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

The Excitement of the Unexpected Runner Up

Hi all,

I’m thrilled to bits to announce that my quirky middle grade manuscript has been selected as Runner Up in the 2020 Writing NSW Varuna Fellowship. I can hardly believe it (and my bumbling blabbermouth MC has not stopped talking about it in my head)!

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

A HUGE thank you to the judges, Writing NSW, Text Publishing and the Varuna Writers’ House for the opportunity this award brings.

Click here if you are interested in learning more about the fellowship, including the winners, my fellow runner up (who happens to be a writer friend of mine so double the celebration!) and the highly commended.

Massive congrats to them all and I can’t wait to read their work one day!

Rebecca

Should Your Novel Catch a Virus? To Write or Not to Write Covid-19 Into Your Book

You’re in the middle of writing a novel, set in the first half of 2020. You’ve outlined your plot, developed comprehensive character sketches, and weaved together compelling story and character arcs. First (or second or tenth) draft is done, edits have been made. Things are looking good.

book on linen sheets
Photo by Daria Shevtsova on Pexels.com

Then the Covid-19 pandemic strikes. Do you:

a) continue on with your existing story, as is, or

b) modify it, to some degree, to include the pandemic and its horrific fallout?

This question came up yesterday during an online author event I attended – the author’s book is set in March 2020. I don’t believe it made any difference to the book in question, but there are other stories where it might.

It’s safe to say there are many novels being written, as well as some recently published, that are set in 2020. And some of these novels use prevailing political and social conditions to help drive the story, almost as a character. Given books published, or due to be published, in 2020 were written one, two, even five years ago, there is no way their writers knew back then what would transpire, come 2020. But it may affect the authenticity of some of their stories.

So I suppose my answer to the question above is: it depends on the story.

While my middle grade manuscript is set in present day, there is nothing in it that specifically says it is set in 2020. Also, I’m not prepared to tinker with my manuscript to include the pandemic, when the pandemic holds no relevance to the inciting incident, progress, or outcome of my story. To be honest, I’m not sure middle-graders want to be reminded of Covid-19 while reading stories that are supposed to be escapist in nature and (hopefully) funny. I know I wouldn’t at that age (will we want to be reminded of it at any age)?

However, I do wonder how many writers are considering changes to their work to include what has become the most defining event for humanity (so far) this century.

Time will tell.

Rebecca

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

 

 

Let Me Share Something – The Plot Whisperer Is Worth a Read

Beginnings hook readers. Endings create fans.

Love this quote from Martha Alderson’s writing craft book, The Plot Whisperer. My editor suggested I read this book after discussion on whether a key scene in my middle grade WIP would serve best as the story’s crisis or climax. (Yes, I’ve received my manuscript critique! I’ll share more about it in future posts but let’s just say, the feedback has left me even more excited and eager to get back to revising my story!)

Plot Whisperer

Anyway, back to The Plot Whisperer…

This book is one of the better books I’ve read on the craft of writing. Not only does Alderson cover all aspects of story structure, but she also provides simple-to-follow exercises to help you plan out your story’s plot (or discover its holes if, like me, you already have a fully-fledged plot).

I found Alderson’s plot planner tool really helpful in this regard, as were her discussions on “energetic points” (first turning point, second turning point, crisis and climax).

The only part I didn’t find useful was Alderson’s “Writer’s Way” sidebars. In these, I felt she went over the top about all the angst writers will suffer during the process. Have to admit, I’ve yet to experience many of the ones she mentioned – or have I just been lucky?

Nevertheless, it’s a book I wish I’d had BEFORE I started outlining my story, but not to worry, it’s still valuable. I plan to use Alderson’s plot planner as a guide to map my story’s plot elements again to fill in said holes – I just may not smother my planner in sticky notes, like she suggests. Besides, I used up my sticky note supply marking pages of her book. 🙂

Till next time,

Rebecca

Oh and the section on left-brain right-brain writing is definitely interesting. Learned a lot about myself from that…

How you read The Plot Whisperer and, if so, what did you think?

Are there any writing craft books you’ve found especially helpful, and why?

While the Manuscript’s Away, the Author Will Play

So earlier this month, my middle grade manuscript winged its cyber way to my editor for a critique on the good, the bad, and the ugly. You know, what works, what doesn’t work. Why. Big picture stuff.

IMG_3816
Time away from writing ain’t necessarily a bad thing

It was a good time to send it. I’d had enough.

Enough of reading the same words over and over.

Enough of second-guessing plot, characterisation, story arcs and character arcs, world-building, dialogue, pacing…The list goes on.

Beta readers had previously given feedback. Most I took on, some I didn’t.

I’d edited and edited and edited.

And still, my story didn’t feel quite right. The “big picture” didn’t feel quite right and me, being a detail-focused person, needed help to find out why.

So off it went and I’ve been waiting – well, no I haven’t. At the end of the month, I hope to have suggestions and direction for the best way forward but in the meantime, I’ve been doing loads of other things, like:

  • remembering I have a family – the humans (and dog) who’ve put up with my absences behind a closed office door, my often-incoherent rambling/complaining about my manuscript at the dinner table, my early morning cursing in front of my laptop (better than an alarm clock, I hear). At least it’s school holidays here at the moment, giving me ample time to make it up to them. 😊

  • remembering I have other interests – I’ve cheered my favourite tennis player, Rafael Nadal, at the ATP Cup, and burst into spouse-embarrassing song and dance at an Elton John Farewell Yellow Brick Road concert.
  • Books Whisper Duology
    Whisper duology

    binge-reading. Okay, I never actually gave up reading while writing, I just read a waaay lot less. Now I’m devouring books like the end of the world is near. From Lynette Noni’s Whisper duology to Maggie Stiefvator’s Sinner (companion novel to her Shiver Trilogy), and others in between. Absolute bliss.

  • binge-watching. Movies at the cinemas, movies on Netflix, series on Netflix (still not sure whether I love or only like The Witcher). Basically, I watched all those shows I’d avoided while gearing up for critique submission. Again, absolute bliss.
  • Pink Mini Roses
    My garden in bloom

    gardening. My patch of the world has been a tad neglected of late (like my family), but is now showing signs of recovery with tender-loving attention (like my family). If only we had oodles more rain (for the garden, not my family).

  • And then there’s my work as a bookseller. I’ve doubled my weekly shifts this year (from one day to two – with the occasional third shift thrown in)! I do love talking to the book-buying community, it’s like a special secret club. And let’s face it, there’s nothing like seeing all those new releases come in to remind you how far you (potentially) need to go to join them. 😏

So there you have it. The above isn’t a complete list, but I don’t want to hold you up any longer.

Do I miss my manuscript? Sort of. Okay, when I think about it I do, especially my characters. They’re like old friends. I like to think they’re off on a trip, hopefully with tales to tell and insights to share when they return.

And I’ll welcome them with open arms when they do (and also with a little trepidation). 😉

Wish me luck!

Rebecca

Have you ever had a critique of your writing work?

If so, how has it helped you (or not)?

 

Honoured to be Mentioned

Isn’t it funny how the things you do with no expectation of success often surprise you the most?

I was tickled pink recently to be longlisted, thrilled to be shortlisted, and absolutely delighted to make Top Five and earn an Honourable Mention in the Just Write for Kids Pitch It Competition, especially coming hot on the heels of being shortlisted (but missing out) on a mentorship in Pitch Wars.

JWFK Pitch It Comp Honourable Mention Certificate

The feedback I received from the Just Write for Kids judges was insightful and encouraging, and put a fire in my belly to push on with polishing and submitting my middle grade manuscript. I can’t thank them enough for that.

Receiving the Honourable Mention also reminded me of the importance of silencing niggly self-doubts and taking that leap of faith. You just never know where you’ll land. 

So where to from here? After further beta reader feedback (and no doubt further editing), my story will be off to my editor in January for her guidance and suggestions. Then more editing, I expect! Wish me luck!

Hope your writing puts a fire in your belly,

Rebecca

Have you ever taken a leap of faith that has landed you somewhere unexpected?

 

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!

 

Tuck Everlasting, an Everlasting Children’s Classic

A few days ago in a bookstore debate about classic children’s books, I was asked to name one that resonated with me. While there are so many to pick from, one leapt to mind, and not because the protagonist shares the name of my paternal grandmother. 🙂

Tuck Everlasting, written by American author, Natalie Babbitt, and published by Scholastic in 1975, is a beautiful story about a girl, a family and a mysterious spring in the woods. But it is more than that, for it asks: if you had the chance to live forever, would you?

Would you consider immortality a blessing or a curse?

With gorgeous imagery and symbolism (the protagonist talking to a toad about her troubles comes to mind) and memorable quotes (Don’t be afraid of death; be afraid of an unlived life, and Like all magnificent things, it’s very simple) which describe this book well, this children’s novel is beautifully crafted.

And how’s this for descriptive prose in the very first paragraph:

“The first week of August hangs at the very top of the summer, the top of the live-long year, like the highest seat of a Ferris wheel when it pauses in its turning. The weeks that come before are only a climb from balmy spring, and those that follow a drop to the chill of autumn, but the first week of August is motionless, and hot. It is curiously silent, too, with blank white dawns and glaring noons, and sunsets smeared with too much color. Often at night there is lightning, but it quivers all alone. There is no thunder, no relieving rain. These are strange and breathless days, the dog days, when people are led to do things they are sure to be sorry for after.”

*Sigh*

Tuck Everlasting deals poignantly with life, death, and the love and heartache between, in a manner sensitive to its intended young audience. it is a story about which rules to break, and which rules to not.

A true children’s classic, in my book. 😉

Rebecca

Which children’s book (or books) made an everlasting impression on you, and why?

When Trashing Is the Answer

Hi all,

I’ve spent a good deal of time editing a crucial chapter in my middle grade manuscript. Turns out, I’ve been wasting my time. It took the proverbial light bulb moment (after days of angst, mind you) to convince me I should have been revising instead.

analysis blackboard board bubble
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

You see, about a week ago I realised my main character had limited agency in this chapter. In other words, he wasn’t actively deciding his course of action against a dilemma he faced. In this one chapter, my story lost impact. After all, stories are ultimately about the choices characters make, whether good or bad.

So I threw the chapter out. Well, not at first.

At first, I tried to tweak it, massage it, change it a little here and a little there. After all, I had some really good stuff in there, some catchy sentences, pretty prose and the like. I wasn’t giving all that up without a fight (this is where the days of angst came in, a battle between head and heart).

Anyway, heart lost.

I threw the chapter out. Trashed it completely this time.

And wrote a new one.

I lost in order to win, begrudgingly admitting to myself that I was delaying the inevitable. In the middle of my delaying tactics, for a reason I cannot fathom, I remembered a post I read years ago. I remembered its underlying message:

Unless you make big changes, a revision isn’t worth doing.

Bam! Light bulb moment.

These wise words came from a post on the difference between editing and revising on Kidlit.com, website of freelance editor and former literary agent, Mary Kole. You can read Mary’s full post here. It’s worth a look if you’re stuck, if you know something is wrong with part (or all) of your manuscript, but are not sure what to do or where to go to fix it (Mary’s website is full of many other equally great posts too, I might add).

My work needed a leap of faith.

silhouette photo of a person jumping nearby green grass field during golden hour
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

As Mary says:

If you feel like you’re just tinkering, shovelling text like a kid pushing peas around his plate, be brave and try starting over completely. You know what you want to accomplish with the section, so just take a brand new run at it. Or maybe you’ll realise that the section wasn’t working and trash it entirely, or find another, better part that fits. Change is tough, especially when you’ve been working on something for years and are eager to see it in print. But it’s once you kick the ladder out from under yourself completely, I’ve found, that you discover resources and ideas you never could’ve imagined.

So I killed those catchy pretty darlings of prose, and added life to my story.

Don’t be scared to take the leap. See what you discover.

I wish you luck 🙂

Rebecca