Power Of The Secret-Keeper

I’ve pretty much finished my latest novel, Turtle Reef, except for one last read through. That means I’m taking a blogging holiday this week. But never fear, I’m reblogging a terrific post from one of my favourite bloggers, Kristen Lamb. This post is on the power of secrets in fiction. I hope you enjoy it!

Kristen Lamb's Blog

Screen Shot 2013-05-01 at 9.47.12 AM Image via the award-winning show “House.”

It’s tempting for us to create “perfect” protagonists and “pure evil” antagonists, but that’s the stuff of cartoons, not great fiction. Every strength has an array of corresponding weaknesses, and when we understand these soft spots, generating conflict becomes easier. Understanding character arc becomes simpler. Plotting will fall into place with far less effort.

My POV? All memorable stories are character-driven. Plot merely serves to change characters from a lowly protagonist into a hero….kicking and screaming along the way.

One element that is critical to understand is this:

Everyone has Secrets

To quote Dr. Gregory House, Everybody lies.

All good stories hinge on secrets.

I have bodies under my porch.

Okay, not all secrets in our fiction need to be THIS huge.

Secret #1—“Real” Self Versus Authentic Self

We all have a face we show to the world, what we want others to see…

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Blues For The Bush

Blues for the bush 1The Shire of Perenjori in mid-west Western Australia will join with Bush Heritage on October 4th to present the second annual Blues for the Bush celebration. This will combine an open day at Charles Darwin Reserve with a fabulous evening concert.

Bush Heritage is one of my favourite conservation organisations. In fact I dedicated my last book, Billabong Bend, to them. Established in 1991, they now have thirty-five conservation reserves protecting over one million hectares. Their vision is, by 2025, to protect more than seven million hectares of Australia’s high conservation value land, water and wildlife. What’s not to love?

Blues for the bush 3Blues for the Bush was conceived last year to celebrate the ten year anniversary of Bush Heritage purchasing the 68,000 hectare Charles Darwin Reserve. This purchase was made possible, in part, by a generous donation from the great-great-grandson of the famous naturalist after whom the property is now named. Formerly known as White Wells Station, the reserve is located at the junction of major landforms, ecosystems and climates known as the Mulga‑Eucalypt line, where  desert meets the south‑west. As a result, it’s a melting pot of plant species with eucalypts and mulga scrub intermixed.

Blues for the bush 2Ancient woodlands of York gum, salmon, gimlet and pine are interspersed with wildflower-studded sand plains. Of course spring is the perfect time to see this colourful display. Dense thickets of wattle, casuarina and melaleuca shrub surround natural salt lake systems. Bush Heritage has destocked the property and controlled weeds and feral animals. The reserve is fast returning to its original, natural beauty.

It is in these stunning surrounds that Blues for the Bush happens. The Open Day is free from 10am – 4.00pm. There will be something for everyone to enjoy. Children’s entertainment with painting, art and stories. Guided ecology tours of the property will run throughout the day. Bush poetry. Song-writing and bush music workshops, slow food demonstrations and much, much more. There will even be a free Bush Tea, the local’s answer to the traditional high tea – lamingtons, Anzac biscuits and a fresh brewed cuppa.

Hat Fitz at last year's Blues for the Bush

Hat Fitz at last year’s Blues for the Bush

The highlight will be a blues concert. Local Ngoongar musician, Craig Pickett, will open this year’s event. Craig is an incredible guitarist and has played for many years around Western Australia. Following Craig will be some of the absolute best in independent Australian blues and roots music, including Hat Fitz, Cara Robinson and Chris Russell’s Chicken Walk. Tickets on sale here. They include a spit roast and salad meal. There will also be a cash bar and camping facilities available. What a night it will be!

On a personal writing note, I am rushing to get Turtle Reef ready for submission to Penguin on the first of October. Won’t see the manuscript again until the first round of edits roll around. I’m getting my mares, Sheba and Star, shod on the second of October. My reward for finishing. Bunyip State Forest, here we come!

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Sydney Smith On Author Branding

In this post, Sydney Smith, author and writing mentor extraordinaire, adds her words of wisdom to our previous Author Branding discussion (see last post)

sydney-smith_regular‘Different and yet the same. Whenever a writer submits their manuscript to one of the opportunities out there, like the Friday Pitch or Manuscript Monday, they’re asked who they write like. They have to offer the same thing, but with something in there that’s different. Jenny, you quoted a reviewer who likened Kath’s work to that of Janet Evanovich. There’s that point of similarity. But anyone who’s read the Stephanie Plum books will know that Kath’s work is also unique to herself.

When you set out to brand yourself you have to be very careful. Is the brand you choose the one you want to be defined by? I didn’t give a thought to branding when I approached Text with my memoir. All I was thinking was that I had a good story to tell. But I know now that it was the wrong move, strategically. I’m “branded” as someone who writes literary narrative. But that isn’t who I really am. I have a literary bent, sure. I love reading Tolstoy and Henry James, Jane Austen and Charlotte Brontë, Ian MacEwan and Elizabeth Kostova. I love reading fiction that makes me think about the characters and feel potent emotions.

Crime FictionBut I also have a genre bent. I’m a crime fiction addict. I read five crime novels a week. No kidding! As a writer, I’m trying to access my inner psychopath in order to write about murder. This morning, I started my first murder story, having figured out that I might be able to get at it if I go by way of a missing persons investigation. Don’t ask me why that works for me and a more direct approach doesn’t. I’ve got no idea. I just know that I can work with a missing persons investigator, not with a homicide detective, even if, at some point, I have to get to a murder.

So what does that have to do with branding? Well, I suppose this is my brand. Or anyway, it’s the one I’m trying to create. It feels confining. I am a whole lot more than a single, narrowly-defined product. But there’s no way around it.

By the way, are there any crime fiction buffs out there? If you want to chat about crime fiction and crime TV shows, drop me a line.

Sydney Smith is a writing mentor, teacher and author of short stories, essays, and The Lost Woman, a memoir of survival. She is currently writing The Architecture of Narrative, a book about how to plot and structure fiction. She offers writing tips at www.threekookaburras.com. If you have a question on any aspect of writing, feel free to visit her at The Story Whisperer.

 

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Author Branding

Author Branding 3A distinctive brand gives an author a major advantage in marketing their books. It defines what they stand for. It helps them refine and cultivate a unique voice. Not every writer appreciates being ‘put in a box’ so to speak, as if they are a product on a shelf. But books are products on shelves, and readers are consumers. In this week’s blog, fellow Penguin author Kathryn Ledson and I share our thoughts on the concept of branding. I’ll start the ball rolling.

JENNIFER
Author branding is all about promising a certain kind of reading experience. ‘Brand’ means having a recognisable, consistent voice and approach from book to book, so your fans know what to expect. It doesn’t mean you have to write the same thing over and over. Take the master of suspense, Alfred Hitchcock, for example. His movies range from courtroom dramas like The Paradine Case to historicals like Under Capricorn, set in nineteenth-century Australia. But no matter what the subject matter, you always know you’ll get a taut, psychological thriller. Woody Allen movies are funny, quirky and character-driven, while nobody portrays alienated men living on the edge like Martin Scorsese.

Author Branding 2I was lucky. My author brand just fell in my lap. I write Australian rural fiction with powerful environmental themes. Nobody else does that (I have no idea why!) and it became my immediate point of difference. The books I write celebrate a love affair with the wild, and it gives my publisher a clear idea of how to market my work. Kathryn also has a very distinctive style and voice. She writes fast-paced and funny romantic adventures. ‘Fans of Stephanie Plum rejoice. There’s a new undercover angel in town,’ said a review in Marie Clare. Bam, there’s her brand right there.

Identifying your particular brand isn’t always that easy. You have to figure out the goal of your writing, define your purpose and identify your audience. A consistent, core message should start to emerge. Everyone wants to appeal to a wide audience, but I think it helps to have a specific focus, especially in the beginning. On your blog, on social media, in the way you talk about your work. For me of course it’s the environment. Last week I blogged about Melbourne’s Environmental Film Festival, and tweeted about the repeal of the Wild Rivers legislation. Zeroing in on your own passions and interests helps define you in the mind of your audience.

KATH
Author Branding 1I recently met a writer whose goal was to have her novel published. ‘But I wouldn’t want to do all that public-speaking stuff like you do,’ she said. ‘I wouldn’t want people knowing my business.’

What many aspiring authors don’t understand is that the “public-speaking stuff” and your business go with the turf. It’s part of your brand. Who you, the author, are plays an intrinsic role in the branding game and, yes, if you want to really connect with your readers, it can be personal. Branding of course is all about marketing and promotion. It’s about finding that unique thing that sets you firmly apart from the crowd and puts you under a spotlight so that, ultimately, it’s your book a reader will pick up, thinking, ‘I’ve heard about this author. She’s the one who (insert unique thing).’ Your brand is like a fingerprint. If you nail it (pun intended), your brand will be so individual that you can honestly claim no-one does what you do.

There are two very important reasons to have a brand. First, to get publishers to notice you. And then to get readers to notice you. Getting readers to notice you can happen via publicity, and your brand is the thing that attracts the media. Every month in Australia, dozens of authors make their debut. In that case, why would any newspaper be interested in you? What’s so special about you? You’re a product. Yes, you are. So, market yourself. Find your brand. Your unique thing.

It’s not necessarily that easy to find your brand and, as Jen points out, she and I are lucky because, although we’re writing for popular genres, neither of us had to work very hard to find our points of difference. Jen writes environmental or eco-romance (isn’t that fabulous?). I write funny, romantic adventure novels. However, that’s not special or unique. Other people write books like that. I write “like Janet Evanovich”, but even that’s not unique because it’s like Janet Evanovich. I think my brand is (currently) my series character, Erica Jewell. Like Evanovich has Stephanie Plum, Helen Fielding has Bridget Jones, Lee Child has Jack Reacher, my Erica is the stand-out thing that sets my work apart. One day, when Erica and her man are finally tucked into boring happily-ever-after, and I write another book or series, then I’ll have to re-brand myself. I think it will always be “funny, romantic adventure novels”, but still that’s a bit dull. Perhaps I can find a new name for that genre: Laugh-Out-Loud Romantic Adventure? LOL Rom-ad?

I’m sure you’ll come up with something wonderful Kath! What do readers think? What are your thoughts on the pros and cons of author branding?

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The Environmental Film Festival

Environmental Film Festival 1Melbourne is right in the middle of its Environmental Film Festival. Running from 4-12 September, the festival offers wonderful films, thought-provoking debate and fun-filled special events. Now in its 5th year, EFFM showcases a dynamic range of the best environmental films from Australia and around the world, and draws large crowds from all over Victoria. In a very short time, it has stitched its way into the colourful tapestry of Melbourne’s cultural life.

Environmental film festival 2It is not too late to get involved if you live locally. Tomorrow, be charmed by charismatic food activist Carlo Petrini in Slow Food Story. Join the conversation about our food systems with expert panelists and local food appreciators, and feast on tastings of mouthwatering slow food. This event will warm your heart and make your mouth water. Tickets for this special EFFM event are Adults $28 // Concession $23 (plus booking fee). Event catering will be provided by TrailerMade – Artisan and slow food van. Details and tickets.

All the films are well worth a look, but I think one of the most interesting will be ‘The Weather War’, a compelling look at mankind’s attempts to control the weather and harness it for our own purposes. Tuesday 9th at 8.30 pm. Kino Cinema in Collins Place. Purchase tickets here.

Environmental film festival 3Celebrate the close of EFFM 2014 with the screening of Planet RE:think, a panel discussion including festival patron Bob Brown, festival award announcements, and a closing night party to kick up your heels and revel in another stellar year for environmental film.Ticket for this special EFFM event are limited. Adults $35 // Concession $28 (plus booking fee). Details and tickets.

I hope the festival finishes with a bang, and I hope to go myself next year. Unfortunately I’ll have to give this year a miss as I’m closing in on the end of my current novel. Nothing will drag me away until I wrestle this manuscript to a conclusion!

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