Saturday, March 31, 2012

A is for... Author

I've been thinking about the word 'author' a lot recently. I'm not shy about telling people I'm a writer, but I have never used the word 'author' to describe what it is I do. And I'm wondering if I should. I am the author of all the books and stories I write. I am the author of this blog, if we get down to it.

Yet it's not a word I use for myself.

'Author' seems to imply something more than 'writer'. Perhaps an author is a published writer? But how do we categorize that? Is a self-published writer any more an author than a writer who is waiting to publish their work in a more traditional manner? Does the word author even have a place anymore, given anyone can publish whatever they like on their blog or in other online forums?

What do you think? Author or writer? Or are they actually the same thing?

And while we are talking about authors, one of my friends just became one! Check out her gorgeous cover here!

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Let's Talk About Sex

Sex in YA. It's a touchy subject, and one I find few people can agree on.

Personally, I think ignoring the fact teenagers have sex and refusing to acknowledge it in the books written for them is silly. It doesn't have to be graphic, or even 'on-screen', but teenagers are horny little creatures, and trying to write realistic characters without sex is difficult.

I'm not saying every character in every book needs to be doing it on a regular basis, but avoiding a sex scene where one is organic to the plot seems dishonest. There are sex scenes of various types in all three of my YA books, and the book I'm about to start has one too (this is going to be probably the most controversial one of all since the MC is only 14).

Writing sex scenes is hard. Especially in YA. You don't want to get graphic about it the way some adult romance novels do. It has to be simple and tasteful, but still show the power of the act. In one of my books the only sex scene is an attempted rape, and obviously that is portrayed in a very different way than the shy, fumbling attempt at expressing first love in another book.

How do you feel about sex in YA? Do you write it? Do you avoid it?

Monday, March 26, 2012

It's Not Easy to Kill Your Mother

I was trawling around my hard drive today, and came across this little story. I wrote it a long time ago, but it has things in common with the book I'm just finishing, so I thought I might share it...


It’s not easy to kill your mother. Yet that’s just what my brother, Jake, and I are going to do this afternoon. We have arrived at the hospice just before the 4.30pm shift change, counting on the confusion of that period to allow us the privacy we need. We do not speak as we walk down the corridor towards our mother’s room. The whole place is painted in bright, cheerful colours but it doesn’t do anything to mask the smell of sickness and death. Not even the disinfectant does that.

She has been here almost three months now, since the disease progressed so far we could no longer take care of her at home. It started with a slight slurring of her speech and difficulty in swallowing. Endless doctors and tests later she was diagnosed with motor-neuron disease, something Jake, a paramedic, had suspected from the start. It has just started to affect her lungs and we know that it’s only a matter of time before she becomes dependent on a machine to breathe. We know she wouldn’t want that, wouldn’t want to live that way. So Jake and I have come here today to kill her.

The nurses are all milling in the hallway as we walk towards our mother’s room. We pause to say hello to a few we know well. Jake and I have been permanent fixtures for the three months our mother has been here, both of us having basically put our lives on hold to take care of her.

And there she is. She seems so small now, her body curling in on its self as it wastes away. She is bone thin, skin stretched tight over her skeleton. But her eyes remain the same. I can look into them and see my mother still exists somewhere in this ruined body, trapped with no way to communicate, no way out. Except death.

“Ready?” Jake looks over at me and I glance at him, realising we have not spoken or locked eyes since leaving the house.

“I guess…” I am uncertain now, not sure I can do this.

“Say goodbye,” Jake instructs, always the boss. We both lean over to kiss our mother’s hollow cheeks.

“It’s okay, Mama,” Jake whispers. “It’ll be over soon. We won’t let this go on any longer.” Mama’s eyes are clear as she looks at us both and I know this is what she wants. But still I cannot stop the tears from rolling down my face.

“Goodbye,” I manage, “I love you.”

Jake and I pick up a corner each of the pillow and, as we lift it, our eyes meet once more. Jake is crying too, the first time I remember seeing him cry since he was fourteen and broke his arm falling out of Johnny DeMarco’s treehouse. He gives an almost imperceptible nod and we lower the pillow over our mother’s face, pressing it down to suffocate her.

Five minutes, without any struggle, she is dead.

Do let me know what you think, okay?

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Childish imagination

My older son has become an avid reader. YAY! It's so much fun to see him get involved in the world of the book he's reading and how it extends to the games he plays with his friends and his younger brother. He's reading Harry Potter right now, and suddenly it's all about magic. He comes home to Hogwarts and his bike (or scooter) is the Hogwarts Express.

I remember that kind of childish imagination from my own experiences. I was convinced if I just found the right wardrobe, I could get to Narnia too. I had my own desert island for a while too, where I would play Treasure Island or Swiss Family Robinson.

As I grew up, those imagining games I played became stories I'd write down. And they still are. I wonder if that little seven-year-old in his cape realizes that what he's doing on his bike isn't all that different to what his mother does at her computer...

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Slump and funk

I'm in a real funk at the moment. I'm almost finished my 5th rewrite of The Boyfriend Plague, and I'm stuck. I don't know how to tie all my myriad plot threads together to make a satisfying ending. All my big climaxes have happened, but trying to write an actual ending is making me crazy.

Being a tiny bit depressed probably isn't helping. I didn't expect getting knocked out of ABNA to have affected me so much, but it really has. Don't know why. It's not like it hasn't happened before. I guess I had high hopes this year.... I got a fantastic review though, one of the best I've ever had for anything, and that softened the blow. A little.

How do you deal with a writing funk? Do you try to write through it, or do you just give it up for a while and come back when you're in a better frame of mind?

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Books and Movies

On the eve of the release of the Hunger Games movie, I feel like maybe it's time to take a look at books and their cinema adaptations. I'll be honest here. I haven't read Hunger Games yet. I've been wanting to, but it's always out of the library. But to be honest, I probably won't go and see the movie either. I want to see it, but not until after I've read the book. If I see the film first, it might ruin the book for me.

I'm having the opposite problem right now with We Need To Talk About Kevin. I saw the film a while ago and was blown away by it. Dark, disturbing, honest and very real, it's everything I look for in a movie. I think it's probably the best film I've seen in several years. But I hadn't read the book before I saw it. Now the book is sitting in my to-be-read pile, and I'm not sure if I want to read it. I'm afraid reading the book will ruin the movie for me. I've never had this problem before.

I'm always prepared to be disappointed by cinematic renderings of books. Some are better than others, but in general, the book is always better. When I come across a film that really is as good, or better than the book, I take note. It's a short list....

The Sweet Hereafter (film by Atom Egoyan, book by Russell Banks).
Rumble Fish (film by Francis Ford Coppola, book by S E Hinton - interestingly, this is the only film of Hinton's books I do think is better. Coppola's film of The Outsiders doesn't do it for me.)
The Green Mile and The Shawshank Redemption (both by Frank Darabont from books by Stephen King)

And really, that's about it. Winter's Bone was as good as the book, but not better.

Can you think of any films that are better than the book?

Monday, March 19, 2012


On the eve of the next big ABNA (Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award) announcement, I have to admit to a wee flutter of nerves. I didn't think I would, being a seasoned veteran of 3 years now, but I do have butterflies. And I'm obsessively refreshing the ABNA page in case the quarter-finalists list is posted earlier than it has been in previous years.

So far, it hasn't been. I'm going to try and hold off checking again until just before I go to bed. If they're not up then, they will almost certainly be up by the time I get up in the morning. In a way I almost hope my name's not on the list because I'm not sure I can take another month of worrying about making it through the next round!

If you're entered, good luck! Drop by and let me know if you make the cut. Or if you don't. And check out the ABNA forums tomorrow. They're always entertaining after a round of cuts....

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Beta Reading

I've been doing quite a bit of beta reading for other writers over the last few months, and it seems that everyone is looking for something different from a reader.

As someone who used to work as a proofreader, and who does a lot of proofreading still, I can't help but notice when commas are misplaced, or there are spelling errors. So I tend to point out those things when I'm going through the MS.

At the same time, I leave comments where I think things are unclear, out of character or not in keeping with the rest of the story. I ask questions when things don't add up and point out inconsistencies in description, timeline or sequence of events.

Only when I get to the end do I do an overview of what I've thought of the book, its strengths and weaknesses. I like to offer suggestions of what could be done to fix any problems I've identified.

Some books have bigger problems than others (my own has some pretty major flaws that were pointed out by my beta readers), and some can be more easily solved than others. But my question is, how much detail do you want when someone is reading for you? Do you really want to know the last third of the novel really doesn't work?

Personally, I want to know as much as possible. If the last third doesn't work at all, I want to hear it. Without this kind of feedback, how do I know what needs fixing? So I tend to go into every beta read wanting to give the same kind of critique I want to get back.

But I get the impression maybe other writers aren't prepared for that level, that maybe my notes are too harsh, or too extensive. I don't want to hurt anyones' feelings, but I don't feel that I'm doing anyone a favor if I don't point out what I perceive as being problems. Just saying 'this is awesome' means nothing if it isn't followed up by reasons why it's awesome. Or reasons why it isn't.

Does anyone have any thoughts or opinions on this matter? How detailed are your notes when you beta read?

Thursday, March 15, 2012

A little bit of Sunshine...

Siv Maria at Been There, Done That gave me the Sunshine Award. Thanks, Siv!

Rules are:
  • Thank the person who gave you the award and provide a link.
  • Write a post about it
  • Answer the questions below.
  • Pass it on to 10 bloggers who you think really deserve it and let them know
Favorite color: Purple

Favorite animal: Red panda

Favorite number: 14

Favorite non-alcoholic drink: Coffee

Facebook or Twitter: Twitter all the way!

My passions are:Writing, reading, music and movies

Getting or giving presents: Giving

Favorite patterns:tesselations

Favorite day of the week:Wednesday

Favorite flower:orchid

And 10 people to pass it on to... Hmmm....

You know what? So many people have already recieveithis award (including several of the people I planned to award it to), that I've decided not to give it to anyone. I want to get to know all of you, so let me know the answer to the questions in the comments instead! And if you do, you can have the award. How's that for fair????

Thanks everyone for being such a shining presence in the blogging world!

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

On reading...and sleeping

As anyone who follows this blog knows, I read a lot. A LOT. And I read very broadly. But I can be very critical of the books I read.

At the moment, I'm reading a book with an awesome premise. It's dystopian which is not something I read a lot of, but it's also based on a classic which I love. But every time I pick up this book to read, I fall asleep.

Is it the book, or is it me? I've been working like a madwoman the past couple of weeks, both at the day job and on my writing projects, so I'm inclined to think it's me. But I haven't fallen asleep reading anything else over that period, just this one book. It's not like the book is boring either. What I have read has been great and I look forward to settling in and reading in the bath each night. Then.... Zzzzzzzz.

Has this ever happened to you?

Monday, March 12, 2012

Back to the drawing.. er..writing board

Just when I was getting all hyped up and ready to query (thanks for all the query help, guys!), I got final notes from one of my critique partners. And they weren't good... I have always suspected there was something wrong with the ending of my book, and now I know what it is.

Which is good. There's nothing worse that the vague sense of unease that comes with knowing it's not right, but being unable to figure out quite what it is.

The bad part is, I now need to rewrite about seven chapters to make them work. They're not going to be drastic, plot altering changes, but I need to make my character arc more satisfying. I'm confident I can do it, and reasonably quickly, but it's still a bit of a kick in the pants when I thought I was finished with this book and moving on to a new one.

So that's what I'll be doing over the next week or two. Things haven't been going all that well on the new book anyway, and I'm hoping working on this one again might bring me the inspiration and passion I need to kickstart the next project.

Hw do you feel about major changes when you thought you were done?

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Query help... Please?

It's getting to be that time... Yup, I'm going to be putting on my big girl panties at the end of the month and bracing myself for the barrage of rejections that will come when I start querying The Boyfriend Plague. This afternoon I played around with a query letter, and thought I'd post it here for all my super-smart blog-readers to tear into. So, go ahead! Tell me how to make this query shine...

Dear Agent of my dreams,

Things at home are rough for fifteen-year-old Livvie Quinn. After being cancer-free for almost ten years, her beloved older sister, Jules is sick again.

School isn’t much better. One by one her closest friends get boyfriends and have little time for Livvie – except to set her up on a series of disastrous blind dates.

Livvie seeks refuge in the art room, a place where her ability to see sounds and taste colors is something to be marveled at, not ridiculed. Also hiding in the art room is Bianca, object of scorn and derision throughout the school. As their friendship develops, Livvie realizes she needs Bianca in her life.

When their relationship is discovered, Livvie and Bianca become victims of cruelty more intense than even Bianca has experienced before. They are determined to stick together, but when the school authorities forbid the pair to attend the Winter Formal together, Livvie must decide if she will defy them and keep her relationship with Bianca in the public eye, risking expulsion and ridicule from her classmates.

With her mother pushing for a miracle cancer treatment, and her sister asking for help to end the pain once and for all, Livvie must choose between winning her mother’s attention and Jules’s life. But either choice is going to wreck havoc on her sanity.

The Boyfriend Plague is an 84 000 word contemporary YA novel that should appeal to readers who enjoyed Cris Beam’s I Am J and Cheryl Rainfields’s Scars.

My short stories have appeared in Halfway Down The Stairs, A Fly in Amber, Daily Flash Anthology, The Barrier Islands Review, Death Rattle, Drastic Measures and Residential Aliens, among others.

Per your submission requirements, you will find the first XXXX pages of the manuscript below. I would be delighted to send you further sample chapters, or the entire manuscript, at your request. Thank you for your time and consideration. I look forward to hearing from you soon.



Any suggestions?

Friday, March 9, 2012

Fearless Leader

I found this old character sketch crumpled in a corner of my hard-drive and thought I'd share it with you. I like this guy, but never liked the story I gave him all that much. So I'm giving him to all of you now.


He was royalty. Exiled maybe, but royalty nonetheless. His kingdom: the stretch of High Street between Lombard and Grainge. Here he could stride proudly in his worn leather jacket emblazoned with words that made many in the neighbourhood recoil in horror. His jeans were worn, almost threadbare in places, and fitted him almost too well. Young girls giggled and flushed as he passed, but could not look away. His name could be found scrawled on notebooks and inside shakily drawn hearts on the walls of the high school girls’ bathroom. Best friends had come to blows over an imagined wink as he passed, and a cool, blue-eyed glance was enough to keep a girl at the top of the lunch table for a week.

The younger boys hanging outside the video store watched him go by. Slouching against the wall they talked more loudly, swearing and spitting as they smoked their stolen cigarettes and tried to catch his eye. Once in a while he would select one of these kids to run an errand for him, and this would subtly shift the centre of power within the ranks. They all hoped to one day be in his gang; would follow him to the death if necessary. Older ladies clutched their purses tightly to their chests as he passed. Mothers dragged their daughters to the far side of the street as he approached. These were the same daughters who sighed his name as they went to sleep at night and secretly scribbled his name with their own on hastily crumpled slips of paper.

He seemed all confidence, his proud swagger down High Street reflecting his belief in his ownership of this stretch of the city. But it had been a long battle and it showed. The piercing blue eyes were shadowed and suspicious. This was a man who trusted no one and allowed nobody to get close to him. Like ancient emperors he expected assassination to come from any direction. Even his gang - the chosen few - were kept at arms length. The tests he set for anyone foolhardy enough to want to be in his gang were gruelling and often dangerous. You could not be frivolous about your desire to be in his royal posse; many had tried and failed. Others wore scars proudly, their badges of honour, their medals, their decorations for services rendered.

So who was this local deity? Underneath the shabby leather jacket that labelled him leader he was nothing: a tall, skinny kid with greasy, too-long hair. He could not honestly be called handsome. His features were too large for that. Eyes too big and a little too close together, nose just slightly too pointed, his mouth overly generous. His shoulders were broad but the arms that hung from them were long and thin. His strength took enemies by surprise. He looked as if a strong breeze would snap him in two, but he was wiry and used his frail appearance to his advantage. He would hang back when fights broke out, let his henchmen enter the fray first as if they were there to protect him, then strike when the others were not expecting it. It was this strategy that had won him his little patch of turf.

He lounged fearlessly on the bench in front of the post office, some of his gang reclining on the grass nearby, soaking up the last of the autumn sun. A gaggle of high school girls straggled by, slowing their steps and flipping their hair to get his attention. One of them did, but only because she did not giggle or wink or toss perfectly groomed hair in his direction. She walked with her head down, ignoring both the boys and the girls she appeared to be with. He slid off the bench in one cat-like motion and was walking beside her before the others even realised he’d moved. She glanced up as she saw the booted feet fall into step with her own. He grinned at her, a crooked, mischievous grin that she could not help but return. He leaned down and whispered something into her ear. Shaking her head she clutched her books closer to her chest and hurried to catch up with her friends. He laughed heartily as he sloped back to the bench and the congratulatory hand shakes of his gang.

What kind of a journey would you send him on?

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Crazy stuff

This week has been a disaster as far as writing goes. I've managed about an hour, and that was just revising an not working on my WIP. I hate it when life gets in the way of my writing! But I guess it's unavoidable. At the end of the day, if my family is going to eat, I need to work the day job and do it as well as possible. And sometimes that means bringing work home at night. And that means I get no writing done.

It's worse when I have real momentum happening and getting dragged away from my book hurts. At least I'm not there yet with Sour Plum. I'm still finding my way into it. But I do worry that a few days (a week almost) away from it, will make it even harder to start again.

How do you cope when your writing routine is interrupted?

Monday, March 5, 2012

The Lucky 7

I was going to write about how frantically busy I am this week, and how I don't have any time to write, but luckily for you, I discovered this blogfest instead....

Here are the rules:

1. Go to page 77 of your current MS.

2. Go to line 7.

3. Copy down the next 7 lines - sentences or paragraphs - and post them as they're written. No cheating.

4. Tag 7 authors.

5. Let them know.

Now, I'm not going to tag anyone because I know I'll keep picking on the same 7 writers over and over, but if you want to join in, please do! And let me know in the comments, okay? I want to see your work! Here's mine, from The Boyfriend Plague...

Mel jabbed me in the ribs with a pointed elbow. “Are you even listening?”

“Huh? What?” I hadn’t heard a word she’d said. I glanced around, realizing we’d almost reached the door to my homeroom. Where was Hannah? I searched the hallway, looking not just for her orange head, but for Sam’s blond one too. I knew they’d be together.

Mel stopped and stood with her hands on her hips, glaring at me. “I knew you weren’t listening. What’s up, Livvie?”

I shook my head. Did I want to go into it? With Mel? A week ago I wouldn’t have hesitated. “I’m just worried about Jules, okay? She’s not doing well.”

Mel’s face collapsed into a sympathetic expression sending a sudden pang of guilt across my gut.

The bell rang before she had a chance to say anything and I hustled into the classroom. “See you at lunch.”

But I didn’t go to lunch. Passing the art room, I caught sight of Bianca slipping through the door and followed her in. Despite her oddness, she was easier to be around than my friends. Their relentless excitement and cheer jarred me while Bianca’s aloofness soothed my prickly skin.

Saturday, March 3, 2012


We had to say goodbye last night to one of my staff at the cinema. She's been with us since 2008 and is leaving to go overseas to study. When she started working with me, she was fresh out of school, new to the city and excited about being there.

Over the last four years, I've watched her grow into herself. She's such a funny, caring person and makes workdays so entertaining. I'm going to miss her. My kids will miss her because she's also my go-to girl for babysitting. The rest of the staff will miss her too. Work just won't be the same without her. Who else will purchase a fluffy pink onesie, inspiring a work-wide pajama day?

It's made me think of all the others I've worked with over the years. Cinema workers tend to be transient. It's good work for students because the hours are flexible, but once university is over, most people want to move on to a 'real job'. But running the cinema is my real job, so I have to watch these people settle into my little world for a while, then leave as better opportunities beckon.

So today I'm feeling rather sad... I'll miss you Amie.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Finding the way

So, as I mentioned a few weeks ago, I've started a new book. So far I've written about 12.5K, which isn't bad, but I kind of think the book is. I'm struggling to find my way into this one, even with my outline. I have great characters, and their journey feels interesting to me, but somehow I can't seem to kickstart it.

I think the problem may be the world I've chosen to set the story in. It's a ballet school, and therefore a much less accessible place than the settings I've used in the past (home and school - places we've all been and experienced). I find that I've written a lot of scenes describing classes, and dancing, and the pressure that comes with being accepted into such a prestigious place. And that's all important to Elana's journey. But I can't help wondering if it's boring.

I don't want this book to be so niche that only ballet girls will be interested in reading it. The themes and story are far bigger than that, and by the second half of the book, the ballet setting is largely gone. But in order to set up the chain of events, I have to start at the school and introduce the people who send Elana on her path.

I tried writing some scenes from further into the book and they worked. It's just the beginning I'm stuck on, how to get from there to .... well, there.

Have you ever had this problem? How do you deal with it? Write through and hope by the end you can fix it? Or skip and move on?