August 28, 2010

Faith, hope and controlled insanity

Joss was, not unexpectedly, awesome. I could have listened to him for far longer and he said many things that will probably make it into blogs at some point but there was one thing in particular he spoke about that I loved.

When asked whether he ever dreamed that his shows would be wildly popular/have huge cult followings, he said "Yes." He then went on to say that to be a writer, you have to be slightly megalomanical. You have to have the sort of controlled insanity that lets you say, "Yes, my stuff is very cool and people will like it so I will sit down and write a one hundred thousand word novel or a TV series or a movie," because without that faith in yourself and your stories, you're never going to survive the constant rounds of rejection and criticism that putting your work out there will bring.

Which I've heard other people say variations of before and which I one hundred percent agree with. But it's a difficult thing to talk about, that sort of self-belief. I would say it's even harder for an Australian because we have a deeply ingrained cultural prejudice against people who "talk themselves up". Tall poppy syndrome is alive in well in this country. And it's probably doubly harder on top of that for women, because women are also culturally conditioned to put everyone else first and not stand up and say "yep, I can do that and do it well." Even as I type this, there's a part of my brain saying "Mel, you can't blog about believing in your work, people will think you're up yourself."

But here's the thing. I do believe in my work. I love my writing and my stories and my worlds. I write the books I want to read. But that in no way means that I think "I am the Goddess of all writing and everyone else is a hack turning out dross and every word that drips from my pen is gold." Loving my work doesn't mean there aren't other writers out there that I love and other writers out there that I adore and would give my left arm to get as good as. There are. Plenty. I don't think Joss Whedon thinks he's God (well, he does but he doesn't believe in himself, so that's okay) and the greatest writer on the planet either. I think, to be a little Whitney about it, he believes in loving what you do. I think if someone had said "did you expect great success", his answer might have been 'no, but I hoped. I wanted it. I believed I was capable of writing something really cool'.

I don't think that my first book is going to be a number one New York Times bestseller because i'm just that damn good and I'm the best thing to hit the writing world ever. I'm not. Doesn't mean I wouldn't love that to happen, that I don't let myself dream that one day I will hit lists (because, to quote Joss again, "Dream Big" is another thing I believe in), I like to hope one day I could achieve that if I work hard and keep trying to be better.

Loving your work means thinking "I have a story to tell. It's a good story. I think other people will like this story". Loving your work means "I will work hard to write this story the best way I can write now and then I'll work harder to learn more and write the next story." It means "Okay, I got a rejection, what do I need to do to get better, or fix the story because damn, I believe in this story and I am a writer and I will crack this." It means that deep down in your gut feeling that this is right for you and the pig headed stubborness to keep writing for nine years (or five or fifteen or however long it takes) before you sell a book.

It means finding it within yourself to fight through the moment when what you're writing really is terrible (or at least feels terrible) and your inner critic tells you you're a hack) and you get the horrible critique or rejection or review and get back to the important thing, the love of your story. Which is what I try to do. I have many doubting moments. Many. Many. I had almost an entire year of doubting moments not so long ago. But I slogged it out. I'm lucky in some ways, I had parents who did bring me up to think I could achieve what I wanted if I worked hard at it (not that they ever said "hey, Mel, you'd be a great writer") and I've found ways that work for me to keep me going (which are going to be different for everyone but I like goal-setting and visualisation and meditation and sometimes sheer bloody mindedness, through reading books and doing classes and listening to other writers talk about tools they use) and get me back to "I am a writer. I love this story, let's get to it." How you do that is up to you but I do think you have to find a way because writing is a hard gig and you have to be your own best cheer squad.

Also, because Joss said so and because he was right.

August 27, 2010


Tonight I'm off to see one of my writing heroes....the man who created this:

and this:

which are two of my all time favourite TV shows, as well as many other things of geeky goodness.

Part of the reason you connect with any writer is the voice, and I do adore Joss Whedon's writing voice but I also love his worlds and characters. He writes strong women and strong men. He writes humor and pain, darkness and light. His characters are real even when they're facing the unreal. I'd probably prefer it if he gave some of his couples a real HEA once in a while (but that's partly a problem of writing for TV where such a thing is hard to pull off) but he does do romance and yearning pretty damn well, so we'll let that one slide.

And tonight, I get to go and listen to him talk about how he does it! So woot! And possibly squeee!

August 24, 2010

Slippery little suckers

One piece of advice writers often get is to understand their process. Good plan. Trouble is, processes shift and change with each book. I've had books that have roared onto the page like a freight train, books that have come at a steady slog, books that have fought me, books that have come in bits and pieces like a mixed up jigsaw. Whenever I think I have a vague idea how my stories will work, they shift.

The current wip has mostly been coming in bits and pieces and not really showing me its hand. I knew something wasn't quite right as I could never quite see the last scene but figured I'd get to the end and work it out from there. In the background, I've been turning it over in my mind, trying to see a different angle. Seems that worked, because last night, the story woke me up at 1.30am, telling me the last four scenes and a whole lot about what I needed to tweak. So I wrote for a while in the middle of the night then got back to sleep. And now the muse seems to be saying that the discovery draft is done, we have enough of an idea and onwards to the next. Never done that before...I mean my first drafts are horribly talking head-ish and there are often some unfinished scenes and chunks but this is more like that than ever before. Plus I haven't actually written a few of the last scenes. But what the muse wants, the muse gets so onwards to the next draft we go. She's even kindly provided a rough synopsis.

Stories. They're slippery little suckers. So are writer's brains. You've just gotta hang on for the ride!

August 21, 2010

In brief

Drive by update as I am somewhat brain dead after cranking out six pages after crit group. Muse continues to jump around in this story like a frog on steroids. Hopefully it will all hang together!

Progress - Holly

New pages - Six (yay, 13 more and we hit 300!)
Intriguing things - Ballsy sisters
Annoyances - Jumping around the timeline
Linear/non-linear - Non
Music - Various from the soundtrack.
Location - Desk. Write or Die and Think.
Taking care of Mel - Nap. Chocolate. Tulsi Tea.
Muse food - About to see what the muse feels like watching given there's nothing but the election on telly!

August 20, 2010


My books aren't steampunk...they're more gaslight fantasy (Steampunk is Science Fiction)...steam tech but with magic and critters not so much steampunky gadgets. Having said that, I do love the Steampunk Aesthetic and a conversation on Twitter today with BookThingo, kicked off some searching for a steampunk iPhone cover amongst other things, so I thought I'd share some pretties with the world.

First up, possibly the closest thing to mass market steampunk iPhone cases...gorgeousness from Exovault

I confess to being a little bit sceptical about how much shock these absorb if you drop them compared to a leather case but they are beeyootiful!

Then, possibly even cooler...this bit of wonder from Japan (Factron)

Now, over to the category of people are just very very clever....

Handmade steampunk iphone cases!

via Laura


made by Lilibat on deviantart

Or how about a steampunk iPhone dock?

Freeland Studios

Then we got onto the subject of cool would a steampunk e-reader be? (Though Mel picks an e-reader is going to be a whole 'nother post!).

I haven't yet found an actual punked e-reader but I have found a cover....



Wishwords on LJ Steamfashion (hattip to @Misssteamstess on Twitter

And just because, this is awesome and one day when I own a mansion with a library the size of Neil Gaiman's, I shall work at a desk like this...

via Steampunk Workshop

Though someone would need to invent me an ergonomic steampunk keyboard! lol

So there you go, some pretties from the steampunk world. Don't get me started on the jewellery (don't type steampunk into Etsy! Danger Will Robinson!)

All very familiar

Ladies and gentlemen of the internet, yes, we have reached that time again, the time when Mel needs to pull out the progress stats to keep her inner taskmaster happy and get the darn draft finished. Today I decided to write twenty pages. No idea why. It was a little bit nutty. But I did it. So that seems like as good a time as any to start this again. Technically, I'm in the last quarter of this book. Maybe I'll figure out what it's about soon. Though possibly not. That's why the powers that be invented second drafts, after all! Weirdly, usually I know the last scene of my books. This time, I think the scene I have in mind is more like third or fourth last...the muse, she is secretive at times!

Progress - Holly

New pages - Twenty
Intriguing things - Sneakiness. Things I thought would happen earlier, happening later.
Annoyances - Not many. More arms would sometimes be nice.
Linear/non-linear - Non
Music - Various from the soundtrack.
Location - Desk. Write or Die and Think.
Taking care of Mel - Chiro. Exercises. Tulsi Tea.
Muse food - Notting Hill about to be watched!

In other news, I am going to see Joss Whedon next Friday (woot and squee) and also going along to AussieCon 4 for a day the week after! Having never been to a SF con before, it should be fun!

August 18, 2010

Post-conference wrap up

Now that the brain has recovered a little and I seem to be keeping the post conf crud at a low level, herewith my wrap up of the Romance Writers of Australia 2010 conference in the always beautiful Coogee. And given that I seemed to forget I had my camera with me or that my phone took pics at all times except when staring out at the view every morning, you get a conference in seascapes.

Day 1 - Wednesday

In which the view looked like this, just to emphasise we were no longer in cold, wet, soon to be stormy Melbourne.

Keri and I arrived early afternoon, caught up with some friends, began the dietary havoc by eating a club sandwich and hot chips (which sensibly we shared because it was HUGE), then she, Tracey O'Hara, Jenn Schober (Tracey's agent), Kelly Hunter and I went into town to Galaxy so Keri and Tracey could do a signing. Galaxy, might I just add, is a fabulous den of temptation (I mean, I am very fond of Minotaur and Of Science and Swords in Melbourne but Galaxy beats them for sheer volume of books on shelves) and the staff were lovely and very interested in my book (which is awesome but a strange concept to wrap one's head around...hey, these people will be selling my book next year!). I managed to restrain myself to only buying four books (willpower, I haz it). So that was fun. Then we all trooped back and ate burgers and more hot chips (conference calories do not count!).

Day 2 - Thursday (A-Day or Published Author Day)

In which the sea turned moody

A-Day began at the very civilised hour of 10 am, so I did some writing first (the new netbook behaving well, though Open Office did not seem to like my quotation marks, so I went back to Word for now). A-Day was fun and packed full of good presenters. Wendy Harmer ended up at the wrong hotel but found us eventually. She talked about chick lit, Jenn Schober talked about branding and professionalism (be nice, play nice), Dr John Barletta talked about finding the flow, one of the writers of Underbelly talked about writing true crime and finding a story's through line (sorry, her name escapes me for now), Deb Dixon talked about small press and what to look for, Jennifer St George spoke about media and then there were breakout sessions for the various types of books. All in all, most excellent. Keri and I snuck in a somewhat windswept walk along the beach. By the time we had finished, Chris had arrived and we all ended up eating (this time far healthier pizza and chocolate and caramel fondant pudding) at the hotel's Ocean Bar with various fabulous folks before sneaking off for more writing and an attempt to get enough sleep.

Day 3 - Friday workshop with Deb Dixon

In which the sea sparkled and gleamed

Friday morning started with the lovely Robyn arriving to join us. Deb Dixon did half a day on Goal Motivation and Conflict and half a day on the Hero's Journey. She's very much a plotter and uses all this stuff up front. I very much do not but I do use all these types of things in a stir 'em into the mix and see what works sort of way in revision (I'm always a little surprised when people seem to think pantsing means you don't revise what you've written...everyone revises what they've's just when and how we revise that differs), so it's always good to hear people who've written craft books you've read talk about their theories in person. Deb was lovely and I came away with a few interesting ideas to try out. But our main task of the day was stopping Robyn putting on her costume and wearing it all day. *g*

Friday evening was the always fun cocktail party. Our cocktail parties are always fancy dress and this year the theme was fantasy island, so everyone came dressed as their fantasy. Well, most of us did. Look, I'm not a big fan of fancy dress (though it is fun at the cocktail party and works as an icebreaker) but I tend to do big effort in Melbourne when I don't have to schlep a costume on a plane and less effort in Sydney and Brisbane. This year, I figured I had the perfect excuse because my fantasy of many years came true this year and I sold a book. So I went as me lol. But Keri, Robyn and Chris made up for my slackness. Keri looked hot as a Dark Angel, Chris had made herself a fabulous coat of many book covers and she'd also made the most absolutely beautiful Regency gown and bonnet for Robyn to wear. (Once again, I apologise, I am slack, I did not get a pic...maybe Keri will post one! Or Robyn! hint hint.)

Day 4 - Saturday (or Day 1 of the actual conference)

In which there was rough sea and pointy sun fingers

And in which the day started in a very cool way because I got this:

(okay, so maybe I took a photo of one other thing...)

There were many awesome plenaries and workshops. I did Single Title vs Category with Vicki Lewis Thompson and a very cool Web 2.0 workshop with Kate Cuthbert (who would probably growl at me for having such a long scrolly post, sorry Kate!) and then got to do participate in my first ever author chat as an author (hopefully I did not babble too much)!

Saturday night was the awards dinner in which Keri and I sat with Kate Cuthbert and Kat Mayo from BookThingo and were very web 2.0 and twittered the awards dinner somewhat. Robyn won the STALI , Chris came third in the VP and loads of other awesome folks won awards and finalled. A special woohoo to Tracey O'Hara for breaking the paranormal curse when it comes to the R*BY award! After dinner there may have been a little drinking and celebrating and a somewhat late night.

Day 5 - Sunday

In which morning seemed to start extra early but at least turned on a very pretty sea...

I started with brekky with Valerie Parv and other former winners of the VP award then did another walk on the beach. After that more awesome plenaries and panels. Then a great workshop on taking the pain out of writing with Terri Green which was all about looking after your body as a writer and great stretches/exercises and things to do. Lunch on Sunday was the regular fundraising lunch. This year, we did Ovarian Cancer rather than Breast Cancer (the message for both is the attention to your bits ladies. If something seems off, get it checked out fast!) I believe we raised over $10,000, including Harlequin's great $5k donation.

Then a completely awesome, entertaining and slightly scary workshop on fight scenes with Ray Floro which included killing people with a magazine, why the vulcan nerve pinch type approach doesn't work and how to massacre a leg of lamb with very little effort. After that we wrapped up. Sadly I didn't win an iPad in any of the raffles but I did win Kandy Shepherd's book and a very cute lead and collar (is the universe trying to send me messages about puppies??). Post conference there was more drinking and chatting then Keri and I headed back to the airport where, miracle of miracles, we got bumped to an earlier flight. Though sadly, when I got home I'd reached the adrenaline/caffeine overload stage and couldn't sleep until 1am. But I made up for that with a two and a half hour nap Monday afternoon!

So that was Coogee. Next year the conference is in Melbourne (so I'd better start planning my costume). The keynote speaker is Susan Wiggs, Bob Mayer is doing the Friday workshop and Kristin Nelson is the guest agent. It shall be fab, so come one, come all!

August 11, 2010


This shall be my view for the next few days!

I'm off to the Romance Writers of Australia 2010 conference. So be good, internet people. There may be blogging and tweeting, it depends on how much fun we're having : )

August 06, 2010


This week got away from me and I haven't yet announced July's contest winner! Bad mel!

Anyway, the lucky gal who gets the Dragon Variation by Sharon Lee and Steve Miller is none other than Australia's very own Golden Heart winner Kylie Griffin! (She obviously has the golden touch this month).

Kylie, drop me a line and we'll sort out your prize.

August 01, 2010

August contest!

July is never a great time of year for me. Peak day job busy period keeps me on my toes, and it always seems like I blink and the month is gone. This year has proven to be no exception and here we are in August (which is yay for being the last month of winter and yay for being the month of the RWAustralia conference but still somewhat mind boggling in the where-is-my-year-going factor).

But time marches on and a new month means a new contest prize!

This month, I thought we'd do some women's fiction. And my very favourite women's fiction writer. Who just happened to win a RITA today because she is brilliant.

So August's book is The Lost Recipe for Happiness by Barbara O'Neal.

And just because it's truly gorgeous, here's the Aussie cover as well.

Many years ago when I was still just at the start of my writing path, a critique partner kept raving about a book called No Place Like Home, by Barbara Samuel. Eventually I caved and read it and immediately fell in love (plus bawled like a baby which is something I rarely do with books) with the book and the writing. I've since read everything of Barbara's that I could get my hands on (she writes as Barbara Samuel, Ruth Wind and Barbara O'Neal) and have never been disappointed. I still cry every time when I hit a certain scene in No Place Like Home.

Not long after I read No Place Like Home, I met Barbara at the RWNZ conference, where she was very nice to a nervous newbie (I think I sat next to her at dinner and probably made no sense at all because I was up for a contest win). And a bit later still, five of my crit buddies and I did one of her first Voice classes where we discovered that Barbara is not only lovely but also a great teacher. That course was part of the reason I finally gave into my fantasy/paranormal leanings in my writing, so I will be forever grateful for that.

I've done other courses with her since then and gotten to know her in real life and she remains inspiring and encouraging and generous. And even if all that wasn't true, I'd still be recommending her beautiful, lush, lyrical writing to you. Barbara evokes setting like a poet and her books will make you laugh, make you cry and probably make you very very hungry. She writes very real women and sexy men and adorable dogs and you should rush out and buy one of her books now. Or comment here and win one! The Lost Recipe for Happiness was Barbara's first book as Barbara O'Neal and someone gets to take it home this month.

As usual, explanation of why the contest is here.

Rules are simple, comment on any blog post this month to score an entry. Winner has one week after being announced here and on Twitter and Facebook to get back to me to claim the prize, after which I will re-draw.