Monday, October 28, 2013

Press Play in Case of Motivational Emergency

To everyone doing NaNoWriMo this year -- good luck! This is you: 


This is another year I won't be joining you. Mostly because I'm about to be suffocated under a mountain of edits. Which I love, because -- OMG! A REAL BOOK! But which I also hate, because editing is not as fun as the wild creative stage. 

But for the NanoWriMoers out there, this is for you: 


Good luck, and have fun! 

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

The Bechdel Test

Here, in a nutshell, is the Bechdell test: 

The Bechdel test is applied to movies, which are then graded accordingly. Many fail. 

There are variations as well. There may be more than two women. They may talk about things other than a man. But those things may be weddings and babies. So that's a fail as well. 

The test can be applied to literature as well as movies, of course, although the scope is slightly different. I can think of a lot of YA or NA books that feature female lead characters. That should be an automatic pass, right? Except how often do those characters still obsess about boys? 

And make no mistake that this only happens in romance. Take The Hunger Games. Katniss was starting a revolution, but still dealing with that tricky love triangle thing as well. And in no way do I intend this as a criticism of The Hunger Games, because I loved those books, and I love that romance took a back seat to the action. But weirdly, most of the online discussions about the book centred around which boy Katniss would end up with. 

And maybe that's because of the target audience. 

And maybe that's because the result was a given -- we didn't know how she'd do it, but we knew she'd be victorious against the Capitol -- and therefore readers enjoyed speculating more about the romance. 

And maybe it's because, for whatever reason, it feels like every YA book that comes out  has to have a damn love triangle. 

Which, to hijack another geometrical term, almost brings us full circle. With so many YA books out there with female lead characters, are we going to need a Bechel test for male characters soon? 

1. Are there are least two boys? 
2. Do they do anything except compete for the heroine's affections? 
3. Could they be replaced with cardboard cut outs and nobody would notice? 

At the moment, I can't think of too many YA books where the gazetted love interest is actually allowed to develop as a character, whether male or female. If you guys have any recommendations, I'd love to hear them. 

And I'm not anti-romance in YA. I'm just anti-Romance-is-EVERYTHING!!!! I want characters who live and breathe, and are motivated by more than the fluttery feelings in their stomachs. 

Note: a variation of the Bechdel test is the Russo test, which examines similar issues for LGBT characters. 

Friday, October 18, 2013

What the hell are s'mores anyway?

The title of this blog is a quote. It's a thing I demanded in an email to my American co-writer, during an increasingly combative exchange about cultural differences between the US and Australia. Fast forward a few weeks, and guess what arrived in my mail? A box containing chocolate, marshmallows, graham crackers, a book on avoiding bear attacks (a whole other argument we've been having) and illustrated instructions. How cool is this? 

There was no number 7. Please refer to the admission in number 6 that she had been drinking. 

I love my co-writer. 

I have now laminated my s'mores field guide, to preserve it for posterity. And possibly blackmail purposes. 

The s'mores, BTW, were lovely. 

Monday, October 14, 2013

Guilt and Fear and Crazy: Welcome to my Brain

There always comes a point in the writing process when I feel like I've just cheated my publisher. This point usually begins just after I've signed a contract. It goes like this: 

1. Signs contract. Laughs. Snorts a little. Has a glass of wine. 

2. Wakes up in a cold sweat in the middle of the night. The following thoughts run through my not-even-very-wine-addled brain: 

That book isn't even very good. 

I mean it's really, really not very good. 

How can I trust this publisher when clearly the people who make the decisions about what to buy are illiterate fools


Oh god oh god oh god.

3. Receives an email from the editor with requests for editorial changes. Checks it twice because it only appears to be a few short paragraphs. 

What the hell is wrong with these people? This story is unsalvageable. We must slash and burn. SLASH AND BURN!  

4. Can't bear to look at the manuscript. Can feel it sitting there on the computer. Lurking. Accusing. Whispering: You're a fraud and you know it. What the hell were you even thinking? This is garbage!!! 

5. Eyes approaching deadlines fearfully. Finally transfers MS onto the Kindle and tries to pretend it's like a real book or something, even though that's totally pointless because the idea was crap and the execution was terrible, and I hate the characters with the burning intensity of a million suns. 

6. Reads book. 

7. Huh. 

8. Actually, that's not as bad as I thought it was. That might even be...gasp...okay. 


9. Fragile hope is restored. As is faith in publisher and editors who are, of course, the most beautiful people in the world. Ever. Probably even nicer than Gandhi, who I'll bet secretly smacked puppies. 

10. Wallows in guilt for ever having brought Gandhi into this. 

And that's my writer's brain all over. When I'm writing, I'm happy. When I'm submitting, I'm reckless. When I'm accepted, I turn into a gibbering mess of insecurities and want to weep wildly on the floor. When I'm editing, eventually I come to terms with the fact that maybe I can actually string a sentence together. And when I'm published...well, by then I'm usually a gibbering mess about a whole other book I'm working on. 

It looks a little bit like this: 

Writers be crazy. 

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Writing A Novel

Today, for you edification (and my laziness) here is James Andrew Wilson, writing a novel. 

I think we've all been there, right? 

Editing. Oh hell yes. 

Sunday, October 6, 2013


Does anyone else use Calibre

I'm not using it for much at the moment, apart from converting my own files into mobi so I can read them on my Kindle, but so far I'm loving it. 

PDFs on Kindle are just crappy to read. 

And now it's all exciting because my former Word docs and PDFs look like real books. And, once they look like real books, I start to treat them like real books too. 

No, that's not a messy Word doc with no plot structure or character development. That's a real book

It's all about perceptions

Which means that suddenly I'm reading it like a reader would. I'm noticing things like character arcs and themes and, well, whether or not the whole thing hangs together okay or not. Because when it's a crappy file on my computer, I can cut and paste and tear the hell out of it and still not quite see where I'm going wrong. But when it looks like a real book, for some reason I turn off my writing brain (which is manic, and runs entirely on caffeine and the crazier effects of sleep deprivation) and turn on my reader brain, which works on an entirely different level. 

Also, I get to cart my drafts with me to work and go over them there. 

And hello, check out my awesome Kindle cover: 

KleverCase do a whole range of covers. You can check them out here

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Character Assassination

Ever killed off a main character? 

I think the death of a main character, particularly the hero (and usually the POV character) is interesting. You don't see it happen very often, which might be something to do with publishers feeling that it's not a suitable ending, or maybe it's something that readers don't like. Which is odd, since, come on, it's how we all end, isn't it? 


Recently, television has done this so, so well. Breaking Bad, anyone? But I can't actually remember the last story I read where the main character died. It happened a fair bit in the classics, but not so much anymore. I wonder why that is. Do modern readers find the death of a main character unpalatable? Or do they feel cheated after investing so much time in a character's journey only to have it end in death? 

For me, sometimes it feels too easy when a character survives. Too unrealistic. With all those things going against them, sometimes with an entire apocalypse bearing down on then, the hero still gets out okay. All the damage is collateral  And sure, we don't read fiction for realism, do we? But when the stakes are so high, sometimes I'd like to see things go against the main character. 

Speaking of collateral damage, supporting characters tend to get knocked down like skittles. Sometimes you can see it coming from a mile off. Wisecracking sidekick possibly nursing some sort of secret heartbreak? Shit. He's got a target painted on him, doesn't he? And I get that. It's because there has to be some price paid to the stakes in the story. But, for the hero, it's rarely the ultimate price, is it? 

In real life, death is too often random, arbitrary and largely meaningless. And I think we try and remedy this in fiction. I think fiction is the place we go when real life makes no sense. And that's important. Except sometimes I think it's equally important for fiction to surprise us, and shock us, and take us somewhere unexpected. 

What do you think? 


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