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Worried womanI’ve spent the first three months of this year finishing off the 1st draft of the sequel to the cat book. (See right.) I’m now at around 80,000 words, and I’m embroiled — no other word for it — in arranging the scenes in chronological order. You see, I write novels out of order, just picking one scene from the story line as the mood takes me. I don’t do this with short stories, which I plan out in advance, but I do it with novels, god help me. Now I’m the proud possessor of around 80,000+ words, roughly 85 scenes — all out of order.

To get a book out of this is no mean feat. When I saw the extent of the problem, plus the fact that I still had three critical scenes to write, I thought of lying down on the railway tracks.

Railway tracks

But the train doesn’t run in these parts anymore.

How to proceed from here? My method was to buy a packet of catalogue cards, write the name of each scene plus a brief description on a catalogue card, and then sort the cards into piles representing the main characters. I then sort each character pile into their journey arcs. After that, I shuffle the cards until they’re in what I hope is the right order for the novel, interpolating the main character cards as I go. This takes time. Quite a bit of it, in fact. When that’s done, I take the printout of the novel and put the printed out scenes into the order I obtained via the catalogue cards. Then I read the printout to see if it flows, where bridges need to be added, etc.

It’s madly time consuming, and I’m only at the catalogue card stage at present; I have a fair way to go yet. Unfortunately, it’s the kind of thing that can’t be hurried. Glitches in the plot will always appear at this point, and it takes time to work through them, for something to occur to me that will solve the problem.

Writing a novel out of order is a mug’s game; I don’t recommend it to anyone. But that’s my way with novels; I just take them on, one bite at a time, until eventually they’re done.

So here I am with my catalogue cards wrapped around with a rubber band. I get up in the morning, put on my dressing gown, feed the cat, make a cup of tea, and shuffle the catalogue cards.

Worried woman in dressing gown

I predict it will be a while yet before I have a properly organised printout that I can use to arrange the scenes in the right order in the computer version.

As the late Bob Ellis used to say, “So it goes.”

PS If you’re wanting to catch up on any of my short stories, the easiest way to do it is to go to http://www.amazon.com/Danielle-de-Valera/e/B00H286LXI  There’s a list there of all of them.

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Real Thing-final(1)

One day in 1989, when I was struggling with the first draft of “Transference” (eventually published in Penthouse), my good friend and ex, Gianni Cosatto, strode into my house and plonked three handwritten foolscap pages down on the kitchen table.

“There you are,” he said. “I’ve written the first scene of a story for you.”

I picked up the pages and scanned them. The scene was written from the 1st person point of view. It seemed to concern a man who’s sent to a planet called Gerar to check the authenticity of a coin found there. As he sits in Reception, still shocked from the hyperspace, this gorgeous chick with long red hair comes out of an internal door and is rude to him. I gathered that rudeness was a turn-on for this hero, who immediately decides to fall in love with her. End of scene.

“What else happens?”I asked Gianni. “I mean, What’s the story?”

“Dunno,” said Gianni, “I just wrote the first scene. You’re the writer.”

“Well, thanks,” I told him. “I’ll have a crack at it later.” I might as well have said: I’ll bury it later. I had no intention of having a crack at it. I pleaded busyness whenever Gianni enquired about it in the years that followed.

One rainy day in the twenty-first century, long after Gianni had died, I found the story in a drawer and decided to try to finish it. Seductresses with long red hair didn’t interest me, so I made it a gay story. But it never really worked. Sci fi mags I submitted it to were put off by the gay relationship; mags that might’ve been interested in the relationship were put off by the sci-fi angle. I was stuck with it. One day, I realised that the the idea of finding a coin on Gerar or anywhere else, for that matter, was so preposterous a plot I might as well set the story in Australia. I chose Maralinga, with its interesting history of British A-bomb explosions in the late 1950s and early ‘60s.

So here it is. I’ve recently worked it over yet again to fit the Charles Lawson thread in the short story collection I’m building, tentatively entitled North Coast Stories. It’s 5,885 words long and available for 99 cents at:

http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00OQAB7UW

https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/485382

Whatever misgivings I might still entertain about the story’s far-fetched plot, I’m immensely happy with the cover, which author C S McClellan created from a recent photograph of Maralinga country by Baz Landy.

For those who are interested, below is a recap of where we’re up to now in the North Coast Stories collection:

  1. Busting God

http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00J8ZIE8S

https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/416303

  1. Remains to be Seen

http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00LNDWRM2

FREE at https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/454352

  1. Stella by Starlight

http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00MTVVG96

https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/467119

  1. Star’s Story

FREE at: https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/479505

  1. The Real Thing

http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00OQAB7UW

https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/485382

 

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super moon in starry sky on sea

 

Nine years ago or thereabouts, the Australian Women’s Weekly ran a short story competition with a first prize of $5,000 and guaranteed publication in this most circulated of Australian women’s newspapers. Being a writer and thus financially on the rocks (I figure I’ve made about $8 a week from my writing over the last 20 years, and that’s a high-end estimate), I decided to enter. I didn’t expect to win, but I thought there’d probably be a short list and the stories on that would be offered publication. And the Women’s Weekly pays, baby, pays.

So I sat down and sweated out a story of 5,000 words and sent it off. Months passed. Eventually the result was announced, but Danny Margaret had scored zero, zilch, and there didn’t appear to be a short list. Well, I thought, so much for that, and I put the story away in the proverbial bottom drawer.

Five years went by. One day (I must’ve had nothing better to do, perhaps it was the wet season) I pulled the story out and reread it. It’s not bad, I thought. Very Women’s Weekly – what a shame it didn’t get anywhere … Then I remembered Australian writer Marele Day saying once in a writing workshop that magazines were always looking for Christmas stories. They were drowning in the other kind, she said; but they were always short of Christmas stories. Hmm, I thought.

At the time my finances were in worse-than-usual disarray. Publication in the WW would sort all that out. O-kay. There was just one hitch: My story wasn’t a Christmas story. To solve this problem, I had the main character’s daughter refer to Christmas in an already-existing phone conversation and I had two people the main character passes on her way to the beach wish her a Merry Christmas. That’s all I did.

By now, my CV had filled out, and I had a little more confidence than I’d had in earlier years. I approached the editor of the Women’s Weekly by email, gave her my CV and a 3-line synopsis of the story and asked if she’d be interested in reading my “Christmas story”. Next thing I know I’m being offered publication in their 2010 Christmas edition.

The moral of this monologue is: If you put a short story in a competition and it doesn’t get anywhere, that doesn’t mean anything. What matters is being published. Craig McGregor told me this way back in 1979, but I didn’t take any notice. Besides, being a single parent, I needed the money that comps could provide.

Now here is “Stella by Starlight” minus the Merry Christmases. I’ve also made one other change, transforming the main character from female to male, to fit the story into the collection I’m publishing next year. Everything else, though, is the same, and the theme and moral of the story are unchanged.

Sales points for “Stella” are below. I hope you enjoy it. I wish I could provide a direct sales link to Apple, but I’m digitally disadvantaged.

http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00MTVVG9C

https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/467119

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Novel under const'n

 A few days ago I was surprised to receive an email from Carol Middleton, an Australian award-winning writer, and a reviewer for the prestigious Australian Book Review. In the email Carol invited me to join the Writing Process Blog Tour, in which writers are invited to reply to four questions about their writing process and then pass the baton on to another writer/s.

Many thanks to Carol for inviting me to contribute to this tour, which in its construction is like a chain letter but nice. You can see Carol’s Writing-Process Blog published Monday 12th at http://carolmiddleton.com.au/wordpress

Here goes.

 

 

What am I working on?

Having put my first novel out on Amazon and Smashwords last year, I decided to try to get myself a bigger presence on the web by putting up a short story a month in 2014. Being the digital klutz that I am, it took me three months to learn enough to put up my first story Busting God, now available at: www.amazon.com/dp/B00J8ZIE8S. I’m now working on formatting my second story Remains to be Seen, which follows the fortunes of Busting God’s hero as he tries to recover from the post-traumatic stress caused by his participation in the Vietnam War.

I’m a tortoise, very slow at everything I do, and not very comfortable on the web. However, I’ve decided that having a higher profile there will help my novels eventually, so I’m nailed to the cross of formatting these twelve short stories for the remainder of 2014.

How does my work differ from others of its genre?

How to answer this question? My short stories were published in such diverse places, ranging from Penthouse to Aurealis to the Australian Women’s Weekly. Each time I adapted my basic writing style to suit the market — I was a single parent and I needed the money. My only novel published so far is MagnifiCat: www.amazon.com/dp/B00H0ORWQY a strange little animal fantasy about a family of cats who find themselves on the poverty line in a small country town in New South Wales, Australia. In it I aimed to produce a kind of Wind in the Willows for adults. To what extent I succeeded is hard to gauge. The novel’s definitely not satire; it’s more like a fairy tale for adults, with an underlying heavy core that makes it adult fiction, though I plan to release a children’s version of it in 2015, minus the alcohol and the angst.

Why do I write what I do?

In my case there are two answers to this. The short stories were written either for money — publication or competition money — or to add to my literary CV. In the novels, however, I get to please myself. And I notice that what comes though in all of them (I have another four in various stage of development) is a desire to nail down a particular time and place that’s now long gone. You could say I’m obsessed with transience, and writing about these places is my way of trying to keep them alive in people’s memories after they’ve disappeared under the bulldozer of progress. My Queensland novel is set in Brisbane in the early 1960s; MagnifiCat is set in Byron Shire in the mid-1980s, and somewhere in the dim future, should I live that long, I’d like to write a novel set in Brisbane during WWII. It’s as if I’m saying to readers, Remember how it was. Don’t forget this.

How does my writing process work?

I write first draft material in the morning, while I still have some contact with my unconscious. Editing, a completely different process requiring a different part of the brain, I can do any time. I never work after dark unless I have an editing job or a manuscript appraisal for another writer and the deadline is looming.

To me, producing first-draft material is like digging semi-precious stones out of the ground, while editing is like polishing those stones into something people might find beautiful or useful. Basically, I want my writing to entertain, to make people happy. At the risk of sounding overly ambitious (or merely quaint), I’d like it to give people hope. Life can be tough sometimes.

 

The writer I’ve asked to continue the Writing Process Blog Tour on Monday 26th is Ed Griffin, a Canadian novelist and prison reformer. Ed taught creative writing in prisons for many years. He blogs at:

prisonuncensored.wordpress.com

Check him out on Monday 26th.

 

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bustinggod(2)

A long, long time ago, back in the early ‘90s, I had my first short story published in a national magazine. My children and I were over the moon: the money (AU$1,500) was astronomical in those days. A few years later, I decided to see if I could crack the same market again—after all, $1,500 never goes astray.

I’d just read Narc! Inside the Australian Bureau of Narcotics by Bernard Delaney, who was a senior investigator in the narcotics bureau for some years before becoming Commander for the Southern Region of Australia. So I wrote this 5,000 word short story about an undercover narcotics agent, basing the procedures on Delaney’s book. After the usual eight drafts, I submitted it to the editor who’d accepted my previous story. My timing was bad. A week after I submitted the story, the magazine was sued for defamation. In the chaos that ensued, ‘Busting God’ went nowhere. I put it away and concentrated on the next draft of my Brisbane novel. Some twenty years later, I sent the story to an Australian magazine called Blue Crow, edited by Andrew Scobie, who accepted it enthusiastically.

Now that I‘ve decided to put all my work up online before I fall off the perch (it seems safer than wrapping it in ‘fireproof’ material and putting it in the tin trunk, but I might be wrong), I gave the story yet another draft and put it up on Amazon and Smashwords. In brief, it’s the story of an aging undercover agent who, along with his long-time Vietnam buddy Baby Johnson, is sent to the Northern Rivers of New South Wales to bust a heroin dealer everyone up there calls God because he’s so big. Apart from successfully running God to earth, the major conflict in the story takes place in the hero’s head. Will he stay in law enforcement or get out before his slowing reflexes get him killed? That’s the main idea behind the story, and the idea that leads to the next story I’m putting up in three weeks time, this time for free, called ‘Remains to be Seen’. As part of my plan to try to save the work before I drop off the perch, I plan to put up another eleven stories on the web this year, half of them for sale, half for free. This one has a price on it, but I chose the lowest price both sales sites would allow.

‘Busting God’ is one of the three favourite stories I’ve written; there’s a lot of tongue-in-cheek humour. It’s also the first thing I’ve ever formatted. Being the digital klutz that I am (oh yes, I am — see my previous post on this subject at: https://danielledevalera.wordpress.com/2013/09/17/for-all-you-luddites-out-there/, formatting that story took me a long time and I’m so chuffed that I managed to do it. I was further encouraged by fellow writer C S McClellan, who did the you-beaut cover for me. Thank you so much, Connie; designing an ebook cover is way out of my league.

If you’ve got a moment or so, pop over and take a look at ‘Busting God’. You can read about 30% for free at either:

https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/416303

or www.amazon.com/dp/B00J8ZIE8S

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Internet friend Ed Griffin continues his run of prison reform novels with Delaney’s Hope, an upbeat idea for a new kind of prison.

Delaney's Hope coveAvailable at: http://www.amazon.com/Delaneys-Hope-Ed-Griffin-ebook/dp/B00GFGEBMG

In this guest blog Ed talks about the wellsprings of his hope for reforms and the novels in which he’s put forward these ideas.

Ed Griffin:

I am interested in prison reform. This is a direct result of teaching writing in prison for twenty years. It’s an indirect result of my education and service as a Roman Catholic priest for five and a half years. I heard the message of the gospel that we were to care for the “least of the brethren.” In my opinion, there wasn’t anybody more least in our society than a federal inmate.

I left the priesthood a few years after marching in Selma with Doctor Martin Luther King. That’s another story, relayed in my non-fiction book, Once A Priest.

I’ve written a lot about prison reform. My first novel, Prisoners of the Williwaw, is a story about Frank Villa, who convinces the US Government to put 300 hardened convicts on an island with their families and let them rule themselves. The federal government has finally realized that they can’t keep paying for prisons. Right now it costs $100 a day to keep a man in prison. So they let Frank Villa have an abandoned Naval base on the island of Adak in the Aleutians. No guards will be on the island, but the US Coast Guard will patrol the waters around Adak, and they will shoot to kill.

Half way to Russia and caught between the Pacific Ocean and the Bering Sea, it rains and snows 85% of the time on Adak. In addition, a fierce wind called a Williwaw builds up behind the mountains and smashes down on houses, equipment and even children. In World War II, the weather killed more soldiers than the enemy did.

Frank also faces a convict who plans to use this situation to his own advantage. He knows that each convict leaves prison with $200. He’s eager to help them spend it.

Can convicts rule themselves? This is an issue the novel looks into.

My second book about prison is non-fiction. It’s called Dystopia. An inmate in my writing class joined me in telling the story of prison. We each wrote our stories, not in lesson form, but by relaying the stories of the men we met there.

I told why I came to teach in prison, despite my wife’s worry. Then I started with my first scary day and told about all the people I met in my class. One of the most amazing people I met was Mike Oulton. He’d been arrested in Mexico for trying to smuggle cocaine into the United States. His sentence was ten years, two of which he spent in a Mexican prison and eight of which he spent in a Canadian prison. Mike also tells stories of the men and the staff he met in all those years, and he hints at which prison system he liked better. Mike’s been out now for seven years and he’s doing well. He works as an MC and as a master of ceremonies for weddings. This is right in line with Mike’s whole life, but now he’s found legitimate ways to express his exuberant personality.

The third book about prison reform is my latest novel, Delaney’s Hope. Delaney is a prison official who put his feet up for twenty years. He tried at the beginning to make changes, but his superiors stepped on him, and so, he did nothing. But then his missionary brother died for standing up to the oil people who wanted to take his parishioners’ land. Delaney feels guilty about wasting all those years, and he tries to repent by setting up a prison that really works. He convinces the government to let him use an abandoned minimum security prison in Wisconsin.

At the beginning he will only have five prisoners and three staff, counting himself. The criminal history of each inmate is given, as well as a picture of the staff. Delaney tries to break down the ‘us and them’ that exist in every prison. He tries to show the inmates that we are all weak human beings and no one, including the staff, is perfect.

His inmates include a drug smuggler who tries to sabotage everything Delaney tries to do. Another man killed his wife in front of their son. A third inmate ran a commercial greenhouse and cheated on the rules. That might have been okay, but then he knocked an old man out of tree, a neighbor who opposed his plans. The old man died. A sheriff who wanted this land to build a big maximum security prison convinced a sex offender to come to the prison, where he presented Delaney with a lot of problems.

Another thing Delaney tries to deal with is the sexism of prisons. Yes, what we now mean by a male prison is not a place for women, but Delaney points out that almost all of society is mixed male and female. If he can create a calm atmosphere, there is no reason why male and female inmates can’t be integrated at least as far as programs are concerned.

The prison starts and Delaney faces problem after problem after problem. Will it work? Can a prison work that’s not like what we have today?

Prison reform is not a popular subject, but we need to face it. When we hear that California spends more money on prisons than it does on education, we begin to ask questions. When we hear that the United States is one of the countries with the most prisoners, it’s time to look at prison reform. And Canada now with its conservative government tries to win votes on the backs of inmates. Right-minded people do not agree.

I hope my two novels and one non-fiction book about prison reform will have an impact. When I started to write, I promised myself I would never bore the reader; I would show, not tell; I would not let one word of opinion enter the story. I hope I have succeeded.

Ed Griffin

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HorseI’m one of those people who believes in everything and nothing, so don’t take it amiss that I share a few thoughts with you at the beginning of this Year of the Wooden Horse. The book I’ve got on Chinese astrology (someone less able than I to accommodate ambivalence gave it to me) says horses always look terrific, have plenty of sex appeal and know how to dress, but that they’re also hotheaded, hotblooded and impatient. In the years when I was younger and used to give Chinese New Year’s Eve parties, there must have been a few horses among the crowd. If there were, I don’t remember them, so I can’t pass judgment on the accuracy of the book, but we sure had a lot of fun passing it around and guffawing at the descriptions.

But I digress. What I’m really here for is to wish all those who read this post the best of luck in the coming year. If, like me, you’re just starting out on the digital journey, my commiserations.

My goal, this year, is to release a dozen short stories, roughly one a month, ranging in length from 4,000 to 9,000 words, half of which are set in the Northern Rivers of New South Wales, Australia, an area I’ve lived in for the past thirty years and am still desperately in love with. I’m lucky enough to have a friend I met through this blog who is designing the first cover, but after that, I’ll be on my own in the formatting of both cover and story text.

Just how I’m going to manage, I have absolutely no idea. Designing the Smashwords versions of the stories won’t present many problems, thanks to the beautifully clear instructions in Mark Coker’s (Mark is CEO of Smashwords) Style Guide, obtainable free on the internet. Designing a Kindle version, however, is going to be more difficult. Both Smashwords and Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP) offer simple, pain-free translations of documents  from Word to Kindle, but what I’ve seen of the results doesn’t enchant me. However, whether I’ll ever be able to learn enough digitally to do better remains to be seen.

In short, just learning enough to put up those dozen stories in one form or another is my goal for the year. Wish me luck, everyone – and if anyone wants to tell me their goals for this Year of the Horse, I’m a good listener.

Horse drawing

Good luck to you all!

Dani

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