Monthly Archives: February 2013

The Australian Women Writers challenge 2013

awwbadge_2013

Today, I’m officially announcing my participation in the Australian Women Writers challenge. The what?, I hear you ask. Well, it’s a reading challenge that was established last year as a way to stop the gender bias that exists in so many book review pages, particularly in the established media. This bias isn’t necessarily deliberate, but it does exist, and so the AWW challenge is a way to help change that. You can read about the background here.

Now, to say that I’m taking part in this doesn’t mean that I’m ONLY reading Australian women writers. Heck, I read over 100 books in a year, and only a small proportion of those are going to fit the criteria. But some are better than none, and a lot are better than some. I’ve already read two books by Australian women this year so I don’t see it as being a particularly onerous idea.

Here are the categories (from the AWW challenge website):

  • Stella – read 4 – review at least 3
  • Miles – read 6 – review at least 4
  • Franklin – read 10 – review at least 6
  • Create your own challenge – do you plan to specialise in a particular genre or interest area, e.g. Science Fiction, self-published or Indigenous literature? Are you aiming for a high number, e.g. all the books you can read?

Last year I signed up for Stella, which was easy enough. This year, to push myself a bit, I’ve decided I’m going to go for the Franklin – read ten books, review at least six. With all the great Australian women writers out there, it should be a piece of cake, right? :)

And now, I am going to ask you to consider signing up to this challenge as well. Below I’ve listed a few common objections to participating, with my solutions.

  • Not female? Well, who says you have to be a woman in order to read a story by a woman? I certainly read a heck of a lot of stories by male authors, Australian or not.
  • Not Australian? Why should that be a problem? Is there a rule that says you can only read books by people you share a country with?
  • No time? Hey, if I can do it, so can you. What’s the big deal in reading four books in a year?
  • Don’t review books on your blog? No problem! If you have a Goodreads account you can just review on that site.
  • Don’t know any Australian women writers? Well, luckily for you the people behind the challenge have set up a bookshelf on Goodreads for you to have a look at, with over 1000 books listed on it. That should be enough for anyone. :)

So, this is both my announcement that I’m participating, and my plea for you to consider it too. Just go to the AWW website and sign up.  It’s free, it’s easy and you might just discover a new favourite author.

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The Friday blog-hop! (part 2)

Blog Machine

Blog Machine (Photo credit: digitalrob70)

 

Today I’m doing my second Friday blog-hop, in an attempt to give some love back to my favourite bloggers. The first time I did this was last November, so I figured it was well and truly time to give it another shot. Remember, this list is NOT exhaustive, and is in no particular order. I just think that you should ALL go and read these blogs RIGHT NOW. ;)

Okay, here goes:

  • Knitting with Pencils, by Tracey Baptiste. Tracey just has a way with words that makes them flow off the page and make me want to read more. I’ll be honest, I haven’t read her novel yet, but I really really want to because if reading her blog makes me feel like I’m walking on air, imagine what a whole book would do? :)
  • The Write Fox, by Sarah L Fox. Sarah is someone I can really relate to, and it feels like her experiences often mirror my own. She doesn’t have nearly as many followers as she deserves and I would love it if some of you lovely readers would go check her blog out. It’s definitely worth it.
  • Write21, by Justin O’Leary. Again, here is someone who deserves a heck of a lot more followers than he currently has. His blog is an incredible resource for writers and should be bookmarked by everyone who needs a bit of guidance occasionally. And let’s face it, isn’t that all of us? :)
  • Can You all Hear me in the Back?, by Darlene Craviotto. Darlene is primarily a screenwriter rather than a novelist, but since when should that be a problem? We’re all using our creativity to put words on paper and then try to get them out there. Anyway, this is a really intelligent and thought-provoking blog that should be on everyone’s to-read list.
  • Devoted Eclectic, by Elizabeth Lhuede. Elizabeth is the driving force behind the Australian Women’s Writers challenge (which reminds me, I’d better sign up for this year’s – and update this blog to reflect that) so her blog is often used to review books as part of that challenge. That said, her reviews are always worth checking out, and her other posts are thought-provoking and stick in your mind for a long time afterwards.

So, that’s my list for this round of blog-hopping. I hope that I have inspired you to go and check out some (or all) of these blogs if you haven’t already – and if you don’t see your name yet, it’s not because I’ve forgotten you. Just keep an eye out for the next blog-hop and you might see yourself then! :)

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Assorted writing tips #9: Sharing your work

Reader

Reader (Photo credit: Thokrates)

It’s happened to all of us. You get a great idea for a story, you spend some time frantically working on it, and then the enthusiasm dies down and you can’t get motivated to keep going. Sound familiar? I thought so.

Now, I don’t have a magic bullet answer to this. Motivation is a fickle friend and sometimes it just deserts us. Sometimes, though, there are things you can do, and today I’m talking about sharing your work.

By sharing, I don’t mean putting it out there for others to use. I mean, instead, finding someone (or a group of people) who are potentially in your target audience, and letting them read what you’ve done. There are a number of ways to do this.

  • Post online. I know that this won’t work if what you are writing is something you would like to get traditionally published one day. If, though, you are looking at self publishing, or just writing for the love of it, then it’s an option. This works particularly well if you’re writing a chaptered book, because if you post a chapter at a time then you can really get people involved. Serialising work like this can get your readers really hungering for more: two hundred years ago it was common practice. (Now, the equivalent is TV shows.) Plus, you can get feedback on how you’re going and what you’ve done so far. If you are getting comments saying things like, “post more, I need to know what happens next!”, then chances are you’re doing a good job. If you get feedback saying, “this isn’t working for me, I find character X bland and the scenarios clichéd”, then there are things you need to work on. Note, this is not for the thin skinned – but then again, neither is writing, is it? So long as people are constructive, though, then you have built-in advice - from people who might buy your work in the future
  • Join a writing group. If you’re not already part of one, this can be really beneficial. Not only do you get feedback on how you’re going from fellow writers, but meeting once a month (or whatever) gives you a deadline to get new work done. If you’re expected to have an extra 3000 words written before the third Friday of the month, you’re much more likely to do it than if you just set an internal deadline. Disappointing other people is something no one likes to do. Again, the feedback is really helpful and if your fellow writers like what you’re doing, then chances are you’ll want to impress them again next time. :)
  • Find a beta. Preferably one who’s not related to you. Ideally, it’s good to find one either through someone else, or online, because the less close this person is to you, the less worried they’re going to be about hurting your feelings. Again, though, with any luck you’ll get them engaged in the story and wanting to know more, so that will make you want to write more. Like I said above, everyone likes to be praised. Besides – and you’ll see this is a common theme – you will get feedback about what the reader likes, and what isn’t connecting with them. Assuming this person is part of your target audience, this is something that’s worth paying attention to.

So there are a few ideas for sharing your WIP and getting some feedback on it. If you’re struggling for motivation to write that next chapter, then maybe letting someone else have a look at it will spur you on to do some more. After all, who is it you’re writing for? Yourself, or your audience?

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Happy birthday to me!

one hundred

one hundred (Photo credit: Violentz)

Well, it’s not exactly my birthday (which, in case you are interested, is later this month), but this is a momentous day for my blog – my 100th post! *cue balloons and streamers* Yes, yes, I know. It seems like I’ve been doing this forever – or, at least, it does for me, which I’m not sure is a good or a bad thing. Anyway, to mark the occasion I thought I’d talk about social media or, put another way, internet engagement. Appropriate, no? :)

I’m the first to admit that I don’t engage as well as I should. In many ways I’m a parasite on the net: I put stuff out there, but I don’t give back. In other words, I post but I don’t comment. Now, I have been trying to be better at that this year, but like all good intentions it has fallen by the wayside a little. My participation is dropping off.

Of course, as Linda Lee Greene discussed so eloquently on my blog a couple of weeks ago, participation in social media can be a slippery slope. It’s all too easy to get sucked in and burn out, or ignore what you’ve been working on. On the other side of the coin, though, is that if you are engaging with people then they are more likely to have positive feelings about you and are thus more likely to check out your work. Talking with people online, and making them feel important, can have direct – and beneficial – impacts on your profile hits, Facebook likes, blog follows and, most importantly, sales.

It might sound callous to think of it like that – these are, after all, people with whom you are engaging – but we all have to be entrepreneurs these days, don’t we? If this is a professional engagement (that is, if you are using a professional Facebook page, Twitter account or blog, for example) then it all comes down to marketing. That’s why we have these accounts, and why we use them. And maybe that’s why I don’t engage as well as I should, because, at this stage, I don’t have anything to market. I know that the more I get out there, the more my name will be known when novel #1 does come out, but part of me feels that I’m pushing  myself on people too much. Sigh. Like Linda, I’m not cut out to be a marketer.

I will, naturally, attempt to work on this. After all, that’s part of what my new years resolutions this year were all about. But I am also wary of the slippery slope of becoming too engaged in social media. If I spend too much time talking to people I’ve never met, I run the  risk of alienating my real life friends, colleagues and family members. If I spend my computer time posting on Goodreads and Facebook, then I’m not going to be writing my novel. And that’s what this is all about, isn’t it?

So today I am using my 100th blog post to think about how I’m using social media. I love to interact with everyone here, and I do intend to get better at it (comment, Emilydarn you!!) but I do think that finding that balance is what I should really be focusing on. Because after all, if I burn out like Linda did, then what’s the point of all this anyway?

 

PS I’m including forum participation in things I should be working on. Yes, Peter, you will hopefully be seeing me around again soon! :)

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Book review: The Sword and the Flame: The Forging and The Sword and the Flame: The Purging, by CP Bialois

The Sword and the Flame, by CP Bialois

 

This is a review of the books The Sword and the Flame: The Forging and The Purging, by CP Bialois. I know I don’t normally review more than one book at a time but it seemed pointless to do only one here when they are very much a set. They are set in a fantasy world of magic, elves, dwarves, halflings and gods, and follow the adventures of a group of travellers seeking their freedom.

The series starts with the halfling Janessa and her human friend Viola, who is a Mage in training. In this world, halflings are known pickpockets and are treated with mistrust, so to have a friendship like this is rare. They venture outside their city walls to visit a travelling company of merchants & entertainers, where they encounter Mern, a Mage with ulterior motives who befriends Viola; Berek, a human with unexplained super-sensory abilities; and Galin, a dwarf who has forsaken his kind who live underground to instead live the life of a travelling salesman.

Normally I don’t like to comment much on editorial errors in self published books. The fact is, if you’re picky enough then you will find mistakes in even traditionally published works, and usually it’s not of any magnitude that matters. These books, however, could really have done with a good proof-read. Run-on sentences are commonplace, and the author seems to have trouble with homonyms – for example, a village was raised (rather than razed) to the ground, a character was moving his personal affects (rather than effects) on a cart, and there were references to a journey to another plain (rather than plane). Done occasionally, this isn’t a big deal, but it happened often enough to detract from my enjoyment of the story.

Once I got past that, though, it was an entertaining, if not high quality, read. The story of Berek’s escape from his slave-holder was well done, and the growing bond between Galin and Janessa was a pleasure to behold. Viola’s journey from trainee to mage was also enjoyable.  Parts confused me at first, like the cleric Gilliam’s mistrust of magic-users when he uses spells himself, but when that was explained later it made enough sense for me to gloss over the initial confusion. I also felt that some parts of it were rushed a little: Fleir’s addition to the company was one example, and the battle in Solava (especially its conclusion) was another. It was like the author had too many subplots and events that he wanted to fit into the story, and I felt that if some of these had been fleshed out a little more it would have made a better read.

Finally, I thought the title was a little misleading. I’m the first to admit that titles are really difficult to get right, and I’m not willing to offer an alternative, but I thought that they implied that there would be a special sword that was forged and used to win the war. Instead, what is forged is the strength of the unlikely company, and what is purged is selfishness and greed. It’s still relevant, but a lot more obscurely so than I had expected.

Overall, if you are looking for a decent fantasy read that tells an entertaining story, The Sword and the Flame is worth picking up. If, however, you are distracted by editorial errors and flimsy segues, then perhaps it might be worth waiting until a new edition is released. An entertaining series, yes, but not without it flaws.

 

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The Sword and the Flame: The Forging and The Sword and the Flame: The Purging, by CP Bialois
Published by Amazon Digital Services
442 and 397 pages (paperback)
Available from Amazon.com as paperback and ebooks

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What’s in a name?

Title page from the first edition of Jane Aust...

Title page from the first edition of Jane Austen’s novel Sense and Sensibility (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

First of all, my apologies for not posting last Monday. It was the end of a long weekend – away, no  less – and I spent most of the morning throwing up. As such, social media and networking was, unfortunately, not really on my radar. Sigh. Anyway, I’m back now and hopefully won’t be having any more days of being AWOL. :(

Today I want to talk about one of the banes of my existence – titles.

I am rubbish at titles. I don’t shy from that fact. Every story I’ve ever written has either had between six and ten titles, or landed the first one I thought of (and hated from that moment onwards). My working titles are as changeable as the weather, and perhaps as reliable too. So I am in absolute awe of anyone who can seemingly pick a brilliant title out of thin air and stick with it, because as you can appreciate it’s not something I’ve ever achieved.

Some of the best stories in literature have amazing titles. Jane Austen, for example, is someone who was incredible at titling her works; the Bronte sisters likewise seemed to have a talent for it. More recently people like Jodi Picoult or Neil Gaiman have impressed me, among others. Or, really, just about anyone who has a book out there – chances are, if it’s published (via a publishing house or by yourself), then it’s got a better title than I could come up with.

Now, I know there are tricks to it. Some people use song titles or lyrics, or variations thereof. Some use lines from well known literature, such as the quote that comprises my title today. Some can just grab a phrase from the book itself that really lends itself to that purpose, like Lee Fullbright did with The Angry Woman Suite, which I reviewed on Friday. But the thing is, when it comes down to it, I can just never seem to get it right. Am I too fussy? Perhaps. Maybe I’m just a perfectionist. But it’s something I wish I could do. Because let’s face it, people judge books on their titles. Without a snappy title, many otherwise excellent books just get put aside or ignored for their flashier rivals. And without an edge to get people to check out my work in the crowded marketplace, what chance do I have?

So here I am, asking for advice. How do you choose your titles? Are you enough of a masochist to title your chapters as well as your books, or do you leave it at the main heading and just number any segments? What tricks or ideas do you use? Because really, I’m getting a bit sick of changing my working titles over and over again until I find something that I don’t necessarily like, but just hate less than the last one. To be honest, I have quite enough on my plate just at the moment, so if I can get the hang of titling, then that’s one less thing I have to think about.

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Book review: The Angry Woman Suite, by Lee Fullbright

The Angry Woman Suite, by Lee Fullbright

The Angry Woman Suite, by Lee Fullbright

This is a review of the book The Angry Woman Suite, by Lee Fullbright, a novel spanning three generations and a host of characters in early-to-mid twentieth century America.

The story is about the family of Francis Grayson, a free-thinking famous and successful band leader in the 1940s whose career disappears with the advent of rock’n’roll. However, his career is almost supplementary to the story, which is really about the mysteries (and history) surrounding his mother, aunts and grandmother.

I’m the first to admit that in a lot of stories, it’s the tale of a previous generation that intrigues me more than the tale being told. Perhaps it’s because it’s something that is only hinted at, without being spelt out, but I have noticed it about myself. The Harry Potter books, for example, or the Song of Ice and Fire (Game of Thrones) series, I find myself thinking more about what came before the events of the novels, than the novels themselves. (Okay, those are fantasy books, and this is historical fiction/mystery, but the point stands.) And, reading this book, I thought the same thing was going to happen again.

The novel starts in first person from the point of view of five year old Elyse, who is soon to become Francis’ step-daughter (and, later, adopted daughter), and her interpretation of what is going on around her. The next chapter, also in first person, tells Francis’ perspective on a number of the same events – much of which is at odds with the way Elyse told it. Even after reading the book twice, I’m still not sure whose is the accurate portrayal, or whether it was in fact a combination of the two. We later see the POV of Aiden Madsen, who had been Francis’ school master and mentor, as the story weaves between the early 1900s to the post-war era, telling bits and pieces of the Grayson family history as it goes.

However, my concern about not seeing the story that intrigued me the most was misplaced, as the story of Francis’ mother, and all the baggage that came with that story, was revealed as the novel progressed. In fact, the title of the book refers to Francis’ mother (albeit in a roundabout way), so I needn’t have worried. I suspect it was the fact that the book opened with Elyse that threw me, thinking that much of the story would be set in the 1950s rather than delving back into the past like it did.

This is, in truth, an awe-inspiring debut novel. It ticks all the boxes: engaging narrative, excellent characterisation, fascinating story, with even a couple of celebrity murders thrown in for good measure. Everything is linked by Francis’ seemingly unshakeable need to “fix” them all – the house, the women who raised him, and his relationship with Elyse, her mother and her sister – yet it is only when he accepts his own limitations that he finds peace. My only significant critique is that the voices all sound similar: the first person narratives of Elyse, Francis and Aiden, three very different people of different generations, didn’t sound particularly different to me as I was reading them. Several times I even had to go back a few pages in order to remember whose story I was being told. I completely understand how difficult it can be to change voices enough to differentiate them on the page to the reader, so I’m not suggesting any lack of skill on Fullbright’s part, but perhaps it might have been better to use third person in a case like this. (She may have tried this, of course, and it didn’t work for her, but that’s just my thought on the matter.)

Overall, though, it is hard to find anything bad to say about this book. If you like mystery, intrigue and a bit of romance, then The Angry Woman Suite is well worth picking up.

 

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The Angry Woman Suite, by Lee Fullbright
Published by Telemachus Press
382 pages (paperback)
Available in paperback and ebook from Amazon

 

 

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