Stars who died in 2016

If you Google “stars who died in 2016” you’ll find plenty of articles listing credentials and ages (some far, far too young) of those famous folk who left us in 2016. There’s also musings on why so many stars died in 2016 and attempted explanations. And then there’s the social media responses — people the world over devastated, and noting the fragility of life. Why is this? I wondered, when people die every day of the year.

To me, I think this strange phenomenon has been so hard to take because artists are like friends: they entertain us, they provide us a glimpse into their glamorous lives so different to our own and in return, it’s like we know them. Like they are indeed friends. To me, at least, I think the loss of so many “stars” has been emotional because on some level, it’s akin to losing many friends in short succession.

So what I want to do in this post is list those dearly departed stars whom I considered friends and allow myself a brief reminiscence about how our lives intersected.

Carrie FisherStar Wars was the first video my dad rented for us kids when VHS machines were the height of technology. I can still picture that video shop and the awesome 1970s jacket cover of that beloved movie. My younger brother and cousin would watch the Star Wars trilogy over and over in our lounge room, and what I remember most about those long ago days is the feeling of camaraderie, of all the family together watching Luke and Hans Solo and Princess Leia save the universe. And of course those buns and that gold bikini will forever be burnt onto the retinas of this 80s kid!

George MichaelWham! brought my mum and I together musically for the first time when I was eight and Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go hit number one. Mum loved Wham! probably even more than I did and for years, I bought her their albums (including the Christmas compilations!) cause it made me feel connected to her. Years later, his nineties hits were amongst my favourite songs and I spent many a morning dancing in front of Rage wishing I was one of his elite Supermodel pack. (Still hoping…) When his untimely death was announced a few days ago, I went through my CD collection and found a “best of” double album I’d purchased for $35 in 1998. That’s about a million bucks in today’s money, but gosh he was worth it.

David Bowie—Iconic super-weird, spooky-looking genius. My younger sister has a denim jacket with his face on the back that she’s owned for years and wears it everywhere. Any mention of Bowie makes me think of my sister who is also a super genius, but luckily for her, not in a spooky-weird way.

Alan Rickman—Boy did this guy play an amazing villain. I use Die Hard extracts in some of my writing courses and Hans Gruber was just the ultimate 80s action bad guy. I tear-up every time I hear him say “Ho, ho, ho,” during class now, almost like he were reaching out from the other side to cut my heart out with a spoon (Sherriff of Nottingham reference for those who don’t get it.)

Gene Wilder – Willie Wonka. Need I say more?

Prince — On New Year’s Eve 2000, did anyone not hear Party like it’s 1999? I recall that NYE party and his iconic hit being played all night. Years before, I danced to songs from his Diamonds and Pearls album underage in Bali nightclubs. Oh god, the fun! (I will be far stricter with my children than my parents ever were with me.) Prince was awesome. Absolutely awesome.

Leonard Cohen —Ah, Leonard, I’ve left you till last my friend. My husband introduced me to you. He’s been a fan forever and when I got him, I got you too. So much does Gavin love you, that I incorporated some of your lyrics into my wedding speech: “There is a crack, a crack in everything. It’s how the light gets in.”

And perhaps that’s a fitting place to leave this post. There’s been plenty of cracks in 2016, but lots of light, too.

Vale my friends. You’ll be missed, but remembered often. Thanks for everything you did, you were amazing and I hope you know you were loved.

What does success mean as a writer?

High rec pic

Many writers have a clear idea of what “success” looks like to them. It’s a publishing deal, or selling millions of copies of their book, or the green-light for that movie script…it’s usually something BIG.

When I was a younger, child-free (and hence much more time-rich writer) I had these aspirations too. I still have some version of them, but expectations change the longer you’ve been at this writing thing. It’s hard, it’s ultra competitive and writing something good is no guarantee of commercial success. What it takes many writers quite a while to work out is that commerciality is concerned with how much money your writing product will make for the producer of said product and no matter how artistically wonderful it is, (and I’m thinking of friends who’ve won major awards, yet not been picked up commercially) it all comes back to money.

Second, and perhaps most importantly, it’s subjective. Years ago when working on my first novel manuscript, I applied for an both Arts grant and for a literary award to develop the book. In the same week, I had two very different responses to the same work — the grants board rejected my application with the off-handed remark that my work “lacked spark and artistic merit”, while the literary awards mob shortlisted my work at a national level. Had it not been for the short listing, those ill-thought out words from the arts board may have crushed me so badly that I’d have given up right then and never written another creative piece. But the important lesson I learned was that it’s SUBJECTIVE. What one person may love, another may hate. That’s true of even the most successful books and movies. I mean, I really didn’t like Mad Max (the new one with Charlize in it). Nope, was bored sh*tless. Many others disagree. It’s subjective.

Which brings me to my point. A few weeks ago, I entered a short story in a prestigious competition, then forgot about it. The announcement date for winners passed and I heard nothing, so assumed I’d won nothing. Then, a few days later, I received this in the mail. My story had been given a Highly Commended. My critical self reacted by first thinking that just wasn’t good enough. It was acknowledgement, but not a win. There were at least two other stories better than mine, which wasn’t good enough to win.

In a sense, that’s true. But again, I remind myself that it’s subjective. Different judges may have liked my story more, or others less. Receiving some acknowledgement of the quality of my work is still “success”. Affirmation is important as a writer, but what I’m learning more and more is that affirmation is empty if you don’t simply love writing. Sitting down, committing your story to the page, that is the real reward. Of course, the major, best-selling book deal is still a dream, but even if that never happens, to quote Muriel Barbery (The Elegance of the Hedgehog):

“I write because it makes my life shine.”

Romance Writers of Australia online course – The Synopsis

You’ve written a stand-out story and now it’s time for (gasp) submission. Eek! You know if you don’t get this part right, the agent or publisher won’t even get to that manuscript you’ve just spent the last year (or ten) slaving over. Oh, the pressure!

Relax. Breathe. It’s OK.

Most writers know they need to provide a “book package” that varies slightly from publisher to publisher, but will inevitably contain a synopsis, cover letter, author bio and perhaps blurb. The good news is you can prepare a kick-arse package that’s ready to go, and tweak it to suit the individual specifications of your intended submittee.

When I was starting out some years ago, I thought whoever devised the concept of the synopsis must be a complete sadist. I mean, what kind of cruel and unusual torture involves reducing 400 pages of novel to two 1.5 spaced standard A4s?! This task necessarily means you have to leave stuff out. Lots of stuff. So what parts do you leave out, what bits do you leave in, and how should you write the darned thing? Just what makes a good synopsis that will hook your ideal agent or publisher and MAKE them pick up your amazing manuscript?

I asked all these questions and more of the many mentors I’ve had and I can thankfully report that, with some examples, an explanation of the theory behind the synopsis and other tools, it’s not the hand-wringing task it at first appears. Which brings me to the OWL I’m teaching in September called “Synopsis, blurb, cover letter, bio — your book selling tools”.

I work best when I understand the purpose of a thing, and have good examples to work from, so that’s the approach I’ve taken with this OWL. I’ve included lots of theory and I’ve called upon my network of writer pals to provide me with examples of their materials. You’ll get to see what different types of synopsises, cover letters, author bio’s and blurbs have worked for a variety of published authors. I’ve also strong-armed my longstanding mentor and editor, Robb Grindstaff (http://robbgrindstaff.com/writing/) into providing a bit of assistance, and he’s going to be available on our forum to answer your questions — many of Robb’s clients have landed agent and publishing deals, so make good use of him!

Also, because I teach in the Professional Writing stream at TAFE, I’ve seen first-hand that one-on-one feedback is often the most useful part of a course. So I’m also offering all participants the opportunity to submit their synopsis to me in week four (after we’ve covered the theory, done some exercises, and seen examples, of course) for individual feedback about your strengths and weaknesses. Feedback can pickpocket Dear Writer of their blind spots which is always helpful, not necessarily painless, but I do promise to be gentle! For this reason, I’ve capped the number of participants or I may drown under a sea of synopsises — yet another reason they are instruments of torture — so book in quick!

If you want to book, you can do so here: http://www.romanceaustralia.com/owl/24

Hope to see you in September!