How to choose a pseudonym

I realise the title of this post suggests I’m going to reveal some kind of ten step formula, perhaps a clever strategy of sorts to come up with a suitable pen name, but in the name of full disclosure I should probably state right now that I have no such knowledge.

In fact, quite the opposite.

I’ve been thinking about this a lot of late since writing my article about Females in Fantasy (check it out here), and how a great deal of female authors still choose ambiguous, androgynous or straight-out male pen names to help the sales of their novels.

There are unquestionably plenty of other reasons for authors, male and female, to put a name that is not their own on the front cover of a book, but what I want to know is how they come up with such a name.

To get an idea, I sourced out some of the more well-known authors and their pseudo counterparts.

J.K. Rowling uses her first initial (Joanne), her grandmother’s first initial (Kathleen) and her last name. Easy.

Robert Jordan, author of the Wheel of Time series, is actually James Oliver Rigney, Jr.. It is said the idea for his pseudo-surname came from using the initials of his full name: J.O.R.. It is also speculated that he adopted it from Ernest Hemingway’s character of the same name from For Whom the Bell Tolls.

George Orwell, aka Eric Blair, chose a pen name that “stressed his deep, lifelong affection for the English tradition and countryside: George is the patron saint of England (and George V was monarch at the time), while the River Orwell in Suffolk was one of his most beloved English sites.”¹

Dr. Seuss (Theodor Seuss Geisel) - The Cat in the Hat

Theodor Seuss Geisel became Dr. Seuss, because apparently his father always wanted him to become a doctor.

Charles Lutwidge Dodgson invented his pen name, Lewis Carroll, by translating his first and last names into Latin, Carolus Lodovicus, and then anglicizing it.

Charlotte, Emily and Anne Bronte, were published under Currer, Ellis and Acton Bell, at a time when female authors lacked credibility. Each of their pseudonyms began with the first letter of their actual names.

Children’s writer Dav Pilkey came up with Sue Denim, which I think needs no explanation.

So if I wanted, or was asked, to choose a pseudonym how would I go about it?

My initials, K.M.H., are all consonants, so no help from Robert Jordan’s strategy.

I could get back to the origins of my name, like Lewis Carroll.  Katy, which is thought to derive from either the Greek Aikaterine, or even earlier Hekaterine, would be Katherine in Latin. Hulme derives from the Middle English Holm (someone who lived near a holly tree). Katherine Holm? Katherine Holly even? Maybe I could just do a Madonna and go with the single named Hekaterine. Hmmm.

If I wanted to follow the Brontes, Robin Hobb, or J.K. Rowling, with an ambiguous sounding name, ‘Kit’ is the diminutive of both Christopher or Katherine. Christopher Hulme? Kit Hulme?

Or perhaps I could follow Dr. Seuss’s reasoning and just add a title to my name. I’ve never wanted to be a doctor, but I could see myself as a noble. Lady Katherine? She wasn’t the most pleasant character in Pride and Prejudice. Countess Hulme? Hardy ha ha.

Failing these, maybe I could cheat and consult a name generator. The Leprechaun Name Generator has christened me Tweedle O’Gold. The Fantasy Name Generator, has me as Lena Amethystmace. Or more subtley, The Pen Name Generator tells me I’m Cindy Capleton.

I think I’m having a slight identity crisis.  Honestly, I feel no closer to finding my bestselling counterpart. For the time being I think I’ll stick with the name my parents bestowed upon me, and focus my attention on writing my novel, as opposed to the name that will appear on its cover.

Anyone else have any interesting pen name formulas to share? A pseudonym of your own perhaps? For those of you who don’t, any ideas what you’d like to call yourself if you were told to choose one?

~Tweedle O’Gold~

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Celebrating my 100th subscriber!

Yeah! 100 active subscribers!

This week marks my 100th subscriber! Hoorah! A big shout out to Darth Draconis at Maleficus Amor who was subscriber number one zero zero.

To be honest, I’m not really sure what 100 subscribers mean.  You see, I have never been much of a numbers person, words have always been my forte.  100 seems like a pretty good number to me.  It’s three digits, it’s an even number, it’s more money than I have in my bank and it’s a number I can count to (just).

But in terms of blogging, I have no idea if it’s a good number or not.  I guess any number over zero means you’re doing something right; it means that someone other than yourself likes what you’re doing.  But is 100 a ‘good’ number in the blogosphere?  Perhaps I’m making a fool of myself celebrating this milestone, while the rest of you laugh with your thousands, or hundreds of thousands of subscribers.

In which case, screw you bitches!  My 100 subscribers are way better than yours.

In the end it comes down to this.  I started this blog just over 3 months ago, with no previous blogging experience, and let’s be frank, no idea what I was doing.  I’m not here for fame or fortune, but an outlet for my writing, my ramblings and my thoughts on whatever comes to mind at any given time.  I have been using this blog as a tool to improve as a writer and to discipline myself into writing more regularly.  In that sense, I feel I have gained immensely from this humble venture.

But the fact that one hundred, and now more, of you are responding well enough to what’s being published here certainly has not slipped my attention.  It may not have been what I set out to achieve, but it’s certainly an amazing feeling knowing that you’re there.  It’s what encourages me to keep going with this little dream of mine, and I truly value the input, reception and good cyber vibes from you all.

Thanks internet peeps.  I may not know what the number 100 means in this blogosphere, but I know that YOU mean a lot to this aspiring writer.

Give yourselves a pat on the back for being awesome.

~storytelling nomad~

The Versatile Blogger Award

The wonderful Maryann over at My Reality Show recently bestowed upon me the prestigious Versatile Blogger Award.  Hoorah! Thanks Maryanne! I feel most honored!

There are four simple rules for The Versatile Blogger Award:

  • Post a link to the person who gave you the award.
  • Tell your readers seven random things about yourself.
  • Award 15 newly discovered blogs.
  • Send them a note letting them know you nominated them.

Seven random things about myself:

  1. I do an awesome pterodactyl impression.  For the best effect I like to make this noise in unsuspecting echoing stairwells.
  2. I have a younger brother called Harry who lives in Germany.  He’s pretty cool actually, although we talk more and get along far better when we live in different countries.  Hi Harry!
  3. I only drink water.  For no other reason than it tastes reallllllyyyyy good and I don’t like anything else.
  4. I will judge you if you mispronounce ‘mispronunciation’.
  5. Although I have strawberry blonde hair, I am under the constant delusion that I am actually just blonde, while the rest of the world believes I am simply a red-head. I am often referred to as a ‘ranga’, an Australia term alluding not so subtly to orangutans.  Other recent friendly names include strawbs and ginger.  At least ‘strawbs’ is relatively accurate.
  6. I am a chocaholic.  I cannot remember a time that I wasn’t, and I believe I always will be a chocaholic.
  7. I can hula hoop like a rock star.  No seriously, I can do that shit for hours.

15 newly discovered blogs:

Ok, so they’re not all ‘newly discovered’, but they are all awesome.  Check them out.  Like, now.

  1. You’re a Writer! – Fantastic encouragement and support for new writers.  I really recommend reading this.
  2. The Bailey Daily – I not long ago reposted one of Shawn’s posts for its hilarity.  I’m a fan of his work.
  3. Sarah Leaps – Recently Freshly Pressed, Sarah’s blog is not your average writers’ blog.  You see, Sarah has some wicked skills with a paint brush….the electronic kind…that you find on programs like ‘Paint’.  She complements her posts with these original artworks, which I believe are extraordinarily entertaining.
  4. The (Writer’s) Waiting Room – Hannah recently provided a run down on how she came to write her first book, in response to my post on how many writers sneakily avoid revealing their method.  Thumbs up!
  5. Divertir Publishing – An independent publisher, this blog gives an invaluable insight into the sort of things writers can do to help get their work published, and the processes that happen behind a publisher’s doors.
  6. The Wuc – This blog is absolutely freaking HILARIOUS.  I get a good chuckle out of it every. single. time.
  7. Just Coop It – I’m a big fan of this talented writer/actor/choreographer, whose book ‘The Song of Earth’ is about to hit a bookshelf near you!
  8. Angela Wallace – Believe, Dream, Awaken – Author of ‘Phoenix Feather’, Angela is a talented writer with a blog filled with book reviews, writerly musings and inspiration.
  9. That Book You Like – Chosen as one of 5 official ‘unbloggers’ for the Melbourne Writers Festival, where I was recently a volunteer, this blog gives some excellent accounts of a whole host of events, authors and sessions that made up the literary festival.
  10. She Thinks Too Much – Currently taking part in the 30 Day Book Challenge, which I had so much fun with.  Worth a read.
  11. Dodging Commas – Check out Stef’s wonderful grammar tips and writerly musings.  It was only today that she passed on this amazing link on semicolons, which I have endlessly struggled to understand.  No more, I tell you!
  12. MJCache – Hysterical blog.  Ends each post with something along the lines of, “I totally klepto all images” or “All images swiped, snatched and nabbed from dear old Google when he wasn’t looking.”
  13. Nitpickers’ Nook – I loved the post on this blog entitled ‘The (non)word that drives me nuts’.  You’ll have to head over there to find out what it is.  If you’re a nitpicker of words, grammar, language and communication in general like me and have been looking for a community of nitpickers to share your woes, then head over to this blog.
  14. Bunny Ears and Bat Wings – Lex shares some fantastic advice and thoughts on writing.  Also, this blog has an awesome name.
  15. The Happy Logophile – A logophile is a lover of words, and you will find just that at the Happy Logophile.  Jo also wrote a superb piece of flash fiction for the revenge 100 challenge.  Check it out.

~storytelling nomad~

 

The dangers of ebook world domination

Although it seems to have maintained a persistent online presence in recent months, today I felt as if the stars aligned to bring to head the ebook/self publishing debate.  Everywhere I looked, it was bam! bam! bam! with pro ebooks, boo ebooks, pro publishers, boo publishers.  My brain had to switch to autopilot just to get through the day without having a nervous breakdown from opposing information overload.

I wrote an article last year on the traditional vs new forms of publishing debate, but back then most of the talk seemed to centre around whether or not traditional books would survive this new age of online publishing.  Apparently we’re over that now, with many, myself included, agreeing that ebooks are here to stay but also that books are not likely to become obsolete any time soon.  There are too many of us bibliophiles out there to allow such a travesty to take place.

The debate no longer doubts the obsolescence of books, but the bypassing of and questionable necessity of the publisher.  Not only that, but there seems to be some concern over exactly how beneficial this new age of self publishing is to the reader.  Let’s not forget about him, he’s pretty important.

So what seems to be the problem, officer?

Well, first of all I bring to your attention this article published on the online Guardian newspaper today; Now anyone can ‘write’ a book. First, find some words…

I suspect the reaction to the title of this article went something like this:

  • YES! I have words! Now I can finally get published! (99% of readers)

or

  • Great….now my carefully written, scrupulously edited, well developed ebook will be lost in the masses of crap published by any Tom, Dick or Harry. (1% of readers)

Herein lies the crux of the problem.  Where although it might be argued that publishers have in the past held an unseemly amount of authority over what does and doesn’t get published, publishing what a few well-paid people deem to be a ‘bestseller’, and claiming a contentious amount of what some would claim to be the author’s earnings, they have nonetheless provided a benchmark for the quality of writing being released on the bookshelves.  Although many excellent writers suffer from this system (the downside), whether it be from seeing their publisher’s pockets grow heavier than their own, or from not even being able to break into the publishing scene, it has nonetheless been of benefit to the readers (the upside), who could purchase a published book with the assurance that it had been proofread, edited, proofread again, and above all, selected by a group of ‘professionals’ as being worthy of their hard-earned cash.

Now, I’ve never been one to overlook both sides of the argument, and I realise the publishing gods have not always done us proud.  I, for one, can count on more fingers than I actually own, the number of books that a big respectable publisher has deemed deserving not only of publication, but of at least $25 out of my wallet, only to find that I had paid said amount for a bound collection of paper better employed as kindling for the fire.  Undoubtedly, it’s at times like these that aspiring writers such as myself scream at the heavens “Why! Why do you torment me publishing Gods?! My writing is a kajillion times better than this piece of crap!” Followed by a few angry stamps of the foot and an angry punch to the air.

Cue the invention of ebooks and online book sellers such as Amazon, who, like the aforementioned article claims, allow for anyone with words to publish a book, within a matter of minutes.  MINUTES?!  Yes, minutes.

With my recent purchase of the Scrivener word processor, I soon discovered it had a function which gave me the opportunity to publish something I had written, in a number of ebook formats.  Me? Publish an ebook? Pfft! I scoffed at my machine.  But the curious girl that I am, I Googled ‘Scrivener tutorials’ and watched a brief video on how I could transform a story into an ebook.  Within 20 minutes (Shock! Gasp!) I had a short story on iBooks and was reading it on my iPhone.

Now, for those of us who like to think our writing is worthy of publication, this is fantastic news.  We bypass all the middlemen, do all the marketing ourselves (which, let’s face it, we probably would’ve had to do anyway), set our own price for our baby and watch the profits roll in.  If this is you, writers, then read the following excellent article/interview with bestselling author Michael Levin, and jump with joy at this publishing revolution, because now you have not only the resources, but the power to become a published author.

Are Publishers Stupid? Interview with Bestselling Author Michael Levin-Part 1 What do YOU think? Are publishers stupid? Send this link to writers you know and come back tomorrow for Part 2 of Michael Levin’s interview! … Read More

via Bo’s Cafe Life

Readers, cower with mercy, since it is ye who shall suffer.

If you’ve read the article, you might have already read some of the comments, or should I say concerns, below the text.  Correspondingly, the earlier Guardian article touched on the same unease, pointing out the following statistics:

…Nearly 2.8 million non-traditional books, including ebooks, were published in the United States in 2010, while just more than 316,000 traditional books came out.  That compares with 1.33 million ebooks and 302,000 printed books in 2009.

With such an extraordinary number of ebooks being released at an increasingly rapid rate, how exactly are the poor readers supposed to navigate this tsunami of books to get to the good stuff?

Although I’m sure that a great deal of new publications are from writers who probably deserved to be published a long time ago by the publishing gods (here I have to mention Angela Wallace, whose ebook Phoenix Feather I read recently and is an example of how exactly the ebook revolution can benefit magnificent writers with remarkable stories. Check it out here), I’m just as sure that a great deal of these new publications are absolute rubbish, or worse, plagiarised.  Without the middlemen, where lies the quality control?

Again, from the Guardian article:

It’s only when one peruses the cornucopia of literary productions available on the Kindle store that one detects the first scent of rodent. One of the most prolific self-publishers on the site is Manuel Ortiz Braschi. When I last checked he had edited, authored or co-authored no fewer than 3,255 ebooks. Mr Braschi is clearly a man of Herculean energy and wide learning, who ranges effortlessly from How to Become a Lethal Weapon in Two Weeks (£1.40) to Herbs 101: How to Plant, Grow & Cook with Natural Herbs (£0.70) while taking in Potty Training! The Ultimate Potty Training Guide!(£0.69).

Having inspected Mr Braschi’s The Miracle of Vinegar: 65 Tried and Tested Uses For Health and Home! (which, at £0.69, works out at about 30p per screenful of text), I can testify that he is no Delia Smith. But at least he appears to write – or at any rate compile – his own stuff. In that respect, he represents the quality end of the Kindle self-publishing business.

I’m sorry, what? The man has authored/co-authored 3,255 ebooks?! I’m doubtful at the quality, but as the article states, at least the writing appears to be his own.

Ultimately, how are the readers expected to have confidence in anything that sits in the midst of such questionable standards?  I feel that I am considerably immersed in the world of readers, writers and books, and yet still I struggle to determine what in the ebook world is worth reading.  Word of mouth is clearly a well-founded prerequisite to marketing your ebook, but I wonder, just as the works of great writers are lost amongst the less-worthy publications, won’t such be the case also for self promotion of the same.  With everybody shouting the loudest, how can we possibly determine the Rowlings from the Manuel Ortiz Braschis and his 3,255 books?

Sooner or later somebody is going to realise that no matter how high those ebook figures rise, no matter how many outstanding writers self publish their bestsellers, if the readers can’t navigate the market, if they don’t actually make a purchase, or rather, spend their money where it is least merited, then readers, publishers, writers alike…everybody loses.

What are your thoughts on the ebook/self publishing debate?  Please, add to my brain hemorrhage and discuss.

~storytelling nomad~

Book that is most like your life

30 Day Book Challenge – Day 12

What’s this? You expect a literary equivalent of my unique, quirky, yet oh so fascinating life?  I’m sorry, but such a thing simply does not exist.  There are those who have tried, to no avail, to fit me like a square peg into a round hole, but it just cannot be done.  I am an undetermined shape of infinite sides, curves and acute angles.

But all is not lost.  Fortunately, there exists a short story and an article that both accurately depict small slices of my life, written by yours truly and published on the Australian Reader website and in Biscuit Magazine’s July 2011 issue.  The links for both can be found on my Published Stories page.

Happy Reading.

Not so long ago I used Apple iPhoto to publish a hardcover book of my travel story Belonging, with accompanying photos from the journey, which my brother and I gifted to my parents. Not only did it make my parents very happy, but for a time, I felt like a real writer!

~storytelling nomad~

J.K. Rowling on the importance of failure (via Alec Nevala-Lee)

She really knows her stuff ol’ J.K….

J.K. Rowling on the importance of failure Ultimately, we all have to decide for ourselves what constitutes failure, but the world is quite eager to give you a set of criteria if you let it. So I think it fair to say that by any conventional measure, a mere seven years after my graduation day, I had failed on an epic scale. An exceptionally short-lived marriage had imploded, and I was jobless, a lone parent, and as poor as it is possible to be in modern Britain, without being homeless. Th … Read More

via Alec Nevala-Lee

“F*ck you Autumn!”

"f*ck you Autumn!"

I’m pretty sure, to the point of being certain, that this tree is saying “F*ck you Autumn”.  Not that I often go around assuming the private conversations or filthy language of inanimate objects, but, well, this one really seemed to be trying to say something.  While the other trees are fighting Autumn with their still lush greens, and others embracing it with their warm reds and golds, this one right here, this one is not having any of it.  I believe it transpired as follows:

***

Mr. Tree: What’s this?  I seem to be changing colour.  My leaves are drying up and I’m getting quite the draft up my lower trunk.

Fellow Tree: But of course!  The sunny season is withdrawing and we now prepare for the big white. Welcome to what the tiny two leggers call Autumn! It seems you are an early bloomer Mr. Tree.

Mr. Tree: It gets worse?!

Fellow Tree: Oh yes, but look how handsome you are.  You wouldn’t happen to be free for a sway in the breeze later would you?

Mr. Tree: Huh? Look, I’m really freaking out about this big white, slash, Autumn business you’ve just dumped on me.  What use am I like this?! How can I shade the tiny two leggers, or house the little flying animals that sing, or filter the air? This is really inconvenient you know.

Fellow Tree: Just go with it Mr. Tree.  You look hot.

Mr. Tree.  I’m not hot.  I’m bloody cold, and now you’re telling me it’s going to get worse.  Well, F*ck you Autumn.  I’m not interested in any of this in between nonsense.  I want to be at my best dammit! [Cue shedding of leaves]

Fellow Tree: *gasp* But Mr. Tree! What have you without your looks?!

Mr. Tree: My dignity!

***

I sympathise with Mr. Tree, I really do.  I often feel that if I can’t be my best, show my worth and exhibit my finest leaves, then well, I’d rather not show anything at all.  I think this often makes me try harder, and attempt to better myself and my writing, because I only want to be my best.  But what I often forget, like Mr. Tree, is that sometimes, even when you’re not at the top of your game, someone out there like Fellow Tree, might appreciate it and even on occasion like it more for what it is.  So, even though I respect Mr. Tree for wanting to be his best, for defending his dignity, I do believe it’s just as important to embrace the ‘flaws’, the bits in between greatness and defeat. After all, someone out there might just love you for it.

N.B. No trees were harmed in the making of this story.

~storytelling nomad~

Bones of the wicked

I had a crack at the Word Pool exercise I mentioned earlier in the week (see Stuck for Ideas?).

Bones of the wicked

I smile. He laughs.
We dance in the night.
We fly with the angels,
The stars in our sight.

But darkness remains.
He shouts. I cry.
He conceals the evil,
The truth. The lie.

I tremble. He sniggers.
I fall to the floor.
My body is heavy,
It serves me no more.

The shadows, they threaten.
He tenses. I’m rigid.
In him I discovered,
The bones of the wicked.

My pool of words were:

Void
Existence
Energy
Light
Bone
Art
Courage
Intelligence
Affection
Hate
Skate
Hollow
Wicked
Laugh
Tremble
Shatter
Bake
Cool

And my combinations:

Courage is skating
Energy laughs
A hollow intelligence
The void trembles
A cool existence
Hate’s light
Bones of the wicked
Affection bakes
Shattered light
Void art

~storytelling nomad~

Writers’ Festival envy

Emerging Writers Festival

Kicking myself that I’m not in Melbourne for the Emerging Writers Festival.  It looks a treat for the senses.  It’s at times like these that being a poor student nomad really tries my patience…and yet, I wouldn’t have it any other way.  Sigh.  Anyone out there I can live vicariously through? Anyone? Hello?

~storytelling nomad~

A writer? Where?

I read a blog today about someone who was surprised to be introduced by her friend as a writer, a scenario I could relate to.  I love my friends.  They are a supportive, encouraging, funny bunch of people, and I’m truly fortunate to know every one of them.  And yet, I have been known to berate them when they introduce me to people with: “This is my friend Katy. She’s a writer.”  I will smile politely through gritted teeth at this with a certain grace, but when I have them alone I beat them to a bloody pulp and scream at them to beg for mercy.  Not really.  But I will say something along the lines of “No no no! You can’t call me a writer.  It hasn’t happened yet! I’m not getting paid for my writing! My book isn’t finished!” Or similar.  Basically, I have always thought that to be considered a writer, you need to be published.  Now, when I think about it logically, I realise just how ridiculous that is.  Duh, Katy.  Obviously there are loads of writers out there who haven’t been published, who probably deserve to be.  Admittedly, there are also people out there claiming themselves to be writers, sending in absolute garbage to publishers (my days working at a major publishing house can attest to this) who are not getting published for a very good reason.  Even so, I know just from looking through the writing blogs on the wordpress.com site, that there are plenty of people out there who I would identify as writers, who may sadly never get the chance to be published.

I liken it to the philosophical riddle: “If a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?” If a writer writes and never gets published, is she still a writer? Um, are you stupid or something? In the event that you are – like my inner paranoid writerly self – stupid…then the answer is, of course, yes.

At the Melbourne Supanova this year, I spoke to Australian fantasy author Jennifer Fallon and expressed my concerns about making it as a writer and how I would know if it was time to try a different life long dream that I might actually succeed in without failing miserably and finding myself at the peak of my youth with nothing to show for it except a blank page and no money and a room full of rejection letters and…  Pause.  Breathe.  Where was I? Ah, yes.  So, she gave me two excellent pieces of advice:

1.  She could not guarantee that I would be published if I kept writing.  But she could guarantee that I wouldn’t if I stopped.

2. She told me that even when she was a checkout chick, she was a writer.

I think these are very sage pieces of advice that apply to any aspiring writer.  Firstly, you need to be viciously persistent and never give up.  Giving up is a sure way to fail.  Period.  And secondly, that a writer is a state of being.  Whatever else it is you do to pay your mortgage, put clothes on your back and feed little Felix or Jack or Poochiepoos…that there, that’s your job.  Your occupation.  Your money-making, food-on-the-table, 9-5 day job.  Some people are lucky enough to have writing as their job.  But even when you’re not getting paid for it, even if no one will publish you, even if you never show another single soul out there what you have written, if it is who you are, then you my friend, are a writer.

~storytelling nomad~

NaNoWriMo 2011…Can it be done?!

1 novel, 50,000 words, 30 days...can it be done?

It’s a while away yet, but I have just signed up for the 2011 National Novel Writing Month challenge.  I not long ago found out about this ambitious and exciting program, and must say, I’m more than a little intrigued.  The goal is to write a 50,000 word (or more) novel between the 1st and 30th November, and share your progress with other NaNoWriMo-ees.  Because of the exceptionally small time limit, it’s about quantity, not quality, with the aim of getting writers to just write, and save the editing/rewriting/drafting for later.

As one who has had an idea for a novel circling around in my head for quite some time now, perhaps this is the kick in the ass I need to just, well, get it done.  But I wonder, am I setting myself up for terrible disappointment? Could I really write 50,000 words (or more?!?!) in 30 days?  I’ve never been one to shy away from a looming deadline, in fact I usually embrace the last minute cram (thank you tertiary education for that little gem of a skill), but I have my reservations about this one.  Can it be done? I would certainly be more than a little chuffed with myself if I managed to do it.

Anyone else up for the challenge? Perhaps we could find encouragement in our solidarity, joy in our success…or quite possibly (and very likely) solace in our failure?  Sign up at http://www.nanowrimo.org/

~storytelling nomad~

How to know when the critics are right

For writers, I think one of the hardest things to overcome in order to succeed, is their critics.  Considering that writing is a relatively solitary activity, it is often difficult to make that big scary step towards sharing your work with others.  It is a widely known fact that writers regularly suffer from what I call, the it’s-not-ready-yet complex.  Redrafting and editing seem like tedious tasks, but somehow we thrive on the tweaking and rewriting, always under the pretence that we can make it better, that it’s simply not ready to be shared with the world yet.  At the end of the day, there’s no way to really know when a piece of writing is finished, or ready, but eventually we take the plunge and the deed is done.

It is at this point that we are granted with a fairly brief moment of relief.  Hoorah! I never have to look at it again!  This moment of ecstasy is shortly followed with absolute fear at the knowledge that we must now await the onslaught of our critics.  What if they don’t like it? What if they don’t like me? Or worse, what if no one reads it at all?

I have found that writers often choose writing as a career/state of being/lifestyle choice, precisely for the benefits of being able to work independently, to engage in a creative art which doesn’t require you to make speeches in front of a load of people, and to know that your work will be judged independently of your age, looks or social standing.  I believe that generally speaking, a writer’s primal instinct is to create, and to create alone.  Unfortunately, a writer must have its readers, an audience as such.  In writing courses, it is drilled into you that you must ‘know your audience’, ‘know your readership’, ‘know who you’re writing for’.  Kids, adults, fantasy enthusiasts, sci-fi buffs, romance addicts, crime fanatics.  Knowing your reader helps with your tone, your point of view, your language.  And yet, despite the fact that we write for an audience, we are often reluctant to share our work with them.

Obviously we are hard-wired to want to succeed in life, to be good, the best even, at the things we do.  So, after we have spent hours, weeks, months, years, slaving away at our work in progress, refining it and cherishing it like a newborn child, we, like a new parent, want everyone else to see how wonderful it is too, and if they don’t like it, well inevitably we take offence.

Now, back to the underlying question: how do we know when the critics are right?  Well, to begin with I’m the first to admit that I hate receiving negative feedback, but I realise that if there’s a problem with my work which readers are noticing, whether it be a grammatical error or a character flaw, I kinda need to know about it.  I understand this because deep down I know that if the readers aren’t happy then I’m doing something wrong.  This does not, however, mean that we need to change and edit every suggestion made to us by our critics.

I take you back to the concept of knowing your audience and writing for them specifically.  If you are writing a young adult fantasy novel aimed at current readers of books like Twilight, then you cannot expect to win the hearts of say classic literary buffs.  You might want to write a book about your family history, where your audience makes up less than a handful of people, and no-one outside that small group will ever be interested in, or enjoy reading it.  This doesn’t mean your writing is no good, it just means that you haven’t won over a readership that essentially you didn’t write for anyway.  I’ve had pieces of writing that some people have hated, and others have loved.  I’ve read stories that I’ve loved and that others have hated.  It all comes down to the old adage that everyone is different.  How can we possibly please everyone with our writing when not everyone likes the same thing?  Hence, finding your audience, and trying to keep them happy.

Ideally, when you receive feedback for your writing, take it all on board and try to stay objective.  It’s difficult to hear people finding fault with your hard work, and a lot of the time it might just be that they’re not who you’re writing for, your audience.  But, a lot of the time, these are the people who are going to end up helping you make your writing better.  If you receive recurrent feedback about a particular issue, theme, character, paragraph, then it’s probably worth at least taking a look at.  Get people who would be in your target audience to read over your drafts and see what they think, too.

In the meantime, remember that the positive feedback is equally important in improving your writing, because in my opinion, that’s when your readers are telling you that you’re doing something right.

~storytelling nomad~

Stuck for ideas?

When I began my writing course last year, my biggest concern was not whether I could write, but whether I had enough, if any, good ideas to write about.  I was sure I couldn’t be the only one, in fact, my lecturers must’ve been pretty sure too, because they introduced us to an exceptionally helpful book which now holds a prime position on my writing desk.  The Writing Experiment by Hazel Smith provides experimental and practical strategies and approaches to creative writing.  First of all, this is not a ‘how to’ book on writing.  As we all know by now, there is no single, correct way to write and everyone is different. Rather, it is a practical guide to experimenting with words, language and ideas.  From this book I learnt that we have infinite reserves of resource material for writing, we sometimes just need help tracking them down!

The most helpful section in the book for me has been Playing With Language.  As far as I know, we speak about 20,000 words a day, so surely we can string a few of those together to make something special, right? An example of a word exercise in the book is Phrase Permutation, where “the position of the words in relation to each other is changed within the phrase or short sentence, usually radically transforming the sense.”

Eg.
the death of the author
the author of death

An excellent example of phrase permutation is shown by Australian poet Myron Lysenko.  I think this word play is amazing.

UNDER THE TREE

They stood
under the big tree
and talked slowly

Under the tree
they stood
and slowly talked big

The big tree
stood slowly
and under they talked

They stood big
and slowly talked
the tree under

The big tree talked
and they slowly
understood

Another fun exercise was the Word Pool, where you “create a pool of words and then combine the words into unusual and striking combinations.”  The example in the book had the following words in the word pool:

time
clock
step
excrement
vomit
bicycle
word
fidget
blood
drift
mouth
loss
squat
sense
wail
ladder

Then, the words are combined to make unusual, evocative or striking combinations, the idea being to think outside the box.  The combinations given from this word pool included “time squats”, “sense wails” and “words fidget”.  It is anticipated with this exercise, that the combinations might lead you to an idea, theme or title of writing.

This book has loads of exercises like this, to get you creating things out of nothing.  I like it because it’s engaging and practical…there’s no nonsense about 10 step plans to writing a novel or any garbage like that.  It’s simple, creative exercises, generic enough to apply to any writing form, but specific enough in its execution to get some solid results.

You can check out more about it at The Writing Experiment.

~storytelling nomad~

A Girl Who Reads (via Rants, Raves & Recommendations)

“If you find a girl who reads, keep her close. When you find her up at 2 AM clutching a book to her chest and weeping, make her a cup of tea and hold her. You may lose her for a couple of hours but she will always come back to you. She’ll talk as if the characters in the book are real, because for a while, they always are.” Source. … Read More

via Rants, Raves & Recommendations

Read the whole thing at Date A Girl Who Reads by Rosemarie Urquico

The Lighthouse

The light shines on the raging water as the jagged rocks below are put on spectacular display in the fractured darkness.  Their edges jut out of the sea as if snapping at the waves with razored teeth.  Darkness falls.

A brilliant beam of light slices the rain and exposes a woman standing precariously on the cliff.  Her shoulders sag, whether it be by the weight of her wet, heavy clothes and pressure of the striking rain, or by some other nameless torment.  Darkness falls.

The lighthouse sets its orbiting eye onto the ocean’s black horizon, erasing the stars with its superior glare.  The waves tear aggressively at the hungry rocks as the woman takes a step towards the light.  Darkness falls.

~storytelling nomad~

Newcastle, Australia

Newcastle – some love it, some love to hate it.  I, for one, am a lover not a hater.  For my Travel Writing subject last year I had to write a piece on the city that I lived in (at the time), and try to capture some of the energy and stories of that place.  It’s not a brilliant piece of writing by any means, but it does make me nostalgic for the town that was, until very recently, my home for 16 months.

N.B. the photo header for this blog is also of Newcastle.  It was taken last year at Nobby’s Beach.

Looking towards the lighthouse, Newcastle

Newcastle

Newcastle by summers day is typically bathed in sunshine, fresh sea breezes cooling the lazy trickle of bare footed locals and visitors heading to and from any one of the local beaches.  Situated on the East Coast of Australia, it has the rare luxury of being a regional town that also offers all the benefits and amenities of a big city.  Historic Hunter Street stretches over 3 kilometres from the West, extending almost to the sea at the East end of the city. The Cultural Centre, now home to a museum and writer’s centre, once upon a time was the local Police Station, hosting the city’s worst sinners in tiny cells still intact and complete with scratches on the cold stone walls. The streets off Hunter Street are also home to a number of hostels, but the scantily clad backpackers from all over the world spend little time in them, instead treasuring their close proximity to several breathtaking beaches.  Men and women of all ages run eagerly with surfboards under their arms, passing businesswomen and men on their way to work, yearning to catch the first waves of the day.

Near the East end of Hunter Street is Nobby’s Beach, where begins the Newcastle Breakwall that extends right out to sea.  Walking along the historic structure tourists can be seen admiring the glistening water, the horizon lined with distant red coal ships waiting to come in to the harbour.  Locals jog past, savouring a spectacular view for their daily exercise. Cyclists ring their bells to alert their approach to a family taking a stroll.  A group of young friends point to the distance, unsure if they’ve spotted a simple break in the water, or a commonly sighted whale or pod of dolphins.  A couple wander serenely, their German Shepherd beside them happily puffed and extraordinarily drenched from spending the last hour at the neighbouring dog beach; a playground where humans happily observe the joy of their canine companions pursuing dogs three times their size up and down the beach, snapping at the waves and chasing tattered tennis balls.  All of them are at risk of taking off with the enthusiastic wag of their tails.

As the sun sets and the night becomes cooler the streets become bare.  The markets in Hunter Street are packed up, with little left but the aroma of wood fired pizzas, fresh flowers and the sparkle of a sequin on the pavement to verify their earlier presence.  The backpackers retreat to their hostels, and cafes and restaurants light candles to welcome hungry diners. Scents of Balinese cuisine, international flavours, and fresh seafood make mouths water, and sun kissed faces enjoy drinks looking onto the moon glistened waves of the sea they earlier bathed in.  Hunter Street Mall becomes strangely silent, waiting for the late night crowds to pass through on their way home from one of the local pubs, their singing and merriment occasionally disturbing sleeping residents nearby.  Eventually darkness envelops the streets and silence prevails once more.  The wind carries only a distant sound of the roaring waves.  A tiny speck on the horizon earlier in the day, the titanic presence of a coal ship now slips silently into the harbour, the disguise of night finally failing as its soundlessness is betrayed by the tremendous blare of its horn.

~storytelling nomad~

Review: Inception

Inception
Directed by Christopher Nolan
Rated: M15+

I am mildly curious at the anxiety that creeps up on me when I consider expressing my opinion of the film Inception, foreseeing riots, hate mail and possible exile. My concern is that the majority will poorly receive my theory that this recently released American blockbuster is, well, grossly overrated.

There, I said it.

Now, before you start steaming from the ears and shaking your fists at me in rage and disbelief, perhaps you might ask what would bring me to such an outrageous notion?

Firstly, you would probably be delighted to know that the aforementioned sentiment in no way signifies that I either disliked or felt great aversion to the film. Rather, I enjoyed it and was only acutely aware of the loss of feeling in my backside during the near two and a half hour mind-marathon. There is no denying director Christopher Nolan’s film-making talent. Most recently praised for his excellent execution of Batman: The Dark Knight, he loads Inception with rich scenes of roads folding upon themselves as the characters actively build and transform their dream world in their minds. The laws of gravity are excitingly absent as fight scenes take place on corridor walls and ceilings, making it fascinating to watch.

All this as we follow a fine performance by Leonardo Di Caprio as Dom Cobb. His job is to enter dreams and steal ideas from them, a process known as extraction. The trickier part comes with the planting of an idea in a dream, known as inception. A sub plot surrounding his wife (Marion Cotillard) leads us to discover the reason behind his spinning-top obsession, essentially used as a ‘totem’ to determine whether he is still stuck in a dream or not based on the spinning-top continuing to spin, or not, respectively. Back-up performances by Joseph Gordon-Levitt (3rd Rock from the Sun), Tom Hardy (Star Trek Nemesis) and Ellen Page (Juno), are impressive, even if their scripts offer the viewer little in the way of empathising with any of them. As far as sci-fi thrillers go, this one was certainly worth the meagre $8 I spent on my ticket.

Nevertheless, now brace yourselves, I am genuinely mystified by declarations of “masterpiece”, “genius!” and “instant classic”, in reference to Inception. Perhaps being one of the more superior cinematic mainstream blockbuster releases of late, people are rather taken aback at the notion of not being spoon-fed their entertainment and find that their brains getting a work out during a causal trip to the movies quite a remarkable concept. Furthermore, despite the fact that having the masses leave the theatre with the incredible urge to discuss at length “what the hell just happened!” with great delight being a feat in itself these days, I am still unconvinced that this all amounts to an “instant classic”.

The question ‘what is a dream?’ is not a new one. Neither are movies that rack at the brains before the slightest inkling of comprehension settles in. The Matrix amazed us all at the end of the last millennium, pushing the boundaries of cinematography and profoundly amazing audiences with a complex and solid plot. Mulholland Drive comes to mind as another exceptional but particularly baffling movie which required more than one viewing to ascertain what had gone on and to pinpoint exactly at what stage I had been fooled. Even another of Nolan’s movies, The Prestige, with exceptional performances by Hugh Jackman (X-Men) and Christian Bale (Batman), offered a tricky plot with a superb twist at the end to make the audience “ooo” and “ahhh”. The point is, there are more than a handful of movies out there which make you really think, ask you ‘what is reality?’, and which require a second viewing because of a sly twist or unresolved clues. I just don’t think Inception is up there with the best of them.

To begin with, the levels of the dream are so over-explained that it leaves little work for the average mind, even if you’re only half paying attention. I’ve heard many people announce proudly that if you don’t think the movie is utter genius, then it’s simply because you haven’t understood what’s going on. Although I was not aware that the ultimate motion picture of all time is defined by its ability to render an audience utterly clueless, my primary concern is, that I’m fairly certain that I have understood what’s going on. The inception team are hired by big shot Saito played by Ken Watanabe (The Last Samurai, Batman Begins) to enter the layers of a man’s dream one by one to plant a seed of an idea in the deepest level, so that when he wakes up he thinks he came up with it himself. The three levels of the dream in question were easily identified by a van, a corridor and a lot of snow. On top of all that, there’s a limbo land where you get stuck if you don’t come out of the dream, or you die in the dream.

Blah blah blah. We get it! And I think most people don’t give themselves enough credit to realise they get it too, or, if they do, they are inexplicably fooled by the very last scene which in my opinion is not an extraordinary twist, but your average cliff-hanger, which with a little thought people may realise really could only result in two scenarios, neither particularly impressive or mind-blowing. Unfortunately, I think more worthy of discussion is the comment Nolan makes on how we know what is reality, which is eclipsed by the majority of audiences who see the ending as a magnificent twist that puts the entire two and a half hours, rather than the more applicable final five minutes, into question.

I’m sure there will be die hard fans lining up to tell me exactly what it is that I have missed. But, until a more convincing argument than “I had no idea what just happened…genius!” comes along, I am prepared to remain relatively entertained, mildly thought-provoked, and most of all mind-blown, but less by the film than by the hype behind it.

~storytelling nomad~

Review: The Khareef by Pico Iyer

Travel literature is often regarded as boring and unvaried. Personal tales of “getting off the beaten path”, discovering the “inner journey”, finding romance on a moonlit night in Paris, or being rendered speechless by one of the many colossal icons across the globe have been overdone, and the small shelf allocated for travel literature in bookstores bears testament to its limited demand. With readers often slightly bewildered by a genre that offers an obscure mix of fiction and non-fiction and few fresh ideas to spark interest, travel literature seems to have been becoming a forgotten genre.

Thankfully, Pico Iyer offers a refreshing change amongst the underdogs with his enchanting tale The Khareef. This piece, from his collection of travel stories Sun After Dark, details Iyer’s 2001 trip to Oman. As he reflects on the Oman as it was, as it is, and later as it will come to be, Iyer illustrates a place far removed from the rest of the world, triggering colourful images of a magical, otherworldly and far away land, somewhat stuck in the past, but juxtaposed with snapshots of contemporary influences.

Those unfamiliar with the travel writing genre, may be unacquainted with the British born novelist, who in 1995 was named by the Utne Reader as “one of the 100 visionaries worldwide who could change your life”, next to the likes of Noam Chomsky and Václav Havel. A regular essayist for renowned Time magazine since 1986, Iyer has also made a name for himself contributing to prominent publications such as The New York Times, National Geographic and Harper’s. He is also the author of Video Night in Kathmandu, The Lady and the Monk and The Global Soul, to name a few.

With all this behind him, The Khareef doesn’t disappoint as a travel piece to outshine travel pieces. The word khareef refers to the south-western monsoon that passes through the southern tip of Arabia each year, and it is with this image that begins visions of a “heavy chill mist” falling over Oman with its veiled women, “only their mascara’ed eyes looking out”.

There is a distinct feeling of isolation highlighted through vast desert images, abandoned hotels and little to no connection or intimacy with any people or of the place itself. Little dialogue gives the impression that Iyer is simply observing and reporting what he sees rather than interacting or becoming a part of it. He describes a place somewhat resistant to receiving foreigners as its own, stuck in an odd limbo between past and present, yet ironically destined to continually and dramatically change and transform within the restrictions of its isolation. There is little magic in Oman, but Pico Iyer shares with his readers the enchantment that veils this far away place.

Without warning, readers are led on an unexpected path of deeply thoughtful explorations as Iyer begins his piece far from where it finally ends. Late night encounters with young boys and their guns “guarding their turf as in East L.A.”, black veiled women tapping away on their slow computers “linked to a world no one really believes in.” Curiously, his detached voice offers a distinct undertone of discontentment with Oman as Iyer passes through, observing but never engaging. He evokes the feeling that foreigners are from too different a world to ever truly belong there or understand it, and yet despite this, sanctions a deep appreciation for its uniqueness, antiquity and detached charm.

Iyer’s command for language is flawless. The words roll off your tongue like poetry, each line evoking an image that draws you further into the desert, carrying you along as if swept up in the khareef. In an interview with travel writer Rolf Potts, Iyer stated that the writing process for him involves trying “to catch the feelings — the sound, the smell, the tang, of a place” (cited in Potts n.d. ⁋10) Indeed, colourful images of the landscape, the sounds, the people, all contribute to a read which takes all the senses on a memorable ride.

The Khareef liberates itself from the more mundane in travel writing. In a rare moment, it succeeds in delivering a place both desolate and neglected, yet also alluring and irresistible. It is hard to say how exactly Iyer manages to make his readers both distance themselves further from Oman and at the same time yearn a closeness to it.

If you are looking for a travel story that strives valiantly to set itself aside from the rest, look to The Khareef. Let Iyer take you on a magical journey to a particular kind of cheerless hell that leaves you wanting more, without suffering the reality of it. And brace yourself for the ending. It will undoubtedly remind you that despite our absolute dislocation from Oman, it really isn’t that far away at all.

~storytelling nomad~

Ben Lomond, Tasmania

Bag End Lodge

A view of our ski lodge, Bag End, at Ben Lomond

A quiet day left me staring upwards. Clouds sailed by with an alarming speed in what seemed to be awfully low gusts of wind, occasionally breaking to let through a patch or two of kingfisher blue sky. The fresh air invaded every inch of my body, deep breaths cleansing my lungs before escaping in small fleeting mists of hot air as I exhaled. I felt both invigorated and mildly concerned about the cold chill, even despite the layers upon layers of clothing, some of which I wouldn’t be caught wearing dead at any other time (hello thermal underwear!). But there it was okay, expected even. I did a little foot-to-foot shuffle to keep my blood moving, the crunch crunch of the snow under my boots keeping the rhythm.

When I first applied for the job as a ski lift attendant at Ben Lomond Alpine Village, I wasn’t sure what to expect. I had only just moved to Tasmania and really knew nothing more about the apple isle than the following: people supposedly had two heads, it was freezing cold, and not a lot of ‘mainlanders’ went there. Not a very encouraging review, but I made the move nonetheless and thought that if that wasn’t change of scenery enough, working at the snow would be.

Ben Lomond soon became one of my favourite places in Australia. I say ‘one of’ because, let’s face it, Australia is one country where you can have many favourite places. But in light of the insufferable heat wave that recently passed through NSW I have found myself thinking a lot lately about the cool days on the small mountain just an hour’s drive from Launceston. It’s no ordinary drive either. Jacobs Ladder is the appropriately named narrow road that weaves precariously up the cliff side of Ben Lomond, the only access road to the slopes, and requires a certain amount of courage to attempt. The trick is to not look out the driver side window – the jagged rocks below are known to be a bit off-putting.

The absence of phone reception doesn’t help the nerves either. Ben Lomond is practically a technology-free sanctuary, so you can leave your mobile at home. Your hair straightener too (much to the dismay of a friend of mine who came to visit). You see, there’s also no electricity on Ben Lomond. I can assure all is forgiven, however, once you reach the top and are rewarded with some of the most beautiful scenery that Tasmania has to offer. Not only that, but as it is a protected National Park, Ben Lomond is also home to many of Australia’s favourite native wildlife. I was surprised if a day went by when I didn’t spot a wallaby bouncing by or a wombat wobbling past the ski lodges.

I know some may think that a no reception, no electricity, freezing cold, two headed Tasmanian getaway sounds a tad disconcerting, but I for one can vouch that the two months I spent on that mountain were two of the most enjoyable I’ve spent anywhere. Even on the miserably cold and wet days when I was stuck doing my fascinating snow shuffle, dreaming of Whitehaven Beach in the Whitsundays (another of my favourite places in Australia), the nameless face of one committed skier or another with only an icy red nose visible beneath goggles, hat and neck warmer would appear out of the hazy fog, hand outstretched offering me a hot chocolate. In those moments I would smile, quickly reminded that I was working in one of the friendliest and most beautiful places in the world. A small community of skiers passionate and proud of their little mountain return every year to brave the elements, a testament to the enchantment of a mountain that in many ways can’t compete with the big guns, and frankly doesn’t care.

I can also since confirm that all the Tasmanians I met had only one head, it was cold (but not always), and the mainlanders that don’t go there, are quite simply missing out.

~storytelling nomad~

Rain Breathes as the Sky Cries

Rain breathes as the sky cries.
It breathes secrets of sadness, sorrow and solitude
too often concealed by the burning brilliance
of the blazing sun on cloudless days.
Perfect tears bathe the soil,
providing strength and vitality to the parched earth.
Trees shiver under forlorn teardrops,
whilst unfortunate souls take refuge
from the tearful travellers of the sky.
Whispers are wasted on silent gusts of wind,
faceless foes snatching them until they vaporise
under the wicked spell of the sun’s villainous rays.
Rain breathes as the sky cries
and perfect tears fall in a silence charged with secrets.

~storytelling nomad~