Queensland! I’m here! My delightful publicist Jess Malpass is here with me. We’ve been trekking around trying not to get sunburnt and meeting fans at bookstores in Port Douglas, Cairns City and today, Smithfield. Jess and I immediately bought matching hats upon arrival, and I did the classic Candice Fox move of losing my sunglasses a mere 12 hours after I bought them. We’ve discovered a weird shared obsession with cryptograms after buying a poshbook in port Douglas. It’s strange to see places from the novel again in real life. As we drove along yesterday I found myself saying ‘This is where Ted lives!’ and ‘This is where they found the croc!’ like I was talking about real people, and events.
Below I’ve stacked some random photos from the tour, but there are others on the Facebook and Twitter pages. Included is a tiny gecko I found in my hotel. Not five minutes after letting my miniature friend out onto the balcony did I find a compadre of his in the fridge. I am the lizard queen!
I never posted about NEVER NEVER hitting the New York Times best sellers – debuting in no. 1 in the hardcover and combined categories. It’s hard to describe how I feel about this, even though describing things if what I do for a buck. I talk a lot about my childhood on the tour, and the kinds of things I have been experiencing lately – best seller lists, tv deals, multi-book deals all over the world – these sorts of things never entered my young mind. My ‘big dream’ was to have one book published ever, and for my friends and family to read it. I’m overjoyed with all this – I can’t fathom what I’ve done to deserve it. Just being able to write and do nothing else for a living is such a blessing. I get up every morning and I really do actively get excited about my job. I’m so lucky.
I hope, if you’re reading this and thinking about coming out to see me, that you’ll make the effort. I so love catching up with fans and seeing what they thought of the books.
Have a great Sunday, everyone! More to come.
I’m 15.5k into my novel for this year, so I downed my tools and showed it around. I did this for no other reason than that I needed compliments, validation, a literary hug and push onward up the hill by a friendly hand. Sounds needy? It is. Deal with it.
Fifteen to twenty thousand words isn’t much for someone to read – it took Tim about twenty minutes, and my agent came back to me overnight. I wasn’t looking for a meticulous summation and reader’s report, and neither gave me that. Both said they felt compelled, hooked, and that’s all you really want out of the first little chunk of a novel. Both had cautionary advice about a couple of points. But I feel spurred on now. It’s a lonely and worrying business, this, and I feel like 100,000 words is too far to wander without knowing what I’m doing has any merit.
If you’re not writing crime fiction, the 15-20k mark might be an inappropriate time to stick your head up. At this point in most crime novels, however, you’ve got (should have) essential things in place for your validator to comment on. The case has been sketched out. The protagonist has been introduced. There had been a juicy catalyst on the first page to hook the tired, underpaid slush-pile scourer or one day, the wandering bookstore reader (hopefully). It’s also a good time for the validator to take a stab in the dark and tell you what they think’ll happen next (if they guess right, you should change it up). So 15-20k works for me for these reasons.
But how far is too far, and how far is not far enough to stop and get some much needed praise or criticism? It’s difficult to say. In the non-fiction world, editors will be able to tell you a book has no merit right off the bat, before you’ve written a single word, and you’ll go away with no writing time ‘wasted’ (although, no writing is ever wasted. See other posts for my opinion on that). In the fiction world, however, it’s near impossible to tell someone their idea is great or terrible if they haven’t written anything. I have writers tell me their ideas a lot, and some of them sound really whacked. But I never tell them their idea has no merit. I do this for three reasons; one, because it’s brave to tell someone (particularly a published author) your book idea to their face, and I don’t think I could ever bring myself to respond badly to someone’s face (I’m a coward). Two, because I’m not a publisher, and I don’t know what the hell publishers are going to take at any given time. And three, because a verbal explanation of a book idea over a couple of drinks is no way to judge a book. I’m thinking of The Great Gatsby. ‘Guy throws parties all the time because he wants his chick back. She turns up. There’s a car accident. Something about eggs.’
The only time sharing an idea with zero words written has worked for me, is when I told my brother about my idea for a novel about a kid who goes missing on a plane, and her mother has to both find the kid AND convince the passengers/flight attendants that there even was a kid in the first place. Turns out this not my stroke of genius at all, but a movie called ‘Flight Plan’, starring Jodie Foster. Godfuckingdamnit.
So ‘zero words written’ is too soon to get validation. But the end of the novel is too late, too, I think. Only because it would be a pretty self-assured badass who could go for a whole year (minimum) without telling or showing anyone anything about their work as it progresses. Maybe, by the end of it, this kind of grouch-pouch might have written the best thing since sliced bread. But I kind of feel like that’s sad and unnecessary, and the sort of thing those brooding cashmere-turtlenecked, mustachioed writers who are rude to the debuts at writer’s festivals might do. You can just hear them, can’t you. Eh! I don’t need validation! Validation is for little girls with self-esteem problems! Mmmmm, yairs! *discards cigarette with a flourish*
Don’t be an asshole. Don’t run the whole marathon without water, just because you can. You’re not a machine. Take a sip. It won’t kill you.
Who should you choose as your validator? I chose Tim and my agent, because they know how to criticize me gently without any bullshit. That should really be the guideline, if you ask me. Your mum shouldn’t be your validator. She’d let you go down the wrong path if it made you happy. Admit it.
Your validator should be someone who you know is tough enough to say ‘I hate this character/plot point’ if need be, but someone deep enough and caring enough to give you more detailed feedback if you ask for it/share their suggestions. They should also be someone you KNOW will not tear your work to shreds because they’re jealous of you, or because they think doing so will impress you with how much they know about the science of narrative, even if there’s nothing wrong with what you’ve written. Beware of other writers and editors. Someone who reads a lot of your genre, or is into the same stuff as you are, might be best.
So anyway, onward I go, with a little more spring in my step. Happy writing, everyone.
Here are some things I’ve done this week as a full-time author that people probably don’t know the job involves. I think there are two schools of thought on what I do – one involves swanning around at parties with other authors discussing Tolstoy and now and then pattering the keys. The other involves lying around on the couch all day drinking scotch, and now and then pattering the keys. In reality I do a whole lot of diverse stuff! (And now and then patter the keys.) Like this:
Here I am! I’m plodding happily along, putting in about a thousand words a session. I’d probably be at around this word count by this time of year anyway, but I have been held up a few times – by my own marriage, for one! – and by some editorial business. I’m at 11,000 words today on my own manuscript for the year (if you haven’t been following, I also do collaborations). I’ve been putting together detailed outlines and some mini-outlines for unmentionable projects that you’ll probably be able to guess anyway. The seductive whispers of other books have been plaguing me, as I’m only a tenth of the way in, and I could turn around without feeling so bad. I shun those voices! Be gone! You have no power here! Saucy, sexy books are a reality. Don’t give in to those sirens.
My, my, my, I certainly know what I don’t want to ever do for a living, and that’s organise weddings. Though I’m not an amazing sleeper, I’ve lost a considerable amount of sleep this month agonizing over everything that could go wrong in my wedding to the hilarious, handsome and decidedly hairy Tim Keen, fellow wordsmith extraordinaire. In the dark hours, I’ve imagined some pretty insane stuff, like ex-boyfriends/girlfriends turning up on the green and shouting that they’re still in love with me/him. The more extreme fantasies involved a relative shooting themselves in the middle of the dance floor. In daylight guessed that more likely, Tim and I were going to get something like a story frequently told about a wedding of a friend of a friend, who had a fat man with a beer walk right through the back of the ceremony wearing nothing but a pair of Speedos. While we did have our wedding in a public garden, and there were hangers-around with no idea of personal space, they tended to loiter during the photographs after the ceremony. We only had eyes for each other! Nawwwww alright I’ll stop now. Perfect, perfect day, anyway.
There are more editorial nightmares looming on the horizon, so I’m trying to trundle along on the book at a healthy pace. My crisis of confidence seems to be over – and I think that’s a mark of having thickly detailed characters who are intriguing (I hope, anyway!) in themselves/their pasts without necessarily having to rush here and there completing plot points to fill themselves out. If you’ve got a few deeply interesting people, worrying about plot is like worrying if three incredibly socially skilled strangers are going to get on with each other at dinner. They have the tools. They have the experience. They’ll make it work, even if they fumble around a bit first.
As a mark of good practice I’m attending a new boxing gym tonight, because James and my character, Harriet Blue, is a boxing enthusiast. I think it’s always good to write what you do, and do what you write – it’s a lesson I learned back in the day as a teenager, when I used to set all my books in New York. I’d never been to New York, and knew nothing about it. The books were garbage in the first sense because I was an overly emotional, melancholy teen with a bit of an over-infatuation with Anne Rice and Martin Scorsese, but in the second sense I think it didn’t help that I didn’t know what New York looked, felt and smelt like. I’ve boxed for a long time, and Harry boxes. It’s a chicken and egg thing. It’s time to get back to that, I think. Get some of the tension out so I/she can sleep.
As always, curious to know how you’re all going with your writing/submitting/editing. Keep your chins up, everyone. (No seriously it’s really bad posture looking down at your laptop. Sitting is the new smoking, for real).
Well, it’s hit. Or, if you’ve been following my canon metaphor, I’VE hit. I fired, and blurted out those first 5000 words joyously, and then paused to do some editing work on something which is due much sooner. Lo and behold, the editorial process has made me feel like an awful, untalented writer who’s going nowhere. My muse has died. I’m suffering inspirational asphyxiation. My magic feather has been seared to dust by the fires of indecision.
Well magic feathers, muses and convenient moments of inspiration are all bullshit, so don’t panic.
My experience of the editorial process from my publisher and the copywriting process from my editor is gentle. They pose questions rather than telling me straight out that there are flaws in the narrative. Is this too repetitive? Is this the best word here? They make sure to tell me when they love pieces of the work. But still, I feel emotionally ruined. I think it’s an ‘artistic person’ thing. I’ve seen the slightest criticisms take on the momentum of Mac trucks and lay even the most seasoned writers flat. If you think there are authors out there who don’t mind criticism, or ‘take it in their stride’, or ‘cherish’ it, seeing it as ‘an opportunity for improvement’, what you’re really seeing is DIRTY FILTHY BARE-FACED LIARS. The most proud of these amazing creatures will reserve their true hurt for the solitary late night hours, staring at the ceiling, imagining themselves responding to said criticism in witty cutting interviews on Sunrise. The slightly less proud (like me) will reserve their whining and sulking for their spouses. And everyone else will happily moan in public.
What’ll I do to snap myself out of this criticism-induced creative paralysis? Finish the edit. When the edit is done and all those awful little comment bubbles have gone away, I’ll pick myself up, dust myself off and continue on the new novel. If it’s not criticism and self-doubt, but instead a lack of ideas or a lack of what you think is ‘inspiration’ that’s got you stumped, go back through my blog posts to one of my first, called ‘Over the Wall’, where I deal with writer’s block.
So my word count is 5k or so, and my momentum has dropped to zero. Because I’ve got some experience at this game, I’m not worried, and I’m NOT thinking of writing something else. That’s the temptation trap for the newbie writer at this point – you think you’ve come to a halt this early because the idea isn’t strong enough. Don’t be the writer who had drawers full of unfinished projects. There will always be greener grass, and better ideas, just over there. Take what it is you like about the sexy new idea that’s trying to seduce you, and integrate it into the current project, or have the confidence in your own mental skills to know that idea won’t float away into the ether before you’re done with what you’re working on.
Back to the edit! *slumps dejectedly over desk* Urgh. Bleurgh. Gurgh. Someone kill me.
Don’t get exhausted with me. The blog posts for my Novel in a Year project won’t be this frequent. But as you might have guessed, yes, the writing has begun. Last time we were together, I let you know that for four or five months my daydreaming and thinking and collecting of ideas had grown to such a pressure point that I was just about ready to explode. Well BOOM! It’s the first day of the year! I have done just that, and splurted out the first 2,249 words. Only, what, 87,751 to go? Intimidation, much.
I wrote it, I read it, and I added some things. I think it’s a nice place for the novel to start, something tense that’ll have people invested. The struggle for me in the beginning is always not blurting out ‘everything you need to know’ about the main character’s backstory like that little girl on the first day of primary school who so desperately wants to be your friend. Hooky’s cool. She’s very cool. Trust me! Just trust me! You’ll love her, I promise! There’s plenty of time for a character’s backstory. I just have to be patient and let it flow out.
So plenty of you are probably familiar with this stage, the explosion stage, where you fearlessly set out and put actual words down. In my experience of first time authors and their struggles, it’s not until about a month from now when your little engine will catch sight of the mountain it has to climb, and you’ll realise there’s actually not much coal left (might not have been much to begin with). You’ll scramble to fight the fear, duck down a few dead ends and back again, and finally come to a halt at the brick wall of indecision, lack of confidence in your abilities, and an empty basket of ideas. Don’t worry, I’ve been there too. My first brick wall, when it comes, will be smaller than yours, and I’ll have the confidence to leap over it pretty quickly. I’ll help you through yours when I hit mine.
Right now though – wow! I’ve had my first date with my new literary love for this year, and I’m smitten. I’m literally only two scenes in, but I’ve spoken with my new character’s voice for the first time, and I think I like how she sounds. I’ll now switch over and write from the perspective of the girl who’s living with my killer for this book, so I’m going to stop and think about that scene before I charge on tomorrow. I’m thinking, at this stage, I’d like to try and power out 2,000 words a day, but editing tasks from my work last year might get in the way. God, I hate editing so much. I’m in a new relationship now, with a whole new book. I’m done with those other guys. Urgh. Gurgh. Surely near enough is good enough? Oh woe is me.
If you’re writing along with me, please share, either here, on my Facebook page, or on Twitter. I love to know I’m not alone. It’s going to be a long year! Hopefully a good one!
Alright, fans. It’s not very pretty. It has no logo. I’m still learning to use it – but it IS alive. My new business venture, Foxbooks is off the ground and hovering nervously. All your manuscript assessment needs in one place right here:
What are you waiting for? Go and have a look!
People are often curious to know how HADES happened. It was not, in any way, a straightforward journey from page to print, and therefore like all perilous journeys, its path was full of lessons and surprises. The first and most critical lesson I learned from trying to get HADES into print was not to go around trumpeting my success until contracts were exchanged and money in my hand. And even then, I wouldn’t advise it. Wait until the book is in your hands. That’s the only certainty you have in this game.
The first time I read those magnificent words, ‘Yes, I would like to publish you,’ they were in an email not from my current publisher, Random House Australia, but from HADES’s original publisher in the UK. I will not name this publisher, because I’m not sure it’s really fair. I was so angry and blinded at the time, that I didn’t ask for all the details in what occurred in my first publishing deal. There might very well have been legitimate reasons for what happened happening. I hold no resentment, and I wish this tiny publisher all the best in the future. The indie publishing game is often a dire and thankless one, and what happened I’m sure is a familiar story to people who deal with these ambitious little companies.
Basically, I was on my fifth novel with no success in the publishing game. This was around 2011. A one-man publisher in the UK offered to publish me in print and in digital form in both Australia and the UK. I told everyone I knew. I told people I didn’t know. I was in tears with excitement all the time. I was planning my book launch from the first day. I printed out my acceptance email and framed it. I was drunk with visions of opening a package and finally holding my first words in print.
The year and a half long wait to see myself published flew by. We were editing the manuscript together over email. I became quite close to my publisher and regularly chatted with him on Facebook chat about family dramas, both his and mine, books and authors we loved. I fended off contant interrogation from confused friends over when my book would be published as it was again and again pushed back. These things take time, I would say. He’s one man doing an entire company’s job. I knew my publisher had a busy work and family life outside of his publishing hobby.
I was willing to wait as long as it took.
After waiting six months for our cover designer to emerge from the mist into which she apparently descended, (with me resisting the urge to simply have my graphic designer step-mother do the job over a weekend), my publisher emailed to tell me he didn’t have the money to put me in print anymore. He’d overspent on a local literary festival. He could still publish me in eBook form.
It’s hard to describe how this felt. I was ‘crushed’, yes, but it was a private hurt, a thing so devastating I didn’t dare seek comfort from anyone on it. It happened at exactly the wrong time. I’d just separated from my husband in the most awful and heartbreaking way a relationship can come to an end; suddenly, inexplicably, shockingly. At the time, I was sleeping on my parents’ living room floor. My cat was traumatised. I was so mad. White-hot mad. The only reason I hadn’t published myself in eBook form a year and a half earlier was because I wanted to see the book on paper. I wanted, at least once, to hold my book in my hands. I withdrew from the relationship with my publisher. I hadn’t been contracted, and my publisher accepted my, rather coldly worded, withdrawal.
It sounds silly now, but I was actually deeply humiliated by the failure of this little book deal. I guess deep down inside, after the first couple of push-backs of the publication date, I was in doubt that the book would be published. The publisher had only put one book out in print before. But friends were introducing me to other people as an ‘up and coming author’ with an ‘international book deal’ and I was too embarrassed to correct them. When the book was laid out fully, I was encouraged, but then we stalled. When I finally got the cancellation email, I sort of knew before I opened it what it was going to say.
HADES found print, finally, with Australia’s largest publishing house, Random House. I did open the box, smell the fresh ink and paper, cut my book out of the plastic and hold it lovingly to my chest. I have an unapologetic affection for books in print. I got to see my first tattered and well-loved copy of HADES the other day in the hands of a man walking down the street, so used to seeing it brand new and sparkling on book shelves in stores.
I am profoundly lucky that my original publisher did not publish HADES.
He stalled me, effectively stopping me from publishing it myself with my doomed publishing deal, and kept the book off the market until the exact moment I arrived in Sydney, where I would find my new boss, who would recommend me to the woman who would become my agent, who would then find me my publisher. I don’t know if you believe in fate, but this example, this crushing, failed opportunity was so perfectly that old door closing so that a window can open, that I had to share it with you. Rejection is never, never a waste. Don’t despair, and don’t count your chickens. Just keep knocking, keep on knocking, until it’s your time to be let inside.
Something I see a lot in aspiring authors is an incredible, deeply rendered frustration. I guess I notice it because I’m only one book into my (published) writerly career, and I remember what it felt like.
There’s plenty to be frustrated about as an unpublished author. That dream of getting the phone call, signing the contract, walking into the hallowed halls of your traditional publisher’s brightly lit offices and being greeted like a star is very familiar – because when it happens it happens just like that. It’s magical. It’s miraculous. It was certainly the highest point of my life thus far. When it happens to traditionally published authors for the first time, they tell everyone about it. I sure did. I’m still doing it.
So for aspiring authors they can imagine that for themselves pretty easily. They also know how to get there. They’ve read all the books. They’ve attended all the seminars. They’ve spoken to all their idols and heard the same set of steps. Write something brilliant. Edit the shit out of it. Submit it everywhere you can. Don’t take no for an answer. Keep on truckin’, baby. Just keep on truckin’.
The problem is, that you can do that a hundred times and still not make it. And there’s no logical reason you can grasp onto. None.
A few times before, people I’ve known and loved have tried to teach me to drive a manual car. The instruction I was being given was painfully simple. Take your foot off one pedal as slowly as you can, and simultaneously, gently, press down on another pedal. Easy, in principle. One up, at the same time as one down, slowly. I tried it. The engine clunked and failed. I started up and tried it again. Clunk. Fail. Again. Again. Again. Again.
Why isn’t this working? What the hell am I doing wrong? It’s so simple. Jesus. Everybody can do this but me. Children can do this. How is it that I can do (list life achievements) but I can’t do this. I am such a loser for not being able to do this. I am the ultimate non-manual-driving loser.
At about my hundred and fiftieth rejection letter, which was around the time I was finishing up my fourth unpublished novel, I’d managed to cultivate a pretty dark and devastating aspiring author frustration. A lot of crying and swearing was involved. I hated publishers. I loathed published authors. The good ones, and murderously, the bad ones. How do these people make it? How? Who are they related to? Who are they sleeping with? What did they study that I didn’t study? There must have been something going on here that I didn’t understand, some secret that everybody knew except me.
The truth is, there is no secret. There is no conspiracy against you. You’re not personally being targeted and shut out of the party. Publishers aren’t gathering around your manuscript laughing at your work. They’re not throwing darts at a picture of your face. They’re lovely people. They work unspeakably hard. It’s the same with agents. They’re not money-hungry fiends. They care about good work and the big dreams of the writers at heart out there as much as you do. The problem is time. And money. And manpower. You know this. You’ve heard it plenty of times before. Most of the big publishing houses in this country handle upwards of three thousand submissions per year. They have room for ten to twenty new authors in their stable. This falls every years with the rise of digital self-publishing. That’s the situation. That’s how it is.
It’s good to be a bit frustrated, so I’m not telling you to calm down completely. It’s only through the unshakable, stubborn, fuck-you determinedness that you’ve developed that you will succeed in squeezing into that tiny gap, that crack in the wall that allows new authors in. It may (probably will) take you years to get there. It will probably take you multiple books. What I want to discourage, however, is that self-hating, publisher-hating, author-hating frustration that can arise out of the good frustration.
There is some joy in being locked outside the party. You’re not alone. In fact, there are so many of you out there that you’re kind of like your own party. You’re all experiencing the same thing. You’re all fighting the same fight. You are a part of a journey that tens of thousands of successful traditionally published authors have made. There’s no reason to hate or doubt anyone, particularly yourself, for not making it when book one fails. The same for book ten. It’s not you. It’s not them. This is just the nature of the journey.
And let’s face it. You’ve never been the type for easy journeys. You wouldn’t want this so bad if you were.
Don’t give too much to your frustration, because it will crush your work first, and your spirit next. Channel it, use it, thrive off it.
Don’t get mad. Get writing.