When the Dove Flies – the Passing Away of a Friend

I’m in shock after hearing news of the passing away of a writer friend I met at the Writer’s Digest Conference in New York City in August 2016.

I’m in shock, not only because she was such a beautiful spirit, taken so soon, but also because she was on the cusp of realizing a dream so many writers hold dear.

I first met my friend online, after joining the Facebook group established for the conference. Realizing I was coming all the way from Australia and that I only knew a few attendees, she invited me to a dinner she was organizing for the night before the conference opened. An informal get-to-know-your-fellow-attendees dinner, where we took up four long tables of a bustling Italian-style restaurant and talked, and talked. And talked.

It was a great night at the start of a wonderful conference of learning and laughter.

After I returned to Australia, we continued a long-distance friendship via Twitter and Facebook. Over time, our communication via tweets, comments, and likes became sporadic, yet I managed to stay informed of the progress of her dreams, as I believe she did of mine.

Her last Facebook post I remember reading was one where she excitedly announced that her Kickstarter campaign to fund the publishing of her picture book had raised more than 50% of its target on the first day. I was so happy for her.

Then life got in my way, as it does. The thought of checking in on her campaign slipped from my mind.

Yesterday, I learned from a fellow conference attendee that this lovely person passed away unexpectedly right after the launch of the campaign.

I couldn’t believe it. After twenty-four hours to digest this tragic news, I’m still struggling.

My heart aches for her husband, two children, and greater circle of family and friends.

And it aches for her, that she never lived to see her dream become a reality.

Life is often far too short. I guess that’s what makes it so precious.

Rest in peace, K.

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How Many Self Published Books Have You Read over the Last Twelve Months?

How many self published books have you read over the last twelve months?

I was asked this question on the weekend.

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My answer, after much deliberation, (after all, I have read a LOT of books over the last twelve months) was:

None.

Yep, none. I’m pretty sure I have not read ANY self published books in the last year. Okay, I’ll hang my head in shame – or try to defend myself by saying there may have been one or two which were self published FIRST, but I only discovered and read them AFTER they were subsequently traditionally published.

And there lies the key word: discovered.

Most writers know that one of the main drawbacks of self publishing is discoverability, getting your literary masterpiece noticed by the masses (readers) when it is only one of the hundreds of thousands of masses (books) clogging the likes of Amazon. Make that, millions clogging the likes of Amazon. I remember a statistic from the Writer’s Digest Conference I attended eighteen months ago, that there are now (well, as of 2016) more than 3.5 million books up on Amazon.

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Now I don’t care how refined your search is, you’ll still end up with loads of books to choose from, loads of books all screaming for your attention (and dollar). A self publisher needs to be, or have in their corner, someone who gets their book noticed in among all that screaming.

Anyway, I’m getting off the point, and my point is, I like to read. Whether it’s traditionally published or self published is irrelevant. As long as the book’s premise grabs me, the prose is entertaining, and the quality high, I’ll consider it. But I need to discover it first.

So tell me, how many self published books have you read lately?

Have you read any you would recommend, and why?

And if you’ve self published, how has the experience been for you? (Feel free to plug your work in the comments below!)

However you get your creativity out in the world, I wish you the best of luck,

Rebecca

The Writing Break I Had to Have

Hi all, and a huge welcome to 2018,

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The sun set on 2017 with me in desperate need of a creative recharge after a busy year of writing, editing, querying and travelling. When you’re a mother of three juggling work-from-home commitments with a family life reminiscent of an out-of-control octopus, the brain can feel a little fried come December – especially when you top off your year with a NaNoWriMo 50,000-word burst. Just to add more to an already full plate. 

Sorry to complain but, come December, I felt that I’d done a bloody lot of work with minimal result, other than a spreadsheet of queried agents for one manuscript (not to mention 50,000 words requiring major editing for the next).

You see, there was the querying for my completed YA novel. I’d extensively researched the publishing industry and picked agents I believed (and still believe) to be the best fit for my story. I’d prepared query letters specific to each agent, detailing why I was querying them, and had sent accompanying manuscript pages to those who preferred them. I’d received some partial and full requests for my manuscript, much to my excitement, and had promptly sent them off.

Fast forward to today: I’ve yet to hear back from several of the agents who requested my material, even after a polite follow-up many months after it was sent. Other agents have responded, all with a pass, but many with comments that implied I was close, soooo close. Two commended me on the strength of my writing, asked if I was working on anything else, and followed that up with a request to read my next work when it is ready. Positive stuff. But still a pass so far for my queried manuscript.

As the end of the year loomed, I sat back and thought about all of the work I had done in 2017 and on what had, and had not, come to pass. So to speak.

And I realized something.

For the first time in years, I wasn’t enjoying my writing. I wasn’t having fun. Why? Because my year had centered around output: what I produced, how much I produced, how many agents I queried. Yes, I’ve had many stories and feature articles published, but I yearned to be a published novelist. Writing became a pursuit of this goal, a goal I have yet to attain. It simply became work. And all work, no play, does not a happy writer make.

I remembered writing the first draft of my YA novel. I’d head to the library or cafe with no preconceived ideal of what I would achieve, not in terms of word count or completed scenes, not in terms of viability and publishing. Although I had an outline, I wrote the detail of my story from the well of inspiration that bubbles to the surface once words start to form on the page. I wrote for sheer joy. (Actually, most of my published work to date has been written from this place.)

I missed that experience.

And I realized something else. I wasn’t reading half as much as I used to – between researching and querying, there was little time for that. And I LOVE LOVE LOVE reading.

So I decided to take two months off, two months away from my self-imposed treadmill. Other than a couple of blog posts, I have not written ANYTHING since November. Or queried any more agents. I’ve done other things – celebrate Christmas, for a start, and take an interstate family trip. Things that remind me I am not only a writer.

And I’ve read. And read. And read. I’ve read a stack of novels, for the first time or the second, for fun or to examine. I’ve read writing books and taken notes on key points. I’ve also consolidated agent comments, and pinpointed areas in my writing to strengthen. And bookmarked upcoming conferences and workshops to help rectify weaknesses as well as build on my existing writing community.

I’m reminding myself what I love about writing.

I’m doing all this as, at the end of the day, any book of mine that is published is nothing without ME. It’s nothing without someone who relishes what she has created, who is confident in what she has created, and who enjoys the process of creating it.

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When the sun rises on February, I’ll return from my self-imposed exile. I’m reinvigorated. I feel I’m ready. And I plan to have fun.

I hope you have fun, wherever your creativity takes you,

Rebecca

P.S. Apologies – this post is longer than most, but it was important to say 🙂

Have you ever taken a break from your writing or other creative pursuit? Why did you take it, and was it beneficial?

 

 

2017 – the Year I Accelerated my Leaps of Faith

Whew!

It’s hard to believe that the door will soon close on another year. For me, 2017 has many highlights, mainly because it’s the year I’ve accelerated my leaps of faith, trusting myself to take chances I’d previously hesitated to take.

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My watershed actually occurred in August 2016, when I traveled from Australia to New York to attend and pitch my first novel manuscript at the Writer’s Digest Conference. It was the first time I’d actively promoted my writing and myself as a writer, face to face, to industry insiders. My publishing success up to that date had all come from submitting articles and short stories via email (let’s face it, it’s easier to put yourself out there when cyberspace is between you and those you hope to impress).

I made countless friends at the conference, and learnt soooo much about the world of writing and publishing. I also realized how much more I needed to do, to practice, to learn.

And how much I wanted to do it.

Upon my return to Australia, I made a conscious effort, wherever possible, to eliminate the negativity that had previously attacked my self-esteem, and threatened to derail my hopes and dreams. I actively connected with writer friends, joined Facebook groups, attended more workshops and conferences, and discovered the world of podcasts.

Climbing into the query trenches, I sought strength from passes on my manuscript, considered constructive comments, and experienced joy with positive feedback and offers to consider my next work.

And I’ve continued to write.

Blog posts.

Short stories.

And a new novel, middle grade this time. I thrashed out its outline a few months ago and wrote most of a first draft during NaNoWriMo in November. I’ll revisit it – hopefully with fresh eyes – in the New Year.

The writing community, within Australia and abroad, has been wonderful in its willingness to support, advise, and encourage emerging writers such as myself. In turn, I have tried to pay it forward, offering whatever help I can to others on this roller-coaster journey. We’re all in this together.

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This time, my trip to the Colosseum included a visit to the dungeons and the third (top) tier. Incredible.

My other leap of faith this year was deciding the bills could wait and revisiting Europe, nineteen years after my first jaunt there and nineteen years after I met my husband (also there). We returned this time with our three kids in tow!

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The view from our Paris apartment – a special surprise for my daughter.

On this glorious seven-week trip, I met a nephew for the first time, re-experienced architectural and natural wonders through the eyes of my offspring, and even found some time for writing research 🙂

Leaps of faith can offer wonderful opportunities and experiences, even in a year where parts of the world appear to have gone mad.

Hope your year has been memorable, and your 2018 brings you everything you desire.

Chat then,

Rebecca

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Canal boat cruising across the Pontscyllyte Aqueduct in Wales, the highest aqueduct in the world. Cheers, while my fifteen-year-old son steers!

 

 

 

 

The Procrastinate-Busting Power of Podcasts (Yes, Podcasts Can Bust Procrastinating)

Hi all,

as you may be aware, I recently finished National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo). Last week, I wrote about my experience here. NaNoWriMo was a success for me, not simply because I wrote the 50,000 words necessary to “win”, but because I created (most of) the first draft of my middle grade WIP.

However, NaNoWriMo did take its toll. By the time I hit 50,000 words on 27th November, I was exhausted. My brain felt like a fried egg and I fell into a literally heap.

I may have won NaNoWriMo but I had lost my will to write any more of my NaNo work.

I could think of nothing worse.

A break was needed. A distraction, something to recharge my enthusiasm for my project.

So for the next week, I mindlessly surfed the biggest distraction of them all: the internet…

procrastinating…

one day after the other…

…until I stumbled upon a podcast guest hosted by an agent I met during last year’s trip to New York City for the Writer’s Digest Conference.

This agent’s insightful feedback and advice struck a cord with me then, and has remained with me since, so I was interested to hear what he had to say. In this podcast, he spoke about what makes characters entice a reader to read past the first few pages: who the characters are, how they got to where they are, what they want, and what stands in their way. It was all stuff I’ve heard before but, for some reason, hearing it again from him had a profound effect on me.

My brain woke up. It was like my characters knocked on my head yelling, “Hey, what are you doing? You heard him. We have so much more to say. Your characters are your book. Get writing!”

The podcast reignited my interest in my project.

Now I’m a huge fan of podcasts on anything to do with writing, whether that be on an aspect of the craft itself, on the business and marketing front, or as a guest speak with one of my favourite authors. There’s something special, almost intimate, about podcasts. It’s as though the speaker is only talking to you.

And in our time-poor world, their ability to educate, inspire, and empower – whether you’re on the commute to work, or while you cook, clean, or exercise – makes them a fantastic multi-tasking means to an end. We all get stuck at times with our writing but by listening to podcasts, at least you feel like you’re doing something about it. Well, don’t you? And maybe one might just be the thing you need to get moving again.

The Write Life recently updated their list of  twenty inspiring podcasts for writers. If you haven’t introduced yourself to the world of writing podcasts, this is a good place to start for a bit of binge-listening 🙂 (Or if you’re in a literally heap 😦 ) And my favourite of the Australian podcasts is the Australian Writers’ Centre So you want to be a writer podcast, with Valerie Khoo and Allison Tait.

Hopefully, you’ll hear something on one of these gems to pull you out of any procrastinating slump.

And fulfill your writing goals.

Until next time,

Happy writing,

Rebecca

Are you a fan of podcasts and, if so, which would you recommend to writers, and why?

And have those who NaNo’d this year been able to maintain momentum after December 1st hit?

NaNoWriMo 2017 – the Surprises (and the Real Win) for Me

Hi all,

yesterday I passed the 50,000 word mark on NaNoWriMo, three days before the deadline, meaning that officially I have “won” NaNoWriMo 2017 – yes, that’s why things have been so quiet on the blogging front this month; I’ve been kinda busy writing and counting words…

For those not familiar with NaNoWriMo, I explained what it is, and what I was getting myself in for, in a post I wrote last month. Check it out here: NaNoWriMo – I’m Looking at You 

Now this is the first time I’ve tried this marathon of the brain, and it has surprised me, not because I actually managed to write 50,000 words (I can be pretty dogged at times – just ask my husband), but in what I discovered along the way.

So here is a quick run down:

  • That no matter how much you plot and plan (I spent the previous two months outlining and preparing for NaNoWriMo), there will be deviations in your story in ways you least expect. For example, while writing a key scene with a major supporting character, I realized this male character should be female – pity it took me all the way to the story’s climax to realize this, a few days before I finished. Major rewrite ahead.
  • That no matter how much you prepare, life can, and will, throw curveballs at you, whether it be in the form of sick kids, unexpected work (who doesn’t need to put food on the table?), school and sporting commitments going into overdrive, and attacks on your health.
  • I should have written some “side” and “back” scenes, as I like to call them, from the point of view of supporting characters before November 1st. I wrote these scenes two-thirds of the way through the month when I ground to a halt. Thankfully, they were instrumental in getting to really know my characters and helping to get me back on track to bring it all home. My original character outlines, it turns out, did not have enough depth.
  • NaNoWriMo made me accountable to the only person who really mattered in all this: ME. It didn’t matter to my family and friends if I reached 50K or not, their opinion of me wouldn’t change in the slightest. But it mattered to me, my writing matters to me, so I was determined to see it through (there’s that dogged nature again).
  • Saying that, the level of support I received from family (none are writers) was something I am eternally grateful for – okay, now this sounds like an acceptance speech. Hand me the tissues. But it’s true, especially from my husband. And given that he does not write nor fully understand through no fault of his own how HARD it is to write a novel at the best of times, makes me so appreciative of his willingness to pick up my slack while I banged my fingers (and, at times, my head) against the keyboard for twenty-seven days straight.
  • The level of support from friends who are not writers. They know how important writing is to me and were there to cheer me on and encourage me to reach 50K, even if some thought I was crazy for trying 😉
  • And, of course, the level of support from other writers, whether they are undertaking NaNoWriMo themselves or not. I already knew writers to be a generous bunch, but was still pleasantly surprised by the extent of the support and well wishes I received. For instance, I joined a Facebook group established by fellow Australian writer, Anna Spargo-Ryan, and the friendship and camaraderie that developed within this group in a very short time frame was priceless. We held virtual hands through bleak periods of self doubt, exchanged suggestions when writer’s block reared its ugly head, and cheered each other on when stepping-stone goals were achieved. Reaching the official 50K milestone became secondary to achieving individual goals, whether that be completing an emotional scene or getting back on track after a major plot setback. And now? We’ll support each other in finishing our manuscripts and through the rewrites and edits that, no doubt, must be done.

The community spirit I experienced through NaNoWriMo 2017 was the real win for me 🙂

So for all those NaNo’ing this year, I hope the experience has been an uplifting, and maybe a surprising, one for you.

And whether you write 50,000 or 5,000 words during November, you’re all awesome for giving it a go. There are many too fearful to try.

Next next time,

Happy writing,

Rebecca

NaNoWriMo – I’m Looking at You

Hi all,

Last month, I decided, after several years of thinking about it, to participate in NaNoWriMo this November.

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For those not aware, NaNoWriMo is short for National Novel Writing Month and is where writers attempt to write fifty thousand words during the month of November. That’s right, fifty thousand hopefully non-rambling words in thirty days. For some, that equates to half a novel. For others, more. As I’m planning to write the first draft of a middle grade novel, I’m hoping it will equate to a full novel (probably brimming with fluffy superfluous words I will slash and burn, come December).

You sign up at the NaNoWriMo website, make friends with equally crazy online writing buddies doing the same, and track your work’s progress. There are also loads of resources and associated events to help keep your motivation up and creative juices flowing – I won’t go into more detail than this; you can check it all out on the website.

So why am I doing it? Well I’ve spent the best part of the last few months developing my story structure, along with detailed scene and character outlines, for the middle grade idea I’ve had for over a year. With a personal preference to lean toward pantsing over plotting, I’ve decided to grit my teeth and try a new approach this time, care of some words of wisdom from author, K.M. Weiland who points out that:

“…a correctly wielded outline can be one of the most powerful weapons in your writing arsenal. Outlines ensure cohesion and balance in the finished story. They prevent wasted time pursuing dead-end ideas, allow you to craft resonant foreshadowing, and, most importantly, provide you a foundation of confidence and motivation.”

And that’s what the last few months of planning and preparation has taught me: the confidence and motivation to write this story. Now don’t get me wrong; it’s not like I don’t usually outline, but in this case it is much more in depth. I’m hoping that translates to a quicker first draft.

Now in terms of NaNoWriMo itself, I’m not delusional. The pace must be consistently fast, averaging 1,667 words per day, every day. And I know I may not reach fifty thousand words – life has an annoying way of throwing up curve balls. But does that mean those who do not reach fifty thousand words do not succeed? Surely any attempt to put bum on seat and fingers on keyboard (or pen to paper) is better than sitting back, waving your hands at your computer, and protesting that it’s too hard. And at least however far I get will be something to continue with once the sun sets on NaNoWriMo 2017.

When I told my husband of my plans, his response was, “Well, I won’t be getting much sense from you in November.” No, probably not, and blog posts may also be scarce during next month. But if I can wave my first draft in the air once the first of December comes around, it’s a small price to pay. 🙂

Well, isn’t it?

Until next time,

Rebecca

Are you participating in NaNoWriMo this year? Have you done it before and, if so, how was the experience?

 

Book Review: Strange the Dreamer by Laini Taylor

Hi all,

Laini Taylor is masterful at weaving worlds, conjuring characters, and creating conflict, making her one of my favourite authors. Her talent at writing compelling descriptions of scenes and emotions, using words I would never consider stringing together in a sentence, leaves me in awe.

Laini’s Daughter of Smoke and Bone trilogy is one of my favorite series, even though it took me the best part of fifty pages to get into the story in the initial book. Strange the DreamerAnd that’s my main issue with Strange the Dreamer, Laini’s latest offering. This one took half the book: it’s so slooow.

Now don’t get me wrong, Laini is such a gifted writer. It’s just that the aspect of her writing that I applaud the most, the one I struggle with most in my own writing, began to grate on my nerves while reading this novel: descriptions, pages and pages of them. Add loads of internal exposition which felt, at times, repetitive and unnecessary, and the plot dragged, bogged down by the length and weight of it all.

Maybe it’s my fault. After all, I’ve read a lot of fast-paced action-fuelled books recently, some of which, I admit, could’ve used a little more description. But Strange the Dreamer is so laden with poetic prose and flowery words that I struggled to read too much of this novel in one sitting, needing to take a break more often than usual. It took me three weeks to read this book, a lot longer than for most. The descriptions came close to overpowering the fascinating plot.

So speaking of plot, Strange the Dreamer starts with the death of a character (it was like, Wow! What a start! when I read it) before falling back in time to the story of Lazlo Strange. Lazlo’s a bookworm obsessed with an “unseen city”, a place whose name disappears in an instant and which becomes known as Weep. Without giving away too much of the narrative, Lazlo’s character eventually becomes intertwined with Sarai, a godspawn brimming with conflict, conflict, conflict!

The characterization of Lazlo, Sarai, and others is fantastic – I especially love Eril-Fane, with his cursed nickname of Godslayer, and Azareen, his long-suffering wife. Saying that, there are an awful lot of secondary characters whose relevance I failed to see. Maybe their relevance will be revealed in the upcoming sequel, The Muse of Nightmares.

Strange the Dreamer’s backstory teems with magic, science, love, and war – such a powerful mix – and the world-building is extraordinary, to say the least.

This novel is a love story unlike any other; the ending pulled at my heart strings. I was hoping against hope that my suspicions would not be confirmed but, alas, they were. I’d guessed how the story ended, or rather, the dilemma to tempt us to read the sequel. Damn, I hate it when that happens…

So will I read it, The Muse of Nightmares? Yes, I’d like to know how the story continues.

It may just take me a while to get through it 🙂

Until next time,

Rebecca

Persistence Is Key (As Shown by a Balloon)

It’s funny how life sends you a sign. Or, in this case, a balloon.

Persistence is key, writers are told. When writing. When editing. Especially when querying. And all writers know that it’s easy to lose faith. In your ability. In your work. In your tenacity and will to succeed in this fickle (and slow) world of publishing.
I was pondering my own trials and tribulations on the weekend, as I leant on my decking balustrade and watched the sun travel toward the horizon. And that’s when the balloon floated into view. From where it came, I do not know.

It was a vibrant orange, full of life, hope, as it danced toward my backyard. It entered on a slight gust, like a finger prod from an invisible giant, and flew straight into my ash tree. As it weaved its way through an obstacle course of branches, I waited for the “pop” that would announce its defeat.

Yet it did not come. Instead, the balloon escaped its woody snare and drifted across my veggie patch to be grabbed by a gum on the far side.

This is it, I thought, its end is near.

But the balloon, its orange burnt bright by the approaching sunset, wriggled its way between the gum’s limbs. And those of the pine behind it.

Until the balloon was free to continue its journey.

As it disappeared over the crest of the hill, I couldn’t help but see similarities between this orange circle of stubbornness and a writer’s life: the struggles to succeed after setback (after setback), and to continue on your path in spite of those who tell you, “No”, those who question why you do what you do, and those who have given up themselves.

Persistence is key.

Rebecca

Have you seen or heard anything that has served as a metaphor for, or become symbolic to, your thoughts or feelings?

Book Review: New Pompeii by Daniel Godfrey

I’ve always found the idea of time travel to be quite scary. So much can go wrong. The same can be said for writing time travel novels. When I came across Daniel Godfrey’s novel, New Pompeii, with its “Gladiator meets Jurassic Park” concept, I was intrigued.
In this novel, a company called NovusPart has worked out how to transport people from past to present and uses this technology to yank citizens of Pompeii through time (right as Vesuvius is erupting in AD 79, I might add). It brings them to a replica city in modern time, New Pompeii, where the citizens believe they have been saved from the eruption by the deity emperor, Augustus Caesar.

After exploring the dungeons of Rome’s Colosseum in June, and having visited Pompeii itself on a previous trip to Italy, I was fascinated with where this story would travel (so to speak).

The protagonist, Nick Houghton, a history graduate brought in by NovusPart as an advisor, soon learns that the company has not thought through every implication of its actions. For instance, NovusPart gives New Pompeii’s citizens fairly limited rights and freedoms, and seems to overlook that these citizens come from a society responsible for many of the advances we utilise today:

“So, Nick,” said Whelan. The NovusPart operations chief took a step forward. “What do you think the most important thing is, in making all of this work?”

Nick’s mind cycled quickly, trying to find an answer that wouldn’t make him look stupid. The buildings? The logistics? The technology?

No.

The people.

New Pompeii’s residents have been told by NovusPart men (assumed to have been sent by Augustus) that it is too dangerous to travel outside the city as the Italian peninsula has been severely damaged by the eruption and is in turmoil. However, these people are intelligent and questioning, which is especially apparent in the small details, read, anomalies, they observe (for example, carrots in AD 79 did not have the added colour of carrots grown today). Their increasing doubts and concerns serve to build tension between the two cultures.

I enjoyed reading about the political and cultural aspects of Roman life – what a fascinating period in human history – but found a few errors in depiction. For example, those of relative importance such as our protagonist would usually travel with an attendant in tow. Yet Nick took off on more than one occasion to explore New Pompeii on his own, without a thought as to what the citizens would think of this and how they might judge him. And with limited regard for his own safety in a community becoming more and more on edge.

And then there’s the second story running through the narrative concerning a dead girl in a bath, which I found more distracting. Although it ties in with the main plot near its conclusion, I thought it added little to the novel and could easily have been left out.

For the most part, New Pompeii was a decent read, with action-packed scenes, and articulate characterization and dialogue. However with such an intriguing concept, the author could have done so much more in terms of the clash of eras and its potential ramifications. Instead, the narrative fell short and the conclusion was less than satisfying. Saying that, I am interested to read Empire of Time, the sequel released a couple of months ago. I’d still like to see where things “travel” 🙂

Hope your own travels are great!

Rebecca

What time travel novels have you read that you liked, or didn’t like, and why?