Saturday, August 31, 2013

Photos from the Fellowship of Australian Writers Local Writers Showcase 2013

This morning I had the pleasure of participating in the inaugural Fellowship of Australian Writers (FAW) Local Writers Showcase. After a brief opening by MLS (Local Member of the Legislative Assembly) Greg Piper, and a lovely intro from poet Carol Heuchan, Beryl Mullard, Jaye Ford, Judy Johnson and I spoke to the enthusiastic audience about our different (and yet surprisingly similar in many  ways) paths to publication.

After that we had lots of questions from the audience about book publication and what to do if you don't like the way your publisher is editing your book, how to keep track of plot twists, on fitting writing into our lives, the legal pitfalls of writing (illegal!) nonfiction, whether there's an easy formula for genre books, and quite a bit more.  I suspect that we could easily have gone on for several more hours, and I was honored to be able to sit amongst such illustrious and capable company (and learned as much from their generous answers as the audience did).

I imagine that organising such a gathering, which included a whole day full of talks by a number of wonderful local authors, was a massive undertaking and big thanks to FAW and particularly Linda Visman and Victoria Norton who created such a valuable community event.  

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Guest post: Dialog Tags by Aaron Paul Lazar

When I first started writing over a decade ago, I exulted in every new dialog tag I could think up. I preened over “he croaked” and purred over “she grumbled.” Finding new and inventive ways to say “he said” became my quest. My early works were peppered with gloats, murmurs, and barks. I even started a most coveted (only by me) list.

How many words can you think of to say “he said” or “she said?” Here are some, in no particular order:


How many more can you think of? There are probably hundreds. Okay, now that you’ve wracked your brain for tantalizing tags, let me share one very important lesson.


What? Such brilliance? Such innovative thought? Yeah. Sorry. Forget it.

Never use anything but “said,” “asked,” or an occasional “whisper” or “mumble.”  Once in a great while, if you feel you really need it, slip in a “spat” or “croaked.” But I’m here to tell you that dialog tags, for the most part, should be invisible.

 “Said,” is invisible. “Asked,” is invisible. “Barked” stops the flow of the dialog. Anything that makes your story stutter needs to be eliminated, including these juicy but totally distracting tags. 

Got that part?

 Now that I’ve encouraged you to use “said,” I’m going to retract it.

Forgive me, but that’s just the way it is. If you can avoid a tag altogether–through the clever use of action “beats”– then more power to you.

Here’s an example of changing a passage from lush useless tags, to he said/she said tags, to using beats instead of tags:

Case A

I maneuvered the van around the next pothole, and was about to congratulate myself for my superior driving skills when a series of washboard ruts nearly popped the fillings out of my teeth.
“Want me to take over?” Tony wheedled.
“Why? Am I making you nervous?” I retorted, gripping the steering wheel until my knuckles turned white.
“Of course not, sweetums. You’re a great driver. Just thought you might want a break,” he crooned.
We rounded the bend and the road disappeared. The crater before us could hold three elephants. Big elephants.
“Whoa! Watch it, honey. Don’t wanna blow a tire,” Tony groaned.

Case B

I maneuvered the van around the next pothole, and was about to congratulate myself for my superior driving skills when a series of washboard ruts nearly popped the fillings out of my teeth. 
“Want me to take over?” Tony said, leaning on the dashboard. 
“Why? Am I making you nervous?” I said with a frown. 
All smiles, he said, “Of course not, sweetums. You’re a great driver. Just thought you might want a break.”
We rounded the bend and the road disappeared. The crater before us could hold three elephants. Big elephants. 
“Whoa! Watch it, honey. Don’t wanna blow a tire,” Tony said in a panic.

Case C 

I maneuvered the van around the next pothole, and was about to congratulate myself for my superior driving skills when a series of washboard ruts nearly popped the fillings out of my teeth.  Tony braced himself on the dash.
“Want me to take over?” My knuckles turned white.
“Why? Am I making you nervous?”
 “Of course not, sweetums.” He forced an innocent smile. “You’re a great driver. Just thought you might want a break.”
We rounded the bend and the road disappeared. The crater before us could hold three elephants. Big elephants. Tony’s frozen smile barely hid his panic.
“Whoa! Watch it, honey. Don’t wanna blow a tire.” 

Okay, so these examples aren’t beautifully written or perfectly rendered. But they should give you the gist of what I’m trying to illustrate about eliminating dialog tags altogether. Now,go forth! Search and destroy those ugly, story-stopping tags. See how you can make your prose slide down easily, without one stutter. Good luck! 

Aaron Paul Lazar writes to soothe his soul. The author of three award-winning mystery series and more, Lazar enjoys the Genesee Valley countryside in upstate New York, where his characters embrace life, play with their dogs and grandkids, grow sumptuous gardens, and chase bad guys. Visit his website at and watch for his upcoming release from Twilight Times Books, SANCTUARY (2013).  

Click here to enter Aaron's Rafflecopter giveaway

Monday, August 26, 2013

Poetry Monday: Judy Johnson: Stone, Scar, Air, Water

Judy Johnson is one of my favourite poets. I'm really excited that she'll be sharing the bill with me this coming Saturday at the Lake Macquarie Local Writers' Showcase, not least of which because it means I'll be able to grab myself an autographed copy of her new poetry book Stone Scar Air Water. Judy's work has always resonated with me, from the first time I heard her read her award winning poem "Bell" at the Roland Robinson Literary Awards presentation in 2000 (shivers ran down my spine), through her unique books Wing Corrections, Jack, Nomatic, and The Secret Fate of Mary Watson.  I'm sure Stone Scar Air Water will be as wonderful as the sample poem "Opal" which Jennifer Compton has published on her blog here:

Because my son is doing a lovely job of pracising Debussy's Suite Bergamasque on the piano as I type this, I found Judy's poem "Silence" reprinted from Poetry Macao (there's more at the site if one poem isn't enough) a particularly pertinent and moving piece for this week's poetry monday. This is a tranformative poem, as many of Judy's poems are, converting a moment of sensation into an expansive inflation of meaning. Enjoy.


All weekend I’ve listened
to a piano competition on the radio.

The contestants each play
the same piece until the small

velvet hammers at the base
of my neck are struck

before the notes emerge. 
The commentator explains

how much exists in the silence
between strikes.
The judges’ decision
often based on these pauses

of possibility.
That space of becoming

reminds me of the child’s foot
in Neruda’s poem,

not knowing its purpose.
Like hands at a piano

before they swoop
uncertain if they’ve been given

the span of a bird’s wing
in order to fly, or merely harvest

in their low-level sweeping
the miraculous seeds

of quaver and semi-quaver.

Or the heart unaware
it’s moored to the body

before the rope of the pulse
at the wrist  pulls tight.

Or the ear

in the midst of silence,
wondering if it’s an ear

or instead the invisible
music in a far off transparency

of orchard and sky,
wondering if it’s been buried

in the flesh and bone
of the head

simply to bear
all future transmissions.

Or so that one day
it might become

a bird.  Or an apple.

Friday, August 23, 2013

Local Writers Showcase

Please come and join us on Sat the 31st of August at the Warners Bay Performing Arts Centre on 39 Lake St at 11am for a Local Writers Showcase Event.

We have so many fantastic writers in Lake Macquarie and I'm expecting the day to feel like a mini, inexpensive ($5!) writers conference.

After the official opening by Greg Piper, MLA, I'll be opening the event with my co-authors (and friends) Jaye Ford, Beryl Mullard, and Judy Johnson.

We're planning a very lively, interactive session with plenty of opportunity for audience participation, questions and book talk.

I'm expecting it to be a lot of fun.  If you do come along, please come up and say hello. I'd love to meet up.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Poetry Monday: On Bad Poetry and Good Criticism

I've been reading bad poetry this weekend.  It wasn't deliberate--it just happened.  I opened a book that had been on my shelf for a while, and there it was, in rich printed black and white, staring me in the face.  I'm not going to review it, as I really only want to shine a light on good work here (and this one was small press published, and it's absolutely possible, given the subjectivity of poetry assessment, that others might love it), however, I did think it would be fun to talk bad poetry for a bit, in honour of that experience, especially since I've been re-reading The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy to my daughter (she's getting so much more of this this time round), and we've just passed the part where Arthur and Ford get a poetry recitation.  As anyone who has read Hitchhiker's Guide will know, Vogon poetry is the third worst in the universe. You can try your own hand at it here, with the handy dandy Vogon poetry generator:

The poems I came across this weekend didn't cause me any internal hemorrhaging, nor did I gnaw off one of my own legs, however, I'm pretty sure there was at least one poem written on the topic of decaying swans and at least one on bathtime gurgles.  I could probably, like Arthur, attempt to write something about it in an effort to save myself: "the Vogonity of the poet's compassionate soul which contrives through the medium of verse structure to sublimate this, transcend that, and come to terms with the fundamental dichotomies of the other..." but instead, I think I'll just provide you with this excellent succinct song written by Franky Walnut, on the topic of criticism.  It think it fits.  I hope that we're okay...

Monday, August 12, 2013

Poetry Monday: National Science Week Celebrates Poetry

It's National Science Week here in Australia and the government is celebrating by partnering with Australian Poetry in an inaugural Science Poetry Competition.  Poems need to have a  theme that explores scientific understanding and achievements across any scientific discipline.  The contest is open until the 23rd of August, and winners get $1,000, flights and accommodation in Canberra to attend the Prime Minister's Prizes for Science Dinner in October.  Aussies only I'm afraid.

If you want inspiration, look no further than the beautifully presented books Holding Patterns, Earthly Matters, and Law & Impulse which you can download free from the Science Week website. I might be a wee bit biased because I have some poetry included in the books ("Six Flavours of Quark" in Holding Patterns, and "10 Digits of e" in Law & Impulse) which were published during National Science Week 2010 by the Poets Union, but I also have to say that the poetry in these collections is superb.

To celebrate this year's prize, the National Office is publishing one poem a day from the books, and today's poem is the exquisite "The smallest articles of faith" by Fiona McIllroy (from Holding Patterns).  If you don't think that science and poetry go together, you haven't read good science poetry.  Rectify that right now by going straight over to the site and grabbing a copy of those books (or just reading the poem of the day if you're time strapped):

If you decide to enter the competition, good luck!