Friday, February 23, 2007

Carole and the plotting of the Dragonkeeper books

We had a professional development session on Tuesday night at black dog. We run PDs for teachers but this was aimed more at the publishing professionals at our authors, illustrators, designers and ourselves. Carole spoke on plotting particular the plotting of the Dragonkeeper trilogy. It was an excellent evening. Carole spoke at length, and the questions and answers flew back and forth between audience and speaker.

What captured my imagination was the discipline with which Carole approaches her writing, how she harnesses her passion and ideas. She usually starts work at 7:30 in the morning and writes only in the morning (unless a deadline is very much looming) and the afternoon is reserved for research, going to the library and all the other things she needs to do in her life. She says she's not a writer who just sits down and writes and sees where it takes her. Once she knows the idea of the book she sits down and plans the plot. This will change as the book evolves but she begins with a plan. She is a fan of plot and thinks that it is especially important in children's books. Children's expectation of a storyline is that it goes up and up - Cinderella begins in the ashes, an invitation arrives, she goes to the ball, dances with the prince, wins the prince's heart, they get married and live happily ever after. And some writers, especially those gifted with youth, give children these storylines in their books but Carole says for a book to capture the imagination it needs more. It needs ups and downs, light and shade: Cinderella is in the ashes, the invitation arrives (good), she's forbidden to go (bad), the fairy god mother arrives, C. goes to the ball, but she has to leave by 12 (and her coach rather embarrassingly almost turns into a pumpkin), she leaves a slipper, the prince's butler (or whatever) comes with the shoe for it to be tried on, but C. is not allowed to, the butler insists. the prince and C get married (resolution). So up and down the story line goes, up the hill and down the dale, sustaining the readers interest. Carole also builds in two or three subplots. (A US reviewer criticised Carole for putting too many villains in Dragonkeeper.) Each of which has their own story arc.

One of the the things that fascinated me was the systematic way Carole sat down to solve problems. Carole has a white board for plotting and has a notebook for each book. When she's stuck or uncertain as to how to resolve a problem. she writes down as many different soluions to the plot problem as she can and then reviews. Often she said combining possible solutions made the best solution. (I hope I got this down correctly, Carole? Please correct if not.)

Carole said that what she was doing is creating worlds, so building on consistent foundations is important. The moon was important in Dragonkeeper, so she found a year in the lunar calendar that suited her purposes and stuck to that throughout the book.

I know other writers including Sue Lawson who use notebooks, especially for the back story. When Sue's characters live in a house she looks for a plan of a house that will suit the books needs in the real estate section of the newspaper. As an editor it is often the detail that brings the book alive for me.

I've just captured a small part of Carole's talk here.

Thanks, Carole, for an excellent presentation.

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Harry Potter interim cover

Interesting to see the Bloomsbury solution to creating and interim cover:

illustrator's quote

I did want to quote this excellent line from one of our illustrators:

'a reader could either translate the illustration to mean "the hills hoist has actually turned into a spaceship", or "the children have just entered a fugue of hyper imagination".'

SA v Vic

Is the rivalry between SA and Victoria real? Greg Baum claimed it extends into the colonial past in the Weekend Australian, which reminded me of this entry in The Encyclopedia of South Australian Culture

Noel McLachlan and Waiting for the Revolution

I was sorry to discover last week that Noel McLachlan had died. Editing his Waiting for the Revolution was my first real adult trade freelance editorial job (courtesy of Barbie Burton). My experience of Noel was that he was charming, wilful, subversive and highly amusing. I learnt a lot. He'd exceeded his original brief from Penguin by some 30,000 words and he'd been ordered to cut. So he didn't cut anything substantive he eliminated unnecessary words such as thats and thes. When I started reading it I was shocked and appalled. Then I got into the rhythm of Noel's language, and after awhile I could hear his distinctive voice in my ear when I was reading the script. When it went back to Penguin (not to Barbie), the editor was shocked and appalled, sent me a letter telling me off, and some of the missing words were 'restored' but not enough to ruin the rhythm of the writing and Noel escaped any substantive cuts.

The book also left me with a perspective on Australian history that I still retain.

POV and genre

I've been taking a short cut by mixing up POV and person, though they are closely related, and here's some comments about POV from a romance writer's perspective which I found interesting in relation to person and genre (with thanks to Jane Sullivan):
Anne Gracie

Saturday, February 17, 2007

more on first person

It's been an interesting discussion in the comments on an earlier post on first person.

In my original post I now think I was edging towards some sort of age-based theory about person. Before I get into too much trouble, I want to say: There are no rules, and what is right depends on the author, the book, the characters.


In early chapter books I think the first person (often past tense) has a direct appeal. As there are more words and more of a story 3rd person either constrained to one character or more omniscient is attractive. At this age I remember loving the sense of security that someone (an adult) was telling me a good story - that I was in safe hands. I liked being able to adventure securely (often I think there was an adult mentor figure in the stories as well). Is this why fantasy is so strong in these years? Is first person less common in fantasy. Then things get a bit more edgy and different in the teen years. We start to see peers in different ways. Teenagers are working to define themselves, often against what is around them, and to test the authenticity of those boundaries. And these years are direct and sensory, with an immediacy suited to the first person.

I suppose there is a genre component: historical fiction tends to be 3rd person, as does fantasy and contemporary reality fiction is often first.

Now I can't wait to hear other theories…

Sunday, February 11, 2007

1st person

We're editing a first-person YA novel at the moment and I was reminded reading "How Novels Work" that Henry James was partly responsible for a dip in the use of the first person in novels: "The first person, in the long piece, is a form foredoomed to looseness" and "the terrible fluidity of self-revelation" and "it has no authority, no persuasive or convincing force - its grasp of reality & truth isn't strong and disinterested". A dip that has well and truly been righted with more than half the Booker prize winners of the last ten years or so being at least in part in the first person. I like first person but James' comments reminded me that as a child (not a teenager) I preferred the adult warmth of the 3rd person, the sense of sitting on the narrator's knee - and Ali, at black dog, said she too had preferred the first person. The first person seems peculiarly suited to the the intense egotism of the teen years.

Thursday, February 08, 2007

NZ Post Awards announced and congratulations to Leon for the shortlisting of Red Haze

And congratulations to all the shortlisted authors, illustrators and publishers. (with a special congratulatory thanks to Schoalstic New Zealand, our truly excellent New Zealand distributors).

2007 Non Fiction Finalists

Red Haze: Australians and
New Zealanders in Vietnam
Leon Davidson
Black Dog Books
$19.99 pb

Illustrated History of
the South Pacific
Marcia Stenson
Random House New Zealand
$29.99 pb

It's True! You Can
Make Your Own Jokes
Sharon Holt & Ross Kinnaird
Allen & Unwin
$13.99 pb

Soldier in the Yellow Socks: Charles Upham - our finest fighting soldier
Janice Marriott
HarperCollins Publishers

Winging It!
The Adventures of Tim Wallis
Neville Peat
Longacre Press
$24.99 pb

2007 Picture Book Finalists

Kiss! Kiss! Yuck! Yuck!
Kyle Mewburn, Ali Teo & John O'Reilly
Scholastic New Zealand
$16.99 pb

Robyn Kahukiwa
$16.95 pb

A Present from the Past
Jennifer Beck & Lindy Fisher
Scholastic New Zealand
$16.99 pb

Riding the Waves
Gavin Bishop
Random House New Zealand
$29.99 hb

Whakaeke i ngā ngaru
Gavin Bishop & Kāterina Mataira
Random House New Zealand
$24.99 pb

The Three Fishing Brothers Gruff
Ben Galbraith
Hodder Children's Books
$29.99 hb

2007 Junior Fiction Finalists:

And did those feet...
Ted Dawe
Longacre Press
$16.99 pb

Vince Ford
Scholastic New Zealand
$16.99 pb

Frog Whistle Mine
Des Hunt
HarperCollins Publishers
$16.99 pb

My Story: Castaway - The Diary of Samuel Abraham Clark, Disappointment Island, 1907
Bill O'Brien
Scholastic New Zealand
$16.99 pb

Thor's Tale: Endurance and Adventure in the Southern Ocean
Janice Marriott
HarperCollins Publishers
$18.99 pb

YA fiction shortlist:

Bernard Beckett
Longacre Press
$18.99 pb

A Respectable Girl
Fleur Beale
Random House New Zealand
$18.99 pb

Shooting the Moon
V. M. Jones
HarperCollins Publishers
$18.99 pb

Single Fin
Aaron Topp
Random House New Zealand
$18.99 pb

Ella West
Longacre Press
$18.99 pb

For more information

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

territorial combat

The Brits are argueing with the Yanks about what to do with Europe. Hachette has given distribution of US Hachette titles in Europe to the Brits much to the disappointment of the Europeans.

Karl Heinz Petzler, managing director of the Lisbon distributor Lisma Lda said. "I can only classify this decision of voluntarily renouncing turnover as an unheard of act of self-castration," Petzler wrote in a letter to Hachette. "It also shows a lack of respect for authors, agents and customers alike, who all will lose because of this move."

Brian DeFiore, head of the literary agency DeFiore and Company: U.S. publishers insist that Europe remain an open market, which makes it very difficult to get a U.K. deal, and American houses are likely to reject any deal made with a U.K. publisher that has already won European exclusivity.

An interesting echo of our territorial difficulties with the Poms.

Saturday, February 03, 2007

excellent article

on the British literary inferiority complex by Benjamin Markovits in this weekends AFR but reprinted with minimal acknowledgement from
Prospect magazine but search it under Google as clicking the link I've provided asks you to subscribe to read the article.

Oz character

Do we have a particular taste for leaving things to the last minute and flying by the seat of our pants. A reputation for cheap and innovative solutions? Compared to an American, European or say Japanese thoroughness and attention to detail. (In part due to a lack of resources?)

Friday, February 02, 2007

new word - optioneer

meaning someone who purveys a film option (with thanks to Melisssa Davies of Sight Effects). I liked it - very much - with its overtones of auctioneer (selling) and of the cheery clubby but media overtones of mouseketeer. I can't find it on the web except as a index trading option program. I think Melissa's use is far superior.