Saturday, May 30, 2009

Reflection on YA hypothetical: Sex in Books

Review DONE, peanut butter toast and coffee on it's way, and it's a very pleasant Saturday morning out there. The kitchen and bathroom have been bleached into pristine condition and the BF is slumbering, soon to emerge with a well-rested roar. What's not to like about today?

On Thursday night I attended the "So you want to be a YA writer?" hypothetical. It was great fun--the panel was lively and informative, and the MC guided with a firm hand but kept the conversation light.

The night went something like this: a hypothetical query letter is sent by Roy Goodman-Beckett (the name is constructed from the names of the three authors on the panel, James Roy, Alison Goodman and Bernard Beckett) to an editor and all on the panel have to react to developments along the way: changing the character, changing the audience, the word length, the inclusion of a sex scene and so on.

Working in the publishing industry has given me a lot of insight into the realities of publishing. (At one point I thought the editor from Penguin was going to say he read EVERY word of EVERY manuscript that turned up in his slush pile, at which point I would have to accuse him of lying through his teeth. But under some gentle questioning from the MC he conceded that you can tell if you like the MS after only five pages. In my experience, sometimes it's five sentences.) Also, as I've been researching query letters and so on, I'm afraid all in all I didn't hear a great deal that I didn't know already, but gosh it was fun!

The most interesting conversation in my opinion was about the sex scene. "Go figure!" I hear you say. But bear with me. Beckett is whole-heartedly in favour of sex in books, especially in YA books. His reasoning was that there is sex everywhere, but it's a plastic, impersonal, almost non-human version of sex: porn, music videos, advertising etc. The good thing about sex in books is there is actual people in books, and the sex can be realistic. The complexities and awkwardnesses can be portrayed, as well as the wonder and beauty of it. If you think about it, reading a sex scene through the mind and sensations of a character is probably the closest thing to having sex yourself. There might be men out there who would disagree and say nothing compares to a visual--as psychologists attest, men are more stimulated by visuals than the written word, and vice-versa for women. I'm willing to admit this could be the case, which may explain the Mills & Boon/Internet porn dichotomy, but I will never concede that commercial porn is a realistic representation of sex. (Here I would like to go off on the "Is porn intrinsically degrading?" tangent. But I will stay on topic!)

Beckett then lamented it was near impossible to write good sex as the sexual vocabulary has been stolen from us. All words to do with sex and genitals have been hijacked as cusses or into porn, or sound like something from a sanitised 1950s marital relations pamphlet. How true! I'm lamenting as I write this.

Who does do it well, especially for teenagers? Two books I read in high school, The Divine Wind by Gary Disher and Cross My Heart by Maureen McCarthy had healthy, enthusiastic, well-written sex in them. It wasn't exactly hot stuff, but then again how embarrassing to be sitting in English class and getting aroused. If I remember correctly, both authors avoided all mention of the bits and pieces involved, but gave a good sense of (what I now know as) real sex. Disher described a particular scene that has stayed affectionately in my mind, of the characters sheepishly washing their sheets together the morning after.

Who else does this well? Can you? And would you include a sex scene in a YA book? (Personally, I'm all about painfully drawn-out sexual tension, and am dubious as to whether consummation would work in the book I'm currently working on, but I'm not idealogically opposed to it.)

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

History is HILARIOUS! Plus Doll Damnation

This is just about as far as you can get from fantasy, but damn it's just so good!

A Short History of Nearly Everything is a fantastic book about the history of science and how scientists discovered the things they did--as well as very dryly and wittily describing some of their characters, theories etc. (Did you know Hubble, of Hubble telescope fame, for example, was a massive egomaniac and an inveterate liar? One wonders why he felt he needed to, as he was brilliant AND handsome, apparently. Men, hey.)

Bryson explains not just what we know about the Earth and our universe, but how we know it--which is a good question: how did we work out things like the weight of the earth and how old our universe is?

There's a YA tie-in here: the book has just been released in an abridged version called A Really Short History of Nearly Everything. And it has cartoon Bill Bryson. Cute.

I'm off to devour some more now...

And here are a few snaps from last night...the EXTRAVAGANZA! Lady Gaga is a total pop-culture junkie, and what a set of lungs! PCDs were suitably slutty. They even came out pole dancing at one point. Strippers with mikes, people, strippers with mikes...

Pre-Lady Gaga. That is the most awesome corset.

So my camera doesn't have the best zoom, but there she is on her cardboard cut-out set.

PCDs now. Look at them on their poles!! For heaven's sake, it's a bit much isn't it? The audience was mostly teenage girls!

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

What I do in the name of research

When writing a YA novel one must get into the head of ones audience. Better yet, be at one with their universe--submerge oneself in the tastes, smell and sounds (especially sounds) of their world.

This is my only excuse for going to tonight's (hushed, awed tones) Lady Gaga (right) and Pussycat Dolls EXTRAVAGANZA! May I just say I didn't PAY for these tickets--they were freebies. I'm rather fond of Her Gaga-ness (saw her club gig a few months back) but I'm not so fond of the PCD. They are little more than stippers with mikes.

But still, I'm stoked for a night of bimbo feminism, thinly veiled innuendo and grinding tweens. Hawt.

Monday, May 25, 2009

EVENT: So you want to be a YA writer?

I can't afford to attend the wonderful Reading Matters 2009 conference which happens next weekend at the State Library of Victoria and organised by the Centre for Youth and Literature. I know Adele of Persnickety Snark will be in attendance, and I'm eagerly awaiting her response!

There are a number of interesting side events, including So you want to be a YA writer? (Thursday May 28, 7 pm at Storey Hall, RMIT) which will feature YA writers such as James Roy and Alison Goodman (author of The Two Pearls of Wisdom) as well as editing, publishing, bookselling and marketing luminaries. At $15, this event is certainly within my budget and I'm a-hum with anticipation! Who's going?

Thursday, May 21, 2009

A "Good on Paper" Writer

A "good on paper" writer is someone who can put beautifully crafted prose on a page, right? Wrong.

I am not (yet) a "good on paper" writer--I'm talking about the bane of all emerging writers: the author CV. Woebegone is the writer who has nothing, or nearly nothing, to sell herself with. As I'm putting together query letters right now it's near the top of my list to fix this sorry situation, stat!

For years I've struggled with even where to start. Firstly, I HATE short stories. I hate reading them and I loath trying to write them. I detest investing in characters or a voice only to find that it's all over and done with in a few thousand words. (Which is also why I hate lengthy or--even worse--MULTIPLE prologues. Reinvesting in a story/new character drives me bonkers as I'm a far from patient girl.) I have written only one short story that I am pleased with, but judges continually overlook it so I guess my lack of enthusiasm for the genre (?) shows.

So that's short story competitions and anthologies out.

Then there's freelance journalism. I've tried that too but generating exciting topics and pitching them at a jaded editor is not my idea of an afternoon of fun. I also go off on tangents when I try to write features, or put too much of myself in (hallelujah for blogging, cos it's all ME ME ME!) and newspapers don't like that.

I did get a letter to the editor published in the Age once. Did I milk that! "Ooh yes darlings, published in the Age..."

I'm certainly NOT a poet, either. I've read about three poems in my life and they make me roll my eyes. Or bawl. And poets are so miserly with words. Say it with sentences, people!

I was beginning to think that I was going to have nada to augment my CV with until my YA teacher mentioned that Viewpoint magazine is always looking for YA reviewers, and I realised that hey, I do that already! And what do you know, I have four reviews coming next month, in three different magazines, one of which I actually get PAID for. Sweet Jesus I've hit the jackpot! How swanky will that look on my CV?

How about you--is your CV brimming with credentials, or frustratingly bare? And if it is brimming, how did you get started?

La Isla Bonita

Photo time! Just looking at these I can feel the warm breezes, the prickly volcanic rock and dead coral beaches...ahh...

My signature Self Portrait of Feet and Landscape. We spent most of our time in and around Port Vila, Efate and the surrounding small islands. This was taken on Lelepa, just after a bout of snorkeling. The reefs there are amazing! I've never seen so many fish. (Survivor Vanuatu was filmed a short distance away. I tried to look impressed but I never watched the show.)

This was our resort, Mangoes, and it was heaven. Child-free, small, amazing food and lovely staff. Private bungalows instead of hotel rooms. I felt like Lady Muck herself!

The resort cat. Never did find out her name but she was a real sweetie and fell asleep in my arms more than once.

How Blue Lagoon is this? This is at the Mele-Maat Cascades, about 20 minutes out of town. We walked upstream to the falls themselves...

...and they were epic! That's the lovely BF having a dip. Above and to the left are the falls themselves, about 35 metres of them!

This is me, on a boat, pre-diving. I've never been scuba diving before, so note the terrified glint in my eye. Restricted movement, breathing apparatus, no talking??! Ach! But it was one of the most amazing things I've ever done, and definitely the highlight of the trip. It was like being in a big blue room at peak hour: there were fish EVERYWHERE! We saw a moray eel (and I got so distracted gazing at it that I drifted into some coral, got my breathing tube stuck, scraped my hand and broke a few pieces off some beautiful purple coral in my panic to get free. Not cool. Bad diving etiquette to break coral.) and the drop-off (scary black abyss, couldn't get me close if you tried, I saw Finding Nemo!) ... and then we found Nemo!! He was with his dad in that special stinging anemone, hanging out, being adorable. And then we had to surface because we were running out of air. We spent the rest of the night in a post-adrenalin haze, vowing to get our diving license. And we well, perhaps in Cairns or back in Vanuatu next year. Because, oh yes, we'll be going back.

So those are my holiday snippets! Anyone else had a lovely time somewhere recently, or plans to soon?

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Review: The Forest of Hands and Teeth

Mary has never known life outside the fences that protect her village from the Forest of Hands and Teeth. But ever since she was a child her mother has told her stories of the ocean, passed down by the women in her family since before the Return, when the Unconsecrated began to stalk the land. The Sisters, who rule the village with an iron fist, preach that there is nothing beyond the fence but an endless forest. But Mary is restless and yearns for more than the meagre options given to her, and she's sure that somewhere, beyond the fences, lies the ocean.

This book is very dark, and very readable. I devoured it on my flight back to Australia and it was the perfect travelling companion. Mary's voice is matter-of-fact and childlike, illustrating her naivety that has resulted from her life-long isolation in a tiny village. She knows no other life than one of obedience to the Sisters and the vague idea that one day soon she will marry. This is a sticking point for Mary: she's in love with one boy, but another plans to ask for her. And the one she's in love with is about to ask for her best friend, Cassie. Ouch. The love quartet, or square, if you like, is suitably painful and complicated. Ryan has captured the teenage reluctance to discuss anything to do with love.

It's a common theme of dystopian novels that post apocalypse (whether it be zombie, nuclear or otherwise), religious zealots seize power. In The Forest of Hands and Teeth it's the Sisters who fill this role, and Sister Tabitha is dangerous, creepy and seemingly omniscient to boot. With the Sisters on one side of the fence, and the Unconsecrated on the other, Ryan has created a bleak and unforgiving world.

I loved the number riddle--for me it was the most original part of the book, and crucial to the dramatic tension. I also like the fact that Ryan didn't feel the need to tell us exactly how old Mary is, or what she looks like. I had a picture in my head thanks to the US cover, but it was her character that made her come alive.

There are suitable amounts of carnage, but I can't get the same sense of being terrified from a horror book as I can from a horror movie. The tension just doesn't build without the music and cinematic image of a rotting zombie suddenly leaping out me from behind a door! But that's my fault, and not Ryan's.

Minor niggles: All the capitalisation; too much is distracting. Also, I love the name of the book, but would the villagers themselves have given such an artful, poetic name to a forest full of zombies? And again, it's capitalised every time.

Monday, May 18, 2009

The dream is over...

I've just spent the last week in Vanuatu and it's been FANTASTIC! The weather has been perfect, warm and breezy and not too humid. Our hotel is child-free so it's been so very quiet and relaxing. We've been sailing, snorkeling, diving (which was one of the best things I've ever done in my life! Highly recommended!) and eating eating eating! Plus loads of cocktails and sneaky duty-free voddies in our room, hehe...

The food has been excellent--we've been eating in restaurants the whole time and the food is all fresh and organic. We've been able to justify eating this way as the supermarkets are not any cheaper and then you have to cook the food yourself and do your own dishes! As we're on an island and everything has to be freighted in, groceries are frightfully expensive (packet of weet-bix=AU$10!!!). Plus there's the 12.5 per cent food tax which is how the government makes their money, as there's no income tax here.

But now we're all packed up and waiting for the bus transfer to take us to the airport. I'm not too sad though, because we did have such a wonderful time. All the locals have been so friendly and the islands are very beautiful. The currency is odd--I just checked our bill and almost had an apoplexy when it said Laundry: $1000, before I realised that's in vatu and therefore about AU$15. I will be able to say to my friends, though, that the BF has been spending thousands and thousands on me :)

We have about twelve hours of travelling ahead of us which I'm not looking forward to, but I have The Forest of Hands and Teeth to keep myself occupied with. I didn't get as much reading done as I thought I would as we were always off and doing things, and I had to read books for print reviews, and they take priority as deadlines are looming! But now I've done my "homework" and can relax with zombies, ah...

I've got class early in the morning which I was thinking of skipping but my teacher should have finished critiquing my manuscript by now. And if she has, it'll be time for one last edit before I start sending out letters to US agents, How exciting! I must say I have missed dear old Rodden and Zeraphina so I'm looking forward to getting stuck into writing the next 20,000 words of book two.

I'll post some photos of our trip tomorrow and have a bit more of a gush about our lovely holiday.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Retro Review: The Clan of the Cave Bear, Jean Auel

My high-school library had the series and they were so fat and juicy they needed a whole shelf to themselves. I was fourteen, and Jean M. Auel’s Earth Children series was my Puberty Blues, 35,000 years in the making.
The series begins with The Clan of the Cave Bear. Ayla, an infant Homo sapiens, is orphaned and picked up by a travelling group of Neanderthals somewhere in prehistoric Europe. Being a different species Ayla has difficulty fitting in, and things don’t get easier as she gets older. She’s far taller than any man she knows—which can be unsettling when you're young. I know. She and the clan think she’s ugly, but of course to other Homo sapiens, whom she eventually meets, she’s a stunner.
Over time, the clan comes to accept Ayla’s funny looks and unusual brain. She’s given a cave lion totem spirit (a sort of animal guide/fairy godmother) because of her scarred leg--she was badly scratched by one of the enormous lions as a child. The clan believes that in order for a woman to fall pregnant her totem spirit must be overcome by a man’s. If she bleeds, her spirit won. If she doesn't, she's pregnant. (Periods explained! This was better than Dolly). Because Ayla has such a strong, masculine totem, no one believes she will ever have a child.
The clan has an unusual approach to sexual intercourse and women’s rights: the two just don’t go together. One young man, Broud, the leader’s son, inflicts socially-sanctioned rape on Ayla, and she becomes pregnant. (Whether it is possible for modern humans and Neanderthals to interbreed is contentious. They did coexist for a certain period of time and some palaeo-archaeologists argue that Neanderthals disappeared because they interbred with humans. Others argue that humans hunted them to extinction--but not in a cannibalistic way. In a genocidal sort of way. But then again, I'm sure there's some scientists who would argue for cannabalism, too. Climate change could also be responsible. In short, the debate is almost as controversial as the "hobbits" on the island of Flores. But don't get me started on THAT.)
In the following four books, Ayla has further interesting and successively racier adventures. In book two, The Valley of Horses, there are so many "throbbing members" popping up I could barely open the book on the bus wide enough to read it for fear of someone peering over my shoulder. People didn't read at my school, so there was no fear of them knowing from the cover just what was entertaining me. Forget Debbie Vickers and a tub of vaso in the back of a Holden panel van. This was truly the stuff of sexual awakening.
Despite the fact that Ayla is alone for about eighty-five per cent of the novel, thus there's not a lot of character-driven conflict, Valley of the Horses is undeniably my favourite. I loved reading about her hunting and gathering techniques and the local flora and fauna. Auel makes fending for oneself sound quite blissful. It's also in this book she falls in love, with Jondalar, a rather well-endowed young man. Hence the all the throbbing members.
My school librarians smiled indulgently as I borrowed, red-faced, books three and four, The Mammoth Hunters and The Plains of Passage, and told me how much they had enjoyed them--sweet old ladies they were, and didn't seem to mind that the books resembled porn in places. I would have no hesitation in handing these books over to other fourteen-year-olds if they were actually reading them, as I did, rather than just flicking to the dirty bits. It is a series best read when young, before disbelief and the realities of sex make them laughable.

Friday, May 15, 2009

In praise of Jane

This isn't a review. It's a gush. Or a hagiography as the journos would say. Great word.

I'll try not to give too much away here, but really, if you haven't read Jane Eyre (or at least not seen one of the many television and film adaptations) don't read my post. Go and read the book.

I love Jane Eyre. It's probably my favourite book, but I hate playing favourites. I read it first when I was twelve or so with the dictionary at my side. There's a few big words in there for people who aren't quite used to grown-up books. I've re-read it many times. It's one of my "comfort books" that I read when I'm sick or upset or fed up.

It's written by Charlotte Bronte, one of the astoundingly talented Bronte sisters who led unbelievably sheltered lives and managed to churn out some of the most torrid works of English literature. I'm not a huge fan of Wuthering Heights, written by Charlotte's sister Emily. It's too torrid for me. I like my romantic heroines to be bookish and thoughtful. Passionate yes, but not tear-your-hair-out-scream-at-the-sky passion. Then again, works by Jane Austen, in which bookish and thoughtful heroines abound, is a little too flounce-around-in-Bath-a-bit-and-then-live-happily-ever-after. Marriage is the ultimate goal for all female characters, and if you are too plain or ridiculous for a husband (such a Mary in Pride and Prejudice), you have failed as a woman. There is marriage in Jane Eyre, but Bronte holds independence and love in higher esteem. I would regard Bronte as a feminist, but I'm not sure about Austen.

Jane Eyre is the ultimate Gothic novel. Nobody flounces. Spooky, nasty childhood. Spooky, nasty school. Spooky, nasty old house with spooky, nasty thing in the attic. Plus an intellectual, arrogant, sexy (despite Jane's profession that he is not at all handsome) love interest. And what a great name, too: Rochester. Even the name is romantic.

My novel teacher a few years ago said disparagingly that Jane only wanted Rochester after she'd reduced him to a shell of a man. Well, that got me going! "Well of course a man would say that!" In traditional novels, what goes around comes around. If you act like an a-hole, expect some retribution, especially if your girlfriend is the heroine. Readers would NEVER forgive Jane if she married Rochester without him receiving some form of punishment for his dastardly (if well-meaning and heart-rendingly romantic) deeds. That's just how it works!

I've also heard the dismissive remark (also from a man--go figure) that Rochester is a "woman's man", i.e. he only exists in women's imaginations and romance novels. Rochester allows himself to be guided by his heart rather than his head, something that certain people would argue is intrinsically feminine. But Rochester is anything but feminine. A serial womaniser as a young man, he is tempered by an unhappy (to say the least) marriage and the responsibility of a child who is not his own. Entering into the autumn of his life, Jane is his last chance at salvation. One could argue that being guided by his heart isn't acting like a woman, but acting like an unhappy but finally mature man.

Jane is intensely moral, a result of her unfair and difficult childhood. Her self-respect prevents her from succumbing to Rochester even though it causes her intense suffering and degradation. But this period of separation for Rochester and Jane results in Jane's independence, unforseen rewards and a painfully sweet reunion. The ending is entirely satifying without feeling too neat.

And not only are there regular editions, but also Jane Eyre: The Graphic Novel and The Illustrated Jane Eyre (pictured), which are especially suited to the YA audience.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Waiting On Wednesday #2: The Death of Grass

Originally released in 1956, The Death of Grass is a post-apocalyptic novel by John Christopher. (Yes, John Christopher is an alias, for Sam Youd. I'm reckoning that if someone has two first names as their whole name, odds are it's an alias.)

At first the virus wiping out grass and crops is of little concern to John Custance. It has decimated Asia, causing mass starvation and riots, but Europe is safe and a counter-virus is expected any day. Except, it turns out, the governments have been lying to their people. When the deadly disease hits Britain they are left alone, and society starts to descend into barbarism. As John and his family try to make it across country to the safety of his brother's farm in a hidden valley, their humanity is tested to its very limits. (From fishpond.)

Why I want it: It's dystopian. Society descending into barbarism, what a hoot! And the deadly virus, hello swine 'flu. Plus it's been compared to John Wyndam's The Day of the Triffids, and while I haven't read that one I love The Chrysalids. (And for Obernewtyn fans, definitely read The Chrysalids. Carmody was definitely inspired by that novel.)

It's just been re-released in the UK in April so I expect here in Oz very soon! FYI, the American edition was called No Blade of Grass as publishers there thought the public would confuse it with a gardening book if it was released as The Death of Grass. Are Americans sick of being treated like MORONS all ready?? As per Harry Potter and the SORCERER'S Stone?

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Tantalize by Cynthia Leitich Smith

I rather liked this one.

Quincie Morris is a seventeen-year-old control freak, flunking school, orphaned, and left in charge of her parent's restaurant. She's in love with a werewolf, her best friend since they were four, who may just have brutally murdered the chef. In Tantalize (2008), vampires and werewolves are real--living amongst us, not favoured by Republicans, but real.

Quincie has a likable voice, a touch deadpan and a lot neurotic. Cynthia Leitich Smith favours clipped sentences, dropping personal pronouns, articles and conjunctions (she, and, the) to create a staccato rhythm. It's an interesting technique but lovers of plump, grammatical sentences (such as myself) may find it distracting at first. Otherwise the prose is confident and enjoyable. A nice touch are the (often humorously) named chapters ("Brad the Impaler", "Fang Shui"), something I haven't seen a lot of lately, and the five sections of the book named after the Italian words for courses (antipasto, primo).

The love interests, Kieran and Henry, couldn't be more different. Kieran is a classic hunk--long eyelashes, big muscles, the whole package. He's the werewolf, but one that can't change at will, making the beast inside wild and unpredictable. Henry, whom Quincie renames Brad (in a fit of controlling) is sweet and geeky, a couple of years older than our heroine and the restaurant's new chef. He's adorable and talented at what he does, and calls wine "giggle water".

But this book is about so much more than who the heroine ends up with--there's a murder to solve, after all. And with vampires, wannabe vampires and werewolves all over the place, the culprit isn't so easy to identify.

The ending is realistic and I have the greatest respect for the way Smith wrote it and the story itself, but I can't help feel the slightest twinge of dissatisfaction. If, like me, you read for escapism, you might feel the same way. But it's certainly not a reason to avoid this novel. I'm going to look out for this year's Eternal, Smith's latest Gothic fantasy offering.

And a word on the typesetting: generous leading, wide margins, thick paper; in short, a pleasure to read.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Melbourne Zombie Shuffle

I meant to go the MZS on Saturday to witness the carnage first-hand but I ended up crawling home from Stacey Pullen at Qbar at about 8 am (any Detroit House-lovers out there? It was the best night I've had since Derrick Carter earlier in the year) and then slept til five. Whoops.

But here and here are some piccies of my friend George doing the shuffle! He's a zombie James Bond. Hawt.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Take me to the April sun in Cuba, whoa-oa-oa!

So it's not April, and it's not Cuba, but hell, it's a great song! Tomorrow I am off to Vanuatu for a week with the lovely BF, which means many things: poolside cocktails, white sandy beaches ... and most importantly, plenty of time to read the books I have been saving especially for this trip! Ah, sweet anticipation. (But first I need to get to the airport at 4 am, bluuuuurgh.)

The books are:

The Forest of Hands and Teeth by Carrie Ryan. This is my Most Anticipated. As soon as I get on that plane, it's this book I'll be burying my head in! Notice the cover? It's not the lovely moody shot of the girl that I've been seeing on US blogs, but black and red with a spot-varnish on the leaf (spot varnishing is so hot right now--trust me, I'm in publishing). There are two reasons for this: it references the Twilight saga cover colour-scheme, which plenty of books are doing right now, and and it's being marketed at adults as well as teenagers, which would seem to justify the $30 price tag--yowtch! Teen paperbacks are supposed to be no more than $20! I guess having a teenage girl on the cover isn't going to work for an adult audience.

Next we have City of Bones. I've heard wonderful things about this series, and from a quick peek at the first page I can tell you I like what I see!

I've also got copies of Touch the Dark by Karen Chance, Mother Tongue by Bill Bryson (non-fiction and total word-nerdiness) and The Revenge of Gaia by James Lovelock (more non-fiction, for my monthly book club).

I have a few books to read for print reviews as well: Gladiatrix by Rhonda Roberts, Monsters in the Sand by David Harris and Destination Abudai by Prue Mason, all due in June so I'm going to be a busy girl!

The laptop is staying at home. I'm having a No Computers week. Can't freaking wait! Various posts are scheduled throughout the week.

A big shout-out to my very first follower, Steph from Hey Teenager of the Year! She's a fellow writer and blogger, and an Aussie too. I have that Lo-Tel EP lying aound somewhere ... I think it came with "A Pop Song Saved My Life"! Ah, good times :)

Thursday, May 7, 2009


It's 5 am but I'm just too excited to sleep!

Isobelle Carmody would have to be one of my all-time favourite authors. The Obernewtyn Chronicles are some of the most amazing books I have ever read, and a must for YA fantasy lovers. Imagine my excitement yesterday when I found out that she's doing a talk on The Secrets of Writing Fantasy For Young Adults with Garth Nix. I mean, I don't remember her calling to ask me what I'd like her to talk about so she must have have picked up on my telepathic brain waves, a la Elspeth. Only problem is the talk is at the Sydney Writers Festival and I am in Melbourne, brokety-broke-broke. Is is TOO extravagant for me to fly up for the day? She'll also be at Reading Matters 2009 in Melbourne this month, but only for student events (unfair! unfair!) and conference goers (for the low, low price of $380. So you see, it would more economical for me to fly to Sydney for the day. Hmm, I wonder what the state of my frequent flyer points are...

But before I go wasting points that I really should use to see my family, I should check to see if the event will be podcast. *fingers crossed*

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Waiting On Wednesday

I'm quite excited about my very first Waiting on Wednesday. This meme was started by The Story Siren.

My Waiting On Wednesday includes books I'm waiting to afford!!

First up is Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins. If you've read my previous posts you'll know I loved The Hunger Games. There's still no cover for this yet, but I'm hoping it will be as good as the cover of book one--the hardback edition at any rate. The paperback here has a ghastly "fold your own" cover that shows either Katniss or Peeta, and the colours are dreadful.

Then there's Skarlet by Thomas Emson. I think this one might be more adult than YA as it involves clubbers and recreational drugs that turn people in vampires, but what a plot!

Next is Swoon by Nina Malkin. From fishpond: "Torn from her native New York City and dumped in the land of cookie-cutter preps, Candice is resigned to accept her posh, dull fate. Nothing ever happens in Swoon, Connecticut--until Dice's perfect, privileged cousin Penelope nearly dies in a fall from an old tree, and her spirit intertwines with that of a ghost." What a name and what a cover! This is a May release so not long to wait now.

Now, an Australian book! Arrival (Strangers of Paragor, Book One) is by Charlotte McConaghy and out under Black Dog Books. It was released in March and McConaghy is so young! Apparently she started writing this book when she was in her teens.

From the Black Dog Books website: “There will come a time when greatness is needed. Strength, passion… goodness. For in the land of Paragor an oppressor travels closer. Four is the sacred number, and it is only by looking beyond ourselves that we will find salvation, and only through love that we will defeat the darkness that threatens to consume us forever…”


Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Girl and the sea

In interviews I've seen lots of authors name the albums or artists they listen to as they write or even put together a play list of songs that "go" with their book. Now, the first part makes my mind boggle--listening to music while writing? Don't all the lyrics get in the way? Even if the music was instrumental it would probably still bug me! I prefer the sounds of silence. (Literally, not the Simon & Garfunkle ditty.)

I wouldn't go so far as putting a play list together, either, but I did notice one morning, while singing "Girl and the Sea" by The Presets in the shower, that the first three lines did freakishly mirror my main character: Tonight the hills are watching her, as she runs towards the sea, she runs so she'll be free. The rest of the song, no. But those three lines, totally! There are hills and seas and running aplenty in Lharmell, but you'll just have to wait till/if it's published to see what I mean!

I did think about having the lyrics as a sort of epitaph to the first chapter, but quickly decided it was naff and anachronistic. I saw my beloved Bowie quoted in much the same way and the book instantly got negative ten points and a big YOU DON'T GET TO from me.

So if I did do a play list, "Girl and the Sea" would be on it. And so would "Raised by Wolves" by Midnight Juggernauts. Just because it's dark and sexy. And we all need a little bit of that sometimes.

Character crushes

I'm just over at SheroesCentral and reading through all the posts about "Tammy's men"--ie. the men in Tamora Pierce's books. It seems I'm not the only one out there with a big dirty crush on Numair! Nerdy, bookish, intelligent, sweet, absent-minded, and tall dark and handsome to boot. What more could a girl want? Okay, I've mentioned Numair twice in as many days. I need to stop.

My other character crush would be Gabriel from Blood and Chocolate by Annette Curtis Klaus. Big bad-boy werewolf on a motorbike. Hawt. This is also one of my favourite books.

There are others...but those are the big two!

Monday, May 4, 2009

The best book so far this year

So it was actually released last year, but we got it quite late in Australia, I believe, and it's only just now appearing in paperback.

I'm talking, of course, about The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins.

When Katniss's younger sister gets chosen by ballot to represent District Twelve in the Hunger Games, Katniss volunteers to take her place. Competing means almost certain death: twenty-four teenagers are pitted against each other and must fight to the death. There can only be one winner. It's a world where reality TV has taken a menacing turn and is used by the government to remind those who rebelled just who is in charge.

I love a good dystopian adventure, and I love a bit of romance along the way. Katniss is a strong and likeable character, and charmingly naive when it comes to boys. The build-up is very effective--the games don't start until halfway through the book, and by then the reader is thoroughly invested in Katniss. Collins doesn't pull any punches when it comes to violence. Teenagers get killed, often in highly unpleasant ways. She really knows how to set a scene. I can see this book in my head like a film.

Many of the scenes are quite harrowing even when not a lot is actually happening. Katniss standing alone waiting to be thrust into the games arena brought tears to my eyes and anger at a government that would exploit its youth in such a way.

Another book I read recently in which teenagers as a demographic are victimised was Unwind by Neal Shusterman.

Again, it was a very thought-provoking and moving (and downright horrific towards the end) book. But, maybe because I'm not a teenager and no longer feel like the whole world is against me, I found myself asking, why this age group? Why not adults in their twenties, or eleven-year-olds? The main reason is, of course, because the books are aimed at teenagers, and teenagers like to read about kids their own age. But I had hoped for a little more reason than this, from both books.

AND BEWARE! Nowhere on the cover of The Hunger Games is it mentioned that this is the first book in a series. I raced towards the end anticipating a huge pay-off, but was left high and dry by the four little words, 'End of Book One'. I was SO FRUSTRATED and wanted to smack the blurbing editor around the head with my hard copy edition.

That aside, The Hunger Games is definitely one to file under Books I Wish I Had Written. I can't wait for Catching Fire.

To do list. And a Lolcat so things don't get too serious.

I just wrote a few thousand words of The Harmings so I thought I'd reward myself with a Lolcat, hehe. Here he is!

Bad, impatient kitty. Now, down to business...

The following is a list of things that have to be done before I send Lharmell off to agents.

The current draft needs some tweaking. After plenty of voddies at Sentido funf, or whatever the silly place is called (the bar is fun, but what a name! Worse than Cas Retops around the corner. And how much are Smith and Gertrude streets the new Brunswick Street? You can't walk on the pavement for all the drunk people!) I extracted some good criticisms from Mike. I also have Stephen and Tam's marked up manuscripts to look over. Fingers crossed that Clare, my YA teacher, will hand me back my MS tomorrow too.

Tam also said she had some ideas for my synopsis of Lharmell, too, to stop it being so "and then and then and then". I can't decide which is harder to write, the opening of the book or the damned synopsis!! It's certainly a close one.

I have scrappy outlines of The Harmings and Queen of Lharmell (books two and three) but they certainly wouldn't be fit to grace an agents desktop. They'll need to be fleshed out and polished before any letters are sent, in case of request.

As much of The Harmings should be completed and polished too. It's going to be difficult to prove to agents and editors that an unpublished author has the skill and motivation to finish a trilogy, so having as much done as possible will work in my favour.

Then there's the letters to the agents themselves. Nathan Bransford's blog has lots of great tips, and Kristen Nelson's. I have a rough draft of a query letter down somewhere but this will have to be polished too. I tells ya, sometimes I feel like a maid, not a writer with all this polishing going on!

That's it for now. Coffee time. Wordcount: 17,508. When I hit 20,000 I'm going to print it off and deluge it with red pen.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Just finished reading...

I've just finished Beka Cooper: Terrier by Tamora Pierce. I fell in love with Pierce's books about ten years ago when I picked up Alanna: The First Adventure. Ever since then I've loved books with girls who fight. Realms of the Gods (Immortals #4) would be my favourite. I love Daine and Numair. The whole time I was reading it I was shouting in my head "JUST KISS HER ALREADY!!" I wasn't fond of the Circle of Magic books and stopped reading Pierce for a little while, but I'd heard such good things about Beka Cooper.

It was enjoyable. Not edge-of-my-seat so, but Pierce so effectively creates her worlds that you can't help but be drawn into the story. I liked the heroine. She's very original, and there was plenty of humour and fighting and odd-ball characters. The sexual tension is building nicely--and at snail's pace, which I confess I LIKE. None of this "quick gaze into the eyes and fall head over heels" crap! And the romance is the side-story, not the focus which I love, too.

I'm looking forward to the next one! Not sure when we'll see the paperback in Oz, but I'll keep my eye out for it...

First Page Satuday

This week I participated in First Page Saturday on Dear Author. I submitted the first page of my manuscript for the blogging community to critique. *GULP* I knew I'd get some honest feedback here, thanks to the wonderful anonymity of the web! And what some people have said has reflected my own concerns -- so another rewrite is necessary! I also got some heartening encouragement, especially from people who like fantasy.

Is it just me or is the first page/section of a book the damned-near hardest to write??

I'd like to thank...

Several people are reading/have read my book and are giving me lots of lovely criticisms and encouragement. So I don't forget them when it comes to writing my acknowledgements page, I'll pop them down here: Tam, my dad, my mum, Stephen (the lovely BF) George, Mike, Mike's dad, Clare (my lovely YA teacher), Augusta, Amanda, Melissa, Shona and Ruby. People who have the book but haven't started it yet: Ben, Esther, Vanessa, Libby and Jenny. People who I need to give the book to: Laurie and Megan.

And if I've forgotten anyone here I have plenty of time to remember them!

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Stuff you, Aslan, I'm going back to Narnia

Book Two wordcount: 14,354 words. So you see, I got started without you.

This blog will document my attempt to get my YA paranormal romance trilogy published. I love YA. I stopped reading it when I left home at seventeen, thinking it was now time to put my toys away and move onto the big bag world of adult literarure. But STUFF YOU ASLAN! I'm going back to Narnia!

This year I'm completing my last unit of a Diploma of Arts at Melbourne's fabulous RMIT. The unit is Writing for Young Adults. And it's wonderful fun. Everyone is in their mid-to-late twenties or older, so it seems a lot of people are going back to Narnia!

I have to go op-shopping now and see my friend's new art deco apartment, and also get a big coffee. Too many vodkas on Gertrude St last night.