Tuesday, November 28, 2006

How I became a writer (and got published along the way)

It struck me recently what an odd life I lead at the moment. Every day I basically make stuff up for a living. I am currently writing two series, one, the Cassidy Blair series published through Hachette Livre (THE VODKA DIALOGUE, THE HAPPINESS PUNCH, THE MILLIONAIRE FLOAT, THE LADY SPLASH) and the Phoebe Banks series published through Wakefield Press (LADY LUCK),but I was first published in non-fiction (HITCHING; TALES FROM THE BYWAYS AND SUPERHIGHWAYS, MAD LOVE). I've written many articles and columns for magazines and e-zines but ultimately, loved fiction and tried to figure out how to get my stories read by the people i was hoping to connect with - people who might understand the lives I'm writing about and connect with their stories and adventures.

A few years ago I decided my central character needed to learn self-defence so I made sure her trainer was a big burly bouncer-type guy named Mince. Their dialogue together was really fun to write because despite the fact that they were such different people, they kind of respected each other, even though she gets knocked out a bit, and isn’t all that great at fighting.

But writing fiction is really a whole hell of a lot more than just making stuff up. I’m also writing to entertain myself and I have to keep that objective in mind the whole time. It sounds entirely selfish, and I guess it is, but it’s also the central objective to my writing and if I don’t entertain myself, then I’ve failed to do my job. If I’m bored, or confused, or unconvinced by the story, then the story just won’t work for the reader, either. If I don’t like the story, I can’t expect other readers to either. That’s the thing, you tend to just be better at what you enjoy, and enjoy what you’re good at.

I believe very strongly that if you don’t entertain the reader, then they won’t keep reading and whatever you want to get across is lost as well. I guess the message I wanted to tell in my search for Cassidy's friend/protector/self defence instructor, is not to get in a fistfight with a guy whose nickname has anything to do with hamburger meat.

I have been writing for a long time, more than ten years, but it’s only in the past few years that I feel that I’ve found the voice and style I want to work in. I started writing in this style when I couldn’t find the sort of book I wanted to read and I’d already read the ones I loved a few times. I decided to write one that might satisfy me, and therefore came up with all the elements of story and characters and setting that I enjoyed.

So I work for myself in three capacities. I write, both creatively and professionally, and I also run an assessment and editing service for other writers (Driftwood Manuscripts). I have around fifty people contracted to me who are specialists in different writing genres, such as children’s books, science fiction, romance, autobiographies, etc, and I send them the manuscripts my clients have finished. These assessors are all experts in the various fields and so they read the manuscripts that the client is hoping to get published and then they write reports evaluating them.

I used the service myself on my first novel, LADY LUCK, long before I ran the company, when it was an odd little book called 'Squint' with five central viewpoint character interacting in what I'd call a grunge-style thriller, low on thrills, however. I soon changed that, though. Getting feedback on the manuscript was incredibly useful and ultimately led to me rewriting the entire manuscript from scratch because I have always found writing far easier than editing. I ended up with only one viewpoint character (Phoebe) and I just tried to make it more light-hearted in order to keep my own interest in the work. It is a principle I still use and I loved it enought o wake up at 5am every day to work on it.

I run this service, write novels and also do what I call professional writing, which involves different things like writing and creating boards games (For example, I wrote the board games for the television shows, Big Brother and Popstars), other times I might be working on reviews, articles, running writing and publishing workshops or taking lectures.

And now, especially with two deadlines looming, I tend to live a little through my fictional characters. I send them out on adventures or out for a drink, and I give them nice clothes, good friends, exciting lives, excellent relationships, dreadful confrontations, courage, ambition, humour, quick thinking; all the things I love, and at times wicsh I had, or was doing myself.

I’ve also been doing it in various forms for most of my life. The world never seemed to fit the way I thought it should, but in my imagination, I changed all that.

My parents used to take my sister and I on wonderful long driving holidays around Australia. I remember one of my best memories was waking up with my face squished against the glass in the back seat and seeing my dad walking back from the petrol station with ice-creams.

I’m still a big fan of ice-cream, driving holidays, my family and sleeping, but also of the daydreams I’d have while they were driving.

I’d spend hours dreaming up these stories where my boyfriend always looked suspiciously like someone from my favourite band at the time, and I looked like Olivia Newton John in Xanadu. Mostly I was also a superhero with a few, subtle super powers that I used for good deeds, but the specific details of these scenarios were endlessly varied.

I’d have adventures like in the Trixie Beldon books or the Secret Seven series and I’d always solve crime with my wits and good humour, and my super powers, and then I’d be wise and worldly and inherently cool, all the things that I’m not. It really was excellent and it seems very little has changed.

I was lucky with the Cassidy Blair series, starting with THE VODKA DIALOGUE, because I loved writing these stories, but also it seemed other people liked reading them, and I now have a great mailing list of readers who’ve sent me letters and emails telling me what they like about the books. I love this, because it also helps me see what is (and isn’t) working. But as well as a chunk of good luck, I also worked very hard and did a fair bit of research to back up my ideas to make sure I got it right. I came up with a concept of some books that I wanted to read and therefore could write, and I felt really strongly that there was a market for fun, light-hearted, adventure stories with a strong element of crime and romance. Ultimately, I wanted to share what i loved about life, and the world, with others, so I wanted to make sure it was as entertaining as possible. With this goal in mind, I actually found my own style, a type of book i loved to write, so it worked out well. I would never recommend someone write for the sole goal of getting published, this goal can destroy the joy of the words and the scenes and characters within it, but to keep in mind the audience can make sure you write to your best abilities, to make sure the story you want to write is one that others want to read. This mix worked for me.

I had some of the central characters in my head for a long time; I was convinced by them, and I knew what they wanted and needed, which are, in fiction as in life, not always the same thing.

I had my first novel, a comedy romance crime book called LADY LUCK, bought by Wakefield Press in 2001 and will be finishing the sequel to that, called BOSSY BOOTS, soon. I love working with Wakefield because they do terrific covers, promotion and editing and have a really good philosophy of publishing local product as well as promoting this interstate and overseas.

I am also a strong advocate for the development of local creative artists and industry, and while I set my books in Adelaide and live and work here, I travel interstate a fair bit, because many people I work with are there. So the success of LADY LUCK gave me some confidence that there might be a market for more books in this genre. Around this time last year I took the three-book concept to my agent, Jenny Darling, who I’m relieved to say, liked it as well.

So I kept writing and then suddenly I only had a month or two until the Frankfurt Bookfair and I had to send the manuscript off to the five editors before they got on the plane, so I was editing all night, not sleeping, getting up at five in the morning and drinking a lot of coffee and diet Pepsi.

I was in the process of trying to find somewhere to live, and was staying at my parents’ place. They were incredibly patient with me stumbling around at night while working, wearing some strange combination of clothes, because Stirling is a very, very cold place in August. And I sent it off the night before those editors were all flying out of the country, it was a very close call and I don’t recommend that sort of editing process to anyone.

And then Jenny rang to say that the publishing director at Hodder (now Hachette Livre) liked the book and the concept for the series. It was like a dream. While I was talking to Jenny, however, I had to find a piece of paper and pen and write down everything she was said because there was also a good chance I had been working too hard and too late at night and was just hallucinating. Then the amazing people at Hodder flew me to Sydney, laughed at all my lame jokes, send me a box of books and e-mailed me a variety of cover ideas to feed my depleted ego.

So my advice to other writers hoping to get published is to find what you want to read, develop stories and characters that you feel emotionally involved with, and write a book like that. When you’ve written something you love, do some more research into the genre, what the expectations are.

Making stuff up for a living is really nice and I highly recommend it. I hope other writers out there might share their stories and find inspiration and information on this blog site. When I was younger I never thought I could be a creative writer myself, I didn’t know it was a career choice but I'm very glad it is. I know I‘m lucky and I hope my experiences encourage other writers as well.

Listening to: The Orb ‘Little Fluffy Clouds’
Eating: Cheese and toast
Thinking about: Running through a sprinkler - it’s hot in Adelaide today
Watching: My bird Jones with his head tucked into his feathers, sleeping peacefully next to my computer
Wearing: Surprisingly comfortable undies
Reading: Patricia Cornwell’s ‘Cause of Death’

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Resources for writers

Seeing as no picture really suits this post, except for a snap of my toppling bookcase, which would be not just boring but worrying, I figured a pic of me with the former Australian Publishing Director, Lisa Highton, launching my book in Sydney would do. It was a great night but I was so nervous that afterwards I had to run away to a pub and have three very big pints of Coopers ale in quick succession. My parents even flew over from Adelaide for it and the bookstore served my Vodka Dialogue cocktail (albeit in shot glasses so no one passed out). Hodder (Hachette Livre) are an amazing publisher and I was very lucky to be on the receiving end of such enthusiasm and encouragement for my books.

Resources at your Fingertips
Good books about writing that can inspire and teach you. While reading in your genre is the best education, I think, reading books about writing can sometimes help you will issues and bad habits you didn't know you had...

There are hundreds of books available to you that deal with every conceivable aspect of writing. Some of these titles will inspire, excite and drive you to write with the thrill of anticipation, others just don’t click. I recommend them, either of your own choice or from this list and to focus on books dealing in your genre, or with issues you know to be a problem in your own work (mastering dialogue, making the setting convincing, etc) .

As writers, we never stop learning and this includes traditional learning (TAFE, University, etc), magazines, literary journals, and internet resources.

The more you read about good writers, the more you can about the life of a writer and if it is for you. The books below include such details as the books they treasure, the author’s first sale, the research they do, the way they order their day, their approach to publicity, etc.

There are some great books that can stimulate your mind, unstop your writers’ block and get you thinking about your characters, setting and plot with fresh eyes.

I’ve been lucky to find books by authors I admire and love (Joyce Carol Oates, Elizabeth George) and to discover writers whose advice has stayed with me throughout my career. I re-read a couple of the following books every year – for the sheer joy of it - and there is always something new to learn from them (Lawrence K Block, Stephen King). I order many of these over the internet as your local library or bookstore generally doesn’t stock a wide range of these books.

And remember, as with any advice, go to someone whose work you admire or who is successful in their field.

And most importantly, have fun with it. Researching an industry you want to be involved in should be exciting. There is much reading to do, and as becoming a writer is going to be a career for you, reading novels and non-fiction books about writing, is part of that necessary research. There are no short cuts to getting published, but you can make it a LOT easier to get your work read and to improve your manuscript. It’s up to you to get the information you nee. This workshop and these books are a great step towards this goal. Remember, you’re the best salesperson for your work because it’s YOUR manuscript you need to sell.


Resource Books for Writers

• Writing From Start To Finish: A Six Step Guide by Kate Grenville
• The Writing Book: A Workbook for fiction Writers by Kate Grenville
• Not Now Jack – I’m Writing a Novel by Carmel Bird
• Write to the Heart: Wit and Wisdom of Women Writers Edited by Amber Coverdale Sumerall
• Telling Lies for Fun & Profit: A Manual for Fiction Writers by Lawrence Block (with a new introduction by Sue Grafton)
• The Writers’ Journey: Mythic Structure for Writers by Christopher Vogler
• The Spooky Art: Thoughts on Writing by Norman Mailer
• Dear Writer by Carmel Bird
• Tasting Life Twice: Conversations with Remarkable Writers by Ramona Koval
• The Sound on the Page: Style and Voice in Writing by Ben Yagoda
• Spider, Spin Me A Web: A Handbook for Fiction Writers by Lawrence Block
• The Writer’s Guide: A Companion to Writing For Pleasure or Publication by Irina Dunn
• On Writing: A Memoir of a Craft by Stephen King
• Writers on Writing: Top Australia and International Authors Talk About Their Work Edited by James Roberts, Barry Mitchell and Roger Zubrinich
• The Faith of the Writer: Life, Craft, Art by Joyce Carol Oates
• Writing the Novel: From Plot to Print- A step-by-step guide from idea through outline to the final sale by Lawrence Block

• Viva La Repartee by Dr. Marty Grothe (inspiration of good wit)
• How to Write Funny: Add Humour To Every Kind of Writing edited by John B. Kachuba

Crime Writing
• G is for Grafton: The World of Kinsey Millhone by Natalie Hevener Kasufman & Carol McGinnis Kay
• You Can Write a Mystery by Gillian Roberts
• A Suitable Job for A Woman: inside the World of Women Private Eyes by Val McDermid
• The Casebook of Forensic Detection: How Science Solved 100 of the World’s Most Baffling Crimes by Colin Evans
• The Crime Writers’ Handbook: 65 ways to Kill your victim – in print by Douglas Wynn
• Write Away: One Novelist’s Approach to Fiction and the Writing Life by Elizabeth George

Romance Writing
• Writing Romance Fiction: How to Make a Success of Your Creative Work by Marina Oliver
• Writing the Romantic Comedy by Billy Mernit
• The Art of Romance Writing by Valerie Parv

Thriller and Popular Fiction Writing
• Bodies of Evidence: The Fascinating World of Forensic Science and How it Helped Solve More than 100 True Crimes by Brian Innes
• Writing the Thriller: How to Craft Page-turning Suspense with instruction from best-selling authors by T. MacDonald Skillman
• Chapter One: Everything You Want to Know About Starting Your Novel by Jennifer Bacia
• Conflict, Action & Suspense by William Noble
• Writing Mysteries: A Handbook by the Mystery Writers of America edited by Sue Grafton
• Just the Facts, Ma’am: A Writer’s guide to Investigators and Investigation Techniques by Greg Fallis
• Creating Popular Fiction: How to Write Novels that Sell by Jennifer Bacia

Getting Published Resources
• The Australian Writers Marketplace Guide: Every Contact You Will Ever Need To Succeed In the Writing Business by the Queensland Writers Centre – a new updated copy is published each year
• Write to Publish: Writing Feature Articles for Magazines, Newspapers and corporate and Community Publications by Vin Maskell & Gina Perry
• Between the Lines: A Legal Guide for Writers and Illustrators by Lynne Spender
• Writing as a Business by Ken Methold
• Public Speaking: Just for the Fun of it! By Peter Middleton
• How to Write Attention Grabbing Query & Cover Letters by John Wood
• The Handbook for South Australian Writers by the SA Writers’ Centre

• Editing Made Easy: Secrets of the Professionals: A Basic Guide for Editing and Writing Students and Anyone Who Wants to Write Plain English by Bruce Kaplan
• The Simple Subs Book: A Manual for Sub-editors (and would be subeditors) on Newspapers, Trade Papers and House Journals by Leslie Sellers
• Fowler’s Modern English Usuage Edited by R. W. Burchfield
• The Elements of Style by William Strunk Jr. and E.B. White
• The Little Book of Style complied by Shirley Purchase

• Writing Dialogue: How to Create Memorable Voices and Fictional Conversations that Crackle with Wit, Tension and Nuance by Tom Chiarella

• Making a Good Script Great: A Guide for Writing and Rewriting by Hollywood Script Consultant Linda Seger
• Adventures in the Screen Trade: A Personal View of Hollywood by William Goldman
• Writing Radio Drama by Keith Richards
• Getting your Script Through the Hollywood Maze: An Insider’s Guide by Linda Stuart
• Radio Drama: Theory and Practice by Tim Crook
• Which Lie Did I Tell?: More Adventures in the Screen Trade by William Goldman
• Writing Science Fiction and Fantasy Television by Joe Nazzaro
• The Lavender Bus: How a Hit Movie was Made and sold (Priscilla Queen of the Desert) by Al Clark

Listening to: Camille
Wearing: unflattering top while waiting for clothes to dry (and wash themselves)
Reading: The Good Good Pig by Sy Montgomery
Eating: Stu's brilliant avocado and tomato salad omlette
Thinking about: Doing my filing
Watching: Death of a Salesman

Friday, November 17, 2006

Sophie, my brilliant and beautiful niece

Here are a few photos of my beautiful and very smart and funny niece, Sophie. She is so much fun to talk to and play with. We love feeding the ducks together and one of the photos is of her with the gorgeous Alice in Wonderland statue in Adelaide's Rhymill Park, where there are row boats and a cool seventies deli.
Sophie is very smart, I know everyone says that about their family but she's already reading really well. She's a great swimmer and tennis player and she has her own ideas about what she wears and does. She's her own little person and that is great. Unfortunately she doesn't seem to think I sing as well as I clearly do, so I'm banned from singing around her. In fact I have to ask her permission otherwise I'm off to the clink, apparently.
I think my mum would agree with this. She once said she'd pay me fifty dollars not to sing or hum on a drive from Adelaide to Strathalbyn and I fluffed it in about ten minutes, I was a bit bummed out - more about the fact that people don't seem to appreciate my musical abilities than the fact that I missed out on some serious scratch.
Still, I'm keen to sing some carols this year with my friend Cath, as long as they play Good King Wenceslas which is my favourite carol. I am a real christmas gooberhead, as you might have noticed. I am also very happy about having a new little niece called Eva, who's only a few months old and I'll post a photo when I get a good one.
I'm still thrashing my way through writing two books, even though the sun is shining and the birds sinigng (Inside and outside the house), so time is really getting away from me at the moment.

Food: Potnoodles
Listening to: The Adam and Joe radio show podcasts from the UK. I love those guys
Watching: Close Encounters of the Third Kind
Wearing: A dress my dad thought was my nightie when he popped over this afternoon
Reading: 'Postmortem' by Patricia Cornwell (third read)
Can't wait to: See my friend Anna Jackson when she moves back to Adelaide from Canberra this year.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Win Free Books by Kirsty Brooks

Hello spunky readers.

I am having a small competition and the prize is three of my books. If you enter, you get to choose the titles. The first email to me (mail@kirstybrooks.com) with the most correct answers to the questions below wins. You should enter through my personal email address and not the comments button below. By the way, I uploaded this cover image of my second Cassidy Blair book and for some reason the oragen went blue. I liked it so much I kept it. So be aware, this is not how the book actually looks... I call it 'Cassidy at Night #23' (because art always has a number). She probably shouldn't be liquored up and wandering out in the Adelaide parklands at night wearing just a skimpy trench, but then, she's not someone who's all that great with rules, or personal safety...

Rules: If more than one entry has answered the most questions with correct answers, the one sent to me the earliest wins. This could be two, or three answers or four, depending on how it goes. You might not be able to answer all of them, but give it a try because you can still win. Who knows, there might only be one entrant and you'll blitz it. I’ll post the books to you anywhere in the world, so please send me your postal address and the three Kirsty Brooks books that you would like.

1) ('Lady Luck') Where is Chinese Burn girl moving to start up her new sushi business after Cassidy ruins her business
2) ('The Happiness Punch') When Angie breaks into Cassidy’s apartment, what sort of shorts does Neil find in the bag she steals mistakenly thinking they’re Sam’s?
3) ('Mad Love') What does Aimee do to her hair that inspires her date to say ‘You should have told me. I would have brought a paper bag.’
4) ('The Lady Splash') When Neil quizzes Cassidy from a copy of Harpers &Queen, what does Cassidy say is her tip for life?

Good luck

If you're interested in joining my mailing list, where I'll be having more competitions and news of appearances and books in the future, just go to my website and click on the 'Join Mailing List' button.