The pages are still blank, but there is a miraculous feeling of the words being there, written in invisible ink and clamoring to become visible - Vladimir Nabokov

There is no agony like bearing an untold story inside you - Zora Neale Hurston

31 December 2009


Summing up the last year seems to be a blogging tradition, so I shall bow to tradition:

I wrote two books in 2009, more than fulfilling my resolution from the previous year.

I hoped to query more agents (only 4 sent out--which were rejected. I decided to retrench before embarrassing myself further), but I altered my plan when I realized I should write more. I think my books are pretty good, but I know they can be better.

I started this blog and met 10 wonderful followers (thank you guys!!) as well as discovered a rich blogosphere that I could access for support and friendship. Probably the BEST discovery of 2009.

My husband finished his Masters degree. I'm so proud of him (off the topic of writing but had to mention it).

I told my boss that I didn't want to run my own lab (it would have left me no time for writing or anything else), which was very scary to admit out loud.

For 2010, I plan to write at least two more books, get good enough to find an agent, and make even more blogging friends.

I hope you fulfilled all your resolutions (at least the ones that mattered) and have a Happy New Year!

24 December 2009

What It's All About

I had a difficult time finding my Christmas spirit this year. I'm not sure why. Fear of the uncertain future and the writer's path I've chosen? One more year gone by without starting a family of my own? I'm the most optimistic person I know, so I've patiently waited for this disquiet to pass.

It happened slowly: a Christmas card from the aunt I haven't seen in a decade cheerily talking about her horses as if a day has not gone by that I haven't seen her; a heartfelt Christmas wish sent by text from a friend across town; me wondering if the Christmas gift for my brother on the other side of the world has arrived yet; drawing green holly leaves and red berries on white paper with brilliant markers...Slowly, that warm glow grew in my heart and spread to my head, to my fingers and toes, and now I feel like I'm floating, like all things are possible. Now, I remember what this holiday is all about--love.

May you all know it, whether you celebrate Christmas, Yule, Hanukkah, Kwanza, Frau Holle, or nothing at all! Happy Holidays!

22 December 2009

Dirty Little Secret

I'm on holidays now (yay for me!), and, in addition to writing, I've had time to indulge in pre-Christmas sales and revel in a vice of mine--DVD watching. In particular, I couldn't resist buying an entire series for $20 per season (that's Australian dollars, which translates to about $17 U.S. See why I couldn't resist?). Now, this is the embarrassing bit--the series I bought is "Dawson's Creek". Yes, I love a teenage soap. When you stop laughing, I'll go on.

Now, I consider my love of the Creek my dirty little secret because of the way others, men in particular, react. I'm normally the chick who awes geeks with her encyclopedic knowledge of D&D, Warcraft and video games. I was buying "Borderlands" as a gift for my husband and chatting with the guy at EB games about how it compares to Fallout 3. There was nothing he could tell me that I didn't already know from my research, like the groundbreaking random weapon generator (which, personally, I don't think holds a candle to the devilishly brilliant AI developed for "Galactic Civilizations" but that's beside the point). I absorb knowledge without even wanting to sometimes. I don't play video games much, but when I do, it's usually "Sims", where I can create characters with different personalities and watch how they interact (the writer in me at work). Now, as soon as I asked the EB guy for the release date of the latest Sims add on, his smile vanished and I got the "you are such a girl" look. Sims is a girl's game. I got the same look when I asked for the last season of Dawson's Creek at my local DVD store. I HATE that look.

Allow me a moment to defend my forbidden love. First of all, the Creek has THE best vocabulary of any series I've ever watched. I'd never seen 'apotheosis' used in a sentence before and Dawson did it brilliantly. I know they're teenagers with a bigger vocabulary than most adults, but that's how I felt when I was a teenager--I thought I knew it all and was SO much smarter than everyone around me. Wisdom comes when you realize how little you truly know. Second, the show's writers were self-aware enough to make fun of themselves about the language and melodrama. I like self awareness. Third, the show tackled some great concepts (hidden cleverly behind shallow dramas to pull in the audience numbers) like platonic love, forgiveness and our self-destructive natures. When Dawson's mom cheated on her ideal husband and perfect life, she said it was because it was too perfect: "I wanted to want." Wanting to want is a demon I deal with myself. Fourth, I've mentioned I'm a sucker for romance, and I couldn't resist Pacey and Joey, especially since Pacey is like my husband (the cool slacker who is a hopeless romantic at heart). Finally, the reason I wanted to watch it again was the great ending. I love stories with sad endings (there was a bit of that in there too), but happy endings make me want to come back again and again to re-watch or re-read. The Creek has a happy ending.

Now, despite my irrefutable arguments in favor of Dawson's Creek as a storytelling vehicle, I am prepared for the jibes. Go ahead (not that I think any of you wonderful readers would say anything bad, but I support freedom of speech). Better yet, can you find sublime story elements in the basest entertainments? Do you learn from everything you encounter (be it Shakespeare or Dawson's Creek) or find wisdom in the strangest places? I'd like to hear about it.

13 December 2009

Sunny day, good food...bad mood

We had our work Christmas party this weekend, and, well, I was bored to tears. Normally, I love the holidays and the opportunity to relax and chat over a plastic cup of soda, but I was in a 'mood' this time. You know, one of those irrational, every-little-thing-annoys-you moods. This being Australia, we had the party at Centennial Park surrounded by palm trees, ibis birds, and black swans on the lake. I loved the view and strolling with my husband, but this was supposed to be a party, so I went back to the clump of people standing around talking about work--on my SATURDAY.

I wasn't enjoying any of the conversations, and whenever I tried to shift the topic to something a little more interesting, like NOT work, my efforts were resisted. I gave up and lay back on the picnic blanket with my husband, watching the sun move across a cloudless blue sky, wishing I was at the beach--without my workmates.

I tried to enjoy the food, but kept watching to make sure people were eating the coconut and cream cake I baked. Then it was time for the Kris Kringle. My boss has a long tradition of hosting 'The Present Game' where everyone takes a number out of a hat, with the lowest number picking a present out of the pile first. Everyone afterwards then has a choice of picking a wrapped gift or stealing (which is seldom done, since it's so impolite) the present of their choice from someone else. It's best to have the highest number, so you have more gifts to choose from. I had '3'. The one responsible for the hat draw had the highest number. Hmm... Of course this person, who is my least favorite, even on a good-mood day, stole my cinnamon scented candles. I love cinnamon. He stole the candles I got last Christmas too. My husband noticed my clenched fists and teeth-grinding, but I managed not to say or do anything I'd regret on Monday.

The agony eventually ended, and, as I was packing up the car to go snorkeling and wring some fun out of the day, one sweet person (a boyfriend of a friend) sincerely complimented me on the cake. I wished I'd chatted with him more, wished I hadn't been so uptight and had complimented other people's food more, and wished I hadn't felt so angry over candles.

It's amazing how your mood can color every perception and turn even a beautiful picnic into a chore. To relate this to writing, mood and perception is a powerful tool, especially when writing in first person. The point of view character is not necessarily seeing things clearly, and this can be used to hide information (like the cake-lover at a party) from the reader until you want them to stumble across it.
As for real life, my New Year's resolution is to focus on the good in every situation, whether I want to be there or not.

07 December 2009


My classically-trained artist husband only recently discovered the joys of cartooning. As you can see, he did a great pic of me at work, but it's highly inaccurate. I'm not talking about the big head (though sometimes I do have one) or the red shoes (I so wish I owned) or the typewriter (which I haven't used since 1992). The biggest mistake in this drawing is that he left himself out of the picture.

Clayton is my writing partner as well as my emotional support. He's dyslexic and can't read, but he loves books as much as I do. I read most things aloud to him, including blogs, and, with the rise of text-to-speech software and audiobooks, which he can listen to while painting, he's becoming more well-read than me. I still haven't gotten to the Time Traveller's Wife.

He doesn't understand the first thing about punctuation, but he has an ear for the sound of words, and he's insanely creative. We brainstorm ideas off each other, discuss characters, backstory... Sometimes he comes up with the inciting idea or a plot point, or vice versa. We both realize when something isn't working, and he'll often wake up from a dream with a solution for me. I do the nitty gritty work of putting words on the page, but he helps make them something better. I haven't joined a critique group yet, but I'm not writing alone, and that helps get me through the tough spots.

What about you? Do you work with a writing partner? Or, is there someone in your life who supports and inspires you? How do they affect your writing?

03 December 2009

Passing Along the Honesty

I've already thanked Michele for my Honest Scrap Award, but it doesn't hurt to say thanks again. Thanks! Now to follow the rules and tell you 10 true things about me:

  1. 1. I was once socially oblivious. For years, whenever someone asked me about my weekend, I'd tell them. After much practice, I learned to ask, "And how was your weekend?" I've improved so much that now I can listen to my friends, offer support, and not bring up my own self-involved worries until asked.

  2. I like to use Lorel Clayton as my writing identity rather than Lorel Colgin, because if you google my real name you get 10 pages of mostly science-related mumbo-jumbo.

  3. I've lived in Idaho, Nevada, California, Oregon, Washington and Sydney Australia.

  4. I have 2 passports, which is very 'James Bond' and cool.

  5. I'm almost ambidextrous (can do everything except write with my left)

  6. I'm not afraid of heights, love 'em actually. But boats make me nauseous and eventually comatose.

  7. I audited Ancient Greek as a break from molecular biology in grad school (does that put me at the top of every nerd-ometer or what?)

  8. I'm a sucker for romance and action movies, though I usually don't like the subjects mixed. Also, I played with both Barbie and GI Joe as a child. I wonder if this is related to my pseudo-ambidexterity?

  9. I have a level 80 human rogue in World of Warcraft and not by choice. It's the only way I've been able to stay in touch with my video-game obsessed brother over the last couple of years.

  10. I own a monographed pool cue :)

Now, the hard part. Who can I pass the award along to that doesn't already have it (I'm thinking of you Elizabeth)? I need to get out there in cyberspace more.

  1. Justine Larbalestier's blog--She writes YA, but she's honest, entertaining and her book 'Liar' is so good I wish I'd written it.

  2. The Kill Zone--The musings of these thriller writers can be educational and make you paranoid about a career in writing, even if you're on the NY Times Bestseller list.

  3. Terry's Place--Interesting anecdotes, writing advice, and her storyboards are awesome. She's inspired me to give it a try.

  4. John August--It's screenplays and not novels, but there are some great thoughts about storytelling in general. It's also where I heard about Girl With The Dragon Tattoo (I think. My brain is melting so I'm not sure)

  5. Query Shark--THE place to learn about writing queries. It's enough to frighten you away from ever approaching an agent.

That's it. Like I said, I need to read more blogs and make more cyber-friends...and ask them about their weekend :)

Golly Gee, I better blog now

Thanks to Michele for saying such nice things about this site! She and Elizabeth have kept the chirping of crickets at bay as I establish my blog cred. Michele's a fellow traveller on the road to being published, and Elizabeth is a sweet, down to earth, published writer who generously passes along her hard won wisdom.

I could go on gushing about these great ladies forever, but they've also inspired me to take a bit of time away from novel writing and blog. Here goes...


I have hundreds of books stacked double thick on hardwood shelves all around my living room. I read a lot. I even list reading as my top 'hobby' on Facebook or wherever else these things are asked (I'm an utter nerd, I know). I can lend them, but I can never give a book away (or *gasp!* throw one away) because I like to re-read. Some books stand the test of time (all my long-out-of-print Walter Jon Williams stuff for example), but others I've outgrown. Things you enjoyed in your youth can make you cringe now (I once loved Tom Hanks' Bachelor Party, but Cast Away is more my style these days). John August recently posted on this, which got me thinking about how my literary tastes have matured:

  1. I'm less patient. Once able to endure chapters of description, I now prefer stuff to happen!

  2. Character is key. The books I remember decades later are the ones with unique, powerful characters. I identify with different aspects of them now, but I still identify.

  3. My interests have broadened. Used to be I had obsessions where I'd read only Nancy Drew, or Dean Koontz, or only sci-fi or fantasy. Now I'm willing to read anything that's good.

  4. Story isn't as important. I used to equate 'good' with an interesting story, but that's only part of it. I want the experience along the way to be enjoyable, every word, every scene. I want it to draw me in.

What does this mean for my own writing? I'm reading more and maturing faster. And I get harder on myself everyday. I thought my first manuscript was great. I had outside readers who loved it, and I gave myself a few weeks to cool off before editing. Voila done! Right. Another finished manuscript later, I go back to the first and cringe. I can do so much better than even a year ago. Fiddling and improving could go on forever, I know. So, I'm setting a deadline. Once I've written 5 'practice' manuscripts, I'm going to actively push the best towards publication and keep 'practicing' in the mean time. Two down, three to go.

Now, how have your tastes changed and what's your Bachelor Party?

01 December 2009

Style Hopping

I'm someone who gets bored easily. Don't get me wrong, I can lay back and enjoy a candlelit bath and a good book with the best of them, but I need action. I compose huge 'to do' lists and run around like a chicken with its head cut off, because I want the satisfaction of accomplishment. Getting in a morning jog and feeding ducks on the river before I blog and go to work, followed by cooking a great meal, watching an hour of a fav TV show then writing, is my idea of a day well spent. Even my holidays are jam-packed.

The key to a great day for me is variety. It's wonderful if I can spend ten hours writing, but if I don't get in some quality time with my husband (who I'm soppily in love with even after 20 years) and go for a walk, at least, then I feel antsy. Months and years are hurtling by at a frightening pace, but I've noticed that days brimming with variety seem to go on forever. I can slow down time this way. Time isn't measured by numbers on a clock but by experiences.

In terms of my writing, I get equally antsy. I like to try new styles, approaches and ideas. Stretching myself brings a feeling of accomplishment. I've finished two manuscripts, and I'm about 5,000 words into a third. They're each different:

Example #1: The fear he felt around his real dad was very different from the fear he felt around Jason. No telling when it would start. Sometimes, it started right at the beginning, sometimes on the drive home. This time it was after the sun set and a red moon rose into the sky.
“You have to be careful, Shawn. You remember what I said? You’re special.”

“Yeah, I remember.” He kept his voice even, playing along. If he didn’t argue, the episodes passed more quickly.

Example #2: There were three reasons I dreaded this meeting. First, despite the fact that Duane and my brother were best friends, Duane and I…"clashed" would be the polite way of putting it. I was seldom polite, so I called it "hating his guts". Second, during the disbursement of my brother’s will, I discovered that Duane was given guardianship of my five year old nephew. Uncle Ulric was contesting it--the boy was his only remaining male heir--and he would win of course, but I didn’t want to get in the middle, especially when I considered Duane and Uncle equally evil. Although, my sister could teach them both a thing or two.

Example #3: The six year old hung over the side of the boat and trailed his hand in placid water. Beneath the surface, a white form rose into the light. Dead eyes stared at the boy, and he stared back. Ralen’s throat was caked with fire. He cupped his palm to capture the yellowish water. So thirsty. He put the liquid on his tongue but it burned even worse than the air, and he spit it out again. The mouth of the corpse was open now, laughing.


The only good thing about being unpublished is that I have the freedom to indulge my desire for variety. It seems that once you're 'out there' you're branded. Your name has to mean something to readers; they want to know what to expect. All right, I'd be happy if anyone remembered my name, let alone thought of it as a brand. Still, it's easier to market yourself if you're consistent. If you must hop styles, as I do for my own sanity, what's the best way to work it into a writing career? Pseudonyms? Don't even dream about it until you're established? If you have to choose one genre/style to focus on, how do you decide? How can this headless chicken choose a niche?

23 November 2009

Keep It Short

I tend to be long winded when I'm musing (thus my usual essay length posts). Today, in keeping with the topic, I will be brief (-er).
A colleague of mine was interviewed by the local news station yesterday and asked to explain his new discovery. He is an MD and notorious in the lab for an inability to say anything plain. I watched the poor reporter grow more and more frustrated as she attempted to wring one usable sentence out of him. Finally, she said, "That's not a news story, it's a bunch of words!"
Words alone do not make a story. In fact, words can get in the way. My colleague was trying to convey every nuance, unwilling to trim it down to the essentials, and nothing was getting across.
My first drafts are burdened with useless adjectives, adverbs, "just" and so on. I'm learning to prune things (though my new problem is finding a balance between conciseness and voice--another topic for another day). "The First Five Pages" by Noah Lukeman, as well as many wonderful blog posts, have been a huge help to me. Lukeman points out that, instead of enhancing, adjectives and adverbs weaken the subject. If you must use an adjective, instead of stringing them together you should choose one, preferably an unusual one.
Descriptions are where I offend the most. Here's an example from a first draft:
She liked his straight, black hair, a raven’s wing, which was just a little too
long but nicely framed his handsome features. She liked his dark brown eyes too,
how they magnetically drew her in.
I've improved it a bit since then:
She liked his raven’s wing of hair, a little too long, which fell shyly
over dark eyes.
There is so much to learn, some days I feel overwhelmed, and some days I feel like a hack. Cool-headed editing can be a blow to the ego. How do you deal with word soup, and how do you keep up your confidence?

20 November 2009

Familiar or Exotic?

I was sweating in 40 C heat yesterday (that's 104 F--I looked it up) with 50% humidity and very high UV and thinking how exotic Sydney still seems to me. It's a world away from the small town in Idaho where I grew up. Even ignoring the differences between a city of 3 million and 30,000, there's almost no mountains to speak of (well, compared to the Rockies) and ocean everywhere. I went snorkeling this morning and saw fish I'd expect to find in an aquarium (touched a giant Blue Grouper-wow!), yet I had never seen the ocean before I was 13. Sydneysiders find that unbelievable: they grew up in the water.

I'm often asked about what it's like to see snow-capped mountains, or better yet, wake up to find snow on the lawn. People are interested in the strangest things. I can go on and on about the cuttlefish I saw in the harbour, but people will say, "You should go to the Great Barrier Reef. Now, that's something." I bet, but it's not right outside my door (meaning a short drive--I don't have a beach house, unfortunately). Travel seems to make an experience special, yet we often ignore the wonders all around us.

I've lived in Australia for over a decade, but I've never been to the Reef or Ayer's Rock (I've met plenty of natives who haven't been either). Likewise, when I was in Seattle I never went up in the Space Needle, and I still have visited the Empire State Building, despite several business trips to New York. Going back to America is going home, so I don't do many touristy things. Plenty of Australians find it exotic, though. I'm always surprised to hear someone excitedly planning their holiday to Las Vegas (I lived in Nevada for several years, so not interesting to me), or--and this is the best one--someone hoping to visit a trailer park and catch sight of people off "Jerry Springer". I've been asked dozens of times if such people exist, and I must sadly nod and say, 'Yes.'

So, when writing a novel, is it better to have a mundane or an exotic setting? My instant answer is 'exotic'. But, the more I think about it, the more I see it's all relative. I recently completed Larsson's "Millenium Trilogy" (Girl with the Dragon Tattoo etc) and loved it. I'd heard that Salander was an amazing character, and 'they' were right. She stole the show. Part of the reason I stayed engaged in the non-Salander sections was the setting--Sweden. The strange names, unfamiliar justice system, weather, bizarre food, all of it kept me hooked (well, the plot was pretty good too). I kept wondering, though, what do Swedes think of the book? Are there inaccuracies only a local would spot? Are Salander's holidays in sunny locals meant to give Swedish readers a taste of the exotic?

So, should you write what you know? Surely, someone somewhere will find it fascinating. Or, should you crank up your imagination and use a setting that's exciting and exotic to you? What do you think?

15 November 2009

Werewolves, Vampires and the Bandwagon

With a certain werewolf/vampire movie coming out this week, based on an incredibly successful book series, you really have to wonder why is it so popular? It's not a new phenomenon. Werewolf and, especially, vampire stories are resurrected (couldn't help myself) every few years. Boris Karloff, Christopher Lee, Interview with the Vampire, Underworld... So, why won't they die? (sorry, couldn't help myself again)

I've loved monster movies and creepy stories since I was a child. I particularly remember reading a ghost story where a man fell in love with a mysterious woman who wore a red velvet ribbon around her neck. She would never answer his questions about it and made him swear not to touch it. Overwhelmed with curiosity one night, he removed the ribbon while she was sleeping--and her head fell off. Yuck. That's probably why it stuck with me. I also loved Creature from the Black Lagoon, Ghost, The Mummy, Frankenstein... but why aren't any of them as powerful as werewolves and vampires?

Some people think it's the sexiness, and there are a lot of books with vampire lovers (I'm not complaining, I like to read plenty of them), but that's not really it. It's psychology, and they're archetypes. I do not claim to be an expert, but even to this amateur psychologist it's easy to see why the werewolf's bestial nature is appealing. It is a human made animal again, free to unleash his emotions and desires without thought of consequences. Without thought is the part that's appealing. No guilt. Of course, they're usually the monster of the story for this reason--this lack of self control ultimately has deadly consequences.

Vampires are even more complex. They are a mixture of life (passion and sensuality) and death (well, because they're dead). They are the dark animus or anima, seducing us into danger and ultimately to the grave. You think people would want to run the other way rather than fall in love with them. I don't think vampire lovers are suicidal, though. I think the appeal lies in the personification of Death as an immortal creature, preserved outside of time, eternally young. Embracing the vampire is conquering death and our fears of it. Whoa...and I just thought it was because Edward was hot :)

Of course, when something is successful, you (in this case I mean 'I') might feel the urge to hop on the bandwagon. Vampire books are selling to publishers like hotcakes (as in McDonald's hotcakes, which I can't resist either). Others want to predict the next trend and get in on the ground floor. There's been some hilarious discussion on what will be 'the next vampire'. Zombies are growing in popularity (I think it's because they represent the mindless destruction, wars and chaos everywhere in modern life), but I don't think they will endure as well as the toothy creatures. Zombies are a commentary on culture, just as Frankenstein was a commentary on science and humanity's tendency to play God. They are powerful stories, but people really care more about themselves. Sometimes, we are creatures of logic warring with our emotions (werewolves) or adolescents approaching adulthood, faced with the terror of sexuality and ultimately growing older (vampires). Thus, these stories are universal.

Write one if you feel like it (I don't mean 'you' in particular are thinking of it...more if 'one' wanted to) , but it might be better to keep in mind the deeper concepts these creatures represent and somehow put that into your own story (don't ask me how, I'm working on it). Oh, and a cute guy never hurts.

12 November 2009


I was chatting with my boss's PA the other day, and she wondered how we scientists keep motivated through failed experiments and frustrations. What drives us? I had to say curiosity. Just as a child will ask why until your brain explodes, a scientist asks a never ending series of whys and hows. It occurred to me that this is just as true for writers.

Some of these questions pertain to the real world, like how does a nuclear reactor work so I can have my main character stop the bad guys from blowing it up? Though, my question today was how do they get those thin orange tubes in place to switch a two lane road into a three lane to accommodate heavy morning traffic? Does someone put them there? Do they pop up automatically? I may have a character who works on the road crew someday, who knows. (by the way, I haven't figured it out yet and it's driving me crazy)

Other questions a writer can ask are what if and what's the motivation. What if that road crew guy decided to mess with those lane markings late one stormy night and cause a massive traffic accident? Why would he do that? Is he a terrorist, a disgruntled divorcee, what?

My favorite question is, what will you do when I do this! I love putting my characters into a new situation and watching what unfolds. They surprise me alot, and that's the best feeling. This bizarre 'channeling' phenomenon is an entirely different topic that I won't go into here, but I think it's akin to having a bunch of imaginary friends.

As with a two year old, in science the predominant question is why. Why do we age? Why do we get cancer? More often, it's why didn't that experiment work? Some times there are no answers, at least not with the current techniques and technologies available. So, most of the time I prefer to ask when can I find some time to write?

Art and science are perfect soul mates. That must be the reason I married an artist. [see curious cat painting above and insert shameless plug for husband's website]

08 November 2009

This is actually fun

I spent four hours on Sunday rewriting Chapter 1 of my first novel, and I enjoyed it. I'd been putting off the revisions for ages, wanting to learn more first and dreading going back over old territory. It seems much more enticing to move on to new stories. A writer, however, re-writes. So, I disciplined myself and had at it. I knew the characters better this time around, wasn't afraid to get into the action and ditch some backstory (or save it for later), and had loads of fun. I took a few new directions, which will send ripples into the rest of the manuscript, so I have much editing ahead of me, but it was worth it. I can make this thing better, stronger, faster...

I would have spent the whole day writing, but I made the mistake of taking a break for dinner and watching my recordings of "Glee". It was good. I hadn't seen it before, but I was instantly hooked and had a monster marathon until midnight. To feel less guilty, I called it "research" on high school students. Everything feeds your writing :) Tonight I have to actually write, however. After I watch one more episode.

01 November 2009

Holiday Over

I love Halloween. It's the jack-o-lanterns, the creepy decorations, scary movies, and the candy of course. Now, as the pumpkin starts to look a little shrivelled, I'm suffering my usual post holiday blues. Fortunately, I have my revisions to distract me from it.

I gave myself a week to cool off before reading the latest wip in its entirety. I managed it in a day, and there were few changes needed that I could see. That worries me. Am I objective enough? My co-writer husband was more involved in this project than the last one, so I'm not sure I can entirely trust his judgement either. Test readers are needed asap methinks.

One thing I did notice was that my protagonist comes off a bit snarly. She is, which is what I like about her, but will others like her? There are plenty of fans of "House", so I can hope. I've considered nicing her up a bit, but I don't want to end up with a bland main character, especially worrisome for a first person detective story. Besides, she needs a lot of fire to stand up to the even more snarly people around her. I'm going to keep it as is and, once again, see what my test readers think.

In the mean time, there are a few small edits to make and a new book to work on. I want to really challenge myself with the next one, not only in terms of story and characterization--I want to push my prose. I'm a lean writer, and I hate too many adjectives, but I want to try something literary, something sumptuous. Don't worry, I'm not turning into a snob. Genre writing is my first love, but I'm giving myself an education here, and I can't be too easy on myself. If I do get published and manage to make a career of it, I'm sure I'll have deadlines and promotion to worry about, so this is my best chance to experiment and improve my skill.

Done psyching myself up now. I can do this. Back to work I go. And, with any luck, Thanksgiving will be here before I know it!

26 October 2009

An International Mess

Now that I've finished my second book, I'm thinking about new query letters. My problem is, which country should I focus on? I'm from America, and my first book was set in Nevada, so it was obvious that I approach American agents for that one. (I haven't given up on it, by the way, just doing some retrenching and revision before I send out more queries). My second book, however, affords some additional opportunities. It's a fantasy detective story that isn't so clearly American, so I could approach publishers here in Australia (there are few literary agents in this country so it's still the norm to approach publishers) or I could try agents/publishers in the UK, since Australia falls within the Commonwealth. What to do?

This brings up another conundrum I encounter when writing: spelling. I work on two different computers, one set to American English the other to Australian. I'm constantly getting my wires crossed and mish-mashing words. I wrote some screenplays for practice with the BBC writer's room in mind, so those were obviously done with British spelling. "Seer" was done in American, the whole Nevada thing made it simpler to stay in that mindset, but my latest book is the mish mash. I suppose I'll have to do two versions and make sure I send the right one to whoever (if anyone) is interested--America, Australia or the UK.

You should hear my messed up accent (Southern parents, raised all over the Western U.S., college in Seattle where I picked up some Canadianisms, now 12 years in Australia)--I'm even worse off than my manuscript.

18 October 2009


Big relief when I finished the first draft of my new manuscript this weekend. I felt so light, I hadn't realized there was a 20 tonne weight on my back until it was gone. My first book was not a fluke. I may be a long way from being published, and I still have lots to learn, but at least I know I have the stamina to keep writing.

There's more editing to be done, plus I'm going back to work on the last manuscript now that I've a learned a bit more from my reading, but for the moment I'm savoring the accomplishment.

Now that I'm no longer looking at the keyboard, I see that Halloween is almost here. My favorite holiday! There are decorations to go up, pumpkins to be bought and cookies to be baked. Off I go to live a little.

23 September 2009

Dust Storms and DVDs

I had organized ages ago to take yesterday off from work. I had some errands to run in the middle of the week and thought I'd celebrate spring in Sydney with a picnic. I have a favorite spot beneath a big tree next to the river, and it also happens to be in the middle of gardens with lush wisteria, cherry blossoms and poppies filling the air with wonderful scents and delighting the eye with colours. It's a yearly ritual for me and my husband, enjoying 30C heat, watching the water dragons and skinks, the birds and butterflies...

Of course this year there was a freak dust storm carrying red dirt from the Outback across the entire city. At dawn the sky was orange and the air so choked with dust, I had to shut the windows. I couldn't even see the neighbor's houses across the street! Thus, my plans for the day were revised, and we watched a stack of rented DVDs instead. The standout of the batch was "7 Pounds".

I'm a big fan of Will Smith, and that movie was probably his best. My husband and I have been studying writing too much lately--in the first two minutes of the film, he figured out the plot and I figured out the backstory. My husband and I really are a great team. It's not that it was obvious, but it was so brilliant we hoped we were right. I'm glad we were. Even though we guessed what was happening, it didn't detract from our enjoyment one bit. If anything, each scene carried an extra significance; we understood the subtext. As a consequence, I was in tears most of the time.

The point I want to make is that it's important to have a great story, an original plot, a twist...but, just in case your audience is spoiled or guesses what's going to happen, make the journey, the telling of that story so good they don't care that they're not surprised. Quality throughout--don't rely on gimmicks.

Still Writing

I'm very proud that since I dedicated myself to writing [as opposed to a lifelong dabbling in the art] a little over a year ago, my enthusiasm hasn't waned. I'm 200 pages into my new book, and so far it's easier than the last one. Yet, I'm pushing myself to learn new techniques, try different styles and expand my horizons. I've always wanted to write novels, but I have to give credit to screenwriting for inspiring me to do it.

One day, thinking about how I've reached the pinnacle of my current career in science (as far as I'm willing to go anyway) and how frustrated I am with it overall, I started thinking about what else I could do with my life. What would give me my enthusiasm back? I ran across an inspirational article that asked, "What have you always wanted to do? Maybe that's why you've been put on this earth." I instantly knew, for me, the answer was writing. Yet, I had half a dozen stories stalled at the 10-30 page mark, one overly long sci-fi novel written in my teens that was justifiably rejected dozens of times, and I didn't know how I was going to turn that 'calling' into a reality.

My other love is movies and television (not just any television:I'm a DVD watcher and, unable to endure commercials, haven't sat through normal programming for about ten years). Then I had an honest to god epiphany--people write for movies and TV don't they? This inspired me to write a couple of fan fics in teleplay format. I starting reading more on the subject and heard mention of "The Screenwriter's Bible." I devoured it, and the book turned my whole story telling life around. I wrote a movie length screenplay, three episodes of a series of my own conception...and even though I haven't tried to sell any of it yet, considering them all writing exercises, I discovered that I had learned about plotting and telling a complete story. I now applied this to a manuscript that had been sitting around for years and finished it. Admittedly, the novel took a lot longer to complete than a screenplay (I can write an hour long drama episode in a week), but I now had the confidence to keep at it.

Since then, I've read dozens of books on writing everything from novels to plays, as well as screenplays, and I truly believe that someday, with practice and persistence, I will have a novel published. I may even get a screenplay optioned, who knows? Thank you "Screenwriter's Bible"!

Some people start with short stories, but for me it was screenplays. They taught me to focus on visuals, on story in its purest form, uncluttered by prose, and that practice has also helped make dialogue one of my personal strong points. In screenwriting, brevity and clarity and story are everything, and dialogue is the only place where the author's actual words will be conveyed to an audience. Therefore, dialogue has to have a punch, but it has to further the story, chracterizations, etc or be cut. It's wonderful.

Now that I'm focused on novels, I'm learning to flesh out my prose and to take advantage of the ability to hear a character's thoughts, to convey sensations such as smell and touch, areas where screenplays are limited. There is so much to learn and try and do, and I really feel that I'm on the right path.

24 August 2009

True Blood

This post is way off topic, but I'm currently obsessed with HBO's True Blood and must talk about it somewhere. I fell in love with the show upon first watching, read the books in between seasons and came to adore Eric, so when they started building the Eric/Sookie/Bill triangle this year, I got embarrassingly excited. "I Will Rise Up" and "New World in My View" have me itching to write about it. Can I just say, Eric dream scenes = good.

There's the whole debate among fans (and this question is prominent in the books as well) as to whether Sookie's feelings for Eric are false, because they originated after drinking his blood. I must weigh in, saying, first of all, there were some good sparks before the whole bullet sucking scene, and finally--it doesn't matter. As Eric said, 'It's done'. No closing Pandora's box, no going back; the feelings are there irrelevant of where they originated.

I think this is a good point to make when talking about character motivations. Sometimes, things just are, and it has nothing to do with how someone was treated by their mother, a need for attention or whatever. Shit happens. Chaos, random chance, whatever, is a huge factor in the world and is commonly overlooked in our need for meaning. Life is static without change, mutation...and moments of unintelligible upheaval can provide powerful moments in drama: the car crash, the freak storm, the terrorist attack...These chaotic elements mould our characters and make them more interesting, as long as we don't over-analyse and take away their power. These moments show us another aspect of reality: the scary, uncontrollable one. And truly seeing reality through fiction = good.

I have digressed from my digression, so I want to end with one last huff about True Blood. For all those 'it's only the blood talking!' anti-Eric naysayers, ponder this: Sookie's attraction to Bill was influenced by drinking his blood (though there was some sparks even before that); ditto with Eric; more importantly, if the TV series follows the books, Sookie is a faerie and her very presence, let alone her blood, is an aphrodesiac to vampires. She is 'artificially' influencing them as much as they are her! (I put 'artificially' in quotes because it's not: it's only one aspect of her physical charm, same as being a vampire is for the men)

Thus, my conclusion is that Sookie, Eric and Bill are all on a level playing field; they're all using supernatural lures, which cancels that factor out. The chaotic bit is irrelevant, and, in the end, it will come down to each of the characters' choices. Fooled you, huh? We do have free will.

20 August 2009


Winter is losing its grasp on Oz. I slept with the window open last night, ah fresh air! It also feels like I'm coming out of hibernation, recovering from writing my first book, related synopses, query letters etc. It has been anything but a restful sleep, however. I've been reading books on the first five pages (and other topics) to get some ideas for trapping one of those snarly, Tasmanian devil-like agents. All that stuff is percolating in my subconscious along with a chapter 1 rewrite, notes jumping out onto the page of their own accord from time to time.

In order to let my subconscious do its work, I've plowed ahead with my second book and I'm now 70 pages in. Almost 1/3 of the way through the first draft, wow. Sometimes I think it's writing itself. It's very different from my first book, which was supernatural suspense. This one's fantasy detective, with a man-hating/man-loving heroine, and I'm reveling in the snappy dialogue, fast pace and custom built world. There's elves and dwarfs and a few other recognisable species--to make it fun--but all with my own twist. I even have some scenes in mind for another, very different, epic fantasy to follow this one.

I've read that, on average, it is an author's 5th or 6th book that finally gets published. I'm not just going to spew out crap to meet that quota, though--I want everything I write to be the best it can be. It's the only way to learn. Nose going back to the grindstone now...

28 July 2009


There's still lots of work to do to get my first manuscript in tip top shape with a dynamite query letter and synopsis to back it up. Nevertheless, I don't want this writing thing to be a one off fluke, so I've started working on the next book. I figure it will help me get some distance from the first manuscript so I can accept rejection without personal devastation. I can multi-task, don't worry.

I'm getting excited about the new book (and yet another one I plan to write afterwards). It's a departure from 'Seer', which is a dark, suspenseful story with a poignant mixture of hope and despair. The new book [title to be determined] will be a fast, savvy mystery full of humor--and rude, hairy elves. It's a fantasy-detective story with a sassy heroine. It's gonna be heaps of fun! The 'world' is built, most of the characters even have names, and the outline is 75% done. I'm giddily anticipating writing the first draft: there's nothing better than when you let the creativity flow unchecked.

20 July 2009


My query letter is horrible. I realized that shortly after sending it out to five agents. Why didn't I see it before!? I took refuge in comforting cliches like 'beautiful girl with a dangerous secret'--uggh!!! What was I--high? I don't even drink so it can't be that. Please, please can I do take backs?

Oh well, I shall return to compiling lists of agents to contact, prime criteria being that they haven't seen my previous stinking pile of a query. In my own defense, queries and novels are very different. I was thinking a query was all Hollywood loglines, but it's supposed to be more like a mini synopsis with personal voice and pizzaaz.

I am now giving myself a crash course in 'How to Hook Literary Agents (aka Fishing for Form Letters)' , and I hope and pray and wish to any higher power that is listening that I get it right this time and end up with a good agent. Or any agent.

19 July 2009

Two good reviews and I can conquer the world!

Maz got back to us and I quote: "I think it's pretty good! Forbidden lerv, attractive settings, strange planets, horror and thriller elements thrown into the mix. The characters are all believable and well written, and the story overall is great, lots of twists and turns to keep the reader interested... I think it's a really great read – and thanks for sharing it with me!"

She had a couple of suggestions (I took them out with '...' so nothing is given away), but I didn't need that box of tissues after all! Yes!!!

I felt on top of the world for a whole day. But, that was two days ago. As I was writing query letters to agents yesterday, fear set into my belly with a sickening motion far exceeding the mere fluttering of butterflies--it was bats. Fear bats in my belly. I felt like begging for mercy in those queries, or turning round and running... But I did neither. I faced my fear and I mailed out two of them today. The other two queries in this round I will email tomorrow... or when I've determined the stellar alignments are auspicious.
Fingers crossed.

07 July 2009

She said, 'You're a very good writer.'

...And there was no 'but' after it! Yes, I heard back from Julie. We had a nice sit down lunch at a local cafe under an umbrella, which was good because it alternated between beautiful sunshine and bursts of chilly little raindrops. Fortunately, my mood wasn't such a pendulum. I was worried I might get defensive of 'my baby' but I managed to be calm and objective throughout. It didn't hurt when Julie had a huge list of things she loved about the book, while there were fewer bits she didn't like. It was great to have an outside viewpoint, and rewarding to see that the subtle philosophy and 'big ideas' that underpin the book got through to her without interfering with the thrill of the story. Whew! Now, just a few more revisions based on her response and we're ready to go! ...Unless Maz totally hates it and I have to wallow in depression for a while.

14 June 2009

Pins and Needles

...That's what I've been like all week, waiting to hear back from Julie and Maz about the book. I've alternated between believing that I'm a terrible writer(and Julie can't even bring herself to finish the first chapter) and thinking that at least I'm a heck of a lot better than the author I'm reading now (I won't name names). The ups and downs are crazy. It's been awful.

Then hint of joy! Julie said she's enjoying it: hating the evil characters, while other characters she wants to see more of in other books; so many scenes are "very visual" and she keeps picturing them... OMG I'm so happy that she's liking it!

I want my readers to feel emotion, to visualise the scenes, to live it, and to see that it's working with Julie is such a thrill. I'm surprised how important it is to me that the book be experienced. Getting it published will be just the icing on the cake, allowing more people out there to read it.

I already have a gazillion ideas for more books. I need time to write! Darn this needing a day job.

Of course, Julie hasn't finished the whole book. Now, I'm really terrified that she'll hate that reversal thing in the middle when everything changes. Oh no, I'm back to being on pins and needles again...

08 June 2009

I'm Out There

I printed out a few copies of the novel, got them nicely wire bound so my test readers can flip through it easily (noticed a few typos and errors after the fact of course), and sent my poor baby out into the world.

Julie, as I planned, got a copy. She said, "Yes! I was hoping to read this. I saw you working on it in the library." I had no idea she was a regular Julie Bond, spying without my knowing. Guess I should have hidden what I was doing better when using the library computer to write during my lunch and tea breaks. Oh well, it was great not to have to twist her arm. Julie is very cool by the way (mild mannered scientist by day--punk/beatnik/hippie by night) and I'm excited to hear her opinion.

The other copy went to a friend of my writing partner (aka my husband) named Maz. She's an actual writer and critic who reviews books, movies etc for websites. I'm utterly terrified to hear what she says. I'm out of Kleenexes and need to buy a few boxes, best to be prepared.

I've also written a query letter and I'm halfway through a synopsis of the book that I can send to agents. It's better if I keep working, rather than worrying about what my test readers will say. Well, I'm worrying too--worrying and working. Excited and terrified too. This is great!

25 May 2009

The start

I consider myself to be just starting out on the road to published authordom (if that's a word), even though I've already spent the last six months writing and re-writing my novel, because it's one thing to fire up your imagination, pour your heart out on the page and wear out your thesaurus creating that manuscript, but it's another to see it in print and in the hands of readers who will appreciate it as much as I do.

The "fun" part is nearly over. Soon the slog to find an agent will begin, but not quite yet. I think the book is great (except on rainy Tuesdays when it's utter trash and I'm crazy for attempting this). I still want to polish the beginning and ending some more--the most crucial bits--because my test audience (aka my husband) thinks it's only 90% perfect when I should aim for 110%, matching the standard of the rest of the book. "You think the rest is 110%?" "Yes." and I beam. I know he's my husband and should be expected to say nice things, but he's actually a cruel, uncompromising critic, and I know he's not being soft on me. Maybe it's his way of retaliating for being asked to do the dishes? Anyway, those final changes will be made this week.

What's next? I'm going to take my baby (aka the manuscript) out of the warm, protective environment in which it was created and send it out into the harsh cold world to stand on its own four legs (I'm thinking of it like a colt, which actually has a chance of surviving in such conditions, unlike a human baby). Am I sending it off to an agent already you wonder? No, no, no. I'm going to give it to Julie and a few other friends to read. Julie first. She's nice and has similar tastes. If it passes muster (oops, wrong analogy, if it stands up without wobbling too much) then I'll give it to one of my other friends, who are mean and cruel like my husband and whose opinions I'll ignore anyway. What am I saying? I'll listen and do yet another re-write!

To blog or not to blog?

I'm one of those people who resisted the changeover to CDs, DVDs and mobile phones (aka cell phones if you're in North America) until I was sure they were here to stay (I didn't get a mobile until two years ago and I'm still uncertain about this Blue Ray stuff). Other things, like Facebook, I didn't understand at all. Do I really want people to be able to find me? But in the end I always break down and embrace the new. Thus--my first blog!

Why did I suddenly decide blogs were for me? Well, first of all, I read a few and figured out what they were. Secondly, I'm a writer so why not write?

Ok, here I go! ....Still revving up after all. NOW here I go....