Core Strength

Redwood2_AdjA character’s quest lies at the heart of any story, with their journey of change driving the plot as they face obstacles to achieving their ultimate desire. One thing that will undermine any character we write is a lack of consistency and a lack of believability. But ever since a recent family holiday in the ‘Land of the Long White Cloud’, there’s something else I’ve been considering relating to character development.

I think most of us are aware that people don’t behave in the way they do for no reason. We all have a history that predisposes us to certain behavioural patterns, deeply embedded in our thought processes and emotions. For example, children who’ve experienced trauma often, in turn, behave in ways that are unhealthy. Trauma makes as much of a wound on the brain as a physical injury. Even experiences that, to an adult, might seem inconsequential, can profoundly affected a child’s (and ultimately adult’s) behaviour and way of perceiving life. It stands to reason that these types of pain-based behaviours can be difficult to manage, but once identified, the brain can be ‘rewired’ over time by making different choices. Each positive choice makes a small change in the brain. And small changes, over time, make big ones.

Something I find frustrating as a reader is when a character whose entire life has been dictated by negative behaviours, suddenly changes, and then the story is resolved. Now, I’m not denying people can experience profound shifts in thinking over short periods of time, or even significant emotional healing, but more often than not, there’s a dogged grappling with pain-based patterns over time, before the positive choices outweigh the negative wiring of the past.

Just as a child can be damaged emotionally or mentally by being forced to grow up too fast, whether that be through exposure to adult concepts too early or, as mentioned above, through trauma, so our characters can come across as weak and untrustworthy if they change too fast, or without appropriate context and conditions justifying that change.Redwood

But how does this relate to our holiday in NZ? While touring, we visited a Redwood forest. The redwood seed had been brought over from America to grow trees to produce wood for use in construction and other such applications. Unfortunately, the NZ climate wasn’t the same as that from which the trees were brought. The trees grew too fast, leaving the inner core soft and unusable for the purpose it was intended.

Like those magnificent redwood trees, a character can be fleshed out to look every bit the part they’ve been developed to play in a story, but if they don’t go through challenge- or condition-appropriate growth, a reader won’t buy it. I think you’ll agree, there’s something about a character’s inner struggle that builds convincing inner strength, developing rapport with a reader. I do love stories where characters rise above overwhelming odds, but let’s ensure we give our literary heroes opportunity to develop sufficient core strength to make the distance.

Getting that book Published

Are you a creative non-fiction writer who feels you’ve met continuous blocks to the publication pathway? You may have had your work professionally edited, including for structure, content and flow, but you still can’t find it quite the right home. Today author and health professional, Pamela Heemskerk, shares with us her publication journey for ‘Rather a Small Chicken: A Guide to hearing loss for family and friends’ and her venture into the land of ‘indie’ author. Let’s tune our ears to Pamela’s valuable insights – thanks, Pamela.

So. You’ve done the hard yards and that book is about ready to put into print. And you decide, like me, that maybe it just isn’t going to top the charts, despite believing the content is publishable. And you can’t face figuring out which traditional publisher to approach and just decide to skip that whole step and DIY as an independent publisher (‘indie’).

I wanted help as a first time author with this process, and chose to use a publishing consultant. They will ask you lots of questions during the process of getting the book set-up for printing – things you’ve never thought of in your life. Like where do you want the page numbers to go? Top? Bottom? Left bottom? Middle? Do you want the book title or the chapter heading on each page? How wide a margin? Ummm… What font? Size? And that’s just one page!

You might be tempted to say to the publishing consultant, ‘You decide’, but having got this far, finish well. Take the time to really make it your book.

Illustrations: I decided not to pay an illustrator as there were many suitable pictures available on the web for a small fee. Remember, if you do use an illustration from the web, check if it is free, or whether you need to pay to use the design. Then check if it is royalty free – or you may be paying royalties to the designer every time you use it. This includes marketing or promotion paraphernalia as well as the book itself. A fee can also apply to special fonts for book titles and chapter headings.

Cover: My consultant asked about the cover. I work in health – what would I know about book cover design? Yet, once I started researching and thinking, I found I did have some ideas. I wandered the book shops in town, looking at covers of non-fiction books. What colours were common? What made some covers stand out? What style font and pictures would be distinctive? I knew I wanted something clean and sharp.SmallChickenCover

I started playing around with cover design, made some rough sketches, and my consultant sent back three options.  Strangely enough, I knew straight away which one ‘felt right’ – certainly not the most scientific method to guarantee saleability.

Back Cover: The ISBN must be on there, but will you have reader reviews? Illustrations? Your photo? Plan the wording and layout carefully – this is the second thing people look at after the cover and it’ll either grip them so they open the book, or they’ll put it down.

It’s invaluable to have guidance from someone who knows what makes a book appealing to the market. Be prepared to be  little flexible with your idea as the marketer will almost certainly know way more about what will sell than you do.

Bio: Pamela Heemskerk is the author of a short booklet on getting the most out of your hearing aids and promoting communication with hearing loss. She works in allied health. Her book Rather a Small Chicken…A guide to hearing loss for family and friends is available through Amazon as print or e-book.


And then there was …

ActivatemedOn November 1, ‘Activate’ final book in the Blaine Colton young adult techno-crime thriller trilogy, was released. Yay!!!! Celebration time for sure. But a thought has been edging into my mind that once the buzz of launches, signings and visits settles, I’ll be writing … Well, what will I be writing?!

Yes, I do have works in progress. I also have a quandary.

Somehow, after completing the trilogy, one of the characters in ‘Activate’ got a life all their own. So I’ve found myself halfway through a spin off story. But there’s also a story that’s been on the backburner for … well … a while. Originally penned for the general adult fiction market, I’m rewriting it as a YA. It really does seem to be working, but it’s also a challenging project. Meaning, it will take time to get it right.

Perhaps I need to admit to myself that there might be a teensy bit of laziness factoring into that equation. You see, project ‘old-made-new’ has historical elements I’ll have to squish back into whatever grey matter I have remaining in the crevices of my head. You know what that means? Lots of research i.e. lots of extra work. And well, the speculative SciFi angle the spin off is taking, doesn’t have quite so many restrictions.

My brain says something new. (Hang, my publisher probably does too. LOL.) But those characters have a way of sneaking into your mind and pulling on your heart strings.

There’s one group I haven’t asked yet. You! 🙂

What would you do? More of the same or something different. Or would you do the crazy juggle I used to, of writing multiple novels at once? Hit me with your thoughts! It would be great to hear your angle.

Veils, Halos & Shackles – A Voice for Change

Picture a defenceless child being dragged from their home by members of their community – people they trust and love. They scream as they are held down, and again as a cruel blade pierces their skin. They beg for help as their beloved mother looks on in tears, immobile. Everyone gathered hears their pain, witnesses their shame.

And no one

did anything

to stop it.

These are some of the concluding lines of my poem Severed from the Veils, Halos and Shackles (VH&S) anthology. This statement translates the wave of helplessness I experienced upon reading an article on Female Genital Mutilation (FGM), written by an aid worker in Africa. I knew about FGM, was aware it happened, but reading that article as a young mother made the practice horrifyingly personal.

My heart broke for the child who had been assaulted. Worse, there was nothing I could do to change it for them. Images plagued my mind, playing out the attack, watching the little one’s terror, hearing their cries. It challenged my comfortable existence, safe from such atrocities. Out of these roiling emotions I wrote Severed.

That was many years ago, well before the remarkable VH&S project had been birthed. What difference could one poem make? Yet, I felt I must pen those words.

vhs_coverfbThen, thanks to visionaries Charles Fishman and Smita Sahay, poets worldwide were invited to contribute to a unique work focussed on the empowerment of women by sharing stories of the oppression against them. Through Charles’ and Smita’s persistence and dedication, VH&S came to have form and eventually found a home at Kasva Press, Israel.

One could say each poem is just one of hundreds in a single work. One could say this poetry anthology is one of countless others. But in May 2015, while VH&S was still going through the publication process, Nigeria banned FGM. What a timely reminder of the need for this publication and the power of using one’s voice to instigate change. Other countries are gradually following suit in banning the practice of FGM.

To quote from the VH&S site:

Veils, Halos & Shackles aims not only to make a statement, but to make a difference—to shock, to startle, and above all, to inspire.

On her recent blog post, editor, former psychology academic and writer, Nola Passmore, reflected on her VH&S poem Petals, a reminder of hope in the midst of destructive abuse and pain. Our fellow South East Queensland contributor, gifted poet and author, Catherine Sercombe (also writing as Mazzy Adams), will follow this post on her blog on October 5, in anticipation of our online launch on October 8. Like the dozens of poets who have contributed over 240 poems to VH&S, each of us have a voice. Yes, we alone are only one, but one voice can apply a balm of healing words. One voice can inspire others to speak up. Over time, one voice can change the world.

(Dis)Ability Action Week QLD

Del signingSaturday I received copies of my new novel Activate hot off the press and had the pleasure of sharing it with attendees at the Omega Writers Book Fair 2016. Technically its release date is Nov 1, 2016, but with next week (Sept 11-17) being Disability Action Week 2016 in Queensland, I can’t think of more perfect timing.

You see, Blaine Colton, the hero of the Integrate trilogy, is a young man acutely aware of the stigma and challenges disability can represent. Having survived mitochondrial disease and received a gene-modifying cure, he has been given a second chance. But things aren’t perfect for the teenager, and he’s never forgotten where he’s come from – nor where he could very well end up. (But you’ll have to read the books to find out more … 😉 )

The motto of Disability Action Week celebrations is: ‘Inclusion: It’s a game changer’. And I love it. In fact, I’d love to apply it in every circumstance. I’ve seen how easily we (and I include myself in this) can disregard others because they don’t fit. Whether this be determined by a ‘click’ group, trends, or someone who simply doesn’t meet some predetermined criteria for abilities on the sports field or whatever activity is on the table, people get left out. Add what can be perceived as limitations, and it can be all too easy to discard people from our plans.

No one likes being excluded.

ActivatemedAs a parent I often find myself saying, ‘Ensure you’re being inclusive.’ In reality this has to be a purposeful decision and is largely influenced by the type of disability present. For example, if someone is mobility impaired, accessibility to venues, terrain and physical requirements of an event or activity need to be well considered. Some disabilities are not obvious, and might involve environmental or emotional triggers. Often a lot of little things are overlooked by well meaning people for sheer lack of awareness. (As I have done myself, at times.)

Many people I know living with a disability are fiercely independent and very capable. When it comes to solutions, they are brilliant for nutting things out. By communicating and working with people, instead of assuming the limitations of their capacity, inclusion becomes a way of thinking and truly can ‘change the game’.