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Archive for the ‘Fiction’ Category

super moon in starry sky on sea

 

Nine years ago or thereabouts, the Australian Women’s Weekly ran a short story competition with a first prize of $5,000 and guaranteed publication in this most circulated of Australian women’s newspapers. Being a writer and thus financially on the rocks (I figure I’ve made about $8 a week from my writing over the last 20 years, and that’s a high-end estimate), I decided to enter. I didn’t expect to win, but I thought there’d probably be a short list and the stories on that would be offered publication. And the Women’s Weekly pays, baby, pays.

So I sat down and sweated out a story of 5,000 words and sent it off. Months passed. Eventually the result was announced, but Danny Margaret had scored zero, zilch, and there didn’t appear to be a short list. Well, I thought, so much for that, and I put the story away in the proverbial bottom drawer.

Five years went by. One day (I must’ve had nothing better to do, perhaps it was the wet season) I pulled the story out and reread it. It’s not bad, I thought. Very Women’s Weekly – what a shame it didn’t get anywhere … Then I remembered Australian writer Marele Day saying once in a writing workshop that magazines were always looking for Christmas stories. They were drowning in the other kind, she said; but they were always short of Christmas stories. Hmm, I thought.

At the time my finances were in worse-than-usual disarray. Publication in the WW would sort all that out. O-kay. There was just one hitch: My story wasn’t a Christmas story. To solve this problem, I had the main character’s daughter refer to Christmas in an already-existing phone conversation and I had two people the main character passes on her way to the beach wish her a Merry Christmas. That’s all I did.

By now, my CV had filled out, and I had a little more confidence than I’d had in earlier years. I approached the editor of the Women’s Weekly by email, gave her my CV and a 3-line synopsis of the story and asked if she’d be interested in reading my “Christmas story”. Next thing I know I’m being offered publication in their 2010 Christmas edition.

The moral of this monologue is: If you put a short story in a competition and it doesn’t get anywhere, that doesn’t mean anything. What matters is being published. Craig McGregor told me this way back in 1979, but I didn’t take any notice. Besides, being a single parent, I needed the money that comps could provide.

Now here is “Stella by Starlight” minus the Merry Christmases. I’ve also made one other change, transforming the main character from female to male, to fit the story into the collection I’m publishing next year. Everything else, though, is the same, and the theme and moral of the story are unchanged.

Sales points for “Stella” are below. I hope you enjoy it. I wish I could provide a direct sales link to Apple, but I’m digitally disadvantaged.

http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00MTVVG9C

https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/467119

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Back in the 1970s when my son was two, his father gave him a large book entitled The Cat Catalogue. This was a most comprehensive book. A4 in size, it covered each breed and contained chapters entitled ‘The Cat in Literature’, ‘The Intellectual Cat’, etc. At the beginning of each of these chapters was a full-page, black-and-white drawing of cats, each by a different artist. Out of all the drawings, the one that caught my eye was the drawing entitled ‘The Artistic Cat’. It was done by someone who signed himself Marty Norman.

 When literary agent Rosemary Creswell retired without having placed my manuscript MagnifiCat with a traditional publisher, in spite of her enthusiasm for the work, I began to think of publishing the feel-good animal fantasy myself. Whenever I thought about the cover of the novel I was planning, my mind would return to the drawing by Marty Norman, which I’d seen in The Cat Catalogue. Luckily, I still owned the book – but how to find the artist? The book had come out in 1976. More than thirty years had passed.

This is where the web came in handy. But if you think I simply Googled the artist’s name and the rest is history, that didn’t happen. I couldn’t find Marty Norman. If you Google him today, you ‘ll find him easily, but in 2008, he was about as interested in the web as I was. I searched and searched – I even tried Facebook but I still couldn’t find him. There were a number of entries that might have been him. Eventually, I settled on one with a bio and dates that fitted my conception of the artist and sent him a Facebook internal email, explaining that I wanted to use the drawing from The Cat Catalogue for MagnifiCat’s cover and asking his permission. No reply. Seems he was as uninterested in Facebook as I was.

Years went by. I searched the web for an alternative image, but none came near the drawing by Marty Norman. I was obsessed, a lifelong problem of mine. I went back to searching for him. By now it was late 2011. With a friend’s help we tracked down a painting that might’ve been his in a gallery in, I think, New York, but there were no contact details for the artist. Although very different from the drawing I was obsessed with, the painting had the same surety of line that characterised Norman’s drawing for The Cat Catalogue. (See below.)

man on wire

I didn’t let the very considerable difference in style put me off. After all, good artists — and this guy was good— were supposed to be versatile, weren’t they? Besides, all that time had gone by; he was bound to have changed his style. I wrote to the gallery, explaining my dilemma and asking them to forward my request to their Marty Norman. No reply.

By now, I had definitely decided to publish on the web. I stepped up the search, going back over the ground I’d covered in the past. In the Friends Facebook section of the person I’d thought might be the Martin Norman I sought, I found someone I figured was the son. In desperation, I wrote to him via Facebook, stating my problem. Wonder of wonders, he wrote back to me! His father was the artist I sought; he’d pass my email on to him, I would hear from his father shortly. In due time, Marty wrote back. Yes, he was the person, and he would let me use the image. And so the deal was done.

MagnifiCat_Cover_for_KindleEven today, I don’t like Facebook, and only go there if there’s a notification in my email, but I have to admit I would never have found Marty Norman in those days without it.

Norman’s enjoying an illustrious career. There’s a great photo and bio of him

at:   http://www.saatchiart.com/martynorman Check it out. Below are two more examples of the work he is doing today:

Prisma4:Dark Matter

 

 

 

 

 

Dark Matter (painting)                                                      Prisma 4 (drawing)

If you’re interested in seeing more of Norman’s fine art, it can be viewed at:

http://martynorman-art.com/   or at the saatchi link above.

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Australian soldiers in Vietnam

Australian soldiers in Vietnam

A long, long time ago when I was younger and my children were still in high school, my son fell in love with all things military. War was nothing new to me. I’d cut my teeth on WWII. My father went over the Kokoda Trial without a scratch – needless to say, he never said a word about it, except to my old Uncle Charlie, who’d been in the trenches in WWI.

With the star-struck son, it was different. I saw every Vietnam war movie ever made. I got to know the kinds of choppers used in Vietnam, and also in Korea — even what kinds of choppers the police were currently using to search for marihuana plantations in the hills in the northern rivers. I learned about post-traumatic stress disorder and what (and what not) to do about it. My son’s passion lasted around four years and fizzled out, thank heavens, before he was old enough to join the army. While it was still at tornado force, I bought him one Christmas a memoir by Colonel David H Hackworth (US Army), co-written with Julie Sherman and called About Face: The Odyssey of an American Warrior.

 About Face

Hackworth was famous, and one of the most decorated soldiers who ever lived. Some people credited him with being the model for Colonel Kurtz, the role played by Marlon Brando in Francis Ford Coppola’s Apocalypse Now; others more reliably credited him with being the model for the gung ho commander of the helicopter unit immortalized in the movie by Robert Duvall. Hackworth did command a helicopter unit in Vietnam at one stage. His journey from all-American warrior (he lied about his age to get into the post-WWII occupying forces in Berlin at 15) to his public rejection of the Vietnam War in 1971 makes fascinating reading.

Young Hackworth

Older Hackworth

 

 

 

Unlike my son, I never fell in love with the military, but I did fall somewhat in love with Hackworth, and my little story “Remains to be Seen”, which was lucky enough to win the Ulitarra-Scheaffer Pen short story Award way back in 1993, is a kind of tribute to the man, although it is not about him. My formatting will always leave something to be desired, but the story (set half in the northern rivers, half in Vietnam) is now up on the web.

Remains cover khaki

It’s FREE in three formats at Smashwords:

https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/454352 and it should be free on Amazon KDP, but so far they’re insisting on charging 99c for it. If you’ve got a dollar to spare, that’s at: http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00LNDWRM2

NB This is a good place to encourage anyone who likes the work to put up a review. Remember, it doesn’t have to be a contender for the Pulitzer Prize. Just 50 words will do, and (hopefully) a reasonable number of stars 🙂

Hackworth spent some of his later years in Australia, living in Brisbane and later in the country not far from here – another reason for my fascination, perhaps,  though I suspect the real reason is that I just have a penchant for warriors. He died at the age of 74. The cause of his death is cited in some reports as bladder cancer, one of the many forms of cancer occurring with increasing frequency among Vietnam veterans exposed to the defoliants called Agents Orange and Blue.

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Novel under const'n

 A few days ago I was surprised to receive an email from Carol Middleton, an Australian award-winning writer, and a reviewer for the prestigious Australian Book Review. In the email Carol invited me to join the Writing Process Blog Tour, in which writers are invited to reply to four questions about their writing process and then pass the baton on to another writer/s.

Many thanks to Carol for inviting me to contribute to this tour, which in its construction is like a chain letter but nice. You can see Carol’s Writing-Process Blog published Monday 12th at http://carolmiddleton.com.au/wordpress

Here goes.

 

 

What am I working on?

Having put my first novel out on Amazon and Smashwords last year, I decided to try to get myself a bigger presence on the web by putting up a short story a month in 2014. Being the digital klutz that I am, it took me three months to learn enough to put up my first story Busting God, now available at: www.amazon.com/dp/B00J8ZIE8S. I’m now working on formatting my second story Remains to be Seen, which follows the fortunes of Busting God’s hero as he tries to recover from the post-traumatic stress caused by his participation in the Vietnam War.

I’m a tortoise, very slow at everything I do, and not very comfortable on the web. However, I’ve decided that having a higher profile there will help my novels eventually, so I’m nailed to the cross of formatting these twelve short stories for the remainder of 2014.

How does my work differ from others of its genre?

How to answer this question? My short stories were published in such diverse places, ranging from Penthouse to Aurealis to the Australian Women’s Weekly. Each time I adapted my basic writing style to suit the market — I was a single parent and I needed the money. My only novel published so far is MagnifiCat: www.amazon.com/dp/B00H0ORWQY a strange little animal fantasy about a family of cats who find themselves on the poverty line in a small country town in New South Wales, Australia. In it I aimed to produce a kind of Wind in the Willows for adults. To what extent I succeeded is hard to gauge. The novel’s definitely not satire; it’s more like a fairy tale for adults, with an underlying heavy core that makes it adult fiction, though I plan to release a children’s version of it in 2015, minus the alcohol and the angst.

Why do I write what I do?

In my case there are two answers to this. The short stories were written either for money — publication or competition money — or to add to my literary CV. In the novels, however, I get to please myself. And I notice that what comes though in all of them (I have another four in various stage of development) is a desire to nail down a particular time and place that’s now long gone. You could say I’m obsessed with transience, and writing about these places is my way of trying to keep them alive in people’s memories after they’ve disappeared under the bulldozer of progress. My Queensland novel is set in Brisbane in the early 1960s; MagnifiCat is set in Byron Shire in the mid-1980s, and somewhere in the dim future, should I live that long, I’d like to write a novel set in Brisbane during WWII. It’s as if I’m saying to readers, Remember how it was. Don’t forget this.

How does my writing process work?

I write first draft material in the morning, while I still have some contact with my unconscious. Editing, a completely different process requiring a different part of the brain, I can do any time. I never work after dark unless I have an editing job or a manuscript appraisal for another writer and the deadline is looming.

To me, producing first-draft material is like digging semi-precious stones out of the ground, while editing is like polishing those stones into something people might find beautiful or useful. Basically, I want my writing to entertain, to make people happy. At the risk of sounding overly ambitious (or merely quaint), I’d like it to give people hope. Life can be tough sometimes.

 

The writer I’ve asked to continue the Writing Process Blog Tour on Monday 26th is Ed Griffin, a Canadian novelist and prison reformer. Ed taught creative writing in prisons for many years. He blogs at:

prisonuncensored.wordpress.com

Check him out on Monday 26th.

 

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bustinggod(2)

A long, long time ago, back in the early ‘90s, I had my first short story published in a national magazine. My children and I were over the moon: the money (AU$1,500) was astronomical in those days. A few years later, I decided to see if I could crack the same market again—after all, $1,500 never goes astray.

I’d just read Narc! Inside the Australian Bureau of Narcotics by Bernard Delaney, who was a senior investigator in the narcotics bureau for some years before becoming Commander for the Southern Region of Australia. So I wrote this 5,000 word short story about an undercover narcotics agent, basing the procedures on Delaney’s book. After the usual eight drafts, I submitted it to the editor who’d accepted my previous story. My timing was bad. A week after I submitted the story, the magazine was sued for defamation. In the chaos that ensued, ‘Busting God’ went nowhere. I put it away and concentrated on the next draft of my Brisbane novel. Some twenty years later, I sent the story to an Australian magazine called Blue Crow, edited by Andrew Scobie, who accepted it enthusiastically.

Now that I‘ve decided to put all my work up online before I fall off the perch (it seems safer than wrapping it in ‘fireproof’ material and putting it in the tin trunk, but I might be wrong), I gave the story yet another draft and put it up on Amazon and Smashwords. In brief, it’s the story of an aging undercover agent who, along with his long-time Vietnam buddy Baby Johnson, is sent to the Northern Rivers of New South Wales to bust a heroin dealer everyone up there calls God because he’s so big. Apart from successfully running God to earth, the major conflict in the story takes place in the hero’s head. Will he stay in law enforcement or get out before his slowing reflexes get him killed? That’s the main idea behind the story, and the idea that leads to the next story I’m putting up in three weeks time, this time for free, called ‘Remains to be Seen’. As part of my plan to try to save the work before I drop off the perch, I plan to put up another eleven stories on the web this year, half of them for sale, half for free. This one has a price on it, but I chose the lowest price both sales sites would allow.

‘Busting God’ is one of the three favourite stories I’ve written; there’s a lot of tongue-in-cheek humour. It’s also the first thing I’ve ever formatted. Being the digital klutz that I am (oh yes, I am — see my previous post on this subject at: https://danielledevalera.wordpress.com/2013/09/17/for-all-you-luddites-out-there/, formatting that story took me a long time and I’m so chuffed that I managed to do it. I was further encouraged by fellow writer C S McClellan, who did the you-beaut cover for me. Thank you so much, Connie; designing an ebook cover is way out of my league.

If you’ve got a moment or so, pop over and take a look at ‘Busting God’. You can read about 30% for free at either:

https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/416303

or www.amazon.com/dp/B00J8ZIE8S

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Internet friend Ed Griffin continues his run of prison reform novels with Delaney’s Hope, an upbeat idea for a new kind of prison.

Delaney's Hope coveAvailable at: http://www.amazon.com/Delaneys-Hope-Ed-Griffin-ebook/dp/B00GFGEBMG

In this guest blog Ed talks about the wellsprings of his hope for reforms and the novels in which he’s put forward these ideas.

Ed Griffin:

I am interested in prison reform. This is a direct result of teaching writing in prison for twenty years. It’s an indirect result of my education and service as a Roman Catholic priest for five and a half years. I heard the message of the gospel that we were to care for the “least of the brethren.” In my opinion, there wasn’t anybody more least in our society than a federal inmate.

I left the priesthood a few years after marching in Selma with Doctor Martin Luther King. That’s another story, relayed in my non-fiction book, Once A Priest.

I’ve written a lot about prison reform. My first novel, Prisoners of the Williwaw, is a story about Frank Villa, who convinces the US Government to put 300 hardened convicts on an island with their families and let them rule themselves. The federal government has finally realized that they can’t keep paying for prisons. Right now it costs $100 a day to keep a man in prison. So they let Frank Villa have an abandoned Naval base on the island of Adak in the Aleutians. No guards will be on the island, but the US Coast Guard will patrol the waters around Adak, and they will shoot to kill.

Half way to Russia and caught between the Pacific Ocean and the Bering Sea, it rains and snows 85% of the time on Adak. In addition, a fierce wind called a Williwaw builds up behind the mountains and smashes down on houses, equipment and even children. In World War II, the weather killed more soldiers than the enemy did.

Frank also faces a convict who plans to use this situation to his own advantage. He knows that each convict leaves prison with $200. He’s eager to help them spend it.

Can convicts rule themselves? This is an issue the novel looks into.

My second book about prison is non-fiction. It’s called Dystopia. An inmate in my writing class joined me in telling the story of prison. We each wrote our stories, not in lesson form, but by relaying the stories of the men we met there.

I told why I came to teach in prison, despite my wife’s worry. Then I started with my first scary day and told about all the people I met in my class. One of the most amazing people I met was Mike Oulton. He’d been arrested in Mexico for trying to smuggle cocaine into the United States. His sentence was ten years, two of which he spent in a Mexican prison and eight of which he spent in a Canadian prison. Mike also tells stories of the men and the staff he met in all those years, and he hints at which prison system he liked better. Mike’s been out now for seven years and he’s doing well. He works as an MC and as a master of ceremonies for weddings. This is right in line with Mike’s whole life, but now he’s found legitimate ways to express his exuberant personality.

The third book about prison reform is my latest novel, Delaney’s Hope. Delaney is a prison official who put his feet up for twenty years. He tried at the beginning to make changes, but his superiors stepped on him, and so, he did nothing. But then his missionary brother died for standing up to the oil people who wanted to take his parishioners’ land. Delaney feels guilty about wasting all those years, and he tries to repent by setting up a prison that really works. He convinces the government to let him use an abandoned minimum security prison in Wisconsin.

At the beginning he will only have five prisoners and three staff, counting himself. The criminal history of each inmate is given, as well as a picture of the staff. Delaney tries to break down the ‘us and them’ that exist in every prison. He tries to show the inmates that we are all weak human beings and no one, including the staff, is perfect.

His inmates include a drug smuggler who tries to sabotage everything Delaney tries to do. Another man killed his wife in front of their son. A third inmate ran a commercial greenhouse and cheated on the rules. That might have been okay, but then he knocked an old man out of tree, a neighbor who opposed his plans. The old man died. A sheriff who wanted this land to build a big maximum security prison convinced a sex offender to come to the prison, where he presented Delaney with a lot of problems.

Another thing Delaney tries to deal with is the sexism of prisons. Yes, what we now mean by a male prison is not a place for women, but Delaney points out that almost all of society is mixed male and female. If he can create a calm atmosphere, there is no reason why male and female inmates can’t be integrated at least as far as programs are concerned.

The prison starts and Delaney faces problem after problem after problem. Will it work? Can a prison work that’s not like what we have today?

Prison reform is not a popular subject, but we need to face it. When we hear that California spends more money on prisons than it does on education, we begin to ask questions. When we hear that the United States is one of the countries with the most prisoners, it’s time to look at prison reform. And Canada now with its conservative government tries to win votes on the backs of inmates. Right-minded people do not agree.

I hope my two novels and one non-fiction book about prison reform will have an impact. When I started to write, I promised myself I would never bore the reader; I would show, not tell; I would not let one word of opinion enter the story. I hope I have succeeded.

Ed Griffin

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HorseI’m one of those people who believes in everything and nothing, so don’t take it amiss that I share a few thoughts with you at the beginning of this Year of the Wooden Horse. The book I’ve got on Chinese astrology (someone less able than I to accommodate ambivalence gave it to me) says horses always look terrific, have plenty of sex appeal and know how to dress, but that they’re also hotheaded, hotblooded and impatient. In the years when I was younger and used to give Chinese New Year’s Eve parties, there must have been a few horses among the crowd. If there were, I don’t remember them, so I can’t pass judgment on the accuracy of the book, but we sure had a lot of fun passing it around and guffawing at the descriptions.

But I digress. What I’m really here for is to wish all those who read this post the best of luck in the coming year. If, like me, you’re just starting out on the digital journey, my commiserations.

My goal, this year, is to release a dozen short stories, roughly one a month, ranging in length from 4,000 to 9,000 words, half of which are set in the Northern Rivers of New South Wales, Australia, an area I’ve lived in for the past thirty years and am still desperately in love with. I’m lucky enough to have a friend I met through this blog who is designing the first cover, but after that, I’ll be on my own in the formatting of both cover and story text.

Just how I’m going to manage, I have absolutely no idea. Designing the Smashwords versions of the stories won’t present many problems, thanks to the beautifully clear instructions in Mark Coker’s (Mark is CEO of Smashwords) Style Guide, obtainable free on the internet. Designing a Kindle version, however, is going to be more difficult. Both Smashwords and Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP) offer simple, pain-free translations of documents  from Word to Kindle, but what I’ve seen of the results doesn’t enchant me. However, whether I’ll ever be able to learn enough digitally to do better remains to be seen.

In short, just learning enough to put up those dozen stories in one form or another is my goal for the year. Wish me luck, everyone – and if anyone wants to tell me their goals for this Year of the Horse, I’m a good listener.

Horse drawing

Good luck to you all!

Dani

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