Friday, May 31, 2013

Weekend Rewind (Limited Edition) #2: Writing week

I'm going in early with the Rewind this week. I have a house to clean. In high heels (long story, but I'm going to a ball tomorrow night and will be wearing heels for the first time in ages, so I'm practising... as you do). So, here I am.

Thanks to everyone who linked up last week - it was SO good to see so many familiar faces, and to meet some lovely new ones too. This week, I thought I'd mix things up a bit (you know how I love a mixed tape) and rather than going with February as our theme, which might be a little ... expected ... (after January last week), we're going to do something else.

The theme for this week is ... WRITING.

So, you can give me a post about writing or some of your best-ever writing, you choose. Try to keep to the theme though, just because I get such a jolt when I visit the next link and it's not following the vibe.

Usual schtick applies: pop up your old post for some new comment love, then (please) visit some other blogs to leave some comment love, and like/follow me on Facebook or Twitter just so you can keep up with the Rewind notifications. If I can't comment on your post due to technical issues (as per last week's Disqus/iPad fiasco) I like to say hi in Twitter or Facebook to let you know I've visited, so make it easy for me (please).

All right, must go, the vacuuming awaits (oh, my glamorous life).

Ready, set...


Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Community Service Announcement: Fibro Book Club Facebook Group

Just a short post tonight to let y'all know that the Pink Fibro Club (Books & Reading) has a new and exciting home on the web. It's here.

Would love to see you over there. It's a friendly place to talk about whatever you're reading, get some recommendations and generally hang out when you're looking to procrastinate. I'll announce the book club selection each month over there, as well as in my newsletter.

And now I must go. Need to finish, Burial Rites, so I can write my June 1 post.

Any minute now.

Monday, May 27, 2013

Dealing with The Block

Do you ever suffer from Blogger's Block? It's not a common thing for me, but when it hits, it hits hard. To the point where my mind looks something like this: [                                 ]. Not pretty is it?

There are a few tricks I use when The Block rears its ugly head. One is to simply start writing. About anything.

To whit, the opening line of this post.

Usually, if I'm working on a book or an article or some other form of writing, I simply switch projects. My good friend Allison Dobell is currently working on her second novel, and I find that to be a nice distraction when a heavy, research-based feature story, for instance, is not coming together.

Blogging is somehow different. It doesn't seem to matter what I distract myself with, the blink-blink-blink of the cursor remains. Perhaps it is because blogging is so personal. If your brain is blank and you're essentially writing about yourself, you know you've got problems.

Another trick I try is a good, long walk. This has the benefit of both clearing my mind and shrinking my butt. Walking around the block usually clears The Block. (As does weeding, but we won't bring out my gardening/writing metaphors today.)

I'd like to be one of those bloggers who has a list of ideas at the ready at all times. But the truth is that I generally sit down with little to no idea of what I'm going to post that day (unless it's a Q&A, of course... have I ever mentioned how much I love Q&As?). This leaves me to be all footloose and freewheeling on a good day.

And leaves me stuck in quicksand on the bad ones.

Like now.

Time to put my shoes on for a walk...

How do you deal with Blogger's Block?

Friday, May 24, 2013

The Weekend Rewind: It's ba-a-a-a-ck (limited edition)

I was reading Maxabella's post the other day about her new World Blog Tour, an innovative new way to visit more blogs.

"She's right," I thought to myself (or may have actually spoken out loud because I'm that kind of girl). "I don't visit enough blogs."

My blog roll kind of disappeared during the Fibro renovation a while ago, I started writing three books at once and... well, reading blogs disappeared off my daily To Do list.

So I'm going to make it easy on myself (and you, hopefully) and bring back the Weekend Rewind for a limited season. I'm even including the circa-2010 image that Maxabella created for me. Isn't it cute?

If you haven't been part of the Rewind before, it's a simple linky thingo with few rules. You link up an old post for some new comment love. You visit a few other blogs to say hello and make them feel loved. We all sing kum-bayah, come back next Friday and do it all again.

But it's so much fun! It's an opportunity to dust off those posts that you felt really didn't get the attention they deserved, and an opportunity to find some new favourite reads.

I wrote this post once about the importance of having your blogging neighbours over. Sometimes I feel that, since those halcyon early days of blogging, we've all neglected that idea a bit.

But I digress...

To keep it interesting, I do like to have a theme (otherwise, seriously, how do you choose a post???). To make it easy, I'm going to make this week's theme JANUARY. So, you can link up any blog post that you wrote in ANY January of ANY year in which you have been blogging.

I have three years' worth of posts to choose from now... Including four Januarys... Which is about 21 years' worth in real terms (blogging years are like dog years as far as I'm concerned).

Okay, that's it. If we're not already besties in some form or other, like me on Twitter or Facebook simply to keep up with the notices of when the Rewind link is up (gives you a better chance to get in early!)

And... REWIND!

(As an aside, I've just realised that I've set the life of the linky for one week. Usually I close off at around 8pm on Sunday night - for two reasons... one is that if you get in any later than that, you generally don't get too many visitors and, two, is that I forget to check it after Monday... So, let's pretend it closes at 8pm on Sunday May 26, okay?)

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

This one time, at Jedi Training Camp...

So Fam Fibro took a little random holiday over the past week or so. We had to head waaa-aaa-ay north for a family function, so we took the opportunity to build in a mini-break. Mind you, with many hours of driving built in, it wasn't so much a break as an opportunity to spend a lot of time together.

We fit a lot into a car journey. The boys have portable DVD options, so The Builder and I like to plan our small talk to coincide with the times of peace. We covered off our metaphorical trip around the world, what we'd do with $600 million if we won the US Powerball (you think you know someone, and then the enormous, crewed yacht comes up in conversation), the relative merits of different forms of transport, why we didn't have a map of NSW when we had maps of all the different parts of NSW except the part we were actually going to be visiting... You can see why we had to eke this stuff out to ensure we weren't blown away by the enormity of it all.

When the boys were not immersed in Star Wars/Ninjago/Batman, we played I Spy. It has to be said that the quality of our games has improved now that Mr6 can actually spell a bit. No longer does everything begin with L. Which is not to say that he didn't attempt a few furphies. Like not realising Lego began with L. Cue much head shaking on Mr9's behalf.

Mr6 also instigated (or tried to) several games of 'Toyota'. Apparently this game involves trying to be the first person to spot a Toyota. All well and good, unless you are on a dual-lane freeway between Newcastle and Taree with not another car in sight. Even he could see that was going nowhere.

When we got to our destination, the boys were thrilled to discover that we had rolled up to a Jedi Training Camp. And I had to agree that the rather dilapidated cabins in which we were staying did seem to have come from 1976 and there were potentially Wookies hiding in the woods. But apart from a preternaturally aggressive possum with a liking for cheese and crackers (had to be shoved off the verandah with a broom light sabre several times), there wasn't so much as an Ewok to see.

There was, however, an amazing stretch of beach over the bridge (that's it pictured), and lots of friends and laughter and fun all around. The Force, she was with us.

On the way home, after another discussion about the lack of maps in our lives, we treated ourselves to a night of luxury at The Pinnacle Apartments in Newcastle. I mention it by name because we've stayed there before but could not remember what it was called - we had to call them from out the front to see if they had room for us because we could not look up their number. Now we will just be able to check the Fibro. Genius, or what?

We love Newcastle. The boys love the long stretches of unspoilt scooting potential along the waterfront. The Builder and I love the possibilities for beers in the same location. We lost 90 minutes of our lives in the most fabulous antiques shop and came out with the coolest 1930s bakelite desk lamp ever.

Something for everyone.

Today we're back at work and school. Already our little break is a memory. But we have plans. Big plans.

We just need that $600 million to pull them off.

Monday, May 13, 2013

The parenting handbook needs updating (again)

Mr6's hoarding tendencies may have reached their zenith. I hope. In not-unrelated news, he is also delighted to be - at last - Big.

"Look, Mum!" he shouted, running across the playground after school, waving a small yellow envelope at me. "I lost my tooth!"

Thank heavens. Said tooth had been hanging on by a sliver of root, dangling from the front of his mouth for days.

"Terrific," I said, putting it in my pocket. "We'll leave it out for the tardy tooth fairy tonight."

Fast forward about four hours. He is preparing for bed - AKA running around in Ninja Turtle pyjamas practising his roundhouse kicks. Very relaxing.

"Get your tooth," I instruct. "We'll need to put it in a glass for the fairy."

He leaps off (flying front kick, apparently) and returns moments later with the yellow envelope. And promptly bursts into tears.

"What's the matter?" I ask, kneeling down to be eye-to-eye with him.

"I don't want to give my tooth away!" he wails.

Good grief.

"But you have to give the fairy the tooth - you don't get cash for nothing, you know," I reason.

He wails louder.

"But it's MY tooth," he blubbers. "Not hers."


"Um. Do you want to, er, think about it for a while? You could hold on to the tooth for a few days and just, you know, get used to the idea."

He nods, tears vanishing like magic, and smiles his (gappier) little smile.

"Great idea Mum! We'll leave it in the envelope so that she can't see it and take it by mistake."

And so, five days later, the tooth, still in its little yellow envelope, remains on his desk. Each night I ask him if he's ready to 'let go' and each night he answers 'not quite yet, Mum', despite the cash inducement.

Seriously, this stuff is not in the handbook.

Did your kids give up their teeth happily?

PS: Winner of the copy of Into My Arms, signed by author Kylie Ladd, is Linda Nathaniel for her romance-novel-worthy description of first love. Please email me your postal address, Linda!

Friday, May 10, 2013

Fibro Q&A: Liane Moriarty on inspiration, secrets and writing 'funny'

 Liane Moriarty is one of those rare people who can write 'internationally best-selling author' after her name. Her warm, family-centric novels have staked a claim to some prime real estate on my bookshelf, and her book What Alice Forgot has been optioned by Fox Pictures. In short, she gives great novel.

So I was thrilled when she accepted my invitation to pop into the Fibro for a chat. Liane's fifth book The Husband's Secret was published recently, opening the door for conversation about inspiration, family and managing social media as an author.

I love the inspiration behind The Husband's Secret – an article about deathbed confessions. Are you the kind of writer who always knows what her next book will be about, even as she's writing the current one, or do you wait for the quiet time, once a book's finished, to flail about with a net for inspiration?
Liane Moriarty: "I normally have a few ideas at the back of my head, and sometimes I’m positive that I know what my next book is going to be about ... until I sit down to write it. I put aside another idea to write The Husband’s Secret, and actually, I’ve just shelved that same idea yet again. I don’t know why it keeps getting shelved, because it’s an extremely brilliant idea involving a suffragette, a pole dancer and ... look, it may be one of those ideas that only sound brilliant when they remain in your head. That particular character might have to stay at the back of my mind forever, pole dancing sadly away."

When you began your writing career, social media was almost non-existent – now it seems that authors must be 'engaging' at all turns. How do you feel about that aspect of being an author today? Are you active on social media?
LM: "Yes! You’re right! There was no Facebook! And we all survived, didn’t we? In one respect I can’t stand social media, because I’m very bad at it. I only went on Facebook at the insistence of my publisher and I am always behind answering comments, and I rarely do status updates, and I never update my blog, and I whinge constantly about the expectations, and how I don’t have time for this because I only have such short periods of child-free time to work.

"On the other hand, I also LOVE it, because I receive such lovely, generous comments from readers, and that precious feedback is available so quickly after a book is released.  I greatly admire authors who do social media properly, twirling effortlessly about the Internet, linking and tweeting. One day I will be just like them. And one day I will be very thin and punctual, too."

You experienced almost instant success with your first novel Three Wishes - do you think that made it easier or more difficult for you as a writer? Do you feel a weight of expectation with each book?
LM: "The Husband’s Secret is my fifth novel, and although you are kind to say I experienced almost instant success with Three Wishes, it was quite modest, manageable success if you know what I mean. It was published around the world, which was fantastic, because it meant I could become a full-time writer, but sales weren’t quite up there with 50 Shades of Grey. So I haven’t really felt that huge weight of expectation that I know some authors feel.  I feel like my readership has been growing at a nice steady rate but I don’t feel any pressure to stick to a certain formula. I just feel very lucky each time I have a new publishing contract."   

Two of your sisters (Jaclyn and Nicola) also write. Are you competitive with each other? Inspired by each other?
LM: "We are very competitive when it comes to material. For example, there was much outrage when I announced that I’d made use of a beloved family anecdote in The Husband’s Secret. I’m the eldest, so as I was here first I obviously enjoy first right of refusal on everything that has ever happened in the history of the Moriarty family...

"I am definitely inspired by both my sisters. I always say that I would never have published my first book if I wasn’t inspired by Jaci’s success with her brilliant YA novel, Feeling Sorry for Celia.  My sister Nicola, is one of the authors I mentioned above; she is very adept with social media, so much so that she and her graphic designer husband are my social media consultants. They set up my website, Facebook page etc. and answer my moronic questions, and I am eternally grateful to them."

People often praise the humour in your books. I saw it described in a review as "so delightful, it's wicked and empathetic and intelligent and smiley and it just nails it, every time". Do you set  out to write 'funny', do the characters drive your humour, or is it just a part of your natural voice?
LM: "Who wrote that review? I love and adore that person. I definitely don’t set out to ‘write funny’.  I think you’re right that it’s normally the characters and the situations driving the humour. Humour is such an odd, subjective thing.  Some people don’t find my books funny at all. I’ve seen some reviewers write, ‘What? This book wasn’t funny at all! I never laughed once!”  Which always makes me laugh, for some reason."

Visit Liane at her website or say hello on Facebook. In joyous news, I'll be giving away a signed copy of The Husband's Secret via my next newsletter, out on May 15. Sign up (via the box on this blog) for your chance to win - and to find out exactly how Liane writes about family without upsetting her own family members.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Ghost of Christmas (story) past

Today I did a year's worth of filing. It was about as inspiring as it sounds. But...

My filing unearthed a 'Christmas story' that was rejected by the English Women's Weekly about five years ago (Lord only knows why it was still hanging around the 'to be filed' file). The title was terrible - Icing on the Christmas Cookie - dear God.

Surely it got better?

I read it with great interest for, by now, it reads as though it were written by someone else entirely. Why did they reject it, I wondered, as I perused the opening lines?

It was all okay. Which was probably the problem. Okay, as in, not terrible but not outstanding in any way.

Until I got to this bit.

"Wrapping paper littered the room like confetti, the Christmas tree had given up its load of presents like Papa Penguin sending off his eggs to hatch, and Amanda had taken another 50 photographs to add to the 1000 unprinted images on her computer's hard drive."

Papa Penguin? Methinks someone had been watching too much David Attenborough at the time of writing.

That's the thing with writing. So much of it is impacted by what's going on in your life at the time.

Just another reason to put manuscripts away in a drawer for a while before going back to edit them.

Are you sometimes surprised by things you've written in the past?

Monday, May 6, 2013

Why I don't like book clubs - and yet I'm starting one (allegedly)

Sometimes it doesn't pay to be on Twitter. There I was, minding my own business, sending out pithy (to me) tweets about this and that, when suddenly I found myself inveigled in a conversation about book clubs.

I don't like book clubs. I get that people love them, and I must say that I did have an enjoyable time in one a few years ago - but that had nothing to do with books. Mostly we got together, drank beers and talked about men. Even so, because I am a nerdy wordgirl, I had to endure reading many, many books that I did not like at all. Because they had been set as the text for that month and I am nothing if not diligent when it comes to doing my homework.

So I'd wade through someone else's choice of literature, feeling physically itchy about it at times, and then turn up on the night to find that I was the only one who had. Even the person who had set the book hadn't read it. Or, if they had, they wanted to tell us that they 'liked it' or 'didn't like it' and then move on to beers and men.

Leaving me there, alone, with my carefully prepared thoughts on theme and narrative devices.


Anyhoo, back to that fateful Twitter conversation. Somehow, thanks to @ClaireyHewitt, I have found myself head prefect of a newly formed online book club. Only I'm not going to call it a book club, I'm going old school, with Reading Club. Much more refined.

Despite my best efforts to delegate the whole exercise to @HelloMaxabella (you can't say that without hearing Seinfeld sneer "hello Newman", now can you?), here I am. With my Fibro Reading Club. Membership of one.

The Rules of Fibro Club:

1. You do NOT talk about Fibro Club (okay, not really, but how could I resist?)

2. The book for each month will be announced in my newsletter on the 15th of each month. The Fibro Club post regarding that book will go up on the first day of the following month. That gives us about two weeks to read the book. Long enough?

3. If you want to participate in the discussion, it would be great if you read the book. But if you don't like the look of the book, feel free to simply bypass that month and pop back another time. Or read something else and tell us what you think of that instead.

4. No shirts, no shoes. Pyjamas and beers are, however, perfectly acceptable.

At this stage, I'm still deciding the best place to hold our discussion. We can just do it in the comments here. Or we can shift to Twitter. Or I could even get all excited and start a Facebook page. All suggestions welcome

There you have it. My prefect badge is all shined up and ready for the announcement of the first book in next week's newsletter. Feel free to sign up if you'd like to join in!

Have you ever been in a book club? Tell me what you love and/or hate about them so that we can avoid the same mistakes?

image: a small portion of my current to-be-read pile

Friday, May 3, 2013

Fibro Q&A: Kylie Ladd on why the writing shouldn't get any easier

Kylie Ladd, one of my very favourite 'acclaimed Australian authors', launched her third book Into My Arms this week. I met Kylie on Twitter in my very earliest weeks, and she was and is all of the good things: smart, funny, engaging, friendly. I read her first book After The Fall soon after, and was hooked.

Last time she visited the Fibro, we talked about characters and voice and lots of other good writing stuff. This time, well ... read on.

Now that you have your third book, do you think that the writing gets easier or more difficult as you go along?
Kylie Ladd: "It should be easier, and in some ways it is, because I have the psychological crutch of knowing that I have done this before, a number of times now, and thus there’s no reason I can’t do it again. But really, every book is different, and every book should be harder if you’re also pushing for it to be better than your last (and if you aren’t, why not?), so the short answer is no, not at all. They’re all their own individual forms of hell."

Do you finish each book with an idea of what the next one might be about?
Kylie Ladd: "Thankfully I do. It’s never a clear, fully-formed idea, but usually as I come into the final 20 or 30,000 words of whatever I’m working on I can sense something glimmering out of the corner of my eye. The trick is not to look at it directly - for one, I might scare it away. More importantly, though, it’s not a time for playing with new ideas - I need to keep my eyes on the horizon so I can steer the story I’m telling into shore.

"It is a comfort to have it there though. I’m not one of those writers who has a thousand ideas before bed each day - usually I only have one every few years, and then I have to make sure I can make it last the length of a book. I’m at the 75,000 word mark of my next (hopefully, fourth) novel now, and I can just feel something beginning to take shape at the edges of my brain. I really hope it’s a new novel, and not a migraine."

Relationships of one form or another are at the heart of all your books – what's the most difficult thing about writing about relationships?
Kylie Ladd: "Keeping them real. Having my characters do and say things that real people do, and not what I want them do to move the plot along or work in a nice piece of exposition or what have you. I also get a bit nervous about writing male characters, in case I get the voice wrong, but hopefully I’m getting over that. At the end of the day we’re all people first and foremost."

You're an author who doesn't blog, FB, pin or all the rest – though you do Tweet. Do you agree with Charlotte Wood that 'branding is junk'? Or is there another reason you don't get too involved?
Kylie Ladd: "Oooh, I didn’t know Charlotte said that. I like her even more now! I can definitely see the importance of branding to some extent, but I’m not sure it would be worth it for me. I don’t really think I’m all that interesting… but hopefully my novels are, so that’s what I’d rather work on and put my effort into.

"The other reason I don’t get too involved, as you say, is time (see next question!) and, to be honest, that thing I mentioned above about my general dearth of ideas. I have blogged in the past in a paid position (I know! But not paid much) and while I enjoyed it and am proud of what I produced in that year I found that it didn’t leave much in my tank for my fiction; that I was using insights and ideas and quandaries that I normally would’ve explored or addressed in a novel in my weekly column instead, and then I wasn’t much interested in them anymore or felt I couldn’t go over them again. Also, the pressure to always have something fresh and new and well-punctuated coming along did my head in. (NB. I do actually Facebook. Clearly not that well though!)"

How in the world do you fit being a successful author around being a parent AND a part-time job as a neuropsychologist?
Kylie Ladd: "By not blogging. Seriously though, it’s about discipline- it’s about setting aside time to write and refusing to let myself be talked into going out to lunch or seeing a private patient or even meeting for coffee on those days. It’s about keeping them so sacrosanct that one of my kids would have to be in the ER before I got up from the desk. It’s about allowing myself a bit of time to muck around on Twitter but then unplugging my computer and going to work in the kitchen or backyard if necessary so I can get something done without being lured astray by the siren song of the internet. (We don’t have wireless so I can accomplish this. My children believe we are living in the stone age.)

"Reading back, this all sounds a bit obsessive, but something I always say to my creative writing students is that the first rule of being a  writer is to write. They all look at me like I’m nuts (Write. I paid money for this?), but it’s true. When you can write - and for most of us, that time is limited - the writing must come first."

Visit Kylie at her website, or say hello on Twitter (or, apparently, on Facebook!). You can buy Into My Arms here or - wait for it - you can enter the Fibro competition to WIN a signed copy! 

All you have to do is to leave a comment below, by 5pm Sunday May 12, answering this question: Have you ever fallen in love at first sight? Winner will be most creative answer, as judged by me, and announced on Monday May 13.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Tips for writing features #12: A question of good questions

I was talking to an editor friend of mine today who was gnashing her teeth over a story that had been submitted to her. It was a Q&A piece and it just wasn't working.

"The answers are just not quite right," she said to me.

"No," I said to her. "The questions aren't quite right."

Whatever style of article you're working on, be it general feature or Q&A, the key to getting the information you want, the great quotes you need, and the right angle for the piece is to ask the right questions. I have written before about interviews (specifically, one that went wrong).

About the importance of asking dumb questions.

About how to interview 'real people' for case studies.

And the importance of asking one final question when you find someone you think is a 'good interview'.

So now I'm just going to lay out my four top tips for asking the right questions to get the great quotes you need.

1. Be prepared, but not too prepared
Some of the worst interviews I've ever conducted have been with a) people about whom I'd read everything ever written or b) experts in a subject that I'd researched to the point where I felt I knew as much as the experts. It makes for a boring interview and a boring interview will always bring boring quotes.

When I feel as though I'm learning something as I ask my questions, my interest is piqued, my questions are more spontaneous, and my eyes are bright and shiny. People respond to that. They want to tell me more. We get to cover areas of a subject that we might never have touched on if I'd left no room for them.

2. Listen for the little bell
Having said that, I always go into an interview with a prepared list of questions. I think long and hard about the brief, what I want to know about a subject and what the readers of the particular publication for which I'm writing the story will want to know. I ask those questions and I listen for the little bell that goes off in my head every single time I hear a quote I know I will use in the story. Sometimes it's the quote on which I will build the story. When I hear that bell, I take that particular line of questioning just a bit further if I can.

3. Ask open-ended questions
Unless you're after a definitive answer on whether Kevin Rudd will run for PM again (just as an example), don't ask questions that are easily answered with a 'yes' or 'no'. These leave you with nightmares when it comes to writing your story. What you want are nice, juicy sentences. A bit of waffle, even. Waffle can be edited. Boring answers can be dealt with by writing interesting words around them. But turning a 'yes' into a paragraph in your 1500 word story is not easy. Give yourself something to work with.

4. Actually, listen in general
It's easy as a journalist to go into automatic mode when it comes to interviews, particularly phone interviews. You can be so busy trying to get the words down (if you type them) or so confident in the ability of your recording device to catch every word that you can forget to listen to what the interviewee is saying, zoning out into la-la land, planning the story in your head. Later, you'll read over your notes and think 'damn, why didn't I ask that?' because you will, without a doubt, have missed something.

When you really listen to the interview, you won't miss the opportunity to ask the right questions.

As an interviewer, nothing gives me a bigger thrill than when someone says to me 'those were great questions'. It means I've asked them something that's made them think, and that will hopefully give me the material to make readers think. Win/win.

Tell me about the best (or worst) interview situation you've ever been in - either asking the questions or answering them.

image: Eleaf via photopin cc
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