Wednesday, 30 May 2012

Are Creative Writing Courses A Waste of Time?

A couple of years ago journalist Lisa Pryor created a bit of an uproar in Australia with an article about creative writing courses in universities. The gist of her argument was that "if you can't work out what good writing is by reading widely, if you need it spelled out slowly with the benefit of a circle of plastic chairs and a whiteboard, you lack the mettle to be a great novelist."

She also claimed that university degrees in creative writing attract "those who are everything a good writer is not: compliant, institution bound and approval seeking. Thirdly, and most importantly, good writers risk becoming institutionalised."

Pryor echoed the belief many share that writing is not something that can be taught in the same way that other creative skills can be. Rarely do you hear people railing against the teaching of painting or sculpture at university level, but it seems writing is considered an inate ability that is best nurtured through starvation in an attic.

I have several problems with this article, not least of which is the claim that university writing courses will lead to "compliant, institution bound writers" who "other-think things." As if thinking and writing are mutually exclusive! During my years studying English and media studies at university I was trained to be anything but compliant and approval-seeking. A good university education teaches people to be critical thinkers and not accept things at face value. To claim these are not good skills for a writer to develop is ludicrous.

Obviously formal training is not required for people to become great writers, but it sure doesn't hurt. I've recently reached a point with my own writing where I don't feel I can go any further without some feedback and guidance. I hope to get accepted into a graduate certificate in creative writing in the near future. I really thrive on formal education and even though it's going to plunge me into thousands of dollars more debt with the tax man, it's worth it for me.

Here's a really interesting article by Jeanette Winterson about the explosion in the number of people who consider themselves writers and the increase in university creative writing courses. She shares Pryor's concern that these courses will create homogenised writers, but she is also hopeful that "this movement towards creativity and self-expression is really the start of a kind of Occupy – that it could be dangerous and confrontational, not homogenised at all."

She asks: "Is the world of work plus the leisure offerings of mass entertainment now so banal and unsatisfying that creative writing offers a fight-back? If the society we are making – that is, the society unelected big business is making for us – is both soulless and soul destroying, then micro solutions such as creative writing could return some sense of both individuality and community."

This is a really interesting way of looking at the increase in creative writing courses and self-publishing, and it is a refreshing change from most articles you will find on these subjects. Maybe I'm hopelessly optimistic and romantic, but I do believe there is something to be gained for society as a whole as more people get the opportunity to creatively express themselves.

Sunday, 20 May 2012

Self-Publishing: A Last Resort For The Desperate?

A dwindling number of writers today still consider self-publishing an avenue of last resort. They equate it with vanity publishing and believe it's a sign of failure if fellow authors are forced to take this route. Not so long ago I held the same opinion and thought that even publishing through a small epress was preferable to doing it on my own. I've since changed my mind, and although I still plan to submit full-length novels to trade publishers, I'm more than happy to publish shorter pieces myself.

The main reason for this is exposure. It means very little if you manage to secure a contract with a publisher but no one buys your book. My romantic suspense Shadows of Yesterday is currently languishing in the 700,000s in Amazon, and will slip over a million very soon. My publisher was great to work with and they have many successful authors on their books, but my novel has not taken off. On the other hand, my self-published novella Prude & Prejudice is currently selling between 5-10 copies a day on Amazon. Which would you prefer?

Unfortunately this relative success has not equated into sales for my other books, but I do understand that this is a waiting game and the more books you have, the more chance you will develop a reputation that leads to more sales. Another reason I've chosen to self-publish is because I love the fact that I have complete creative control over what I have written. It's so much fun choosing a cover and making all the decisions about how your book will be presented.

Whether people like it or not, self-publishing is here to stay, and more and more books on the bestseller lists are going to come from authors who have chosen to do it on their own. I believe self-published authors will be forced to make use of freelance editors and cover designers and the quality of self-published books will improve over time. At the moment it's a bit of a free-for-all out there, but this is unchatered territory, and sooner or later readers are going to start demanding that certain standards are met.

 It's great to see the publishing power structure being shaken up a bit because publishing houses are notoriously conservative and reluctant to take chances on books they don't think will be commerically successful. Hopefully more original and ground-breaking books are on the horizon that challenge genre conventions and reshape the world of fiction. We live in exciting times for publishing, and I'm very curious to see how this pans out over the next few years.

In terms of my own self-publishing adventures, my novella Desire of the Flesh has been free for 48 hours and has been dowloaded 400 times. This is pretty reasonable considering it isn't even showing up in the free search for US Amazon (not sure what's going on here but will have to get onto Amazon about it), so I'm guessing most of these are from the UK where it reached 17 on the free list for Fantasy/Futuristic & Ghost. Hopefully this promotion will lead to at least a few sales of the other novellas in this series. I also have another romantic suspense that's ready to go as soon as I get the official rejection from Carina. Obviously I would love to be published by Carina, but I don't think it's going to happen with this one. Keep you eyes open for Fire Mountain, coming soon!

Here's an article from the Huffington Post about the rise of self-publishing. The general consensus on the writer's forum where I posted this article is that the animosity between self-published and trade-published authors is greatly exaggerated, and this is journalistic shit-stirring at its worst.

What do you think?

Wednesday, 16 May 2012

Not Another Vampire Series!

This week I released the first three books in my Eternal Hunger series and there are two more in the pipeline. I always swore I would never write a paranormal book with vampires because the genre is so saturated, but here I am. It just goes to show, you should never say never.

I can't really remember what compelled me to begin this series, but I think it must have been my love of the first (and best) vampire book by Bram Stoker. I was first introduced to Dracula in primary school when we listened to the kid's version on tape and I was completely hooked. Later I analyzed the book at university, and again was reminded of how great it is. Dracula gave expression to repressed desires in the Victorian era and the fear of sex this repression gave rise to. It's kind of surprising that in today's permissive society vampires are still so popular, but vampire symbolism can't be pinned down to just one meaning.

You only have to read Twilight to recognize that on one level it's still about sex, and that attitudes really haven't changed as much as people might think. On the other hand, vampires have always been popular in times of social upheavel and uncertainty, and that's why I believe we've seen a resurgence over recent years. Is it really a coincidence that at a time when the banks have basically sucked society dry, and all over the world people are suffering due corporate greed, vampires have suddenly come into vogue? Meanwhile the uber-rich continue to get richer, and people in the third world continue to die needlessly. IMHO the vampire craze reflects this reality.

(By coincidence this week the Obama administration referred to a private-equity corporation previously run by Mitt Romney as an example of "vulture capitalism," and ran an ad of a steelworker describing the firm that bought and shut down a steel company as "a vampire." "They came in and sucked the life out of us." This article from yesterday's Wall Street Journal points out the hypocrisy of the President "who purports to loathe Wall Street when he isn't asking its greedy denizens to redistribute their wealth to his campaign.")

I've tried to make this connection between vampires and the blood-sucking corporate elite and their political cronies explicit in my Eternal Hunger series. It's not just about this bigger picture, though. The main character, Lucia faces her own personal problems at the same time as she is grappling with these much bigger moral issues. In the first book she really does not want to get married, but she can't admit this to herself. (It seems this is not such an uncommon problem, as I discovered when I came across this article in the Sydney Morning Herald recently, Why Women Marry The Wrong Men.)

In Desires of the Flesh, the vampire L'amour symbolises Lucia's doubts and fears about her upcoming wedding. That's why he appears at her bachelorette party and then follows her as she's making the final preparations for her big day. I tried to make it unclear whether L'amour really does exist or Lucia is having a nervous breakdown. Lucia is also very seduced by the celebrity culture that is promoted in the media. She just wants to live a life of ease and luxury like the people she sees on television and in magazines. Her desire for this life combined with her disatisfaction with her marriage and her job lead her to make the decision to leave her mortal life behind and join the vampires. She quickly discovers, however, that the glamorous and sophisticated world of the vampires only exists due to the suffering of countless people, and she is forced to choose between humans and vampires.

L'amour also faces some major decisions of his own. Despite his angelic looks, he is initally a sinister figure who attacks Lucia and then tricks her into giving him her soul. As the series progresses Lucia discovers that he is not as unambiguously evil as she had believed. This is as much of a surprise to L'amour as it is to Lucia. He must come to terms with the fact that he has been brainwashed into believing he has no feelings or conscience, and accept that he does have a choice in his destiny.

I hope at least a few people buy this series and enjoy it because I believe it's themes are very important and timely. Eternal Hunger is not just another vampire series, I promise!

Here's a very interesting clip about the popularity of monsters in popular culture. Some great quotes from the clip:

"Monsters tell us what it is to live in a capitalist society"

Goldman Sachs is described as "a great vampire squid wrapped around the face of humanity, relentlessy jamming it's blood funnel into anything that smells like money." I'll drink to that!

Thursday, 10 May 2012

Another Fine Romance

I saw the film Once a few years ago, and it quickly went right to the top of my favourite romantic movies of all time list. This is definitely a 5-star effort for me. One of the things that made me like this movie so much is that it's very unconventional. The hero and heroine kiss only once and they do not end up together at the end. It's their shared love of music that brings them together and despite the fact that they are not involved romantically in the usual sense, it's one of the most romantic films I've ever seen. It's not all about their relationship, but something bigger than themselves (the music), which made it interesting and different. The ending was so good because I believed it showed what true love is all about. Why can't they make more films like this?

The reason I thought of this movie today was because I'm writing a scene in my WIP and the song Falling Slowly came into my head. I use music a lot when I'm writing, and this song encapsulates just what I'm trying to achieve in this particular scene.

My other top ranking romantic films, in no particular order are:

Groundhog Day
When Harry Met Sally
Breakfast at Tiffanys
Gone With the Wind
My Best Friend's Wedding
Romancing the Stone
The Way We Were
Much Ado About Nothing (Kenneth Brannagh & Emma Thompson version)
The Unbearable Lightness of Being
Ever After
The Princess Bride
Yentl (yes, I know it's incredibly uncool, but I loved this movie!)
Moulin Rouge
PS I Love You

Monday, 7 May 2012

Not Too Shabby!

How lovely to start the day with a four-star review for Pleasure Island from It's always wonderful to get good customer reviews but when they come from independent sites dedicated to the romance genre they are just that little bit extra special. Thank you, Emily!

Review: Pleasure Island by Francene Carroll

Hollywood actor Jackson Moore needs to redeem himself in order to get his career back on track. His drunken bouts and well-earned title of a playboy have finally caught up with him, and his career is beginning to suffer. At his agent’s insistence, he agrees to do a reality show that pairs him with another woman and leaves them stranded on an island. How bad could it be, no woman has ever turned him down before and won’t likely in the future?

Allie Read cannot believe she agreed to go on a show called Pleasure Island. As a documentary filmmaker, she finds herself wondering if she is going to lose credibility and she still has no idea who she will be on the island with. Never the less, the money she could win could help her towards her causes and possibly finance her next film. When she realizes that she has been paired with Jackson, she is ready to split. The overly cocky drunk who has no regard for manners is doing his best to get under her skin, but Allie learned long ago that she can be as stubborn as the rest of them, and plans to outlast Jackson on the island. What develops is enemies turning to friends turning to something quite precious, but is it too good to be true?

Pleasure Island was an interesting concept that developed into a wonderful story. Jackson is hard to like in the beginning but he redeems himself and grows up. Allie never wavers from who she really is and becomes the corner stone in Jackson’s recovery. You are cheering for the two as if you were watching the story develop on air, a fantastic book for a sunny day.

Wednesday, 2 May 2012

Slashies: The Way of the Future?

I read this article last year about Generation Y that has really stuck in my mind. The main point of the article is that:

Generation Slashie likes to do it all. They are a wave of young people who straddle industries and disciplines, defining themselves by several professions. Their identity (and income) is built around the fact they lead multidimensional lives.

I think it's inaccurate to limit this phenomenon to Gen Y, as many people across age-groups seem to be embracing the freedom and opportunities now available through technology and more flexibe work hours. I am currently working as a bank teller / teacher / writer. I make money from all of these endeavours (although the writing income is very minimal), but I believe this puts me in the slashie category. Many people I know are also seriously committed to pursuits outside their paid employment which would have once been thought of as hobbies, but which now offer the possibility of providing them with an income.

As someone who believes that creative fulfilment is the pinnacle of human existence, I am so thrilled with these developments. I really hope that more people get to embrace the slashie lifestyle and free themselves from the shackles of the 9-5 grind in full-time employment, which can only be described as a crime against the human spirit. Bring on greater flexibility in working hours and more self-determination as people profit direcly from their skills instead of selling themselves to an employer.  This can only lead to a happier and more cohesive society.