totally sink into.

Wednesday, August 10, 2005

I'm slowly but surely working my way through the various rewrites, edits and polishes. Looks like the fantasy novel has got the go-ahead from the series editors (fingers crossed) and then it will go the publisher's editor. Can't wait to see what kind of cover the book will have - fantasy covers make great T-shirts!
Finished Harry Potter VI last night and, despite a slow beginning, I totally enjoyed it and was very sad when it ended (sad because of the ending but also sad because there was no more to read). I understand why kids finish it and turn around and read it again straight away. I saw a documentary about JK Rowling and she talked about how she created the world and she has piles of notebooks where she has worked out every little detail - names for everything, how the Houses work, who is related to who, books and plants and animals and spells - no wonder the world feels so real.
I did the adverb scan a few times and yes, she does use lots (writers are always being told to kill their adverbs) but I kind of think she gets away with it, and she does use strong nouns and verbs so that in a way the adverbs add rather than detract. No doubt others will disagree! I did think No. 6 was better than No. 5, and she has certainly set it up well for No. 7. It would seem that in No. 7 Harry will be out in the world, dependent only on himself (and possibly Ron and Hermione).
Gossip says JK is concentrating on family for the next while and No. 7 will be written when she's ready and not before.
Now I'm reading (for a complete change of pace!) "The Rise and Fall of a 10th Grade Social Climber". Opinion reserved for now.
My big campaign to clean up and clear out junk around my house continues at a slow rate of knots - have been sorting books and throwing some out or giving them away. Amazing what you keep just because it's a book and you can't bear to part with it. But I really feel that now I can toss some of the older novels (Barbara Taylor Bradford, for goodness sake!).
Can't wait to get back to "real" writing. First draft, running away with words, excitement on the page stuff. Instead of corralling, cutting, refining and controlling. But you can't have one without the other. That's writing!
I am halfway through a short novel and now that I have solved (I think) a big sticking point that had stopped it short, I can go ahead and write the rest.
Oh, if only I didn't have to go to work... but for some strange reason, bills keep arriving in my letter box, demanding to be paid.

Friday, July 29, 2005

My new goal for this week is to work out how to post photos on my blog. I have just been to Linda Sue Park's LiveJournal and she puts lots of photos on hers. Makes it lively and colourful. She also has a reading record of what she has read with comments, and she talks about being in a book group where they read and discuss middle grade and YA books. Now that's a book group I'd be interested in!
I'm still struggling with the DVCode. It's OK... I have to keep fighting the urge to run up to KMart and buy something else to read (can't go back to the library until I have paid my late fines!). Yes, I know I should buy from an independent bookshop, and I do, when I'm travelling around. There are none near me.
Still editing. Can't call it rewriting if it's only fiddling with words and sentences. Started on the YA novel - at least two years since I looked at it and am quite surprised at what is there. More than I remember. Not that my memory is so hot these days.
Still the problem with the ending. Always it's the endings with me. In adult short stories I love an ending that leaves a lot up to the reader (but not one that confuses or leaves you hanging, unresolved). I think there is a fine art in saying just enough and no more.
However it seems in middle grade and YA that more is needed, not that your readers are dumber, rather that they made a journey through your book and want something substantial to take away with them (unless you're writing Captain Underpants or just stuff that's designed for fun). So here I am battling with the need to add more guts or strength or "tangibility" to the ending without overdoing it.
And at the same time I have a picture book that my agent says is great ... except for the ending. Now I have to re-think that one as well.
Noah Lukeman wrote that writing book "The First Five Pages" - I think I need to ask him to write "The Last Five Pages" !
Still, I should be really happy that I have finished manuscripts to work on, considering I have about 15 unfinished or in first drafts.

Tuesday, July 26, 2005

Various people in newspapers and magazines are writing their version of "how I read Harry Potter 6 and survived". Like we care. We are either reading the book and making up our own minds or ignoring it.
I have a voucher to buy it at Borders this week for $15. Booksellers discount or not, they'd have to be taking a big loss on that. Saw a piece somewhere recently about how little profit most booksellers are making on HP. Makes you wonder...
Rewriting. Arrggghhhh. At least this rewrite was nearly the last (on the fantasy novel) as I am up to polishing according to editors' notes (two editors whose job is also to pick up where I might have put stuff in that conflicts with other books in the series, so have had to change two character names. Boy, that's hard, especially when you took so long to decide on the right name first time around.)
Today is tax day. Quarterly return due in in two days and I haven't finished even half of it. There goes writing time. Can I charge the Tax Dept for it?
I am trying to read "The Da Vinci Code" and I mean really trying. A friend lent me the illustrated version. The pictures are nice! The story still hasn't grabbed me. One or two mild flickers of interest. As the Sunday Books columnist said on the weekend - who on earth is still buying copies of this book? Why is it in the Top 10 best sellers every week? Beats me.
Have just finished reading "The Lovely Bones" again as one of my classes is studying it (along with questions from me - questions about writing and technique and voice and stuff - not high school boring questions, I hope). Maybe that's why DVC is so boring. Coming after Bones ... a book that still makes me cry second time around. Now that is writing, character, voice and engagement!

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

What is a better excuse for not blogging than marking student work? Writing, of course! The break was all too short, as usual, but after a week of meandering (and the video course) my creative brain kicked into gear and I began madly writing. 10,000 words in one week on three different projects.
One was the short chapter book that literally popped into my head one night when I was having trouble sleeping. I was so pleased to have that happen, which is not a regular thing. I have since workshopped and reworked it, and sent it off. Fingers crossed.
I also started a longer novel for kids that has been kicking around in my head for a while and in the end I decided I had to at least put some of it on paper so I could see what I had and whether it worked. Needless to say, it stalled around 6000 words. Not a gift at all! It still sits there, waiting for me to decide what to do, where to take it, how to make what I have fire up into something worthwhile.
I have also written a number of poems, and this week, a short personal essay (my class is studying and writing them at the moment so I had a go at one). And a variety of other things have had words added.
Went to my first spec fiction (SF, fantasy, etc) convention last weekend, principally to listen to the guests from OS - Neil Gaiman, Robin Hobb and Poppy Z. Brite. During the week before I had read Hobb's new book "Shaman's Crossing" and was a little disappointed with it. A million tons of description, and much of it felt like an extended flashback, a bit distant from the reader. That old thing of "let me tell you how I got to this point" and then the character goes back in time and does exactly that - tell. It took me until about Page 300 to start engaging with the character, which is unusual for me with her books.
At the convention, I think she was a bit shy. People kept complaining that they'd tried to talk to her and got brushed off. Hmmm. Her GOH talk was "The Writer in the Parent and the Parent in the Writer" - all about writing with kids and how often other writers look down on you (if you have kids and they get equal or more time than your writing, simply because that's the way it is, then you are not a serious writer). She also said "You will never have more time to write than you do right now." Meaning that life will always fill your time with stuff (family, job, other commitments) and you have to make time for writing or it will never happen. A good talk, inspiring in a solid, clear way.
Neil Gaiman was very witty, very dynamic and everyone loved him. I bought a copy of "The Wolves in the Walls", which is just as good as I hoped it would be (having seen a small extract) and he signed it for me.
I went to a number of sessions - probably the best were the ones on medieval arms and armour. Great swordfighting demos, plenty of weapons to look at and hold, lots of good information and further references.
Reading? Apart from the Hobb book, I've also read a French crime novel "Blood Red Rivers" (not a great translation, by the way), "Millions" by Frank Cottrell Boyce (funny but I think it's been a little over-rated by those who have been raving about it), and tried to read "The Da Vinci Code" because a friend has lent me the illustrated version. Didn't get very far but the pictures are interesting. Might go back to it later, if only to see what the fuss is about.
Have I read the new HP? No. No time at the moment. Writing is more important, especially now I have started teaching again. But I will. I do like HP, and I know I was reading them before the hype started. A student lent me a copy she got in the UK, probably before the first one hit Australia. Yes, the adverbs do annoy me at first, and then I stop noticing them.
And I wish people would stop going on and on about how rich JK Rowling is. So what? Lucky her. Or not so lucky. She never goes out any more, never does public appearance stuff. Probably can't even go to the supermarket. Is that a great life? I think not.

Thursday, July 07, 2005

The video is finished, and my head was bursting with information by the time we had gone through all the steps and made lots of notes, not to mention the editing and rendering into other formats for viewing. I may put mine on my website when it is updated, although only people with broadband or cable will be able to download it, I think. It will be up as a Media .wmv file but is around 3MB.
It depends whether I think it is too silly or not. However, it was a lot of fun to make and I've learned a huge amount. Now I need to keep practicing so it doesn't all get forgotten, as often happens with computer training. Use it or lose it!
I have been working more on rewrites, and decided to make a list (yes, another one) of all my unfinished writing projects. 21 of them. Everything from short stories to novels to poetry things. In various stages too, from barely started to needing a final good rewrite. It was quite scary to see it all laid out in black and white, but liberating in a way too. At least it allows me to prioritise, and not to forget some of the things I have been putting on the backburner for a long time.
I thought doing all of that would help me forge ahead with more rewriting. Instead, last night I got into bed and could not sleep. A story popped into my head, beginning with a silly title (silliness always gets me going with kid's stories) and it would not go away. I lay there, eyes wide open, as the story grew and grew, and finally I had to get up and write it down.
All of it. A whole story outline in 2 rough pages. This happens so rarely and it is such a gift. I got up this morning and have been working on it all day, finishing up with a complete first draft by 3pm (it's a short chapter book, not a long novel!!). Happy days. Such a great feeling.
I don't even mind the thought of going back to work next week now!!

Saturday, July 02, 2005

Since teaching and marking finished, I have been working working working on writing things. So busy, I hardly know where to start each day. Thank goodness for lists. How people survive without lists to keep track of everything, I don't know. Or else that's a comment on how badly my brain functions these days!
Most of the work has been rewriting; what I call the "cut and polish" rewrites, where you go through the manuscript for what you pray will be the last time (even though you know it won't be) and tweak plot points and delete wordy bits and deepen character a little more and rework that ending one more time. First of all it was the fantasy novel, which took 4 days of re-reading and fiddling. Then I had a non-fiction assignment - police dogs. I had done an interview and photos in New Zealand of a police dog and his handler, submitted it to the NZ School Journal and finally it went through (with extra photos). School magazines here were interested but wanted first rights, which I couldn't give. So I ended up, after many phone calls to the Police media people here in Melbourne, going out to the training centre and doing another interview and taking a different set of photos. Got to pat a very cute Rottweiler puppy (just as well she had a home already or she might have been going home with me!) and meet a keen German Shepherd called Klute. His handler was great, very talkative and very good at setting up action photos for me.
So then it was a draft of that article, time out to go to my writing group, and more time given to collecting clothes for a good friend of ours who was completely burned out last weekend. They lost everything. Devastating and almost unimaginable, except being a writer, I can imagine it only too well, and shudder. Needless to say, I have been turning things off here and triple checking all power points before leaving the house lately.
On Thursday a writer friend and I made a pact. I went to a house where she is house-sitting (in order to get space and time to write) and we both wrote all day. Her in the bedroom, me in the dining room. We met for lunch, and then we met later in the afternoon to talk about our writing and show what we'd done. It was so productive. I spent nearly the whole day on my middle grade novel, which is now in about 6th draft, and worked on "cut and polish" again. Now another writer friend (who is an excellent editor) is going to read it and be very critical!
Today I have been a film maker. I'm doing a video training course through my workplace (the uni) and Friday was camera techniques day. Weekend homework was to film 5-15 minutes of footage, the topic being "How to do ...something" so I have filmed "How to write a pirate novel". Complete with me in pirate hat.
All I can say is, thank goodness I am not a film director!

Sunday, June 26, 2005

Many hours spent marking student assignments but now it is over. I wanted to start writng again straight away but the brain wouldn't cooperate, so I have been reading and pottering around and now I am ready.
Spent 3 hours reworking bits of a fantasy series novel I was asked to write, and now I think it is working better. A fellow member of CCBC list kindly emailed me her notes from the Pikes Peak 2004 conference - the sessions with Donald Maas, who wrote "How to Write a Breakout Novel". They came at just the right time, where I could apply each of the points he makes to the fantasy novel in order to deepen character and motivation. It only meant adding a few sentences here and there, but I think those are going to be important sentences in terms of deepening the character and the story. I had read the Maas book a while ago (borrowed from a friend) and now I think I will look at it again.
Am reading a Linda Newbery book at the moment and finding it to be very engaging. The main character has a horrible younger sister who you just want to slap! This is the kind of book that I like to read first, then analyse for how she achieves the depth of character. I also read '(un)arranged marriage' by Bali Rai. It's published in the UK and is about an Indian arranged marriage, from the male's point of view. I found it to be a strange book, in that a large proportion of the story was just "told", as if the character was sitting in front of me telling me what happened, and then what happened next. Exactly what we are told, as writers, never to do! There were certainly many places where I wished the events were being shown in a scene, but overall the style didn't bother me too much. I do wish it hadn't been quite as much "telling" though.
The rest of my week will be more rewriting. A middle grade novel that needs work before giving to a valued writer friend for a critical read. Then maybe new words on another project. I hope.

Friday, June 17, 2005

As a bribe to get me through grading all those student novels and stories, I bought the new Jonathan Kellerman book, "Rage". I do like his characters - the child psychologist, Alex Delaware, and the policeman, Milo. They make a great team, and it's interesting, in this book especially, to look at how so much of the information the reader gets is through their conversations. There is a lot of speculation about who is doing what, providing possible red herrings and clues, and yet I didn't feel cheated. I felt as if I was going on the journey of investigation, one full of interest and people's motivation and psychology. It wasn't madly exciting, rather it was absorbing and fascinating. The villain turned out to be a multiple murderer, but in such a way that it bypassed the serial murder cliches.
I have started the critical read-through of the fantasy novel draft. And will be back to it again today. I know writers who say they love the rewriting process but for me it depends on the book, and maybe on my own frame of mind. I know that after all those student novels, I have come back to my own work with a very critical eye, so much so that I am feeling a bit despondent and thinking this novel is incredibly boring and I'm struggling with it.
The remedy at this point is to ask someone else to read a bit of it, someone who will tell me straight whether it is as awful as I think it is, or if I need to be kinder to myself! Writer friends are so good for this (as long as they are honest with you).
Back on the reading side of things - I also went to the library and got out a pile of books, including "Silent to the Bone" by E.L. Konigsburg. Got home and started reading and realised I had already read it a few months ago. Darn! I hate that. It is a good book but I'm not someone who can read the same book again with the same enjoyment. I'm a "surprise addict" - I read to find out what happens next, and if I already know, it takes half the fun out of it.
And yet I know people who skip ahead and read the ending before they're even past page 30. I couldn't think of anything worse!

Friday, June 10, 2005

I am starting to get writer's heeby-jeebies. That feeling that nags at you in the back of your mind and in your gut and makes you snappy and irritable and depressed. It comes from **not writing**. How long since I sat down and wrote something? Seems like years. And I have written a few poems and bits of a short story, and my journal while I was away - but it's not the same as working on a complete thing like a novel and getting that "high" from actually sitting there, pounding away at the keyboard, making it all happen on the page.
Instead I have been doing business-type stuff, trying to clear my desk and sort out my finances (here in Australia the end of the tax year is looming) and catch up on all kinds of stuff that's been put aside for way too long. And then there is the marking of the end of semester assignments. If I average 45 minutes for each one, and there are 42 to mark ... well, you do the maths. Suffice to say, this long holiday weekend will be nothing but marking and trying to allocate grades.
But the sooner it's done, the sooner I can write. Actually, rewrite. I have the draft of the Quentaris novel to rework and get in to the editor in 3 weeks time. So enough procrastinating (my favourite pastime!) - get moving!

Sunday, June 05, 2005

After some thought, I decided not to post my Sydney diary to the blog as I did with the Chatauqua diary. This one was too personal, trying to deal with all the stuff that was coming at me, and I'm not one who believes that blogs are for totally spilling your guts!!
Some highlights of the past 10 days, however, include:
- Meeting Tim Winton and talking briefly to him, and also meeting and reading with Sam Wagan Watson. Sam's book of poetry, which won Book of the Year, is great and has sparked off several poems for me.
- Meeting the two publishers, Sharyn November and Marion Lloyd. This reinforced what we know so well but forget - that every editor and publisher is different, they all have particular ideas about what their list is, they all have different tastes, they all have different ideas about what might sell. And they still mostly have to answer to the bean counters and the marketing department.
- Hearing David Fickling (publisher) speak again about his passion for great books. His quote "If you write it, they will come" says to me that I have to write what I feel passionate about, what fascinates me, and keep at it. Never give up.
- Having time on my own to think, wander around Sydney (climb all over a sailing ship the Endeavour), write, think some more, and then think some more. Being at home, even when alone, doesn't somehow allow this.
When I came back to Melbourne and realised that the only publicity was going to be self-generated, I spent nearly a whole day on it, helped along by Victoria University where I teach part-time. Their media dept. was great. Don't ask me about whether the publicists at Penguin did anything...
So no writing, up until yesterday. Then I started a new short story that I am quite excited about. But can I pull it off? It's ambitious. Probably a good thing. And I tell a lie. I have been writing poems.
Now to go back, yet again, to the middle grade novel and work on Draft No. 6.
I plan to update my website this week and include photos. Coming soon...

Sunday, May 29, 2005

What a week! My footy team, the Crusaders, has just won the Super 12 Final.

Saturday, May 28, 2005

I have just spent a week up in Sydney, having a wonderful time. My book "Farm Kid" received the NSW Premier's Literary Award for children's books (called the Patricia Wrightson Prize) and I attended the dinner on Monday night. It was a great experience, very nervewracking and seeing Gough Whitlam in the audience didn't help. I sat at Table 9 (good omen - my birth date) with Julie and Laura from Penguin, and also Julie Gibbs, along with Donna Rawlins and Simon French. As the night went on, my shaking got worse. However at the crucial moment I did manage to get up on the dais and receive the award without falling over!
The following is my speech, and the note at the end explains why I'm putting it on my blog.
***Farm Kid began in 2002, at a summer school in Fresno, California, where I wrote two poems about my childhood on our farm. Over the next 12 months it grew into a story that I cared very deeply about, but I was never convinced that it would be published. After all, it was about a farm and it was poetry.
My thanks must go first of all to my writing group, Western Women Writers, to whom I now owe an enormous chocolate cake, and to fellow poet, Kristin Henry, who was a very experienced and understanding sounding board.
Special thanks to Julie Watts at Penguin who, much to my astonishment, said yes, we’ll publish it, and Christine Alesich, my editor, who worked so hard with me on shaping the final book. Thanks also to the illustrator, Christina Meissen, for her wonderful cows.
And thank you to my husband, Brian, who is now very used to waving his hand in front of my face to bring me back from wherever I’ve “gone” this time.
I hope that Farm Kid resonates with everyone who reads it, and I hope lots of people do, not only kids. The problems caused by drought are not going to go away and the losses that come with it reach far deeper than money. When someone tells me the book has made them cry, then I know it’s working.
Recently in an article in the magazine, The Monthly, Malcolm Knox talked about book sales, and prizes as consolations: I quote: “So and so won the Premier’s Award, which is nice for her but the book sank.”
All I can say to that is “Not if I have anything to do with it”.
Now, I actually met Malcolm Knox at the opening night party of the Writers' Festival, and thanked him for the quote, and the article, which was very interesting. He said, "You realise that that wasn't a quote from me, it was from a book publisher."
I said, Yes, I did realise that but it was hard to make that clear in the speech. He wouldn't reveal which publisher had actually said it; however, I did promise that I would explain my use of the quote to listeners or readers, so here it is. If you want to read the full article (it's about the effect of Bookscan on literary publishing in Australia) see the new magazine "The Monthly".
The festival itself looked interesting, similar to the Melbourne one but many more political sessions, and little on writing itself. I would have loved to go to one of Alice Sebold's sessions, but had to fly back home Thursday afternoon. I did a reading with other Premier's Awards winners on Thursday morning, and then was really disappointed to discover that the bookshop had no copies of my book in stock!! As there were several people who came up to me after the reading and said they wanted to buy "Farm Kid", I was even more disappointed. If you're reading this and would like a copy, please do order it (this is the desperate author speaking who wants to cry when people say they can't find my books in the shop).
I met many interesting and lovely authors and publishers during the week, including Sharyn November (Penguin US/Firebird) and Marion Lloyd (UK publisher who now has her own imprint with Scholastic). Also Ursula Dubosarsky, Margo Lanagan and Sam Wagan Watson. And at the dinner I got to shake hands and talk to Tim Winton!