Tuesday, 28 February 2017

Tuesday Spotlight - Jeanette O'Hagan

Each Monday and Thursday, Christian Writers Downunder's faithful and talented blog team contribute blogposts to inspire and inform aspiring and established writers. In 2017 we will be adding Tuesday Spotlights - posts that spotlight both writers and organisations that contribute to the writing scene Downunder. Our first on December 27 was on Nola Passmore, writer, editor, academic and the previous coordinator of Christian Writers Downunder. The Second on 14 February was of Anusha Atukorala, encourager, prayer warrior, and inspirational writer and an invaluable member of the Admin team. Today's and the next one will continue highlight the CWD Administration team: Anusha Atukorala, Paula Vince and Jeanette O’Hagan.

Today's spotlight is on Jeanette O'Hagan with questions from Nola Passmore.

Nola Passmore and Jeanette O'Hagan

Nola: You’ve had a number of interesting jobs, including doctor and Bible college lecturer.  What inspired you to become a writer?

Jeanette: I’ve had a passion for creating stories since I was eight or nine and wrote a novel in my late teens, early twenties. It didn’t occur to me that I could be a writer, so I studied medicine, practiced as a General Practitioner, studied a Bachelor of Theology and began post-graduate studies in theology and was thrilled to lecture in ethics, world religions in a bible college. I loved it and had no time for creative writing. It was only when family commitments meant the door slammed shut on my lecturing that God reminded me of my passion for writing.

Nola: You’ve done a lot of courses and workshops on writing (e.g., a Masters degree in creative writing, a Margie Lawson immersion class, Year of the Edit with the Queensland Writers’ Centre, and more).  How have these classes/workshops helped you in your writing journey?

Jeanette: The different courses as well as networking through writers’ groups, conferences and workshops, have been invaluable in learning writing craft, and in understanding the writing journey and markets, and also, in learning how to research, learn and solve creative challenges. 

On a purely technical level, writing has been a hard craft to perfect. It’s been important to understand current stylistic trends and story requirements. It has been just as important to realize the ‘why’ behind the rules, to know when to bend them, and to know, not only the don’ts (don’t use adverbs, don’t use creative dialogue tags etc), but also to know what to do (how to show, how to add emotion and subtext) – which is what I appreciated about the Margie Lawson Immersion experience.

Nola: Your novella Heart of the Mountain was published last year and it’s been getting great reviews.  How did the idea for the story come about?

Jeanette: Well, Nola – remember when we had the brilliant idea to create and edit an anthology for the International Year of LightGlimpses of Light? I thought about the theme - not just of light, but a glimpse. Which got me thinking about an underground realm where the lights were failing. I wanted to place it in my imaginary world – Nardva – which gave me a few other ideas about plot and characters. Trouble was, as hard as tried, I couldn’t keep the story to the 7000 word limit. So, I wrote another piece for the anthology – Ruhanna’s Flight – and then, revised and expanded Heart of the Mountain story into a short novella.

Nola: You’re the Queen of Multitasking.  As well as your novella, you’ve had a number of short stories and poems published in various anthologies.  You were the driving force behind the Glimpses of Light anthology, you organised the Omega Writers Book Fair in Brisbane, you coordinate Christian Writers Downunder, you’re working on a series of novels and a poetry anthology, you blog, you paint … Phew!  How do you keep all of those balls in the air and maintain a healthy work-life balance?  I’d love to know your secret.

Jeanette: Oh wow, now I’m blushing.  I’m not sure I do keep all the balls in the air – or maybe I catch them just before they hit the ground. I work well to deadlines. I like to-do lists. I’ve got bull-dog Curtis genes – once I commit to a task, I don’t like not finishing it (my sister-in-law suggests it’s ‘sticking to the rut’ genes). I pray a lot. I prioritise. I focus on my writing. I don’t watch T.V. Writing (and reading) is my hobby as well as my passion. I keep my family clean, clothed, fed and where they need to be (school, interviews) but I am not the best housekeeper. I probably should exercise more (though grocery shopping and gardening are exercise, right?). I pray a lot. I said that, but really, God’s grace and underpinning is everything.

Nola: Tell us about your current work in progress.

Jeanette: I’m currently working on another YA fantasy novella, Blood Crystal, a sequel to Heart of the Mountain – which continues the story of Retza, Delvina and Zadeki about twenty days after HOM finishes with new challenges for the people under the mountain.  I finished a first draft last year but am now revising it and adding some scenes with view of publishing it in a few months’ time. 

I’m also want to get the first few books of my Akrad’s legacy series ready for publication this year. I have put a lot of work (several revisions) into Akrad’s Children and need to get the first drafts of Rasel’s Song and Mannok’s Betrayal into shape. The books follow the fortunes of four young people following a devastating civil war and an uneasy peace —the orphans Dinnis and Ista, the young Tamrin prince Mannok, and Rasel, a mysterious young woman of the forest folk.

I have a few other short story ideas and anthologies I wouldn’t mind working up. We’ll see.

Nola: You’ve done a fantastic job of coordinating CWD in the last year.  What are your hopes and dreams for CWD in 2017 and beyond?

Jeanette: Thank you. If I have, it’s because of the work of previous coordinators like yourself and Lee, and also the wonderful admin team, Anusha and Paula. I love how responsive and helpful the CWD members are to each other's questions and triumphs, and also the faithfulness and creativity of our blog team on the blogsite Christian Writers Downunder. 

Omega Writers 2016 Book Fair

My hopes and dreams are that we continue to be a supportive, accepting and interactive group that honours Christ in our words and deeds. I have ideas of revamping the look and some of the features of the blogsite – some of which I’ve done (adding an about page, some rearrangements in format) and of introducing Tuesday Spotlights.  I like idea of spontaneous interactions – like the Friday Fun  posts — on the CWD Facebook page. I’m glad we have an ongoing cooperation between other groups, as affiliate of Omega Writers (OW), and the Cross-Posts (on Genres in 2017) with our sister group Australasian Christian Writers (ACW) as well as connections with Faith Writers.  I have some ideas brewing on additional pages to the blogsite and maybe events in which we could support each other as writers.  

Thanks Nola for some challenging and interesting questions.  Next Tuesday Spotlight, we’ll be asking another member of the Admin teams, Paula Vince, some curly ... er interesting and intelligent questions.

 Jeanette O’Hagan first started spinning tales in the world of Nardva at the age of nine.

She enjoys writing secondary world fiction, poetry, blogging and editing. Her Nardva stories span continents, time and cultures. They involve a mixture of courtly intrigue, adventure, romance and fantasy.

Recent publications include Heart of the Mountain: a short novella, The Herbalist's Daughter: a short story and Lakwi's Lament: a short story. Jeanette is also writing her Akrad’s Legacy Series—a Young Adult secondary world fantasy fiction with adventure, courtly intrigue and romantic elements.

Her other short stories and poems are published in a number of anthologies including Glimpses of Light, Another Time Another Place and Like a Girl.

 Jeanette has practised medicine, studied communication, history, theology and a Master of Arts (Writing). She loves reading, painting, travel, catching up for coffee with friends, pondering the meaning of life and communicating God’s great love. She lives in Brisbane with her husband and children.
Jeanette O'Hagan Writes http://jeanetteohagan.com/
Email sign-up:  http://eepurl.com/bbLJKT/

Monday, 27 February 2017

Typically Hazardous Territory by Elaine Fraser

This time last year, my husband told me he needed something different, something that made a difference, something that would be a big adventure.

‘So I’ve been thinking about combining adventure, photography, motorbikes and philanthropy. I’d like to ride around the world raising awareness for Water for Africa. What do you think?’

His facial expression suggested fear, perhaps fear of me saying no. Perhaps fear of me saying yes.

It took less than a few seconds for me say, ‘That’s wonderful. You should do it.’

In the last year, he assembled a team, worked out the details of the route, built a motorbike, secured visas, signed up for insurance, got vaccinated and, in a few weeks, he’s leaving on an eight-month Odyssey around the world.

While my husband is riding around the world, I’ll be writing around the world. We’ll meet up in various places and, in between, I’ll be writing, visiting friends, volunteering, and having my own adventures.

That’s how a lot of stuff in our lives goes. We think of a crazy idea, say yes, and then work out how to make it happen. The duelling banjos of faith and fear play a constant backdrop to our lives.

All the What-ifs? All the What-were-we-thinkings? All the battles between faith and fear, combine in a life we feel called to live.

God whispers and we follow.

Webster's definition of adventure is:
(noun) an unusual and exciting, typically hazardous, experience or activity.

We step into typically hazardous territory every day. When we step into a new relationship, when we end something, when we begin again, when we start a new business, we hear the duelling banjos of fear and faith and life becomes typically hazardous.

The space between fear and faith is filled with courage, wisdom, determination, mistakes, tragedy, success, failure, joy, peace, anger—the whole gamut of human experience.

None of us knows how things will turn out—our plans are just plans and life has a way of stretching us in the interplay of fear and faith.

Trusting in God, having faith in His purposes, and being true to the specific calling He has put on our lives can take us all to to typically hazardous territory. 

Follow the journey: www.elainefraser.co

Thursday, 23 February 2017

The feedback I value the most

I sat back from the laptop with a satisfied sigh. Zipping dialogue that revealed a dishonest character’s unexpected intentions and tight action that left the reader hanging from the cliff with my main character.

The chapter I’d just finished was golden. Or was it?
Writers live in a bubble.  We disappear into a world of our own creation all times of the day or night at our characters' beck-and-call. We pull the strings in that world, making characters' lives easier or harder with a keystroke or wish scenery into existence with the stroke of a pen.

We live it. We breathe it.

Allowing someone else into that world can sometimes be difficult, but it's very, very necessary. It can be hard to disassociate yourself from the work you've put together - particularly if you've poured your heart into it - and it can be very hard to be objective about it.  In fact, it's impossible.

Getting feedback on what we write is important. It helps us to bask in reflected glory of the soaring highs and points out those flat spots or plot points that need work.

But getting the right feedback is even more important.  I've spoken to writers for whom this is the struggle - to find the right person who can provide feedback to improve the work, not just stroke the ego of the writer or destroy their fragile confidence.

I have a number of people who I have drafted into my writing process to ensure that my writing gets the best feedback it can. While they are chosen because they reflect the reader I'm ultimately trying to reach, there is one key thing I ask of them so that the feedback they provide gives me the one thing I value the most.


Honest feedback is a gift. As I tell my reading group, if the writing doesn't work, I'd much prefer to hear it from you than a publisher or an agent. 

But honesty can be hard – for both giver and receiver.

I've been on the other side of the fence, providing feedback to other writers and hoping not to crush their hopes and dreams when I tell them their work didn't grip me or lost me at times. But at this point I've realised that if I'm not up front with the writer, then the feedback isn't that valuable. (I'm quite sensitive in how I deliver my thoughts.  It’s not feedback all guns blazing off the hip ...)

It can be harder to hear that what you’ve just poured onto the page needs some work. But, with the right feedback, it can fill holes, bring out underplayed story elements and take the writing to the next level.

And dealing with honesty also can drive a temptation to change everything to suit everyone. I’m still learning the fine art of balancing feedback, and to recognise that gnawing feeling in your gut that the reader might be right. And to follow up all honest feedback with a 'why?' to ensure I can see why something may not work.

There is one story about taking honest feedback that truly inspires me. When James Rubart received his Carol Award at this year’s ACFW Conference for The Five Times I Met Myself, his acceptance speech covered the fact that when he completed his first draft, the publisher told him it wasn’t working and he needed to start again. An author with a host of novels under his belt needed to start again. So he did. And his improved version was voted as novel of the year.

So honesty is what I value. 

Oh, and was my chapter golden? Partially. It was less of the huge gold nugget I imagined it was and more of a prospector’s pan with gold flecks at the bottom. But at least now I know which parts are valuable as I polish up the rest.

Pen in hand, tongue in cheek, David Rawlings in writing contemporary Christian stories that explore God, faith, 21st century church and our modern society. 

He was a finalist in the 2016 ACFW Genesis competition, blogs at www.davidrawlings.com.au and, like 99.5% of the Western world, can be found on Facebook.


Monday, 20 February 2017

Writing a great scene

It doesn't matter how long we've been writing, it's always good to go over guidelines you may have forgotten.

So I chose to follow Randy Ingermanson's hints for writing scenes. Basic stuff, yes, but if we don't at least write with some structure then we're going to do some awful rambling.

I have been checking & rewriting my latest manuscript and it has lifted the whole tone.

Goal: A Goal is what your POV character wants at the beginning of the Scene. The Goal must be specific and it must be clearly definable. The reason your POV character must have a Goal is that it makes your character proactive. Your character is not passively waiting for the universe to deal him Great Good. Your character is going after what he wants, just as your reader wishes he could do. It’s a simple fact that any character who wants something desperately is an interesting character. Even if he’s not nice, he’s interesting. And your reader will identify with him. That’s what you want as a writer. (Note he's taken it from the male perspective.)

Conflict: Conflict is the series of obstacles your POV character faces on the way to reaching his Goal. You must have Conflict in your Scene! If your POV character reaches his Goal with no Conflict, then the reader is bored. Your reader wants to struggle! No victory has any value if it comes too easy. So make your POV character struggle and your reader will live out that struggle too.

Disaster: A Disaster is a failure to let your POV character reach his Goal. Don’t give him the Goal! Winning is boring! When a Scene ends in victory, your reader feels no reason to turn the page. If things are going well, your reader might as well go to bed. No! Make something awful happen. Hang your POV character off a cliff and your reader will turn the page to see what happens next.

Now let’s look at Sequels . . .
The Sequel has the three parts Reaction, Dilemma, and Decision. Again, each of these is critical to a successful Sequel. Remove any of them and the Sequel fails to work. Let me add one important point here. The purpose of a Sequel is to follow after a Scene. A Scene ends on a Disaster, and you can’t immediately follow that up with a new Scene, which begins with a Goal. Why? Because when you’ve just been slugged with a serious setback, you can’t just rush out and try something new. You’ve got to recover. That’s basic psychology.
 Feel like you've hit a brick wall yet? Just keep practicing! It'll come second nature in time.

Reaction: A Reaction is the emotional follow-through to a Disaster. When something awful happens, you’re staggering for awhile, off-balance, out of kilter. You can’t help it. So show your POV character reacting viscerally to his Disaster. Show him hurting. Give your reader a chance to hurt with your characters. Eventually, your POV character needs to get a grip. To take stock.
Dilemma: A Dilemma is a situation with no good options. If your Disaster was a real Disaster, there aren’t any good choices. Your POV character must have a real dilemma. This gives your reader a chance to worry, which is good. Your reader must be wondering what can possibly happen next. Let your POV character work through the choices

Decision: A Decision is the act of making a choice among several options. This is important, because it lets your POV character become proactive again. People who never make decisions are boring people. They wait around for somebody else to decide. And nobody wants to read about somebody like that. So make your character decide, and make it a good decision. One your reader can respect

Randy Ingermanson is a theoretical physicist and the award-winning author of six novels. He has taught at numerous writing conferences over the years  He's worth listening to....

Currently Rita co-presents a Christian radio program with her husband, George. This is broadcast Australia-wide on Christian & secular FM stations. She has written five historicals & contributed to several US anthologies. She blogs at  ritastellapress.com & Facebook.

Thursday, 16 February 2017

Re-write it yet another time...

My first effort at publishing was a success. How about that? That’s not something you hear every day.

 My first novel ‘The Manse’ was not the first story I’d written. In fact, it was not even on my schedule to write. I had written eight or nine unpublished novels prior to this, and I only started to write ‘The Manse’ because I was given an opportunity to contribute a serial to a bi-monthly magazine. As I began to write it, I had a vague idea where I would take it, but I only wrote about five or six hundred words every other month. This, dear reader, is not the way to approach the writing of a novel, but it is how I started out.

After two years of episodes coming out in the South Australian CWA magazine, the editor asked for an ending. She and the readers wanted me to bring it to a close. At this point I had a pink-fit. In my vague plan, I had reached the part of the story where the characters had just become established, and the first major conflict had been revealed – and they wanted an ending.
Believe it or not, this was a God given opportunity. I needed to tell the whole story, and I was losing my outlet, so following inspiration, I contacted the editor and proposed that I would wind the story up for the magazine – which would be a very unsatisfactory, unresolved ending – if she would allow that I could advertise the full novel for sale. She agreed. Only one small problem remained – well a host of small problems actually: I had to finish writing the whole novel, then I had to figure out how to publish it. Find a printer, right? Oh, and I’ll have to sort out a cover, and I guess I’d better get someone to read over it to look out for mistakes.
I did it. I published it myself, two teachers from school read over it and found a couple of spelling errors, it had a very dodgy looking cover, and I advertised in the CWA magazine. Between that outlet and various church contacts, I sold all 300 copies in no time. I had readers coming and begging for a sequel – which I thought was silly, as I had no notion of writing a sequel. One reader said she’d pray until God gave me a sequel. I was annoyed with this statement and got to thinking about how there was no opportunity for a sequel. But wait, there was that young lad, whose father had been killed suddenly...
Ok, so I wrote a sequel, actually a whole series that has six published titles, and one unpublished one.
In 1998, through a contact I had in Christian Book distribution, I had the opportunity to have ‘The Manse’ and ‘Green Valley’ (the sequel) distributed throughout Australia and New Zealand. He gave me this opportunity on the condition I sorted out that cover.
I found someone who was slightly more knowledgeable about graphic design than me (still not a professional), and I had someone who said they’d worked as an editor with an American publishing company go over the manuscripts again. I made some changes, and the 1998 version was released, and began to sell like crazy. ‘Like crazy’ means I sold them in the thousands.
In 2003 I was contacted by a publisher in the UK, who’d heard about my work. This publisher eventually accepted the first three books in this series. They went through another editor and re-write, with a professional designer on the cover this time.
All good – right? I’ve sold over 8,500 copies of ‘The Manse’.
Last year, to celebrate twenty years in print, I dragged the manuscript out – the UK version that has now been edited and re-written three times – and decided to get it ready for eBook. My giddy aunt!!! The writing was in such a bad way, I can’t believe I’d sold 25,000 copies of the series, and have avid Heart of Green Valley fans.

Christian writing in Australia has evolved at a rapid rate. I guess when I set out, I had no clue, and muddled along with the opportunities God put before me. Thank goodness the readers over the last twenty years didn’t know what I now know. Head-hopping; author intrusion; rogue adverbs (which I really actually like very much); elaborate speech attributions; loads of telling and not nearly enough showing; and an uncanny habit of using explanation marks for just about everything! These writerly sins were a solid part of everything I wrote pre-2012 – that’s like about eleven titles.
So here I sit. I did tell my readers I planned to release all of the Heart of Green Valley series to eBook. I re-wrote and re-edited ‘The Manse’ for the fourth time (and I admit, I skimped on the final editing as the opportunities to exploit the title for return are not there as they were twenty years ago).
This week I opened up the sequel, ‘Green Valley’ and groaned. This had been edited by both the American editor and the English editor. Obviously they had no idea either. I had thought I’d just have to make a couple of changes here and there. You know, cull all the adverbs, simplify the speech attributions, and sort out POV. No such luck. So far I have worked on the first scene, and out of about a thousand words, I’ve retained about twenty. Another deep sigh.
But I have to do it. If I was to put it up in its current format, the critics would move on it like a bunch of sharks at a feeding frenzy, and point out all of the issues. This ultimately would affect my reputation as a writer.
So be encouraged dear writer friends. Look at the bright side. You have the information at your fingertips today. You know what the writerly sins are, and can easily look up how to avoid them. Get ahead of the program and learn not to do it when you first write, so that you don’t have to spend half your life re-writing.

2017 marks the twentieth anniversary of the first publication of ‘The Manse’, the first title in ‘The Heart of Green Valley’ series.
To read more about Meredith Resce and all of her work, visit www.meredithresce.com