Saturday, April 29, 2006

THE END. As in, this draft is done, finished, complete. For now. Soon I will print it out and, after I think I've created a bit of distance between me and it, we will get together again and I'll see what I think.
That is the hardest part - to be able to stand back from the work and eye it critically, seeing what still needs to be fixed, polished, rewritten. For me, it's often little plot holes that I don't see, which is where another writer/editor is useful. So that is planned for next week.
In the meantime, I have several other projects in front of me. A short story that I am looking at expanding into a novella (because it's a story with an ending that says there are many things that could happen to these people, and besides, there is a competition on right now for novellas and I love a deadline); another short story that is unfinished and it got out of control and needs a re-think; three picture books in various drafts that need a lot more work. Other things that I would love to write if only I had time. Oh yes, and six classes to prepare because I am off to the Children's Book Council conference next week and there will be no time to prep anything when I get back because someone is coming to start ripping out my kitchen and I have to pack up all my stuff.
Last night I saw on TV the first of the new series of Rebus (from the Ian Rankin novels). I know plenty of people thought John McCallum was not the right actor for Rebus in the first series, but Ken Stott is worse. Too jolly by far! And fancies himself as a ladies man - which Rebus is not. Still, this is what happens when books are made into TV or movies - you either go with the interpretation and changes or you don't. 'Charlotte's Web' is due to be released sometime soon. We'll see then what everyone thinks of that version.
One thing that I am finding interesting at the moment is the way some writers are using either their blogs or their websites to 'publish' their writing. There is an ongoing debate about copyright in this digital age, and the Australian government is looking at copyright laws again this week. We also have another case of what is being called accidental plagiarism (the Sloppy Firsts book etc). I am beginning to think I am very old-fashioned about all this, but to me, a book is a book (I also include journals and magazines here) and authors are selling publication rights. That is all we have to sell to make a living. It's a widget. People who invent new widgets take out patents, and then they get to sell their widget as an exclusive (yes, until a rip-off merchant copies it - that's illegal too).
If I have invented a widget story, that I hope to sell, there is no way I am going to show everyone what it is and make it available before I have sold it. Anything published on my website has already been published or sold before.
As I said, maybe I am being old-fashioned about this, but the bottom line is: if I want to try and make a living as a writer, what else do I have to sell?

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

The Delete key has been hot this week, taking out huge chunks of the last three chapters of my novel. Two whole characters - gone in an instant. All their dialogue, their interaction with the main character - gone. They became irrelevant, a sidetrack that I should have taken out before, but until I got nearer to the end and had made decisions about previous bits, they stayed ... just in case. Now they've gone to the Land of Unused and Unwanted Characters. Or, if you want to be clever, the Land of Unnecessary Characters, Animals and Subplots. Feed them all to LUCAS. Hmmmm.
Today I will be venturing into more new words, working my way towards the last paragraph (which remains unchanged, like any final destination - it's funny how you know exactly where the story will finish, but there are so many ways to get there).
Before then, I need to go to the gym to work out the horrible twisted mess my neck and shoulders are in, created by hunching over the laptop, digging in the garden and then sleeply badly.
I finished the Inspector Anders book. Very interesting. I learnt more about the Italian mafia and corrupt Italian politicians and bureaucrats than I thought possible. I did like the mc, Anders, but then a maverick is hard to dislike. Good mavericks in fiction always do the things you long to do yourself, if only...
Now I am reading Lee Childs. Jack Reacher is another maverick, a very clever one, and his confidence and expertise make him very engaging. A character who creates surprises in the plot, twists and turns that keep you reading. A great lesson in how to keep the reader turning the pages through character as much as plot, which is why I love good crime novels. They so often have these terrific characters that propel the story along - think Harry Bosch, Rebus - even Stephanie Plum.
On the other hand, I am writing at least one poem each day at the moment, after a drought of a couple of months. By drought, I mean I might write a poem occasionally but don't feel the urge to do any more. That often comes after completing a collection, or in this case, a verse novel. My brain seems to need a break and this time I had moved on to short stories.
My short fiction class recently studied the two Robert Olen Butler stories that he has included in "From Where You Dream". He has a "bad" story, written many years ago, and then the published story - which actually bear little relation to each other apart from the basic material that the ideas came from. In other words, the published story is not in any way a rewrite. What I liked was the change in subtlety - the first story had none, the second story was full of layers and subtle but telling lines and details.
I have an idea for a short story, which emerged from an exercise I gave them on Secrets, but have no time to write it yet. And an idea for another story that I fear might become a novel. Oh dear. I will have to make notes on both and save them up.

Friday, April 21, 2006

The joys and surprises of rewriting. My big analysis project (scene by scene) was useful but this week I have reached 'crunch time' - the point at which I have made major changes in the plot that will reverberate right through to the finishing line. Hopefully resulting in a much better ending.
It's like that cliche of throwing a rock into a pond - the ripples get wider and wider. So even small changes to a character gradually get bigger as the novel goes on. When I reach the point of writing completely new words (and deleting pages and pages of old words), I start to feel like I am really rewriting, really improving and strengthening what's there, rather than just fiddling around the edges.
I'm down to the last 30 pages and, of those, more than half will be deleted and new words written. The feeling of blocking huge amounts of text and hitting Delete is scary, but I know I still have a hard copy. Better to be safe than sorry! But I think I'm going in the right direction.
I signed up this week for the Knopf Poem a Day, and the first poem I received was an amazing piece from Sharon Olds. I was also able to click on the link and hear a recording of her reading the poem. Added to that, I bought a Sharon Olds book yesterday 'The Unswept Room' which promises to be wonderful. Reading good poems nearly always inspires me to write more. While I have found little new on the writing guides shelves at Borders lately, yesterday I discovered a great book on reading and writing poetry called 'A Poet's Companion: a guide to the pleasures of writing poetry' by Addonizio and Laux, and after reading the first chapter, wrote three poems last night. Now that's a good sparker book!
I did finish the book I talked about before (A Ship Made of Paper)and didn't change my opinion - the other characters in the book were good, but the main character was a pain and I was glad he didn't have a happy ending.
Am currently about 40 pages into 'The Wooden Leg of Inspector Anders' - a crime novel set in Italy. It's OK, but not holding me enough to stop me diving into the library today and borrowing two Lee Childs that I hadn't read.

Saturday, April 15, 2006

I am pondering the unlikeable main character - how do you get away with it? I'm still perservering with "A Ship Made of Paper", only because the author uses other point-of-view characters which provide some relief. But I still find the main character is just awful - self-indulgent, over-emotional and pretentious. I doubt that the author intended me to feel this way. Or maybe he did?
I have written a couple of things (short stories, mostly) where readers have commented that the main character was unlikeable. When I say readers, I mean editors who have given this as a reason for rejection. I guess we really want to love those characters and to care about what happens to them. Kids want this as much as any adult reader, but I think adult readers are more forgiving, more aware of the grey areas. But more than anything, the m.c. we care about is going to lead to the best-selling book.
I think also this begins with the writer caring about their characters. And not just caring as in "I made this person up for my story and I like them", but more like "I have spent weeks and months with this character, I gave them all these problems and I really want them to win through". Books written quickly may not have enough character depth because the writer hasn't gone deep enough.
It's a problem with student novels and stories that I read and assess. Often they are writing this novel or story because it's required for class, and although we do lots of character development stuff, it's up to them to create characters they love and stories they want and need to tell. Student writers who can "wow" me with things written quickly and for class are rare. I would guess that 95% of students never finish the novel they start for their class.
I have a middle grade novel that I have been working on for over two years, and I still don't feel as if I have really got to grips with the main character. This has come from beginning the novel with an idea based on setting, and then developing a character to live in and engage with it. It's not the way I usually do it, and it has caused me immense problems, trying to work out where the story (i.e. what the character does and why) really lies.
I love sassy YA, where the voice is funny and sarcastic and wry and ironic - but it's hard to write this without sounding whiny and depressing. And that brings me back to the book I am reading. I suppose I will finish it now to see if he gets his just desserts. And it even has an endorsement by Anne Tyler on the front.
I remind myself that I can learn from books I dislike as much as those I love!

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Two days of rewriting, with classes wedged in between. I received an email from a writer friend who has also been teaching and will soon have the 3 months of the US summer break to write. Then he hopes that he can continue as his wife will have a great new job, so he will be home writing. Wow.
I am up to Chapter 11, with about 60 pages to go. Lots of comments from my two readers, plus various notes to myself about threads, foreshadowing, plot holes etc. I just have to keep it all in my head, keep it going, while trying to run my day-to-day life. I see now why people use those software programs to keep track of all that stuff, but I'm not sure I would get any benefit. At least my brain is doing the job OK so far...
This weekend is quarterly tax time again. Yuck. Now that is something there should be a program for, or a busy little elf who does it for me.
There was a bargain book table at my shopping centre last week and I picked up a $5 special, hoping I'd found a gem by accident. But I'm struggling with it, and I decided last night it's because I don't like the main character. He is just too self-centred and pretentious, and his angst over being in love with a woman not his partner is tedious rather than engaging. I'll give it another 10 or 15 pages, but if it doesn't improve, out it goes.

Friday, April 07, 2006

Where has the time gone? Two weeks since I posted here! Arrgghh. Classes started again after the Games finally finished, and it was like starting the whole year again. Now I have assignments to mark already.
An item in the Publisher's Weekly email newsletter made me pull out my stamps and cover letters and set the printer on High Speed. At Bologna Children's Book Fair, pirate books were the hot item. I mentioned in the last post that it's easy to get the feeling you are missing the boat. Well, when I read that item, I felt like the pirate ship had set sail without me and if I didn't get in my longboat and row like hell, all I'd see would be sails in the sunset. How's that for stretching a metaphor?
Seriously though, after the initial panic subsided, I decided I really did have to put my novel out there as a partial and work hard on finishing the rewrite. So that is what I have done. Has the rewrite proceeded apace? Not yet. But I know the first three chapters are vastly improved and ready to be seen, and the rewrite is more than half done.
In the meantime the renovations began, and the planning permit paperwork loomed. But I know where the priority lies, ultimately, so it will be nose to the laptop this weekend.
Received my copy of "Lasting: Poems on Aging" edited by Meg Files last week. Some wonderful poems about all aspects of growing old, and lots of humorous or wry poems too to make a balance.
Read Jonathan Kellerman's new novel "Gone" - a good read, but not a top notch suspense experience. Seemed to be an awful lot of dialogue between Alex and Milo, working out the case, rather than action. So rather slow but interesting.
Am reading Robert Crais' new book "The Two Minute Rule" - not an Elvis Cole novel but also a good read without being startling.
Yes, I have been buying books again. Just can't help it when favourite writers bring out a new one. Tried two new writers from the library but one was pretty awful.
I plan to buy the "Firebirds Rising" anthology for a friend's birthday - best collection of fantasy stories I've read in a long time.