Thursday, November 27, 2008

Long time between drinks

It's easy to blame people, situations... stuff. There's always a reason why it's hard to sit down and write, or blog, or do all those things that fills us up. In the past few months, I've had a list of excuses as long as my leg (yes, longer than my arm). First came the rejections, then the bad performance in a writing competition, and so I allowed myself to swallow the excuses. Can't write because I'm busy at work. Can't write because tonight I really feel like veging in front of the telly. Can't write because I need more time to think about this story because this time I really need to get it right. Can't write because there's a certain intangible something that I must discover that will be the answer I've been seeking and will help me to become that writer I dream of... On and on and on. What a load of bullshit.

Truth is, sometimes - or oftentimes - it's hard to write, because it's hard to write. Simple as that. Maybe it's hard because the ideas don't seem to be there - and they certainly won't come without putting fingers to the keys. Or maybe it's hard because writing - writing well, that is - involves opening yourself up in a way that allows others to wound you. And nobody likes to make themselves vulnerable. Sometimes writing feels like standing on the edge of a cliff. Somewhat safe, but still scary. Other times it feels like walking along wearing a blindfold with someone leading you God knows where. Every step feels as though it could lead you into an abyss, and we edge forward centimetres at a time when the actual reality is that it's smooth and safe ahead. If only we had the guts to take big steps and really get moving.

In the last few weeks, I've joined a writing group with some women I've known for a few years - great writers, some published and others on the way - and it feels good. I'm nudging myself forward again, venturing material for their advice and criticism. It feels quite safe, as they're all (the ones I've met so far) lovely women and the environment feels supremely supportive. Just what any writer needs. Another reason joining this group is a great step forward is that it's going to push me to keep producing material for workshopping. Yesterday I put forward the first chapter of my new WIP, and I really enjoyed getting the variety of feedback from the group. Now I have somewhere to go with it and I can start to tackle my problems with lack of tension, or conflict. It's all good, so thank you friends!

Another plus is that the group produces quite a lot of poetry, and so I have been pushed outside my comfort zone, to examine writing that isn't up my alley. Poetry is so good for defining emotion and visual imagery with an economy of words, which is good for me, the 'too much' girl. Hopefully this will teach me to pare it back, be spare, and with that, make less words do the job more powerfully.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008


Whoo... a month! In fact longer than a month. That's how long it's been since my last post. Every now and then I thought about this lonely little blog, mostly just to feel guilty about how I haven't posted and how pathetic it must seem hanging out there in cyber space with no readers and no new entries... Sort of comi-tragic, isn't it?

But I've been busy with other stuff, and the writing has been on a kind of holding pattern. The last two rejections made me start thinking about where I'm going with this writing thing, so I've taken some time to set some new goals. This interlude has coincided with a particularly busy time in my life, work-wise and personally, with a major building project going on in my back yard, so it hasn't been all about the writing.

Today, after much dithering (reading, re-reading, fiddling, making changes, re-reading, reversing changes...) I posted off the first three chapters of my latest manuscript. It's aimed at Harlequin Romance (Sweet, for Aussie readers), and was the manuscript I pitched at the RWA conference. Hard to believe it took me so long to get my act together, but the synopsis is never a pleasure to write, and neither is the cover letter. It almost seems as though they've been put there as two excruciating rites of passage that every unpublished writer must go through before launching their manuscript into the great unknown. Today I knew I had to get it off my chest so I could forge ahead with something new. There's something about having a finished manuscript hanging about that clutters up my head. Even when I'm meant to be doing other work, work that has absolutely nothing to do with writing, my thoughts are clogged, and somehow, I'm not as efficient.

Now that it's on its way to Surrey, UK, let's hope the vast space in my head created by the manuscript's departure can be put to good use. I am a few chapters into a new novel that I'm calling 'Take A Chance On Me', but I aim to start from the beginning and aim the story down a new road. Time for changes, time to try something slightly different. You never know what's around the corner.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

The Road Ahead

Writing time lately has been nil. I blame work, but deep down I know that's not really an excuse. What is happening at the moment for me, is that a few things (such as 2 rejections in quick succession) have made me stop and take stock.

What is it about my writing that could improve? How do I take it to the next level?

I have always written rather 'organically'. I put my fingers to the keyboard, thoughts flow out. Sure, I've become a lot more structured as time goes on. There is more depth to the writing, more to consider about plot, structure, theme, emotional conflict and the like. These 'improvements' all stem from my ongoing thirst into all things literary, from reading, talking and writing, from networking. But is it enough? What can I do to keep progressing? To keep from stagnating.

In my last post, I mentioned fleetingly how insightful I found Anne Gracie's workshop on 'Reading the Rejection Letter'. This workshop wasn't just about rejection letters and how to interpret what editors are saying, but rather on how to 'convert' that feedback into writing that sells.

Here are some of the gems I took from Anne Gracie's workshop:
  • Rejection letters tell you who you are

This relates to reading beyond suggestions/criticism and seeing through to the other side. Eg: Is the editor telling you you're too verbose for the genre? Perhaps you're in the wrong genre! What is the 'promise' of the line you're pitching your writing at? Do you really understand the requirements?

  • The publisher/editor needs to LOVE your heroine!

If your hero/heroine is NOT lovable, then what do you need to change? Sometimes a few tweaks will do the job. A little more introspection will reveal her character enough that the reader sees she's conflicted in her actions - not just callous or thoughtless. One way to accomplish this is to have the character 'thinking' before speaking. If she's thinking the opposite to what she's saying, then the contradiction is obvious to the reader.

  • Your book needs to be a strong roller coaster ride

  • No weak/ordinary characters

  • Editors want their socks knocked off

  • Readers want a story to take you away from mundane reality

Think of a movie premise that makes you want to go and watch that particular film immediately. An irresistible premise such as that is the hook you need. It needs to be a fresh take.

  • A romance is a sexy duel, a fun duel. The protagonists have to spark off each other. That means sparkling dialogue

This is an area I sorely need to improve. Boring characters are an obvious alarm signal. As such:

  • Don't be afraid to be bold

  • Dig into the dark inner past, bring it out

  • Find ways to do crazy, over-the-top/on-the-edge love-stuff

  • Emotional punch IS the roller coaster ride

What strong emotions are readers going to feel in your current novel? Fear, anxiety, empathy, excitement, self-doubt, lust, humiliation? Are they going to feel daunted, joyful, hopeless, bewildered? 'Yearning' is a good one. Think about the passionate emotions of a mother in relation to her child. THAT is the kind of depth you should be striving for.

When dealing with emotions, though, a writer must remember to provide contrast. A book written in extremes will be exhausting to read. There has to be light and shadow. The contrast is what makes it work.

  • Make emotions as strong as you can

Can anxiety become despair? Annoyance become rage? Think about it. Editors don't buy stories because they're well written.

  • A storyteller SPELLBINDS

Does your story have sexual/emotional tension? Does it have a titillating scenario? Good likable characters? Unpredictability? What are the books that blew you away? What was it about those books that created that sense of uniqueness? What was it about those books you loved? How can you create a similar experience for your readers? A mildly pleasant, enjoyable read won't catch an editor's eye.

  • Editors don't buy books that are JUST well-researched or well-written

  • Blow-you-away storytelling will get you there

What is REALLY about your story? Is it really funny? Really exciting? Really touching? Really emotional?

  • Don't move the characters around like chess pieces. It should feel natural for the characters to behave in a particular way

  • Give your characters disasters in their past

  • Their baggage will determine their behaviour

  • Get inside the characters

  • Put them into conflict and follow them

A good story is about people and how they change. Choices with consequences!

  • Giving characters choices makes the reader barrack

And in returning to great characters, what specifically is it that makes a character lovable?

  • The reader has to feel sympathy for the hero/heroine

  • If the hero/heroine is not lovable, then the reader won't care enough to read on

  • Being 'nice' is not interesting

  • Give the character faults we can relate to. We don't like perfect people

  • We need to admire characters

  • They need sass, confidence, attitude, strength

In conclusion:

  • Keep the conflict simple, but go deep

So thank you, Anne Gracie. A very relevant workshop that helped me to focus on some key elements that could do with a lot of 'ramping-up' in my writing.

Sunday, August 31, 2008

Spellbound on Southbank

Last weekend, critique partner Lisa and I attended the annual Romance Writers of Australia Conference, which was hosted here in Melbourne in Southbank.

I haven't written about it sooner because the minute I arrived home on Sunday night, I hit the ground running at the computer, not due to a burning desire to write romance fiction, but to finish off the powerpoint presentation I was due to give at work the next day. Since then, I've worked a long and demanding week, with no time to draw breath until this weekend, when I finally had a chance to put my feet up and relax and catch up with friends.

As usual, the conference was absolutely filled with wonderful things, some expected, and others surprising. To write about it all and do it justice would fill the length of a category romance novel, so I thought I'd summarise the highlights in point form:

  • One Enchanted Century cocktail party on Friday night - excellent finger food and lovely bubbly... met some new friends from Brisbane. Three fun ladies with whom we shared some lively conversation and a few laughs throughout the weekend. Hope to see more of them - in person and in print - in the future.

  • Words of wisdom from Barbara Samuel, Margie Lawson, Anna Campbell, Anne Gracie and Jenny Hutton, amongst many others.

  • Informal conversations with a few HM&B authors... very encouraging, down-to-earth people. Inspirational.

  • Lisa's fantastic 'High Five' win!!!! She looked every inch the glamorous romance author as she collected her award - see her blog for the pictures.

  • Tips on how to read the rejection letter! I have quite a collection of these, so this workshop was very pertinent - more about this in my next post!!!

  • Fabulous frocks on some fabulous women.

  • Excellent accomodation and yummy breakfasts at the Travelodge.

  • Endless cups of tea in our room, processing each day's events.

  • Preparing for 'The Pitch' with Jenny Hutton - write, re-write, un-write....

  • Attending 'The Pitch'. A bit nerve-wracking, but generally a very positive experience.

  • Met an incredibly humble, inspiring, aspiring author who works as a pilot, whose manuscript finalled in the Golden Heart this year.

  • Met many other aspiring authors... the future of romance writing.

All in all, a wonderful experience. Thank you RWA for providing such an inspiring conference for published as well as unpublished writers.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Where The Hell Is Scribbly?

For those of you... was it 3 women and their dogs, or slightly more women and perhaps a cat or two??? who read this little blog, I thought I'd put it a little post just to show you all I'm still kicking.

As it tends to do, life got in the way of my posting, and of writing. There has been much happening in my life, and most of it to do with work and other people. Not much room left for me. This weekend is the Romance Writers Conference, and much as I'm looking forward to it, I'm afraid I'm going to just make it over the threshold before falling in a heap. I've put myself down to pitch, but feel a tad unprepared as I've been too busy to go over the finished manuscript.

And to top it all off, I've had a nasty sore throat the last couple of days and today my voice started fading (as it often does). I'm guessing that by the time the conference begins, I'll be voiceless. Which means I'll probably have to ditch the pitch.

So the video below is a tribute to carefree joy, to travel, to fun and laughter and having the time, space and mother-lovin' inclination to let your hair down. It's a treat of self indulgence that makes me want to pack a swag and run away! If the success of 'Where The Hell Is Matt?' is any indication, I'm not Robinson Crusoe out there.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Forgotten Challenge

In the flurry of all my rejections, the 50k in 30 days challenge was almost forgotten. I must admit, I took the first rejection like a hit in the solar plexus, and for a while I just stopped writing.

Excuses aside, my 30 days word total was 25,114. I managed to finish one novel, a 'Sweet' that remains unnamed at present and I am in chapter 5 (of about 12) of my new 'Medical', working title: 'Take A Chance On Me'.

...and off again!

Was my last post about being back in the saddle? Well, that didn't last long. A few days ago I received another rejection, this one for the 'Sweet' HM&B partial I'd sent off in March 07.

Oh, well... *&%$#$##@%!!@#*&#&**!!!!!

So where to from here? Part of me thinks I'm not good enough to do this, that I should just quit. Then I remember the inspirational talk from Debbie Macomber at the RWA Conference 2006, where she made us laugh with her stories about the numerous times she was hit in the back of the head with a rejection letter while still on her way back from posting off the manuscript.

I'm trying not to take this to heart too much, and strangely enough, rather than making me want to stop writing, it makes me want to write more. Perhaps it's so I can get another novel ready to post off so I have something 'out there', where at the moment, I have nothing.

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Back In The Saddle Again

Another cliched post title. Come to think of it, I'm full of cliches. Maybe that's what's wrong with my writing. Then again... romance (and probably many other genres) can be cliched, which is not necessarily a bad thing. Sometimes cliches provide an element of predictability that - if not over the top - can be comforting for a reader.

Coupling the cliched with the unpredictable is where a novel really satisfies. At the moment I'm reading Jennifer Crusie's 'Tell Me Lies'. I'm only a quarter through the book, and already I've been completely surprised at least twice. See, the romance itself is a bit of a cliche. This novel combines the 'Stranger Comes To Town', with 'Teenage Romance Reprise', with 'Revenge', with 'Romantic Suspense'. It all works very well despite the usual romantic cliches. Though we know when C.L. Sturgis comes back to his home town to find Maddie cheated on by her evil, oafish husband, that they'll end up together and everything will be okay in the end, the read is no less nail-biting.

And so we come to my post-rejection place. I'm fine, and back in the saddle. Sometimes I feel a bit pathetic, wondering how many rejections it will take before I take the hint and stop writing. But right now I just CAN'T stop. Maybe I will never be able to. I heard Steve? Carroll (recent winner of the Miles Franklin award) speak on the radio the other day. He talked about how he never cared whether people liked his writing, because he always did it to please himself. Maybe there's a lot to be said for that. Relax, enjoy the process, and savour the fruits if they come. I don't know if I could be that centred, but it helps to hear someone who's achieved substantial success say it.

This past week I have written a little bit but I've mainly concentrated on being kind to myself, watching telly (discovering 'The Tudors') and yesterday we went to see 'Guys And Dolls', which was fabulous. I still have all the songs going through my head. But this small hiatus has also been about reflecting on the journey so far, and figuring out a plan of attack from this point on. There are things I need to improve about my writing, and now is a good time to start fixing. Tonight, when I log my total word count for the 50k in 30 days challenge, I hope to be able to say I've written 25,000 words (currently at about 22,000ish). Not 50,000 words as planned, but I'm satisfied with that.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Burnin' Down The House

Last week I was going strong. Two weeks into '50k in 30 Days', my word total wasn't quite on track, but not shameful either. I was coping with a fairly heavy workload in my paid work, coupled with finishing off one novel and starting the next. Beside the writing, there was a lot of peripheral stuff going on (including a building project), which I was managing to juggle because I had a feeling I was going somewhere.

And then, last Thursday, the letter came. I knew it a glance. The long expected reply from Harlequin Mills&Boon. The last two times I'd received such a letter, I'd torn it open, thereby rushing headlong into full-blown rejection. This time, I thought I'd wait and give myself a bit of time to prepare myself. Sure I didn't know it would be a rejection, but it was what I expected.

A half hour, a cup of tea, a couple of email and txt messages later, to the urging of both my Lisa friends, I opened it. It was exactly what I'd expected. The medical romance I'd sent off last September had been rejected.

On the bright side, it's the longest rejection I've ever received. It came with suggestions for my 'next' submission. It appears they've worked out I'm probably in it for the long haul.

So it's with a bit of a heavy heart that I announce this sad little bit of news to the cyber community out there, to the three women and their dogs who read my blog. Just another day at the office for an aspiring writer, I know that.

But though I wasn't surprised, though I fully expected this outcome, what a rejection letter does, is to shake the foundations. It burns down your carefully built house of cards. It makes you second-guess yourself so that you wonder if you ever wrote anything worth reading, and if you in fact didn't, whether you ever will.

So what now? It's a little hard to pick myself right up and continue to produce a steady stream of words for my 50k challenge. The novel that I started with great expectations now seems just another pathetic attempt at writing something that someone will find interesting.

More than anything, I think this provides a great opportunity to 'stock-take'. It's not so bad, every now and then, to examine what you're doing and to ask some really tough questions. What am I going to write next that's going to rise above the standard that's already been rejected three times? What is going to make any difference to the status quo?

These, and other issues will be subjects to ponder over the coming weeks leading into the RWA Conference. First and foremost, I'm going to copy down the four pieces of advice I received in the rejection letter, blow them up into 20pt font and paste them into my writing notebook. Then, every time I write I will ask myself if I'm following the advice, or continuing along the comfortable rut I've created for myself these past few years.

And please, no words of encouragement. No praise or commiseration. I get it. It's a rejection, and I understand its implications as well as its loud-and-clear message. What I hope to take from this, is a renewed commitment to writing, a dogged determination to be published despite the rejections. At the moment, I don't know if I have the strength. I guess I'm entitled to a few days' respite to mull it over.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Post Mortem

Though I'm way too busy (work and the 50k madness) to post at the moment, I just had to sneak in a little movie review.

"Sex And The City - The Movie" is now on our screens, and I was there on opening night with a bunch of friends. It was quite an experience getting dolled up, having drinks first and then queueing outside the cinema for the 9.30 showing. I'd never done that before, and the cinema seemed rather unprepared for the jostling crowd. With ushers calling out names of theatres for patrons who had pre-paid tickets and women almost shoving each other to get in their seats, we finally got good seats up the back. All except for one of our group, who didn't have such a good view and opted to sit on the step.

And the movie... Well, it was always going to be hard to top the series' ending. I can't say the movie achieved that. It was a pleasant reprise to a fantastic show, but in the words of my friend Lisa, the movie was nothing but an epilogue. Granted, it was a very enjoyable epilogue, but probably unnecessary.

I loved seeing the four girls again, watching their interactions and being delighted, or surprised, by the fashion. There were a few laugh-out-loud lines, and more than one touching moment. Mr Big was at his sexy, fabulous best, and he more than adequately maintained his spot as leading man to Carrie's main plot.

In one of the early scenes, the four S&TC girls are having their usual round table chat at a cafe, and the topic of how often - or not often, in Miranda's case - they have sex, comes up. To protect her young daughter's innocence, Charlotte suggests they talk in code, and use the words "colouring in" in place of saying "having sex". The girls agree, and the conversation continues in code, with the girls taking turns to put forward their personal information. Charlotte ventures that she and Harry "colour in" three or four times a week. Samantha is equally candid, but when it's Carrie's turn to reveal, she declines the opportunity to give specific details.

Her remark, however, is a gem of clever writing. With one line, the writers manage to show so much about Carrie's and Big's characters, the chemistry between them, as well as to raise the stakes so that when the trouble starts, the fall will be all the more brutal.

Carrie smiles smugly and says, 'When Big colours, he never stays inside the lines'. Cut to the next scene, and we are given a tantalising hint of how expertly Big "colours outside the lines". Nothing explicit, but just enough to show the height of passion between the lovers, titillating the audience shortly before everything changes and it all gets taken away. Pure S&TC magic.

Thursday, June 5, 2008

50k in 30 days

On Sunday, I began the 50k in 30 days challenge. This is much like the American (I think) NaNoWriMo. The aim is to write 50,000 words in a month, which for us writers of category romance means coming up with enough words for a novel.

Of course, these words are banged down fast, which means there will be a lot of fluff written and a lot of editing afterwards. Sometimes I wonder whether it's all a waste of time for me, world champion 'waffler'.

So far, I've written just under 8000 words. This has been absolutely fantastic, as it's allowed me to 'put to bed' my current WIP. For months now, I'd been languishing in the middle of the last quarter of the novel, using every excuse imaginable to justify my hopeless procrastination. Well, the 50k in 30 days challenge has gotten me to a point where I aim to finish the novel today. It may not be a terribly polished ending, but at least the words are there. In the words of a famous romance writer, 'You can fix a bad page, but you can't fix a blank one.' (Apologies to the source of this quote, whom I can't recall).

I expect my word count will slow considerably after today, seeing as I'll have to begin my new novel, which I've been thinking about a bit, but not enough to work out the major components. All I have at this point are the characters - and very blurry at that - but no emotional conflict, no plot... no nothin'. Still, forcing myself to plunge into the project and push all procrastination aside might be just what I need to get off to a productive start.

Sex And The City significant male characters: Steve Brady

Finally, we come to Steve (played by David Eigenberg). Easily one of the series' most likeable characters. Miranda met Steve early in the series, and quickly fell into a casual, on-again, off-again, never-too-serious relationship with him. After every break-up with other men, she would inevitably end up on Steve's door, or in his bar.

Theirs was an unlikely coupling (a bit of a theme for the series), she being the Manhattanite lawyer and he the high-school-educated bartender from Brooklyn.

One of the funnier storylines of the series was centred around Miranda becoming pregnant to Steve. That was as unlikely a scenario as possible. She with the lazy ovary, he with only one testicle (the other lost to cancer), their relationship status in 'off' mode meant that conceiving a child was... well, inconceivable.

Steve's cancer crisis brought them together. But though officially they were only friends, Miranda took her role as support person very seriously. When Steve voiced doubts over his ability to attract women now that he was only 'half a man', Miranda kindly offered her services. Samantha called it a 'mercy f***'.

Hence, Brady Hobbs was conceived.

The Miranda/Steve storyline continued to entertain right through to the end, and provided some interesting character growth for both protagonists. Steve softened Miranda's hard line personality to the extent that she allowed his mother to move in with them when she became ill - a very 'big' gesture for Miranda the control freak.

Saturday, May 31, 2008

Sex And The City significant male characters: Harry Goldenblatt

Harry Goldenblatt was not Charlotte's type. In fact, very few men were.

Charlotte's ideal man, the one she wanted to marry and have a family with, was a handsome, upper class, Park Avenue WASP. Easily the fussiest of the four S&TC babes, Charlotte often didn't make it past the first date, even with men who fit into her narrow category.

One day, she bumped into Dr Trey McDougall. He fit her specifications to an almost excessive degree. He was handsome, charming, and a heart surgeon. Charlotte decided he was impeccable husband material, and went about ensuring the courtship followed all the necessary 'husband-snaring' rules - including not sleeping with him until after the wedding.
For a while, everything went smoothly. During their short engagement, the only thing Trey seemed to have against him was an overbearing mother, whom Charlotte thought she would learn to 'manage'. However, everything changed on the eve of the wedding. After a few drinks with the girls, Charlotte decided to waive her vow of celibacy, and in the process uncovered an alarming problem. Trey 'couldn't get it up'. The next morning, she asked Carrie's advice about this 'little' problem as they were standing in the foyer of the church, seconds before the wedding march began to play. Carrie mumbled something reassuring and Charlotte went ahead with the wedding all the same, seeing as (in the words of that episode's commentary) she was standing in the church and wearing a $20,000 wedding dress: No matter what the problem, she was getting married.

In the months that followed, living a life that appeared as charmed as the pages of a Martha Stewart lifestyle magazine, Charlotte and Trey's marriage was fast falling apart. Fast forward... separation and divorce. Divorce settlement: Trey's Park Avenue apartment.

While settling her divorce, Charlotte met Harry Goldenblatt. He was the 'ugly' lawyer she requested because she didn't want the handsome lawyer she was initially assigned to see her going in for the kill with Trey. Harry was bald, sweaty, clumsy, uncouth, and - probably his greatest sin - Jewish.

After a few dates and some very hot sex, Charlotte realised she was in love with him. He was the very antithesis of her perfect man, yet she had to concede she'd already met and married the perfect man, and got a far from perfect life in return. However, there were hurdles to overcome in this unlikely love-affair. Harry was set on marrying a Jewish girl, and Charlotte had a lot of work to do first in convincing him to marry her and secondly in converting to Judaism.

In the end, Harry was worth all the trouble. He was everything Trey wasn't, providing Charlotte with an understanding, passionate partner who fought as hard as she did to fulfil her dream of having a family through adoption. When the series ended, some fans were disappointed with the happily-ever-after finale. The pairing of all four protagonists into monogamous, heterosexual relationships was seen to be too neat and predictable by some. It was inconsistent with the feminist themes embodied in the series, and frightfully conservative.
I disagree. What I love about the series is how the characters develop and change. In one sense, the series follows a 'Hero's Journey' type template. In the end, the women have gone full circle. They have found a place that is home, but in the process of discovering 'home', they have become very different people. Ultimately, they do find happiness, and this is intensely satisfying, not because they've each finally found a man, but because of their considerable personal growth. In the first series, Charlotte would certainly have overlooked Harry. It's now obvious that it would have been to her detriment, and it is a credit to the writers that they've illustrated the change in Charlotte's character so beautifully.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Sex And The City significant male characters: Mr Big

The other day, I bought tickets for myself and a group of friends to see 'Sex And The City - The Movie' on the opening night here in Australia, Thursday 6th June.

Afterwards, I reflected on just how significant this is for me. I am not a person who hangs out to see movies when they open. In fact, time usually gets away, and a movie is on DVD before I think about it again. To illustrate this point: a friend bought me a double movie voucher (VIP tickets with champagne etc) as a birthday gift in 2006. They're still in a drawer somewhere, waiting for the right movie to come along so I can redeem them. And I can't even use them for S&TC, since that is a group booking and we're going to do the champagne in a bar somewhere before the show.

So what is it about this movie that has me in such a tizz? Well, there are many, many reasons, of course. Too many to go into in this little post, which in turn, answers the question.

One of these special reasons is Mr Big.

Mr Big (played by Chris Noth), is the quintessential alpha male heartbreaker. He is the man every woman has loved and not succeeded in pinning down to a commitment. Mr Big is a 'catch'. Rich, powerful, charming, handsome but not too pretty, witty... the list goes on and on. What most appeals, for me, at least, is that when he's with a woman, he makes her feel like she's the centre of the universe. In the series, it's precisely this magnetism that causes Carrie fall into an affair with Big while dating another - exceedingly attractive - man. Either that, or the fact that she's never gotten over him, that he is 'the one'.

Chris Noth has done a remarkable job of fleshing out the larger-than-life character of Mr Big. To me, and to every other friend who's watched and loved S&TC, he is perfect in the role. Imagining another actor in his place is simply unthinkable. From a writing point of view, Mr Big is probably a textbook example of 'The Lovable Hero'.
As the series progressed, the character of Mr Big evolved, and there were many instances where he was infinitely unlikeable. Carrie suffered through many on-again, off-again episodes until even she - no matter how much she loved him - had to call it a day. The scene where she rejected him finally and completely, is incredibly powerful, providing the turning point for Big. He'd had Carrie on a string for so long that he thought she'd always be there for him - whenever he felt like picking up the phone or popping into town. Faced with the finality of never seeing her again made him realise how much he wanted her. How much he loved her. Chris Noth plays this scene to perfection, clinching the moment when the penny drops with absolute mastery. And it helps that Sarah Jessica Parker's portrayal of the stricken Carrie is convincingly gut-wrenching. I know I'm totally indulging myself, but do take a peek at this scene. It's electrifying.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

And while we're on the subject... Sex And The City significant male characters: Smith Jerrod

Writing the last post made me think about those wonderful Sex And The City men. You never see them on posters, nobody ever mentions them, except for Big. But they are sensational, and without them, there would have been no show.

The first I'm going to look at (and look is a good word here), is Smith Jerrod - played by Jason Lewis. His real on-screen name was something rather less striking, along the lines of Jerry Jerrod. The name change was instigated by Samantha Jones, PR consultant - Kim Cattrall - who at that time was no more than his casual sex partner.

When Samantha picked up Smith, he was an out-of-work actor waiting tables at a restaurant. True to her life-goal of 'having sex like a man', she wanted him for his body, not his mind. And since he was much younger than her, it seemed a plausible basis for a relationship. What surprised Samantha was that Smith wasn't happy to be a toy-boy. He liked Samantha, and he wanted her to be his girlfriend. He made demands on her time, insisted on holding her hand as they walked down the street. He set the terms at monogamy and didn't shirk when Samantha blatantly cheated on him with an old flame at a party. That moment was one of the series' most powerful.

Caught leaving the party with Richard, an ex-boyfriend who had repeatedly cheated on her, Samantha alleviated her conscience by breaking up with Smith. It was quickly and callously done, while Richard waited in the lift for her. Afterwards, Samantha rode the lift down, thoroughly humiliated and guilt-ridden. The sex had been demeaning and she was disgusted at her behaviour. When the doors opened, she saw Smith sitting in an armchair, waiting for her. Her apology was instant and heartfelt, and all he did was to put his arm around her and say something like, 'I just wanted to make sure you got home safe.'

That was the moment Samantha's life changed. From that point, the gains were small, but sure. Smith showed Samantha the commitment she'd never known. He was kind and tender, dependable and strong. He was his own man, feisty and independent to the last.

When Samantha was diagnosed with breast cancer, Smith was her rock. It was during this time that he spoke those elusive three words. Samantha listened and replied with the best she had to offer: 'You have meant more to me than any other man.'


Friday, May 16, 2008

Can't Wait!!!

The long awaited movie sequel to the 'Sex And The City' series is almost on our screens. I have quite a large(ish) cohort of friends who are keen to catch the showing on premiere night, Thursday 5th June. Sure, it's not a 'real' premiere, not before the movie opens to the public, no red carpet and all that, but I'm afraid that's as close to a debut as I'm going to get. On the other hand, there will be champagne involved, and probably dressing up in something foofy with spiky high heels, so what's not to get excited about?

I'm dying to find out what happened to Carrie and Big. Apparently the story is picked up four years down the track, and Charlotte's adopted baby is no longer toddling. But there will obviously be more to the story than just checking in with the characters after a few years have gone by. The mere act of reprising the story means introducing conflict to the central characters' lives. That will inevitably mean trouble in their love-lives, and I guess that's what will bring audiences flocking. At the end of the series, Carrie, Charlotte, Miranda and Samantha were in secure, loving relationships with their respective partners. These men weren't just 'added' in to give a satisfactory ending to the series. They were wonderful, supportive, sometimes heroic, loving partners and passionate lovers. Above all, the writers (and actors) had succeeded magnificently in portraying these men as intensely lovable. Introducing a new chapter, or epilogue, is risky business. Delivering a successful movie sequel to the series would have meant fiddling with - and potentially upsetting - the delicate balance of the status quo. A writer's minefield. For a series that was near flawless (okay, flawless in my opinion, at least), a bad sequel would be like taking a paint roller to a Van Gogh. A positive is that some of the writing team have come on board for the movie, and are headed by the show's leading writer/producer, Michael Patrick King, who is also directing.

So it's with more than a little trepidation that I approach the movie's opening. The series ended so well, all loose ends tied, everyone happy and in love. Most importantly, central character Carrie and Mr Big were at last united. Though it was a wrench seeing the series end, there was some satisfaction to the final credits rolling up for it gave us S&TC fans the finality we needed. There wouldn't be another episode in which Carrie and Big could break up. With the movie looming, the possibility of that is now almost a certainty. Only one questions remains: How will they patch it up? or worse... will there be an operatic ending with unavoidable tragedy and tears? Samantha had a health crisis at the end of the series. Her lover, Smith, was instrumental in her recovery, but will there be a relapse? Will the NY gals still be a foursome by the end of the movie? As a romance writer, I am obliged to subscribe to the old cliche, 'Better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all'. Sex And The City gals, I'm with you all the way, sink or swim.

Time Squeeze

It's been crazy lately. Lots on my plate in a particularly hectic cycle of my work. So there hasn't been much time to write, and with that, the fire begins to smoulder rather than rage. Sometimes I wonder why I'm putting myself through all this pressure. Trying to juggle family, work and writing, when it just seems to make everything so crazy, almost spinning out of control... to the point that sometimes it actually does.

This post should be about so much, but it's going to be about little or nothing. In the days since my last post, so much has happened that I could easily have posted every single day - and at length. But like a giant wave to an inexperienced surfer, my schedule has literally dumped me, leaving me overwhelmed, disoriented and exhausted.

Writing sessions have been meagre, usually on the tail end of 'Treasure Of The Deep' marathons. Not good. Crawling towards the end of chapter ten, currently. Looking forward to some decent writing time when my eyes aren't hanging out of my head... Maybe next week.

Friday, April 25, 2008

Grace Kelly - A Life In Pictures

My dear, dear friend and critique partner, Lisa surprised me yesterday, with a touching gift. She knows how much I adore Grace Kelly (she does too), and when she saw this book of photos on her life, she bought two copies. One for herself, and one for me.

The reason for this gift? A celebration of us both finalling in the RWA Emerald competition. As it turned out, we haven't made it to the final three, but that's no reason not to celebrate being in the top 15 entries. Every step forward is important, and no matter how small, it means we're getting closer to our destination.

So thank you, Lisa. Your advice and support is invaluable to me. You make the journey fun and prop me up when I'm feeling low. I hope I do the same for you. Writing can be a solitary endeavour, which requires positive, understanding colleagues who will be frank and firm as well as gentle and kind. A good sense of humour is as mandatory as checking any preciousness at the door. I think we do all of the above quite well.

Before I get too mushy, I'm going to end this post by including a tribute to Grace Kelly. A montage of so many wonderful and enduring images of her screen life and private life. Many of these are found in the book, but what I liked about this selection of film clips and images was that it includes some of my favourite romantic moments from movies I absolutely love. It's almost impossible not to be captivated by her amazingly versatile on-screen presence with such iconic leading men as Frank Sinatra, Jimmy Stewart and Cary Grant.

Grace Kelly was truly amazing. Refined and dignified, with distinct upper class manners, yet still managing to exude an earthy sexyness. The word 'beautiful' doesn't begin to do justice to her exquisite flawlessness. A quality that went far beyond skin deep. In the words of Tommy Hilfiger, who provides a foreword to the book:

'Her looks were simple, clean and classic. She was a natural beauty, not at all pretentious or overdone. Grace Kelly didn't have to worry about hair and make-up, or being weighed down with jewellery. She was refreshingly wholesome, confident, compassionate and full of poise. Purity, I believe, was her greatest asset.'

Friday, April 18, 2008

Tight Jeans

Well, of course that's not me in the photo. For one, I'm not blonde. And for another, I would NEVER stand at a balcony without my shirt on.

The reason I included this photo is that I must have been suffering from a bout of temporary madness, thinking I looked like this woman when I bought THAT pair of jeans two days ago. I'd already tried on several pairs in other shops, and I guess when I walked into ESPRIT, I must have been just a tad shop weary. Grabbing two pairs of the same jeans in sizes 10 and 12, I walked into the dressing room brimming with hope that one of those pairs would be fabulous.

These were button fly jobs. Three buttons - no zip. I tried on the size 10... too tight, and too low. I tried bending over and it felt like my bum was going to fall out of them. But that feeling of tightness, of working hard to do up a pair of jeans took me back a very long time. All the way back to the days of wearing such tight jeans that I'd have to insert a coat hanger hook into the zip, lay on the bed and pull!!!! Feeling these tight jeans cut into me reminded me what it felt like to be wearing jeans as a young person. And it also made me think about how long I've been choosing 'comfortable' clothes over 'hot' clothes.

Don't get me wrong, comfortable clothes are great. They feel great, at least, but maybe they put us in the granny box just a tad. Which brings me to the 'hot' bit. I was never into looking 'hot'. Still am not. But there's something about being over 40 that makes you want to hold on to any shred of youth you have left. Now that I'm 44 I kind of regret having passed up the chance to be hot when I was young enough to do it without looking ridiculous.

Anyway, I'm digressing. Okay, the size 10 were too tight, so I moved on to the size 12. Too loose. Even I could see that.

The sales girl thought the 10's were fabulous, and she was so definite about the 12's being too baggy, that I couldn't bring myself to buy them. I put on the 10's again. Then the 12's, just to make sure. Then I got dressed in my old clothes, went back out to the pile of jeans at the front of the shop and picked out another size 10, just in case that 10 was just a teeny bit bigger.

Back in the dressing room. On with the new 10. Tight. On with the old 10. Tight. Old one, new one, old one, new one... so many times that in the end, I couldn't remember which pair was the original 10 and which was the new 10.

End of story? I bought them. I can't believe it, but I bought them. They look fantastic. They're the true skinny jeans, and I have to say I look fabulous in them. Pity every time I sit down they cut into me, and every time I stand up, I have to pull them up a little where they slid down my hips, and every time I bend down I think I'm going to be arrested for indecent exposure.

Ah, what a woman will do to look good...

Monday, April 14, 2008

***!!!*** Newsflash ***!!!***

A few days ago, I found out that I'm out of the running for the Emerald award run by the RWA. I'm still waiting to receive the feedback, which I hope will be useful. I'm feeling quite okay about it. It was fantastic to be in the top 15 from so many entries. And for an aspiring writer, this kind of rejection should be viewed as both expected and essential on the road to being published. Aren't I just so wonderfully magnanimous? Time to go off now, and have (another) glass of red.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Guilty Treasures

You know what it feels like. Some people call it writer's block, I call it procrastination. The novel has ground to a slow crawl because I have all the time in the world and no definite deadline to meet. I'm spending far too much time playing computer games when I turn on my laptop. Just five minutes, I tell myself, and perhaps it's not such a bad thing. I know of at least one (multi-published) writer who gives herself a half hour of computer solitaire before she begins writing for the day. But she's producing more than one novel a year, so I guess she deserves her solitaire fix.

I know I should just delete 'Treasures Of The Deep' from my computer, but the truth is, I don't want to. I really enjoy having a few games. And when I'm being disciplined, I can stop playing while my brain's still working and get some writing done. Which leads me to another issue. The reason I start playing 'Treasures...' is that my brain is already fried for the day, and I have nothing left. Sure, I've turned on my laptop (brownie point for that), but sometimes I should just admit defeat and give myself a guilt-free evening in front of the telly. At least there I can pick up some writing tips while analysing dialogue and storylines of good TV shows. Ah, guilt... I do wonder whether it's a byproduct of being Catholic or it's just genetic.

Currently, I'm in chapter 8, fast approaching the 'Point Of No Return', in chapter 9. I have some good ideas, options for the story to go, and I think they will work, but I need to pick up pace and move the writing along. Apart from anything, I'm spending far too much time going back over what I wrote the previous day and playing word shuffle. I replace one word with a synonym, only to re-read and change it back the following day. That can be a trap when I read the writing far too many times, and I become de-sensitised to the language. It's then that any changes I make are likely to dilute the impact of the language and make stale the prose.

The RWA conference is not far away, either, and perhaps that is just the motivation I need to get moving again. I need to think characters and plot, not ball strategy and free lives!

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Sad Comedy

On Friday night, we went to see one of the acts at the Melbourne Comedy Festival. It was one of the top 5 acts chosen by The Age.

What a disappointment.

We were ushered into a small room at the Melbourne Town Hall (there were small shows like this all over the building), and chose seats in the third row just in case the comedian chose to unleash her barbed wit on patrons up close. We needn't have worried.

The comedian did her best to make us laugh - and I did my best to find her material funny. Sometimes I forced a laugh in the hope that it would put me in the mood to laugh more, or it might encourage other members of the audience to think it was funnier than it actually was. Unfortunately, it only got worse, and the only thing that stopped us from walking out was sympathy. And knowing that the torture would only last an hour.

Poor comedian. She tried so hard to be funny, and she did possess some talent. Her acting skills were good enough that I could envisage her making people laugh in a sitcom or film. She was able to engage the audience with her facial expressions, gestures and even the characters she'd devised. It just wasn't very funny. When the lights faded between skits, there was silence, instead of raucous laughter and applause.

It made me think about writing. Sometimes you're almost there, but it just isn't working. And it's much harder than you think it's going to be when starting out. Most of all, it's hard to figure out what's NOT working, and how to fix it. It also made me think about the wider community of people who are putting themselves "out there". In comparison with the comedian's public shaming, writing something, sending it off and having it rejected seemed like small potatoes. I left feeling sad for her. I hope she doesn't take this setback too seriously, I hope she goes on trying to improve her skills, because there was good stuff there. It just wasn't quite working yet. Who knows, one day she may be as famous a comedian as Jerry Seinfeld. In a recent interview, he said that his first gig was so bad the only reason he attempted it again was to prove to himself that he could do it.

Hiding Away

School holidays are such a contradiction. On one hand, there is the break from the usual day-to-day routine, which is sort of refreshing. But on the other, the days seem almost to be as hectic - or worse.

This week, I've been out four nights in a row. A play on Wednesday, dinner with two other couples on Thursday, the Melbourne Comedy Festival (and dinner at Fed Square) on Friday, and dinner at the pub with friends from the country last night. Oh my! I am exhausted, and since my best writing time is at night when the house is quiet, I haven't been able to get to the computer at all.

Next week I've arranged to 'run away' from my house to the holiday place at Rosebud. I'll have the kids with me, but at least while we're there, everything is put on hold. We spend the days lazing about, going on walks to the beach or around town, looking for treasure in op-shops or going for relaxing drives around the Mornington Peninsula. And at night... nobody comes, nobody invites me out and I can write late into the night knowing the next day I'll be able to sleep in. What bliss.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Rainy Holiday

It's raining. Funny how strange it seems in these times of no rain. I remember years ago how it used to rain for a whole week. My children can't imagine how that would be. No wonder the reservoirs were full.

But though the rain is a blessing, it is still rain, and one of the intrinsic features of rain is its arbitrary nature. Years of drought have affected my washing routine so that I'm now thoroughly spoiled. Yes, the showers are shorter, but at least you can hang washing any time and be virtually guaranteed that it will dry. Even the ineffectual 'showers' we get now don't have any impact on drying time. So I have a couple of loads of washing to do and now I'm wondering if I should just do them and do the clothes-horse thing around the house till the rain stops.

And another thing. Our building project is about to get off the ground, and husband began it with some minor demolition the other day. He started with taking the roof off the large shed. There were still some things left in there, but we figured we'd move them when it suited. Now it's been raining for two days, everything is thoroughly soaked. All the stuff we were going to do something with because it was too good to throw out - like the wad of large sketch paper that the kids would use for their artwork - well, the decision's now made for us. It's all for the bin.

The rain has also meant that we've been cooped up in the house. There have been play-overs, lots of DVD's, games that make the house unrecognisable. Right now, right outside the door to this room, there is some wild, giggling, yelling, thumping, jumping game going on involving two of mine and a play-over friend. I know that in a matter of minutes the benevolent noise will turn to a screaming argument, but until then, I can't rightly go out there and tell them to SHUT UP! Not yet, anyway.

And the writing... The writing has kind of gone on through all this. Chapter 7 is in rehab and yesterday I lost a whole chunk of revisions through 'Word' just deciding to disappear off the screen. One step forward and two steps back.
Better go now... I hear World War 3 starting.

Friday, March 21, 2008


Oh, what a busy few weeks it's been. I haven't posted because I simply haven't had the time. Work has been exceptionally busy lately, and probably due to an early Easter, a lot of things have had to be 'squeezed' in. Last week I worked my usual part-time fraction but continued to work on related projects at home, and by the end of the week, I had worked myself up to a killer migraine that saw me arrive home on Friday and go straight to bed.

So the writing took a back seat, and I've only just resumed. I think ten days went by with no writing, and the night I finally sat down to my laptop was divine bliss. Last night I finished chapter seven (out of twelve), and tonight I plan to go over it with fresh eyes and edit.

In the meantime, I've been enjoying a great book. My neighbour lent it to me saying that she'd earned her husband's wrath late at night because she just couldn't put it down. The book is "The Other Boleyn Girl", by Philippa Gregory, and I'm enjoying it very much. Don't know if it's "unputdownable", but pretty good nevertheless. Most importantly, it's a book from which I can learn a lot. One of my problem areas is pacing, and Gregory handles it beautifully in this novel. From a big picture point of view, nothing much is happening. No wide-ranging, fast moving plot, here, just a King increasingly tiring of his Queen and turning to the Boleyn girls, first Mary, then Anne, as diversion. But what makes the novel fast-paced is the complex behind the scenes plotting by the Boleyn/Howard family on one hand, and by the Queen and her Spanish and Roman Catholic allies on the other, as well as the many and varied small scenes that make up Henry VIII's courtship of the two Boleyn girls.

As I read, I try to store Gregory's tricks away so that I might practice "moving" my writing along at a faster pace than I manage to do now. She seems to pack a lot in by giving just a little visual/sensory detail, and relying on the reader to fill in the blanks. Such a good lesson, and one I sorely need to learn.

Thursday, March 6, 2008

Lightbulb Moment!

Yes, it's the lightbulb moment I was writing about in my last post! I actually can't believe it happened almost on request.

The problem was that my characters weren't behaving themselves, or rather, I felt I was losing a sense of them as characters. What resulted was a bland, tensionless disaster of a chapter. My friend/critique partner pointed this out, and though it was painful to admit there was a lot wrong with the chapter, I sucked it up and made changes.

What needed to happen wasn't obvious at first. I let her comments simmer in my head, and it didn't actually take that long for the ideas to start germinating.

My lightbulb moment was that I hadn't lost my characters, but rather, that the chapter wasn't working because their actions were OUT of character. Once I figured out the natural thing for them to do, I could hear the story's engine revving once more. All sorts of possibilities grew out of the one change I made to the chapter. Now I have options. Before the realisation, the story was laying flat and stagnant, with hardly a sign of life.

I have re-written the chapter and received the tick of approval from AbFab. Right now, I'm at the start of chapter 7, right smack in the middle of the novel. The characters are doing what comes naturally and it's given me a believable 'Point Of No Return', which in the previous version (the dud chapter) was nowhere in sight.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Wherefore Art Thou, Heath and Genevieve?

One of the big steps forward I've made in my recent writing history, is to really get the thing they say about 'character is plot'. I've realised that if you really know your characters, then the story becomes clear, as do their choices and the twists and turns of the story. What I have found is that if you're even the littlest bit muddy about your characters and their motivations, the story spins out of control.

I think that's just what's happened to mine. I thought I knew Heath and Genevieve intimately, but do I really? Sometimes they behave in ways that don't make sense with the the character profile/emotional conflict I've given them.

At this point, I'm in the middle of the book - a very crucial time - and for it to be believable, I have to be 100% certain about my characters and their motivations. But am I? If not, how do I fix this? Probably, I need to think about them more. When I get busy with other stuff, the story recedes and the intensity fades. That's a problem.

My critique partner - who has a very sharp eye for these things - told me she didn't 'buy' Heath's character in the current chapter. Alarm bells. I think that means going back over the chapter, and for me, running it through my head like a movie and in the process, gaining some distance. What would I think if these characters behaved this way on the screen? It's always easy to spot problems when you're not so up close. And perhaps that's just where I go wrong. I write, become immersed in the scene and sometimes don't stop to ask the vital questions. Would he/she say this? How would this make her/him feel? What does her/his choice do to the story? Where can they go from here?

It's incredibly tricky, and something you can only learn through doing. I'm sure - at least I hope - that someday I'm going to have a lightbulb moment about it. In the meantime, I'll pick up the shovel and keep digging.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Back to work!

With my last two weekends spent away from home - one at Mt Buller and the other Phillip Island (returned home yesterday), I haven't had much time to catch up with the usual build-up of home/school/work stuff that clogs my life.

Today, with work looming and a novel that's pretty much stagnated for the last two weeks, I am going to attack the problem and GET ON WITH IT! The problem has as much to do with the summer wind-down as anything else, so I'm not going to worry too much about it. We all need time to be a bit bad.

So after dedicating a couple of hours to the various messes in my life, I will sit down and write. There is no better way than figuring my way out of a character crossroads than to dive right in and see what works best. Last night I made a kind of a start, waffled way too much, in my usual style, but even that was kind of useful. At least I read over the chapter and got a better sense of what needs to happen, how best to organise it, and where to go from here.

Wednesday, February 6, 2008


This post is another testament to how much spare time I have on my hands now that I've met my minor deadline and have yet to start working for 2008. I keep telling myself I'm just wasting time, indulging in more television viewing than I'd normally allow for, yet there's that little but incredibly significant thing called 'The Well'.

Generally speaking, everyone has one, and everyone needs to keep it filled, otherwise things start to spin out of control. And that could mean anything from being cranky and yelling at the kids to nervous breakdowns and divorce. I truly believe it's that important.

But for writers, 'The Well' is more than a way to keep sane, it's an essential work tool. One that cannot be dispensed with. Sure, I've done plenty of writing on an empty well, but it was writing that I just didn't feel in my gut. Or my heart.

Watching my latest favourite TV show, 'Entourage', is filling my well to the brim. It helps enormously that my current WIP is about a rock star, so I can quite legitimately justify the time it keeps me glued to the box. In the beginning, I viewed it as purely a 'details' tool. Since the closest I ever came to a rock star was when Ian Moss walked past me on his way to the men's during a break in Cold Chisel's gig at the Cross Keys Hotel in the 80's, I thought I needed a bit of help making it sound real on the page. What I needed were details of the lifestyle of that other breed - the rich and famous, and 'Entourage' is certainly good for that. But it's not just about setting and wardrobe, oh no. This show is rich in everything. The writing sings, and makes the viewing experience absolutely riveting.

I love everything about the show. Everything. Even the unbearable hip hop music, which provides a perfect soundtrack for the show. Nothing else would be as appropriate.

And the list doesn't end there. The characters are spectacular, complex, finely drawn. And though at first more than one of them appears unbearably self-centred and even loathsome, in a few short episodes, I've grown to love each and every one of them. Every one. Why? Because they're real, and flawed, and entertaining, and the actors playing these characters are putting in such fine performances that I feel like I'm in the same room with them. But the superlative writing has to get top billing here. Hopefully the current writers' strike in the US will soon be resolved; the writers receiving adequate remuneration for their invaluable work. 'Entourage' is one of the many TV programs that have been left hanging while the industrial dispute drags on.

A final question. Why isn't this amazing show on free-to-air TV? The language might have something to do with it. Anybody who finds bad language offensive wouldn't be able to watch 'Entourage' for longer than a few minutes. Yet, just like the hip-hop, the bad language used is well-placed, adding power to the pacy dialogue, accentuating the underlying stress in many of its scenes, and heightening tension. Indeed, some scenes are so tense, so fast paced, that every word, every gesture speaks volumes; so un-missable that I often find myself hitting the rewind button to make sure I got it all.

I've included a clip of one of the show's diamonds, Ari. I read somewhere that he's being hailed as the greatest TV character. Ever. Not sure about that, but he's definitely in the top running. Don't check this out if you're bothered by bad language.

Sunday, February 3, 2008

A bit of fluff?

That's pretty much all people ever give her credit for, but was there more to Marilyn Monroe than we all think?

For Christmas, I was given a collection of old movies. One of these was 'Some Like It Hot', a film I hadn't seen for at least 20 years. During my lazy summer break, I indulged myself by watching it (and the others), and I've concluded that these movies are considered classics for a reason.

But I'm digressing from the subject of this post: Marilyn Monroe. In my 'post comp' lethargy, I've been indulging in one of my vices, YouTube. This morning, I typed in 'Madonna', and selected 'Material Girl'. I'd probably never seen the film clip, but quickly realised she'd ripped off Marilyn's 'Diamonds Are A Girl's Best Friend' routine from 'Gentlemen Prefer Blondes'. So I brought up the Monroe musical number and found that Madonna had replicated pretty much everything. Except that Marilyn did it better.

Until recently, I had always been of the opinion that Marilyn Monroe was the quintessential dippy blonde, but after watching her in 'Some Like It Hot', I've had to change my position. Today, watching her sing the famous 'Diamonds' number, I was further convinced that I'd misjudged her. Marilyn is enormously entertaining to watch, her comic timing is near flawless, and then there's that other hit-you-between-the-eyes quality. The very obvious, drop dead gorgeous sexpot quality. Kind of hard to miss, that one, and men find it particularly distracting.

When telling some friends about how funny I found 'Some Like It Hot', how ahead of its time it was, my husband proceeded to describe Sugar's (the character played by Marilyn) flesh-toned, strategically-sequinned dress to the friends' husbands in amazing detail. I'd challenge him to describe one of my dresses so meticulously. I had to agree with him, it was an arresting dress, and so suggestive I can hardly believe it got past the censors, back in those days. But that was the contradiction of Marilyn. In her most obvious lip-pouting, hip-swaying, boob-thrusting method of acting, she brought such light-hearted freshness to the screen, such unassuming sex-appeal and girlish charm, that she was, and still is, practically impossible to resist.

Her talent for comedy has long been recognised, but was she - as some insist - the product of clever editing? I don't think so. There have been a lot of mediocre performances from plenty of other gorgeous blondes in the history of film, but Marilyn brought something to the screen that set her aside from the rest. Was it the X factor? whatever that intangible quality might be. Was she a gifted performer with a passion for acting and an intrinsic understanding of the craft? Or was it all a fluke?

Was Marilyn really just a dumb blonde? Did stupidity bring her immunity to stage fright, or to the daunting concept of a worldwide audience? She certainly always looked at ease in front of the camera. Or could we credit a lack of self-awareness for her ability to appear unstudied and natural as only the best actors can?

Perhaps it was a combination of all those things, but I think Marilyn had a lot more talent than she's ever been given credit for. Her roles often included singing, and indeed she had a lovely voice, yet nobody ever thought of her as a singer.

It probably is the case that Marilyn did a lot of it by instinct, getting the performance right by sheer absence of inhibition. But in the end, who cares? Her performances are a delight, ranging from the light romantic comedies she's famous for, to darker, more complex roles such as her portrayal of the powerless, yet rebellious victim in 'Bus Stop'.

So here is the famous clip. I couldn't resist. With lines like, 'There may come a time when a hard-boiled old lawyer thinks you're awful nice, but get that ice or else no dice', and 'Men grow cold as girls grow old, and we all lose our charms in the end. But square-cut or pear-shaped, these rocks don't lose their shape. Diamonds are a girl's best friend,' this performance is a crack-up. And all that red and hot pink! It's a visual feast with Marilyn at her shining best.

Friday, February 1, 2008

Finally put the baby to bed

Today, after many, many hours 're-working' my previously completed novel, I went to the post office with four copies and sent it off for the next stage of the competition. As I walked away afterwards, I experienced a feeling I've felt before, usually after the completion of something big: a round of exams, the end of VCE (called HSC, when I did it), the end of a uni course. Okay, this effort wasn't quite so enormous as those, but it did take up the best part of the last three days. The feeling was: Now what do I do? Of course, there's no shortage of things to do, but for a moment, I was at a loss. Such was the extent to which this thing has had me in its grip.

The problem was that my manuscript, though 'technically' 51,000 words, only came up to 45,000 odd words on word count. The reason for this discrepancy is that I wrote my manuscript in 'Courier New' font (double spaced), which gives an average 250 word count. 'Times New Roman', single spaced, packs in a lot more. Therefore, my 205 page 'Courier New' manuscript translated to 66 pages in ARC (see previous post). And that was the problem. Minimum number of pages to go to the next stage in the contest was 75. And I only had 66!!!

After 're-jigging' the damn thing numerous times, I had to face the cold hard fact. I just didn't have enough words in the manuscript. Near blank pages don't help, either. When a chapter ends only a line into a new page, the usual convention is to begin the next chapter on a new page. But when doing the 'average' count in 'Courier New', every page counts, and that includes the blank ones.

Adding new scenes meant I had to completely change my initial structure of chapters. And then I had to choose which parts of the novels could do with some 'beefing up'. One of these was the only sex scene in the novel. I'm generally quite coy with these, since writing sex is difficult, and doing it badly is oh, so cringe-worthy. But since the manuscript was in ARC format, and I was looking over it in 'Full Screen Reading' view, it was quite easy to work out where I hadn't made the most of a pivotal moment, or where I'd rushed unwisely. The sex scene was one such place. At the time I wrote it, it seemed long enough, but since I find writing sex difficult, a few lines seemed like the entire bible and the gospels put together, (except that in the bible, they only bring up sex metaphorically, in terms of snakes and apples, or men 'knowing' women - oh that would be sooo much easier!)

And let's get another thing straight. This thing I'm calling a sex scene is no such thing. I should call it a love scene, because there's a lot of warm fuzzy stuff in it, a good set-up, and then I leave it up to the reader to work out which bits go where. Except that this time, it was as if I'd set the scene, lit the fire, so to speak, then slammed the door on the reader, leaving her outside in the snow.

So I put in a bit more. Went as far as the characters undressing and getting into bed. And reaching for a condom. Which was the furthest I'd ever gone with any of this, so that's where I called it quits. Once the condom comes out, I think we all know where it's going. Oh, I realise it could get really interesting at this point, but for now I'll leave it to the experts like Jennifer Crusie. When I think I've written a sex scene as well as she does, I won't have any qualms about putting it in.

But aside from THAT scene, I put in a few others, that, surprise, surpise... actually improved the novel. Too bad I've already sent it off to Harlequin Mills & Boon in London. I intended the new scenes to be nothing more than 'fillers', but it was only afterward, as I read them back, that I realised how vital they were to the story, and how much they added to character development. They focused on the finer minutiae of life, moments spent in the backyard having a glass of wine with the person you love while his child enjoys herself on her new swing set, or rugging up in your woollies and taking a carton of fish and chips onto the beach in winter. It was in scenes like these that my characters' personalities were revealed a bit more three-dimensionally than I had managed to do in the original manuscript. These scenes were the 'feel-good moments' that we so love watching in films. The moments when we truly get to know the protagonists and fall in love with them, when we begin to care and desperately want to know what happens next. And it's knowing the protagonists this well that makes us laugh at their antics, or shed a tear when things go wrong.

Through this painful and frantic process of having to come up with a fair chunk of new material in a short time, I learned a valuable lesson. One that may not help me much with this manuscript, but that will definitely kick my current WIP up a gear. And all the writing under pressure? Well that was valuable too. Good practice for jumping to the crack of an editor's whip.

Thursday, January 31, 2008

Goin' Crazy!

Yep, that's what writing does to me sometimes.

When I got notification that I was among the finalists in the Emerald, I just smiled and allowed myself a week to luxuriate in the good news, knowing my manuscript was complete. I'd already sent it off to Harlequin Mills & Boon in London, after all. Last September, no less.

But when I turned on the computer and put it into ARC format (single spaced, landscape page orientation, Times New Roman 12 point font, two columns, fully justified text), I freaked. Yes, literally freaked, because my 51,000 word manuscript did not come up to the required 75 page minimum ARC format for the competition!!! Even though the length of my novel is standard category romance length.

Since then, the formerly relaxed and a tiny bit smug Scribbly has been pulling her hair out, rearranging chapters, writing extra bits, resurrecting old sections that were thrown out in the final edit in September, all to make the entry comply.

And this little bit of procrastination isn't helping one bit. Better get back to it.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

2008 rolls to a very lazy start

I'm back from a blissfully relaxing holiday, ready to face the year. Amazing how much a couple of weeks of lazing about sets me up for the usual hustle and bustle of returning to work, kids back at school... and the rest. Leaving the beach two days ago was almost physically painful. The weather was pristine and the beach looked divine as we drove away, back towards the city. The shallow water on 'our beach' was so baby blue, receding to a strong turquoise, then deep blue, that this heavenly spot only an hour out of the city looked so exotic it could have been Thailand.

While away, AbFab broke the happy news that we're once again finalists in a competition. This time, the RWA Emerald. I was just walking on to the beach for the day, when her phone call came. She said, 'Are you ready for some good news?' I kind of froze, and just said,' Yes,' when what I was really thinking, was, 'I'm always ready for good news.'

This comp required the entrants to submit the first three chapters of a completed novel. Now through to the second stage, I'll have to submit the entire novel (4 copies of it) for further judging. Good luck to us, AbFab!!!

Sunday, January 6, 2008

New Year's Resolutions...

I have been extremely lazy since Christmas. A huge family lunch completely exhausted me. The day itself was great, but I think it was the lead up that did me in. And since then I've been laying low at home... and doing very little writing. What I have done quite a bit of, though, is thinking about my characters. More on that later.

New Year's Eve was spent with a few friends at a gorgeous spot on the bay. We had a fantastic view of the Melbourne skyline, which included spectacular fireworks displays at 9.30 and midnight. The air stayed warm until after midnight, so we were able to stay on the balcony all night. We nibbled, sipped and talked out way into 2008, and as far as resolutions, didn't make any on the night.

But since then, I've had a chance to think, and I do enjoy making them. I treat them as a plan for the year. I don't always succeed in achieving everything, but here goes. These are the things I'd like 2008 to be about:

  • Less stress

  • More time to contemplate and drink in the 'small' moments in life

  • More time to write

  • Writing success, or at least some steps forward

  • Finally getting the added space we need at home!!!

  • Family time

  • Time with friends

  • Balancing the hard work with a healthy blend of socialising and holidays

There could be more. If I think of them, I'll edit this post and add them in.