nerdtastic bits

The one where I get to talk about comic books…

tumblr_mzam93QGoB1smcbm7o1_250So you have an idea. A persistent something that has gnawed at your brain doggedly enough for you to start jotting it down. You’re getting to know your characters, and laying down the brickwork on the bumpy path that will become your plot. What next? Well – unless you’re writing a real-time testimonial of your own life (mine might be called Girl Who Stares at Computer and Drinks Many Teas) – you’ll probably need to do some research.

Astonishingly, most fiction authors are not in fact experts in every worldly field. Whether your book is set in a suburb that isn’t your own, or on a space station orbiting Pluto – whether your character is a forensic genius or plays the flute or is champion chess boxer (yes that is a thing) – chances are, your story will demand knowledge of some things that are unfamiliar to you. Writers always walk a line between creating their own worlds, which they set the rules for, and ensuring those rules make at least some real-world sense. Bringing into existence another person who has skills that are not yours can be pretty daunting. There’s always the fear of getting something wrong, or simply of being ill-equipped to execute the story you want to tell…

[For the month of June, I will be writer-in-resident at the fab Inside a Dog – you can read the rest of this post here]

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Happy (almost) bookiversary, Sam and Camilla…

It’s been almost a year since Life in Outer Space became a real thing. I haven’t had much reflection time lately, as I’ve had my head (and other assorted parts) firmly wedged in the editorial world of my new novel**. Suffice to say, it’s been a fun, surreal, humbling, exciting, and very weird year. A year ago, I could never have predicted the wonderful response that the book would receive, or the lovely people who would give it a boost on its journey. So to everyone who has bought it, borrowed it, read it, recommended it or reviewed it – thank you. Virtual hugs are being dispatched to each and every one of you.

In light of the fact that my life recently has consisted of nothing much more than re-writes of my manuscript, watching Parks and Recreation, and trying not to melt in Melbourne’s apocalyptic heat wave, I thought I would spend a few posts looking back at some highlights of the past year. One of my fav bits of the last twelve months has been hearing from people who have connected with the book (see, I just can’t bring myself to say that I have ‘fans’. But you know. You guys).

So here is some awesome Life in Outer Space art, by the extraordinary Angelyn. Her Sam and Camilla made me swoonish when I first saw these, and they are basically exactly what I had in my head. You can find more of her work and other things here.

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** (That new book should have a title, and a cover, soonish. Stay tuned!)

After a brief intermission…

Wonder Woman

I seemed to have blinked and lost a few months of my life. I am not totally sure what happened. I suspect it may have something to do with sending my first novel out into the universe, and then starting my second novel with barely a pause in between. Apart from my poor, neglected blog, it’s actually been a productive few months. Granted, I may have abandoned my family, any hint of a social life, and occasionally, personal hygiene – but book two is taking shape! In that weird, capricious way that first drafts often do. Getting to know a cast of characters is probably my favourite part of the process – reading the books they read and listening to the music they love, and the long hours of browsing the net for the perfect bits of junk that they would have in their bedrooms. Apart from being a more useful procrastination task than checking Buzzfeed, this kind of character mining is sometimes the only thing that can drag me out of a writing funk. Which explains why, after staring at my computer for hours on Saturday night, I was struck with the overwhelming need to rush out at 9.30 p.m. to buy this Wonder Woman bobble head I’d seen in the window of my local video shop. Strangely enough, having her on my desk did help the creative energy, just a little.

Since the launch of Life in Outer Space, a couple of randomly exciting things have happened in my world:

Life in Outer Space is on the Inky Awards longlist! I’m not sure if there are rules about being excited by awards. Maybe authors are supposed to be nonchalant or whatever, but, this is a particularly cool award as it’s judged by young readers themselves. Check out the rest of the awesome list here. I’m so honoured to be in such great company.

And – LiOS, the US edition, is a few days away from hitting the shelves. It’s been a while since I’ve been to the States. For a couple of amazing months when I was younger, I lived in a tiny town in northern Minnesota, on the shore of Lake Superior. This town was basically just a few streets and a handful of stores; but it did have a beautiful old bookstore which was my second home while I was there. I’m not sure if that bookstore still exists. I like to think that – if it hasn’t been turned into a donut shop or something – perhaps a copy or two of my book might make it onto its shelves. 

You can find the gorgeous full dust jacket, plus a sneaky look at the first chapter here.

If you’re in the vicinity of northern Minnesota – or indeed, anywhere else in North America or Canada – hello, and welcome! Feel free to swing past the comment button and say hello…

LiOS US cover

The Barbara Stanwyck of nowhere at all

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** this is not me

In a distant, or perhaps parallel universe, there is another me who is inexorably cool; I imagine her as being pretty suave – leggy, of course, coiffed in a sharp black bob, possibly perched on a bar stool in red stilettos while sipping a martini.

I think it’s pretty telling that my only reference for cool and sophisticated seems to come from bad Film Noir.

In this universe, there is a me who has been sneaking into book stores to surreptitiously photograph her book on the shelves, suppressing a little squee with every copy she manages to find.

But look. It’s so pretty.

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Cool can be next year’s New Years resolution.

The most remarkable book ever to come out of the publishing corporations of Ursa Minor

Like many people this week, I was glued to my computer watching the amazingness of human ingenuity as NASA’s Curiosity rover landed on Mars. I cheered. I hearted mohawk-guy. I resisted the urge to run home and dig out my old star wheel, because as a grown-up, you’re really not supposed to own a star wheel.

I may have been a bit of a space nerd as a kid. I’m not sure if this was inspired by my love of Wesley Crusher from Star Trek: The Next Generation, or if it was due to the fact that I had read and re-read Douglas Adams’ The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy to the point where I could (and still can) recite the opening pages by heart. The Guide was given to me by one of my uncles when I was about ten years old, mainly to help me play the text-based Hitchhikers Guide computer game, one of a handful of games that my grandpa installed on his very first computer. I still remember the blank, black PC screen with a single line of orange text:

‘You wake up. The room is spinning very gently around your head. It dips and sways a little.’

I believe the appropriate response was to type:

‘Get out of bed.’

It was a lot more fun than it sounds.

So – I read The Guide. I understood about half of it. But regardless, up to this point, my childhood reading consisted of a steady diet of Enid Blyton, L.M. Montgomery and The Babysitters Club, and The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy was the first grown-up book that opened my eyes to the fact that language itself could be as rich and absorbing and funny and clever as the story being told. It was the first book I remember that had a distinct and identifiable authorial voice, and it influenced my reading tastes to this day. 

I’ve gathered a few different versions over The Guide over the years, but my favourite is still my first copy; a small B-format paperback, battered and yellowed, spine cracked, pages dog-eared and some only tenuously attached. I know there is an ebook drinking game out there with my name on it; but one whiff of that musty smell of old paper, and I’m ensconced in front of my grandpa’s monochromatic PC with the book in hand, discovering a love of outer space, and cracking prose, and depressed yet lovable androids. 

I haven’t read The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy in years, but I feel like a revisit is in order now. As I wade through the pre-press, pre-publication phase of my novel, my brain is on uncertainty overload, churning through every failure scenario as only a proper neurotic writer can do (including one disturbing dream where my novel is jacketed with an awful cover that has, like, a comic sans title and an Instagram photo of my face on the front. Nice work, subconscious).**

A comfort book is a thing every true book nerd understands. My library has grown a bit since I was ten, and there is a giant pile of new, unread books teetering on my bedside table; but even glancing at those first few lines of the Guide – far out in the uncharted backwaters of the unfashionable end of the Western Spiral arm of the Galaxy – is as reassuring as a cup of tea and a fuzzy warm blanket. 

** I have not seen the cover of my novel as yet, but I am pretty confident that it will feature neither comic sans, nor a picture of my face.

‘Brainy is the New Sexy’

Yes, okay, I may have spent the majority of this weekend re-watching back-to-back episodes of BBC’s Sherlock. It’s not that I am being completely useless and lazy; just that I’m in that weird funk between sort-of-but-not-quite finishing one project (still waiting for sign-off on that final draft of my novel), and attempting to begin something new. I have an idea. I’ve started researching. I’ve gathered plenty of material and images and notes – but I also know that I’m standing at the bottom of the mountain, again, and I’m not quite ready to begin attempting the hike.

Also, for me, Sherlock is one of those rare TV series where – like a really great novel – the world created is so vivid and absorbing that sinking into any other world afterwards feels impossible. And besides, it’s Melbourne winter, the weather is gross and cold, and indulging in my penchant for brilliant writing and skinny geniuses is much more inviting that huddling in front of my laptop and waiting for the creative gods to bless my with coherent sentences.

I did however manage to not fall into a complete Sherlock blackout, alternating episodes with some of my (other) favourite things: YouTube videos and random internet browsing.

A few cool things I’ve found this week:

Chris Colfer’s speech at the 2012 Book Expo America (BEA) conference. Mostly because the phrase ‘John Green is the Justin Bieber of the literary world’ is used.

Delightfully geeky wedding invites via Mental Floss. I’m generally not super-interested in fancy weddings, but these nerd couples look like they’d have a lot of fun together (and I will be borrowing The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy idea for something).

Old vlogbrothersvideos, especially this one. With my editor’s hat on, I’m always a little smitten with successful authors who can talk with such graciousness about the editorial process. And yes, I freely admit that there is a little John Green fan-ish pattern emerging here.

Episode 1 of Written by a Kid – because Geek and Sundry is all kinds of awesome, and because I did a double-take when ‘S.Q.U.A.T.’ team leader Gerald made an appearance.

(FYI – none of the above eases the pain of having to wait till next year for season 3 Sherlock. But they do help a little…)

 

Final drafts and ‘Star Wars’ fishbowls

It’s done! The final draft of my novel has been dispatched to the expert hands of my editor, and I have succumbed to my standard pattern of a couple of mental high-fives and a brief happy dance, followed by sleepless nights of crushing insecurity. I know that that the manuscript is in the best shape it could possibly be; but at this stage, I am pretty sure I could recite the entire 70-odd thousand words by heart, and it’s a little difficult to see them with anything approaching fresh eyes. But, it is one step closer to becoming a real book, and I will be keeping my fingers and toes and other crossable bits crossed that the thumbs-up from my editor will be forthcoming.

In the meantime, the things I’m most excited about are:

  • Getting designed first pages
  • Being able to officially announce the title
  • Seeing the cover
  • Cleaning my desk

Over the last year my desk has become a bit of a haven for character-related props and other novel-esque ephemera. My protagonist has a Freddy Krueger stuffed doll? I, too, must own a Freddy Krueger stuffed doll! I know that this was partly because a hasty trip to the shops was my way of assuaging writers block – after all, tracking down a DVD of a movie that the character watches or a book that he reads was sort of related to the writing – but suffice to say, my credit card and Minotaur have become good friends over the past year.

Yes, that is a fishbowl of Star Wars plushes. I doubt there was a Woolies in Melbourne left un-plundered in my quest for the complete set. And believe it or not, I wasn’t a horror movie fan before I started writing this book. Except for The Evil Dead. The Evil Dead was always awesome…