Scavenger's Rights

A creative corner where writer Jessica Vivien explores the day's flotsam and jetsam.

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Location: Gooseberry Hill, Western Australia, Australia

I live near Perth and write amongst magpies, ring-necked parrots and honey eaters. I write speculative fiction and have had stories published in Cat Sparks' anthology "Agog! Fantastic Fiction" and Bill Congreve's anthology "Passing Strange."

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Writing Intensive

I have been lucky enough to be invited to spend a further week at the Michael King Writers Centre on Mt Victoria, Devonport, Auckland, NZ. I came here as a visiting guest writer, on 7th August. Being here has given me a real chance to get stuck into my rewrite of book intensively. It is now called "The Fairy Godmother Effect," I have finally found the voice the book needs, and I am currently writing Chapter Four. I have also done a lot of study into the marketing process, the art of building a platform for my book. I had hoped (ambitiously) to write a chapter each day. But some days were better for writing than others , and some chunks of the work are easier to write than others. And some days, I collage a whole lot of fragments from previous days, and ended up with 7000 words and a full chapter done (or almost). Others I struggle like crazy all day, and end up with 3000 words and a headache and a feeling of failure.

It is the most perfect place ever to write, comfortable, and quiet, with two very helpful and capable administrators working in the office during the week, and the occasional group working away in the lounge, and a stream of joggers, cyclists and walkers charging past my window intermittently through the day. The town of Devonport lies at the foot of the small volcanic cone that is Mt Victoria, and it is easy to stride on down into town and buy a coffee, go for a brief walk etc. But then coming home is all uphill, steep enough to get me puffing and sometimes even having to take a breather at the top of the primary school. It is then only a hundred meters or so, not really a challenge at all.

I leave the morning after next, and wish I had another week.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Back in action, pen in hand

I lost access to this blog three years back, and finally found the path back this very morning.

During my three years' absence, I finally bought a very ordinary house (at a massive price and with a massive mortgage of course,) completed my registration as a psychologist, and set up a thriving vegetable garden. I also did all the groundwork on my non-fiction book "Soulmothering: the Antidote for Depression, Anxiety and other Emotional Pain."
In the meantime my fiction-writing has been on hold, without focus or direction.

But now, as The Book nears completion and allows me to visualise a time when I will not writing a psychological recovery book, life has casually cast two treasures up onto the beach for me to discover as I wander the tideline.

The first is a small but talented and enjoyable novel-writing group. I have yet to meet the third member, but the other two were at the Writers Festival. One has written most of a trilogy of murder mysteries, and the other has completed an ambitious psychological novel that explores writing possibilities while it explores its unpredictable plot. Both writers are interesting and pleasant people, unassuming and unpublished (in fiction at least,) but with clear ability and skill as writers. They seem to be at a similar stage of writing to me or slightly ahead, and very welcoming. As a writer, I believe deeply in the importance of having a writing "family" to write from, a place of mutual support and encouragement. I found this in Sydney, at the Infinitas Writers' Group, where I had the pleasure of working with Cat Sparks, Rob Hood, Karen Miller, Kyla Ward, and a number of other very capable and generous writers, and the main writing group in Christchurch was also helpful and inspiring. But since I came to Perth, although I have met some lovely fellow writers, the writer's groups I have tried have been too fraught with internal politics for my comfort. So this is a godsend for me.

The other gem I found was a programme for writing a non-fiction book with the help and guidance of the wonderful author's coach, Ann McIndoo. Ann's method works like magic. The three biggest problems I have had writing "Soulmothering" is how to hold the whole book in my head to shape it, how to develop it all in one piece ie the whole and the parts at the same time, and how to write with a friendly but informative tone that is neither academic nor fluffy and unprofessional. Ann's method gets around all three problems in a quick and simple way, and pre-empts many other possible writers' problems too. For example, she sets in place some very effective processes that keep your energy and enthusiasm high, and your engagement with your writing then comes easily.

As I start back into fiction writing again, I have been adapting Ann's method to work for short-story and novel writing. This means blending it with Sue Woolfe's wonderful "Wild Writing" course, and what I learnt at Clarion, plus my own understanding of how to write. My new method moves back and forth between formal planning and structured exercises on one hand, and brainstorming, "wild writing," and exercises to tap the unconscious and sensory awareness on the other. I will be test-driving it for the novel by writing a 120,000 word novel in November with Nanowrimo. And between June and October, I will use it to throw together a number of shortstories set in the same world.

If it is as successful as I hope, December/January/Feb will be the Quarter of the Edit, and then I will be submitting this novel to publishers in March of next year. And also offering my programme to other writers through UWA Continuing Education course and/or an online course somewhere.

The Jessica Vivien Fiction-Writing Programme
Here is a brief summary of what will eventually become a course available via this blog:
Step One: for a novel or a short story, the planning begins with creating a brief synopsis of the story and some exercises to help energise you and give you the focus and momentum you need to write your book.
Step Two: identify your genre, check the length such a book/story needs to be and number of characters and their relationship to each other, the conventions of that genre. Identify who you are writing for eg children, YA, adults, men, women, everyone.
For a novel, check publishers submission guidelines and their latest publications in this genre,for this gender and age-range. Rethink if necessary. Learn a bit about plot structures common in this genre, and the cliches to avoid. Find the blogs of the successful authors you plan to join, and start your own blog.
For a shortstory, I send you off to read the stories currently being published at the level you aspire to in that genre.
Step Three: using a mix of formal exercises and brainstorming, sketch in an appropriate cast of characters, world/environment, plot, theme, areas of conflict and possible obstacles and the other obstacles these might lead to, the inner and outer development your main character will experience as they travel from the beginning to the end of the story, etc.
Step Four: brainstorm-type exercises that will let you develop a massive list of some of the sorts of things might possibly happen in this story including some totally off the wall alternatives that are still vaguely appropriate to genre, environment, readership, and the way you write. You don't have to use them, you just need to stretch your limits to the max.
Step Five: Out of these, choose a dozen pivotal plot points that effectively and surprisingly get the main characters and their plot from beginning to end of the core storyline.This needs to fit your theme and genre, and allow appropriate character development, and be ultimately satisfying. Ideally this should have a number of twists at appropriate places, enough of a challenge for the protagonist, and create a story that appeals to you.
Step Six: At this point you will need to totally revise your cast of characters, world/environment, plot, theme, areas of conflict and key obstacles , and of character development to fit the story you are now writing.
Step Seven:For a novel, I then have put together exercises that help you create the dozen key scenes that develop each plotpoint and connect it to the next one, or at least to the overall plot. Don't worry too much about this, just do it and let the whole thing start to fall into place. Some scenes will end up very large, or to actually be a cluster of scenes, some will prove irrelevant. Some will suggest other scenes that need to be added to the overall story to make it work.
For a short story, each of your twelve plotpoints need to be visualised as a scene or cluster of scenes.
Step Eight: The next set of exercises create key sentences that contain the essence of each scene.
Step Nine: To build each of these key sentences into amazing scenes, I then send you off do do research that will allow you to create inspirational images, symbolic actions, and heart-touching and heart-stopping moments that are vivid and alive.
Step Ten: From this beginning, you write your book.
Step Eleven: the editing, rewriting, redrafting process
Step Twelve: Writing your proposal, finding an agent/editor/publisher.

If you have any comments about this method, or want to do the course, please get in touch.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Last Days of ClarionSouth 2007: suffering for our art

Well, this six week intensive writers workshop certainly lived up to its name.

I have learned heaps and am emerging utterly exhausted, with much better writing skills, (I hope!)

Now we come to the exciting part: who will be the first from our group to publish in the Big Five: F&SF, Asimov, Analog, Fantasy, Realms of Fantasy? Who will get there within the next two years? Watch this spot.

Clarion centres on a thing called "The Crit Pit." Every weekday at 9 am, the seventeen students and one tutor (plus one convener) meet and form a crit circle to share individual 2-minute critiques of each of the 4 stories given to us the day before. The writer of the first story to be considered for the day gets to hold Gary the Lion while the other students, one after the other, deliver their considered 2-minute response to the piece Then the tutor makes his/her comments, and the writer replies, and a brief discussion ensues.

Our stories were meant to be new works developed during Clarion, in which we applied what we were learning. Different students interpreted that in different ways. Some tried out something very different each time, while others attempted to perfect a particular preferred way of working, either with all new material, or with pieces partly written earlier and edited or developed during the workshop.

Different people had different goals. The product-oriented writers saw a successful crit as one where the critters they most respected recognised the quality of their work and the talent visible in their product. For the learning-oriented writers, it was more important to apply as many of the skills they had learnt at the workshop in a form that demonstrated what they had learnt. For the process-oriented writers, the goal was to push themselves into new areas and often hard areas, and to produce what one of our number called "interesting mistakes." For them the goal was to explore new writing processes. These differences were never really discussed, though their effect was deeply felt.

Our different goals naturally produced different types of critique. Those most concerned with product thought highly of the others who produced the best finished stories, and not much of stories that were raw and unfinished, or by original ideas that were not fully developed. And vice versa. Of course there were a very elite few who managed to do all three things consistently, and they impressed us all.

Sometimes a writer proudly handed in a story, sure it was a winner. But the critters did not fully understand it did not find the work nearly as successful as the writer expected. Process-oriented writers got "this story didn't work for me, I hated it, all these things didn't work etc" comments from product-oriented critters, which did not help them figure out how to continue the process. Product-oriented writers got "This story needs all these changes to make it better, it's not there yet, and maybe you need to be more open to changing how you do things" comments which did not give them the kudos they felt their work deserved. Either or both got told their ideas were not original or were unbelievable.

It was easy at first to feel attacked by this intensive process. But in time most of those who were not sufficiently thick skinned at the start got better at recognising how helpful it generally was, and to appreciate the work the others put into helping all grow as writers, so long as enough people actually gave them something that worked for them and matched their goals. Occasionally people took things to heart and tears were shed. But we got there.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Salad Days

2nd Nov. Spring, early summer, and the bees rise early to fly out after the first nectar as the flowers open. And then in their twos and threes they land on my pool to drink and drown. It is now midmorning, but earlier my wake-up swim was broken by a dozen rescue operations, scooping up another bee onto a small piece of bark and tossing it onto the brick paving before it could walk off the other side and back into the water. And then distracting Lilycat until the bee had whizzed its wings dry enough and flown away. Now, with coffee in hand, and my mind going to the strawberries I left forgotten in the frig, I watch lazy bees hover round the mouths of the bell-shaped bindweed flowers fringing the oleander tree above me. There are three flowers, pale lilac, in a raged lacy curtain of those elegant leaves. The leaves are perfectly formed, overlapping like a screen-printed image, letting the blue sky through in the negative spaces between their own pattern of bright green/strong green forms. Their veins are drawn in golden light. Dark stems snake eloquently through the whole, making a repeating vertical pattern that punctuates and unites the whole.
Writing: I am writing my novel, and it is flowing well. I am starting to think of writing as a three tiered process. When I write a short story, I do these processes at once, without really thinking about it. But the novel requires something else. My mental model is a 3D naughts-and-crosses game. The first layer is the seeds: the energy of an idea, a passion, an unexplored sense of something that drives me into an engagement with images, language, possibilities. The second is Springtime: what happens when I immerse myself in this with energy, time and imagination and participate in the writing process to explore its unconscious potential. The third is the gardener: when I then bring structure, skills, a critical mind, a wider vision, becoming the gardener working with the growing plants of my story.

I imagine that with practice these areas flow into each other organically, and the movement from one to the other becomes more skilled and effective. The more the gardener can have appropriate input in the preparation of soil, choice of seeds and their scattering, and the balance of water, sun, slugpellets and mulch, the more the whole thing runs itself and the less energy/growth etc is wasted. But the gardener can also trample plants underfoot, pull out the wanted with the weeds, and disturb the plants so much they do not grow.

There is movement within each level, from story-element to story element, and there is movement vertically, between levels, from process to process. But it has to remain organic: too much artificial fertilizer kills.

In writing my NaNoWriMo (write a novel in November)novel, I first sat down and planned out a synopsis, a shortened outline of the story step by step. Some bits I wrote as simple scenes, some as named events to be developed as simple scenes.
But I have found myself wanting to generate whole new areas I hadn't realised were part of the story (which is fine) and also balking at writing scenes or events I had thought were fundamental. I write these, but there is no energy in them. I find myself picking up new expanded areas, and writing them as synopsis, ie about the story instead of writing the story itself. And I guess that's ok too: it doesn't all have to develop at the same pace. Because this reminds me a novel is 4D not 3D: time is a factor too, it is a process of developing the whole through developing all of the planes through all of the levels.

So I am learning what preparation and structure help me personally write, and what doesn't. I am reminded of Sue Woolfe's Wild Writing workshop. She recommended taking a whole heap of fragments of writing, find out who you write, and make conglomeratecharacters, what your main motifs are, and what your passions are, and chopping it all up into these component parts and then starting with these as the bare bones. That is what I will do next NaNoWriMo.

Monday, October 02, 2006

I'm going to Clarion South 2007

I/we have just been given permission to tell the world that we are going to Clarion South. Clarion is a trial by fire , a crucible for writers who are prepared to risk all and either perish or be made greater. Some writers leave Clarion and never write again. Others rise to the top of their profession. It means spending 6 weeks living together in University dormatories with 16 other emerging writers: writing, critiquing and rewriting our stories under the mentorship of 6 professional international writers and editors. This year the tuors are Gardner Dozois, Kelly Link, Lee Battersby, Robert Hood, Simon Brown and Margo Lanagan. Each tutor takes us for a week. Here's the class of 2007 list:

Alessio Besciani (VIC)

Angela Slatter (QLD)

Jason Stokes (ACT)

Chris Green (VIC)

Chris Lynch (QLD)

Daniel Braum (USA)

Elizabeth Adkins (VIC)

Jason Fischer (SA)

Jess Irwin (NSW)

Jessica Vivien (WA)

Laura Gooden (NSW)

Lyn Battersby (WA)

Melaina Faranda (NSW)

Michael Greenhut (USA)

Michele Cashmore (QLD)

Peter Ball (QLD)

Richard Pitchforth (QLD)

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Singing away the curses

About my dying computer. I seriously wonder if in some spooky way it's just me?
I like to think of myself as a rational and intelligent person, but some things just aren't rational.

Let me tell you about the weird effect I have on

electronic things. They re-adjust themselves, develop

alarms that I have never set and don't know how to

unset, break down in strange unexplicable ways.

I  had a toyota corolla car from 1990-4 that in 1993

started to kill things: animals and birds came diving

under my wheels every 2-3 months? In two years I hit a

pheasant, a hawk, a rabbit , a weasel,a large dog,

several small birds, etc. The rabbit came at me, I

swerved and braked and it leapt in underneath. I also

hit a man who stepped out into the road right in front

of me looking the other way, but I had managed to

brake hard first so he was clipped but not hurt and

apologetic for frightening me. I sold that car and

bought another old cheap car while still living in the

same place, living the same lifestyle, and hit nothing

in the following year.

Don't quite know what to make

of it. Was it a warning of the absolutely foul time that
 came next, when my life was in grave risk over several months?

Or was it makutu, Maori sorcery? A curse that I carry still?


Going gentle into that. Goodnight.

 My computer died on Monday. It had a terminal illness first, freezing occasionally during 2005, then rebooting occasionally from the start of 2006, then rebooting ALL THE BLOODY TIME. Then, just when I was sick of that, it stopped rebooting at all.

It had major surgery: two reinstallations of windows, and a new HD, an internal cleanout and reseat. And a great deal of attention. So it had a good life and probably did its best for me.

The good news is that most of my stuff is on the HD and can be moved straight into a new old box. The bad news is that it all takes time when I have other very important things to do, and money when I have a deeply important project that will take more money than I have available as it is.

So I've decided to look on it as a challenge and an inspiration. I have begun a story about a person who experiences life as a process of rebooting and rebooting and... 

And I have also decided I will get there come hell or high water, whatever the bastards 
throw in my way.

Sunday, September 24, 2006

Sunday evening blues

There is something about the dag end of Sunday that often gets to me, possibly the sum total of the dag ends of the seven previous days. Plus I got very little writing done this week.
Perhaps it's guilt, because I'm letting the nation down by barely acknowledging the ...(what sort of football is it they're getting all excited about for the next two weeks?)
In fact it's been a great weekend: I mowed the lawn. And what this lawn lacked in area it made up in height and density. For a start I kept hitting treetrunks and not being able to proceed in a forward direction, but then I discovered the art of raising the front of the damn thing and dropping it down on top of the small trees that were starting to claim squatters rights here. I even mowed the hedge, and the patio. Violence was done. Shades of the lawnmower man.

And my daughter has swanned off to Orcland to be a star at the Oz Psych Assoc and lent me her cute little car to drive for the fortnight, while her bro has moved to Wembly.

Now, what sort of suburb calls itself Wembly. I think it might be psychological state: Ooh, I'm feeling very wembly at the moment. Or that wasn't very wembly of you darling. Maybe.