Thursday, April 28, 2011

Days 231 to 236 - Thor romance fail - or why feminism equals better romance.

The Man With No Shirt FTW
There aren't enough superlatives in the universe to describe how much I loved Chris Hemsworth as the golden-haired God of Thunder. I even did that girly giggle thing every time he came on screen.

How could you take someone with THAT much raw appeal, throw him in with Natalie Portman, and end up with less chemistry than Julia Roberts and Nick Nolte?

The answer is characterisation. Natalie Portman's character Jane Foster was bland to the extreme. There's almost nothing there - just a bunch of "traits" thrown together with some sidelong glances and an interest in hearing about the world beyond ours. It's not enough to say "Look at my whacky character! They have to shave every three minutes or they go crazy!" Why do we care if they go crazy? Why is it shaving that calms the beast within?

And why do we care about this research she's doing? Why does SHE care about what she's doing? What does she see in Thor beyond killer abs and blue, blue eyes? By the end of the film, all I really knew about her was that she didn't like men in black suits stealing her life's work and she had a crush on Thor.

If men in black suits came and took my computer and equipment, I wouldn't be annoyed. I would be FURIOUS. If I were a character in a book, I would MAKE them give it back.

Jane Foster decides to take a buff but possibly crazy man she almost ran over to the centre of the desert and hope he does it for her. She is never the protagonist, she never makes anything happen. She is a hazy marker that reads "Love Interest Goes Here".

So why bother putting her in? After all, Jaimie Alexander as Sif was loads more interesting. Heck, even Kat Dennings as the kooky, uber-cute hanger-on was a better character. It all comes down to what Hollywood thinks we want, and what we want our women to be. It all comes down to Hollywood relegating female leads to the status of "Love Interests" in traditionally male-dominated genres.

Hollywood thinks Love Interests should never express a blatant sexual interest in the hero. It's left to Kat Denning's character to point out the blindingly obvious point that Thor is hot. Jane Foster just gives another side-glance and looks away.The Love Interest must control herself, keep her emotions in check until the male has declared his hand. What's wrong with our women having strong sexual emotions and proactively expressing them?

Hollywood thinks Love Interests should leave the heavy lifting to the male protagonist. She can be moderately angry, but heaven forbid she cry or scream with rage, or lash out in fury. Even when the male protagonist is injured, she must content herself to running over and exclaiming. What's wrong with our women having powerful rage and grief, and what's wrong with showing it overwhelm them to the point where they lose control?

It's a problem that's endemic in modern superhero and action films. Too many awesome battles with Frost Giants that won't impress "the ladies"? Throw in a love interest and you double the market! We're seeing too many cynical attempts to cover all market segments without any concern for quality or what adding those elements does to the overall balance of the film. And the female characters they're throwing in are restrained to the point of blandness, devoid of any strong emotion or will to act.

I'm certainly NOT arguing that Thor should not have been the driving force in the film, or that Jane Foster should have stolen the show. I'm saying that strong, awesome male protagonists need strong, awesome women to fall in love with. Like Cary Grant and Ingrid Bergman in Notorious. 

Word count - 1 504

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Days 224 to 230 - Texting Joy

Normally I am one of those horrible anti-Earth, petrol-guzzling fools who spend their whole day in the car. The problem is, it takes me an hour to get to my son's day care, and then another 40-odd minutes to get into work. Then double it because I like to go home sometimes.

But now my husband is looking after our nerdling, there's no reason for me to take the car. I have to take.... THE BUS!

It's horrible! I get car sick, so I can't read. It's too bumpy to write. The person next to me always sticks their elbows out. And this morning my Creative was out of battery. All I had left was my old phone and the ability to text my friends at ridiculous hours.
The bus goes forward.
Industrial wasteland - right.
Where is my music??
I woke up my friend Greg, who retaliated in kind:
It is 8 AM. 
Bad haiku makes my phone buzz.
Is Julia drunk?
 I couldn't let that go unavenged!
He lazes in bed,
and calls my haiku awful.
Public transport sucks.
I also woke my sister Penny up. She was apparently dreaming of me in any event:
In the dream I just had, you married Godzilla and me and the rest of the world had to run away from your wedding because he tried to eat us - seriously, why marry him? 
It's not my fault you people don't understand ambition! Bloody Tall Poppy Syndrome, that's what it is.
He ate Russia!
Pft. You say that like it's a bad thing.  

It was nice to be reminded of the joys of texting. Though I feel weird having nostalgia for something that I only really started doing when I was 17.

I want a HTC Desire so I can Tweet on the bus. What do you do to make it through the commute?

Word count - 1, 116

Friday, April 15, 2011

Day 223 - After pushing a truck, a car seems easy!

Momentum is great - once you've got it. My problem is getting that ball rolling. I sit down and open my romance or my YA and the first sentence takes forever.

But I think I may have found the answer. I wrote a haiku before I got started. It took about 15 minutes, but something about forcing myself to write in a restricted format made my writing afterwards much easier - the flow just came really naturally.

I'm wondering if it works moving from short fiction to novel length as well?

Word count - 468

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Days 216 - 222 - And then, like, he said he was a director and could get me into films...

When a person wants something really, really badly it's almost impossible to observe it with the keen and impartial eye of the detached.

Hence the phrase "a lawyer who represents himself has a fool for a client".

For example, when I was 19 I convinced myself that it was a brilliant and sound financial decision to buy a Ford Falcon a year older than I was. To make it worse, I had no job and I bought it using money I got from a compensation payout. But I loved that car and there was no telling me about insurance and leaded (!!) petrol and registration. (His name was Lurch, he was crud-brown and you could run him into a brick wall and he'd bounce - I still miss that car even though he cost me a small fortune)

And when I was thinking about self-publishing my picture book I was the same way. I made an emotional attachment through a website and a phone call, and just glossed over all the little niggly things that kept pushing themselves forward. I wanted it to be all good so badly that I MADE it all good by just ignoring the bad things.

And by bad things I mean things like over-priced services that didn't (in the fine print) really deliver what I needed.

It took a serious dose of maths for me to straighten myself out.

Here are some random figures from a couple of self-publishing sites all mushed up:

Lets assume a $3000 publishing package with a print on demand service. It involves some very basic "editing" (spelling, grammar), about 35 copies of your book and all the formatting help you need to be able to sell e-books and print on demand books.

So you've laid out $3000 up front. Then you'll probably want to spend a little extra cash on publicity, maybe some petrol to wander around to some book-signing expeditions. Let's throw on a grand - if you're having trouble spending it in your head just buy yourself an awesome ad in a big city paper.

Your print on demand service charges, say, $7.95 per book or $1.50 per ebook. I completely made those figures up just for examples, so don't go expecting them to industry standard or anything. Let's say you sell your print books for $19.95 and your ebooks for $5.99.

Selling only print books you would need to sell 333 copies of your book just to break even.
Selling only ebooks you'd need to sell 899 copies of your book to break even.
And this is before you make a profit.

That's not too bad! There are BILLIONS of people on the planet!
But what kind of sales can you expect? Figures are hazy, but averaging out the different numbers, it seems the average self published book sells about 400 copies. If all those copies are print books, on the numbers above you'd make $800. If they're all ebooks, on the other hand - you're out of pocket.

What I'm trying to say above is this - make sure you do your math before you sign anything. Be realistic, read everything and be smart. It's the only way to be successful.

Word count - 958

Friday, April 8, 2011

Days 212 to 216 - Hi, I'm a writer, and I suffer from MPP

MPP. Multiple Project Paralysis. The bane of many a writer's existence.

I have three projects waiting for editing. I have four manuscripts that I've started, but not gone past about 4,000 words on. And yet when I sit down to work I can't think of what to do! I start writing, and my editing projects beckon. I start writing, and think there's not much point just piling more on my editing to-do list.

So I've come up with 4 Rules to help me decide what to work on:
(NB. This is based on my specific word goal and 5 year plan, so it may not work for you if you're more focussed on immediate publication.)

1) Is it editing?
  • If no --> Go to Question 2.
  • If yes --> Have you had a partial request from a pitch and want to fix it up?
    • If yes --> Get out your red pen baby!
    • If no --> Is your Critique Partner waiting on it?
      • If yes --> Edit. Don't keep the overworked and unpaid help hanging.
      • If no --> Is it for a competition ending in the next month?
        • If yes --> Do it. Gives you time for a beta reader.
        • If no --> It can wait. Go to Question 2.
2) Do you have a manuscript, let's call it Manuscript A, that you are working on for a competition?
  • If no --> Go to Question 3.
  • If yes --> is there another competition coming up sooner that needs you to work on Manuscript B?
    • If yes --> Work on Manuscript B.
    • If no --> Work on Manuscript A.
3) Is it your passion project - the thing that struck you in a flash of inspiration that you just can't put out of your head?
  • If yes --> Get writing!
  • If no --> Why not?
    • I don't have a passion project --> Go to Question 4.
    • Another MS is my passion project --> Go work on that then!
4) Make a very quick list of your current work-in-progress writing projects. Do you know how to play Eeny, Meeny, Miny, Mo?
  • If no ---> How on Earth did you ever manage to resolve anything as a child? The rules are here.
  • If yes ---> Random pick! Which ever manuscript you end on is the one you're working on. Get those fingers typing!
Don't ask how long I spent coming up with these rules instead of actually doing anything...

Word count - 682

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Days 210 to 211 - Upcoming Australian Writing Competitions

For me this month is going to be fairly hectic. I'm planning to enter several competitions, and each of my entries needs some substantial work!

Romance Writers of Australia is holding the Valerie Parv Awards, the entries for which are due on Friday 8 April. It's a competition for unpublished writers and you don't need to be a member of the RWA (though why you would choose not to be if you were a romance writer I don't quite understand - such a brilliant organisation for opportunities and networking!). You need to put in the first 12,500 words of your manuscript plus a 1000 word synopsis.

The Penguin/Varuna Development Scholarship 2010 is looking for "new and emerging writers of fiction and narrative non-fiction" and the prize is spectacular enough to compensate for the $55 entry fee:

The scholarship recipient will receive the following:
  • $5,000 cash prize.
  • One year (20 hours) of editorial assistance from Penguin Books Australia, comprising a preliminary discussion, quarterly discussions on progress and an editorial report on the final manuscript. Penguin will also consider the writer’s manuscript for publication.
  • A two-week residential fellowship at Varuna, the Writers’ House. The fellowship must be undertaken in the period January to mid-April 2012, depending on availability. During the residential, a Varuna writing consultant will support the writer through discussions about the project and the writing process. There is a fee of $500 for the residency.

And finally there's the Text Prize for best unpublished YA manuscript! Once again, an absolutely spectacular prize bundle - a publishing contract with a $10,000 advance against royalties. Entries will be accepted between 2 May and 3 June 2011.

Have you seen a competition that just gets you so excited you absolutely must enter it? List it below!

Word count - 1,511

Friday, April 1, 2011

Day 209 - Author Tansy Rayner Roberts On The Road To Publication

There and Back Again, by A Fantasy Author

The question to spark off this guest post (hi, thanks for having me!) was “How you got where you did, and how long it took?” Which of course means I have to actually stop and think about where I am!

Where I am is pretty good right now. I have the second book of a HarperCollins trilogy about to hit the shelves, with the third due out before the end of the year (and, most importantly, I have done almost all the work needed on that book), I am starting to write a new series thanks to a couple of major Arts grants, and I appear on the shortlists of both the Aurealis Awards and the Ditmars. This is a very good year.

But the thing about being a writer is that it is by no means a linear path. I know from experience that a great sale to a big publisher does not guarantee career progression, and that troughs come after peaks.

Twelve years ago, I got the call that I had sold my first novel. I was nineteen years old, and had posted my manuscript off to a competition which was open for unpublished SF and Fantasy novels. I won! That was an amazing year, which included me learning to edit a book for publication in a fortnight, having to keep my amazing news secret for months, attending my first SF convention, meeting famous authors, and (most important of all) actually earning enough from writing to live on.

However... by the time the second book came out, a year later, things were not looking so rosy. Sales had not met expectations (and because of the prize money, the expectations had been rather higher than would be usual for a debut author). The books, which were humorous fantasy and might have been marketed as YA five years later, failed to find much of an audience. I lost my publisher, my agent, and my confidence.

I kept writing, and studying, and picked up casual work teaching creative writing (kind of ironic considering my track record, but I like to think I was quite good at it). I was mentored by some great people, got involved in indie press, and wrote short fiction. I sold a children’s novel as part of a packaged series with my writing group - mine was the first in the intended eight book series - but we only got three on the shelves before the series was pulled for - say it with me - sales not meeting expectations. That takes us up to 2007.

But a writer’s career is never linear - did I mention that? Back in 2004 I had started writing a novel I was really excited about, which was sometimes called Creature Kings, or Creature Court, and was later to be named Power and Majesty. I wrote it through most of that year, and only stopped at the three quarter mark because I was pregnant, and desperate to finish my doctoral thesis before I had the baby. I didn’t.

So the next two years were a blur of new baby and academic dramas and hunting footnotes, and getting back to writing was a lot harder than I imagined. My life had turned upside down, and none of my old methods and techniques made sense any more. I retaught myself to write creatively with a 100 word a day for 100 days challenge (you miss a day, you start back at day 1) and finally, eventually, finished that novel. I workshopped it, rewrote it, took it apart and put it back together again. All of this took time. Marianne De Pierres, one of the writers who had mentored me through the decade, posted my first chapter on her website, and it attracted interest from a Big Publisher (who eventually passed on it) and an Agent, who took the project on and sold it to HarperCollins.

That takes us up to late 2008! The book was with HC for a good 8-9 months before they decided officially to take it, and then when I signed the contract, it was for a long time in the future, because they wanted to ensure the other two books (the ones I hadn’t written yet!) were close on its heels. So I had to wait a whole year and a half after signing the contract to see my book in print.

In between signing that contract and the release of the book, all I had to do was write two more novels in about 18 months. I could manage that, easy. I was a stay-at-home mum, and my daughter was at school age. It made all kinds of sense, except for the part where I had another baby on the way. The next 18 months was a blur of deadline extensions and very understanding editors (thank goodness!) and, looking back, I’m not sure how I did that at all. The first book took, with many stops and starts, six years from beginning to end. The next two only had 9 months each, plus a little editing time where it could be squeezed (and editing time almost always squeezed the writing time, because there was no other time).

It’s been a long road to get here. I know so much more about this industry now than I did back when I got my first “break” and I have made contacts and friends along the way. Next year might not bring as many professional highs as this one, but that’s okay. I’m ready for whatever bumps and curves come my way, and in the mean time, I have books on the shelves, and there’s really no better feeling in the world!


Tansy Rayner Roberts is the author of Power and Majesty (Creature Court Book One) and The Shattered City (Creature Court Book Two, April 2011) with Reign of Beasts (Creature Court Book Three, coming in November 2011) hot on its tail. Her short story collection Love and Romanpunk will be published as part of the Twelfth Planet Press “Twelve Planets” series in May.

This post comes to you as part of Tansy’s Mighty Slapdash Blog Tour, and comes with a cookie fragment of new release The Shattered City:

It was still raining blood, and the sky was full of colours and shadows and bright, blazing moments of light. Delphine kept her head down as she hurried through the streets, ignoring it all. It was not her world. It was not her problem.

She kept thinking that right up to the point that she reached the yard behind her house, and found it full of monsters.