Meet the Author: Bob Rich

BOB’S TOP WRITING TIP: I plant a potato in a clearing in a forest. A plant grows, and a beautiful little flower blooms on it. Have a look at potato flowers. They are lovely. This flower doesn’t yield new life: potatoes reproduce from the tuber. It is there, just being, but it is not seen by anyone, not even a bird. Then, eventually, it wilts. That flower was still beautiful. It was still an essential part of the complex beauty of this planet. Write like that flower. If someone sees your work, great. But write to create beauty for its own sake, for the joy it gives you.

drbobrich

Dr Bob Rich is an Australian storyteller whose main passion is creating a sustainable society. This is because of his love for children. You can look up his writing showcase http://bobswriting.com his psychology site http://anxietyanddepression-help.com and his Mudsmith site http://mudsmith.net What’s a mudsmith you may ask? Have a look and find out.

{Visit the Author Bookshelf page for a look at Bob’s 15th book, Ascending Spiral: Humanity’s Last Chance.}

AUTHOR INSIGHT

Why do you write? Why do I breathe? I was a writer long before I knew I was a writer. I did long distance running, and filled the hours and the miles with inner monologues. I never thought to share them with anyone, or even to record them — who would be interested in my raves? I was terribly depressed as a youngster. Running and studying/reading were my antidepressants, and so actually I had a very wide range of knowledge, and could tell a story or two. Many years later, a friend called me an encyclopaedia, and I’d be a Trivial Pursuit champion except that I have not the slightest interest in gladiatorial sports, horse racing, or the doings of the rich and famous.

Once I started writing, it also became an antidepressant. That happened in 1980. I was playing a game of soccer with the kids, when I slipped and tore cartilage in a knee; not a good idea. There I was in hospital, deprived of my usual physically active lifestyle, so I borrowed the office typewriter (remember those?) and wrote a couple of articles on building with mudbricks. This resulted in a byline column in a marvellous magazine, Earth Garden, and my first book, The Earth Garden Building Book: Design and build your own house. I still have a regular column with the magazine.

Fiction writing started in 1986. I decided to train as a nurse, and because of the distance of my home from the city, that meant living in a nurses’ home. So, I had a choice: make a fool of myself running after gorgeous 18-year-old girls, or finding something productive to do with my time. I started writing short stories, by far the better choice. This resulted in a long self-instructed apprenticeship that has led to currently 15 published books, four of them award-winners.

 What would you be doing if you weren’t a writer? Maybe watching TV like normal people? I don’t even have one of those things. But writing is only one of my occupations. I have so far retired from five different ways of earning money, with several still to go, and I do many useful activities that earn me a lot of joy, satisfaction and meaning, but no money.

My most important occupation is as Professional Grandfather. I have four genetically related grandchildren, ranging from 21 to two years of age, and hundreds of others I’ve adopted. Many I’ll never meet. They contact me via the internet with a cry for help, and I have the magic skill of leading people out of hopelessness and despair to hope and inner strength. I’ve exchanged occasional emails with some of them for years.

I’ve just retired as a counselling psychologist after 22 years, but I’ll never retire from the joy of relieving distress.

 What was your toughest obstacle to becoming published? The first time? Nothing! I believe in the judo approach, as contrasted to Sumo wrestling. As I’ve said, I’d been sending building-related articles to Earth Garden magazine for years. One day, I thought there would be enough for a book, so wrote a letter to the magazine’s publisher, Keith Smith, suggesting we cooperate on one. He already had eight published books.

Synchronicity: after I posted my letter, I checked my post office box. There was a letter from Keith, with the same idea. He lined up the publisher. So, this was the judo approach: use the energy of a situation to get what you want.

The second time took a few years. I wrote a book that was a collection of short stories, many autobiographical, with each story ending in a woodworking lesson. Penguin, who had bought out the publisher of my building book, couldn’t cope with something that was both literary and instructional, so I moved on to other things like learning to write fiction. Then a small publisher contacted Earth Garden, asking if they knew anyone who would write a woodworking book. So, Woodworking for Idiots Like Me was published, and sold some 60,000 copies. Later, I reissued it as an electronic book, and it’s still available to amuse and instruct.

With my fiction, I was a pioneer of electronic publication, and got accepted by a publisher called Bookmice in 1999. I have all my fiction and psychology titles with several small publishers.

The main problem has not been getting published, but getting noticed. I am the world’s worst businessman, and proud of it, and I am expected to market my books! I actually know how to do it. Marketing is closely related to psychology. But I hate blowing my own trumpet, however sweet the sound may be judged by others. I am much better at giving than at demanding or grasping, and so, selling is definitely not one my joys.

What’s the best aspect of your writing life? There is no one best aspect; there are many. I love doing research. This is why writing historical fiction is so much fun. I enjoy grappling with difficult concepts. At the moment I am in the middle of a bit of writing of so far unknown length (essay? pamphlet? book?) about my concept of spiritual development: the ages of the soul. It’s wonderful when I am gripped by inspiration, and the words flow, and time stops. I’ve been working at getting rid of my ego for years, but it’s still sweet when someone expresses admiration for one of my publications.

—the worst? Finding time for it. Even though I have retired (again), I still have many interests, many activities I want to be a part of. Writing is best done when you can devote sustained attention and regular time for it. That’s a luxury I rarely have.

This leads to the second one: getting cold on a story. Writing fiction is a matter of becoming a character, then doing and saying what comes naturally to that person, not to me. My characters continually amaze me with the stuff they get up to, the wisdom they teach me. Well, that means that returning to a story after a break needs a period of re-reading, immersing myself in the created reality once more, bringing the characters back to life again.

What would you do differently if you were starting out now as a writer? If I could go back in a time machine and be that young fellow again? I don’t know that I’d do anything differently.

If I were a starting writer in today’s world? Self-publishing is now very easy, but it has traps. With you as both author and publisher, the temptation is to skip quality control. I think training (not necessarily a formal course) in the mechanics of language, and of writing, is essential. Hiring an editor like me is a very good way of learning. I got a different freelance editor for each of my first three fiction books, and learned an immense amount from each.

I think my judo strategy of getting a readership and reputation in some field first, then expanding this to books is still a good trick. For me, it was owner-building. Now, I might use my psychological knowledge to get a following.

What do you wish you’d been told before you set out to become an author? Don’t give away your day job. (Well, I didn’t.) The best writing has passion, because it is driven by an intention far beyond just making a buck from it. The more you give, the more you get, and I am not talking about free giveaways. Write because you intend your words to make this planet a better place.

 What’s the best advice you were ever given? As a young fellow, I wasn’t much good at listening to advice. It wasn’t arrogance, but a false face to hide my lack of self-respect, but the result was the same. Nowadays, people come to me for advice rather than the other way.

Advertisements

Meet the Author: Dale Harcombe

DALE’S TOP WRITING TIP: Write, write, write. Don’t be content with first, second or even third drafts. Make it the best it can be. The hardest part then is knowing when to stop. Read, read, read as much as you can of all different writers and different kinds of books. Try and analyse why things work or they don’t. I’ve found since I’ve started to write I have become a more critical reader. I get impatient if the author doesn’t move the story along in some way. When I write I try and leave out the bits I would skip through while reading.  For example those passages that convey information because the author found it interesting but it does not advance the story or help the reader know the characters better.

Dale Harcombe

Dale lived in Western Sydney and the Central West of NSW before moving to the South Coast which immediately felt like home.  She started writing articles and poems. Many were published in magazines and newspapers. She has also written short stories, educational materials, bible studies and Sunday school materials, puppet plays, skits, and songs for young children. A radio play, called Edge of Silence, was broadcast in 2005.

Chasing after the Wind, her first published children’s novel was published by Scholastic in 1997. Since then she has had Kaleidoscope, a book of poetry and six other children’s books published.  Many poems in Kaleidoscope had been previously published in Australia’s literary magazines and newspapers. Her poetry has won prizes and been published in several anthologies. Streets on a Map, her first general fiction book, was published in December 2010. It is now also an E book. Dale is currently at work on another novel with the working title Sandstone Madonna.

As well as jobs as a bookseller and other sales positions, Dale has been a houseparent for a family of twelve boys, manuscript assessor, book reviewer and run creative writing classes at NSW Writers’ Centre, Parramatta Evening College and Central West Community College. She also wrote for several years about marriage and home related topics for www.families.com. She has a BA in Literary and Australian studies. More information about Dale can be found at www.daleharcombe.com or on her Write and Read with Dale blog http://www.livejournal.com/users/orangedale/

AUTHOR INSIGHT

Why do you write? Sometimes I wonder! No seriously, because there are stories bubbling away inside that want to come out and hopefully, I might have some insights or knowledge that may be helpful to others in their life journey. I guess in another way it is something that has always been in me. I was one of those kids who sent off poems and stories to the newspapers back in the day when newspapers did such things. Do they even do that any more?

Over time that writing urge got pushed aside by other aspects of life. But like the phoenix it came back to life in later years. I started with poetry and articles, later moved to children’s fiction, back to poetry and then onto general fiction with Streets on a Map. Now I’m concentrating on fiction with a smattering of poetry still thrown in, because I can’t leave it alone. Fiction and poetry are my two reading loves as well.

What would you be doing if you weren’t a writer? Just living and enjoying life in this piece of paradise where I live. But I probably wouldn’t be as much fun to live with. I tend to get grumpy when I am not writing.

 What was your toughest obstacle to becoming published? Lack of knowledge of the way the industry works. When I first started, I didn’t have a website, know how to organise a book launch or anything else. It’s been learn as I went along and still learning.  I thought when my first children’s book Chasing after the Wind was published, I had a foot on the door and it would be easier. That didn’t turn out to be the case. The editor who had picked my manuscript out of the slush pile left. Sadly, the new editor didn’t seem to connect with what I was writing. So it was back to square one, and trying to learn more about writing and find markets. Six other children’s books were published before I had Kaleidoscope a book of poetry published. That was the quickest acceptance ever, less than 10 days from submission to acceptance by Ginninderra Press. By then general fiction was calling. Poetry got put aside. Streets on a Map was published and now I am working on another novel but also starting to work on a second collection of poems.

What’s the best aspect of your writing life? Seeing books I wrote in print and getting feedback from people when they like a book and take time to let me know. I have a few letters which live on my corkboard near my desk which are from readers who have told me how much they enjoyed my books. One of the most special is from a girl who struggled to read. Chasing after the Wind was the first book she ever actually read and enjoyed. That still gives me a thrill when I think about how I got her started on her reading journey and the response from her and her family.

 —the worst? Waiting. Writers spend a lot of time waiting. Waiting for publishers to decide, waiting for contracts to arrive, waiting on proofs and editing, waiting for the book to be published. Waiting is not my strong suit. I usually try and forget about it and get busy with some new work in the meantime. E books and self publishing has changed a lot of that and cut out much of that waiting time but it’s not something I’ve investigated a lot to date. The promotion and marketing aspects that go with writing these days I also find hard. I’d rather just write.

What would you do differently if you were starting out now as a writer? I’d be less naive. I’d build a website and blog first and then go from there.

What’s the best advice you were ever given? Be yourself because the reality is you can’t be anyone else anyway. So play to your strengths and don’t worry about things you can’t do or comparing yourself with others.

 {Visit the Author Bookshelf page for a snapshot of Dale’s novel, Streets on a Map and details about availability}.

Meet the Author: Anna Jacobs

ANNA’S TOP WRITING TIP: Write your first novel, polish as much as you can, then set it aside and write another. Yes, it’s a significant achievement to complete a whole novel, but your first effort is not likely to be wonderful, just as a carpenter’s first piece will be faulty. After your second novel is finished and polished, go back to your first novel and you’ll see how to improve it. Time is the best polisher, especially for writers beginning their careers. Repeat this prescription, gradually writing more novels, until publication occurs. You can then go back and improve your learning pieces.

Do not self-publish your first book, or even your second. You’ll regret it when you become more skilled. My first book is still unpublished, because as I grew to understand more about what makes a professional standard of writing, I saw that it didn’t have a good enough plot. It taught me so much about writing that it was worth while doing, but the story is resting in peace now.

I know this is an instant world, but athletes don’t expect to win a big race when they’re juniors developing their muscles and skills, and writers shouldn’t expect to become a best-seller with their first books, either. There are exceptions to every so-called rule, but not many!

Anna Jacobs

Anna lives in Western Australia, but regularly visits the UK, where she was born, to do research, because her books are set in both countries. She’s addicted to story telling and has had more than 60 novels published – and she’s not finished yet! New characters keep invading her dreams and nagging her to write about their lives and adventures. She’s been happily married to her own hero for many years. They have two grown-up daughters and one grandson. Anna writes both historical and modern tales, and enjoys the variety. She usually produces three books a year.

Anna’s website at http://www.annajacobs.com  has a lot of information including a page for each novel, a photo gallery and a lists of each series. Her latest books are The Trader’s Gift, #4 in the five-part historical series, In Search of Hope, #2 in the modern romantic suspense series, and Heir to Greyladies, #1 in the historical Wiltshire trilogy.

Anna is also very excited to have just re-published some of her earlier books, which had been out of print for a while. She’s done this via Amazon’s Createspace. Go to any of the Amazon websites and click on ‘Books’ in the search box list, then type ‘Anna Jacobs Createspace’ into the box to see the complete list.

AUTHOR INSIGHT

Why do you write? Because my head is full of stories and I love telling them. I’ve been living with an imagination full of stories and ‘people’ since I was two. In fact, I call myself a storyteller, not a writer. I also write because it makes me happy to give people pleasure. I consider myself part of the entertainment industry. There are enough bleak things happening in the world without me adding to them.

What would you be doing if you weren’t a writer? I can’t imagine that. I’d probably fade sadly away. I’m no good at sport – well, pitiful is a better word for it. I’m restricted on travel because of multiple food intolerances. But in writing, very little restricts me. Nope, couldn’t live without my story-telling

What was your toughest obstacle to becoming published? There were three obstacles. The first was distance. I lived in Australia and wrote books set in the UK, so needed a publisher there. Publishers are pretty ethnocentric (unless they’re dealing with aliens or ghosts). And when I started trying to get published, we didn’t have the Internet so everything had to be snail mail or fax or phone – which took a long time. The second obstacle was the publishing industry itself, which didn’t make it easy for new novelists to get a hearing. And it was as hard to find an agent to help me as to find a publisher. It still is. The third obstacle was other writers. There was a lot of competition even then, though there is more now.

What’s the best aspect of your writing life? There isn’t any single thing that’s ‘best’. I love nearly everything about it. So really, doing what I love best is the main thing, ie telling stories. This means going into other worlds via my imagination and through research, and it gives me a richly enjoyable mental life.

Writing takes me to places I’d not have gone and I meet such interesting people. I recently gave a talk in a small wheatbelt town in Western Australia – Wagin, population 1,500. The people of that small town, working with volunteers, put on one of the nicest events I’ve ever appeared at. I didn’t just give a talk. I stayed on for a sit-down luncheon with about 60 people. The food was wonderful, prepared and served by volunteers. I have food intolerances, but they’d worked hard to cater for that. And everyone was so friendly it was a pleasure to talk to them.

—the worst? Doing the proof reading for the final version of a book, the one which is going to the printers. By that time, I know the story backwards and don’t want to read it again. I can’t alter it, unless it’s something drastic, so just have to re-read and search for commas, full stops, typos, etc. This task has to be done, but it is not fun and it’s very hard on the eyes. By that stage, I’d far rather be writing a new story.

What would you do differently if you were starting out now as a writer? Not much. You learn to write by writing, not by attending university or playing around on the Internet, or even meeting other writers. Like a sportsperson, a writer can’t learn to write by reading about it. You have to do it. So the main thing would stay the same. I’d write several books, each one (hopefully) better than the one before, till I got it right. Then I’d go back and re-write the early ones. What would be different and easier is the communication side of writing. I’d find things out more quickly. The Internet and emails have brought the world closer to Australia, and vice versa.

What do you wish you’d been told before you set out to become an author? I didn’t wait to be told and would advise newer writers to do the same, go forth and find out. I discovered all sorts of details about the craft and business sides by reading how-to books, studying brilliant nutshell remarks by established authors, going to talks. (Nowadays I’d go on the Internet as well, obviously, and read some writers’ blogs.)

The crucial thing was, I wrote the nutshell remarks down so that I’d not forget them, and could refer to them regularly. They taught me so much. I still have about 500 of them on file and check through them when looking for other people’s wisdom to offer along with my own knowledge when I’m giving a writing course.

One of the best nutshells I found was this: “Give your reader a piece of your mind – not all of it,” by Ansen Dibell. This is so true and I wish I’d found it sooner. You mustn’t overload anything: plot development, characterisation, information. If you tell too much too soon, why would people bother reading on?

What’s the best advice you were ever given? I had a lot of good advice, because writers are very generous people. A particularly good one was: if you want to get good emotional depth to your writing, the things at stake must matter. You can’t get emotional depth with whether the heroine burns the dinner! It seems obvious, but it isn’t applied well by beginning writers.

{Visit the Author Bookshelf page for a snapshot of one of Anna’s new releases and a link to where to buy it.}

Meet the Author: Nichola Hunter

NICHOLA’S TOP WRITING TIP: Unless you are writing something very generic, like a Mills and Boon and purely for money, don’t think about money. Think about getting it right. Likewise don’t think about getting famous or get overexcited about being an author. Think about getting it right. The manuscript takes precedence over your ego at all times. Also, when you think you have finished – you have probably just completed phase one of your mss.

Nichola Hunter

Nichola Hunter grew up Victoria, Australia and moved to Western Australia in her early twenties, where she studied Film and Television and Creative Writing at Curtin University of Technology. She has worked as a freelance travel writer and has published short stories, poems, travel articles and one novella, Ramadan Sky. She has travelled and worked extensively in South East Asia. She currently lives in Fremantle, Western Australia where she teaches adult migrants, works as a freelance writer and is writing another novel.

AUTHOR INSIGHT

Why do you write? First of all, it’s about communication. I think writing is a way of creating an intimate relationship with a lot of strangers. I think if you write something really well you become an investigator – you have to slow down and watch what you are perceiving and then try to understand and describe its quality exactly. So in a way, writing is really very careful listening. Sometimes people will hear or see something but don’t have time to notice that they have seen it until they read it as someone else’s observation. When somebody reads what you have written and recognises or “gets it”, that’s very enjoyable.

Also some things are just so beautiful or so sad or so funny or so unfair, that they have to be observed and told. The lives of the poor in South East Asia fit all of the categories above for me. SE Asia with its dramatic, weather and its volatile politics, whose people seem to live beneath a mask of impassivity, is largely unexplored in Australian writing, which surprises me, considering our geography.

What would you be doing if you weren’t a writer? Well I’m doing a lot of things besides writing now. I am a keen photographer and would probably give this more focus if I weren’t writing. Also I would like to make a documentary one day.

What was your toughest obstacle to becoming published? First, the book is a novella, and many publishers won’t accept novellas from debut authors. Also simply being a first time author with no contacts in the industry. That’s why I posted my book on HarperCollins’ website, authonomy, where it was noticed by the editor.

What’s the best aspect of your writing life? Being able to share the exact quality of a perception – to describe something so that someone else “gets it” and to stop and notice for enough time so that you can put your finger on something precisely. I also enjoy the act of creating something from a blank – going from the terror of an empty screen to creating a story, novel or even a blog post. The words emerge like invisible ink becoming visible. Sometimes it feels like someone else is moving those keys.

—the worst? As Hemingway says: There’s nothing to writing. You sit down at the keyboard and you bleed. In order to write well I think you have to be looking for the truth and the truth hurts like hell sometimes.

What would you do differently if you were starting out now as a writer? I would write to a plan. With Ramadan Sky I just started writing and then wrote some more and added bits and pieces and joined them up at the end. There are three narrators and the story takes place over twelve months. In the editing phase, I had to untangle the story lines and time lines for these three narrators. There were moments of acute brain freeze while doing this and the phrase “never again” almost became a mantra. Next time a clear plan at the beginning. And one narrative voice.

What do you wish you’d been told before you set out to become an author? I wish I’d been pushed to produce more. At university they had us writing short stories, which was very good training, but there isn’t much of a market for short stories. I wish we’d learned more about how to extend an idea into a bigger one and how to maintain pace in a longer work. Keep going—that’s it, I guess, in a nutshell.

What’s the best advice you were ever given? The first is “Write like every word is worth a million bucks.” By far the most prevalent mistake that I see on the authonomy website, which has thousands of aspiring authors, is that the writing is overly descriptive—too many adjectives, too many adverbs and too much information in general. This happens to everyone when they are writing. The trick is to keep a sharp knife handy and cut them out as you go along. I liken it to a haircut. Each piece you cut contributes to the overall shape you are making.

Along the same lines is this tip from John Fowles: Edit when you are feeling sick and tired of your manuscript. Mistakes jump out more, and you are more likely to be necessarily ruthless when you are a bit sick of it.

* Visit the Author Bookshelf page for a snapshot of Ramadan Sky and where to obtain it. For information about Nichola’s work visit her blog at nicholahunter.blogspot.com.au/