Wednesday, July 29, 2009

The Emerging Writer's Festival, part eight.

Hi all,

The Best Way Forward was the last session I attended at Melbourne’s Emerging Writer’s Festival. It discussed avenues a writer could use to improve their writing.

Steve Amsterdam told us a story that turned some of my prejudices around, but reinforced others. He was born in America to a literary agent mother. As a child she let him read her slush pile (a great way to learn what works and what doesn’t). As a sixteen year-old he read pitches and synopsis sent to her and she let him send out rejection letters. He then worked for Random House for a number of years, before moving to Australia and competing a Master of Creative Writing at Melbourne University.

Now you would think that someone with his background would have a big advantage in getting published. That was not to be. He joked that he used to work for the biggest publisher in the world, but was finally published by the smallest publisher in the world, an Australian independent.

He said the Master of Creative Writing concentrated too much on theory, but the good thing about it was workshopping with some of its students. They have met once a month for the past three years and he likes their varied and reasoned prejudices. They sound a bit different to the people I did my masters with, most of whom worked for the Canberra public service and didn’t seem interested in critiquing (probably because most of them didn’t seem interested in reading, and except for a few of us who were writing genre fiction, they also seemed to have trouble thinking of anything to write about).

I wonder if Steve asked his mother to be his agent.

Rijn Collins has had over seventy short stories published. To get her writing out to the world she started an online workshop and they created their own online magazine.

I felt a bit downcast at hearing their stories as I am having trouble finding a suitable workshop.

Stu Hatton, a poet (dressed all in black) and creative writing teacher at Deakin University spoke next. He said a mentorship, organised and paid for by the Australian Society of Authors, with Dorothy Porter had really helped him. For a mentorship to succeed the student and mentor have to be able to relate to each other’s work. I found it interesting that Andrea Goldsmith, who was in a relationship with Dorothy Porter, also worked or works as a writing teacher at Deakin University.

Stu also said he leaves anything he was written to stew for a while and he tried to quell his desire to impress.

Poet Pooja Mittal has an editor as a mentor.

If only I could find a suitable mentor.
If only I could find a suitable workshop.
If only writing and life and everything was easy.
But it seems Malcolm Fraser was right.

The festival had finished for me. I felt the best session was Seven Enviable Lines for the amount of information imparted. Just Write Damn It was good for motivation and the Great State Divide got me thinking about all the white man’s guilt inside me.

Overall, at $40 for the weekend, the festival was too good a value for any unpublished writer living in Melbourne to miss. I had to travel down from Wangaratta and stayed two nights, so it cost me a bit more, but I still found it excellent value and left with lots of ideas to think about and implement.


Sunday, July 26, 2009

my writing week 2(30)

Hi all,

The only way I will meet this month's deadline is if aliens abduct me and my computer and zoom me off at light speed, slowing time outside the ship. Then, after deciding I was not the threat I appeared to be, returning me at the end of the week. But I would probably spend all my time trying to get onto facebook, myspace and twitter.

I am two-thirds of the way through editing chapter seven of Stalking Tigers. I had planned to be at the end of chapter nine by now. Bloody tax office: it was all their fault. I spent over an hour on the phone to one of their customer service people. She didn't have a clue, and then passed me onto a tech person who seemed to be be reading from the same manual: our clients are morons, treat them as such. All I wanted to do was put in a tax deduction for a work related course I had done, but stupid Etax wouldn't let me. So I kept on fiddling and wasting time, all for a tax saving of $15 or so (the deduction was for $85). Aliens should abduct them, they're the real threat. I should know, I've worked for the ATO.

I critiqued a story. Yaaa me. It was an okay story, but had a convoluted twist at the end where the main character suddenly did something without there being any clues to her motivation for doing it. You can have twists, but they have to make sense, like in the movie Drag Me To Hell, which had a coin/button in the envelope to explain it. I should have seen it coming.

I didn't have time to write my final post on the Emerging Writer's Festival, hopefully I will have post it on Thursday.

The Melbourne Writer's Festival guide appeared in the Age a week or so ago. It was sub-titled: War meets Humour, Mystery meets Sci-fi..., so I hoped for a few science fiction sessions, but all I found, after wasting my time trawling though its 27 pages, was one session with the only science fiction writer mentioned, who wouldn't even be there in person: China Melville interviewed via satellite. Woowee. I am not going.


Monday, July 20, 2009

My writing week 2(29)

Hi all,

Two weeks into my first deadline period and I have an awful lot of editing to do in the next 12 days to achieve my current deadline. I am a third of the way through editing chapter seven of Stalking Tigers. Chapter six was the first chapter that actually decreased in size, by about 450 words, while being edited. It's unfortunate that I seem to have so little time to work on it as I am enjoying it when I do.

For the second week in the past four weeks I failed to make the deadline for a critique that I was working on for critters. I had read the story twice and written comments all over it, but I only had half an hour to write it up. I think, as with the other story, a part of me was wary of destroying the confidence of its writer by pointing out every thing I considered needed fixing.

I actually read some fiction, while sitting in a waiting room, I've am still too tired to read at night.

I got angry when I heard that the Productivity Commission have recommended, with little evidence of its benefits to consumers, the removal of copyright import laws (with three years grace between the passing of the law and it coming into effect). This will mean the bookstores like Dymocks and chain stores like Big W will import copies of books from overseas rather than wait to see if an Australian printed and published version is put out. So Australian publishers will not get the profits of selling Australian versions of overseas authored books. Less profits, means less money to take a chance on new Australian authors, and less money to spend promoting them. It will also mean that any Australian author who signs a contract with an overseas publisher risks the oversea's version being imported and competing against the Australian version (assuming they also have a book contract here). Usually overseas versions attract less royalties for an author. Dymocks and Big W may bring in remaindered overseas stock for which the author will receive nothing.

The Productivity Commission wants to do this because it thinks, having no data to prove it, that books might become slightly cheaper in Australia - that's if Dymocks and Big W don't just pocket any difference. Australia's number one selling bookstore, Angus and Robertson/Borders, disagrees with changing the current laws. Yaa for them. Similar changes to copyright were introduced in New Zealand, destroying their publishing industry. If the Rudd Government introduces laws to implement these changes I will be voting Green in the next election. I will also never set foot in Dymocks again.


Saturday, July 18, 2009

The Emerging Writer's Festival part seven

Hi all,

This is the seventh – yeah I’ve milked my attendance for all its worth – post on the Melbourne’s Emerging Writing Festival, held in the last weeks of May this year. I went to nine sessions over the second weekend. In this post I cover two sessions, the first, Out of the Mouth of Babes, was about writing for someone else and the second was a debate Art Vs Craft.

After the Crashing and Bashing and Smashing Through session, I found myself sitting in the Yarra Room as panellists for the next session set up. I had no idea what the session was about, but having nowhere pressing to go I remained and hoped that science-fiction had been secreted into the programme, but judging by the quarter-filled room, it was more likely to be a session on poetry. Eventually, the moderator announced that it was about ghost-writing and writing for others. I thought they might have something interesting to say so I stayed and listened.

Rhod Ellis-Jones spoke about writing speeches for the lord mayor and other political people. He surprised, when asked by an audience member if he would write a speech about an issue he had opposing views to, by saying that he wouldn’t work for someone who had different views to his.

Matt Davies told us how in awe he was of the front of one of the people whose biography he had ghost written when he saw them on television explaining how difficult it was to write one particular section of the book. Amazingly, Matt seemed content with no one knowing he had written a number of so-called autobiographies.

Adam Rozenbach, a comic who writes for a lot of television programs, said he even wrote for shows he thought were crap.

It was time for lunch and to watch the crowd of gathering angry Indian students in Federation Square. They were protesting about perceived racist violence directed against them.

I was late getting back to the town hall and opened the door of the Yarra Room to see Bugs Bunny standing behind the lectern. Thinking I was about to step into an alternative reality, I watched as Bugs spoke for the art side of the debate. Bugs said that when writing art there is no need to worry about a plot. He used the novel The Road by Cormac McCarthy as an example. It’s about father and son wandering along a road a few years into a nuclear winter. I’ve read The Road and it is more a moment in time than a story where the main character set about achieving some life affirming goal. Besides survival, the father and son’s major goal is getting to the ocean, just to have a look, otherwise they would just sit down and die.

Bugs then ripped his head off revealing poet Nathan Curnow. He sat down, immediately stood back up and argued the craft side. I am not sure which side won.

Elmer Fudd did not follow, instead it was Kirk Marshall. He wrote A Solution to Economic Depression in Little Tokyo, 1953, a 2007 Aurealis-nominated graphic novelette. He spoke rapidly and used lots of academic language, rendering his argument incomprehensible to most of the audience. Somewhere in his stampede of words he probably defined what art and craft were, but I am not sure. He mentioned a letter of compliant against Jonathon Frazen’s award winning novel The Corrections – It’s about the lies four members of a family tell to each other, themselves and the world. The letter writer complained of the lack of story in The Corrections. I found The Corrections engrossing as the lies the family had survived on for years slowly unravelled. From memory, it, like The Road, did not have a central plot where a major goal had to be achieved.

So the main message I was getting was that art based writing paid little attention to plot.

Krissy Kneen, whose memoir Affection, a memoir of Sex, Love, and Intimacy will be published by Text Publishing in August 2009, was the last to speak. She said art without craft is just wankery, but craft without art becomes a template, the same old same old.

I have always leaned more to craft than art, or substance over style. I’m no fan of incomprehensible poetry. The science-fiction novel I am working on has a strong plot. It very much follows the template of the Hero’s Journey, but not by design, that just happened. Originally it was a novella with a hanging ending and the journey only just beginning, but as I expanded it into a novel it started going through the other stages of the Hero’s Journey. Is it also a work of Art? It is for me. As I wrote in an essay for my master of creative writing on the aesthetics of writing: the art worthiness of a piece of writing is decided by those judged to be judges (usually upper class, private educated, white males).

In my last post on the emerging writer’s festival I will cover a session called the Best Way Forward, where writers told us how they succeeded in getting published.


Sunday, July 12, 2009

My writing week 2(28)

Hi all,

I was just reading about mega-seller Jodi Pilcout's writing day. She gets up at 5.30 and goes for a hike - doesn't say how long - and then presumably has breakie and showers and gets the kids off to school before spending the rest of the day writing until the kids return. If she has a half-hour lunch, that would be about 7 hours writing. No wonder she's written about 19 novels. But then, a little further on I read that on average she gets 250 emails a day from fans and she claims to answer every one of them. Answering 250 emails would take me more than seven hours, even if I had a series of standard cut and paste responses depending on which book they mention.

Anyway, I reckon if I had seven hours spare for writing I would quickly find other very important things to do. Some of them might even have some link to writing, like writing blog posts. Surely Jodi has a blog too, probably a couple, maybe even a PA to write them for her.

Anyway, my first week of editing Stalking Tigers under the supposed duress of deadlines did not go well. I finished redrafting chapter six and I am now editing it, but I had hoped to be nearly finished chapter seven. So what went wrong. Well, I have been recording VCR tapes onto DVDs and my VCR started to die, so I spent time fiddling with it, before going out and buying a new one. My watch band broke three times and I successfully, or so I thought, reconnected its links twice, before going out and buying a new watch. The lawns were getting a bit long, so I got out the lawn mower and its front wheel jammed, but I managed to fix it (yaaa, I didn't have to buy a new lawn mower). My printer jammed and I decided to replace its printer cartridge in the hope that might fix the problem. But when trying to cut the new cartridge out of its packet the scissors fell apart. Have I set a scene for you? Even the toilet brush broke in half while I was cleaning the toilet.

I did manage to critique a story though. I had read that one of the common faults in stories occurs when a writer glosses over action scenes, for example, instead of describing a fight, they tell the reader there was a fight and who won it - presumably the main character - and then continue on with the story. Well I finally came across one of those stories on critters. I pointed out that the author's continual baulking at action scenes destroyed any tension in the story.

I also read a few chapters of a novel for the first time in a while.

Hopefully nothing breaks on me this week so I can spend more time writing.


Thursday, July 9, 2009

The Emerging Writer's Festival, part six.

Hi all,

Day two of my weekend at Melbourne’s Emerging Writer’s Festival began with a session called Crashing, Smashing and Bashing Through. It was the first panel to have a real-life science fiction writer on it, so there is at least one emerging science-fiction writer getting published who has opinions on writing. His name was Chris Morphew. He told us that he had 376 rejections before he met a publishing assistant at church (and here I was thinking that everyone who worked in publishing worshipped satan). This publishing assistant mentioned a series of young adult books that they wanted ghostwriters for. Chris applied. They liked his work and after her repeatedly pitched his own science fiction series The Phoenix Files to them, they agreed to publish it. He said don’t be afraid to have ridiculous ambitions.

Freelance writer and journalist Sarah Ayoub said it was important to call yourself a writer. I have had problems with calling myself a writer, but after writing/editing a novel on every day for the past year and a half, I figure I am entitled too. I think it was in the first session I attended at the festival that the moderator asked for a show of hands from the writers in the audience and collectively we slowly put our hands up, showing our insecurity about calling ourselves writers.

Sarah said it was important to showcase your work, such as on a website. She recommended finding someone whose career you admire to ask to become your mentor. Would many Australian science-fiction authors have the time or inclination to mentor? I know one who does. Finally Sarah said it was important to network, both face to face and on social network sites. Twitter was good for plugging her blog. I have since joined twitter and use it to plug my blog.

Novelist Kathryn Heyman had an original pitching idea. She suggested you say in your pitch covering letter that you met the agent/editor at a writer’s festival, even if you didn’t. Just make sure they actually went to that writer’s festival. She said only approach agents after you have written the good book. This was mentioned a few times throughout the festival, especially by writing teachers who were amused by their students asking questions about getting published before they had written anything.

She felt that knowing what your main character wants is essential to the writing of a good book. Well the central character in the novel I am writing has a number of desires, most of all to survive the situation he finds himself in. To survive, he needs to find out what is going on in the mind of the person who caused his predicament.

My next post on the Emerging Writers Festival will be a combined post on two of sessions one of which was a debate on Art versus Craft.


Sunday, July 5, 2009

My writing week 2(27)

Hi all,

I am not in the most positive mood at the moment - except for the readers of this blog, I seem to be surrounded by uncaring morons - so it's probably not a great time to be conducting a mid-year review of my writing efforts this year, but here goes anyway.

At the start of the year I wrote:

I want to finish the last three chapters of the first draft of Stalking Tigers. I then want to tidy it up so I can put it out into the critiquing world. While it is being critiqued...I want to rewrite a novel I wrote the first draft of back before I did a few writing courses. Finally, I want to redraft Stalking Tigers after it has been critiqued. I should finish writing the first draft and have time to tidy it up by the end of January. I will then give myself six months, to the end July, to rewrite the other novel. This leaves five months to write a second draft of Stalking Tigers.

James Spader as a barman in some obscure movie said: How do you make God laugh? Make a plan. Ha Huh. I did finish the first draft of Stalking Tigers, but it was more like five chapters and 25,000 words, and it took me to sometime in March, if I recall correctly. Since then I have been editing it, but what was supposed to be just a structural/grammar/punctuation/consistency edit has turned into very much changed second drafting. I have redrafted the first five and half chapters, or 30,000 words, with about 100,000 to go.

At the rate I am going it will take me to the end of the year to finish it, which isn't good enough. My output must increase. Rather than some arbitrary word limit, I will give myself a major deadline of 28th September to finish it. With weekly deadlines of a chapter a week to start with, building up to two chapters a week, so I finish the whole redrafting in 12 weeks.

So the plan is:

chapters 6-12 by the 2nd August
chapters 13-21 by the 30th August
chapters 22-28 by the 28th of September

I can hear God laughing again, and I'm an atheist.


Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Emerging Writer's Festival, part five.

The Pitch was the final session of the Saturday I attended the Emerging Writer’s Festival. The ground floor hall of Melbourne’s town hall was, once again, packed with about 300 writers eager to be told, at least I was, that it wasn’t as hard to pitch to publishers as everybody else had said. This session was one that had piqued my initial interest in the festival.

Most of the publishers were from small independent magazines and not from the major book publishing houses.

Chris Flynn the editor of Torpedo magazine suggested that when pitching to him, or any other publisher:

1. Read the submission guidelines
2. Read the magazine
3. Don’t keep on sending the same stories out
4. Submit one story to a particular magazine at a time
5. Don’t say how wonderful the story is and go on about your previous publications, the story will be judged on its merits.
6. Be nice.

Nothing surprising there, except for number five, as I have been told that many publishers are interested in a writer’s previous publications, which would seem the case, as successful writers are a useful marketing tool for a magazine.

Emily Clark from Aduki Independent Press, which publishes non-fiction books, essays and magazines, suggested the following:

1. Know the publisher
2. Know your market: tell the publisher who will read your book.
3. Don’t burn your bridges

A while back I put the petrol and incendiary devices in the back shed, but I haven’t locked it yet.

Editors from Going Down Swinging, Stop Drop and Roll, Framelines, Meanjin and Tresspass also spoke.

I was disappointed with this session because the speakers seemed to be more concerned with pitching their magazine to the audience, rather than giving me some insight into how to get them to read my submission. For the first time that day I noticed members of the audience leaving, but perhaps it was getting close to their dinner times.

Overall, the first day was a very good informational and motivating experience. I came away feeling energised about writing and determined to brake through.

On Sunday I went to four more sessions, the first of which, Crashing and bashing and smashing through, will be commented on in my next post.