‘Nothing New To Begin’ Published in Tincture

…proving, yet again, my blog is suspiciously similar to a bus station platform

My string of vignettes ‘Nothing New To Begin’ is available now in Tincture Journal, Issue Five. I share the ToC with two of my PINPS colleagues: Stacey has the short story ‘Diary of a Tree-Sitter’ and Sean has a poem ‘The King’.

NOTHING NEW TO BEGIN

I wrote this piece back in August 2012 while Adam and I were in the middle of writing Piper’s Reach. I wrote it partly as therapy, partly to see if I could pull off the concept: each section a stand alone vignette, a snap shot of a moment, an ambigious  space for the reader to fill and be no longer than 250 words.

Even though they were all intended as separate pieces, I wanted them to fit together to tell an ever evolving and deviating story. It was a piece that I put through the beta reading wringer. I got a number of non-writing friends to read and comment on it before I sent it off to Dan Powell who expertly cut 250 odd words from it. Adam and Stacey all had input at varying junctures.

Here is a taster…

The silence of the car trip followed them inside with the chill of night air. She paused in the doorway then backed away, staring at the queen-sized bed. “I’ll sleep in one of the other rooms.”

A single bed had less lonely space to fill.

“I wasn’t suggesting…” he said, and she forced a smile to stop him finishing the sentence.

“Are you okay?” The car trip haunted her. How the conversation had petered out with the suburbs, becoming polite inquiries about the next CD and the best rest stops once they hit the highway. If she’d known it would be like this, the melancholy clinging to them like the damp sea air, she’d have never suggested it.

“We should eat,” he said. “Something proper.”

She nodded and watched him put his bag down on the far side of the bed.

Thunder heaved and the first iron pings of rain began to fall. An overhanging tree branch clawed the guttering. The window lit up.

“A storm?” he said, looking surprised.

“Of course a storm,” she said and placed her bags carefully on the other side of the bed.

Want to know what it is all about, how it ends. Buy your copy here for just $8.

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Writing Around The Block

Screen Shot 2014-02-24 at 7.43.27 PMI have an article up at The Writer’s Bloc today, the first non-fiction piece I’ve written in a long time.

Editor, Samantha van Zweden asked me several months ago if I would be interested in writing about collaborative partnerships, given that not many authors did it and I’d been neck deep in them for a while.

I go through a little of what’s good, bad and potentially ugly. And there’s a couple of photos of what it looks like to work collaboratively (it’s all about the feet, hands and random bits of paper!)

Many thanks to Adam and Rus who helped me brain storm the initial dot points and looked over early drafts of it. Thanks also to Stacey who gave me the nod to talk about our work-in-progress.

Have you ever considered a collaborative writing partnership? If not, why not?

Good-Bye Jude and Ella-Louise

Pipers Reach Promo PictureI’m feeling emotionally fragile this morning after last night’s final editing session with Adam on Post Marked: Piper’s Reach. Actually that’s a bit of an understatement. I’m emotionally gutted, made worse by the fact I wasn’t expecting this. Even though we finished writing the letters back in April and have read through it multiple times, been over the end multiple times, and apparently grieved it all… reading aloud the letters last night truly rendered me bereft. And grieving all over again.

#iamnotcrying

That was the hashtag we tweeted under last night. When Adam suggested it, I thought, ‘Yeah okay’. Three months had passed since we’d last been together to edit and I forgot that editing meant reading aloud. And reading aloud last night meant… reading those letters aloud: the final words of Ella-Louise and Jude to each other.

The ones wrought from the depths of their heart as the realisations surfaced about who they were, what they had done and what was left to do next. Of the two of them brokering something of a resolution and believing in future, even if it wasn’t the future they originally wanted.

When my voice began to wobble, somewhere around the final 20 page mark, I knew I was in for a long haul of tears. And I so didn’t want to be the first to cry, but I have a reputation as being a bit of a sook. It would have been all wrong, had I not cried first.

Amplification

When you write in such close creative quarters with someone, you get to know them pretty well. You get to know a little about what makes them tick, what makes them laugh, what you think will make them cry. You create characters you both love (and sometimes hate, or want to slap some sense into). You share a very intimate space.

My challenge throughout the 14 months of writing was to ‘make Adam cry’. A rather noble gesture and one I took quiet seriously. And I thought I knew how to do it. Turns out I brought him to the brink several times without pushing him over.

I was certain the end would do it.

That final letter.

And when I didn’t make Adam cry the night we exchanged those final letters back in April I was shocked. In fact, I was a little incensed. How could he NOT cry? Did he have a bloody heart of stone?

What I didn’t realise was Adam was incapable of expressing any kind of emotion such was the physical and emotional impact of that final letter. He walked around in shock for a week, trying to process the ending. And later we got to talk about just how it felt, began to pick it apart (if you’re writing partner can’t see the ending that’s coming, that’s a good thing right?) but I felt a little cheated. I had wanted to make him cry, like he had been making me cry across the three seasons.

Turns out, it’s not such a great thing to want.

It’s one thing to cry alone, another thing to cry in company.

Adam said last night, that the process of reading aloud amplified the emotion. It absolutely did. It also stripped bare our reactions to the words. I started crying for the words, but then I was crying because Adam was crying and thankfully we were separated by a State, with video cams off, which at least gave us a modicum privacy with our tears. Perhaps stopped us from dissolving completely into sobbing, hiccupping messes. Well temporarily!

We Could Be Heroes

It wasn’t like we hadn’t read it ad nauseum. It wasn’t like we didn’t know what was coming. It wasn’t like it was going to be a surprise… and yet it was. I was bowled over by just how visceral the emotions were. Of how deeply they tore through me.

I knew the exact moment we (collectively) would crack. I felt a little sick knowing those words were coming.

I tweeted: @revhappiness is going to say that heroes line and I will bawl.

Adam’s speed slowed, his voice quietened, the pauses between paragraphs and sentences lengthened, I could hear him struggling to get the words out and then came the line and there was a very long pause as we both were consumed by emotion. Neither of us were ashamed to admit we were crying.

But there was still one letter to go.

I don’t know how I read it. I was so choked up. It was like I was whispering Ella-Louise’s final words for a long way away. And then it was over.

For the last time.

There was nothing but silence. And snuffles. And more silence. Because what do you say when it is: The End?

How To Say Good-Bye

A friend told me this week that crying is being close to your soul. And last night it felt as though I lay within the souls of Ella-Louise and Jude. This morning I feel as though I’ve lost two close friends. I feel, even now, as though I could begin sobbing at any moment. While they left with each other a small part of themselves, I know they left a small part of themselves with Adam and I.

It is as though I’m up on The Point being buffered by a summer storm that blew in from nowhere, but a storm I knew in my heart was coming.

We created this montage as a tribute to the series and farewell for our readers back in June, but now the clip feels more like a eulogy; to friends well met and fairly parted.

First Impressions For Post Marked: Piper’s Reach

Pipers Reach Promo PictureLast week I wrote about the process of honing the first page and the angst of marrying a non-traditional narrative with a traditional narrative framework to hook the reader. I had been reviewing the opening page in preparation for submitting to Marcy Hatch and Dianne Salerni’s “First Impressions” and agonising over the fit. Wondering if Piper’s Reach was appealing to those outside of our existing fan base. Dreading feedback that said we’d got it all wrong. After reading the comments on both Marcy and Dianne’s blog I know now why I was so worried.

Kittie Howard commented: There’s no middle ground with epistolary writing. It either hits or misses.

So, are we a hit or a miss?

THE HITS

“What’s great about this first page is that it sets up lots of questions about the past between these two people but also suggests a question about the future. Why is the narrator writing to Jude now, twenty years later?” Marcy.

I never really thought about why the twenty year gap (I was thinking of all the other whys) or the inherent question regarding the future (even though we set up the original tagline as: When the past reaches into the present would you risk a second chance.)

There’s just the right amount of past and present mixed together, and enough places mentioned to provide a clear image of setting without being confusing. Dianne

Again, I hadn’t thought too much about the setting on the first page (too worried about character and voice and conflict), even though Adam and I had spoken during the editing process about properly locating both the towns early on, something missing from the original letters.

To follow finish off Kittie’s comment: There’s no middle ground with epistolary writing. It either hits or misses. This one hits!

Alex J Cavanaugh commented: That simple letter says a lot. The authors nailed so much in just a few paragraphs.

You can read the full critiques and all the comments on Marcy’s and Dianne’s blogs, or add your own there.

THE MISSES

Some of the readers were slightly confounded by Australian colloquialisms such as ‘sea change’ (though apparently it was Shakespeare who first coined the phrase in The Tempest!) and ‘pashed’. Adam in true Adam style explained pash in the comments and added ‘pash rash’ – oh, I’d totally forgotten that! Chatting over dinner last night Dave and I agreed ‘pash’ really does belong (rather than snog) because it is one of those iconic 70’s and 80’s teenage Australian words – those all or nothing kinds of kisses at blue light discos and school socials that traded etiquette for raw momentum. If we want to keep true to the Australian voice of the characters we will need to be mindful to accommodate an international audience in the context of those words.

There were some punctuations glitches to fix and a small tweaking of one sentence regarding ‘stuff’, which is quite shameful given years ago I walked into my soul sister’s Year 8 English class where she had written ‘stuff’ and ‘things’ on the board and was running through ways of better articulating these generic terms!

So the worry was for nothing. Easy to say in retrospect! The project overall is unique enough to pique the interest of readers and there is enough in that first letter to hook the reader in. Now to worry over the next 321 pages!

Many thanks to Marcy, Dianne and their readers. Their comments and insights have fuelled the second stage editing rocket ready for launch next week.

If you have a manuscript and are interested in being part of Marcy and Dianne’s ‘First Impressions’ drop by either of their blogs for more information.

How Do I Love Thee, Let Me Count The Ways?

…Or how I almost gouged my eyes out with a spoon honing the first page

It is hard to find anything to love about the process of getting the first page of a manuscript right. If anything I could count all the ways I hate it, but let’s keep with a positive spin?

I spent the beginning of the week revising, rewriting, revising, rewriting (and so on and so forth) the ‘first page’ of Post Marked: Piper’s Reach in anticipation of subbing that page for an online crit. Adam was ever so patient with my incessant rewrites, in supporting the changes I’d made while insisting some things remain unchanged.

I thought writing a synposis was hard work? It pales in comparison.

I look back on the opening page of Elyora and remember how many times I rewrote it, trying to get it was just right, knowing the dynamic I was setting up, the questions I wanted raised, the characters I was evoking. But the pressure was off – the novella had already been accepted for publication. Then there was the rewriting of the beginning of Elyora in its transformation into River of Bones. The opening there doesn’t even have the (obvious) main players – it exists to suck readers in, give them a quick fix via Kindle preview so they buy the book – a very different kind of beast.

And now there is Post Marked: Piper’s Reach which I oddly seem to have a greater investment in, than anything else I have ever written. I feel like the pain and angst over getting it ‘just right’ is only just beginning (that writing the original letters was the easy bit). I’m realising the difficulty inherent in writing something that is not a stock-standard narrative.

And let’s not mention it’s my words that open the novel! No pressure.

GIVE IT TO ME IN 400 WORDS

In this day and age it’s not enough to have a stellar first chapter or even five brilliant opening pages. The ability to wow and snag the initial interest of an agent or editor is reduced down to the first page. It makes honing that opening page of a short story look like a cake walk in some ways – after all, the first page of a short story might be one of ten, or twenty. Not one of 300! At least all that experience in writing short stories has given me the faith I can go for the jugular at the beginning. (And we know we’ve started the story in the right place!)

Truth be told, I was never happy with Ella-Louise’s opening letter. Rewriting it however meant I was caught between keeping true to what the original letter said and trying to hit all the narrative points for a compelling novel opening. Not to mention it still had to READ like a letter AND hit those narrative points.

OF AGENTS, EDITORS and AUTHORS

This week I read that agents and editors are looking for three things on that first page:

  • Character
  • Voice
  • Conflict

When you have been so close, for so long, it’s hard to know if you are hitting any of those marks.

Is there anything unique about Ella-Louise’s character voice in those first 400 words (and the 150 that come after to finish the letter?) And after all the tweaking does that opening letter now carry the same nuance of voice contained in the letters that follow? Have I inadvertently changed the voice to conform?

How much can you say about the present and the past in 400 words AND still have it sound like a missive appearing out of a two decade void? I hope there are enough questions in there to compel a page turn: why did someone who obviously meant a great deal to her not show up at a farewell party or at the bus to say good-bye. And what was going on between them that his presence would have kept her from leaving.

WHAT DO I LOVE THEN?

I love the fact I managed to get the word ‘pash’ into the first 400 words! I love the fact that for the first time ever I’m happy with the opening letter (which is 570 odd words). I believe that it keeps true to the original and contains all the necessary hooks. I think it mixes the past and present nicely with the light and dark, with just enough foreshadowing (in comparison with earlier version). But I’m on the verge of over-thinking it. I fear I’ve cut the soul out of it, I’ve been over it so many times. If it weren’t for next week’s crit I would say, please don’t let me have to look at it, much less review it, for at least a month – maybe more.

I hope no major structural suggestions come out of the critiquing process next week. It’s not just delusion – it’s the fear that the entire epistolary novel doesn’t work in this day and age. How to garner interest in an entire book based on a single page – when the second voice doesn’t even get a see in? At least when the first five pages are considered – you get both voices in their call and response.

The silver lining: there is only one first page. There is only one opening letter. Thank the heavens for that.

Accidentally Post Marked Piper’s Reach

…or how I came to hold the hearts of others in my hand.

When I started work as an editor I thought it was all about the words on the page. Perhaps it was the nature of the projects I was working on, perhaps it was the sheer amount of blood, sweat and tears I ground out of authors to get the best story possible, perhaps it was just circumstances or the fact that eP’s unpublicised motto has always been ‘life happens’…but I quickly found editing was more than just words on a page. I became privy and confidante to much of what went on in the lives of the authors I worked with. Things they didn’t publicly talk about as versions of their world fell down around their ears.

I always said I was there – an open door policy for email or Skype. I held whatever was told to me in a sacred trust. Over the years I’ve travelled death, disability, unemployment, depression, illness, relationship break ups and family problems (to name a few) with authors, but on the flip side I’ve been able to rejoice as babies were born, new relationships blossomed and careers took off.

UNEXPECTED MISSIVESIMG_3408

Like embarking as an editor, I was perhaps a little naïve about what writing Post Marked Piper’s Reach might actually entail further down the track, or under the obvious layers of ink on paper. When we started writing it was all about me: finding a writing niche again, rediscovering my love of writing and doing it with someone I trusted and admired. Letting it all play out in a medium I missed.

The first email that arrived was a bit of a surprise, as one of our readers opened up to share their experience of the one that got away. I should at that point have had an inkling of what was to come.

This morning another email arrived. I’m not sure how many that brings us up to now, but there have been a few since April last year.

It is humbling to be entrusted with these very intimate stories of love lost, of regrets, of yearning, guilt and wondering. The pull of the past and the question ‘what if’ is powerful. In these emails are best of times and the worst of times, the best of humanity and the worst of it. The memories are still vivid, feelings raw despite the time elapsed.  The writers tell of their own piles of paper and ink held together with faded lengths of ribbon, decaying sticky tape and disintegrating rubber bands. Letters accidentally stumbled upon, letters purposely found again.

Like Ella-Louise and Jude’s letters, the emails received are filled with songs, lyrics that echo across decades with such resonance they are accompanied with the sting of tears when I read them. A lot of the time these lyrics could be pulled straight from one of Ella-Louise’s letters. There are confessions of playlists from that time, of music hoarded to be played across the strings of badly mended scars.

Each email throws up new questions about how Ella-Louise and Jude respond and react to each other, of the mysteries of the past, present and future. Most recently themes of resurrection and motivations for stirring sleeping dogs are in the emails as Ella-Louise and Jude ponder the same things. If I ever have moments of doubt, or question the authenticity of Ella-Louise and Jude’s narrative, I only have to turn to these missives to know it nails it in the most confronting of ways. It’s why our readers react the way they do.

A RESPONSIBILITY BORN OF INK

I understand with deepening compassion and empathy and intrigue, the public response our readers have to each letter. And those whose stories I know, I want to crawl through the screen to their desk, or where they sit reading the letter on their phone or computer or the pages they printed out, on the bus, in a cafe or on their couch and give them a hug each week.

See, it’s not just Ella-Louise and Jude’s hearts we hold in our hands.

This charges us with responsibilities beyond just throwing words at a page and doing it with a degree of finesse (and legibility). The responsibility doesn’t lie just in writing authentically (ie. we’ve said many times, there will not be a happily ever after for these two regardless of the outcomes of their affair) and avoiding falling into the needs of our readers, to have the ending they didn’t get in real life, to stay true to our characters. The responsibility extends further: to be there to offer sanctuary for those tossed upon their own retrospective storms as they read the letters. To hold a space, bare witness and sometimes, to just be there at the other end of an email.

One day, when it is all over, perhaps I’ll take up Ella-Louise’s pen and dip it in the ink of my own story and let those who have written to me know I understand. I so absolutely understand.

 

A Year With Ella-Louise

…or how I found my way back to the light

When Ella-Louise slipped into the car on January 5th, I had no idea the wonderful creative adventures and opportunities writing her letters would birth, or the richness and depth she’d bring to my life. Much less the structure she and Jude would build, to enable Adam and I to work together across an entire year.

The momentum born of writing letters again, the enthusiasm to explore the world through Ella-Louise’s eyes and my interest in her backstory, spawned What I Left to Forget, the first short story I’d written in a long time. And like the proverbial rolling stone, I kept on rolling. I’ve been prolific: written poetry, a novella, short stories, vignettes, short film scripts and a box full of letters from Ella-Louise. I’ve taken risks and experimented and in doing so, seen more of my work enter the public realm.

You can read the whole guest post, talking about collaborative writing, depression, creative redemption and my relationship with Ella-Louise at Jessica Bell’s The Alliterative Allomorph.