Monday, December 29, 2008

The Little Things

Maybe I'm just easily pleased, but there's nothing like a few little wins to make your day. When I booked a haircut this morning, I learned my regular hairstylist is on holidays and that the only available appointment this Wednesday is with the salon's "art director." Which sounds fabulous and Hollywood-like, but it comes at a price. $95 to be exact. The receptionist rightfully took my hyperventilation fit as a sign of shock. She then said they're happy to charge what I usually pay. Yay! Now I'll be able to buy a couple of books with the savings and thus further stimulate the economy as well as my mind.

The second little win comes after yet another mail fail. I'd ordered moisturiser from online discount retailer Surprise, surprise, the courier responsible for delivering the item lost said item. Amanda from Active Skin was very apologetic. On Christmas Eve, she arranged to send a few samples to tide me over until she could send what I originally ordered. A dozen samples arrived today and I think my parched skin will be fully hydrated for the next couple of weeks. Yay, Amanda!

Finally, the third "win" is a discovery that appeals not so much to my consumerism but more to my writing ambitions. The Australian Women's Weekly magazine, together with Penguin Group (Australia), has announced a short story competition. Stories must be between 3,000 and 5,000 words, and feature a woman as the central character. Contracted authors are ineligible. The winner will receive A$10,000 and a manuscript assessment if they've completed a novel. Entries close April 21, 2009. You must fill out an original entry form, which is available in the magazine. Full terms and conditions are supposed to be listed at, but I must be blind 'cause I can't see them. There are great writing resources on this page, anyway.

And a not-so-little thing before I sign off: Big congrats to my CP Stephanie Kuehnert, who found a gorgeous engagement ring under the tree on Christmas Day! Very exciting! (She said yes to the accompanying big question, btw.)

fail owned pwned pictures
see more pwn and owned pictures

fail owned pwned pictures
see more pwn and owned pictures

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Sunday, December 7, 2008

More Mail Mayhem

The postal crisis involving my Golden Heart contest entries (see previous post below) has passed. The copies FedExed by Papa Authorness arrived in Texas with more than 24 hours to spare before the deadline. Phew!

It seems I'm not alone when it comes to mail disasters. The publisher of lad mag Ralph last week lost a shipment of 130,000 inflatable breasts valued at A$200K. It's believed the boobs are adrift somewhere between Beijing and Sydney. The magazine had planned to give them away with the January '09 edition, but I guess their readers will have to make do with the articles. Read the full story here.

The postal system works in mysterious ways. I'm sure the fake boobs will get to their intended destination; so will my original Golden Heart entries. But they may take 112 years to get there, just like this postcard.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Please, Mr Postman, Where Are My Golden Heart Entries?

The Golden Heart contest is one of the most important for unpublished romance writers. Each year, the organisers receive about 1,000 entries in 10 different categories. These are whittled down to 100 entries. Acquiring editors at publishing houses judge the finalists, and the winners are announced at a ceremony often dubbed the Oscars for romance writers. In this contest, though, winning isn't everything--many past finalists have gone on to publication as a result of the comp.

This year, I entered two YA manuscripts. I forked out over 200 bucks in entry, stationery and postage fees. ("I'm stimulating the economy," I assured myself.) I airmailed the mss from Australia to the US on November 15. Usually, it takes up to seven days for mail to reach its destination. Plenty of time, I thought, to meet the December 2 deadline. If entries don't make it to RWA's Texas office by then, they're disqualified.

But yesterday, day 14 after mailing, I realised it wasn't looking good for my entries. They still haven't made it. How can this be? Did they get chucked into the seamail postbox instead of the airmail one? Did the plane's pilot make a detour in Tahiti and decide to stay? Or maybe a disgruntled postal worker delivered the mail to the garbage dump.

Ironically, the same thing happened to me about a month ago, when I had to snail-mail my final-round entry for the Golden Pen Award. The preliminary round in that comp is judged by Golden Heart finalists/winners. Somewhere, somehow, my mail went astray.

Whatever the reason, I had to take action this time.

Or rather, my dad did.

He lives in America, so he told me to email my entries and he'd take care of the rest. Despite sore, arthritic fingers and crippling back pain, he stayed up till the early hours of this morning, printed out a whole pine tree's worth of manuscript pages, collated and bound them, burnt my full mss to disks, and sent them off by FedEx. Three cheers for Dad!

Now getting to the final round in the GH means more than ever. It's one way to pay Dad back for helping me out so readily.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Six Degrees of Celluloid

Twelve years ago, when I was a cinema manager, I met visionary director Baz Luhrmann at the premiere screening of Romeo + Juliet. Last night I had one of my recurring cinema nightmares, where I relived the time smoke from nearby bushfires set off the fire alarms and I had to evacuate hundreds of irate patrons several times in one day. Tonight, Luhrmann, Kidman and Jackman (is there a grammatical term for names ending in 'man'?) open their epic film Australia in Sydney. I'll try to overcome my cinema phobia to see it. I just hope I won't need to be evacuated.

I doubt Luhrmann approved this trailer found on YouTube,
but all publicity's good publicity, right?

Tourism Australia commissioned Baz to help entice overseas visitors to our shores
in a new campaign.

Kidman and Luhrmann - together again - for Chanel No. 5.
My favourite piece of classical music, Debussy's Clair de Lune,
underscores this gorgeous ad.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Quick Fiction Fix

If you're an Aussie or a Kiwi reader, you must pick up a copy of this week's Woman's Day magazine. Inside you'll find a delightful historical short story written by my buddy, Anna Campbell. I nabbed my local convenience store's last mag this morning. Be quick!

Here she is with Harlequin Presents author Annie West (left)
at Guildford Library.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Stack of Macs

I never considered myself much of a collector...until I cleaned out my study today and realised I have a veritable Apple Mac museum.

At the bottom of the stack is my very first computer, the Apple PowerBook 180. It has a grayscale display and the memory of a calculator. (Okay, it was far more powerful, and one of the best computers you could get at the time.) The keyboard is actually one of the most comfortable I've ever used.

When the Internet age dawned, it was time to upgrade to the black PowerBook G3 made famous by Carrie Bradshaw. My then boyfriend (now husband; you can see why I married him) bought it for me. I'll never forget the day he surprised me with it--he'd opened a Word doc and typed the immortal phrase, "Meanwhile, downtown..." I started and finished my first novel on that computer.

Fortunately, I never suffered the motherboard problems Carrie endured. But then the little white iBook G4 laptops came along. They were far more alluring than a pair of Manolos. At this stage, I was struggling with a repetitive strain injury and had to use voice recognition software. The old PowerBook just didn't have enough RAM to run the program. On the iBook I wrote my second, third and fourth books.

And then came the aluminium (aluminum, for those of you in the US) MacBook, pictured at the top. I'm hoping to get a few more novels out of this little beauty.

I'm off to work on book six, but I'll leave you with more pics from the collection.

Oldest to youngest.

Mr Authorness's MacBook Pro (second from the right) joined the line-up for this one.

They just look so pretty from all angles, don't they?

Friday, October 31, 2008

The Seven-Year Itch

This week I left the company I worked for after almost seven years. Aside from being paid to watch The Bold and the Beautiful, I'll miss my wonderful colleagues.

Just because I resigned doesn't mean I won't ever see them again, though. All I have to do is hang out at YouTube. Here are two of my former workmates, Gibson and Belinda, who are also actors. Gib's in the Nintendo ads, or TVCs as they're called in the biz, while Belinda is Tall Jan in the All-Bran cereal ad.

Gibson as Cowboy Jed. The TVCs were directed by Bob Dylan's son, Jesse, and filmed in New Zealand. When Gib returned from shooting the campaign, he treated us all to gigantic boxes of Krispy Kremes to celebrate. You can also see Gibson in the Nicolas Cage film Ghost Rider.

And here's lovely Belinda as Tall Jan. (She really is tall). Belinda recently starred in the Sydney production of My Name is Rachel Corrie.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Somebody Call a Doctor!

Our government recently announced a pledge to crack down on the use of skinny models and unrealistic images in the media. Under the proposed code of conduct, magazines and advertisers must add a disclaimer to images that have been doctored. The initiative aims to address body image issues and unattainable ideals. Even the real Beyonce doesn't have a body like the Beyonce we see in touched-up photographs.

These pics from the hilarious blog Photoshop Disasters, however, don't need a disclaimer. A little tweak here, a little tweak there... Next thing you know, limbs go flying everywhere.

Miley Cyrus: Look, Ma! Three hands!

Ah, là est mon nombril vers le haut là dans les collines.
pensé que je perdu il pour de bon.
(TRANSLATION: Oh, there's my navel up there in the hills.
I thought I'd lost it for good.)

Want Fanta? I think the Fantanas need a hand.

Something a little more sinister. Spot the difference in these two pics featuring Prince William.

Best-selling author Christina Dodd's now infamous cover for her novel CASTLES IN THE AIR. The heroine has three hands. As you can see, the hero is thrilled.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Rewrite Relief

I've just finished the rewrites on my paranormal YA. Yee-ha!

This manuscript has had so many past lives. The first draft--completed way back in 2004--was written in third-person past tense and just scraped over the 45,000 mark. I had a heroine people either loved or hated and, truthfully, a rather insipid plot. The ms did okay in competitions, but received an impressive number of rejections from agents. Four years and much tinkering later, the main and subplots are totally different, it's in first-person present tense, I hope my heroine is more sympathetic and likable, and the word count has almost doubled. Is it perfect? Probably not, but I can tell you it's a hundred times better than that first draft.

Many thanks to my critique crew, plus my agent's assistant, Beth, and an intern at WH, who all gave me invaluable advice.

A whole slew of craft books also helped me through the latest revision. Click on the links to see the Amazon reviews.
  • MANUSCRIPT MAKEOVER by Elizabeth Lyon. I really had to raise the stakes in my book, and Lyon's chapters on characterization and structure showed just how to do it.
  • SELF-EDITING FOR FICTION WRITERS by Renni Browne & Dave King. I liked the authors' solutions to proportion problems--when you spend too much time describing minor points and skimp on the scenes that really need to be big.
  • GMC: GOAL, MOTIVATION & CONFLICT by Debra Dixon. Work out each main character's goal, motivation and conflict, and you'll give your story dimension and direction. This particularly helped me when I was bogged down in that swamp known as the Saggy Middle.
  • NOW WRITE! edited by Sherry Ellis. A collection of tried-and-tested exercises to whip lax writing muscles into shape.
So, what's next? Both me and the book will rest for a while. Then I'll dive into another YA that I've kept in a holding pattern for nine months, and catch up on all that reading...

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Books, Glorious Books

I'm in the final stages of rewriting a YA manuscript. I've been at it since March. One thing I'm soooo looking forward to when I get that over and done with is tackling this tower of books to read. I bought most of them on my recent trip to the US (I had to buy an extra cabin bag, too). There are 17 titles here, not counting Stephenie Meyer's BREAKING DAWN, which I've almost finished. That's my incentive book--I'll revise/rewrite two chapters in my book, then read a chapter of Stephenie's latest as a reward.

The others are stacked in no particular order, but I think it's wise to start with MANAGING TIME from the Harvard Business School Press...

Monday, September 22, 2008

Horsing Around

As you can tell, my blog posts have been infrequent of late and I do apologise for that. But I have been busy with the day job, house renovations, revising a novel, etc. I also blame our city council, which sent every residence a lump of clay in the hope the inhabitants would sculpt a horse out of it.


Well, our suburb was once a multi-horse town, where working horses delivered milk, bread, household items and, puzzlingly, rabbits. Today the narrow roads are filled with parked cars because few houses have garages. Before, our street housed stables for Clydesdales who worked for stationery company WC Penfold. So to celebrate our horsey past, artist Annie Kennedy devised an art installation called The Stables. Locals were encouraged to massage their free lumps of clay into something that resembles a horse, and the results will be exhibited from October 11 to October 26.

Here's my horse, Erko, who's a little bit wonky, bumpy and out of proportion, but can actually stand on her own four feet. Neigh!

Monday, September 8, 2008

Finally, A New Post

I've just returned from a long holiday overseas and my brain is beginning to warm up...

Back in July, I flew over to gorgeous San Francisco (picking up four lovely and talented NZ writers Sara Hantz, Amanda Ashby, Ellie Huse and Shelley Munro in Auckland on the way) for Romance Writers of America's annual conference. Shelley's husband had organised for us to travel from SFO to the Marriott in style--with a stretch limo. (A sharp contrast to the shuttle bus I was herded into after the conf.)

In the following five days raged a battle between me and an invisible foe called Jet Lag. However, I still managed to have a terrific time at my first American conference. Most of the workshops I attended were run by YA writers, including the gracious and talented Trish Milburn, who'd recently critiqued my work.

Screenwriters from All My Children and Guiding Light provided memorable insights into writing soaps that translate well into other genres:

* Give your characters a secret--it doesn't have to be revealed to the audience, but it affects the way they see the world and interact with others.
* Make characters dark and find a way to redeem them.
* When you're developing a scene, think of the best and worst things that could happen to the character.
* On soaps, head writers devise plots for a three- to six-month time frame, then breakdown scriptwriters write the episodes. (And sometimes breakdown scriptwriters verge on breakdowns themselves when they have to reincarnate characters who have died in previous seasons.)
* Soap operas were devised by Procter and Gamble to promote their products.

In another workshop, I learned the fundamental differences between a suspense, a thriller and a mystery:
* Suspense novels are all about the anticipation of danger
* Thrillers are about the future
* Mysteries are about the past.

I can't remember who said this, but there's a gap in the YA market for mysteries, thrillers, and books for boys. I also believe Jennifer Klonsky from Simon Pulse is on the lookout for superhero, paranormal, commercial, and fun novels.

Cindi Myers, who's always so generous in passing on market information to fellow writers, had this to say about amping up productivity:
* Don't know where all your time goes? Chart your time on a calendar or planner and ID blocks of time that could be better used for writing.
* Use a ritual to trigger writing time. (For instance, you could play a certain song that inspires you; eat a set number of chocolate bars; whatever works for you.)

Of course, it wasn't all work and no play. The Australian/New Zealand contingent numbered around 30, which I think is a record. One of the biggest highlights was the exclusive Harlequin cocktail party. I scored an invite from Laura, Nora Roberts' publicist, after we volunteered at the registration desk together. And I got to meet la Nora herself! (It was a brief meeting, but a meeting nonetheless!) Harlequin Spice author Cathleen Ross forced me to dance to Bon Jovi and ABBA songs after our indulgent visit to the chocolate fountain.

The conference culminated in the RITA Awards, which really is the equivalent of the Oscars. Sparkly gowns galore. My treasured friend Anna Campbell was up for two awards for Best Historical, and NZ author Emily Gee was also nominated for two awards.

Thank you to:
* Sara, Amanda and Ellie for inviting me to dinners and brekkies, and being wonderful travel companions.
* Marley Gibson for telling me about her ghost-hunting trips. Spooooooky!
* Trish Milburn, Christine Wells, Anna Campbell and all the Banditas for inviting me to their party.
* RWA for a fabulous conference. Great workshops and great people.
* The housekeepers at the Marriott on Fourth Street.
* San Francisco, where I left a piece of my heart and almost lost my wallet.

What I wish I'd done:
* Arrived a few days earlier to get over the jet lag. The last day of the conf was the first time I felt even slightly human.
* Worked up the courage to introduce myself to more authors, especially those I'm in awe of. There's one author I really should've said hi to, but I felt like such a dork.
* This list could get long and boring, so I'll hold it there. Have a look at some pics instead.

The delightful Christine Wells,
whose new release,
The Dangerous Duke, is out now.

Sara Hantz and Wendy Toliver.

Paula Roe, Harlequin author, my website designer,
and all-round fabulous person.

Two Aussie icons: Denise Rossetti and a Tim Tam
(that chocolatey thing on the champers bottle)

(L-R) Shelley Munro, Ellie Huse, Sara Hantz in the limo.

Amanda Ashby, with whom I have so much in common it's scary! 
(But nice!)

The streets of San Francisco.

Me and Anna Campbell.

We're the A Team--crit partners. (L-R) Anna Campbell, 
Cathleen Ross, brand-new Berkley author Kandy Shepherd,
and me wearing an accessory that is more tragic than tres chic.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Drumroll, please!

Your questions and comments were all terrific, which meant picking a winner for our IWBYJR competition was difficult. So Stephanie turned to her trusty random number generator for help. The winner of our IWBYJR comp is...

...softindierocker, aka Lucy D!

Congrats! You've won a prize pack which includes a copy of I WANNA BE YOUR JOEY RAMONE by Stephanie Kuehnert and chocolates from Australia (which have absolutely nothing to do with the book, but are delicious nonetheless).

Softindierocker, please email your details to me at ness @ vanessa barneveld . com (close the spaces) and we'll send you the bounty asap.

Thanks to all who dropped by to talk to Stephanie, and an extra special thanks to the girl herself!

Saturday, July 5, 2008

Stephanie Kuehnert is in the Building

I'm so happy to host one of the smartest debut authors around--Stephanie Kuehnert. Her MTV Books release, I WANNA BE YOUR JOEY RAMONE, is finally out and I couldn't be more excited. It's a vivid, compelling story centered around punk goddess Emily. She's tough as a pair of old Doc Martens on the outside, but there's vulnerability just below the surface that even she doesn't want to admit to.

As part of her week-long blog tour, Stephanie takes the mic and shares her thoughts about the writing process. She'll also be on hand to answer your questions and pick a winner for our book giveaway (details below).

Describe IWBYJR in a classic, three-sentence elevator pitch.
Ahh, I suck at this! I always use the back cover copy because they are so much better at this than I am! Okay, deep breaths….

Music is in Emily Black’s blood. According to her father, her mother Louisa abandoned them when Emily was an infant in order to follow the punk rock scene. As a teenager, Emily finds solace in making music herself and forms the band She Laughs. In a way, she is using her music to search for Louisa because if Louisa is really following the music, shouldn’t she follow it back to Emily?

Okay, I think I cribbed some stuff from their summary, but really, they do a better job than me!

Emily Black's first love--the Fender Mustang.

Hey, you don't suck at all! The depth of Emily's raw and realistic emotions is one of many reasons why I couldn't put your book down. I really felt every high and low. When you sat down to write each day, what helped you get into Emily's head space?
I don’t listen to music when I write, but I listen before I write. I also tend to read over what I’d just written a bit if I am not ready to dive into the character’s head space. And I allow myself to suck at first. I look at the first fifteen or thirty minutes of writing time as warm-up. If it comes out good, it stays, but if not, I trust that I will write myself into the place I need to be.

If IWBYJR were being cast for a movie, who would you choose to portray Emily and Louisa, or any other characters?
Hmm, I have a hard time picking an actress for Emily. My agent once said she thought of Zooey Deschanel, but I think she might be too old. I’d actually love to hear what other people think because I’m not as familiar with teen actresses. One I did think of was the girl who plays the daughter in Sweeney Todd, Jayne Wisener, because she can really sing and she’d look cool with black hair.

As for Louisa, I know a lot of people have had mixed feelings about her as an actress and a person in general, but Courtney Love. She was so amazing in People Vs. Larry Flynt and if she brought that power and emotion to the role, wow! Plus she’s got Louisa’s bleached blonde look and she’s a rock star so she’d get the whole rock thing. Um, and I just love her.

Oh, and Johnny Depp play Michael, please????? The wavy brown hair, the soft-spoken thing, it’s perfect.

Zooey and Courtney as Emily and Louisa?

When did the writing bug first hook its fangs into you?
Soon after I learned to read. I started keeping a journal and writing short stories at eight. I even went to Young Author conferences! But I didn’t consider myself a serious writer until high school when I wrote a lot of bad poetry and some good feminist zines.

What's your writing routine like? Do you need total silence or could you write in the middle of a grand parade?
I mostly need silence. Sometimes the occasion calls for music, which I usually listen to on headphones. My biggest distraction is my cats who seem to love to climb everywhere in my office. Eventually I get frustrated and banish them. For some reason I seem to do first draft stuff in my office and revisions at my dining room table. This may be because it allows me more space to spread out paper, but more likely just a weird quirk.

We all love to hear stories about The Call, when an agent or publisher rings to say they want to represent you/publish your book. Tell us about your Call story.
Mine was an email actually. My agent forwarded me the offer and said, “Call me as soon as you can and let’s talk.” I was at work, hence the email, but I immediately dropped everything and went to use an empty office to call her. We’d had an offer almost a few weeks ago, so I thought this was what they would like to offer me if everything was approved by higher-ups or something. But no, my agent told me, I could accept or deny this, it was in my hands now. Of course I accepted. Then she told me, “Call your mom, you’re a published author!” LOL!

Steph, you’re one of my amazing CPs. And that not only stands for "critique partner" but also for "cat person." Here’s a vid of Stephanie and her cat signing the publishing contract:

Are there any publishing myths you've busted or confirmed since selling your first book?
Well, I’m not up on all the publishing myths, so I’m not entirely sure, but when I was in school for writing, one of the myths discussed was that editors nowadays don’t really work with writers the way they used to. They don’t put their heart or much thought into guiding the author. It’s all about mass production now. This is so not true, at least not with my editor, Jen Heddle. Jen is insanely busy and has a ton of various projects, yes, but her revisions letter to me was as thoughtful as the revisions I would get from my thesis advisor in grad school, a man I admired very much. So I was thrilled to work with Jen. She posed great questions about the story, allowed me to bounce ideas off of her. A good editor is still a writer’s best friend and they still exist… At least at MTV Books!

Music is at the heart of
IWBYJR, so I have to ask--who is your rock'n'roll hero/ine and did you ever want to be a rock goddess yourself?
I have lots of heroes and heroines. My top two heroes are Kurt Cobain and Mike Ness. My heroines are Courtney Love, Mia Zapata, and Brody Dalle. And I totally wanted to be a rock goddess, but I wasn’t instantly good at it and was too undisciplined to practice. The only thing I’ve ever been disciplined with is writing.

Congratulations, Stephanie!
IWBYJR is really gonna strike a chord (geddit?). Thanks so much for being here.

Now, for your chance to win your very own copy of
I WANNA BE YOUR JOEY RAMONE, all you have to do is post a comment. Tell us who your rock'n'roll hero is, ask Stephanie a question, or maybe suggest actors who could do the character of Emily Black justice. And being the hostess, I'll throw in some iconic Australian chocolates as a rider. We'll announce the winner on July 8.

Sleater-Kinney play I Wanna Be Your Joey Ramone, the song that inspired the title of Steph's novel.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Long Time No Blog

Sad family news has kept me overseas in America and away from posting. And so there are masses of cobwebs and dust bunnies in my little corner of Domestic chores aren't high on my list of priorities right now.

What I will focus on is some fantastic sale news from my CP Stephanie Kuehnert. She has just sold her second novel, Ballads of Suburbia, to MTV Books. You can read the first chapter here. I'll be interviewing Stephanie in an upcoming post to celebrate her debut book's release this July.

Before I go, a little tribute to someone special--someone who adored ladybugs, who long ago introduced me to pistachio nuts and showed me how to be a domestic goddess--my stepmom. (Iris, if you're listening, I promise I'll get started on those cobwebs ASAP).

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Princess Mary and Me

For once, I know exactly what it feels like to be in Princess Mary of Denmark's satin shoes. The Australian-born crown princess's husband, Frederik, reportedly lost his wedding ring during a scuba trip off the Florida coast. The ring was forged from the first gold nugget ever found in Greenland. A search party has been scouring the ocean floor since January, plus (attention, treasure hunters) there's a reward for whoever finds the ring.

What does Fred's lapse have to do with me? Mr. Authorness also lost his wedding band in January. Our search party was called off long ago. It's either still buried under several million grains of sand at our local beach or in a hock shop. When he lost it, the first thing I thought of was Apollo 13. (I didn't think to throttle Mr. Authorness first, 'cause that's just not in me.)

Marilyn Lovell, wife of astronaut Jim, accidentally dropped her wedding ring down the shower drain the day the doomed ship was launched. Bad omen? Yup. Fortunately, the crew returned safely after their harrowing ordeal. And since Mr. Authorness isn't due to orbit the earth any time soon, I think it's best not to worry about superstitions. At least I know what to buy him for our anniversary on April 1st.

So, Mary, if you're reading, don't stress about the ring. It's the marriage that's important, not the symbol.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Writing Challenges...

...and Why Blogging Is Great for Your Productivity.

A lot of people, especially Mr. Authorness, thought I'd transformed into a crazy cat lady over the past 12 or so days. Exhibit A: The Secret (Nine) Lives of Us blog I started for my neighbours' kitties (see previous post). Every move those cats made was fodder for the blog. The result was an anthromorphosised view of what I think cats talk about, but I soon realised the blog was an interesting writing exercise.

One of the big challenges for me was to try to make every post a mini-sitcom. Each one needed a story arc, defined characters, and most of all it had to be memorable for my target audience--in this case, the cats' owners.

Formatting it like a play tested my ability to write dialogue without tags or descriptions, something I often get bogged down with. What I've learned from that is when I write first drafts for novels, I can just run long streams of dialogue and fill in the narrative details later. So next time, if I'm stuck for words, I'll try to get into the heads of my characters and write down what they say. Just keep moving and dig deep, no matter how silly or lame your internal editor thinks the story is. Dig long enough and you'll hit gold eventually.

What kinds of writing challenges do you set for yourself?

Friday, February 29, 2008

If These Cats Could Talk...

I'm babysitting two very adorable cats, Lily and BJ. Being such intelligent creatures, they've created their own blog so their parents, who are currently in New Zealand and about to enter into wedded bliss, can keep an eye on them. Please head over to The Secret Nine Lives of Us to say hello and cyber pat the cats.

Monday, February 25, 2008

Baby, You're a Star

The results came through for the SpacecoasT Authors of Romance 2007 Launching a Star contest yesterday. I'm happy to report a YA author, Susan Sipal, won overall (there were several categories). Hooray for Susan! As part of her prize, she'll have a star named in her honour.

Here are the results for the YA section, judged by Allison Brandau of Berkley/Jove and Elaine Spencer of The Knight Agency:

Southern Fried Wiccan Susan Sipal

Denise Jaden
Vanessa Barneveld (Hey, that's me! Yay!)
Kimberly Duffy
Tanya T. Holmes

Congratulations to all the fabulous winners and finalists. And a special thank you to the judges.

The full list of winners will soon be posted here.

Thursday, January 31, 2008

Q Tips

Several people I know are ready to submit their squeaky-clean, polished mss to an agent. In about 99.99% of cases, agents initially require just a one-page query letter that describes the project and relevant info about the author. If the agent likes the premise, they might ask to see a partial (the first three chapters or 50 pages) or the full manuscript. Sounds easy, doesn't it?

Well, if you browse around the many forums, blogs and loops, it's clear just how many other writers are agent hunting. How do you make sure you don't shoot yourself in the foot?

Write a sharp, well-targeted query, of course.

* A polite, clean, spellchecked, grammar-checked and straightforward letter says more than scented stationery or flowery fonts.
* Indicate which genre the book falls in and the word count.
* Never say you've written only the first three chapters and you're just "testing the waters." Write the book, the whole book, revise it properly and then query agents.
* Mention any of the book's contest wins or finals. If you're lucky enough to have a long list of these, choose a couple of the more recent and/or more prestigious competitions.
* Don't talk about how much your greengrocer/grandmother/daughter/pet bird liked the book.
* Be modest--never say you've written the best novel in publishing history or that it's a surefire bestseller.
* At the other end of the scale, don't tell the agent your book has been rejected by dozens of agents and you're querying them because they're your last hope.
* Pitch one book at a time. If you've created a series, talk about book 1 and mention it's part of a series but hold off on describing books 2 to 17 or whatever.
* Don't be a smart alec or be too familiar, even if you read the agent's entertaining blog every day and feel as though you're BFF.
* Follow the agent's guidelines (eg. send a SSAE; don't submit to multiple agents at the same agency at the same time, etc).
* Most importantly, write a compelling paragraph (or two) about the project. Try to infuse the same tone/voice used in the manuscript. It's the plot and the writing that captures the agent, not necessarily your qualifications. Unless of course you're writing non-fiction; a credible platform could bolster your chances.

When formulating my own queries or elevator pitches, I analysed several published back-cover blurbs to get an idea of what constitutes a hook, something to grab attention. Have you ever looked at a blurb and thought, "That sounds brilliant! I have to read this"? I felt that reaction when I read Amazon's editoral description of Jennifer Lynn Barnes's upcoming YA series, The Squad: Perfect Cover:

Bayport High’s Varsity cheer squad is made up of the hottest of the hot. But this A-list is dangerous in more ways than one. The Squad is actually a cover for the most highly trained group of underage government operatives the United States has ever assembled. They have the perfect cover, because, beyond herkeys and highlights, no one expects anything from a cheerleader."

Those four sentences tell me the essentials: who, what, where and why. (If you're like me and find this sort of plot irresistible, you can pre-order Jennifer Lynn Barnes's book here.)

For more resources on query letters, check out:
Call My Agent, a blog by an anonymous Australian agent.
Agent Query's article on formatting the letter.
Agent Nathan Bransford's blog post on the anatomy of a query letter.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Are You Going to San Francisco?

I'm already preparing for the Romance Writers of America annual national conference in July/August. This time it'll be held in gorgeous San Francisco, which means many of us in Romance Writers of Australia can afford the slightly cheaper airfares to the West Coast. One way to offset the cost is to apply for a scholarship awarded by the lovely ladies at Romantic Inks.

On offer to RWAmerica members is a scholarship to attend the 2008 national conference in July/Aug. If you haven't already paid the registration fee (US$425), you can give it a shot. All you have to do is write a 1,000-word essay on what makes you a deserving recipient and upload it here.

Full details are available through the link above. The rules in a nutshell: You must be a financial member or RWAmerica, be able to cover your own hotel, travel and meal expenses, have a polished full ms ready to go, and not be published in trade or mass-market paperback in the last five years. The deadline is midnight Feb 10, EST. Winners will be announced on the RI blog.

Good luck!

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Recycle or Retire?

My list of gadgets to covet now includes Apple's new ultra-svelte MacBook Air. So, what'll happen to my old iBook if I do get a new laptop? I'll recycle, of course. One Apple customer has converted their iMac from this:

To this:

funny pictures
moar funny pictures

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Press Gallery

My talented friend Stephanie Kuehnert, author of the upcoming I Wanna Be Your Joey Ramone, was interviewed by Chicago's Forest Park Review. Read the whole article here. Go, Steph!

Sunday, January 6, 2008

Good Vibrations

My hair's frizzy, my head is thumping, but I don't mind 'cause last night we saw Brian Wilson perform in Sydney's Domain. We danced in the rain and sang off-key at the top of our lungs.

Brian's band was incredible. Hearing their perfect harmonies and instrumentation, I could almost pretend I'd gone back to the '60s. They played Beach Boys favourites, like California Girls, Wouldn't It Be Nice, I Get Around, Fun, Fun, Fun, and God Only Knows. Thankfully, they didn't play Kokomo, but here's a little video just for my good friend Brett, who saved us a place on his picnic rug.

And for everyone else:

Saturday, January 5, 2008

Good News All Round

The first week of 2008 is shaping up very well.

Finalists in the prestigious Romantic Times Reviewers' Choice Award include three of my favourite writers, Annie West, Anna Campbell and Amanda Ashby. Hmm, there must be something fortuitous about having a name that begins with 'A', eh? See the full run down of nominees here. I'm picking out my next purchases from this list.

Speaking of purchases, lovely Wendy Toliver's debut, The Secret Life of a Teenage Siren is out now. There's a great interview with Wendy about how she came up with the concept of the book on Sara Hantz's blog. Sara herself is up for the Aussie Author of the Year Award. Click on this to vote for her. And in a couple of days, Tina Ferraro's second release, How to Hook a Hottie will be out. Cute cover, Tina.

Finally, I just found out I WON a contest, Romance Writers of Australia's Selling Synopsis competition. It's my first-ever win, so I'm rather excited. Congratulations to the place-getters--Bec Sampson, Nikki Beynon, Fiona Gregory, Donna Allen, and Jennifer Reid. Nikki's partial was also requested by the editor judge, so keep your fingers crossed for her.

What's your good news story for this week?

Thursday, January 3, 2008

Happily Ever After

One of my New Year's resolutions is to read/re-read more classic literature. A friend and I were talking about the bleakness of Wuthering Heights. This discussion reminded me of an assignment I was given in high school--make like Emily Bronte and write an additional chapter for WH.

To me, this was wrong on so many levels. For one, it's pretty cruel to ask a bunch of 17-year-olds to emulate Bronte brilliance. Second, Em herself would've run screaming into the moors at the prospect of having her novel debased by a bunch of 17-year-olds. Third, Catherine and Heathcliff's tumultous story already had a masterful beginning, middle and end. Tacking on another chapter felt like flogging the proverbial dead horse. Gross.

So here's a new assignment, as a writer, how do you know it's the end of the line for your story? And do you tie up all loose ends or do you like to leave some dangling? Do you write alternative endings and see which one works better?

While you ponder, here's a little treat from Kate Bush:

Tuesday, January 1, 2008

Happy New Year!

It's actually Jan 1, 2008 here but I can't figure out how to change the time zone settings.

In the lead-up to the new year, I had my own series of unfortunate events. Nothing tragic. Just annoying.

1. I bought conditioner when I needed shampoo.

2. Bought book three in Stephenie Meyer's Twilight series instead of book two.

3. After purchasing conditioner and book three, I hopped on the wrong train and ended up far from home. It was actually on this journey when I realised I'd bought the wrong things.

4. Inspired by a Project Runway marathon, I bought some fabric and started making a cute '50s-style sun dress. Unfortunately, it's been so long since I've attempted such a feat that I'd forgotten many aspects of dressmaking. I cut the fabric on the wrong side, which I think means the dress is inside out, if that makes sense. Certainly, it isn't making any sense to me and I have a feeling this dress is going to the bin.

5. On New Year's Eve, I put on my brand-new and v. pricey emerald silk dress, went out for cocktails and immediately spilt a magarita all over my lap. After that, we went to an Indian restaurant, where a dollop of raita slid off my fork, down my arm and onto my dress. Later at home, I spilt sparkling shiraz on the dress. Soon after, the dress got caught on a dining room chair. Now there's a centimetre-wide hole in the dress and it's beyond repair.

Goodbye, 2007. May 2008 be jinx-free.