Thursday, July 30, 2009

Maybe on this occasion the whole first page...(even more updated than before)

Is the importance of the first line in a story overrated? After posting it yesterday, I wondered about the first line for my picture book Tatty and Tremble. Okay its a picture book - a completely different beast to novels, short stories etc...but where word economy is key and each word must work extra hard to do its job (or the job of many in other genre) is the first line any less or more important? What should a first line do? What is its job? What are our expectations? So here for your edification is the first paragraph/page that follows that spare enigmatic first line:-

Old Tatty. That’s what Mr. Edgar called her. She didn’t seem to mind. There was fresh fish on her plate everyday. He could have called her Smelly Pants as long as there was fish.

When I first included it in yesterday's post I suddenly thought there wasn't enough in those two short words but I've changed my mind. What did they make you think?

This whole exercise has been very thought provoking for me and I am still musing on the topic. But perhaps this is the antidote to my current 'first line' obsession - check out the results of the 2009 Bullwer-Lytton Contest - it certainly puts a whole different spin on the concept (heh).

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

First lines and dangling carrots...

Saw an interesting meme on Lili Wilkinson's (young australian author) blog t'other day and thought I'd give it a go. Its all about first lines from your own writing. So here goes:

Clever Moo (PB) - Margaret was not like her best friends, Daisy and Bossy

The Were-Nana (PB) - For Stella Rosa's older brother Simon, there was no better fun than scaring his sister

Jack the Viking (novel) - "Ready Jack?" asks a blond boy my age, carrying a sword and shield.

The Gift (ss) - Everyone says I talk too much.

Unpub'd but completed Work
Pirate Eye (junior chapter book) - "What's wrong with you?" the big boy at the school gate asked.

The House That Went to Sea (PB) - Granny Gale's house smelt of fish, and rocked with the booming of the waves.

Jack the Viking: Magnetic North (novel) - I don't dream so much anymore.

The story I'm working on now begins with the first line of an essay the main character is writing for school which I quite like - Apparently my older sister Michelle was perfect.

I found it a fascinating exercise with slightly surprising results. What do you think? The new picture book I just finished has my shortest first line ever - Old Tatty. I guess if it gets picked up an editor might have something to say about the punctuation of my first few lines and that first sentence will get longer. I have a bunch of short stories pub'd and unpub'd I haven't included in this exercise. Maybe I'll do them another day. I'm now up to ten short stories either pub'd or signed up for publication. If I can increase that number just a wee bit more I might start dreaming about assembling a collection one day.

I have other dreams for my writing including: to be published overseas (especially in a different language) and to (be paid to) travel overseas for my books. One of the blogs i check out regularly had a very interesting snippet of information in it the other day. Moon Rat (who hangs out at Editorial Ass) talked of a children's novel that took 5 years to find a publisher and the first print run was a miniscule 1,000 copies. I would love to have me a copy from that first print run today - it would be worth a wee bit. Go check out the book she's talking about. It shows that you have to hang in there and believe in your work even when things seem to be going badly, although things don't always turn out as well as this has :) I need to hear this kind of stuff as I have been grumpy about recent events and feasting on far too many crabby patties lately. Sorry to the two workmen working next door who got a terse comment or two from me yesterday when i asked them to move their van from my driveway so I could go out. I am finishing up (at LONG last) the rocket-science-like university assignment I have been working on since Adam was a boy and trying to finish up my current WIP which is going okay but which I am now having enormous doubts over. Too late I guess, to wonder if its saleable - less then 10,000 words to go (although thats to the end of the first draft only). But these two things are not filling me with joy - they are filling me with huffing and puffing, sweating brow grumpiness. I need a carrot dangling. The overseas trip we are planning is too far away to perform this function so I will have to find something else.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Hello out there...

You win some, you lose some. This little chick, still in egg, got all the way to the acquisitions meeting but fell off the table and broke. I have had a number of positive remarks regarding this particular manuscript but then for various reasons they still say no. Its fair to say I'm disappointed. The agent has smacked some sticky tape on the crack and its off to another publisher. The more I hang around in this business the more I appreciate how slow it all goes. I think this manuscript has legs so I will continue to have faith. I will try and bolster my patience with some patience bolstering vitamins...

In better news, as the result of my son's rubbish collecting habits and my eavesdropping on idle 11 year old boy chit-chat, I have a new story idea. I like it. It could be loads of fun and action. Question though - can I wait to finish my YA before I get started on this? And do I stick with the boy protagonist or should I make it a girl this time. My inclination was to have a boy but I'm not sure if its intuition or habit speaking.

And yesterday my SO and I talked holiday. I am desperate for one and our conversation has given me hope. I do love anticipation... especially when its about a holiday.

And last but not least I have a challenge for anyone reading. If you haven't already - say hi! Introduce yourself! Leave a comment! I'd love to know who you are...

Friday, July 24, 2009

Speed date an author...

I am one of the lucky folk all signed up for the Spinning Gold conference in Wellington this September. I love, love, love winey whiny gossip with other writers, and talking books and writing, and listening to others talk books and writing (major bliss), and I am anticipating this event with great relish (although I'm not packing just yet). I don't get down to Wellington too often and had been wondering about maximising the opportunity with some school visits or similar down there when I was given the chance to participate in what sounds like the most excellent fun and a great alternative to school visits - a speed-date-the-author event on the friday morning organised by the NZ Book Council. You deliver a 15 minute talk on a set topic (I really like my topic on 'tone' and I can't wait to attack a whiteboard with my ideas) 5 times to different groups of intermediate age children, who rotate through 6 different authors/illustrators, each with their own topic, during the morning. I'm not sure where the idea originated but whoever thought of it deserves a prize. It seems like a very smart format, and I'm interested to see how well it works. I am very excited...

I am also excited (and very lucky) as an illustrator has done a couple of pics on spec for one of my picture book manuscripts, and ms and illustrations have gone off to an interested publisher. I adore the pictures and hope the publisher does too. Fingers, toes and eyes are crossed for luck...

BTW I have been following a very interesting discussion over at editorial anonymous and Justine Larbalestier's blog about racism in book covers (and sadly beyond). It is eye-opening and depressing and I am watching and reading to see what may come of having this raised and aired and debated....its certainly got me thinking.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

There's always one in the crowd...

There's always one in the crowd. One child who puts up their hand and says something that, no matter how many school visits you've done and how many comments and questions you've heard, manages to surprise and delight and wow you beyond expectation. Today it was the little 7 or 8 year old who, after I'd read my picture book The Were-Nana to the assembled year 3 and 4 classes (around 250 plus children) raised her hand and said the colours of the pictures changed depending on whether the story was at a scary part or a happy part; dark for scary and lighter for happy. I hadn't picked up on this till the book's illustrator pointed this out at a joint presentation we did together last month. I wanted to take this young lady aside and have a chat with her about stories and illustrating and what she liked and didn't like and then I wanted to go forward twenty years and see what she was up to. Talking to 800 children today (divided into 3 groups) was full on, especially after an hours drive to the school, but this one comment has got my brain a-buzzing. Kids rock. I was fascinated too that they all laughed when I said the new picture book I'd just finished had a chihuahua in it.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Small reveal...

Okay I can now confirm that I have had three short stories accepted for inclusion in an anthology to be published by Scholastic NZ next May. Yay! I love these three stories and I'm very happy they are making it in to print. And checking back on my list/egg incubator I've realised that this particular egg wasn't even on it. So I still have 7 eggs, some looking more robust than others. And there is the potential for more eggs to be laid as I finished my new picture book and the agent has already sent it off. Also very happy with that. Its a funny story. There's a chihuahua in it.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Glad I made sense...

Update - for the moment you can find my interview here if you scroll down.

Okay - so I've gotten over myself but I haven't sorted out the link yet for my interview last Saturday. Will stick it up as soon as I figure it out (shows what a good university education will do for ya).

I have slowly been processing the whole interview experience and so far wonder why Emily Perkins - on the radio before me last saturday - disapproves of Harry Potter. Also wonder why we really didn't talk so much about writery things but more about my wild and misspent youth (ha ha). I had anticipated more writery questions and was a bit surprised about the direction it all took. For those who tuned in I'm glad I still made sense though. My facial expressions would have been fun to watch.

(One of the questions was, Where do we draw the line on how scary a story can be? I've had a go at adding to my interview answer here.)

Now awhile back I mentioned secrets. None were big ones, just lots of small but potentially cute chicks incubating. Out of eleven little robust eggs, sadly four chicks didn't make it out of the shell (there were tears) but one burst forth yesterday looking very fat, fluffy and pleased with itself. Still keeping 6 remaining eggs suitably warm and waiting to see what hatches. Will tell more as soon as I am able.

In other news I have just finished the first draft of a new picture book. Yowza - happy with that. And just came across this excellent write up on advice for writers on how to act in public. I like that there is just one simple rule - be nice. I even think I can manage it. Thanks to Moonrat hanging out at Editorial Ass.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

But what about the children...?

There was a conference in Auckland recently on digital publishing. As well as Graham Beattie attending and blogging on the experience, someone I know personally who is involved in the publishing industry was going and I wondered (yet again) how I should feel about this topic and how it might affect me and my writing. Should I be worried? afraid? resigned? fatalistic? ecstatic? blase? all of the above? - you get the picture.

There has been intermittant press on this topic for as long as I have been blogging and no one seems to be entirely sure how it will go, when or whether technology will be the main format and when or whether the traditionally printed word will disappear completely. But yesterday it occured to me that as a children's writer, it is entirely likely that the impact of e-books, kindles, and all that is digital publishing will take a very different pathway when it comes to children's books. Can children learn to read via a kindle? Will teachers read aloud to a classroom of children via some electronic medium? How will new entrants (and older students) learn in the future and how, if at all, will books feature? It only occured to me yesterday that most of the conversations about this topic that I've been eavesdropping on so far have been about books for a mature audience. All my questions have changed and I wonder who out there might have any answers. What do you think?

On a related topic I have sometimes considered whether I should have a facebook page and be a twitterer (already being a twit, its only one small step further). After all, I have already been completely seduced by blogging. I don't know if there are any benefits to my writing career in doing this but I have come to realise that this would be a happy accidental by-product of something that for me is all about joining a community of like-minded people who enjoy discussing writing, publishing and all associated issues. I love knowing things and learning more about them (tick), I love making friends with people who care about the same things I do (tick), I love writing (tick), I love sharing information (tick) and I love figuring stuff out by talking it through (tick). I have resisted facebook etc... because they function in different ways that don't tick all those boxes for me and it seemed to me they suck up a large amount of time disproportionate to any potential advantages. If i needed further convincing that my instincts were right on this I need look no further than the lovely clip (those green glasses are quite distracting) recently posted on Wellington writer Maureen Crisp's blog (although I am disturbed by all that housework Maureen - thats not healthy).

By the way I was interviewed by Gordon Harcourt on National Radio yesterday. I am still feeling a little PTSS over this but may post a link at some point if I can manage to get over myself.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

In praise of intuition...

What inspired my 'magic of reading' post? Excellent question! I have just finished The Adoration of Jenna Fox by Mary Pearson, and while this is a ripping read, with an extremely thought provoking plot (although I can't quite get my head around teenagers quoting Thoreau at will) it wasn't that, that did it. It was an excerpt of Leon Garfield's The Wedding Ghost in my study guide for the university paper I am doing. It is the kind of writing I would give my left arm to be capable of. It is dreamy and poetic and cunning and witty. It is the kind of writing that makes me pause and think 'should I just give up now?' because it is sooooooo good and so far away from where I am now. That kind of brilliance can be a bit overwhelming. I should avoid reading this kind of thing when I am in limbo, in that no-mans-land of being past due dates to hear back about things, when all I can do is look for distractions to keep my mind off all the waiting it is doing. Yes of course I should be writing, writing, writing but my writing brain is sulking.

So while it sulks I thought I'd give a plug for intuition. Intuition has played a big part in my writing career so far. And yes my writing career goes up and down like a well oiled yoyo and some might question whether those gut feelings contribute more to the up than the down. But even if the jury is still out on that one I feel good about using my intuition. I apply it to my plot development, to my character names, to the nuts and bolts of sentence structure and word choice. I apply it to the question, is this story finished? and, has this received enough editing? I apply it to my dealings with publishers and other industry professionals. In this business, one learns the ropes as one goes. Even when I've learned something new, 9 times out of 10 I am already moving on to a different phase, a different set of circumstances, a new,untried experience where I can't draw on everything I've learnt before. So I have to trust my intuition. I always try to throw in honesty and politeness as well - these three are a potent brew. If in doubt, check in with your intuition. After all its an offshoot of the sum of all your knowledge, wrapped in who you are as an individual. If you can't trust yourself who can you trust!

Sunday, July 5, 2009

More books please...

There is magic when a writer writes. An alchemy that turns the lead of everyday words into the gold of a story. I cannot, try as I might, explain every part of the process. Sure I make decisions about what words to use and where they should go; about the pattern, the structure, and the flow. It is not all magic but by the same token, it does not work without some magic involved. And that there is some mystery, I think, is a good thing. But there is not just magic in the writing, there is magic in the reading too. Because I know when I read something really good, those stories give me something way beyond the sum of their individual words. The satisfaction, the joy, the way my brain shivers with delight. The way my mind is stretched and grown by each tale. More good books please....

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Do unto others...

There's been a lot said over the last few days on some of my favourite blogs about author Alice Hoffman's public brain explosion over a slightly less then loving review of her most recent book (you can read about it here). Name calling is frowned upon on any occasion but I think giving out personal contact details for the reviewer and asking fans to get 'in touch' was the height of stupidity. I haven't agreed with everything ever said about my books but I find a darkened room without any means of communication with the outside world to do my seething in. I don't like everything I read, so why should I expect anyone else to be different. However Ms Hoffman's melt down gave me the opportunity to read this and in addition to it being sound advice, I almost laughed my head right off. Thanks to Jane Smith at How Publishing Really Works for posting the link.

I also hopped on over to writer Mary McCallum's blog this morning via Beattie's Blog and found her piece on character excellent. You should read it too, whether you find writing good characters easier than making cornflakes and milk for breakfast, or not.

And for anyone waiting to hear my news, don't worry, when I hear it you'll be almost the first to know. This is the first lesson of publishing. Everything in publishing takes 50 million times longer than it does in the normal world. And no Maureen, I'm not going to be on Dancing with the Stars, despite my dancing skills. The day a NZ writer for children is considered celebrity enough to appear on this show I will eat my shorts.

And here are a few snippets of info about me

I'm 5 foot three inches tall, I am the youngest of four, I can only speak english, and both my parents are Polish. I love to travel and my last name is pronounced Shi-manic.