Fear and Loathing in Roto-vegas (not really, but come on–I couldn’t not use the title)

As I write this, I am on a very bumpy plane somewhere above the North Island on my way to Rotorua and the annual Romance Writers of New Zealand conference. I am terrified—and it’s nothing to do with the intermittent turbulence, or the fact that my computer is rapidly running out of battery. No, I’ve been low key anxious even before I got on the plane. Since Saturday, at least. I’m worried about the conference.

It took me until today to realise I was worrying about it. After all, this is my second year at conference. There’s a contingent of locals coming up, and I have friends I’ve made over the last year to catch up with. There is absolutely no reason I should feel nervous—but I do. And I realised that my fears are two-pronged.

Firstly, I’ve been stressing about all the little things building up. I had an ambitious to-do list of things to do before conference, and that has been added to with freelance clients popping up with last minute requests. My writing projects have been left to slide as I focused on the freelance stuff or worse—was so paralyzed by everything I had to do that I did nothing.

My major source of worry, however, is that I’m putting myself outside my comfort zone this conference. I’m participating in the cold reads—where the first two pages of your story are read out loud to an audience including an editor or agent, who stops the reader where they would put the manuscript down and gives feedback on what works and what doesn’t. I’ve also signed up to pitch to two agents and an editor, and that is really starting to intimidate me—which is a sure sign that I need to do this.

At last years conference in Auckland, the keynote speaker was Michael Hauge who is an incredible speaker. After speaking for two days on story structure and how to create emotional resonance using the three act structure, he turned things around on Sunday, challenging us to see how the hero’s journey applied in our own lives. As writers we know that if a character has a cannot-face fear, then we must force them to face it. Michael asked us if there was anything that gave us an immediate gut reaction of fear, and then asked us to come up with a way to challenge that fear.

I discovered that just the thought of putting my work in front of any of the experts at conference gave me that immediate gut twisting fear reaction. Why should that be? After all, even then I had two stories published with NineStar Press, and three stories published through the M/M Romance group. I was used to getting feedback positive and negative through Goodreads and Amazon. Why would this scare me so much?

I think it’s because the M/M Community has been a really supportive group for me. I knew the staff I worked with at NineStar before I submitted my work to them, and I know that my audience shares a lot of my beliefs and attitudes. Basically, the M/M romance reading audience is my safe place.

Once you go beyond that, however, it’s totally unknown territory. And I think that’s what is making pitching to the agents and editors so scary.

What’s really interesting though is how this fear has played out. I’m scared of pitching to agents and editors because they might criticize my work. So my brain has been concentrating and stressing about the small stuff. This means that I haven’t been able to work on pitches for two of the three editors/agents that I made appointments with. ‘Never mind!’ my brain consoles me. ‘You can just cancel them. It’d be terrible to turn up unprepared after all.’ I think this was my brain’s subconscious plan after all. If I cancel the appointments, I’m protected from criticism because I ‘didn’t have time to prepare.’ Which is really insidious, and a great example of the sort of self-sabotage we’re capable of—and further proof that I’m on the right track. I don’t know whether I will have time to work on the last two pitches as I’ve just got one day before conference starts, but I’m going to keep those appointments, even if it’s just to ask questions about what they’re looking for.

Marlborough Book Festival #2: C.K.Stead owns his laurels

C.K. Stead is many things—poet, novelist, writer of short stories, New Zealand’s current poet laureate, academic and critic. Before the Marlborough Book Festival I knew him primarily as a critic, connected through his poetry to some of the iconic New Zealand writers—Frank Sargeson and Janet Frame especially, though he’s also the foremost expert on Katherine Mansfield. I know that I read Stead’s writing on Mansfield as an undergraduate studying New Zealand literature, but not having any interest in poetry, I didn’t exactly go looking for his work.

Until the opening session of the festival, An Evening with C.K. Stead, I had no idea that he’d written fiction. The fact that in his career he has spanned so many different kinds of writing just astonished me. When we got the chance to ask questions at the end, I asked him why he placed the most importance on his poetry. He said that poetry is the most difficult form of writing because there are so many limitations on it in terms of length and form. While short stories and novels allow you a lot of words to tell the story, in a poem, you’re trying to capture a vision you have. Only you will know if you’ve succeeded. It’s very difficult to get it right, but when you do the reward is even greater.

This literally made me view poetry in an entirely new light. I’ve always thought of myself as a story teller, and poetry as something totally removed from the type of writing I want to do. But imposing a limit on yourself, forcing yourself to really sharpen your writing, pay attention to vocabulary choice and make every word count… That’s what fiction writers do with drabbles.

One of my biggest writing bad habits is my verbosity. I’m pretty much a Victorian novelist about a century and a half too late to the party, producing 120,000 word drafts with lumbering plots and overly complicated plots. (Think I’m exaggerating? The book that is now Life After Humanity has been separated into three separate novel-length stories.)

C.K.Stead didn’t just make me interested in poetry, he made me want to try it. I came away from the festival inspired to try writing something each day—whether a drabble or a poem, something that would work on my craft. I’ve only done this once, but here it is:

 

Frost makes a watercolour countryside,

the field a washed-out green,

faded grass on smooth plains.

Deeper colour at the edges,

where the earth is crinkled.

 

The other thing that really impressed me about Stead was his confidence in his work. He’s eighty-five years old, and has been writing in one form or another most of his adult life. When he speaks about his work, he’s really frank. He says when he reads his old work, some of it is terrible, some of it didn’t work, but occasionally he finds something that he thinks is rather special.

I consider myself a beginner writer, and I think the majority of my writing friends are in the same boat. We suffer frequent self-doubt, second-guess ourselves and our writing, and find it really hard to judge the quality of what we write. C.K. Stead’s confidence was really refreshing to me—as inspiring as anything he shared about his writing.

 

 

Writing Resource: Hidden Traps by Judy L Mohr

I first met Judy last year at a seminar on how to get the most out of Scrivener. We’re members of the same writing circles, and I’m constantly impressed that no matter what writing topic we’re discussing, Judy is quick to offer an opinion, advice, or even a practical solution. When she asked if I was interested in getting an ARC of her non-fiction book for writers, it was a no-brainer. I said yes at once.

Having met Judy in person, I enjoyed how much of her voice came through in this book. There’s always a danger that non-fiction will be dry, but although Hidden Traps is packed with technical and often extremely specific information, it felt like I was attending a seminar rather than reading a book. Some of the information I was aware of, but a lot was new—and more than once, I put the book down to go and act on the information I’d just read.

Although called ‘Hidden Traps,’ the book is so much more than a guide to how to protect yourself online while creating an author presence. Judy covers the entire author platform, starting from why you need one and how to decide what direction to take it in. I’m roughly two years into having an ‘author’ presence online, and I think that gave me enough background knowledge that I wasn’t overwhelmed by the quantity of advice, and could instead take it in easily and act on it. However, this book would be very useful to someone just starting out. I recommend adding it to your writing resources!

 

Marlborough Book Festival #1: Navigating a Writer’s Life with Joy Cowley

Last week I hopped on the bus up to Blenheim for the Marlborough Book Festival, something I’ve wanted to do for years. Marlborough is known for its sunny climate which makes it ideal for vineyards. The area produces some of NZ’s best wine (and I’m not just saying that because my wine-maker uncle lives there!). What goes better with wine than a good book?

I’m not entirely sure how the Book Festival came about, but my librarian Aunt and cousins have been involved with the festival since the start. 2017 was the festival’s fourth year. While this year was the biggest so far, the festival has a really fun, friendly atmosphere. The interviews feel more like conversations and the format allows for lots of questions from the audience. I thoroughly enjoyed it, and really recommend it for fellow kiwis!

Unfortunately, I arrived in Blenheim with a really vicious cold. I was planning to do some sight-seeing around the festival, but I only managed enough energy to go to four festival sessions. There were a lot of naps. It’s only now that I’m starting to feel better that I realise just how sick I was, and I’m impressed I made it to the festival at all! Huge thanks to my cousin and her partner for taking such good care of me.

All of the sessions I went to were highlights for me, but I’m starting with Joy Cowley because she’s the one that keeps coming up in conversation. She needs no introduction to New Zealanders, but for everyone else, she’s best-known as a children’s author, but has written short stories and novels.

Rather than focusing on any one book, the interview with Joy ranged over her entire life, because almost every part of her life has impacted her writing. She’s a firm believer that everyone has a path and says that while at times we may feel directionless and like we don’t know where we’re going, it’s possible to look back and see a direct line to where we needed to be. She’s in her seventies, and I really appreciated hearing from an author at the peak of career—although she’d argue its still an apprenticeship.

Another thing that really stood out for me is that Joy gets up at four AM every morning and writes until eight AM. It’s pretty standard advice for authors to get up early, but I imagined that once you’ve ‘made it’ like Joy has, you would get to sleep in! She works hard, but she obviously finds the work rewarding, and that in itself is inspiring.

I borrowed a copy of Navigation, Joy’s memoir, from my Aunt to read after the festival, and her voice is so strong in it, that it was honestly just like hearing her speak. Writing friends, check this out! Yes, she’s traditionally published and her journey is specific to New Zealand, but I think her practical approach and the fact she is looking back over a very varied writing career is a really good antidote to all the negativity, stress and high demands of today’s write to market mentality. Plus, there’s something intrinsically interesting about other writer’s journeys (I haven’t read Stephen King’s On Writing yet, so I can’t compare them, but I imagine there’s a similar appeal).

Anyway, most of the author sessions at the Book Festival were an hour long, but Joy requested an hour and a half, because she had a feeling there would be a lot to talk about. She’s a natural story teller, and when the time for questions came, I was disappointed—I just wanted to hear more of her stories! She gave advice to current children’s authors and freely shared where her ideas came from. She’s generous with her advice and time, and I really regret that at the end of the session, I didn’t have the energy to go up and talk to her—though it’s probably best I kept my germs as contained as possible.

July Recap, August Goals!

I’m writing this update with decidedly mixed feelings. I’m all about goal-setting, and I love the high that comes with getting all my ducks lined up for the coming month. However, yesterday Monica Leonelle announced she’s retiring the Prose of Fire series of writing advice books.

Monica is one of my writing heroes, and I come back to her books again and again. While I’m really happy that she’s reached a new stage in her writing journey and can definitely get behind the philosophy driving her new project, it’s not a direction I see myself going in right now. So that’s a bit of sad news.

The other thing that’s on my mind is my health. Since June 24th, there have only been two days were I truly felt my usual self—and even those two days, I still had a cough. The rest of the time, I’ve been dealing with either two particularly vicious colds and a chest infection, or stealth tuberculosis (I should get the test results back this month). While I’m not the sickest person in the world by any means, this is having a cumulative effect. I’m tired, and spending more time resting, meaning I have less time to spend on projects, which means that I feel like I’m constantly battling to get anything done. A lot of my happiness is tied to being productive and achieving goals, so this has been frustrating on many levels. Despite all this, I actually achieved a fair amount in July.

July Goals:

  • Edit and Release More Than Coffee (new title needed!)  Done! The Wing Commander’s Curse came out on Monday after a few false starts. Overall, I’m really happy with it.
  • Get back to work on Mystery 1. Not done! Change of plans.
  • Continue work on Dead Wrong Change of plans.
  • Get my writing mindset back in the right place. Yes! I have productivity and positivity for days. I’m credited The Journalling Superpower Secret for this.
  • Take care of myself, and tackle scary health thing. Ha. I’m trying! 

Overall, I feel good. I completed a project not on this list. When I set my July goals, I didn’t realise Ninestar had moved the submission deadline for seasonal stories earlier this year. Obviously, that took priority! And I have great news. Not only did I manage to write, edit and submit a seasonal story by the deadline, but I’ve already completed the first editing pass. That’s right—The Op-Shop Rejects Live in Concert was accepted by NineStar! I also got a big freelance project that has been taking a lot of time and energy, which isn’t great, but it pays so, that is a good thing!

Anne and I also launched New Zealand Rainbow Romance Writers, so that was a definite bonus!

August Goals:

  • Freelance project #1
  • Get to work on Gentlemen Don’t Murder
  • Return Life After Humanity edits.
  • Attend RWNZ Conference 2017
  • Get organised for Dead Wrong. I’m also planning to write-up the Marlborough Book Festival, and pitch to agents at the Romance Writers conference. August is going to be a busy month!

The Wing Commander’s Curse is out!

After a false start (proof-read my e-mail before sending, somehow still missed that I’d forgotten to attach the book I was sending the e-mail about), The Wing Commander’s Curse has been released to subscribers of my mailing list. It feels really good to have completed a project started in May to help raise funds and awareness for LGBT Chechens.

Even better, I heard from Kathleen, the auction winner whose request resulted in The Wing Commander’s Curse, to let me know she enjoyed it. That’s really made me happy. I realised while listening to the authors speaking at the Marlborough Book Festival this past weekend that before writer or author or novelist, I identify as a story-teller, which to me implies a connection between the story-teller and the person the story is being told to, and started with me telling stories to my younger sister. That I’m able to successfully tell a story to someone I’ve never met in real life always feels like a prize to me. Thank you for that, Kathleen! And for the story request that resulted in Mallory, Jonah, and the world they inhabit.

Gillian_St_Kevern_f_3d

The Wing Commander’s Curse

An unbreakable curse.
England overrun by monsters.
Two men locked in a losing battle.

England, 1915.

Jonah Valliant longs for active service, but is stuck making coffee for the local officers. A year ago, the world erupted into magical chaos. No one knows why Britain is overrun by fearsome worms, magical creatures whose gaze turns men to stone, or how to stop them. When Jonah loses his temper with Wing Commander Mallory, he has no idea that picking a quarrel with the wizard may lead to Britain’s salvation–or its destruction.

Augustus Mallory carries more than the weight of the war effort on his shoulders. He’s the last of the Mallory wizards, feared for their power, arrogance and the dark family curse. He knows losing his heart to Jonah endangers everything Mallory cares about—but Jonah may possess the key to defeating the worms once and for all. His only hope: staving off his doom long enough to learn the secret behind the Quickening.

To read The Wing Commander’s Curse for free, sign up to my mailing list. Thanks!