Sunday, February 28, 2010

Word of the Week: Quizzical

I was asked this week to read over a short story by a fellow writer. It was a very affecting story of love and loss - all the good bits - in which he had used 'quizzical' not once, but twice. And I didn't hesitate a second before running my pen through both of them. Didn't even explain why - just left a comment in the margin after the second one: 'Aaaaargh! Here it is again!'

Don't worry, we're good enough friends that he didn't take offence at such unhelpful censoring. But he did defend his use of the word. 'What's wrong with it? It perfectly describes the look she (his main character) had.' I have to concede he's right. According to the old ACOD (Australian Concise Oxford Dictionary):

'quizzical adj. 1 expressing or done with mild or amused perplexity. 2 strange; comical.'

The situation in his story definitely demanded a mildly perplexed look from his MC. So I was forced to confront my prejudice against the word. It wasn't because it was inappropriate or misused. It was a little bit because it reminds me of Enid Blyton books,* but mostly it's because it's such an ugly word!

Yes, as far as quizzical is concerned, it's a question of form over function. It sticks out like a sore thumb. Those two 'z's combined with the 'q'. Awful. Outside of a game of Scrabble, I never want to see them in any word in front of me.

But is that reason enough to scribble it out? Surely it's hard enough choosing the best word to use without worrying about whether its physical form is going to be off-putting to sensitive readers like me.

I'm inclined to think with words like 'quizzical', using it once is ok (Oh, if you must) but any more than that is distracting. And I mean once in a whole novel. Ok, maybe twice.

*I love Enid Blyton's books, but her prose isn't quite suited to contemporary Australian short stories!

Friday, February 26, 2010

Would you believe I did this three times trying to get Lizzie Bennet? It seems there's no arguing with Miss Austen.

I am Elinor Dashwood!

Friday, February 19, 2010

Myths and Symbols

Gosh, it's been a busy week over in the block or not corner! I started back at my writing and editing diploma, and what with evening classes, internships and homework, haven't had much 'sitting and thinking' time.

So to save me coming up with my own post topics, I've decided to do a few on what we've done in classes.

First up, in my class on myths and symbols and how they're used by writers, we were asked to think of a story that has 'stayed with us' - and why.

The story that I first thought of was the Greek myth of Demeter and Persephone. Demeter's daughter Persephone is kidnapped by Hades and taken to the underworld. She's eventually rescued, but because she ate six pomegranate seeds while she was there, Zeus rules she has to stay with Hades for six months every year. Demeter is the goddess of fertility, so for those six months every year she refuses to make anything grow, which is why we have winter every year (although I think in Australia it would be summer!).

The reason this story has stayed with me? Mostly it's because when I was a kid reading it, I had no idea what a pomegranate was, and why you'd eat the seeds. And the explanation for the seasons is very cool.

But, apart from fascinating yours truly over the course of her lifetime, this story has been around for thousands of years. That makes me think I should look at it more closely, and try to learn something!

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Self-indulgent, or self-sufficient?

''I said to the distributor, 'I want to sell 10,000 books,' and it's fair to say he laughed until he was purple."

These are the words of self-published author Christopher Ride, who, if you read on in this article, you will see ended up selling 10,500 books. Crikey.

I've always been told to avoid self-publishing like the plague. Vanity press is for sloppy or self-indulgent writing, and these publishers prey on the egos of writers ground down by rejection letters yet buoyed by 'empty praise' from their mum/writing group (see these interesting blog posts on usefulness of praise by Nicola Morgan and KarenG).

But you do hear more stories like this. Matthew Reilly is the Australian poster boy for self-publishing - the story about how he convinced one bookseller to put a stand of his books in prime position in the shop, and how he used to sit on peak-hour buses facing all the commuters with his nose in a copy of his book, is a legend whispered about up the back of many a creative writing class. I suspect, however, that he is more an exception than the rule.

This Christopher Ride, who I'd never heard of before, invested $130,000 of his own money in his book, which, if your book is no good, is an expensive ego trip. He now has a three-book deal with a 'real' publisher however, so I guess it worked out for him.

Perhaps these days, with the e-book revolution on the horizon, self-publishing is becoming a viable option?

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Thank you to Old Kitty and KarenG for nominating me for these blog awards!

From Old Kitty:

I like the challenge of this - answer questions in one word only. Takes me back to my monosyllabic teenage years.

Your Mobile Phone? Dated
Your Hair? Brown
Your Mother? Educates
Your Father? Farms
Your Favorite Food? Ice-cream
Your Dream Last Night? Heatwave-induced
Your Favorite Drink? Drunk
Your Dream/Goal? Publish
What Room Are You In? Airconditioned
Your Hobby? Working
Your Fear? UV
Where Do You See Yourself In Six Years? 2016
Where Were You Last Night? Couch
Something That You Aren't? Telepathic
Muffins? Blueberry
Wish List Item? One?
Where Did You Grow Up? Didn't
Last Thing You Did? Tea
What Are You Wearing? Colours
Your TV? Square
Your Pets? Missed
Friends? About
Your Life? Fortunate
Your Mood? Sanguine
Missing Someone? Sometimes
Vehicle? Pushbike
Something You Aren't Wearing? Socks
Your Favorite Store? Merton
Your Favorite Colour? Greeny-bluey-purply
When Was The Last Time You Laughed? Yesterday
Last Time You Cried? Pointless
Your Best Friend? Lentils
One Place You Go To Over And Over Again? Desk
Facebook? ...useful...
Favorite Place To Eat? Verandah

From KarenG:


Rules are to give ten honest things about myself, but I do like the ambiguity of this one if you just remove the 's'.

1. I eat too much pasta
2. I can't spell 'perseverance' (well, I couldn't before I looked it up in the dictionary).
3. I probably spend more time thinking about stuff and writing for this blog than I do on my book.
4. I still don't really believe I can write a book.
5. My bike tyres probably should have been replaced about a year ago.
6. If I don't have any caffeine in a day I get headaches - been wondering lately whether to give it up, but it helps me write.
7. Correcting grammar and punctuation makes me feel smug.
8. Channel 10 has stopped showing The Simpsons every day of the week and it's really annoyed me.
9. I've lived in the city for 12 years but still can't call it home.
10. I eavesdrop on public transport.

I don't have a heap of blogs that I follow, but these are the ones I think deserve awards, to do with what they will (they definitely deserve a look):
Melinda Szysmanik: I should be writing but...
Just Jemi 
Rebecca Knight - Writer in Progress

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Check it (out)

Help! I Need a Publisher!: MORE POINTS OF VIEW - SAYS WHO? SAYS I

If anyone would like to see a tiny piece of my writing get picked apart ever so helpfully by YA author and writing/publishing guru Nicola Morgan, please proceed through the above link.

I'm very grateful Nicola took the time to consider what I sent her, and recommend her blog as one of, if not the, best blog/s for aspiring writers.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

This Straw Not Recommended for Hot Beverages

So said the wrapper on my straw when I went into my local coffee franchise for an iced one.

I'm not sure what the statistics are; whether the incidence of people receiving mouth burns from sipping their long blacks through a straw was abominably high and action had to be taken, or if perhaps it's decreased since they started labelling straws in this fashion. One thing for sure, we live in a society that likes to point out the obvious.

Which is probably why I'm having a little trouble with avoiding the obvious when I write lately. My writing's full of 'he saids' and 'she saids' when it's very obvious that a) someone's talking (the talking marks give that away!) and b) the person talking is him. Or her.

I can't help it - I use these words like punctuation to break up sentences, and because they're easy. When I get an idea I want to get it down as fast as I can, so I use quick and easy words, which are rarely interesting or evocative.

The results are some ve-ery sloppy writing, so I have to keep reminding myself: The point of writing a story is not just to say what's going on - you're supposed to bring something more to the table.

On the other hand, when I do take the time to slave for hours over two sentences until they're just shimmering, it's a bit like when you spend all afternoon cooking lasagne from scratch for your housemates/family and you serve it up and it all goes in about 5 minutes: a two hour sentence will be read in an average of 2.5 seconds*.  Then the reader goes straight on to the next one.

Aim for the next week: increase the interesting and evocative while writing as fast as possible. Easy!

*Statistic not verified.