Sunday, February 25, 2007

First Chapter, Next Book

Just finished Stuart MacBride's crime novel, "Dying Light". The kind of book that you read way too fast because it's so good you can't stop turning the pages. Then you get to the end and you hate the fact that you read it so fast because now it's over, there is no more, and it was only his second book so you can't go back and read the other 12 you missed...
MacBride does for Aberdeen what James Lee Burke does for the area around New Orleans. Yes, I've said this before but it does bear saying again. MacBride's books don't seem to be freely available in the bookshops here in Australia, but they're five stars in my little reading world.
That whole thing of wanting more as soon as the last page is read is what leads publishers (I think) to inserting what must be the most infuriating thing in publicity history. The first chapter of the next book. This usually only turns up in paperbacks, because the author is about to publish said next book in hardback, and this enticement is supposed to make you go out and buy the hardback in a fit of reader passion.
Not here, where hardcovers retail at $45. All that happens is if you give in to tempation and read that darned chapter, it gets you nowhere. Except in the waiting zone for many, many months while you wait for the paperback to appear.
In my case, this is what really happens. Months later, I see the paperback in the shop, pick it up and read the first few pages (having forgotten about that pesky publicity chapter). I think ... Hmmm, this sounds really familiar. I think I've read this one. And I don't buy it.
Before you go thinking I'm entering early senility, everyone I know has this problem. I think everyone who reads a lot has this problem. That's why when you get a book out of the library, you see all these funny little marks in it. Page 72 circled, a tick on the top of the title page, tiny initials inside the cover - this is the avid reader's coded signal to themselves to say "I've read this one already". If you don't believe me, check it out next time you're in the library.
The excessive version of this is someone I met at a garage (yard) sale once who was buying romances. She had a little notebook in which she had written the series and number of every romance she'd ever read (apparently they are numbered, or they used to be).
How do you keep track of which books in a series you've read?
Postscript: Just checked out MacBride's website and he had posted this: "COLD GRANITE has been voted the best first novel published in the US 2005!"

Friday, February 23, 2007

Libraries - You've Gotta Love Them

Hmmm, the new Blogger doesn't like me. It's now taking me 3 attempts on different pages to log in, and sometimes it won't let me in at all. Hence this post has been delayed. I only like technology when it works.
I have just collected a reserve from my library - the second novel by Stuart MacBride (he of the crime novels set in Aberdeen where it rains all the time). I've never found any of his books in the bookshops here, so that's why I love the library. And why I shudder every time I read of funding cuts to libraries. Not just because it might affect me, although my local council is pretty good about our library funding so far, but because there are thousands and thousands of people who can't afford to buy books or even have the internet at home, and most of them are kids. You want your kids to learn stuff and love reading? Take them to the library, get them a library card, and then let them loose to choose whatever they want.
I discovered a new blog the other day, by accident, as we often do on the net. "When Dad Killed Mom" has long been a favourite book of mine, and then I found that its author, Julius Lester, has a website and a blog. His blog is wonderful, and is the kind of reading that keeps you thinking for some time after. The other day he was writing about silence and rest (ah yes, I kind of remember what they are!), and then about the way we are so obsessed with buying and selling stuff, and how commerce rules our world.
Have a look at
I've just finished reading a Peter Temple crime novel - Temple is one of Australia's best-known crime writers and wins lots of the local awards. I have been trying to track down some of the books by the newer female crime writers here but no luck so far. I belong to Sisters in Crime, and often read the reviews in their newsletter, but finding the books in the shops is not quite so easy.
Writing here continues, somewhat like wading through a bog in gumboots (galoshes? wellingtons?) that are a size too big for me. I sometimes talk to students about the middle-of-the-book-blues, but mostly we never get to that point because in a year of classes, most of them don't get beyond Chapter 3. So instead I talk a lot about perseverance and words on the page (regularly) and discipline and sticking at it and goal setting ... in the end it's up to them. You either have to really want to write that novel and tell that story, or you end up with odd chapters all over the place and nothing finished.
I agree with the people who say just finishing the first draft is worth a bottle of champagne!

Friday, February 16, 2007

It Has Rained

After two horrible hot days, we have just had a short thunderstorm and some rain. Rain is rare enough here these days to warrant a mention. Back to 38 degrees (C) tomorrow and Sunday. Erck.
The week has contained two Orientation days for students, one meeting with a local literary festival committee, much budgeting and paperwork, one interview with a police detective, one talk given by a Fraud Squad detective about identity theft (very interesting and now I want to buy a shredder), and one visit to my osteopath for acupuncture and various other treatments on the bits of me that have stopped working properly. And you're right - hardly any writing done.
But the research has been terrific, and I am currently reading another book written by an undercover cop which has some hilarious bits in it.
I also wrote a poem (yay!) and got a reply from an anthology publisher about a story of mine that made it right up to the final cut but not into the book (not so yay). And I found three boxes full of my old essays and stories and poems from my degree, which were a lot of fun to read. It was also very interesting to read their comments and compare them to the comments I make on my students' work. I think I'll leave that topic alone!
The festival is in Williamstown (in Melbourne, Victoria) and this will be the fourth year they've run it. They do a really good job and the festival gets better every year. Last year there was a session on Australian fiction publishing which was great, and because it's not a huge venue, the audiences are interested and keen to listen. I wish the Melbourne Writers' Festival had such a good atmosphere. There it tends to be extremely crowded and often the sessions are a bit boring because the speakers are 'playing safe'. Whereas at Willy last year we even had one of the comedy speakers strip and run around the hall!
Classes begin on Monday - I have boxes of stuff ready, and some notes, but I need still to organise the 'agenda' of what will happen when. That won't take long and then I will be writing.

Friday, February 09, 2007

Book Designs

My new book, "Sixth Grade Style Queen (Not!)", is coming out in May and we are up to page proofs. Normally I think I would have done these earlier, but the book has a very interesting page design and the publisher (which means the editors and designer) have been experimenting and trying out new things.
It's fascinating to see how this concept has developed, and then to see other publishers doing similar things. I picked up a copy of "Cathy's Book" a couple of weeks ago and it has been created to look like a girl's everyday school book, with a hard, black cover and the book inside like a notebook with doodles all over it, plus a pocket with other stuff inside the cover. I haven't read the book yet - it's a diary - so can't comment on the quality of the story. Yet.
I've just finished reading "Searching for the Secret River" by Kate Grenville, which is about the research and writing process for her novel "The Secret River". She details how she went about finding out information on her great-great-great grandfather, Solomon Wiseman, and how eventually the non-fiction book became a novel, in order to tell a story. A very interesting book if you like to write historical fiction. I have been to Wiseman's Ferry near Sydney and remember enough of it to be able to visualise what she writes about. It also helps that she is terrific at description!
Also have almost finished "The Silent War" - another of those books about crims and cops in Victoria in the 1980s and early 1990s (true crime). Quite a bit of the material has been in other books I've read, so the authors must be doing well from the same stories. It's one form of research, but the State Library newspaper files will probably be more useful. And interviewing a police detective is top of my list!
Went to see "Miss Potter" the other day and loved it. A five star movie for me.
Writing is in "struggle phase". It took me 5 hours to squeeze out 1700 words on Wednesday (admittedly there were interruptions, but still...) whereas on a good day I often write 2000 in an hour. But I am at that point where I need to make sure I'm not creating plot boo-boos that will affect the rest of the book, so slow and steady is probably the way to go.
And as it's only 9 days until teaching starts, I'm using the available brain power while it's there!

Saturday, February 03, 2007

Drought and Bushfire

This the Australian bush right now. Even the bracken is dead. The leaves, twigs, dead bracken and fallen branches make a thick layer of fuel - one lightning strike or pyromaniac is all it takes. The lightning we can't do anything about. The pyromaniacs? If you live near bushland, keep an eye on it.
But amongst all the dead stuff, we are still getting bush flowers. I think these are orchids.

Giving It Away Too Soon

I'm writing. And plotting. And agonising. I stopped writing for five days because I had come to a crucial point in the story - do I give the reader and main character this information now? Or hold it back for a bit longer?
I gave it. And came to a grinding halt.
Why? Because a large part of the mystery had been tied into what was in the box. Once I revealed this, that story question was resolved - there was nowhere else to go with it. Do I have any new story questions? Well ... yes ... but none that are big and exciting and tension-filled enough to keep the stakes growing higher and higher as I work towards the conclusion. Can I go back and take that information out? No. It does feel as though it needed to come out at that point.
In the meantime my main character is dithering, thinking through her next decisions (which has taken up about 500 words and will have to be cut later, but for now, it keeps the words and ideas simmering). I'll have to get out my plot diagrams and do some doodling and "what iffing" and some detailed notes. Then the next part will emerge, I hope.
At the moment, I'm reading an old Nancy Kress novel involving genocide via deliberately infected mosquitos. It's not very riveting, but my next visit to the library is a few days away so I'm digging into old boxes of books that I've never got around to reading.
I'm beginning to think my sister's clothing credo (if you haven't worn it for more than a year, throw it out!) might also apply to books. If you haven't read it and it's been sitting there for more than two years (books last better than clothes, usually, unless you drop them in the bath), give it away.
My goal of cleaning out my office (thank you, Randy Ingermanson and Alison Bottke for showing me how to do this so it's not quite as painful) proceeds at a slow pace. I am doing it properly, and using files and archive boxes as well as the rubbish bin. Today I found my old passport, so of course everyone got to have a good laugh at the photo. Mostly, I am astounded at how much I have kept "just in case".
I thought that maybe when it's all done, and my ten-year-old computer that is no longer used has been sent to computer heaven, I might buy a new one. Then Windows Vista came out, and I don't want it. I can just imagine the arguement with the computer guy, trying to persuade him to load on XP instead.
OK, enough procrastinating here on the blog - back to the writing and plotting.