Why I didn’t attend the RWA national conference in Melbourne

I was lucky enough to make it to the RWA national conferences in 2009 and 2010 but this year decided to give the Melbourne conference – From Here to Eternity – a miss.

There were two reasons for this. Firstly, I had nothing to show. My wip hadn’t progressed enough for me to be able to take something of substance to the table at the 2011 gig. I really didn’t feel like telling people I had one book in the drawer and another stagnating on my laptop.

There’s such an overwhelming euphoric mood at these conferences that I didn’t want to bore anybody to death with my stories of ‘failure to launch’.

Also, I’ve done so much ‘craft’ stuff in the last few years that I thought it was about time to put some of the stored (I’m ever hopeful) knowledge to use.

I know you can never know enough about ‘craft’ but as my spouse likes to say: “Just write the book.”

So, that’s it people (or person – I get about one random hit per week because I rarely post BECAUSE I don’t have anything to write about) I’ve laid my tortured soul bare.

I hear it was an amazing weekend in Melbourne – as usual the RWA knows how to hold a conference. And there are some beautiful people I would’ve liked to have reconnected with.

Rumour has it the Clayton’s online conference was equally brilliant.

I hope to make it to the 2012 RWA conference on the Gold Coast. But seriously, I won’t go if I have nothing to show and tell.

The Valerie Parv Award and how contests can mess up your head

My computer crashed a couple of weeks ago, so I didn’t get to see the results of the VPA until several days after they’d been sent to my email inbox (I use Outlook Express, which is a bugger – impossible to access unless from the home computer).

It’s a good thing I was a few days late. My life’s been hectic and I wasn’t in the mood for bad news during the week of the computer repairs.

I was in a more philosophical frame of mind when I finally opened the email to find my entry hadn’t reached the finals but was ranked 58 out of 104 entries. This was disappointing, but not soul destroying (which it might have been several days earlier).

The three judges’ scores were 135/135 (yeah, there’s always one judge who adores my work – a shame they can’t all feel the same way), 94/135 and 105/135.

The judge who gave the highest score was a ‘contest finalist/winner’; the lowest came from an ‘avid reader of the genre’. Bloody avid reader deducted a mark for spelling mistakes. But there weren’t any – I had perfect scores on spelling, grammar and punctuation from the other two judges. Sometimes avid readers get my goat. This one didn’t like my entry at all.

The middle score came from a ‘published romance author’ and I think she neatly summed up the flaws in my story. Funnily enough, these were things I already knew deep down in my squishy belly. I just didn’t want to acknowledge them because they mean more hard yakka.

By the way, the criteria for the VPA is the first 12,500 words of an ms, plus a 1000-word synopsis. I knocked off the synopsis the night before the entry was due and expected it to get criticised. Avid reader pulled it to bits but the other two judges were much kinder. Figure that one out.

Here’s what the published romance writer had to say about my story. High points first:

‘I do get a good sense of who (hero) is from (heroine). Well done. And you always give a clear sense of (heroine’s) situation and anger. She does come across as a little brattish, but no one’s perfect and obviously she is going to grow up by the end of the book. Should be an entertaining character arc. You do a good job showing her fury and frustration.’

Here’s the low: ‘Pacing. Telling sometimes rather than showing … ‘ She also pointed out that I did a flashback when the hero and heroine first met. This interrupted the talking and slowed down the pace.

To make me feel better, she ended with: ‘Keep going, keep writing. Start/keep submitting. Good luck.’

I will, I will, I will! But first a cuppa and a rethink. Also, do I put this ms in the drawer for a while and get moving on a new one, or do I finish it, fix it and submit? A good friend and fellow writer suggested I look at another sub-genre, which might better suit my writing style. I’ll do that first before making a decision on drawer it or do it!

I may not get to wear a Valerie Parv crown this year, but my goal is now 2012.

A post about nothing except ‘Paris Syndrome’

Paris: what the Japanese don't see

I’m back. The weather in Sydney is bitter cold but my soul is slowly thawing as I move into a new phase of my life. I’m determined to write, which I haven’t managed to do for months.

Enough of moi. Here’s something to make you smile.

Paris is regarded as the City of Love, but for many Japanese tourists it fails to live up to its reputation.

BBC News reports that annually 12 Japanese tourists who visit Paris are afflicted by ‘Paris Syndrome’, which leads to a psychiatric breakdown. The syndrome mostly affects female tourists aged around 35, who are usually travelling abroad for the first time.  

What they expect to see is beautiful French women immaculately attired and coiffed, gallant French men who ride bikes and have crusty baguettes stuffed down their trousers, and an array of delightful cafes and cultural attractions.

What they get is often a different story – a rude waiter who refuses to serve patrons who don’t speak the lingo, frazzled working women on a budget who shop at Target (pronounced ‘Tarjay’) for their clothes, and men who are short and swarthy – more Gerard Depardieu than Gilles Marini.

The ‘culcha and all that’ might be nice, but who could be bothered queueing to see the bottom right-hand-side of the Mona Lisa smile after having been verbally abused by an unforgiving cabbie and visually assaulted by frumpy, grumpy Parisians?

So far this year, four Japanese tourists have been flown home (I guess before their holiday is over) with a doctor or nurse onboard the plane to help them cope with the ‘culcha’ shock.

The Japanese Embassy in Paris has a 24-hour hotline for those suffering severe culture shock, and can admit ‘those in need’ to hospital for treatment.

Poor Japanese. Maybe they need to take the view that a postcard perfect Paris would be pretty boring. Mon Dieu! Merde (that’s the only French swear word I know, which I hope would endear me to a French waiter).

 

More feedback and the Valerie Parv Award

My most recent writing feedback came from the Romance Writers of Australia First Kiss contest, where my entry ranked a respectable 11th out of the 52 entries.

I found the three judges’ comments useful, though the marks from one were baffling (gee, I like that word – I’m baffled by most things).

Let me explain why (not why I’m baffled all the time, but why this judge’s marks had me baffled). Her comments were positive. She didn’t criticise my work at all. In fact, she wrote: “What’s there not to like about your story. I was intrigued straight off.”

She loved the setup, the characters, the interaction between the hero and heroine and EVERYTHING ELSE. But her score was the lowest of the three.

I wonder if she’s just a low scorer? Alas, I will never know. 

Of the other two judges, one awarded my entry full marks. I can’t complain about that.

The judge who scored me moderately high provided insightful feedback. She pinpointed the flaws in my story. I already knew they were there but hoped no one would notice.

She even explained why she marked me down. And I totally got it.

Here’s what she wrote: “… you really need to make the heroine likable, and her rejection of [the hero] is just awful and it doesn’t seem as if she’s changed… yet. The rule for the line is, LOVE the hero, ADMIRE and WANT TO BE the heroine. [Your heroine] needs to be more likable, or the editor may not read past the set up.”

I know. I know. I know.

On the upside, here’s her comment on the kiss: “… what a knock-your-socks-off kiss scene. Well done, and I love [the hero] already!” 

That’s nice to know.

The final contest before the RWA conference in August is the Valerie Parv Award. I got my entry in on the deadline day. Bloody typical. I submitted a hastily thrown together synopsis (double bloody typical) and the first 12,500 words of my wip. 

I’m just hoping I don’t get done like a dog’s dinner over this one!  

Photo: The doyenne of Australian romance writers Valerie Parv

Winging it or plotting it? Which is the right way to write?

I tend to fly by the seat of my pants when I write which, in writing terms, defines me as a ‘pantser’. At the opposite end of the spectrum are the plotters, who piece together every part of the story before they sit down to write. They know where they’re headed from the outset because their plot is so tightly knit.  

Of late I’ve been forced to consider the wisdom, or lack thereof, of winging it. 

Here are two reasons why:

I’m reading the most amazing novel, The Book Thief, by Markus Zusak. You’ve probably heard of it. It was a ‘#1 International Bestseller’ a couple of years back.

The plot of The Book Thief is so complex and intricate that I can’t imagine Zusak writing the story without some serious plotting beforehand. 

Maybe you’ve read it? If so, you’ll know the story is primarily set in a small town in Nazi Germany and starts prior to WWII. The main protaganist is a young German girl Leisel Meminger. But the story is narrated by Death, who coolly observes Leisl’s journey. I’m only halfway through the book, and Leisel is 11 years old, so I don’t know when, how, why or where her journey ends.  

Zusak will sometimes have Death leap into the future in his narration (I reckon Death is a bloke), so the reader learns of a catastrophic event that has not yet happened. This sounds like a cop out, and Death even admits that, but it has the effect of making the reader more anxious about the inevitable. It’s just soooo clever.

Death also takes the reader back in time – of course this is to give backstory – but it is so elegantly woven into the text that I can’t imagine Zusak cutting and pasting anything in the rewrites.

Maybe I’m wrong.    

The other reason I think I might have to get serious about detailed plotting comes from American scriptwriting guru John Truby. He’s a fan of plotting and believes many scriptwriters fail because by the time they get to around 30 pages, their story has lost impetus becuase the flimsy plot has faltered. He says a lack of plotting is responsible for writer’s block.

Truby writes: ‘Plot is the sequence of events by which the hero tries to defeat the opponent and reach the goal.’

I just admit that I’ve been caught out with my current wip because I’ve lost direction. And that does have something to do with lazy plotting.

Back to the drawing board. Again.

RWA contests entered: three

Romance Writers of Australia runs a number of contests each year. I usually  enter Little Gems, The First Kiss and High Five.

My short story made the Little Gems Topaz anthology last year, and I’m hoping for success in the 2011 contest, which closed on February 4. The added incentive for entering this year was the introduction of cash prizes for the first three place getters. 

First Kiss is self explanatory. It’s the scene where the heroine and hero first lock lips. It can be no longer than 1500 words and must be accompanied by a 25-line explanation, so the judges can understand the context.

In 2010, my First Kiss entry placed 17th out of 43. The 2011 comp closed last Friday, so it will be at least a month before the results are known. Now I’ve put it out there, I hope I sneak up a few more places on the leader board.  

As for this year’s High Five contest, it’s all over. My entry finished in 19th place out of 76 entries. I would’ve tied for 18th had I not screwed up my formatting, which led to the deduction of one point. (I had to share that – vanity).

The final big RWAustralia comp of the year is the Valerie Parv Award, where entrants are required to submit 12,500 words of their completed ms. Unfortunately, I’m not ready for this one because I’ve fluffed around and haven’t got my act together with my latest wip.  

The comps are good fun and, for me, they’re an exercise in self discipline. When The First Kiss results are announced and I receive the judges’ feedback, I’ll be able to re-slot my already seriously edited scene back into my ms with all the rough edges ironed out.

The waiting game has begun.