Friday, 28 June 2013

Elsewhere, on the glorious internet: Netball Barbie!!

OMG! Barbie’s a netball star! You’re all going to think I’m obsessed with dolls after ranting about Disney’s Princess Merida doll in my last linktastic round-up, but it’s not true, honest.

However, I freely admit to being obsessed with netball! One of these dolls may already have made its way into my house … what can I say? She comes with a netball! And a drink bottle! And a sports bag – and even A TROPHY!! How awesome is that? Plus she’s a Goal Attack. Shooters rule!

It’s nice to see a doll that encourages little girls (and the odd big one) to focus on their love of a great sport, instead of continually pushing the beautiful helpless princess ideal.
Still in the land of toys, an interesting review of Minecraft, a computer game that is Baby Duck’s latest obsession. Him and umpteen billion other small boys around the world! We have a rule in our house that “the M word” is not to be mentioned at the dinner table, otherwise the Minecraft chatter would be non-stop.  Despite that, it’s a good game, just like playing with Lego onscreen, with the odd monster thrown in to make things exciting. You build during the day and defend yourself at night – “it makes clear the ancient ties between creativity and survival”.
Teeth-grinding stuff on “the lack of books for boys” in the YA section: It’s ironic that people complaining about this can’t see “that YA is so female-centric because coming-of-age stories for young men have already been staples in the ‘real books’ section for decades. Because being a young straight white man is universal, see, while being a girl is something that’s impossible to care about unless you’re both a girl and stupid.”

Hey, maybe all these boys who aren’t reading are too busy playing Minecraft.
On to writing advice:
An interesting take on the old "show, don't tell" maxim: “Think of your book as a movie. Telling is anything you write that the camera does not see.”

Fantasy writer David Farland is wise on "being prolific". There’s no magic to it. Work hard, focus, find little bits of time between other things and use them. Don’t fritter your life on Facebook or watching television.

Which brings me to indie publishing, which is a field where the successful writers seem to know all about being productive. The question is not “write a series or stand-alones?” with them, it’s "one series or more?". Writing fast is no longer the problem it was when a writer had to wait on a big publisher’s schedule. Now it seems to be the key to success.

It’s an exciting time to be an author. As Kristine Kathryn Rusch explains, “indie writers, indie books, indie publishers now have the same access to bookstores that traditional publishers do. The playing field has just leveled.”

Which means that a lot of authors are leaving traditional publishing, or at least combining it with indie publishing. An interesting story from Elisabeth Naughton explains how traditional publishing wasn’t as great as it seemed from the outside, and how self-publishing came to the rescue. “I even hit the USA Today bestsellers list! But what no one saw was the hard reality: I wasn’t making any money. I was working my ass off for a couple thousand dollars, which I was then spending on promotional materials, conference travel and expenses to write MORE books. In fact, I was spending more money than I was making.”

Did you guess I’ve been spending a lot of writing time reading about indie publishing instead? Bad Marina. No biscuit.

One last link, from Lindsay Buroker: on establishing a fan base before you have a book out. 

Tuesday, 25 June 2013

Colour vomit

So, last month I finished my crochet ripple blanket. I’m so happy with it. It’s a glorious riot of random and beautiful colour combinations. I think the randomness is a feature; others in the household disagree.

I proudly displayed it to my beloved (also known, not coincidentally, as He Who Sits on His Taste Buds). His remarks were barely luke warm.

“You don’t like it, do you?”

“Too many colours,” he said. “It looks like you just vomited colour all over it.”

Fortunately, knowing his taste in clothes, his opinion did nothing to dent my happy feelings of achievement. A finished blanket! Warm and cuddly and beautiful! (Did I mention I actually managed to finish a whole big blanket-sized project? Go, me!)

Even better, I loved the whole process, from the picking out of wool:

and the first joyful colour combinations:

to seeing it grow:

And trying out new arrangements of colours:

Adding in a new colour was my favourite part. It was hard to picture, just from holding a ball of wool against the blanket, exactly how that colour would look when it was stitched on. It was always exciting to see the new combination taking shape.

It was such a relaxing project. Whenever I needed to do something completely mindless, I could pick it up and do another row or two, and though I sometimes went months without touching it, it continued to grow steadily, till at last I decided it was long enough.

I loved how it looked with its ripply ends:

and I wasn’t sure whether I should add a border or not. In the end I decided to give it a go, as part of the learning experience. If I didn’t like it I could always undo it.

 First I added red up the long straight sides, so it had a border of red all around (I started and finished my regular ripple rows with red). This looked so good I almost stopped there.

But I’d chosen some other colours, so I added a gold border which straightened out the ripply ends. This also looked so good I almost stopped there! In fact, every time I added a new colour to the border it got better and better. Hello, my name is Marina and I’m addicted to colour.

Here it is after the third round:

Finally I had five colours on my border and decided that was enough (colours are a little weird here -- I've been waiting ages for a nice sunny day to photograph it but sadly the weather hasn't been cooperating!):

Ta-dah! I love it. Can’t wait to start another one! Just got to get that vomit ready …

Wednesday, 12 June 2013

The long and the short of titles

Over on Magical Words, Will McIntosh raises an interesting point about story titles: that you have a lot more leeway in naming short stories than novels, because a short story is usually part of a collection (either magazine or anthology) that people are reading, and most will try each story regardless of whether the title grabs them.

With a novel, however, the title is one of the holy marketing trinity that makes a browser pick up a book in a bookstore, or click on it on a website (the other two are the cover and familiarity with the author’s name). A good title is a selling tool that hints at what the reader can expect to find in the novel while making it sound enticing. A lot to expect from a handful of words, no?

Some writers don’t worry too much about finding the perfect title, knowing that their editor will probably want to change it anyway to suit what the marketing gurus think will sell. Many publishing contracts specifically say that while the author may be consulted on the title, final say lies with the publisher.

Other writers obsess over their titles, feeling that their knowledge of the book makes them the best person to find a title that perfectly encapsulates it – and who wants to get stuck with an awful title? Better at least to have some suggestions ready when the publisher starts to talk titles.

But what makes a good title?

Till last November I always thought I had a knack for titles. The “perfect” title usually leapt into my brain along with the story, usually something drawn from the writing itself. Easy peasy. (I say “perfect” since very few of my stories have been exposed to the rigours of the outside world, so they could be atrocious titles in reality, but at least I haven’t had to strain my brain too much to think of them.)

Then I started last year’s Nano novel. Step one: open new file. Check. Step two: name and save new file. Er …


Despite being unusually prepared story-wise, nothing leapt to mind. Oh well. “Nano novel.doc”. Brilliant, I know.

Never mind, something will occur to me as I write the story.


I’ll think of a title when I finish writing it, then.


I’ve now been working on the revision for two months, and it’s still called “Dragon novel”. It’s like having a six-month-old baby called “Hey You”, because nothing better’s occurred to you yet. Very frustrating.

So. Back to the elements of a good title, courtesy of another post on Magical Words:

You want something punchy, and short enough to fit on the spine of a book and still be legible (a very practical consideration that I hadn’t considered!). It should raise a question in the reader’s mind, so avoid common words – uncommon words, or unusual combinations of words are intriguing, like A Game of Thrones, or Fahrenheit 451. And make sure you don’t have to read the story for the title to make sense.

All of which are good tips, though sadly not helping with “Dragon novel”. There are a couple of huge secrets at the heart of this novel, and every title I’ve thought of is too spoilery. I guess I’ll just have to keep plugging away at the revision and hope that something brilliant comes to me eventually.

In the meantime, have you come across any intriguing titles lately?

Thursday, 6 June 2013

Elsewhere, on the glorious internet ...

A fascinating article on a concept called “survivorship bias”, exploring the misconception that to be successful you need to study others who’ve been successful. In fact, the truth is that “when failure becomes invisible, the difference between failure and success may also become invisible”: Survivorship bias

Author Kameron Hurley takes the idea into the world of writing and marketing books: Survivorship bias and writing better books with bonus marketing chat : “The more we focus on ‘success’ the more we focus on the one-offs, the quirks, the outliers. It’s focusing on failures and middle-of-the road pieces that teaches me how to improve.”

Still on the topic of writing, a helpful post on the NaNoWriMo blog on turning those cardboard characters into living, breathing people: Occupy Steve: how to flesh out your characters

Disney “pretties up” their new Princess Merida doll. Sigh. What’s the world coming to when even a Disney-created princess, all tiny waist and huge eyes, isn’t considered appropriately princessy? Merida, from the movie Brave, had messy hair and freckles to go with her independent I-don’t-need-a-prince-I’ll-do-it-myself attitude. At last! An imperfect princess who didn’t wait to be rescued for real little girls to admire.

“The freckles had been erased and the fabulous tangled hair was pageant coiffed. She looked like a titian-hued Cinderella. Even the dress is blue. Fierce, awesome Merida had joined all the other Stepfords on the shelf.” Where have the brave girls gone?  

On to something more cheerful: Full of colour and quilting delights, Kathy Doughty’s always-inspiring blog here features, among outrageous chooks and beautiful medallion quilts, a shot of me contemplating a wall full of pink and orange triangles as I ponder the layout of a new quilt: The creative bug

And for pretty crochet goodness, Lucy from Attic 24 has some lovely mandala flowers. I’ll have to give these a go!