Saturday, 24 September 2016

My tribute to horror movies

I recently watched The Woman In Black on Netflix. I saw a local play adaptation of the book by Susan Hill a few years ago and thoroughly enjoyed. The movie was scarier.
So I decided I'd reflect on some of the horror movies I've watched over the years (some not in chronological order of course, since I was a toddler in the 70s) and share with you just a few of the movies I've watched and enjoyed. If one can enjoy being scared to death, that is.
And I have come to the conclusion that there is a definite decline in good horror movies. We need more. Who agrees? Or do I just need to watch more.
My tribute to horror movies.
I watched this by myself. (Must find some friends who like to watch scary movies.) I had to switch it off and finish it during the day. Why do I keep doing this to myself? 
The prequel to Aliens. It got scary when I saw the connection to Aliens, which is still a freakishly good horror franchise.
It's shameful to admit that I haven't seen too many horror movies of late. I blame the decline of local video stores. They were good at stocking horror movies.
Another movie I started watching and had to stop every time the creepy music started. I absolutely loved this movie. Nicole Kidman was great. 
The moment this movie started I loved it. Thought the ending was brilliant. Had to watch it during the day though because of the people hanging themselves and the damned ghost talking to Cole.
Bank robbers, vampires, Clooney and Tarantino. Enough said.
Based on the novel by Anne Rice, which I loved. Movie stars Tom Cruise, Brad Pitt, vampires, gorgeous costumes. Not real scary though.
A brilliant psychological dark movie, made freakishly scary because it could be real.
Based on a Clive Barker book "Cabal". Read the book many years later.
Evil Dead 3. Just had to watch it. Stupid, but had to watch it.
Starring Kevin Bacon who is awesome in everything. Sort of like Dune in mid west America.
Plus all these...
Tales From The Darkside - The Movie
Predator 2
Night of the Living Dead
The Ring

Man, the 90s were good for horror movies.

A Nightmare on Elm Street
Could not sleep for weeks. What a brilliant franchise.
Another movie I watched in the afternoon with the family. No wonder I turned out the way I did. This was family entertainment. Loved it! Even years later when I watched it with my husband. He doesn’t get horror movies. He was like “the effects are pretty shit”. I just rolled my eyes. Yeah, it was the 80s man.
Dead and Buried
I remember watching this with my parents, my dad let me stay up late to watch it. Not sure why, but I loved it. To be honest I can’t even remember the zombie bit, just the bit about the townsfolk killing visitors and wrapping them in bandages.
I watched this with my best friends, Vicki and Susan. I have a better appreciation of Pinhead these days. Back then, he terrified me. Also had a better understanding of what they meant by hell.
Evil Dead
I watched this with my best friend Vicki. She fed me my addiction. Evil Dead 2 and 3 are not as memorable, but you can't keep a good demon down.

Plus all these...
The Shining
The Thing
An American Werewolf in London
The Howling
The Lost Boys
Fright Night
Halloween II
Friday the 13th
Pet Semetary
Evil Dead 11

The 80s were awesome for scare flicks. 
The Exorcist
When A Stranger Calls

 Thanks for sharing these memories with me. What are your favourite horror movies.

Friday, 9 September 2016

Writing book 2 of a series and why you shoulnd't...yet

So you've written book one of a series. You've written the overview, you can visualise the entire series, and now you're ready to submit to agents or publishers. This takes time. You send the query, they get back to you sometimes within a few weeks, sometimes a few months, sometimes longer.

Everyone tells you that the moment you finish one book you should start on the next one. I've even had an editor at a publisher tell me that I should complete the series because it shows I can commit to writing a series. And they're right. But I didn't start on book two at the time. I started on something else. Why? The book didn't sell enough to warrant me spending a year writing a sequel.  And then they dropped all the titles so I would have now been trying to push a series that ended midway through.

Maybe you've heard the theory that book two sells book one, and book three sells book two and book one. Of course it does. But book one will always be the strongest seller of a series, so if you're publishing with a small press publisher and your sales are low to medium, you might want to ask yourself if you really want to spend the next five years writing a series that might ultimately decline. 

Book sales:
The Hunger Game 23 million
Catching Fire 14 million
Mockingjay 13 million

Harry Potter Philosophers Stone 105 million
the rest are around 60 - 65 million

Flowers in the Attic 40 million
the rest, nowhere near this

Yes, these are flamingly successful books that are stupid to compare against, but the evidence is still there. The first book is always the strongest seller. You may have, or know of authors, who do the opposite. And that's great if they can manage this snowball effect. I tend to believe that for unknown authors, the snowball only gets smaller.

Here's my two cents. I would advise against jumping straight into book two until you have sold book one. Every book on the planet has the potential to be a series. I've written two sci-fi novels that scream series. They have open endings that could also be closed endings. And I did jump straight into writing book two, based on the advice from the editor at a publishing house. But she was wrong.

I wrote book one of Welcome To The Apocalypse. It's still in the query stage. It's been in the query stage for a while. I have story ideas for three, four, maybe more books. I wrote about 92,000 words of book two and I ending up putting a hold on this project because if I haven't sold book one, why spend time on book two?

Some may argue that there is one series that puts a spanner in the works. Dan Brown's Robert Langdon series.

Demons and Angels, book one sold 39 million
The Da Vinci Code, book two, sold 80 million
The Lost Symbol, book three, sold 30 million
Inferno, book four, no figures.

I feel The Da Vinci Code was purchased purely on the title alone. Probably by readers who are into Da Vinci and didn't even know what the book was about. It's a great example of how a book title can reach broader readers.

So when I realised that I was still pitching Welcome To The Apocalypse, I picked up another story that was in rough draft and I completed it, and book two is on hold. My new book, The Hive, also has an ending that screams sequel. But I absolutely will not write a sequel until it is sold. Instead, I'm writing a thriller novel. Did I mention that this too has the potential for a sequel or series? We are writers, we are creative, we can come up with a follow up story for all our books. It's a question of timing.

What are your thoughts on writing series? Have you written a series and managed to sell the entire series? Do you agree or disagree. I'm always open to hearing your thoughts on my blog posts.

A disclaimer that these are just my thoughts. I own the blog and I'm allowed to have them. And you're allowed to have them too. So if you have a view, please express it. Only nasty comments will be deleted, all civilized threads of conversation will remain.

Until the next post, take care.

Tuesday, 30 August 2016

September is offering up a smorgasbord of literary events in the Eurobodalla. The Moruya Library is recreating the literary experience of a bygone era. Writers, readers, and audience will come together to share their love of style and the written word. Wear your Sunday best and enjoy a an elegant spread in a twilight event of original readings by local writers. Thursday 1 September, and Thursday 15 September, from 5.30pm at the Moruya Library. Come join Eurobodalla Writers Group members for this free event! Contact Moruya Library on 4474 1333 to secure your place. Refreshments are provided.

Debbie Richardson, a local author of young adult fiction, is running her popular ‘Rockin’ the Edits’ workshop for the Eurobodalla Writers Group on Wednesday September 7. This workshop uses song lyrics to analyse and imagine character motivations as drivers for narrative arc. Debbie has presented this workshop to writers in the ACT and far south coast with enthusiastic reviews. She also shared these tips with writers at a recent retreat held in Tathra. For details and to book your place for this workshop please contact Rosie on 0437627756.

And for book lovers, Eurobodalla local writers will be appearing in a panel session at the Batemans Bay Writers Festival. Join five authors as they talk about, and read from, their latest works at this writers and readers festival, now in its third year and attracting readers from all over NSW. Tickets are on sale now and the festival which runs from Friday 9 to Sunday 11 September and will be held at the CoachHouse Marina Resort. Check out the website or call 0417 267 771.


Friday, 12 August 2016

Writing the first draft of a novel

I had a lot of fun on the writers retreat weekend as a mentor and I hope I didn't overly overwhelm my three mentorees. They did an amazing job with the tasks I set them.  And since we'll be heading into National Novel Writing Month in a few months, these tips, which came out of the sessions, might prove useful if you put them into practice now.

1. Backstory has already happened. It's what the author knows but what the reader needs to know depends on each story. Build you elaborate worlds off to the side and sprinkle into the story. A great way to explain Backstory is to read the Stars Hallow Wikipedia page for The Gilmore Girls TV show.  It has a rich history that appears throughout the series to add credibility to the setting. So if you think of backstory as the world around the characters and you'd only include what's necessary, it's the same with character backstory.
2. The character arc might help determine what the reader needs to know. But a writer might be surprised to find that their reader can guess the backstory from the Products of the Lie. Some basic questions to ask for character arc:
  • What does the character WANT vs What does the character NEED?
  • What is the lie the character believes? For eg, in Adele's song "Someone Like You" the lie is that she will find someone like him.
  • What at the products of the lie? For eg, Falls in love quickly, Goes on too many dates, Dumps everyone after the first date.
  • What is the ghost of the lie? For eg, maybe her mother always told her she'd find her prince and so she believes she will.
A great site to check out for character arc and how to plot them is at K. M. Weiland's Helping Writers Become Authors website. Well worth the read one morning over coffee.
2. Plotting helps overcome writers block. Plotting your book can be done with post-its, in a document, use maps and pictures as visual aids. It a way to keep you on track and it also stops you from trying to edit as you go, which will really slow down your goal of getting your first draft completed.

3. Pick up from where you left off. Don't read over from the beginning, instead make notes and keep going. See note above about editing as you go. It does slow you down, and the worst part, some of your first draft edits won't make it into the final, so you've spent that time doing nothing.

4. Same with research, it's okay to make notes on the page or notebook and say [research how to ...]. I find on my brain dead days, that's when I do research with the music up loud.

5. Changes happen in edits, changes happen in edits, changes happen in edits. One way to ensure you don't get a novel finished is to make huge structural changes during the first draft. Write it all down, warts and all in the first draft and then take a look at what you've got. Does it need to be split up into 3 books (I'll raise my hand to that). I have 105,000 word novel with three main characters that isn't published and I just know I'm going to have to convert it into three instalments. That's okay because I have more of the story to write so now I have probably an 8 book series in the burner.

6. Know your story and it will write itself. This is perhaps the most important point. And it's something that I've overlooked and then spent countless hours trying to figure out after the story is written, and by then it's too late. This is why writers are supposed to be able to tell their story in 25 words or less, because that is the core of the story. Everything else, and I mean EVERYTHING ELSE, are scenes that support the core of the story from its beginning to its end.

Let's have a look at what components make up the 25 word blurb, also called a log line. It might help if you think of this as the TV guide description.

Harry Potter is a boy wizard (CHARACTER) who must face the dark wizard (GOAL) who killed his parents (CONFLICT) if he is to save (STAKES) the school of magic (SETTING). (25 words)

Another great way to practice defining your story is to use the Twitter pitch.
In HARRY POTTER, a young wizard (CHARACTER) must face the lord of dark magic (GOAL) who killed his parents (CONFLICT) and save (STAKES) Hogwarts school of magic (SETTING). (123 characters).
Then we expand on the log line to create a 100 word blurb, still using the same elements.  GOAL: (What the character wants, and there can be FALSE GOALS too which can add intrigue as we watch the character fumble towards the real goal). CONFLICT or PROBLEM: (This is what is stopping the character from getting what they want)

SETTING: (This is useful to let the reader know if it fantasy, contemporary etc and defines your genre)

STAKES: (Think of the stakes as you telling your character to "Do this or else" and they say "Or else what?"

CHARACTER: (Find 20 character traits then narrow them down to 3 crucial traits that support the goal and conflict)

Play around with the order while creating your 25 word and 100 word blurb. Sometimes the conflict comes first or the character or the setting. Also, the stakes don't have to be life or death.
I'll provide an example below of a 100 word blurb:

Tracey is a dancer (CHARACTER) who wants to go to an elite college in Vermont (SETTING) that her snooty aunt donates money to (GOAL). The problem is that the last time her aunt visited she called Tracey a feral because she shares a room with her sister Patsy who doesn't tidy up or even brush her hair, and her aunt is coming to visit in two days (CONFLICT or PROBLEM). So Tracey has until then to change her feral sister from Miss Messy into Miss Congeniality (FALSE GOAL) or she won't stand a chance of gaining admittance into the college that all her friends are going to (STAKES).

The stakes aren't life or death, but they are definable. Look at the below example of when the stakes aren't clearly defined. 

Tracey is a dancer (CHARACTER) who wants to go to an elite college in Vermont (SETTING) that her snooty aunt donates money to (GOAL). The problem is that the last time her aunt visited she called Tracey a feral because she shares a room with her sister Patsy who doesn't tidy up or even brush her hair, and her aunt is coming to visit in two days (CONFLICT or PROBLEM). So Tracey has until then to change her feral sister from Miss Messy into Miss Congeniality (FALSE GOAL) or Tracey's life is ruined (STAKES).

To merely say her "life is ruined", is in effect how she will feel, but is it enough for the reader to want Tracey to change her sister. That's why I recommend defining the stakes. So if your stakes are "to save lives", then add what you are saving them from. If your stake is ruination, state what that ruination will be. And also notice how the resolution does not appear in the blurb. The resolution is something the reader finds out along with the character, and the resolution is usually defined by the want versus the need question.

In this case: Tracey WANTS to go to her aunt's elite college to be with her friends. She NEEDS to a) stand up to her aunt, b) accept her messy sister isn't the cause of her problems, c) find new friends etc...the NEED is up to you to decide. But it is often linked to the CONFLICT or PROBLEM or STAKES.

It is important to have the log line written before you write so you don't do as I've had to do, major story edits because you get to the end and its' a great story but you still can't say what it's about.

I hope this isn't too overwhelming, but nailing these few elements will create a great first draft.

Good luck!

Monday, 11 July 2016

Writing the first draft

I've spoken in length on my blog about editing, self-publishing, querying and trying to secure an agent and or publisher. What I haven't spoken a lot about is the first draft.

In a few weeks I'll be in a role as mentor at a writers retreat. (You can check out the details here to get an idea of what we're doing).

The focus at this retreat is the first draft. I'll be writing a first draft alongside these authors and providing assistance and answering questions. As an author who recently completed the James Paterson Masterclass, I can honestly say I will be approaching my next first draft more clinically than the other first drafts. I will muse over three ideas and pick the best one, then I'll create three main character elements, then I'll prepare a detailed overview.

After this it should be a matter of typing as fast as I can to get the first draft finished.

The timing of this first draft sessions is perfect. My current Work In Progress should be finished this week and will become a Manuscript. I'll be pitching to agents the last two weeks of July, then it'll come to a halt because of Dead Month. This is the month that most agents and publishers take off to catch up on reading and recharge. Which means for August I'll be straight into my next novel.

For me, there is no slowing down. My husband has a saying when he goes out to catch fish for us to eat. The more lures he has in the water, the more chance he has of bringing home a snapper. I have adopted this philosophy and the more books I have out there with agents, the more chances I have of landing one.

I'll share with you the teaching tools I'll use at the retreat. If you'd like to read about these two you can sign up to the RSS feed on this blog, or follow me on Facebook and Twitter.

Sunday, 26 June 2016

Coffee Chat with Mirren Hogan, author of Crimson Fire

Today I'd like to welcome Australian author Mirren Hogan to my blog for a virtual coffee and chat. Mirren and I met through my sister and we started out sharing a market stall together, as you do. We were both writers and quickly became friends. It's always wonderful to be able to share success stories of friends and local writers. Mirren has written many novels, as you do, and has now finally had her hard work turn into success with not one, but two fantasy series accepted for publication, the second series just announced today.

DL: Firstly, how do you take your coffee and when is your favourite time to partake?

Mirren: I'm a coffee philistine, I only like the sachet latte crap, and not very often. I prefer tea: Earl Grey, hot. Morning, noon and afternoon.

D L: You're a writer, a freelance editor, and an acquisitions editor for a small press publisher. Is it hard switching hats? And do you have any tips for others who juggle writing and editing and might be struggling?

Mirren: Yes it certainly can be difficult.

Writing is often pounding out a lot of words, while keeping the plot in the back of your mind and hoping it comes out half way decent. I've also taken to taking notes as I write, of names, places and random facts I might need later.

Aq editing is all about reading and giving feedback, and later liaising with the author to discuss promotions, sequels, etc. The Dragon's Rocketship wants the author to feel supported and involved at every step.

Editing is a lot more precise than either of these and requires a lot more focus. You cannot get caught up in the story, you have to see every word which is on the page and make sure it belongs there. I often have to re-read the first few paragraphs when I sit down to edit, to remind myself that I have to focus now.

My best piece of advice is to make sure you have time for the task you intend to do and don't switch hats in the middle of it. If you sit down to write, then write. Edit later. And don't edit while tired, unless you like doing it twice. Do write while drinking though, it can yield interesting results.

D L: Can you tell us about your upcoming novel. What is it about, when it is being released, have you seen the book cover yet?

Mirren: Crimson Fire (through The Dragon's Rocketship Publishing) is a fantasy novel about a young woman called Tabia. She's reasonably poor and her father is in debt to the royal family, so he gives her to them as a slave. Her mistress is a self-absorbed princess who soon discovers that Tabia can do magic. To increase her value, she sends Tabia to learn how to use it. However, self-absorbed princesses often have enemies and Tabia is caught up in a plot to kill her mistress and the king.

It should be out later this year. There's no cover yet, Druscilla Morgan is booked to do the cover art, but I've just finished writing the next book in the series.

D L: You're had short stories published in anthologies which you helped compile and edit. Can you tell us a bit about these anthologies?

Mirren: Tied in Pink is a romance anthology to raise money for breast cancer research. Like a Girl is to raise money for Plan Australia, to help girls all over the world to get an education.

D L: Can you tell us about the day you found out that your novel was going to be published.

Mirren: I checked my email one Sunday morning and saw one from the publisher saying they adored my book and offering me a contract. It's my second publishing contract, but I still smiled all day.

D L: What is the most daunting part of writing for you - past, present or future?

Mirren: It's a toss up between people not reading any of my work and people I respect very much, who write in my genre, reading it. There are some fantasy authors out there I respect very much and if they liked my writing I'd die happy.

D L: Are you a biscuit or cake kind of person?

Mirren: Biscuit, cake goes too stale too quickly and isn't as often covered by chocolate.

Once we have the covers, I'll do a cover reveal and provide links and blurbs on Mirren's books, so sign up to receive posts if you want to read more about Mirren's journey from writing to publication.

D L xoxo

Sunday, 5 June 2016

Writing for NaNoWriMo with other authors
Each year the writers group I belong to comes up with a project for NaNoWriMo, National Novel Writing Month. Our 2015 concept was created when another author and myself were at the annual speculative fiction conference held in Canberra, Conflux, now in its 12th year. We were sipping a glass of wine at the end of the day of listening to the most stimulating conversation ever!
Why is it that I can be in a room full of writers and readers and feel engaged enough to speak, take me some place else and I'd rather sit in the corner and talk with the plant.
Anyway, Cat had an ide about an alien zoo, and we brainstormed and our alien zoo was filled with shape-shifters and they had to plan an escape together with only limited places on the spaceship. Because Cat and I came up with the idea we decided we'd be the two zoo keepers (one good, one bad) and we'd let the other writer in our group be the in the enclosures.
Here's the thing about this project. It encapsulates all the elements of a story:
Goal - get off the planet and get back home
Motivation - there's a spaceship coming for a zoo exhibit, also they're dying inside from shapeshifting on command
Stakes - only 35 places on the spaceship, they must decide who goes who stays
Conflict - one zoo keeper wants to sabotage the plan, the other to help
Alien Zoo was written by authors who have published and who have not published before. So the tricky part when co-editing was to keep the voice of the writer but also to make it readable. It is difficult to ask and receive critique but having gone through professional edits with publishers before, oen thing that is rammed into my head is this: put ego aside, the book is the most important thing.
And we all worked on it till it's something we can be proud of. I know it's a little side project but I had fun writing and editing and designing the cover. 
If you have a writing group and are looking for a project to work on, I highly recommend a joint effort. It'll be hard work, difficult at times, but you'll learn a lot.