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First Monday Mentoring August 2018 – waste not, want not for writers

By now regular readers of this blog get that I believe nothing is ever wasted on a writer – good times and bad, frightening or uplifting – sooner or later they’ll surface in our characters. We won’t always use the details as they happened; in fact, it’s better not to lean too heavily on reality. Instead, take the essence of the experience and embed it in your fictional setting.

This is when fiction works at its best. Not every reader has lost someone close to them, but they all experience loss in some form. The saying that nobody gets out of life alive is true, much as we try to deny it. As long as we allow ourselves to love – a pet, a person, an ideal – we open ourselves to loss.

Staying too close to the reality of your experience can actually push readers away. When instead, you give the power of the emotion you went through to a character, your readers will think, “Yes, this is how it is. This is how loss feels to me.”

Your experiences may have been worlds apart, but the feeling, the intensity, is what you have in common.

In thinking how we can translate our experiences into universal connections for readers, I’m reminded of my mother’s saying, “Waste not, want not.”  Like many of her generation, she meant literal waste of food, or resources. She was telling us that such waste might mean we’d go hungry or in need later. In our world of plenty it seems unlikely, but the phrase stays with me to this day.

Last week I had a vivid reminder of how nothing is wasted on a writer. For more than two decades the State Library of NSW has collected what they call my literary papers. Among them are some childhood writings including the first book I ever wrote in pencil in an exercise book, a scrapbook filled with cuttings from my favourite pop group, The Monkees, and what we now call fan fiction, my stories that continued The Monkees’ adventures after their TV show ended.

These  were discovered last year by Dr Derham Groves while curating an exhibition celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Monkees’ tour of Australia. I was delighted to be part of this event and travelled to Melbourne for the launch by Marcie Jones whose group, The Cookies, toured with the Monkees.

Afterward I reflected how my teenage passion for the Monkees could be projected into a character, using current technology and devices. For example, my scrapbook would probably be finessed into a slide show album on a phone. Fanfic may well be posted on one of the many such sites online.

When faced with such a task, you need to go beyond what happened to how you felt and responded. Recreate as many aspects of your feelings as you can. Pay attention to how your body felt and what you did physically in response to the event. Fight or flight responses aren’t the only ways we deal with fear, anger, love and the like. How do you know you’re afraid? Some people run toward their fears, others hide or become angry. What do/did you do? Next time you’re in an emotional situation, stop and ask yourself what’s going on in your mind and body. You’ll have far more resources to use when you want to place a character in emotional turmoil. Waste not, want not.

Now it’s your turn. Are there words of wisdom you remember from childhood? How do you identify emotions you can pass on to your characters? Share your thoughts in the comment box below. The blog is moderated to avoid spam but your post can appear right away if you click on “sign me up” at right. I don’t share your details with anyone.

Happy writing,

Valerie

On Twitter @valerieparv and Facebook

www.valerieparv.com

 

Join Valerie for her new workshop:

Romance Writing Rebooted
Canberra Writers Centre

Saturday 27 October 2018

You can also check out Valerie’s online course,

Free The Writer in You

http://www.valerieparv.com/course.html

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First Monday Mentoring July 2018 – What’s changed in romance writing?

In life nothing stands still, not even in a genre as well established as romance writing. The changes may happen slowly but they do happen.

Many years ago at an Aussie sci-fi convention I met Kouichi from Japan, the fan guest of honour. I gave him a small gift in welcome and he gave me one in return. I soon learned that gifts are taken seriously in Japan and we’d be giving them for the next three decades.

He became my pen frendo and we exchanged many sci-fi and Star Trek books in our own languages, until I had a collection of books I could admire without understanding a word.  Authors are highly respected in Japan as I found when I sent Kouichi some signed copies of my Japanese translations and Manga, the graphic novels which have a huge following there. My status as a mangaka  was a pleasant surprise.

One of my Japanese translations

After a time I felt free to ask Kouichi what Japanese women enjoyed in contemporary romance novels. The appeal turned out to be the same as for readers around the world. They were uplifting stories that ended happily, in contrast to much Japanese fiction which ends tragically, the reason Japanese readers call we romance writers “happy ending ladies.”

These elements haven’t changed, but other aspects have. Love scenes that once ended at the bedroom door have morphed into the sex scenes of Fifty Shades. Many readers still like sweet romances but options vary widely now.

Length is another big change. My first category romance novels ran to 60,000 words. Even my romantic suspense novels which once were 80,000 words or more now stop around 60,000. Novellas were mostly only found in anthologies. The advent of ebooks and limited reading time has brought shorter novels and novellas into their own.

Graphic novels have taken off in English, too. Recently US book chain Barnes & Noble announced plans to create a dedicated division of graphic novels for children and pre teens.

Content has changed, for the better IMO. Category romance once paired innocent younger women with worldly wise men, the latter often arrogant and forceful. The two worked love’s magic on each other but took time, with much of the power on the man’s side. From the start I’ve preferred more equal pairings with all lovemaking clearly consensual on both sides. I also routinely make secondary characters female, especially doctors, lawyers and the like, so the authority world wasn’t seen as exclusively male. The so-called doctor-nurse romances have become medical romances where either or both characters can be doctors and again, the match is more even-handed.

There’s less of the travelogue in modern romances. Pre Google, readers enjoyed vicarious visits to exotic locales and different cultures. Today most of us have either visited or can visualise a stately home in Britain, a castle in Spain or a Sheikh’s kingdom. The focus is more on the relationship with a few background details adding spice.

Structure has changed in other ways beyond length. With many books being read on phones or other devices, paragraphs and chapters are generally shorter to avoid confronting readers with a solid screen of text. Writers do well to dive into the story at a point of change for the characters, avoiding rambling descriptions or people chatting to their dog or cat.

I remember being told I shouldn’t start a book with a line of dialogue. Lucky for me, I’ve never believed in “rules” for writing – only what works for the writer. I still start with dialogue provided it works for the story.

Dual or multiple viewpoint has also become a thing. Once the whole book would be told from the heroine’s viewpoint, with the hero’s thoughts only shared through guesswork which was often wrong. This kept story tension high but frustrated me – and many readers. When I ventured into dual viewpoint storytelling, sales spoke for themselves.

Likewise, publishers avoided cross-genre stories such as fantasy and romance, sci-fi and suspense with a romantic edge. Today with so many indie writers publishing their own work, almost any mix is possible provided you do it well enough.

What hasn’t changed is the need for emotion-charged, unpredictable stories where both characters have to work for their happy-ever-after, or as it’s become, happy-for-now, with Mr or Mrs Right becoming Right-for-the-moment. We still want them to find their perfect match, as we hope to find our own, the popularity of shows like The Bachelor and Bachelorette proving the point.

Do you still enjoy happy-ever-after stories as a writer, reader or both? Share your thoughts in the comment box below. The blog is moderated to avoid spam but your post can appear right away if you click on “sign me up” at right. I don’t share your details with anyone.

Happy writing,

Valerie

On Twitter @valerieparv and Facebook

www.valerieparv.com

For more like this check out Valerie’s online course,

Free The Writer in You

http://www.valerieparv.com/course.html

 

First Monday Mentoring June 2018 – more ways to unblock your writing

Over the last two Monday Mentoring blogs, I’ve explored two sides of the same coin – how do you generate ideas when your mind is blank, and how do you get your muse to show up reliably.

Recently an American Facebook friend and reader of this blog, Marion, said her muse had been MIA for ages, and she was thinking of firing her. Eating chocolate cake was mentioned as an alternative to writing.

I reminded her of the need to be kind to your muse, really your creative inner self. Instead of firing her, I recommended sharing the chocolate cake with Musie, as Marion calls her.

Not a good idea to leave Muse out of the fun

As an aside, I like that she gave Musie an identity, bringing her to life. Another writer calls her muse Rafe, a name that sounds darkly handsome and heroic, the ideal inspiration for a writer of romance novels.

Musie sounds like fun, someone you can hang out and play with – and share chocolate cake. I’m also curious about the name being one letter away from Music because Marion is a talented musician who plays regularly at historical recreation events. Perhaps Musie/Music serves a dual role in Marion’s creative life.

Well, she was smart enough to go with the notion, “sharing” the chocolate cake with Musie. The two of them not only reconnected, but Marion was sufficiently inspired to make progress with her current writing project.

She says Musie still isn’t talking but has hinted that maybe the heroine knows – and can’t stand – the hero because of something that happened in the past. This creates tension and puzzles the hero who is too busy worrying about the safety of his daughter to wonder about the heroine’s concerns. Some of these ideas were already in train when Marion sat down with Musie. But Marion had seen herself as stuck and, as many of us do, blamed the muse for being uncooperative.

 

Muse loves playing games

As a certain sci-fi villain says, resistance is futile. Being tough on your muse is the least likely way to gain their help. Most people including musae* resist being forced to do anything, or else we do it grudgingly and not give it our best.  *Marion tells me this is the plural of muse

If you want your muse – the creative part of your subconscious mind – to deliver exciting and challenging ideas you can work up into stories, it helps to be gentle. A slice of cake doesn’t hurt, either. Here are some more ways you can encourage your muse to cooperate:

Change how you work

If you usually work on a screen, try writing notes on a clipboard, a tablet or in an exercise book. You can use different backgrounds to suit the story mood – pink for romance, blue for sci-fi, green for something environmental, for example.

Change your approach

Take the pressure off by recording your thoughts. Phrase the content any old way; talking as if to a friend. If recording makes you self-conscious, and I confess it does for me, you might write in the form of a letter, a Facebook post or a series of tweets. Writing in point form helps me. As I work, the points become longer and longer until I’m adding bits of dialogue and description, and before long I’m flying.

Change your location

Writing in a different place can give your muse a fresh start. Last month we talked about working in a coffee shop, but how about in a different room at home, at the beach or in a beautiful park? You don’t need perfect surroundings. Sometimes your creative right brain prefers a familiar place where your critical left brain feels relaxed and comfortable.

Write your thoughts down

This beats staring into space and can help you visualize the material more clearly. Write something like, “This project is a (book, article, novella) about…” and fill in whatever details you have. Ramble on; explore the topic however it comes. When it starts to catch fire, you can switch to a more convenient format.

Change your point of view

If you’ve been focusing on the hero and heroine, switch to the villain’s point of view. Write a scene where he/she is watching the good guys and plotting mayhem. Remember, we are all heroes of our own stories. Your villain feels justified in whatever they plan, believing that the good guys deserve what they get. This can be refreshing to you and your muse, with the bonus of ensuring you develop your bad guys as completely as your heroes.

Choose the options that work best for you, and enjoy the process.

If you try any of these approaches, please share the results with us in the comments below. The blog is moderated to avoid spam but your post can appear right away if you click on ‘sign me up’ at right. I don’t share your details with anyone.

Happy writing,

Valerie

on Twitter @ValerieParv and Facebook

For more like this check out Valerie’s online course,

Free The Writer in You

http://www.valerieparv.com/course.html

First Monday Mentoring February 2018 – give your writing a Valentine!

As a romance writer I’ve spent many a Valentine’s Day doing press, TV and radio interviews. Once I was involved in the whole 7 Sunrise weather, each half-hourly cross coming back to see what we were up to. Having a mischievous mind, I dreamed up a romance novel plot using all the presenters on the show as characters. This was true “flying by the seat of one’s pants” as I had no idea beforehand, what they were likely to want.

Another Valentine’s Day was with Denise Drysdale and Ernie Sigley on his show, talking about aphrodisiacs and whether canned oysters were as effective as fresh ones. FYI they’re not. We only used canned ones because fresh oysters and scorching TV lights are not a good mix.

One Valentine’s week, I was away on tour for my nonfiction book on real-life romance, I’ll Have What She’s Having. Since I’d be away from my own romantic hero, I arranged to have a Valentine’s card delivered to him every day until I got back. Gotta practice what you preach!

So how does this fit in with your writing? Whether you write romance novels or other forms of fiction, relationships are bound to be in there somewhere, even if they’re not the focus of the story. I’ve taken four elements out of I’ll Have What She’s Having, adapted for writers.

  1. With love goes respect

You can’t have a relationship, far less write about one, without this crucial element. And respect applies not only to the characters you bring together but also to your readers. Writing tongue-in-cheek always shows on the page. I’ve lost count of the writers who’ve told me they’re going to write a romance because they need to make some easy money. I don’t try to dissuade them, figuring they’ll find out soon enough. Some of the most demanding editors I’ve known have been in the romance genre.

  1. Let your lovers work out their own problems

Just as the best lines and scenes should go to the stars in a film or TV show, your characters should solve their own problems, whether romantic or otherwise. It’s a cop-out to have a wise old figure give the characters the advice they need to resolve their conflicts. Just as in real life, you don’t want the in-laws telling you what you should do, it’s better to have your literary stars arrive at their own solutions and really earn their happy-ever-after.

  1. Don’t make your characters read minds

Just as we shouldn’t expect a partner to know that we love them unless we say the actual words, we shouldn’t expect characters or readers to read minds. If your character is afraid of heights, show it early in the story, so later when he’s goaded to the top of a cliff, we’ll understand his fear. The reader can only go by what you put on the page, not what’s in your mind.

As writers we know where the plot twists are, and how and why everything comes together at the end…well, most of it, anyway. Sometimes we surprise even ourselves. But the key elements of the story need to be planted well before they’re needed- a process known as foreshadowing. If your character can click the heels of their magic red shoes to get back home, you’d better mention how they acquire the shoes long before the story climax. Be subtle so we don’t pay much attention at the time. In one of my sci-fi novels, Beacon Homeworld, the hero finds a black spot where his cell phone doesn’t work many chapters before he needs that black spot to resolve a big dilemma. Be sneaky in foreshadowing the elements you’ll need later on even if you have to go back and plant the details, but play fair. Make sure everything the character (and reader) needs is foreshadowed well in advance.

And finally…

  1. Send your favourite author a Valentine

These days it’s easy to connect with authors on social media. Most have a Facebook page or a Twitter or other account. If you liked their book, go online and let them know. Obviously sales are a good indicator, but it means a lot to a writer to hear that a character moved you emotionally, changed your thinking  or gave you comfort at a bad time in your life. Of course, the best Valentine to give a writer is a good review on Amazon or Goodreads. They need not be long or literary. A sentence or two of honest appreciation is fine. Authors have bad days and struggles too. Your review might be the difference between them giving up or continuing to write.

What’s your Valentine’s Day writing tip? Would you rather spend the day reading or writing? Please share with us in the comments below. The blog is moderated to avoid spam but your post can appear right away if you click on ‘sign me up’ at right. I don’t share your details with anyone.

Happy Valentine’s Day and happy writing,

Valerie

on Twitter @ValerieParv and Facebook (come say hello!)

Valerie’s Beacon sci-fi series out now!
Beacon Starfound OUT NOW
Beacon Earthbound OUT NOW
Beacon Continuum OUT NOW
Beacon Homeworld OUT JUNE 30

via Amazon.com.au Amazon.com & Amazon.co.uk – also via
Barnes and Noble (Nook devices)

Google Play (All devices except Kindle)

iBooks Store (iPhone, iPad, iPod touch, Mac)

 

 

First Monday Mentoring January – one way to help your writing in 2018

When you start out as a writer – and even after you’re established, you’re bombarded with more advice than you can possibly use. At conferences and workshops you’ll hear about the ‘rules’ of writing. If you’re in a critique group, every member will have a different take on your work.

Many books on writing give conflicting advice on how best to tell your story, manage your career and handle social media. No wonder many writers end up confused, or worse, change the writing until it’s hardly recognizable as theirs.

On this blog you’ve read my belief that there is no one way to write, only what works for you as a writer. I recommend trying various methods to see what you’re comfortable with. Experiment with different writing times and places. Some writers work well in cafes away from other demands. Others prefer a dedicated writing space at home. Again, go with whatever works for you.

The one piece of advice I seldom hear or read is probably key – trust yourself.

Learn your craft and keep up to date, but above all listen to the small voice in your head struggling to be heard over  the clamor coming at you.

Share your work with a group if you like, but decide for yourself which suggestions to take on board. Where are the suggestions coming from? Are they from editors or agents who’ve been in the publishing business for years? Or are they from writers at the same stage as yourself?  Worst of all, are they from those who find it easier to criticize than to write?

Believe me, there are plenty of wannabes eager to undermine your confidence. And you also know from this blog that in writers, self-confidence is already in very short supply.

Over the dozen years I’ve mentored emerging writers through Romance Writers of Australia’s Valerie Parv Award, the greatest compliment I’ve been given is that I encourage my minions, as they call themselves, to develop their own voices. Every suggestion from me is offered on the basis that they should use what they like and discard the rest.

Unlike writers, kittens are born knowing what advice to ignore.

Many years ago my London editor suggested a different way some aspect of my story might go. I agreed, saying that I’d considered this approach but hadn’t gone with it. The editor then asked, “How often do you follow your own instincts when you write?”

Food for thought indeed. Truth to tell, sometimes I’d gone with what I thought the editor would like, rather than what I felt was right for the story. From then on I resolved to trust my instincts and write what worked for the book. It’s a course I recommend to any writer.

Last year I worked with the talented Joel Naoum, then publisher of the digital arm of Pan Macmillan, as he steered my Beacons sci-fi series through to publication. Every editorial suggestion came with the assurance that I could veto anything not working for me and my stories.

Even then I had to constantly remind myself that I had the final word, and really consider how each suggested edit would best serve the books. The result is a series I’m very proud of. The five Beacons books and two novellas are my stories told in my voice, with the added benefit of other eyes to see where aspects could be improved. Without doubt  it was one of the best publishing experiences of my career and I wish Joel much success in his Critical Mass consulting service for authors and publishers

Even if the people you invite to comment on your work persist in wanting you to make changes, always give yourself the right of veto. Carefully consider their suggestions then decide for yourself which ones best serve your book.

Take ego out of the equation. Look at the writing as objectively as you can. This is why writers are advised to put the work aside for a time after completion, so you can come back to it with fresh eyes.

Then consider how the changes will benefit your book. Try to pin down what is being asked of you. Is it to streamline the ‘through story’; strengthen characters; make the writing tighter? Every one has merit, and few writers get all of the elements together in early drafts. When you work out what needs doing and why, is there a better way to achieve these goals while staying true to your voice and vision? A good editor should be more than happy to let you fix a perceived problem your way.

This New Year make one of your resolutions to trust yourself as a writer. You won’t regret it.

How do you deal with comments on your writing. Please share with us in the comment box below. The blog is moderated to avoid spam but your post can appear right away if you click on ‘sign me up’ at right. I don’t share your details with anyone.

Happy New Year and happy writing…and trusting yourself.

Valerie

on Twitter @ValerieParv and Facebook

I am honoured to be appointed Australia Day Ambassador 2018

to the Gundagai NSW community.

Look for Valerie’s ‘Desert Justice’ in ‘Her Hot Desert Fantasy’ anthology,

Dec 2017 on Amazon.com as well as K-Mart and Big W.

Find my Beacons sci-fi series –

Beacon Birthright, Beacon Starfound
Beacon Earthbound,Beacon Continuum
Beacon Homeworld
via Amazon.com.au Amazon.com & Amazon.co.uk – also via
Barnes and Noble (Nook devices)

Google Play (All devices except Kindle)

iBooks Store (iPhone, iPad, iPod touch, Mac)

First Monday Mentoring Dec 2017 – writing needs the gift of time

We’re all time poor. What free time we once had is now eaten up by social media, online activities and binge-watching TV series. Admittedly these are choices we make, but so much of life is lived digitally now that even restricting yourself won’t free up a great deal more time.

Yet as writers, we need time to think, to play with ideas – what if my character does this or that? As I say in The Art of Romance Writing, writers are working when we’re staring out of windows.

Last week someone posted on Facebook that writers “must write every day.” Past Valerie Parv Award winner, Erica Hayes, bounced back with, “Write when you can. We’re not in prison.”

I agree. Having made a living with words since my twenties, I know life doesn’t let you write every day and you’re not a failure if you don’t.

National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) finished last week. Now international, NaNoWriMo considers you a “winner” if you produce 50,000 words during November.

The worldwide success of NaNoWriMo shows that the challenge suits many writers. For others like me, it’s their idea of a nightmare. No surprises here. In a high school English class we were assigned to write a story on a set topic during the period. Most students immediately launched themselves into writing while I stared into space, dreaming up my story content.

Ten minutes from the end of the class I started writing. By then I knew who my characters were and what they were all about. I couldn’t have started writing any sooner. I still can’t. I started out as what’s called a plotter, the opposite of a pantser, writers who start putting words down before they know where they’re going. Over time and some 90 books I’ve morphed into a combination of both, plotting a little less and writing sooner while trusting my characters to help me fill in the gaps.

I still need thinking time.

A trip to America a month ago was not supposed to be work. On every flight card under “purpose of travel” I happily ticked vacation. My muse had other ideas.

In Honolulu, I soon found myself up early at the desk in my hotel room, scribbling many pages of notes for a new novel. A few pages in, I glanced out the window to the Royal Hawai’ian Hotel and Waikiki Beach beyond. Even they couldn’t distract me from the story unfolding in my mind. It’s still revealing itself to me as I write this blog back in Oz.

Yet if someone had told me I must write every day of that vacation, I doubt my muse would have co-operated. Even muses need to get out and play sometimes. Last month I wrote about filling the creative well, exposing yourself to new experiences. In Hawai’i I realised  that’s what I’d been doing in Houston.

While I laughed, talked my head off and explored with my BFFs Sherry and Laura, my muse was soaking up new input. None of it was related to the new book, and yet it was. Had I not given my brain time out to admire astronauts and butterflies, my muse may not have connected the mental dots that led to the new idea.

And when all the note taking and scribbling was done, Waikiki was still waiting.

How do you treat your muse – as a mouse on a treadmill, or a fragile resource? Do ideas come to you when you think you’re goofing off? Please share your thoughts in the box below. It’s moderated to avoid spam but your comments can appear right away if you click “sign me up” at right. I don’t share your details with anyone.

Have a happy festive season however you traditionally celebrate, and enjoy your writing in the year ahead.

Valerie

on Twitter @ValerieParv and Facebook

I am honoured to be appointed

Australia Day Ambassador 2017

to the Gundagai NSW community

First Monday Mentoring Nov – how do writers fill the creative well?

Last month I blogged about the importance to your professional development of attending writing conferences and festivals. Today I’m talking about another aspect I call “filling the well.”

How do writers find new things to write about? It helps to be interested in a wide range of subjects, not only those of personal concern but appealing to the world at large. My family calls me a “mine of useless information”, though it comes in handy at trivia nights, because I’ve researched such a wide variety of topics from opal mining to space shuttle operation.

You can combine your conference attendances with rambling research either related to your current writing project, or simply because it’s there.

In my book, The Idea Factory, I called these absorption trips, a name coined by screenwriter, William Goldberg, who suggests you become a sponge, soaking up input wherever you go. Almost any experience can be turned into an absorption trip, from dentist visits to shopping trips. Train yourself to see not only what’s there, but what could be there. What if your dentist is making a fortune through selling illegally plundered gold teeth? If you use this idea, best not use your real dentist’s name to protect the innocent.

When visiting new towns and cities, explore the local businesses, talk to the locals and learn as much as you can about their lives and why they do what they do. Tell them you’re a writer so they don’t think you’re just nosy. Most people I’ve met are flattered by sincere attention.

I’ve also developed many story ideas from reading journals I don’t normally see. Flying to a writing conference in Brisbane not long ago, I was leafing through the in flight magazine, fascinated by a reference to an Irish town as a “thin place” where the boundaries between the real and the supernatural are easily breached. Tantalising as that concept is, I won’t write about it because any writer seeing that reference will feel the same.

Stories “plucked from the headlines” need to be written quickly or not at all, before another questing mind can beat you to it. Many writers believe their ideas have been “stolen” when the truth is, we are all exposed to much the same creative influences. Years ago I indulged my passion for sci-fi by creating a romance hero who might have arrived by UFO. While the book, The Leopard Tree, was in production, I read a review of another book where the hero…you guessed it. There’s no copyright on ideas, only in how they are developed by the writer.

Best-selling novelist, Dean Koontz, said in an interview that he advised writers to do two things. The first is to write, write, write. Concentrate on developing your writing craft to the highest calibre you can. The second is to read, read, read. Koontz says the more you broaden your interests as a reader, the more you broaden your talent as a writer.

He says you should read a book first as a reader, then analyse it to discover the “nuts and bolts with which the story is built.”  As you make the effort your subconscious “will make all sorts of associations and connections, and over time it will give you the critical understanding you are seeking.”

Researching facts is best done through Google and similar resources. Your absorption trips supply the bits you can’t research – the sights, sounds and even smells of a new place or setting, and the accents, clothes and attitudes of the people you meet. Not only will these details fill your creative well with new ideas, they will add a richness to your writing that you can’t get any other way.

Recently I explored some wonderful new places in the USA including a magical Butterfly House and a tour of the Johnson Space Centre, Houston. Tax deductible because it’s research, My story and I’m sticking to it.

How do you find your new insights and stories? Have any of your travels resulted in ideas that excited you enough to write about them? Please share your thoughts and experiences in the comment box below. They’re moderated to avoid spam but your posts go up right away if you  click “sign me up” at right. I don’t share your details with anyone.

Happy writing,

Valerie

on Twitter @ValerieParv and Facebook

Masterclass  Canberra, Australia : 18 November  Romance Writing Re-imagined  ACT Writers Centre  https://www.eventbrite.com/e/romance-writing-re-imagined-with-valerie-parv-tickets-35421113504?aff=Valerie 

 

 

 

 

 

 

First Monday Mentoring Oct – what writing festivals do for you

Money’s tight and living costs keep rising, I get that. Plus writing has never been a profession to make easy money. But recently I hear a lot about how expensive it is to attend writing conferences and festivals, many writers saying they can’t justify the expense.

My response is how can you not justify the expense? Perhaps you have a day job and it’s hard to get the time off. Yet writers whose time is flexible still resent the cost and time to attend these events.

Most professions require continued education. Why should writing be any different? In my long career I’ve had millions of words published in a variety of genres and translations but there’s always more to learn. Attending conferences and festivals lets me monitor changes in publishing, book marketing, indie publishing, and the fast-spinning world of social media. I’m also interested in other writers’ experiences. Not everything you hear at conferences and festivals shows up on social media.

The personal interactions are invaluable. We work alone a lot of the time. Getting out and “peopling” as a colleague puts it, not only renews friendships, but lets us discuss aspects of craft that don’t fit into a Facebook post or tweet.

I was reminded of these benefits at the recent Canberra Writers Festival where my agent, Linda Tate, and I presented a session at the National Library of Australia on how we work together, subtitled “how not to be screwed in 21st century publishing.”

Agent Linda Tate (left) and me with my books at the National Library of Australia before our presentation

Even savvy writers can be screwed in everything from contracts to options, advances and royalties. Before Linda became my agent twenty-plus years ago, I dodged a few bullets myself. And I can tell you, it makes a huge difference having someone else track those bullets, freeing me to focus on the writing.

As an indie, you can screw yourself unintentionally in the many details you must cover on your own account. An example is buying ISBN numbers (International Standard Book Numbers) your book’s ID in the reading world. Buying your ISBN numbers from, say, CreateSpace, can mean they are identified as the publisher instead of you. There’s a comprehensive article on ISBNs at the Self Publishing Advice Centre  http://tinyurl.com/yc92hqdx This is just one of many pitfalls indies have to negotiate.

As Linda and I are based in different capital cities, preparing our session, presenting it and sharing the success afterward were benefits of being on the festival program. We outlined how we work together, very differently from most author-agent relationships.  Her background is in the entertainment industry, so she isn’t inclined to submit books then wait months to hear back. Instead, she paves the submission’s way with the editor then calls to see how they’re enjoying the read.

Signing one of my books at the Canberra Festival

Whether you’re traditionally or indie published, if you have an agent and they aren’t keeping up, maybe check with them about new ways you can interact. If you don’t have an agent and want one, ask them to detail how their approach can be tweaked to better serve your books.

Like conferences and festivals, agents come with a cost. However a good agent not only recoups their commission in the deals they make, but the relationship should be more beneficial overall.

Here I need to address the “it’s all right for you” syndrome. Successful authors are supposed to take in stride the cost of attending writing events. Generally we do for the benefits described here, but bear in mind that every successful author started with a first book, building our brand steadily over many years. While nothing beats writing the best book you can,  mixing with writing professionals help us achieve our success, not the other way around.

As a writer do you attend festivals and writing conferences? Please share your thoughts and experiences in the comment box below. They’re moderated to avoid spam but your posts go up right away if you subscribe – click “sign me up” at right. I don’t share your details with anyone.

Happy writing,

Valerie

on Twitter @ValerieParv and Facebook

Workshop Townsville : 7 October  Story Magic Townsville Writers & Publishers Centre https://townsvilletickets.com.au/event/story-magic-with-valerie-parv-5096

Masterclass  Canberra : 18 November  Romance Writing Re-imagined  ACT Writers Centre  https://www.eventbrite.com/e/romance-writing-re-imagined-with-valerie-parv-tickets-35421113504?aff=Valerie 

First Monday Mentoring Sept 2017 – are you the next Valerie Parv Award writing winner

The Romance Writers of Australia national conference is done for another year, and with it the crowning of the latest Valerie Parv Award winner for 2017. She is Joanna Nell whose entry, The Unmentionables, deals with life and love in later years. I’ll be mentoring Joanna during the year of her award.

Joanna is the newest of my minions – the name past winners chose for themselves. They keep in touch, share their achievements, and we hold our annual Minions’ Breakfast at conference each year. Tiaras are worn and Joanna received hers at the RWA annual conference in Brisbane recently.

Judging and presenting this award is an exciting challenge and an honour. Thanks Romance Writers of Australia and Romance Writers of America’s former Australian Chapter where the award began.

As I read the short list I am very aware of the commitment behind every one. I know it’s a cliché but I see every finalist as a winner. You’ve shown you can write a book to suit your chosen market, and you’ve met the contest deadline.

Reaching the finals means your work has something special. I write an appraisal of every final entry to encourage you to keep striving. Minion achievements include everything from RWA’s Romantic Book of the year, to Romance Writers of America RITA awards for published books, and Golden Heart for unpublished. Minions regularly grace the Australian Romance Readers Awards , the USA Today and other bestseller lists and in one case, get reviewed by the Wall Street Journal.

Congratulations to JOANNA NELL (left)
Valerie Parv Award Winner for 2017

Winners’ books are published by all the major publishing houses here and internationally and their readers number in the millions. You can see who they are on the VPA Hall of Fame at www.valerieparv.com/vpa.html

Entries needn’t be exclusively romance. This year’s finalists included a Regency-set historical with a heroine posing as a pirate; my first-ever heroine specialising in dung-beetle reproduction; a beautifully-handled disabled heroine; a runaway bride and a reunion romance with a cranky heroine. Plus of course, Joanna Nell’s topical romance in later years.

So how do you become the next VPA minion? I take four aspects into account.

  1. You need to write from the heart

Every highly placed entry over the last 18 years has been a labour of love – and it shows. The writer has written a story s/he’s passionate about and can’t wait to share with readers. They aren’t always perfectly written, but they have compelling characters we care about from the beginning.

  1. You need a touch of originality

You don’t have to break the mould with a defrocked nun or a Playboy model character, although we have had a cross-dressing Regency hero, a gnome kidnapping conspiracy, and fairies on crack among past winners. If two entries vie for the top prize, I tend to favour the more original. Yes, there are conventions in every genre, such as the happy-ever-after in romance and the dead body in a mystery, but there should be something that transcends genre, giving us story we haven’t read before.

  1. You need to be a storyteller

I don’t use a score sheet to judge the final entries. I’m more interested in whether you give me a strong opening, a story that comes to life right away, and people I can care about and want to see succeed against the odds. I’m happy to read in any setting or time period and will forgive a few mistakes as long as you tell a gripping story. This doesn’t mean ignoring grammar or spelling, but they can be fixed. It’s far harder to fix a lifeless story.

  1. You know where you want the book to go

The winner can pick my brains, share questions and concerns, and have me critique work as we go along. I read with an editorial eye, helping the author to spot issues they may have missed through being too close to the work. The one thing I don’t do is alter the author’s voice. Ultimately, this is your story told in your unique way.

Finally there’s the X-Factor. Call it natural talent, star quality or the X-factor, it’s the extra something readers recognise as soon as they see it. The moment I start reading I know when the writer’s voice has the power to lift the hairs on the back of my neck. The book may not be the one I want to choose as the winner, but the choice will be inescapable.

Does your story have these qualities? The Valerie Parv Award 2018 opens on April 9 and closes on April 30, 2017. Details at http://tinyurl.com/y74gar78  Have you entered previously, or plan to next year? Share your thoughts here. The blog is moderated to avoid spam but your comments can appear right away if you click “sign me up” at right. I don’t share your details with anyone.

Happy writing!

Valerie

STORY MAGIC WORKSHOP, TOWNSVILLE

Valerie will present her Story Magic Workshop in Townsville, Queensland
on Saturday October 7
Valerie will also attend a Romantic High Tea on Sunday, October 8
Contact the
Townsville Writers and Publishers Centre

on Twitter @ValerieParv and Facebook

Valerie’s book, Outback Code, is out now

3 books complete in one volume

For international orders, print & ebook formats,

Booktopia http://tinyurl.com/hj3477e

From Amazon for Kindle http://tinyurl.com/hxmmqsk

First Monday Mentoring for June – should you write a book you don’t love?

Welcome to First Monday when I open this blog to discuss what it’s really like to be a writer – not the glamour stuff but the inside track on the fears, the struggles and yes, the joys of writing.

This week a writer told me she’d sold “the book of her heart.” Naturally I was delighted but curious – what was meant by “the book of her heart?”

Turns out it’s a cross-genre book about characters who’d haunted her for years, not the kind usually sought by publishers but one she desperately wanted to write, even if no-one loved it but her. She’d come close to publishing the book herself but didn’t have the cash and time to invest in the work.

That led to me to asking if she would ever write a book she didn’t love. After a long pause she said, “Almost all the time,” adding that she’d started out reluctantly, but had fallen in love with the story along the way.

This suggests you can start writing with your head rather than your heart. “Exactly,” she agreed. “I can’t afford to wait for the muse to strike. Sometimes I have to write first and the love comes later.”

And if it doesn’t? “Something else will,” she said.

With 90 books written over many years, there have been stories I couldn’t wait to tell, when the words flowed like warm honey. Others were like pulling teeth, needing many rewrites to make them work. And then there was the book on plumbing.

I’ve always treated my writing as a business, proposing book ideas to publishers who contracted me to write quite a few. At other times an editor would like my proposal but have another book they wanted me to write instead. Hence how to do your own plumbing.

First of all, technically you need a qualified plumber even to change a tap washer. Plus I had zero interest in water hammer, grease traps and septic tanks. But I’d signed a contract and I researched and wrote the best book I could, having a plumber friend vet it before submission.

Pleased as I was to have delivered the book as promised, that project made me determined to find a way to write books that I could also put my heart into.

Without the plumbing book, I might not have discovered romance novels.

I’ve always been a romantic at heart, but the plumbing book empowered me to try something new. Fifty romance and romantic suspense novels later working with editors in London, Toronto and New York, I’d become known as Australian’s “queen of romance” with translations in dozens of languages including Icelandic and Manga – Japanese graphic novels. And the only how-to books I’ve written since are on the writing craft, such as The Art of Romance Writing with editions in print with Allen & Unwin since 1993.

My muse, the wonderful actor, writer and philanthropist, William Shatner, says he believes in saying “yes” to everything. This has led him to amazing opportunities from motivating the astronauts on the International Space Station, to designing his own futuristic motor cycle. At age eighty-six he’s still the busiest man on the planet.

William Shatner recommends saying “yes” to everything

Saying “yes” to everything sometimes means writing about plumbing, but can also mean creating a sci-fi series that gave me one of the best experiences of my writing life. Google “Parv Beacons” if you’re curious.

My next “yes” is to collaborate with the talented Dr. Anita Heiss on a novel, something neither of us has done before. Who knows where that will lead?

What will your next “yes” be?

Here are three ways you can learn to love any writing project:

  1. Take pride in stretching yourself creatively. Find something to love, even if it’s the income from doing the work. How might that fund a project you really want to tackle?
  2. Use all writing as a learning experience. From writing advertising copy, I learned how to inspire readers to act on my words. From scriptwriting – how to tell a story in dialogue and action. From my nonfiction books on writing – not only what works but why, broadening my own understanding of the craft.
  3. Be open to writing many different things. Some will be fun, others not so. Learn something new from every project, even if it’s that you don’t want to spend your life writing about plumbing.

What people or projects have inspired your writing? Have you loved some writing and not others? Please share your experiences here. The blog is moderated to avoid spam but your comments can appear right away if you click “sign me up” at right. I don’t share your details with anyone.

Happy writing!

Valerie

on Twitter @ValerieParv and Facebook

Valerie’s latest book, Outback Code, is out now

3 books complete in one volume

For international orders, print & ebook formats,

Booktopia http://tinyurl.com/hj3477e

From Amazon for Kindle http://tinyurl.com/hxmmqsk

 

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