Thursday, June 28, 2007

My coat of many Daemons

You got me, AbFab and Ellen. I finally succumbed and took the Daemon test. And aren't I magnificent? The most beautiful, the most revered, the most breathtakingly magnificent animal that ever walked the earth. Immortalised in poetry by Blake, too:

Tiger! Tiger! burning bright
In the forests of the night,
What immortal hand or eye
Could frame thy fearful symmetry? etc. etc...

Well, I have a confession to make. I wasn't always this impressive. The first time I took the test I was... (drum roll) a MOUSE. But that test kind of didn't count for the blog, as I took it using my real name. Which meant I had to take the test again as Scribbly. This next time I was... (bigger drum roll) a HARE. A hare???? Mouse was bad, but hare was bordering on ridiculous.

Then my children got in on the act. The eldest has read the books the movie is based on, and apparently, they're fantastic. I guess we'll all be lining up to see it when it comes out. They took the test and came out as a jackal, a fox and a tiger. Not bad, I thought. Then husband had a go. He came out as a big chimpanzee. We all laughed. But when we tried to save his effort, it didn't work, so he tried again. This next time, his Daemon was a snow leopard. Which was much, much more dignified a result. And it got me thinking. Maybe if I answered the questions a bit more assertively, with a bit more, say... attitude, I'd score a better Daemon. Still being truthful, I reached inside the non-mouse and non-hare part of my psyche, and took the test a final time. You can imagine my thrill when I saw a tiger's shadow appear.

If I believed in any of this, I'd say that people don't have just one Daemon. It all depends on what mood we're in. One day's mouse is another day's tiger.

My (latest) Daemon

Leunig magic

How I love Michael Leunig's cartoons, poetry and general commentary on life. With a few simple strokes of the pen (or paintbrush), he manages to convey so much about the human condition. This image is one of my favourites. With its poignant and universal theme, I'm sure it's been the driving force behind many a profound lifestyle - or career - changes. The signs read: "THE LIFE YOU LEAD", and "THE LIFE YOU COULD HAVE LED"

Are we living the life we really want? Or did we instead choose one that disappoints us? If we are indeed walking along that darkened stretch of road, how do we turn around and get on the path of light? Every time I see this cartoon, it drives home all the things that are important to me. The message is loud and clear: 'Carpe Diem' - Seize the day!

In yesterday's edition of The Age, another vintage Leunig made me think - and laugh - about my choices in life. The cartoon in question was about writing, and had no particular title. In it, a man is talking to his therapist and the conversation goes like this:

MAN: Help me doctor. I've got a book inside me!

THERAPIST: Most people have a book in them. Perhaps I can refer you to a publisher.

MAN: No! I don't want it published. I want it surgically removed - or dissolved with herbs or something - maybe some sort of therapy. I WANT TO BE RID OF IT! PLEASE!

THERAPIST: You seem ashamed of your inner book?

MAN: Not at all. It's just that I don't want to become a... a... I don't want to become a WRITER!

THERAPIST: There, there - it's not so bad. We all have to become writers sooner or later. We must learn acceptance. We are born, we live and then, sadly, we must write.

MAN: It seems so unfair. Life is so cruel. I thought I could escape.

Dear, dear Leunig. What would we all do without you? Sometimes the writing process feels just like it's described in this cartoon. Writing is agonising and confronting at times, but could I stop if I tried? I'm definitely in too deep, now. There are moments of exhilaration, and yes, there is the book - or many books - inside that are screaming to be written.

I'm baaack!!

This sounds like a lame excuse, but I really wanted to post this week. Blogger, however, had other ideas. No matter what I tried, it wasn't letting me sign in. I've finally managed to do it for the first time today, but am still having problems with saving drafts and editing. Fingers crossed and let's hope it works from now on.

The X Factor

Last week I went along to see my child compete in a short play competition. The stakes were not at "sheep station" levels, so it was relaxing and entertaining. The kids did a great job, and we (a few mums and the teacher) were thrilled to see them enjoying themselves to such a degree. Performing in a "real" theatre in front of an audience they didn't know was an obvious boost to their confidence as well as an invaluable experience.

But the interesting thing for me, was watching the development of the competition as each of the eight schools performed. It was obvious early on that our school's play was going to be in the front running for a prize. But soon we had a serious contender. The consensus amongst the other parents and the teacher was that this other school could take first prize off us.

As it turned out, we came second. The kids were thrilled, and waited to hear the expected result for first place. However, there was an upset. The school we thought would get first prize didn't get a mention, and the winner was instead another school, whose performance was - quite frankly - not that good (I'm being kind).

It's fascinating, isn't it, how things turn out. Sometimes what we think is marvellous, and deserving of accolades doesn't - for whatever reason - make the grade. Perhaps there was something we - as audience - weren't aware of. Maybe something that caused the entrant to be disqualified for some unknown, but valid reason.

The parallel to writing in all of this, is obvious. A rejection letter doesn't equal a failed manuscript. And sometimes, something unexpected catches an editor's eye. The X Factor. Assuming the work is presented in a professional and appropriate format, it's difficult to know what drives the selection process. Sure, great writing is always going to get there in the end, but a little luck can't hurt.

I write this as I await my response from Harlequin. My partial was sent off at the beginning of March, and I know that soon there will be a letter in the mail. And wouldn't it be wonderful if my three chapters caught some editor's eye? How would it feel to have a full manuscript requested? But writing is full of pitfalls. A rejection letter is just as likely, and I'm fully prepared to face that possibility. As I'm halfway through the next novel, I'll have lots to keep me busy.

Saturday, June 23, 2007

Calling Chenna...

Dear Chenna,

I've been reading about your plight and I have to say, I simply can't stop thinking about you. Your evil owner is guilty of a particularly callous type of abuse. Leaving you alone in the house, locked up for days at a time, is bad enough, but your bathroom ordeals sound unbearable. It's no wonder your joy for life and creative spirit struggle to break free during these intolerable periods of solitary confinement. Being forced to use a non-flush bathroom system that would have been considered primitive in the dark ages is nothing less than emotional torture.

That Ellen is a cruel owner not deserving of your sweetness and devotion. Who is she to question how you use your time when she's guilty of such neglect! Who is she to put you in therapy! She's the one who needs a shrink. I'm sure therapy would uncover quite an interesting and twisted history. More than that, she needs a padded cell!

I have been so disturbed by your pitiful story that I have been looking for ways to help you. I trawled the internet for hours, and finally found a charitable organisation set up by the late Madame Adelaide Bonfamille (You know, the one who had that beautiful Persian cat, Duchess and her three adorable kittens: Toulouse, Marie and Berlioz. Later there was all that trouble with a butler and a stray cat with a heart of gold called Abraham de Lacey Giuseppe Casey Thomas O'Malley). With her considerable fortune, she set up a fund for unwanted, undeserved and maltreated cats. For years, her mansion in Paris has been home to a cat refuge/resort/spa (see above photo).

Unfortunately my limited finances don't allow for an international air ticket to France, but perhaps if you start 'borrowing' a few gold coins from Ellen's purse or 'tidy up' where she leaves money laying around, perhaps you could save enough to get yourself there. Leave me a message here to let me know your intentions. One miaow from you and I will make all the arrangements.

I understand your suffering and dearly want to help you. Love, Scribbly

Blog Challenge!

Had a very pleasant evening tonight with my two writer friends, AbFab and Ellen talking about writing and our lives, childhoods - some with and some without television. We shared a lovely dinner at Chocolate Buddha in Federation Square, enjoying sushi, sashimi and some very relaxed beef. Conversation was varied, but there was one hot topic: blogging. My friends waxed lyrical about all things to do with blogging. They discussed how to do all that fancy stuff I've only half learned. They compared their blogs to others of note. They explained how they follow links from blog to blog to find themselves in quite unexpected and surprising places. A couple of blogs mentioned were one about the art of scrapbooking, and another about places to have breakfast in Melbourne (very useful, I say). But there were many, many others. My friends mentioned that they do check my blog quite regularly and find that it's not updated very much (surprise). Of course, there's always something to blog about, so I've set myself a challenge to satisfy their obsession - and my burgeoning one. I must blog more. Even once a day, if I can stand it.

So I'll need to add another section to my writing ideas' notebook: Blogging ideas to thrill. I have a very select audience, I know, but it's a discerning one. And another challenge: images to suit. This one is dedicated to us crazy book cats. Let's keep the sisterhood going and the blogging passion alive.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Artist Date

Well, it wasn't really, not in the way Julia Cameron advises (a day spent indulging in something to replenish creativity). But it was the first day I'd spent at home with time to write for ages!

I finished chapter 6 today. Sent it off to AbFab, who advised some minor changes. It was the chapter when my hero and heroine have dinner together. They haven't seen each other for twenty years and their lives have just intersected once more. Libby doesn't quite know why she's let Hugh drag her to this fancy restaurant, where she feels like an outsider. She doesn't know why she's there, yet she is, and this is the beginning of their journey. More complications will arise out of her decision to open the door and let him into her life. I don't quite know what these complications are going to be... Well, I have a few ideas, but for me nothing quite works like putting it on the page.

In the name of research, I had to delve into music from the 80's and into exotic cut flowers. I had in mind an amazing arrangement of Heliconia as a way to enhance the setting for this important scene. The images I found were striking, bold, and exactly what I was looking for. They come in shades of green and yellow, but the most spectacular images I found were stunning reds.

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Crazy Woman!

At least I'm not weeping, that's all I can say! But I am crazy, that's confirmed. What a week! Not much writing, but just about everything else in between. But busy is good, I suppose, as long as no disasters strike.
I love the NGV's 'Weeping Woman'. It says so much about our condition. She's green and all in pieces, and not too impressed about something (I'm being flippant - I believe the cause for this one's distress is WAR), but she still manages to look bloody arresting. Beautiful. We went to the gallery for an hour last Sunday, and she was there. See, I haven't had a minute to even blog since then! Anyway, she's a particular favourite of middle child. So when at the gallery, we have to say hello. We have a few favourites: 'Cleopatra's Banquet', by I don't know who, 'The Pineapple Girl' (not the actual title - our nickname for the gorgeous 14 year old heiress to a pineapple plantation fortune), by Joshua Reynolds, and the weepie lady.

What a great place, the NGV. And it's free! I can't actually believe these wonders are there for everyone. Because they're free, you can take kids and just "keep 'em movin'" from room to room as you view the magnificence. At one point, we had two a-rollicking on one of those austere leather squares in the middle of one hall. You know, the ones you're meant to sit on in silent contemplation. Even the lady guard had a smile on her face. We just kept right on moving before she had a chance to catch us.

Then there was the crying session in the NGV shop. Little one says, 'I didn't know there was a shop!' and demanded to go in there. I warned, 'We're not buying anything. Just going in there for a look.' Amazing really, that they don't charge you to look. Middle child picked up a bookmark of her favourite sad green lady and asked if she could have her. I said, 'Ask the price at the counter.' She did. $5.95! For a piece of printed cardboard. I reckon Picasso's smiling. It was lovely looking around at all the nice stuff, and we did leave, eventually, with little one shrieking all the way out and husband telling her she could grab any one of the free brochures instead. That only made her shriek louder.

Anyway, since that beautiful interlude, there's hardly been any time to write. I've worked, worked and worked some more. Today, sunday, I worked for about six hours, finishing some heavy duty marking that has to be done by tuesday. Tomorrow and wednesday, more work. In between, there's been the evil sore throat that left me speechless and a few other unexpected events such as finding myself on the committee of the sporting club I belong to. I went off to the meeting telling my husband I wasn't interested in getting involved in the politics and came home to announce I'd accepted a nomination, thinking I wouldn't get voted in. I'm new, after all, and nobody knows me. Just my luck that they've been looking for new blood, so my unknown face was just the thing everyone was looking for. And so I guess new blood will become 'fresh' blood. Mine. All over the floor, once those old guys assert their supremacy. I can see myself become green, weepy and fragmented already. But no matter what, I declare the mascara and lipstick will stay on!

Saturday, June 9, 2007

Winter Reds

It's Winter. The garden looks gorgeous, particularly the plants that change from their Summertime incarnations, transforming into something quite magical before they lose all their leaves. I don't mind the look of naked trees, quite love it, actually. And it makes so much sense. Mother Nature is a clever cookie. More sun while it's cold, while a leafy cover in Summer is so refreshing.

But it's these moments of contemplation about seasonal change that usually remind me of the relentless marching of time. It's already halfway through the year, and what have I achieved? When I start the year, I'm always over-optimistic about how much I'll get done. Oh, yes, I'll get that novel finished and send it off to the publisher, or even more ambitious: will get another novel on the drawing board.
So what have I achieved so far this year? Well, I did send off a novel in March, and I'm now on the sixth chapter of a fifteen chapter project. In my idealistic schedule, I write a chapter a week. Realistic schedule? One chapter every two weeks, and that's keeping a mighty fine pace.
I wrapped up chapter five last night at about midnight. I could have written for hours more. That's the problem with my progress, I suppose. Time doesn't stand still when the words are flowing. During the working week, it's even worse, with consecutive days when I don't get near the laptop. What happens to all the creative energy in that time? How do I stop it all leaking into the nothingness abyss of forgotten ideas? I know I'm not alone in this. Most writers' lives are crammed with other obligations, just like me.
It's during these non-writing times that wonderful revelations can strike - a new twist to the plot, or a great idea about how to 'stage' a difficult scene - I hold on to the thought in a variety of ways. Writing it down immediately is the most reliable way, but a pen and paper is not always handy - especially when I'm in dreamland. The idea is always so clear, so obvious and perfect that I think I wouldn't forget it in a million years. But if I haven't written it down, I arrive at the keyboard with the gem floating amongst other debris in the abyss. I can spend hours hoping to re-generate it, or just get on with it and pick an alternative route.
The best thing I can do to keep the novel alive when I don't have time to write is to invite the story into my life. The characters keep me company constantly, sometimes speaking to me... or to each other. As I go about my business, I see them in their world, and I learn new things about them all the time. Quite an amazing experience, and one that confirms that I am a writer, and not just pretending. In this way, the story continues to develop, organically, on an almost subconscious level. The act of placing my fingers on the keyboard completes the process, releasing the ideas for further tweaking. Some of these actually make it onto the page.
But that's not all. Partly to allay the fear that I'll never be able to think up another novel, I find myself constantly looking ahead to the next novel. Already, I'm auditioning characters and a situation for the next project. Like seeds in the ground over winter, the characters need a home to germinate and develop into three-dimensional beings. They can't just 'come to be' one day and be thrown on to the page the next. I've tried it before and the result is generally flat and lifeless.
So as my garden sleeps, gathering strength for the regeneration phase, so the creative process keeps rolling on. My sleeping beauties, nurtured through their winter sleep will hopefully emerge as robust and graceful creations when the time is right.
Well, that's just me being optimistic. Fingers crossed.

Friday, June 1, 2007

Slash and Burn

Writing is such a rollercoaster. One minute I'm in the depths of despair and the next I'm completely chuffed with myself.

Right now, I'm taking a huge dive, stomach in my throat as I jam the gear stick into first draft mode. Honestly, half the time I don't even know what I'm writing!!! Yes, I have the scene in my mind, but what comes out of my fingers is not the same. It's a jumbled version, clogged with too many conflicting thoughts, images, distractions... You name it, I've put it in there.

It's like my characters are screaming at me, 'Let us shine. We can be better than this!'

And they are better. They improve with fiddling and much, much shaving. More like slash and burn in my over-writing kind of style. I tend to do the same when I'm dressing to go out. I'm one of those people that gets ready, then has to take off 5 things.

It's hard to know what's going to work on the page - or not work - until I trial it. When it's there in black and white, it's easier to cut the crap. And there's a lot of it to cut. But even then it's a fine balancing act. Over the years, I've found that if I over-work my writing, it sucks the life out of it. What seems to work best is to throw down the first draft, get the emotions, sensual details and dialogue right, then stand back and work out what needs to be slashed and burned. After that, though, it's best not to agonise. There are many 'right' ways to say something, but I believe there are a lot of writers out there who think there's only one right way, and they fiddle and fiddle - for years, sometimes - to find that writing Utopia. Great if you find it, I suppose, but not that good in terms of creating, shaping, polishing... AND MOVING ON.