Friday, March 24, 2006

Miss Snark's blog has been particularly snarky recently - and therefore most enjoyable. I'd love to start a Nitwit of the Week award but I think too many people would hate me for it. She does a fine job on her own. The clear information on the world of agents and publishing is so valuable. I imagine if she is stopping nitwits from annoying agents and publishers, they all thank her too.
The one thing that keeps coming up over and over is - make the writing great. Then originality and voice come a close second. And don't be in a hurry to get your book out there if it isn't ready.
I would've thought, after 8 years of rewriting, that my historical novel was getting close. I hope. It's so hard to hold back and work on a new draft when you see other similar books being published. 'No,' you cry, 'don't flood the market with them. Wait for mine!'
That's where the urge to get the manuscript out comes from. When you see publishers publishing books that you know are the beginning of a wave and you have probably missed it, you feel this unavoidable panic. The only solution is to tell yourself that if the novel isn't working well enough, sending it out will just cost you a large amount of money and time, and discourage you. That's what I say to my panicking self anyway.
One of my chapter books, accepted months ago, has been rescheduled for 2008. As it is the third in a series, and the second came out 12 months ago ...
I reworked five chapters of the historical novel while I was away, and need to keep at it. My writer friend, who loves revision and hates first drafts, can't understand my urge to put it aside and start something new. But that first draft excitement is addictive.
Just been to the shops and found the new Robert Crais and the new Jonathan Kellerman. My bribe to get me back into teaching and preparation and marking. If I finish all of that, and am ready for classes on Monday, I can start the JK. Or should I start the RC first? Decisions, decisions.
I have actually been reading short stories again. My niece very kindly gave me her copy of Ann Patchett's short stories - 'Mendicino' - and although the first few were a bit 'so what', they are improving. Her novel, 'The Dive From Clausen's Pier', was terrific.
Are the Commonwealth Games over yet? Unfortunately not. But it does give one a large amount of time to read instead!

Thursday, March 16, 2006

The year has come to a halt, thanks to the Commonwealth Games. I am staying with my sister and out of Melbourne; classes are on two weeks holidays; the sun is shining and my laptop is humming.
The internet is everywhere. I'm able to keep up with my online class while I am away and also do my emails and read Miss Snark. But not having my research books and notes and the library handy does feel a bit weird. I brought the historical novel with me and finally, yesterday, I finished analysing the scenes and plot/character arcs. Now I know what Hemingway meant when he said he rewrote the ending of one of his books 49 times. After a lot of thinking and planning yesterday, I have changed the last quarter of the book yet again. It's all about motivation and action. Many times I can see the tension is too low, action too minimal, characters not involving enough, motivations too flimsy. I do hope all this work is helpful when it comes to rewriting. When I get away from the notes and tackle the words on the page, often I get bogged down in the sentences. I wish there was a way to have two "eyes" on the work at once - one for standing back and being clear and concise about what is going on and the other to focus on the actual writing.
Doing lots of reading - the great thing about time off - and just finished Mark Billingham's latest (UK crime). Am now reading a Jefferson Parker (US crime). The feel of each book is so different. Sometimes I think a lot of US crime writers don't get very close to their main characters. I feel distant from them. In the Parker book, his mc is a woman who has a two year old son, and it feels at times as if the writer just uses the son to show her other, more vulnerable side, but it seems a bit contrived. On the other hand, Michael Connelly and Robert Crais do intense mc stuff really well.
I hate it when I go to a bookshop and there are twenty shelves of books and I can't find a single one I want to read. Visited two bookshops yesterday (both secondhand, which explains a lot as I always think that the really good books are the ones people tend to keep rather than sell) but couldn't find a thing I wanted, apart from a very interesting short story collection - stories about childhood, edited by Lorrie Moore.
Today I will divide my time between rewriting, making a cake and going to the gym (the gym is to work out the kinks and knots from hunching over the laptop).
And to think I could have been fishing ... no wind today.

Friday, March 10, 2006

Due to the Commonwealth Games here in Melbourne, we have had three weeks of classes and now we have two weeks holiday. The second half of this semester is going to be very loo-oo--oonnng. (That's the sound of teachers and students moaning). I am glad that Meg Files is going to be our guest writer/teacher at the beginning of June. This will be the second half of our teacher exchange.
This week has been full of bits. Bits of paperwork, bits of writing, outlines and sketches. I am going to spend as much of my two weeks holidays as possible working on the historical novel. Few distractions, apart from some fishing if the weather is good, and partying (a significant birthday has arrived for me and I intend to party until it leaves me alone and picks on someone else).
Time also to type up my picture book drafts and look at what I have. And to read. I have the urge to bury myself in reading again, instead of dipping in and out of my book when I have time.
I have now got into the habit of having a book to read at the gym (the cycle and treadmill are incredibly boring without a book) and am choosing things I can pick up and put down when I go, books that don't require a huge amount of concentration but are entertaining. Last week's was a Gary Paulsen novel, set in the 1930s. This week is Nicci Gerard. Funny how we choose books depending on our mood and mindset. I remember it took me a very long time to read "The God of Small Things" - I felt I was waiting for the right time, so I'd enjoy it. And I did.
I received the contract this week for my book "The Too-tight Tutu" to be published in Spanish by a Mexican publisher. Now I want to find out what too-tight tutu is in Spanish. Yes, this is a children's book! Not a memoir as such.

Saturday, March 04, 2006

I've just been to a book launch for a picture book - "Doodledum Dancing" by Meredith Costain, illustrated by Pamela Allen. If you are familiar with pbs in this part of the world, you'd know Pamela Allen's work. I still have my copy of "Who Sank the Boat?". But the best thing about this book is Meredith's poems. Long live poems for kids!!! It's aimed at littlies, from say 2 to 4, and is a real read-aloud, have-lots-of-fun book. Of course, my favourite poem is the pirate one.
My writing this week continues on the small theme - 250 word articles and stories. For some reason, I am continuing to also write new picture books, and completely rewrote an old one. It must be because I am teaching picture book writing again this year and reading all those pbs is inspiring me. Read small, think small, write small.
The rewrite was interesting. I had been thinking about this particular story, along the lines of "Darn thing, how come I've rewritten it a zillion times and it still isn't right?" Then one night I got a new line for it - not at the beginning but about a third of the way through - and kept writing, and came up with a whole new concept for the story. And I stopped myself from going back and referring to the previous draft because I didn't want to fall back into the old version.
Of course then I had to turn around and rewrite the first third. I haven't dared look at it since. Haven't even typed it up from my fevered scrawl. But I keep thinking about it, tucking it away in my brain for another simmer. Soon ... soon I will type it up. I even have a brand new title, which is great because the old title was too similar to two other pbs out there.
One of my students asked this week, "What do you mean when you say a story 'isn't right'? How do you know?" That's hard to answer, and maybe comes from experience - reading, writing and critiquing. You just know. It's close, but it doesn't create fireworks when you read it. And a pb has to create some kind of fireworks for everyone who reads it - child, parent and, of course, publisher/editor.
In the meantime, I continue to diagram scenes from the historical novel and ask those crucial character and plot arc questions. My writing group is using a new workshop method (new for them, created by my fabulous writer friend, Tracey, for teaching in her class). It uses de Bono's 6 hats, and has been a great shot-in-the-arm for our workshopping. I have now given them some pages of the novel to pull apart. It should be fun. Excruciating fun.