Monday, March 28, 2011

Creepy but Charming

Books a go-go, a new Melbourne-based ebook publisher, is calling for submissions for their Christmas 2011 publication. The chosen story will be illustrated and sold on the Apple Itunes store as an enhanced book. They're looking for submissions that possess a child-like, magical or creepy charm (think Neil Gaiman, Shaun Tan, Tim Burton or even Charles Dickens) and fit into the genre of steampunk, magical realism, fantasy or science fiction. Submissions close April 1st 2011. For more details see

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Call for Submissions.

Pink Narcissus Press have opened up submissions for novels and novellas. This is what they have to say: 'If you're a novel writer, you may be interested to know that Pink Narcissus Press is now considering longer works of fiction for future publication. Novels or novellas with strong elements of fantasy, sci-fi, and/or horror preferred. Works which defy easy categorization even better'.
For more details, go to their website:

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Does Your Manuscript Tick These Boxes?

Nicola Morgan of Help! I Need a Publisher has put up a very useful post on the subject of how to judge if your MS is ready to fly. Go here to see her own and other checklists. While you're visiting her blog have a look at her other posts. They're worth the read.

A Stranger Comes to Town!

Pink Narcissus Press, publishers of the Elf Love anthology, have another anthology open for submissions: A Stranger Comes to Town (working title).
'Pink Narcissus is now accepting submissions for a new anthology of fantasy travel stories to imaginary destinations. Editor Stacy suggests the following topics: sci-fi or superhero travel, travel through dreams or time, and parodies/humor, but will consider other genres.'
Submissions close on May 31st. Please see website for further details:

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Interview with Mary Victoria: Author of The Chronicles of the Tree

Mary Victoria was born in Massachusetts and has lived in Cyprus, Canada, Sierra Leone, France and the UK. Her career in animation took her to Wellington, New Zealand, where she began her first novel, Tymon's Flight: Book One of the Chronicles of the Tree, released in August 2010. Book Two, Samiha's Song, was released in February this year, and Book Three, Oracle's Fire, will be released in September.

1. How would you describe The Chronicles of the Tree to someone who has not read any of your novels?

Chronicles of the Tree is one tale told in three distinct parts, rather than three standalone novels. I was interested in exploring moments of great change in the story, whether personal or societal; it seemed to me that all the fantasy tales I loved most - Ursula Le Guin's Earthsea novels, the Lord of the Rings and many others - combined those elements of personal change with a sweeping, world-paradigm shift. I accordingly included elements of the classic coming of age tale in the first story, the hero's sacrifice in the second and apocalyptic 'End Times' myths as a basis for the third.

I was also interested in exploring changes propelled by environmental collapse. The world of COT, as the name indicates, is a giant tree, a huge continent of tangled vegetation hundreds of miles wide. The World Tree is the limit of the known universe for its inhabitants. All else is legend, a nightmare lurking beneath the Storm at the Tree's foot. But this world has a lifespan: half the Tree is already dying. Rainfall is scarce in the east, and whether through their own past mistakes or just plain bad luck, the easterners have a rougher time of it all round.

But don't be put off by all the intellectual explorations going on in the background. Chronicles of the Tree is also a good, old-fashioned adventure yarn. In fact, you could read it that way and ignore the underlying philosophy entirely. Many people do.

2. The gorgeous cover of Tymon's flight shows an engine-powered dirigible, hinting at the steampunk elements that appear now and then throughout. Do these carry on into novels two are three and if so, can you give us some teasers?

Technology is a theme underlying all three books. In the story of 'Tymon's Flight', the westerners, the Argosians, live in a society at about a 15th century level of technological development, which is just discovering steam power for the first time. Science is viewed with distrust and there is very much a religion vs. science divide fostered by the ruling priestly caste. The steam-powered flying machine one protagonist invents is accordingly considered 'demonic' (though as it turns out, the priests' dislike of the inventor's work is more due to his egalitarian philosophy than his scientific breakthroughs.)

At the same time, other, older technologies have persisted in this society, for the Argosians are certainly not the first civilization to develop and flourish in the Tree. Despite an earlier ban on its use, the priests do possess the secret of 'blast poison', a Tree equivalent of dynamite. And there are other, more ancient inventions in existence the elite keep secret, and use to maintain their hold over society. Those availing themselves of this forgotten technology have no idea how it actually works, employing it as one would 'magic'.

Those themes of technological innovation, the discovery or re-discovery of ancient civilizations and hidden powers are a theme running through the books, culminating in the third.

3. On your website, you write that inspiration for Samiha came from your great-grandmother, Samiheh, "the beloved matriarch of a family that still somehow manages to maintain contact over four continents". Where does Tymon come from?

Tymon is based on Timon of Athens, the story of the misanthrope. Timon is a rich man whose fair weather friends abuse his generosity; when he's cheated out of his money and has none left to give, no one wants to know him any more. He swears off society as a result and becomes bitter about humanity in general, living in a cave. Although my Tymon does not end up bitter, he certainly finds himself on the outskirts of society and questioning the truth of everything he has been taught by the priests.

Tymon starts off as a typical youthful rebel, rejecting social norms in an unthinking way and dreaming of personal freedom and glory. He receives a rather rude awakening from these daydreams and comes face to face with the deep injustices of his society. Thereafter, he realises he has to broaden his dreams - he can't live for himself alone. When he meets Samiha, he begins to learn what it means to live for a larger cause.

4. Tymon's Flight is not only your first published novel, but also the first novel you have written. What were your most memorable highs and lows on your six-year journey from beginner to published novelist?

Oh lord! There were some roller-coaster rides along the way, and still are. Just to reassure anyone whose jaw dropped to the ground at the mention of six years, the first novel didn't take that long to write. It took two years to write a first draft of 'Tymon's Flight'. And then another two to write it again, from scratch, when I realised it could not be sold in its current form. Let me explain.

Novel-writing - particularly plot-driven, adventure novel-writing - is not a 'gift' bestowed on talented writers from birth. It is a learned craft, 99% perspiration, as Edison used to say. I had to learn the process of fleshing out a story arc, creating believable characters and an engaging world. That took time, especially as the mother of a young child. I simply didn't have longer than a two-hour nap period to work in, until my child was old enough to go to kindy for a few hours a day.

So the lows over those six years involved the feeling that I would never get it done. The writing was slow, the learning curve was steep. I had no idea whether I was kidding myself: would all this be a waste of time? And yet I couldn't stop. I had to write.

The highs were, as you'd expect, specific moments: suddenly 'getting' a scene. Enjoying the revelations of a character. Being taken on by my agent. Receiving a publishing contract from Voyager, at long last, in 2009...

5. How do you manage your time between motherhood and writing?

Things are a little easier now than in those first few years. I write when my daughter is at school. That still only adds up to a grand maximum of 5 hours a day, 5 days a week, by the way. I have no idea how I wrote over 250000 words in twenty months for books two and three. I believe a minor miracle may have occurred.

It's quite hard to separate out the 'writing life' from the 'mother life.' They tend to wrestle with each other. But it can be done, and I have done it - though you can ask my daughter to tell you in a decade or two whether I did it well. Who knows, maybe I'm setting her up for years of expensive psychotherapy!

...And that, in a nutshell, is what it's like to be an author who is also the mother of a young child. Guilt-riddled.

6. You've worked as an animator for the Lord of the Rings Movies. In what ways does this artistic background inform your writing?

There are surprising similarities between animation and story-writing. Animated frames tell a tale, just as novels do: they describe character, emotions, certain events which develop over time. The main difference is in scale and medium. An animator is generally describing, in meticulous visual detail, the events befalling a character during the space of a single scene. That might last all of a few seconds - weeks of work for a minute of film. A writer on the other hand must conjure up many characters, many scenes, a whole world in fact, using the more abstract medium of language. An animated film is a cathedral built by a thousand workers, each in charge of a single gargoyle, or one part of a stained glass window. A fantasy novel is a cathedral built primarily by one person, using a great many mechanized tools called 'words'.

But those three fundamentals - character, emotion, development over time - are common to both disciplines. There are more similarities between animation and storytelling than between painting and storytelling, for example.

7. What parts of the Lord of the Rings movies did you work on?

I worked on some wonderful, iconic moments. Some of my favourites involve the Nazgul and fell beast - those scenes in Osgiliath in the Two Towers, when the fell beast almost snatches the ring from Frodo, and quite a bit more of the witch king and general fell-beastery in Return of the King. I liked animating that big, impossible beast. I also worked on a smattering of other interesting characters - Gollum, the balrog...

8. Right now you are finishing off Book Three, Oracle's Fire. What are your plans for the next trilogy?

I don't have plans for another fantasy trilogy right now. I'm a bit trilogy-ed out! I have plans for a standalone novel which I will begin to flesh out later on this year, when the proofs for 'Oracle's Fire' are done. The novel will have fantastical elements but will not be epic fantasy, per se. I'd like to try something quite different.

That doesn't mean I won't one day return to the world of COT, given the opportunity!

Thank you for the interview, Mary. It's been a pleasure talking to you.

Thank you so much for having me here, Carol!

Mary Victoria will be at Swancon 36, Hyatt, Perth, 21-25 April, 2011. Her website is here, which includes an amazing picture gallery of scenes from The Chronicles of the Tree.

'Tymon's Flight' can be purchased from Dymocks here and 'Samiha's Song' from here.


Friday, March 18, 2011

The Other Side of the Story

This is an excellent blog by fantasy novelist Janice Hardy. She puts up consistently good, practical example based posts on many aspects of writing craft and on other matters of interest, like writing query letters and finding an agent! Well worth checking out at

ann_leckie: Slushy slushy slush slush

ann_leckie: Slushy slushy slush slush: "That male-gazey thing, it not only doesn't do anything for me, it locks me out of the story. 'This story is not for you. It is for men looking at women.'"

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Confessions of a Slush Reader

Wondering how to grab an editor's interest with that first paragraph? Or what makes them reach for their reject slip before getting as far as the second page?

Shimmer Magazine has posted an awesomely informative essay, Confessions of a Slush Reader: Why Should I Care? written by Clarion grad, Asimov's writer and Apex slush reader, The Ferret, outlining many of the common mistakes as well as offering detailed examples of how to fix them.

Many thanks to my Clarion buddy, Marguerite Croft, for pointing this one out to me.


Monday, March 7, 2011

How to Hypnotise Chickens

As a freelance editor, I get asked to work on all kinds of projects. I’ve edited PhD theses in more disciplines than I ever knew existed. I have edited corporate newsletters, family histories, biographies and meditation manuals; memoirs, short stories, poems and undergraduate papers.

But my favourite thing is editing novels, especially novels that I would love to pick up at a bookstore and read. In fact, sometimes when I’m in a bookstore I browse through a book and think, “Wow, I wish I’d edited this!”

The trouble is, most novels I’m asked to consider are simply not ready for editing. I am sometimes asked to deal with manuscripts that are so riddled with spelling and grammatical errors it would cost the writer hundreds of dollars to have me correct them. And that is often only the beginning. Many writers have not the faintest idea about basics such as show-don’t-tell and how to handle point-of-view. I reject far more manuscripts than I accept, simply because I will not encourage people to waste money on editing that would be better spent on writing classes and a few good reference books. So when someone sends me a manuscript that is well-written and entertaining, and only requires a fresh pair of eyes to help point out a few possible improvements and pick up the odd typo, I am elated.

But let me digress a little. For upward of twenty years, I was a ballet teacher. Now, children turn up at ballet classes for all kinds of reasons, the main one being that the child has seen ballet on TV and has visions of floating around in a tutu. (Those are usually girls, I’m pleased to say – I daresay I could start a school for seven-year-old budding drag queens but I doubt there’d be a living in it.)

The other reason for children turning up at ballet class is that a parent has decided Chloe or Jack would benefit from a little healthy exercise. Sometimes there is another agenda: one of hopeful expectation that their child will be the next Pavlova or Nureyev, and those I try to disillusion as soon as possible. Dancing, like all the arts, is a field to which many are called but very few are chosen. Finding that rara avis, the child who has the right build, the right capacity for hard work and the huge dollop of talent necessary to make dreams come true, is every ballet teacher’s dream. They don’t turn up very often.

It’s the same in writing. I keep looking for the newcomer who has supreme ability: the kind that can write decent English and has the capacity to move the reader from tears to laughter and back again, and have me wish the book were longer when I’ve finished working on it. I say “newcomer” but usually the kind of writer I’m talking about has already done the hard yards. S/he has attended classes and workshops, taken part in critiquing circles and possibly dabbled with competitions and short story publication, although these are not essential. What is essential is that there is a manuscript on my desk that I know I can help turn into something wonderful: a chrysalis that is ready to become a butterfly.

To find one of these in a year is good. To have two land on my desk within a couple of weeks is amazing. And that’s what happened to me last month.

So I am working on two very, very good manuscripts at present. One of them is military Sci-fi, and I hope to tell you more about that another time. The other is called How to Hypnotise Chickens, and it was written by someone I already knew from workshops, classes and critique groups.

How to Hypnotise Chickens is a political thriller with more than a dash of whimsy and humour. It has the kind of tension called for by its genre, but the main character, an African chicken-thief who somehow gets mixed up in a political coup, is an absolute delight. He is Everyman, with all the little hopes and dreams and fears of humankind rushing around in his bloodstream, ready to jump out and surprise the reader page after page. The author, Fiona Leonard, is Australian, but she has lived in Africa on and off for many years and her love for the continent shines through in her writing.

Fiona is planning to self-publish. The whole topic of an African or Arab leader who is ripe for overthrowing is so topical this year that Fiona decided not to lose the time it takes to go through the submission process with a publishing house (which can take anything up to two years to get a book on the shelves at your local store) but to race the book onto the virtual shelves of Amazon ASAP.

In a week or two, we hope to have Fiona as a guest on the blog so she can share her experiences of self-publishing with us all. In the meantime, though, you can visit her website A Fork in the Road where I was really chuffed to find that our admiration is mutual – she has lovely things to say about my editing prowess here. If you look in the top right hand corner of the page you will find a link to a Sneak Preview of How to Hypnotise Chickens. Do check it out. It’s a great read, and I have it on good authority that it’s well edited, too!

What I've Been Learning From Other Writers

It's amazing to me that time after time a number of people come up with a similar thought at the same time. I have read three posts in the last few weeks that all relate to the same topic in different ways.

The first was a post by Western Australian writer, Rosanne Dingli. Rosanne always has something interesting to say and in this post, as a member of ANZauthors, a Yahoo discussion group, she writes about her experiences while setting up a website for the group. She hooked me from the first. She starts 'You get to the point, as a writer, where you feel a bit jaded. You feel you have jumped through so many hoops that it's started to irk. You feel you have seen every version of a sentence... and daily writing starts to feel like a sentence. Of a very imprisoning kind.' Wow, I thought. I'm not the only one. Actually I did know what she is saying here but you need a reality check every now so that knowing becomes believing - and this was a very welcome push.

Rosanne goes on to talk about how she discovered how different all the writers in ANZauthors are and what a variety of other issues each has to contend with in their daily lives - and after visiting their website I can see exactly what she means. I'd recommend a visit. There's interesting stuff there.

While I was mulling this over up popped a post by Neil Gaiman in reply to a question from a fan of George R. R. Martin. Towards the end of a lengthy post you'll find this. It's actually a requested repost from 2009 but the synergy is still there. I felt an immediate connection with the requester's comments as he cleverly outlined his own struggles with wanting to write and real life. Thank you, Mathew, for reminding me that we all have the same experiences.

But to get back to Gaiman's post: in the original post, Entitlement Issues (better known as George R R Martin is not Your Bitch- and, yes, Gaiman is a little testy here) he deals with a questioner concerned that George R R Martin had not yet published the next book in his series who seems to feel that he was being let down by this. Gaiman points out that writers are not machines and that sometimes things do not work out as planned not to mention that authors have other things to do in their lives apart from just writing. Here we have another author letting us know that writers sometimes write in spite of what is happening around them, sometimes in response to what is happening around them and sometimes they don't write at all for a while because they have to deal with other things first. So here was another spur. It's easy to feel the urge to take a break, to give in when things are getting tough - but another option is to take a quick breather (paint the living room in one of Gaiman's examples) and then take that experience and use it. After all real life impacts on us all at one time or another. It's how we handle that impact which is important.

Then an email from Writer's Digest lobbed into my Inbox which led me to an article on their website by Bill O'Hanlon. Its title: 10 Ways to Fuel Your Writing. Hmm, I thought, I need that at the moment so I read on. O'Hanlon had a different take on how to make what is happening in your life, in particular the negatives, work for you. He gives examples of well-known writers who did just that. Some of them are just breath-taking and maybe my own daily struggles are not on the same level but, yes, I can see how I might use them.

So what am I taking from these posts? Well, to start with, all writers have busy lives and sometimes real life does get in the way. The trick is to accept this and learn how others deal with those times when the process grinds you down. There's nothing much better than when you are on a roll and the words just fall into perfect place on the page but in reality we all know that doesn't happen often. There will always be times when it becomes hard grind as we hone and polish, just as there will be times when ideas just seem to dry up. That's when we need to turn to our fellows and learn from them and since most writers are generous folk, they share their experiences - on their blogs and websites as the writers I've linked to have or in workshops, writing and critique groups (on-line and face to face). Look around and you'll find help. Then it's up to you to use it.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Clarion South Writers Workshop

Clarion South Writers Workshop: "While we had been hoping to be in a position to run Clarion South again in 2012, we’ve been unable to find a suitable venue for the workshop. It’s important to us that the cost of any workshop we run remains within financial reach of most writers.

Unfortunately we’ve been unable to lock in a viable venue option that would allow us to run the workshop at an acceptable cost to writers. The cheapest option would still more than double tuition fees."

I really hope that someone can find something, or do some special deal, or find a special place so Clarion South can continue. I think Clarion South has been instrumental in the growth and development of quality Australian spec fic, and to lose it now would be a heartbreak. Having to post this update must have been heartbreaking for the Clarion South team.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Conversations with a character

I have been pussyfooting around the closing scenes of my WIP for months - ever since last August in fact, when I decided to do a major re-write on the advice of an agent who was kind enough to show interest in the ms.

But I have this character who won't do as she's told. Ok, so she's a teenager, and who knows an obedient teenager? Her price is well above that of rubies...

Anyhow, while I'm planning the ending, this imaginary friend of mine, who happens to be a teenage character in my WIP, rocks up and says, "I have a great idea. I'm going to get up on the walk of the castle's outer curtain wall and shoot the baddy with my bow and arrow."

"No, you're not," sez I.

"Why not? I can do it. You've seen me with a bow. I'm pretty darned good. aren't I?"

"Yes, you're very good. But you're pregnant. Carrying the heir to the throne and all that. Last of his line. Stuff like that."

"What about the girl? I'm having twins, don't forget."

"All the more reason for you *not* to go clambering about in secret passages and on castle walkways with a bow and arrows. No pregnant woman in her right mind would do that. Especially not when she's carrying the heir to the throne, last of his--"

"--line and all that. I know these things. Stop bugging me already! I want to kill the baddy from the wall walk. With an arrow."

This conversation kept coming up every few weeks. Meantime, we had a stalemate. I wasn't getting the book finished and my character was getting more and more pregnant.

Finally, this morning, I gave in. "Ok. We'll try it your way. Show me what you want to do and if it works we'll leave it in."

(Insert Squees of delight from teenage character while I sit down to pen the scene.)

I started to type and found I couldn't keep up. What hope has a 68-tomorrow-year old woman got of keeping up with a seventeen year old bent on hell-raising? The scene poured out, and as far as I can see, it works.

It pays to listen to your characters.

(Pic courtesy Wikimedia Commons)

Jim C. Hines - Hines: Wrong on Piracy, Wrong on Batman

Jim talks about some of the things he got wrong on his post about ebook piracy plus some of the things he learnt from the discussions. 

Jim C. Hines - Hines: Wrong on Piracy, Wrong on Batman