Monday, January 30, 2012

Deep Stuff - but give me a moment and I'll get to the point

Back in my mis-spent youth I spent half a year drifting through university before I dropped out and went to Film School instead. From those few months there's only one thing that stuck with me: the idea that life is all in our imagination.

I took a course in Philosophy which started with the earliest of Western Philosophy thinkers, Rene Descartes. You may not know the name, but I'm sure you've all heard of his famous line cogito ergo sum: "I think, therefore I am." The grand idea behind that sentence is that, since we experience everything through our own senses which are highly subjective, we cannot know for certain whether anything beyond our own minds is real or imaginary.

Can we prove without doubt that the world we know, and the people in it, aren't just constructs of our imagination? The quick answer is No.
For all we know, we might be nothing more than the nucleus of a single atom, believing ourselves to be flesh and blood people living on the third rock from this little sun, surrounded by people just like us.

A whole bunch of movies have explored this idea, like The Matrix (1999) and eXistenZ (also 1999 - wonder if the cusp of the new millennium had people questioning their reality or something?) and more recently Inception (2010) which had me thinking about the ending for ages afterwards. Have any of you seen Inception, and if so, what did you think of that ending? Or the whole movie, for that matter?

But my point (yes, I do have one!) is this: if the entire world is nothing more than a trick of our perception, then we can change that world.

If we feel like losers who aren't succeeding while others around us are, or if we feel like we're not coping with everything that Real Life dumps on us, then we should consider this: It might not even be Real!

Just by changing how we perceive the world, we can change how that world really is. In fact, I vote that 2012 be declared Make Your Own Reality Year.

In my brave new world, I am a successful multi-published author, Super Mom, and a calm, confident and super-happy person. I have enough time to achieve everything I want to do. Anyone who says any different is clearly just a construct of my sub-conscious, and my conscious brain has the power to send that imaginary person into oblivion.

Okay, that's the end of the deep stuff. Now it's your turn to share how you're going to change your reality this year. [Or you're welcome to shoot me down with deeper philosophical arguments. I just won't promise to understand them.]

Thursday, January 26, 2012

The Slippery Slope

More than any other revolution in the course of human history, the digital revolution is changing the fabric of society.

Here in South Africa, we had a dramatic government change in 1995. Regime changes are major society changing events but even so the changes on the ground were not immediate. It took at least a decade for the changes at the top to change how we live our everyday lives.

The digital revolution, on the other hand, has started on the ground and is filtering upwards in a reverse direction - and the changes are immediate. As one of my favourite bloggers, Bob Mayer, has been banging on about for some time now, you either lead, follow or get out of the way.
Adapt or die.

This was driven home for me by the recent news that Eastman Kodak has filed for bankruptcy. Their demise signals the end of an era in film-making.

Just two years ago almost every television commercial I worked on was shot on film, using Kodak film stock. 2011? Not one. Two years ago, we still insured Arri 16mm SR3 cameras for millions. Today, you can buy them online used for $10,000. That’s two years from hero to zero.

Every industry affected in any way by the digital revolution needs to sit up and take stock. [Psst ... that means all of us]. For those of us in publishing, from the authors on the ground to the big publishing houses at the top, we have to adapt or die. Publishing is by nature slower moving than the film industry, so the publishing giants - and us authors - might be slower to topple than Kodak, but if we do not adapt, we will die.

The writing is on the wall.

But it’s not all doom and gloom. For those who lead the way (Amazon, anyone?) the future is very bright indeed.

Arri has manufactured film cameras since 1924, but even though film cameras are no longer in frequent use, they’re not filing for bankruptcy. Why? I’m no expert, but I see two reasons: first, they diversified. They not only manufacture cameras, they also manufacture film lights. Second, they adapted. Their Arri Alexa digital camera is now our most popular choice for shooting TV ads.

We authors also need to take stock and decide whether these changes in society are going to affect us, and if so, what are we going to do about it? Will it help us to diversify? How can we adapt?

A year ago I would not have encouraged anyone to self-publish without long, hard thought. Today, I’m considering it myself.

But we also need to take care that we don’t throw out the good with the bad. Self-publishing doesn’t mean we need to stop traditional publishing. Arri didn’t stop making film equipment. They continued to sell lights and cameras, but they worked out which of their product range was no longer in demand, and they changed those products to suit their customers' needs. The Alexa’s popularity is because its images so closely resemble film quality. They took what they knew, and adapted it. And most importantly, they made the changes in enough time that they were ready with the new product just as it was needed. They lead.

Diversity might not be for everyone. Budweiser still only makes beer. Making chocolate isn’t on their agenda. We don’t have to change what we’re doing, just find ways to ensure our product still sells.

As long as readers are still buying printed books, eBooks aren't the only way to go (Here in South Africa print books still vastly outweigh eBooks in popularity). As long as traditional publishers are still buying and successfully selling books, we shouldn't wish them away. They still have a valid place in the publishing eco-system. But diversity means investigating all avenues. eBooks and print, traditional and self-publishing, and probably dozens of other permutations I haven't mentioned.

Which brings me to my final point: the last lesson we creative types can learn from Big Industry: we mustn’t stagnate. Do you think Arri is sitting back and enjoying a well-deserved rest now that the Alexa is on the market? No, you can bet they’re already developing the next generation of cutting edge film cameras and lights, and they’re finding new ways to market what they already manufacture.

In the same way, we (a global ‘we’ including authors and publishers) need to constantly up our game. We need to develop new and better content, and find better ways to deliver that content to our customers, the readers... because they are the ones ultimately driving the changes.

So what can we authors take from this? And would you buy Budweiser chocolate? Share your thoughts (and arguments, if you have them) in the comments section.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Eye Candy

Ages ago, a writer friend of mine complained about a dearth of fresh eye candy. She'd been looking for inspiration in order to do an eye candy post for a website.
"What about TV shows?" I asked, hoping to jog her muse. "What have you been watching lately?"
She rattled off the names of a few current TV shows, ending with CSI.
"How can you not have found inspiration from CSI? What about Eddie Cibrian, the gorgeous newcomer in CSI Miami?"
She got all excited and hurried off to do her 'research' - and proceeded to do a web page about Andrés Velencoso Segura instead.

So to make it up to poor Eddie, I've decided to do this completely gratuitous post. If you really want to find out more about him, you can try Wikipedia and IMDB. Alternatively, just scroll down ....


Anybody sensing the theme here yet?
Okay, okay, I'll throw in just one image with a fully dressed Eddie. But only because you asked so nicely.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

A Discovery of Witches

I discovered this book through Goodreads, and checked it out because I liked the title. When I read the blurb and realised it was set in Oxford, where my brother and SIL both received their doctorates, it became an autobuy. And I'm so glad I bought it!

Deborah Harkness' book gripped me from beginning to end (and cost me two whole nights' sleep!). It might be a paranormal, but A Discovery of Witches is no teeny bopper romance. This is an intelligent story with an adult heroine and hero (who just happen to be a witch and vampire respectively). The mix of realism and magic was skillfully woven, and I loved the varied settings - from the dreaming spires of Oxford, to the richness of the Auvergne countryside, to the homeliness of New England.

A Discovery of Witches reminded me a great deal of AS Byatt's Possession, and it's even easier to read. The author's knowledge never feels forced or like a lecture. She threads history, biology, science and philosophy so seamlessly into the story that it doesn't feel like you're learning anything, but trust me, you will. I suspect that every reader will take away something different from this story.

I eagerly await the next book in this Trilogy. I hope I've caught up on some sleep by then, so I'm ready!

If you've read this book, please share your opinion in the comments. If not, check out this really detailed and informative review by Bibliophile Jen. And if we've convinced you to try the book, you can find it here on Amazon for Kindle and as a paperback.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Inspiring Women

It's Monday morning and not only is it Back to Work day, but it's also the first day I start The Great Commute to take my daughters to their new school across town. Far from letting any of this get me down, I'm cheering. Because for 2012 Mondays are Inspiration days here on my blog.

Last week I posted this picture, and opened a brainstorming session, asking blog readers to share their inspiration of what lay behind the door. If you haven't yet had your say, please leave a comment.

This week I'd like to pay tribute to women. To all of us, because we are incredible.

We are stronger than we think. We hold down demanding jobs, raise children, run households (and sorting insurances, car service, grocery shopping, and general maintenance is a full time job. Ask my PA. Ha-ha.) We support each other, not just our friends and families, but sometimes strangers too.

We are often faced with really tough situations that aren't of our own making. And it amazes me again and again ust how strong and resilient women can be. My fellow Wild Rose Press author Kellie Kamryn is hosting a series on her blog, featuring women who've survived abusive marriages and come out the other side.

Far from being depressing, these are stories of brave women, starting with Kellie herself, who are survivors and examples to us all of just how amazing we women are. Please visit Kellie's blog to read both her story and this first post in the series. Thanks Kellie, for offering support and encouragement to the women who need it most.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

We can do it!

My good friend Mandy and I are planning to start teaching novel-writing writing courses soon. Here in South Africa there's a dearth of courses aimed at writers (or aspiring writers) of commercial fiction. Here, if you're a poet or write literary fiction dripping in political angst, you've got it made. Write commercial fiction? Not so much.

Another reason I see a huge need to pass on what I've learned over the last few years is that I really believe anyone can write a novel. (Can anyone publish? Well, that's a whole other blog post.)

But I very strongly believe that anyone who wants to write a novel can - and should.

We all started at that place where we said "I want to write a novel one day". Some of us did it because we had the discipline and focus to make ourselves sit down and write. Some of us needed a bit of a shove from friends or family. All of us discovered along the way that we had a helluva lot to learn. And hopefully, like me, most of us discovered that the learning is just as fun as the writing.

I'd particularly like our courses to be for those who need that nudge. I would absolutely hate for people to never follow their dream and end up regretting that they didn't do it, when all they needed was that little shove in the right direction.

Some people start with greater advantages and get there a little quicker. Some of us take a little longer to get there. But no matter how long it takes, we can all get there if we learn and we persevere. Don't believe me? Check out author Helen Lacey's call story.

The next part of why I want to pass on what I've learned the long, slow, hard way is, in Bob Mayer's words to "Write it forward". If I can help speed up someone else's journey just a little, I'll be happy.

So now I'd like to learn more about you. Were you a self-starter, or did you need a nudge to follow your dreams? Or are you still in need of a shove?

Monday, January 9, 2012

My own little stairway to heaven

A couple of days before Christmas I spotted a painting in the window of a picture frame shop that really intrigued me. The painting showed a wide stairway between buildings in what looked like Paris. Half way up the stairs curved, disappearing out of sight, and in the curve stood a doorway.

Hours afterwards I was still thinking about that painting, so I phoned the store to ask for the artist's name - and was told the owner had already collected the painting, and they knew nothing.

So I hit Google. I still haven't found that particular picture, but I found dozens of others along the way, and finally uncovered why I'm so attracted to doors and stairways. It's their potential.

Anything could lie behind that door or at the top of the stairs. They suggest possibilities, but leave those possibilities up to our imaginations.

The idea so enthralled me that I've decided that each month on this blog I'm going to post a picture of a door or a stairway, and I'm going to ask you to tell me what you think lies beyond the door. Where is this? Who lives here? Why? And what is their story?

Starting right now with this one, from artist David Villec.

Monday, January 2, 2012

How NOT to make new year resolutions

There are a few basic rules to making resolutions at the start of the new year. This isn't ground breaking stuff, I know, but I need to remind myself.

1. Don't keep them to yourself, as no-one will keep you accountable unless they know what you want to achieve.
DO make your aims public.

2. Don't make resolutions that rely on other people making things happen (eg. my publisher of choice will request a full within the next 3 months. Yeah right.)
DO list things you can do yourself.

3.  Don't be too general. "Write more" might be an achievable goal, but it's also very broad.
DO make your goals specific.

4. Don't aim low. I have a sign at my bedroom door that says "Aim for the moon. Even if you fail, you fall among the stars."
DO push yourself with your new year's resolutions.

Susan Meier has done a really wonderful series of blog posts on goal setting which you can read here.  She points out four more important elements for effective goal setting: they should be "1) clear, 2) specific, 3) measurable, and 4) time bound."

So in that spirit, here are my resolutions for 2012. It's quite a list this year!
  • Complete both my current WIPs by 1st March (thanks lovely Twitter friends for giving me a date and a swift kick in the derriere)
  • Submit a partial of When September Ends to at least 4 of my A-list agents before the end of April.
  • Write at least one full category-length manuscript aimed at RIVA between March and December.
  • Write The Orchard, my next novella-length 1920s story, between March and December.
  • Keep up with my blog(s) all year!
  • Get my new German passport sorted before April
  • Promote the pants off Dear Julia when it releases in June
  • Attend the RNA conference in Penrith in July
  • My friend Mandy and I are planning to start teaching courses together. I'd like to get the first underway no later than March.
  • Go to the gym at least twice a month this year. Every month. 
  • And finally, I have a few friends I've neglected terribly this last year. In 2012 I'm going to make a conscious effort to stay more in touch.
It's do-able, and if I achieve all of that I'll be a very happy bunny.

Have you made any resolutions?

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Best wishes for 2012!

This image is taken from the fireworks display in Vienna last night. For more stunning images of new year celebrations the world around, click on the picture above. Happy New Year!