Monday, December 29, 2008

Quick update

Hello everyone! Thank you so much for your Christmas wishes. This is just a quick post - we've been having a lovely Christmas holiday and have also been eating and drinking far too much, which is sort of compulsory at this time of year. We're heading off for a couple of days over New Year's (if any potential burglars are reading this, someone is staying in the house to look after Mink, so your evil plan is foiled! Although I don't know why you would be reading my blog, unless you were a very specialised burglar). We've rented a cottage with a couple of friends in Hanmer - a mountain town with hot springs - and we'll be there to see in 2009 with Kir Royale and Karaoke. LOML bought me a massage at the hot pools for Christmas ... I'm definitely looking forward to that.

I'll be back on 3 January, and normal service will resume then - I'll draw the winner of the giveaway next week. Hope you all had a wonderful Christmas break, and I look forward to catching up with your blogs in the New Year.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Thank you!

First of all, thank you all so much for your lovely comments on my giveaway post - I'm excited about the number of people entering, it's going to be fun! If you haven't entered yet, it's the post below this one - or you can click on the icon in the sidebar to be taken directly to the page. I am a bit behind on responding to comments, because life is a bit jam-packed at the moment, but I will reply to them all soon. Thank you also to those who commented for the first time, it's really nice to (virtually) meet you.

I am feeling a million times better today, and we're off to a wedding rehearsal and barbecue tonight - LOML is the official photographer for the wedding on Saturday, and I am acting as his assistant. I also (fanfare, please) picked up my bag. It is an antique doctor's bag, and I love it, particularly because it has my initials in gold on the front.

I could have sworn it opened and shut and that the lock was broken, but I can't get it open now for the life of me. I will probably have to take it to a locksmith - darn. But worth it. Mink isn't impressed, however.

I found this quote of Neil Gaiman's on David Anthony Durham's blog this morning:

"It does help, to be a writer, to have the sort of crazed ego that doesn't allow for failure. The best reaction to a rejection slip is a sort of wild-eyed madness, an evil grin, and sitting yourself in front of the keyboard muttering "Okay, you bastards. Try rejecting this!" and then writing something so unbelievably brilliant that all other writers will disembowel themselves with their pens upon reading it, because there's nothing left to write. Because the rejection slips will arrive. And, if the books are published, then you can pretty much guarantee that bad reviews will be as well. And you'll need to learn how to shrug and keep going. Or you stop, and get a real job."

- Neil Gaiman

When I see I have a response from an agent in my inbox, I do this: say to myself "this is a rejection", take a deep breath, click on it and read it as quickly as possible so there is no suspense at all and I don't get my hopes up. This is definitely not in keeping with The Secret or the chirpy philosophies of Positive Thinking, but it works quite well. If it is a rejection I can say "oh well, no surprise there" (although inside I am ripping a couch cushion apart with my teeth and wailing like a cat on a fence), but if it is something else I am pleasantly surprised. I received two not-rejections over the last couple of days - the first was a request for a full from a partial - yay! and she said she enjoyed the partial - and the second was a note from another agent saying that she was really enjoying the full and would get back to me in the New Year. Hooray! In keeping with my system, however, I'm not getting my hopes up. It's just easier that way. But fingers crossed, all the same.

I posted the full manuscript off to London this morning (to a company that doesn't accept email submissions) - sixty dollars! Holy cow. It still hurts. I think my wallet will need stitches.

Update: LOML opened the bag in five seconds flat. Typical.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

The agent-hunting process

A couple of you left comments on the last post asking how this whole agent-hunt shebang works, so I thought I would give a brief description for anyone who's interested. Feel free to skip if you know all this already! And published-type friends, feel free to jump in with any other information in the comments.

Step 1 - write a book. A year of your life passes, waves crash on distant beaches, a tree grows in Brooklyn. When you're finished, revise and edit over and over until you're sick of it. Then do it again.

Step 2 - you're ready to submit your manuscript ... to publishers? Nope. Bad idea. Unless you live in New Zealand and you want it published in New Zealand, because we're so tiny that you can submit directly to publishers here and they don't get grumpy. But if you think your book would do better in an international market, then you need to research agents in your country of choice. I went to a UK database and went through all of the listings to find my selection - you can also look up authors whose work is similar to yours, and see who represents them. And ask for recommendations from writerly friends.

You need an agent. Because publishers really don't like getting unsolicited submissions and often will only look at agent submissions, and because an agent will handle the contracts, financial stuff, legal rights and all the things that, if you're like me, you probably wouldn't be too good at. And they'll also get you a good deal, because it is in their interests.

Step 3 - so, you've found some agencies that look promising. You now need to research the individual agents to find one who would be interested in you, as it would be silly to send your erotic historic vampire romance novel to someone who only deals in science-fiction.

Step 4 - once you've found your agent, you need to write a query letter of great brilliance that will make them want to look at your manuscript. This is hard and evil, but once you have a good query letter it will be the powerful weapon you wield against the forces of darkness (got a bit carried away there), and so it has to be done.

Oh, and check the agency's submission guidelines first - most of them will ask you to send a query letter via post or email (SO much easier and cheaper than post, I wish they all allowed email submissions), but some will allow you to submit a synopsis and partial (that is, part of the manuscript) as well. Always good to check. No point making them crankier by not following the rules.

Step 5 - PERSONALISE the query letter and please don't do what I did once and forget to change the name before you send it to a different agent. Oops. I wrote a post on query letters here which gives Nathan Bransford's excellent query letter formula and my example of how this can be filled out (tee hee). Then read it through, bite your nails, have a stiff drink and send it to your selected agents.

Step 6 - the time scale of publishing is a glacial one, usually. Some agents will reply to you quickly, but some will take ages. It is quite soul-destroying. Hopefully, however, you will receive some chirpy responses from agents saying, yes please, we would love to see your masterpiece. Even better if they allow you to send it as an email attachment rather than asking you to send a pile of paper that looks like the monolith from 2001: A Space Odyssey through the mail. They will request:

a) a partial, which could be anything from the first three chapters to the first 100 pages, or
b) a full.

They might also request a synopsis. These are, if anything, more evil than the query letter. I would actually suggest you write one as soon as you've finished the book, just in case, instead of drinking twelve cups of coffee and doing it in one day after an agent requested it, which is what I did. Once you have a synopsis, it's worth sending it along with your partial or full, even if the agent hasn't requested it. Makes their jobs a bit easier, which is always a good thing. Keeping the agent in a good mood is key.

Step 7 - make sure your manuscript is formatted correctly. There's a good guide here. Make sure you number the pages and put your name and the title of the work on each page, in case they get out of order or lost. This is really important.

Step 8 - send it, along with an informative, polite and businesslike email which has your previous correspondence embedded in it, because agents are busy people and you don't want them to have to go through their inbox searching for your information. That makes them cranky.

Step 9 - this is where the glacial pace kicks in again. A lot of agencies say you shouldn't expect to hear anything until after 3 months have passed. It varies. But hopefully you will receive a request for a full from an agent who had the partial - or perhaps you will even get an offer of representation - sooner rather than later. If you haven't heard from them in 3 months, give them a polite nudge (not literally), like I did yesterday, and hopefully they will respond. It can take months. It can even take a year. Or more. I have only been doing this for three months, so I have a long way to go.

It is a long process, and it is only the start of the even longer process that is publication. Glaciers, slow-moving land mammals and the plots of really boring movies have nothing on the speed of the publishing world. Do I sound a bit impatient? It's probably because I am. Anyway, I hope that answers your questions! Thank you again for all your comments, I really do appreciate them greatly.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Monochrome

Happy Thanksgiving to everyone in the States!

I have done nothing constructive all day, and have been in a very indecisive mood - wandering about aimlessly, picking things up and putting things down, going into a room and then forgetting why I went in there.

When I gave my speech about Zimbabwe to a high school class earlier this year, I began it by saying, "When I was crouching in a safe house on a Zimbabwean farm, hiding from Mugabe's militia, I never thought I would be here talking to you." I often think this. Sometimes I stop in the middle of my day and think "What am I doing here? How did I get here?" It's not that I don't like being here in New Zealand. I do. I'm very lucky. But some part of me does feel like my life split in half when I left Zimbabwe, that there's some other Andrea who is still living in Harare.

This quote from an interview with Peter Godwin (author of When a Crocodile Eats the Sun and Mukiwa) sums it up for me:

'Though a British audience may have a particular interest in Zimbabwe, there is also a profound foreignness to the tale Godwin tells. We live in a place where, as he puts, we have "clear sight lines to past and change seems to evolve in organic, bite-site, calibrated chunks". By contrast, Zimbabwe is a place where there is no continuity but instead a series of seismic and unpredictable shifts.

'The pace of change has left Godwin rootless. In such a context, his two memoirs represent his best stab at rootedness. "Writing," he says, "is the way I deal with things. Writing it down will make it safe... Otherwise what has happened is just too sad. It's just literally, terminally sad. And writing is all I've got."'

This expresses perfectly how I feel. In Zimbabwe, I never knew what was going to happen from one moment to the next. Here, I can plan for things. I know I will be alive next week, for example. I know that I will still be able to buy milk and bread at the supermarket. I know that my money will be worth roughly the same amount tomorrow, next week, next month. But in gaining security, I have lost something else. I feel like have lost my adventurous spirit, to some extent. I have always been a perfectionist, but now I feel like my routines and control are the only things standing between me and complete chaos. I am aware of how quickly things can fall apart, and I am always afraid that it will happen again. I don't want to be like this. I want to be more willing to take risks again.

It has taken me six years to be able to examine my experiences there. Six years! I can't believe it has been that long since we left. I spent so much time this year writing my book, and I have so much invested in it. I want so desperately for it to be published, and I'm so scared that it won't be. But that is something over which I have very little control at the moment - it's up to the UK agents who have it. And if they all reject it, I'll send it directly to publishers here in New Zealand. And if that doesn't work, I'll think of something else. Meanwhile, I'm working on a second book. That is all I can do, really. Keep calm and carry on, as the World War II poster says!

As far as my confusion about Zimbabwe and fear of the future goes, I guess that's something I am working through gradually. I can't expect everything to be 'fixed' at once (although my not-so-inner perfectionist disagrees).

Have a wonderful Thanksgiving, everyone who celebrates it. We have so much for which to be thankful. Among other things, I'm very thankful for all of you!

Saturday, November 15, 2008

50,000 words!

Which is 110 A4, single-spaced pages of writing. 110 pages that didn't exist two weeks ago. I am so exhausted. But happy. Good night, everyone!

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Coming out of the closet

I am exhausted. I woke up this morning with sore eyes and aching limbs. Perhaps staying up late every night working is not a good idea. I took the morning off from work and spent a happy few hours organising things like the linen cupboard and my closet ... It is very tiny. LOML and I share, not that you can tell from that photo because LOML's clothes are bunched together in one corner keeping their distance from my clothes. I think they find them intimidating. Some of the dresses can be a bit stand-offish. The real snobs are the party and formal dresses, though, who demand a whole wardrobe to themselves and live in the spare room.

Anyway, I had a thorough clean-out of my clothes, and now have something like fifty items for the fashion swap I'm holding next weekend. It's amazing how many clothes I hang onto for no good reason - so many of them are from high school, or my under-grad days, or were inherited from friends or my Mum and never worn. I hope someone else will get a lot of joy out of them.

I sent out five more queries last night, and received three responses this morning - two requesting a partial and one requesting a full. Fingers crossed, again - and it's only two weeks until I can follow up on the earlier manuscripts, too. I had a dream last night in which I realised that the manuscript of my book consisted entirely of shopping lists, old receipts and excerpts from my teenage diary. I woke up in a blind panic, checked the manuscript and realised that it consisted of one word typed over and over. Then I actually woke up and realised that I had been dreaming again. That was a relief.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Five dollar dress

11 Nov 08
This is the pinafore dress I found on my thrifting trip yesterday. It was lurking at the back of a rack, but I have a supernatural ability to find plaid anywhere, and so I sniffed it out. Best of all, it was only five dollars! I am completely in love with it, particularly because it has pockets. Pockets! I also found the thin navy belt I'm wearing. All up, the dress, the belt and the tapestry bag cost me ten dollars. Thrifting is great.
$5 dress!
I have reached 35,000 words of the book - woo-hoo! - and have also done some work on the Essay of Doom. I'm going to have another trawl through the agent directories this afternoon, too, and see if I can find anyone else to query.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

The morning after the night before

I am so tired today. We stayed up until midnight, when all the election results were in. It was a fantastic evening - we had a couple of friends round for a barbecue as we watched the votes trickle in, then cracked open the champagne and dipped strawberries in chocolate at the end of the night. Definitely worth some bags under the eyes today!

I'm making good progress with the novel, as well. Just over 29,000 words at the moment, and I'm going to hit 30,000 by tonight. I'm aiming to finish the 50,000 words required for Nanowrimo by this Thursday night, and then I can slacken the pace a bit to write the rest of what will probably be a 100,000-word draft - that will be a relief.

So tired. We're going to mum's this evening for dinner, which would be relaxing except that I have to cook. I'm not sure how this was decided. I'm pretty sure I wasn't in the room when this decision was made. But that's all right. And I also have the fun job of trying to get a urine sample from Mink tonight before I take him to the vet tomorrow. Urine sample from a cat? Does that sound marginally insane and tricky to anyone else?

Anyway, enough of my rambling. I hope you all had a wonderful weekend, and that all my fellow Aotearoa-dwelling mammals had a fantastic election night!

Friday, November 7, 2008

Election day!

We went and voted in the New Zealand elections this morning. I love voting. It's so wonderful to live in a country where your vote actually counts and no one (hopefully) is going to fiddle the ballots. Oh, and there's not a guard with an AK47 hovering threateningly around the booth. All good things, and a nice change for my family.

Our elections this year were overshadowed by the US elections, of course, and neither of our candidates are anywhere near as inspiring as Obama, but it is still a very exciting day. We are having some friends over tonight for a barbecue to hear the results, although New Zealand's MMP system means that we may not know who our government is for several days (or even weeks).

The lovely Kater of All This Happiness tagged me many moons ago - I'm sorry it took so long to get around to this, but here it is! The answers are very random, I tried to put down the first things that came to mind.

Six random things about me:

I have had five different surnames in the course of my life.
I love birds. When we lived in Zimbabwe we had (as well as a dog and two cats) an African Grey parrot; two cockatiels; pigeons; an aviary of budgies and lovebirds; chickens; bantams; guinea fowl; and a peacock.
When I was small, I had an imaginary friend called Tumbles the Tiger.
I used to tell kids at primary school that I was a secret agent doing an undercover investigation at the school, and that my pencil-case was a two-way radio that went directly to my superiors.
I may have mentioned this before, but I collect antique books. I'll have to do a post on them one day.
I had an impressive poncho collection when in high school in Zimbabwe, and I wore one almost every day. I still have a few of them!

Six random things I like:

Aeroplane food
Being barefoot
Snails
The smell of furniture polish
Finding someone's name carved in a wooden bench
Trains

Six random things I don't like:

North-west winds
Pumpkin
People using criteria as a singular noun
Mall music
Crowds
Unexpected guests

I'm not going to tag anyone because I have taken so long to get around to this that I'm not sure who hasn't yet completed it. Thanks for the tag Kater, it was great fun!

Thursday, November 6, 2008

25,000 words!

I'm halfway through Nanowrimo and probably a quarter of the way through the book ... or even less, possibly. But it's a great feeling! I celebrated with a beer and macaroni and cheese, because that's just the sort of classy lady I am.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

20,000 words!

I'm on a roll this week. It is freakish.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Remember, remember the fifth of November ...

... But for a different reason this time. In New Zealand, 5 November is the day we will hear what will hopefully be good news for America and for the world. Good luck to all of you living in the States!

I'm wearing some of my thrifted loot from yesterday - it's rainy and horrible outside, which gave me the opportunity to wear this mustard sweater. It's one of my favourite colours, and so comfy. I'm braving the rain this morning to go to the opening of Two Squirrels with a friend (hi, Kelly!). It's a new vintage boutique opening on Cashel Street, owned by the same couple who run Tete a Tete Vintage. I'm really excited about seeing their new place. And since I hit 15,00 words last night, I'm allowed to buy something! Hurrah. This rewards system is working out well so far.

The novel is coming along really well. I have 16,000 words so far, and the first five chapters mapped out. I'm usually the kind of writer who writes an enormous first draft then goes back to trim it, but in this case I can see I'm going to write a slimmed-down first draft and go back to develop and embiggen (ha!).

Good luck again to everyone in the States - we're thinking of you, here on the other side of the world.

15,000 words

Hurrah!

Monday, November 3, 2008

To business!

I'm so enjoying writing this book. The idea for the story was actually triggered by this post, where I talked about the Shona perception of the soul after death. I found a wonderful reference this morning - Karanga Indigenous Religion in Zimbabwe by Tabona Shoko. It's a fantastic read, and has some really useful information on traditional Shona beliefs. I took Shona lessons while I lived in Zimbabwe, and used to be fairly fluent, but I have lost almost all of it now. I also studied Hebrew for six years, and I've forgotten most of that, too. Where does all that information go? I wonder if it's still in my mind somewhere, and would resurface if I started learning those languages again? Anyway, it's great to have my remnants of Shona knowledge backed up by useful textbooks like this one.

I think I also have a fledgling title, which is unusual for me this early on. Usually my books are called something terribly original like 'Book3' or 'Other_Book' until they're almost finished. And then it takes me forever to settle on a title. I guess the limitations of Nanowrimo have really kicked my brain into gear.

I wrote another 2,000 words this morning, and now I had better work on the less exciting but far more urgent Masters essay. If I make good progress by later this afternoon, I'm going to go back to the book. It would be fantastic to hit 15,000 by tonight. I have a little chart in the kitchen where I tick off each 5,000-word increment as I reach it, and then get a reward. I'm well-trained that way.

As my reward for reaching 10,000 words last night, I made a trip to a thrift store this afternoon and garnered some loot. The ladies in the thrift store know me now, which is nice, because they point out new arrivals that they think I would like. They directed me to the two polka-dot items - I'm so predictable.


Here's a great quote from Anne Lamott's Bird by Bird (an indispensable book for writers, I think), which describes exactly how I feel about this novel at the moment: "And it feels so great to finally dive into the water; maybe you splash around and flail for a while, but at least you're in. Then you start doing whatever stroke you can remember how to do, and you get this scared feeling inside you - of how hard it is and how far there is to go - but still you're in, and you're afloat, and you're moving."

Yay!

I have reached 10,000 words. Phew. Time for bed.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Sometimes titles are hard

Nanowrimo progress!

Today's word count: 2,000
Total word count: 8700. It would be fantastic to reach 10,000 words this early on - if I have time this evening, I'm going to try and put in another couple of hours' work and get to that milestone.

I am filled with new-book glow. This may change, of course, as I'm about to start work on the Essay of Doom again. But I have my Monday afternoon housework to cheer me up! (I know I'm strange).
A bit of a subject change, but this week I am in the process of joining a group called Woman2womaN which was co-founded by a very inspiring lady, Shupayi Mpunga. I first met her when I was doing some work for a local magazine, writing an article on Zimbabwe (this was the year when the Zimbabwe cricket team was meant to visit New Zealand, and there was a lot of controversy involved). Shupayi founded an organisation called the Friends of Zimbabwe Foundation with two friends. The Woman2womaN Network is a part of this organisation, and they also do a lot of fundraising for the Harare Children's Home where Shupayi grew up.

Woman2womaN establishes contact with the women of Zimbabwe and offers friendship and hope in many different ways. In June, for example, the group fund-raised and bought groceries in South Africa to send to the women. This month they put out an appeal for donations of underwear and sanitary towels for women in prison. They are also making quilts for the orphanage in Zimbabwe. They respond to issues as they come. What I love about the organisation is that it is practical and personal - as Shupayi says, "We aren't trying to save Zimbabwe, we're just doing our bit person to person." To me, that is the absolute best way to make a real change. I become frustrated with people who have grand plans to 'make a difference' one day, but who aren't doing anything practical right now.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Sunny Sunday

Thanks for all your comments on our Halloween costumes - I'm glad they were effective! Although I'm a little frightened to realise how much I look like Sarah Palin.

My in-laws are coming for dinner tonight. I had originally planned to cook something very complicated that involved stuffing meat with something and wrapping it in something else, but then came to my senses and realised it's disastrous to cook something difficult when they come over because I invariably screw it up. So we're having marinaded chicken, new potatoes, broccoli, cauliflower, carrots and peas instead (meat and five veg ... we always teased my grandmother for cooking that. And now my genes have come back to haunt me), all of which are very difficult to screw up. And a bought dessert, because I lack the mental and emotional capacity to prepare dinner and dessert together.

I got so much work done on my Nanowrimo novel today, as you'll see from my snazzy word-count-o-meter. I'm really excited about it (which is typical for the first week; in the second one usually hits a wall). It's set in Zimbabwe again, although back when it was Rhodesia, this time, and it's wonderful to return to that landscape. I missed it after finishing my Masters novel. Zimbabwe is the only place I know from the inside out, and sometimes I think that means it's the only place about which I can write honestly. Even after six years in New Zealand, I feel like I only know it from the outside in, like a friend with whom you get along but have never really talked to in-depth.

I live half in New Zealand, half in Zimbabwe, even though I haven't been in Zim for six years. In a weird way I feel like the 'real' Andrea is still living there - as if I split in two when I left, and the me living in New Zealand is an aberrant, alternate-universe version. As if my real life is being lived by someone else, somewhere else. It's a strange feeling. I still wake up in the morning sometimes and can't remember where I am.

Anyway. I feel certain that this is what I'm meant to be working on at the moment. And that's a good feeling.

Friday, October 31, 2008

Halloween party!


Halloween 002, originally uploaded by acatofimpossiblecolour.

I'll write a proper post later, but just wanted to show you how LOML and I looked for the party. There are better pictures of us on a friend's camera but it will be a while before I get hold of them.

It was a fantastic night! Our friends went completely over the top with the decorations and costumes, which is always the best way to go, I think. My favourite was the creepy killer clown they put in the hallway - life-size, and rigged up to a mechanism that made it turn its head when you walked past.

In other news, I have gone slightly mad. After all my careful planning and outlining of my Nanowrimo novel, I threw it all out the window today and started work on something from scratch. An idea gripped me yesterday, and the voice of a character started speaking in my head so clearly that I felt I had to write her story. Damn ideas, spoiling my plans. Sometimes I feel like I'm in a boxing ring being punched by ideas from all sides (in my head the ideas are enormous scary men wearing boxing gloves and tiny satin shorts). That simile is a little strange, but you have to remember I had a very late night and am still in my pyjamas, which makes my brain feel like chewed nougat. (See? Another weird simile. I think I should have some more coffee).

Of course, I might panic and go back to my original plan tomorrow, but at the moment I'm very excited about this book. And flying by the seat of your pants is very much in the spirit of the event, of course!

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Happy Halloween!

Simple and casual today - I have a million chores to do. Including getting my Sarah Palin costume ready for tonight's Halloween party (well, the invitation did say 'dress scary'). LOML is going as John McCain. He's coming home from work early so I can make him all wrinkly. I find it fascinating that the elections in the US have eclipsed our own elections so completely, and I am terrified at the possibility of Obama losing.

I got an email from my publisher in Zimbabwe this morning saying that my book is going to Taiwan for the Taiwan International Book Exhibition 2009, as part of a collective exhibit of the African Publishers' Network. This kind of thing always makes me smile, because my book is so un-African in character. When I was a child, I would have loved to live in England. So many times when Mum was reading me Winnie the Pooh or Thomas the Tank Engine or Enid Blyton books about rosy-cheeked children living on Apple-Tree Farm, I longed for an English childhood. Not an insect in sight. Clean, crisp air and green grass, tidy streets and English wherever you go. Africa was foreign and mundane, all at once. I couldn’t fit zebras and witch-doctors into any of the books I read. I felt that my childhood was somehow wrong, that I was cheated. The only book that came close to my own experience was The Jungle Book, and I remember how excited I was when I discovered it. Finally, a children's book where there were animals and landscapes I recognised! Of course, when I got older I realised how lucky I was to have an African childhood, and my writing now is almost exclusively African ... but my first published book was set in a fantasy world that had more to do with Narnia than it did with Zimbabwe.

Nanowrimo begins tomorrow! I feel excited and apprehensive. To complete the 50,000 words in 30 days I need to write 1,667 words per day. I'm going to shoot for 2,000, and see how it goes. Of course, I also need to be working on the Masters essay this month, but Nanowrimo wouldn't be Nanowrimo without some huge distraction, so that's all right.

Things I am researching for the Nanowrimo book:
Asian students in New Zealand
'Cyberathletes' - people who participate in competitive video gaming
Collage artists
Rabbit anatomy
Computer animation
Programming
Wine
Wow, you could put together a really bizarre plot from those elements, couldn't you? More will emerge as I go on, I'm sure. I'm looking forward to seeing how well writing from a vague plot outline will work for this, too.

Speaking of bizarre plots, if you haven't looked at the 'dares' forum on the Nanowrimo website, you definitely should. It's hilarious. I haven't decided if I'm going to do any of these dares yet, but I'll keep you posted.

One last thing - I haven't updated my links in a couple of weeks, and I'm so sorry if I haven't added your link yet. I'm getting onto it this weekend. Thanks for all your comments, and thank you for introducing me to your lovely blogs, I do appreciate it.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Polka dots, awards and impatience

I am reading 'What is the What' by Dave Eggers (he of 'A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius' fame). It is amazing so far, and well-deserving of all the accolades heaped on it. It tells the story of a Sudanese refugee, a man who really exists - but the story is a novel, not a biography, peopled with composite characters and imagined events as well as the real. A really brave project to undertake, I think. It reminds me that I also really want to read 'The Other Hand' by Chris Cleave, which is about a Nigerian asylum-seeker in London. Have any of you read it yet?

I so admire these writers and the subjects they tackle, and I want to be that kind of a writer too - Nanowrimo (well, cheating Nanowrimo that I have started already) book excepted, because that one is for fun. Although an interesting element has crept in unintentionally - the character who appeared in the text the other day is a Korean student, and the way Asian students are treated here in Christchurch has started to emerge as a strong theme in the book. I am starting to get gradually more and more excited about the book I'm writing when I finish the Masters, though - the points of view I'm using are going to be really interesting and challenging, I think.

Today is a significant day - eight weeks since I sent out the first batch of queries to agents. Generally you don't hear from agents until at least eight weeks have passed; a lot of the agencies ask authors not to nag - er, I mean, inquire - about their queries until eight weeks have elapsed. I'm not going to follow them up yet, though ... the Frankfurt Book Fair was last weekend, so they would all have been flat-out busy with that, and they may only just have had a chance to look at the manuscript. I'll wait a couple more weeks. Even though it is driving me insane. INSANE. Sorry.

Thank you for bearing with me through this long and rambling post. I hope all you Kiwis had a good first day back at work!

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Slightly sombre

I'm keeping it simple today. We had a lot of errands to run, and tonight we're going to a talk by a former member of Zimbabwe's Black Shadow group who has since become a Christian and gives talks about his experiences. We're going with my best friend and her husband - she and I grew up in Zimbabwe together, and moved to New Zealand within a couple of years of each other.

I haven't heard of the Black Shadow group before, and haven't been able to find any information online, but I'm guessing it is a terrorist group - one formed either under Mugabe's regime or during the Bush War. Interestingly, in Zimbabwe's traditional Karanga belief system, a person has two shadows; a white and a black. The white shadow (mweya) is the soul and the black shadow (nyama, a word which also means 'meat') is the flesh. The mweya is what surives after you die - it leaves the dead body in the form of a worm, which is why the Shona leave a hole from the coffin to the outside world (made by a hollow reed) - for the worm to crawl out. They believe that this worm crawls into an animal, which becomes an ancestral spirit. I have no idea if this pertains to the naming of the Black Shadow group at all, but I'll be interested to find out tonight.

In novel-related news, a character appeared in my book on Friday who I hadn't planned for at all. She just turned up in the middle of a chapter and appears to be here to stay. Very strange. I like it when that happens, though.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

In which I talk about routines

A couple of you have asked me to go into a bit of detail about my daily writing routine, so I thought I would talk a bit about it today (feel free to skip all of this if you don't find it interesting!).

I only really established a solid writing routine this year. I used to be filled with feelings of inadequacy (and murderous rage) when I heard about writers who had really disciplined routines - you know, they wake up at 5am, go to the gym and pump iron for an hour, then work for eight hours and churn out 5,000 words. I only wrote when I felt inspired or had an uninterrupted chunk of time. Of course, once I started the MFA, I was writing full-time. All that empty time was luxurious, but also terrifying. I knew I had to use it productively.

It took me a month or so to settle down into a routine. I rely on strict routine and structure more than some other people, I know. It's just what works for me, and I am by no means saying that everyone should work like this.

Here's how it goes:
7am - get up, make bed, feed Mink, get coffee (coffee coffee!), watch the news and hang out with LOML while he has breakfast. He usually leaves at 7:30am, so that's when I check my emails and daily blogs and make breakfast for myself.
8am - I put a load of washing on, unstack the dishwasher and have another cup of coffee, then get showered. While I'm doing these chores, I'm starting to warm-up and think about my story. Doing something habitual frees your brain up to think creatively.
I work at the dining room table. I do have a desk upstairs in the spare room/study, but I feel isolated up there. Our kitchen, dining room and lounge are open-plan, so sitting at the dining room table means I'm right in the centre of the house and can see what's going on. It's light and airy, close to the coffee machine, and I can see the garden (such as it is) through the French doors. It makes me feel like I'm part of the world, while working upstairs makes me feel like I'm slaving in a garret. I always try to have fresh flowers on the table to refresh my eyes while I'm working.
9am - I'm all dressed and made up and presentable. I put another pot of coffee on (decaf this time), and sit down to write for one hour. I always write from 9am till 10am, barring Acts of God, and I guard this time jealously. This means that no matter what else happens during the day, I know I have written for an hour and therefore don't need to feel that horrible guilt you feel when you get to the end of the day without writing.
10am - have some coffee, hang out the washing.
10.30am - back to work! I aim for 2,000 words a day, usually. This week I have been pushing for 1,000 because I'm tired after working on the essay (excuses, excuses), but 2,000 is my ideal. The Internet is a huge distraction. Emails, great blogs to read, Flickr ... it can suck up hours of my time if I let it. I have a little rule that I am allowed to quickly check my email or look at something fun every fifteen minutes. I don't always do so, if I'm on a roll, but on the days when writing is like giving birth to a broken window I really live for my little breaks.
12pm - I stop for lunch at midday, and this is usually when I write a blog post.
1pm - Another hour of work. I don't usually do any creative work in the early afternoon. If I have client work to do, or the Essay of Doom, I'll do it then, because it uses a different part of my writing brain. This is also a good time to revise or rewrite.
2pm - I run errands and do housework.
3pm - coffee! Of the caffeinated variety, this time. Then I get on with more chores of various kinds, or some non-creative work. I'm sure it won't surprise you that I have a chore schedule written out for each week day as well, because I think we have established that I am addicted to plans and list-making.
4pm - I get back to work. Now that I've got most of my work done, there's not so much urgency and pressure, which means that I'm more comfortable playing with different ideas. I really enjoy this time in the evenings - everything is done, it's quiet, Mink is usually sitting next to me, and I can be creative without worrying about being productive. LOML gets home between 6pm and 7pm, so I start dinner around that time.

I also love working at night - the darkness and quiet seems to open up all these possibilities that I don't see during the day. I don't do it very often, though: firstly, because it is anti-social and LOML quite likes having me around in the evenings (go figure); and secondly, because it burns me out ridiculously quickly and I am grumpy and tired the next day. If I really want to do a concentrated burst of work on a particular scene or chapter, however, a glass of wine and a late-night writing session will usually take care of it.

With this book, I'm writing from the perspective of three different characters - well, two at the beginning and a third who emerges later in the book - so if I'm feeling inspiration wane with one of them I'll jump into another character's head and write a scene from a different part of the book. It's a great way to feel refreshed without stopping writing. In other books, jumping to a different scene has worked. And dialogue is a great way to kick-start your writing - putting two characters together and letting them have a conversation can give a new fizz and energy to a flat scene. I prefer not to stop writing, but if the case is really desperate, I might draw some pictures of the characters or the plot on really huge sheets of paper. This helps.

I hope that all makes sense - if there's anything you'd like to ask me about it, go ahead. If you're still awake. There's a good chance you nodded off somewhere in the middle of that, and I don't blame you.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Red shoes, how I love thee

It is rainy and not very warm today, and I am feeling disoriented. We had another late night last night - LOML is going through a really busy time at work, and needed to work from home in the evening. Since our spare bed is in the study, I said I would sleep there while he worked to keep him company (not very good company, of course, but it's kind of nice having someone else around while you're burning the midnight oil). I woke up in our master bedroom this morning, and I had no recollection of moving rooms in the night. Very strange feeling, and it hasn't left me all day.

I haven't done any work yet - the day was rather consumed by helping my mum and her husband get ready for their trip to Australia, and then taking them to the airport. Now I'm back home, I'm looking forward to getting my thousand words in on the novel. And avoiding the essay. I'll work on it tomorrow. Maybe.

Monday, October 20, 2008

I love my little word-count widgets

They are so satisfying. Just a bit of housekeeping - you may notice that the word-count-ometer on my fantasy novel has passed the 10,000 word mark. Whee! Of course, this is less impressive than it sounds, because it has been sitting at 8,000 for months, but still. You may also notice that I am no longer calling it a young adult novel, because I'm not sure how it fits into that classification and 'fantasy' seemed more appropriate. Oh, and that my end target has increased from 60,000 to 80,000, because looking at the story I want to tell makes me I doubt that I will do it in 60,000 words.

Friday, October 10, 2008

House rules

I spent this afternoon trying to pare down my wardrobe (again). At the moment, it is not reflecting my values, which makes me feel very hypocritical. The quote I refer to most often when thinking about how I want my home to be is:

"Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful." - William Morris


When I look at my closet or chest of drawers and see it overflowing with clothes, it makes me feel a bit disgusted - like that uncomfortable feeling you get when you've eaten far too much and feel nauseous and bloated. I hate to own piles of stuff that are neither useful nor beautiful; not just when it comes to clothes, but in every area of life. I don't like minimalist style, and I'm definitely a fan of surrounding myself with objects I love, but I hate random clutter and mess. As I tend to be a hoarder, this is something I struggle with. In some ways I think it stems from leaving Zimbabwe - we had to leave almost everything behind, and we lost a lot of treasured items. In reaction to that, I am ridiculously sentimental about objects and am loath to throw things away. I also love shopping and the thrill of buying something new. Bad combination.

I'm trying to get better at managing my wardrobe, and life in general. This year I have tried very hard to get a handle on my diet, my daily writing routine, housework and organisation in general - to establish rules and habits that are healthy and productive rather than destructive.

Here are the wardrobe rules I drew up for myself this year:

1) To buy second-hand whenever possible.
2) When it is not possible or practical to buy second-hand (for example, if I need underwear or something similar), to buy from a company that manufactures ethically and in an environmentally responsible way.
3) To regularly pare down and organise my wardrobe, giving away any items that no longer fit or that I no longer wear.
4) To maintain and repair my current wardrobe rather than buying something new whenever possible. I try to take good care of the things I already own and to make repairs and alterations on a weekly basis, so the pile of Things To Do doesn't grow too high (doesn't always work out that way, but that's the aim).
5) To buy items only after careful consideration of exactly how they will fit into my wardrobe - I try to buy something only if I can think of three different ways to wear it, and I avoid buying something if I need to make another purchase before it will work in my wardrobe (this is a trap into which I've fallen many times - "This would be great with some green shoes. Now all I need is a pair of green shoes." That kind of thing). Vintage dresses are an exception to this; I see my vintage dress collection as just that, a collection, and will buy a beautiful vintage dress even if I'm only going to wear it on special occasions.
6) Whenever possible, to buy clothes made from good quality fabrics that have flattering shapes - this means I am likely to wear them for years rather than just for one season. I try to avoid buying fashionable clothes that I think will go out of style quickly.
7) To be grateful for the things I have rather than yearn for the things I don't.

Of course, I sometimes (often) fail to achieve these things. But having them keeps me headed in the right direction. It's an ongoing project. The key for me - since I am a perfectionist and tend towards anxiety and a feeling of being overwhelmed - is to change things gradually and not to put too much pressure on myself to be perfect right away. It's easy to look at all there still is to do rather than what you have already achieved.

Anyway, thank you for bearing with me through what I hope wasn't an overly preachy or earnest post - I am a work in progress, and don't want to give the impression that I know all there is to know about anything at all. I do think it is important to buy responsibly, though, especially in countries like New Zealand where we are bombarded with products and adverts.

As for this afternoon, I managed to cull a few items of clothing that will find good new homes. Not a big step, but a step in the right direction.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

I'll have my usual, please

I'd like to take this opportunity to shamelessly plug the wonderful Nanowrimo, or National Novel-writing Month. I've signed up again this year - I've never actually made it past the finishing line, but I'm determined to this time around.

Here's a brief spiel, although the website describes it better - the idea is to write a 50,000 word novel in one month, finishing at midnight on 30 November. As you can imagine, this method values quantity over quality, but it's a great kick-start. It forces you to switch off your self-critical side (and crap-o-meter), take risks and create without editing or stressing out wondering 'is it any good'? At the end of the month, you will inevitably have a Shitty First Draft. But a SFD leads to a Passably Good Second Draft and a Good Third Draft and a Nobel-Prize-Winning Fourth Draft (maybe). It gives you something to work with. And it's fun. And you'll be able to tell people you wrote a novel in 2008.

There are different ways of doing it. I'm cheating (although I like to think of it as 'being a Maverick') because I'm using the month to work on a novel I have already started, but which has been on the back-burner for a long time. I'm combining Nanowrimo with my experiment of writing from an outline - we'll see how it goes. Nanowrimo recommends just starting the novel without any outline or plan at all, as this is much less likely to drive you completely insane, but I (Maverick, remember) think my spiralling into insanity will be, at the least, very amusing to watch (and since I am going crazy anyway waiting to hear from agents, at least this will channel the madness into a different area). But if you sign up and decide to do it entirely off the cuff, I will be filled with admiration.

It's always more fun doing something borderline insane like this when you can suck people in to your little vortex of craziness, and this is my attempt to suck you in (metaphorically). If you sign up, you can add other participants as writing buddies. Be my buddy! My username is theluckyblackcat.

Anyway, back to work.


Edited to add: I'm so sorry for the delay, but I have responded to all comments now. I really appreciate you taking the time to leave them, and I always reply, even if sometimes it takes a couple of days! I'm also a bit late in catching up on all your blogs (blame my post-holiday brain and busy-ness), but I will stop by over the weekend and see what you have all been up to. It always brightens up my day.

Monday, October 6, 2008

I'm back!

Happy and exhausted. See you tomorrow!

Friday, September 26, 2008

So very, very old

Thank you so much for your comments on my panicky last post, everyone! I really appreciate it, and feel a million times better.

LOML was taking photographs at a superhero-themed dance party tonight - the crowd consisted of thirteen and fourteen-year-olds. I was assisting. We just got home.
Since the party, I have come to the following conclusions:
1) When the kids were pointing and laughing at me while I was dancing, it was only because I looked so very, very cool.
2) Especially when I knew all the words to 'Hey Mickey' and 'YMCA'.
3) Also especially when I broke out my tried-and-trusted 'lawnmower' and 'smack the pony' dance moves. Those were stares of pure admiration.
4) And they were TOTALLY impressed by my crumping.
5) And my superhero poses.
6) Okay, maybe not.
7) I feel old.
8) Tomorrow I am going to hang out at an old people's home, just to get back some perspective.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Voila!

Okay, ignore the post which I put up this morning and subsequently deleted - the story was on last night (I hunted for it on the website this morning after I saw I had been quoted in an article), and here it is!

Monday, September 22, 2008

All done!

The interview is over! I need some coffee.

For those of you who are in New Zealand, I think it will be on TV One's Breakfast tomorrow in Guyon Espiner's political segment, which is usually between 7am and 7.30am (I was nervous and didn't take in much information, but I'm pretty sure it will be on tomorrow). My bit will only be a sound-bite, so I'll be there and gone quicker than you can blink. It should also be available as footage on TVNZ's website later on, and I'll try and post it here when I get it.

It was really bizarre having a camera crew in our living room. I realised afterwards that I was sitting in front of a cushion with a big cat face on it. Now the whole nation will know I'm the crazy cat lady. I can't even remember what I burbled on about ... hopefully it was in English. They also took some shots of me 'working' at the computer, which consisted of me typing random words over and over and frowning occasionally to indicate I was thinking. Television is weird.

You're not going to believe this ...

I wrote in to the national Breakfast show this morning, making a comment about this story. Now a TV crew is coming to my house this afternoon to film an interview with me regarding that story and the situation in Zimbabwe. I couldn't make this stuff up.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Synchronicity?

I have had a really interesting experience this evening. Well, interesting to me. I was working on the plot outline for my current book when it occurred to me to look up the main characters' names and see what they meant. I thought this was a classic procrastination activity, but the results were actually fascinating. I chose the names with very little thought, going purely on instinct, but when I looked them up I saw that their meanings were actually very close to the characters' personalities. So much so that it was a little spooky. I had never read any of these name meanings before, as far as I know, but perhaps some snippets of information were buried in my sub-conscious ready to jump out of my ear (I take things very literally), tap me on the head and say "Oi! Good character name. Use it."

I realise this post would be a lot more effective if I gave you examples, but I am pathologically superstitious about revealing details of whatever I'm working on, so it will have to remain vague for now. For a far more coherent and interesting discussion on naming characters, I refer you to Anne Mini's ever-useful blog.

In more humdrum news, I made good progress with the Essay of Doom today. I have almost 10,000 words of raw material that need to be hammered and honed into a 5,000-word essay - still, that's a far, far better position to be in than starting with a blank page, I think.

What a trendsetter ...


My sister sent me some more old pictures today - in this one I was about one and a half years old. Personal style at its best, I think!

Monday, September 15, 2008

"... My belief in Zimbabwe and its people runs deeper than the scars I bear ..."


Report by Stephanie Nolen and Shakeman Mugari, for the Globe and Mail:
A grim and agitated Robert Mugabe ceded some of his hold on Zimbabwe Monday for the first time in nearly three decades in office, as he and his sworn enemies in the Zimbabwean opposition signed a 54-page deal that will, in theory, see them share the job of governing the shattered nation.

It was, in its way, a very Zimbabwean settlement: Both sides made major compromises. There is no outright victor, and there will likely be no dramatic change – not soon, anyway. But for a nation whose citizens have a visceral determination to avoid conflict, however bad things get, the deal offers a cautious way forward.

Under the agreement, Mr. Mugabe remains President of the country he has ruled since its independence in 1980, while Morgan Tsvangirai, leader of the Movement for Democratic Change, will take up the newly created post of prime minister. In theory, Mr. Mugabe's ZANU-PF party and the MDC – both Mr. Tsvangirai's larger party and a small splinter faction – will split the cabinet posts, although the sides have yet to agree on how.

The MDC has pegged its survival on obtaining control of the crucial ministries of Finance, which will allow it to tackle inflation, currently above 11 million per cent, and Home Affairs – and with it, the police force. If the party can make immediate changes in fiscal policy and restore the rule of law, its leaders believe, then international donors, which have isolated Mr. Mugabe's Zimbabwe, may step in with vital assistance.

But Mr. Mugabe has signed this deal under huge pressure from regional leaders, many of whom flew into Harare for Monday's ceremony, and may simply be stalling. The deal gives him continued control of the cabinet and armed forces, while the prime minister controls a parallel executive council.

At the signing ceremony, Mr. Tsvangirai urged reconciliation and rebuilding. “I have signed this agreement because my belief in Zimbabwe and its people runs deeper than the scars I bear from these struggles,” he said. “Party divisions no longer matter to the people of Zimbabwe. The hand with which I signed this agreement is the hand which I extend to President Mugabe. … Our lives begin now.”

Mr. Mugabe gave a rambling, sometimes nearly incoherent, address. As he has before, he railed against meddling by foreign powers: “The problem that we have now is a problem that has been created by a former colonial power wanting to continue to interfere in our domestic affairs,” he said.

At this, Mr. Tsvangirai covered his face with his hands, while opposition supporters in the gallery jeered loudly.

Thomas Mhandara, 30, a long-time MDC member who came to celebrate the signing, saw change in the offing. “It's not an outright victory, but, if you look at where we have come from, then you will realize why we are here today,” he said. “We have scars, broken bones and bashed heads from this man [Mr. Mugabe]. … That we dragged him to the negotiating table and took away half of his powers in the process is something we are happy about. … We have half his power. Soon he will be gone.” [Emphasis mine - Andrea]

Friday, September 12, 2008

Thank you

Thank you so much for your encouraging words on my last post, everyone! I haven't vanished because I'm depressed about the agent rejection or anything, I'm just having a lazy weekend to recover from yesterday's long drive and the talks (which went well, but were exhausting. Especially the drive. And the point in the drive where the little GPS device fell off the dashboard and under the seat and then started telling me to turn down roads that didn't exist. I'll tell you the whole story later).

I'll be back tomorrow!

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Sad

I got my first reply back from an agent this morning, and it was a rejection. Wah. Am trying to be cheerful about it, though, and just go back to waiting for the others. Here's what the agent said:

"Thank you for giving us the chance to read the first part of your novel. You definitely write very well, so it is with real reluctance that I say I'm unable to offer you representation for it. This is partly because I'm already handling a novel in a similar subject and the same setting.

Good luck with your writing, and if you produce something else and are not already with another agent, do contact me again."

So at least there's some bright spots in there. I am feeling a bit low about it though, of course.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Fathers' Day

My third father ran away today;
deserted the mothership.
On our planet things work differently;
I am fathered by three men who have left
one
by
one.
Each donated their seed;
our technology is very advanced.
I am a three-father hybrid
a tripod grown from a tri-seed
a triumph of modern engineering.

The first could have been a hologram
a holy telegram from god to stop me getting cocky.
It worked.
Hard to be conceited when a spaceship implodes.
He was in the heart of a star,
a supernova, for one white-hot minute. Maybe it was worth it;
baptised by fire and the spirit
he gave me spirit and form, a wavering
projection of himself.

The second was an astrologer;
he charted my stars and planets
yet I hardly remember him.
Maybe he watches over me
from the horoscope columns
of the local paper, I don’t know.

Today my third father ran away.

I count the stars
one
by
one,
and watch the pregnant moon, frantic
in its mad orbit, deserted by the sun.

Rainy days and Mondays


Apologies for the lack of posting, everyone - this weekend was rather a weird one. Father's Day is always a difficult time in my family for various reasons, and a close friend of the family succumbed to a long battle with cancer last week. I spent today spring-cleaning and walking for hours in the park - needed to take some time out of the world. I'll be back tomorrow, though.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Minutiae

Productive day, for the most part. I wrote about 1,000 words and did some research for a project I've got lined up. Am slightly annoyed, though, because circumstances are conspiring to keep me away from the events I want to attend at the Writers' Festival. There was one at lunchtime today to which I really wanted to go, but something urgent came up and I couldn't.

Oh well, at least I managed to get some work done! And I'm excited about the book launch tonight - as part of the diploma in publishing I did last year, I actually had to put together a marketing plan for this very book. So it will be lovely to see it in the flesh (as it were).

Ladies who launch

I'm going to a book launch - the book is Land Very Fertile, an anthology of poetry and prose inspired by Banks Peninsula, and my friend Coral is one of the editors.
I know I am a complete wuss, but I am a little nervous about driving all the way over to Governor's Bay for the launch (about 40 minutes away). I am not the most confident driver in the world, and I think this will actually be the longest trip I have made in the car. Still, good practice for next week, when I have to drive to Rangiora to speak to my friend's form class. Eek.

In other news, I finally bought my own copy of Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott. I have read bits and pieces of it here and there, but I have never read the whole thing from start to finish. It's such a great book, as I'm sure you know, and definitely a great addition to my little library of books on writing.

And if you haven't entered the giveaway already, please do - I'll be drawing it early next week! Click on the button in the sidebar to go to the giveaway page.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Mink loves it when I do the housework ...







That missing apostrophe on the Housekeeper's Box drives me crazy, but I have yet to think of a good way to add it attractively. And I suppose it gives rise to an interesting image - women in aprons with boxing mitts strapped to their hands.

Another update

Another request for a partial! Yay! That's four out of five so far.

I'm taking a day off today - I need one. I was writing synopses in my sleep.

Monday, September 1, 2008

Done

Well, I have finished my synopsis. I can only quote Bernard Black and say "Enjoy. It's dreadful, but quite short."

Synopses are hard

Aaargh!

Yay!

Another request - for a partial this time!

I need to keep going with the Synopsis of Satan this morning, so forgive me if I post a little later than usual. Thank you so much for all your good thoughts and voodoo vibes, I really appreciate it!

Developments!

Well, I've had two responses already - and both asked for full manuscripts. Which is fantastic. One asked for a synopsis as well, though, and synopses are even more painful to write than query letters! Still, I'm not complaining (much) - I made a start on it this evening, and I'll finish it tomorrow. It's just great to have heard back so quickly, and successfully.

Fingers crossed! Perhaps there'll be some more exciting emails in my inbox tomorrow morning.

Sunday, August 31, 2008

Eek

I have submitted my first five query letters by email. And now I feel a bit sick.

Oh, and the giveaway is still open for another week, so enter if you haven't already! Click on the giveaway button in the sidebar and it will take you straight to the appropriate page.

And also - apologies for all the edits, I keep remembering Important Things - I'm so sorry if you have posted a comment and it hasn't shown up here and I haven't replied. Sometimes my blogger account doesn't send them to me to be modified, so I only get them a week later when I think, "Hmm, better check if there's a comments backlog." Have just found a few now, so I do apologise, and I'll reply to them all today!

I have it!

I sprinted down to the thrift store five minutes before it opened, and, to my horror, saw that they had opened a few minutes early and a lady was already examining the dress. Of course, the shop is on the other side of the road, and it's one of the busiest roads in the city, so I had to wait for the little green man to start blinking before I could run across and burst dramatically into the store.

The lady who was looking at MY dress had turned away to look at something else, so I grabbed the nearest shop assistant and asked them to take it off the mannequin so I could try it on. I told them the whole incoherent story of how I had been dreaming about the dress all weekend, and they were very nice and did not back away and press the panic button as they would be entitled to do. I tried it on. It fit perfectly. I looked at the price tag. Twenty dollars! Really? Shop assistant confirmed it.

Twenty dollars!

I am thrilled.

If this is any indication of how the rest of September is going to be, well ... I can't wait.

Friday, August 29, 2008

Brief encounter

I am in love! Well, of course, I am already in love. With my husband. But now I am also in love with an inanimate object. And no it's not the coffee machine - that relationship is purely physical.

No, I am in love with a dress. I saw it in the window of my local charity shop as we drove by. A red polka dot dress with a full skirt and tulle petticoat. It is possibly the most beautiful dress I have ever seen.

And, of course, the charity shop is closed on Saturday afternoons, and on Sundays. Which means that I'm going to camp out and wait for them to open on Monday morning, then sprint in (elbowing elderly customers out of the way - Granny's going down!) and hope that the price tag doesn't have delusions of grandeur.

My heart is racing, my mouth is dry and I can barely wait till Red Polka Dot Dress and I see each other again. It must be love.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Something to look forward to




I am excited! LOML has taken some time off work, and we're going to Nelson in the first week of October to celebrate our wedding anniversary. I can't wait. I haven't been on holiday since our honeymoon, and I have hugely itchy feet (metaphorically). I want to see new places, experience new things, get out of this city. And it will be really nice to spend some extended time with LOML when neither of us is working or (hopefully) thinking about work.

Also, I get to pack! Packing is one of my favourite things to do. It combines my love of organisation with my love of clothes.

I've never been to Nelson - apparently it's the arts and crafts capital of New Zealand, and the thrift and vintage shopping is meant to be great. I don't suppose there's anyone out there from Nelson who can make some recommendations?

In search of lost time

Hmm, I've hit a bit of a wall in my structural edits. One of the problems I found with the book on the latest read-through was that the pace at which the narrator was growing up wasn't clear. The book starts when she's about five, and when it ends she is fifteen. The problem is that I think the reader isn't aware of exactly how much time is passing, and it can be quite jarring when they suddenly realise, 'oh, she's eleven now,' or whatever.

I think the best way to solve this, for my book, may be to break it up into parts and open each new part with the year. This actually might work well thematically, as well. I'm just worried about being cheesy ... I don't know, sometimes when books are broken up like that it seems a bit contrived. I guess it all depends on how you do it. And it can't be cheesier than opening a chapter with something like 'a year passed ... first spring, then summer, followed by autumn, and finally winter again.' Or something.

I'll try this new structure out and see how it reads.

Edited to add: I think this is going to work well.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Writing a query letter

I'm home today working on the revisions, with that familiar gremlin sitting on my shoulder saying "This is bollocks, you're a terrible writer." I've grown almost fond of him. Almost. Although this may just be due to Stockholm Syndrome (a psychological condition in which captives sympathise with their kidnappers).

I have some fairly major changes to make, which I'm tackling this morning. I've given myself till Friday to finish this batch of revisions. This afternoon, however, is given over to starting work on that dreaded thing, the Query Letter. The golden ticket that will open the magical doors to that most mystical and elusive of creatures - a literary agent.

Query letters are hard. They have to be concise, compelling and punchy. They have to make the agent want to read your book. They are painful to write.

Nathan Bransford, a literary agent based in San Francisco, has posted a basic Mads-Libs-type formula for query letters on his always excellent website. It goes like this:

"Dear [Agent name],

I chose to submit to you because of your wonderful taste in [genre], and because you [personalized tidbit about agent].

[protagonist name] is a [description of protagonist] living in [setting]. But when [complicating incident], [protagonist name] must [protagonist's quest] and [verb] [villain] in order to [protagonist's goal].

[title] is a [word count] work of [genre]. I am the author of [author's credits (optional)], and this is my first novel.

Thank you for your time, and I look forward to hearing from you soon.

Best wishes,
[your name]"

So, for example:


Dear Grumpy McShortandfat,

I chose to submit to you because of your wonderful taste in cat crime, and because you have a cat. I think. Or used to.

Furball is a hard-bitten, hard-biting inner city cat cop living in the back alleys of Chicago. But when a well-known mouse crime syndicate kidnaps his burlesque-dancer girlfriend, Furball must go back to his own long-supressed criminal roots and track down the mouse mafia's Big Cheese in order to save his lady and, ultimately, his city.

'Mousetrap' is a 80,000-word work of cat crime fiction. I am the author of several very well-crafted letters to the editor, and this is my first novel.

Thank you for your time, and I look forward to hearing from you soon.

Best wishes,

Catlover O'Restrainingorder.

I will leave you with some pictures of my cat wrapped up in a blanket.





Oh, and don't forget to enter the giveaway if you haven't already! The post is below, or there's a button on the sidebar that will take you directly back to the giveaway page.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Update

Am back from meeting with Rachael King (Hi, Rachael!) at university, and ostensibly working. This means I am:

1) Making coffee
2) Annoying the cat
3) Following random links on the Internet
4) Picking at a bit of thread on my cardigan
5) Daydreaming
6) Panicking mildly
7) Staring at the goldfish swimming around and around and around

Some actual work may or may not start soon. After the coffee.

I'm a bit nervous about starting the final revisions (well, I say 'final', but what I really mean is 'last ones before I submit it'. Inevitably there will be more). Every time I spend a little while away from the book there is a reluctance to get back in. You know when you go swimming in the summer, and the water is lovely and cool and you don't want to get out, but when you do get out the sun is so warm and you dry out so beautifully that you don't want to get back in again? It's a little like that.

The Christchurch Writers' Festival is coming up, which I have never attended for some reason, and I am excited about it. Today Rachael mentioned a talk in which she is participating called "Not Another Bloody Blog!", where the panel discusses how you can "sort egotistical wittering from the truly interesting and intellectually challenging." It should be a good talk - even though I think my own blog falls squarely into the egotistical wittering category. Those of you who live in Christchurch - take a look at the website! I'd love some friends to drag along to the various events. Let me know if you're interested.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

I do not feel very creative today

I would like to cook
Something new and exciting,
Fresh tastes and flavours;

But all I can do
Is reheat stale leftovers
From the day before.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Studio shoot!

I don't know if you remember, but a while ago LOML and I spent a day in a photography studio. He wanted to play with some different portrait techniques. Well, LOML has given me permission (thanks, LOML!) to post a couple of the photos he took.




LOML's official photography site is here. Oh yes, and you can click to embiggen - they are scarily huge!

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Why my life is like a cupboard

Whenever I look at my lists of New Year's Resolutions (and just plain resolutions) from the past several years, there is a common theme. Be More Organised And Disciplined. And Relax More. The two are a bit contradictory.

I know from what friends have said that I come across as an organised and disciplined person. But inside I don't feel organised and disciplined. I feel like I never really have a handle on life, and my organisation is a way of keeping the inevitable chaos at bay. It's as if my life is a crowded cupboard where the contents are straining against the door, and the slightest touch of the handle will cause them to spring out. I feel like I have to struggle to stay in control of everything, all the time (which is possibly one reason why I have my door-and-appliance-checking compulsions).

I think this need I have for everything to be organised and under control stems in part from growing up in Zimbabwe. My mum has this too. We lived in such chaos there, and everything seemed to impermanent - I was aware that our 'normal' lives could crumble at any moment. There was craziness happening all around us. Everything was so unpredictable. I almost used to crave boredom. I envied people the luxury of being bored. I couldn't be bored, because I didn't feel safe enough to (if that makes sense). When you are painfully aware that 'anything can happen to anyone, at any time' (to quote Arundhati Roy), you can't be complacent.

We tried to combat this feeling by taking charge of the things we had some power over. Like cleaning the house. Performing our little rituals for safety at night (locking the doors and windows, bolting the doors and windows, locking the rape gate, setting the burglar alarm). Hoarding groceries that we might not have been able to get the following week, like sugar and bread. Hoarding petrol. It was an endless battle to keep on top of it all, as much as we could. We were piling up little sandbags of organisation and security against the flood that we knew was coming, sooner or later.

This has carried over into our lives in New Zealand. For a while, when we first arrived here, I felt nervous and jumpy all the time. It was leftover adrenaline from Zimbabwe, which had no concrete thing to focus on. Over time, this faded. But I still have a need to organise, file, hoard, obsessively prepare. I don't ever feel like I'm doing enough.

I don't think I'll ever shake some of my old habits, like: clutching my handbag tightly when I walk in public; locking the car doors while I'm driving; getting jumpy and nervous when my petrol tank is less than half-full; obsessively checking the house doors are locked; feeling nervous going out at night, even when it's to a friend's house in a safe neighbourhood.

I still want to be as organised and disciplined as I possibly can, but I don't want to feel guilty about it when I let things slide a little. I want to be content with some chaos in my life, because it's not possible to be completely in control of everything all the time, and trying to achieve the impossible is only going to make me feel discouraged.

And I still want to learn to relax.

Working on it.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Butterflies and other developments

I have permanent butterflies in my stomach these days. I think I am going to have to name them. There is one called Stanley who tends to look on the dark side of things - he says, "It may all seem like good news, but what about ..." and then proceeds to list all the problems. And there's one called Oswald who jumps about going "Ohmygosh ohmygosh," is a bit over-excitable, and refuses to see any potential drawbacks in a situation. He's just too damn excited.

All that rambling basically means that I am feeling nervous and excited about the book. All the time.

I emailed my advisor this morning, asking if I can start approaching publishers before the book is officially submitted and marked. His email response was titled "Yesyesyes" and went on to say "the sooner the better." He gave me the email address of the writer-in-residence at the university, who has a UK agent, and I sent her a message asking if I could make a meeting time to chat about the publishing process. In a best-case scenario, I may even be able to get a referral to her agent ... but whatever happens, it will be so nice having someone to hold my hand (metaphorically, of course) through the scary finding-an-agent process. I freaked myself out this morning by looking through agent websites and reading all the statistics - how few authors actually get accepted, and after how many hundreds of attempts. Sometimes the Internet is more of a hindrance than a help (same thing applies when you're sick and look up your symptoms - bad idea).

I also emailed another writer friend today - she has published two novels in NZ so far - and asked about the agent thing. She also recommended getting an agent in the UK. So I think the magic 8-ball of opinion is pointing towards England as the best place for publication.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Lists and such

Right, LOML's back, and I feel like I can relax and get stuck into my work again. Here's the plan:

1) Finish secret-project-that-I-don't-want-to-jinx by Friday. And email my advisor asking if I can start approaching publishers before the novel has been officially marked for the MFA.
2) Next week, finish the final revisions of the novel. LOML gave me a couple of great points to think about after his reading - I'm lucky to be married to someone who is a very good unofficial editor/proofreader. And I still haven't addressed the last points my advisor made. So that will keep me busy for the whole week. Also, I need to hand in aforesaid secret project by that Friday.
3) In the first week of September, I'm going to seriously tackle the supplementary essay.

And then I will be DONE with the Masters, and I will have a big party and get very drunk. No, actually I'll save the big party for when I get a publisher.

(Maybe we could have two parties?)

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Statistics

Sick cats - 1
Trips to the after-hours emergency vet last night at midnight - 1
Puddles of cat urine in the car - 2
People before us in the queue at the emergency vet - 1
Minutes spent waiting for the emergency vet - 45
Cats with a urine infection - 1
Catheters inserted into cat - 1
Yawns - 1,000,000
Worries about cat - 1,000,000
Cats kept at the vet's overnight - 1
Hours of sleep last night - 4
Cats picked up from the vet's this morning - 1
Vet's bill - ouch, but ...
Healthy and happy cats - 1

(Interesting outfits Andrea is wearing - 0)

Breaking news! (sort of)

The 2008 results of the Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest are out! It's a competition for the worst first lines of imaginary novels, and it's hilarious.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Slightly tarnished gold

Hello everyone! Sorry for disappearing over the weekend. It has been a strange couple of days, for various reasons that I'll talk about later (once they've sifted through my brain a little more).

I have been following two things this weekend: the Olympics, and the power-sharing talks between Mugabe and the opposition leader, Tsvangirai. While I'm thrilled that new Zealand is doing so well in the Olympics, it touches my heart more to see Kirsty Coventry winning gold for Zimbabwe in the swimming. I went to school with her - she was a couple of years older than me. I wonder how it must feel, representing such a beautiful country that is in such a terrible way at the moment? Bittersweet, I should think. That's how I feel, anyway.

Hopefully the power-sharing talks will come to something. Sadly, cynicism has been proved right so many times before.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Conundrums and the like

Bah! I am not at my most productive and dynamic these days. I'm waiting for LOML to come back before I make the final changes to the book - he took a copy with him to the States, so he may have some thoughts that could improve it. I have made a start on the supplementary essay that I need to hand in to the marking panel with the novel. The blog has been invaluable! I recorded a lot of the process here, so I can go back through the archives and pick out important points for the essay.

I told someone the other day that I was about ready to submit the novel for marking. Their response was, "Great! So after that are you going to get a job?"
I can understand why that's a natural question, but at the same time it really bothers me. As if writing this book is something that will end when I hand it in, a blip in my career. Which it isn't. Once the book has been handed in for the MFA, my next goal is to find a publisher. I am ... tentatively confident. And once I do get a publisher, I really need to step up work on my next book. I have one on the go that I plan to finish over Nanowrimo, but my next major project is one that requires a lot of research.
Anyway, my response to this question is usually, "I already have a job." At the moment, I'm a full-time writer. But I do need to earn some money.

LOML has been really wonderful supporting me this year - it was he who suggested giving up my part-time job at the bookstore so that I could fully concentrate on the book - but I can't (and don't want to) be completely financially dependent on him for long. I want to contribute. Inevitably it is going to be a while before this book pays me anything (and the royalties from the book I published in Zimbabwe are so infinitesimal that they can be completely discounted), so I need to earn money somehow. I don't want to work as a journalist again, and there are no major publishing companies based in Christchurch. I don't want to work in retail again, either, it's just too depressing.

My freelance work has never been my sole source of income - it has always been a sideline that brings in a little extra money. I think, though, that once I've finished with the book and am starting to look for a publisher, I'm going to expand my little company. Set up a proper website. Do some advertising. After all, that's what I'm officially qualified as - a writer and editor.

Forgive my ramblings, this post was a bit stream-of-consciousness ... I'm trying to work through some of the tangles in my head.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Yellow makes me happy

It has been a tough couple of days. Not due to anything external, because everything is good, really, but just in my own head. My obsessive-compulsive tendencies have got worse since LOML left. I was working really hard to overcome them, so it's depressing to slide back into old habits. I have a ritual of checking appliances and doors before bed and before I leave the house that I can repeat up to ten times. It's getting to the point where it's actually having an impact on the way I live - making me late for appointments or making me stay up way too late.

Anyway, on the good side of things, I found a pair of yellow high heels today. As my sister and I walked into the shoe shop, I told her, "I've been looking for yellow heels for ages, but I don't think I'm going to find any." And five minutes later, in the Last Pairs section, we find a pair of yellow heels that were exactly what I had pictured, and on sale. The universe obviously heard me!

(Not to be picky, but it would be nice if the universe had made them just a smidgen wider across the toes. But hey, I'm not going to complain. Much.)

Edited to add: the compulsive door-checking and so on is a hang-over from life in Zimbabwe, where we lived in houses that resembled prisons, and were constantly at risk. Logically, I know that it is much safer here. Unfortunately, though, my emotions refuse to listen to logic! Silly things.

Tired

I must confess, I
am tired of being human.
tired of the stirring

of prehistoric
fronds, urges like flaccid tides
sluggishly oozing.

tired of income tax
supermarkets, superman
too many people

so I resolve finally…

to stop pulling on
you with my slack green fronds
of instinct. Homo

Sapiens my ass…
more sap, amber and sticky,
fills nostrils of dead flies.

and so I retreat
eat a hole in an apple
and curl up inside

in that crisp clean white-
ness, crystal walls with the scent
of water sifting …

I must confess, I
am tired of being human
so tired of thinking.

Friday, August 8, 2008

Snow!

It snowed overnight, and I woke up to a sparkly white world. Which quickly disintegrated into slush, sadly, just as I got my camera out. How sad.

I am exhausted this morning. I find it hard to sleep while LOML's away at the best of times, but last night one of our neighbours was having a party that seemed to start at about 1am and go till dawn. Actually, this in itself wasn't too disturbing - they were laughing and talking and occasionally shouting something, but I could have slept through it. What was REALLY irritating was the man hanging out of his window yelling "Shut up! I'm going to call the cops!" every twenty minutes. He had a very loud voice. And, of course, when he yelled, they yelled back. So I am a little bleary-eyed and caffeine-hungry today.

I do, however, have grand plans to clean out my wardrobe today and get everything ready for the fashion swap tomorrow.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Developments!

Well, I heard back from my advisor today. He's finished reading the book. And what he says is great, but at the same time a little scary. He thinks I'm ready to submit the book to the marking panel, after I've written the supplementary essay. I really didn't think I would be finished with my Masters this soon ... it's a bit of a mental adjustment.

The supplementary essay has to be around 5,000 words long, and has to describe how the project came about, what my experience of it was, how it all came together and so on and so forth. Luckily I have this blog to refer to! I think it documented the process pretty well.

This also means that I'll be able to start submitting the book to publishers very soon. At the end of his email, my advisor said, "you've written a pretty damn' good piece of work here, one that in my view will find a publisher worth having. It reads relentlessly, and ends very well." And I'm thrilled about that. My aim through this whole process has been to find a publisher who can distribute the book internationally. But I'm scared! It seems silly to be scared. I think it is because I feel like I'm on the brink of all these exciting developments, and part of me wants to climb under a duvet and hide from it all. I guess there's nothing wrong with hiding under the duvet and feeling overwhelmed for one night, so long as I suck it up and get going in the morning.

As a consequence

As a consequence
Of your absence
There are no birds in my skies
Plants don’t photosynthesise
I can’t drink tea
Or watch TV
You’ve cut off my electricity.

As a consequence
Of your absence
I can’t speak English anymore
The doorbell’s vanished from my door
The radio spits static
Like a semi-automatic
And the cat won’t sit on my knee.

As a consequence
Of your absence
Religion seems a punishment
And prayer an empty blandishment
God isn’t a romantic
The traffic’s got more frantic
And I'm an extra in my own movie.

Monday, August 4, 2008

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