Saturday, June 27, 2009

Death is a Funny Kind of Thing

I was never really into Michael Jackson. Even when I was a teenager in the 80's and Thriller was all the rage, I couldn't see why people made such a fuss of him. Then there were the accusations of child abuse. He was cleared by the courts, but that kind of stink never leaves, not really. From what I could see, the media and the public in general were pretty well sitting back with bated breath, desperate to see his next act of craziness.

Then he died. All of a sudden he's great again - back to the heady Thriller days when he could do no wrong and he was the best dancer, most talented musician, biggest genius ever produced - all over again.

Now, I'm all in favour of not speaking ill of the dead. And I think it's great that in death people tend to remember the good things and forget the bad. But I can't help feel that there's just the *tinyest* bit of hypocrisy here. Those same papers that happily ran that dreadful police-mug shot, and the images of him dangling his baby over the balcony, and all the stories about his infamous sleepovers, over and over and over again - now they're filled with countless and gushing tributes.

Whatever sells papers. But to me, it stinks.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Manuscript Assessment Services Revisited

In my first ever post, which feels like it was written a million years ago but was actually written in February, I lamented the fact that I was waiting for a professional assessment of the Ghost of Ping-Ling, and my wait seemed to be going on forever. It did finally come, about four weeks after I wrote that post. Was it worth it? At the time I thought it was. The assessor made some helpful comments and I acted on them, and I think the book is better for it. But now I think I could have achieved the same result without spending anything like the money I did, and in a fraction of the time.

If you pay to have someone assess your manuscript, it costs approximately $500 for 80,000 words. For that you get a 10-20 page report, detailing everything from plot holes to weaknesses in dialogue, character, grammar etc. You get ONE person's opinion, and they may or may not understand/appreciate/like the genre/style of what you have written.

Looking back over my assessor's report, there were some good and helpful things, like I said. But there was a heck of a lot of bumf as well. Many comments were made that were plainly subjective, objections were raised that demonstrated that the manuscript had not been read with particular care, and occasionally things were said that were so left-field I still don't understand the point that was being made. In fact, there was nothing helpful mentioned that wasn't also identified by friends who read and made comments - and their comments were free (except for bribes like bottles of wine etc).

Another interesting thing: the assessment service I used advertised that if a manuscript was considered "publishable" they would include a letter of recommendation to be passed on to agents and publishers. Of course, now that I read publishers and agents blogs, I discover such letters make not the slightest difference, and get thrown out along with the envelope they came in.

End result? In my (humble) opinion, these assessment services are a complete waste of time and money. It's far better to trust the opinion of friends, and to use online crit-groups like Online Writer's Workshop, which costs hardly anything and exposes your work to lots of informed readers, not just one.

You live and learn. What a difference five months can make.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

The Return of the Car

Anyone who read my entry of a month ago will know I had my car stolen around that time - the good old, rusty Laser which had been my companion on the road for many a smog-filled year. Well, yesterday evening we got a call from the police. The car had turned up, and now, as I type, it is once again happily dripping oil in our driveway. Am I happy about this? Well - I'm happy the idiot who stole it got arrested. I haven't felt very charitable towards them, particularly each evening when instead of spending time with my boys I've been freezing my bum off at a bus terminal. But on the other hand - we had a nice, generous insurance payout due this week, and now it looks like we'll get the car instead. It also stinks of cigarette smoke, and I'm yet to check what's under the seats or in the glove-box (the police told me to wear "strong gardening gloves" - very comforting).

Ah well - the long and the short of it is I'm really no worse off than before - and if all I have to complain about is a car that smells of cigarettes, perhaps I have nothing to complain about at all.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Stop Critting and Enjoy! (For Goodness Sake)

As much as I love OWW, it's a hard habit to break.

World Shaker is a hoot - it's my first foray into "Steampunk", and I'm engrossed by the setting, the characters, and the plot. I just can't stop critting it! I read it and I think "oh, you should use this word here" or "wouldn't it be better if you'd put this event here" or "the pace seems to be grinding a bit here". Then I have to thump myself hard on the forehead with said book (thankfully, it's not that big) to remind myself I'm supposed to be enjoying, not reviewing.

*Deep Breath*

It's not like there's much to crit. Here's a man who knows how to write. Take this example: "The main blast of Gillabeth's anger had passed, leaving only small gusts of contempt". If I wrote that line, I'd have it framed.

I don't normally go for the Dickensian, florid type language I've read in a few recent YA novels; there's a sense in which the authors are so in love with their own style and world that the story takes a back seat. This book has the balance right - an exciting, involving story coupled with humerous, rich language. Quite a gem!

Thankfully, Richard Harland is 22 years my senior. Plenty of time to catch up (cough).

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

The Hook in Action

How is it that I can write a thousand words of a novel without too much effort, yet a single paragraph of perhaps 50 is causing me no end of grief? I know the answer already - that single paragraph is the most important one in the entire story; it's the very first one, otherwise known as the "hook", the one readers (not to mention agents) look at and decide if they want to give you any more of their valuable reading time or drop you back in the book-bin.

Several minutes ago I experienced the hook in action. Having heard about a new release by fellow Adelaidean, Richard Harland - World Shaker - I thought I'd trundle along to Borders in my lunchtime and check it out. It took a little while to find it in the Vampires R Us section (otherwise known as Young Adult's Fiction), but I finally did. I opened to the first page, read the first paragraph, and Richard Harland leaped out, grabbed me by the scruff of the neck, dragged me forcibly to the counter and made me buy his book. Well - perhaps not literally, but he may as well have done. Chalk up one sale for Borders, courtesy of an extremely well written opening paragraph.



Will this help me develop my own hook? Not so much - Richard's style is Richard's style, not mine. Will it motivate me to continue scratching away until I find that hook? Absolutely definitely positively. Reading something like that just reinforces the importance of those first few words, and makes me even more determined to get it right, however long it takes.

All I need to do now is tear myself away from reading World Shaker.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Like Sands in the Hourglass

Finding time to write. It's the subject of countless author blogs, because it bothers the heads of countless authors - particularly those who hold down normal, non-writing type jobs (ie, most of them).

It's been a problem for me too. Last year it wasn't so bad - somehow I managed to squeeze in a few hours each evening before bed, even managing to bang out an 80,000 word novel in around six months. This year, I've found there simply aren't enough hours in the day. Possibly that's because our boys are sleeping a lot better, so my wife is going to bed later. It could also be something to do with the fact I'm writing one book, editing a second book, and critting on OWW, all at the same time. Maybe I shouldn't be surprised I feel as though there aren't enough hours in the day.

I've read the advice on countless blogs, and while some of it is helpful, some of it just doesn't suit me. The idea of getting up at 5am to get a few hours in before work makes me shudder. I can only imagine the quality of work I'd come out with at that hour of the day. At the same time, the evening is sometimes not good for me - by that time I'm tired and frazzled and ready for bed. But evening is all I have, so that's what I use, and more often than not I can produce something useful before climbing beneath the sheets.

I did read one useful thing, I can't even remember where it was. Somebody suggested you should always set a target of 1000 words a day. It's not much, but if you stick to it, the first draft of that 80,000 word book takes less than three months. Lately I've been trying to stick to that, and so far I've got 6000 words of Weight of Souls down. It takes me anywhere from half hour to two hours to write 1000 words, depending on my state of mind, my flow of ideas, and my level of motivation, but most times it's achievable. If I can stick with it, I might have a first draft ready by August.

Of course then I have to edit it, and judging from Ghost of Ping-Ling, that's much harder than writing it in the first place!

Monday, June 1, 2009

Short, Fast, Horrific Stories

Last time I wrote a short story was year six at school, which was cough-mumble-choke years ago. Then I read on an author blog that writing short stories is a great way to hone skills, and also gives the chance to enter one of the many competitions about the place. So, on Saturday night I was watching TV, and I got hit by a bolt of inspiration. I grabbed the new lap top and before I went to bed I'd managed to bang out something resembling a 1000 word story, set in a lift and called ... (drumroll) ... The Lift. It's horror (the genre, not the quality - though that's probably up for debate), which is a big leap from my normal comfortable stomping ground of YA fantasy.

Having scratched out the first draft, I put it on OWW before I went to bed. I mainly wanted to know if the ending was obvious, and the good thing about being in a different timezone to most of the OWW contributors is I can go to bed and wake up with crits in the in-tray. Sure enough, there were two, and they were both helpful and encouraging. One of them mentioned something called "Flash", and from the context it sounded like a competition. On further investigation I discovered the Australian Horror Writers Association and their annual short story competition. Closing date for submissions - midnight last night.

So, last night was feverish editing and rewriting, resulting in an 11.30 pm submission. I don't have any hopes at all - I know I was submitting a half-cocked entry, but the only thing I had to lose was the admission fee, the princely sum of $5. What I gain is experience, which, in this whole writing business, is the name of the game.