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

14 August 2013

The first page of a great book

I had a spare thirty minutes the other day (very rare for me!) and decided to step into my local Dymock's booksellers. I'm embarrassed to admit it's been a while. I tend to download e-books these days as I barely have time to read, except while waiting for an appointment or riding the train, and certainly don't have time to shop. I missed the feel of real pages! I decided to have fun and read the first page of every bestseller--see if I could learn something.

None of them did it for me. I didn't turn to the next page on a single one. Was I just in a tough to please mood or what? Maybe it's because none were in my favorite genres of sci fi and fantasy.

I headed to that section, which was jammed onto half of one isle, with the paranormal romances surrounding them like a horde of scantily dressed Vandals at the gates of Rome. I like a paranormal romance now and then, but I was looking for something to make me go 'wow'. I read the first pages of a few epics I hadn't checked out before. Nah. Still not doing it for me.

I decided to read just the first line of some of my favorite books to see if it was me on that particular Thursday. I spotted the latest release of Ender's Game with the movie cover. I loved that book when I was a teenager in the '80s, so I read the first line, then the first page, turned the page...awesome. I made myself stop as I was short on time, but it was even better than I remembered. There was a Great Book.

I felt like a crappier writer than ever, but it was good to see what I should aim for. There was tension in every line. I felt the urge to bite my fingernails in worry for Ender from the very start. What are the monitors and what do they want with him? Why is his brother so evil and hateful towards him? Would his brother really harm him? Yes, definitely yes, and they're stuck in the same house!

Here's my scorecard for the few I looked at in case you want to read or re-read some great books:

Ender's Game by Orson Scott Card - wow. read it now if you haven't and before you see the movie.
Magician by Raymond E. Feist - loved it as a kid and first page was ok. maybe.
Painted Man by Peter V. Brett - has an interesting world, but first page just ok.
Left Hand of God by Paul Hoffman - very good. and it's newer, so not just nostalgia talking.
Forever War by Joe Haldeman - never read it, but that first page screamed 'great' so I will give it a go.

Have you ever done a first page test? Can you spot the greats right away?

11 July 2013

Never Say Never

The universe loves to play practical jokes on me. At least I know it's listening!

Example 1: All through university, while I was studying the hard sciences of biology, chemistry and physics, I would make comments like "Communications? Who would ever get a degree in communications? That's not a real subject."

What am I doing now? Communications, of course.

[This phenomenon is not limited to me. You know what my husband used to make fun of when he was a landscaper? Basket-weaving. And you know what his favorite course was went he went to art school a few years later? Uh, huh. You guessed it.]

Example 2: On this very blog, I have stated how much I hate short stories. This is not meant to offend those who write short stories. It is merely a reflection of my insatiable addiction to books. I can't get enough.

Give me a massive, epic story set over three, four, eight books, or, better yet, a series of character-driven novels that I imagine can go on forever, as long as the protagonist never figures out how she stupidly gets herself into all these bad situations. I fall in love with characters, settings, secondary characters, the bizarre workings of an alternate universe... and I don't want to leave. I'm far more likely to dive into a book as thick as my thigh (and I don't have skinny thighs, I tell ya) than I am to step timidly into a novella.

I once started reading a collection of short stories by one of my favorite authors, Walter Jon Williams, and as fantastic as the writing was, I couldn't finish one story. Not one! I think it's a mental block, something telling me that this is too short. Just as soon as I fall in love with the characters and the world, they will be whisked away and never seen again. I can't set myself up for such heartbreak.

And then agent Pooja Menon tweets this great post about 'Breaking the Deadly Loop of the Debut Writer' by Rati Mehrotra, and I decide Fine! I'll write some short stories and try to get them published. You know what? I've discovered I love writing short stories. They have all the tight storytelling and pacing of an hour long drama teleplay, with the added benefit of internal monologue and a chance to really show off my prose. Now, I'm tearing through my stockpile of ideas, brain buzzing with even more new ideas, as I write short stories in all my favorite genres from SF to Fantasy and Horror. It's so much better than querying.

Thank you, Universe, for teaching me another lesson.

21 May 2013

A touch of darkness

Blogging again? I know. Two years and now bam! You can tell I'm twiddling my thumbs while querying and completely unable to work on my next manuscript because my whole future is in limbo...but that's another issue.

One useful thing I've done is a survey all of the story ideas and half-completed or full draft manuscripts lying around on my hard drive. There's some awful stuff--and some really great stuff! I'm NOT telling you my blockbuster action movie idea because in Hollywood it's all about the concept, but I am so working on that some time. And you know? The manuscript I completed five years ago has some cool points to it as well as intense thriller scenes. All I have to do is rewrite the whole thing and there's something there.

One thing I have noticed is that either my ideas are comedies or something with an edge of darkness (is this a sign of split personality or just a Robyn Willams or Tom Hanks-esque comedy/tragedy thing? I've noticed that the best comedians make the best dramatists but that's a post for another day).

Actually, even the comedies have a touch of darkness. Dark happenings, cruel parents, ominous portents, vile baddies...I think it's me. A while ago, I caught some co-workers telling scary stories of hearing my laugh late at night...sure I've made people tremble and stammer and fear me, but not intentionally. I'm a sweetheart really! Sure I can quote all Darth Vader's lines in the original and Maleficent was my favourite character in Sleeping Beauty, but that's not all there is to me. I think it's my voice. I actually have a voice! Yay! But it's a slightly creepy one.

I've tried to smother it and that doesn't work. The goody-two-shoes characters sound so artificial. It's my villains that shine, and my heroes only shine when I give them a touch of darkness (but working on the side of good) that makes the bad guys tremble. I've realized I have to be true to my voice and embrace what makes my stories mine. Being creepy worked well for Stephen King. But is the horror genre dead? With all the romance/supernatural stories out there does anyone remember what it's like to be afraid of a vampire's fingernails scratching at your window (i.e. Salem's Lot)? Does anyone remember the delicious chill of true fear?

Maybe it's time to get writing again and remind them.

17 May 2013

Best and Worst Movies Remake Blogfest

My blogging routine is still completely out of wack (by about two years thanks to my gorgeous but exhausting 2-year-old boy), so I'm easing back in with one of my favorite activities--blogfests!

Best and Worst Movie Remakes is something I could rant about for hours (thanks Alex J Cavanaugh Stephen Tremp, Livia Peterson, and Al Diaz for feeding my addiction), but I'll be brief:

Best Movie Remake:

Fright Night - I loved the original 1985 version when I was a kid (who can forget Jerry Dandritch eating that apple) but the 2011 version was *gasp* better. I credit David Tennant (my favorite Doctor and my favorite vampire hunter) for that.

Worst Movie Remake:

Total Recall

Sure Schwarzenegger's Total Recall was campy, but it had MARS people. I love Mars, and if we didn't have such a crummy space program I would so be there as the resident xenobiologist. But more than that, the 2012 version had an elevator going through the core of the planet. Do you know how frigging far that is when you could more easily have a plane? Or better yet, enslaved local labor? Or domes? No, much easier for me to believe in aliens having built a terraforming device on Mars that's just sitting there waiting to be activated. Yes, totally believable. Also, the 1990 version did a better job of making me think the main character was just dreaming the whole thing. I love that 'is it real or is it all in their head?' doubt that can keep me discussing the movie long after it's over.

I just noticed I have a Colin Farrell theme going here, so nothing against him--it's all down to the writers people. Write well and you make the world a better place.

Thank you for listening to my rants and bring on the next blogfest!

30 April 2013


Two posts in as many days? Unheard of! But I wanted to share the wonderful experience I had while researching agents to query--yes 'wonderful' and 'query' in the same sentence (I've moved on from feeling queasy about it, so it's a good thing). In my research, I ran across Russell Galen (of Scovil Galen Ghosh Literary Agency) and learned the first book he'd ever sold as an agent was The Mists of Avalon by Marion Zimmer Bradley. This was the book of my childhood.

It's been nearly 20 years since last I read it, but I still have two copies on my bookshelf--the original tattered and worn paperback, a gift from my 6th grade teacher, which I read eight times in a row, and a barely touched hardback I keep around in case the other one disintegrates before I have a chance to read it again.

Hearing that Russell Galen had been involved in creating that book made me love him instantly. More importantly, I suddenly remembered why I'm a writer: Magic!

It was the magic of words and stories that made me start reading books like Charlotte's Web (as soon as I'd covered the basics of See Spot Run, of course) and keep reading everything I could find in my elementary school library and then on my mother's bookshelves at home. But it wasn't until I picked up Mists of Avalon that I truly believed in magic.

It's a retelling of the King Arthur story from the point of view the women, and the main character is Morgaine (aka Morgan Le Fay). I'd never read any Arthur stories, so I had no preconceptions. Marion Zimmer Bradley's Avalon came to life for me as no other book before quite had. The characters were all so real and terribly sad, and in those pages I could feel the lost Atlantis described by Igraine, the heart-pounding exhilaration of the Wild Hunt and hear the bells of Glastonbury Isle before they magically vanished in the enshrouding mists of Avalon, another, older and richer world existing in parallel to this one but drifting apart from us, like the land of Fairy, and taking magic with it. At the end of that book, I  believed. I knew the world had once been full of real magic, seers and magicians, and that now all we have is the faintest echo of what was.

When an author makes us believe so deeply in their world, if only for a short time, that's real magic. And that's why I wanted to become an author, to create amazing and affecting worlds and share those with others so they might believe in them too, if only for a while.

Thank you Marion Zimmer Bradley and Russell Galen. Thank you especially for reminding me, weary from years of writerly toil and bogged down in the midst of queries, what it's all about. And thank you for rekindling that warmth of belief in my heart, for bringing back the magic.

29 April 2013


It's Monday in Australia (sadly we get them before most other countries) and each one seems to last a week, especially since becoming a mum. Today's week-long Monday was spent in the juror's waiting room at the courthouse. Even as insanely busy as I am, I'd prepared myself to serve (willing to give up the week but a longer trial I'd need to reconsider, as I am INSANELY busy). Of course, I never got called because the defendant pleaded and the lot of us were sent home (with huge sighs of relief from most). But I'd been ready and mostly willing!

I wanted to fulfil my civic duty and all that, but there's also the experience of it. Us writers are all about experience. It fuels writing. The waiting room alone was a marvellous source of inspiration, such as the cool Asian chic with short hair, high boots and tight snakeskin dress, which made me wonder if she normally looked that tough or had picked the outfit to avoid being chosen as a juror (a thought I'd entertained myself as I looked at my collection of temporary tattoos while thinking about all the work I'd need to catch up on at work). There was the guy in dark glasses, baseball cap and goatee trying his best to look like a terrorist (too obvious, dude) and the other guy in baseball cap and dark glasses sitting next to me and watching a Dexter marathon on his laptop. Please.

There was the college kid (who looked way too clueless and who I'd not want on my jury) and the older businessman in full suit and tie, clearly stating he needed to be somewhere else, and the middle aged business man (I could tell despite the lack of suit) who was all prepared and gung ho for the occasion, wearing his best 'casual' outfit and leather carry bag (it looked far too new for him to have an opportunity to wear it much).

And me? I was clearly going to be jury foreman. The woman who tried to cut in line? "To the back of the queue," I told her, and I had a quick rebuttal to her weak arguments. The older lady next to me seemed relieved that someone had stood up for what was right and true, justice and all that (the older lady was the perfect juror by the way, with a reliable face and an underlying edge of toughness, like she'd come straight out of a courtroom drama).

All for the best, I suppose. I would have made a terrible juror. I'm too weird.

24 February 2013

Querying: I think I'm going to be sick!

I've missed my blog terribly, but, as I've been unable to bend the laws of physics and find more than 24 hours in a day, sacrifices had to be made. My gorgeous little boy is nearly two years old, and based on the way parents' mouths gape as he zooms back and forth across the length of the park chasing pigeons, I can safely say I drew the firecracker from the toddler pile. He takes up most of those 24 hours. Another chunk is eaten up by my full time job where (patting self on the back) I've managed to be promoted to Head of the Corporate Marketing and Communications department in only one year...we won't mention that the department is just me and two other people. At least I've got a great title. 

But all I want for Christmas, Santa, (and I'm telling you now so you have time to make it happen) is an agent! 

In every 30 minute to 1 hour nap period I get from my toddler on weekends (he refuses to go to bed before I do, so evenings are shot), I've been glued to my computer plugging away at the epic fantasy I've been writing. It's a four book series, and I've finished 2 and 1/2 of them (that's about 250,000 words) just to make sure I was happy with the plot and characters. I've re-written the first book three times to address plot, pacing, character development and plain old internal consistency, not to mention the zillion times I've gone through it copyediting. My synopsis of the entire series brings me and my husband to tears every time we read it. I'm on version 37 of my query letter, trying to make everything perfect... and now I feel like I might puke.

I've queried before. Novel number one when I was 21...best not to describe that sad sticking of my toe into the publishing world. And way back with novel number two, in my wonderful ignorance, I blithely sent off query after query telling agents how great my story was. It really wasn't. I'm not surprised by all the rejections. In the end, I decided I needed more practice, so I wrote about a dozen teleplays and screenplays (I can't stand short stories so I chose a different medium for practicing plotting and dialogue) and another novel. My beta readers said this third novel was much better. I didn't even bother sending out queries. I needed to get it right.

Thus, here I am with an epic dark fantasy that's everything I'd want to read if I ran across it in the days when I still had free time to read...and I'm terrified. Call me old fashioned, but I want a traditional publisher. And for that I need an agent. And most just want to see my query letter. 250 words to represent 250,000 and more. Years of work in 250 words... You can see the big pit of blackness that I feel like I'm falling into, can't you?

Excuse me while I go be sick...