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Posts Tagged ‘far north coast of NSW’

THE GENESIS OF DROPPING OUT: A TREE CHANGE NOVEL-IN-STORIES

Years ago, when I was pregnant with my second child, I ran away to Point Lookout on North Stradbroke Island to escape relationship problems with my then partner.

stradbroke-1

In those days, it was wonderfully primitive —a four-and-a-half-hour journey by boat to get there, followed by a one-hour journey by bus across the island to the point; no pub, no electricity, earth toilets, an ice works, a post office and a general store. I lived in a one-room cabin with my first child, a boy. We loved Straddie, but because my first child had been a Caesarian and the specialist intended the second to be the same, eventually as my time drew near I was forced to return to the mainland.

While I was there, however, an American couple befriended me. They were an interesting pair. She had been a theatre sister at the Johns Hopkins, and we were all big readers. One night over dinner, they tried to persuade me to write short stories. At that stage I was still carrying the Brisbane novel like the proverbial albatross around my neck. (Still am, in fact, but all that will change in 2018.)

To return to the point, over dinner they extolled the virtues the short story held for writers, one of which was a quick remuneration. I remember at the time saying simply, “I can’t write short stories.”

Time passed, as it does. When my partner and I broke up for good, I found myself alone with two small children. Remembering what the Stradbroke Island couple had said about short stories (the magic word was remuneration), I put away the Brisbane novel and turned to stories as something I could manage between the children and the chores. It took me a while to get the hang of the form, but in the end I did, and started aiming for well-paid competitions and magazines. As is always the case with submissions of any kind, the old 1 in 9 rule applied. That is: expect 1 acceptance for every 9 rejections. That way, you won’t be crushed, and occasionally you might even be pleasantly surprised.

Occasionally.

Now, after 25 years of writing short stories, most of them set in Byron Shire, I’ve been able to put together a collection called Dropping Out.

droppingout_e-cover

I would’ve loved to call it something enigmatic like Richard Flanagan’s The Sound of One Hand Clapping — or something beautiful, like Fitzgerald’s Tender is the Night. But the book was intended for the internet market (though there is a POD option available for those, like me, who like the feel of a book in their hands) and search engines make hard masters, so it’s called Dropping Out: a tree change novel-in-stories. Which translated means the stories are all character linked, so the book reads like an episodic novel.

Do pop over and have a look if you have time. This is my one and only collection of short stories, there won’t be another.

http://www.smashwords.com/books/view/669161

and

https://www.amazon.com/Dropping-Out-change-novel—stories-ebook/dp/B01LXF9QEB

Amazon has a generous sample in their Look Inside feature.

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Frightened woman

I’m afraid to open the parcel containing the Amazon proof copy of my short story collection. I’ve had it since Tuesday, it’s now Saturday. When I got the proof of the 1st novel I put up on Amazon (http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00H0ORWQY, I fell on it like a famished wolf. Why this sudden turnaround? Perhaps it’s got something to do with the cover, which was unfinished when I sent off for this particular proof, and feels to me as if it will ever remain so.

Let me explain. You see, when I wrote my weird cat fantasy novel, which caused people to think I had finally lost the plot (though they were all too nice to say so), I had the image for the cover before I even wrote the book—a marvellous black & white drawing by US artist Marty Norman.

Marty Norman's cat illus'n 75 dpi copy No cats on pedestals

This time, I had chosen another of his works, a wonderful, hard-edged painting of a businessman on a tightrope, see below. (Sorry I’m too much of a luddite to know how to make the image bigger.)

man on wire

But beta readers from here to Timbuktu all agreed that to use an image like that on the cover of my collection was to mislead people into expecting a book about the problems of Wall Street suits. And that, my little short story collection set in the Northern Rivers of New South Wales definitely was not.

What to do? I had no idea. In the end, I settled for a very ancient image (no, I’m not going to show it to you at this point), and hoped like hell it would work. To open the package from Amazon, even though I know the cover is unfinished and will make the necessary allowances, is to expose myself to immense disappointment if this cover idea hasn’t worked.

Now it’s all very well to say I’ve got time to think of another and still get the book out in October-November of this year, but you see, I can’t. Having been dragged from one fixation (which in my heart I still prefer) to another, something in me has said, This is it. Further than this, I’m not prepared to go. In other words, I’m stuck with this cover, no matter what. So the parcel feels very threatening to me and just sits there on the sofa, accusing me every time I walk past. Thank heavens I’m going out today. I’ll be out all day – so there, parcel!

This state of affairs could go on indefinitely if I don’t so something, so I’ve set myself a deadline of Monday morning. On Monday I must take a deep breath, rip open the parcel and take it on the chin, come what may.

Am I scared? You bet. But will I keep the deadline? Oh yeah; I’m a creature of deadlines. I’m not really happy unless I can see one looming somewhere on the horizon. So Monday it is. Meanwhile, I give the sofa a wide berth.

 

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A few days ago I paid one of my biannual visits to friends at Dyraaba in northern New South Wales, about half an hour’s drive out of Casino. They have a 240 acre property there, where they run 30-40 head of cattle and half a dozen horses.

IMG_7623

It looks idyllic, but the beauty of this photo belies the amount of work it takes to keep a property like this running smoothly. To add to the workload, when the couple moved here four years ago, the paddocks were overgrazed; fireweed, blady grass and lantana were rampant.

Lantana 2Lantana – hell to eradicate

Four years of hard yakka has pulled the property back into shape, with improved pastures on the flatland, hardly a fireweed in sight, and very little blady grass. One more year should see the last of the lantana.

That’s the extra work, of course. Just everyday running of a place like this involves so many things that owners have to keep on top of. There’s worming, earmarking, drenching, dipping and hand feeding of stock during drought, the keeping up of miles of fences, sitting up nights with calving cows, saving stock from wild dogs, etc. etc. Some winter nights when the dogs are bad, you can hear them howling in the distant paddocks like something out of Dr Zhivago.

Some people on a neighbouring property have filled in the wetland where black swans used to come every year. Now my friends have swans gracing their biggest creek.

DSCF4402

It all looks very idyllic, as I said, but the work required would stimey most people. In summer you need to be in the paddocks by 4.30 a.m. at the latest, so you can get in a good six hours toil before the heat hits. From noon to four, the fields are impossible. However, work can recommence at 4.30 and go onto until night falls. Winter is different, of course, but those early mornings are mighty chilly; it was 6 degrees C when I was there.

All in all, it’s a beautiful place to visit, but not a place to live if you shy away from hard work. Fortunately, both my friends are tigers for punishment and thrive on the lifestyle.

_MG_7403

Having worked with animals all their lives, they understood when they bought how it would be, and so didn’t suffer the fate of many tree changers who move from the city to the bush, chasing the dream.

 

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God chasing cat, b&wWatching my cat Tim this morning leaping from the washing machine to the linen cupboard and from there to the ledge of the little window from where he likes to survey the kingdom, I was reminded of another cat I used to have and his adventures with a rescue dog my then partner brought home, wanting to take in. Just why we didn’t realise from the start just what we were letting ourselves in for, I don’t know. But we had a lot on our minds in those days, what with the two children and my elderly mother.

The cat’s name was Mao; he was a bluepoint Siamese, and he knew it.

Bluepoint siamese

The rescue dog’s name was Harry.

Harry was a German Shepherd that nobody seemed to want. That should’ve given us pause right there, but as I said, we had a lot on our minds, particularly in the mornings. Harry was obviously well bred, the sort of dog that would’ve had “papers”, yet nobody wanted him.

We tried him out with the children; he was fine, so we let him stay.

Night fell. We fed Harry and bedded him down and locked him into the shed at the side of the house. Next morning, unbeknown to me, as I was working in the kitchen, making breakfasts, ironing uniforms, getting the children off to school, my partner let Harry out.

Mao, the Siamese cat, having finished his breakfast, strolled out to inspect the dawn from the doorstep of the back porch. As he sat there checking out the day, Harry came around the side of the house.

 

Shepherd looking tough

The cat, accustomed all his life to being superior, waved a paw at Harry to tell him his presence there on the step was not required, that he was persona non grata, in fact.

But Harry came on. The cat found himself being pursued by this slavering beast. He raced into the nearby bathroom and leapt up onto the hand basin. Harry’s first leap landed him in the hand basin, too. Just in the nick of time, the cat leapt up onto the edge of the shower stall, a precarious position.

Harry was leaping and snarling at him, but he couldn’t quite reach the cat, when I came out, atracted by the commotion. I grabbed a straw broom and began to beat Harry with it, to no avail. Then the cat teetering on the edge of the shower stall lost his balance and leapt onto the head of the straw broom when it was at the height of one of its upswings. Anyone could’ve told him this was not a good idea, but it seemed it was the only one he had. He then fell off the broom head, and saved himself from landing in Harry’s waiting maw by latching onto my thumb.

I screamed, turning this way and that to save the cat. The dog leaped and snarled, the cat clung. I don’t know what would’ve happened next if my partner hadn’t arrived just then and whipped Harry off with one of the studded leather belts he liked to affect.

After that, we locked Harry back in the shed and drove to the hospital so that I could get a tetanus injection and, of course, I needed stitches. As I said, just why we hadn’t realised from the start what we were letting ourselves in for, I don’t know. But we had a lot on our minds in those days.

Harry stayed, by the way. He and the cat arrived at an uneasy truce, with the cat dominant. The tucker was good, and there were lots of cattle to harrass in the nearby paddocks; Harry knew he was on a good thing.

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Worried womanI’ve spent the first three months of this year finishing off the 1st draft of the sequel to the cat book. (See right.) I’m now at around 80,000 words, and I’m embroiled — no other word for it — in arranging the scenes in chronological order. You see, I write novels out of order, just picking one scene from the story line as the mood takes me. I don’t do this with short stories, which I plan out in advance, but I do it with novels, god help me. Now I’m the proud possessor of around 80,000+ words, roughly 85 scenes — all out of order.

To get a book out of this is no mean feat. When I saw the extent of the problem, plus the fact that I still had three critical scenes to write, I thought of lying down on the railway tracks.

Railway tracks

But the train doesn’t run in these parts anymore.

How to proceed from here? My method was to buy a packet of catalogue cards, write the name of each scene plus a brief description on a catalogue card, and then sort the cards into piles representing the main characters. I then sort each character pile into their journey arcs. After that, I shuffle the cards until they’re in what I hope is the right order for the novel, interpolating the main character cards as I go. This takes time. Quite a bit of it, in fact. When that’s done, I take the printout of the novel and put the printed out scenes into the order I obtained via the catalogue cards. Then I read the printout to see if it flows, where bridges need to be added, etc.

It’s madly time consuming, and I’m only at the catalogue card stage at present; I have a fair way to go yet. Unfortunately, it’s the kind of thing that can’t be hurried. Glitches in the plot will always appear at this point, and it takes time to work through them, for something to occur to me that will solve the problem.

Writing a novel out of order is a mug’s game; I don’t recommend it to anyone. But that’s my way with novels; I just take them on, one bite at a time, until eventually they’re done.

So here I am with my catalogue cards wrapped around with a rubber band. I get up in the morning, put on my dressing gown, feed the cat, make a cup of tea, and shuffle the catalogue cards.

Worried woman in dressing gown

I predict it will be a while yet before I have a properly organised printout that I can use to arrange the scenes in the right order in the computer version.

As the late Bob Ellis used to say, “So it goes.”

PS If you’re wanting to catch up on any of my short stories, the easiest way to do it is to go to http://www.amazon.com/Danielle-de-Valera/e/B00H286LXI  There’s a list there of all of them.

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Reflections final

Somewhere around the year 2000, I wrote a short story called “A Pink Rosebush and a Piece of Lattice” that was lucky enough to win an award up here in the Northern Rivers of New South Wales. This story “Reflections” is the longer version, and is around 2,300 words.

I’m besotted with the cover, which my US author friend C S McClellan created from a beautiful image I found online at Eden Pics. You can see more of their nature photos at http://www.edenpics.com and, wonder of wonders, their images are free.

This story is the last of the ten stories I have been formatting and putting up on the web over the past fifteen or so months. Because it’s so short, I wanted it to be free, so it will only appear on Smashwords.

In this story, Charles Lawson, the notorious heroin dealer formerly known as God, has been released from jail and, after living quietly with his cats for a number of years, is now so old he has to enter a nursing home. Here he reflects on his life and, in his last moments, imagines he is reunited with his wife Angela, who died some years before him.

It sounds like a pretty grim read when I put it that way, but all those who’ve read it found the story touching and/or uplifting. I hope anyone else who checks it out will feel the same way.

“Reflections” is available from Smashwords in various formats, including pdf, mobo and EPUB at:     https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/554292

Thanks to everyone who’s taken this journey with me so far. I’m hoping to put out a collection of these stories in print and e-book at the end of the year. However, good looking print books don’t come cheap, so that date may yet end up in the first quarter of 2016. Will keep you posted.

Dani

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 Transferance

When the children were in high school, I found myself with a bit of time on my hands. I lived in a small country town, jobs were hard to get, so I decided to try to make some some money writing short stories. I was working in the dark. Although I’d written a novel and had a few articles published in newspapers, I didn’t write short stories; I’d always thought of myself as a long distance writer. Still, as they say (or used to say), Needs must when the devil drives. I tried the Women’s Weekly first, but I had no luck. I didn’t understand at that stage that you need to study the publication you’re aiming for to get a feel for both the style and the kind of content the editor likes.

With no luck there and the need for money still pressing, I turned my attention to the men’s magazines. Here I was lucky: my partner Gianni Cosatto bought a Penthouse every month. Strictly for the articles, you understand. For a year I clawed my way past crotches and garter belts every month and studied the particular likes of the then editor, Phil Abraham. He was publishing one story per issue, good quality stuff of around 5,000 words by such Australian luminaries as Susan Geason, Peter Corris, Roger Raftery, etc. After trying a few different stories on Phil, I finally struck it lucky with “Transference”, a 4,500 word story about a man who becomes obsessed with his wife after she leaves him, goes to a therapist for help and ends up becoming obsessed with the therapist.

It was my first ever published story, and a monument to the technique of studying the publication you’re aiming for. The money was considerable for those days, and caused us much excitement. We went straight out and bought a VCR and mainlined movies all through that summer. My mother, who lived with us, was still alive in those days, so she was able to enjoy the largesse—a fact that, even today, gives me pleasure.

Well, there you have it. There’s nothing dubious or smutty in “Transference”; Phil Abraham wasn’t that kind of editor. It’s light with a heavier undertone. It should make good holiday reading, and is available at:

https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/497498

http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00QUDR8OC

The beautiful image that forms the cover is by ejimac. You can see more of his stunning work at:

http://www.deviantart.com/browse/all/digitalart/fractals/?q=ejimac

Best wishes to you all for Christmas and the coming year,

Dani

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Sunflower field at dawn

 What with the remaining cat’s veterinary bills, things are a bit tough financially, but they used to be tougher back around the turn of the millenium. At that time the local paper, the Byron Shire Echo decided to hold a competition for a short story of less than 1,000 words. The winning entry would receive publication in the Echo and prize money of $1,000. Needless to say, I decided to have a go. To my absolute surprise, I was lucky enough to win with “A Happily Married Man’, which told the story of a young man who thinks he’s had a message from God to eliminate the man his wife has left him for.

That was in 1997.

Next year, I decided to try again. This time I wrote about a single mother who’s life is threatened by a jilted lover with a shotgun. I called it “The State of Grace”, to try to explain the sense of calm that came over the her in the end, after she realises she is going to die. I didn’t hold out much hope for the story, but they were judged blind and to my amazement, I managed to win again. Now that’s what I call luck. It kind of made up for all those years of rejections. (I sometimes wish I’d kept my rejection slips; I really could’ve papered a wall with them.)

That was in 1998.

In 1999, Shelley Jackson of Lismore ran a fiction competition for women on the north coast of New South Wales. I was on a roll, so I tried again. The story I entered was called “The Sunflowers”. It was about a woman who’s been married for years to a husband who is physically abusive, but she won’t leave him. Finally, a particular incident involving gardening makes her decide to go. Again, I was lucky.

And there my remarkable streak of luck more or less ended. After that, I concentrated on writing novels and on getting stories published in magazines to improve my literary CV. In those days, you sent the publishers your novel extract by post, along with a pleading letter and what was called a literary CV. A good literary CV might sway editors in your favour. It seemed like a sensible idea to concentrate on this. As the song says, “Know when to fold’ em. Know when to walk away, Know when to run”.

Being only 1,000, 1,000 and 1,500 words respectively, the three stories described above were too short to publish separately on the web, so I’ve put them together in a bundle of 3,575 words called “Trio”. In the short story collection I’m hoping to put out in 2015, these three stories won’t run together as they do in “Trio”, but will appear separately in various places through the book. Anyone reading them to discover the fate of the four main characters in the collection (O’Neill, Johnson, Lawson and Star) needs to bear this in mind.

Trio” is FREE at Smashwords in three formats: EPUB, mobi (for Kindle) and pdf.

https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/492081

PS Many thanks to the people who’ve taken the trouble to review the stories I’ve put up so far. Reviews are necessary to sell anything on the web, so your kindness is very much appreciated.

A note on reviews:

Making life even more difficult for indie publishers, Amazon, the giant in this business, responsible for approximately 70% of all internet book sales, does not link its sites together where reviews are concerned. A review placed on the Australian Amazon site will not appear on the US Amazon site for the same book, or the UK’s —or any other Amazon site, for that matter. You would expect that one review would show up across all of Amazon’s sales sites, but it doesn’t. As it would be a dementing business for well wishers to copy and paste their reviews over all the sales sites, I would suggest placing your review where you think it will do the most good.

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Real Thing-final(1)

One day in 1989, when I was struggling with the first draft of “Transference” (eventually published in Penthouse), my good friend and ex, Gianni Cosatto, strode into my house and plonked three handwritten foolscap pages down on the kitchen table.

“There you are,” he said. “I’ve written the first scene of a story for you.”

I picked up the pages and scanned them. The scene was written from the 1st person point of view. It seemed to concern a man who’s sent to a planet called Gerar to check the authenticity of a coin found there. As he sits in Reception, still shocked from the hyperspace, this gorgeous chick with long red hair comes out of an internal door and is rude to him. I gathered that rudeness was a turn-on for this hero, who immediately decides to fall in love with her. End of scene.

“What else happens?”I asked Gianni. “I mean, What’s the story?”

“Dunno,” said Gianni, “I just wrote the first scene. You’re the writer.”

“Well, thanks,” I told him. “I’ll have a crack at it later.” I might as well have said: I’ll bury it later. I had no intention of having a crack at it. I pleaded busyness whenever Gianni enquired about it in the years that followed.

One rainy day in the twenty-first century, long after Gianni had died, I found the story in a drawer and decided to try to finish it. Seductresses with long red hair didn’t interest me, so I made it a gay story. But it never really worked. Sci fi mags I submitted it to were put off by the gay relationship; mags that might’ve been interested in the relationship were put off by the sci-fi angle. I was stuck with it. One day, I realised that the the idea of finding a coin on Gerar or anywhere else, for that matter, was so preposterous a plot I might as well set the story in Australia. I chose Maralinga, with its interesting history of British A-bomb explosions in the late 1950s and early ‘60s.

So here it is. I’ve recently worked it over yet again to fit the Charles Lawson thread in the short story collection I’m building, tentatively entitled North Coast Stories. It’s 5,885 words long and available for 99 cents at:

http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00OQAB7UW

https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/485382

Whatever misgivings I might still entertain about the story’s far-fetched plot, I’m immensely happy with the cover, which author C S McClellan created from a recent photograph of Maralinga country by Baz Landy.

For those who are interested, below is a recap of where we’re up to now in the North Coast Stories collection:

  1. Busting God

http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00J8ZIE8S

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

  1. Remains to be Seen

http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00LNDWRM2

FREE at https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/454352

  1. Stella by Starlight

http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00MTVVG96

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

  1. Star’s Story

FREE at: https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/479505

  1. The Real Thing

http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00OQAB7UW

https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/485382

 

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Star-goldceleveniafinal

 

Star’s Story—the genesis

Sometime around 2004, when I was on the Aged Pension and a more assured income, I had a little time to experiment. I wanted to see if I could get into Meanjin, the foremost literary journal in Australia. I had something of a knack for styles. If I could get hold of enough back copies of a magazine, say ten, I could usually nail down the style their story editor liked. I’d done it with Penthouse and the Women’s Weekly—why not Meanjin? Unfortunately, I could only afford to buy one copy; the pension doesn’t pay that well, and business wasn’t booming at that point in time.

I had always found the stories in Meanjin rather mystifying, and downright inaccessible at times, so I constructed a rather post-modern story with flashbacks and time jumps that weren’t always sequential. Should be inaccessible enough, I told myself. I ended up with a piece of around 3,000 words, which I called “No Through Road”.

I didn’t send it off to Meanjin straightaway, ah no. In my experience, the best way to pick up a little lucre was through competitions. I chose two which had well established writers as judges (one was Frank Moorhouse) and a first prize of $1,000AU. Even getting shortlisted in one those would help to get a more sympathetic reading from the editor of Meanjin.

I was lucky, though I never hit the jackpot. “Road” was shortlisted in the prestigious My Brother Jack short story competition in 2004 and in the equally prestigious Hal Porter in 2006. Right, I thought, now for Meanjin. So I sent the story off – in those days, you still sent manuscripts through the post –  and waited. And waited. Eventually I got a lovely rejection letter from the ed, saying that although the piece had almost made it, they had decided not to take it up.

Well, it wasn’t bad for a first time, and I’d only had one copy to study; I’d do better next time, I thought. Then the internet hit us, and I began to consider publishing on the web. I saw in it a way to obtain print copies of all my work to safeguard when I was gone. Better than leaving the manuscripts to moulder in the tin trunk, I figured. I live in the sub-tropics, it’s very humid, I was worried about how long they’d last. Maybe I could be discovered posthumously and the grandchildren would make a fortune. So probably goes the thinking of millions of indie writers.

To return to the point: I changed the title of the story from “No Through Road” to “Star’s Story” to make it easier for anyone following these stories on the web as they come out. Publishing serially like this, I think you need to remind readers of where you’re up to in the collection. Which I’ll publish next year. I also changed the point of view from 1st person to 3rd; the thing seemed just too confronting in 1st.

Because it’s only 3,000 words long, it’s FREE in three formats at Smashwords. (Amazon won’t let writers sell their stuff for free unless they join Amazon’s KDP Select, and then only for 5 days out of every 90.) I’d love some feedback on the cover, love it or hate it. I could also do with a couple of reviews of this story as it’s unlikely to garner anything favourable from the general population, it being so literary and post-modern, hem hem. The link is: https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/479505

Below is a recap of where we’re up to now in the collection:

  1. Busting God

http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00J8ZIE8S

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

  1. Remains to be Seen

http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00LNDWRM2

FREE at https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/454352

  1. Stella by Starlight

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

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

  1. Star’s Story

FREE at: https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/479505

Only another seven stories to go.

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