This will be my third year doing NaNoWriMo. In the past (I confess) I haven’t been able to make the 50,000 word goal. However, this year I’m much more confident that it’s possible. You see, I have a secret weapon…five write-ins on the five Sundays of November. Yup, 9am-5pm, every Sunday. I will have short breaks because it’s part of my NaNoWriMo Success course, so I need to run out and get the catering and coffee/tea. It’s important that my students and fellow NaNoWriMo writers are feeling well-fed and well-caffeinated J But other than that, it’s bum on seat, full stop.
I’ve also got another secret weapon. It’s something I put together for my NaNoWriMo students and I’m loving it as much as they are! It’s my NaNoWriMo workbook, but really it’s a booklet/form I’ll be using for every single book I write from now on.
The first two pages cover title, POV, setting, relevant themes, the premise, the controlling idea and relevant research. And then I’ve got 25 pages on character development work (questionnaires, back stories, exercises to tap into characters’ emotions, pictures of what I envisage my main characters look like, etc.). And then I’ve got my plot pages, where I’ve worked out the plot of my novel.
So, that will be sitting right beside me while I write. I thought of the idea purely in the context of my NaNoWriMo course, but now I’m completely in love with my novel workbook and can see this is the way forward for me as well as my students .It doesn’t matter how much writing experience you have, a little bit of preparation can make a huge difference to the finished product.
What is the ideal creative writing course format? Is there even such a thing? Writing courses come in all shapes and sizes—from a three-hour workshop to a full-time course. What’s best? What course will help you improve your writing the most?
I’ve taught quite a few different course formats –the shortest would be a six-hour workshop and I’d class my longest as being my mentorship role in the tertiary system. What works best?
The truth is, there are advantages and disadvantages of different course formats. One of my favourite courses was the Year of the Novel course I taught at Writers Victoria in 2012. I loved the fact that I could help people improve their writing over time, and I could see their projects taking shape. This course was one Sunday a month for eight months. However, while the eight-month time frame held many advantages, there were also disadvantages. Part of my teaching ethos is to drive my students to write more and finish their novels. Which meant that in my eight-month course I set word counts that I wanted them to achieve before our next session. Problem? I couldn’t possibly fit all the writing craft, character development work and plot development work into the first day of the course. Of course, I’d structured the course to feed the relevant craft info into key points, but still, there are definitely advantages of doing a more intensive course upfront before you start writing the next novel (or while you’re writing it).
I’m now also running intensive, week-long novel writing sessions at the Abbotsford Convent. Monday to Friday, 10am-4pm. These are designed to set up writers with the knowledge and tools to start and finish their novels. Again, there are advantages and disadvantages of this format. On the plus side, after only one week I’m confident that these students will know everything they need to know to make their novel the best it can be. To increase their chances of getting a publishable novel at the end of the day. It’s also handy for my interstate students, who can take the week off work and fly in once and know they have improved their craft exponentially. But it is pretty intensive and there’s no room for workshopping a novel, chapter-by-chapter.
The ideal format? I think a short course of 4-8 days over a shorter time frame (e.g. all the days in a row or weekly) followed by a longer course/program to ensure you’re putting all the craft knowledge into action is the ideal combination. The longer program could be in the form of a detailed manuscript assessment, workshopping group, or a course. Or even giving your manuscript to a good editor. I’ve learnt a lot from seeing the skilful edits of my Aussie, UK and US editors.
It’s also important you choose a ‘good’ course. Of course, choose a teacher who’s a published author, and someone who’s an experienced teacher. One of my students who did one of my Writers Victoria courses (five-day course over five months) said she learnt more in those five days than she did in her one-year, full-time creative writing course. And while that’s incredibly flattering, it also appals me that a full-time course can’t deliver the goods. So choose wisely and research the teachers!!
It’s hard to believe it’s February already. I missed my 1 January post completely (oops) and now it’s February. How did that happen? I know, I got sidetracked by life…my daughter’s birthday, Christmas, New Year, summer school holidays, etc. etc.
And now school’s back (as of Thursday) and I find myself more in my usual writing routine (if you can call it that when my time is scheduled around a 2yro!).
So, some big news coming soon from me. I’m branching out into my own creative writing training business. I’m finalising the venue at the moment, but this year I’ll be running some intensive writing courses and maybe a couple of other courses. I’m very excited about this new venture, although also wondering how I’ll publicise them! But I’ve got to finalise the details first.
This is the format for the week-long intensive course. It is during the week so people will need to take time off work but after meeting Fiona McIntosh at Clare Writers’ Festival and hearing about her courses, I know there’s a market there!
Five days of intensive training for complete creative immersion
Exclusive sessions capped at 12 people so you get individual attention
Creatively inspiring environment
Full catering so you can focus on the writing
In-depth exercises to help you put theory into practice
A range of tools to make your novel the best it can be
Intensive work on characterisation and plot development (with application to your novel)
Access to internationally published author (that’s me!)
First 15 pages of your manuscript (12pt, Times New Roman, 1.5 spaced) edited/critiqued by PD Martin (me again!)
Anyway, more on this and my other courses soon. Hope all my readers have had a lovely January!
A while ago I started a research series on Murderati and somehow it fell by the wayside. Sorry! But I’m back on the research front with today’s blog, this time focusing on some research I did into professional hitmen.
Note: In nearly all the known cases of contract killers the gender of the killer is male. It doesn’t mean a woman can’t be a hitperson, it’s just much, much less likely.
An article I found in the Journal of Forensic Sciences classifies three types of hitmen: amateur, semi-professional and professional. The amateur ones are probably best characterised as the career criminal or drug addict who takes a few hundred bucks to knock off someone’s wife or husband. Planning levels are low and often these amateurs stuff up the job and/or get caught.
But then we have the upper, upper echelon. I uncovered one research study on this type of contract killer, but the number of subjects was extremely low (five killers, all male and covering a large age range). One assumes that the people who practice in the upper echelons of contract killing simply don’t get caught. In the US in 2008, there were 200 murders that were either known or believed to be carried out for money. Of those, 82 were solved and fall into the amateur or semi-professional categories, leaving 118 unsolved. That’s a lot of unsolved contract kills. And how many killers were there? It’s possible there were a handful of busy killers, or fifty or so averaging two jobs a year. Who knows?
The professional hitman (which my research was focused on) is highly organised and plans the kill methodically. He (or very rarely she) is often employed by organised crime and the target is usually a criminal and often someone within organised crime. There is little to no physical evidence left at the scene.
In terms of this type of contract killer’s personality, they see what they do as a job-strictly business. There’s no psychological or emotional need to kill; in their minds, it’s simply a way of living. However, it’s been found that some contract killers see themselves as doing the ‘work of God’, stepping in where the justice system fails. Either way, these individuals are capable of complete compartmentalisation and so it’s possible that they’re married with children and successfully living a double life.
In the small sample study of five contract killers, they also tested IQ. They ranged from 95 to 115, with the average being 108. However, most of them functioned above their overall intelligence and this was because they had highly developed analytical and organisational skills, plus extremely well-developed social skills.
Most of them are highly methodical with an overdeveloped sense of discipline and many have served time in the military. They do ‘stalk’ their victims but it’s purely for functional reasons, to get to know their routines and to find the best place to kill them. The contract killer feels no bonds or ties to the victims, and as a professional killer, it’s also unlikely he’ll feel any remorse.
How to be a hitman…really?
One of the weirdest (and funniest) things I ran across during my research was a book calledHit Man: A Technical Manual for Independent Contractors. The book was initially published in 1983 by Paladin Press. However, in 1993 a triple homicide was committed by a man who said he’d used the book. The victims’ family sued Paladin Press and in 1999 the case was settled and the book was officially pulled off the market. Of course, it popped up online the next day!
The book details things like: mental and physical preparations; equipment needed; how to make a disposable silencer; different killing methods; surveillance; planning the kill; finding jobs; how much to charge; how to get it right; controlling the situation; and enjoying the fruits of the life of a contract killer. Bizarre, right?
I actually often read out a section at my talks about women. I won’t repeat it here for copyright reasons but I can give you the general gist of it – it my own words. The section reads as a warning against women. I guess you’d call it a back-handed compliment for women, because it says we can be great contract killers but the reasons given are our deceitful natures and because we’re so vicious! It then goes on to say that luckily women are taken off the street because of our nesting instinct…and then we’re busy with babies, laundry and housework. Hard to believe the book was written in 1983 and not 1953 with comments like that.
Lastly, I wanted to wish everyone a Merry Christmas. We’ll be celebrating Christmas Day out the back, eating seafood and basking in the Aussie sun – the forecast is for 30C (86F). And have you heard the Aussie Jingle Bells? My 5yro was taught this at pre-school…although it’s probably cuter when it’s sung by 4-5yros.
While I’ve never been one of those writers who paces for hours to come up with one sentence or spends six months planning out every detail of a book before I start writing, I’ve still always thought of writing as hard work. It is hard work.
Sure, there’s the fun stuff…writing in your pyjamas, the long commute from bedroom to study, tax-deductible trips to various destinations for research and/or promotion (although you have to be able to afford the flights in the first place), not to mention sitting in a café and writing. And sometimes cake does need to be involved! I don’t think anyone can argue that the above perks of the job are cool…way cool. But it’s still bum on chair, thinking, creating and writing. And while it’s tempting to get up and procrastinate every time the flow stops, it’s not something I do.
In a post some time ago, I mentioned that I was working on a new book that’s not crime fiction. It’s not even a thriller or remotely related to my past work. I’m still getting my head around what I’d call it, but I think ‘mainstream fiction/drama’ is pretty accurate. The book is about relationships and how people deal with different traumas. I’m also entering another new world, using multiple viewpoints. And some of my subject matter is tense and issues-based…controversial, I guess.
I started writing this book at the beginning of the year, and then it was on hold for months as I took corporate gigs to pay the bills. I started on the project again in October and soon found myself zooming through it. My writing week is often very fragmented as I fit it in around being a full-time mother (to a pre-schooler) and freelance writing gigs. But I’d find I’d have an hour to write…and write 1,000 words. And every Saturday I have four hours to write while my daughter is in classes. The last two Saturdays, I’ve written 5,000 words during each of those four-hour blocks. Two productive sessions, to say the least.
So, a couple of weeks ago I found myself asking the inevitable question. Is this too good to be true? Can writing really be this ‘easy’? Am I writing dribble that I won’t be able to edit into shape? I’m a write first, edit later kind of girl, so that’s fine. But will my bare bones be barer than usual? Or is it because the subject matter is close to my heart? One of the characters is experiencing something that I went through about eight years ago and I’m finding it easy to tap into that character and the others too for that matter.
I know my fellow Murderati, Gar, wrote a post two weeks ago with pretty much the polar opposite sentiment of this one, and I think that highlights the different working processes of writers. But then I’m still left with the question: Too good to be true?
This feeling is compounded by the fact that I came to this project after six months off my own writing altogether, then writing a thriller that I found incredibly hard-going. The writing didn’t seem to come naturally to me and I wasn’t sure if it was the idea/characters or the fact I’d had six months off fiction writing. This new project certainly provides a stark contrast to writing the thriller.
So now I’m torn between two polar opposites.
I’m writing what I’m “meant” to write. (Although this sounds a little cliché or dramatic…or something.) The flow and ‘ease’ is just an indication of that.
It’s too good to be true.
Obviously the proof will be in the pudding. I’m now 70,000 words into the first draft, so the end is nigh and soon the major, major editing will start. Then I’ll have a better idea of how bare the bare bones are.
In the meantime, I wanted to throw this out to the Rati. Does good writing HAVE to be a hard slog? And if it flows incredibly easy, is that too good to be true?
This is another instalment in my research series and I’ve just realised I seem to be working backwards. The posts on my research into real-life vampires and cults (part 1 and part 2) all looked at research that happened for Kiss of Death (my fifth book) and today’s post is about Kung Fu’s Ten Killing Hands and dim-mak, which featured in my fourth book. Anyway…get ready to be wowed by the world of Kung Fu!
The Ten Killing Hands The Ten Killing Hands, developed by Wong Fei Hung in China, are ten kung-fu strikes (or series of strikes) that are meant to either severely disable or kill your opponent, sometimes with one blow. It boils down to ten principles: strike the eyes; stop the breath; break the face; explode the ears; crush the groin; twist the tendons; break the fingers; dislocate the joints; break the elbow, and attack the nerve points. It’s nasty, but effective. And, in the hands of a trained practitioner, deadly.
I’ll give you a little taste. One of the strikes used to break the face is the Double Back-Fist targeted directly below the eyes – the aim is to blind your opponent by shattering their eye sockets so their eyeballs literally collapse over their face structure. Nice, huh?
Dim-mak While the Ten Killing Hands are fascinating, probably the most interesting research I did was on dim-mak. Dim-mak is often referred to as the death touch, and is based on the premise that striking certain acupoints can cause instant or delayed death. It sounds like the stuff of fairytales — of legends and movies like Kill Bill — but it’s real. And in fact, Uma Thurman’s Five Point Palm Exploding Heart Technique in Kill Bill is about five blows, in a specific order, which will stop blood flow to the heart. And that is dim-mak.
There are multitudes of dimmak acupoints on the body, and strikes to different points cause different physical afflictions. For example, one of dimmak’s strike points is on the side of a person’s neck. In Kung Fu it’s called Stomach Point 9, but it’s also directly on the carotid artery and vagus nerve. A strike to Stomach Point 9 is said to bring instant or delayed death and there is science behind the claim. The best book I found on this was Death Touch: The Science Behind the Legend of Dim-mak by Dr Michael Kelly. Dr Kelly is an MD who also happened to study Kung Fu and decided he wanted to explore dim-mak from a medical perspective.
The book is amazingly thorough and quite technical in places, talking about how the dim-mak strikes often target bundles and/or peripheral nerves, and attacking these points can cause changes in the autonomic nervous system — which controls important stuff like blood pressure, heart rate, digestion, breathing, and so on. The theory is that direct strikes can fool the nervous system into doing something it wouldn’t normally, like speeding up your heart rate or increasing your blood pressure.
Sometimes the explanation is more simple…back to Stomach Point 9. These days, many people have plaque build-up in their arteries, especially if they’re older, have a genetic predisposition or unhealthy eating habits. So, if you strike someone on their neck with enough force and in a particular manner they can have a heart attack or stroke instantly, or days later when the loosened plaque makes its way to their heart or brain. Plus, a hard strike, even on a healthy person, can cause degradation of the artery that may have lethal effects down the track.
Although other organs are targeted, the heart is often the focal point for dim-mak strikes. The pressure points attack the heart in one of three ways – heart attack, ventricular fibrillation or something called heart concussion. Again, Dr Kelly’s book came in handy! The medical, Latin term for heart concussion is commotio cordis. It’s not a common cause of death, not something you read about much in the newspaper, because it’s rare to have a strike directly to the heart that’s hard enough to cause it. Most reported cases involve sporting accidents, like trauma from a hockey puck, a baseball, a hockey stick, etc. But obviously if a trained Kung Fu practitioner can elicit enough force…
The dim-mak knockout The dim-mak knockout, also called a pressure-point knockout, is famous in many circles. One, two or three strikes and the person drops to the ground. Many dim-mak experts use these strikes to demonstrate the power of dim-mak in workshops and seminars. According to the medical explanation it’s a vasovagal faint, caused by a sudden drop in blood pressure.
Yin and yang
Of course, the acupoints aren’t just about dim-mak and martial arts. The more commonly known use of these acupoints comes from Chinese healing — acupressure or acupuncture. The points are struck to cause pain and death, but they can also be massaged or stimulated with acupuncture for healing purposes. They go hand in hand, for use as a weapon or as a healing tool. Yin and Yang.
Stomach Point 9 also has a healing purpose in Western medicine. The site of the carotid sinus and vagus nerve is an extremely sensitive area and when someone’s suffering from an arrhythmia, doctors will often use ‘vagal maneuvers’ as a treatment. A simple massage along the vagus nerve has been shown to decrease the chances of a fatal ventricular fibrillation.
Now, I’m afraid I do feel it necessary to take this chance for a bit of BSP (blatant self-promotion) in terms of my book trailer for The Killing Hands. But it IS very relevant!
At this point I should also mention that I hold a black belt in Kung Fu. I’m very much out of practice (haven’t trained for about five years) but when I did study it my lessons were tax-deductible. Gotta love an author’s tax deductions!
So, who out there studies Kung Fu or has heard of dim-mak before? And feel free to share any amazing tax deductions too!
It’s hard to believe it’s been so long since my last blog…again! How do the weeks fly by so quickly? Can you relate?
Anyway, mostly I keep my blog about all things writing, but since I last blogged I’ve clocked a pretty big milestone…I am now 40. And tonight I’m having a party to celebrate – or perhaps commiserate. So I’ve got sushi, hot finger food and a cake organised (very late though – I only ordered the cake yesterday!). And I somehow manage to pick out a little black dress in half an hour (a record by anyonne’s standards, I’m sure).
I’ve also sent my DJ a list of some of the essential tunes for this evening. The list includes:
Sly and the Family Stone
Lloyd Cole and the Commotions
And a few specific song requests like “I’m too sexy”. What a classic!
So, what do you think of my selections? Any favourites? I know – probably not many people who liked The Smiths and Madonna at the same time, but I did/do! Although the fact that I liked Madonna definitely reduced by ‘street-cred’ amongst my Smiths-loving friends.
While I’m Voguing, I might spare a thought for Sophie and my new character, but if not there’s always tomorrow!
I haven’t blogged for a while, but I felt compelled to send out something this week. As a crime writer I write whodunits…and not knowing whodunit in real-life cases is the worst imaginable outcome. As most of the Aussies would have heard, after fifteen years someone has finally been arrested and charged with the murder of Elisabeth Membrey.
The news of the arrest is important to me for many reasons. First off, one of the personality traits I share with my leading lady, Sophie, is a sense of justice – the need for justice. A young woman was murdered, and there were no answers. While many people were questioned and I’m sure suspected, no one was charged. The case was unsolved…a mystery.
And like most people who’ve followed the case and seen Elisabeth’s parents as they’ve waited and waited for their daughter’s killer to be brought to justice, I feel relief for them. I can’t imagine what the past fifteen years have been like for them, knowing their daughter’s killer was out there, unknown and unpunished. And worse still, her body has never been found.
I also have a personal interest in this case. Elisabeth disappeared in 1994 – however blood in her unit and her car indicated murder. I remember my mum calling and saying: “You remember that girl you used to dance with? Elisabeth Membrey? Well she’s been murdered.” And while I won’t pretend Elisabeth and I were close, we took dance classes together for about five years and while we never socialized outside the classes, we got along well and used to chat about all things dance. During these limited insights into Elisabeth, I was struck by what a quiet and gentle person she was. And somehow that made the news of her murder all the more shocking.
The accused claims innocence – and while most convicted criminals cry “I’m innocent”, some really are. Hopefully in this case the police have arrested the man who brought Elisabeth’s life to a screaming halt with such violence. Time, and the trial, will tell. I’m sure after all these years the police must have a strong case against the accused because the spotlight is certainly on the murder of Elisabeth Membrey once more.
This week has flown by and, I have to admit, I’ve hardly spent any time on book stuff. Instead, I’ve been having quality mother-daughter time with my 2yro. Had a lovely visit to the Collingwood Children’s Farm today…but you probably don’t want to hear about the delight on my little girl’s face as she held a guinea pig and patted baby goats (kids).
So, the book stuff. It’s not like I haven’t done anything…this week I’ve been investigating book trailers. What do you think of them? Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org with your thoughts!
In case you haven’t heard of them before (or seen one), it’s like a movie trailer but for a book. Still photos, video, music, voice-over, on-screen words…all designed to give you an instant snapshot of the book. I’ve been speaking to three providers and watching quite a few book trailers to see what I do, and don’t, like.
Other book news: Kiss of Death is currently being typeset (Aussie release January 2010) and The Killing Hands is probably being printed about now for its November 1 North American release!
And I announced the winner of my Facebook competition – congratulations Monica Kelly. You can watch the winner being drawn (and a blooper video – got the giggles first take) at www.facebook.com/pages/PD-Martin/52