Going Wild – 2017 RWA Conference

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I’ve been pretty busy lately, including this blog I wrote for the Melbourne Romance Writers Guild about my trip to Brisbane for the RWA conference.

Now I’m working on getting my manuscript ready to submit to some publishers ASAP to take advantage of the renewed enthusiasm from going to the conference.

I’ll update you all soon.

Is it ever ready?

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Last week I finished a manuscript. Well, I typed ‘The End’. It was a project I started as part of last year’s NaNoWriMo and ended up being 104,000 words; my longest manuscript to date. It sort of feels like I’ve finished it, but I know that the next step is starting the editing process.

I have another manuscript that I’ve submitted to a couple of competitions which I wrote a few years ago, and I was working on edits of that right up until the day before the competition. I’m still not sure whether I should rewrite whole chunks of it because it doesn’t work the way I hoped it would.

The thing is, there is always more work that can be done on a piece. I could rewrite some plot point, or change the point of view of a section. A couple of the earlier manuscripts I wrote, back before I knew about genre conventions and other such things, now feel like they need to be completely rewritten so they’re more like what people expect. Of course there is an argument for originality of structure, but I’m not sure how far I’ll get with that.

The problem I’m facing now is when do I call a project finished? I know I have to let go of things, not least because I’ll drive myself batty with boredom, but I’m also afraid that they’ll never be ready.

I wrote an epilogue for the most recent project and I felt so naff tying everything up so neatly. I know that some readers like that, especially in a romance novel, but I was spent the whole time writing it thinking it was the worst drivel I’d ever thought up.

I’m heading up to the Romance Writers of Australia annual conference in Brisbane in August. It was a lot of money, but I decided that it was worth it for the professional development, networking and opportunities. I’m not really sure what to expect, although people who I’ve spoken to about it have sung it’s praises. I plan to have a second draft of the manuscript ready by then so that I can send it straight to any publisher who might request it or even seem even vaguely interested.

Slowly but surely I’m working my way towards releasing a novel that I’ve written myself into the world.

Radio Silence

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It’s been two months since I last posted. That sounds like what you’re supposed to say at confession: ‘It’s been two months since my last confession.’

I’ve had a pretty full on time since then, some of my own creation and some outside of my control.

I’ve managed to achieve two important creative goals that I set myself. On 14 February, Valentine’s Day, I got my latest genre romance manuscript to 80,000 words. I had planned to have the first draft finished by 80k, but the story was still going and I had to move on to the next goal. There is still some work to be done to tie up the end of the story, I’m back to working on this now, and then the editing process begins.

Then, on 31 March, I submitted a previously completed manuscript to an unpublished manuscript competition run by the Kill Your Darlings literary magazine. I spent six weeks thoroughly editing it. I feel like there might be more work to be done on that manuscript but if I win the competition I’ll have a mentor to do that with. The competition has prize money and the mentor is author Hannah Kent. The shortlist will be announced 1 June, and the winner on 3 July. I have my fingers crossed.

I’ve also had a couple of pretty intense things happen outside of my creative stuff. Firstly, I was evicted from my home with three days notice when the council declared the building unsafe to live in. I managed to find alternative short term accommodation within those three days and I have secured a new place to move into at the beginning of May.

All in all the whole thing went pretty well all things considered. I had to pack up my life, move it to my mum’s for storage, run around trying to find somewhere to sleep, and go through the search for a new share-house all in about a week. It was tough and draining and took up all of my brain space. I’m exhausted just thinking about having to move my stuff again – from Mum’s into the new place.

In addition to being evicted I had a particularly stressful couple of weeks at my job. I work in a not-for-profit organisation doing Quality Assurance and we had our annual external audit. It was my first audit and I didn’t know what to expect, or a have good idea of how to prepare. In addition to the audit my direct manager left the organisation suddenly, which left me, relatively inexperienced, and my boss one step up, the General Manager to manage it all. Everyone pulled together and we managed to get through without too much trouble, but it was incredibly stressful. Now we start planning how to get ready for the audit next year, which is an even bigger project.

I’ve spent the last week and the Easter break trying to regain my calm. I’m still recovering after so much stress. I’m tired and don’t feel at home in the temporary accommodation; more like a guest in a hotel.

The new house, once I’m settled in, will be an opportunity to build a space to create and socialise and live in. It wasn’t my choice to move, but now that it’s happened I think it will be good.

I like to have things planned out. I like to have things settled and stable and reasonably predictable. But the last few weeks have shown that I can cope with a lot. I can have a little cry, and then I knuckle down and do whatever needs to be done. It’s reassuring that even when everything is falling apart around me, I can keep putting one foot in front of the other. Yes, it’s hard, but it’s possible. And that’s very reassuring.

In the moment

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There are a lot of things that I’m trying to work on with myself at the moment. I’ve had a pretty difficult time over the last few months and I feel like finally I’m getting back on track. I’m not there yet, and I know there is more work that needs to be done, but I’m feeling hopeful.

The thing I’m struggling with most is actually being present in the moment. I spend so much time thinking of the past or of the future. Yesterday I had high tea in the country with my beautiful partner and it was so good. I was enjoying being there with him and I wanted to really savour it, but I felt myself being pulled away from the delicious food and amazing company by pressure to be interesting.

I don’t know whether that’s the same thing, but it still felt intrusive.

High tea with bae #foodporn #christmaspresent #date

A post shared by Fleur (@dragongirlau) on

I want to be better at sitting with what’s happening right now. I have a strong imagination, I’ve been feeding it to develop my writing, and now I worry that I use it to tell myself stories; that the past was more interesting, or the future will be more interesting.

I’m not good at sitting quietly and enjoying what’s happening. It feels like maybe I’m missing out on the moments that matter because I’m worrying about the moments next week.

On the other hand, perhaps the fact that I’m catching myself doing it is a sign that I’m getting better at holding onto the present. I’ve been doing a meditation practice since the start of the year and I think that it’s really helping. Taking time, every day, to sit with myself and pay attention to what’s happening in my mind, to acknowledge it and gently try to calm it.

For now, I’m telling myself that I’m doing a good job of looking after myself, I’m taking small steps, and learning to be patient with my progress. If I say it over and over to myself, one day it will be true.

January 26, 2016

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I don’t want to make this post about changing the date. There is so much out there about the reasons that 26 January can be a horrendous day for our First Peoples that I don’t need to add my not very well-educated opinion to it.

Instead I want to tell you about what I did exactly one year ago. I think it’s probably the worst date I’ve ever been on. But that’s getting ahead of myself.

This time last year I was single, and on a dating site called OkCupid. I was pretty prolific, I would contact a lot of people in the hope of finding someone who would be suitable. I was pretty open minded, I would consider most people who didn’t immediately appear to be a massive dickhead.

I’d been talking to a fellow called Vinny* for a week or so. He was a Business Analyst, he was American, in his late 20s. He had told me in his messages that he did stand-up comedy as a bit of a hobby on the side. There was potential.

Vinny lived in St Kilda, and he insisted that we meet up for a coffee down his way. We met at 10:30am, quite early for a public holiday in my opinion, at a cafe on Fitzroy St. I got there before him, I try to be on time for things, and so when he walked up I saw him coming. He seemed very nervous.

We sat at a table on the street, drank our coffees and chatted and watched the comings and goings around us. For the first part of the date he was very quiet, I did a lot of talking, partly to put him at ease and partly to fill the space.

‘Why do you keep looking around?’ he asked, suddenly.

‘I don’t know, I’m just checking out what’s happening.’ I replied.

This was the first time I started to think that he was a little bit socially awkward. It’s not normal to look at a person’s face for the entire time you’re having a conversation. You look off the the side while recalling a fact, or whatever, and anyway staring at someone 100% of the time is super creepy. A little red flag started to wave, but I gave him the benefit of the doubt.

About an hour in he starts to relax, and starts telling me a bit more about himself.

‘Do you want me to tell you one of my jokes?’ he said.

‘Sure.’ I was worried by this stage, being a bit of a rabid feminazi I find that many types of stand-up comedy are offensive. I hoped that Vinny was going to be enlightened and not tell a joke that would make me uncomfortable.

Unfortunately the passage of time has erased the exact joke from my mind, only the punch line stays with me, so I’ve reverse engineered something that is similar to what he told me:

‘My ex-girlfriend bought a dog the other day, that bitch was crazy, and the dog was pretty bad too.’ He grins at me, awaiting my laughter and approval. It is not given, I just sit waiting to see what he’ll do to justify what he’s just said.

‘It’s okay, I don’t really think like that, but I play a character on stage, and he does think like that.’

‘Oh, okay. How does the audience know that you’re playing a character? I mean, if it’s just a five minute open mic spot, then won’t they just think you’re being you?’ I was trying not to be judgmental.

We talked about that for a while, but I could see it wasn’t sinking in. By now I’d decided to honour the small red flag from earlier and I wasn’t interested in spending any more time with this guy. I excused myself, saying I had to get to a Hottest 100 party, and I left.

I’d spent about two hours with this guy. As I sat in my car I shook my head and thought, ‘at least I know he’s a dickhead now, and I don’t have to waste any more time on him,’ and went on with my day.

I had a lovely time at the Corner Hotel, I met some cool people, I played giant jenga, I couldn’t really hear the countdown over the hubbub but that was okay. I called it a day about 7pm and went home.

At 9pm I get a text. I still have the texts saved in my phone.

‘Hey Fleur. It was very nice to meet you. Hope you made it home safe.’

‘Hey, yes, I got home alright,’ I sent back.

‘Cool. Would you like to catch up again?’

‘To be honest, it’s not something I’m super keen on.’

‘No problem. Can I give you a very quick call? Promise to keep it short.’

‘Why?’

‘I won’t ask for why you aren’t interested. Please. Can I call? Just need to request you for something.’

‘If you can’t ask over text then I don’t want to know.’

I’m getting pretty annoyed by now. I expected that he would just take my no and leave it at that. He asked if I had Skype, and I said no.

Eventually he sends through a text with what he wants.

‘I think you are out of my league and you probably associate with people unlike me. I wanted to ask if you would consider the idea of allowing me to serve you financially by taking you shopping and holding your bags while you ignore me.’

On the surface, this seems like a good arrangement, I get presents and I don’t have to talk to him. But this guy bothers me and to be honest I don’t really want to spend any more time with him. I’m also very suspicious that this is not the only thing he will want from me; he’ll want attention, he’ll want to have access to my time, he’ll probably want to inflict his terrible jokes on me. I’m really not very materialistic, I don’t need stuff, and it doesn’t seem like I’d be getting much out of the deal.

So I say no thank you. He wants to talk about it. I say no. He wants to chat on Facebook, I say no, please stop texting me. He goes back to OkCupid and starts messaging me there. I repeat that I’m not interested. I realised in hindsight I should probably have stopped replying, but I didn’t.

At some point I ask him to stop contacting me. He logs into another OkCupid account and starts to message me from that account. It’s now after 11pm.

‘Please let me call to explain. If you don’t agree I will never contact you again,’ he texts.

I don’t reply. Finally I have gotten to the point where I am not giving him any more space. I’m tired, and I go to have a shower. When I get out, I’m getting ready for bed and my phone rings.

It’s Vinny. I was shocked. I have said over and over I don’t want him to call me, I don’t want to speak with him, I’ve made it clear that I was not interested. I was angry so I answered the phone.

‘What the fuck do you think you’re doing?’ I was speaking in a soft voice because both my housemates were asleep. The soft voice makes my anger seem more sinister.

‘I told you not to call me. I told you to stop texting me. Don’t contact me ever again,’ I said.

He screamed something abusive and there was a sound like he’d thrown his phone against the wall.

I was stunned, but I hoped that that would be the end of it. Then I get two final text messages:

‘Fat slob racist piece of shit. Fuck off!!! Die alone fatso.’

‘You are blocked on OkCupid. Die alone fatso racist loser cunt! :)’

The smiley face really just tops off the creepiness in my opinion. This guy, who seems very shy, who takes a while to come out of his shell and who I had done so much to make him feel comfortable. This guy who then felt he was entitled to my time, even after I asked him repeatedly to stop. This guy who said I was out of his league had flipped, very suddenly and very violently, and told me to die alone. This guy who proved to me that those little red flags that pop up and I sometimes ignore, I need to honour those.

It took me a while to feel comfortable again after that. I took myself off OkCupid and tried Tindr. Even now it’s that flip that gets me. I don’t really know what point I’m trying to make here, except to say that this day last year I had a pretty rough day. I had sort of intended this to be a funny anecdote but it turns out that, a year later, it’s still not funny.

 

*I haven’t changed this guy’s name, because he doesn’t deserve my protection.

Welcome to 2017

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Firstly, can I just say that 2017 seems like an absurd number for a year. I finished school in 2002 and that felt quite strange but now I’m even older and it’s 2017. It’s not a real number, it’s not a real year. I feel very old.

But back to what I was really going to talk about. My new years post. I brought in the new year watching the fireworks over the city and got home after 5am from a lovely house party with a spa and lots of lovely people. As a result I’ve spent today alternately sleeping and binge-watching Sherlock. It’s been a good way to start 2017.

So what goals am I setting myself for this year? Well, to start with I’m getting rid of the vague goals from last year. ‘Eat Better’ and ‘Exercise More’ are so ill-defined that they really don’t allow me to succeed at them; so they’re out.

One of the new writing groups I’ve been attending recently is the Melbourne Romance Writers Guild, and the members are quite active in entering competitions and submitting pieces. I think it would help me to pitch got publication if I had won some competitions, so I’m going to add that to my specific goals for the year.

For my writing projects here is my list:

  1. Win NaNoWriMo 2017
  2. Enter 5 writing competitions
  3. Finish the first draft of ‘My Mother’s Secret’
  4. Redraft ‘You Brought this on Yourself’ for submission (this is a hangover from 2016)
  5. Redraft the Choose Your Own Adventure and publish it online.

That’s probably enough for the year, if I’m honest. I think I will need to rewrite the first two NaNoWriMo manuscripts I wrote for publication, they don’t quite sit in the genre of romance well enough to be commercial and they’re not literary fiction either. That’s probably too much to do this year, so they can go on the list for 2018 along with another fringe show. I did a fringe festival show last year, and it was a fantastic experience, but it took up a lot of my creative mind. I think I’d like to do it again, but perhaps every second year is more sustainable.

For my performance goals this year I’m going to focus on Hello Volume. We’ve had a couple of gigs this year and I’d love to be able to get one gig a month in 2017. We’ll need to do some work on networking as well as merchandising and social media presence and all of that jazz. But there’s four of us so that’s doable.

I need to take a bit better care of myself this year. By the time we got to the end of 2016 I was pretty stressed, exhausted and unhappy. I’d let friendships drop off and was anxious about a lot of things. Things that will help to make my 2017 awesome include cooking good food at home, keeping up with regular exercise, reading, and spending time with friends.

I wish you all a brilliant year in 2017. May it bring you adventures and love and happiness and just the right amount of challenge.

What’s Happened: This Year in Review

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Since I finished NaNoWriMo on 30 November this year I’ve done very little writing. I think my writing-brain has gone into hibernation, or possibly it’s just getting to the end of a pretty intense year.

I was looking at the goals I set for myself for 2016, here, and thinking about whether I’d achieved the things I set out to achieve. The goals I set for myself this year were split up into three groups: writing goals, concrete goals, and vague aspirations.

Looking at my writing goals, I’ve only really done one of the four: win NaNoWriMo. I have partially edited two of my previous manuscripts, but neither of them are in any kind of polished state, ready for submission. I’m striking the last one off, pitching a script for a sitcom thing. I don’t want to spend a whole bunch of energy learning a new set of rules and techniques to pitch for television. It seems to me that surely that would be an even more competitive market than fiction. I may choose to do some serious rewrites on the manuscript to sell it to a publishing house, but that seems less daunting.

I do have one of thing I can add which was not on the list, but which was an amazing achievement none the less: writing, producing and performing in my own Melbourne Fringe Festival show Fleur and Alexandra Save the World. This took up almost all of my creative bandwidth for six months, March-September. It was a massive project, and while my show partner had done it before, it still took an enormous about of work and energy to make it happen. In the end we didn’t quite make our money back, but we had over a hundred people come to see our show, and we were listed in The Age entertainment guide. I count it as a success, and who knows, maybe I’ll do another show in the future.

The next category was concrete goals. I’ve only done one of these as well; perform with the band. Hello Volume has been practicing almost every week for all of this year, and we’ve done a couple of live performances. I had hoped to get a few more lined up by this stage of the year, but we have plenty of time for that. Yesterday we went up to a recording studio in Central Victoria to put down some tracks possibly for an EP. It was a surprisingly painless (although exhausting) process. The sound engineer was knowledgeable and created a great relaxed, low-pressure atmosphere. We won’t know for sure how it went until he sends us the mixed and mastered tracks, but listening to the rough cuts I’m super pumped to hear them.

As my second concrete goal I had set myself the goal of planning another big trip. I haven’t done that, for a variety of reasons. A large part of it is because I have so much going on here at home that I sort of haven’t wanted to leave.

The last category is the vague aspirational goals section. The problem with this section is that they are, by nature, sliding and slippery. One, eat well, is so subjective that there is no real way to measure whether I’ve done it. I mean I have eaten a lot of good things, I’ve cooked healthy things for myself and been conscious about what I eat, but only some of the time. Other times, especially when I’m running around like a mad person doing all of the stuff I try to jam into a normal week, I occasionally have chips for dinner. When we were performing the Fringe show I was so nervous before hand I couldn’t eat properly and then afterwards I was so hungry I just scoffed huge handfuls of chocolate and muesli bars.

The same is true of exercising. If I looked at the number of times I actually went to the gym this year, as compared with last year, I’m sure I would have performed significantly worse. There was a period where I was sick for a month, and then there was the Fringe show, and then there was NaNoWriMo, when I prioritised getting my words done over going to the gym. I have tried to maintain a commitment to moving my body and being active, so I reckon I can count that one as a win.

The goal of ‘get a job’ can be ticked off, however I don’t know if I’m entirely happy with it. The job I have is working in an area of business where I haven’t had much experience. Granted, it’s mostly just a case of applying common sense, and having a consistent approach, but I still feel quite unstable in the role. Not to mention the contract I’m on is still a casual one, and I’ve had a new manager start about six weeks ago. Work is an area of my life I’ve found stressful this year. The creative projects I’ve worked on have been stressful in a sort of positive way, but my day-jobs this year have been full of uncertainty and difficult personalities. It’s not my favourite.

In terms of my social life, I’ve had some amazing ups and some lows too. I’ve started a relationship with someone I’m incredibly impressed by, who cares for me in a beautiful way I haven’t experienced before (and am therefore just a little bit freaked out by). It’s glorious and terrifying, and I hope that person knows how much they mean to me.

On the other hand, I had two very dear friends move away, and one more who is going at the start of next year. I’ve struggled in my adult life to create caring, reciprocal relationships (both romantic and platonic). I’ve ended up in situations where I play a counselling or parenting role, and these relationships are very one-sided. I’ve been consciously trying to seek out and nurture fulfilling, reciprocal and supportive friendships for a couple of years, and I’ve found it incredibly difficult. I guess it just means I have to keep trying.

I feel like I’m a person who is able to adapt to a lot of new situations. I like to take on new challenges and learn new things. In looking back at this year I feel like I’ve done a lot of really amazing things, I’ve done them pretty bloody well, and if I’m feeling a bit overwhelmed and tired right now then maybe I should just go with that feeling and give myself permission to take a break. I have a tendency to set unrealistically high expectations and then be so stubborn that I try to achieve them anyway. Mostly it means I get a great deal of work done, but sometimes it means I beat myself up because I can’t do everything.

I’m thinking of what goals I want for next to set for next year. I think I’ll aim for stability in at least one aspect of life. I’ve had a lot of balls in the air this year and I think it would be easier in 2017 if at least one moving part was not moving quite so much. Maybe my day-job will actually be what I want it to be: a financial support for my other endeavours, and not such a drainer of my mental resources.

Once I figure out what I want to put on the list, I’ll do a post on my 2017 goals in early January.

Winner Winner Chicken Dinner!

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I realised today that I hadn’t done a blog post to brag about my NaNoWriMo win this year! So here it is!

I finished my 50,027 word draft on 29 November. I took the next day off. I have not written any more since, it’s  been nearly a week.

I think I’m a bit over halfway through the story – I keep adding extra details and obstacles into my plot – so I think I have about 30,000 words left. I’m not great at guessing these things but that sounds right. I’ve given myself a deadline of 14 February, coz that’s romantic and stuff. And I work better with a deadline, arbitrary or otherwise.

About half way through the month I mocked up a cover image and title for the new manuscript because I was procrastinating writing a scene.

Behold My Mother’s Sectret:cover-jpg

I have a bunch of editing work that needs to be done on my third and my fourth NaNoWriMo manuscripts as well as possibly rewriting the first two to be more in line with genre conventions. I think I’ll have plenty of work to keep myself busy over the summer.

We also had a great gig for Hello Volume this Sunday at the Workers Club, so we hope to have a bunch more of those before the summer is over.

It’s a good thing I don’t work full-time or else I’d never have time to sleep. Keep motivated!

Everybody Knows

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for Leonard

They signed this agreement
That nobody else
had to die

Now what can I tell you, my brother, my killer
What can I possibly say?

And even though
It all went wrong
I’ll stand before the Lord of Song
With nothing on my tongue

And I can’t believe that time’s
Gonna heal this wound I’m s
peaking of
There ain’t no cure for love

The last time I saw you, you looked so much older
The boat is leaking, the captain lied
Give me back my broken night

If it be your will
That I speak no more
And my voice be still
As it was before

Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack in everything
That’s how the light gets in.

 

 

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Image from Facebook

Ten days ago, we lost another musical legend. I listened to ‘Famous Blue Raincoat’ on repeat and wept. This is my tribute, using only his words. He was a poet first, musician second. He touched my life in profound ways, I was introduced to his work by a lover and I was lucky enough to see him perform twice.

Thank you for letting us share your beauty.

Why do I do it?

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I’m in Sydney for a few days giving myself a little holiday, visiting a couple of cool people. I told my friend, a poet, that I was feeling a little anxious about starting NaNoWriMo without a plot, or any characters. She laughed, and asked “why do you do it?”

This year will be my fifth time. I couldn’t think of a good reason at the time, and after thinking it over I don’t really have one, except I do it because I can.

There is something that I get from forcing myself to do the marathon that I don’t get from writing on my own. Additional motivation that comes from the companionship of other people doing the same thing. I don’t think I’d achieve nearly as much without knowing hundreds of thousands of people around the world are doing it too. There’s also an element of competition against myself; chasing those daily word count goals. Without that I wouldn’t make time for writing.

I am aware I create quite a lot of content, and I do the most of it at the last minute, right on the deadline. I think, deep down, I’m lazy and having something external to push against really helps me. And knowing there is a time when it will be finished, has to be finished, really helps sustain my efforts. Having the end in sight makes it easier to just keep going that little bit longer. A preset time when you have to stop also helps to avoid perfection paralysis.

This morning, I sat in a coffee shop in Newtown, with a coffee and wrote 600 words of plot and character summaries. I think I probably have enough to start with. Probably my plot has holes in it I won’t notice until later, but I can fix that up later. I start writing tomorrow.

Expect a couple of updates before the month is over, and possibly a faux-cover reveal later in the month when I’m procrastinating doing my daily words.