Tuesday, 24 November 2015

44. Long Days and Early Nights

It’s been a busy few weeks in the Line household and my column explains why.

It’s been a while since there was a baby in my home. I’d forgotten all about the sleepless nights, the little ‘accidents’, and all that biting, chewing and yipping.

Oh yeah, the new baby is a puppy.

Before Children, our first ‘baby’ was a sweet-natured, chocolate coloured kelpie cross. He was always excited to meet people and would welcome anyone into our backyard with a vigorous wag of his tail and his soccer ball ready for them to play catch. Letting visitors leave again was another matter entirely. The only way to escape was to hope he grew tired of chasing the ball before they did. Our pooch was there when we brought our children home and he loved his ‘pack’ dearly. Cancer claimed him a few months short of his sixteenth birthday. Losing him was devastating.

Three years later, a little grey fluff ball with gorgeous blue eyes captivated me and begged me to take him home. The kids’ faces when we told them we were getting a puppy were priceless. They’re learning puppies are hard work, but we’re all enjoying our newest family member.

Our cat, on the other hand, is yet to be convinced.

This cute little bundle of energy answers to the name of Dante since it’s the only one of the half dozen names we tried that he actually acknowledged.  You see why he’s heart meltingly cute as well as mischievous with a capital ‘M’.



I’m pleased to report he’s started sleeping through the night. He crashes around eight-thirty and starts calling (crying) for company anywhere between five and six am. It’s taken a while for me to adjust to this new schedule. The shock for this long time night owl rising at such a (dare I say ungodly hour?) and trying to function has been beyond a joke. I pity the early risers who have to watch a woman stumbling alongside a puppy whilst looking more like a rambling drunk wearing goodness knows what sort of ensemble that’s meant to pass for walking gear. (At that hour of the day, I’m probably wearing odd shoes too, never mind the odd socks.) And all the while, I’m wishing the little fluff ball had slept for just five minutes more. On the positive side, I’m certainly getting plenty of fresh air and exercise, and most of our morning company is very happy to see us. Well, they’re happy to see Dante. I’m sure they’re still wondering about the crazy looking lady on the other end of the lead. :/

The early starts have provided another benefit. More time for reading, writing and ‘meeting’ more authors. :) I hadn’t planned to do another interview so soon, but when you’re presented with a wonderful opportunity to learn more about an author and his or her thought processes, get to read their latest release and enjoy a little friendly conversation, this fashion challenged dog walker writer wasn’t about to let such an opportunity pass her by. I wish I could say the same for dog bomb duty considering the puppy prefers not to go on the training mat. The rug in the front hall is apparently a better option.

But back to more pleasant things. :)

Ms Fiona Greene generously agreed to answer my twenty author questions after an email chat organised by RWA’s Dee Scully for aspiring writers. Ms Greene told us a little about herself and then prepared to answer all the questions we threw at her. And now I get to share them as well as a review of her latest release – Home for Christmas.

First, the blurb.
What began as an impersonal-but-cheerful holiday gift for a soldier far from home becomes so much more...

Sergeant Tate McAuliffe, stationed in Afghanistan, opens his Christmas care package from Australia and is stunned by both its contents and the sender.

Fun-loving Christmas tree designer Layla Preston is a breath of fresh air for loner Tate. Although they’ve never met, their email friendship quickly develops and their feelings for each other deepen.

But Layla knows the heartache that loving a soldier can bring and when Tate is injured, her deep-seated fear drives them apart. With their relationship in tatters, can Layla and Tate work through their differences, so Layla can welcome Tate home for Christmas?



If this story doesn’t tug a little at your heartstrings, I’ll be very surprised. Either that or I’m a much bigger sook than I care to admit. It’s hard not to get the feels when you’re reading a Christmas story this close to the festive season. Layla and Tate’s relationship began with a series of email exchanges after Layla leaves her business card in the care package she’s sent to the Aussie troops stationed in Afghanistan. By coincidence, the care package is given to Sergeant Tate McAuliffe, an avid cricket fan, for inside the package are collectable cricket cards Layla’s ex-army father coveted. Despite the loss of her immediate family, her brother was killed serving his country and her parents have both passed, Layla is a huge believer in all things family and Christmas. She’s the very opposite of Tate who, thanks to an alcoholic, abusive mother, never knew a day of happiness in his life, let alone at Christmas. Somehow, her cheerfulness breaks through Tate’s emotional barriers. The emails progress to photo exchanges and talk of meeting when Tate’s tour finishes but a sniper attack ruins their fledgling relationship. Not knowing if Tate’s dead or alive, the fear of repeating the heartbreak of losing her brother becomes all too real to Layla. She’s no longer sure she wants share in their first Christmas together. This is a sweet story of innocent romance where you definitely want the couple to have their happy ending.

And here’s the interview. :)

1.   When did you first consider yourself a writer?

At high school, I wrote, during Uni I wrote, but only for myself. Up until about 1995, I did courses, and I wrote. Then I got married and I put it away because there were other things happening. I stored my writing in a box and considered myself a failed writer. In about 2006, our dog was sick. While staying home with her I started cleaning out cupboards and found the box of writing. I started writing then and there (that cupboard was still open when hubby arrived home four hours later and I had eight exercise book pages). I wrote for about four months, and then decided I wanted to pursue it. Really. I joined Romance Writers of Australia and started entering romance contests.

2. Do you have support from family and friends?

Yes. My family is very supportive, especially my closest-in-age sister. She’s my biggest cheer fan and I wouldn’t like to be going on this journey without her.

Some friends are openly supportive but some of my work colleagues are 1. disparaging of romance and surprisingly 2. almost envious that I have "found the time" to write a book.

I don’t hide anything about my writing. I had to apply for a new job recently and openly said I had good written communication skills because I was a published author.  (I got the job.)

3. Do you have a particular writing style?

I'm a sweet romance writer, more so than a sexy romance writer. I'd like that to change as I become more experienced with my writing because the market for sexy can take you in different places. Having said that, if it’s not your thing writing hot sex, don't. Because the reader will know you're not comfortable, and they won't enjoy your book.

4. What are your favourite story writing genres and authors and what draws you to them?

Futuristic/Sci Fi Romance - Susan Grant is my absolute favourite. She has a great sense of humour. I also like SE Gilchrist (Aussie) and her books are hotter.
Contemporary Romance- Aussies like Nikki Logan, Rachael Bailey, Bronwyn Jameson, Fiona Lowe. There's a sense of the familiar in their works. I also love snowy Rocky Mountain stories of all sorts (so different to the heat in Queensland) and intrigue/category romantic suspense.
Historical Romance- Eloisa James for her witty characters, Anna Campbell, Christina Brooke/Christine Wells. I cut my teeth on Kathleen Woodiwiss and Johanna Lindsey books.
YA - I've been reading a bit of YA - The Gallagher Girls series (Teen spy academy disguised as girls’ school)
As I get busier with more responsibility I'm tending towards shorter word counts over longer unless I’m on holidays and able to devote time to reading a longer work.
5. Where can we buy or see your works?

Home for Christmas is available at e-tailers via this link  http://www.escapepublishing.com.au/product/9780857991973
I've also have futuristic stories in the Little Gems Anthology Moonstone and Peridot available from the RWA Website.

6. Can you tell us what are you working on at the minute?

I’m doing NaNoWriMo and I’m working on another futuristic romance set in a world with domed cities, rebels and secrets. I’ve got another futuristic in edit and about 80% of a contemporary romance complete.

For me, the accountability of NaNoWriMo helps me to complete books. If I don’t have a deadline, I struggle to complete the work.

7.  How much research do you do?

I don't research anything until after the first draft is done, because that gun I put in scene one might end up on the cutting room floor when the first draft is edited. So I have to be sure its staying before I research whether there are any guns with silver hilts small enough to fit in Oroton purses. I don’t waste writing time researching.

I have a science background, I watch a lot of sci-fi and space documentaries and my futuristic writing is light sci-fi. Sci-fi romance is a Regency or a contemporary in costume. So the core romance/emotional connection is the same, it’s the dressing that's different. My sci-fi is sprinkled in, given in enough detail that we can see they are on a space ship, but without giving the specs for the ship.

If anyone reading this is writing sci-fi/futuristic/space, my first writing tutor suggested this technique. Grab the remote, find reruns of classic sci-fi and watch it with the sound down. Write descriptions of what you see - describe walls, doors opening, scenes on the bridge and teleporting. This is a setting/situation you’ll probably never experience. Then describe those uniforms - do they cling, are they shiny? (Definitely don’t plagiarise plots & characters, just watch without sound and use this technique to hone your writing)

8.  Why do you write?

I like making things up and it gives me somewhere to get away from my black and white/life and death day job.

This last week I had to review a coroner's report to identify areas where the service at my day job could improve. As a result, I couldn't settle that night but immersing myself in make believe redirects me from overthinking, "what might have been". I like to think it stops me burning out.

9. Do you have a writing routine?

To write routinely :-)

Seriously, I schedule the year at the start, then I break it down by book but I add in "wiggle room" because we all have bad days where nothing happens writing wise. I transfer the plan to my diary, treat a writing entry like its work and try to stick to it.

When I get to "work" - I either work on the iPad in pages or in word with internet turned off until I hit my target for the day. This involves coffee and quiet space. I have been known to put a load of laundry on, stay in the laundry with my writing till the next load needs to go on. Funny how no one bothers you when you're in the laundry...

10. Do you ever get writer’s block and if so, how do you get through it?

Yes. I’m guilty of procrastination and sometimes suffer from block. “Shaving the Yak” (procrastination) is where I put off sitting down and writing. I'm big on targets (1000 words per day), rewards (chocolate at lunchtime if I meet my target) and writing on my iPad using Pages with internet turned off (this used to be an old-fashioned pre-computer called an Alphasmart). This allows me to write forward from a point, and not edit the first draft.

If I can't figure out where to go next, I call that block. Nothing is happening in my head with these characters. There are two techniques I use here. First, I get active - go for a walk or run or swim to get the blood flow in my body and brain changed and while I’m doing that I try not to think about the book.

When I come home I take what I know about the main character in the scene and give them a 180 degree shift in attitude towards the situation and write what happens next. This won’t stay in the book, but shocks both me and the other characters in the scene enough to get some action going. Alternatively I find a writing prompt online and write 500 words on it. If you’re looking for writing prompt try the #writingpromts hashtag on Twitter.

Most importantly, keep writing.

11. What book/s are you reading at present?

Fly In Fly Out by Georgina Penny
 
12. What do you think of “trailers” for books?

I haven't dipped my toes into the trailer waters for my book but I do like looking at them, and I do want to learn. Trailers are essential for the younger generation, who want movement and entertainment. If you satisfy that want, they may buy your book.

13. What advice would you give to aspiring writers?

Write. Finish. Edit. Submit.

My creative writing tutor back in 1990's had the figures but only about 1% of writers who start a book finish it, and 1% of those submit it. If you want to publish, you have to write, finish, edit and submit.

Also, remember in grade one when they lined you up with your peers and made you run to the end of the oval and one person won, and everyone else didn't. Writing is not like that. We're all at different points in our journey and if you keep writing and keep going, you will get to the finish line. Don't compare yourself to others. Ever. You are running your own race. Learn from those that have finished that first race (and yes, we sometimes end up back at the starting line), and support your writing friends who are struggling to get across the oval.

14.  What do you like to do when you’re not writing?

I like activity (aka I don't sit still well) so I walk, sometimes run, sometimes bike and having two big dogs, I spend a lot of time at the park (and at dog training). We have a rural block two and a half hours south west of Brisbane - the aim was to fit out the shed where we leave our camping gear as a habitable dwelling and retire down there when the time comes. Five floods and one bushfire later, I'd be happy to have finished the fencing repairs.

I love it because I can plot and dream to my heart’s content while I'm out fixing fencing, so long as I hand the right piece of equipment to hubby when he needs it. The split living arrangement has made me an expert at packing and pre-preparing meals and that’s a good skill to have when you're a writer. I used to write a lot at night down at the shed until hubby managed to get TV reception. Now, there's really nowhere to hide from the TV...

On TV, I grew up in a house where children did not watch TV. I don't watch a lot of TV as a result and I believe that is good (more time) and bad (less viewing of story structure, characters etc) for writers.

15.  What do you think makes a good story?

Characters you can feel empathy for. If you never have, watch the start of the animated film "Up." Probably only the first ten minutes (that shows the backstory), and then think about starting the movie without the flashback. Do you have empathy for the grumpy old man without seeing his life prior? Even murderers can be likeable characters if their motivation is believable and makes you feel empathetic for them.

Reducing Unicorns (aka making it believable). I recently read a story of a 28 year old virgin who had been working in movies in Hollywood and all the way through I wondered if this was a "Unicorn romance" (my term). I didn't believe the setup, so I had no empathy for the character and didn't enjoy the book. Reimagine this setup - the girl is fifteen, it’s a young adult novel, she's just been discovered and discovers the way that Hollywood eats its young. I would want to read that book, but the 28-year-old Hollywood virgin didn’t work for me.

A goal to work towards and obstacles to getting there.

Character growth for every character. as they meet the challenges

A happy ending. I truly hate stories with unhappy endings. I read for entertainment, so entertain me. Don't make me want to reach for the antidepressants.

16. If you write more than one genre, how do you balance them?

This is hard. Futuristic is my passion, but contemporary is where I’ve been published. The futuristic market is smaller, so I am trying contemporary as well. I tend to do one futuristic, then one contemporary and I use the lure of the futuristic to drag me kicking and screaming into the completion of the contemporary. I'd love to answer this question again in 10 years and see how it worked out for me.

17. Are you a plotter, panster or a combination of both?

My logical brain tells me I'm a plotter, and I do try to work to a general outline, but once I've done that my creativity takes over and the detail tends to be pants-ed. So in Home for Christmas, I wanted my hero, who wasn't acting heroically at the start to be more heroic. During the edits I added the "save the donkey" scene, which I completely pantsed. I have no idea where it came from.

Saving a donkey is a good thing to do if you're a hero - not because the heroine saw it (she never knew) but because it made the hero believe in himself. Note: I saved the donkey by pantsing the first draft, and then I researched how you attach a donkey to a cart, and what you'd have to cut to set it free. I truly hope I never have to use any of that information to save an animal of any description in real life.

18.  What question do you wish someone would ask, but no one ever has?

Secret superhero thing: Well, now that you mention it, I was once a pinball expert. First job was at my dad's petrol station where he turned an unused workshop bay into a pinball parlour. I ran drinks/chips etc over to the teenagers on weekends and on school days I watched for the two buses (one north, one south) that delivered kids to the high schools in the next towns. I alerted the teens the bus was coming, and they gave me their banked games in exchange. I played pinball for an hour each morning. My sister can tell a similar story about playing pool at the snack bar they had before the service station. We recently did a road trip and played pool at the pub and pinball at the servo. It was fun.

19.   Any writing rituals / superstitions?

No. I do like a coffee when I write but nothing superstitious. I figure it’s a job and I'd better get my butt in the chair and do it.

20.  How did you deal with rejection letters (if you had any?)

Rejection is part of being an author if you submit.

I’ve had rejections. I cried. Maybe a few times. I ate chocolate. Probably a whole block. I sat on the couch and sulked. A day later, I was spotty, bloated, face swollen and I felt awful. I realised while the rejection was bad, it was possible to feel worse, and that was my own doing. So I dusted myself off, re-evaluated and kept going with my writing. If I share, it’s done in private (verbally, not via technology) with trusted writing buddies then I use the fire in my belly to spur me onto turning that manuscript round and sending it out the door to my next choice of publisher.

A great piece of advice I always remember is that rejection is one person’s opinion of your manuscript on one day. If they are having a bad day, or they see seven manuscripts with the same premise, you might be rejected. Remember also, that sub-genre popularity dictates how many slots each month a publisher offers. You can’t control who else submits in your genre.


Thank you for such informative answers, Fiona. :)

‘Home for Christmas’ wasn’t the only book I read this month, but I’ll save that for the next blog because Ms Jenny Schwartz has been spoiling me again. Also, as it’s become a little tradition for me, I’ll be sharing a story next month. As always, I’m hoping I’m improving. I’m still finishing edits for the new anthology whilst waiting for a burst of inspiration for an upcoming contest. Since Little Gems is about sunstones this year and I’ve been witnessing many dawns lately, I’m sure I’ll come up with something. Dante may even feature and find himself immortalised in print. (The pup, that is, not the poet for which he’s named.) Although for the first few nights of trying to settle the puppy and having very little sleep, I was convinced I was sinking into any number of Dante’s several levels of Hell.  I just have to keep reminding myself it will get eaZzzz...