Monday, April 29, 2013

Does my brain look big in these?

I am wearing my new reading glasses as I write this.

They feel strange.

The world is both clearer and more blurry. Depending on where I look.

I take them off. My eyes cross with the effort of trying to focus.

I put them back on. The first few seconds are worse.

I still feel that perhaps I should just make the font size bigger. Or look over the top of them, like a red-haired Miss Marple.

I am wearing my new reading glasses as I write this.

They have strong, dark, tortoise-shell frames. Very definite glasses. I am convinced they make my brain look bigger. It's easy to decide on a dark, nerdy frame when you only wear them at home. Would I be so brave if I had to have them on my face all the time? Perhaps not.

The optometrist told me that I would never not need glasses for reading again. And yet, right now, I still feel more comfortable reading without them. Squinting a little, perhaps; adding new depth to the furrows around my eyes.

She didn't say that I could never again write without them.

Do you wear reading glasses?

Friday, April 26, 2013

Riding in cars with (little) boys

I am supposed to be cleaning my office, so now seems like an excellent time to write a blog post...

This morning I was lucky enough to be close enough to eavesdrop overhear one of those delightful conversations that take place between six-year-old boys when they're just, you know, chatting about stuff. Mr6's friend M had been visiting and we were all in the car, on our way to drop him off to a family function.

"I'm a little bit scared," he confided to Mr6.

"Why would you be scared?" asked Mr6. "It's just your family."

"There'll be people there I don't know."

Pause. "You need to just find a friend," said Mr6, knowledgeably. "You only need one friend and then it'll be fine."

[insert arty shot of driving Mum smiling to herself]

"You're right," said M. Pause. "Do you ever worry about things?"

Pause. "Nope," said Mr6, sunnily.

[insert arty shot of relieved driving Mum, smiling to herself]

"I do," said M. "I have a worry doll."

"What's that?" asked Mr6, intrigued at prospect of a toy.

"I keep it under my pillow and if I have worries I tell the doll and it takes them away."

"That's cool!" said Mr6. Pause. "Maybe if I get some worries Mum will get me one."

[insert arty shot of driving Mum struggling to contain suppressed laughter]

Do you sometimes listen in on your kids' conversations?

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

The trouble with social media

I keep cannibalising my own blog. Seriously. I eat small chunks out of it every day and then wonder why it's less satisfying as a main meal.

A year ago, when I was posting every day, I never ran out of things to say. Now that I'm only posting three times a week, I frequently find myself scratching around, scratching my head. Today I realised why.

Social media is eating my blog.

I'm popping up Facebook status updates willy nilly - and using up some stellar ideas that, 12 months ago, I would have written as a blog post.

I'm on Google+, throwing out my thoughts into a very good writing community.

I'm pinning... okay, actually, let's face it, I'm not pinning often and pinning never ate anyone's brain.

I've started a newsletter, and I'm putting things aside in my mind for that.

I'm talking about anything and everything in SMaC Talk, my (almost) weekly podcast with Kerri Sackville and Valerie Khoo (and thanks for all the terrific feedback on that, by the way).

And I'm saving up some of my thinking power for actual work - feature articles, corporate work, books and novels.

All of which leaves me with just a small portion for my poor old blog.

Today, unthinkingly, I engaged my fingers on the keyboard before my brain got into gear and I wasted a perfectly good opportunity to lament the popularity of Mr6's name by using it up in a status update. The conversation is terrific - but it's not here, in the Fibro, where I so like to have a cup of tea with everyone.

Ah well. Look at me here. Writing a blog post.

A tasty little blog post.

Is social media eating your blog, too? Or are you better at meal-planning than I am?

Monday, April 22, 2013

In which I indulge in some (warranted) italics abuse

Technology and I are not friends at the moment. I had one of those days today when everything electrical conspired against me to produce an absolute shocker. Even the coffee machine blew steam at me from unexpected places.

Worst of all was the moment at 11.10pm tonight when the wordpress post I'd been working on for a job failed to save. Not only failed to save but reverted back to its original version. All changes lost.

Are you getting my frustration here? Are the italics doing it justice?

Seriously, it's enough to make a person go back to writing longhand.

I started using computers in my second year of working. True story. I learnt to type on a manual typewriter. And I'm not even that old.

How did we go from that place to a society where half our day is spent not only on the computer but online?

(Again with the italics.)

I am hoping that I will wake up tomorrow and whatever gremlins have decided to infiltrate all the technology will have moved next door to shut down the neighbours' noisy pool filter. Then I will drink a cup of coffee (without steam burns) and start my whole wordpress post over again.

No italics required.

Do you remember a time when work did not necessarily mean a screen? Or is it just me?

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

The royal 'wee'

I have written before about riding on trains with boys. Several times. I seem to do a lot of it. Usually I write about the philosophical/metaphorical/[insert another 'ical' here] aspects of our journeys. But I think it's time we looked at some of the practicalities.

The real practicalities.

I write this as the necessarily-female mother of two boys. If I were the necessarily-male father of two girls I would no doubt have the same problem. Specifically, the whole public toilet thing.

A four-hour jouney on a train, such as we endured enjoyed today, brings with it at least one toilet stop along the way. Usually at a very busy train station, where the toilets are lined with subway tiles (well, they came from somewhere) and the stream of people in and out the door is both neverending and disconcerting.

Mr9 is, in many ways, too old to go to a female toilet. Usually, in quieter, gentler circumstances, I am okay with him taking Mr6 to the men's toilet, while I hover anxiously outside - in the doorway - receiving strange looks from passers-by. They are under strict instructions to scream loudly if anyone so much as looks at them, and conduct their business at nano-warp speed.

Today, we got off at Town Hall station in the city, with Mr6 crab-walking up the stairs because he was busting so much, and me laden down with one large bag and two smaller ones, trying to keep track of the boys, the escalators, the crowds and the everything else. I stopped a station guard-type, in his high-vis vest (thank God for the high-vis) to ask where the toilets were. "Down the end," he said, before adding, ominously I thought, "take them to the Ladies".

Mr9 wasn't happy, but there was no way I was dispatching them alone after that. So we all waited in line, then they waited with all the bags and then we finally managed to get out of there, all swearing we'd never wee again. The only bright spot was that Dyson airblade dryer thingy, which Mr6 took to with gusto.

My point (and I do have one), is that it's bloody difficult travelling with middling-sized children of the opposite sex. Public toilets have taken on 'dens of iniquity' status, whether deserved or not. Accessible toilets are often the best option, but these are locked on stations and other public spaces. And there comes a time when older boys are not happy to be dragged into women's toilets (and women are not altogether happy having them there).

When did it all become so difficult?

So I'm putting it out there. What do you do? Beyond having them cross their legs and hold on as long as they can, how do you manage this situation?

photo credit: slack12 via photopin cc

Monday, April 15, 2013

Facing the music in the school holidays

It's the first day of the school holidays and, as I sit here trying to write an article about infant reflux, Mr6 is singing pop songs on the pretend microphone his kindy teachers gave him as a prize last year (because he really needs a louder voice) and Mr9 is practising the piano. Phantom of the Opera. Over and over and over again.

Let's just say my thoughts aren't flowing clearly.

I should be rejoicing, really. Mr9 will sit down and practise the piano here and there all day. Ten minutes of scales. Wander away. Five minutes of trying to work out how to play the Ninjago theme by ear. Play Lego. Three minutes picking out the Transformers theme melody. Mooch off in search of food.

There is no consistent 30 minutes of practice a day. He wedges scales in when he feels like it (and not as often as his teacher would like it). But he floats and faffs and is happy. I think the key is that last word. At this stage of his 'music career', I'm just happy that he wants to keep going. He's been 'doing' piano for about 18 months now, following on from about 18 months of guitar lessons. He reads music, plays in the school band and plays Phantom of the Opera really, really well (over and over and over again).

He doesn't want to do a piano exam, despite his teacher's best efforts to persuade him. And I'm okay with that.

It's not very Tiger Mother of me, but I just want him to learn to play.

Hopefully, one day very soon, he'll move on to something that is not Phantom of the Opera.

Do your kids do music lessons? Do they have a set routine for practice?

Friday, April 12, 2013

Fibro Q&A: Fleur McDonald on the Rural Romance phenomenon

I first met Fleur McDonald about four years ago, not long after the publication of her second novel Blue Skies. She was then working on her third novel Purple Roads, and if anyone was following the maxim to 'write what you know' it was Fleur, who lives on an isolated 8000 acres on the south-east coast of WA, with her family, 400 angus cows, and 7000 breeding ewes, and writes big stories where the setting is almost its own character.

Today, her outback novels are devoured by readers around the country (Fleur was voted in the top 50 in Booktopia's Australia's Favourite Novelist poll) and she has ridden the wave of the popularity of 'rural romance' or Farm Lit from the beginning (Fleur's fourth novel Silver Clouds is out now). So I was thrilled when I was able to coax her into the Fibro to answer a few questions about her genre and the reality of 'rural romance'.

Rural romance or Farm Lit has emerged as a definite genre in Australian publishing – why do you think it's so popular?
Fleur McDonald: "So many people ask this question and I really don’t know the answer to it. What I believe is that most Australian have a love of their history and a fascination with our land. Most Australians know of Banjo Paterson, Henry Lawson, The Man from Snowy River and, more recently, McLeod's Daughters and Wild Boys. The recent TV programs have done incredibly well, so there must be a deep love of our bush heritage, and this translates over into the written word as well. When there is a bit of fun to be had, wonderful sunsets and a sexy farmer, well, then, who could resist?!"

Beyond the romance factor, you explore a lot of the reality of farm life in your books – and it's not always romantic. Is it difficult to marry those two things?
FM: "No, I can honestly say that farming or any type of life on the land is not romantic. Of course it has its moments – when the sun is setting and your bloke gives you a kiss … But, to me, the romance is more with the land – it’s beauty, history and stories. And that’s actually how I see my stories – not as a romance, but as a story from the land - and when I look at it like that, no it’s not hard to marry the two together.

"I like to tell it how it is, which is much more realistic, too. If people recognise themselves or things things have happened on their farms, then I’ve done my job."

Is the setting as important as the story in your novels? How do you go about bringing it to life?
FM: "Yes, the setting, I hope, is what paints my picture. I live it so I believe I can write with authenticity about the way we live, our animals and the land. I love showing people how incredible this life is, people who wouldn’t otherwise get to know about the little things; the way the wind indicates change in weather, the way the native Christmas Trees flower, the way the sheep graze into the wind. So I watch carefully.

"When I’m writing I shut my eyes and remember what happened to me when I was last doing the job I’m writing about. I see a mini movie in my head and just write what I see in that movie. With my latest novel, Silver Clouds, I took photos when I was last crossing the Nullarbor, so I had a visual to refer back to."

You live the life you write about, living on an isolated property in WA. Does the isolation help or hinder your writing career?
FM: "I think it’s both. I find that it’s difficult for me to get away from the farm for tours and so forth, but the isolation also helps me sit down and write. The biggest distraction (which I think is the same for most of the writers I know!) is the bloody internet!

"But it’s a necessary evil, because it’s the internet that makes it possible for me to have interaction with my readers (I always answer every message I get) and to be in constant contact with my editors and publisher."

Any tips for writers who'd like to have a crack at this genre?
FM: "Hmm. Well, my first thought is the market is already very crowded and that's impacting on both advances and sales. Personally, I would try another genre, because this one, as popular as it is at the moment, is likely to take a nosedive any day now.

"However, if you really think this is what you are born to do, then get your skates on, make sure your manuscript has a distinctive voice and a unique story, then cross your fingers and hang on."

You can visit Fleur McDonald at her website or say hello on Twitter or Facebook. Plus I have a signed copy of her latest novel Silver Clouds to give away. Sign up for my newsletter before Monday for full details - you'll also get to read Fleur's answer to this extra, thorny question: How do you find time to write?

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

What's in a name?

I'm obsessed with names. Ask anyone I know. One of the things I like most about being a writer is the chance to name people all the time. And towns. And entire kingdoms. (For the record, naming towns and entire Kingdoms is not as easy at it seems.)

One of my favourite perennial stories (as in one that I seem to get asked to write every year) is the one about the baby names. Last year's was a cracker (actually, any time I get to speak to Mark McCrindle about names is a good day).

So it will come as no surprise to you that I take the names of things very seriously. Which is why The Builder and I have been having some highly amusing conversations about the Ford Kuga recently. As I said on Twitter last night, as a busy soccer mum you could not pay me enough to drive a car with a name that is pronounced 'cougar'.

The Builder, of course, thinks my aversion is hilarious. He threatens to buy me one on a regular basis.

"You'd drive it if I brought one home," he said. And it must be said that it's quite a nice looking vehicle with many enviable features.

"Maybe," I said, after a pause, thinking of the joy of a new car, "but I'd remove that little name-plate thing and tell you vandals had done it."

He laughed. "I'd find it and get it made into one of those identity necklaces for you."

We crack ourselves, up, we do. But the fact remains.

What were they thinking when they named that car?

Do names fascinate you in the same way they fascinate me? Any examples of major clangers you'd like to share?

[image: Yes, I know it's Pikachu, which has nothing to do with this post, but don't you think he looks kind of like an embarrassed cougar ... no?]

Monday, April 8, 2013

Starting Out: The first series

The first series of Starting Out is complete - I know that eleven is not the roundest number in the world, but there you have it. I'd like to thank all the wonderful writers who contributed and shared with us the benefits of all that wisdom and all those lessons. I realised that there's no one spot to find all the posts at the Fibro, so I have created a little home for them here:

Megan Blandford

Anna Spargo-Ryan

Karen Charlton

Kelly Exeter

Sarah Ayoub

Jenn J. McLeod

Gabrielle Tozer


Jane Copeland

Ros Baxter

Juliet Madison

If there's a topic you'd like covered in the next series of Starting Out, later in the year, let me know in the comments and I'll see what I can do! And sign up for my newsletter (see up there on the right) for more, exclusive insider tips.

Friday, April 5, 2013

So, I have this new newsletter

You might notice something new about the Fibro blog today - see that fresh, pretty little box over there to the right? It's the sign-up for my new monthly newsletter.

Designed by Kelly Exeter at Swish Design, it's a stylish little one-pager, which will feature the most popular Fibro posts of the month, book news, writing tips, exclusive extra content, giveaways and some of my favourite bits and pieces from around the internet. Writing, reading, WAHM and whimsy.

Why do a newsletter? I'm glad you asked, as this is a question I have asked myself several times over the past year or so. I have been galvanised into action by the demise of Google Reader, the generally more-sporadic nature of my posts here at the Fibro, and the fact that I have so many different projects on the go at present.

I'm working on my first newsletter right now, and I'm planning to send them out on the 15th of each month. If you'd like to have me land in your inbox once a month, pop your email address in the sign-up box and I'll get my parachute ready.

Tally ho!

What do you like to see in a newsletter? What do you hate? I promise to take all comments on board!

[image: Stolen from Maxabella]

Thursday, April 4, 2013

There's always time for a cuddle

The Fibro household is a little overwrought at present. Mr6 has a cold and is snoring and grinding and snuffling his way through every night, waking up tired every morning. Mr9 is, well, nine going on 14 and has decided that the best way to assert his new independence is with an attitude the size of Australia. A bad attitude. And I am working late every night, eyes squinting against the glare of my computer, writing, editing, and trying to think.

Mornings are no fun round here at the moment.

This morning as I was trying to get Mr6's collar straight and shoelaces re-tied, with Mr9 shrieking away in the background about how school is 'bum', and a rising level of stress, Mr6 grabbed at me, toppling me over.

"What are you doing?" I shouted. "Can't you see I'm trying to get us out the door?"

"I just wanted a cuddle," he said, bottom lip quivering. "I need a cuddle."

"We don't have time for a cuddle," I said, through clenched teeth, attacking the laces once again.

"Mum," he said, seriously, putting his little arms around me, "there's always time for a cuddle."

So we stopped, and snuggled, and were five minutes late for school. The world did not end, but the day started out on an infinitely better note.

He's right. There is always time for a cuddle.

Are you a screaming banshee in the morning like I am?

Monday, April 1, 2013

Starting Out #11: How to write a romance novel

Once upon a time, I wrote a romance novel (or two). It was an interesting experience and an invaluable part of my apprenticeship as a fiction writer; it also brought me into contact with the Romance Writers of Australia, and many of its members.

Today's guest for the Starting Out series is Juliet Madison, one of those people who came into my world as part of the great RWA community. She also lives up the road from Fibrotown, so I've always taken an interest in her journey to publication.  I asked her to share the things she's learnt about writing romance along the way.

How To Write A Romance Novel: The Top Ten Things I've Learnt On My Journey To Publication
Since I started writing fiction three and a half years ago, a lot has happened in the industry. Bookstores have closed, publishers have merged, and the digital revolution has taken off. One thing that's remained the same, or is perhaps even stronger now, is the fact that readers still want more stories, especially romance. Whether it be contemporary, historical, romantic comedy, paranormal, or any other sub-genre, there are hungry readers out there waiting to devour books.

There are tons of writers out there too, hungry for their stories to see the light of day. Although not all get traditionally published, never have there been so many opportunities available for writers to get their books into the hands or e-readers of readers.

My writing journey led me to a publishing contract with Escape - the digital imprint of Harlequin Australia, and my romantic comedy novel Fast Forward was released in February. This is what I've learnt along the way:

1. Writers need to read
Reading can help improve your writing. Make time to read books in your genre, and even outside your usual genres. The more you read the more it stimulates those parts of the brain that help you associate words with images and emotions. Plus, it's fun, and helps you keep abreast of what's out there in the marketplace.

2. Show, don't Tell
You'll hear this phrase A LOT in your writing journey. What it means is to focus on showing the reader what's happening rather than telling them, and the best way for me to explain this would be to 'show' you (using a snippet from Fast Forward, of course!).

I felt hot and anxious, so I asked the beautician what was in the face mask.

My heart raced and I squirmed on the bed. "What's in this stuff? I'm on fire!"

3. Everyone needs goals
And I'm not talking about your own goals here, though of course it's good to have them! I'm talking about your character's goals. Every main character should have a goal - something they want - which helps to define the purpose of the story. They also need motivation - why do they want this? Then, the thing that makes a story interesting - conflict. What will get in the way of them achieving their goal? If you can define these three elements, both for your overall story and for each chapter, you'll be well on your way to creating a page-turner.

4. Know your 'hook'
Can you sum up your story in a sentence or two? And does this sentence have a distinct premise that is intriguing and unique? If not, you need to work on your story hook, that is, the thing that makes your story stand out in the crowd. If you're writing romance you may be writing to a trope - a commonly used theme such as friends to lovers, lovers reunited, enemies to lovers...etc, but you need to find out what makes your story different from others. For example, my hook for Fast Forward is:

Aspiring supermodel Kelli Crawford seems destined to marry her hotshot boyfriend, but on her twenty-fifth birthday she wakes in the future as a fifty-year-old suburban housewife married to the now middle-aged high school nerd.

A less intriguing premise could have been:

A twenty-five-year-old model travels to the future to find her life is not what she expected.

5. End each chapter with a hook
Yes, I like hooks ;) To create a story that readers don't want to put down, you need to end each chapter with something that will make them want to turn the page and keep reading. This could be a cliff-hanger, a question, an unexpected interruption, a discovery, a realisation, a decision, or anything that leaves the reader hanging and wanting to know what happens next. Not every single chapter needs to have a huge cliff-hanger, just make sure that the majority of your chapters end on a hook, especially the first few, to make sure you keep a reader's interest.

6. Get feedback on your manuscript before submitting
You've finished your novel, you're proud of yourself, you can't wait to get a publishing contract, you open your email to send it to as many publishers and/or agents as you possibly can ...


Take time to get some objective feedback first. Find a compatible critique partner and swap manuscripts, find a student editor who needs practical experience, or pay for a freelance editor to check your manuscript. They might discover problem areas that need fixing, grammar that needs correcting, and help you polish and fine tune your word choices and overall writing to increase your chances of publication.

7. Writing organisations are a valuable resource
I joined RWA early in my writing journey and it was one of the best decisions I've made. Join RWA or your local writing organisation or group (or all of them!) and get connected with other authors and publishing folk. The benefits are making like-minded friends, learning about your craft, entering competitions, and discovering exclusive opportunities and events. It was through an RWA conference that I first discovered Harlequin Escape who are now my publishers.

8. Don't assume anything

Don't assume that you'll never get published, don't assume that your book is not good enough, don't assume that your book IS good enough, don't assume that once you're published you've got it made, and one thing that I almost made the mistake of is 'don't assume that a particular publisher won't like your book'. Let them be the judge of that.

When I was shopping Fast Forward around, I was interested in Escape Publishing but at first I didn’t submit because I assumed that for a Harlequin imprint my book wouldn't be 'romantic enough'. Although the main focus of the story is on the personal journey and identity of the main character, her journey is inextricably linked to the romance of the story, so I decided to send off an enquiry first. I was told as long as it had a significant romance and a happy ending they'd consider it. Five weeks later I had an offer of publication in my inbox. If I hadn't taken a leap and put my work out there, I might still be shopping the story around today.

9. Embrace digital publishing
If you really want to write a book and get it published, by all means aim for a print publisher if that's what you want, but stay open-minded and consider whether digital publishing would also be a good option. Ebooks are still 'real books', they're just read on a screen instead of on paper, and more and more people are embracing the new technology, including publishers. Digital imprints are popping up everywhere. Publishers have to be more selective when it comes to print, and there’s only so much shelf space in bookstores, so digital is a good way to reach more readers and have more long term exposure for your books. It’s also faster, meaning your book can be for sale much quicker.

10. Don't obsess over your baby
Your book baby, that is. Your first novel, your pride and joy, the book you spent months and possibly years slaving over is finished. You want worldwide print and ebook distribution, audio books, and a Hollywood movie deal. Naturally, we'd all love this! And go for it - aim high, I say, but it's important to remember that if you want longevity in this industry you've got to keep writing books.

So send out your polished manuscript, then write the next book, and the next. Don't obsess over one book. I did this a bit with my first, and then when I noticed some great opportunities and competitions, I realised I needed some more books up my sleeve. So I wrote another book, and then another. My third was the first to get published, and my second is being released in December. My first - my baby - is still being revised and improved (because I didn't know these ten things that I know now!). And even if you get rejection after rejection, just remember: You can always write another book. Yes it takes time and energy and commitment, but keep writing, keep moving forward, and things can only get better.

Good luck!

Visit Juliet Madison at her website, or say hello on Facebook or Twitter. You can buy her first book here, via Escape Publishing.

If you enjoyed this Starting Out post, you may also like: You've signed a publishing contract... now what?; Which excuses are holding you back?; or Learning to embrace the editing process. 

Have you ever tried writing a romance novel?
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