Sunday, February 27, 2011

Need Some Writer's First Aid?

I first met Kristi Holl back in 2004 at the Chatauqua Writers' Workshop, where she was on the faculty and critiqued my novel. Right away, I thought she was someone whose advice I could trust - it was clearly from long experience! I bought a copy of her book, Writer's First Aid, and was impressed - here was a book about the writing life and how to manage it. Lots of what she wrote in WFA stuck with me, especially the stuff on writing better by being a healthy writer.

Now, after four years of thrice-weekly posts on her Writer's First Aid blog (which has 60,000 subscribers!), she's published a new collection - More Writer's First Aid, and I was lucky enough to read an advance copy recently. So then I had to ask her a few questions!

l. Who is this book aimed at?

It may sound presumptuous to say this, but I truly think the book is aimed at all writers, no matter where they are in their career. Maybe because it has surprised me personally, but over the years I’ve realized that some writing issues never change: finding time, dealing with rejection, juggling families and day jobs, and all the other life issues that can derail our writing dreams. Because I write about those subjects, and those things apply to every writer I know, I believe the book is for all writers.

2. What kinds of aspects of writing does it cover?

The 48 articles are grouped under four subject headings: ENJOYING THE WRITING LIFE—EVERY DAY, WRITING HABITS THAT HELP YOU, A WRITER’S EMOTIONS and FAMILY MATTERS. I cover similar kinds of topics to my first writing book, WRITER’S FIRST AID, but in addition, I felt the “family matters” section was important to add. So many writers today are juggling family members along with their writing—from babies to adult children who have moved home. Other writers are dealing with family members who are sick, those newly retired, you name it. And unless we learn how to set boundaries and juggle our writing schedule to meet family demands, we are too likely to give up the writing—or be miserable while doing it. My goal is for writers to enjoy their writing life! Besides family and health issues, I also wanted to cover areas that weren’t an issue when I wrote the first writing book: social media, e-mail and Internet issues, online platforms—and the writing time it can steal from us.

3. Why did you write it?

I have heard so much in recent months about the “e-book revolution” and the future of e-books and how Kindles (and other formats) are outselling paper books online, etc. I wanted to try doing an e-book/Kindle version and see!

4. What do you hope writers will gain from reading it?

We writers are all in this together. You don’t stop having writing issues to deal with just because you get published—or even published a lot. We all deal with disappointment, writer jealousy, emotional and physical pain, procrastination, tiredness… Study after study has shown that the writers who succeed are NOT the writers with the most talent and are NOT the writers who “know someone important in publishing.” They are simply the writers who didn’t give up. I hope readers gain a “don’t give up” attitude from reading MORE WRITERS’S FIRST AID.

So if you want a copy direct from Kristi, click here. And if you want a Kindle version (because of course you have a Kindle!), you'll find it on Amazon. Yes, I know Kristi personally, and yes, I do recommend it!

Friday, February 25, 2011

To Review or Not to Review?

When I first started this blog, it was destined to be my own personal reading record of books I loved and hated, with comments. I read tons of books and when someone would ask me for a recommendation, my mind would go blank! So a blog seemed like a good idea. This was about six years ago, so it really only was just for me. Then I started to add stuff about writing, and teaching writing, and it grew.

Now things are changing again, and I'm having to think very carefully about content and audience, which of course is what most writers do about everything they write! I've been contacted now by several publishers asking me if I'd be interested in reviewing their books. Well, yes. And no. Because previously I had focused on books I either loved (like "Matterhorn") or hated (like "Twilight") - from a writer's point of view.

So today my first two "review" copies arrived. And I have had to think seriously about what I am going to do (I think we can assume I have now declared my "position" as required by US law). If I hate a book, usually my response is to say why, or ignore it. What if I hate everything publishers send me? (It's possible.) I guess I am going to continue being myself - looking at each book from the POV of a writer. What works, what doesn't, and why. That's my "thing".

But there will no doubt be books that I can't say anything about, good or bad. They're just ... books. People complain about bad reviews in newspapers and magazines, while others say any publicity is good publicity. I thought - what if every newspaper or mag had the policy - if we don't like it, we won't review it. But then if your book never got reviewed, you would have to assume they hated it. What a downer! (You can tell I'm still thinking like an author, can't you?)

Regardless of all of that, this is not now a review blog. I include my reviews now and then when I think they will be useful (or I love a book and have to tell you about it). We'll see how we go ...

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

How Accurate Do We Have to Be?

Last night, against my better judgement, I watched A Current Affair on Channel 9. For those of you not living in Australia, it pretends to be a current affairs show, dealing with "news of the moment" that affects "ordinary people" (my quote marks, not theirs - goodness knows what they think they're doing). I usually avoid this show, and its twin on Channel 7, as they have proven time and again that what they show is either a beat-up or something manufactured out of very little.

I watched because they previewed a guy who is battling with his council over vegetation and trees. I was interested, having had similar experiences. What I got, instead of a decent news story with information and facts, was this:
* people interviewed who were never identified
* the council concerned was never identified, apart from one muffled voice during a film clip that mumbled "Redlands" (I think)
* a camera crew following around police officers and council officers with no real information about what they were doing or why.

Is this supposed to be reporting? Barbara Cartland gave more facts in one of her historical romance novels than this TV show gave in their "news" coverage. As a writer of historical fiction for younger readers, I try really, really hard to get my facts right, and to slip them into my (fictional) narratives. Today, for example, I was looking again at a map of Melbourne in 1900 to make sure the Fitzroy Gardens were called that at the time. Yesterday I spent more than half an hour tracking the history of the Church Street bridge across the Yarra River. Because I didn't want my characters driving their buggy across a bridge that didn't exist back then.

I'm sure all of the Our Australian Girl writers do the same amount of research as me. When I work on my big pirate novel, Pirate X, I try my hardest to make sure the information, which is the very real background, is as accurate as I can get it. It continually astounds me how people put up with the shoddy, inaccurate reporting that our commercial channels dish up as "news". Is turning off the TV enough of a protest? I don't think so. So I emailed them. And silence was the stern reply!