The helicopters fly over every night
thick blades beating the air
to syrup, dark shapes against
a white moon. Their thumping
shakes the house, rattles glasses
in the cabinet and the mirror
on the bathroom wall shimmers
in time with the relentless rotors.
We know they are watching us,
their black sightless eyes
scanning our streets, our backyards –
we don’t know what they’re looking for
but it’s only a matter of time
before one lands on the lawn
touching down as delicately
as a dragonfly, hovering
while its invisible steel wings
rip the curtains from our windows
and the huge eyes zero in
on our puny, soundless lives.
Writing is easy. And writing is hard, really hard.
I sound like I’m contradicting myself, but it’s true. Sometimes words flow and time whizzes past and, before you know it, three hours are gone and you have 3000 words. Other times you sit there for the same three hours and have a measly 400.
Some parts of writing are easy for some people, and some parts are hard.
I love first drafts and find them easier. I type fast, and I think through the story and characters when I’m not actually typing, so that when I sit down at the keyboard, the words come fast and usually fairly well. …
Scriptwriters are really good at dialogue — they have to be. It’s mostly all they’ve got to work with, apart from stage or camera directions. Fiction writers often forget what jobs the dialogue in their stories has to do. They focus on one or two elements and their dialogue ends up flat or too fast or uses too much explaining.
Have you ever seen dialogue like this in novels that sell well?
“How are you?”
“I’m good. How are you?”
“How’s your mother?”
This is how we speak, but the first thing dialogue has to do is sound normal, while cutting out all the stuff we ramble on about usually. Greetings, repetitions, ums and ahs, jumbled words. Occasionally they work for a particular character, but mostly they don’t serve us. Here are the jobs your dialogue should be doing (if you manage three out of five, good, but four is better). …
If you want your manuscript to get serious consideration from an agent or editor, you have to present it with virtually no errors. I’ve had students who’ve told me they didn’t need to worry about grammar and punctuation because when they got their book accepted, “the editor will fix that”.
Not anymore. Lots of errors in a manuscript cost money to fix, requiring hours and hours of a copy editor’s time. If someone looks at your book and starts seeing a huge editing bill looming, you’re very unlikely to even get it looked at seriously.
Where do many errors occur? In punctuating dialogue. I see it all the time in my work as a freelance editor. Some of it is due to automatic functions kicking in in Microsoft Word, but as a writer hoping to be published, it’s up to you to learn this stuff and fix it yourself. …
My head weighs as much as a Christmas
turkey. Imagine my head on a platter,
the waiter staggering under its weight.
Yet the memories inside my skull are lighter
than gossamer; they drift like weightless birds
on a warm updraft, or slowly become invisible.
I have seen Yosemite, and its waterfalls and
mountains are in my brain, as is
the monstrous cruise ship I sailed on and
the moon, in all its incarnations.
I have touched satin and concrete, silk
and stone, honey and quicksilver; all
are in there, as is the tang of eucalypts
on a searing day, the razoring of smoke in my…
It’s just too easy to use the scattergun approach when looking for an agent. You think any agent is better than none, so you make a list and away you go. But not so fast. The time spent on research and crafting a great query letter will save you a lot of angst and rejections in the long run. This is what you need to know.
Check out the agent’s website to get a sense of what they represent — many agents will list their interests, the kinds of books and authors they rep, and the books they’ve already sold. Don’t assume an author who reps women’s romance will also be interested in YA romance — an agent will try to sell to editors he/she knows in particular fields, and may not feel they have the right contacts out of their genre area. Look on agentquery.com …
The pandemic has seen so many things move online — classes, work meetings, schooling — suddenly we all know “how to Zoom” and for many, it’s literally been a sanity saver. One of the things that’s moved online as well is the literary festival, meaning all over the world, we all get to attend any festival we want!
It’s been wonderful. Some of the time. But a lot of the time, I’ve given up and switched off. Sometimes I don’t even make it halfway through the session. Am I easily bored? No. The problem for me is I have spent more than twelve years doing radio and in-person interviews, mostly with writers, and I get really impatient with interviews that are badly done. Sorry, but being a writer yourself doesn’t actually qualify you to be a good interviewer! …
Ah, love. The subject of millions of poems, over years and centuries. It’s been compared to roses, to horses, to pottery — you name it, it’s probably been used as a metaphor for love in a poem. Yes, even nuclear explosions! So you’d think since everyone seems to love a love poem, they’d be easy to write, yes?
No. You can certainly write an ordinary, banal, soppy, simpering love poem without any problem, especially one that rhymes (badly) — think moon and June. You can probably even write a fairly decent love poem, if you wanted. …
Often we write poems in a blaze of emotion, or in a period of inspiration. Poems are great for getting something out, pouring it onto the page and expressing yourself. It’s raw and sharp and sometimes like a wound that needs cleaning out! Or you might be a poet who makes notes and writes as Wordsworth described — “emotion recollected in tranquility”. Either way, at some point you will want to revise the poem.
What does this mean? It can require re-imagining, putting the original draft aside and writing a new one. Or it can require a critical eye on every word and line — what deserves to be there and what needs deleting or strengthening. …
There’s nothing you can see
at a thousand yards
except through a scope
night or day, the bodies fall
over and over and over
shrapnel rains around you
you imagine running in
finally a hero
if only in your own mind
shooting, blasting, laying waste
to all that threatened
to all that made you
cower in your cold bed
you rise up, gun in hand
the enemy’s eyes are red
and glowing dangerously
you fire and fire and fire
blood spurts in spouts of gore
the explosions echo like
a percussive orchestra of death
you bolt upright in bed
staring ever outward
terrified to look inside
where the stench of rot
rises and rises and rises.