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.