How I Became a #MGWave’r

It’s been a pretty crazy year, but one thing that helped keep me sane was #MGWaves. What is #MGWaves, I hear you ask? Let’s start at the beginning…

I’m an Australian writer who believes you only live once. Which is why I do things like this:

I’m also an Australian writer whose publishing success to date has mainly consisted of a series of short stories and feature articles I wrote over a number of years for an Australian parenting magazine (if you don’t include the writing of annual reports, press releases, and technical reports that I did for government…) Anyway, when the magazine’s income dried up, my income from the magazine also vanished.

Not to worry, what I really wanted to do was write for Younger Me, not for parents. So I wrote a young adult novel which I queried. It received multiple partial and full requests, but…after two years of trying, no agent.

Not to worry, what I really REALLY wanted to do was write for Younger Younger Me. Middle Grade Me (middle grade is, after all, my sweet spot). It just took me a while to muster up the courage to try. When I found this courage, I wrote a novel about a chatterbox twelve-year-old who must rob a casino using an unusual (ahem!) skill, in order to save his little sister. I was thrilled when it received runner-up this year in the WritingNSW Varuna Fellowship. More on that here. In the meantime, let’s move on.

On a high from my runner-up award, I submitted to Pitch Wars and guess what! I WON! Well, I wasn’t selected as a mentee but I still won.

Let me explain.

Through one of the many ways that one finds things in the writing community (AKA Twitter), I joined a chat group of Pitch Wars middle grade applicants. The group was called Magnificent MG and like all things that turn out to be magnificent, I did NOT expect this group to be so…magnificent. Here was a group of wonderful writers that really understood my need to write middle grade. They got me. They also like Zoom.

Over the last few chatty zoomy months, through the highs and lows of writing, critiquing, querying, applying, and more writing, we’ve become closer than the plethora of middle grade books on my crammed bookshelf. We’ve shared highs and lows, and more than a few pics of dogs, cats, cooking, and kids. Our writing endeavours have rippled out into the world, gathering momentum to become waves. Naturally, this led to a change in name for the group.

Welcome to #MGWaves!

(As an aside, I’m also now in a Facebook group that, like #MGWaves, offers so much it’s a writer’s Christmas. It’s early days for me with this particular group, but I hope to give back as much as I can once 2021 kicks in. Because let’s face it, we are all paddling through the life we choose as writers in the best way we can.)

So what is the real point of this post? It’s to tell you to go out and find YOUR community. Don’t be afraid to ask questions, to ask for help. Keep showing up, keep putting yourself out there. Many writers will have the same fears, concerns, and hopes as you. And they’ll be nice. You never know, you might even form a group with a hashtag name!

I am grateful to have met mine, and to be riding the writing waves with them. Who knows where it will take us?

Interested to know more? Comment below. And while you’re at it, check out some of the amazing #MGWave’rs I’m proud to call my friends:

Malia Maunakea

Jennifer Mattern

Anushi Mehta

Daria Pipkin

Thushanthi Ponweera

Beth Gawlik

Susan Leigh Needham

Maureen Mirabito

Taylor Kemper

Sabrina Vienneau

A Strange Experience, Indeed

My world is smaller and quieter. Air is cleaner, noise pollution is down. A strange experience, to say the least. Like a global social experiment, the basis for an apocalyptic novel. My main character, Me, seesaws from bucket loads of anxiety and worry, to magical moments of revelation and joy.

A strange experience, indeed.

Unlike many parts of the world, it’s still early days for Australia in the Covid-19 pandemic, still early days for my family as we figure out what works best for us in our self-imposed isolation. With teenagers adjusting to online high school, a partner adjusting to working from home, and myself no longer working as a bookseller, respect for boundaries and privacy is vital. Only the dog has permission to wander freely in and out of work spaces. At times, I think he’s running the show. We’re blessed we have room to spread out in our home. I know some are not as fortunate.

While USA struggles, it’s early days for Australia

The busyness of life before Covid-19 masked the true joys of life, the things that really make it worthwhile. The simplest of pleasures. Removing myself from a working life that measures success by quantity (number of sales, daily takings, hours on the job), has allowed me to focus on what’s important: health, relationships, family. I am reminded that I am more than any one thing, more than any one job.

In this time of seclusion, I’m tackling lists (I admit, I have a list fetish). The one titled Home Projects could occupy me for years. Hard not to feel overwhelmed when I scroll down its tasks. Then there’s the Leaning Tower of To Be Read Books. The hardest decision has been which to read first. But top of my agenda, the most exciting of all my lists to tackle, is the list of revision notes for my middle grade manuscript. My story has waited patiently for action since its editorial critique in January. Well, wait no more.

Saying that, time away from the house (and tasks) is important, if only to clear the head. I walk our dog, keeping my distance from others I see while acknowledging our shared New World with a nod and a “Hi.” My canine companion and I usually pause at our favourite lookout post. He waters the same patch of suffering grass while I gaze over the Pacific Ocean, admiring its ever-changing beauty. The natural landscape calms and provides perspective. As do dogs.

A Mesmerising and Calming Pacific Ocean View

Being outside has always been therapeutic for me. My neglected garden is starting to get its sparkle back, although I kick myself for not having a veggie garden for the first time in years. Blame the frantic pace of my last twelve months. Funny how things change overnight.

Garden Simplicity in All Its Beauty

Cooking has also taken on new meaning. I’m baking more, when ingredients allow. For the first time in my life, I cannot assume I’ll get what I want from the supermarket. We’ve led a blessed life in Australia. Only now are we experiencing what many countries have had to deal with for years, panic buying and lack of supply. I’ll never take toilet paper for granted again.

I’m a control freak, but so much of this is out of my control. I can only control my own behaviour, what I can do to flatten the curve. And I can only control my own attitude, how I deal with an experience none of us will ever forget.

I say, nurture yourself any way you can. Better times will return. We are in this together.

Stay safe and well,

Rebecca

 

 

Pitch (More like a Friendship) Wars

Edited in November to add:

Alas, I wasn’t picked for Pitch Wars (less than 3% of those who submitted were), but I was shortlisted with extra pages of my manuscript requested. Think that’s a win of sorts. 😉

 

Hi all,

So this week, after much umm’ing and ah’ing, I decided to submit my middle grade manuscript to Pitch Wars.

For those unaware, Pitch Wars is a mentoring program where mentors select a writer and work with them over a three month period, offering suggestions to improve their manuscript, query letter, and pitch for a subsequent agent showcase event. More details of the program can be found here.

I’ll be honest, I was undecided about entering this program for the reason most writers hesitate: lack of belief that my writing is good enough. But that is also why I DID want to enter. What I do believe in is my story’s (and my writing’s) potential. I’m just not sure how to reach it. I know my story is not where I want it, but I’m not sure how to get it there.

There are two more reasons I decided to enter, the first being I needed a new stimulus to keep my butt in its chair and get my manuscript, and its query and synopsis, to submission stage.

Writing can sometimes feel isolating, especially when you live in Australia and so much appears geared for the northern hemisphere. While I know many wonderful writers, both in Australia and abroad, and call quite a few of those friends, hardly any write middle grade. I’ve yet to find a writing support group in my local area that writes middle grade. Those that I have found, are closed to new members.

Critique comments I have received have been great but, for some reason, finding a critiquer who specializes in writing and reading middle grade has not been easy for me.I guess I wanted to widen my writing community base, maybe form more partnerships. I’m hoping the Pitch Wars community is one way to do this.

I’m pragmatic – I know the odds are against me getting picked for mentorship (apparently only 3% are successful, based on last year’s figures). But if nothing else, I’m already making more writerly connections, discovering colleagues and friends, with others taking the plunge. We’re all in this together. It’s kind of like we have each other’s backs.

And that’s the biggest benefit of all,

Rebecca

P.S. I’m also having a blast following the #pwteasers hastag on Twitter. Some find it too stressful but I’m having a lot of (time-wasting 😉 ) fun!

Anyone else entered Pitch Wars this year? Best of luck if you have!

Or entered in past years? Would love to know how you went!

 

From Cookbook to Teen Cook

And now for something different!

For the last few Sundays, my Miss 13 has taken part in a cookbook challenge run by the bookstore where I play, I mean, work.

Australia Bakes CookbookThe book she chose for her challenge was the Australia Bakes cookbook from the Australian Women’s Weekly.

This is a great cookbook, with easy family-favourite recipes that don’t have a mile-long list of ingredients (and which are readily available in supermarkets too). It’s a wonderful cookbook for young budding chefs to hone their craft.

Here’s some of what Miss 13 made (and why I’m sure I’ve piled on a few pounds – all of these were delicious 🙂 ):

Tangy Lemon Squares
Tangy Lemon Squares

Melting Moments
Melting Moments

Vegemite and Cheese Twists
Vegemite & Cheese Twists

Double Chocolate Freckles
Double Chocolate Freckles

The above recipes, and more, can be found here.

And for those of you unfamiliar with Vegemite, it is not, as a Canadian friend once said, “that stuff you use to fix roof leaks,” but is a yeast-based spread that is chock full of B-group vitamins. It has a salty taste so you don’t need much for it’s yum flavour.

Anyway, must go. Time for a snack. 😉

Rebecca

Do you have go-to cookbooks for those dishes you never tire of making? If so, I’d love to hear your recommendations (as would Miss 13).

And for all those non-Australians, have you tried Vegemite and, if so, what did you think???

Things I Took Away From the Writing NSW Speculative Fiction Festival (Apart From Friendship)

On a fog-smudged morning last weekend, I headed to Writing NSW’s Speculative Fiction Festival to lose myself in the literary world of science fiction, fantasy and horror. While my writing is more contemporary in nature, with just a smattering of fantasy elements thrown at its characters, I was interested in what those writing more “hard core” fantasy and scifi had to say.

Fog, fog, everywhere…fitting for a SpecFic festival, huh!  👀

I thought I’d share snippets of the festival conversations, first on the subjects of world building, story structure and characterisation:

  1. Always ask: “What if?” Ask yourself basic questions about place, characters. World building starts with a sense of people and place.

  2. Clearly define the rules (those obvious and not) of any magic systems you invent. Make those rules plausible, then come up with ways to break them without losing plausibility. Implausibility jars readers out of a story.

  3. Small details loom large. When world building details are done well, such as those that drop hints of what will happen next, mood is created. For instance, a character notices a half-eaten sandwich on a bench in a deserted farmhouse… 

  4. The complexity of human nature is what makes a book timeless. Character always comes first (authors like Stephen King understand this well). For example, it is not the monster in the closet, but the family with the monster in the closet that creates the greatest interest. How far you immerse readers into your characters before speculative elements take over is important.

  5. What is your character’s main driver? Use it! For instance, a wanderer would hate to be locked up, so lock him up! 

  6. Don’t be cliche. For example, don’t create a religion that is a caricature of an existing religion. Don’t be overly critical of existing religions but, by the same token, don’t let them dictate the premise of your book.

  7. The past is a foreign country; treat it as such and do your research. For historical stories, newspapers are a great way to discover voice.

  8. Nothing kills tension like answers. Gaps in the narrative leave questions to be answered later in the story or right at the end (questions a reader may not have realised were there until they are answered).
  9. Ideas for great sentence structure include:

    • A punch line for imagery
    • Beats (__, __, __, punch)
    • Incomplete sentences
    • Changing tense mid-sentence – hard to pull off but if you can, wow!

  10. And remember, themes are universal to all genres.

Next came a few reminders on editing and publishing, thanks to a lovely chat with Abigail Nathan, freelance editor at Bothersome Words:

  1. Any genre fiction is currently hard to get published in Australia, but especially speculative fiction (sorry, but it’s the truth). 😦

  2. Editors should be viewed as a conscience, not a school teacher. They are not there to write your book for you, but to offer advice on what they think works/does not work, and why. As well as this, your proofreader should not be your editor. Fresh eyes are needed.

  3. The best ways to find an editor in Australia are through word of mouth reviews, reading book acknowledgements, searching online, or by contacting your state’s IPED (Institute of Professional Editors) and/or the Freelance Editors Network.

  4. All books in a series (and let’s face it, many specfic books are part of a series) must have their own story.

  5. One of the most common mistakes Abigail sees? Prologues. They must do something unique, not be an excuse for backstory.

  6. And a self-editing tip? Do a storyboard e.g. a sentence to describe each chapter. If several sentences sound the same, there’s work to be done!

From self-editing to self-publishing, these were the main points for me:

  1. You can’t choose to traditionally publish; you can choose to self-publish. Don’t let people tell you, you cannot have your dream.

  2. You must have grit to go down this path. It’s hard and marketing is the hardest part, but you really need more than one book for the most effective marketing. Don’t spend too much time and money marketing your first book. Wait until you have a few, then hit it hard!

  3. Social media is a great resource, especially Facebook groups (as we know, writers are such a caring sharing bunch). Group chats discuss everything from the best file conversion companies and cover artists, to how to get a Bookbub deal (Bookbub is one of the most effective promotional tools out there if you are successful in getting your book listed in a deal with them).

  4. Book covers must reflect your genre (check out the covers of bestsellers). 

  5. Don’t even think about doing audio unless you have a great narrator, which costs $$$.

  6. Successful self-publishers who offer helpful resources include Mark Dawson and David Gaughran.

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Festival day ended with an ideas generator session (which left my brain hankering for the wine, and networking, that followed on the verandah). 🙂

So many ideas were thrown into the air during the last session but three points, in particular, resonated with me:

  1. Like this quote: Humans are so busy asking if we can, we don’t ask if we should. Scientific ideas have both promise and peril. The scifi that lasts is not anchored by science but by human behaviour, the choices characters make (as mentioned earlier in this post). 

  2. The information stored on our planet is set to double “in a heartbeat” (well, by 2060 anyway). The information stored in the cloud will be as much as the information stored in our DNA.

  3. Humans are hard-wired to survive in conditions very different to those we now find ourselves in (we are engineered as hunter-gatherers). How does this place us for the future survival of us, as a species, and our planet?

Many words for thought. And yes, many friendships were rekindled or formed at this festival with members of said species (you can read how I fared at two Writing NSW Kids and YA festivals, here and here). It’s always great to meet others spellbound by this sometimes-crazy world of writing. 

On that note, hope your writing is crazy, but only in a good way 😉

Rebecca

 

 

 

 

Kidlit for Christchurch – on Now!

NOW CLOSED!

On Friday March 15, a gunman opened fire in two Christchurch mosques, Masjid Al Noor and Linwood Masjid Mosque. During this terrorist attack, 50 people lost their lives and 48 people were injured.

Members of the kidlit community are making a stand against hatred and Islamophobia, and showing solidarity with the victims and affected Muslim communities. The auctions and raffles on this page will support the United for Christchurch Mosque Shootings fundraiser, which aims to help with the immediate, short-term needs of the grieving families. Items on offer range from query letter and manuscript critiques through to books and memorabilia.

The auctions and raffles opened on March 24th at 12:01 AM EST and will close March 27th at 11:59 PM.

So don’t delay!

And best of luck with your bids and entries 🙂

Rebecca

The Ways YA Books Isolate Teens

Hi all,

school summer holidays (yep, it’s summer where I’m at) has meant limited time to write. Time has been swallowed up by chauffeur duties for socialising offspring, working at the bookstore – did I tell you I now work as a bookseller? More on that, perhaps, in a future blog – and melting under the Australian sun.

I have found time, however, to catch up on some long overdue reading, tackling the TBR book pile near my bed with joy (and just a little vengeance), as well as blog posts on books, writing, and everything in between.

This post, from teenage blogger, Vickywhoreads (who has more great posts, by the way) piqued my interest and is well worth a read for YA readers and writers, no matter your age.

One of the main points Vicky makes is that the people who buy books have a voice on what gets published, and that people who don’t buy as many books (like teens, who usually have limited disposable income) don’t have as strong a voice, making it harder for teens to influence the market they read and harder for them to have a real say in what is available.

As they say in business (publishing being no exception), money talks.

Also, with many adults buying and reading YA, this is leading to YA characters behaving in a more adult-like way, not truly reflecting the teen experience (I don’t know about you, but I’ve read many YA characters saying and doing things I wouldn’t have thought, or known, to say or do at their age.)

This influence by adults is also flowing down to the lower end of the YA market, in terms of the availability and range on offer. As Vicky says,

“I went through 2+ years where I didn’t read anything for pleasure, because I couldn’t find a YA book that appealed to me . . . We need lower YA and YA/MG mixes. Because without them, the world is losing so many readers in the span of a few years, just because all the books in the YA category are intimidating and seemingly for adults.

This concerns me to no end, not only as a writer with a manuscript which sits squarely in the lower end of the YA range, but also as someone who believes that reading for pleasure is one of life’s greatest experiences. One I’d hate to do without due to lack of interesting material, whether now as an adult, or back in my early teens.

What do you think? Do you think YA books are failing to correctly portray the teenage experience? Is the YA market representing what adults want, rather than teens? 

Would love your thoughts.

Rebecca

Some Middle Grade Books Are for Teens

Ever since an agent suggested one of my manuscripts straddled the “fence” between middle grade and young adult fiction (making it harder, in the agent’s eyes, to clearly market this work to publishers), I’ve been more than a little interested in how books are slotted on bookshelves and how often this categorisation restricts potential readership.

As Krysta from Pages Unbound so eloquently puts it in the below post, a good story is a good story, regardless of how it is marketed. It’s well worth a read. 🙂 (Her post also touches on the viewpoint by some that middle grade books are somehow inferior to young adult, but don’t get me started on that – not this week anyway. 😉 )

Hope you’re gearing up for a bookish Christmas!

“Middle-grade” is simply a marketing label meaning a certain age range might like the book. It has nothing to do with the quality of the story. If you search “What grades are middle books are written for?” you will find plenty of articles asserting that middle-grade novels are written for ages 8-12.  This definition may be surprising to some because it indicates that middle-grade novels can skew younger than middle school level.  However, the definition is interesting to me because it creates an abrupt cut-off between MG and YA, with eighth graders suddenly becoming the target audience of a book market that is much darker and much more focused on romance.  In reality, however, reading does not work like this.  Children do not suddenly change all their reading habits when the clock strikes midnight on their birthday. Indeed, upper middle-grade books can continue to appeal to some teens. […]

Read more via Some Middle-Grade Books Are for Teens — Pages Unbound | Book Reviews & Discussions

How Do We Get Students to Enjoy Writing Again?

“There is accumulating evidence that writing instruction in schools is becoming limited and test results indicate a decline in students’ ability to write.”

A week ago, my sixteen-year-old son told me that creative writing is pretty much off the agenda for his core senior high school English curriculum. According to him, creative writing has been taken out of mandatory English in the Higher School Certificate, the credential awarded to secondary school students who successfully complete senior high school in our state of Australia. The focus is purely on structured forms of writing, namely essays.

It did not sit well with me.

man wearing t shirt holding book
Photo by Min An on Pexels.com

A day later, I stumbled upon this article, posted by the SBS (Australia’s Special Broadcasting Service). It raised concerns that the mass standardisation and inflexibility of Australia’s school literary curriculum is stifling free-thinking and creativity, as well as running the risk of inhibiting a sense of individual identity in students. The article also suggested a correlation between the current decline in Australia’s literary outcomes and our students’ diminishing enjoyment of the creative process of writing. Innovation is being suppressed.

This is disturbing.

And this is why.

Throughout history, the world’s greatest discoveries have occurred through imagination and exploration (physical and abstract). By limiting writing instruction to procedural formats, we risk squashing our students’ ability – and desire – to question and create (the areas of science and mathematics in particular, come to mind). And our students are the future, this planet’s future. They are the ones who will, most likely, come up with solutions to the issues that surround all of us now.

Whatever happened to thinking outside the box? I doubt we would have planes, the internet or even the modest little light bulb without it.

Like I said, disturbing.

The curriculum needs review.

Would love your thoughts…

 

Traditional or Self? Jane Friedman’s Key Book Publishing Paths for 2018

Hi all,

since 2013, publishing industry blogger and author-entrepreneur, Jane Friedman, has released an informative annual chart detailing the current book publishing paths available to authors.

This year’s chart is now available, as a PDF download via The Key Book Publishing Paths: 2018 — Jane Friedman

As Jane says in her post:

…”there is no one path or service that’s right for everyone all the time; you should take time to understand the landscape and make a decision based on long-term career goals, as well as the unique qualities of your work. Your choice should also be guided by your own personality (are you an entrepreneurial sort?) and experience as an author (do you have the slightest idea what you’re doing?)”

A huge thank you to Jane for the work she does in communicating the ever-changing publishing landscape to authors.

I hope you find Jane’s chart useful and, whichever path you take, I wish you all the success 🙂

Rebecca