I can’t believe I’m blogging again. And no, no-one I know has died. At least, no-one I know well enough to blog about.
Unless you count Jane Austen. She has been dead a while though, so it’s hardly news.
This urge to talk comes about because someone on social media commented that they don’t read Jane Austen for the romance. It was phrased in such a way to imply the “romance” was the lesser part of the story, almost incidental to the greater good of the books.
Now I know when Austen was writing, romance was a term for any tale that was not true. Even rather fanciful. It has only been in the last few decades that the Romance Genre has been strictly defined. I totally blame pulp fiction, but that’s an argument for another day.
What I find interesting is that we tend to think of Jane Austen as a historical author. Not surprising when you consider the number of costume dramas filmed in the last century based on her books. But of course she was a contemporary writer. She was writing about her peers. Not dukes and peers of the realm, but society as she knew it. Bobbing about just under that class of people but definitely above the general masses.
It made me wonder what she might have written if she lived in our contemporary society. Would she be writing about a Bridget Jones and her Mr Darcy or might she be tempted to get a little raunchy after reading some Jilly Cooper or Jackie Collins.
With better health care might she have lived to be a wicked old lady being interviewed by James Corden and doing a little car Karaoke. I wonder who her favourite modern music artist would be.
God forbid, maybe she would have been picked up by Harlequin Mills & Boon and be writing Presents romances about billionaires and feisty heroines adding a touch of snark about the hangers on. Imagine if she’d been the scriptwriter for Pretty Woman.
But no. Jane would have been above all that. She would have written some deeply meaningful snark about society published by Simon & Schuster and no-one would have wanted to film it.
Or would they? Would she have hidden the snark behind a romance between a stuffy politician and a eco-warrior who spends her time protecting an obscure bird that only nests in a swamp outside Meryton from the incursions of an army of messy campers including a charming rogue who tells a sad tale of meeting injustice from the politician.
Nah. Not likely.
All I do know is that two hundred years later, Jane Austen is still being read and filmed and no-one I know has watched Pride and Prejudice sixteen times for the social commentary. At least, not solely for the social commentary.
The Valerie Parv Award was the first competition I ever entered when I discovered Romance Writers of Australia. It promised the world. Or at least a twelve-month mentorship with Valerie Parv, a noted best-selling author of Mills & Boons. As my dream was to become a Mills & Boon author (I didn’t really know much about the Harlequin thing at that point) I figured this would be my goal.
In the meantime, I discovered Valerie Parv was the featured author at a writing retreat at a Pacific Island resort. Naturally, I signed up. This was back when I actually had an income. DH could do his photography thing while I bathed in Valerie’s wisdom.
Sadly, it never happened. They didn’t get the numbers to make the writer’s retreat possible. You are all cursing about now because it was a missed opportunity that will never come again. I have never forgiven those unnamed people who did not sacrifice themselves to my need.
I first met Valerie Parv in person at the Gold Coast conference ten years ago. I also met Presents great, Helen Bianchin so it was a red letter conference. The funny thing is that I don’t remember reading Valerie’s books when she was first published. I desperately wanted to travel so I looked for books set mostly in Europe and Britain and the American outlier, Janet Dailey. I have since made up for that initial lapse by collecting and reading dozens of her books. They are fabulous and apart from the phone thing, have worn well.
I did discover at that conference that Valerie’s winners became her Minions and that became my primary ambition. To become a Minion far outweighed the whole being published thing. My plan? Become a Minion and then get published.
My interactions with Valerie continued over the years, on her blog, on social media and at conferences. Peak Valerie experience was receiving a VPA Highly Commended for my book “Tell Me No Lies” at the 2017 conference. When I spoke to her afterwards, she joked that it was probably just as well I didn’t win as she suspected we would butt heads all year.
I had one more attempt at minionhood the following year but after receiving flack for entering while having several novellas published, I sadly set aside that ambition and self-published my 60k VPA finalist thus making me no longer eligible to enter and removing all temptation. Had I known there would only be two more Valerie presided competitions, I might have made a different choice.
I last spoke to Valerie in person at the 2019 conference. She would often in her speeches or seminars, mention how she was embarrassed at having the award named for her. I told her at the time and later in a post that she put in the work and she should own it. She contacted me last year to ask if she could include my comments in her autobiography, “34 Million Books”. Naturally I said yes and there I am on page 216.
So, I may never have become a minion, but I’m in her book. Not a bad alternative.
It is the end of an amazing era and she will be sadly missed.
I’m taking a break from sending out competition results and
contemplating the emotions that will be felt by both finalists and those who
didn’t make the cut this time.
I’ve been entering competitions for more than six years now,
with varying results. I know the angst of coming THIS CLOSE to finalling and
then the next year finishing a lack lustre mid field or lower.
I know the frustration of that ONE judge. The other two
loved your work but that ONE judge marked you down far enough that the top
marks of the other two couldn’t push you into the winner’s circle.
I’ve had the humiliation of a judge make the assumption that
I’m a new writer just starting out when I’ve got competition wins under my
belt. (That manuscript is going straight to trash)
But wait. There’s more.
The last two years I’ve been coordinating one of the RWAus
competitions. I find it fascinating as I’m checking through the forms, to see
the scores and the comments of a whole range of judges on a wide variety of
entries. It’s taught me a lot.
Because when it comes down to it. Judging a piece of literary
work is always going to be subjective.
Not that the judge who marked me down was wrong. But when
they put on their judging hat, they are not necessarily looking for the same
things as the other two judges.
For some people, and they may be judges, STORY will trump CRAFT
every time. They figure an editor will fix those things if they are relatively
minor, but a great STORY deserves to be out in the world.
For others, CRAFT is vital. They figure that no matter how
good the STORY, if the CRAFT is faulty, no publisher will touch it.
They could both be right, and they could both be wrong. The
fact is that editors are time poor and publishers are risk averse, so they want
the full package. The drama of a half-polished manuscript that is fought over
for six figure sums comes but rarely in this world.
CRAFT and STORY should be in balance. If you are getting unbalanced
scores in competition, take a note of that and read the comments carefully. It
will help you to know where to focus your attention. If you are getting all
mediocre or low scores, try to focus on CRAFT. You can’t tell a great STORY if
the reader can’t get past the first page because you need to work on those
Even if you think the feedback is wrong it can be valuable.
Because if you look at the feedback and try and understand why they think that,
you might still learn something.
And a better manuscript, a better submission will always be
the result of learning from feedback. And there is nothing wrong with that
I’m so excited to finally send this story out into the world. I first wrote Lucas and Harriet’s story back in 2012 and it’s been doing the rounds as I tried to find a place for it.
It finalled in the 2017 Valerie Parv Award at the Romance Writer’s of Australia Conference and Valerie mentioned how much she liked reading about a heroine with a disability.
In 2018 I entered the manuscript into the Emerald Pro Awards and was thrilled when it came second after the other manuscript I entered.
While there was a lot of interest from publishers, sadly, none felt it fitted for them so I made the decision to publish it. I have a Pinterest Page if you like to look at images that inspired me. Beware spoilers.
It’s Available on Amazon for $2.99US $4.25AU or Free on Kindle Unlimited.
Have you ever had the past come back and hit you in the face?
After an interesting week that challenged my identity and my motivations as a writer, I arrived at last weekend with a distaste for all things romance. Usually romance is my go to for stress relief, but it simply wasn’t doing it for me. I looked at an Agatha Christie Anthology that I’ve always enjoyed as a reread but it couldn’t hold my attention. Too much romance there as well.
Then Dr Anita Heiss popped up in my social media feed as a presenter at various writing events. It reminded me that I had always intended to read something of hers. I picked up Growing Up Aboriginal in Australia edited by Dr Heiss and I was hooked. The book is a compilation of own voices shorts that tell of the contributors experience growing up in Australia as an Aboriginal. It’s an emotional read comprising vignettes, memoir, reminiscences of the past, both distant and disturbingly recent, and a touch of anticipation for the future. Some stories are heartbreaking. Some are angry. All inspirational. All very, very familiar.
It struck a special chord with me because though I did not grow up Aboriginal, I grew up along side the children of Indigenous families in a town that became notorious for horrendous problems with race relations. I was a “local” in a town that was clearly divided. There were the more well off business people, landowners and transient professionals who came to town including teachers, people who worked for the government, doctors and dentists. Then there were the “local” long term residents who didn’t belong with the elite. And the Indigenous families. I fitted nowhere in particular and existed on the fringes of all of them.
The town was Cunnamulla. Featured in an ABC television Four Corners Documentary in 1969 that opened the lid on the scandal of the conditions many Indigenous groups in rural Australia endured. The town was probably no better or worse than many other towns, but if you watch the video by clicking on the title link, you will see why it suddenly caught media attention.
Out of Sight out of Mind was made when I was eight and I remember the furore around it. I rewatched it this week and was interested to see how much I had remembered. The video on the ABC site at less than half an hour is a little shorter than the original so some bits are missing. Possibly some interviews with local business people. But enough is there to get the picture.
Long after my parents left the town and even longer after I moved away, first to boarding school and later to work and marriage, another documentary was made that exposed the underbelly of the town. Called simply Cunnamulla and released in 2000, it focused on the seamy side of life in the town, almost ignoring the “respectable” people.
My experience of the town was a little of both. But given that I was only a visitor to the town after 1975, and visited briefly for the last time in the early eighties, the Four Corners program probably reflects my experience. I had more to do with the Indigenous community than many of my white class mates because my mother had a close friend in that community and spent several years involved with the Aboriginal and Islander Catholic Council. Those women accepted my mother with generosity and kindness. Due to my mother’s sporadic mental health issues, she had only a handful of long term friends in the town.
When I read Growing Up Aboriginal in Australia, I recognised many of the experiences spoken about by the contributors. The ones who wrote about being able to “pass for white” or having people measuring how much blood was white or “Abo”, immediately reminded me of a friend in my class who lived two doors up. She was very fair, taking more after her father, but her brother closest in age was very dark like their mother. My mother’s friend came from New South Wales and married an African American, so their experience was a little different.
In a weird, cosmic coincidence that made me wonder what the universe was saying, I was in the neighbouring town yesterday and ran into the daughter of my mother’s close friend outside the cinema. She attended primary school with me in Cunnamulla and we saw quite a lot of each other when our mothers “visited”. Apart from casual contact on Social Media, I haven’t see her in person for more than thirty years. It was a lovely surprise and we sat together during the movie and did a quick catch up.
Sometimes revisiting the past can be a painful experience. It can certainly be emotional. I have always avoided thinking too much about my years in Cunnamulla, but when forced to look at them, I see so many of my experiences there were formative. Those years would certainly have influenced my decision to include Indigenous history, language and culture in my Bachelor of Religious Studies done externally through Edith Cowan University.
How does this relate to my writing?
Bearing in mind how influential the people of Cunnamulla were in my childhood, do I write about First Nations/Indigenous people in my books?
How can I not include a large part of the population that played an important role in the formation of who I am, my ethics, my ideals, my hopes for the future? People who, as a group, make up a significant part of the society in which I live.
Do I write their story? Well, yes and no. Like most things, it’s complicated.
For example, I have an unpublished story I wrote where the hero comes from a “mixed” marriage that would have occurred around forty years ago. There is an oblique mention in my story that this was something that may have been a source of conflict and emotional upheaval. Do I delve into that story? It could add depth and interest to the book. But it would be a different story. It wasn’t necessary to the resolution of the story of the hero and heroine. I left it there but didn’t elaborate and I’m comfortable with that position.
On the other hand, I wrote a short story about a young teacher with an Indigenous heritage who moves to the country and meets a local and there is a spark. A very short story I put on Wattpad. I really liked both heroine and hero and wondered about writing a full length story about their romance. The problem came when I delved into the heroine’s backstory. I discovered that she came from a family that were part of the stolen generations. And I realised that in coming to this small town she would be reconnecting with her roots. Not my story to tell, so I put it aside. It was hard, because I love the characters but…I understand her story is not mine to tell.
I believe strongly in writing stories that reflect the multicultural world we live in. It’s important to write inclusive stories. Not to tell other people’s stories, but to paint a world that is what we want it to be. Inclusive, kind, with a strong bias towards hope. Or you can write dystopian fiction that ends badly. Or whatever floats your particular boat. I like happy endings.
It’s necessary to be sensitive and aware and do our best to portray our protagonists as honestly and as generously as we can. When we write about imaginary people, they will become real to the reader through what we as writers put into them. It’s easy to fail, because we aren’t perfect and don’t know everything. Can’t know everything. Sometimes there are subtleties that are merely shadows not quite grasped. We can only do our best.
Things often seem to move incredibly slowly in the publishing industry. You submit, you wait, you wait some more. And some more. Time goes by. You give up. Then the rejection comes. You study the rejection, seeking clues. Is it a standard form rejection? You compare it to previous form rejections. Is that sentence slightly different? Probably a typo introduced during a sloppy cut and paste.
But what if it’s not a form rejection? You study it even closer. Because there is a slim chance that it isn’t a blanket rejection but the long sought after R&R. No, not Rest and Recreation, Revise and Resubmit. Oooh. But no. It’s quite clear. This bit is good, this bit not so good. *List of reasons they don’t want it* But please consider sending a NEW project.
So we start all over again.
Every now and then we hear faint whispers on the wind of an Author barely out of school who’s first manuscript was fought over by multiple publishing houses for a zillion dollars and subsequently becomes a best seller.
This is not your life.
And then something happens. You fling everything you have out into the universe and they come good. You even briefly have a publishing contract with a digital first press attached to a major publishing company.
And then they shut down. It’s like the universe knows.
Today they announced the RuBY finalists for books published in 2017. A fabulous selection of books and talented writers. I feel incredibly honoured. I entered both my self-published novellas and one of them made the final. I had finalled with Swept Away in August 2017 and I decided to release them together as they are about a pair of siblings.
Sean from Swept Away is a musician and his sister Fran in Road Trip Baby was a career woman in the public service advising on multicultural issues to the politicians in power. There isn’t a lot of overlap as Sean’s story takes place before Christmas and Fran’s story happens after Christmas.
I’ve had a great year for competitions, with two of my unpublished stories finalling in the Emerald Pro and one short story each in the Little Gems Anthology and the one in the Spicy Bites Anthology coming third overall.
It’s been a busy year altogether with the release of my Crimson Romance duology with Nicole Flockton featuring a cousin of Fran and Sean at the Winter Games being a brief foray into the world of the big publishing groups and since then I’ve been working on new projects. These successes in competition have been great for boosting my morale and my confidence as a writer.
Once upon a time I wrote a story. Then another one. As you do. It’s the eternal cycle of being a writer. It’s like housework. Every time you finish and everything is (hopefully) perfect you have to start again.
I’ve lost count of the number of manuscripts I’ve started. Some will never see the light of day. But there are over a dozen that I finished. I made it to the end. And that’s how I know I can write.
If you can take your characters on a journey and get them to the end, you have written a story. We won’t discuss quality. That comes with practice. With those thirteen plus finished stories. The *cough* fifty plus unfinished remnants.
In the current climate, it’s very easy to self publish. It was always the consolation when I received rejections for my beautiful (in my head) stories. But if no-one else wanted to publish my stories, what did that say about the quality of my work?
Then in 2017 I entered a novella called Swept Away into the prestigious Romance Book of the Year competition run by RWAus. I had written it as part of a collaboration with other emerging writers for an anthology called Beautiful Disaster: An Anthology published in 2016. (Which is still available out there.)
I was nominated as a finalist in the RuBY. So at least that one time, I know I wrote well enough for people to enjoy the story. The top three were all self-published novellas. Both other nominees were multi-published experienced authors. To make my life complete, I was highly commended in the Valerie Parv Award. That meant top six. So I wrote reasonably well twice.
That gave me the courage to self-publish my little Christmas Novella. It didn’t exactly make a profit, but I learned a lot. Now I’m republishing Swept Away with a companion novella called Road Trip Baby. In February, Sean and Fran’s cousin Maybelle has a story in Man of Ice, part of the Medal Up Duology with the fabulous Nicole Flockton, set at the PyeongChang Winter Olympics.
Two stories about finding and losing and finding love again with The One. Siblings Sean and Francesca Li have loved and lost. In these two stories, they have a second chance to work out a happy ending.
Swept Away was published in the Beautiful Disaster Anthology and was a finalist in the 2017 RuBY competition. The draft version of Road Trip Baby was on Wattpad. This edition brings the two linked stories together for the first time with an all new epilogue. Because epilogue.
Swept apart by the force of a tsunami, Sean and Sophie have fought their own battles to survive. Now they must confront the challenges caused by the decisions they made separately, if they want to be together again.
Sophia thought she had her happy ever after. Until it was swept away along with her brand new husband only hours after arriving at their tropical honeymoon destination.
Sean lost a lot more than a limb in the aftermath of the tsunami that separated him from his wife. Still battling the effects of that day, he has to make hard decisions about his career as a musician.
Pushed into an engagement with a girl chosen by his parents, he can’t believe his eyes when Sophie appears at the party with another man.
Now both must choose between a new life and the life they thought lost.
Road Trip Baby.
Fran knows Ethan doesn’t want children, but when contraceptive failure leads to pregnancy, she didn’t expect his total denial of responsibility. Now she has one last chance to find out the secret stopping him from accepting his child. The clock is ticking and they are a long way from home.
Ethan knew sleeping with his sister’s best friend was a mistake. Especially when he can’t give her the home and family she deserves. Her betrayal stunned him into a reaction that sent her away. Now he’s thinking clearly and maybe he does have something to offer, even if he has to reveal his shameful secret to make it happen.
Buy Links for the Duet. It’s also available in paperback from US Amazon.
This post is part of the Coastal Christmas Blog Hop. I’m feeling a little bit of a fraud because while my story is set at Christmas time, there is no coast in sight, only a river that eventually leads to the ocean.
If you want to track down all the fabulous authors and check out their blog posts you should click here.Don’t forget to enter the Raffecopter to get your awesome prize of a $150 Amazon gift card and more than 30 eBooks from the participating authors.
So, this is my turn.
For most of us, Christmas holds memories, some good, perhaps some not so good.
Memory is a powerful thing. It takes us through time. Through memory we can relive the past. It is our memories that help define who we are. We carry our memories into the future, but only so far.
When I think of Christmas as a child, I have some vivid memories that remain clear even after fifty years.
My mother was a dressmaker in my early years and I remember when I was around four, she made me a ballet tutu out of red taffeta and tule with a vee of sequins down the front. It was the most beautiful thing I ever saw. I can see the glow of the taffeta and the sparkle of the sequins in my memory. I also remember how tragic it was when I spilled cordial on it and it had to be washed. It was never quite the same afterwards.
The following Christmas, my mother made me school uniforms, which weren’t quite as rapturously received. But she did do something amazing. She found a tumble weed and decorated it as a personalised Christmas Tree using the smallest size balls and fine lengths of tinsel. It looked amazing. At least it does in my memory. There are no photos, even in black and white, because the following year, our house burned down.
The sad thing is that my mother probably doesn’t remember. Her memories are mostly from her childhood now. I’m the only person holding those memories.
My little Christmas story is about Holly, who loses her memory after an accident. When Ori finds her, he can’t believe she doesn’t remember the powerful connection between them. With his help, she finds those memories and discovers who she is, piece by piece.
If you’d like to read the story, all the links are here.