Inside a Writer's Mind

Inside a Writer's Mind
“To live is the rarest thing in the world. Most people exist, that is all.” -- Oscar Wilde

Tuesday, 28 January 2014

Seventeen Summers

Seventeen Summers

My debut novel, Seventeen Summers, is available from Amazon.

Please see synopsis and cover below.

 Seventeen Summers


Returning home for his estranged father’s funeral—at least growing up he’d thought he was his father—James Cain is forced to reflect on his upbringing, his youth, his teenage triumphs, and failures: struggling to breathe amidst the crush of a dysfunctional family and a prejudiced peer group with a herd mentality. But above all, falling for a spunky girl of mixed race, named Sara Linds, and the wild ride their intercultural relationship would unleash. Thrusting them on a passionate and confrontation filled journey of discovery and understanding, of themselves, one another, and the invading world. But if leaving town the first time was tough, going back is almost a killer.



Sunday, 20 January 2013

The Most Beautiful Thing We Can Experience ...


“The most beautiful thing we can experience is the mysterious. It is the source of all true art and science. He to whom the emotion is a stranger, who can no longer pause to wonder and stand wrapped in awe, is as good as dead—his eyes are closed. The insight into the mystery of life, coupled though it be with fear, has also given rise to religion. To know what is impenetrable to us really exists, manifesting itself as the highest wisdom and the most radiant beauty, which our dull faculties can comprehend only in their most primitive forms—this knowledge, this feeling is at the center of true religiousness.” -- Albert Einstein

If you enjoyed this, you might enjoy my novel: Seventeen Summers.

Saturday, 22 December 2012

The Religion of the Future

The religion of the future will be a cosmic religion. It should transcend personal God and avoid dogma and theology. Covering both the natural and the spiritual, it should be based on a religious sense arising from the experience of all things natural and spiritual as a meaningful unity. Albert Einstein

Sunday, 25 November 2012

Quotes From Kahlil Gibran

The Lebanese artist, poet and mystic, Kahlil Gibran (1833 - 1931), is one of my favourite writers.

He is perhaps most well known for his work, The Prophet, which is one of the most poignant and beautiful books I've ever read.

He is one of those writers whom I believe glimpsed the true purpose of our existence on this earth and his insights and truths filter through his poetic prose.

I would like to share some of my favourite quotes from his writing.

Here they are, in no particular order:

Wisdom is not in words;
Wisdom is meaning within words.
You may judge others only according to your knowledge of yourself. 
I have learned silence from the talkative, toleration from the intolerant, and kindness from the unkind; yet, strange, I am ungrateful to those teachers. 
They deem me mad because I will not sell my days for gold;  And I deem them mad because they think my days have a price. 
Said a philosopher to a street sweeper, 'I pity you. Yours is a hard and dirty task.' And the street sweeper said, 'Thank you, sir. But tell me, what is your task?' And the philosopher answered, saying, 'I study man's mind, his deeds and his desires.' Then the street sweeper went on with his sweeping and said with a smile, 'I pity you too.'
If you enjoyed this, please consider taking a look at my novel: Seventeen Summers.

Monday, 15 October 2012

A Letter To A Writing Friend

This post is basically an email I sent to a writing friend in response to his request for the names of literary agents he might approach with his debut novel. I thought it might be useful for other aspiring authors.

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Dear John,

Congratulations, first of all, for getting to the stage you are at with your novel. I know it is not easy and takes much perseverance and self belief.

I would be happy to suggest some literary agents to query, but first I would like to ask you a few questions, and, if you don't mind, make a few suggestions.

As far as the questions go, these are questions concerned with novel writing I have come across again and again. I think my writing journey would have been a bit smoother had I known to ask them of myself in the first place. Some of these things a prospective agent will want to know as well. I've tried to put them in the order I think will be most helpful.

Here goes:

What is the genre of your novel? (It's very important to be able to be clear about this, particularly for a first time author. Be sure to only contact agents who represent the genre you've written in. One of the problems I had with my novel was that it didn't seem to fit neatly into one genre.)

What is the word count? (Should be at least seventy to eighty thousand words, unless it's a young adult novel in which case fifty or sixty seems to be ok, according to what I've read at least.)

Have you put your manuscript away, after finishing it, for at least a couple months before you started rewriting it? (I think this is essential for the development of your novel. It will give you some distance from it and make easier for you to be objective when you go back to it. That is, it will help you to read it as "a reader", rather than as the author. What I'm trying to say here is that I wouldn't send your first draft to an agent. No matter how good it is now, it will be better after several rewrites. One British writer I read about
-- it could have been Emily Dickinson -- used to lock her manuscripts in a cupboard and give the key to her friend, along with instructions not to give the key back, no matter how many times she asked for it, for six months.)

Have you had your rewritten manuscript read and sought feedback from other writers/readers and then rewritten your manuscript several times more based on this feedback? (Having several people read your work and give you feedback is important -- although scary as hell -- and it helps you to be more objective about it. Getting it read by a manuscript appraiser might be something else you want to consider. If you decide you want to go there, I would recommend author/manuscript assessor, Sally Odgers, for a start -- she was cheap (about $150) and gave me a lot of useful feedback. I wouldn't recommend (redacted) as
he was expensive and less helpful, though very complimentary, which I guess was helpful in another sense. I'm not suggesting you toss out your vision for your novel in favour of trying to please or appease others, but trust me, you will be surprised at the things other readers pick up on that you've not seen or thought of. And ultimately your novel will benefit. A writing group or online community might also help with this -- more on this later.)

Have you had your MS professionally edited? (Based on what I've read, and been told, I think this is important to consider if you want your novel taken seriously. It will probably cost between one and two grand to get your novel line edited -- line editing is where the MS is edited line by line for consistency of punctuation, syntax and grammar, this is cheaper than developmental editing, where the MS is edited with a view to improving the overall story in terms of how engaging it and the characters are, how it flows, and how well it builds to a climax. If you get enough reader feedback though you are hopefully getting information you can use to do your own developmental editing. I would definitely consider getting it line edited once you've rewritten it several times and are convinced it's as good as you can make it. I used a US editor recommended on 'Predators and Editors' by the name of Michael Garrett. He was pretty good, but probably only worth it if you're going to submit to US agents or self publish online with Amazon Kindle or Smashwords. I don't know of any Australian or British editors that I can recommend.)

You could get the 'The Australian Writer's Marketplace' for information on Australian agents, editors, and publishers, or, 'The Writers' and Artists' Yearbook' for info relevant to the UK, for the USA there are a few, I have 'Jeff Herman's Guide to Book Publishers, Editors, & Literary Agents'. I used the ‘Book Depository’ sites to order most of my books as they were cheap and quick -- be aware there are two, one ends with '.uk' and the other with '.org' I think, I mention this because their prices differ from book to book, so worth checking both.)

Are the opening paragraphs and pages of your novel the very best in the whole book? Do they set the tone? Intrigue the reader? Start mid action? Introduce the key characters and conflict? Are they absolutely perfect in terms of spelling, punctuation, and grammar? Do they make it impossible for a reader to put down your book without wanting to know what happens next? Do they sing like a baritone with the lungs and balls of a bull elephant on speed? (Sorry, got a bit carried away there... But seriously, they need to -- much to my frustration -- as these are all most agents want to see before they decide to request your MS or reject it. Usually the first five to ten pages of your novel, along with a synopsis and a query letter is all an agent wants to see. I can't stress enough how important the opening is. I read Hemingway rewrote the opening of one
of his novels over one hundred times -- maybe that's where the reference to the elephant came from.)

Do you have any other publishing credits? (Anything at all you've had published I would mention in your query letter.)

Is there a similar novel to yours in print and how is it selling? (If it's not selling well I wouldn't bother mentioning it. If it is, this is obviously a selling point. 'Fifty Shades of Grey' is fan fiction based on the Twilight series, and, I think, it derived a lot of its interest and sales momentum from that connection. It's a good idea to follow what's happening in publishing by doing some reading on sites like 'Publishers Marketplace'. It's also a good idea to check out debut novels that are selling well on Amazon, or that feature on other bestsellers lists, and to read them. These are your -- our --competition, and we can learn from them, not only in terms of how they wrote their novels, but also what is attracting particular agents' and publishers' attention. You can then find out who represented them and, hopefully, get an idea of who might be interested in the sort of thing you've written.)

Do you have a platform? (The US agents in particular seem obsessed with this. It basically means do you have a media platform; either social media, as in Facebook, Twitter, a blog or website with a significant following i.e. a ready made readership, or are you a celebrity, or an expert in your field if you've written non fiction? If you have a significant platform -- like the author of 'Fifty Shades of Grey' did -- some of the other things I've mentioned aren't as important because an agent/publisher knows you've already got a readership i.e. people who will shell out money to buy your book.)

Which agents should you query? (The books I mentioned earlier are a good place to start, as is the site 'Predators and Editors' and there are lots of other online resources to help you decide this also like 'Writer Beware' and 'Query Tracker'. See my blog for posts (the earlier ones) and links (on the right) that might help: http://writenowhow.blogspot.com.au/ . But ultimately this depends on what you've written as it has to be a "good fit" -- you'll read this term a lot -- for the agent to take it on. Basically, it needs to be something they've had success selling in the past. It's also a good idea to join an online writing community, or at least read their forums, to gather up to date information on agents, such as: http://absolutewrite.com/forums/ . These communities can also be good places to get writing tips, get feedback on your work, as well as
querying information.)

Have you studied examples of, and practised repeatedly writing, a query letter and a synopsis before you sent either anywhere near an agent? (I didn't and I cringe when I look back at some of the stuff I sent out earlier on. Again, see my blog for links and posts that can help with this, in particular, 'Query Shark' and 'Nathan Bransford' -- heaps of great stuff on this ex-agent turned author's site that I suspect will be useful to you. I will forward you some of my query letters and synopses as well. But I can't stress enough the importance of the query letter, it is key to getting your foot in the door. Sending off a poorly written one is akin to farting in a job interview. The synopsis is also important and I found writing one extremely tricky. It’s easiest if you can summarise your novel in a sentence – in simplest terms: A wants B but must overcome C to get it -- which you then extend to a paragraph, and finally to a page or two. This is best done, I now realise, before actually writing the novel, rather than trying to do so afterwards.)

Why are you querying this agent? (I know the obvious answer is because you want them to represent you and your work. But I would find ways of personalising your query letter so the agent knows you haven't picked them randomly, perhaps by mentioning something you read on their blog or Twitter feed -- see below.)

Have you read the agent's submission guidelines? (Very important to do so, and to follow them. I would also suggest reading agents' blogs and following them on Twitter to get further insights into how they operate and to find out who is looking to read the sort of thing you've written. See below for websites and books to help with this also.)

And now to your original question about recommending agents. I’m attaching a spreadsheet of agents I’ve contacted or planned to contact.

I started off querying agents in the USA, for a few reasons. Firstly, there are so many of them -- thousands -- that I thought my chances may be better over there (I had one request to read the MS and she subsequently rejected it). Secondly, there are only ten or so literary agents in Australia and I didn't want to get rejected by all of them, before I had some idea of what I was doing. Thirdly, I figured by the time I exhausted my options in the US, my manuscript would be much better and I'd have a clearer idea as to how
the whole querying process worked, and therefore a better chance of getting 'picked up' when I started querying back here.

I recently started querying in Australia. Both Australian agents I queried requested the MS. I’ve not tried many of the British agencies, there are some on the spreadsheet though. And many more worth trying.

What I have learned about writing and seeking publication is that nothing good happens quickly. If you are determined to learn about the publication process and to keep writing, success, in some shape or form, is unavoidable. The key is to keep learning and never give up.

I hope this goes some way to answering your questions. I'm sorry this is so long.

We are all well and settling into our new life here. At the moment I'm juggling teaching and working on my second novel.

Hope the universe is treating you all kindly.

Cheers,

J. C.

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P.S. If you have anything to say in response to any of the above, I would be keen to hear it. Please put it in a comment and post it. Thanks. (-:

Sunday, 14 October 2012

Truth



I've been reading a book on my recently acquired Kindle, titled, The Druid of Harley Street: The Spiritual Psychology of E. Graham Howe, by E. Graham Howe and William Stranger.

It is a selection of excerpts from essays and books written by the British psychologist E. Graham Howe.

I have been interested in Howe's writing since I first came across a reference to him some fifteen years ago while I was at university, in an essay by Henry Miller, called, The Wisdom of the Heart.

Chapter 9, The Wheel and the Road, begins thus:

Truth is not a plain tale. It cannot be told simply, as if it were in a straight line, with a beginning and an end, word for word, once and for all. It is too subtle, too manifold and too self-contradictory for that. Like hunters after our prey, we can have a shot at it with a quick-fire of words, and when we miss, shoot at it again from a different direction. Then, either all our shots must miss, or, if we hit it, we shall do injury to the truth, merely wounding it by our injustice. Then we must try again, but more as poets do, to catch it in a picture, and see a fleeting glimpse of it as it disappears like water through a sieve. In truth, the truth cannot caught or held nor simply told, because it is more subtle than the mind can see.

It has been my experience that all truth has at its core a paradox. A conflict. An opposition. If this is the nature of truth, and therefore the nature of life, it is little wonder then that living can be a confusing business. There is some solace, I find though, in knowing that it is meant to be thus.

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If you found this interesting, please think about purchasing my novel: Seventeen Summers.

Tuesday, 2 October 2012

Another Writing Update




Apologies for not posting recently; I have been busy with family and work commitments and I've been spending my spare time working on my WIP.

I've temporarily shelved plans to independently publish my first novel as two Australian agents have recently requested to read it. (Excuse me a moment while I punch the air and make whooping sounds.) So I have decided to wait a little longer before committing to the path of self publishing.

I have found another helpful link for aspiring authors: The Creative Penn, by UK author and entrepreneur, Joanna Penn, is a blog I've found really useful in terms of gaining information and insights into how to make a career out of writing. It's well worth having a look through her previous posts for all sorts of instructional and inspiring stuff.

I hope your writing dreams are coming to fruition. But if you're not seeing it happen yet, don't give up the dream.

Keep writing!

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