Welcome to my blog,
VIEW FROM THE TREEHOUSE
Celebrating the creative life and all that feeds it.
I'm happy to announce that I'm currently running a pre-release giveaway of my latest domestic thriller, HIT AND RUN.
The giveaway will run until March 20 and is open to U.S. and Canadian residents. (Aussie giveaway coming soon!)
For your chance to win one of 20 copies, click on the link below.
I'm absolutely thrilled to announce that my debut novel, RUN TO ME, has made the finals of this year's Daphne du Maurier Awards for excellence in Mystery/Suspense!
This award is run annually by the Kiss of Death Mystery/Suspense chapter of Romance Writers of America and is named for the English mystery writer, Daphne du Maurier, author of Rebecca, Jamaica Inn and The Birds which were made into films by Alfred Hitchcock.
Congratulations to Gretchen Archer, Allison Brennan, Rosie Genova and Hank Phillippi Ryan - the other four finalists in the Mainstream category. Winners will be announced on July 24th at the Awards Ceremony of the RWA Conference in San Antonio Texas.
I've just returned from another of the writing retreats I organize for my critiquing group. (We book a remote seaside accommodation 3 or 4 times a year and just go there by ourselves to write.) This was only a mini one - 3 days and 2 nights. Usually they run for a week or more.
A strange thing happened as I walked the beach this time. Images from stories I'd worked on at past retreats flashed through my mind, a montage of characters and scenes parading before me - ghosts from projects past.
It made me realize just how long we've been doing these retreat. Nine years in fact. This most recent was actually our 27th one!
So why do we do them? Why do we all love them so much? Why has nearly everyone who's attended one asked to come back again?
Our group has often discussed this and for some the reasons are individual. One woman who lives alone enjoys the company. Another who collects shells enjoys combing the beach as she plots her stories.
But all of us agree there are three main reasons why we love retreats:
This would have to be the number one reason people choose to attend our retreats. No TV, no friends dropping by, no family demands, no housework (aside from cooking one night's dinner) means everyone can focus entirely on their work. Some even choose not to bring a WIFI dongle so the internet doesn't take up any time.
Fewer avoidance options
One of our regular attendees once remarked, 'At home when I hit a rough patch in my writing it's all too easy to find something else to do. Suddenly the laundry needs doing or I have to weed the garden, or whatever. At retreats I don't have those options so I'm forced to sit there and push through the problem. As a result I get heaps more done.'
Another attendee put it a different way, 'On retreats whenever the going gets tough and I think of deserting my desk, I look around at everyone else madly writing away and I sit back down again. I'd feel too guilty walking away when everyone else was working!'
This is one of my favorite reasons for attending retreats. It's hard to explain and possibly purely subjective on my part. When I sit in that hall surrounded by other dedicated writers all doing their thing, I swear I can feel a creative energy being generated, lifting me up. It's like riding a wave and somehow it makes my writing easier.
Writing is normally such a solitary activity it's nice to do it with others once in a while. Working beside those who share the same passion reaffirms my belief that writing is important and what we're attempting to do has value.
Bring on the next retreat!
I’m currently preparing to head off for another writing retreat, our first week-long one of the year. My bags are packed, the dog is looking decidedly anxious (he knows the signs I’m going away), and the car is loaded and awaiting our early departure in the morning.
I first began organizing retreats solely for my critiquing group. The four of us would book a campsite on the South Australian coast for a weekend of writing once a year.
But as more and more writer friends asked to join us we began extending and expanding these events. We now hold 2 or 3 retreats a year and have as many as 9 writers attending them.
This time around we’ll have a full house with six locals and three fly-ins from Adelaide taking part.
Normally I don’t go into much detail about retreats here in my blog but this time I thought I’d try something different. I thought it might be fun to chronicle the week day-by-day to share the experience.
I’ll include a bit about the progress I’m making in writing the first draft of my latest thriller, No Good Deed (working title), whatever points of interest pop up and maybe get one of the other retreaters to do a guest blog to give their experience.
So if you’re interested in hearing what a group of novelists gets up to on their own at the beach for a week, stop by to read the next few posts.
We arrived at the campsite just before nine this morning. The place looked pretty much as we’d left it when we were here for a mini retreat back in March.
Although we refer to it as a ‘campsite’ we’re not roughing it by any means. Everyone who comes on retreat gets their own bedroom in the dorm just a stone’s throw from the ocean. The beds are comfy and the sound of waves breaking on the beach is soothing at night. The kitchen is huge and fully equipped, and the hall, where most of us set up our work tables, has windows overlooking the sea and a slow combustion stove for heat.
After the lengthy Indian Summer we've had, the weather decided to go straight into winter. It blew a gale for most of the day with occasional showers. Which wasn’t really a problem as most of us enjoy sitting snug in the hall writing to the sound of rain on the roof.
It was my night to cook dinner (each of us takes a turn through the week) and I made up a huge tray of spinach lasagne with German cheesecake for desert. (We work up an appetite writing all day!)
Side note: I first had German cheesecake at a bakery in Handorf in the Adelaide Hills. I loved it so much I decided I had to make it myself. But when I couldn’t find a recipe I had to invent one. The following is the closest I've come and received high approval ratings from the group:
cookie crumb crust - 2 cups crushed graham crackers (or wheaten biscuits for the Aussies), 100 gms of melted butter and a ½ tsp cinnamon. Press onto bottom of cheesecake tin.
Blend in a blender:
4 large pkts low-fat cream cheese (Low-fat actually makes a creamier cake than full-fat cheese. Plus I feel less guilty slathering it with cream when I eat it.)
1 1/3 cups raw sugar
1 teaspoon cinnamon
2 teaspoons vanilla
Bake 50 minutes at 180.
Topping: 6 apples peeled, cooked and coarsely chopped with 1 tblsp sugar and 1 tsp cinnamon. Spread this over the cooled cheesecake and top with cream.
My day’s progress…
I don’t know if I’m alone in this but windy days aren’t my best when it comes to writing. I feel restless and find it hard to focus. Still, I managed to get a chapter written.
As I write this (just before heading off to bed) it’s still blowing a gale outside. We took a chance and didn’t order any firewood so hopefully it won’t get too cold through the week.
My walk on the beach will have to wait until tomorrow.
On this second day of our writing retreat, we had a lively discussion after dinner on punctuation and its impact on the reading experience. (What else would a bunch of writers talk about?)
Several people remarked that they hated italics and exclamation marks because they felt the author was trying to dictate to them how they should interpret the text. As a musician I found this interesting as it pertains to music notation as well.
Early music has no dynamic markings. Prior to the invention of the piano no instrument was capable of producing variations in dynamics. (Because a harpsicord’s strings are plucked it doesn’t matter how hard you strike the key you always get the same volume.) Embellishments and ornamentation in early music consisted of various trills and turns and were left entirely up to the performer.
But with the piano all that changed. For the first time musicians could vary how loud or soft they played. (The name piano is short for piano forte which literally means soft-loud.)
Varying dynamics in music performance came into practice very slowly as initially it was viewed as being in poor taste, a cheap embellishment. But by the early classical period this had changed as well.
Beethoven was one of the first composers to truly embrace this new development. His symphony scores are filled with accents, sfortzandos, crescendos, subito pianos and the odd grand pause, with dynamic notations ranging from double piano (pp) to double forte (ff). Clear instructions to the performer how he wanted his music to sound.
Tchaikovski and Wagner took things to extremes with markings ranging from pppp to ffff. But as far as the listener was concerned the dynamic range remained the same whether a composer wrote one ‘p’ or ten as musicians simply adjusted their dynamic pallet accordingly.
Markings in music guide musicians in performing the piece as the composer intended it. Exactly what some writers attempt to do with certain types of punctuation. (To me a word written in italics is like a note with an accent under it.)
The difference I suppose is that with writing there is no middle man – the audience is the reader herself.
Still, as a musician accustomed to receiving the creator’s guidance in enterpreting a work, I have no problem with the odd italicized word or exclamation mark. As long as the author doesn’t get carried away and become a Tchaikowski.
This time around on our writing retreat two of our authors, Rowena Holloway and Sandy Vaile, drove all the way from Adelaide to join us.
In addition to giving author talks in Port Augusta and Port Pirie on their way over, these two published suspense authors ran a lively workshop for members of Port Lincoln’s Eyre Writers on the Saturday prior to the start of the retreat.
On Sunday they gave a combined presentation at the Port Lincoln library, entertaining listeners with accounts of their journeys to publication, with trailers and readings from their books.
I met these two fabulous authors at the Salisbury Writers Festival years ago and since then we’ve attended several conferences together, including the 2010 Willamette Writers Festival in Portland Oregon.
It’s great having them both here on retreat – a rare chance for us all to catch up. I’ve asked them each to give an account of their experience here and first up we’ll hear from Sandy, author of Inheriting Fear.
Hi, I’m Sandy Vaile and it’s been four years since I last joined Diane and her critiquing group for a writing retreat. It’s a precious gift to spend a week in relative isolation. Quiet time from dawn until dusk, to nurture those creative juices and let them shape my latest work in progress.
I don’t sleep well at the best of times, so am awake long before sunrise, and busy at my keyboard by 5 am. I leave the lights in the writing hall off and work by candle-light. A dark cocoon where only the characters on the page matter.
When the sun finally makes an appearance, the view from my writing table is spectacular. I am positioned in front of a huge window in the hall, overlooking the rugged beach and Tumby Bay. A sly rabbit sneaks onto the beach when it thinks no-one is watching, sniffs around the seaweed drifts, and then bounds back to the safety of the sand hills.
The weather isn’t quite what I was hoping for, with howling wind and squalling rain, but it’s a good excuse to stay inside and write. Every now and then the clouds are blown away and the sun brightens this special place for a while. That’s when I take advantage of the rugged coast for a walk with my friends: exercise, mind clearing and a valuable brainstorming session in one.
The ocean surge struggles to scale the slight incline of the beach. It foams with the effort, and just when it’s near to the peak, is torn back to the grey depths. A good simile for novel creation, I think.
The atmosphere is relaxed, with people coming and going from the writing hall at their leisure. The arrangement has to be flexible, because writing is a culmination of activities, not purely the act of sitting at the keyboard. It involves reading, researching, brainstorming, problem solving, communing with the muse, and dialogue with mates.
Today I made a vat of Orange Delight soup for a communal lunch, and it went down a treat.
Orange Delight Soup
2 teaspoons curry powder
1 teaspoon cumin
1 litre stock (vegetable or chicken)
½ sweet potato
1 can coconut milk
Dice the onion finely, and sauté them in a large pot until semi-translucent. Add the spices and stir for a minute. Pour in the stock. Peel and dice the vegetables, and add to the pot. Bring to the boil and simmer gently for 20 minutes (or until the vegetables are tender). Add the coconut milk and white pepper to taste. Puree the soup and serve with a crusty roll.
4pm It’s absolutely howling outside, even worse than when we first arrived. Some of the gusts feel like they’re trying to take the roof off. And raining as well. Solid, steady, ground-soaking rain. The windows are streaked with silver ribbons, the ocean is heaving itself against the rocks and you can’t tell where the grey sky ends and the water begins.
I’m sitting in my chair at the window, a cup of coffee at my side and a Yankee candle (Spiced Pumpkin) burning in the blue cut glass holder on the window sill. Snug and warm. Who could ask for a better spot to write?
The Australian summer is long and dry especially here in South Australia (the driest state in the driest continent on earth). This year the season blew out even further with a lingering stretch of Indian Summer. Enough for the moths to get in an extra breeding cycle. They’ve been everywhere! On the two warm nights we had out here they literally covered the windows.
But with this burst of rain their monster cousins have started emerging. Giant rain moths. Forcing their way up out of the ground, as big and heavy-bodied as sparrows. The surest sign winter is on the way.
Anyone who’s seen me teach or present at an author talk might be surprised to discover I’m an introvert.
Being an introvert isn’t being shy or socially awkward (though it can definitely include those attributes—I’ve suffered from both). Introverts find mixing with others, even friends, leaves them drained. Extroverts are energised by company. But for the introvert, the only way to reinvigorate our resources is to be alone.
I had just wound up a Northern Book Tour with my Suspense Sister, Sandy Vaile, and a marathon one-day workshop with the Eyre Writers. We were both buoyed by mingling with writers, book club members and awesome librarians who welcomed us into their world and laughed in all the right places (thankfully!).
Elated by the positive interaction and feedback, we never-the-less looked forward to reconnecting with old friends and our sadly neglected writing routines on a five-day writing retreat.
Organised by Diane, the retreat group is kept small so that we all have space and privacy. Accommodation is Spartan. We take everything we need, and make do with much less than we would at home. There is no TV. Internet is kept to a minimum and often the signal is too weak to work effectively anyway.
The first time I attended I suffered from sensory deprivation. So desperate was I for stimulation that I walked the beach listening to the only station I could pick up on my old 3G mobile phone—parliament question time. Desperate!
Writing is the primary goal. But the other love that pulls me to the Eyre peninsular is the beach, a great sweeping series of shallow bays populated by nothing but wildlife and the occasional sunburned fisherman.
It was on one of these walks, toward the end of the five days, that I realised just how desperately I needed time alone. Weird. Most of the week there were only seven of us. I had my own room, my own table and laptop. I walked the beach for an hour and half every day alone with my thoughts with only plovers and pelicans for company.
And yet, there I was cross-legged beneath the dunes, listening to waves gently lap the sand and the occasional honk of pacific geese as they found a place to rest for the coming night.
Ten minutes was all I needed. Ten minutes of listening to nature with no thought of writing or talking or even walking. Just reconnecting with myself.
I returned to my friends and to my writing with renewed vigour.
Connect with Rowena on Twitter ǀ Facebook ǀ Website
There have been moments in the last two years when I felt this whole publishing thing had finally got me beat. That it was time to hang up my pen and take up kick boxing or stunt car driving. Something less painful. Something more sane.
I submitted my work for eleven years before my first novel, Run to Me, was accepted by Random House. I thought I’d finally broken in. Maybe it wouldn’t be all smooth sailing but at least I’d got my foot in the door. I was on my way.
But after waiting a further three years - being held in limbo on two other manuscripts for most of that time - I have yet to publish my second novel. Therefore, after much debating, I’ve decided to do it myself. (You know that ol’ biological clock? An author’s career clock ticks no less loudly!)
So for better or worse, I am hereby committed. My next suspense novel, HIT and RUN, is now with my editor and if all goes to plan I’m looking at a release date sometime in October 2016. (To be announced.) Above is a sneak peak at the cover (selfpubbookcovers.com).
I’ll be on another steep learning curve through all of this. Wish me luck.
This past weekend I had the privilege of taking part in South Australia's inaugural Crime Writers Festival held at the SA Writers Centre in Adelaide.
The festival featured a line-up of both true crime and crime fiction authors as well as real-life criminal investigators.
At Saturday's panels, I was thrilled to meet Australian crime authors Gabrielle Lord, Katherine Howell, Angela Savage, Liz Porter, Melanie Casey, Derek Pedley, Andrew Nette, Christina Carlisle, and Carla Caruso.
A literal 'show-stopper' on Saturday's program was former Deputy Police Commissioner for South Australia, Neil McKenzie, who spoke on his experience investigating the Truro and Snowtown murder cases. His behind-the-scene look at these investigations and their effect on police personnel was educational and at times quite moving.
Another highlight was the insights into the criminal mind provided by clinical psychologist, Dr. Michael Proeve. His accounts of working face-to-face with sociopaths and serial killers was informative and truly chilling.
Saturday night festival goers were invited to dress as gangsters and gals for the Crime Fest Murder Mystery Dinner and to come prepared to solve the 'murder' in the game that provided the evening's entertainment.
On Sunday fledgling crime writers were inspired by workshops on the craft of crime writing run by Gabrielle Lord, Angela Savage, Katherine Howell and Andrew Nette.
In all, an exciting and inspiring weekend. The first of many to come I hope.