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First Monday Mentoring August 2016 – What writing gifts will you share with your readers?

Welcome to First Monday Mentoring, when I answer your questions about the writing craft and look at the realities of being a writer.

This month’s blog was inspired by two things – meeting a new baby in my adopted family, and some exciting reprints of my books. How do they go together? Well, the books are my babies, the legacy I’ll leave to the future, not least through the ongoing collection of my literary papers by the State Library of New South Wales.

Amelia baby 2

Meeting my gorgeous new rent-a-grandkid

Seeing my older books reprinted and in new languages – the latest being Chinese and Lithuanian  – tell me my stories still resonate with readers decades on. What will your books leave? Will you have written them or kept them in your mind or computer, unshared, all that inspiration lost forever? Because make no mistake, when you write, you inspire others. You show them how the world might be instead of how it truly is.

Given how bad things are in parts of the world right now, any shred of inspiration is badly needed. Despite being so often belittled, romance novels play a key role. My first, Love’s Greatest Gamble (1982), dealt with the aftermath of a family member having PTSD. It wasn’t known by that name then and the effects even less understood. You came back from a war and got on with it, burying your struggles in alcohol or – in the case of my heroine’s late husband – gambling. She was left to deal with the fallout and the huge debts left to a powerful man.

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My novels have also dealt with miscarriage, adoption, self-image, eating disorders, and a very current issue, domestic violence. The book, Man Shy, was challenging to write while keeping  a balance between the issue and the love story. At one point, I almost gave up but my editor encouraged me to continue, and the book has been reprinted in any number of languages.

If you want to write about  a serious problem, you must take it seriously. Before writing about the heroine’s miscarriage, I researched widely and interviewed  friends who’d had the experience, in order to deal respectfully with what – to the mother – is the loss of their child. No trite dismissals or assurances it was “for the best” and “you can always have another.” One of my friends remembered her son’s would-have-been birthday for the rest of her life.

Another favourite is Man and Wife, where the heroine is a corporate maven ridiculed in the media for her clothing choices. No man goes through this. Furious, my heroine hired a man to be her “wife” and give her the same domestic back-up most businessmen enjoy. This connected with readers on so many levels, most telling me they needed a wife themselves. That he turned out to be her industrial rival made the story more fun, but the undercurrent of gender inequality in the corporate world lingers today. Man and Wife came out in 1984.

I’ve been published in book form for 40 years. One of my personal inspirations, Star Trek, debuted on American television 50 years ago this month. Why has that show endured when so many others have vanished without trace? Again, I believe it’s the inspiration the show provided. Star Trek’s creator, Gene Roddenberry, one of my writing mentors, dared to explore racial equality, gender roles, the morality of war, and many other issues – all in the guise of a science fiction show. The pre-CGI effects, cardboard sets and rubber-suited monsters were the best that 1960s television could do. But it was the careful thought behind the scripts (not all, but a significant number) that has kept the show relevant for half a century.

 

Every writer is asked where we get ideas. It occurs to me now that they may be asking about the substance behind the boy-meets-girl story. On August 9, I’ll explore this question via a Masterclass at the Canberra Writers’ Centre on how to blend our real-life experiences with fiction.  Click here for details. Only on writing this blog, do I see I’ve been doing this my whole career. My own struggles with weight, constantly moving house and being the new kid on the block and the like, form a subtext to much of my fiction.

My beacons science-fiction series published earlier this year by Momentum (Pan Macmillan) are new-kid-on-the block stories, except in the guise of aliens with strange powers, living among us. I didn’t set out to write that issue and only see it now, with hindsight. As it should be. Using stories to bludgeon readers over the head with issues doesn’t work. Instead, you take real people as your characters, figure out what they’re struggling with in their lives, and write that story. How they overcome their struggles is your plot, the inspiration being a by-product of their journey. The readers will “get it” as mine have for the last 40 years. As Star Trek fans like me have been “getting it” for 50 years.

Beacon Starfound3

What of yourself do you or will you give to your readers? I believe it’s why we need to tell stories, and why readers soak them up. We all need inspiration. If it’s not out there, maybe it’s inside you, waiting to be shared.

What do you think? What books have inspired you? What do you want to share? Your thoughts are welcome in the comment box below. They’re monitored to avoid spam, but your comment can appear right away if you click on “sign me up” at right. I don’t share your details with anyone.

Happy writing and inspiring others,

Valerie

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

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

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First Monday Mentoring for March 2015 – what passions drive your writing?

Welcome to First Monday Mentoring for March.

As most of the world knows by now, the American actor, Leonard Nimoy, died on Friday. By early Saturday morning Australian time, the hashtag #RIPLeonardNimoy was one of the top trending topics on Twitter and Facebook, and his likeness dominated the world media on and offline.

Even if you aren’t a Star Trek fan, you probably recognized him as Mr. Spock, the logical, pointed-eared Vulcan from Star Trek’s original series which premiered in the 1960s. After Trek, Nimoy starred in series including Mission Impossible and In Search of, and was also a notable stage performer, director, poet, photographer, philanthropist and family man.

Nimoy's last live convention appearance. Photo by Maria Jose Tenuto, used with thanks.

Nimoy’s last live convention appearance. Photo by Maria Jose Tenuto, used with thanks.

I knew him only slightly from my long involvement with the show when I helped organize conventions for fans, fund-raising to bring people from the show to Australia. Some, I’m still friends with today.

Writing eventually took me away from active fandom but my passion for Star Trek remained part of my life in many ways.

When I set up Australia’s first conference on romance writing, I brought Susan Sackett out to talk about the US market. The author of many Hollywood-related books, she co-wrote episodes of Star Trek the Next Generation and worked with Star Trek creator, Gene Roddenberry, for many years.

A younger me with Star Trek creator, Gene Roddenberry

A younger me with Star Trek creator, Gene Roddenberry

I considered Gene Roddenberry one of my writing mentors. The technique he used to create the character of Mr. Spock is one I still use and share with the writers I mentor. Gene said he drew a line down the centre of a page, writing his questions for Spock on the left-hand side and the character’s “answers” on the right.

He said the answers may seem forced at first, but if you persevere, the character starts speaking back to you, often surprising you with insights you didn’t know were lurking deep in your subconscious.

When I talked with him about writing for Star Trek, Gene recommended creating my own characters and their universe rather than limiting my options to Paramount Studio’s requirements. It was many years before I fully took this advice, creating my alien Beacons and a series of books starting with Birthright (Corvallis Press, USA).
Even then, Star Trek hovered around the Beacons, challenging me to create my own technology and “world” – not easy considering Trek has a fifty-year head start, showcasing technology which was unheard-of back then, but is commonplace today.

Technology was far from Star Trek’s only appeal for me. At heart I value the show’s inclusiveness and sense of wonder. The stories seek to understand and celebrate our differences, shown most clearly in the character of Mr. Spock. The message is – whoever you are is OK; women can be anything; alienness is to be understood not feared. I’m glad to say that we Trekkies appreciate this spirit even more 50 years on.

Previously I’ve blogged here about how William Shatner, Star Trek’s Captain Kirk, inspires my personal and professional life with his energy, enthusiasm and resilience into his eighties.

In my non-fiction book, The Idea Factory, (Allen & Unwin, Australia), I quote Leonard Nimoy on what he called the “goodies box” that actors – and I believe, writers – all have.

“You come into town with your box of goodies…that is you, and you start to use it and sell it and eventually the box of goodies gets used up, and then you must go back to something else to fill up the box with new goodies.”
Nimoy was describing the need for creative people to soak up input from as many sources as possible. Also called absorption trips, they can range from travelling, reading and watching movies, to meeting people outside your normal circle, whatever gives you fresh material to write about.

What is your passion? What fills your creative goodies box? Is it Star Trek or something completely different? Share your thoughts in the comment box below. They’re moderated to avoid spam, but if you want your comment to appear right away, click on “sign me up” at right. I don’t share your details with anyone else.

Vale Leonard Nimoy. And as Spock might say, live long and prosper in your creative work.

Valerie

http://www.valerieparv.com
on Twitter @valerieparv and Facebook
Check out Valerie’s online course, Free the Writer In You
At http://www.valerieparv.com/course.html

First Monday Mentoring for November – 3 spooky things characters do that smart writers allow

It’s First Monday again, when I open this blog to your thoughts and questions to do with any aspect of writing and publishing. With Halloween just over and even the Australian shops still full of treat-sized chocolate and witchy products, I’m looking at our characters, the weird things they do to us – and why it’s okay.

1. Characters spring surprises

Long ago, I learned that a good character takes on a life of their own. I’ll do all the preparatory work, know their hair and eye colour, and what they want from life. Then I’ll be writing a draft and that same character will quietly let drop that they have a sister, a pet dog or an unusual hobby I didn’t know about.

Experience has shown me that this is part of my mind telling me what the story will need later on. The sibling or the hobby will turn out to be a vital part of that character’s story. I leave it in place with a side notation to check it again at the editing stage, and keep writing. Almost always, that detail will be essential to the story development.

2. Characters talk to you
A fully realised character will have their own thoughts on their world. How do you find this out? By asking them.
I learned this method from Gene Roddenberry, creator of the Star Trek universe. He took a sheet of paper – it doesn’t work as well on a screen – and drew a vertical line down the middle, creating two blank columns. On the left-hand one he wrote a question he wanted to ask the character, then wrote the character’s answer in the right-hand column.

At first this will feel forced and you’ll be aware of playing both roles, but if you persist over however many pages it takes, a spooky thing happens. The character starts to answer in their own voice, giving you insights that you hadn’t considered. Or more accurately, weren’t aware of knowing.

This process isn’t metaphysical. It’s your own subconscious revealing itself through the character, but it feels as if you really are in touch with this person, and you’ll find out far more than their physical description. Sometimes “their” insights will astonish you.

Gene Roddenberry said he used this process to create the logical Vulcan, Mr. Spock, so it’s definitely worth a try.

One caveat – writing is hard work. It’s common for a minor character to insist that you write their story as well, and you may start to imagine a series featuring all these people. Whether or not this ever happens doesn’t matter. The competing ideas are your brain’s way of dodging the work ahead. Make notes on whatever comes up, then finish the current book.

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3. Characters know what they want
Woe betide the author who doesn’t listen. You’ll end up with cardboard-cut-out people who do your bidding but have no life of their own.

In my Beacons science-fiction series, my three main characters are all aliens living on Earth. Elaine Lovell is a Watcher who can see whatever she chooses, wherever it may be. Her day job is media psychic. Garrett Luken is the beacon’s Listener, a former US Air Force pilot, now a best-selling sci-fi writer. Adam Desai is the team’s Messenger, a scientific genius who doesn’t know his alien history until he meets the other two.

My romantic side wanted them all partnered by series end. Elaine was the easiest, and found herself a Hawai’ian multimillionaire. Adam could only ever love the capable governor Shana Akers, who is more than his match mentally and physically.

My problem child was Garrett, gorgeous, talented and single. In three books and two novellas, I tried matching him with several other characters and he’d have none of them. Naturally, the only woman he fell for was the one I’d considered the least likely.

No spoilers, but when Garrett did let this person into his life, I wondered why I hadn’t thought of her. He knew who he wanted; I just had to take notes.

There it is, three spooky ways your characters will – like Pinocchio – become real, if you let them. Now it’s over to you to share your experiences.

Comments are moderated to avoid spam, but if you want your post to appear right away, click on “sign me up” to subscribe. I don’t share your details with anyone. How do you develop characters? Do they talk back to you? How does it affect your writing?

Valerie

http://www.valerieparv.com
on Twitter @ValerieParv and Facebook
See the new cover of Valerie’s Beacons book, Birthright, at http://tinyurl.com/mxtmbx6

Check out Valerie’s online course, Free the Writer in You

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

First Monday Mentoring for July – 4 things to do after you write ‘the end’

It’s the first Monday in July, when I open this blog to your questions about writing. They can be on creative, craft or business matters. For starters, here’s a common question: what happens after you finish a book?

As I write this, I’m in the best possible place – at the end of a new book. Even more importantly, I’m at the end of a 300,000 word trilogy, my Beacons series for Corvallis Press, Oregon.

As of last night, all the tales have been told, the loose endings wrapped up, and the big finish I wanted for the series is definitely there.

Fittingly, it’s also just after the Fourth of July for my American friends. Although I’m in Australia, my book had fireworks and lots of celebration. As it should be. As suspense writer, Lawrence Block, put it in his excellent book, Writing the Novel from Plot to Print, no one brings your manuscript a squeaky toy, as they do when a baby is born. More often, you finish in a haze of exhaustion and surrounded by catch-up work screaming to be done.

Yet writing “the end” doesn’t mean the book is truly finished. There’s anything from a few months to a few years’ worth of work remaining. Sometimes a book is never done. Among the 83 books I’ve written, one still niggles because of a glitch in the opening chapter.
The title is among my most popular, although no reader has noticed the issue and I’ve had no emails, but the niggle bothers me to this day. I’m in good company. Hemingway was said to hang around the presses as a new book came off, wanting to make changes even at that stage.

celebrate everything

So what are the four things you need to do after writing the end?

1. Step away from the manuscript.
Perfect though it looks now, there will be flaws. Sometimes continuity issues, questions, typos, facts to check, and the writing to polish. Now is not the time. Bathed in the beatific glow of having written, we’re too close to the work to be objective. Give yourself all the time you can to separate yourself from the material, then put on your editor hat and revisit the work. You’ll be astonished what sneaked through in the interim.

2. Catch up with everything you neglected
I once asked the amazing Nora Roberts what she does between books. She told me she ploughs through all the tasks that piled up while she was writing, catches up with friends and family, then she wanders around the house, wondering what people do with their time when they don’t write. And she starts writing again.
I won’t depress you with how fast she goes through this cycle, but it’s obvious from the quantity and quality of her output. Some writers need more time between books than others. Take what you need, and start writing again only when you’re ready.

3. Get a life
William Shatner made this phrase famous when he did a comedy skit on Saturday Night Live, reminding Star Trek fans that it was “only a television show” and they should get a life outside their favourite program. The same can be said of writing. Unless we have lives outside writing, sooner or later we end up writing about writers. You need balance in your life. I’ve seen the areas recommended as work, family, spiritual and personal wellbeing. Between books is a good time to assess where your life is and what needs more attention.

4. Start dreaming
Most writers have more ideas than we know what to do with. Between books is the perfect time to let your imagination run wild. What book calls you to write it next? What marvelous idea fills you with excitement? It isn’t enough to start writing because you feel you must, or you’ve goofed off long enough. Your idea should drag you to the computer, desperate to capture the lightning. Play with your ideas. Read, think, explore, scribble notes. Scribble more notes. When the scribbling won’t stop, you’re ready to start again.

What do you do between projects? How do you know when a new book is ready for attention? Comment using the box below. I moderate comments to avoid spam. If you want your comment to appear right away, sign up using the button at lower right. I don’t share your email addresses with anyone.

Meanwhile, I have a life to catch up on. Happy writing.

Valerie
http://www.valerieparv.com
AORW cover
on Twitter @ValerieParv and Facebook
Read some reviews of Valerie’s first Beacons novel, Birthright, at http://www.valerieparv.com/birthright.html

Share with me the joy of having written. For one day only – join in my Big, Beautiful Birthright Buyfest and be the first to read a brand new related novella

In this blog I write a lot about the struggles and challenges of being a writer. Today I want to celebrate the best part – having written.

There’s no doubt this is when writing really rocks. Your story world, your characters, and all the events once trapped in your head are alive on the page for readers to enjoy.

Then your publisher says the magic words, “We love the book, we want to publish it.”

YES!!!!!!!!!!!

placeit

It happened this week with my new science fiction romance – Earthbound, the sequel to Birthright, books I and II in my Beacons series, published by Corvallis Press, USA.

To celebrate, I’m holding a Big, Beautiful Birthright Buyfest, so you can get up to speed on the Beacons and their adventures, before we start counting down to the sequel. The Buyfest takes place over 24 hours only. To take part, simply go to the Birthright page on Amazon http://www.amazon.com/Birthright-Valerie-Parv-ebook/dp/B00A0C07BK/ref=cm_cr_pr_product_top and purchase the book. You don’t even need a Kindle. Amazon has a nifty free app that lets you read any ebook on your computer or tablet.

BUT WAIT, THERE’S MORE
.
If you email me Amazon’s Order Summary Code for your purchase within the next 24 hours, you could win one of seven pdfs of my brand new Beacons novella, Starfound, continuing the story begun in Birthright. You’ll be one of the first people in the world to read this story. The prize is only open to those who buy Birthright and email parv@iinet.net.au with Birthright in the subject line, within the next 24 hours.

Why I love this series, and I hope you will, too

In Birthright I combine the emotional appeal of romance with the wonder of science fiction which has fascinated me for years. Set in my invented country of Carramer, the story deals with a space shuttle mission about to be launched from the island kingdom – a mission that hides a secret agenda involving a threat to the entire world. While writing the book, I came to love my alien characters, Garrett, Elaine and Adam so much that the novella, Starfound, and sequel, Earthbound continue their story, with the final chapter, Homeworld, now in the works. It’s proving to be quite a ride.

What readers are saying about Birthright

“…a memorable read. Very well written and one for the keepers shelf.” Desere Steenberg

“My sensors were in overload, I loved it! I couldn’t put Birthright down.” TashNZ

“Note the 5 stars. I do not give them lightly. A book really has to be a winner for me to rate it this high!” Kathi Harris

“Gripping futuristic tale with an unstoppable plot and fantastic, unique, gripping characters. For anyone who grew up wanting to be an astronaut (like I did!), you will adore this book. I cannot WAIT for the sequels to come out. I’ll be preordering every single one!” Iopele

Buy, enjoy, email. Three easy steps. Way easier than writing the books. But not half as much fun as having written.

Feel free to leave a comment in the space below. If you want your comment to appear right away, click on “sign me up” at right. And welcome aboard.

Valerie

About the author
Valerie Parv is one of Australia’s most successful writers with more than 29 million books sold in 26 languages. She is the only Australian author honored with a Pioneer of Romance Award from RT Book Reviews, New York. With a lifelong interest in space exploration, she counts meeting Neil Armstrong as a personal high point. She loves connecting with readers via her website valerieparv.com @ValerieParv on Twitter and on Facebook. She is represented by The Tate Gallery Pty Ltd tategal@bigpond.net.au

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