What I learned this week

My own Yoda told me to work on something new while querying.

This is great advice, designed to stop me going nuts and checking my email forty thousand times a day.

So I went ahead and worked on something else. The sequels to my querying manuscript. So I’m ready to go with Books 2 and 3 when the call eventually comes.

But the anxiety crept in…. I started to fret and worry.

Then I finished the sequel drafts and started on something new. Brand new. In a completely different world with all new characters.

And I forgot about my queries.

This lead to a little epiphany.

When I was working on the sequels, I was still in the same world with the same characters. I had not really left my manuscript alone.

Now I’m wrapped up in the new world and kind of forgotten about the querying manuscript. Kind of.

So this week, I’ve learnt to start something completely new when querying.

2014-09-04-distraction-thumb

 

 

Advertisements

A little writing meltdown

Some days, it’s just overwhelming. There’s too much to remember. Too many techniques.

 

Is the pace right?

Does the scene turn?

What’s the character’s motivation?

Is my first line punchy enough?

Is my dialogue boring?

Too many ‘said’s. Too many adverbs. Too many adjectives.

Too much detail

Not enough detail

Are my minor characters too quirky?

What about the internal motivation?

Does it make sense?

Don’t worry about the sentence. Worry about the story.

But that sentence is clumsy.

Is my main character changing enough?

Is it cliched? Is it derivative?

Am I wasting my time?

Argh.

 

 

 

 

Recent listens: How to Publish Your Book by Jane Friedman

I like my audiobooks. But for some unknown reason, I can’t focus on fiction in audio. My mind wanders and I miss sections of the story, so I’ve learned to stick with non-fiction for audiobooks.

A recent listen was How to Publish Your Book by Jane Friedman, available through The Great Courses. This is available through Audible and you’ll also receive the accompanying lecture notes in PDF.

how-to-publish-your-book-by-jane-friedman

What a damn fine resource for the new author! In 24 lectures, Friedman takes you through the process of getting published from both a fiction and non-fiction perspective. Friedman also has a brilliant blog where she discusses the state of the publishing nation.

This is for those writers who are done with the manuscript and ready to move from the art to the business side. She starts off talking you through understanding your genre and your audience then to the process of

  • finding agents, publishers and editors,
  • sharpening your pitch, query letter and synopsis,
  • contracts,
  • the need for marketing and building your author platform.

Friedman also tackles the interesting subject – “when to self-publish?” A controversial topic indeed. Are you being impatient? Is self-publishing really for you? Is your market too niche for a mainstream publisher?

I’m currently querying agents with my Return to the Monolith manuscript and the course provided information on what to expect and importantly, how to cope with rejection.

The information is up-to-date and discussed many of the players in the current market. This is the best all-in-one resource I’ve found on publishing.

Do you have any recommendations for great publishing resources?

Writing spaces – ideal and real

In an ideal world, my writing space would be in a room overlooking craggy cliffs.

The floor to ceiling windows would open out to the sea, where I’d watch the ever-changing weather roll in and the waves crash against the rocks. I’d be inspired by the power of nature, the wild and moody weather.

suicide_cliffs__okinawa_by_inifekt-d4xiol4
Unfortunately named “Suicide Cliffs” in Okinawa

The room itself would be plain and white, with no distractions besides my computer and my creativity.

Imagine the science-fiction I could write from this room…

stylish-minimalist-home-office-designs-11

Or something monastic.

Perhaps my latent historical fiction would come to life here.

cathusian-monk-cell-mount-grace-priory
Mount Grace Priory, Yorkshire

But in reality, my writing space is like this.

IMG_0154

Messy yet functional, surrounded by books and CDs (yes, Gen X), post-it notes, a thesaurus, water, a comfy op-shop chair, story outlines and writing structure reminders.

My only mandatory items are the laptop and the headphones. I wrote the first drafts of Return to the Monolith while my house was under renovations, from the kitchen counter (with headphones on blocking out the noise of power tools) or the local library. I found I could write anywhere.

So the ideal writing space is not necessary for writing but it’s nice to dream.

What’s your ideal writing space?

 

 

Excerpt – Evangeline & the Alchemist

Today, I thought I’d share the first page of my steampunk novella set in Marvellous Melbourne in 1880s, Evangeline & the Alchemist.

I hope you enjoy….

Chapter 1

As soon as Miss Plockton rapped on the door to the laboratory-workshop in her efficient Scottish way, Evangeline knew something exciting was about to happen.

“Chief Inspector Wivelsfield to see you, sir?” she burred.

“Ah yes. I plum forgot.”

Evangeline’s father placed down his trusty brass screwdriver with the ivory handle. Her father, Professor Montague Caldicott, the pre-eminent horological engineer in all the Colonies, smoothed down his humongous moustache with his real hand.

“Your lesson is over for today, m’dear. Follow Miss Plockton upstairs and continue with your embroidery.”

“But Father…” Evangeline groaned.

“Police matters are not for the ears of impressionable young ladies.”

Evangeline grimaced and stowed away her rosewood-handled screwdriver in the pocket of her dress. The smaller and more delicate screwdriver was a recent gift from her father, an encouragement to pursue her own inventions.

The Professor shooed Evangeline and Miss Plockton from the laboratory-workshop, before carefully locking the door behind him.

There was a time when a visit from the police would have frightened Evangeline. She would have hurried to hide her loot but not today. Today she was a reformed character, setting aside her street urchin ways and learning to be a proper young lady. But Evangeline had to admit being good all the time was a bit dull.

Evangeline sulked all the way up the stairs, clumping her feet and dawdling. Her father passed her and continued up the oriental carpeted hallway into his study, closing the door behind him. The conversation of men muffled by the closed oak door.

Evangeline loitered in the hallway, waiting for Miss Plockton to drag her into the sitting room to complete her crudely stitched handkerchief. Whilst Evangeline was proficient in many skills, needlecraft was not one of them.

Rather than bustling Evangeline away, Miss Plockton did something curious. Her father’s personal secretary produced a large brass key from her pocket and opened the small closet adjoining the Professor’s study. The room where all the house linen was stored.

swanston_st_480

The 7/7/7 snippet challenge

Writing Challenge participant Natalie K challenged me to the 7/7/7 Snippet Challenge.

The rules are:

  • Go to page 7 of your work-in-progress
  • Scroll down to line #7
  • Share the next 7 lines of your manuscript in a blog post
  • Tag 7 other writers (with blogs) to continue the challenge.

Here are the 7 lines from the 7th row of the 7th page of my recently “completed” manuscript, Return to the Monolith. I’m stoked to announce, I’ll start querying agents with Monolith from early January. Hoorah! But here’s a sneak peek.

Dawn peeked through the pink-fringed grey clouds, lighting up the sky in the east. The snow-tipped mountains loomed in the distance.  Alga’s heart pounded. This was the first time she had ever walked away from her mountains.

Her stomach had stopped rumbling. Her tears dried up. She tried not to think about her Sisterhouse and what she had left behind.

snow-black-and-white-mountain-ice

Now, I am passing on the fun to seven more writer bloggers. Consider yourselves challenged;

Looking forward to seeing other 7/7/7 Snippets.

Feast menu from Return to the Forest

I’m in the process of revising Book 2 of my Monolith series Return to the Forest. Today I’m sharing a menu from one of my scenes. Who doesn’t like descriptions of food and feasts in particular?

It is the solstice ceremony of Sundku held on a hilltop clearing, where the religious community of the Sisters live.  All the local women travel to the Sisterhouse for Sundku to welcome the early signs of Spring, the fading of the long Winter and to seek the blessing of fertility from the Goddess.

They dance, sing and chant around the pyre, honouring the Goddess and once the circle is closed, the women feast. Hungry after their homage, they need a hearty meal.

At the end of winter, fresh food is scarce but the women of the Forest are wise and resourceful. It would insult the Goddess to skimp on food at Sundku.

picnic

Each woman brings her own contribution to the feast. The long wooden table is piled with;

  • Rabbit stew: served in a thick gravy seasoned with pepper berries, slow cooked in a large pot over an open flame. The stew is served in carved wooden bowls.
  • Acorn bread: heavy and hearty, baked from ground acorn flour into loaves. The fire baked bread is coated with a crunchy caramel coloured crust. The loaves are cut into hunks and the women dip the bread into the rabbit stew, soaking up the gravy.
  • Jam cakes: local blackberries are harvested in summertime and preserved in earthenware jars to last throughout the cold winter. The jam cakes are baked with more acorn flour, dotted with dollops of sweet black jam. The cakes are golden palm-shaped discs with a hint of summer sweetness.
  • Red wine – of course

I hope you enjoyed a little view into the food world of Return to the Forest.

Hungry?

 

 

Three tips improved my writing in 2015

It’s the time of year between Christmas and New Year, like the lull between two waves. Time for planning and reflecting.

Here are the three writing tips I learned in 2015. These three tips definitely made me a better writer.

  1. Specificity
  2. Simplicity
  3. Different scripts

*Disclaimer – I can’t remember where I got these tips from. If it was you, thanks and sorry.

Specificity

Let’s get specific. Lazy writing is full of things, stuff and them. This year I learned to be specific about what I am writing. In 2015, I got out my nouns. First drafts can be full of vagueness but once the red editing pen comes out, it’s time to be precise. But specificity must be paired with tip#2, otherwise the words will grow and multiply like mice. And there’s nothing worse than a mouse plague…shudder…

Simplicity

Why use ten words when you can use two? My writing style is simple, mainly because I don’t like verbose writing personally, but this year I learned to use embrace the simple (and specific). Why use an adjective when I can find the right verb? He didn’t walk, he strutted, she plodded, we ambled. There is more power in brevity.

Like botanical illustrations, I strive to be both simple and specific.

Different Scripts

The third tip is about dialogue. Any scriptwriter knows this stuff but it was a revelation for me. This year I learned that each character has their own agenda in any conversation. Everyone has their own desired outcome from any discussion and our agendas will clash. This tip has helped me to stop my dialogue from being an exposition fest

In normal conversation, there are misunderstandings and confusing conversations when someone doesn’t say what they actually mean. There are a myriad of reasons why we don’t speak our minds. This is also true in dialogue. Each character is reading from their own script and the scripts don’t match.

Your turn – what great tips did you learn in 2015?

When did you feel like a “real” writer round-up?

In early December, I ran a series of posts asking writers…

When did you feel like a “real” writer?

I was lucky enough to get responses from Gail Carriger, Val McDermid, Joanne Harris, Ben Aaronovitch, Victoria Schwab, John Scalzi, Kim Newman, Neil Gaiman, Joanna Penn, Mark Dawson, Barbara Freethy and Kate Elliott.

There were a few themes running through the responses

  • Doubt and the imposter system persists (regardless whether you’ve sold millions)
  • Sometimes it’s your first big deal or success
  • Sometimes it’s not until you reach magic book no. 5

But mainly, you are a real writer when you write….

Now it’s your turn, when did you feel like a “real” writer?

 

4 resources for naming my characters

How do I approach naming my characters? Today I’m answering a few questions on character names from AJ Lundetrae.

Chanel, Dior, Lagerfeld, Givenchy, Gaultier, darling. Names, names, names!

Edina Monsoon, Absolutely Fabulous

 

How important are names to you in your books?

Names are very important to me.

I was a strange child and completely obsessed by boarding school books (especially the Chalet School). Using my illustrated atlas and a reference book of names and their meanings, I created my own school rolls. Lists of girls names and their exotic home cities.

2-6-roll-call-class

A name tells you a lot about a person’s past, their heritage, their social position. Names are infinitely fascinating. Especially in writing (rather than making your own children) when you get to choose the first and last name. In writing, your names can be descriptive of the character’s personality or mannerisms. And it’s just plain fun.

Do you choose the names based on liking the way it sounds or the meaning?

A little of both.

For my Monolith series, I have been obsessed with length. For my main characters, they all have names with four letters; Hana, Alga, Lucy, Erin and Mora. The lesser characters tend to have names of five letters.

Alga is an indigenous Northerner from a goddess worshipping religious community. For Alga, I searched for a four letter names with Estonian and Latvian heritage. I have also made up names for other characters but using foreign language name lists as inspiration.

I really struggled with the right name for Mora for over a year. Mora is the wise feisty grandmother. At one point she was named June, then Vera but now I have settled on Mora. Slightly inspired by the feisty playful Australia artist Mirka Mora.

For my steampunk novellas, I had great fun finding silly place names from the United Kingdom. I didn’t need to make them up. They are all real villages, hamlets or towns from various counties. I also searched for historical popular names on the census.

But in the end, the sound is most important to me.

And a tip I picked up somewhere – avoid names ending in “s”. This makes it messy when adding the possessive noun.

Do you have any name choosing resources you recommend?

My manager at work caught me looking at baby names lists recently and asked me if I had anything to tell her. So, yes, baby name lists from pregnancy sites. I have also found names by number of letters, for my obsession with four letter names.

I also search for foreign names and place names.

Here’s a few examples

 

As you can see, I have finally found a use for my obsession with names. If only I’d kept my list of names for my fictitious boarding school. I could finally find a home for my school girls.