Friday, February 26, 2010

10+ Rules for Writing Fiction- kind of

Lately the internet has been in love with the Guardian's 10 Rules of Writing Fiction by the authors at the top of the pile, people like Margaret Atwood (swoon) and Micheal Morpurgo and PD James. I hardly need to turn my head to bump into a link to the list. It was even on Boing Boing the other day!

Not to be left out, Blogger Tom Howard also came up with a list of 10 Rules for Writing Fiction. Here's a couple from Mr. Howard:

2. Writing in blood will add a much-needed touch of sickening horror to your work; it will also indicate to publishers that you mean business.

6. Never open a book with the weather. Use your fingers instead.

I thought it was time TfB got into the spirit and tried to come up with our own 10 Rules for Writing Fiction. I'll start us out.

1. Despite advice from the misguided, adverbs add colour. Where would the world be without bumpily, answerably, and remedially? How would you write the sentence- "I bumped along bumpily" without such lovely words?

2. Avoid characters that bite. If you're writing a novel, it might take years to finish. Try to get the cost of band-aids written into the contract. It adds up.

3. Settings waste time. Never mention them.

4. When writing, three things are mandatory: a cat to walk across the keyboard and delete the most perfect sentence you've ever written, chocolate in amounts that should not be revealed in polite company, and a connection to Facebook where you can brag about the fact that you are procrastinating.

5. Get a door. A big heavy one. With a lock. Preferably one that closes you inside of a room.

Okay- that's my contribution. Whatda ya got?

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Our Morning Walk

In the morning me, my dog Chelsea, and her dog, Buster the African Sausage Dog, set out on our walk.

We all enjoy getting out and about.

The road is long but full of adventures.

We walk and explore until we reach our turn-around tree.

Buster makes sure everyone knows we were there.

We lay down and take a rest and think about bunny rabbit clouds.

It's time to head back!

....but there's still plenty to investigate... the interesting wildlife.

We can see home now...

...and there's the gate.

A good hearty walk needs to end with a nice cool down.

Thanks for coming along!

Monday, February 22, 2010

Critiquing Other People's Work

I finished my third round of edits on my second romance but I had a niggling feeling. There was something not quite right. I want a surprise and then a big surprise and I feared surprise number two was too obvious. So I asked a writing friend if she might give it a read. In a day she was done and back to me with some nice comments, but then the next day she said she hates critiquing as it gives her too much stress since she knows how bad comments about her own writing affect her so she doesn't want to do the same to others. I felt bad I'd put her through so much agony. At the same time I did recognise her comments for what they were, a slightly too large pile of sugar.

I know two things: 1) No writer is perfect. 2) No writer likes criticism. Both of these do make critiquing other writers' work difficult, but what are we to do? We can't see our own work clearly. We must ask for some one's eyes and, at least for me, I find the best eyes are writers' eyes.

This is my take on critiquing: if someone asks me, I do my best. I take my time and point out everything. I do this because I feel I agreed to give it a look. I shouldn't do that unless I care about that writer and their writing. If I care about the writing, I want it to be the best that it can be. I'm definitely not the know all for what good writing is, I only know what I think works. I always qualify my comments at the beginning by saying it is my opinion, take it or leave it. I know reading criticism is difficult, but we must accept it as part of our job description as writers. If I send a critique that says something like- "Oh that was a nice story"- beware, it means I don't care about your writing enough to give you a passage to improve it.

I should say though, I would never take book reviews and comments at Amazon as criticism that would direct my writing. Those are something different. I'm talking about proper criticism from another writer or someone with interest in my writing's success.

I understand my writing friend's angst and I've made a promise not to ask her to critique my work again, but it has got me wondering- is it okay to just write the best piece of writing that you can and send it off to the publisher without fresh eyes to see it?

I know all writing advice says no, but I'm currently down to zero people who I trust enough to give me honest advice. I had a terrible experience with an online writing group and will never do that again, and where I live there is no one I can work with in person. Also I write across so many genres few want to follow me there.

And what about critiquing? Must all writers do it? Some people believe it is mandatory for a writer to critique others so they can understand their own writing better. What do you think? I'd be interested to know.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Louis Nchindo-R.I.P.

I hesitate to write this post but I feel many people who read my blog don't live in Botswana and don't know what is occupying our daily conversations as of late. In Botswana we've been dropped into the middle of a real-life novel; one with twists and turns and intrigues of the most devious kind.

Louis Nchindo was the managing director of Debswana, the 50-50 partnership between diamond giant DeBeers and the government of Botswana. Nchindo was to face 36 charges of corruption in a case set to begin in April. Many of the charges stemmed from the time he was the head of Debswana while others involve a land deal; the land deal mishaps also have his son's name on the charge sheet. A few weeks ago, it came out in the press that our second president, President Masire, received loans from Debeers while Nchindo was at the helm and that the ruling party, Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) had also received money from the diamond miners.

Shortly after this our third president, President Mogae, went public with revelations that Nchindo threatened to reveal secrets about him, including details about his girlfriend, if the corruption charges were not dropped. President Mogae did not report this alleged attempt at blackmailing to the police but apparently told Nchindo that no charges would be dropped.

Last week everything came to the dramatic climax when Nchindo's family reported him missing. By Thursday morning rumours were being passed through cellphones and on the internet that Nchindo was found dead in the bush, his body half eaten by animals. Even on Friday, police in the country refused to admit that Nchindo was dead though international sources were reporting that fact. In the end, the facts were Nchindo was found in the bush dead. His body eaten by animals, only his torso intact. Quick-quick the body was apparently identified by forensic scientists to be Nchindo's, and he was cremated.

Here are the three obvious options:
1. He could take no more and committed suicide.
Unlikely given his abundant resources and legendary arrogance.
2. Someone killed him.
He had a lot of information on a lot of powerful people and a court case could get very messy.
3. The dead person is not Nchindo and Nchindo has skipped the country.
At least in the Facebook groups and conversations I've been part of this is the most widely held belief among Batswana.

So that's where we are. But, too, this is Botswana. What do I think? In a few weeks people will forget all about it and the case will disappear. Budding Batswana novelists should take notes; I see a blockbuster in the making.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Time to Accept the Inevitable

In his article at Huffington Post by Dan Agin makes the point that the scribes who wrote out books by hand also thought the gig would never end, just like current publishers who keep repeating the mantra that paper books will never die. The biggest thing slowing down the demise of paper books is the prohibitively priced Kindle, but according to Agin, that's a done deal too as Amazon has free software you can download to read ebooks on your PC or laptop. And besides any technology company worth a grain of salt is busy as I speak developing their own form of the Kindle so the prices for the readers are bound to crash soon making them available to most folks.

But Agin warns-It's tragic because when an industry dies because of corporate blindness, people do get hurt. When the automobile put the horse and carriage trade out of business, blacksmiths and carriage makers became irrelevant overnight. But before that happened people were up to their eyeballs in media baloney that the automobile was only a fad.

As writers we need to look at the situation clearly using our business brains. How do we get the best possible position in this new game? Already there are many pluses. To start with- 50% (and sometimes more) royalties on ebooks. Having to pay publicists, for sure, and agents, perhaps, from your slice of the pie may fall away too. As writers we will have much more control over sales. If we have a blog or website, which most of us do, we can set up a bookstore in minutes. There will be no more worrying if your book is shelved cover out or spine out or if it has made it into the storefront window. Blog book tours will be the norm rather than the exception.

It is time to let go and accept the future. For writers, at least from my perspective, things are looking pretty bright.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Bad Bad Blogger

Apologies to my readers for hardly blogging at all last week. I've had visitors from the United States; a friend from high school and university and his partner. We were busy remembering and laughing and having a huge pile of fun. It's always a bit bittersweet when people visit me here. I know it's very expensive for them to get to Botswana and when they leave I know they'll not likely visit again and we may never see each other again either. So it was lovely, but tinged with sadness.

The other bit that is filling my mind right now is a job. My husband is currently living about 200 km from me in the capitol city of Gaborone attending university. He doesn't like living alone. Also the government pays him his full salary for the first year of school, but for the second and third year he goes on half salary. We can survive on that, but my writing income is not always as steady as I would like it to be so some months it could be tight. So on the weekend there was a good job in the paper for a publishing manager in Gaborone. He wanted me to apply so I could go and stay with him in Gaborone. I've done it, but I'm not sure I want the job.

I have been a full time writer now for about three years and before that I owned my own business for ten years so it's been a long time since I was an employee. And I'm not really someone who can do things halfway. I can't say I'll take the job and write too. If I take the job I intend to give them my time. So it will be two years of very little writing. I've just really started building up solid relationships with my publishers and I am fearful this could back track my good work so far.

At the same time my husband has been my biggest supporter in every way. Perhaps it's time I give a bit back. It's all keeping my head spinning. In any case, I've only sent my CV; they may not even call me for an interview and then they may meet me and see I'm not what they want. I'm trying not to worry about anything. Trying to wait for the bridges to appear before I see how I'm going to get across. But I can't help feeling a bit sad about it all.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Good Writing

I’ve been having conversations about writing and what good writing is and if it is always the same. Are there things that are intrinsic to good writing? Can we produce a checklist that we can tick off as we assess a piece of writing? Or is good writing in the eye of the beholder? What about bad writing? Can it be seen straight away?

People who know me and my writing know that I am a composite just as my writing is. I am in introvert who talks too much in public. I love to exercise and get out and active, but I will eat a piece of cake before an orange on any day of the week. I read Victoria Holt and I love Kazuo Ishiguro. I love Sue Townsend and all of the Spud books and I get weak in the knees knowing there is a new Margaret Atwood out and about and I do not own it. My writing is just like that. Just like I hate to be put in a box in my life, in my reading, and I hate to be put in a box with my writing. I write for children. I write romance. I attempt to write literary. I write detective and sometimes even write ghost stories. I write exactly what I feel like writing. I try to do the best I’m able to with each.

But is good or bad writing defined by style? Can people who love literary fiction look at genre and say that it is good writing? Or will people who write literary fiction always see genre as weak writing, as bad writing? Writing for genre is all about plot. It is storytelling. Literary is about an exploration of character; plot is what happens, but of far less importance except for where it moves the character. Of course, occasionally they cross. I don’t see one better than the other- I love them both.

I guess my point is – is there a definition of good writing or is it fluid and subjective? What do you think?

Friday, February 5, 2010

Uganda, Homosexuality, and the Rest of Africa

Early in my writing career, I was contracted to write a book about Uganda by an American publisher. According to the agreement, I would write it and an American academic would then look at the book and have his say (and his name on the cover) and then I would be given the proofs of the final copy with the edits and I could decide if I wanted my name on the cover or not. I was never given the proofs. The book went to publication after the publishers accused me of plagiarising and threatened not to pay me. I didn't plagiarise anything and they never gave me the option to remove my name from the cover. I was not happy with the final book which turned a Uganda I saw as a success story into another African basket case. I try to ignore I was part of the book's propaganda and I often feel ashamed about the whole thing.

Time has passed and things have changed. President Museveni has gone from being the saviour of Uganda to being the chain around its neck. His iron grip on power is killing a country that has had more than its share of suffering. Now thanks to influence from an American Christian cult, The Fellowship, he is attempting to get a bill passed that could give homosexuals the death penalty for loving each other.

One thing you can say about Christians, when it comes to Africa, they have some serious staying power. The seeds they planted have taken root and grown filling the entire space. There is a passion and vehemence about African Christian churches that I've not seen in other places. Perhaps it is some amalgamation of traditional religion with the teachings of Christianity, I don't know. It's funny how the typical response of Africans who are against homosexuality is that it is an imported concept, some Westernised activity imposed on Africans. I wonder why they never see the same thing can be said about Christianity.

The fear now is that Museveni's vehemence against gays will spread. Already a Malawian gay couple who married were arrested in December. Mugabe has not been quiet about his views on gays. Even here in Botswana it is illegal to be gay though no one has been arrested. The non-governmental organisation Lesbians, Gays and Bisexuals of Botswana (LEGABIBO) is unable to operate properly in the country as it is unable to be registered, as such there is no organised way for gays to fight against the unfair and out-of-date legislation.

I sometimes can't quite feel a problem that is far from me, that I have no personal connection to. So when I hear about the terrible, stupid, preventable shortage of food that Zimbabweans will have in the coming months, for example, I don't let the words flow in and out of me. I stop them along the way and think of people I know in Zimbabwe- personally- people who will miss meals to feed their hungry children. Only then does the impact of what is happening find its true space in me.

In 2007 Ugandan Monica Arac de Nyeko won the Caine Prize for her story Jambula Tree about the two girls Anyango and Sanyu and the forbidden love that they had for each other. It was a painful story to read and it stuck with me. Characters tend to live on in my mind, in some sort of semi-real state. And as I watched Museveni joking on the TV about how overseas leaders were calling him and tell him sending gays to the gallows was not a good move diplomatically, I thought of Anyango and Sanyu.

In this world, where hate is everywhere, how does one's thoughts get so mixed up so as to get to a position where love is wrong? I don't believe Jesus or God would be on Museveni's side; if they are I don't think I can follow along behind them.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

100 Stories for Haiti

100 Stories for Haiti is a project started by UK writer Greg McQueen to try and raise some money for the Red Cross to help the people in Haiti. On January 19th, Mr. McQueen woke up with an idea and 100 Stories for Haiti was born. In quick as lightning fashion, he and his team asked for submissions (they got 400+ of them), read them, and chose their 100. My story, Birds of a Feather, is one of the stories to be included in the book.

The books will be out as an ebook published by Smashwords and a POD published by Unbound Press. Every book bought will help. I'll let you know when it is out so all of you can rush to buy it.
*** And completely off topic- today is my husband's birthday. Happy Birthday Sweetie!!!

Monday, February 1, 2010

Monday, Wednesday, Friday

My new year's resolution said I would be blogging every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday and everything would be written the Sunday before. It is the 1st of February and I have failed. I had a HORRIBLE weekend. I've been in a fury and could write nothing. So Sunday slipped away.

Today I had to take Catman (finally) to the vet in Palapye (70 kms away) and myself to the dentist, so I wouldn't have to pitch up in Egypt with one front tooth missing. Now my Monday is almost finished and I have nothing to blog about except that if I had a plane ticket I would be on a plane and gone. Gone. Gone. Gone. One way; first class, please.... hopefully tomorrow this will pass. Cross fingers for me and my wayward brain chemistry.

BUT what I can talk about today is that maybe I will get a publishing/books/ writing/ author column after all! Last year I sent a proposal to some of the national newspapers in Botswana and the response was less than enthusiastic. Nevertheless, I'm stubborn, so I did a follow-up at Mmegi, the newspaper I normally freelance for, and the editor said he'd run four weeks as sort of a pilot.

So I've sent the four columns. They are:
1. So You Want to be a Writer? (The publishing situation in Botswana)
2. What's a Motswana writer to Do? (How to break out of the borders)
3. The Tricky Art of Querying
4. Rejection Acceptance

So if you read Mmegi -be on the look out for the columns. Let me know what you think, and maybe more importantly- let them know what you think.