‘Tread Softly Because You Tread On My Dreams’ William Butler Yeats.
What is written isn’t simply words on the page, these words are a part of the writer’s identity, their brainchild and often the child of their heart too.
When I was invited to be one of the section panel for a writing competition, I knew that it would be a difficult task.
Each person who had entered had written with a part of themselves and now we had to choose from amongst them and decide which were the best. All had merit in some way, maybe for the idea, or for a new take on an old idea.
Equally, perhaps the contest organisers had given us a more problematic task because they hadn’t specified a theme, so the topics were exceptionally varied.
Should tragedy and drama take precedence over comedy and the lighthearted ? Does writing about a topical situation or problem gain more points?
These were questions that everyone who was assessing the work had to decide for themselves. And of course, subjectivity came into play too.
And what about the rules? There was a word limit specified, should someone be be penalized if they went over it? What if by a few words or a lot?
I did my best and tried to be objective and to choose what I genuinely considered to be the best pieces of work. Well aware that by choosing them I was rejecting others.
Fortunately, the responsibility for the choice does not fall solely to me, there is a panel of judges. Will we agree or will they each make different selections? It will be interesting to find out.
All that I can say to everyone who entered is thank you for sharing your work with us. I respect that and I read it as I hope that my work will be read. Congratulations on daring to put your work ‘out there’.
It’s always a pleasure for me to be chatting with authors. Today my guest is talented author Teena Raff Mulligan. Teena changes easily between writing for children( picture books, and mid-grade books) as well as writing for adults. I had fun learning about her writing and her non- writing life and I hope you will enjoy this interview.
Finding out a little bit about Teena I asked her
What do you like to do when you are not writing? Watch TV. Walk the dog along the beach path. Dabble in art and photography.
What did you want to be when you grew up? A ballerina novelist.
Wow!What an awesome idea!
What was your dream job when you were younger? I had fantasies of dancing my way around the world and writing novels in the dressing room between performances. Film star was my back up option.
That sounds like a great plan!
What’s for dinner tonight? What would you rather be eating? I’m on a low-calorie meal plan at the moment so dinner today is a child-size serve of chargrilled chicken, potato bake and steamed veggies with gravy. I’m happy with that, though I wouldn’t mind baked ricotta cheesecake for dessert or a fruit and custard flan.
What’s your favourite food? That’s easy. Fish and chips. Preferably liberally sprinkled with salt and vinegar and eaten from the paper while parked in the car at the beach watching the sun go down over the ocean.
Your hero? My cousin Gypsy is an inspiration. She is wise, insightful, creative, intelligent, resilient, and has a wonderful sense of humour. Muscular dystrophy has increasingly limited Gypsy’s physical mobility over the years but her focus is always on what she can do rather than on what she can’t.
If you could choose three people to invite for a dinner party, who would they be and why? Julia Cameron, author of The Artist’s Way and other inspirational books for creatives; Eckhart Tolle, who wrote Stillness Speaks and The Power of Now; and Paul McCartney, who needs no introduction to people of my generation. I’m sure we’d have an intellectually stimulating discussion about living a spiritual life in our time, fulfilling our creative potential and finding a way to be authentically ourselves.
What’s your writing space like?
The main writing space is inside my head and I shudder to think what that looks like! I carry my stories around with me mentally so a lot of the sentences first take shape while I’m away from my desk. I have an office with my desktop computer, printer, filing cabinet, bookshelf etc and that’s where the manuscripts get knocked into shape for submission. I also do a lot of scribbling in notepads at the kitchen bench, in a recliner chair at the lounge room window, propped up in bed, on the back patio or the sun deck.
What time of the day do you usually write? Anytime!
Is there a typical writing day? I don’t have a typical writing day. Sometimes weeks pass without me producing the next chapter of my WIP, though I do work on writing-related activities every day. This might be freelance proofing or copy editing, formatting my next indie publication, looking for covers, doing admin/promotions/ marketing or organising submissions, talks or workshops. I also do the monthly newsletter for the Society of Children’s Writers and Illustrators WA (SCBWI West), and I’m volunteer coordinator of Rockingham Writers Centre. Most days I head into my office after breakfast, work till lunchtime, take an hour or two break, then maybe do another couple of hours before dinner – or maybe not!
What is the most difficult part about writing for you? Completing novels. The level of focus required to sustain a long-term project doesn’t come naturally to me. I’m a bit of a butterfly and there are so many bright shiny new ideas and creative interests to attract my attention.
What is your work schedule like when you are writing? I don’t have one. Of course, I apply myself and work steadily on a manuscript if there is an anthology or competition deadline or a publisher is waiting on rewrites. Basically, I work on priorities and do the job that needs to be done that day.
What would you say is your most interesting writing quirk? I have a stand-up desk and to introduce some exercise into my day I do a few dance steps, aerobic moves or on-the-spot marching as I work at the computer. I also try out various actions to see how they work and have conversations with myself to make sure the dialogue in my scenes sounds natural and in character. Fortunately, I don’t have an audience.
Do you hear from your readers much? What do they say? I don’t often hear from readers. Those who comment usually tell me my stories are charming and warm-hearted, with characters that come alive on the page. The nicest thing anyone ever said was that I must have“bottles of delight and whimsy in your office and sprinkle them on your stories because your stories are always delightful and whimsical.” That made me feel warm and fuzzy.
When you’re writing an emotionally draining (or sexy, or sad, etc) scene, how do you get in the mood? A lot of my stories are light-hearted so I need to feel at peace with my world. I can’t write those stories if I am upset or worried about something. Having said that, I had a publisher deadline on a major rewrite of my quirky MG novel Mad Dad for Sale at the time my dad was dying of cancer and somehow I managed to do that. The fantasy was a wonderful distraction from the reality of being about to lose my father.
How do you deal with the emotional impact of a book (on yourself) as you are writing the story? I’m more likely to be smiling or giggling at the computer because so much of what I write is light and quirky. However, I still get weepy when I read the final lines of my picture book Who Dresses God? and I was surprised the other day to find myself shedding a few tears as I proofread a scene in my forthcoming YA novel, Monelli & Me. Two of my unpublished picture books did stir up a lot of emotion because they are inspired by experiences which had a big impact on my life – the loss of a baby and losing a loved one to Alzheimer’s – so I let the tears flow as I wrote them. When they are published I might not be able to read them in schools!
Do you have a favourite character that you have written? If so, who? And what makes them so special. I love Joshua Jones in The Seven Day Dragon. He has a lively curiosity and a unique perspective on the world.
You’ve written adult genre and children’s picture books and mid-grade fiction genre. Do you have a preference?
Picture books. I love the challenge of sifting and shifting words to tell a story as succinctly as possible, yet in a way that allows the illustrator plenty of scope to be creative. I also like playing around with rhyme and rhythm. I’m obviously still learning because I have quite a few unpublished picture book manuscripts. I’m much more successful with short stories and poems.
How different do you find the writing? I don’t really think about it. I focus on the story I’m telling at the time and the voice for that age group or genre seems to come naturally without conscious effort.
Who is your favourite author and why? That’s like asking me if I have a favourite child!
What are you reading now? I just finished reading I’m Your Venus: A Sylvia Stryker Space Mystery by Dianne Vallere.
What book is currently on your bedside table? Only one? My next read will be In Good Hands, a Georgie B Goode Vintage Trailer Mystery by Marg McAlister.
I’m reading light at the moment because it was quite intense doing the copy edits and proofreading of my women’s fiction and YA novels, which are both coming out in March.
What books or authors have most influenced your own writing? Julia Cameron (The Artist’s Way, The Sound of Paper, The Right to Write); Natalie Goldberg (Long Quiet Highway); and Dani Shapiro (Still Writing).
Who is the author you most admire in your genre? Meg McKinlay. She has a wonderful way of writing for children and young adults.
Favourite quote (doesn’t matter the source)
Favourite book/story you have read as an adult. It’s impossible for me to choose one.
Favourite books when you were a kid. Nesbitt’s Five Children and It and The Railway Children and Frances Hodgson Burnett’s The Secret Garden. What Katy Did also struck a chord, as did books by Elizabeth Goudge.
What famous author do you wish would be your mentor? I wish I’d been mentored by the amazing Jen Storer when I first started writing for children. Jen runs the Scribbles Academy and started The Duck Pond FB group. She has a wealth of industry knowledge and is an inspiration.
You like to think that you are a good person.You dont hate people or resent them, until an acquaintance has a stroke of writing luck.
Until, someone you know wins a contest, has a piece published, writes a book or simply seems to be everywhere . They are on websites, giving interviews in magazines and book shops ,they are the next big thing and you tell yourself you are happy for them and you are. BUT…..
Not Quite So Happy?
But there is voice in your head that isn’t quite so happy at all. An inner voice that says ‘but what about me?’ Eventually, you realise that you are suffering from writer envy. You want what he or she has got. You whine inwardly because it seems to have been so easy for them.
And because we are all good people, you don’t talk about it or mention it to anyone. Gradually, you realise you are envious because what they have matters to you. If they were climbing mountains or being a successful investor, that wouldn’t cause you to envy them. But writing, that’s your thing, your passion.
Talking Writing with Writers
I recently brought this up in an online writer’s forum and most people were happy to acknowledge that yes, they felt it too. There was compassion and wise advice posted in the comments. Many adniited feeling the same. One piece of advice was ‘ be yourself- everyone else is taken.’ Their is wisdom in that, we each have our own lived experience and perceptions. So we have a unique perspetive .
Taking it further Here is the dictionary definition of envy from dictionary,.com
Envy a feeling of discontented or resentful longing aroused by someone else’s possessions, qualities, or luck.
So, knowing we do feel envy ,what do we do about it? How do we use it creatively? How do we avoid bitter envy, and don’t say or even think those things?
Take action instead and use the feeling to spur you on. What did they do that you didn’t?
If they won a contest that you didn’t enter that might encourage you to enter next time. They submitted their work to a publisher while yours is still in a drawer. They got a lucky break, yes, but they were out there in the writing community .Being there,they met people, heard of opportunities.
Let envy encourage you to take action. You may never sweep into a book talk with an entourage of publicist, bookseller and adoring fans as some succesful authors do. But rememeber that even the most successful writer began somewhere- with blank sheet of paper and in an idea.
I presented an author talk on Friday The Art of Publishing a Romance and it was lots of fun and I think the audience enjoyed it too.
Then we came to the questions and answer session and the first question was the one that all authors expect and at times dread.
‘Where do you get your ideas?’
Sounds easy, doesn’t it? If only we could say ‘well, I pop down to the ideas store and see what they have saved for me.’ Wouldn’t that be fabulous? A store of ideas curated just for you.
So how do you explain the creative process, or more specifcially ,your own creative process?
For me it is partly research, looking at things that interest me, but equally it could be daydreaming..That aimless, letting your mind run free. It could be a tv program that I watched ,or a snippet of conversation I heard.
Ages ago I asked New York Time Bestselling author Natasha Lester a similar question.
‘How do you know you have enough of a topic to make a novel?’
Her reply really resonated with me.M/s Lester told me that she took two unrelated ideas and combined them. Four very successful books later, her latest being The Paris Seamstress AKA The Paris Orphan in the US I know she has a winning formula.
It followed that advice when I combined ice dancing and Norway with a time slip romance with a Viking age past that led to my book Fire & Ice.
So, ideas need to permeate, they need to resonate and then suddenly you realise that you have the right idea and that you are eager to write.
You may not have heard the term Vanity Publishers and they themselves don’t advertise as such, but they are out there and are a danger to both your self-esteem and your bank account.
What are vanity publishers and how do they differ from hybrid or assisted self – publishers?
Quality Control- is totally unselective with vanity publishers because their business model isn’t about the quality of your writing or its saleability. That doesn’t matter as a vanity publisher would happily publish your shopping list and tell you it was great if you paid them. They often approach you directly and you think you have hit gold. How do they find you? Maybe you won a contest or signed up for a course or a newsletter.
I personally signed up for a free writing course, a week of writing prompts and interaction with the course leader. She was a personable and engaging personality. The course was interesting, and some exercises worked, but then the hard sell began. There was a contest for a mentoring spot. An ‘associate’ called me to say that unfortunately I’d not won, but I had placed high, and I had so much potential. They could offer me a spot at a reduced price of $3,500. I politely declined saying that while I was sure it was an excellent opportunity it was way out of my budget and comfort zone.
It didn’t end there. There were a couple more phone calls, a blend of flattery –‘you have so much going for you,’ to warnings, ‘time is running out,’ and ‘we can’t hold a spot for you much longer.’ The price was reduced to $2000, and it was suggested that maybe I had savings or could take out a loan. Warning bells ringing loud and clear I thanked them but still said ‘ no’.Their final call offered me the whole course for $ 397. They said it was bargain I couldn’t refuse. But I did refuse, and I haven’t heard from them since.
This is the kind of intense pressure which encourages people to sign up with a vanity publisher. Vanity publishing is all about selling you, the writer, a service at inflated costs. As well as persuading you to buy tons of copies of your book. They don’t need to bother with marketing your book, because they made their money from you. Getting out and promoting the book is up to you. They may offer to put the book up on Amazon, but you can do that yourself if you self- published.
If you can, check out other books from the publisher, what’s the quality like? Also, be careful as their contract may take away your copyright and author rights. Buyer beware! Contact their authors and ask about their publishing experience.
The American Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers Association keep an updated list of publishers to beware of- it doesn’t hurt to go online to check it. Even if you simply do an internet search for Vanity publishers you will find that a heap of names come up.
Hybrid and subsidised publishing are legitimate and do charge you for partial costs but as always you need to be careful and compare costings and even research the company name to check complaints about them.
As always if it sounds too good to be true then it probably is! Save your dollars and your peace of mind by doing a little checking.
The classic definer of a love story is the film Love Story starring Ali Mc Graw and Ryan O’ Neal. It is based on the popular book by Erich Segal. It is a real tearjerker, with the beautiful young couple parted by death. It is a tragedy and almost all of the love stories considered great have sad or tragic endings.
Here are some examples taken from films and books. Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina, Boris Pasternak’s Dr Zhivago, Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, filmed and updated as West Side Story.Othello. More recently Iain Mc Ewan’s Atonement, John Green’s The Fault in Our Stars.JoJo Moyes Me Before You, M.C Steadman’s The Light Between Oceans. And Cecelia Ahern’s Ps. I Love you, and of course ,my all-time favourite Casablanca.
Romances are different- they promise a reading experience or viewing experience that focuses primarily on the relationship between the couple or as Romance Writers of America says, “Two basic elements comprise every romance novel: a central love story and an emotionally satisfying and optimistic ending.”
Or in simpler terms you are pretty much promised a happy ending and if not a happy ever after, at least the reader gets the happy for now ending.So if we know the ending why do we read romance?
We read for the journey, for the twists and turns of the relationship. A happy ending may be promised but getting there is half the fun. Who doesn’t love a flawed hero or heroine? Or beautiful couple too blind to see that they are destined for each other? Real-life can be dull and bland, but romances are exciting, sexy and fun. It’s far safer to have a fictional lover than a real one. Romance writers are endlessly inventive and contrive new ways for couples to meet and fall in love.
Examples of romances are Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen and of course, it’s spin off’s Bridget Jones’ sDiary by Helen Fielding and the films Pride andPrejudice and Bride and Prejudice as well as the Bridget Jones trilogy of films. Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte is a great read and has been filmed several times The fairy tales Cinderella and The Sleeping Beauty.
Some romance movies are Romancing the Stone, Breakfast at Tiffany’s( but not the book which ends differently) Moonstruck, Brokeback Mountain( a guy to guy romance) Ella Enchanted and a real oldie but a goodie It Happened One Night.Another of my favourite films Love Actually spans both genres as it has both love stories with sad ending and romances with happy ones.
Why do you read romance and who are your favourite authors? Let me know!
Many people are unsure of the difference between a love story and a romance. So often what we think of as romances are actually love stories or stories with love story elements
I began to realise this when I watched that great movie Casablanca, it has stood the test of time, and many people reference it as one of their favourite films. It was one of my parents and now it is one of mine. The film was made in 1942- when the outcome of the war was uncertain.it is often referred to as a romantic drama but in my opinion, it is a love story.
The dialogue is crisp and often witty, ( written mostly by the Epstein brothers) the music haunting ( As Time Goes By) but most of all its the way the story plays out that gets our pulses racing. Rick ( Humphrey Bogart)loves Ilsa,( Ingrid Bergman ) Ilsa loves Rick, they met in Paris the most romantic of cities. Unknown to Rick Ilsa is married to Victor Laszlo( Paul Henreid), a resistance leader, who she believes is dead. Rick waits for Ilsa at the Paris railway station as promised as the Germans enter Paris, but Ilsa never arrives. Rick escapes and ends up running a bar in Morocco. It’s a shady place where expats, smugglers, locals and Germans all socialise. Worldly wise and cynical Rick is shocked when Ilsa who is with Lazlo asks Sam to play ‘As time goes by’ a song Rick never wanted to hear again. He storms up to Sam and sees Ilsa. Laszlo and she are trying to get to Lisbon but need visas and Rick’s is the place to get them.
Will Rick allow the woman he loves to leave again? Has she stopped loving him, was it all a lie? She wants to be with him, but Laszlo loves her too and would be devastated to lose her. After a night when Rick & Ilsa may or may not have got back together,(unclear thanks to US censorship at the time.) it’s up to the audience to decide. Will Rick and Ilsa be together as he has led her to believe? In the final scenes at the airport, Rick has the names Mr & Mrs Victor Laszlo written onto the visa. Will he walk off with Ilsa leaving Laszlo to his likely fate? He gives Laszlo the visas and tells Ilsa ‘We’ll always have Paris’ and that Laszlo and she are fighting for a much greater cause and if she left with Rick, she would always regret it.
With its bittersweet ending, Casablanca is a love story. If it was a romance the relationship of Rick and Ilsa would be centre stage to the exclusion of all else and they would somehow end up ‘happily ever after.’
While the romantics might wish it, it would be a far less compelling piece of cinema and would not appeal to our higher natures in the same way.
While I would have loved to share images from the film I could not breach copyright. You can easily find them online anyway.
Other love stories are Wuthering Heights, Romeo and Juliet, Gone with the Wind is historical drama with a love story element as is the film Titanic.
Currently, I am writing romance and romance comes with the promise of a ‘happily ever after’ or at least ‘ happy for now’. This isn’t to say that a romance cannot have problems and complexities, indeed it should, but to say that in a romantic story love must always triumph.
Attending the Rockingham Writers Conference this weekend, I thought what a gregarious and chatty crowd we were. So different from the stereotypical introverted, social outcasts we are supposed to be.
Individually these were people who admitted to self-doubt, imposter syndrome, insecurity, fear of failure and fear of success.
That day though, all that was put aside, and we had a ball, laughed and talked mingled, shared expertise and gossip. I left the conference buoyed with confidence and thrilled with my writer tribe.
Then I began to wonder what a group of writers was called. I couldn’t recall an official term, so I did an internet search. I got ‘a worship of writers. ’ To me, that seemed more fitting for priests, so I began to think of collective nouns for writers.
Here are some I liked
A chapter of writers.
A procrastination of writers
A draft of writers
An insecurity of writers
An imagination of writers
A scribble of writers
A cacophony of writers
A gossip of writers
A journal of writers.
Do you have a favourite term for a group of writers?