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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,

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First Monday Mentoring, July 2016 – how NOT to be a writer in the 21st Century

Welcome to First Monday Mentoring, when I answer your questions about the writing craft and the fun stuff about being a writer.

This week’s blog was inspired by an email conversation with a columnist in a regional newspaper (themselves, sadly a dying breed). The column has no website, no email, no means of getting in touch other than by mail or phone.

When I finally tracked down an email contact to compliment the writer, he was predictably pleased that I’d reached out. But on the bottom of his response was the line, “I don’t read all my emails…pick up the phone.”

Well, no. Writers don’t get to tell our readers/customers how they can read our work. That’s up to them.  I used to wonder how you could read my books on a phone. In a word, convenience. You nearly always have a phone with you.

Beacon Homeworld 2

My current Beacon sci-fi series is published by Momentum, the digital-first arm of Pan Macmillan with the last in the series, Homeworld, released last week. I had to edit the series entirely online, rather than marking up a printed copy, which used to involve a language of editorial squiggles we mostly don’t see any more. To me, the hash sign # still suggests “space out” and we’re not talking taking illicit substances, but spreading out a piece of copy.

No longer. I love hashtags because they connect people to your conversation. The Twitter hashtag #AmWriting is read by millions around the world who share an interest in the writing process.

I admit I sometimes struggle with technology. Sometimes it’s me; sometimes the technology. But I soldier on because it’s fun  being part of this exciting world.

Celebrating a couple of decades working together, my agent gifted me an iPad Mini, a generous gift by any standards. I felt totally challenged by it but persevered and it’s now the best camera I’ve ever had. Not long ago, I had a live chat on it with writer friend, Jennie Adams. For her, it was early evening in Australia. For me, it was midnight in Las Vegas and we chatted as I waited for a flight #lovemyiPad

Other ways NOT to be a writer today:

Refuse to deal with ebooks.

Like most writers, I like print books, but my Kindle has over 500 books on it. Sometimes I’ll read the ebook version because I can have it NOW. Then I’ll order a print copy, especially nonfiction, to study at leisure.

Overlook technology in your stories

I see this a lot with entrants in the Valerie Parv Award run by Romance Writers of Australia. Too often characters are stuck in last century. There’s almost nowhere your characters aren’t linked by their devices. I’m judging this year’s finalists very soon with the hashtag #ValerieParvAward on Twitter and I’ll be looking for tech savvy characters.

Change the story to take account of real life. You can only have batteries go flat so many times. Likewise, in a story, you can only have doubt about a person’s parentage for two weeks or less, before DNA testing gives the answer. In Private Sydney, written with James Patterson, Kathryn Fox wrote about new technology that gets it down to one hour and while not as detailed as the longer tests, still reveals a lot. Using technology can broaden your story. Need characters to find answers to something? Let them share on social media or Google the details. Every writer I know blesses Google for making research a breeze.

If you aren’t already, get good at researching. Writing Homeworld, the final  book in my Beacons sci-fi series, I needed to know if you could launch a space shuttle off the back of a Global Express private jet. My net search turned up the PR division of the plane’s makers who sent my query to the designers. They not only wrote back that it could be done but included diagrams, thrilling me with their generosity. Learn the tricks to search terms and dive in.

You notice the difference if you dip into the past for entertainment. I enjoy the1980s cop show, T J Hooker, starring William Shatner, my tweetheart. Thanks for that lovely word, Joanna Sandsmark. He’s seen here with fellow Star Trek alumni, Leonard Nimoy. Watching him in action is fun, but I can’t help wishing for a cellphone every time he has to find a phone to take care of police business.

Kirk T J Hooker 2

Another fav. Is  Murdoch Mysteries, a detective show set in the 1890s where everything is old school. Yannick Bisson as eye candy in the title role doesn’t hurt, either. Former VPA “minion” (what previous award winners call themselves) Erica Hayes writing as Viola Carr, writes a fun series about the daughter of Dr. Jeckyll who inherited his affliction. In these page-turners,Viola employs the tech of the day – plus some neat inventions of her own – beautifully. Don’t take my word for it. The Wall Street Journal reviewed the first in the series – you can’t do much better than that.

Currently I’m developing a book where one lead character steps back in time. The other remains in the present with all its technical goodies, while my character has to deal with the comparatively low tech of the time she finds herself in.

Love it or loathe it, this is our reality as writers today. Technology also changes how we write – but that’s a subject for another blog.

How do you deal with technology in your writing? What books do it best for you as a reader? Share your thoughts in the comments 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.

Valerie

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

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First Monday Mentoring for December – the gifts your writing gives to readers

Welcome to the first Monday in December when I talk about the nitty-gritty of being a writer. A week ago I was reminded of perhaps the best part of the writing life, one we seldom think about – the effect our writing has on other people.

I was reminded of this a week ago while I was in Los Angeles attending a live event hosted by Reading Rainbow, an organisation dedicated to instilling the love of reading and learning in children everywhere. A few months ago, LeVar Burton, original Reading Rainbow TV presenter and Star Trek The Next Generation’s Geordie LaForge, relaunched Reading Rainbow for the 21st century at https://www.readingrainbow.com/

At the event, LeVar and two Star Trek legends, William Shatner and Sir Patrick Stewart, read some childrens’ books to a delighted audience – we adults as enthralled as the children. Then LeVar talked about the power of “what if…” the cornerstone of many a writer’s new idea., and played the Reading Rainbow theme song reminding us that readers can “go anywhere” and “be anything” in their imagination.

After the readings, I got to sit down and chat with Bill Shatner, who readers of this blog know by now is one of my greatest inspirations, as well as LeVar and Sir Patrick. Exciting indeed and a story for another day.

L to R: William Shatner, Levar Burton and Sir Patrick Stewart read at the Reading Rainbow event I attended

L to R: William Shatner, Levar Burton and Sir Patrick Stewart read at the Reading Rainbow event I attended

Writers generally focus on the work of writing, the struggles, fears and disappointments when the story fails to live up to our hopes.

But what about when we succeed?

As Reading Rainbow reminded us, that’s when magic happens.

Whether you write in longhand, on a tablet, on a program such as Scrivener, or on cave walls, the process is the same. You start with a “what if…” and trust that your idea will capture your readers’ imagination the way it did yours.
418475_10151096141003430_1591150859_n

In the struggle to birth a story, it’s easy to forget that you’re taking readers on a journey with you, giving them the gift of your creativity and insight. Whether your readers number in the dozens or millions matters not a bit. When you make a story, wrap it in your words, and present it to readers, you’ve shared a piece of your soul.
In troubled times, stories can give hope – not by saying that all men are brothers, but by showing the brother and sisterhood between our characters. Others campaign for an end to domestic violence; we show how that goal might come about. When the future seems bleak, we show a positive future, as Star Trek itself has done since its first airing nearly 50 years ago.

These are gifts writers have been giving to the world since the cave days. Whether you celebrate Channukah, Christmas, Kwanzaa or any other festive season, you are giving the world your gift of possibilities through your stories.

How you publish is also less important than, what and why you write. It may be a beloved hobby or your life’s work, as writing has been mine for decades. What matters is the sharing of your ideas with your family and the wider world.

The ability to create stories is a rare blessing. I believe it’s the reason why we keep writing despite the pain of rejection and the frustration of chasing a near-impossible dream. As the song says, we are aiming for a star that seems unreachable much of the time. But when we do reach it, the sense of achievement is incomparable.
You’ve spoken your thoughts through your writing, and been heard and understood by at least one reader. There’s nothing quite like it.

This season, I wish that feeling for all writers. Write because you love it; because you must; and because it’s the most fun you can have and still call it work.

If it’s in you to write – write. Don’t let anyone or anything stop you. Your vocation is to be a bringer of light to the world. Do it with joy and pride, and the curiosity of a child. Write even when it hurts.
The more you write, the more you’ll discover you can write. Only by sharing your words are you truly honouring your gift.

Feel free to comment or share your experiences below. The blog is moderated to avoid spam. If you’d like your comments to appear right away, click on “sign me up” at right. I don’t share your details with anyone.

To all writers everywhere, thank you for giving me the gift of your stories and letting me share the fruits of your imagination. They make you more special than you will ever know.

Valerie

http://www.valerieparv.com
on Twitter @ValerieParv and Facebook

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 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

First Monday Mentoring for March – 5 ways William Shatner inspires my writing life

It’s First Monday time again, when I open this blog to your questions about writing. They can be on creative, craft or business matters. Today’s question has to do with who I regard as my mentors? There are quite a few, writers, philosophers, motivational psychologists. But today I want to talk about one role model in particular, and the reasons why he is such an inspiration, probably not the ones you expect.

It’s no surprise to anyone who knows me that I’ve been a Star Trek fan as long as the shows have been around. My collection of original series books numbers in the hundreds. Dozens more sit on my Kindle. Once upon a time, when I helped to organize Star Trek conventions in Australia, I had enough Star Trek memorabilia to stock a store. Some of my earliest fiction, now living among their collection of my literary papers at the State Library of NSW, was set in the Star Trek universe, and I number its creator, Gene Roddenberry, among my writing mentors.

But my greatest inspiration comes from actor and director, William Shatner. Not only because of his iconic portrayal of Captain James Kirk, but because Shatner himself is such a powerhouse of energy and enthusiasm that it’s dizzying trying to keep up with everything he’s doing.

From his memorable portrayals of Kirk to Boston Legal’s Denny Crane, his career spans Emmy-award winning roles, directing, writing many books, winning international horse riding events, charity fund-raising on a grand scale, even crowd-funding his own watch design late last year. Did I mention he’s doing all this and more at age eighty-two?

Still that same killer smile.

Still that same killer smile.

Here are 5 ways he inspires my writing life:

1. PASSION
Everything William Shatner does is fueled by this powerhouse ingredient. It’s obvious that he lives every day with passion for whatever he undertakes. Whether it be breeding Dobermans, riding American Saddlebred horses, writing or directing movies, he puts his whole being into the task, and the passion shines through.

2. ENERGY
When he was in his early seventies, he starred in the Star Trek movie, Generations, working horrendously long days in arduous desert conditions, filming the death of his best-known character, a huge milestone for any actor. In an interview, he was asked how he kept going. He said he simply told himself he wasn’t tired. I took that to heart and whenever I feel pushed to the limit, I tell myself I’m not tired, and the energy flows back.

3. SENSE OF WONDER
Shatner is never afraid to try new things, to experiment, to grow. Far too many people stop growing and learning in their teens. He has explored every kind of acting, written a wide variety of books, spoken to huge convention audiences in countries around the world, been a spokesperson for NASA, and has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. And still he’s developing new ideas and new projects.

As the saying goes, growing old is unavoidable, but growing up is optional.

4. LOVE OF LIFE
Shatner has had dark times, recorded in his various memoirs, beyond anything most of us have to deal with. But he has always picked himself up and gone back to living life to the full, setting a shining example for the rest of us.

5. RESILIENCE
For a writer, this ingredient is key. As with acting, writing involves putting yourself and your work out there, dealing with rejection and finding the will to keep on going. William Shatner has endured pretty well every tragedy that life can throw at a person, while still wringing the most out of every day.
These qualities are not exclusive to a Hollywood legend. They are available to each of us, every day of our lives. How many of these qualities do you make sure you have? If you’d like your comment to appear right away, please click on “sign me up” at right, to subscribe. I don’t share your email with anyone else.

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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