Rosanne Dingli

Rosanne Dingli

Monday, December 23, 2013

The year in review


The year speeds up towards the end, like many things nearing their finish. The older one gets, the faster time goes... and it doesn't only seem that way. Time really progresses at a faster rate, it's out of our control, and I'll not go into the science to prove it. You know what I'm talking about. A saucepan lid, a spun coin, or spinning top will gather speed as it girates towards the end of its agitation.

And agitation seems to be the key word around Christmas and Year's End: we swear we won't do it again next year, and yet we fall into the same pattern. It's fun while it lasts, but goodness knows it doesn't.

So 2013 ... phew - a tough one, eh? Yes - full of a number of perplexing details and travails that are gratefully behind us now. What a hard one it was. Demanding and testing. But a lot of boxes were ticked, a number of triumphs and hurdles were gained and leaped, on the home front and professionally. Another novel out, and another one started. Covers, prices, and advertising campaigns tried, tweaked, tested and more or less set in place. Decisions made for next year. Resolutions replaced with tempered plans.

Comparisons with preceding years are inevitable when December is over its halfway mark. Calculations are not exact, but it seems book sales are more than double those of 2012, which is gratifying and encouraging. Such encouragement, of course, is accompanied by the demand to do even better in 2014, which exacts more hard work and machinations.

Careful calculations and estimates, forecasts and predictions, however, indicate that next year will be arduous like no other since, so reason and prudence hold one at gunpoint. What's the best way to proceed with the prospect of a very demanding year ahead? The answer is: slowly, and with all the sense and restraint one can muster.

Finishing the new novel is postponed until 2015. Planned novellas are on hold. Publicity and promotions will proceed at a fraction of the furious rate of 2013. Time spent online will be rationed, cleverly and with sensibility. Everything will hopefully slow to a manageable pace.

Have you made the same kind of decision? What does 2014 hold for you - agitation, or the tranquillity that comes from knowing you are in control?
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Friday, December 6, 2013

Technology that changes time?

Like something out of Dr Who, life has changed dramatically in the last decade.
Even time has shifted and morphed. You know this - it's suddenly Christmas when you are still fishing Easter egg silver wrapping from between the sofa cushions. It's your birthday again, before you have successfully re-gifted that green sweater and those dangly earrings.

Suddenly, it takes longer than five hours to read a book. [And it's not so much fun doing it under the covers with a torch, either.]

But the most amazing thing that's happened since you were little is that single days have morphed into seasons. What was once Christmas Day now starts end October and is called The Festive Season, or just Christmas. Valentine's starts selling right after that - for weeks. Easter is longer than one Sunday - it's longer than Advent, which used to feel short but is now in-ter-min-able. Halloween goes on for as long as a pumpkin shell takes to moulder and turn black.

Pic by Ad-shor
And this hasn't just happened because you're ageing. Oh no - it's because of what people lovingly call technology. It's nothing of the sort, of course. It's just the media we use for rapid communication. And the faster we communicate, the longer holidays get. And the faster communication gets, the longer advertising campaigns last.
The year is now chopped into seasons that have little to do with the weather, but what's happening in the shops: what decorations are up and what music is playing. Winter isn't winter any longer. Neither is Spring. And because of produce being imported all the year round, seasons are eternal, even though the year is over in no time.

So you might think it's still summer because hey - look at all the grapes in the shops! But it isn't. And as the years get shorter and shorter, the seasons get longer and longer. Look - you try to work it out, because I'm still dumbfounded.
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Wednesday, November 27, 2013

4 aspects that make you a brilliant reader

You're a reader, I'm a reader ... everyone's a reader, baby - that's the truth. Well, in our bookish world everyone is. But readers ain't readers - they come in all varieties. And there are aspects that distinguish the ho-hum from the brilliant.

So - are you a brilliant reader? And what makes one shine?

1. You understand genres
Readers who understand genres, categories, and ways in which books are grouped in libraries, in bookshops, and on book retailers' sites find books easily. When they finish one book, they can quickly find another to start on, by similar authors, in a similar category, in a similar style.

2. You seek authors who are consistent and prolific
Avoiding disappointment as a reader can be tricky - it either means you stick very closely to what you know, without taking risks on new and unknown authors, or you randomly 'pick from the pile' - which sometimes dashes expectations and leaves you dissatisfied. Having a list of authors who have rewarded you, and knowing their books come regularly and satisfyingly good is valuable. It saves time and money.

3. You thank your favourite authors
Money is rarely enough for authors. They love to hear their readers enjoy what they write. It's hard lonely work, which is often unrewarding. A review on a popular site, even if it is a two-line comment, makes a huge difference. A brilliant reader lets authors know how they're doing.

4. You are perceptive and selective
Brilliant readers don't read anything and everything. Sharp and focussed readers assess books carefully, understand what they like best, seek it out in astute ways, and choose well. A brilliant reader keeps an ear to the ground for good releases. Staying aware of what favourite authors are doing, following their blogs, awaiting their releases, and discussing books and writers on social media is a great aspect. It makes a reader confident that the next book they choose is one they'll finish, one they've chosen carefully ... one they'll definitely enjoy.

Be a brilliant reader. 
What makes you one? Leave a comment with an aspect I haven't mentioned.
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Friday, October 25, 2013

How to procrastinate [like a successful author]

Career authors are weird creatures. Female or male, young or old, seasoned or relatively new, they have strange habits that are rarely found in the general population. They are so unusual one can find articles in the The Guardian about their habits.

They keep strange hours. They eat peculiar foods. Their personal relationships are often the most curious within any community. Even their taste in music and other arts is a bit off the wall.

When new writers start to court the possibility of turning professional, and taking up writing books as a career, these things begin to gnaw. Will they have to adopt strange and unusual behaviours? Will they alienate family and friends? Will they have to keep their money in a sock? Now let me say right away that being a career author does not necessarily mean that one drops all other occupations. On the contrary - you will find it's necessary to hold on to anything else that provides regular money. A career author can also be a career accountant. Or teacher. Or roof tiler. Or magazine layout artist.

A career author is one who habitually and compulsively argues about writing, thinks about writing, writes about writing, obsesses about writing, and occasionally writes. One of the habits most writers take up is drinking addicting liquids, eating addicting foods, and finding ways to avoid writing.

Yes, I've finally arrived at the P word. Procrastination is one of the weird habits one must adopt if one is to be considered a career writer. Even though there are those among us who shame the rest with a productive stream of publications - startling evidence which is hard to refute - they too go through phases of extreme lethargy when it comes to writing. And extreme energy when it comes to finding pursuits with which to distract themselves. Any and all chores and tasks become attractive. Washing the car, weeding, photographing insects that stray into the house, or sketching wild animals visible from the safe perimeter of their fences, whittling whistles, rearranging the sock drawer ... there is not a writer on earth who will not recognize this behaviour and nod.

Knowing how to procrastinate is the territory, the bailiwick, the province of the writer. There must be some manual somewhere that shows them how. To save you the search, here are just a handful of tips, which will bring you safely and without confusion into the realm of the career author.

1. Make lists of non-urgent household tasks to promote to very urgent the instant you have time to write.
2. Invite, attract, and allow family members into your study at all times of day.
3. Permanently switch off the message-taking or voice-mail function on all your phones.
4. Acquire a fledgling pet that needs intense full-time care, or have a baby.
5. I won't even mention social media. [Oops - does that count?]
6. Grow vegetables and keep chickens.
7. Knit socks.

With these points in mind, it should never be impossible to avoid procrastination again. You will not feel uncomforable telling people you are an author, because your habits will surely confirm you could not possibly be anything else.

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Monday, October 14, 2013

The democratization of publishing

Anyone can busk. I could take a ukelele out to the mall tomorrow, and having paid for my spot, can strum away to my heart's content. But perhaps not to the contentment of the hearts of those who stop to listen ... or hurry quickly away.

Because you see, I can't play the ukelele.

The book world has become a mall in which many are strumming an instrument they cannot yet play. New writers are there practising, and some readers might stop to 'listen', and even throw in a coin as encouragement. Some might not even notice that these newbies can't play, which is fine. It's okay for people to entertain each other at any level.

So what, you ask - is it acceptable for sub-standard writing and amateurish books to flood the market, to be bought by unsuspecting readers? Well - the answer is complicated and far too complex to put inside one of these blog boxes, but the short answer is yes.

Yes! Yes? Yes - when an industry is democratized, anyone can play. Writing and reading do not make much noise, so it's all right to 'busk', even if you still not have achieved 'the' standard, something that used to be decided by gatekeepers before all this democratization began. When something is democratized, it is by definition decided by the people. In this case, the people who read and buy books. The process is known to us - we vote. We also vote with our wallets when we purchase books, and we buy what we want. It's not so hard to find out if a book reaches our standards.

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Democratization reduces something to its most useful level. So the factor, the criterion by which books are regarded now, is UTILITY. If readers feel a book is useful to them, for reasons of entertainment, edification, or education, they buy it. Your book, dear literary busker, is graded, rated and ranked only by this expedient. But ... but this is economics, you cry in disgust.

Very, very basic economics, I'm afraid. Because in addition to not being able to play a ukelele, I cannot do much with economics, maths, or metal work. I am useless at sailing too. But I can write a mean book. I have written and published several, all on my own. I'm an independent author who has been 'busking' for some time. And amazingly, people stay to listen, because by their judgement, and no one else's, they regard my books to be useful to them. Because no one else has decided but me whether the books are 'good', or 'ready to go', it's up to readers to decide whether they want them.

Democracy is probably not perfect, but it's the only system that works well for decisions that involve transactions and interactions between people. It might just work for creating, buying, and selling books. Because you see, it is perfectly possible to walk away.

Tell me what you think about the concept of utility and democratization of industries.

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Thursday, October 10, 2013

Why a novella?

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Writing a novella is not the same as writing a short story. Nor is it quite like writing a short novel. It's a form that needs special attention, and it can be a bit tricky, especially if - like me - the author is used to writing tidily within one specific form.

I usually write long novels - they are full of references, the research can be intense and time-consuming, and the writing style is very intricate and complex. The characters are well-defined and sculptured, and the locations play an important part. There is also quite a bit of subtlely built-in back story.

I also write short fiction, and in my early days as a writer did cultivate quite a following in that form. I won several prizes and commendations for stories, and had scores published in magazines and journals.

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The novella eluded me, because I did not understand it well. I'm still grappling with its subtle aspects. Level of detail, depth of characters, descriptions of places, atmospheres, and things... hm. It can be quite challenging.

The novel depends on subplots. The short story hardly has any. The novella ...?
The novel depends on back story. The short story merely hints at it. The novella ...?

I had to sit and think about just those two aspects, and I definitely had to read a few novellas. And then I thought I hit on it and wrote Inverted Delusion, a historical novella about the infancy of photography in Belgium, which went through several rewrites and several resurrections, until I got it to the form it's now in, and it enjoys moderate sales.

The Latin Cushion was a sharp and angular departure, both in form and in writing style for me. It's a detective novella which takes place in current-day Perth, my city of residence, which I have never written about before. It's also a genre in which I have little experience. So on all counts this is a new venture for me.

A detective who works in the Perth western suburbs was created in my head when I started looking for a protagonist. He is fully-formed now, but it took quite a while to decide about character, build, attitude, back story, and working style. I also had to think of some sort of weakness or flaw which makes fictional characters human and interesting.

I had Cloud Maslin (and his strange name) in about a week of concentrated scribbling and thinking. And now he - and his first case - are available to read with a brand new cover and a fully-fleshed story of over 20,000 words. I invite you to try this for size, quite literally.

If you are a writer, tell me if you have ever attempted a novella, and if you have, how is it faring in sales and opinions from your readers?

If you are a reader, what do you think of the novella as an entertaining and satisfying form to read?

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

A reader's dilemma solved

Choosing a really good read is becoming increasingly difficult. You know how it is - the more choices you face, the tougher it is to decide.

Today's book market is teeming with an abundance of offerings. New authors are coming on at the rate of hundreds a month. In the time it takes a reader to finish one novel, another two dozen are added to the choices for the next selection.

No matter what readers' favourite genres are, everyone can be safely reassured there will be plenty for them to read in it, forever. It is safe to say stock will never be depleted. One might read everything a particular author has written, but moving to an author with similar themes, style, subject matter, and tone is not difficult any more. The market always provides something similar, slightly divergent, or totally innovative. Of that we can be sure.

There is no shortage of books. That's a wild understatement. The reader's dilemma, then, is to pick and choose amongst the plethora of available material. How is one to be assured of quality and interest with every choice? That is the question.

- One way is to join a newsletter that supplies links to new releases.
- Another is to scour reviews to find like-minded readers who can recommend good entertainment.
- Yet another is to keep an ear to the ground for new books no one yet has noticed, and be the one to announce a great discovery.

Finding a new author whose writing is great, whose genre is yours, whose stories and characters are sound ... well, it's like finding gold. Reading everything an author has to offer becomes a must, and waiting for a new release becomes exciting, something to look forward to.

It's ideal to have two or three prolific authors on a reading list: they are sure to provide reading matter at a reading rate that's comfortable; for one's wallet, for the capacity of one's reading device, or space on one's already groaning book shelves.

If you are an avid reader, tell us how you make your reading choices.
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Thursday, August 15, 2013

How posterity might see us

We often wonder, as writers, how our readers see us. We wonder what they might think of our way with words, our ability to tell a rollicking story. How do readers think we come up with the fabricated murders, deaths, disasters, trials and tribulations through which we put our poor protagonists? When we write of neglected gardens, dusty rooms, burnt dinners and lost keys, do they think we base our fiction on the truths in our own lives? When we write about drunken uncles, forgetful mothers, cruel sublings, and sorrowful aunts, do they think we base our characters on real relatives?

Authors have always felt under scrutiny by their public. They leave memoirs that show a depth of concern, a deep lack of confidence in their own ability to make up a story and have it believed for what it is - pure fiction.
It's not only authors who feel they might be viewed in a bad light because of what they do. Actors who take on the parts of antagonists, of characters who commit awful deeds, of frivolous socialites, of greedy businessmen, of pirates who slice off hostages' heads without a blink, often wonder whether audiences think they are capable of such dastardly deeds.
Anyone who puts pen to paper, though, knows of the power of the written word to persuade. Winston Churchill knew the feeling. He did have an eye on the future, and on generations in posterity that might question  his motives, his judgement, and his ability to strategize and act out perfect diplomacy with a big international D. It was the kind of questioning he knew would happen, so he found a way around it.
'History will be kind to me for I intend to write it.' He wrote. Ah - that's one way of doing it. When the diplomat, the strategist and the quintesssential politician write the history books themselves, the written word cannot fail them. History is kind to those who take their own deeds into their own pen as ink.
This is what comes to mind when I think of my own as yet unwritten memoirs or autobiography. It is the vainest undertaking in the world, one might think. But it is a powerful thing to leave nothing to chance and make sure history is kind to the author, because the author has made sure the history is written in a certain way.
What do you think?

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

What to expect from one of my novels

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When it comes to fiction, I try to give my readers what they have come to expect: an adventure of the mind, coupled with action and intrigue. Art is to be found, references to history, and some other artistic or intellectual undertaking that embroiders an intricate story.
The story is the thing, of course - it takes up threads of the human condition readers recognise: those they have experienced, those they would like to, and those they hope will never happen to them. The story unfolds in my novels to reveal obstacles and incidents that require solutions.
And it's solutions that people always seek - we all need at least one solution a day for something that intrigues, baffles, annoys, defeats or requires us to pit our resources against 'the world'. An easy solution for everything would be just the thing!
Solutions that are too easy, however, don't satisfy in fiction. The author needs to send characters over hurdles, against proverbial brick walls, toward the near-impossible. Satisfaction comes from one or two intrepid characters facing their fate with grit, determination, and not a little presence of mind. Satisfaction comes from seeing all ends tied in a way that a reader finds resourceful, unusual ... but always applicable to how they see life. It's got to be feasible. It must feel right.
In The Hidden Auditorium, my latest offering, it was hard to come up with a predicament that required all this, but a good brainstorming session, a lot of reading and research - not to mention quite a lot of rewriting and planning - did the job. My protagonist has a first-world modern dilemma in an ancient city: Rome. He is fed up with a superficial life and seems to need something deeper: a quandary many find themselves in, somewhere in mid-life. He doesn't know what's wrong, exactly - but the reader senses it almost immediately: he misses a meaningful relationship, and hopefully might find one before the end.
Reading a story that contains a number of apparently insuperable problems is excellent entertainment. It's distraction from real life, where solutions do not present themselves so easily, even if our problems are not as drastic as being held at knife-point, or being trussed up with cable-ties at the back of a car. And that's what readers seek: something drastic and sticky enough to distract them from ordinary mundane matters, such as the latest power bill or a burnt pizza.
If you are a reader who likes intrigue, tell me what you like to find in fiction.

Thursday, August 1, 2013

It's out

The Hidden Auditorium was a hard novel to write. The research alone took months. The writing of it went through several phases, because of the choices and options that kept presenting themselves.

Now that the novel has passed all stages of production, which - as an indie author - I have had to plan, execute, and manage myself, I am exhausted. There is hardly energy left to promote its release.

I had magnificent, generous help in the creation of this new novel, my fourth. My partner in life and first reader was as ever insightful and brilliant, hacking out of my first poor efforts for story and plot a very interesting angle which evolved into a cogent and clever whole. Using that plan, I worked hard and tried a few new methods of creation. Some worked, others were discarded for old habits.

My handful of beta-readers were sharp, observant, and revealed how well they know my writing. Without them, The Hidden Auditorium would not be as nicely-detailed or free from the small flaws any author fails to see in their own work.

Gratitude and appreciation go to my editor Shane McCauley, who spent hours reading, thinking, and marking the manuscript. His wide cultural knowledge, love of music, and especially his grasp of the underlying premise of the novel, were invaluable. Nothing beats first-hand knowledge of locations, subject matter, and fundamental culture, so I feel my selection of editor succeeded on all these aspects. Then there is the matter of language usage ... no author can claim to know it all, which is where a good editor is needed. The Hidden Auditorium reads so well only because Shane had a hand in it.

So it's out, available ... there. What remains to be seen is how readers take it on. The first few reviews will tell.

If you are an author, please share the feelings that arise when you first release a new novel.

If you're a reader, have you ever paid mind to what might go through an author's mind when they publish a new book?

Friday, June 28, 2013

Pants on fire

I  responded to a post on FaceBook. What's the novelty in that, you might ask. True - we respond to stuff we see all the time.

This time, it was a statement by my good friend and collegue Duncan Long  - illustrator and author par excellence. This is what he wrote:

Every successful novelist
must first be a good liar.

Pic courtesy
This of course set me thinking and writing. But let's face it, how long and hard does one think when one taps off a response on Facebook? Not terribly long at all. This was my response:

It's not lies we tell, strictly speaking, although tradition has it that it's what we do. We invent, create, and build a whole world on top of a fabrication. How thin, or how implausible, that fabrication is largely instils in the reader the necessity to suspend disbelief. If, however, the fabrication is so strong and feasible that debate is taken up among readers, or real-world belief becomes attached to the tale, it constructs around that author the ability to "pull the wool over readers' eyes" and when the obvious revelation is made that it's fiction (duh!) the easy decision is made to dub the author a liar. This happens with authors who use gaps, loopholes, and mysteries in history to devise a rollicking story ... it's my genre, so I think I know of which I speak. As long as the reader sits back and breathes in awe, "Wow - what a lie. What a great liar!" I do not mind being called that one bit.

Then I stopped to think again. How many authors truly sit and think of the "lies" around which they build their fiction? How many - like me - latch onto some gap in history, and use the spak-filla of words to create a tale for readers' edification and entertainment?

If you are an author, tell me whether how you build stories feels like lying.

If you are a reader, tell me whether you regard authors as being great liars.

And then look at my novels, especially, to see how I love to find a bit of a blank in history or literature, or art, or music, and insert into it a story worth telling. And worth reading. Many have done it before me, and perhaps better. AS Byatt, Hugh AshtonMeredith Whitford, Anna Jacobs, Mel Starr, Brian Kavanagh,  and other authors do this regularly. And how can we not love what they do?

Thursday, June 20, 2013

The Writers' Mayo

What has mayonnaise got to do with the price of fish? They go well together, mayo and fish, I hear you exclaim.

Yes, well - apart from that, there are huge health benefits to be had from what I call the writers' mayo. And author Dan Mader at Unemployed Imagination, reminded me of my remarkable discovery this morning.

He spoke about writers' eyes, and how they suffer from day after night after day of looking at a screen. We peer at words, words, words - editing and composing. Some even do their own typesetting and formatting. That scrolling is cruel to the eyes. You're nodding. You're with me. You're peering at my words wanting to be able to read on for longer each day. You want that headache over one eyebrow to melt away.

Eat more carrots!
Well - eat more carrots. Raw carrots. Lots. Every day. Grate a mound of carrot into a bowl. Add some finely shredded cabbage of all colours. Yeah, go ahead - grate a zucchini too. Finely dice a red capsicum if you want. Brightly coloured vegetables, in their raw state, is what you are after.

Now what?

Now drench the lot with a huge amount of mayo and combine. But not just any mayo, dear writer. You must make it yourself. "But I want to get back to writing!" you shout in dismay. Wait - remember the eyes? This is for your eyes. You will write longer.

You must make your own mayo because it's the only way you can guarantee it contains no sugar, of any sort. Of any kind. Of any variety. No fructose, no glucose, no lactose, no corn syrup, no granulated anything that ends in OSE. Yeah - no sugarOSE, either! No honey.

Here's my famous Writers' Mayo recipe you are going to thank me for, on bended knees.

In a clean and sparkling 800 gm glass jar (that's 25 - 30 oz), that has a nicely-fitting lid, put a teaspoon of made mustard, a raw egg, half a teaspoon of salt, a good splash of white vinegar, a couple of teaspoons of real lemon juice, and a spoon of ground garlic (optional).

With me so far?

Good. Now grab your magic wand. (Some people call it a stick mixer, others call it a wand blender. Whatever you call it, it looks like mine on the left here. Its head fits through the mouth of the jar, see?

Whizz the stuff in the jar until it's light yellow and frothy - under a minute. Now start to add the oil. Any kind of oil is okay ... canola, soybean, vegetable, sunflower. (Corn oil and olive oil give you a heavier texture and stronger taste.)

Keep whizzing - did I say you could stop whizzing?! Whizz.

Add oil and whizz until the mixture starts to thicken - about a minute. The more oil you add, the thicker your mayo. Stop whizzing when you have the thickness you want. It'll never be more than the jar will hold if you use the right amount of vinegar and lemon juice. (If you want really white mayo, add a spoon of very hot water for the last few whizzes.)

Shake your blender so it all falls in the jar. Rinse under tap. Wash it later. You want to taste that mayo. Mmmm.

Put the lid on, and refrigerate until you have grated your vegetables.

You will notice an improvement in eyesight and health in about a fortnight.

To gain the most benefit, NEVER eat this with bread or anything made out of grains. I know you'll be tempted but that'll make you gain weight. This is Writers' Mayo - for coleslaw, okay? Oh, well ... okay then. You can put it on steamed vegetables. On salad. But do not put it on anything that contains processed grains or starches. No... not even potato salad. Uh-uh.

Let me know how you go.

What? None left to store in the fridge? Thought so. Start again.

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