RWA Little Gems—Onyx

About 7 months ago I entered Little Gems, Romance Writers Australia’s annual contest for sweet romance short stories, and my historical romance short, What Mari Found, placed second. The prize included publication in the annual RWA Little Gems anthology, along with 13 other talented writers. Today is release day 🙂

I’d intended to write some kind of meaty blog post about the experience of writing to the constraints of the Little Gems contest, and of subsequently being published in the anthology, but here we are on 12 August and…nada. Maybe I’ll still get around to it. I think it’s worth writing about.

For now, happy release day to everyone with a story in the anthology— Heidi Catherine, Courtney Clark Michaels, Frances Dall’Alba , Imelda Evans, Fiona Greene, Jillian Jones, Jeff Kenneally, Caitlyn Lynch, Fiona Marsden, Jane Newton, Rosemary Pearse, and Stella Quinn.

Also—thank you to Romance Writers Australia for providing such a great opportunity. to get romance shorts stories out into the wild.

If you’re interested in an anthology of sweet romance shorts by Aussie writers, here’s a few places you can buy ebook copies of Onyx: RWA Little Gems:

Amazon USA
Amazon Australia
Kobo

My Liebster Award Nomination

liebster-award

 

Some months ago (maybe about six… *ahem*), Karen Bayly nominated me for The Liebster Award. The Liebster is an appreciation award, from one new blogger, to their peers. It’s a way of saying, Hey, I’ve noticed that you blog, and I enjoy what you write. Keep on going!

A Liebster Award nomination is serious business. You don’t HAVE to accept the nomination, but if you do, you are honour-bound to also accept the Award’s rules. 

The Rules

  • Display an image of the award and write about your nomination.
  • Thank and link the person who nominated you for this award.
  • Answer the 11 questions prepared for you by the blogger who nominated you.
  • Nominate 5-11 awesome bloggers who you think deserve this award, and create 11 questions of your own for your nominees to answer.
  • List these guidelines in your blog post.

So—thank you Karen, so very much, for nominating me (and hope you had a giggle about how long it took me to notice!) My blog has lain idle for sometime, because—life. The Liebster is just the impetus I need to get blogging again, not to mention to look up, and check out what other new bloggers have been doing around the traps. If you haven’t looked in on Karen’s blog, I urge you to do so. Her most recent post is an application to the Hogwart’s short course program.

My nominations for the Liebster are at the bottom of this post, along with my 11 questions.

But first, here are my (belated) answers to Karen’s questions:

***

 

Name the character from a book with whom you most resonate?

One of the things that led me to write historical romance was my enjoyment of Regency Romance, a sub genre initiated by Georgette Heyer. Heyer’s Regency is a riff on Jane Austen’s sly observations of the Regency world—with a dollop of 1920s Brit-popular-fiction sensibility thrown in for good measure. My favourite Heyer book is Venetia. The heroine, Venetia, is good humoured, witty, sensible, broadminded, and clear-eyed—all qualities that I aspire to.

Have you ever walked out of a film? If so, what was it and why?

There are some Peter Greenaway films I love, but Prospero’s Books was too self-indulgent even for me. It’s the only film I’ve ever walked out on. Mind you, there are some pretty pretentious (and gratuitous) French films that I’ve stuck out to the torturous end, not to mention several makes-no-sense-at-all Japanese films. Maybe Prospero’s Books just caught me on a bad day.

Who was your childhood hero/heroine?

My Mum.

Which book do you wish you’d written?

The first book of The Hunger Games. What pacing! Makes me weep with envy—but it also inspires me.

If you could time travel, where would you go and why?

One of my interests is the sociology of handcrafts. I think it would be amazing to be in the middle of one of the pivotal craft-revival movements of the 19th century or early 20th Century. England, Germany, Scandinavia, or Japan. Any or all of them would be perfect.

What are your four favourite words?

Liminal. Luminous. Numinous. Cup-of-Tea.

What is the weirdest thing you’ve researched for any piece of writing? 

I can’t think of anything weird. How about esoteric instead? Not so long ago I was looking into the history of the Bandoneon (the ‘squeeze box’ instrument that often features in Tango), trying to work out when exactly it turned up in Argentina, and whether Volga immigrants would have been likely to play it.

Which author has influenced you most?

One cold, wet, mid-winter school holidays in the late 70s, I was stuck indoors for long stretches of time, in a holiday house in Marysville, Victoria. I’d already worked my way through all the Reader’s Digest abridgements on the house’s bookshelf. The next book in line was a paperback called ‘Carrie’. Reading it scared me silly, and it made me squirm, but I read that damn book to the very end. The experience was an epiphany. I realised that it wasn’t the subject of the book that held me in thrall, or even the storyline, but the actual writing technique. I haven’t read a Stephen King book since, apart from On Writing (I REALLY don’t like horror fiction), but Stephen King’s fiction writing changed how I read other books.

What not-so-good book, TV show or movie is a guilty pleasure?

I have a soft spot for Shirley Conran’s LACE. It definitely qualifies as a not-so-good book, and I feel genuinely guilty not only about owning it, but also about hauling it out for the occasional on-the-sly pleasurable re-read.

If you could bring anyone back from the dead, who would it be?

I think that right now, at this point in time, the world really needs someone charismatic to counteract the rise of the Loony Right—someone who can inspire people to stop blaming ‘other’, and encourage them to face suffering (their own, and that of all beings) with compassion. I reckon Siddhārtha Gautama is just the person for the job.

The world as we know it has ended. What killed it?

Wilful ignorance.

***

And my nominations of bloggers to carry the Liebster Torch are (drum roll):

Sarah Fiddelaers  – Sarah started her blog in August, and has done a stellar job of consistently publishing thoughtful, interesting posts. She also posts some pretty funny, honest Instagram comments about how early parenting mixes with writing.

Emma Lee Gough  – I suspect that Emma has already been nominated for the Liebster, but what the heck, she hasn’t accepted a nomination yet (I don’t think), and I like her blog, so yeah, she gets my nomination. Emma is an Aussie writing about Speculative Fiction. Yes!

Kathy Gates – Kathy writes about travel, and reading, and—most interestingly—about volunteerism.

Marie McLean  – Marie is another new blogger engaged in that tricky parenting/writing juggling act. I suspect we have similar approaches to household management and child wrangling.

Nicky Albrecht – Nicky’s blog at Bookbuzz  is brand spanking new, but has already featured several author interviews. Go Nicky!

To all my nominees—there’s no obligation to accept the nomination. It is, first and foremost, a genuine expression of appreciation for your blogging. Thank you.

If however you do accept your nomination, here are your questions…

Tim Tam or Chocolate Coated Teddy?

Name one writing-craft resource you find/have found useful. What do you like about it?

What’s your preferred method of task management?

What’s your go-to menu for those days when you don’t want to stop writing in order to make dinner?

You have three pet Guinea Pigs—what are their names? Feel free to embellish with descriptions of your pigs’ personalities and physical characteristics. Or not.

What did you think of Matt Smith’s performance as Prince Philip in The Crown? (If you haven’t watched the Crown yet, speculate…)

Speaking of Matt Smith—which Dr Who is your favourite, and why?

Name one, recent-ish non-fiction book that you’ve enjoyed reading. Who would you recommend it to?

You have received a limited-time-only email offer from The Household Maintenance & Cleaning Fairy. She says that if you transfer $10 to her account before the end of the week, she’ll grant you one wish* (*terms and conditions apply). What do you do?

Have you ever used affirmations or quotes to motivate your writing? If yes, please share one of the good-uns.

In a parallel universe where there is no such thing as blogs, or even the world-wide-web, what would you be doing right now instead of accepting the Liebster Award?

If you take up the challenge, please post a link to your acceptance post in the comments!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Speed Reading with Spritz

Sunset over the sea

A few weeks ago My Honey asked me what I thought of Spritz, a speed reading technology that’s currently used in about a dozen different apps across various platforms. Resisting the impulse to scoff, I managed to say, quite neutrally, “Why, I know nothing about Spritz. I’ll take a look at it, and let you know.”**

Appropriately, the Spritz website uses Spritz technology to introduce itself, doling out words, one at a time, at speeds from 100wpm upwards. At 100wpm, words plod past with sloth-like deliberation. At 700wpm, they buzzzzzzzzz. At 250wpm, Spritz flashes robotically, “Instead of you constantly moving your eyes to grasp the words, now they are streamed to you. Just keep your eyes on the red character and relax.”

Relax. Relax! Ree-laaaaaax…

There are many things I find relaxing. Indulging my predilection for long, hot baths immediately springs to mind, as does sitting on a tropical beach watching the sunset. (It’s really, really cold here in Melbourne at the moment!) Reading is also high on my list of relaxing-things-to-do, particularly around bedtime. Escapist fiction, engrossing non-fiction, eloquent writing of any kind that invites contemplation—all of it prompts me to slow down and sink into the text. In this context, a technology like Spritz has no place. As Bob Boffard wrote in the Guardian,“reading a novel on Spritz is like riding a unicycle from Shepherd’s Bush to Brick Lane. You can do it, but there are far more pleasant and logical ways to get there”.

To be fair, evangelical speed reading enthusiasts tend not to focus on revelling in witty dialogue, decoding textual subtitles, or giving free rein to imagination, but rather on cramming in ‘more’ for work and/or study, because…well, I’m not exactly sure why. Even the most prosaic, fact-oriented non-fiction relies on varying weightings of words to convey meaning, something that Spritz’s hyper-controlled, parsimonious revelation of text makes no allowance for. And of course if information is genuinely valuable, you need time to absorb and synthesise it. Having taken pains during my work life to render user documentation, business cases, forms, requirements—the whole business shebang—into simple language that promotes comprehension, I feel this quite keenly.

In his 2014 article, The Truth About Speed Reading,  Thorin Klosowski concluded, “Speed reading anything you need to truly comprehend is probably a bad idea. However, if you have a few documents you need to get through, or you’re reading something that isn’t that important, these methods can still be worthwhile.” It’s a generous, yet suspect concession. If I don’t need to comprehend something, why do I need to ‘get through it’?  And to be honest, I already read more fluff-text than is good for me. It tumble-weeds around my brain, clogging my intellect and my creativity, making me sluggish. I suspect I’m not alone in this.

It’s possible that technologies like Spritz will evolve over time, adapting to the demands of genuine language comprehension. That would be an interesting development. It’s also possible that they’ll precipitate a new media era, in which savvy marketers will write to the limitations of the technology. Yikes.

Which scenario is more likely?

When My Honey originally asked me about Spritz, he was coming to the end of reading Moby Dick. He’d been wading through it for months, periodically telling me how it needed a good, hard edit. With ten pages to go, he did his own Spritz experiment, in the interest, he insisted, of ending the torture. Turns out Spritzing Moby Dick was even more torturous than reading it the usual way. So My-sensible-Honey ditched the technology, and re-read those last ten pages the way Melville no doubt intended.

My Honey’s verdict? In the end, it was all worthwhile.

 

** It’ entirely possible that I’ve misrepresented the maturity of my initial response to My Honey’s question about Spritz. Point is I overcame my propensity to automatically dismiss speed-reading, and actually took the time to give Spritz a go.

Cal Newport’s Deep Work

Rain on High Street

I felt it this morning—the old year dying, making way for the new. At 7am in Melbourne it was dark, and cold, and wet. If it weren’t for my commitments to others I could have easily spent the day in bed. (Staring out the window and dozing. Reading comfort fiction and dozing some more…) Instead here I am, halfway through a moderately productive Solstice eve, sitting down to acknowledge where I’ve been over the past 12 months, and to envision where I’m going.

My thoughts this day are framed by Cal Newport’s Deep Work: Rules for Focussed Success in a Distracted World. I’m halfway through the book, and feeling inspired by the obvious love Newport has for the matter of concentration of attention as a practice for living. Deep Work is articulate, and meticulously structured, and it rings true to my 20 years experience in knowledge work that included roles both as ‘thinker’ and ‘manager’. It also speaks to my experiences as a craftsperson and as a long time practitioner in a meditation tradition that upholds the value of periodic silent retreat.

After years of wallowing in the distractions of early parenting—feeling like a milquetoast intellectual—Deep Work is just what I need. It reminds me, most eloquently, that concentration is a muscle. Flabby concentration isn’t good for much, but it can be trained. The trick is to come up with the right training plan, and to stick to it.

I’ve read Amazon reviews of Deep Work that claim Newport spends too much time faffing around with theory and anecdotes, and that he fails to come up with a quick and dirty cheatsheet for how to be successful. These reviewers have missed the point. There is no way to cheat on this. Newport’s message is uncompromising. It’s also the message I need right now.

Happy Solstice everyone. May your coming year be filled with intelligent perseverance, and with the satisfactions of work well done.

The Feminine Equivalent of Avuncular

OED definition of avuncular

Over the past six weeks I’ve taken on the challenge to write a blog post each week that incorporates Valerie Khoo’s ‘Word of the Week’ from the podcast So You Want to Be A Writer. It’s been a great way to start exploring my inner blogger, and so far I’ve striven to incorporate the word as unobtrusively as possible. This week however, I’ve been unable to move past my fixation with the gender bias inherent in Valerie’s chosen word. So here we go—some thoughts about the word avuncular.

Disclaimer—I’m not a linguist or lexicographer, and my formal study of culture theory has been at the glossing-over end of the spectrum. Still, as a woman who loves words, has worked in male dominated industries, and has come across her fair share of kindly-meant misogynistic attitude, I’m a staunch advocate of exploring what gendered words reveal about society’s values and preoccupations, and identifying opportunities to ‘take the dic out of dictionary’.

The Shorter Oxford English Dictionary definition of avuncular is “maternal uncle…Of, pertaining to, or resembling an uncle”. Furthermore, avunculate is an anthropological term used to describe “the special relationship in some societies between a maternal uncle and his sister’s son.” So far, so good. I can see how the concept of avunculate might have value. Growing up I watched my testosterone driven brother struggle with being the only male in an all-female, single-parent household. If my mother had had a brother (she doesn’t) who was a good bloke, a bit of avuncular role modelling could have saved us all many tears.

So what happens when the genders in this scenario are reversed? A father—a single parent—has a tribe of sons and a sole daughter who is struggling with what it means to be female. Luckily the father also has a sister who strikes up a nurturing, mentoring relationship relationship with the daughter. How would we describe this relationship?

Er … *opens browser – googles ‘feminine equivalent of avuncular’*

OED definition of materteral

Turns out that the feminine equivalent of avuncular is materteral**—a word so rarely used that it doesn’t even make it into the Shorter OED (I checked). The definition above is from the OED Online.***

So why has avuncular stuck over time, and materteral never got off the ground apart from that brief spate of ‘humorous’ references quoted in the OED? One reason might be that materteral doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue. Avuncular is way easier to say. Although it does sound an awful lot like unctuous. (I’ll come back to that…) And then of course there’s the patriarchy.

The Encyclopaedia Brittanica tells me that avunculate, as a relationship, is typically meaningful in matrilineal societies, where descent is traced through the female line—blood taking care of those who have proven blood ties. It’s potentially a very woman-centric thing, maybe even a nurturing thing, and it has overtones of initiating the next generation into adult responsibilities. That’s not our society, though. Our mainstream society is predominately patrilineal, has scant frame of reference for non-commercial nurturing relationships beyond the nuclear family, and is suspicious of talk of initiation. In a way it’s a wonder that avuncular hasn’t been chucked out with materteral.

Yet avuncular is alive, if not exactly kicking. For me it conjures up the smell of wool cardigan impregnated with stale camphor, a complexion challenged by age and a fondness for cheap whisky, a comfy recliner seat covered in faux leather, a predilection for reciting Rudyard Kipling poems—and a tendency to call girls and young women ‘chicky’.

Yep, that’s unctuous.

But hang on. Didn’t Valerie explicitly say of avuncular“Please note it’s not some kind of ‘creepy uncle’ reference.” That’s an interesting qualification. It acknowledges that the word ‘uncle’ isn’t always thought of in a positive way. This hasn’t always been the case. When I was a child in country Victoria in the late 60s and 70s, every close family friend who was male had his first name prefaced by ‘Uncle’ (likewise, every close female family friend was ‘Aunty’). Uncle was a trusting honorific. Since then, things have changed. Abuses have been exposed, societal innocence lost. In the words of my partner, we now have a “deep seated, almost hysterical distrust of male nurturing relationships”.

A few years ago Magda Knight of Mookychick wrote briefly about avuncular, posing the question, “How, then, may we traditionally refer to the stalwart women who want to revolutionise the minds of their nieces and nephews then retreat to the safety of gin-sozzled strip-rummy in Monaco?”  She proffered two choices—we (women) either “make materteral a thing”, or we “claim avuncular”. The post was tongue-in-cheek, and I’m pretty sure we aren’t expected us to take these options seriously. Materteral is an absurd word with no weight, and avuncular carries baggage that few women would yearn to lay claim to. And possibly—just possibly—avuncular is already heading the same direction as materteral in terms of frequency of use. If that happens, what will be the loss?

To me, the main value in the various meanings attributed to avuncular is the notion of kindly, generous support offered to those who are younger or less experienced. In the workplace, or in the learning of any skill or discipline, a good word for a person who offers this is mentor. Mentor is gender neutral and it’s a word we already use. In flavour it’s less nurturing than avuncular, but I suspect that has more to do with our lack of sophistication when considering the possibilities of mentorship than with the actual word.

Things become more difficult however when looking at those people, other than parents, who form part of that village that raises a child. How do we describe these people’s relationship with our children? Do we need to? I’m not sure what I think about this. It’s something I’d like to mull over some more.

Finally, having spent all this time musing about avuncular, I have one last thing to offer—if you’d like to take a stab at pronouncing materteral, here’s a short youtube clip that shows you how.

Thanks to Valerie for this week’s word. I’ve enjoyed writing about it.

 

**Two other possibilities are materterine and auntly

***I can access the OED online for free using my State Library of Victoria membership. Hooray! Support public libraries!!!

Keeping on Top of SAD

Guinea Pig - Seasonal Affective Disorder

It’s been getting cold in Melbourne. Cold and dark. It’s that time of year when I get every single virus that’s up for grabs, and my body starts insisting that it’s time to go into hibernation. Yes, Seasonal Affective Disorder and I have kept company for many years now.

I know—thanks to the battery of blood tests I was run through almost eight years ago when pregnant—that part of this impulse to climb into bed and stay there until September comes down to vitamin D deficiency. If I can remember (and motivate) myself to take my vitamin D supplement, things seem brighter. But even with the supplements, I still need more sleep during winter.

It’s always tempting to pretend this isn’t the case, particularly as a parent of a young child, because surely, if I take away an extra hour each day, less stuff will get done…  But of course it’s not just about the number of hours in the day, it’s also about how you use them. When I deny myself that extra sleep, I stultify my creativity (not to mention my already challenged sense of  house-wifely duty…) and the day mooches past in a grey haze.

The Guinea Pigs have the right idea. With the shorter, colder days, they’ve been sleeping much more than usual, but when they’re awake, they eat and they popcorn** as though possessed. Wise little animals.

Inspired by the Pigs, I’ve just put two recurrent reminders in my phone:

  • 7:30am, take vitamin D
  • 8:30pm, get ready for bed

Looking forward to perking up!

**Popcorning describes the series of  of vertical-jumps-with-a-twist that Guinea Pigs break into when they’re feeling good. Pop, pop, poppity-pop!