Friday, December 17, 2010

Another Year Ends

It is hard to believe that another year is about to become a mere memory. There have been many highlights of the year and some very big lows.

The lows have been the Christchurch Earthquake which is still affecting so very many people.
Along with our entire community we mourned for the victims of the devastating explosion at Pike River coal mine. These two events will forever be linked in our nation's history to 2010.
As the Napier Earthquake of 1929 is an integral part of our history.

On a more personal level our family has been touched with great sorrow.
One of my sisters is dying with cancer. This will be the first break in our family of seven siblings.
At the same time my husband is losing a much admired and respected brother in law dying with the big C.
As if these two sorrows aren't enough we've had to watch a very much loved brother struggle to come back from a massive stroke.     

But life is not all about sadness.
The cycle of life progresses.
And sadness is always levened with joy.
It is with great delight we've welcomed two sets of twin great grandchildren, another great grandson and a new grand daughter in law during the past year.

As one of my writing buddies said I'm now the family matriarch.
And I have to confess I  wasn't all thrilled at first but as the babies grow and develop now I realise it is an honour and a privilege  to live long enough to enjoy three generations of rugrats.

Next year I'm hoping to crack publishing with one of my books.

There! I've been brave and put my writing hopes out there.

Now to deliver on my promise....aye there's the rub....to quote Hamlet.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Romance Writers of New Zealand Conference/ Chris Vogler and the ancient tradition of storytelling.

I have just returned from the 20th Anniversary conference of RWNZ and my mind is still buzzing on overload.
What a fantastic weekend!
The workshops on writing craft were superb. Talk about spoiled for choice. My one complaint is that I actually had to choose. I would have liked to be able to attend every one of the workshops.
It was a tough choice to attend either Vanessa Johnson's "How Not to Loose the Plot" or the demonstration with "Swords". I sincerely hope the Swords return next year as I will be a definite starter.

I loved Vanessa's workshop and went home to read her book "Lush".

It was a great read and I have to confess not my usual type of book but from the first page I was hooked. Her characterisation was superb and I immediately found myself rooting for the protagonist and her struggle to overcome her propensity for over indulging in alcohol. It was also very timely. This book should be a compulsory read in all schools.

The message is clear but not at all preachy.

It depicts the reality of the struggle many young women are facing with alcohol and written in a language the young will understand and empathise with. Good on you Vanessa. I hope your book is read widely.

The other highlight of the weekend for me was the Friday workshop with Chris Vogler.
What a treasure! A script writer for film and television, his insight into the modern heros and how they are drawn from heros in antiquity was a light bulb moment from me.

But best of all, for me, was hearing him affirm that we are all first and foremost story tellers and entertainers.
In the daily grind of writing it is very easy to overlook  this simple fact. And as a story teller we follow an ancient and honorable tradition. In every civilization, as far back as pre-historic times, story tellers have underpinned values and chartered the course of mankind's journey.

An ancient and honourable tradition indeed.
And one I am humble and proud  to belong to. 

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Recognition

The upside of finaling in The Clendon award is being asked to do a profile for RWNZ Heart to Heart magazine.

The questions posed made me stop and think about my writing and why I do it.

For me it's the love of the written word that keeps me slugging away at my computer. So am I unique in this compulsion? By no means.

A regular customer in our antique shop is an old guy who used to write TV scripts in the early days of TV in New Zealand. He was a script writer for the series Pounamu. He's still plugging away on his old Remington typewriter slaving over a manuscript which he readily confesses may never see the light of day.

When I asked him why he still writes he gave me a wonderful luminous smile and said, 'There' s plenty of time to stop writing when I stop breathing.'

How well said. To me writing is my pleasure, my passion and my great escape. I can honestly say I do not know the meaning of boredom.

I’ve contemplated giving up writing but I have these annoying voices in my head that won’t allow me any peace.

They are like a lot of unruly children clamouring “Pick me. Pick me.”

Which is how my present Work in Progress  has come about.

I’ve had a fascination with Sailor’s Grave just north of Tairua on the Coromandel Peninsular for years. Now that place, and its ghosts, is coming to life.

If I get published well and good.

If not, I get great pleasure from playing with my imaginary people. I’m never lonely or bored that’s for sure

Monday, August 2, 2010

Spring Fever. Countdown to conference.

Spring is starting to make its presence felt. The early magnolias an Rhodos are bursting their buds. Vulcan that gorgeous magenta magnolia has its huge chalice style flowers right open. In another week it will be in full bloom.
It's warmer at night and the birds are starting their spring chorus. I lay in bed listening to the birds this morning. They've begun singing in greater numbers everyday which means spring and the mating season is truly on the horizon,

I am so delighted to hear bellbirds visiting my town garden. when we lived in the country near tracts of bush they were a common visitor. I've had a pair visiting my Banksia "Golden Candles" every day for the past week. Although much smaller that the tuis they put up a creditable fight against the bigger and far more aggressive birds.

I plant my garden to attract the birds and when the rare ones visit it gives me such a thrill. Over the winter we've also had a pair of Keruru, our native wood pigeon, visiting the Idesia podocarpa tree and feasting on the berries.

We've also been putting out sugar water and cutting up windfall oranges for the smaller birds and we have waxeyes visiting in huge numbers. For their size they are very aggressive little critters. There are also large numbers of other birds, yesterday I saw greenfinches, chaffinches, ringneck doves, and the much shyer lace neck doves and of course the ubiquitous sparrows are back inegions. They seem to have shrugged of whatever virus was killing them in great numbers a few years back. This winter we haven't had the yellowhammers visiting. Last year we has several regulars.

As I was working in the garden yesterday blackbirds and thrushes were barely a spade's length away waiting hopefully for me to uncover a juicy worm for them. One bird a blackbird has been a regular for years now.

It's the 2nd of August so that means 17 days to Conference. Can't wait! The only worry is negotiating down town Auckland to find Rydges Hotel. Oh well I'll google a map!  

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Progress at A Snail's Pace.

I have spent the past week revising a manuscript.

I read a blog about the importance of examining every sentence. Looking at the structure, word choice, impact, clarity and how each word and phrase progresses the story. It has been an enlightening excercise.

At the same time I've scrutinised each character's motivation, personality quirks and ensure they stay within their own character's profile.
It is so very easy to write a generic group of characters that have very little differentiation.

After so many years writing I found it sobering to recognise silly errors that marred otherwise crisp writing.
Repeated words. Using different words to convey the same  meaning. Such repetition  slows the pace and makes reading slow and tedious.

And the great thing about this slow methodical review is the crisp clarity and the definition of each character. Every piece of dialogue is scrutinised.  Each conversation has to move the plot, define the character, and create a believable and empathetic character.

The change is incredible but maybe, just maybe I'm a little biased.

No. I did the same for the book that finaled in the Clendon so perhaps I am finally learning the art of editing.

That blog has made me stop and really think about my craft and the prusuit of excellence is its own reward. 

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Yee Ha!!!

I'm singing from the treetops today!

One of my manuscripts is a finalist in the prestigious Clendon Award! Yee Ha!!!

At the moment it is in New York....be still my trembling heart....with Mary Theresa Hussey Senior Executive editor of Harlequin Books. 

It has been so hard this past week having to keep this momentuous news under my hat ever since Barbara Clendon, of Barbara's Books who sponsor the award, rang me to tell me my book was winging it's way to America.

Equally pleasing was a second manuscript being Commended. Just to recieve a mention in this competition is an acheivement but by far the most value from this competition for me is reader feedback.

This competition is judged by a band of dedicated Romance readers and Barbara has commented that many of the readers would dearly love to buy the finalist manuscripts and keep them on their keeper shelf.

And that has to be the ultimate accolade for any writer.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Rain Rain go away! Writing progresses.

If ever there was just cause for that old fashioned jingle it is now. After a steady lashing for the past few weeks I now wish we could enjoy a spell of fine weather even if it brings the frosts and the cold!

Sunshine would be more than welcome.

I greatly enjoyed the last writer's meeting and listening to the tape of the workshop given by Donald Mass on "Finding the fire within."

It really resonated with me.
A hands on workshop made you dig deep within yourself and your current WIP,  a very practical approach.

It also resonated because using your setting as a character or protagonist is something I really strive for and something that judges have commented on in my work. I have harboured doubts about doing this but this workshop gave me a sense of very valuable validation.

As a purely fun thing I entered the first 25 words of my WIP  in Miss Snark's Fisrt Victim contest.  Mine was #35. 

I was agreeably surpised by some of the worthy comments, and that such a small amount of writing could attract such valuable and often insightful feedback is staggering.

I've also had valuable feedback from the judges in RWNZ'S Great beginnings competiton. The loveliest comment being that I was obviously on the brink of being published.

I do wish I could magically step over that Brink.

Is there someone lurking there who would like to give me a shove?    

Monday, May 24, 2010

Welcome to our new babies

Time: the commodity that's in such short supply. The older we get the faster it speeds by.
Our family is growing by leaps and bounds. Our eldest grandchild is now the proud daddy of twin girls.

Charlotte and Elizabeth --- lovely old fashioned names.  As one great-grand-aunt commented "real names".

I often wonder when I see and meet children with outlandish names how those youngsters are going to  feel about their wacky names when they are old enough to resent being teased and tormented by their peers.  In my fairly long life I've found chilldren to be really cruel little creatures.

 It is great to see all the really old fashioned names being given to the current generation. Thomas, Cameron, Finn, Sophie, Holly, Jacob and Jodie and Joey feature in the current crop of family babies and toddlers.

My writing has had to take a little bit of a back seat as family committments have been piling up. Two of my sisters as well as our son in law can't drive after surgery so we've had to ferry them back and forth to their hospital appoinments. With running the shop it makes for a rather complicated schedule.

Not that I mind. When we needed help my family was there to help and support us through some pretty grim and tough times. And I'm only too happy to give help and support now when it is needed.
As the saying goes, "What goes around comes around."

  

Friday, April 9, 2010

Busy Creative Time

    It's been a busy few weeks for me. What with family, business and writing committments the days seem to have gone by on wings.
    One of my sisters has had to have a knee replacement and is not having an easy time of it. Watching her struggle has made me far more aware of taking care of my own creaky joints. Now that autumn is truly upon us, the leaves are very colourful, and the clocks have gone back, the evenings are drawing in, any aches and pains seem to multiply.
   I've inherited her two chihuahuas for several weeks and they are such cute little dogs. But out of their home millieu they've been indulging in a few pecking order fights. I didn't realise that tiny as they are, the little mutts can fight every bit as fiercely as bigger dogs. I've had to step in and settle a couple of arguments. Who said dogs are like children? Too true.  
   We had a lovely impromptu family gathering when out eldest grandchild recently married. In romance novels we read where hero and heroine decide to marry within a few days and the mad scramble that occurs to make that happen.
    So it was really a huge amount of fun to watch a spontaneous wedding happen in real life.
    The groom arrived with the bride, very pregnant with twins, and carrying the milk for the cup of tea afterwards. Very different! And you'd better believe I have a photo of that!
    After the ceremony, Gran and Pop did the grandparently thing and took the whole wedding party out for lunch. It was a bit ticklish to settle on a venue that would welcome a party of twelve without a booking. An added problem was we weren't in our city so were not sure what venues were available.
    We settled on a venue that provided a great smorgasboard and with a little extra finagling we also produced a wedding cake. A fantastic layered chocolate mousse cake that was so yummy.
    Afterwards we all walked through the fantastic Hamilton Gardens. I've read several articles about the gardens but it's my first visit. I aim to go back for a more leisurely stroll. I'll never be able to indulge my passion for gardens and gardening. The day I cease to be able to garden is the day I'll cease to exist.
    All in all a lovely day...and what fabulous fodder for a romance writer. 

Thursday, March 11, 2010

The Value of being alone:

It's difficult to believe that a third of the new year has already flown by. What's the old saying? Time flies when you're having fun.

Well in that case I must be having a lot of fun because time has been moving at the speed of light. Do you remember when you were a child and it seemed as if Christmas would never come? Looking back from very close to the cutting edge of the biblical three score years and ten I can honestly say I have never found the meaning of the word boredom.

Every time I hear a child or teen or young adult saying "I'm bored" I feel a real compassion. To me it's sad that so many young people equate frenetic activity with happiness. They've never learned to nourish and cherish their well of inner reserves. Boredom, I've always thought, is little more than a lack of inner reserves.

Whatever happened to "quiet time"?
In our home, when our children were young we had quiet time every evening. A time when toys were put away, books were brought out, television was off and everyone had to amuse themselves. It was a time of reflection, a time to regroup after an activity filled day. I can never remember any one of my children complaining of being bored.

We weren't rich but they learned to create their own fun. Most of the time they were hell on wheels! Full of fun and laughter and devilment.

Looking back, I realize quiet time taught our children to value the solace of being alone. To me, time alone is as necessary as breathing or eating. It is a time to replenish and nourish the soul, and refill the well of creativity that is the very heart of every writer.

And being alone definitely doesn't equate to loneliness.
No one is devoid of a creative core.
It's sad that this part of our psyche is not nourished alongside the physical side. 

After all the opposite of creativity is destruction. And I know which I prefer.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Secondary characters

Today saw  two entries in the post for the Clendon Award.
To the uninitiated that may not sound like a lot.
But writing a complete book takes a lot of time and a heck of a lot of energy. The actual writing doesn't take much time, it's the polishing and editing and the analysing that takes the time.

Analysing? I can hear the question mark from here.

But to me this is a critical component.  I am one of those writers who need to take time to analyse a characters motives, analyse what makes them tick and analyse how they interact with other characters.

I may start out with a basic plot idea but during the writing process this is added to and subtracted from until the finished article barely resembles what I started with.

And this is in no small part due to characters insisting that they be allowed to play their own part. In my most recent work, it's three minor characters who have put up their hands to say "notice me".
And when I did take notice I realized they were pivotal to making the main plot work, besides adding a litle flash and dash on the side.

In the beginning they were not even more than a line in the overall scheme of the plot. But when analysing the main characters I realised a lot of their motivations sprung from these two line players.
So I went back and gave these players a voice, albeit a minor one, the whole work came alive.

The result more than pleasing.  

Monday, February 15, 2010

The Real Value of competitions

As the writing competition season gathers momentum it's timely to pause and consider the value of these competitons.

Some writers insist feedback is a reason to enter.
Others insist competitions get your name out there, although as most entries are anonymous I haven't quite figured out how this works.
Yet still more insist having to work to a deadline is good practise.

So what do I think?

Personally I consider competitons a blend of all three. It's great to get feedback especially when you have a knowledgeable judge who can offer insightful and constructive criticism.

And this is the big if associated with all competitons.
Judging is very subjective.
And while some judges do give valuable feedback and constructive criticism I've found other judges can provoke a crisis of confidence.
A recent contest highlighted this for me. Two out of three judges were very negative in their comments.
One judge going as far as to say my heroine was scizophrenic and my hero a jerk. Ouch.
One judge was honest enough to say she didn't enjoy my type of book, making me wonder just why she was judging it, and honest enough to point out valid flaws and constructive ways overcome them. 

Over the years I've found the most helpful and constructive criticism has come from readers and not fellow writers. The most negative comments received have all come from published writers.
Something I find more than a little dismaying. Published writers should be able to recognise the rough and often rocky road to publication and temper their comments with a sound dose of reasoning.
I know when I've helped judge competitons I've always looked for the strengths in that writer's work and suggested ways for positive improvement.

So will I continue to enter competitons?
Of course.
Even negative comments have the upside of making a writer very critical in appraising their own work.

And as I prepare my entry for the upcoming Clendon competition also known as Finish The Damn Book I'm carefully going back over all the comments negative and positive and using them to hone my work to the highest professional standard.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Staying Focused

How does a writer stay focused?

This is a question I'm often asked and one that is difficult to answer. To me focus is not so much about how many words get on the page on any given day it's about how those words read on the page.

Let me clarify. It is very easy to fill a page with words. Far too easy to repeat the same message in half a dozen different ways. It is an annoying habit and a trap I can fall into with terrifying ease.

It takes great discipline and focus to weed out every unneccesary word so the writing is tight, clear and not verbose.

To be successful one must examine each phrase, each sentence, each paragraph and ensure nothing is repeated and that each sentence adds to the story in such a way that it keeps the reader excited and eager to turn the page.

This is where discpline and focus play such an important part in a writer's journey.

In the first frenzy of creativity words pour out and fill the page with a great adrenaline rush. This for me is the easy part. It's the editing, tightening every phrase, ruthlessly cutting every unessecary word creating a tight, polished peice of work that is the true test of a writer's focus and stamina.

It hurts to cut that perfect phrase, that perfect piece of prose but, to succeed, a writer needs to crop words for the greater benefit of the whole.

A tough and at times a tediously ardous endeavour.