Monday, 29 September 2008

On your marks ...

The Nanowrimo site has been cleaned out, all sparkling and ready for this year’s extravaganza. I feel excited already and it’s still only September.

If you haven’t heard of Nano, it stands for National Novel Writing Month. If you join in you agree to start a new novel on November 1st and “complete” it by November 30th. To be complete it must have a beginning, middle and end, though not necessarily fully fleshed out, and must be at least 50,000 words. If you make it you’re a winner, though the thrill of accomplishment is the only prize.

The website has lots of tips and a great forum where you can find encouragement and inspiration (or someone to commiserate with when things aren’t going well). Pep talks from famous authors are emailed every week. You can also find writing buddies to compare wordcounts with and egg each other on.

Last year was my first attempt. I was about 98% certain that I wouldn’t make it, yet I managed it. I was so pleased with myself I took a photo of my screen, showing the wordcount over 50,000. I know, I’m tragic.

My only regret last year was that I didn’t write a fantasy novel. I had this “real world” idea that just wouldn’t go away and, since I never really expected to make it, I thought I’d just spend the month on it and get it out of my system. That would be the novel that I’m still revising, so that plan didn’t quite work out.

So this year it’s all-singing, all-dancing fantasy all the way. Magic – yes! People turned into animals – yes! Fairies and dragons and warriors with bad attitudes – yes! Quests with no toilet stops – yes, yes, yes!!! In short, all the great cliches of fantasy. I can hardly wait.

I’ve started planning my novel already (who said I couldn’t learn from my mistakes?). Haven’t broken it yet to the other half that I’m doing it again. He was very supportive last year – even made the ultimate sacrifice and took the kids to a teenage mutant ninja turtles movie while we were on a weekend away so I could have time to write. I think he will be quietly horrified to find that he has to live through it all again this year.

Anybody else planning to take it on?

Wednesday, 24 September 2008

Canine reproduction: which comes first, the dog or the egg?

Baby Duck and I were cuddling in bed this morning. At least, I was trying to cuddle, hoping that the day might go away if I could just keep my eyes closed a little longer, but Baby Duck was full of beans and it was like trying to wrestle an octopus.

“Mum?” he says.

“Mmm?” Go back to sleep, pleeeease.

“Does a girl dog have to marry a boy dog so she can lay eggs?”

Well, no, son. A girl dog has to have a complete biological redesign in order to lay eggs.

After we get that part straightened out he tries again.

“Well, does a girl dog have to marry a boy dog so she can lay puppies?”

“She doesn’t have to marry him, but she has to be with him. She can’t have puppies on her own.”

“Then why did Summer have to have her bits taken out? She’s always on her own.”

I wonder about this kid sometimes. The dog was desexed nearly two years ago. I’m surprised he even remembers it. He thinks about the strangest things.

Must be his father’s genes.

Friday, 19 September 2008

Tag, you're it

Jenn Hubbard tagged me a couple of weeks ago. I’ve never been tagged before. You’re supposed to answer some questions then tag someone else to answer in turn, but since this blog has a readership of roughly two people (hi, Mum!), I won’t bother with that part.

Jenn was very clever and answered in character as one of the characters from her books, but it’s late and that would make my brain hurt, so you’ll just have to put up with me. Feel free to go watch reruns of Gilligan’s Island or wash your hair or whatever instead.

1. What are your nicknames? They’re mostly private, often unflattering. One I can own up to is “Pup”, which my family have been calling me since I was tiny. “Pup” was one of the first words I learned to say (I’ve always been a dog-lover!) and I liked it so much I used it for everything.

2. What do you do before bedtime? Usually put off going to bed until I’m so exhausted the next day is a wipe-out.

3. What was the first movie you bought in VHS or DVD form? Seriously, people remember this stuff? I can hardly remember my children's names some days.

4. What is your favorite scent? That’s a hard one as I have an excellent sense of smell and am very conscious of scents. Maybe frangipanis or the ocean. I don’t like perfume because it’s too strong.

5. If you had a million dollars that you could only spend on yourself, what would you do with it? You mean after I stopped rolling in it and squealing?

6. What one place have you visited that you can't forget and want to go back to? My mind’s gone completely blank. I know a few places that I haven’t been that I’d love to go, though, like Venice, Japan, Canada.

7. Do you trust easily? Afraid so. They invented the word gullible for me, you know.

8. Do you generally think before you act, or act before you think? Definitely think – often so much that I never get to the acting part.

9. Is there anything that has made you unhappy these days? Just the usual – not winning the lottery yet.

10. Do you have a good body-image? Are you kidding? So many billion women in the world and only a dozen supermodels. The odds are not good.

11. What is your favorite fruit? Mangoes.

12. What websites do you visit daily? Mainly writers’ blogs, like the ones on my sidebar. Also my writers’ group.

13. What have you been seriously addicted to lately? Peppermint chocolate. My obsession has reached such tragic proportions I’ve even done a scrapbook page about it.

14. What kind of person do you think the person who tagged you is? Jenn seems to be a very deep thinker. Her posts on writing are very insightful. She’s also friendly and welcoming to visitors.

15. What’s the last song that got stuck in your head? Ants in the apple, a-a-a. What, you don’t know this one? My dear, you haven’t lived! There’s a whole alphabet full of them, all the way up to “zippy zebra, z-z-z – and that’s the sound that z makes”. It takes six minutes and forty-something seconds to sing the whole thing, and as soon as you finish, Baby Duck says, “Let’s do it again, Mum!”. Yee-hah.

16. What’s your favorite item of clothing? My new green top.

17. Do you think Rice Krispies are yummy? Not sure what these are. Must be an American thing. Assuming they’re some kind of breakfast cereal, I would probably prefer my homemade muesli, which is so scrummy I hunted down a hospital dietician and begged her for the recipe.

18. What would you do if you saw $100 lying on the ground? Assume it was a trick.

19. What items could you not go without during the day? Did I mention the thing with the peppermint chocolate?

20. What should you be doing right now? Sleeping. See answer to Question 2.

Monday, 15 September 2008

Are we there yet?

The ducklings have a fabulous picture book called Are We There Yet? by Alison Lester, about a family that goes on a road trip around Australia. It’s one of those rare books that manages to be beautiful and a lot of fun as well as educational. Every second page, after lots of detailed illustrations and interesting info about the family’s current stop, the refrain goes: “And Billy said, ‘Are we there yet?’”
Anyone with kids is all too familiar with that particular chorus. I’m starting to feel like Billy myself as I work through this revision. Are we there yet?

The problem is that I’m having to put a lot of new material into the first part of the novel. This is a good thing, since it needed it, but also a bad thing because it makes me feel that I’m not making any progress. I’m writing and writing and writing yet I never move on through the pages of the first draft cause I keep thinking up more stuff that I need to add before I can continue.

The other problem is that I’ve had to redo some of these new scenes because I don’t think sufficiently about them before I write them. Just when I think they’re done and I can move on, some humiliatingly obvious thing occurs to me and I think, well der! why didn’t you write it like that instead? So back on the little mousey wheel I go, running and a-running. Are we there yet?

Jen Hubbard had a great post a couple of weeks ago on the stages of writing. Some of the stages of rewriting had me laughing even as I winced, like “Oh, that's perfect! No, wait, it doesn't fit”. Or “We're on the right track now! We're off the right track. We are in the fields beyond the track.”

When you read a good book, one thing flows from another in such a way that it seems inevitable. Yes, of course that character did X when Y happened. Naturally they broke up at the end – it was the only possible outcome after what happened at the party. And so on. Everything fits together so well it looks easy. I guess I never really believed it truly was easy, but I’m discovering exactly how hard it is now, and I’m here to tell you it ain’t pretty. Think jelly wrestling with crocodiles.

If I want to produce that seamless inevitability, I’ve got to do some more planning, sit down and really pinpoint what the focus of each scene is. Otherwise I’ll be re-re-re-re-re-rewriting these suckers till I go grey. Oh, wait, that already happened. Well, till I become that demented woman yelling at her computer, “Are we there YET???”

Wednesday, 3 September 2008

Swimming for aetheists only?

Drama Duck was reading a book about sharks1 to Baby Duck last night for his bedtime story. She’s an advanced reader for her age but she tends to slide over unfamiliar words instead of stopping and trying to figure them out.

I could hear her from the next room, her voice full of expression:

“The average hammerhead shark is about eleven feet long. It is easily identified by its superwide head. The hammerhead’s eyes are at either end of its head, giving it great binocular vision. Hammerheads eat fish, squid, octopuses, cri-Christians and other sharks.”

Christians? Seems a tad exclusive of them. Shame the ancient Romans didn’t know about this dietary quirk. When they got tired of throwing Christians to the lions, they could have thrown them to the hammerheads instead. Although “Christians to the hammerheads!” doesn’t have quite the same ring to it.

After a moment’s thought I realised that the word she’d stumbled on must be “crustaceans”. I suppose it is a tricky one. Christians of the world can breathe a sigh of relief, knowing that they’re no more likely to become a shark’s lunch than the Buddhists, Muslims, aetheists and everybody else after all.

1. The Magic School Bus: The Great Shark Escape by Jennifer Johnston

Tuesday, 2 September 2008

Once upon a time -- you were saying?

I posted a while ago about beginnings and how important it is to hook the reader right from the start. I said that “Once upon a time” just didn’t cut it any more.

Would you believe I’ve found the most brilliant beginning – and it starts with “Once upon a time”? Just goes to show that if you’re good you can make anything work. And also that I have no idea what I’m talking about – not that that comes as a great surprise!

It’s from Back When We Were Grownups by Anne Tyler. I read her Digging to America when it came out (a couple of years ago?) and was awed by her skill. I went looking for another, but didn’t like it as much. Last week I picked up Back When We Were Grownups while browsing the secondhand bookshop and I’m back to awe again. She is a master of understatement. Her characters are brilliant; so real, so ordinary but so engrossing. Yet they are brought to life so obliquely. She could have written the textbook on “show, don’t tell”. It made me realise how much I have to learn.

It was a quiet little story, like the others of hers I’ve read. Everyday, domestic problems – but do you think I could put it down? The first line sucked me in and I was gone.

“Once upon a time, there was a woman who discovered she had turned into the wrong person.”

How cool is that? I want to be Anne Tyler when I grow up.