Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Everyone should read more books...

Can you believe the world at the moment? American politics is eye-popping material and part of me is holding my breath waiting for the presidential election to play out (but not all of me because we know what happens when all of you holds your breath from september to november). I worry over the fact that I cannot have an impact on the outcome but that the outcome will undoubtedly have an impact on me. And the financial crisis. Did no one see that coming? Yikes - is there a brain big enough to see the long term implications of whatever rescue package they come up with now (compared with whatever bright sparks came up with the plan that got them into the mess in the first place)? I am not filled with confidence. Myself, I think the answer is - everyone should read more books!!!!!

At least we have the internet. My favourite blog post of recent days is this one http://dawn-metcalf.livejournal.com/10762.html - found via www.jetreidliterary.blogspot.com/ - you will need to know who Calvin and Hobbes are to appreciate this. If you don't know who they are, this is an excellent reason to find out.

I had my last two events for NZ Book Month on the weekend. A visit to Auckland Central Library late saturday morning and one to Auckland Art Gallery in the early afternoon. I was one of four authors at the library and I really enjoyed sharing the visit with Maria Gill, Jenni Francis and Lorraine Orman. I think we complemented each other well. At the Auckland Art Gallery I was scheduled to follow Tessa Duder - a potentially daunting position to be in but she was extremely generous and encouraging which put me at my ease. It was such a pleasure to listen to her read and speak. I haven't been to any author talks for a while. I did so many a few years back they all began to sound the same and I stopped going, concentrating on my own work. Now I'm thinking the occasional one will be inspiring, and illuminating and i must make sure I make the time for them.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

the happy victim of books...

Karl Lagerfeld says 'Books are a hard-bound drug with no danger of an overdose. I am the happy victim of books.' Thanks to Gondal-Girl for the excellent quote (http://www.gondal-girl.blogspot.com/ via Rachael King's blog at http://www.soundofbutterflies.blogspot.com/ ).

Monday, September 22, 2008

Out Now - The Were-Nana

My book, The Were-Nana is out now. This is a scary story best suited to the slightly older reader (4 or 5 plus). Like me when I was a child, the young girl in the book, Stella-Rosa, has an older sibling who likes to frighten her. And like me as a child, Stella-Rosa is about to meet a grandparent she doesn't know. Is her Grandmother really what Simon says she is?

I tell my children a little bit of fear is a good thing. It heightens our senses and helps us be prepared. I never really stopped being a bit afraid of my one and only grandparent with the thick accent and gruff manner that i rarely got to meet, and my older sibling never got over the fun of scaring us but will this happen in the Were-Nana? You'll have to read it to find out. Published by Scholastic NZ and available at super duper book shops like Jabberwocky and Wheelers now.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Many thanks to John Graham of Paper Plus...

Maureen Crisp (www.maureencrisp.blogspot.com ) gave some good advice on self-marketing/promotion in a comment on my last post - many thanks Maureen. In many of the venues we may find ourselves as children's writers it can be difficult to have our books available for sale. I made an author visit to a local library yesterday as part of NZ Book Month and was kindly supported by John Graham who runs several Paper Plus stores in Auckland. A few books were sold and I hope this is enough to make it worthwhile for him attending on a glorious sunny Saturday afternoon. His continued support of Kiwiwrite4kidz writers is very much appreciated. I still find myself feeling so grateful to bookshops who stock my books and buyers who purchase them. I have to remind myself that they are not treating me as a charity case but are investing in a good read, but its hard work.

In the same vein, I am working hard not to feel guilty about charging a reasonable amount of money to the school I will be taking writing workshops at over a six week period (yay! - I got the job). It is more than I have earned per hour before in previous jobs but less then the recommended rate. I am very keen to do the workshops and have some exciting ideas for them and hope they will be pleased with the results. It is weird to actually be making money as a writer in an industry that up till now has successfully trained me to devalue my worth (because even if i'm rubbish i'm still worth more than 10 cents an hour which is about what I earn now). We do not seem to have a nationally prescribed and accepted 'profile' or 'going rate' like writers do in some countries and I find it makes for some awkward moments. Maybe this is another topic that can be raised at next years conference of children's writers in Wellington. To end todays post i just have to borrow this fantastic query letter that i found via Kristin Nelson's blog at www.suvudu.com/2008/09/what-i-learned-this-week-part.html :

Dear Editor:
I am monster.
Monster look for publisher.
I am main character in new book, [title removed]. 330 manuscript pages approximately.
Good horror story: lots of action. Blood.
And guts.
Monster enclose return postage.
I may be monster, but I have manners.
Monster thanks you for your consideration.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

I promise I'll only make a small scene...

Ha ha - so you know how they say be careful what you wish for...I wanted something to happen and it did. Its a good thing - a short gig working with some intermediate age children on their writing. I've wanted to do this for some time and this particular opportunity fits the bill perfectly: great age, excellent group size, and of course, my favourite subject at a local school. Whats more its a paying job although i've sent back details of my pay rate and haven't heard back yet. I guess cost may be a stumbling block but I'm hoping we work it out. I realised a while back that i wasn't going to earn enough money from my books alone (ha ha ha ha) and I had to diversify if I wanted to earn a bit more. I'm really pleased that I am making progress on this front, although I have such a healthy cynicism I never believe anything is truely happening until I'm actually there or the contract/book is in my hand or...you get the picture.

So something changed but secretly i wanted the change to involve one of my manuscripts. It still may happen but as time waddles on I get further and further away from my last manuscript acceptance and the old self-doubt creeps in, exacerbated unpleasantly by the reducing nature of the current publishing industry. I am most saddened by my manuscript Made With Love which people seem to like but publishers don't want to publish. I think it compares well (yes, yes I know I can't be objective but this is different - I've had serious careerist writing folk praise this one) to other picture books in the bookshops so I'm a little heartbroken over that story. I really hope its time will come. Cos i know you would like it too.

I've been mulling over one other aspect of publishing the last day or two. How much of all of the crap thats get thrown at us should we accept? I'm famous/notorious (you pick) for my impatience. I know I'm not alone on this one but I am frequently told that this is the nature of the business and I must accept it or go do something else. Okay - I kind of get (in my more lucid moments) why certain things take time. If they are not getting back to me its because they haven't made up their minds yet. Its not because they are afraid to say no to me, its never stopped them before and I have shown myself to be a person who doesn't make an awful scene or threaten violence if things don't go my way. But this is not the only crap we must endure. I am SURE we each have a secret list of things that happened to us and our writing that drove us mad. My list has been growing like a bug in a petri dish recently. And i just have to accept it all and go write some more stuff that they can screw around with and mess with my head over. Does this seem right to you? Would people just STOP mucking me around please! Its starting to affect my writing. I may just have to channel all this pent up emotion in to lobbying for an educational lending right.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Melinda ate one too many crabby patties...

Do you ever get those days when you wish, when you would give just about anything (even your first born who is so over school right now that i am tearing my hair out), for something to happen or change. Something significant that will break you out of the morass of self doubt you are bogged down in. And deep deep down you know, right down in your DNA you know, this event is so unlikely and that yes tomorrow will look just like today and the day before, that you need some other way to try and move forward and change things yourself. I am so tempted to write a slew of rude letters/e-mails venting my frustration but of course the short term gain is not worth the long term pain. None of this is helped by reading about New Zealander Helen Lowe (www.helenlowe.info/ ) who after securing a US agent now has a YA fantasy book coming out with Knopf in the US (released here in october) and they have also contracted an as yet incomplete four book series of adult fantasy. This is fantastic stuff and i so wish her all the best but I can't help contrasting it with my own experience where I'm not feeling the love. That pointed stick i am using to push that runny poo uphill is NOT WORKING. Garrrr! And who decided to put fashion week in the middle of NZ Book month (or NZ book month around fashion week). This is New Zealand, a small country with a population you can count in one night (although it takes them several years to collate the results). Fashion week must distract people from book month. What were they thinking (oh, okay maybe no one WAS thinking or the right hand wasn't talking to the left hand cos there's a body inbetween). Double garrr!

Thursday, September 11, 2008

A stable of writers...

So I 'invigilated' yesterday and am happy to say I survived. Have now couriered off exam answer sheets etc... to the UK and hope I didn't make too many mistakes with the way I conducted the whole thing. Time will tell but i do hope it was good enough to get paid for it. It was a strange day yesterday and my friend blamed that particle collider experiment happening on the other side of the world. Seeing as some people thought it would create a black hole that would swallow our lovely planet I am relieved that a bit of weirdness was the only tangible result for those of us outside the scientific community.

I have been contemplating today (in lieu of actual writing of WIP) whether the current publishing trends in NZ will include a move towards publishers wanting to keep their writers to themselves. I know of at least one australian publisher who operates this way and with the recent changes in NZ in submission policies, the sale of publishing houses and booksellers, and the economic recession I just can't help thinking this might be one more strategy added to the pile by publishers over here. Even if a publisher and I worked equally hard for eachother I'm not sure how I would feel about having only one publisher looking at my work and then, if acceptable to them, publishing it. As I've said before when thinking about loyalty I don't think one publisher would want all the things I write. My writing projects can be so different and in the long term i don't want to be restricted to a particular selection of genre, age groups, etc... And what would i do with the stuff they didn't want? Would I be prevented from sending it elsewhere? I want to challenge myself to try new things and explore different voices. Would a single publisher dictate the topics and styles I worked on? At the moment it goes against the way I work. But if this was the only way to get published would I do it? What would I do to stay published? I never say never, but right now its hard for me to imagine working this way. And if this way of working was adopted wholesale by NZ publishers is there anything I could do to influence how its applied to me or the way it works in general?

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Let me explain what I meant by that last blog post title...

Eeek - reading the title of my last post i realised this could easily be misconstrued and I'd better set the record straight. The important thing here is that you have seen the new television reality show Wipeout where contestants go through a barrage of physical challenges to win $50,000. Its a modern day assault course of enormous bouncy balls that have to be traversed, rope swings that take you to impossible-to-cling-to vertical walls, hopping unstable platforms on water, jumping over fast moving objects, dodging punching gloves popping randomly out of a wall that push you into a pool of mud etc...Some parts are fun, some look downright bruising. Its hard to explain but its easy entertaining viewing on a sunday night and my children especially have become fans who want to give it all a go themselves. While the publishing industry seems to be slowing somewhat here in NZ I would not want to give anyone the impression it is wiped out. Rather, getting accepted for publication seems like having to get through the assault course and it is almost impossible to come through without getting muddy, and a little bit battered. And you don't win 50,000 either, although the potential prize of publication is still motivation enough to keep you leaping, bounding, jumping and pushing yourself to the limits.

My eldest daughter is part of the Allstar Cheerleading team that got through to the next round of NZ's got Talent last Monday night. They only showed highlights on Monday and I'm looking forward to seeing the whole routine during the semi-finals. Usually a flyer (doing stunts while being tossed up by a base group of three others) with her senior team, my daughter is one of the oldest members of this group and bases one of the younger team members but she does do some gymnastic style tumbling with flik flaks etc...which can look amazing.

Today i am earning a few dollars 'invigilating'. That word just blows my mind but i'm getting better at wrapping my tongue around it. Don't worry, I'm not carrying a gun and wearing a badge, it just means I'm supervising an exam this afternoon in town. Exam rules seem to have got a bit stricter so i'll probably need to take the full 15 minutes before the exam starts to go through the instructions. As its my first go at this I feel like I'm sitting the exam myself.

Monday, September 8, 2008

Is today's publishing market a bit like the tv reality show Wipeout?

Happy - people are saying nice things about my book The Were-Nana. Sad - publishing markets seem to be downsizing. I guess its just an economic reality. Sometimes i think wistfully of what it might have been like to be writing twenty or thirty years ago when publishers became more involved with their writer's careers, patiently nurturing them and helping them along. They were probably more willing to take a risk back then too. But then if I was writing back then I have to remember I'd probably be doing it long hand and I wouldn't have some of the excellent technology and groovy accessories that are available to us today. No time is the best time or the worst time. Its just 'how it is' right now and whatever the circumstances, the plain truth is I'm a writer. If I don't find a way to move forward in this environment I may as well give up. But I don't want to give up so I'll be thinking my way through the current setbacks and difficulties and hopefully coming up with some strategies for keeping my sanity and my sense of humour (an essential tool in the writers tool kit) intact. And maybe i'll also find a way to make the most of the way things are now.

And thank you Fifi for your very kind words of encouragement. They made a big difference.

Saturday, September 6, 2008

You like me, you really like me...

(Ten points to the people who get the reference in the title of todays blog post). After welcoming NZ Book month in with the official Auckland opening last monday night, I followed up yesterday with author visits to three Auckland libraries. Karma smiled at me making my last visit the one to my own library at Mt Roskill. Unlike the other libraries, they had advertised my visit in their display case outside the library and set up another display featuring my work inside the library alongside where i was to sit. They had made fairy bread for the children and gave me flowers and chocolate at the end of the visit. I was overwhelmed by their appreciation and left feeling ten feet tall. I had my son with me and i swear he stood a lot taller too. So thank you to the librarians at Mt Roskill, you obviously care about children's literature and I'm sure it rubs off on your young readers. Mt Roskill library - YOU ROCK!

I have to say I was impressed with the children at all three libraries. The audiences were never huge but the children were patient, well behaved and polite. In a library you are kind of preaching to the converted as these are people who have already decided they like books. They are there because they want to be which is the best kind of audience to have. I have two more library visits later in the month and a visit at the Auckland Art Gallery.

It is good to have those first three visits under my belt. I was a bit stressed about it before hand. I am not a natural speaker and I'm still learning about finding the right tone for different audiences. I have a better handle on speaking to classroom groups as I'm clearer on what the agenda is but a public venue like a library is a different kettle of children. They are there because they enjoy reading but may have no interest in writing or the process of making books. They might not care where you get your ideas from or what you did when you were growing up. They want entertainment in the here and now. (School children probably feel the same but there is an expectation from all parties that some educational elements will be included). Thanks to Maria Gill's good advice I'd generated some word-finds which many of the children seemed to enjoy and I had some lovely flash-looking Jack the Viking postcards to hand around. I think most children get a kick out of taking something like this away. Best of all they did seem to enjoy being read to, which is great because I get a buzz out of reading aloud. At the Storylines Margaret Mahy Day earlier this year Wayne Mills gave a stirring lecture on the benefits of reading aloud. And not just to the younger children. I'm a big fan and I'm now thinking i might see if i can do more of it. The only tricky thing about reading aloud is what to read to a mixed audience. I am lucky to have written material over a range of age groups from picture books to short stories to novels. There's pretty much something for everyone. With school groups the ages tend to be homogenous and selection is much easier. Most older children don't mind hearing the occasional picture book but sadly I lost a few older boys at one of the venues despite having suitable material for them because of the littlies in the audience. I don't know if there is any way around this. I hope some of my other picture book stories are published so I have a wider range of material to read from. It is still looking possible that a third one will be published but it is (as with so many book related things in my life right now) up in the air. Even if it is, it is probably a couple of years away.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Call me loyal...

I was reading about an interview with a career agent of some thirty years recently on Kristin Nelson's blog. Kristin summarised the main points in her post and one of these talked about the importance of loyalty for writers, agents and editors. Some commenters had varying opinions on this topic. I'm not sure what I think. Loyalty might seem a simpler issue if I only wrote one kind of book, like a series of crime thrillers with the same protagonist through out, or all picture books. But I don't. I write short stories, picture books, childrens novel's and the current project is YA. Who knows what i might produce in future. I think it is true to say that most publishers focus on particular genre, styles, or age ranges. As much as I wished my main publisher so far would fall in love with everything I wrote, the realist in me knows that some of my work may end up with other publishers. I already have short stories published in educational markets (NZ's The School Journal and the Australian School Magazine) and in several trade anthologies. Ultimately every book published should help every other book because each one reinforces my name with new and old fans. Each story deserves to search for the right home and will do best when it finds someone who loves it enough to turn it into a book and put it out into the world in the best possible way. No matter who ends up publishing which story I will always try to be professional, positive and helpful with that publisher. I guess my first loyalty is to my stories, but if they succeed then everyone involved should be happy?

Monday, September 1, 2008

How clever am I?...

How clever am I? This morning I figured out all the people I could have introduced myself to last night at the NZ Book Month Launch in Auckland. There are so many people I don't know. Although I have heard her speak I have never met Jenny Hellen from Random (a short story of mine was in the 2007 anthology, Dare and Double Dare published by Random). And I would like to also meet Vicki Marsden from Penguin/Raupo. But I'm not kicking myself in the leg over these missed opportunites because I can't remember what Jenny Hellen looks like and I have no clues what Vicki Marsden looks like either. Nobody wore name tags at the event last night and I had no connecting people who could introduce me. Even if i did know which ones they were I am (despite all evidence to the contrary) a very shy person who finds it difficult to go up to complete strangers and strike up a conversation. I suspect that publishers are afraid of meeting writers at such events anyway and its possible these introductions do not help in the long term.

The do was very enjoyable. I had my best man by my side and lovely people to talk to. It was fun to eyeball a few famous sorts - Miriama Kamo is even more lovely in person, and I'm a huge fan of Tammy Davis - and the entertainment provided by three actors and their ringmaster was superb. The food and drink were yum and the venue - Hopetoun Alpha - is gorgeous especially when done up in fairy lights. And its always fun to have an excuse to dress up. I went out and got myself a very fitting little slip of a dress from a cheap girly clothes emporium - very sorry, no photos, i completely forgot - I'd sighed over some designery frocks and wished I could wear one, then I remembered I'm an author and I can't afford label clothing. I had to suck in my tummy all night (good excercise) but i felt pretty dressed up. I hope this is not the last time i get invited to an event like this. I almost felt like a real author.