Making the Grade

books-can-take-you-places

I did it. I set a goal for getting 100 rejections over the Australian financial year … and I hit that goal a week ago. As well, I have had 6 acceptances in that time. How did having this goal affect my writing strategies?

I found it easier to keep track once I swapped over from a yearly submissions diary to a monthly submissions diary (an Excel spreadsheet). I aim to make 10 submissions a month … last month I got up to 15 submission (one every two days) but that isn’t sustainable. Two a week is doable, and that should add up to 120 submission over a year. Not every thing you send off gets an answer, which is why I send off more than 100. As well, I have to factor in acceptances  – and they do happen.

In the first week of January this year, I made a list of 100 story ideas. This was to keep me on task; you need to write stories to submit stories. Of course, most of those ideas will never see the light of day. The ones that do are the cream, the ideas that rose to the top. Writing the list gave my muse the opportunity to dig deep for the really wild and bizarre ideas and I found those ideas were the ones with legs.

I keep a notebook with me at all times and write down every idea or snippet that comes to me. I find this particularly useful when I’m taking the train; you overhear dialogue without even wanting to! I go through a LOT of notebooks, and they always supply me with with nuggets of pure gold.

Since this is working for me, I am going to try for 100 rejections again next financial year. But my new goal is to up my acceptance rate!

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The Victorian Fashionable Fascination with Ferns: A Steampunk Perspective

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Charles Sillem Lidderdale, 'The Fern Gatherer', circa 1877 Charles Sillem Lidderdale, ‘The Fern Gatherer’, circa 1877

The name of Pteridomania was coined by Charles Kingsley, who wrote: “Your daughters, perhaps, have been seized with the prevailing ‘Pteridomania’ and are collecting and buying ferns…and wrangling over inpronouncable names of species, (which seem to be different with every new fern that they buy), till the Pteridomania seems to you something of a bore.”

Fern gatherers - Victorian image from the collection of the National Library of Australia, Canberra Fern gatherers – Victorian image from the collection of the National Library of Australia, Canberra

The Victorians had their fads, just like our modern Western society. In a previous blog post, I discussed their obsession with all things Egyptian: Egyptomania. Another of their passing passions was for collecting ferns: Pteridomania. This word for fern mania derives from the classification term, Pteridophyta, which refers to vascular plants that reproduce via spores rather than seeds. (The more correct taxonomic term for ferns is Monilophytes.) The Victorians became so…

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The Pouting Pen … an article I wrote ten years ago.

 

The Pouting Pen

Think of me as “Dear Abby”, except I only give advice on your relationship with your pen, typewriter, word processor, or computer.  Are you suffering from writer’s block?  Uncertain of the definition of a writing term?  I’m here for you.  If I don’t know the answer, I will point you in the right direction.

I won’t be giving advice on anything to do with university assignments…if you are having difficulties with those, see your tutor or Student Services.

 

 

Dear Pouting Pen,

I am having trouble with finding a title for my novel.  Where do I look for and find a good title?

Signed,

Tongue-tied with Titles.

 

Dear TTT,

 

There are fashions in titles, just like everything else.

The classic book title takes the pattern of ‘(The) **** of (the) ****’. I can look over to my bookcase and see four such titles in that style: ‘The Dolphins of Pern’, ‘The Wheel of Time’, ‘The Mystery of the Ruby Glasses’, & ‘The Sword of Shanarra’. This could mean that this style is overdone, but it just means that it is a classic form. It works, so don’t knock it. Oh, and the ‘of’ may be an ‘and’ in some titles of this type, like ‘The Power and the Passion’.

Then there is the clean and simple use of a one word title. Gregory Maguire favours this type: ‘Lost’, ‘Wicked’. So do many other authors. It has the advantage that you can use words that have multiple meanings, and you don’t give away anything major of the plot. A single word title is strong and powerful. The addition of a ‘The’ in front of a single word doesn’t weaken the effect, like in ‘The Awakening’ or ‘The Bribe’. Next level is adding a modifier, like an adjective, e.g. ‘The Little Country’ or ‘The King’s Buccaneer’.

Quotes are often a good source of titles. ‘Band of Brothers’ is from Shakespeare…you can’t go wrong with Shakespeare as he covered everything about the human condition in his body of work. Personally, I like to use bits from old sayings: ‘Rosemary for Remembrance’, ‘Stuff and Nonsense’. You can use lyrics from songs, anything that gives your title meaning. You can also twist a saying, particularly if your book is a parody…’Wyrd Sisters’ by Terry Pratchett is an example. The cleverer the twist, and the more appropriate to your novel, can make this style of title a zinger.

Lately, there has been a flourish of longer titles. ‘The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time’ is an excellent example of this type. I avoid this style myself, but when it works it works well. The Victorians loved long titles, and they also liked to add a comment under the title. If you are writing Steam Punk or historical novels, this style is very suitable.

What a writer wants from a title is a cluster of words that are memorable; something that encompasses the theme of the work, without giving too much away. Some people like to put titles on their chapter headings (guilty). Titles are important, as a weak title can drive away readers before they even get to read the main text.

Some writers have a natural knack at picking a good title. If you know someone like this, cultivate their friendship. (Joke, joke.) However, you can work at your title to improve it, just like anything else. Make a huge list of titles, and cull down to the one you like. Use a working title, and then change it when something more appropriate takes your fancy. Buy book of quotations, or start looking up lyrics on the internet.

If you are getting too frustrated with finding a title, just leave it for a while. Come back when you are calm and relaxed. Reread your piece. Sometimes, the title will be hidden in the very words in your story.

 

 

Dear Pouting Pen,

 

I am unsure of the genre of my short story – in fact, I am unsure what genre really is.  Can you help me, please?

 

Yours in confusion,

Genre Geronimo

 

Dear Gerry,

Genre is how various categories of writing are recognised. Genre is a marketing tool, and a useful method for hunting down books you might enjoy, and it is used in judging books for awards. When you go into a book shop, usually the books are separated by genre: Cook Books, Humour, Reference Books, etc. These are very basic categories, often covering an enormous variation in the types of books lumped together. This is often why very original books, like Shaun Tan’s ‘The Arrival’, may end up in the children’s fiction area of a bookshop. No one knows what genre it should go into, because it covers so many genres.

Genre can be broad…Fantasy. Or it can get very specific, like Victorian-era, London-set, Steampunk fantasy aimed at a twelve year old audience. Every genre has its own rules and traditions, such as sword and sorcery genre books should have swordmen/swordwomen and wild magic as basic plot elements. Does that sound straight forward? It isn’t, as many genres overlap, and new genres are forming all the time.

For a writer, genre can be both restrictive and wonderful. Big Picture: I write Fantasy, and I dabble in horror and Science Fiction. I don’t think I will ever write a war-based novel or a Western. However, my fantasies tend to be adult fairytales in an urban setting. Little Picture: You might call it Urban Fantasy, or Magic Realism, or Feminist Fairytales. I wouldn’t.

I don’t like to be pigeonholed, as it restricts what I can or can’t do. However, if I was going to market such a book to a publisher, I would pick one of those genres so that the publisher has some idea of my style. And booksellers will know to put it in the Fantasy bookcases in their stores.

But what if I wanted to write a science fact book, when I am known as a fantasy author? If I am a popular fantasy writer, publishers may reject this out-of-genre book, as my fan base might be unhappy. Ditto if I write young adult, and then I write a book aimed at an older audience. Of course, I can change to another pen name…but why should any author be so restricted creatively?

There are any number of good books that can help with an understanding of genre. This note is just a starting point, to get you thinking.

 

Dear Pouting Pen,

 

Who the heck is an unreliable narrator?

 

Yours Sincerely,

This is not for an assignment, honest.

 

 

Dear Honest,

Erm.  Instead of giving you an outright definition of an unreliable narrator, I will share with you my personal views on unreliable narration.  You can then make up your own mind who or what an unreliable narrator is.

There is a perception in our society that some texts are reliable, and some texts are not. I would argue that no text can be constructed as completely reliable, as it is human nature to pick and choose what facts will be represented. The presentation of the facts, what order they are in, what has been left out, are all constructs of the author of a text.

The news story reported by a respected journalist; the critique of a historical event by an academic; and the article presented by a scientist; all these texts are just as unreliable as the authors. Each individual has chosen their topic, which means they have ignored other topics. They have decided how to represent the topic, highlighting some issues and ignoring others. No matter how unbiased the text may appear, there will be gaps and ambiguities – because the authors are not omniscient and are only human.

As well, truth can not be set in stone. What is consider only right and normal in one time and place, will be seen as strange or criminal somewhere and somewhen else. The truth itself may change. This means that a reader should never passively accept a text on face value. The reader should remain alert and question the text. She should look for gaps in the meaning, for what is left out is often as telling as what has been included in the text. What is the context? What was the author of the text trying to achieve? What constraints are their on the author and the text?

Of course, the author of a text may be deliberately setting out to misinform or mislead the reader. However, most authors of a text have attempted to supply the text in good faith. It is up to the reader to stay open-minded, and try to avoid accepting any text as the complete and utter truth of the matter.

Sorry, Honest.  I’m aware that I haven’t given you a straight forward answer…so am I a reliable narrator?  Or not?

 

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Happy News

My retelling of Cinderella, ‘Ashley’, will appear in volume 4 of the Clarion Call.

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Try, try, and try again

Monday, I sent off my non-fiction zombie bug book and got a rejection the very same day. So today (Tuesday), I sent it off to another educational publishing house. Many successful writers advise that persistence pays off. To be truthful, a rejection stings less when you have plenty of other work out seeking publication; you can’t obsess over one failure.

I feel I am playing Pokemon Go – I keep throwing my ball until I catch my target.Image result for pokemon go

 

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Being Brave

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I am not a brave person, physically or emotionally. However, I decided to step out of my comfort zone and ring a small educational publishing house about their submission guidelines. I practised my ‘professional’ voice, because I tend to sound like I am twelve.

I really like my ‘Zombie Bugs’ book and I am tired of seeing it languish in my folders.

Guess who is sending the bug book off on Monday?

Sometimes you just have to take that risk. Even if they say ‘no’ to the bug book, I have learnt something new about myself. I can be brave, with a run-up.

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Getting Cosy With My Muse

Muses

 

I have been getting a lot of action from my muse lately. I’ve always imagined my muse as a fussy (and handsome) man in Victorian-era clothing, overworked and sometimes a bit too quick with the cliché. These past two months, he has hit a gold mine of ideas.

This may be due to the pressure I’ve been putting him under with my looming yearly goal of 100 rejections. I use the Australian financial year from the 1st of July to the 31st of June. My rejections are nearly totalling 80, but I am getting to the point of the year where I won’t be hearing back about submissions until after the cut-off point.

Of course, I’ve had a few acceptances too.

However, I think my muse is hitting his stride because I’ve been working so hard at my submissions. Like any muscle, your creativity ‘grows’ with added effort and energy. Or maybe I’ve just tuned into it better. Either way, I’ve got plenty to be going on with.

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