Monday, January 21, 2013

Diction Addiction

I have been slack, I know.

Julie Luek at A Thought Grows, and Joseph Schwartz at Magicellus awarded me the Addictive Blog Award so long ago now they may have moved on to more stimulating addictive blogstances.

Nevertheless, thank you.

My role in the process is to pass on the award to those blogs I feel impelled to visit regularly. All of my current addictions have been presented with this award, a number of times in some cases, so instead, I am nominating new friends that I am confident will become addictions over time.

And speaking of diction addictions, I'm usually not one to enter into the frenzy of fads, but this is one I could not resist.

The PBC Mastermind, M. L. Swift, has spoken. The third Wednesday of every month, beginning 20th February, will see a group of astute writers descend like a pack of wild animals on a writing craft book.

First to the feast is Anne Lamott's Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life.

Check it out. Speak your mind. Mingle with fellow wordivores, because remember:
You are lucky to be one of those people who wishes to build sand castles with words, who is willing to create a place where your imagination can wander.                           Anne Lamott. Bird by Bird.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

A Touch of Life

Excerpt from A Tent Called Simba, WIP#2:

(Photo source:

The taxi dropped me and my sister, Ro, at the unimpressive border control port of Kazungula. We stood for a moment watching our only link with civilization disappear down the road back towards Kasane before attending to formalities. The border officials from both countries stamped our passports with the same indifference we had come to expect, and we were suddenly in Zimbabwe, without a vehicle, and with no idea how we going to get to the town of Victoria Falls, 70 kilometres away.
                The locals, on the other hand, had obviously encountered tourists like us before, and a thin, black man with stained, jagged teeth approached us immediately. “You need a lift to Victoria Falls?”
                We did, of course, but were reluctant to appear desperate, as if we had just popped over the border for a look at the other side of the fence, and intended to head back to Botswana sometime soon.
                “Mmm,” mumbled Ro noncommittally.
                The man pointed to a brown and rusty - or perhaps it was brown because it was rusty - utility parked behind the ‘Welcome to Zimbabwe’ sign. “Ten dollars each,” said the man.
                Ro and I walked onto the road for a better view of the vehicle, and noticed two men in the cab and two more in the back.
                “Do we seriously want to get in the back of a ute full of four – “ she glanced at the thin man hovering behind us, “- or five Zimbabwean men?”
                I peered up the road. At least it was bitumen. “It’s either that or hang around here waiting for a better offer.”
                The man touched me gently on the elbow. “Is okay,” he said softly. “We take you to Victoria Falls.”
                Ro and I threw each other resigned looks and followed the man to the vehicle. “I’ll be amazed if this thing even makes it that far,” I muttered as I hauled my pack into the back, clambered aboard, and sat with my pack on my lap while Ro squeezed next to me and did the same. The two men already sprawled in the tray nodded and smiled as they shuffled to make room for us.
                The brown-toothed man squeezed into the cab beside the other men. The car rattled and roared as the driver started the engine and shifted up the gears.
                “Where you from?” said the man next to me. His eyes looked soft and young, but the lines on his forehead suggested a life of hardship.
                “Ah,” he said knowingly and smiled. “Africa just like Australia, no?”
                I looked at the shrubby greenery of the surroundings and the dead grass that lined the road, and thought of the roads through the Northern Territory. “Yeah, pretty much. But the Australian elephant is pretty rare nowadays.” He laughed at my pathetic attempt to keep the situation light, and I was impressed that his English was polished enough to recognize I had made a joke. “So you’re a local, I take it?”
                “Yes, I go across the border and bring things back into Zimbabwe.”
                “What sort of things?”
                The man explained that he and the other men brought in whatever they could lay their hands on. “Our petrol stations are closed. We must smuggle fuel across the border. And food is veddy expensive. Many people trade in the black market.”
                I tried to imagine what life what be like if I had to travel miles to get fuel and was then forced to smuggle it back into my own country. I couldn’t imagine it at all.
                “It has gotten veddy bad,” he said. “There are no jobs. There is no money.”
                I am not a political person, but I wanted to know. “Is it because of Mugabe?”
                The man’s mouth formed an ‘o’ and he shook his head. “He is a veddy bad man.”
                I wanted to ask him a flood of questions, about his family, about his life, but the man sitting next to him began talking in rapid-fire Shona, and I hugged my backpack and sank into silence.
                The ute dropped us on the outskirts of Victoria Falls but within walking distance of the town. Appreciating that people who had to smuggle fuel into their own country were not about to drop us at the doorstep of anywhere useful, I handed over my cash and the car piled up with people, none of them white tourists like us, and roared off back towards the border.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Style and Manners

Recently, my aunt asked me to comment on part of the draft of her second novel, due for publication in August. (Plug alert: For those gripped by historical family saga, check out Tyringham Park, by Rosemary McLoughlin., Poolbeg Press.)

Flattered and thrilled to be a part of the process, I offered my candid comments, some objective (check grammar here) and some subjective (I found the early chapters heavy with backstory).

I know Rosemary well, I share my opinions freely with her, and she accepts them for what they are, but her request had me wondering how far we, as trusted reviewers, should go with our comments.

I asked Rosemary what feedback she was specifically looking for, and she replied, Everything.

Now, I would never tell a person his or her work was exceptional if I didn't think so, or that I liked the plot and characters if I didn't, but while reviewing Rosemary's book, I began to ponder: should I offer comment on style?

Especially if the comments contradict writing 'rules' generally accepted as being good ones.

For example: I think this would work better in passive form to highlight the view of victim, or I think you could do with simpler verbs or The level of detail is extreme and distracting. Is this kind of feedback constructive, or are we just butting in where we don't belong?

Is it our duty as reviewer to disclose the full extent of our opinions if we think it will improve the piece, leaving the writer to sift through and glean useful advice and ditch the rest, or is the author's personal style none of our business? Afterall, extreme pickiness may lead to a brief author/reviewer relationship or a fruitfully long one.

Of course, it depends on the person, the story, and the relationship the three of you have with each other, and I guess even reviewers have their own style, but now I'm thinking, how far would I like a person to go when they review my work?  It's my year of rejection, I'm tough, but....

What do you think?

Monday, January 7, 2013

January: Islets of the Scouts

Christmas saw the arrival of a number of electronic devices, a red remote-control monster truck, Barbie's new favourite mode of transport down the stairs being one of the more entertaining, but as ingenious as the smartphones, eReaders, and tablets are, I still like to snap photos with a camera, make phone calls on a phone, read books with real pages, pin stuff to the fridge with magnets, and yes, scribble notes in the little boxes of calendars that hang on my wall.

Last year, Santa was good enough to deliver such a calendar. It's new and glossy and each month is adorned with a stunning photograph of a...

...lighthouse (thank goodness I did not get puppies or kitties or cottages in the country), and I am wondering the fate of the little boxes that will track my year.

January's lighthouse is called the Islotes les Éclaireurs which is French for "Islets of the Scouts." It is located in the Beagle Channel, Tierra del Fuego, Argentina, close to the most southerly permanent township in the world.

Now that we're well into 2013 (it's hard to believe New Year's was only eight days ago), I rather feel like I am scouting unchartered territory, gathering information, exploring my possibilities, warning others to give me room because I'm planning to light up, baby.

Whilst I apply an abundance of spit and polish to my projects carried over from 2012 (and earlier), my goal for what's left of January, is to research my options (seriously), and develop a realistic, but slightly ambitious submission plan for the next twelve months. For me, this means stepping up the process of writing, editing, and - armed with spreadsheets of appropriate references - submitting material.

So with my lighthouse calendar in hand - a little late to the starter's block perhaps, but nevertheless determined - I begin my journey into treacherous, but staggeringly beautiful waters, dodging rocks, and riding the waves. I'll take a beating, and the journey will test my courage, but I have twelve months of enormous lights to guide me to my destination.

So now, I'll suck up my nerve and get back to work, one of my favourite quotes foremost in my mind as I face those little white boxes:
You can never cross the ocean until you have the courage to lose sight of the shore.
Christopher Columbus