Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Road Trip Wednesday: Give a book character a Christmas present!

Saving Francesca on Goodreads
For this to make sense, you need to know Saving Francesca by Melina Marchetta. If you don't know it, then you should go and rectify that at once.

Dear Francesca Spinelli,

Everyone needs at least one book character like you in their life. This is going to make me sound psychotic crazy, but you are far more than a character I love. You're a best friend. I hunt through my bookcase for your story whenever I'm sad and need cheering up, whenever I'm happy and want to be even happier. Your voice makes me grin. And even on the 948746th reading, you still make me laugh.

So. For Christmas I'm giving you:

- A large supply of delicious chocolate from the fair trade shop near my house. Seriously, they do the best chocolate ever. I give chocolate to pretty much everyone. And you've been going through hard times, what with your mum's depression and your new school. Chocolate will make you feel very much better.

This is also fitting because my sister and I like to call Saving Francesca a 'chocolate book'. This means, basically, that it's delicious and comforting and all kinds of wonderful.

- A boxed set of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. All the seasons. Your nonna was mean not letting you watch it, and you need to have proper ammunition for that crucial Angel/Spike/Riley debate. And hot vampires are also renowned for their cheering up qualities. If the chocolate doesn't work, then this very much will.

- A plane ticket, so you can fly across the world and visit that Star Trek fan boyfriend of yours.

Love, Leila

Come join in and see what your favourite characters are getting for Christmas this year on YA Highway!

More posts coming soon, my poor neglected blog! I promise! I have many many things to post about!

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Truckzilla, or why I need to stop behaving like my cat

Josh is a good driver. But even for him, reversing into the carport for our block of flats is still at least, I don't know, a 28 point turn. I'm not allowed to to reverse into the carport for our block of flats at all, because I'm still kind of rubbish at driving and would probably kill cars and houses and small children if I tried. Or if I tried to reverse generally, for that matter.

I have no idea how on earth Truckzilla manages to fit.

Truckzilla turns up mysteriously on Mondays. Truckzilla is not so much a truck as a small god.

Truckzilla announced itself this morning while I was still in bed by filling the whole flat with a rumbling so ferocious you could virtually see walls shaking. Nothing fell over, but that was probably only because everything that could be knocked over by the force of Truckzilla was knocked over last time Truckzilla visited.

I glanced at the end of the bed. My cat Horatio was curled up sleeping. This was not surprising. Horatio could nap through the apocalypse. I couldn't see Cali at all. Cali is small and calico. She is sometimes slightly neurotic.

The first time Truckzilla visited, I was writing at the table in the living room. Cali flew in through the kitchen window, shot across the living room floor, and threw herself at the door out onto the deck. The door was shut. She landed against the glass with a thump. She threw herself against the windows next to it, which were shut too. All of this happened at the speed of cat, which is slower than the speed of light but faster than the speed of human. I sat with my notebook, gaping at her. And Truckzilla kept roaring outside, probably loud enough to show up on the Richtor scale. Cali didn't hesitate. She dug her claws into a curtain and climbed so fast that by the time I realised what she was doing, she was at the top, looking at me, her eyes the size of planets.

Neither of us had any idea what to do.

I took a step across to get Cali down, but she was faster than that. She flung herself off the curtain and bolted into our bedroom. I followed her. The venetian blind across the bedroom window was down. Cali plunged straight through the middle of it and sat on the windowsill, with that statue stillness that cats only have when they're terrified.

'Cali?' I said.

She gave me a long look of pure misery, and curled herself up behind the blind.

So when I heard Truckzilla this morning and wasn't sure where Cali was, I was worried. I heard a small thump in the next room and dragged myself out of bed and into the lounge.

Cali was on top of the washing rack. From reading that, you probably think it's one of those huge-ultra-strong-stand-up-in-a-tornado type washing racks. It's not. It's one of those small fiddly ones which collapses if you walk into the wrong part of the room and breathe. It's kind of a miracle it hadn't collapsed as soon as Truckzilla turned up. Cali gave me her terrified look again, her claws curled between my bras and Josh's work shirts, the entire rack swaying underneath her, ready to fall at any moment.

I took a step towards her and she pelted into the bedroom. She stared at me through the middle of the venetian blind. I went to grab her, but her eyes were so pitiful I changed my mind. I let her keep the space between the blind and the world. It was the last hiding place she had left.

I have no idea why Cali is so scared of Truckzilla. But I know that she's scared enough that she'll do anything in the world to get away from it. Even strange curtain climbing things that don't make sense.

I stood there, looking at her. And suddenly I was reminded of me. Of how when my writing isn't going as well as I want it to, it turns into Truckzilla. It is rumbling and unavoidable, and I do everything in the world to get away from it. I rearrange small objects; I play inane pirate games on the internet; I turn on the tv and watch music videos for songs I don't even like; I cook complicated meals with lots of spices. If I could climb a curtain to escape, I probably would. I run around inside my head like a scared cat in a small flat, flinging myself against windows, defying gravity.

And what am I so scared of? What is Truckzilla, really? The prospect of a writing day that could go horribly, brain bendingly badly? What's a day like that actually going to do? Run me over?

I don't think it's actually the thing itself. It's what the thing could be. A day of writing could be wondrous, or it could be awful. I've survived both. And they're more ambiguous than you'd think. Sometimes I reread a day of intense euphoric writing and it turns out to be a heap of incoherant descriptions and tangled dialogue; sometimes I reread a day of pure drudgery, one of those days where I would rather climb a washing rack and hang precariously, and the writing turns out fine.

Truckzilla is the prospect that things might be difficult. And that it would be better to avoid the scary difficult stuff and do a thousand other things instead, things that don't achieve anything much. Things I can't fail at. Things less likely to turn out imperfect and agonising.

I stared at the shape of my petrified cat, and thought that really, both of us were kind of ridiculous. A godlike truck was not the end of the world.

I found my notebook and my pen and crawled back into bed, and made myself start brainstorming the novel that's been giving me headaches for months on end. Truckzilla thundered through the walls. I ignored it. I wrote and wrote and wrote, and suddenly the story opened outwards and made sense like it hadn't for a long, long time. It burnt so strong it was weird to think I'd ever been wary of it.

I kept writing, and Monday flew by like a dream.

Friday, August 06, 2010

This is not a blog post. This is just something like a blog post.

My brain has this weird thing that it does when I write first drafts. Ok. I'm lying. My brain has at least ten weird things that it does when I write first drafts. But one of them is especially weird.

So. Imagine you're watching a romance. And let's face it, we've all watched at least one. Even those of us who proclaim ourselves to be profoundly unromantic. Even those of us who claim to be manly men who don't watch romance. Even you. Yeah, you. I can see you trying to hide that Pride and Prejudice dvd, the BBC one.

And anyway, you're watching your romance, and there's this whole plot where there are two people who are in love, but they don't notice that they're in love. They think that they're in hate. Or they don't even notice that. They are absentminded in their adoration, even when it's written all over them. And it's annoying, but annoying in a good way. Us story loving folks, we actually quite like being annoyed, if the annoyance is gentle, if we know it will be resolved or concluded, if we know it's leading to something good. The annoyance of two people who should be together but aren't quite there yet. You know, it's like the smell of a perfect chocolate cake baking, so good that you just want to eat it right now, cooking be damned, but you don't, because you know you have to wait so that it can be the best thing possible. Romance is exactly the same.

See, my brain does this. But with words. Actually, not words. With a word. One particular word. My brain doesn't notice, but it likes to fall in love with one particular word. Deeply in love. So in love that it wants to use it at least once every paragraph. Sometimes every sentence. Sometimes twice every sentence. The word changes from one thing to another to another over the days and weeks and months that go into writing a first draft for me, but the love remains the same. The unnoticed, unrequited love. Except unlike Elizabeth Bennett and Mr. Darcy, it's not really a love that can go anywhere.

Oh, my poor brain! Even if it was possible to marry a word, it's not like I'd want to marry the word smile. Or breathe. Or darkness. Or something. Especially something. I'm actually writing this blog post because I'm in the middle of transcribing a scene from my notebook and the scene is full of something. Something has crawled into every paragraph. I'll be typing away, and then another something will come in, where there should be an object or a description. And I'm so flooded by the something virus that I'm procrastinating by writing a blog post about it rather than actually dealing with it. It's that bad.

But, you know, this is a first draft. And that's what first drafts are for. Sometimes the 2836th way my brain chooses to use a word is the perfect way. It sits in its sentence exactly right. I just have to cull the first 2835 times to get to it. And sometimes, if you're doing it consciously, repetition can be glorious. But it can't be an unrequited love that slipped under the radar. It needs thought. A marriage needs to take place. A metaphorical marriage, but a marriage all the same. And you want it to be a happy one.

So yeah. It's probably not a problem for you, but you might want to watch out for it. You know, just in case it creeps up on you. It's something very sneaky.


Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Two for Tuesday featuring Poetry Surprise

The name of this blog post sounds like some random late night music video with two artists collaborating. Two for Tuesday can be the rappers. Poetry Surprise can be the soulful female vocalist.

The idea of Two for Tuesday is to post two things, things of any kind, and then connect them somehow.

So, without further ado, I give you Thing One:

Things With Extremely Optimistic Names.

Ok. Thing One is actually a bunch of things. Technically.

I have a weird affection for things with optimistic names. To start with, Auckland has a suburb called Meadowbank. Meadowbank in name? Happy shiny frolicking in sparkling meadows, like a stray Meyer vampire! Meadowbank in reality? A middle class suburb tucked in tidily next to a very posh one (Remuera), with nondescript but pleasant enough houses, and a nice bakery. Meadowbank in reality is absolutely fine, but oh, Meadowbank in name! The frolicking! The frolicking! There's also a suburb called Beachhaven, which has some beach, if you live on the right side of it. The rest, I guess, is the haven. But it looks like a normal bunch of houses built, I don't know, about thirty years ago. I've been there many times and I haven't noticed the haven. Criminal! And then there's Sunnynook. Can you believe there's a suburb called Sunnynook? Do you know I sometimes want to move there for the name alone, even though all I really know about it is that it has a bus station?

Also, old fashioned recipes often have extremely optimistic names. You know, the sort of thing you read about people eating for dessert in a picture book you used to have when you were a kid. Lucky berry Supreme! Peach Surprise! Don't you love how someone thought that the peach would still be a surprise? Shouldn't it be renamed 'Spongy Thing with Peach in the Middle'? No. It shouldn't. Because of the optimism.

Therefore, I am inventing a new blog feature with an extremely optimistic name. And this new blog feature will also be Thing Two:

Poetry Surprise!

I blogged on Sunday at YA Highway with a whole heap of random writing advice. One thing I advised was reading poetry. Poetry is an excellent thing. I would like this blog to contain more of it. So, whenever I feel like it, I'm going to spring Poetry Surprise on you. Poetry Surprise will occasionally be a poem I've written, but it's much more likely to be a poem that a vastly better poet has written that I want to share with everyone, so we can all bask in its loveliness. My poems are ok, but they don't have all that much loveliness to bask in, because I'm not much of a poet.

The first poem I'm sharing with you is this one:

Sonnet XXII

When our two souls stand up erect and strong,
Face to face, silent, drawing nigh and nigher,
Until the lengthening wings break into fire
At either curvèd point,--what bitter wrong
Can the earth do to us, that we should not long
Be here contented? Think. In mounting higher,
The angels would press on us and aspire
To drop some golden orb of perfect song
Into our deep, dear silence. Let us stay
Rather on earth, Belovèd,--where the unfit
Contrarious moods of men recoil away
And isolate pure spirits, and permit
A place to stand and love in for a day,
With darkness and the death-hour rounding it.

- Elizabeth Barret Browning 

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Road Trip Wednesday: when and why did you start writing?

AKA the post that somehow turned into Leila's life story.

It started with self publishing when I was about four. I didn’t have a printing press, so each book was a one off limited edition, handmade with scrap paper, felt tip pens, and the stapler*. Most of the stories were about little girls named Celia or Delia, witches named Celia or Delia or dinosaurs named Celia or Delia**. And also about magic. Later, I extended my subject matter to include mermaids named Celia and Delia and princesses named Celia and Delia.

I don’t think anything really beats that discovery you make as a kid, when you realise that if you write a story, it’s there as long as the paper is there and you can read it over and over again. Or someone else can read it and know exactly what you said word for word, even if they weren’t in the room when you came up with it.

Originally I didn’t want to be a writer. I had other plans. First I wanted to be a professional witch. Then I wanted to be a teacher. Then, when I was seven, I wrote an unbelievably long play about two princesses and a dungeon, and also a poem about putting syrup on porridge, how the syrup runs slowly off the spoon and makes little golden corridors through the porridge. And for some reason my teacher was absolutely delighted with them, and then my parents were absolutely delighted with them, even though the play was full of nonsensical rambling dialogue and the syrup poem was, well, syrupy.

That’s when I realised that writing was not only magical. It also impressed grownups. And because of that, it would make me rich and famous. I was a vain kid, and also one of those notoriously weird kids. You knew one of those kids. The sort of kid who cries if her new book falls on the ground, and disappears to the edge of the playground for hours on end to play intensive make believe about orphan girls from large families during Victorian times. I have never ever in my whole entire life been cool. So the prospect of being rich and famous made me happy, if only so that it would make the mean kids regret being mean.

Someone gave me a second hand typewriter. A manual one. I bashed out page after page of description of characters and their whole families and their whole families’ families, including middle names and eye colour. I didn’t include star signs, but I probably would have, if I had known about them.

Then I got sick of the typewriter, and wrote stories and songs and in large spiral bound exercise books which always fell apart before I’d filled them. I’d grown out of dinosaurs and I’d grown out of naming characters Celia and Delia by then***. But I couldn’t stop writing about magic. Magic and transformation and people dealing with dark stuff. Being a twelve year old girl is one of the hardest things in the world. I knew dark stuff.

Then high school. I wrote epic fantasy in maths class when I was meant to be doing algebra. I wrote poetry in my study period when I was meant to be doing homework. I never finished anything unless it was a class assignment. But I made up for that by starting approximately one million novels. I had one particular story that turned up when I was meant to be doing French homework and tangled with me and wouldn’t go away.

My French is still terrible.

In university, I was still writing that story, and it was still tangled. I went to cafes and drank enormous lattes and wrote and wrote and wrote. Over the years I changed almost everything about it except for some of the characters’ names****. Then, in a year of turmoil, I decided the story was a lost cause and abandoned it. Even so, that story still calls to me sometimes. One day I might go back to it, when I'm less bothered about whether it's publishable or not.

Abandoning my novel was one of the ugliest things I've ever done. It took me two and a half agonising years before I could work on anything novel length again. Then Aven and Elias turned up, and I spent most of 2009 working on their story. Then some different people turned up, and I’ve spent 2010 so far working on their story.

I see things through to completion these days, and it’s slow. Slow like a sleeping snail is slow. I want to get everything pretty and polished and perfect, and that takes a long time. In fact, when you’re in the middle of working on things, it feels like the longest time in the world. So I go to my favourite cafe, I buy a large latte and cake, because cake makes everything better, and I pull out my notebook and write for hours on end. And I enjoy every moment of it as much as I can.

Writing is like many things in that after a while, it becomes part of living. You don’t know your own breath without it. Stories wait in dark corners, and under beds, and inside the linen cupboard, and sometimes the cats bring them in and leave them on the rug. And every time the stories leap out at you and insist on being written. They bring out their most intriguing people, and their most beautiful events. And you know that they’re absolutely right. They absolutely must be told. And if you don’t write them, there is no one else who will.

Honestly? I write because I no longer know how not to write.

You want to hear about how my fellow highwayers started writing as well, don't you? Head this way straight away!

*This was before I entered the bookselling world and realised that stapling is probably not the greatest form of binding in the world.

**I also named my guinea pigs Celia and Delia. I was obsessed.

***Mostly. I think a few Celias and Delias still snuck in occasionally.

****Incidentally, none of them were called Celia or Delia.

Wednesday, June 09, 2010

Road Trip Wednesday: How do you know when a project is going to work and when it's not?

I know when things glow. Some stories have this buzzing electric current, which runs all the way through them, this bright sharp line joining up the characters. It’s the thing that makes me know that out of all my hundred thousand random floating ideas, this one is worth writing. This one has people who are fascinating, who are going to collide and leave a trail of sparks from their collision. It’s often a romance, because I have this whole endless obsession with love stories, but it doesn’t have to be.

Anyway. If I find something that glows, I know that I could have a story of pure wondrousness on my hands, if I could just write it well enough. Or sometimes I have a whole bunch of beautiful lines all through my head, and I keep coming across them at inappropriate times and having to sneak into the back room at work to write them down. And then I know it could be great, if I could just get the story behind them to make sense.

But that’s not whether a project will work. That’s whether a project can work. Most people have projects that can work floating around, whether or not they choose to do anything with them.

But in the end, whether it will work actually comes down to me. And that’s scary. It comes down to whether I manage to dislodge enough time for the damn thing from all the stuff time usually gets itself stuck in*, whether I revise and edit well enough and follow people’s advice on things that need fixing. And whether I keep going when everything about the project is making me outraged, or bored, or paranoid, or headachy, or all at once. And also, whether I do the idea justice. A good idea is all very well, but I could unwittingly write it so badly that you can almost hear the trees which fell for my notebooks groaning**, write it so badly that it turns into a Humpty Dumpty sort of thing where not even all the best beta readers in the world can put it back together again. Not to mention whether my judgement was right in the first place, whether my idea genuinely does work, or whether it was a waste of time. What glows for me might not glow for you. Or for an agent. Or for anyone. Except my mother. It will probably glow for my mother. But she likes everything I write, so that doesn’t count***.

So, in one respect, I know the answer before I ever start anything. I only start novels that I am absolutely certain could work. In another, it’s murky. Because whether something does work beyond the inside of my head is another matter.

I write. I revise. I hope.

That’s all.

How do you know when a project will work? And how about other writers? You should go see what my fellow highwayers have to say. And while you’re heading in that direction, you might also want to check out my Sunday post on being a New Zealand writer.

*Work, loved ones, cooking, insect warfare, Grey’s Anatomy.

**I’m actually quite sure they do this. But I try not to listen.

***The 987234th thing that I should maybe leave out of query letters: “My mother rather liked this novel.”

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

If you think about it, keeping a blog is actually quite a lot like having a pet monster

Scene: Leila sits down at her desk. It is late at night, and she is weary. She has that nasty eerie feeling like something is watching her. She turns around. It is watching her with black, beady eyes.

Blog: Hello.

Blog reaches out with long fingers and starts stroking Leila's neck. 

Leila shivers.

Leila: Go away.

Blog: It has been a while, hasn't it, Leila?

Leila: A while. A short while.

Blog leans closer.

Blog: It's been a month, Leila. You haven't fed me any posts for a month. I'm hungry.

Leila: It's 11pm, and I'm tired. I've spent an evening fighting off a potential world invasion.

Blog: World invasion?

Leila: Of ants.

Blog: Ants?

Leila: Ants. In the kitchen.

Blog: You're saying that ants are more important than me.

Leila: I never said that. It's just that you have to get rid of ants straightaway, or -

Blog: Where's my post, Leila? I have waited weeks, and weeks.

Blog whispers in Leila's ear.

Blog: I can't even begin to describe how hungry I am, Leila.

Leila: I'll give you a post. I'll give you a post tomorrow. Ok?

Blog: I think I am too hungry to wait until tomorrow.

Leila: You don't understand. I have to sleep.

Leila sighs.

Leila: I explained about sleep, remember? How I actually really do have to sleep?

Blog puts a hand under Leila's chin and turns her head so that she has no choice but to look into Blog's eyes.

Blog: I am so hungry that if you don't give me a post right now, I will just have to eat you instead. Ok? 

Blog opens its mouth. Its breath smells like cigarettes and old peppermints.

Leila: Fine! I'll write you a post! Just stop doing that!

Blog's eyes widen.

Blog: You will?

Leila: I will. Right now.

Leila thinks for a moment.

Leila: You know, Blog, I'm still very tired. If I write you a post right now, it won't be a very good post. Wouldn't you rather wait until tomorrow, when I can cook you up something much better and -


Blog opens its mouth again.

Leila: Ok! Ok! I'll give you a post right now!

Leila starts to type.

Blog smiles.

Blog: I could always eat you anyway.

Leila runs.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Road Trip Wednesday: What is the best writing advice you’ve ever received?

Ok. So a lot of people tell aspiring writers to read, which is excellent advice. A lot of people tell aspiring writers to get English degrees, which is good advice, or to not get English degrees because you should do a degree that actually leads to a job, which is sensible advice*. A lot of people tell aspiring writers to be friendly and professional to all publishing people, to blog and be internet friendly, to have hobbies which are not writing, to write the stories that you love to read, to learn grammar rules so you can be all the better at breaking them, to only write plans if you like writing plans, to follow your instincts, to write wholeheartedly and give each story everything you have. Great advice, all of it.

But the best advice I ever received came from the author John Marsden.

About five years ago he did a talk at my old high school. My sister and I went up to talk with him after. He was friendly and polite, my sister was a quiet mouse, and I was a babbling crazy fangirl. I somehow ended up telling him that I wanted to be a writer. Or my sister did. Later, as we were walking away, he called out, "You’re the one that wants to be an author?"

I nodded.

The advice he called out after me was one word long.


That word has stayed with me ever since. Because no matter how good your intentions are, none of the rest of the advice means anything if you don’t persevere.  A lot of the time I write with all this other stuff talking away inside my head, telling me that I’m not a very good writer, that the story is never going to be as good as I want it to be, and also that there are very extremely important things I should be doing right now at this exact minute, like practising my singing and wandering round the house and feeding the dishwasher. You know, important things.

On the days when I get stuck and confused, on the days when I would rather be doing anything except writing, I tell myself to persevere. And when I persevere, more often than not, things sort themselves out.

And that’s how novels get finished.

*I’m not sensible. I did an English degree. I’m still trying to work out what the hell to do with it.

Wednesday, April 07, 2010

Hello again internet! It's been a while, don't you think?

There is a big epic long post coming soon. It will be full of deep and meaningful things. Unfortunately it's 11.42pm and I still haven't finished it, because it's that epic. So it's going to have to wait until tomorrow.

In the meantime, this is my cat. His name is Horatio. He has very good taste in shoes.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Blog series! Where stories come from: from the time you get the idea for a novel to the day you first put your fingers to the keyboard, how does the story come to you?

Right! Let’s look at what Anne Lamott has to say on novel writing prep and where stories come from. This post is going to be kind of low on advice on how to plan stuff. You know, with a nice tidy plot that does what you tell it to, performing all these perfect, synchronised dances down to the last millimetre. That’s because Bird by Bird isn’t that sort of book. Some of the best preparation we can do, is, in fact, not to prepare too much. We might know where we’re going, we might not. Either way, everything will be ok.

You remember those Polaroid cameras that everyone used to have? How they’d take a picture and spit it out, and it would start off as a blank blur, but then the image would slowly appear? With a Polaroid, you can never start off knowing exactly what the picture would be; instead, it’s something that drifts into view gradually.

And finally, as the portrait comes into focus, you begin to notice all the props surrounding these people, and you begin to understand how props define us and comfort us, and show us what we value and what we need, and who we think we are.

You couldn’t have had any way of knowing what this piece of work would look like when you first started. You just knew that there was something about these people that compelled you, and you stayed with that something long enough for it to show you what it was about. (p.40)

It’s useful to bear in mind that we can work on stories even when we’re not sitting down writing them. Not in an 'Obsessing Endlessly and Agonising and Trying to Force Things to Turn Up' kind of way, more through keeping things open. Lamott carries index cards around, so she can jot down ideas. At the moment I carry a small, fat spiral notebook, which is starting to fall apart from being shoved into small handbags and scribbled in so many times. I keep eye an out for new stories, and compelling images, and solutions to problems with existing stories, and strange conversations, and random words that sound nice together. And other things too. This is a great way to prepare:

And then, unbidden, seemingly out of nowhere, a thought or image arrives. Some will float into your head like goldfish, lovely, bright orange, and weightless, and you follow them like a child looking at an aquarium that was thought to be without fish. Others will step out of the shadows like Boo Radley and make you catch your breath or take a step backward. They’re often so rich, these unbidden thoughts, and so clear that they feel indelible. But I say write them all down anyway. (p.136)

In a way, we are our own best subject matter. Our stories come from ourselves, from what it is to be who we are:

The greatest writers keep writing about the cold dark place within, the water under a frozen lake or the secluded, camouflaged hole. The light they shine on this hole, this pit, helps us cut away or step around the brush and brambles; then we can dance around the rim of the abyss, holler into it, measure it, throw rocks in it, and still not fall in. It can no longer swallow us up. And we can get on with things. (pp.197-198)

A great way to come up with stories is to remember. My memories are something I often completely take for granted, but rereading Bird by Bird always reminds me how sacred they are. The good ones, the brilliant ones, the ugly ones, the awkward ones. All of them. Why? Our memories define us: they draw a map of who we are and who we’ve been. And they’re also an excellent source for material. Lamott recommends mining all of them. Not all of them meaning all of them except, you know, that dark ugly stuff we don’t like thinking about much. All of them especially that dark ugly stuff we don’t like thinking about much. When stuck for material, Lamott urges us to delve into our childhoods, into the school lunches we used to eat, our families and how they compared with other people’s families, into our memories of holidays long past.

Writing is a way to make our past as alive for others as it was for us when we lived it, and it’s also a way of defeating all our old monsters, all of the stuff we try to forget. Our memories can be shaped and transformed and sung out to the world.

You are lucky to be one of those people who wishes to build sand castles with words, who is willing to create a place where your imagination can wander. We build this place with the sand of memories; these castles are our memories and inventiveness made tangible. So part of us believes that when the tide starts coming in, we won’t really have lost anything, because actually only a symbol of it was there in the sand. (p.231)

We could let our anxieties and jealousy and despair stop us from writing, or, like our memories, we could use them as fuel for ideas too:

You can be defeated and disoriented by all these feelings, I tell them, or you can see the paranoia, for instance, as wonderful material. You can use it as the raw clay that you pull out of the river: surely one of your characters is riddled with it, and so in giving that person this particular quality, you get to use it, shape it into something true or funny or frightening. (p.11)

Lamott also recommends having a clear and strong picture of the worlds our characters live in. When we don’t have memory to guide us, use research to build up the details of a character’s world. Lamott writes about calling people and asking them to give her details that she would not otherwise have access to about gardens her characters have planted and houses her characters have lived in. When we sit down to write, it’s good to know what our characters are surrounded by every day, and what this is like for them:

Just as everyone is a walking advertisement for who he or she is, so every room is a little showcase of its occupants’ values and personalities. Every room is about memory. Every room gives us layers of information about our past and present and who we are, our shrines and quirks and hopes and sorrows, our attempts to prove that we exist and are more or less Okay. You can see, in our rooms, how much light we need – how many light bulbs, candles, sky lights we have – and in how we keep things lit you can see how we try to comfort ourselves. The mix in our rooms is so touching: the clutter and the cracks in the wall belie a bleakness or brokenness in our lives, while photos and a few rare objects show our pride, our rare shining moments. (pp.74-75)

So. There’s no amazing and straightforward plan we can draw up before we start that takes us through everything with speed and ease. For Lamott and for me, writing isn’t driving on the motorway; it’s taking the weird side streets and the gravel roads. It’s about discovering what happens as it happens, about seeing where we end up. We remember old things that happened to us ages ago, we learn new things that happened to other people, we watch the world, we take notes. And sometimes this magic happens, and things shine out, then find their way onto the page. And the best way to be prepared is to be patient, and keep a pen close at hand, because the glowing stuff can turn up at any moment.

This is my last post for the writing process blog series. It’s been fun, and writing about Bird by Bird has been all kinds of awesome, and reading other people’s thoughts on other books on writing has been all kinds on awesome too.

In the meantime, it’s late at night, and Josh is already fast asleep. Just now, my cat leapt on top of my chest of drawers, then looked down and gave me a concerned look. What you should do is go check out the other posts, and maybe win a prize. And if you do win a book on writing, I strongly recommend you try blogging about it.

However, right now, I’m afraid I’m going to have to go to sleep. It’s after 1am, and I don’t want the cat to worry.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Road Trip Wednesday: Which author's career would you most love to emulate?

When I first looked at the question, my brain immediately gave me all these wildly successful people. Like, wildly wildly successful people. J.K. Rowling! Stephanie Meyer! And then it went into all the various things I would do, if I had their money. I would buy a beautiful villa in Ponsonby! I’d pay for a cleaner to come every week and do all my housework for me! I’d have enough leftover money that I could buy Greenpeace a whole new ship! And also I could set up some kind of literacy program for disadvantaged kids! Yes! However, I would not be one of those obnoxious rich people who goes on and on to the sales assistant with the faded top and the scuffed shoes about how much money I have, how I’m taking my children on holiday to both Athens and Venice and then skiing, because yeah. I know what it is to be that sales assistant.

And then, once I was over that whole train of thought, with all the money and the lack of financial worries and did I mention the money, once I was over that, I thought to myself, do I really want to be Stephanie Meyer or J. K. Rowling? And the answer was a resounding HELL NO.


Because I don’t want to be surrounded in hype. I like having time to myself, and doing normal daydreamy Leila things, like walking down the road and admiring the trees. If you put me on a red carpet, I would have no idea what to do. I’m not particularly photogenic. You’d end up with lots of photos of me smiling awkwardly, like a newly hatched alien with strange teeth.

But more than anything, I don’t want to be Rowling or Meyer because I don’t want to write just one astronomically successful book or series, a Harry Potter or a Twilight or a Da Vinci Code to weigh me down for the rest of my career. I love the Harry Potter books dearly, but I can’t even begin to imagine the pressure a writer like J. K. Rowling is under. How on earth do you follow up the success of something like Harry Potter? I don’t want to write this one thing that takes off so hugely that it shadows all the rest of my writing forever. I don’t want wild success. I want stable success. I want something constant and lifelong. So if I could have anyone’s career, whose would I go for?

Ursula Le Guin’s.

She’s prolific; she’s written a wide, wide range of stuff; her writing is consistently wonderful with everything she does. And she’s been going at it far longer than I’ve been alive. She’s highly regarded by writers and critics from all ends of the spectrum. She has written a few books which are particular standouts, but they don’t overwhelm everything else. You don’t go buy an Ursula Le Guin book saying, dammit, this had better be like Earthsea or else. At least, I don’t. I buy an Ursula Le Guin book saying, I know with sureness that this will be a highly crafted work of great beauty. And that’s what sells her books. She’s a successful writer, but it’s a quiet, constant sort of success. It’s not a world consuming explosion; it’s something slow burning but unfailing. It’s not one particular book, one particular series. It’s her writing itself. And that is exactly the sort of writer I would like to be one day, if I could choose.

So, how about you? For more answers, check out YA highway!

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Blog series! Deepening your characters: what is at the heart of a complex character?

This week as part of our blog series about the writing process, we’re looking at characters, and the many things that can make them real and complicated and interesting and messy and spectacular. (More information and prizes and interesting stuff over here!) I’m looking at Anne Lamott’s advice on character in Bird by Bird. And, as always, I kind of just want to quote the whole book, because it’s that sort of book.

Just don’t pretend you know more about your characters than they do, because you don’t. Stay open to them. It’s teatime and all the dolls are at the table. Listen. It’s that simple. (Bird by Bird, p.53)

 Characters come from everywhere and nowhere at the same time. They reflect us, and the people we know, and the people we want to know, and the people we don’t want to know but know anyway, and the people we’ve watched walking down the street and eavesdropped on while catching the bus. Character building is more complicated than self-consciously grabbing a bunch of things that you’ve found and quickly finding some kind of glue to stick them together, and then attaching strings so you can put on a puppet show.

Character building is more about character uncovering, because characters are mysterious. They leap up from some murky subconscious place. As you write them, you gradually find out new things about them, and they wander off and do things that you didn’t expect them to do, and say things you didn’t expect them to say. Getting to know them is also getting to know ourselves. You probably won’t know them until you’ve spent a lot of time writing their stories.

Lamott tells us not to worry if we don’t know everything straight away. We can test out the details, we can set situations up and see what our characters do. It’s best to let them make mistakes, to find their flaws, to make sure that there are important things at stake. Sometimes a character turns out not to be the person we first assumed they were, but someone far more interesting. And yeah. You can’t flick a switch and have everything light up. Like everything, it’s all about patience:

We start out with stock characters, and our unconscious provides us with real, flesh-and-blood, believable people. My friend Carpenter talks about the unconscious as the cellar where the little boy sits who creates the characters, and he hands them up to you through the cellar door. He might as well be cutting out paper dolls. He’s peaceful; he’s just playing.

You can’t will yourself into being receptive to what the little boy has to offer, and you can’t buy a key that will let you into the cellar. You have to relax, and wool-gather, and get rid of the critics, and sit there in some sort of self-hypnosis, and then you have to practice. I mean, you can’t just sit there at your desk drooling. You have to move your hand across the paper or the keyboard. You may do it badly for a while, but you keep on doing it. Try to remember that to some extent, you’re just the typist. A good typist listens. (pp. 71-72)

And what’s the best way to find out more about our characters? Dialogue. There is no better way to reveal characters, for both our readers and ourselves:

You need to trust yourself to hear what they are saying over what you are saying. At least give each of them a shot at expression: sometimes what they are saying and how they are saying it will finally show you who they are and what is really happening. Whoa – they’re not going to get married after all! She’s gay! And you had no idea! (p.66)

I can’t even begin to describe how much I relate to this passage. My characters always have a habit of mentioning things in passing that are actually Huge Important Things That Change The Whole Damn Story. I think they sometimes forget that I don’t already know.

Dialogue is the way to nail character, so you have to work on getting the voice right. You don’t want to sit there, though, trying to put the right words in their mouths. I don’t think the right words exist already in your head, any more than the characters do. They exist somewhere else. What we have in our heads are fragments and thoughts and things we’ve heard and memorised, and we take our little ragbag and reach into it and throw some stuff down and then our unconscious kicks in. (pp.67-68)

Lamott also talks about characters being engaging and likable and reliable, people who make for compelling company, who aren’t trying to lie or manipulate us. Sure, this might be fiction, but when it comes to characters, it’s all about truth:

A writer paradoxically seeks the truth and tells lies every step of the way. It’s a lie if you make something up. But you make it up in the name of the truth, and then you give your heart to expressing it clearly. You make up your characters, partly from experience, partly out of the thin air of the subconscious, and you need to feel committed to telling the exact truth about them, even though you are making them up. (pp.52-53)

I did a couple of writing papers at university, and seriously, I think if you presented this idea to one of my writing classes, they would probably have argued it down and then beaten it with sticks and then argued it down some more. There’s the whole movement of writing where fiction is all conscious about itself being fiction, and there’s lots of messing around with truth and what truth means, if anything. And this absolutely endless obsession with unreliable narrators. Nothing in the world is shifty and postmodern like an unreliable narrator. And there’s definitely lots of fascinating territory to explore in that sort of thinking*.

But that stuff has never been my territory. I like my characters honest even when they’re trying to hide; I like closeness and intimacy. I’ll never forget the summer when Amber and I became best friends, or the weeks after I first fell in love with Josh. When you find someone who is a true kindred spirit, in the full Anne of Green Gables sense of the phrase, there are always so many things to tell each other, so many confessions to make. You learn the other person piece by piece. And the more you learn, the more you realise there is to learn. That’s how I like things to be with characters. I love the gradual unfolding, and my god, I love falling in love with them.

And that’s why I’ve reread Anne Lamott’s writing on characters so many times. For me, it describes the frustration and joy of getting to know my characters perfectly.

*Janet Frame did it wonderfully, for one. Go read Living in the Maniototo!

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Blog series! Getting Into the Zone: What goes into the creative process of writing a novel?

This is my second post in our writing process series. For more information and prizes and, best of all, many, many interesting things to read, I shall point you in this direction.

Ok! Here's Anne Lamott's take on the creative process of novel writing in Bird by Bird. Or, more accurately, my version of Anne Lamott's take on the creative process of novel writing, which is not quite as elegant as hers. Except, you know, when I quote hers.

There’s this daydream. It involves a bunch of things at once: being published; never having to deal with any job other than writing; having famous writers you have loved forever say nice things about you, including how they want to come to your birthday party; having a large, well lit study with a desk and ten bookcases and a couch and an espresso machine and a stereo system and a grand piano. And part of that is this idea that, eventually, writing will always be blissful. We will sit down, and then we will unleash magic rockets straight into the page. It will explode with excitement and literary goodness, like a muesli bar ad but tastier. In fact, we want that magic now, right now. And as we wander through days of self doubt and headaches and writing things that sound forced and crossing them out and then writing things that sound even worse, we start wondering if we’re doing something drastically wrong. And we long for the day when we’ll know the code off by heart and own all the secrets, and writing gets to be this wonderful and effortless explosion of stuff, all the time. You know?

It’s just a dream, folks.

People tend to look at successful writers, writers who are getting their books published and maybe even doing well financially, and think that they sit down at their desks every morning feeling like a million dollars, feeling great about who they are and what a great story they have to tell; that they take in a few deep breaths, push back their sleeves, roll their necks a few times to get all the cricks out, and dive in, typing fully formed sentences as fast as a court reporter. But this is just the fantasy of the uninitiated. I know some very great writers, writers you love who write beautifully and have made a great deal of money, and not one of them sits down routinely feeling wildly enthusiastic and confident. Not one of them writes elegant first drafts. All right, one of them does, but we do not like her very much. (Bird by Bird, pp.21-22)

There is no amazing secret to creating a ‘zone’ to write in. There are things that are definitely useful. You create a habit as best you can, sitting for a long time, day after day. And it might be an uphill battle, but persevere long enough and eventually something will happen from this. You keep at it, and you do your best to hear the voice in your head that is the story amongst all the other stuff going on.

You try to sit down at approximately the same time every day. This is how you train your subconscious to kick in for you creatively. So you sit down at, say, nine every morning, or ten every night. You put a piece of paper in the typewriter, or you turn on your computer and bring up the right file, and then you stare at it for an hour or so. You begin rocking, just a little at first, and then like a huge autistic child. You look at the ceiling, and over at the clock, yawn, and stare at the paper again. Then, with your fingers poised on the keyboard, you squint at an image that is forming in your mind – a scene, a locale, a character, whatever – and you try to quiet your mind so you can hear what that landscape or character has to say above the other voices in your mind. The other voices are banshees and drunken monkeys. They are the voices of anxiety, judgement, doom, guilt.

Yet somehow in the face of all this, you clear a space for the writing voice, hacking away at the others with machetes, and you begin to compose sentences. You begin to string words together like beads to tell a story. You are desperate to communicate, to edify or entertain, to preserve moments of grace or joy or transcendence, to make real or imagined events come alive. But you cannot will this to happen. It is a matter of persistence and faith and hard work. So you might as well just go ahead and get started. (pp. 6-7)

But how do we get started?

Lamott suggests breaking things down into small pieces, which she describes as ‘short assignments’. Things are easier to conquer when they’re bite-sized and easily doable, rather than when they’re big and vague and unwieldy. You could sit down and go, ok, time to begin my epically epic novel about epically huge stuff, about what happens when humanity are enslaved by ravenous geese and there’s a slave girl and she falls in love with a fallen angel vampiric werewolf wizard*. Or you could sit down and go, I’m just going to write this one scene, the one where the main character buys a new hat from a moose at the side of the road, and he warns her that the geese have been acting a bit strange recently.

These chunks fit together to make up a ‘shitty first draft.’ I love that she calls them that. Because god, yes. When you are in the middle of fighting with everything, and you’re sure you are that what you’re writing is complete rubbish and unworthy of ever being read by anyone in the whole entire world ever ever ever, it is great to be able to say, yes. This is a shitty first draft. It is full of diabolical sentences and plot holes and Things That Need to be Fixed**. But it is also necessary. Sometimes you have to write bad stuff – sometimes a great deal of bad stuff – in order to work out what the good stuff is. And you have to be free enough to let the bad stuff come tumbling out onto the page, wasting trees or making Microsoft Word blink at you grumpily or whatever, because more often than not, there are the seeds to awesomeness buried in all that compost. But in order to get to the awesomeness, you have to produce the compost too.

Rereading can be handy. It’s a good way to put things into context, and to gain some sense of direction when starting anew for the day. Also, having a good long think can be a good thing too. Lamott emphasises moments of hesitation as useful, the moments where we sit caught between the story and the blank page. That doesn’t have to mean being stuck. We reread, we think, and we find a pathway in:

This is how it works for me: I sit down in the morning and reread the work I did the day before. Then I wool-gather, staring at the blank page or off into space. I imagine my characters, and let myself daydream about them. A movie begins to play in my head, with emotion pulsing underneath it, and I stare at it in a trancelike state, until words bounce around together and form a sentence. Then I do the menial work of getting it down on paper, because I’m the designated typist, and I’m also the person whose job it is to hold the lantern while the kid does the digging. What is the kid digging for? The stuff. Details and clues and images, invention, fresh ideas, an intuitive understanding of people. I tell you, the holder of the lantern doesn’t even know what the kid is digging for half the time – but she knows gold when she sees it. (Bird by Bird, p.56)

What’s funny is that since I’ve started working on following Lamott’s advice, in accepting that the ‘zone’ is always going to be unstable territory, I’ve found it a lot easier to find my way into it. The fight will be hard some times and glorious other times, and god knows, there’s so much bad stuff I have to write in order to get to the good stuff. But in writing with that awareness, in giving myself permission to write badly, I’ve found it a lot easier to write well. There are good stories there, always. Sometimes it’s just a matter of getting out of the way.

*Yeah. I am totally writing that novel, in case you’re wondering.

**I always start lists of these things that I have to go back and fix up, then forget what I did with them, then start new lists of new stuff. I sometimes come up with as many sentences that need fixing as there are sentences, but anyway.

Thursday, March 04, 2010

The first in a blog series where I get to write about writing about writing

So, people! I signed up for a blog series, started by the wonderful Cory Jackson. We’re blogging every week about books on the strange, agonising and miraculous process we call writing, and we’re each focussing on a different book on the writing process. I chose Bird by Bird, by Anne Lamott, because there is no book on writing in the entire universe I love more, and because I’m constantly quoting it on the internet anyway. So now I can, like, quote it some more. Each week we’ll be looking at a different topic and how the books approach it. Also, if you do some blogging of your own about your take on things and leave a link in Cory’s comments, you could win a book on writing.

Now, on to this week’s topic! We're looking at writers as artists: how do you define yourself as a writer? Are genre writers artists?

Let's begin with lots of quotes, because quotes make the world go round.

Writing taught my father to pay attention; my father in turn taught other people to pay attention and then to write down their thoughts and observations. His students were the prisoners at San Quentin who took part in the creative-writing program. But he taught me, too, mostly by example. He taught the prisoners and me to put a little bit down on paper every day, to read all the great books and plays we could get our hands on. He taught us to read poetry. He taught us to be bold and original and to let ourselves make mistakes, and that Thurber was right when he said, “You might as well fall flat on your face as lean too far backwards.” But while he helped the prisoners and me to discover that we had a lot of feelings and observations and memories and dreams and (God knows) opinions we wanted to share, we all ended up just the tiniest bit resentful when we found the one fly in the ointment: that at some point we had to actually sit down and write. (Bird by Bird, pp.xii-xiii)

A writer is somebody for whom writing is more difficult than it is for other people. (Thomas Mann, Essays of Three Decades, 1947)

In Bird by Bird, Anne Lamott never once writes about writers as a closed, exclusive society that only a select few can join. Anyone can be a writer. You just have to watch the world carefully and keep collecting details that might be useful, to enjoy good writing whether it is yours or someone else’s, and also you just have to write even when you would rather die a slow and painful death. Lamott writes about the neuroses of writers with unflinching and hilarious honesty: about the panic that sometimes sets in when you’re staring a long project in the face and realising just how difficult it’s going to be; about being paralysed by perfectionism; about sending your work out into the world and the crushing fear of rejection that comes with doing so.

Being a writer, or an artist, is nothing glamorous. In fact, it’s the opposite. Art isn’t about some fancy definition. Art is in facing the perils and joys of creating, both on the days when things fall into place easily and on the days when there are a thousand voices in your head telling you why every single word you put on the page is wrong, when the sea is full of waves and you’re starting to wonder whether you’ll ever get anywhere at all before you capsize.

Lamott doesn’t discuss genre, but I write genre and I’ve been rereading this book for years. As far as I’m concerned, it’s no different. It can easily be as much agony writing about magic as it can be writing realism*. Also, my best friend Amber, who got me onto this book, is a visual artist, and the other day she was talking about getting it for her boyfriend, who is a musician. What I’m trying to say is, it covers all sorts. Regardless of what you’re making, art is perseverance. Art is hanging on on the days when you’re not sure quite what you’re doing, let alone why you’re doing it. It doesn’t matter whether you’re creating an installation piece with three dimensional images and small plastic dinosaurs**, or whether you’re writing a novel about a girl trying to deal with having the most dangerous magic in the world***.

But if writing and creating is so hard, why do we bother at all? Well, it's also about having stuff that we have to say, stories we have to tell, things that will sit around and nag at us if we don't find a way to let them out, much like my cats when I accidentally leave a door closed.

And then there are also the dogs: let’s not forget the dogs, the dogs in their pen who will surely hurtle and snarl their way out if you ever stop writing, because writing is, for some of us, the latch that keeps the door of the pen closed, keeps those ravenous dogs contained. (Bird by Bird, p.26)

Writing a book is a horrible, exhausting struggle, like a long bout of some painful illness.  One would never undertake such a thing if one were not driven on by some demon whom one can neither resist nor understand.  (George Orwell, Why I Write, 1947)

Yeah. My cats can be very forceful.

Like Lamott, I write because it’s what I’m driven to do, because it’s what keeps me glued together. It can’t save the world, but it can render it luminous. The thing that makes a writer is the drive to write. Sometimes the drive to write is a glorious thing, a thing that makes us move and write at a million miles an hour and happy about the whole world, and sometimes it's a burden that life would be so much more straightforward without. You know, if we could go home after work when we're all tired and weary and just, you know, watch some bad TV for a bit, and not have words to put together and characters to argue with and plot logic to make sense of.

One of the many things I love about Bird by Bird is that it celebrates both parts of being a writer, or a person who creates, the part where it's easy, and the part where it seems almost impossible but we still try anyway, even when the writing is bad, even when we can only handle one small step at a time. Because we know that while writing may be a struggle sometimes, but it’s also the thing that makes all the struggling worthwhile.

*Actually, as far as I’m concerned, fantasy is realism. Just a different sort. Which is stuff that requires a post all of its own, because otherwise I will go on and on and derail this one. Remind me to write it at some point, ok?

**True story, actually. When I was flatting with Amber in Sandringham, we had a lot of plastic dinosaurs around for a few months while she worked on her final art school project. And the end result was spooky and quirky and wonderful.

*** My thing that I spent, like, almost all of last year doing.

Wednesday, March 03, 2010

Road Trip Wednesday: How I Procrastinate

Although the better question is how don't I procrastinate?

So. Here are some of the ways I put off writing.

I Will Just Quickly:

It goes something like this.

I will just quickly cook a complicated curry with lots of ingrediants. Then I will write. I will just quickly clean up the aftermath of cooking complicated curry with lots of ingrediants. Then I will write. Actually, I'll just quickly feed the cats, because they're meowing loudly, and I will just water the plants, because they would be meowing loudly if they knew how to meow. Then I will write. Wait. I will just quickly look for a note that I wrote down earlier about the dream I had last night, because there was something in it that might be relevant. Then I will write. Honestly. But the night news is on. I have no idea why I'm suddenly so interested in the night news. I will just quickly watch, like, five minutes of the night news. Then I will write. I will just quickly make myself a hot drink. Then I have to do writing. I should just quickly check the internet though, in case anything has happened on the internet really suddenly that I should know about. I will just quickly brush my teeth, and then I will just quickly go to bed. Then I will write while I'm asleep.

There's an immense sense of urgency and productiveness, without any actual productiveness at all. You're always on the thing before writing. Hell, it's just one step away. Once you have finished the thing that you are doing. Then you will sit down, and you will write, and it will be easy peasy. It's like perpetually wandering over to a door without ever actually walking through it.

Making Mocha in a Massive Mug by Mixing Hot Chocolate Powder With Decaf, Then Sitting on the Couch And Watching Medical Dramas:

I actually have no idea why I do this. I don't even like the sight of blood. 

The Infinite Internet:

I have a lot of beloved people who I am only in contact with via the internet. And that means google groups and facebook and forums and twitter and reading blogs and emailing*.  To a certain extent, that's actually justified. If the internet is your only way to hang out with someone, and they happen to be awesome, then you have to hang out on the internet in order to hang out with them. You know? So I think as procrastination excuses go, it's fairly legit. The problem is how you look at the clock after a while, and start wondering if it's wrong, because it says that five hours have somehow passed, and you were just sitting down to check up on things for five minutes. And now it's time to go to bed.

Also, there's househunting on Trade Me Property. I am a chronic househunter. I hunt for houses even when I have no reason whatsoever to move house at all. I hunt for houses I will live in when I one day have money, like actual money like other grown up people seem to have, houses I might live in next time I move, and houses that my friends could live in, and houses that my characters could live in. I hunt for houses I would live in if I was abandoned and penniless, and houses I would live in if I was swimming in money like Scrooge McDuck.

I love houses. Looking at people's homes is sometimes the closest you can get to looking inside their heads. Some people get to know their characters by filling out questionnaires about their favourite colour and all that stuff. I get to know mine by imagining where they live. So househunting is a somewhat justified form of procrastination, sometimes. Or it would be, if I spent less hours househunting on the internet and more hours actually writing.

And there's Wikipedia. Oh, Wiki. I could totally date Wiki, if I wasn't engaged. You know, you're about to start writing, then you quickly decide that you want to just look up this one article on Wiki. Or maybe two. Just quickly, just to make double extra sure you're being accurate and all your characters are being mentally ill in exactly the right way and the tropical cyclone doesn't have unrealistic details that a weather geek might call you on one day. And then all the articles have links, and the links are interesting. So you go from reading stuff that's closely related to writing to stuff that's vaguely related. Then you notice links in the vaguely related articles, and they all look very interesting too. And then many hours and many links later you realise that you've somehow gone from cyclones to the Norwegian royal family, and you're not quite sure what happened, except that it definitely wasn't writing.

Finally, I can't talk about the internet without talking about YouTube. Because YouTube has so many opportunities for an eager procrastinator, and seriously, it can eat up hours effortlessly. I love investigating beautiful music, and watching tv shows that I can't track down DVDs for right at this moment, and watching stand up comedians being wittier than I am, and watching vlogbrothers.

Maybe one day I will be efficient with time. Actually, I'll be efficient with time right now. Immediately. That is, once I've reread a few chapters of a book I've already read six times, and played some spider solitaire, and researched my future wedding dress. Ok? Immediately.

Never put off until tomorrow what you can do the day after tomorrow. (Mark Twain)

Also, you should go find out about how my fellow highwayers procrastinate. You know, if you get around to it.

*I'm abysmal at emailing, actually, and procrastinate far writing an email far worse than I ever procrastinate working on a story. You know, in case you're wondering why you sent me that email way back in the day and never heard anything. Never fear! It's not because of you. It's because I'm an idiot with an irrational email aversion!

Tuesday, March 02, 2010

In which I am a bit of a fangirl

There are a few defining moments in a writer's life. The 'I've Finished A Novel' moment, the 'An Agent Actually Likes Me' moment, the 'My Novel is Going to Be Published for Shizz!' moment. And one of the best of them is being able to share the official cover of your debut novel for the first time.

So I am delighted to share the cover of my friend Kirsten Hubbard's novel, Like Mandarin. Isn't it pretty?  I love the intensity of the girl's gaze, and the sunset colour scheme. Also, I have a real thing for covers that use white space well. See how simple and striking it is? You need to commit this cover to memory and look out for it in 2011. And then when you see it in a bookshop you need to buy a copy for every one of your friends, because Kirsten's writing is beautiful.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Road Trip Wednesday: if you could be any character in a book, who would you be?

I've been trying to come up with ideas for this post all day, and it's basically been an epic fail. I've had lots of conversations with myself that have gone like this:

Ok! Let's be Clare, from The Time Traveller's Wife! She is a hardworking artist who creates amazing sculptures, and her husband is a hot librarian time traveller! Yes!

Actually, being married to a time traveller is agonising and troublesome, which is kind of the point of the book. Not so fun.

Fine, fine. I'll be Kristin Cashore's Fire. She is the most beautiful woman in the world, and she has amazing psychic powers.

But her powers mean that no one trusts her, and she is so beautiful that monsters want to kill her and men want to capture her. In fact, stuff keeps trying to kill her throughout the whole damn book. Let me think about that one again. No.

I know! I'll be Elizabeth Bennett! I mean, who doesn't want to be Elizabeth Bennett? She is smart and witty and she ends up with Mr Darcy. And Regency women wore such beautiful dresses. Case closed. Right?

Um. Leila. Regency women = marriage fodder. Basically. You're there to be matched up and become a housewife. YAY. Not to mention, Elizabeth Bennett's family are actually kind of a royal pain in the ass. Mr Darcy's family too.

Francesca from Saving Francesca! She is both sensitive and sarcastic, and her friends are hilarious and wonderful. And Will Trombol. Oh, Will.

And Francesca's mother suffers from chronic depression. Her whole family goes through hell.

Hermione Granger! She has magic, and she's extremely smart! She kicks ass! 

And she ends up married to Ron Weasley. I apologise to all the Ron fans, but for some reason I'm just not that wild about Ron. I mean, he's a nice guy, and he would make a great friend, but I kind of feel that Hermione really should have gone for someone who was more her intellectual equal. You know?

Laura Chant, from The Changeover! She's smart, stubborn and falls in love with a strange and fascinating boy. And she will do anything it takes to save her younger brother's life. 

Aaaand her parents are messily divorced. Also, Laura has to deal with Carmody Braque, one of the most repulsive villains I've ever come across. And while Laura's love interest is fascinating, he's also kind of creepy. Oddly enough, that kind of adds to his charm, but still.

Wynter from the Moorehawke trilogy by Celine Kiernan. (If you like fantasy, you have to go read her books right now. Ok?) Wynter is only fifteen years old, yet she's already earning her way in a male profession and adept at dealing with the perils of life in the royal court. Her father is kind hearted and wonderful, and her love interest is gorgeous and charismatic and complicated. 

Wynter might have a wonderful father, but he's dying. And a courtier has very little privacy, so Wynter has to spend all her time treading exceptionally carefully to avoid trouble. I don't think I'd enjoy that so much.

So, yeah. That's what's been going on inside my head today. Not particularly conclusive.

Basically, I'd love to be any of these characters, as long as you promise me I get to go back to being my boring old self after a while. I think this says a lot about the way I read. I don't read as wish fulfillment. If I pick up a book and the main character seems too perfect or their life too easy, I don't connect with them and I put the book down. All of the characters I love most in the world are characters who struggle. I read so I can be them for a little while, and live out their battles and be carried away on the tides of their lives. Then the make believe ends and I finish the book dazed. And by that point it's usually time to go cook dinner and deal with the real world again.

I think a good character is like a good friend. They let you in on their secrets, their hard times and their good times. And they're constantly telling you interesting things, whether or not they even mean to. And in their own way, they help you appreciate why your own life is a worthy one.

And now you should go find out who my fellow highwayers would like to be!

Monday, February 15, 2010

Valentine's Day

A Few Days Before

Scene: Early in the morning. Josh and I are lying in bed and we are both half awake.

Me: You won't believe what I dreamt about!

Josh: Mmph?

Me: We got married!

Josh: *groans*

Me: And hardly anyone was there! And the whole thing was weirdly unstressful and matter of fact and normal.  Except that we were married. I kept having to remind myself that we were married, because it somehow just seemed like part of the stuff we do everyday already. It was actually really nice.

We drift back off to sleep.

Valentine's Day

Scene: North Head, some time in the afternoon. Josh and I are sitting on a bench looking down at the harbour and the islands and the boats flitting past. He's reading Transport for Suburbia, I'm reading The Crowded Shadows.

Josh: Do you want your Valentine's Day present now?

Me: Sure! 

Josh pulls out a small box and hands it to me. Even before I open it I'm lightheaded, shaking.

Inside there's a small, perfect ring with a stone the same colour as the sea.


Josh: It's an engagement ring.

Me: I know.  

*puts ring onto ring finger* 

*snuggles Josh*

*says soppy stuff that I'm not repeating on a public blog*

*feels even more lightheaded*

Josh: I take it that's a yes then?

Me: Yup.

Josh: Are you sure that's the finger it's meant to go on?


So, dear internet, I am engaged. Engaged. It's weird, because in one sense I've been engaged to Josh forever, but just as an Inside My Head Which Is Often Quite a Crazy Place Anyway Thing. The whole thing being, like, an Actual Thing That I Actually Tell People About is really quite weird. Yesterday it all seemed very unreal. Today it seemed very real indeed and I looked at wedding stuff on the internet when I should have been writing, even though the wedding is at least two years away and I really shouldn't be drooling over wedding stuff yet anyway.

My friends and I sometimes talk about chocolate fish. You know how in the movies, or wherever, a girl has a nasty breakup and her friends all go, 'Never mind. There are plenty of fish in the sea'? Well, we think that while there are plenty of fish, there are very few chocolate fish. Very few indeed.

I have found me my chocolate fish.

Thursday, February 04, 2010

Road Trip Wednesday: The Next Big Trends In YA

It is 11.08pm, and I've been procrastinating. Did I ever mention how I should be, like, an Olympic level professional procrastinator? Seriously. I make it so easy. Just now, I was looking in google streetview at random streets at the complete other end of New Zealand. I still don't know exactly why. Lesser procrastinators should aspire to the level of grace and doggedness in my procrastinating.

So. Predictions for the next big thing in YA. Predictions. It's probably worth bearing in mind that I am bad enough at predicting what the next day of the week will be sometimes. I would be an appallingly bad fortune teller.

I predict that fantasy/paranormal fiction is going to stay big. We are the Harry Potter generation, my friends. We like our magic especially magical. I think angels and witches are on the rise. But in the long run, I predict that fantasy will not be so much about publishers trying to pick the next "in" creature. Instead fantasy will be darker, weirder, and more diverse. (Is there possibly a bias showing here? Of course not. Whatever would make you think that?) There will still be vampires, but plenty of other things too, from plenty of new interesting angles.  And I predict more demons and dystopias and people with magical powers, and more unusual settings. (No. Shut up. There is no bias towards the stuff that I write. I told you already. At least, not a deliberate one. Honestly. )

And given how huge Avatar has been, I think it's about time science fiction had a comeback in YA. There's lots of potential there. I don't write sf, so there's no bias this time. Just logic. Among other things, it'd be a great way to grab some of those reluctant boy readers.

Also I predict even more beautiful contemporary fiction. And that it will hopefully get more time in the spotlight. I predict LGBT characters becoming more widespread in mainstream YA. I also predict that the edgy factor in contemporary fiction (and fantasy too) is going to grow even more, that writers will take even more risks. There will be more outraged parents, more attempts at book banning, but also many more important, honest and gut-wrenching stories that show us the world in all its grittiness and all its beauty. There are going to be many, many more arguments about censorship and influence and corruption and all the stuff that people come out with when stories are so true that they're threatening. But in the end, the books are going to win, because the books always win. And the books are going to be wonderful.

And yeah. I'm kind of thinking this possibly isn't so much about predictions as it is about hope, but hope is good. Hope can change everything.

I've also been wondering whether YA won't change so much as mainstream literature will change to become more like YA. With electronic readers, and the increasingly fast pace of, you know, seemingly everything in the world, I think that there is an increasing call for immediacy in fiction. And as far as I'm concerned, YA is one of the most immediate genres there is. I think that's one of the reasons why it has stayed afloat so well, why people read it and love it who are long past being young adults themselves, why it is a genre on the rise. We want our books to be here and now and everywhere, to make a direct connection with who we are, to ask questions, and maybe even to give us hope. I think that New Adult (under that name or a different one) could possibly happen and happen brilliantly. And as a result, there might be more grey area where YA and mainstream merge. I'm not sure how I feel about this yet.

But yeah. Who really knows what the future will be? Not me. But I'm looking forward to finding out.

To find out what my fellow highwayers have predicted, visit YA Highway.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Road Trip Wednesday: Our Favourite Book Covers

New Zealand is kind of an unusual place for book covers. Ours come from three different markets: Australia, the UK, and the US. Or four, if you include covers designed locally for NZ books. With an internationally published book, we usually get whatever Australia goes with. If there's a cover especially for Australia, we almost always end up with that. If there isn't, it almost seems to be a fifty-fifty thing, whether we get the US one or the UK one. Probably vaguely swinging towards the UK. Our Harry Potters have the English covers, rather than the US ones. However, Leviathan by Scott Westerfeld is out here with the US cover.

So my favourite covers have always come from all over the place. For me, the best covers are the ones that drop a few mysterious and wonderful hints, rather than the ones that are trying to tell as much about the book as possible. Actually, I believe in 'show, don't tell' with book covers a bit more than I do with writing. (There's a whole other post in that, actually. Which I'm not going to write now. Remind me sometime, ok?)

Part of the reason I own most of Sarah Dessen's books is because for me they're the reading equivalent of high quality chocolate. When I'm depressed and need cheering up, when I'm unwell, when I'm longing for something familiar, I go back to her books over and over. They make me happy. But the other reason why I own them is because I love the UK covers so much. Deeply, deeply love them. I love the overall look, how they're a bit sixties in the best way possible, I love their colour scheme, I love how the artist has taken little details from in the books and incorporated them. Love love love. It's impossible not to buy books when their covers are this beautiful.

I also love covers when they're moody and dramatic. You know, like a thunderstorm in the middle of winter.


 And also, whimsical covers are awesomeness. I really need to read this one, actually.

Find out about more beautiful covers at YA highway!

ETA: I forgot to mention my favourite NZ cover! It's a wonderful book too.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Blogging About Blogging About Blogging

Scene: Me and Josh are sitting at the dining room table on respective laptops. Josh is Typing Important Transport Related Things. I am Staring At The Screen As Though It Is About To Explode.

Me: Josh! If you were me, what would you write a blog post about? If you were writing a blog post, like, right now.

Josh: I dunno. What are you trying to write a blog post about?

Me: I dunno. I keep starting blog posts and they all sound like crap.

Josh: What were you trying to blog about?

Me: I tried writing about the cats and it got all boring. I tried writing about how hard it is to write a blog post and it got even more boring. And I've already written about forty boring blog posts about how hard it is to write a blog post. So now I am staring at the blank box on the screen feeling empty. Empty, like the box.

I Lean In Closer To My Unsuspecting Computer and Eyeball The Empty White Blogger Screen Thingy Intently. Eventually, Some Nonsense Arrives In My Head and I Type Out The Nonsense.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Road Trip Wednesday: The Best Books No One's Ever Heard Of

This Wednesday, we’re blogging about obscure books that we love. So, this post is about some books that I rave about to people only to get a blank but polite expression in response most of the time. That’s my definition of obscure, and it’s a fairly loose one. Also, I’m half awake. So this post will be all rambly and half awake Leila-like and I’ll probably find some way of nonsensically repeating myself halfway through. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

The Tenant of Wildfell Hall, by Anne Bronte.

Yeah. I meant it when I said it was a loose definition. But, let’s face it, if you bring up the Brontes, everyone who doesn’t think of Wuthering Heights thinks of Jane Eyre, and everyone who doesn’t think of Jane Eyre thinks of Wuthering Heights. And Wuthering Heights and Jane Eyre are all well and good but The Tenant of Wildfell Hall is possibly one of the bravest books of its time, and because of that I’ve always had a soft spot for it. Also I once read it when I was really, really ill, and it was a good distraction. I can't normally read when I'm sick, especially dense Victorian prose, but I somehow managed to read and love this.

Think Victorian times, when female writers were still frowned upon simply for being female writers. Think of the ideal of the saintly housewife, keeping house so beautifully that not even one single speck of dust is out of order, always abiding by her husband’s wishes, accepting her lower position without any fight, because, naturally, her husband knows best. Think of marriage as even more binding than it is today, something you rarely get out of except by death, something you are honour bound to continue with even if it kills you. And if it's killing you, then you don't admit it. Ever.

And then you get Anne Bronte, who goes and writes a book about a woman who takes her son and walks out on her drunken, domineering husband, sets up in a house in a new town, arising the suspicion of most of the locals, and earns her own living as an artist. There’s a lot more to it than that, but seriously, if you can handle Victorian prose and you want to read something compelling and difficult and at times brutal, give Tenant a try.

The World to Come, by Dara Horn.

This is possibly only going down as obscure because I don’t really hang in literary fiction circles much these days. But anyway. My sister and I are both in love with this painter called Chagall, who painted dreamlike surrealist scenes, full of flowers and flying lovers and animals with guitars and cloudy blue night sky. Looking at them is like watching a slow and beautiful dance where things might not make sense at first, but drift perfectly into place all the same. And that’s what this book is like. It starts with a guy stealing a Chagall painting from an event at a museum in New York, and it goes in all sorts of directions from there.

A Fistful of Sky, by Nina Kiriki Hoffman.

I can’t really do this book justice in a description, but basically, in Gypsum’s family, all the children go through transition during adolescence and become mages, like their mother. When Gypsum reaches twenty and her transition still hasn’t happened, and she’s pretty much accepted that her life is going to be a non-magical one. Until she discovers that what she thought was the flu was a transition of her own. But unlike her siblings, her power is dark.

I seriously have no idea why more people haven’t heard of Nina Kiriki Hoffman. Her way of writing fantasy is whimsical, psychological and wonderfully bizarre.

Everything Beautiful, by Simmone Howell.

Again, this is cheating, because while a lot of people in Australia, NZ and the States don't know this one yet, this book is totally going to be huge once the YA community catches on. And I seriously want to know what it is about Australia that makes them produce so much excellent YA, because this is no exception. For me, Everything Beautiful was the equivalent of a big block of chocolate. I carried it around in my bag for a while and snacked on it whenever I needed cheering up. Unlike chocolate, it didn’t melt or go stale. Always a plus.

Riley is outspoken and atheist, and when her stepmother organises for her to be sent to a Christian summer camp, Riley is sure there will be no conversion story happening here. In fact, she’s pretty much convinced it will be hell on earth. And she’s certainly not wrong. But being stuck at Spirit Ranch Holiday Camp also means that she meets the mysterious, wheelchair-bound Dylan. I love how this novel is at turns funny and serious, I love how it somehow manages to be both realistic and larger than life at the same time, and I love Dylan and Riley and their banter.

To read about more brilliant novels that you should read, visit YA Highway!

Monday, January 18, 2010

A few odd things

- Yesterday we went to see Avatar in 3d. I've never seen anything feature length in 3d before. Today when I blink I keep seeing those blue creatures. It's a bit distracting.

- Last night we were watching a documentary, one of those documentaries which make you feel like a grown-up. It was about economic growth and its effect on cities and countries, and how it can happen unevenly and leave people poor if they come from the wrong place. Basically. Somewhere quite near the end, my cat Cali leapt on top of the tv and sat there, staring at us. Then she started licking her leg. She was extremely matter of fact about the whole thing. Like, yeah, I'm on top of a tv. What's your problem? As she leapt down her paw hit the volume, and suddenly we were hearing about economic growth very loudly.

- In the early hours of the morning, I had a dream about being in England with my family, and staying in the same house as one of the members of the Sex Pistols. He was very nice. We all chatted a bit, and then my siblings and I went out to Cafe Cezanne because we figured that he was a rock star and he wouldn't really want to hang with us. (Cafe Cezanne was somehow in England, but it all seemed very logical at the time.) But next thing, we were sitting in the cafe and we saw him walking past, then he saw us, smiled, and wandered over to sit down with us. And I realised, hey, we're friends with a rockstar. I have to text Amber and tell her. They were reuniting with a new lead singer, and they had a new album coming out, and later on he gave us a preview of some of the tracks. They were indie and melodious and full of unusual instruments. None of it sounded anything like the Sex Pistols, but I didn't say anything, because I was being polite.

- I wrote a blog post about my work at the bookshop for YA Highway, my first highway post for the year. There are going to be many more. I've filled up a whole incredibly crammed notebook page with ideas for posts. There are so many that some of them are at the side, in little tiny letters, which is kind of a note-taking quirk that I have. I probably should have gone on to a new page, but there is something about little tiny half-readable notes and my brain that I can't even begin to understand. Anyway, what I actually meant to say was, I will be blogging more, and about interesting things. Or things that seemed interesting when they were in little tiny notes. So yeah. Keep an eye out.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Road Trip Wednesday: Things People Say

This week we're blogging about the things people say when they find out you write young adult novels. So yeah, I rant about writing novels all over the internet (internet, how do you like being ranted all over?), but in person I am generally pretty cagey about talking about the whole writing thing, especially the whole writing novels thing, and even more especially the whole writing YA novels thing. Because then most of my conversations turn into this sort of thing.

The 'Leila is deluded but I have to be very polite about it' conversation:

This is the one where they think to themselves, look at her. It is not particularly likely that she could ever earn any money from writing, really, and she already looks like she doesn't eat enough. She needs to not give up her day job, because she needs to put food on the table, and she needs to be able to afford a table so she has somewhere to put her food, and she needs to be able to afford a roof over her head so she has somewhere to put her table. I will feel guilty forever if I don't drop a hint.

To be honest, these days I'm very pre-emptive. Almost as soon as I tell people I want to be a writer, as my job job, like the thing that I spend all day every day doing, I tell them about how I'm after a career in publishing, which is true as well. Even though getting into publishing is not a hugely lucrative or easy career to get into either, I love books. Finding manuscripts with potential and helping them become polished and wondrous is something that I would adore. Also I like the idea of being a librarian, or the idea of venturing further into bookselling. I tell people all this stuff in a huge awkward gush, because if I don't, they either straight out say that I shouldn't quit my day job, hahaha, writing is hard, you know (you reckon?), or they politely ask what my real career plans are, or they ask me whether I'm going to go into teaching. Always teaching.

I think there's this assumption out there that there's nothing you can really do with an English degree except being a high school English teacher, which to begin with is a completely wrong assumption. And also I think that to be a teacher, you have to really really want to be a teacher. I would like being a tutor or a university lecturer, especially in creative writing, but I would have to be published and highly regarded before I could have any hope of going there. And high school English? Nooooo way. I loved my high school English teachers. They were brave, hardy souls and I have the utmost admiration for them. But at the moment, I'm just not courageous enough for that sort of thing.

The 'OMG fame and fortune' conversation:

This is the one where they either seriously or somewhat sarcastically name an Author Who is Seriously Famous. You know, DanBrownJKRowlingStephanieMeyerStephenKingShakespeare. That author. And start talking about how I'll be ever so rich and famous too.

All I can say is, 'That would be nice.' Because yeah, it would be. It is also extremely rare. I sometimes point that out too.

The 'OMG I have this idea!' conversation:

Often follows on from the 'OMG fame and fortune conversation'. This is the one where they have this amazingly amazing idea for a book, which they could share with you so that you can write it, and then you can share all the fame and fortune, and then you can both live happily ever after.

Fact: the idea is the easy part. I get ideas for novels all the time. I wake up in the morning with fresh new shiny ideas in my head that I already don't have time to write for at least, you know, ten years, what with all the other ideas I have. The writing part is the hard part. I'm always telling people that they should go write their amazingly amazing idea themselves, because I have plenty of my own and I wouldn't do it justice anyway. And then they have all these excuses, all this oh no, I don't have time, I don't know how.

No one in the world knows exactly how to write novels. That is because there is no right way. And no one has more than 24 hours in their day. But I want to lie on my deathbed and be able to say, I wrote novels dammit, not I had this amazing idea once and I never did anything with it because I didn't know how and I was a bit busy.

I don't usually say this to people.

The 'give me juicy details' conversation:

Some people would like to know everything. You know, the publication date, what the cover will look like, whether I've included a villain based on them*, what it's about.

Which usually has to turn into me saying, I don't have an agent yet. Publication takes a long time and I don't know when it will happen. And I don't base my characters on real people that I know, because that's not how things work for me.

However, I really, really need to work on the 'what's it about?' response. Because it is something that people are going to ask me for the rest of my life, and I need to have everything contained in a nice catchy sounding line so I can give them my line and leave it at that. Also I need to not be so embarrassed. It's quite hard telling people I write YA, the fantasy sort of YA, the magic and supernatural beings sort of YA, because people either get all awkward about it or start talking about Stephanie Meyer. Or both.

Sometimes I think life would be a lot easier if I did write the sort of books that people with English degrees are expected to write, with lots of characters you don't feel particularly sorry for who are all committing adultery with each other and remembering their childhoods in a very literary way, the sort of books that are generally only read by other people with English degrees.

The 'I'm writing something myself' conversation:

Seriously, this depends entirely on who I'm talking to.

I used to be very wary of this conversation. In the wrong company it can have kind of a patronising vibe to it. As in, you're writing YA fantasy eh? Well, I'm writing a screenplay/postmodern amorphousness/a novel about people remembering their childhoods while committing adultery. And then we end up sort of smiling at each other awkwardly for a bit. And then one of us has to excuse themselves.

But in recent times I've discovered in the right company it can be completely and utterly awesome. I can't emphasise how wonderful it is to find other writers who understand, who go through similar struggles themselves, who share the same dreams. And yeah. They're also so freaking talented that it's actually kind of scary.

Sometimes talking about writing can be a very good conversation indeed.

You should go to the highway right now and read about what people say to my fellow highwayers when they find out they're talking to a writer.

*No, seriously. I've actually been asked that more than once. I'm not sure whether it's people mistakenly thinking that I have some kind of grudge against them, or wanting to be all badass and tell people at parties that a writer based a villain on them so that they can get laid. Or both.