Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Road Trip Wednesday: Questionnaire

1. What are the three best books you've read this year?

Oh god, I have read so many books this year. This is tough. If I have to just pick three, my top three are:

1. Teach Me, by R. A. Nelson: a girl falls in love with her English teacher, only to have him break her heart. In a word, this book is stunning. Simply stunning. The prose is tight and beautiful and every page is full of tension. I felt every moment of Nine's heartbreak and fury.

2. Wintergirls, by Laurie Halse Anderson: this is about a girl's battle with anorexia, and another one for the intense and searingly beautiful category. Anderson's character building is remarkable: Lia is not simply a Tragic Anorexia Victim, but a person in her own right, a girl who loves reading fantasy fiction and is fiercely protective of her younger sister. I loved the way Anderson plays with the text, like sections with cross outs which show even more the battleground inside Lia's head, as she even tries to edit her own thoughts.

3. Little Brother, by Cory Doctorow: I'm not usually a thriller person, and I'm definitely not usually a technology person, but I loved this. Seventeen year old Marcus uses technology to fight against the Department of Homeland Security when their methods of providing security become increasingly extreme. This book raises some fascinating questions about civil rights, but also it moves breathtakingly fast. And the computer stuff is just, well, cool.

Highly honourable Mentions:

Shiver, by Maggie Stiefvater.
Ink Exchange, by Melissa Marr.
The Mortal Instruments series, by Cassandra Clare.
Dreaming of Amelia, by Jaclyn Moriarty. (For my American friends: the US edition of this will be called The Ghosts of Ashbury High, and it's coming out next June, so keep an eye out for it.)

2. If you could meet one author living or dead, who would it be?

To be honest, I've met a few of my favourite authors at events and book signings, and the whole thing isn't nearly as good as it's cracked up to be. Not because they weren't nice (they were all lovely actually), but because I tend to babble hopelessly whenever I meet authors I am in love with, and they probably go away remembering me as The Fan With The Long Hair Who Was A Bit Weird In The Head. If they remember me at all.

So. If I could meet any living author, I'd love to meet Ursula Le Guin, Philip Pullman, or John Green. And if I can meet any dead authors, I'd like to meet Jane Austen or Oscar Wilde. I can't pick one of those people, I seriously can't. You pick one for me. Or better yet, let me hold some kind of dinner party where I get to invite them all. If you let me get away with the dinner party option, you can come too. Then we can all drink wine and talk late into the night about fascinating things.

3. What book are you most looking forward to in 2010?

That's easy. The Piper's Son, by Melina Marchetta. No idea when it's coming out in the US (sorry!), but it's coming out in Australasia in March. All the characters in Saving Francesca feel like friends of mine, I've read it that many times. I'm really looking forward to hanging out with them all again.

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Teaser Tuesday/Wednesday

I really wanted to do another teaser, but my recent rewrites on my novel are kind of behaving like clingy children, you know. I think they've got a lot going for them, but I'm not ready to put them out in the big wide world yet. It might make them cry.

So! You get old stuff. Old can be good, like fine wine, or it can be bad, like leftovers from another century that you just found in the back of the fridge. When I was ranting about names, I mentioned a short story with a main character called Pandora. Actually, the whole story is called Pandora. I first wrote it a couple of years ago and then rewrote last year. It's set in my city, Auckland. The full story is partially set in the Auckland central business district, a part of town I know almost off by heart (which is where this fragment takes place), and also in a magical, hidden part of Auckland called Othernorth, which I made up.

I saw the bus for the first time when I was eight years old and my mother was not misplaced yet. We were going to see a movie in a theatre that looked like a palace, with turrets inside it and painted gold and marble, with stars and clouds buried inside its ceiling, and panthers with eyes that glowed.

She didn’t go out much, and I was worried that it would scare her. ‘The panthers aren’t real, honestly,’ I explained. ‘You’ll be okay.’

The crowd was not too thick, but her eyes went through as if she was trying to check each face for something. She flinched as buses went past, and held my hand tighter and tighter. Her grip was cold and piercing. She wrenched us to the side, towards a shop entrance. Inside, I could see lines of shining chip packets waiting patiently.

‘Mum,’ I said, getting out my best manners, ‘can I please have some salt and vinegar chips, please?’

‘No,’ she said, flinging us into the shop. ‘We don’t want anything.’

I followed her gaze. The bus pulled itself away from the stop, a pale blue-silver bus. The world was coated in heavy afternoon sunlight, but the bus was inside a thin white mist, one that looked like misty morning breath. Silver sparks came off its wheels and dissolved as they hit the road. While you looked out the window and held your ticket tight in your hand, this bus would take you into another world. I wanted to see who was on it.

I detached myself from my mother. ‘Pandora!’ she said.

As I ran, her hands hovered at my back, a step behind grabbing me and putting me back inside the sensible world among the chip packets. I ran onto the pavement and three ordinary buses appeared and blocked my view. My mother wrenched us both back inside the shop. I landed against the blue ready salted row.

‘Are you okay?’ said the shop assistant. Being asked this is a common occurrence in my family.

‘Can I have some chips please?’ I said, looking up at Mum.

I didn’t know what her expression meant. Her eyes went thin, then closed, then opened widely. ‘Well, Pandora,’ Mum said. She put her hand in her pocket and discovered a two-dollar coin. She gave it a surprised look and handed it over.

I had chips and I’d seen a magic bus, and the movie hadn’t even started yet. I was pleased with this.

Mum never mentioned it again, not even last year on the day I saw her step onto it. She didn’t have a chance to mention it to me after that. I thought at the time that maybe she would leave something that explained everything: a magic ring; a locked diary; a tragic letter. Dad and I inherited her bed, her clothes, her jewellery, her things. They were all silent. I inherited her confusion. It didn’t tell me anything either, not really.

If anyone's curious, the theatre mentioned in the first paragraph is this one.

Sunday, December 06, 2009

Festive? I'll give you festive.

We spent a lot of time today fighting with a christmas tree, then fighting with christmas lights, then fighting with the christmas tree some more. It looks very pretty now though. My cat Horatio came in when I was partway through decorating it. He started by playing it cool and pretending that he hadn't noticed it, then he wandered over purring like I had brought him his own personal pine needle shredding manna from the gods. He wandered underneath it and disappeared completely for a few minutes, then wandered back out looking matter of fact, and purred some more. Then he put his head inside the bag of decorations.

But this is all much, much better than our first christmas with the cats two years ago. No matter what we put in the way, this kept happening.

And other news! There's a competition for our followers at the highway where you can win free books. So you should go become a follower, if you haven't already.

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

Road Trip Wednesday: My Literary Crushes

My post on literary crushes comes in two parts! Hooray! (And yeah. Clearly I'm not giving up exclamation marks any time soon. Long reign over-excited punctuation.)

The first section is where it gets incredibly obvious how much time I spend obsessing over sentences.

Writers I would like to be

Margaret Mahy Margaret Mahy Margaret Mahy did I mention Margaret Mahy? Her sentences are stunning, full of unexpectedness and humour at every turn, and no writer on earth can wield a similie like she can. She takes the supernatural, family relationships, love, identity, philosophy, the narratives we construct about ourselves, and she tangles all these things together beautifully and makes books which read both fantastical and true at the same time. I don't think I would be a writer at all if it weren't for growing up with her books. Especially The Changeover.

She's quite different to Margaret Mahy, but I'd also seriously love to be Ursula Le Guin for a day, just to write like she writes. Even when you're reading the FAQs on her site and she's explaining why she doesn't like people sending her big parcels in the post, her sentences are precise and polished, like tiny gems.

Also I love Elizabeth Knox and Francesca Lia Block and Audrey Niffenegger. I'd happily be any of them too.

And the second section is where it gets incredibly obvious how much I like my male characters Witty and Beautiful and with Dark Mysterious Pasts. Never underestimate the power of a good Dark Mysterious Past in making me want to immediately leap on a character and -


Characters I would like to do

Ok. Because there is a fair chance that my boyfriend will end up reading this, I'm emphasising the fact that this is all hypothetical fictional stuff.

I loved Jace in The Mortal Instruments series. I mean, you know. Super tough demon fighter who also has awesome one liners. I also really liked Niall in Melissa Marr's books (particularly Ink Exchange) what with the Dark Mysterious Past and the faeryness. And Dylan in Simone Howell's Everything Beautiful blew me away too. I want to say that he's the hottest paraplegic character I've ever come across in YA, but he's actually one of the only paraplegic characters I've ever come across in YA. He's rebellious and sarcastic and deeply troubled.

And in non-YA, I adored the angel Xas in The Vintner's Luck by Elizabeth Knox. Don't see the movie, or even the trailer, because they got him all wrong. (Then again, you know you have a good literary crush when you get grumpy at the movie version for getting the character Horribly Utterly Wrong and nowhere near your glorious vision.) But yeah. If you don't mind literary things and you're up for a love triangle in 19th century France involving an angel in a gay relationship, go read The Vintner's Luck immediately.

My ultimate literary crush, however, is Henry in The Time Traveller's Wife. Hot librarian who is extremely well read and also has great music taste and says many witty and gorgeous things and has to deal with trauma from the past, present, and future. I mean being me I was sold on hot librarian alone, but yeah. It doesn't get better than Henry. He's a wonderfully written character, one of those characters who you spend time reading about then put the book down and go back to real life feeling slightly lost, like the character is slightly more real than the world.

So. Those are my crushes. Admitting them is kind of giving me weird flashbacks to being on school camp when I was twelve and telling all the other girls in my cabin the name of the boy I had a crush on.

Want to read more about literary crushes? Go visit YA highway post-haste.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Road Trip Wednesday: what do I do when I'm not writing?


If I'm not writing, I'm probably curled up on the couch with a book and at least one cat. Or I am curled up on the couch with my laptop, engaging in my Epic Struggle To Keep Up With The Internet. There are so many people I love, so many well written things, so many laughs to be had. And I'm never quite on top of it all, no matter how hard I try. It is a lifelong saga. And as I am following the internet and marvelling at internet things, both my cats usually arrive and walk all over my legs and meow at me because I didn't feed them enough the first time this evening and they want to be fed again.

And, dammit, this is all making me sound very boring. I kind of have a sinking suspicion that my main interesting thing is the writing thing.

So yeah. I like cooking. I am very much the No Recipe Let's Just Wing it With Random Things From the Pantry school of cooking. Also, when no one else is in the room, I love singing. I love singing so much that I eventually want to get lessons, if I can track down a teacher. I like wandering around taking photos, especially of random suburbia, and I'll happily do that almost anywhere if the light is good enough. The whole thing is very amateurish though. If I manage to take a good photo, it is probably luck and then photoshop.

Um um um.

Oh! I sometimes go to political things. This evening I listened to a talk from Phil Goff, leader of the NZ Labour Party. And I sometimes join in with Josh's transport campaigning, because Auckland needs transport that does not involve people driving everywhere all the time.

You know that advice people give writers? Where they tell them to live wild and interesting lives and do lots of exciting things so they can be good writers with lots to write about? I'm kind of hoping that advice is wrong. Writing is my exciting thing. And the rest of my life is mostly just me procrastinating writing.

One day, I will work out how to surgically attach more hours to the day. Then I will have proper hobbies.

First Teaser Tuesday ever ever ever

This is by popular demand.

I always wanted to say something was by popular demand. Anyway.

This is from my prologue. (I am one of those uncool writers who has prologues.) My main character has snuck into the cellar in the middle of the night because knows that her father has a prisoner there. And yeah. I've cleaned it up somewhat but it is still very much a work in progress, as always.

Update: I've taken the teaser down now.

Thanks for all your lovely comments. More teasers to come!

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

What I read (excluding YA)

This week's topic for Roadtrip Wednesday at YA highway (or Roadtrip Thursday, if you're on NZ time) is what we read outside of YA fiction. The real question: what don't I read?

To be honest I've even been known to find the phonebook interesting. No kidding. I like names.

When I have the energy I read literary fiction. At the moment I'm reading The River Wife by Heather Rose and Her Fearful Symmetry by Audrey Niffenegger (she also wrote The Time Traveller's Wife, which is one of my favouritest books in the whole entire world ever ever ever). Also I have The Road by Cormac McCarthy sitting around waiting, and Towards Another Summer by Janet Frame, and quite a few others. When I have even more energy, I read classics. I read masses of them while I was at university but since I finished my degree I haven't had as much time, and I need to rectify that. I loved Jane Eyre and Great Expectations and Persuasion and The Tenant of Wildfell Hall, and at some point I need to get around to reading my lovely secondhand copy of Bleak House. And to get even older, I have Ovid's Metamorphoses somewhere, I think, but I haven't seen it since several houses ago. Possibly it has itself metamorphosed into something mysterious but I'm hoping it will metamorphose back so I can find it and read it. I love stories about transformation.

And poetry. I love lots of poetry, but I love it especially when it's by Pablo Neruda. And especially when he was going through his depressed surrealist phase and writing about nightmares and sad guitars and ghosts and despair. Good poetry it makes me feel like I'm flying. It's language at its most pure and undiluted and lovely; I think that all writers should read poetry regardless of what they write.

I read a decent number of children's books, picture books and middle grade especially. I have a good excuse in that I sell them, so I have to know them. But also because there are so many out there which are stunning.

I adore grown up fantasy but I'm horribly fussy about it. It's like I have an overly acute sense of smell when it comes to fantasy and too much of it smells like adverbs and horses. But when it smells like magic and rings true, it is very possibly the best thing ever.

And, um, other stuff. I love reading blogs. I subscribe to the NZ Listener, so I often read that, and the odd newspaper. I especially like book reviews. I will even read book reviews of books that I haven't read and am never likely to read in my life, just because I like book reviews so much.

Other than how-to-write books, I don't read as much non-fiction as I think I should. When I do I like memoirs of people's messed up childhoods, and psychology. Especially abnormal psychology, and especially multiple personality disorder. No idea why on that one. And Josh has been on at me to read Bill Bryson's A Short History of Nearly Everything for ages, and I keep not getting round to it, but I will eventually. Every now and then I'll attempt one of Josh's planning related books, because I swear no one hears more about dream versions of Auckland's future railway system than me, or about planning cities around public transport and pedestrians versus planning cities around cars. To live with Josh is to learn about these things, so I might as well read about them.

Also. This is a nerdy confession, but one day when I am very rich, I'm going to buy myself a big fat Oxford dictionary. Not a normal sized one, but one of the monstrous ones that look like spell books. Preferably the monstrous ones that look like spell books that come in multiple volumes. And then I am going to sit around for ages reading it and marvelling at all the words and definitions and all the examples of sentences where a writer has used a word particularly well. And, seriously, to my demented brain it will be blissful. I sometimes used to hang out in the library at my high school so I could do exactly this. (Um, yeah. I was not one of the cool people at school, not by any stretch. I was a nerdy library person who didn't go outside enough.)

The truth is, like a lot of writers, I live off books. Without them my brain ends up starving hungry and I get depressed. When I'm sad, I shove a couple of books that I love into my bag so they keep me company throughout the day and cheer me up. Beloved books are like portable friends.

And yeah. I seriously hate to think how long this post would have been if I'd been writing about YA too.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Grandad Barclay

I found out about a week ago that my grandfather died.

My parents moved from England to New Zealand before I was born, and I've only ever seen my grandparents once every few years, if that. Basically, whenever one end of the family felt brave enough to spend a heap of money and take on a 24 hour flight, which is hard if you're elderly, and also hard if you're trailing three kids. So he's not a relative I ever knew very well.

What I remember about Grandad Barclay is that his first name was John and his middle name was Barclay, but he was always so much a Barclay that I don't know whether many people ever called him by his first name. He was a creature of habit. He had a schedule of things that he did in a week, like adding to his enormous firewood pile and going into town to have tea at a particular tearoom on Tuesdays. (I think it was Tuesdays.) He would comment if you made yourself tea in the mornings, because there was always a particular amount of tea in the teapot, and if you poured an unexpected cup of tea it changed things and rendered the teapot unpredictable. Also, before I stayed with my grandparents, the concept of breakfast having a set time was completely foreign to me. Grandad always noticed if you stumbled in sleepy and late. Mind you, he was also notorious for getting caught up in what he was doing and being late for meals himself.

Also, my Grandad Barclay loved ships. 'Love' is actually too weak a word for how my grandfather felt about ships. He spent hours in his study with hundreds of books about ships to keep him company. When he was staying with us in Auckland, he caught many ferries to Devonport so that he could sit looking out at the harbour, watching each ship go past. And he sketched ships in tiny exact detail everywhere - on scraps of paper, on napkins, on the old whiteboard that my parents used to write reminders on when we were little. When my sister got out her felt pens and drew a bold, schoolkid version of the Titanic in bright colours, Grandad gave it a careful look, then added several funnels to improve the picture's accuracy.

The last time I went to England with my family, we left my grandparents' house early in the morning to fly home. Grandad stepped out to see us off. He wore a dressing gown and his captain's hat, and he gave us a sharp salute and a wry smile before we drove away.

That was the last time I ever saw him.

Because they've always been far away, I'm not as thrown as most people are by losing a grandparent. They're people I'm deeply fond of but not people I'm close to. I keep going with my everyday things and someone who breathed on the other side of the world no longer breathes. Nonetheless, he was wonderful, and he deserves remembering.

I'm notoriously indecisive about religion and I don't know what to make of the idea of an afterlife. To me it's the sort of thing you can't ever know with any sureness either way.

Still, wherever you are Grandad, I hope the seas are good.

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

On choosing a genre

This weeks question at the highway is about how we choose the genre of our novels. Or, as Michelle put it, how our genre chooses us. I like putting it like this. With genre, I've never really chosen. Also for me, the question of how a genre chooses me links really closely with the question of why it chooses me. So you're going to have to read about both at once, because I can't separate them out. Lucky you.

I have a lot of ideas for stories. To say a lot is quite a nice way of putting it. My head is like one of those explosive houses, you know, the ones with people who build up a hoard of everything in case of an apocalypse, those people who never throw anything away. I have a few strong ideas, which take up lots of space, and countless vague floating butterfly ideas, which take up less. But collectively, it's still masses. I can never seem to dump novel ideas, even when they go wrong. I just bury them until they come back strong and shiny and sure of themselves again.

But yeah. Out of all that, I have two novel ideas at the moment which are straight contemporary, and stubborn about it. They're flukes, both of them. Every other story idea in my head is fantasy or speculative, including my current WIP. I started writing stories as a kid, and they came out fantastical, with magic springing out all over the place in one way or another. And it hasn't really changed since then. I write what calls to me, what makes sense to me, what carries me through the endless but wonderful toil that is novel writing. If it didn't resonate, I'd never get to the end of it.

I love reading contemporary as much as I love reading fantasy, but the stuff that I love writing the most is the stuff where magic exists, where the world is mysterious and inexplicable and beautiful. That can be true in contemporary as well, and that's probably why I have my two ideas which go against the trend and refuse any supernatural elements I try to add. (Which shows all the more how I can never choose genre, even when I try.) But mostly I write magic best. I'd be lying if I said that's because magic is what I know. More because it's what I don't know, what I want to know, what I dream about. When I was about six years old, I wanted to be a professional witch when I grew up, and deal with magic all the time. Writing is the closest I can get to that.

My ideas often start as jumbled up things, conversations between people who turn out to be characters, images, and tangled stuff that I dream about first thing in the morning, the lucid dreams that you have when morning light wakes you up and then you drift back to sleep again. Sometimes it all comes together gradually, like a bunch of threads weaving themselves into fabric, appearing then dissolving into a whole. Other times stuff slams together in my head and leaves me stunned and buzzing, like I've somehow stumbled inside a power socket. (I don't really buy the whole muse idea, but if I had one, he/she would totally be into electrocution.)

And in all of that, genre is the last thing I think of, because usually it's obvious. In all the dizzy note taking and thinking of exciting events and seeing exactly where the key relationships are, something in my head goes, oh yeah. That's fantasy again. Surprise surprise. Or it goes, god. You've come up with an idea that doesn't have magic in it. Will it work?

Basically, for me, the best way to choose a genre is to let the story choose it. Stories know what they're made of, but I generally don't until they tell me. I'm just the person who sits around fussing with words and drinking too much coffee, and trying to work out what she forgot to put on the shopping list because her head was too full of make believe things.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

How I name my peeps: a post in which I am both synaesthetic and schizophrenic

Time for moose blogging! Yay!

This week's topic is about how we name our characters. So, how do I name my characters? The answer basically falls into one of two categories.

The Nice Category:

They arrive in my head with a name.

You have no idea how much I love characters who do this. I love all my characters, but I love the ones who tell me their names when I first meet them very and extremely muchly. Some characters just know what they're called, and dammit, they don't want to leave me guessing and coming up with stupid wrong names.

This method can go horribly wrong. I have a character in a future novel who is adamant that she is called Pandora. There are various problems with this, one being that it sounds like some kind of brand name, maybe for fancy loaves of bread. The second is that I already have a character called Pandora in a different story, and it is a headache to have two similar characters with the same name, let alone two characters with the same crazy fancy bread name.

Generally, though, I love it when my peeps tell me their names. It makes life quite a lot more straightforward. However, everyone who knows me knows that 'Leila' and 'straightforward' are not two words that go together.

And that is probably why about ninety percent of my characters fall into the other category.

The Other Category:

I get a horrible headache.

Fact: I can't just name my characters anything. They usually have specific names that belong to them, and to name them the wrong thing would be the writing equivalent of finding myself a blackboard and running all of my fingernails and toenails down it at the same time. Some characters have more than one name that fits them perfectly, and a few that are a close fit, but for most, it's just the one. There are a lot of potential names in the universe. Finding The One can be hard. (Much like finding true love, if you are into that sort of thing.)

I usually know vaguely what sort of names they have. When I say that, I mean that I know what the first letter is, sometimes. Or that it could be one of three possible first letters. And that can be because I have some idea of what colours it could be.

Yes, I did just say that. And no, I'm not on anything. My brain has some odd wiring.

But anyway, colours tie into letters. If I know I'm looking for a dark green name, then it most likely begins with m or n. If I get a pale aqua colour, then it's probably e. If it's white, then it's probably i or l. And if I get a few different contradictory colours, then that gives me a bunch of letters to try. And sometimes I'll know whether it's a light name or a dark name, which can help too.

The problem is that it's hard to know any of this for sure unless I've found The Name. Because it can also be something nowhere near my original prediction.

I have a book of 1000 baby names, which I inherited from a family friend when she moved away. The cover has the same eerie picture of a staring pudgy cheeked baby repeated over and over in rows, like someone accidentally clicked 'tile' in formatting and decided to leave it that way. It has all the normal names, but also a lot of utterly bizarre ones. (Adolpha, anyone?) I think the friend I inherited it off ended up naming her son Frank, which is not particularly bizarre, so I'm not sure whether she really used the book all that much in her decision making. However, I use it all the time.

It gives roots and definitions, and it lists when names have variant spellings. (I love variant spellings. I don't pay a huge amount of attention to definitions, although I love it when they fit. I'm more interested in the colour and the sound.) When I go name hunting I sit down with my baby name book and a blank page of notebook, and write down as many possible suspects as I can find. I play with spelling and see if a name fits better with a th instead of an f, or change the ending, or try a different first letter. And sometimes, in all that hunting and messing with letters, I'll manage to find something that works.

Although more often I'll get a headache and have to walk away and try again tomorrow, or hope that the character gives up and just tells me what his/her name is. Sometimes I can get it by imagining scenes taking place, and hearing my peeps talk to each other, because sometimes one will accidentally let the name slip. They only do it if I'm not trying too hard to force it out of them, because this is sneaky subconscious stuff. Dealing with sneaky subconscious stuff is like meeting a cat for the first time. You have to approach slowly and put your hand out and convince yourself that you're not even that interested really, and if it feels like it, it might greet you back.

So yeah. I used to think it was impossible, but I managed to find true love. (Right now he's pointing out that it is getting late and I should maybe be sleeping instead of blogging, but anyway.) And likewise, I almost always think it's impossible, but I always manage to find my characters' names. Because in the end, they always want me to write about them. In one way or another, they have to tell me.

One last thing: I wrote at least half of the first draft of my novel without knowing the name of a crucial character. I'm not even exaggerating. He really, really did not want to give it up. I spent ages writing scenes with a little box like this [ ] where his name would eventually be. And this isn't a random character I'm talking about who you don't have to worry as much about precision with, this is a main character, a main character I adore. I felt like a huge idiot for knowing him incredibly well but not knowing his goddamn name, which you'd think would be obvious seeing as I knew so much else. But he happens to be a character who has spent his life hiding, a character whose name is forever linked to a disaster. Understandably, he didn't want to give it away lightly.

After a long, long while, when I had pretty much given up entirely, he let me know that his first name is Elias. He still hasn't told me his last name. I'm hoping he will soon.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Difficult patterns across the moon

I would just like to mention that I am not well. So if I have been incoherant anywhere on the internet today, or out in the real world, that's why. 'Not well' meaning I have one of those colds where you feel like the whole world is slowly imploding inside your head. And my lovely recurring goose cough is back and making people turn their heads in the street once more. And I'm not even going to start on the whole snot factory thing. It's all very yuckitty yuck yuck.

You might think I am sick all the time, from this blog, and that is actually not true. Actually. I just have a tendancy to blog when I'm sick, because my computer never shows any sign of getting tired of listening to me. I could invent a new category of blogging. Moaning About Minor Ailments Blogging. (To be known as MAMAB.) Do you think this could take off?

The last few weeks have been really damn hard, for various reasons. Most of them temporary though. Still, I'm basically fighting a den of seething stress snakes, and everytime I nail one, a new one arises with its little tongue flicking. It sometimes reaches a point where I want to give up on being a grown up. But I think things are getting better now. Today was nice. One of the things I love about working in Ponsonby is how every now and then someone wanders into the shop selling something wonderful. Today a guy turned up with huge punnets of new season strawberries and I bought one immediately; they were oddly shaped but delicious.

Right now I'm in the stretch of evening between dinner and sleep. The tv is on and a panel are talking theories about conspiracy theories. I am now trying to think of theories about theories about conspiracy theories. And theories about theories about theories about conspiracy theories. It all feels a bit like what happens when you're a kid and you find a small mirror, then take it over to another mirror and face the two mirrors off into each other.

And somewhere during the last paragraph my dear cat Cali noticed that I am still on the couch under a blanket, and curled up next to me to keep an eye on things. But now she seems to be napping on the job. Both cats gave me a skeptical look when I moved the blanket from the bedroom to the lounge. They never understand when I move things around. Also my cats often feel this need to keep an eye on me, I've noticed, but in doing so they usually become so bored that they go to sleep. Apparently I'm not a particularly entertaining person to watch.

Now! I need to type up the rest of my novel and then I need to edit edit edit it sideways up down left right centre until it gleams and hopefully doesn't put any humans or cats to sleep.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

My novel in haiku form

This is for Roadtrip Wednesday at the highway.

worst storms are my own
magic strikes inside me and
there is no shelter

It took a long time and turned out a bit cryptic. But I guess that's how most haiku behave. I'm a bit sleepy and keep typing 'haiky' instead of haiku. Not sure what a haiky would be. Sounds a bit like a sneeze.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Crazy sauce tastes like it's crazy

Josh is away overnight again and I miss him like hell. And yeah, I'm aware that I would make an absolutely useless army wife. And that's before I even start on pacifism. Good thing I'm in love with a planner/public transport advocate instead, don't you think?

My charming cat has already brought me two half dead lizards and the day is generally feeling rather long, so I'm cheering myself up by blogging about sentences and horses.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Rough drafts

How rough are my rough drafts?

Think harsh sandpaper rough. Not the stuff you use for polishing and prettiness, but the stuff you use for taking the surface off things.

When I write first drafts, my sole aim is to take the surface off everything - my glorious but vaguer than vague daydreams about how the story might work, and all the odd layers of resistance that sit around in my head. I write furiously and rub all of that away, and I see if there's a story underneath.

I don't aim at anything even vaguely approximating perfection. I just aim at creating a big bunch of words that tell a story, even if they're a scruffy bunch of words that need transcribing and spell check and all sorts of prodding and pulling apart and therapy before I let anyone near them. It's far better to have a deeply flawed first draft than not to have one. Judy Blume once talked about being not a writer, but a rewriter, and that's very much me as well. All I'm doing in writing a first draft is creating clay, clay that I can sculpt and play with to my heart's content until a story that sings and makes sense and has every word in the right place finally emerges a long time later. Hopefully.

If you're like me, and you have to write an embarrassingly bad first draft in order to have one at all, the book to read for reassurance and incredibly sage advice is Bird by Bird, by Anne Lamott. It's a book I go back to over and over again. As Lamott says:

For me and most of the other writers I know, writing is not rapturous. In fact, the only way I can get anything written at all is to write really, really shitty first drafts...

Almost all good writing begins with terrible first efforts. You need to start somewhere. Start by getting something - anything - down on paper. A friend of mine says that the first draft is the down draft - you just get it down. The second draft is the up draft - you fix it up. You try to say what you have to say more accurately. And the third draft is the dental draft, where you check every tooth, to see if it's loose or cramped or decayed or even, God help us, healthy.

(Bird by Bird, Anchor Books 1995, pp. 22, 25-26)

For those attempting first drafts right now, I wish you luck and give you lots of chocolate chip cookies to eat along the way (the big fat kind, chewy in the middle, and with extra big chocolate chips).

And you know those first draft things? I just finished one. They do end. Sometimes you just have to take a messy path to get there.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

25 things to know about Leila (from a tagging on facebook)

1. I like it when everyday things turn dreamlike. I love the way the light looks on Queen St late on a sunny afternoon, when it's deep gold and makes everyone crossing the road glow at the edges.

2. I refuse to eat banana under almost all circumstances. The only exception I make is for my flatmate's banana cake.

3. When I was about five years old, my ideal career choice for when I grew up was to be a professional witch.

4. When I was a few years older, I told other kids at school that I believed in fairies. Not because I ACTUALLY believed in fairies. More because I really deeply wished they were real, and I wanted to will them into reality.

5. This didn't make me particularly popular in primary school.

6. Actually, I was NEVER very popular at school. 

7. A major contributing factor here is the fact that I am not really capable of being 'cool'. I would not recognise 'cool' if we met in the street. 'Cool' and Leila would do that whole stupid dance, you know, the thing where you are walking in opposite directions and you almost collide but don't, and you both go to the left at the same time, then you both go to the right at the same time, and then you smile awkwardly and one of you bolts sideways so that the wretched experience ends and you never have to see each other again.

8. My favourite board game is Cluedo.

9. At the moment I'm reading a book called 'Broken Soup', by Jenny Valentine. It's very good.

10. I am addicted to scarves. Unless it's the middle of summer, I feel weird without a scarf.

11. I don't like heights very much but I somehow managed to go up the Sagrada Familia, St Pauls, the Eiffel Tower and a bunch of other tall buildings in Europe. I was fine every time, if a bit shaky. 

12. Although I didn't make it quite to the top of the Eiffel Tower.

13. The thing that I really REALLY don't like about heights actually is the thought of somehow dropping something from a great height. All you have to do to make me flip out if we're up the top of a high building together is to dangle some random object over the edge of a balcony where it could fall a long way and break and KILL SOMEONE. My brain seriously cannot handle that.

14. I love gourmet burgers with an intensity no one ever understands, including me. Especially if they come from Murder Burger, or Burger Fuel, or the handmade place in Kingsland. Get me dinner from one of those places and I will walk into burning buildings to retrieve your dental floss and be your best friend FOR LIFE.

15. The only thing that beats my burger obsession is my coffee obsession.

16. I work in Ponsonby.

17. Ponsonby is a VERY EXPENSIVE place for me to work. (See 15.)

18. I'm going to learn to drive this year, because I have to. Otherwise life in Auckland is too inconveniant.

19. I would really rather not learn to drive. I hate driving. It makes me stressed and swearwordy and it is bad for the planet. If I lived in London or somewhere like that, I would totally just catch trains everywhere and not bother with cars at all.

20. 'Discombobulate' is one of my favourite words. It somehow sounds like someone is being hit on the head in the middle.

21. My favourite seasons are autumn and spring. Strong temperatures aren't really my thing.

22. I'm skinny and I get cold at the drop of a hat (which probably explains 10). However, because of this I actually find cold a lot easier to deal with. I just put on another layer of clothing and get on with things. Extreme heat just makes me grumpy and tired and worldhating and uncomfortable. I'm really not enjoying Auckland's weather at the moment.

23. I seriously love old houses. I think most architecture post-WWII is pretty overrated.

24. I like alcohol but it tends to make me go to sleep and then wake up craving eggs.

25. I write, and would love it if I could one day earn a living from it. I mostly write novels with magicians, dystopias, painters, psychics and people with dark mysterious pasts. I don't know whether an audience for random Leila-style speculative fiction actually exists, but I guess I'll find out.

Proper posts to come! I promise! In case you want to keep track, I've added a feature for that which should actually WORK. There's an option to become a follower of my blog on the left below the archive and links.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Various things of a various nature

- My computer has been feeling out of sorts. It has been begging me for more RAM, to the point of shutting The Sims down mid-game to remind me. And then I went to download some photos on it only to have it dramatically refuse because my hard drive is full. It won't even take an incredibly thin wafer mint.

Actually, I am really sick of computers being all impertinent on me. Microsoft Word has suddenly started refusing to have more than one document open at once, I think because of the fullness of my hard drive. And it sometimes tantrums on me and refuses to respond to instructions. I end up with that big white nothing screen where Word should be, I quit, and then a window pops up to ask me if I want to tell Microsoft about it in an error report. Oh, Microsoft! Now I know that you care I feel so much better!

I also have an ongoing war with Microsoft Word in that it is insisting on the US version of everything. You know, it insists on putting a z in surprise and emphasise and various other things. I used to not care about this and just let it be as it may, as long as I was consistent; then I decided that I am a New Zealander, dammit, not an American, and I wasn't going to have any more of this American spelling of everything. I have nothing against it, if you're from the US. However, NZ grammar and spelling has direct roots to UK grammar and spelling, and I feel like it's basically my duty, as a non-American, to use my native rules, rather than the ones Microsoft likes best.

But MY GOD does it not like this. I have done what you're meant to do, by going into the tools option and telling it I want UK English as my default dictionary (I have distrusted the NZ dictionary on Word ever since it failed to recognise 'kia ora' when I tried it a few years ago, although I've been told it has improved since then). But what does Microsoft Word go and do? It goes and reverts to US English every single time I create a new document, so I have to go into the menu and change it again after discovering that it is automatically inserting another 'z' where no 'z' should go. While I respect US English, I think it is pretty damn arrogant that Microsoft seems to have decided to make it so impossible to make a computer stay on anything else. My friend's family got someone to go into the inner workings of the files on their computer to switch it out of US English, but it was back on US English within days. Microsoft! For goodness' sake! Quit it with your language imperialism! Not cool! 

To be fair, Safari is annoying as well. (I'm probably totally jinxing myself typing this.) I'm using Safari because Blogger and my normal browser Opera don't seem to play well together, and Safari keeps trying to correct my spelling. It started by underlining my email address as a spelling error when I typed it in (excuse me Safari but I KNOW my email address), and when I typed in recognise in the previous paragraph, it got all uppity on me and underlined that in red too. (Again with this assuming that I'm American. Gah!) I would really like my technology to leave me alone. If I want help with spelling, I will ask for it. It doesn't need to assume like that. It's actually very patronising. (To which Safari responded by underlining patronising as a spelling error. God, just SHUT UP ALREADY.)

- I am working full time at the bookshop now, so in the near future when I have more time, there will be bookshop anecdotes! Huzzah! I've spent lots of time getting to know some stunning books, most recently The Graveyard Book, by Neil Gaiman. Ah, the awesomeness. Both versions are beautifully done (with the Chris Riddell illustrations and the Dave McKean illustrations), you should go buy it. It's about a boy, orphaned as a baby, who is brought up in a graveyard by the ghosts who reside there. It is wonderfully written; I always forget just how good Neil Gaiman is. For some reason he's always especially amazing in the final quarter or so of everything that he writes. Towards the end of The Graveyard Book, I have to admit I was actually silently urging my customers to leave me alone, couldn't they see I was reading Neil Gaiman, something which no polite human being should ever interrupt?

- I had the mother of all writing breakthroughs over the Christmas break. I seriously haven't had a breakthrough so stunning for years. I'd convinced myself that I'd kind of lost my touch with that sort of thing but had been struggling on anyway, writing my story, feeling uncertain but figuring that something was better than nothing. There's an E. L. Doctorow quote that I live by, about how writing novels is like driving a car at night. You can see no further than your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way. So I was going by that, making what progress I could, figuring that maybe in few years I might possibly finally have an extremely vague idea of what I was doing. 

Then one night I had this dream about two people who turned out to be my two main characters, and realised that they weren't quite who I thought they were, or where I thought they should be. I struggled over trying to get them to fit into the old version of the story, then decided, screw it, I will fling the previous version aside and try writing the story from the dream. And my god, it worked like nothing else. I could suddenly see them, their difficult pasts, the strange bond gradually forming between them and the world they had to survive in. I seriously think that if I nail the defining relationship of a story, the one that makes everything tick, everything else flows from there. At least, that seems to be my experience. 

I've been busy mastering the art of writing in spare moments, like tea breaks and while I am waiting for the bus. I figure it's an essential life skill. And I already seem to have produced at least as much as I had for the old version of the story. Some of the best writing advice I have ever been given was simply persevere, from John Marsden, when I told him I wanted to write. It's particularly relevant to me, with my monkey brain, going in ten wrong directions for months on end until I finally get a sign of some sort or another and retrace my steps and chase a story home. 

And chasing stories home makes me realise again why I'm alive.

- It is late, and I have a lounge full of pieces of beautiful fans that my flatmate is putting together, two sleeping cats (one on a couch, one on the piano), fascinating tv about New Zealand art history (WHY is this stuff never on at a decent hour?) and a boyfriend trying to convince me to go to bed now because we have to get up early tomorrow and catch a bus. 

Time to stop. Hopefully it won't be so long next time.