life

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.

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!

I Sat in Dame Ngaio Marsh’s chair!

Dame Ngaio Marsh was—along with Agatha Christie and Dorothy L. Sayers—one of the Queens of Crime, a group of women writing during the Golden Age of the Detective story. In addition, she was an artist and an enthusiast for the theatre, becoming recognised as much for her services to New Zealand theatre as she was for her detective novels. And yes-she was a New Zealander. In fact, she lived in Christchurch most of her life. And it never occurred to me that her house might still be here and that you can visit it.

Turns out her house is here in Christchurch and you can visit it. You simply need to arrange a time and date with one of the tour guides and off you go (http://www.ngaio-marsh.org.nz)! I e-mailed and have been binge-reading Ngaio Marsh any free moment I got since.

I was lucky enough to join an already booked group, and visit on a day when a guide was being trained, so there were five of us Ngaio Marsh enthusiasts in the same place. This never happens! It was hugely exciting–as exciting as her house.

By modern standards it’s small–but full of treasures. Ngaio was an only child, so she inherited a few family heirlooms from both sides of her family, as well as those she collected herself in her travels. Some of her dresses still hang in her wardrobe, and her the furnishing are just as they were when she lived in the house–with a few exceptions (there were some breakages because of the earthquake and a few repairs).

What I found most interesting is how the rooms were used. There was no spare room, no office. In this lovely dining room, Ngaio Marsh entertained visiting celebrities including Laurence Olivier. This room is the least altered from the house’s original appearance. Marsh’s parents built it, and originally the entire house was this dark wood.

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Her kitchen was practical, small (despite being enlarged from its original size), and an amazing collection of seventies style. Our guide was not a fan. I thought it looked neat–but then, I didn’t have to try and cook in it!

Ngaio’s bedroom was fantastic. It blended her theatrical and artistic sides. Her passport is there, along with her travelling trunk and there were hatboxes stacked on top of the wardrobe. I was happy to spot some Japanese woodcuts in one corner, but my favourite discovery was the copy of Lord of the Rings on the shelf.

The long room. It was a combination living room and office. I gravitated to an impressive looking typewriter, but it turns out Ngaio wrote longhand sitting in her green armchair. Later her secretary typed things up for her.

Towards the end of her life, Ngaio had her basement converted into an office/bedroom/bathroom/studio so that she wouldn’t have to climb the stairs to her house.

The tour takes an hour, but after it finished, we must have spent a good thirty minutes just talking with our guide. The gentleman visiting with his wife seems to know a lot about New Zealand theatre, going to school with a few of the successful actors that Ngaio promoted, and he and our guide reminisced about people they knew connected with Ngaio. I felt really glad that I timed my visit to coincide with another group, as I feel I got more of an insight into that side of her life.

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I took a lot of photos, but I feel hesitant about sharing all of them. Instead, here is my highlight—the moment I got to sit in the chair where Ngaio Marsh wrote her mystery novels. The bookcase directly in front of me had all of her first editions. Actually, she had bookcases in every room we visited. It was definitely my kind of house. Any Christchurch visitors (M. Caspian, what do you think?): Just so you know, I will totally return to this house and tour with you anytime.

 

 

Hair Today … gone March 24th.

IMPORTANT NOTE: This is a personal update, nothing to do with writing or writing promo at all. In real life, I’m fundraising to support leukaemia and blood cancer patients in New Zealand, a cause that I really want to help–and not one that I want tainted by the suggestion of self-promo. At the same time, I believe I have a lot of writing friends who will want to support me–and I need all the support I can get. I’ve made the decision to reach out to my writing and reading friends twice only–once in this post, and once again in the aftermath. This is a fine line to walk, and I’m going to do my best not to cross it, but if this strikes you as inappropriate in anyway, do let me know.


 

Okay. Important note out of the way, I am freaking out. I’ve committed to participating in the 2017 fundraising campaign organised by Shave for a Cure by–you guessed it–shaving my head.

As far back as I can remember, people have been complimenting me on my hair. Hairdressers tell me how lovely and thick it is, people in the street tell me how nice my curls are, almost every time I see her my grandma says ‘how nice your hair looks,’–and that’s not even getting into the incredulous reactions from my students in Japan when I told them it was natural.

My two best hair stories both involve students in Japan. Once after going from very long hair, to cutting it very short, I went to school to be greeted by various amusing double-takes. The best was a student I’d taught for five years who saw me from behind and asked his homeroom teacher ‘When did we get a new English teacher?’

The best story happened while I was still on my island. Deciding there was no point in having long hair if I never did anything wore it, I wore my hair loose to school. Unfortunately it was a windy day, and by the time I arrived at school my hair was somewhat worse for the trip. I walked into the third year classroom. One of my girl’s shrieked. ‘Sensei! You look like that character from Harry Potter. What’s her name? Harry’s friend.’ The boy beside her called out ‘Dumbledore!’ And for the rest of the week, that class called me ‘Dumbledore-sensei.’

Giving it up is a lot harder than I thought it would be. In fact, the closer it gets to shave-day, the less I want to do this–but the more I know I have to. I do invest a lot of my ego into my hair–it’s a big part of my identity. And I really hope that by taking part in the Shave for a Cure challenge, I’ll be able to raise money for a worthy cause.

If you want to support me in my challenge, please go to my personal page (yup, using my non-author name): Here

If you can donate, that is amazing and very gratefully received! Although this is an NZ charity, you don’t need to be in NZ to support this cause. If you’re unable to donate, please share this post, leave me a message of support (trust me, I will need those), or maybe even be inspired to consider something like this yourself.

Thanks for reading! And yeah, there will be an update, March 27th, with the after photos (gulp).

Mindful March

Time for the monthly recap! As you may have gathered from my January recap and Accelerated February posts, February was a busy month. The decision to track my writing, health and money made a big difference, not so much in keeping me on track, but making me aware of what is holding me back currently. Despite the lack of word count, I feel I am making really good progress towards my writing goals. I have a lot of work to do if I want to make my 2017 goals, but I feel confident that I can make it happen.

Quick and dirty recap: February Goals

  • finish Murder #1 – NOT AT ALL
  • re-plot TDL – Almost finished!
  • Freelance project 1 AND 2 – Finished project 1. 2 was not finished, but my client was dealing with IRL stuff, so I am counting this as a success.
  • Complete Freelance Project 3 (weekly)- Great Success.
  • regular blog posts- More or less!
  • read 9 books- YES!
  • establish a daily writing habit.-NO

I started February all fired up to write every day. Unfortunately, until I resolve the plot issues I’m having with Murder#1, working on this project is like pulling teeth. I managed for two days, before sinking into a depressed funk. Not writing also made me fall into a depressed funk, until I realised that I could count plotting as writing. Being able to check off time spent plotting as writing made me feel productive and happy, and that encouraged me to keep at it. I came to the conclusion that I have a lot more work to do with research on Murder#1, but that if I came up with a solid plot for Thorns and Fangs #3, then I could work on that while continuing to research Murder#1. All in all, I wrote 12 out of 28 days in February, which while far from the results I wanted, have meant that I am in a really good position to try again for a daily writing habit in March.

Balancing Freelance projects with everything else will continue to be an ongoing problem in March, as I’m finding it hard to say no to clients adding extra work onto existing projects. I’m going to have to be strategic in what projects I take on, and in protecting my creative and research time.

Now that I’m back in the habit of regular blogging, I’m really enjoying it. Travelling was great fun, but while it gave me a lot of interesting places to write about for the blog, I also returned from Auckland totally exhausted. It took me about a week to recover. What is interesting is that the exhaustion was all mental. Physically, I was tired but otherwise fine. I was not sick at all during February, which, for me, is a huge accomplishment! I think this is Accelerated February already positively impacting my health.

Although I didn’t manage to take my vitamins, eat 5 plus servings of fruit and veges a day or walk every day, I am doing all three more regularly and it is having a tremendous impact, not only  on my health but on how I feel about myself. Another new addition to my health routine is a daily guided meditation using the smiling mind app. This is something I want to continue–hence Mindful March! And that brings us to March Goals:

  • Daily Writing Habit (Currently 2/31)
  • Write Thorns and Fangs #3 (3,894/100,000)
  • Balance Freelance and Creative Work
  • Read 9 books (3/9)
  • Regular blog posts (1/9)
  • Edit and release Deep Magic boxset
  • Complete Defensive Driving Course
  • Sit Full Licence Test
  • SECRET PROJECT TBA later.

All in the mind?

I mentioned that I came away from the Joanna Penn Successful Self-Publishing Seminar with a to-do list, right? One of 44 items, to be exact. Today, 14 days later, I have done precisely ten, all of which were things I had to do anyway because they were either freelance projects or blog posts, both of which have deadlines. When I looked at any of the actions I wanted to take around writing, a fog descended. I had so many choices I was paralysed. I then felt guilty for not accomplishing anything, and things were spiralling as they usually did. I knew that if I wanted to get anything done, I needed to battle the spiral with mindset. So I did.

This post is some of the tools that I’m currently using to keep me focused and productive during some stressful times at home and in the world at large (I don’t think it made the International news, but we have a huge out of control fire on the Port Hills here in Christchurch, and a couple of noticeably big shakes).

It’s no coincidence that The Successful Author Mindset is the book I asked Joanna Penn to sign for me. In many ways, I am my own worst enemy, and I’ve turned to Joanna’s book again and again to help ignore the brain wolves and keep me on the productive path. I cannot recommend this book enough for authors.

Monica Leonelle’s Prosperous Creation is what really woke me to the fact that mindset is an ongoing thing. She places it as the foundation tier of her creative framework, and recommends addressing ongoing habits of reflection and gratitude, to clear out the mental cobwebs and keep your attention reserved for your work.

M. Caspian introduced me to Kikki-k in Auckland. In addition to amazing stationary and notebooks, they offer habit, happiness, organisation and other workshops–including mindfulness. My sister and I went along to a Christchurch workshop, and it was a good introduction to some of the concepts, benefits and methods of practicing mindfulness. In many ways, mindfulness sounds a lot like the flow state that you get when writing is going very, very well–and who wouldn’t want more of that. I came away from the workshop with some new ideas–and a lovely journal (and two notebooks and another journal). Because kikki-k.

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Mindfulness Journal and friends. The gold letters on the journal cover read ‘Wherever you are, be all there.’

One of the recommendations I got from the mindfulness workshop was the use of a free meditation app to get into a daily mindfulness habit. Two were recommended, headspace and smiling mind. I’m using smiling mind, which is run by an Australian non profit, who want to reduce stress and promote healthier minds through guided meditations suitable for home, work or school.

It is early days yet, but I’m noticed that I’m much happier when I sit down to work, when I get in my car to drive somewhere, or when the unexpected happens and throws a wrench in my plans.

A Surprise at the Lyttelton Farmer’s Market.

I’m back home in North Canterbury now, where I have been working on my big freelance project for January–a Tokyo guidebook–all day. Its an interesting project, but as a break from that, I thought I’d share one last Diamond Harbour adventure.

Diamond Harbour sits pretty much directly across from Lyttelton harbour. It’s a forty-minute drive (if you’re me and drive like a nervous Grandma), or a ten-minute ride in the Diamond Harbour ferry. Guess which I chose?

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The main draw of Lyttelton for me was the Farmer’s Market which happens every Saturday. My sister and brother-in-law visited regularly pre-2011 earthquake, but the road linking Sumner and Lyttelton is still out. There are two other ways to reach Lyttelton by road, but neither as convenient.

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I wasn’t sure what to expect, but the market was as busy as ever. In fact, I think it has grown! Instead of the single carpark I remember, the market spilled out on to the main road, occupying both sides of the road for an entire block, with some extra stalls in two adjoining carparks. There were multiple organic food stalls, bread, craft beer, cakes, waffles, all sorts of things. I was shopping for some of the delicious salami I remembered from my previous visit. And then I saw something that made me extremely happy.

Is that–cannoli?

To understand why I am slightly obsessed with cannoli, we have to go back to 2014, when I first participated in the M/M Romance Group’s Don’t Read in the Closet event. I submitted a story idea, and Tali Spencer turned it into The Last Cannoli.  

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I fell hard for the world and the characters that Tali shared with us in her story! I came away from reading it feeling uplifted and happy, with a feeling of contentment that I now associate strongly with cannoli. The only problem–well. Japan, especially the extremely rural part of Japan that I lived in, is somewhat lacking in Italian pastries.

Rural New Zealand–actually New Zealand in general–isn’t much better! It is true I haven’t really searched for cannoli since I’ve been back, but the sight of this stall in the Lyttelton Farmer’s market, got me really excited.

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Fortunately, that wasn’t cannoli! It was a cannoncino, a pastry horn. I say fortunately because it was delicious, and it has spurred me on to begin my cannoli hunt anew. I mean, Christchurch has Italian restaurants, right? And if all else fails, I’m going to Auckland next month! And until I find a cannoli of my own, I have Tali’s delicious story to fall back on.