All I wanted in the hot, fly-buzzed Australian summers of my childhood was to be somewhere else. Anywhere else. Trips away were rare and always an expedition, in a hot-Holden station wagon, jammed between my siblings, wet tea towels draped across the windows, concealing miles and miles of identical scrubby gumtrees that marked the endless roads.
Our annual trek to the ocean began each Boxing Day. So did the passionate debate. How many books could I take? Surely the ocean would be entertainment enough? I always argued of course that books were far more important than say clothes or cooking implements. There would be those moments between swimming and making camping ground friends. For those moments I needed a book.
Then, the agonizing choice had to be made.
There were of course the new books I got for Christmas. They were always the most exciting presents, better than Lego, better than my first lipstick. The bright hard covers sometimes with a matching dust jacket, thick creamy pages and that new book joy of turning the fresh pages for the first time and wondering where it would take you.
But you couldn’t rely on new books alone, what if they disappointed? I had to have my reliable wishing chairs, family classics all. Where would I want to go, Enid Blyton’s green and greedy summers, Anne’s red-earthed Prince Edward Island, Norah’s Billabong, or to Narnia to visit Lucy and Aslan?
Should I take all of a series or a sample of each special world?
Looking back I realize that all my favorite books had one thing in common; a good plot sure, and engaging protagonist definitely, but the most fundamental thing was that I needed to be swept away to somewhere else. Books had to contain that magic journey to somewhere else, where the setting was one of the characters of the book.
As I grew up I travelled and discovered the pleasure of literary journeys (that is for another blog) and big city living. I quickly realized that even then I still needed my wishing chairs. Who could saunter through Bath, without dipping into the “Black Sheep”, drive though Yorkshire without James Herriot, fly from London to Paris without re-reading a little at least of a “Tale of Two Cities.”
Lucky for me ebooks were invented, I might otherwise have been trapped under the weight of my luggage or at least run out of underwear.
Then, for love and money, I had to move kicking and screaming or at least with a substantial pout to Canberra, to quote Bill Bryson - “Canberra, why wait for death.” and reader, those first few years were hard and interlaced with a lot of weekends in Sydney.
But the city grew on me slowly and sneakily, gums developed personality and in their own way were just as beautiful as silver birches, there was something grand about a city designed on sweeping curves where whenever you look up there are trees on the horizon. Then there is the dance of the public buildings as they light up the lake at night, the blockbuster art and war stories in them.
Theatre of politics on my front door step, popcorn at question time anyone?
I made good friends and had the long dinner parties where policy is passionately debated and the world set to rights. Finally, a growing cluster of cool little coffee shops sprang up, wineries are just a few minutes away and I can still afford theatre tickets.
Now I am a writer my ambitions are modest. I hope to transport someone for a little while, I had always thought I would choose somewhere exotic and almost certainly historical, but as I started to plot I had a ruby slippers moment and I realized I wanted others to come on their magic wishing chair to Canberra.
The city I love and never wanted to live in.
Canberra is a modest beauty with a dark underbelly and wins people over in the end. So would she be Lisabeth Salander brooding, tech savvy dangerous or Hermione Granger blunt, wild haired, hardworking and passionate? Or maybe right now she is Dorothy in her Ruby slippers dancing down the yellow brick road to that most rainbow place, Oz.
FJ Roberts is working on a Canberra noir series “The City in the Park”.
If you want to find out how a Cyber spy with stage fright ends up in the spotlight at Carols, her first short story is on pre-order as part of Canberra Romance Writers Anthology “It Happened on Christmas” - https://www.amazon.com/Happened-One-Christmas-Collection-ebook
FJ Roberts can be found hanging out on Facebook when she should be writing at https://www.facebook.com/fionna.roberts
Focus — there be different kinds. There’s the type where you’re talking on the phone while dicing vegetables for dinner and also painting your toenails while watching your favourite television show, and then there’s the sort of focus you need for eight-hour brain surgery (as the surgeon, not the recipient).
My theory is that there’s two kinds of brain activity associated with each type of focus, and I’m not talking that left and right hemisphere guff but two different ‘zones’ of concentration. Speaking for myself, I have one mode — the ‘multi-tasking ninja mode’ — where I’m capable of juggling chainsaws while telling jokes in German and drinking a martini. The other mode — ‘deep ninja mode’ — is the space I enter when focusing on just one thing: the words I’m drafting or editing, and their rhythm, patterns, impact and mechanical accuracy, clarity and conciseness.
Both modes are useful as a writer. When I’m doing marketing and networking and zipping all over the inter-webs like a hummingbird on crack, I need to be in multitasking ninja mode because, let’s face it, when I’m in ‘deep ninja mode’ my social skills go into hibernation and I’m about as chatty as a bear with a sore head.
Anyway, I need both modes but the results are disastrous when my brain refuses to flip the switch at the appointed time I’ve scheduled for either hummingbird work or bear work.
I sit down to write and hummingbird brain says ‘lets surf the internet for crazy ideas which I’m sure will generate a whole book!’ Experience has taught me that no, it won’t generate a book, instead it’ll guarantee a fun hour spent internet surfing and one or two sentences added to the manuscript. Not to mention that while ‘researching’ on the internet hummingbird will notice several posts in Twitter and Facebook that she must immediately respond to, in addition to several emails that she must immediately reply to.
Or bear-with-sore-head opens Twitter and frowns. Someone has misspelled consummation. Grrr. Open Facebook and the bear mutters “what’s so funny about kittens in g-strings? Shouldn’t these people be writing?” Bear-with-sore-head believes anything but writing the next hundred words in the manuscript is a waste of time and that it’s best not to talk to anyone, either face to face or online, until she finishes another ten thousand words. She’s quite happy to skip on exercise, personal hygiene, eating, toilet breaks and house cleaning because those too are unnecessary distractions. “Writing is art and one must suffer for one’s art. Alone. Grrr.”
So bear-with-sore-head (BWSH) is a curmudgeon, while hummingbird is a twit. Luckily, my brain seems to occupy a space somewhere in between those two extremes most of the time. But what do you do when you need BWSH but hummingbird is in the house, or vice versa? Are there ways to tempt one to come out when you need them? I'd argue there are.
If I want BWSH to come out I turn off email and the internet, even switch off the computer and write on paper if I have to, and sometimes I’ll stick in ear plugs as well. Hummingbird loves lots of stimuli and will ping off to noisier more diverting environs if I deprive her of stimuli. Sometimes she resists departing, and I’ll have to edit yesterday's writing for several minutes before she flies away (after taking a big sulky dump on my manuscript from up high), but fly away she will. And I find truffling through draft pages an excellent way to drop-kick myself back into the head space I was in when I wrote those pages. If that doesn't work, I hang a carcass from the ceiling and wait for BWSH to catch its delicious scent.
On the topic of editing while drafting, I know I shouldn’t (what if I later delete the scene I edited the ass out of?) but I do. It’s compulsive. You. Just. Can’t. Stop. But on the plus side, editing is the equivalent of hanging up a big smelly carcass and BWSH, unable to resist, will come shambling out for a taste and then hang around to write new words.
But what about hummingbird? How do I lure her back? I make things uncomfortable for bear by turning my email back on, playing some music, watching some YouTube videos and trip-trapping around all the various social media sites. Bear can’t abide all that silliness and will go find a quite cave to hide in where she can think deeply and undisturbed about entropy or global warming.
I’m not saying my methods are fool-proof, and, yes, there was that incident when I was in BWSH mode and the grocery delivery boy showed up and I greeted him with unbrushed hair and growled “gimme the groceries, grrr” but overall my methods work for me and maybe they’ll work for you too.
And if your problem is procrastination, Romance University has an excellent post on tackling that too.
Rhyll Biest writes romance hot enough to melt your e-reader and can be found swanning around at biestbooks.com
The word ‘diversity’ has been bandied about in the romance genre in the last few years. Of course, diversity encompasses more than cultural differences. Indeed, I’ve read and thoroughly enjoyed novels where the romance is between two men, or where the hero is blind or suffers from a psychological trauma. In this article, though, I will be focussing on some characteristics which, if I may be so bold as to suggest, you might like to keep in mind when writing an Asian character.
Before you ask why it is that I think I am qualified to give this advice, I can tell you that well, first and foremost, I am Asian. Chinese-Malaysian, to be exact, for those of you who like specifics. So I have first-hand experience of growing up in an Asian household. Not only am I related to a large number of Asians (my mother has 8 brothers and sisters), I have many Asian friends from a number of different Asian countries.
Writing about a character from a cultural background that is different from yours will always be a challenge. You don’t want to make your character a stereotype or a caricature, but keep in mind that there are often reasons why there is a stereotype. So where do you draw the line? I don’t pretend to be able to give you all the answers but I can say with a large degree of confidence that with enough research, you can write that Asian/African/insert-the-relevant-continent character. I say this because the first novel of mine that was published is a historical romance set in eighteenth-century England. It should therefore come as no surprise to you that my hero and heroine are two English aristocrats. My love of historical romance meant that I had immersed myself in this world so completely that when I finally wrote about it, I found my characters came quite easily to me.
I can tell that you are now impatiently tapping your fingers and frowning at the screen on your favourite mobile device because the sole reason you clicked on this article is because you really want to know how – and perhaps why – one needs to pimp 2-minute noodles. Well, I suppose it’s like asking why a chocolate cake needs chocolate ganache or why a banana split needs whipped cream as well as ice-cream. It’s just soooo much better.
So, let’s get started.
1. How to pimp your 2-minute noodles
Let’s be honest. Asians love their 2-minute noodles. I don’t even have to say this is a generality and may not necessarily be true for some Asians. Asians cannot live without 2-minute noodles. It’s not an exaggeration. My Asian grocer apologised to me profusely when I commented that my favourite brand was not in stock. He was literally mortified. 2-minute noodles, dear readers, is serious business. But I digress. You want to know about the pimp.
Egg is probably the number one pimp. A fried egg on top of your Indomie noodles is classic. Dan Hong, a chef, does a version featuring a fried egg with melted cheese which he serves on top of noodles which has been stir-fried with preserved cabbage and sliced up frankfurt. It really has to be seen to be believed (check it out here…).
You can basically put anything your heart desires, or whatever you have on hand, in your noodles. You can jazz it up with anything from wagyu steak to Chinese fish balls to fried chicken. Pretty much everything will taste good with it. All because of three letters. MSG. Need I say more?
2. The Asian Mother
The Asian mother comes in many different forms and shares many characteristics with other non-Asian mothers. Asian mothers though, are constantly torn between being a Tiger Mum and molly-coddling their children. Nothing strikes more fear in an Asian child’s heart than the look of disappointment on your mum’s face when she sees that lone B on your otherwise straight A report card. (This is no exaggeration.)
Yet this is the mother who lays out your uniform, packs your not-a-sandwich lunch, cooks up an incredible bowl of fried rice for breakfast and a five-course dinner every night because nutrition is incredibly important and this is basically the only way she can support her child’s studies.
An Asian mother will nag her child to distraction, and push him or her to their limits. Yet she would not hesitate to donate her heart if it would save her child’s life.
Her family is her life.
3. Are all Asians bad drivers? Nature or nurture?
What a very good question. Is bad driving something that is inbuilt in our genes like poor eyesight? Or is it because the places in which we, or our parents, learned to drive has minimal road rules? I don’t know the answer. I have Asian friends who are bad drivers, and Asian friends who are good drivers. I’m not an awesome driver like my mum whose spatial skills are just amazing, but I can reverse park without a rear vision camera. That’s not bad, right?
Look, I think we Asians just like the rest of the population, some are good drivers, some not so good. We just have a bad rep and really should improve our image. Think of it this way, it could be fun to imagine what driving skills your Asian character should have. He or she could even be a professional race car driver! Turn the stereotype on its head.
4. Never pay full price
This is the motto every Asian lives by. Unless of course you are one of the super-rich. We are brought up to be thrifty, to save wherever and whenever we can. I remember being told by my grandmother that leaving grains of rice on my plate will mean that my future husband would have a bad complexion. Yikes! Naturally, I finished every single grain of rice on my plate every single time because of that tale!
Another memory I have is my aunt deciding whether to buy a bottle of water from one shop over another because of a mere difference of ten cents. And my extended family is what I suppose you can describe as upper middle-class. Although I’m very fortunate that I needn’t go to such extremes to save, I am grateful for all the lessons I learnt growing up. It is only now that I have children of my own that I have come to realise teaching them about the value of money and the hard work required to earn such money is actually a very challenging task.
5. How to win friends and …
Well, I don’t really care about the influencing people part. How to win friends, though? I seem to be pretty good at it, if I may say so myself. I’m told it’s because of the Hainanese chicken rice that I cook for my friends. I’ve cooked this so many times that I’m actually sick of eating it. For those of you who know what this dish consists of, would call that blasphemy.
Hainanese chicken rice is an incredibly fragrant rice which has been cooked in sesame oil, ginger and garlic, and chicken stock. It is served with poached chicken dressed with sesame oil and soy, accompanied by a chilli sauce which is made especially for this dish. It is absolutely scrumptious, and if you are ever in Singapore or Malaysia, you must try it.
It seems fitting then, that I have come full circle, finishing this post with another food topic. The Chinese greet each other not with ‘How are you?’ but ‘Have you eaten?’. Food is a very important part of our lives, and sharing food with family and friends is always a joyous occasion and a celebration. I don’t know about other people, but to me, there is no better compliment than my friends telling me how much they enjoyed the meal I cooked for them.
Till next time, good luck pimping your 2-minute noodles and do tell me how you went!
By Rose Chen
By Justine Lewis
I don’t know about you, but my post-conference high has been well and truly crushed by my post-conference lurgy. But I’m on the mend now and Bec’s callout for a blog post about the conference was just the thing I needed to get my butt back into the chair. It’s also forced me to look over my conference notes— Am I the only one who plans to type up their illegible conference notes and then never does? No? Just me? Anyway, in no particular order, here are my conference highlights.
1. Kate Forsyth’s Friday workshop. She covered some familiar ground but I find that familiar concepts presented in different ways can be inspiring. The discussion about static and dynamic characters was interesting, in particular her observation that every genre has its own conventions in this respect, for instance in romance both the hero and heroine will usually be dynamic (i.e. will change/grow over the course of the story) while in crime usually the detective and the villain will both be static. As writers we can twist these conventions to create a more powerful story.
I think a few people found Kate’s insistence that a story must only ever have one true protagonist controversial, but what resonated with me were her comments about the rise of the male protagonist in romance, which she said began with Heyer. Thinking about the hero of my current WIP as the true protagonist of the story has strengthened it and given it a new lease of life. Thanks Kate!
2. Marion Lennox’s key note speech. So. Good. Exactly what I need to hear and everyone I spoke to about it raved. It was titled ‘Protecting your Magic for a Lifetime’ and was about the risks of choosing writing as a career and preventing burnout. The parts that resonated with me most were her reminders to think about what you love about writing. This is unlikely to be things like finishing a book or even getting it published, but the actual writing process itself; falling in love with your characters, having a plot click into place, the rhythm of a beautiful sentence, and when you smile at something you’ve written. She reminded us that writing is in fact a high stress occupation – with deadlines, words-counts and not to mention opening yourself up to judgement and criticism.
3. The Business Hub – I didn’t go to all the sessions but the Draft to Digital guys were great and after listening to them self-publishing isn’t quite the big mystery it was to me before. Still not sure I’m ready to take the plunge, but watch this space.
4. The gala dinner. I love an awards night and I love watching people celebrate their achievements. I also loved catching up with old friends and making new ones. I also love to dance.
5. Vitamin D. The Brisbane weather was beautiful and apart from the arctic air con in the Pullman, it was a great venue. Brisby-land we love you and I’d go back in a flash.
What about you? What were your conference highlights?