Revisions, here I come

I’ve been back from Fiona McIntosh’s Masterclass Conference for a couple of weeks now, and I’m still energised by the fantastic experience. Three days spent in the glorious surrounds of Clare Valley wine country was amazing enough; being able to absorb the publishing and writing wisdom that abounded was priceless.

The fabulously talented and entertaining Michael Robotham was the key note speaker. We also heard from a host of other terrific speakers: publishers, book sellers, website designers, you name it, they were there.  I also reconnected with writers who I attended Masterclass with back in 2013, and got to make new writing friends. Just being surrounded by those of a like mind was brilliant.

And the icing on the cake was being asked by the two publishers to whom I pitched my book to submit my manuscript.

[Insert goofy grin]

Unfortunately, I had to confess that I’d only just finished a first draft of the thing two weeks before the conference (ah, the timing) but both were very supportive, encouraging me to take the time needed to polish my book until it was as blindingly shiny and brilliant as possible before submitting.

So guess what I’ll be doing for the foreseeable future?

It’s exciting and daunting all at once. I’m just lucky my daughter  – assisted by the cat – made me some motivational posters.

Just the thing to keep me going …

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Conference Time and Tackling the “To be Read” Pile

Oh,  I’m getting very excited.

This time next week I will be happily ensconced in a conference I’ve been dying to attend: the Fiona McIntosh Masterclass Inaugural National Conference –  #fionamcmasterclass – held over three days in the gorgeous wine country of South Australia’s Clare Valley.

It’s a chance for those of us lucky writers who’ve completed one of Fiona McIntosh’s brilliant Masterclasses to network with one another and, of course, to meet and absorb the wisdom of all the special guests, including keynote speaker and internationally renowned crime writer,  Michael Robotham.

There’s even a chance to pitch to publishers from the likes of Penguin Random House, Harper Collins/Voyager, Simon & Schuster and Allen & Unwin – so you can bet your life I’m polishing up my pitch performance like a mad woman!

It’s a full programme, but I hope to have a bit of down-time to catch up on my reading – which, as the size of my ‘to be read’ pile might indicate, has fallen by the wayside:

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(Confession: I also have a TBR shelf and a TBR box, but we won’t go there).

But here’s my dilemma: which book do I pick?

One from the bottom?

The middle?

Or do I choose by author, or genre, or colour of the cover …

Any suggestions, fellow read-a-holics?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Tools of the Writing Trade

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The longer I write, the more tools I seem to carry around in my writer’s tool box.

Tools that are necessary for me to get the job done.

Yes, rattling around in that big old battered box are the usual suspects: Scrivener (BEST writing tool EVER for this little duck), my ColourHide Supersize notebooks, my cannot-write-without Papermate Profile pens in every colour of the rainbow.

But stuffed in amongst these tools are few more slightly unusual bits and pieces I’ve collected over the years. Things like:

My yoga mat. Yep. Hours at the desk can be hell on the body, so eighteen months ago I became a devotee of hatha yoga. It’s not the heated room, acrobatic type of yoga (my yoga class has an average age of sixty!) but it’s still a solid hour of tricky poses and balances with an instructor who, at the age of sixty-one, is still as flexible as a rubber Gumby melted in the summer sun. And when I can’t make it to Twisty Terry’s class, I do a session or two at home with a terrific app called Down Dog. Nothing better to work out all the knots.

My sneakers. These faithful shoes take me away from my desk and out for a walk for half an hour or more, every day. Blows the cobwebs out of the head marvellously, and one more weapon in the fight against bodily and mental stagnation. As one of my favourite authors, Vicki Pettersson, says, “You have to move to sit.” Amen.

My podcasts. Now I truly am sounding like an old fart, but I love to listen to podcasts on creativity and creative people when I drive or walk. My favourites at the moment are Off Camera with Sam Jones (a photographer to the stars who gets into deep discussions with the likes of Robert Downey Jnr, Jeff Bridges, Laura Dern, David Tennant and so many more); The Moment with Brian Koppelman (interviews about the pivotal moments that fuelled fascinating creative careers) and The Garret (interviews by writers for writers about writing). They spark so many ideas and thoughts for me about the creative process, and more often than not they inspire me to keep going when I’ve hit one of those “this is all too hard!!” gnashing-of-teeth moments. Creative struggles really are universal.

Tea for me. I literally guzzle tea when I write, but some days I can become a little too caffeinated for my own good. So I’ve been sipping the herbals – lemon & ginger, peppermint & lime, ginger & apple. And when I really want to spoil myself it’s one of Warndu’s Australian Native Teas. All brewed in my pretty robin-egg-blue teapot, of course!

So I guess what I’ve added to my tool box over time is actually a bit of self-care. And the difference is amazing. It’s made me slow down and approach novel writing like the marathon that it is. And I think I might now have a fighting chance of winning it.

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Back to (Writing) School

Just let me blow the dust off this thing …

*cue coffin-lid screech of hinges*

Well, I’ll be damned. The lights still work. The furniture is still here. The heating might be off and there’s a nasty old tangle of cobwebs in the corner, but other than that, I think this blog still works!

Ha. Even for someone who was never the most frequent of posters, it’s been a ridiculously long time since my last post. And reasons, there are a  few …

When I was last in these parts I was about to embark on a re-write of my manuscript, based on feedback I’d had from an agent.

Then two things happened.

Firstly, one of the agent’s existing clients went and started writing a series close enough to mine to take her off my radar as a potential representative. Bah, humbug. But this author’s series is bloody excellent, which makes that pill not half so bitter to swallow. Who can be upset about the existence of more fabulous books in the world?

Secondly – and the biggest reason for my absence – is that …

I stopped writing.

Completely.

For a year and a half. Maybe closer to two.

Why?

To take myself back to school. To writing school.

See,  I didn’t want to invest major time re-writing my manuscript only for it to not quite work again. And I remembered something Deanna Raybourn – one of my most favourite authors EVER – once said: that while she was still unpublished, her agent suggested she stop writing for a year and do nothing but read in the genre she was writing. She did just that, and bingo, the next book she wrote was the one that got published.

So that’s what I did.

I pulled out my favourite books – fast-paced mysteries and thrillers, both historical and contemporary, and also those with a supernatural slant – and not only did I read them, I studied them. How these authors had their sleuths go about their investigations; when and where they dropped in clues and red-herrings; how they opened chapters, and transitioned from the first act, to the second, to the third; the ways they used setting to move along the plot or add to the reader’s emotional experience; how they handled exposition, dialogue, character arcs, flashbacks, the tools they employed to create suspense and tension …

Lots of spreadsheets were made.

LOTS.

And then, I did a deep, deep, DEEP dive into the world of editor Shawn Coyne’s Story Grid.

Shawn Coyne is a book-publishing veteran of twenty-five years. He’s acquired, edited, published or represented the likes of David Mamet, James Lee Burke, Harlan Coben, Michael Connelly, Robert McKee, Steven Pressfield, Dava Sobel, Minette Walters, Ruth Rendell, Ian Rankin, to name but a few. And Story Grid is the method he developed to analyse manuscripts – specifically, to pinpoint where they’re not working and, so very importantly, why.

Now, that ‘why’ is a very big thing. Being told your book doesn’t work because the middle is ‘sagging’ is fine; but when you use the Story Grid tool, you can pinpoint the exact reasons for the sag. Maybe you’ve used too many of the same type of scenes in a row. Or you’ve forgotten to include vital elements of your chosen genre. Your main character’s internal object of desire might be too wishy-washy to sustain reader investment.  Whatever the case, it’s so much easier to fix a specific issue rather than to attack the vague problem of  ‘too much sag’.

Yes, the Story Grid method is very analytical and left-brained, but it made sense to me, so I sucked up everything Story Grid related that I could: Shawn’s book, blogs, podcasts, an on-line course.

(Go check out the Story Grid site. When you see the content available, you’ll know why I was busy for nearly two years!)

Then I applied what I’d learned to my work, saw the problems, and spent a long time re-thinking, re-plotting, re-imagining …

In fact, I basically set fire to my existing manuscript and started afresh. I’ve even got a new title … *drum roll* … ALL THAT REMAINS OF THE DEAD.

So, about ten months ago I finally started writing again, and just this week I finished a brand new first draft – with all its first draft holes and tangles and mess, but now I have the clay to work with, and the tool to home in on all its problems with laser-like specificity, and I’m raring to go. The weather even took a suitably ominous turn today, perfect for my eerie Victorian setting …

Eerie clouds

Revisions, here I come!

 

 

 

 

 

 

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The Query Journey Continues …

June? June? How the heckle can it already be June???

My apologies for my lengthy absence. Busy-ness has struck again … mainly in a very good form.

I’ve been querying my book. I’ve had a few “not quite right for me” rejections, which, call me strange, I did find encouraging; they were complimentary of my writing, and even if the agents were just being nice, it did give me a boost!

However, back in April, I had the exciting experience of opening an agent’s email, one who had requested my full manuscript, steeling myself for another rejection but only to find it was another kind of beast altogether: a request for a revise and resubmit.

As in, she wasn’t quite ready to say “yes” to representing me, but if I was willing to make the changes she suggested, she would have another look at my manuscript and reconsider.

Squee!

No guarantees, I know. But her suggestions make Very Good Sense, and come what may, I’m hopeful I’ll end up with a much stronger book when I’m done.

It’s a lot of work, though. Almost a complete rewrite. So my presence in the blogosphere may continue to be sporadic for a while to come. But it’s all good. And I got to spend almost a whole Sunday writing today, after an Adelaide Hills bush walk through the chilly morning mist, great inspiration for writing about a foggy Victorian London …

MIST

… and then the winter sun popped out to warm my study as I wrote.

WINDOW SUN

Note the blue lump in the window, which is actually a winter-hating cat in hibernation.

All in all, a perfect day! 🙂

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And what comes next, hey bust a … toe.

As I’ve  bemoaned elsewhere on the interwebs, I have managed to break a toe. The little one on my right foot, and the fourth toe I’ve broken in my accident-prone life, proving yet again that when God was handing out gross motor skills, I was definitely elsewhere. Probably falling off my bike or tripping down the stairs … or violently stubbing a toe.  :-\

According to the doc, it’ll take a good six weeks to heal. I’m supposed to stay off it as much as I can, which you’d think would really make me sit down and write more than ever, right? Well, yes, but I’m also quite amazed at how much a busted toe is messing with my writing.

No, I don’t type with my feet.

What I miss is my daily walk.

Nine times out of ten, when I walk, I’m able to nut out the plot problems that have stumped me, or I suddenly hear those lines of dialogue that are perfectly right, or I’m struck by those “Eureka!” moments when a character suddenly reveals the Really Big Secret they’ve been keeping  … none of which ever seems to come to me through grimly pounding away at the keyboard for hours on end, hoping that sheer “butt-in-chair” tenacity will solve everything.

Nope.

So I’ll have to come up with a substitute for the next few weeks. Some sort of mindless activity where the conscious mind can disengage, allowing the subconscious and all its problem-solving brilliance to come to the fore …

Toothbrushing?

Toilet scrubbing?

Fridge magnet rearranging?

“Keeping up with the Kardashians” watching?

Hmm. The choices are scarily endless.

 

 

 

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Hello from Query Land … and Cats

It’s mid-March, and I’m getting a little bit excited.

I’m about an inch away from finishing a thorough primping of my query letter. The original version was fine, but upon reflection, it really did need a bit of a “tjuz”. As soon as it’s as fabulous as this little black duck can get it, then woosh, out the door it shall go (and thump, shall go my weary head upon my desk).

Then it’s back to working on my short synopsis.

So hard.

So very freaking hard.

At least whenever I look up from my sweat-and-tear-soaked keyboard, I’ll have this ridiculousness to console me:

CATS IN A BOX (2)

“We’re gonna need a bigger boat … erm, box.”

I so want to join them. I bet a cat never had to write a synopsis.

Sigh.

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