Category: Special Guest Bloggers

Tell us how the Spotlight Report came about?

I think it was back in 2009, a day before the world premiere of Star Trek in Sydney when we bumped into one of our personal idols, Director JJ. Abrams (creator of Lost, director of MI3, Cloverfield, Super 8 and Star Trek) and his mate from Bad Robot, producer Bryan Burke. Both of them were walking around Circular Quay checking all the preparations for the premiere. That day we not only met them both, we also had the honour of being invited by them to the actual premiere and to walk the red carpet as we talked, for like, 20 minutes. Bryan was laughing because he never thought he will meet another Jorge like Lost’s Jorge Garcia. After the premiere, (which was a dream for us, because we met the whole cast there alongside many fans, with a friend of ours who currently is a collaborator of the site) we started thinking in how hard was to find information about all the movie premieres, meet and greets, in stores, etc online. We wanted people to share that amazing experience of meeting their idols. We also spoke about how current ‘entertainment websites’were pretty much about celebrity gossip, being all very plain and similar. After a long time brainstorming, the name Spotlight Report was born and we promised ourselves that our site would be made by fans for fans … and that is what makes us different.

Do you have a specific focus for the site? Or a mission, if you like?

Firstly, it is about being a hot source of entertainment information, including all the upcoming movie premieres (with potential celebrity encounters), concerts, in stores, parties, etc. Also, it’s making a community of fans and meeting as many of them as possible at events. Moreover, every time we cover an event, we go to the fans and we take pictures of them. We ask them if they have questions for the celebrities so we can ask them. Our aim is not to be like other sites asking repetitive questions during interviews, like “what brand of shoes are you wearing?” or “what scared you when you were a kid?” (yep journalists ask those things to stars in the middle of movie premieres!) That’s why our slogan “made by fans for fans”, because we think that at the end of the day, fans and the general public are the ones who make the stars what they are – because that are the ones paying the tickets, camping long hours at movie premieres or concerts to be close to their idols, etc.

What are your plans for the site in the future?

We want to have more ‘On the Spot’ posts because they are the posts we enjoy the most. That’s why we are launching our section ‘fans on the spot’ where, if we spot a Spotlight fan at a premiere or event, we give them a prize. It has been so much fun doing that and we’ve met tons of lovely people. Overall, we wanna be more interactive with our public. Also we wanna do more interviews on video. We were a bit shy at the beginning to be on camera, because we are not native English speakers and we thought some people would hate our accent. But after our very first full video interview last year with Guns n`Roses drummer Matt Sorum, which was a total hit, we got very confident because of the positive feedback on facebook, email and YouTube. So we have been trying to push a bit more for video interviews, but is harder than you think. It’s much easier to get a media spot for a phone or audio interview.

Who is the most interesting celebrity you’ve interviewed?

Hard question … We interviewed J.J. Abrams when he came back to promote Super 8, that was super special because he remembered us and was as nice as usual, very talkative and a total genius in what he does. We just love his filmmaking style. We also liked our interview with Matt Sorum from Guns n Roses and Velvet Revolver, as we sat down for a coffee with him for like 15 minutes, and he just gave us great answers, and told us tons of stories about the Gunners – even giving us an exclusive confirmation on a rumor regarding the new Velvet Revolver singer.

Simon Pegg, was also great … such a funny and talkative guy. Hugh Jackman, who despite his status of mega-star, is the friendliest guy you can ever meet, and he doesn’t care of how much people with him rush him during the premieres, he likes to chat and gives great answers … we even spoke about footy. And just to finish, recently we quickly interviewed Robert Englund (Freddy Krueger) and he was the nicest serial killer we’ve ever met. Definitely one of our favorite interviews, as we spoke with him as fans, and not really as journalists. He even recorded a greeting for the site, Freddy Krueger’s style.

Who would you love to interview?

Hard one … there are too many names with regard to films. We would love to interview Steven Spielberg. He is one of our top 1 film directors ever! And speaking about actors we would love to meet and chat with legends like Jack Nicholson, Robert De Niro and Al Pacino. We tried our best when Pacino was in Sydney, but he was not doing any interviews … we still got to meet him after his show and was a really nice and quiet guy. In music, the list is harder! Eddie Vedder from Pearl Jam or James Hetfield from Metallica are our top runners for a chat, followed closely by Paul Mcartney, Steven Tyler and Mick Jagger…looks like mission impossible, but you never know!

Running up that hill

A while back on my blog in a post called ‘Steepness’ I wrote about a workout I sometimes do.  It involves running up a hill with a flight of steps cut in it. It’s a killer workout.  After a few repetitions you either vomit, or almost-vomit (if you start with a completely empty stomach).  It’s a workout that pays huge dividends in terms of physical conditioning. And it’s a workout that I will make many excuses to avoid. (At the moment I’m claiming hayfever).

What I found, briefly, was that if I isolated the hardest part of this hard workout and worked it repetitively, as intervals, I got better rapidly. And the intensity of mental focus that arose out of that isolation work was staggering. It was really remarkable. I’ve wanted to unpack this in relation to writing for ages, but I couldn’t quite put my finger on what I wanted to say. Then my partner (who trains fighters in his work) started telling me about research in a field called ‘deliberate practice.’

Deliberate practice is a method of improving performance through stretching yourself, making mistakes, and critical self-evaluation while remaining ignited toward your goal. It’s an area of research developed by K. Anders Ericsson centring on sports performers, classical musicians, chess players, and some other professionals. If you want to read more about it, here’s an article. Malcolm Gladwell also wrote about these ideas in Outliers This is a huge area, but in brief here’s what I’m getting: the essence of deliberate practice is forcing yourself to deal with steepness. It’s a way of increasing the gradient of your learning curve whether you are a beginner or an old-timer. And I would add from my own experience of running the hill that this approach creates a degree of intensity that burns through mental barriers.

It’s like putting yourself in the anaerobic threshold zone and staying there even when you think you’re going to die. But how to apply these sports metaphors to writing? When I first read this stuff about classical musicans practicing like demons I was repelled. I was all like, ‘Oh, but I’m a creative, dude. I’m not gonna do drills. That messes up my flow, like. Yuck.’ I think I said to my partner: ‘But this represents the whole ethos that I ran away from screaming, years ago.’

Then I thought about it a bit more. Deliberate practice is a set of ideas cultivated around performance, and specifically around performance in areas where success or failure can be clearly defined. So we can run into trouble when we try to apply these methods to creative work. Partly this is because of the definitional marsh surrounding the notion of creative ‘success.’ Success for a classical musician performing a score relies on that musican reaching an agreed standard of what is ‘good’ or’ excellent.’

A basketball player drilling shots knows exactly what he or shy is trying to achieve. Even in the chaotic environment of a game where the player has to deal with teammates, opponents and the unpredictable unfolding of events, at least there is clear feedback that tells her ‘where did I go right?’ and ‘where did I go wrong?’ There are objective criteria to be met.

If you’re a writer you’ve probably already spotted the problem I’m talking about. One reader loves how you did X in a story. Another reader thinks it’s tacky. And so on. Or maybe you look at a bestselling or highly praised book and go, ‘Huh? What’s all the fuss?’ while noticing that critics describe a book you love in pejorative terms. Trying to judge your work (or anybody’s) against an objective standard is impossible. There is no such thing.

The whole enterprise is a recipe for crazy sauce. And yet, we must go on, crazy sauce or no. Personally, my sense is that although trusted readers can encourage you and a good editor is priceless, ultimately you spend most of your time in your own head. You stand or fall on your own judgement.

So the decisions about what to work on in your writing have to be yours. To start with, how can we identify strengths and weaknesses? I have found that the obvious, most foolproof way is to look for the steepness. Look for what is hard. Steer into the wind. For example, maybe dialogue is hard and you avoid it. OK. If you can identify that, then you can do something about it. You aren’t doomed to write wooden dialogue for the rest of your life.

Go read books that have excellent dialogue. Read plays. Watch movies–good movies with good writing, not just movies where stuff blows up. And practice dialogue in isolation. You could try writing a whole story in dialogue, or at least a whole scene. And this is important: work with the expectation that it will be bad. Don’t let suckage stop you. When you have some product, examine it carefully and conscientiously to identify your failures, correct what you can, and go again. Writing ain’t magic (except when it is, but that’s out of your control so you may as well forget about it).

It’s a learning process like any other. If you look closely, you can find a way to apply deliberate practice to your writing at pretty much every level, from word choice through all the levels of style and structure, right on up to subject matter and work habits. The trick is to isolate problem areas, devise ways of addressing them, then evaluate the result and adjust accordingly. All of these stages are important. You can’t just put in blind mileage; you have to invest in the meta, in the critical examination of your own process. And this never stops.  There is no arrival. That’s what makes it a practice. And it’s not supposed to be easy. The whole point is to push past your own resistance. So many times I have thought, ‘I can’t do that. I’m not that sort of writer. I can only do this.’  But the lesson of deliberate practice is that you can be any kind of writer you want to be if you’re prepared to take on the steepness. My personal bugbear of the moment is endings.

I’m famous for starting things, going a certain way, and then starting something else. My hard drive is full of undeveloped and half-developed projects.  I work and work and have no product. So at this moment, I’m forcing myself to finish what I have started. I hate it! It’s not fun. But I’m learning from this. It’s like psychological kettlebells. No pain, no gain. And look: we’re all human here with all kinds of demands on our time and energy.  We may need to pick our battles carefully, choose wisely where we invest energy. So it’s important to be smart and practice with eyes open as to what specific work will do the most good. Personally I believe that desire is probably the most important thing, because it’s desire that keeps driving you even when the work is too hard and the road seems too long.

So I will leave you with the quote that hangs above the computer in our kitchen: Champions are made from something they have deep inside them, a desire, a dream, a vision.  They have to have last-minute stamina, they have to be a little faster, they have to have the skill and the will.  But the will must be stronger than the skill.’ –Muhammad Ali

Bio:

Tricia Sullivan is a science fiction writer. She also writes fantasy under the pseudonym Valery Leith. She moved to the United Kingdom in 1995. In 1999 she won the Arthur C. Clarke Award for her novel Dreaming in Smoke. Her novel Maul was also shortlisted for the same award in 2004. Sullivan has studied music and martial arts. Her partner is the martial artist Steve Morris, with whom she has three children. They live in Shropshire.

How Do You Do It?

One of the questions I get asked a lot is  “how do you do it? How do you juggle writing books in different worlds, and the short fiction, and the freelance, and all of that?”

My joke answer is “carefully, and with a lot of caffeine.”  And the joke is that it’s utterly true.  But, on a more serious note…

Once upon a time, I was a book editor, running an imprint that published 50+ books a year.  I loved my job –the chance to work on so many different projects, each with their own voice and personality, was what got me out of bed and into the office every day.  But, eventually, the stress of the job, plus the growing number of hours I spent nights and weekends with my own writing, required a change.  I couldn’t keep giving 100% to both careers, not without something taking the hit (and that thing would probably have been me).

So in 2003 I bid farewell to the 8-6 routine of the office, and went boldly into the 8-6 routine of…well, the office.  Because, the truth is, the change in my work habits has mainly been that my commute is shorter, and I don’t have to close the door when I take that 15 minute power nap.  But from the very beginning I knew that the only way this career would work, for me, was to treat it with the same mindset: this is my job, and it has structure.

Yes, I can work anywhere, and do.  But the structure comes with me.  There is coffee in the morning, to jumpstart my brain.  There are the stretches, so I don’t cramp up from sitting too long.  There’s the usual procrastination of internet-browsing and email checking, and the quick conversations with my fellow freelancers on Skype replacing the traditional water cooler.  I get dressed – not as formally as officewear, but I don’t work in my pjs, either.

And then I chose a project to work on.  Usually, it’s on the basis of What’s Due First, but if I’ve had a sudden thought about a project, then I’ll get to that first.  If a deadline is looming, I may spend all day on it; if there are a bunch of things I need to get to, then I spend time with each. Prioritize, schedule, and begin.  It’s all pretty basic… or so I thought.

“But how do you switch between them?” people ask, certain that they would not be able to stop working in one world/project and move to another.  The only way I can answer that is to ask in return – how did you switch between classes, in school?  How do you stop working on one project when a more urgent one hits your desk at work, and then go back to the items still waiting?

But my interrogators are certain, somehow, that it’s not the same.  Oh, but that’s not creative, they reply, dismissing the effort their jobs require far too easily– and giving far too much weight to the demands of  ‘creation’ versus ‘work.’

And I think that people do themselves a serious disservice, with that.

When teachers teach, they have multiple classes, filled with kids that have different needs.  A reporter or a cop doesn’t investigate only one case or story at a time (far from it!).  A carpenter or plumber is rarely working on only one job, and an office worker of any stripe is often juggling not just projects but multiple bosses!  And meetings, let’s not forget all those meetings…

Me, I wonder how YOU do it.

Bio:

Laura Anne Gilman started her professional life as a book editor for a major NYC house, fitting her writing into the remaining available hours. In 2004 she switched that around, becoming a full-time writer and freelance editor.

Laura Anne is the author of the popular Cosa Nostradamus books for Luna (the “Retrievers” and “Paranormal Scene Investigations” urban fantasy series), and the award-nominated The Vineart War trilogy from Pocket,as well as the forthcoming story collection DRAGON VIRUS.  A member of the on-line writers’ consortium BookView Cafe, she continues to write and sell short fiction in a variety of genres.

Awards

davitt-award  aurealis-award   logo-curtin-university

Peacemaker - Aurealis Award
Best Science Fiction Novel 2014

Curtin University Distinguished Alumni Award 2014

Transformation Space - Aurealis Award
 Best Science Fiction Novel 2010

Sharp Shooter - Davitt Award
Best Crime Novel 2009 (Sisters in Crime Australia) 

 

 

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