With Iron Junction's launch just gone, it's time to be moving on with the next book (***I would have preferred this said "drinking cocktails in the Caribbean", but sadly untrue...). And today I have progress to report ... the first edit is done, and it's time for me to do one last skim before sending to my trusted beta readers. Then I will have time to edit again before sending it to my publisher in July. The book should be out before this time next year. Between the first draft and this second draft, the manuscript put on a bit of weight (around 6000 words more), but that's fairly usual for me. I'm still calling it Base Nowhere, but I don't know if the title will stick to the end. I'm also brewing my ideas for books 4 and 5 in the background - but will stay focused on the current project for now. It's nice to have that sense of where things are going next, though.
Last night, a horde of excited readers descended on Wandering Cooks for Iron Junction's official launch, braving even the rugby traffic. Food, wine, friends and books makes for a winning combination, and we all had a great night. I want to especially thank QWC CEO Meg Vann for her lovely launch speech, and for her deft conduct of our Q&A, and my equally lovely publisher Bernadette Foley for coming all the way from Sydney. Rebekah Turner also excelled in organising cool themed choccies and waterbottles, and finally, the group of cos-players who came dressed in hi-vis and hardhats (and scared me witless when I thought we were being evacuated!). Thankyou all!
Two lovely readers have messaged me in the last 24 hours to say they finished Iron Junction in a single sitting. I'm so flattered, because in today's world the luxury of such a block of time devoted to reading is a precious thing. Some of us are fast readers and some of us are slow, but there's something special about the long escape into story world, maybe by bedside lamp (or iPad light), barely registering the passage of time, except by our fingers turning (or clicking) the pages. Waking bleary-eyed after very little sleep, but satisfied because we had to finish it, and we did. This got me to thinking about the last time that I read a book from cover to cover, and I'd love to know yours, too. Or maybe you're the kind of voracious reader who regularly takes your books this way. Sadly, I rarely can, but I remember the last one I read in a single sitting very clearly. It was JR Ward's Lover Awakened. I read it on the couch in our little cottage, from early in the morning one Saturday until the sun was going down, and it was magic.
So what was the last novel you devoured wholesale? Or if you simply can't, the last one you wished you could have read this way?
A week before my second novel Iron Junction hits the shelves, and I'm doing what every writer does at this point - working on the next one. I finished the first draft of what I'm calling Base Nowhere before Christmas, and for the last two weeks I've been reading and making my editing plan.
As many of you will know, I'm a huge fan of planning in writing and editing. And so now, I have mine for my first structural review. And here's the truth: I have 85 scenes in total. Of those:
- 7 (8%) need replacing completely
- 24 (28%) need substantial rewrites
- 44 (52%) need minor edits
- 10 (12%) I can keep pretty much in tact.
In addition, I have 17 structural issues in my notebook, and 355 comments in my word document, which are a combination of flags to aid solving the 17 issues, some smaller structural issues, and a few things that are working and are marked so that I don't accidentally delete them. It sounds like a lot of work (it is) but I've done this before, and it's where the magic happens.
I have no issues with calling my first draft the "shitty first draft" as Kim Wilkins would say. I went through the same process with both Ryders Ridge and Iron Junction. And this is before I give it to a trusted editor to give me their opinion for my second edit. I love that I know what I have to do (well, I know what's wrong, at least ;)). But most of all, despite its faults, I love the story. And that's why all this is worth it - to find the very best version of the story within that first draft.
So, from now begins the real work, even as I'm starting to percolate ideas for the book that comes after this one. But there's no work I would rather do. If you'd like to love this trial of editing too, how about joining me for Year of the Edit at QWC? Happy writing.
Today, I'm very excited to announce that my new short story, 'The Iron Road' is now available as a free e-book. I really love the cover and the story - I loved coming up with it and writing it, and I hope you will too. Perfect for a lunch break, before bed, or whenever you most like to read - if you're waiting for Iron Junction, why not download this and take a trip to the Pilbara a few weeks early? Here's a preview:
In the dusty red reaches of the Pilbara, a simple misunderstanding sends love off track... Stacey had thought Liam was the one. A fellow survey geologist who could discuss books as intelligently as he could detail rocks. Who looked as good in a tux as he did in his high-vis work clothes. She'd thought they'd found the perfect life: civilisation and adventure; together. But Liam hasn't told her everything. And now, on a ridge above a narrow outback gully, Stacey can see her perfect world crumbling before her eyes. Can their new love survive this unexpected obstacle?
Here's where you can find it:
Happy reading :)
I was amazed and humbled by the responses on last week's book giveaway post. Those landscape experiences not only took me away - to golden beaches, waterholes, and down long dusty roads - but every story was heartfelt and personal. The posters were right - Australia is magical, every part of it. I want to thank everyone who posted (both here and on Facebook) for sharing their experiences - your passion for Australia was palpable, and made me very proud to live in this amazing country. I wish I could make all the posters winners, but with two book packs to send, there had to be a tough decision. As my favourite, I chose Lynn's story of wedgetail eagles on the road from Darwin to South Australia. I just can't go past majestic birds. I can still remember seeing injured wedgies at a wildlife park years ago and it broke my heart (and inspired a short story), so I loved this glimpse of them wild and free. Here's the post:
Driving South down the ‘track’ from Darwin heading for SA ..through the heat haze, rich red dirt & scrubby trees my son & I see what at first looks like shortish people running back & forth across the undulating road … As we get closer there appears to be a group of 5… We wonder what they’re doing … We come up over the next rise in the road & there in front of us are 5 magnificent & very large, wedgetail eagles. Mum, dad & their fledglings. We were stunned & in awe to see these incredible birds … They were feasting on a bullock .. & were quite calm about us slowing down to admire them. We were enthralled .. & humbled by their presence. Once again the magic & mystery of Australia’s outback reminded me how ancient our country us .. how majestic … & that we humans are tinier than a grain of sand. I love our country & never cease to be amazed at what appears over the hill & around the swooping curve.
My second random-draw winner was Beth, with her honeymoon story of snorkelling, clams and ill-placed flippers that made me laugh. Congrats to both - your books will be on their way very soon.
Today, a box arrived on my doorstep. On opening, I discovered a shiny pile of Iron Junction, basking in the aroma of new books. So, time to celebrate :) With release date only a couple of weeks away, I am giving away a double signed set of Ryders Ridge and Iron Junction to two lucky readers.
To win, just comment on this post - I'd love you to share a sentence or two about your favourite Australian landscape experience. Whether it's the sparkling water of a north Queensland beach, the sunrise over a rugged inland bluff or just your special patch of the city suburbs. I will choose my favourite, and another commenter at random to receive the prizes (I'll also include anyone who shares or retweets this blog post on Facebook/Twitter in the random prize, so tell your friends). Comment before 5pm AEST this coming Monday 10 March to win! And good luck :)
There's a bit of perfect storm going on over in the Nash writing camp at the moment. By pure chance, there's a new novel (Iron Junction), a new edition of Ryders, a short story in that universe, and two more spec fic short stories - all due out within a month of each other. I mention this not for its own sake (though, given it's unlikely to happen again, I'll take a moment to admire the alignment of stars), but because in cleaning up my office this week, I found all the versions of all those stories - bundles of revised pages riddled with scribble and corrections, which reminded me of how things have changed.
My first attempt at writing a novel ended around Chapter 3 when I realised I had no idea what I was doing. My second attempt (probably 8 years later), which I did finish, was a disaster. Some likeable ideas, but poorly told, in both story and line craft. My editing attempt was pretty haphazard, and I loathed editing, which was reflected in the end product. That book is still in pieces - a much loved idea that hasn't found form. I moved on. Four years and three manuscripts (and countless editing later) came Ryders Ridge. By that time, I'd learned a few things about how to edit - how to plan for it, how to execute it, how to finish and move on. More experienced writers than me shared their insights; and steadily, I came to love it.
Some of the reasons I hated editing in the beginning were: 1) The awfulness of examining my own work, 2) the hugeness of the task, 3) not knowing where or how to begin, 4) having no idea how long it would take or when I'd be done. I now have a method that solves those problems and works for me, and this year, I've been given the opportunity to share it through QWC's Year of the Edit.
So, if you have a finished draft and you're new at editing, or if you loathe it (but know you need it - we all do), or if you're just daunted by the size of the task, join me for Year of the Edit. I'll do my best to show you a way forward, and maybe you'll come to love editing too. :)
Most of us don't write letters any more. Email is fast, convenient and cheap. We send snail mail only when we have to - originals, contracts, maybe a postcard. Considered and heartfelt letters penned by hand were, until this last month, something I hadn't sent or received since childhood. Then, during February, I was on a course where I had nothing else. No phone, no internet, nothing but pen and paper and stamps. It was a gruelling program: pre-dawn to late every day, almost no contact with the outside world, except through letters.
I was lucky. Over the month I was away, friends and family wrote me 20 letters and cards. Sometimes they came one at a time; once, nine together. I don't know how many I wrote back (more than 10, less than 20), but those words, back and forth, strung the days together, making spots of light in the dark. I had news of the outside world, but more importantly, I had encouragement and connection. Time had been taken to write and send those letters, thought put into their words; and time and thought gave them weight. They meant more than every email I've ever received together, and I will keep them and read them over.
Letter writing may be somewhat romantic these days, but I don't think there was anything particularly romantic about the ones I sent and received this last month. Almost the antithesis - it was pure function, words as part of survival. When there is nothing else, that which remains takes on greater meaning. So I thank everyone who wrote to me. You can't imagine what it meant to read your words in the cold and dark, and think of home. Thankyou all.
A few months ago, our local video store closed (and yes, I still call it a video store, even though it had been DVDs for a good few years). One of the consequences of the close is that I was finally forced into digital world for movies (not the best experience). But that led to finding movies that had long ago expired on the video store shelves. Two in particular I haven't seen since primary school 25 years ago, and my recollections were positive (if fuzzy). With some trepidation, I decided to re-watch and find out if they could stack up. So, I give you Midnight Madness (1980) and Sheena (1984).
- RT rating - None!
- Example clips
- Tag line: "The most fun you'll ever have ... in the dark!"
- Quote of the viewing audience: "Wow, Disney made this?"
What I remembered before I watched:
A zany, scavenger-hunt game movie where a bunch of teams (college students) compete to solve a puzzle in the depths of the night. There was something about "melons" referring to a pair of breasts that were one of the clues. That's about it. But, I remember wanting to see it AGAIN. And also, run a scavenger hunt myself. It was AWESOME.
What I thought when I re-watched it:
I was kinda surprised to see it was a Disney production, given above-mentioned melons. The characters were also rampant stereotypes, especially the nerds who came off especially poorly. Key moment of this is when the hero, a freshman counsellor, stops a nerdy college kid in his care from going on a date with a girl just because she also looks nerdy. Oh, great. For all the whinging I hear about The Big Bang Theory from time to time, we've come a long way. However ... as a film, I still found it an entertaining watch. The movie was pretty well put together with enough conflict and story to carry it. I'd also forgotten Michael J Fox was in it as the hero's kid brother, and it was Fox's movie debut. Likelihood I'll watch it again? Maybe in 10 years. It was all right.
- RT rating - 38%
- Tag line: "Part animal. Part legend. All woman." (really??)
- Quote of the viewing audience: "Worst zebra ever."
What I remembered before I watched:
An African adventure film where a girl RIDES HER ZEBRA against the forces of E-VIL. She swings on ropes and shoots arrows. The evil people kill a king and somehow are after Sheena (who grew up with a tribe after her parents die in a cave-in). A man is there also, and he gets burned at the end, after a dramatic end-sequence where Sheena RIDES HER ZEBRA after the bad man across the desert plain. Also, there are elephants, and some flamingos who crash a chopper. It was AWESOME.
What I thought when I re-watched it:
The first, most obvious thing was wait ... THAT'S NOT A ZEBRA! In the whole film, every "zebra" Sheena rides is a painted horse. I'm kinda impressed with the level of effort they went to, and that the paint didn't seem to rub off on Sheena. I guess horses are easier to train.
I'm actually kinda surprised I was allowed to watch this as a child, because it's basically B-grade soft porn, a bit like Starship Troopers 2. I never noticed how Sheena is always breathing in a suggestive fashion, or that the movie wastes few opportunities to get her kit off. The dialogue is bad ... so bad it's really GOOD. This is one of those films that is awesomely awful. Overacted, melodromatic, spaggetti-western sound effects, and it totally works. There's actually a number of funny one-liners, a solid plot (which is actually pretty serious and nasty), Vangelis-esque music, and a nasty German dude who attempts the Nuremberg defence before being speared through the throat. All the bad guys get their just desserts. Likelihood I'll watch it again? Maybe in 2 years. It was still AWESOME.
I take to the kitchen with increasing rarity these days (sadly), but this last week I happened to see this Fast Ed segment on BH&G and that olde cookery muscle leapt into action. See, lemon meringue is a childhood memory. Mum used to make them for various BBQs and there they would sit in the fridge, golden peaks of meringue begging to be plucked and eaten ahead of time (I didn't much like the tart lemon filling at that age). So, I removed the tips of those golden peaks. Tentatively at first, then what the hell - I'd denuded one peak. The rest must go! The fridge opened and closed a dozen times and soon, each of those carefully oven-golden meringue peaks disappeared. I was sure at that time that Mum couldn't tell. Turns out she could. Who would have thought.
Now, Mum is always the holder of the best recipes. She was known for that lemon meringue (probably more reason the theft of the peaks wasn't appreciated), and I still rate her Yorkshire puds, shortcrust pastry and salad cream (with prawns and avocado) as some of the best. But as an adult I've discovered Italian meringue, and I just can't go back to French. So, after that chance viewing of BH&G, where the lemon meringue appeared to have a perfect curd and lashings of Italian meringue ... well, sold. I plan on taking the big one to Mum's later today as apology for all the ones of hers I ruined. Here's how the making went down.
I cheated on the base. I just used store bought shortcrust. Let's face it - the pastry is just a vessel conveying lemon and meringue. No need to spend hours if you don't have to. Oh, I also don't have a tart tin, so I turned a ceramic loaf shaped tin upside down and baked the case on the outside of that, plus some small roughly hewn miniatures for tasting.
Lemon curd was super easy. I didn't have even a cup of juice out of my citrus (I used three lemons and three limes), but even making up the rest of the 375 mL with water, it was tangy good. Remember to let it cool all the way to room temp before you even think about topping it.
I actually bought a thermometer for the soft ball toffee for the Italian meringue, but in the past I've sat there with a spoon and nerves of crack toffee, dripping it into a glass of icy water. Both work, but the thermometer allows you to drink wine, if that's your fancy. I wouldn't really want to make the Italian meringue with a hand-held mixer, but if that's all you have, remember you're in the service of the lemon meringue goddess and your elbow strength will hold.
Finally, the fun part. I bought a disposable piping bag (I could tell you it was because I foresaw the brilliance of being able to chuck it out rather than washing it, but really it was that I couldn't remember whether I had one or not and was too cheap to buy a $25 proper one. As it turns out, disposability was brilliant here, as I also didn't have an appropriately sized nozzle. Win!). The worst part of any cooking operation (after cleaning the piping bag) is filling the piping bag. But it was done with steely determination. Then comes piping, and BLOWTORCH. Seriously, if you don't have one in your kitchen, why not?
Finally, the moment had arrived. Tasting Mt Lemon Meringue. It was perfection. (I'm supposed to leave the big one alone until later, that's what the little ones are for). So, if you want truly spectacular dessert that invites the swiss army rock face from all assembled, give this one a go. The ingredient list is below (my variations in brackets) - see the YouTube clip for the method.
- 4 Lemons (or 3 Lemons and 3 Limes)
- 100 g castor sugar (regular sugar - doesn't matter if you're putting it in water)
- 2 tbl cornflour
- 375 mL lemon juice (180 mL lemon/lime juice plus water to make up 375 mL)
- 100 g unsalted butter
- 3 egg yolks (extra old eggs work too)
- 1 whole egg
- 4 egg whites (3 from the eggs above, and two more if you forgot to use proper cooking size eggs)
- 1/4 tsp cream of tartar (don't leave this out. I stole mine from Rebekah Turner. There's a tart in the mail, Bek :)
- 300 g castor sugar (regular sugar. Seriously, it works just fine. You're melting it)
- 100 mL water
Incidentally, the recipe made a heap more Italian meringue than I needed, even after I'd piped a double layer on the big tart. This prompted some of the best quotes of the day from my husband, such as "Are we going to eat meringue for lunch?" (hopeful tone) and "Couldn't we just shape the leftovers on a plate and make a pavlova?" (determined tone). Evidence of the last one is below. :)
So, here we are again, another year and another brilliant, balmy Queensland summer. (Though at times this year with the nippy evenings, you might wonder what state we're in). Queensland summer means mangoes, sleeping with the sheets off, drinks with ice, and AWOL Christmas trees (don't ask).
Now, Christmas means different things to different people. In Hollywood movies, it's a grand family affair complete with all the embarrassing uncles, tensions and heartfelt dramas that resolve with some kind of life lesson. In the real world, things aren't really so neat and clean. Many of us don't have the big family, or don't get on with them, or work away, or we just don't see Christmas as such a big deal. (I could recommend The Family Stone and Love Actually as two movies at different ends of the comedic spectrum that reasonably capture some of this complication). At this point, I could end up tumbling down the rabbit hole, where I explain how much I love Christmas, but how culturally complicated it is, and how it can simultaneously be the most joyous and the most sad time of year.
BUT! I'll save that for another time. Because Christmas also means stories - both writing them, and summer books and movies. Last year, I copyedited Ryders Ridge across the Christmas holidays. This week, I've just completed the copyedit on Iron Junction, a story of love and discovery that takes place in the weeks leading up to and after Christmas in the Pilbara. Having done this, I'm off to the Sunshine Coast to sequester myself in a place with a huge pool (that I won't swim in unless I'm good) to continue writing the next novel, which I'm aiming to have done before New Year. After that, I'm polishing up a short story that will precede Iron Junction, and be available free early next year. Yay gifts!
So, 'tis the season for writing, and I hope in the down moments, for reading and movies, and scoffing mangoes. Whatever Christmas and summer means to you (or, heck, if it's winter where you are), I hope this year it is all those things in plenty. :)
If you attended GenreCon this year or read any of the wrap-ups, you might have heard rumours about a workshop my writing buddy Rebekah Turner and I did on lessons writers can learn from 80s and 90s action films, called "Beyond Rippling Muscles and Uzi 9mms". We had such a brilliant reaction to the workshop, that we decided to extend the love, and Bek and I rejoined forces recently to hack out a first attempt at a video review through a writer's lens. We learned that next time, we'll shoot for more succinct, and possibly a better video editor than movie maker. But we may also talk about female antagonists, female heros, and other awesome things like that. But! for now, here is our first foray, where we talk about White House Down and Olympus Has Fallen and why one of them is definitely a better film. Character, structure and man-titty, here we go.
I know it's Thursday of the week-after, which by internet bloggy terms is practically ancient history for talking about an event of last weekend, but I'm going to anyway. GenreCon descended on the Queensland State Library last Friday for three glorious days of affirming how much we love our stories, and how wonderful the genre-writing community is, both here in Oz and abroad. Two excellent recaps have already been posted by Peter Ball and my partner-in-workshop-crime, Rebekah Turner. What am I to add to this?
Firstly, I think the observation that no matter how far I think I've come as a writer, I always seem to take an aha moment away from these events ... I guess it's not possible to put so much author-awesome in the room and NOT have some kind of osmotic transfer. This time, one of them was at the 'Know your enemy' panel when Chuck Wendig described antagonists as "the hero of their own story". Bing. Now, I know this. I've probably heard it before. But this time, the penny dropped (and probably because I've just been through a manuscript where I struggled with my antagonist). Sometimes, you're in the right place at the right time to hear the right advice. Happy days.
Secondly, I must talk about the workshop that Rebekah and I presented on the Sunday, using 80s and 90s action movies as a lens for learning storytelling. I've had this idea kicking around for a long time, chiefly because I love said movies, and I use them for teaching in my uni classes all the time. Still, I was blown away by the positive feedback, and seeing the enthusiasm from everyone just makes my day. (If people were disappointed by anything, it was the solution to our little sound issue, meaning Bek and I didn't get to do Hercules Returns-style renditions of our clips - maybe next time!) Teaching is one of the things I love most about the writing community; not just workshops, but all the informal stuff writers give to each other over coffee or in conversation. This goes even for the ones who are mega successful. The genre community seems a land of few egos and much generosity, and that's wonderful in the extreme.
I haven't even mentioned the costume ball on Saturday, the debate, or any of the myriad authors I had the joy of meeting and re-meeting. But you can tell, I think, how all the little things came together for a memorable con. I'd like to thank the convenors for the year of grist in putting it on, and for their endless good humour throughout the three days. I'll be back next time for sure.
Recently, I enjoyed White House Down, a surprisingly well put together action film (hey, stick with me). A few weeks earlier, I'd seen Olympus Has Fallen. Now, no one missed the fact these two movies had pretty similar plots. It's Die Hard in the White House. The details differ a bit, but there you have it. I'm going to come back to this at the end, but my point for now is that this sort of thing seems to happen quite a bit. We all remember Armageddon and Deep Impact, don't we? And someone's even made a list of others, here. A bit closer to home, however, I hear a lot of angst from writers about borrowed plots (or ones that seem borrowed). Usually, it comes from seeing someone else has written (what seems like) the same EXACT DAMN BOOK that you've just written. (Extra indignity if you read said book and feel it's better than yours). And in the last year, I've felt the end of that angst stick myself.
It all started when I was almost through writing Iron Junction, the next book in my three planned Walker-Bell stories. Now, I have a pretty clear rule when I write in a genre: I don't read in it. I do this because I don't want to be influenced by another writer's writing style, or have my brain constrained by genre tropes. So, if I'm writing rural romance, you can bet I'm reading fantasy or sci-fi or non-fiction. But, when I wanted to write a blurb for Iron Junction, I began reading blurbs in the ru-ro genre again, getting a feel for an appropriate rhythm. And that's when I read a blurb for an already-published book that seemed to be the same goddamn story.
Now, of course it isn't and can't possibly be. But as a writer, my first reaction was panic on two fronts. The first (and largest) is that readers are going to think you've deliberately copied someone else's story and will think of you as a hack, inviting ridicule. It doesn't matter that I've never even heard of the similar-sounding story, much less read it; no one else knows that. The second is that the market already has a story like that in it. Maybe they've had enough.
It got worse. After I'd handed in the manuscript, I was made aware that a subplot in Iron Junction had a similar construction to another book that was about to be released (and of course I'd never heard of). Goddammit. Not only that, but when describing my third book for someone in the industry, they asked if I didn't have a different idea as a few other authors they knew were working on books with those themes (army characters). Arrrgghhhh!!! I've had the book 3 story idea for three years now, having sown the seeds in Ryders Ridge and done the set up in Iron Junction. There's no backing out now. It hadn't even occurred to me that the Gallipoli anniversary is coming up. Pure, angst-generating coincidence ... but no one else knows that. But it's not the only example ... I heard from another industry source that two recently turned in manuscripts from different authors had ended up with incredibly similar elements, with neither author knowing of the other's work. I could give you another half-dozen examples of writer friends who've had similar experiences.
So, it happens, and perhaps more than we'd expect. The thing I'm wondering is, what (if anything) do we do about it? Here's the list I've come up with to talk myself down off the ledge.
- Firstly, I remember the incredibly sage Kim Wilkins saying (repeatedly) that originality is in execution. So, even if two writers have taken the same idea, they aren't going to write the same book, even if they write similar genres. It's pretty well impossible. (And here, I point out I'm not talking about fan-fiction where writers take the characters and worlds of others and use them. This is all about high-level ideas). A novel is a big project with too much nuance to allow big picture plot ideas to result in a similar product. By way of example, I cite the earlier mentioned movies. White House Down was far superior in my estimation to Olympus Has Fallen. For a start, the protagonist had very different agency, the interweaving of plots and pay-offs accomplished differently, and that made a very different experience. Armageddon and Deep Impact couldn't be more different in tone and execution, even though some very similar things happen. The former is an action movie, the latter more humanist. I made a similar point recently about Riddick and Pitch Black, which are essentially the same plot. In all these cases, the execution of primary and secondary characters, tone, pace and conflict make for different stories.
- Secondly, I remember the lead times, and that we all live in a connected world. Books (and films) have long lead times. They take months or years to conceive, incubate, be written and edited. And the writes who shape the stories live in a similar world to each other, experience similar influences (big world events, previous publications, cultural shifts). In that environment, coincidences make sense, and so does the inertia of a long-lead project. You don't abandon it just because someone else might have a similar idea (see point 1 for why).
- Thirdly, I'm not sure it matters anyway. As a moviegoer and reader, I'm not thinking about these things when I consume myself. So, I don't know really whether any readers are holding up two books and tut-tut-ing because they think someone's ripped off the idea from someone else. Did I care that I saw two movies this year with similar plots? No. Really, I care that one of them was a good film that I enjoyed, and the other wasn't. That makes for great comparative teaching material, but that's about it.
So, I'm going to attempt to stop worrying about this; I'm sure it's happened to writers much greater than me, and I hope readers who enjoy my books judge them for what they are. Though, I am certainly very curious if anyone thinks differently about this ... feel free to comment. :)
When I was a newbie writer, I hated editing. Writing was the fun part (all right, it wasn't always fun, but editing was WORSE). I had no patience for the edit; I grimly hoped that my first drafts were dashing and brilliant, and in no need of revisions. I think many newbie writers suffer the same delusion, much in the same way we squeeze our eyes shut and hope our insufficient efforts are enough in any other part of life. It would be nice. But most of us find out we're WRONG. And for me, there's no better way to demonstrate this than with data. I've previously blogged about my love of spreadsheets; I will not repeat it here (evidence will come shortly in any case). I've also previously blogged about the editing iceberg with my debut novel, Ryders Ridge, but I did that with time estimates. Having just turned in the revised edition of the follow-on, Iron Junction, I thought I'd break down the editing process (this time with numbers) and show you all how much a manuscript (at least one of mine) changes after I write THE END. Now, you may be out there as a brilliant new writer and every word comes out golden (if you really think this, I think you should take a long, hard, sober look at your writing). But I'm not like that. I rather hope it's the other way around – I'll change less as I get more and more experienced (I can hope).
So, here's what I did. I went through the 12 versions of the manuscript I had and collected data: word count and % change from the last version. For % change, I basically did a document compare in Word, and estimated the changes by counting pages (i.e. it's NOT the change in word count, but the overall change throughout the text). Yes, it's a rough guide, but representative. I also made notes about the different drafts. The data, in tables and a graph, are below, but here's the major conclusions:
- My own edit of the first draft produced the most change in the whole process (62%)
- Having said that, later drafts still changed significantly, up to 25% of the text being altered
- Big structural changes can happen even late in the process (see bold) – this happened after trying to make something work from the beginning that just didn't fit. It was so much better afterwards.
I guess the lesson here is: you probably need to edit. And you should be brave to edit substantially if needed. Delete characters. Delete subplots. Write new scenes. I've heard Terry Pratchett credited with saying that the first draft is you telling the story to yourself. So remember it needs a lot of work before you're ready to tell it to someone else.
Table 1: Editing data from Iron Junction
|Version||Word Count||% difference||Notes|
|My changes entered – draft beta readers read|
|Changes from beta reader comments (round 1)|
|Changes from beta reader comments (round 2); submitted version.|
|Changes from publisher's comments; re-submitted version|
**versions 4 and Revised both had a number of sub-versions; see below.
|Version||Word Count||% difference||Notes|
|This is the difference to v3|
|First chapter changes only|
|Prologue added; back-story emphasised|
|This is version 4 in the table above|
|Major structural changes|
|Scene movements. Version re-read by beta reader.|
|Back-story deleted. Version re-read by beta reader.|
|Additions of small details|
|Last revisions - my read-through and beta reader comments. Re-submitted|
I'm a woman who's spent a great deal of my career in what some people would call "male dominated environments". While I was in those places, I recall few problems doing my job because of gender issues, even on mine and construction sites (the one time I can think of one, it was actually in an office, go figure). We all had our jobs, and we all did them. Now, I'm not saying that's everyone's experience. But I'm setting the context that it is possible, even in this time, for women to go and do their jobs in hard industries without sexual power plays being in the way. I'm getting to Riddick. Bear with me. When I think about the future of the workforce, I'd like to imagine a time when we solely talk about ability and capacity, and not gender-related (especially sexual) issues. Yes, children need care, but that's the responsibility of both sexes, and of the whole community they're part of. Women are not stupider than men (or vice versa). We are not more or less sexual than men. We are all different (as are men). And like it or not, popular culture has a huge influence in the ongoing constructs we use to think about ourselves and the society we live in. Film and TV stories for many of us form a huge part of that. It's probably the reason that because I'm a woman, I'm automatically assigned lables like "loves shopping", "loves cute stuff" and "loves shoes" (I like none of those) and, more worryingly, "bad at maps", "hates maths", "doesn't like getting dirty" (all untrue for me). On the other hand, I like all sorts of different stories - I love romance, I love hard sci-fi (even on the same day). I, like all other people, do not come with automatically assigned labels. But I digress.
One of the reasons science fiction can have so much power as narrative is the ability to imagine the world working in scenarios where women actually do have equality of respect and station, and there's been plenty of great examples of that. So it saddens me greatly when mainstream hollywood is so horrifically failing in providing engaging female characters, even in such a fertile genre as science fiction. And here is where we get to Riddick.
You might be wondering why I would even bother to talk about it, after all it's probably not a film that's going to be lauded or pass into any kind of cannon of remembrance for the genre. But honestly, I think that's no excuse. And being the third installment in a series that began with the so-much-superior Pitch Black, the critique is meaningful. Let's do it.
Riddick is obviously a remake of the Pitch Black plot. And as a film, I actually enjoyed it (minus one or two plot problems that could have been easy-fixed). It ticks a lot of boxes in the narrative essentials. But there's a crutial difference in the two works in the representation of women. Pitch Black actually gave us two female characters (three if you count the kid pretending to be a boy). Riddick gave us one. But but, someone argues, Pitch Black was in the context of a passenger freighter crash - Riddick is about bounty hunters - therefore, it's more likely to be all men. To that I'd say, really? All right then, maybe (while citing plenty of other mainstream sci-fi that chooses to show futures where women have become highly represented in traditionally male professions - Alien/Aliens, Starship Troopers, Firefly).
All right. I could accept her as the only woman in the story (even though it fails the Bechdel Test). But let's look closer. Pitch Black gave us a female lead character (Fry, played ably by Rhada Mitchell) with an arc. She was good at her job, but she'd made a choice that was now haunting her, and used to create friction with other characters. i.e. her interactions throughout the film had everything to do with her role as the flight officer and almost nothing to do with the fact she was a character with a vagina and breasts (the Riddick hair-cutting incident is probably the exception, and I didn't mind it. It said something about his character, not hers). In contrast, Riddick gives us a female character with no arc. She is also good at her job, it seems, but there's no story for her. Instead, it becomes about that she's the only character with breasts. Oh, she's also a lesbian.
So what happens? She punches a bad guy a few times (she's tough, remember that). Then this guy threatens to rape her. She punches him again. Then Riddick threatens to rape her after some more sexually innuedo-y dialogue. This all seems geared for the final scene, where she suddenly seems to like Riddick, being all playful with him as she rescues him from the beasts. Oh, you threatened to rape me last time? That's ok, I don't seem to be a lesbian anymore, you totally converted me. Tee hee, oh, you! (Malibu Stacy voice) (ManBeast and I are still debating whether the film fails the Russo Test too).
I seethed. Perhaps her character is too minor for an arc. But why the frack can't she have a role that is not just for sexpolits? If bad guy and Riddick want to be rapey-sorts, then why isn't her response more realistic (after all, she's a baddass, right?). The short news is that it's possible to have nudity in a film without it being sexual (Starship Troopers), it's possible for bad-arse (and otherwise strong) female characters to slam sexual-based commentary into the floor (Aliens). It's possible to give dimensions to women that say we are actually all the things that men are. We're not different; just differently configured.
It's more than just possible. It's necessary. Women (from what I see of blogs on the subject) are becoming increasingly tired of being reminded of sexuality in this manner on screen, and of the paucity of strong female characters in film. This stuff isn't harmless. It's not fine. For a culture consuming heaps of film and TV, this is the stuff we grow up with. It informs the word-view of young people, who become older working people with attitudes to themselves, their work colleagues, friends, partners and children. I grew up with Ellen Ripley and Sarah Connor. And I've loved stories like Buffy, Firefly and Pitch Black that put women in interesting roles, and give them real characters beyond their sexual identity. Riddick fails on all those fronts, but so did Elysium, Oblivion and countless other sci-fi offerings in the last few years. All I can ask is, where are they? Where are the women in science fiction now? And when is it going to change?
When am I going to see a potential me on screen?
Writers spend a lot of time alone, and I'm no exception. And even though I do some teaching at UQ every week and try to interact with my fellow man, there's plenty of downsides to isolated toil (in fact, this comic from The Oatmeal is pretty spot on). So, you might think that I'd be excited about Brisbane Writers Festival merely because it's a chance to socialise with like-minded people in my backyard and get away from the monitor-glow. Well, that would be selling it short. Bluntly, BWF was awesome. Now, I've been in other years, but this was my first year as an artist (very exciting) and that meant access to the green room where some of my literary heroes were just to be seen wandering about (OMG). The festival also happened to enjoy the early spring in Brisbane this year (those who remember the frosty tea-room panel last year with Nick Earls will be grateful). All that meant for a lovely few days by the Brisbane River, talking about books and writing and more books. One could almost have forgotten there was a federal election going on in the middle of it.
A highlight for me was the opening night. Festival director Kate Eltham gave the perfect address, highlighting the meaning of stories. And then ... Matthew Reilly. His speech with the theme 'The Space Between' covered everything from how he came to writing to hollywood movies and back, and exemplified the reason writers write: love of story. A genuine and heart-felt address, without an ounce of pretention. A better choice of opening speaker could not have been made.
And the goodies didn't stop. There was the fabulous Roll in the Hay rural romance panel (with Rachael Treasure and Anna Campbell, and complete with fire alarm delay - many jokes made); coffees with friends and fellow writers in the cafe - Inga Simpson, Rebekah Turner, Dawn Barker. The How I Got Published panel with my lovely publisher Bernadette Foley, Nina D'Aleo and Meg Vann. Reading at Whispers on Saturday afternoon. And, on Sunday, the Future Imperfect panel with Antony Funnell, James Bradley and Sean Williams.
Of course, I'm barely skimming the surface. I could mention the stories printed on cushions in the Maiwar Green tent; the buzz of seeing queues of fans lining up for signings from their favourite writers; meeting the lovely Nalini Singh and the ever-fabulous Sarah Wendell; heading out into southbank for japanese, churros and dumplings; conversations that ranged from the challenges of writing history for television executives, to Churchill, to the failure of science fiction to imagine the future.
BWF was a giant stimulus, far beyond a writers' festival. It was affirmation of the diversity of all of us: of our interests, or loves and our tastes. And for me, a reaffirmation that I'm doing what I love. If you've never been, there's something there to tempt you. I'm looking forward to next year already.
I've been down in the depths of a wicked lurgy (of the sort not experienced since the great European backpacking flu of 2001) and so it might seem a little past-the-fact to be talking about the RWA conference, which finished on 18 August. But not so. Conferences, conventions and other writerly/readerly gatherings are about resonance. We go to hear things that might inspire us, vibrate those heart-strings of stories deep within. Or, to re-hear messages of craft, that once heard again strike up a familiar chord that we hear more strongly the next time we face that problem in our work. Those tunes last much longer than the few days of the gathering, and it seems, even last through 10 days of distracting illness.
RWA this year for me was a mash-up of great craft, business and information sessions. Sarah Wendell was fabulous as ever - entertaining, funny and generous, answering my question extensively after one of her sessions. I met many friends, old and new, in the business. And then there was Kim Hudson, in one of the final plenary addresses. And there, I had a high point of resonance.
Kim was addressing the question of whether fear drives us, and she drew in some fascinating insights about how our brains work in fear and love. She said, we can't live in a fear-based and a love-based world simultaneously. Fear is about pushing away - it's an either/or condition. But love is inclusive; it's about drawing in. From my scratched notes (as I hastily tried to capture what she was saying) I've written: Stories aren't just about conflict. In the love-based world, growth is feeling safe and appreciated.
Ain't that true. Romance, of whatever ilk, can cop a lot of flak. But one of it's strengths is that it's about growth that comes from searching for safety and appreciation, in a word, for a resonance of self. That's the heart of romance for me, and it's what I've realised I try to do in my romantic novels--explore characters searching for their own resonance of self, in their work, in their friends, in their mate. The resting place from the uncertainty the world is made of. We're all doing that, I think. And that can be as strong a motivator as our fears; perhaps, even stronger because it promises something, rather than simply the absence of something.
So, whatever you're doing in your life, I wish you a love-based world, and finding your resonance in it :)