Friday, July 31, 2009

What do you have to give up to be a writer?

John Scalzi had a blog post on this subject two days back. Basically he was saying in answer: nothing much. Give up an hour's TV (or internet surfing or gaming or similar), 5 days a week, and you can write a book in a year.

In a way he is right. Many people do just that. Plus they write while commuting in trains or waiting in queues or other odd moments. And in a year or so, you have your book written.

However, I don't think Scalzi tells the whole truth, at least not as far as most people are concerned. It's one thing to write the prerequisite number of words, it can be a much more prolonged affair to hone them to something that a publisher will buy.

Then, just when you think you have solved all problems and you have a contract...that's when you get introduced to something called the deadline. You have a contract that specifies a date by which you have to hand in your next book. And suddenly, that one hour a day begins to look like an over-optimistic time frame.

Typically, this is what happens. You have written the first book of three you have planned. You have just got a 3 book proposal accepted, with a proviso. The editor has said, we want book 1 submitted by 1st September, but we want you to cut out the dwarf character and change the setting from fairyland to 19th century Armenia. And book 2 is due 1st June next year, book 3 1st March the year after.

And you, in the first flush of success, agree to everything...

That's when those dates begin to loom large, and one hour a day begins to look sick indeed. What if, when you are halfway through book 2, you realise it's not working and you have to start again? And that is when you start searching for more time (in between keeping the boss at work happy - plus the spouse and kids at home happy, not to mention the dog walked, the garden weeded and the bath cleaned or whatever your chores are...).

And then you discover that the publisher sends you the copy edit of book 1 to correct. Two weeks work. Then later the proofs. Four days. And asks you to do some publicity. And oh, they aren't happy with book 2, could you possible insert 6 dwarves and skip the 19th century Armenian scenes entirely?

You dream of giving up the day job - but everyone tells you not to be crazy. Statistically, it is doubtful you will EVER be able to earn enough to match your day job, although if you write genre you probably have a better chance than mainstream "literary" novels.

And in the end, something has got to give. The housework. Or time with the family. That holiday at the beach (or you go and spend all the time working.) In the end most of us make sacrifices beyond an hour's TV a day. (I actually watch no TV. We don't own one.)

Is it worth it? Of course!

And my best advice to budding writers? Learn to write in small bytes. Ten minutes in the doctor's waiting room. Five minutes in a queue. In the car waiting to pick up the kids. Early in the morning before anyone else is up. Carry a netbook with you if you can. Use it. Or settle for the back of an envelope and a pencil stub if you must. Every minute means a few more lines towards meeting that deadline.

Do we give up something to write? Yes, I think so. But we gain satisfaction.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

The travel curse strikes again...

Synopsis: many years ago 2 sons-in-law invented a new passive verb: "To be noramlyed". The meaning: when you travel with any member of the Noramly family, something will go wrong with your plans. Now read on...


Daughter and husband have been noramlyed. Firstly, she and her husband sent their passports off to have a Chinese visa inserted...but only one passport came back. Much telephoning and pleading ensured.

Promise was extracted that passport would arrive on plane at local airport at 11 pm, the night before they were to leave at 7 am. Hmm.

Drive out to airport. One hour later, it was established that a) passport was not at airport and in fact no one had the faintest dea where it was, and b) the plane it was supposed to have come in on was not arriving - at all. Which might not have been such a huge problem, had it not been the same plane they were supposed to be taking out the next morning. Which might not have been such a huge problem, except that they were connecting to a flight, to China, in Atlanta and there was no other flight that would get them there in time to make the connection.

Midnight to 2am, they spend 2 hours on 2 telephones to:
a) find out where passport is
b) book new flights
c) persuade airline to add 2 days on to end of trip seeing as they were going to knock 2 off the beginning - yep, they couldn't get them to China until 2 days later!

Of course, there are all kinds of knock on effects too...

Noramlyed, definitely.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Where did the Stormlord Come From?

Today's blog post from me you can find here over on SFnovelists. Poke around while you're there. It's the hangout for a bunch of cool authors, covering the genre from hard sf to urban paranormal.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Q: When is an icepack necessary ...

...for one's butt?

When you ask Dad to help out with you-know-what -- and he has been cutting chillies for dinner.


Saturday, July 25, 2009

A fantastic journey

Once, walking across the Hungarian steppes* in the company of a wonderful ornithologist with the unlikely name of Atilla, I saw that we were passed every couple of minutes by Red Admiral butterflies, all flying in the same direction. To my astonishment, Atilla told me these were on migration and that some of them would end up in Africa.

I marvelled then at the capacity for something so delicately fragile to make that long journey, but that achievement is dimmed in the face of something I read about yesterday.

Biologist Charles Anderson has published details of the mass migration in the Journal of Tropical Ecology. You can - and ought to - read all about it here, in a BBC article, just to get that sensawunda moment that raises the hairs on the back of your neck...

Imagine, five species of dragonflies setting off on a round trip of 14000 to 18000 kms (9000 to 11000 miles) , much of it across open ocean**.
Imagine them doing it in one direction against the prevailing wind...
which necessitates them flying at above 1000m, possibly as high as 6000m (19,000'+.)

It takes them 4 generations to make the round trip.

And the bit that really interested me was that they are taking the same route as a number of species of falcons, cuckoos, nightjars and bee-eaters. Which looooooove insects.

*Hortabagy Puszta National Park
**The Monarch butterflies are real wimps, only achieving 7,000kms (4,300 miles) in four generations.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Racist covers?

Read what Justin Larbalestier has to say about the cover of one of her YA books.

Readers in the USA have also complained to me that my character Blaze also suffered from whitewashing*, especially insulting to me as I am the mother of children who are not white, and I quite deliberately depicted a main female protagonist who was not either.

But authors often don't get to choose.

* Actually, she is sort of vaguely dusky on the cover of The Aware (book1)
The woman on the cover of Gilfeather (book 2) is supposed to be the blonde, Flame - but she was drawn with two arms wielding a sword (ok, one of them is blue!), which is not remotely like the description of Flame...the woman never picks up a sword, for heaven's sake. Quite apart from the fact that she loses an arm early on in the first novel. So a lot of readers think she is supposed to be Blaze.

Kids in the mall

Grandson and friend in the downtown mall (pix is taken outside and that sofa is tiled...)

And note: I have started on Book 3 of the trilogy (see sidebar for progress meter). Note that the meter is more for me, than you...


Thursday, July 23, 2009

So I opted for the glossary

I sent off the MS of Book 2 Stormlord Rising for copy edit - with a glossary added because many of you said you liked them*.

Now I am clearing the deck desk, ready for the plunge into book 3.

And as a continuation if my last post: apparently many fans of sff really don't seem to like book trailers - at least those fans who follow the genre on line.

...For any of the following reasons:
"I want to do my own imagining, especially of characters and the world."
"I can get what I want from the blurb."
"They are mostly amateurish and boring."
"What is on the trailer isn't really in the book (unlike movie trailers.)"

*There was no glossary for book 1 and I have designed this one for people who need an aide memoire of who and what was in book 1.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Book trailers - What do you think?

If you don't know what a book trailer is, pop over here to take a look.

What I want to know is - would a book trailer influence you to buy or not buy a book?
What would you like a book trailer to tell you? What makes a good/bad book trailer?

Here's another example of a trailer - an obviously very, very expensive, professionally done one. Kinda amused me. I think. Or grossed me out, or something.

Monday, July 20, 2009

More photos - Baltimore

On the way between Newark Airport and Charlottesville, we stopped in Baltimore and went for a ride across the harbour and a walk...

Can't say it had been high on my "must see" places, but it really was a lovely area to spend some time in. Baltimore on Chesapeake Bay has always been a working harbour.

The first photo is extraordinary - it's a lighthouse which used to be standing on some rocks in the middle of the estuary - and it had a live in lighthousekeeper. One scary job in a storm, I would have thought. Now how can I use that in one of my books...hmmm....
Pix 2 has to be one of my favourite bookshop locations - on the waterfront, in a power house with Hard Rock Cafe to hand...

And here is one of the original ships of the American navy, the Constellation.
The rest are just interesting buildings. One of the nice things about the old town is the little decorative bits...

Sunday, July 19, 2009

So how many times have I read it?

The other day I mentioned I was bored with the book. I think that is actually a sign that it is ready to be launched into the hands of the copy editor. In a way, I'm bored because it is as good as I know how to make it...which I think is not bad - i.e. I don't think it is going to bore anyone else!

So how many times have I read it?

  • I read it as I wrote it. 1x
  • I read and re-work whatever I wrote the day before, then proceed with the new day's writing. 2x
  • Halfway through the book I read all that I have written, so by the time I finish the first draft, I have actually read and re-worked it two and a half times. 2.5 x
  • I read it through and make major structural alterations 3.5 x
  • After those alterations I read it again to fine tune. 4.5 x
  • After the fine tuning, I read and rework it again and send it off to the beta readers 5.5 x
  • While the beta readers and reading it, I work through it again 6.5 x
  • With the beta readers input back to me, I work through it again 7.5 x
  • I read it again for dialogue-spelling-naming-distances-times consistency/continuity and to turf out repetition 8.5 x
  • Read it aloud for flow/rhythm and to catch typos and grammatical errors (and I still don't catch them all!!) 9.5 x
  • Send off to editor. When I get it back, read to tweak the areas suggested. 10.5 x
Which is where I am now.
  • The next re-read and re-work is when I get it back from the copy editor 11.5 x
  • Final re-read of the galleys (aka arcs, first pages) for any egregious errors 12.5 x
And that's it.
Quite frankly, some of the troublesome bits get a lot more than the 12.5 times.

This is a huge door stop of a book - 180,000 words. It comes in at 619 pages in the Australian/UK paperback size (i.e., not as small as the American mass market paperback, not as large as the trade paperback.) I have not only read it more than 12 times in the past 12 months, I have re-worked it at each draft.

No wonder I want to stop.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

The Thermometer




(No, I am not stretching. I'm asleep)

(Soon please, I'm waiting...)

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Fun stuff

New take on Millet's The


See here for more details.
P.S. although I have changed the time zone on my computer, Blogger refuses to acknowledge that. So that's why the dates on my postings from US are all wonky.


My editor required some minor alterations to the MS before it goes to copy edit (this is
book 2, Stormlord Rising, that I am talking about). Trouble is, they necessitate re-reading and tweaking the whole MS. And believe me, after so many countless reads, your own book begins to pall. A lot.
Pix is of my grandson picking raspberries in New Jersey. The astute among you may realise that is not a raspberry bush. I am not the only one who gets bored when there is work to be done...
I'd rather climb a peach tree too.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Welcoming committee

Arrived late last night in Virginia, via Baltimore.
Here's the welcoming committee.

Skunky, the cat who hates strangers and yet welcomes me back after 11 months with an aggrieved look of, 'What took you so long? Don't you know no one EVER scratches me under the chin here?'

Monday, July 13, 2009

Exploring New Jersey: Princeton

Ok, so I admit I had no idea that Princeton was in New Jersey.

Hey, I'm an Australian, ok? If you'd asked me, I would have had a guess at Connecticut. So it was with some surprise that I heard daughter ask if I wanted to go to Princeton for a couple of hours yesterday, as it was only 10 minutes drive away from where we were staying.Of course I said yes, and off we went. A lovely town, and a lovely campus. My daughter was a disparaging. Being an Oxford grad, she was muttering under her breath about Oxbridge wannabes... It was indeed hard not to make comparisons, right down to the rowing on the river.
But who cares. It's pretty.

There was even a guy in a kilt, with bagpipes...

Iceland, Greenland and Plastic Forks

And the clouds cleared briefly...Greenland below

As airlines go, Malaysian Airlines is one of the world's best - good legroom, good individualised entertainment, good food, good service. Although I do want to know why, when they give you a chunk of steak to eat, they also supply you with a knife and fork so fragile they would bend if you poked at melted icecream. The meat was tender, yes, but then so was the cutlery...

There was a chocolate dessert to die for out of Sweden though. And you don't often say that about airplane food, do you?
Greenland: summer lakes

If you discount the plastic tableware, I wasn't Noramlyed, not once. We arrived on time in Newark, New York, after 22 hours (via Sweden) in a full plane. Yay, MAS.My first views of Iceland. Note the sheets of ice slipping out from between the two peaks.

For me, the most interesting bits were looking down on Iceland, which I had never seen before. Unfortunately, there was a lot of cloud, and more still when we flew over southern Greenland later. Iceland: the range across the middle in the photo is topped with both snow and cloud. If you look carefully, you can see glaciers spilling down the slopes into a settled valley.

I still remember an earlier flight (alas, I didn't have a camera) when we had brilliant weather and I saw the brutal black cliffs of Greenland plunging down into the startling blue of the north Altantic. Dazzling white patches of huge ice floes and icebergs drifted on that deep untramarine...

This time the scenery was much more muted by cloud and haze.
A town in Iceland, surrounded by farming land

And did I get much work done?
No, not really. About one quarter of book two readied for copy edit is all.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Please, no noramlying...

I am travelling soon. And it will be several days before I end up in Charlottesville, Virginia. Please keep your fingers crossed that I don't get Noramlyed en route. (If you don't know what that is, try the search blog function above.)

My battery in my laptop is pathetic, so I have to look at other ways to spend those 22 hours between K.L. and New Jersey - I have printed out part of Stormlord Rising to do the final run through before the copy edit. At least I am travelling with MAS, which believe me is better than United. I don't have to spend the night at Singapore airport...

Thursday, July 09, 2009

The Last Stormlord...

...goes off to the printers today in Australia.
Should be in the shops in about 6 weeks time.

And I am off to Virginia tomorrow.

Monday, July 06, 2009

More photos from Tioman Island

Squid boat. These go out at night with banks of powerful lights that attract the squid...and it was squid season on the island.
We sat on chairs on the beach here and read. Every now and then I would look up and watch the birds coming to the fruiting fig tree - Green Imperial and Pied Imperial and Pink-necked Pigeons, Red-eyed Bulbuls, Black-naped Orioles, Asian Glossy Starlings. Overhead, Brahminy Kites and White-bellied Sea-eagles chased by Dollarbirds... Paradise indeed.
Lunch by the sea - noodles with, you guessed it, squid.
And then Happy Hour, watching the sun go down outside out chalet.

Sunday, July 05, 2009

Why you shouldn't get upset by a review

Every now and then some idiot makes a scene about a bad review of their book. It doesn't happen very often, but someone last week took it to a new high by voicing her complaint via some not very nice tweets, and siccing her fans onto the reviewer and publishing his phone number. Big fuss, public apology had to be made, and so on. The surprising thing was that this was a well established author, not a novice.

So for anyone out there who is already - or hopes to be one day - published and reviewed, let me tell you one very good reason why you should NEVER take too much notice of any particular review, good or bad:

It really doesn't mean much because you will never be able to please everyone.

And here is the proof:

I once had a single star review from a reader on the Barnes & Noble USA online site. The book was The Aware, and the heading was "An Unpleasant Read".

It was ages ago and I can't access that particular review any longer, but from memory the reviewer went on to say something along the lines of her "idea of an entertaining story was not one where the plot seemed to consist of people getting caught and escaping ad infinitum".

There might have been more, but I can't recall. Definitely an unhappy reviewer. The review was about as bad as you can get, and I've remembered it particularly because she never did say why she used the word "unpleasant" and I have been curious ever since.

And then there is this review, also on the Barnes & Noble site. Same book, different reviewer, four years later.

"...this series has to much to offer. It had wonderful satire, selfless decisions, curious characters, original plot, and completely valid for teaching in schools. The themes of this book series were amazing, and her writing style is smooth and fresh. Blaze Halfbreed is a strong and cunning character whose past is heart-breaking yet it's amazing to see her still alive and thriving. This book will be one I re-read, and there aren't a lot I actually do re-read. I highly recommend this for anyone who wants something with substance and something that is original and actually does not have much in the way of cliches. The way it goes, one may think one thing, but a completely opposite event happens. The twists and turns and ties all bring this series to be my absolute favorite of every book I've read."

In fact, you can't get a better reader review than that.

Same book.

'Nuff said.

Saturday, July 04, 2009

No, mate, it's Australian!

I was in the flower market in Amsterdam once, with my sister. As we were admiring the bunches of picked flowers in buckets, one of us exclaimed, Look! Morrison!'

We turned to say to the flowerseller,
"This is a flower native to the place where we grew up!"

And she said, "Oh, you're from Israel?"


I have walked in Italy and the south of France, in Greece and Turkey, in Tunisia, Algeria and Morocco, and in each one of those places I have had the locals point out their lovely native trees -- Eucalyptus every one.

I have heard Californians wax lyrical over their lovely Californian trees. Yep, Eucalypts.

Last night we had dinner with an old friend, a Brazilian nuclear scientist. We were talking of trees and native fruits, and he said he looked forward to showing me the wonderful Eucalyptus groves of Brazil. "They are our native trees," says he. "Very beautiful..."

Listen folk. Let's get this straight for once and for all.

Eucalyptus trees are native to Australia (which has over 700 species)
and a few islands of South-East Asia
(which have 15 species, 8 of which are also found in Australia).


You may grow them, but you pinched them from downunder first!

And Morrison (Verticordia) is also Australian. In fact I seem to remember reading somewhere that Western Australia had more wildflower species than the rest of the world put together. I have no idea if that extravagant claim is true or what their definition of wildflower was anyway, but I do know that when we were feral kids scampering around the range at the back of our place in spring, the morrison was just one in masses and masses of gloriously absurd and wonderful flowering plants.

If you haven't seem the West Australian woodlands in spring, you have missed one of the world's great experiences.

See here for a tiny taste. And note that Verticordia. The top lefthand pix on this page is also Verticordia. The trees are all species of Eucalyptus. The topmost are called blackbutt...three guesses why. All photos were taken in my home state, Western Australia.