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Archive for February, 2009

Cooking Gear

Posted by Rowena Cory Daniells on February 28, 2009

I could email this. I’m not gonna, because it’s fun to do it in public.

Okay, folks – by now you’re all getting geared up and ready for our tete-a-tete in sunny Queensland. Everybody’s packing their toothbrushes, their jim-jams, and lotsa copies of various manuscripts. Knives are being sharpened… and speaking of knives, herewith is the Tale of the Cook.

I had a good time cooking at the last ROR in Taswegia, and I expect to enjoy myself this time around as well. Of course, prices have risen fairly dramatically since then, so I don’t suppose I’ll be able to replicate the Miracle of Loaves, Fishes, Wine and Pizza quite so effectively — but with a bit of help from the audience, I reckon we’ll come through okay.

Marianne, Rowena, Trent — you lot are proper Briz dwelling Queenslanders. That means bringing a few extra bits of cooking gear won’t terrify the Air Transport Security Mob, the way it would if, say Max or myself were to start lugging chef’s knives in our carry-on. Therefore I feel it falls to you three to help stock the kitchen with usefuls. I’m very much hoping for the following items:

1) A stock-pot. About ten litres size minimum. If you provide me with this, I will make Chinese-style stock, and treat you to the best won-ton soup, the finest chicken-and-sweet-corn soup, and a truly excellent risotto. Stock is just one of those things you really must have if you’re going to cook properly, and commercially available stock does NOT cut it.

2) A whisk. Please?

3) Anybody got one of those whizzer-on-a-stick Bamix kinda things? Blenders are great, but I don’t think we need to get that carried away. But if you can get me a Bamixy stick-whizzer thing, I’ll make you a roast capsicum dip, a mediterranean chickpea spread, a salmon/basil/feta spread that you’d kill for, and maybe even a serious chocolate mousse. If you’re good.

4) A wok would be pretty cool. Aside from stir fries and nasi goreng, a wok allows you to make beautiful, thin, lacy, perfect French crepes.

5) A stone, for sharpening. The place will have knives. They all have knives. But the knives will be grotesquely blunt. I don’t mind putting an edge back on the knives, but I need a stone to do it with.

6) Does anyone have a cleaver? I love cleavers. You can throw away half your knives if you’ve got a good cleaver. Find me a good cleaver, I promise you the most melt-in-your-mouth delectable Chinese-style barbecue pork ribs you’ve ever encountered.

7) I admit I’d like a zester. Pathetic, isn’t it? And yet… a hint of blood orange in a rich, dark chocolate mousse…

Offhand, I think that’s about it. The rest of the kitchen requirements are pretty pedestrian. If they aren’t in place already, I can probably improvise.

While I’m here: I recall that none of you has any serious food allergies or horripilations. But not everyone has the same broad-ranging tastes. Why don’t y’all nominate a few favourite dishes? I’m not saying for sure I’m gonna produce them – but you never know. I’m always looking for new recipes to mess with…

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exciting times, desperate times

Posted by Rowena Cory Daniells on February 22, 2009

Hi!

Back again! Only a couple of weeks until I fly up to Brisbane for the ROR retreat. Not that the retreat is in Brisbane, but in a HIGHLY SECRET location – I don’t even dare to think about it in case the paparazzi find out. I’ll be up a couple of days in advance, visiting Michelle and Greg, Chris and Rebecca, along with new granddaughter.

That’ll be my second interstate plane flight, because this coming week I’m off to Melbourne. Firstly. to talk with a film director who’s interested in making a movie of Worldshaker (shush!), also to be introduced around Melbourne bookshops by the Allen & Unwin sales reps, and lastly to talk about sequel possibilities with my publisher at A & U.

I should be looking forward to it – I have been looking forward to it – but last night my printer went on the blink. I’ve spent half the day trying to sort it out with the Clean Heads command, the Deep Clean Heads command, and a million other commands and tests besides. Nothing works. So my plans for Monday are all thrown out – I’ll have to rush around looking for a new colour printer, so that I can print out (and laminate) various bits of stuff I need for Melbourne.

Inspiration? Who has time for inspiration? Ah, if only I could hear the sweet music of a printer click-clicking out a perfectly printed page, I could maybe feel inspired.

Meanwhile, I’ve been reading the mss for the ROR retreat – Marianne’s, Trent’s, Rowena’s and Tansy’s. Just a couple left to go. What a talented lot they all are!

Cheers
Richard

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Can’t Stop The Signal

Posted by Rowena Cory Daniells on February 20, 2009

They’re adding a node to the International Space Station. The naming rights are up for grabs. NASA is asking for suggestions. Surprisingly, “Serenity” is an option.

Come on, Browncoats. You know what we have to do.

http://www.nasa.gov/externalflash/name_ISS/index.html

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Inspiration

Posted by Rowena Cory Daniells on February 20, 2009

Alphonse Mucha

Trent did a post about the kind of music he listens to while he writes and it made me realise I prefer quiet (not that I get it with 6 kids and a husband who shares the computer room with me). What inspires me is images.

Ever since I discovered the art of Mucha I’ve loved it. This is one of his more confronting pieces to promote the actress Sarah Bernhardt.

When I write a book or a novella I unconsciously select visuals to go with it. I’d read books on artists in my spare time, and research say, Constantinople including the art and architecture. When I caught myself adjusting my computer desk-top to tie in with the manuscript I was currently writing I finally made the conncection.

Now I actively search out visuals to enrich my mental head-space, while I write. I hunt up art, clothing, architecture and factual details, often drawn from wildly disparate areas. As I write, I create a folder ( imaginatively) called research and drop everything to do with the new book in there.

When I immerse myself in art I find it surfaces in my dreams. These become richly stylised and include back story, and characters with motivation. I wake up feeling as if I’ve been on a holiday to an exotic place that only exists in my imagination. Who wouldn’t write fantasy?

I wonder if musicans dream in music, or comic book artists in line-work?

Cheers, Rowena

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Too Merchandise or Not

Posted by Rowena Cory Daniells on February 19, 2009

I’m always interested to see what the more entrepreneurial writers are up to. So when Kevin J. Anderson and Rebecca Moesta’s new Terra Incognita project dropped into my myspace page I checked it out. K and R are releasing a CD (they wrote the lyrics) to coincide with Kevin’s new Orbit series ‘Terra Incognita’. The CD is a professional cut, using established musicians. Good luck to them all. I hope it works out.

I then had a browse through the Anderzone online shop, which made me wonder … do writers ever make any money from these kinds of set-ups, or is it simply another publicity strategy? Many writers now use Cafe Press. I’ve held off setting something like that up, that despite numerous requests for Parrish t-shirts etc.

I’d be interested to hear what people think of author ‘shops’. I’ve always thought you needed to be Neil-Gaiman-popular to make something like that worthwhile.

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the music in me

Posted by Rowena Cory Daniells on February 18, 2009

Things are gearing up for ROR. I’m back teaching at QUT in a couple of weeks, and I have a short story workshop that I’m teaching this Saturday – I’m printing out my notes as I type this. And then I’m reading ROR manuscripts in my spare time, as well as great works of literature for a course I’m teaching (if you haven’t read Seamus Heaney’s translation of Beowulf, you really should, it’s quite something). Which is to say, that I’m a bit busy.

I’m also starting the first draft of a new book.

Now, I’m not getting a lot of time to focus on the book at this stage, but in first draft mode most of what I’m doing is getting the ideas down, and seeing if I can work out how the book wants to pace itself, which, with this one, is fast. I don’t have a lot of time to get into the right mindset, and I want to get this draft onto the page, so I’ve created a neat trigger to get me right into the story.

Music.

With most stories I write there’s usually something of playlist to them. The last one — of which this new book is the sequel — was weighted to Americana with a bit of Punk, reflecting the protagonist’s taste in music.

This one is leaning towards Grunge, particularly the Afghan Whig’s excellent album Gentlemen. It’s going into darker spaces, and Greg Dulli’s nasty but very ernest posturing is perfect.

For me music is an instant and visceral entry point into the story. Which is never more important than in the first draft. The moment I start playing certain tracks, I’m there and in the story.

You should give it a go.

Think about music that is thematically linked to what you’re writing, or who you are writing about. You might be surprised what you come up with. One story of mine, Tar Baby, was written to Moby’s God Moving Over the Face of Waters I played that bit of music over and over again. Every time I hear it now, all I think of is my character Harmony facing the TAR on the edge of a crumbling cliff, then tumbling down, down, down into its depths. My neighbours probably have a different reaction.

These days I’m not quite so obssessive. The playlist or album kicks in, and usually runs through once, and then the music has done its work, and all the noise I’m making is the scratching of pen on paper, or the tap-tap-tapping of keyboard, which are, ultimately, the sounds you want to hear.

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Tansy Muses on Writing Time – also Writing, Time

Posted by Rowena Cory Daniells on February 16, 2009

So I made my deadline, for those of you hanging out to know! I had the manuscript for French Vanilla done a little after 6pm on Saturday February 14th. My Valentine’s gift was my honey agreeing to take our 4 year old on an adventure so I could work… (note to self, request this EVERY year)

It was rather nice to receive an email back from my editor within 24 hours – she just peeked at the manuscript to check out a question I had for her about formatting, and had read 156 pages before she knew what she was doing! You can’t really ask for a better response than that…

Now that I’ve had some reassurance that the book is actually quite good (all together now – PHEW) I’ve been having some thoughts about writing, and speed.

This is the fastest full length book I’ve ever written, in pure chronological terms. The previous contenders were Three Janes (also last year), which comes in at about 6 months, and Liquid Gold back in 1998, which I completed in 5 months. French Vanilla was written in about 6 weeks (that’s two weeks plus Nanowrimo) last year, and had four very solid weeks of editing this year, which brings it in at 2.5 months, for a novel just shy of 70,000 words.

Now the first important thing is that none of those numbers mean anything. When I was writing Liquid Gold, from what I recall, I was in my final semester of my BA, and had one uni-free day per week in which I could write. I also had weekends, but those were for uni work and my social life. I did not have a child. (VERY IMPORTANT DETAIL) I did not write all day of that one day a week in which I could write. I suspect from what I know/remember of my writing habits, then and now, that I put in between 2-3 hours at the computer. With possibly one other writing stint over the weekend, or in an evening.

Three Janes was dragged out of me painfully, every step of the way. It was one of those dreadful books in which every page produced is WORK, without a single one of those magical frenzy days in which the writing is just going marvellously. It was also the first original, starting-from-scratch book I had written in years, since before I halted my writing to finish my PhD, since before I had my baby, who was three and in daycare 3 days a week when I was writing Three Janes. It was far shorter than either of the other books (Liquid Gold came in at about 80K, Three Janes at around 50). I worked on it in fits and starts, half hour blocks in between other things. And I glared at it a lot when I wasn’t technically working on it. It owned my soul. The first several months I think I only managed about 10,000 words, and then gradually picked up the pace as I added different plots and other good things. The whole thing stuttered along, taking up far more stress-time than writing-time until my beloved Swedish Writing Fairy read it, tore it to pieces and organised the broken fragments for me to mend, all within the space of 24 hours.

See what I mean about time meaning nothing, when it comes to writing?

French Vanilla was written fast, insanely fast. Everything I’ve heard about Nanowrimo is along the lines of – well sure, it’s fun, but you’ll never get a publishable book that way. 50,000 words in a month. It sounds too fast. It sounds completely wrong. But I know writers who work that way regularly – who draft their first book in a month or two months, and polish it later. I’ve never been one of those writers.

The guidelines of Nanowrimo mean you write approx. 1700 words a day. Every day. For a month. Now for me, that’s somewhere between an hour and a half and three hours’ work, depending on how on form I am. The trick is the every day part. That’s hard. Especially with only 3 days daycare a week – that’s 3 official ‘work days’ and 5 days of juggling child or child and honey to work around. I still wasn’t one of those writers who sits at the computer and writes from 9 to 5 (thank GOODNESS I write fast when I write, or that would kill me), but I was hitting pretty much my maximum capacity. Sometimes I would write the day’s alotment in two or three instalments – sometimes more. I utilised first thing in the morning AND last thing at night.

apart from starting with a bonus 15,000 words or so (two weeks work), I followed the Nano guidelines fairly strictly. There were many elements that contributed to my success in producing a publishable book in this time period:
a) fear – I’d left it too late to hit my deadline any other way (technically I still had two and a half months after Nano to work on it, and I cuddled those to me, but I knew I had to use those mostly for burnout and editing).
b) social pressure – I had a brilliant team of in person Nano buddies and another of online ones, and we worked to allow each other time and energy, feeding off each other’s wordcounts to get the job done. Best support network ever. The fact that most of the friends I talk to regularly were participating meant that all my usual social energies got channelled into work.
c) quality control – this was where I broke the Nano guidelines (and learned the error of my ways) because I was so concerned about the “just produce words, don’t worry about quality” aspect of Nano. That didn’t work for me at all, I had to produce a book that worked and could be turned into something really good within 10 weeks of the end of the first draft. So I had this plan to ensure quality control through shame by sending regular twice-weekly chapter updates to three of my closest and most trusted people. However, this was a BAD idea. Any hint that they had read the chapters, any word of feedback, sent me into a tailspin. I couldn’t cope with the pressure. It was hard enough figuring out how to make the book work myself at super speed without letting other people into my brain. So I cut them off.

The most interesting thing about the “speed” of Nanowrimo is not that I was writing all day every day (because I wasn’t) but not having as much time to breathe between writing sessions. Back when I composed a novel in five months by writing once a week, I had a whole week in between sessions to think about what I’d done, gear up for the next one, or solve any problems that had turned up. With French Vanilla I had to solve the problems NOW. That actually helped with fluid and speedy writing, because it meant procrastination was not my friend. It’s easy to put off writing a scene if you’re dumping the workload on next week’s Tansy. Not so easy when it’s 11 o clock at night and you know you’ll have to deal with it again as soon as you wake up…

I alotted myself six weeks of editing (and one month, December, of collapsey goodness and real life catch up). Sadly I discovered that the 1st of January is not actually that conducive to getting work started, and I didn’t start the editing until one month before my deadline. That dividing fairly sharply into two weeks of working on the big papery manuscript, and two weeks flat out of entering said edits into the computer (the pace only slowed down when said edits contained things like ‘write good’ or ‘make better’ without specific suggestions on how to do that. Talk about being mean to my (immediate) future self!

So yes, considering the frenetic pace of this book, and the sheer “impossibility” of producing something marvellous under those writing conditions, I received my editor’s comment on how readable it was with one huge sigh of relief. Because you just never know.

Some time ago, the very wise Justine Larbalestier commented about the perceptions people have of the “speed” of writers, and how the question ‘how long did it take you to write XXX?’ has no meaning at all. One writer might take a year to write a first draft of a novel, another might take two months. We would assume the two month writer had produced a rawer draft that requires more editing, but what if the one year writer only has one free day a week to work, has a family and kids to juggle, or (even more common) works a full time job with lunch breaks and evenings their only writing time, while the two month writer has no commitments and far more available time? Books can not be measured in months, or years. Working hours might be more relevant but as with most craftspeople, few writers log the number of hours they actually work, because once you work out what your hourly pay scale is, you have to spend several hours sobbing in the bathroom, and we have far too much to do!

The really interesting/depressing thing is that there is absolutely no correlation between the time it takes to write a book, the effort it takes to write it, and the quality of the end product. There is no maths here. I know for a fact after my Year of Drafting Three Novels that a month’s slog can produce the same amount of words as one fun, enjoyable week, and while I suspect the fun week will produce better writing (sadly the easiest writing is usually the best in my experience) there is actually no way to know from the process which will be the most effective, successful or just plain good piece of work.

All a writer can do is sit in the chair and produce the words, and hope that the end result will be worth their time.

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Tansy Muses on Writing Time – also Writing, Time

Posted by Rowena Cory Daniells on February 16, 2009

So I made my deadline, for those of you hanging out to know! I had the manuscript for French Vanilla done a little after 6pm on Saturday February 14th. My Valentine’s gift was my honey agreeing to take our 4 year old on an adventure so I could work… (note to self, request this EVERY year)

It was rather nice to receive an email back from my editor within 24 hours – she just peeked at the manuscript to check out a question I had for her about formatting, and had read 156 pages before she knew what she was doing! You can’t really ask for a better response than that…

Now that I’ve had some reassurance that the book is actually quite good (all together now – PHEW) I’ve been having some thoughts about writing, and speed.

This is the fastest full length book I’ve ever written, in pure chronological terms. The previous contenders were Three Janes (also last year), which comes in at about 6 months, and Liquid Gold back in 1998, which I completed in 5 months. French Vanilla was written in about 6 weeks (that’s two weeks plus Nanowrimo) last year, and had two very solid weeks of editing this year, which brings it in at 2 months, for a novel just shy of 70,000 words.

Now the first important thing is that none of those numbers mean anything. When I was writing Liquid Gold, from what I recall, I was in my final semester of my BA, and had one uni-free day per week in which I could write. I also had weekends, but those were for uni work and my social life. I did not have a child. (VERY IMPORTANT DETAIL) I did not write all day of that one day a week in which I could write. I suspect from what I know/remember of my writing habits, then and now, that I put in between 2-3 hours at the computer. With possibly one other writing stint over the weekend, or in an evening.

Three Janes was dragged out of me painfully, every step of the way. It was one of those dreadful books in which every page produced is WORK, without a single one of those magical frenzy days in which the writing is just going marvellously. It was also the first original, starting-from-scratch book I had written in years, since before I halted my writing to finish my PhD, since before I had my baby, who was three and in daycare 3 days a week when I was writing Three Janes. It was far shorter than either of the other books (Liquid Gold came in at about 80K, Three Janes at around 50). I worked on it in fits and starts, half hour blocks in between other things. And I glared at it a lot when I wasn’t technically working on it. It owned my soul. The first several months I think I only managed about 10,000 words, and then gradually picked up the pace as I added different plots and other good things. The whole thing stuttered along, taking up far more stress-time than writing-time until my beloved Swedish Writing Fairy read it, tore it to pieces and organised the broken fragments for me to mend, all within the space of 24 hours.

See what I mean about time meaning nothing, when it comes to writing?

French Vanilla was written fast, insanely fast. Everything I’ve heard about Nanowrimo is along the lines of – well sure, it’s fun, but you’ll never get a publishable book that way. 50,000 words in a month. It sounds too fast. It sounds completely wrong. But I know writers who work that way regularly – who draft their first book in a month or two months, and polish it later. I’ve never been one of those writers.

The guidelines of Nanowrimo mean you write approx. 1700 words a day. Every day. For a month. Now for me, that’s somewhere between an hour and a half and three hours’ work, depending on how on form I am. The trick is the every day part. That’s hard. Espe

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lucky break time

Posted by Rowena Cory Daniells on February 15, 2009

Hi!

Wasn’t it just last week I was saying I had a new car, so I was expecting another turning point in my life? Well, since then, I’ve had some great news that definitely points to an upward career curve! I received an email from David G. Hartwell, saying he wanted to publish “A Guided Tour in the Kingdom of the Dead” in Tor’s ninth anthology of YEARS BEST FANTASY. Yay!

“A Guided Tour …” is a story with a long, long history. I always thought it had legs, but in the first version, it was more of a travelogue and didn’t appeal to magazine editors at the time. I put it aside and thought about revisions, but didn’t get around to doing anything for many years. Then, when Jack (Dann) put out the word for stories for the second ‘Dreaming’ anthology, I went back and gave the story a whole new centre and a stronger narrative. I had that excellent feeling, yes, I’ve finally unearthed the story it was always meant to be! Jack was pleased with it too, so it came out in DREAMING AGAIN towards the end of last year – and now it’s had extra recognition from America.

It’s the lucky break I needed, because although I’ve had nearly half my stories published in the US, I’d never cracked any of the top level magazines. The way things work is that success builds on success – as I say in my writing tips, and every published author already knows. It makes all the difference when a magazine editor reads a story expecting to like it rather than expecting to reject it. Now my cover letter can kick off mentioning a story published in YEARS BEST FANTASY #9, and every American editor knows I’m worth taking seriously!

In fact, YEARS BEST FANTASY must be about THE top-ranking fantasy anthology, now that Ellen Datlow/Kelly Link/Gavin Grant ‘Years Best Fantasy & Horror’ has dropped out for 2008-9. The word is, it’ll be coming back the following year, but from a smaller publisher (Wildside). Bad news … and there’s other bad news too: REALMS OF FANTASY, long-standing top-ranking U.S. fantasy outlet, is ceasing publication for good. Particularly hard on a couple of Australian authors who had stories accepted – how unlucky is that?

Maybe it’s because there are so many stories easily accessible on the net – print magazines are doing it tough. Especially fantasy. It’s odd that, for novel-length fiction, fantasy is absolutely the way to go, but you stand a better chance with SF or horror for magazine publication.

Here’s some good news – TENDER MORSELS, by our very own RORee, Margo Lanagan, was an honour book in the American Library Association’s yearly awards. That’s in the YA category, because Tender Morsels is marketed as YA in the U.S., but as adult in Australia. (Our marketing is more sensible!) Congratulations, Margo!

Cheers
Richard

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World Building — more than a list of attributes

Posted by Rowena Cory Daniells on February 13, 2009

I’ll be doing a World Building Workshop at the National Romance Writers’ Conference in August this year. You might ask what romance authors need world building for, but one of the hottest sub genres is Paranormal Romance — Vampires and Werewolves in down-town Brisbane/Melbourne/LA. Also a favourite with readers are fantasy-romance and futuristic romance.

If you google world building you’ll find lots of useful tips with lists of all the things you need to consider from climate, to society structure. But, for me, the most important thing is how the world/society your character lives in, shapes the person they are and their life choices. So I’ll be concentrating on this aspect of world building when I run the workshop.

To me, the one thing every writer needs in insatiable curiosity about the world and its people, especially, if they are going to write the kind of books that require world building. You only have to look at our own world and observe the disparity in beliefs and life styles, to realise even the society of one medium sized city is not homogenised. So taking a one-size-fits-all approach to world building is not going to give you enough textural depth to create a rich believable world.

People do some strange things for some very strange reasons. If your loved one was dying, would you refuse them life-saving medication? You would, if it went against your religious beliefs. As long as your character is doing something for a noble reason, they can do outrageous things and the reader will forgive them. Now it seems we are veering into charcterisation. But that’s the thing about writing, so much of it is interconnected. If you don’t create a rich world for your character, they aren’t going to have enough depth to make the reader care. And if the reader doesn’t care passionately, you’ve lost them.

So the best thing you can do as a writer is read about our world, read history, read about societies. In New Guinea there are about 7 million people, speaking over 1000 languages. Villages can be within a day’s walk of each other and share completely different beliefs and social structure. There is literally a feast of information out there.

But where do you start? This is what I’ll be covering in my World Building Workshop at the Romance Conference.

Cheers, Rowena.

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