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Posted by Rowena Cory Daniells on June 29, 2009

The 26th Year’s Best SF, edited by Garnder Dozois.

Honorable Mentions for RORees:

Rowena Cory Daniells. Purgatory (Dreaming Again)
Richard Harland, A Guided Tour in the Kingdom of the Dead (Dreaming Again)
Margo Lanagan, The Fifth Star in the Southern Cross (Dreaming Again)
Margo Lanagan, An Honest Day’s Work (The Starry Rift)
Margo Lanagan, Night of the Firstlings (Eclipse Two)


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The Highlights and Pitfalls of Anthology Editing

Posted by Rowena Cory Daniells on June 28, 2009

(Posted on Lynne Jamneck’s behalf)

Where to begin? I know—thank you Marianne de Pierres for asking me to blog about something that, at least from my experience, no-one seems to know if there is a right or wrong way of going about doing. I’ve heard horror stories from other editors about their experiences compiling anthologies and I must admit, I’m not nearly an expert on the subject. So all I can talk about is my own experience as it played out when I put together Periphery—Erotic Lesbian Futures for Lethe Press.

Selecting A Theme

First of all, I think your experience is going to be much more satisfying from the start if what you are aiming to compile speaks to you personally. One of the reasons I enjoyed putting Periphery together was because I was aiming to create the kind of anthology I had been looking for in bookstores for years, without ever finding it. What was that you ask? It’s hard to explain in a few sentences but the gist of it was that I wanted to read SF stories, written from a queer perspective where the eroticism functionally contributed to the overall story; was, in fact, essential to it. So I had two perspectives that I wanted to blend effectively, and I count myself extremely fortunate to have received the wonderful stories I did from the range of contributors included in the final collection.

Because I had such a specific idea of what I wanted, I also had specific authors in mind that I wanted to approach. Some of them I had spoken to before, or worked with before whilst others were authors whose work I admired. The great thing about most SF authors is that if you send them a nice email and ask whether they’d be potentially interested in contributing to your project, the likelihood of you getting a nice, timely email back in return is almost guaranteed. Whether they will be able to contribute depends on various factors, but I’d say the most important is payment, and whether they have time available.

Most publishers will advance (once your proposal has been accepted) an amount either before or after publication to pay contributors, depending on contractual agreements. Needless to say, the bigger the payment, the better the chances of having high-profile authors involved, though this isn’t always the case. It’s not because writers are greedy, it’s simply because writing is what they do for a living. They need compensation for the time they commit to projects.

What unforgettable short stories or anthologies have you read? Why were they unforgettable?

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Madly, Without Measuring (Tansy’s Writing Process)

Posted by Rowena Cory Daniells on June 27, 2009

I think my writing process is somewhere between Rowena’s tidy linear progression and Trent’s addictive scrambling in the dark.

Generally speaking, I do start at the beginning of a novel, keep writing until I get to the end and then stop. I’ve written with different techniques over the years and have realised that doing too much in the way of note-writing and plotting ahead of time is very bad for me. Having said that, I usually have an end point – a final scene or moment – and do my best to fall gracefully towards it.

I don’t write that scene down, though, as Trent does. (I did this once and promptly stopped writing the book) I rely too much on the twists and turns my brain comes up with as I write to dare guess things like the mental state my characters might be in at the end of a book.

With Power and Majesty, book one of the Creature Court (which I sent off the final version of to the publisher about ten minutes ago) I had that scene in my head for years. I knew exactly how the first book would end, and it would blow readers out of the water! During my enforced exile from that novel (as I finished my thesis and had a baby) one of the toughest things I had to come to terms with was that the amazing scene that had dragged me through so much writing so far would not in fact fall at the end of book one. Too much had to happen. In the end that scene fell in the middle of book 2 (I wrote it for real a couple of months ago) and I hope it will have similar stunning effect on readers (though it may make fewer of them wish to kill me than if it had been the end point of a book).

The big difference to how I write now, as opposed to how I wrote before motherhood, is that I have learned to draft more ‘lightly’ than before. I used to be the kind of dense (as in thickly spread prose, not dumbarse) writer whose book would be at least in third-fourth draft stage by the time I came to the end of it. But that kind of writing requires uninterrupted space, quiet, and an attention span. All things that flew out the window when I gave birth.

Now I write faster, more furiously. I lay down drafts without worrying too much about the details, and then come back and put in the hard yards on the Make Writing Good aspects. Oddly I find that the end result of this is still more time-efficient than my old style – though I’ve written quite a lot between then and now, and it could just be that I’m a faster writer than I used to be.

Indeed, I’ve learned that anything to push the pace along is good for me. When I am in Writing Mode I need a daily quota to hit. Nanowrimo’s 1667 or so daily count is a bit of a push, but I found earlier this year that 500 or 1000 was perfectly doable. I am an obsessive, compulsive person and if I don’t tap into this side of me, I don’t get any writing done at all. (I’ve just come out of a 2-3 month stint of Editing and am so looking forward to getting back to daily wordcounts)

As for the rest of it – well, when I first saw Rowena’s references to scene notes, glossary of terms etc, I laughed, because I now have all these things for P&M – but only constructed them over the last month or two, in self defence, after working on the book on and off for over five years. I knew I needed the glossary this year when I started writing Book 2 and realised I didn’t remember half the names of my minor characters. Likewise I needed to sort out a timeline for my backstory once and for all – as I learned upon the discovery that I had at least three versions of several relationships floating around in my “notes.”

My Swedish writing fairy has been begging me for a copy of my Fasti (the festival calendar I use for Power and Majesty) for ages, so I finally sent it to her, in an excel doc full of various notes, plans, etc. She declared that my worldbuilding could fill a book. I got mildly hysterical and said ‘it’s not worldbuilding, it’s self-defence!’ Actually, the calendar, based on the Roman Fasti, is the only piece of worldbuilding I set up for myself *before* writing, and thank goodness for that.

So yes. I have actually come up with a similar process to Rowena’s, but instead of setting myself up properly from the start, I hurl myself haphazardly into my novel-to-be, only producing supporting material and organised notes when the many problems caused by not having such things stack up so high that I can’t see daylight.

In short, I write like I sew, madly and without measuring! Anyone who has ever seen one of my quilts is currently nodding sagely and saying ‘that explains a lot.’

There is more to say here on the inspiration side of my writing process – words, music and images, but I might come back to that next week. Right now, there is celebrating to be done. One book down, two to go!

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Trent, Orbit and Death Works

Posted by Rowena Cory Daniells on June 26, 2009

Our own Trent Jamieson announces his exciting three book sale to Orbit.

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Writing Process

Posted by Rowena Cory Daniells on June 26, 2009

Inspiration for King Rolen’s Kin, my new fantasy series.

Havock 21 asked about the writing process. I’m a real control freak, I must be the exact opposite of Trent!

I’ve just delivered King Rolen’s Kin books 1,2, & 3 to my agent. If you could see me now, I’d be doing the Happy Dance.

This has been a long time coming. Back in 1998 I wrote a fantasy novella. Not much call for novellas of 90 pages, so I put it aside. Came back to it in 2002 and it grew into a book. That one book grew into three books and the first 3 chapters were what I submitted to my agent, John Jarrold, when I approached him to see if he would take me on, in 2005. (Only book one was polished, the rest was about 600 pages of story arc).

Unlike Trent, who writes a bit here and a bit there. I sit down and write from beginning to end. If I jam up, it is because something isn’t working earlier on and I go back to the beginning and do a rewrite. By then I know the world and the characters so much better, so I do what I call ‘layering’. I add layers of characterisation and back story with each rewrite.

But it gets very complex with over 1700 pages of story. So I keep scene notes for each chapter as I write. That way if I decide a character had to have a certain prop with him 7 days ago before he was kidnapped, I can make sure he had it on him, without wandering around pages of manuscript trying to find the exact scene.

I also keep a ‘terminology’ file. Like all fantasy writers, I create my world and people it with societies, inventing words along the way. I have to remember how to spell those words and what they mean. So I need a terminology file.

Then because I have multiple points of view and the narrative takes place over so many days/weeks during the course story I keep a ‘timeline’ file so I know how many days have passed and where each person is at a particular time and how old they were when things happened in the backstory, (only important things that affect them now).

I also keep a file of images that have inspired me. For King Rolen’s Kin I did some research into Russia. Thirty years ago there was a National Geographic cover of a Russian peasant boy. I can still see it clearly in my mind’s eye. I needed a look for the people, and a look for the way they built their homes and strongholds. I wanted it to be a little different from your average medieval fantasy. So King Rolen’s stronghold has towers and domes. Inside it is ornately decorated like St Petersburg.

When I’m writing the world I create seems more real to me that the world where politicians wrangle over Utegate.

Was that the kind of writing process you were wondering about, Havock21?

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North and South – Trent’s last lame post on his lack of an actual “process”

Posted by Rowena Cory Daniells on June 24, 2009

I’m now at the “bit past beginning stage”* of writing a novel: part two of series that I hope to be able to talk about in more detail soon.

For me writing a novel is a rather non-linear process. I write scenes, certain dramatic (well, I hope they are) moments, and then I fill in from there. For instance, I’ve already written the final and first scenes of this book – what I currently think are the final and first scenes.

It’s in the filling-in that the real discoveries are made. Those beginning and ending scenes form the north and south that the compass of my mind follows. They’re the bits that bear the most weight in this whole storytelling endeavour, even if I ultimately throw them away.

I don’t plan, much. But if I have these scenes down the rest comes to me – I won’t say easily, because it’s never easy, and from book to book the difficult parts are never the same.

Of course, when I say I don’t plan much, I still write copious notes. Most of which I never look at again, I figure the good stuff sticks, the bad stuff is better off sitting forgotten on the pages of a notebook, or scrawled in an index card. It gets a lot of the crap away from the manuscript itself.

Every time I’ve tried to work away from this “method” I come back to it with a tangled mess.

Still, I reckon I’d never recommend this way of writing to anyone. So much of it is an addictive scrambling in the dark, a shuffling from a clear beginning to a clear ending with a terrifying abyss of uncertainty in between. I suppose you have to be a writer – and a certain type of one at that – to love it.

In the darkness to the dreadful tap, tap, tapping of a keyboard, I feel at home. Even when I’m hating it, I feel at home.

How crazy is that?

(Promise to write about the do’s and don’ts of a book launch next, having worked as a bookseller at quite a few, I have a list!)

*Somewhere between the navel gazing and the finger’s bleeding stage

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Really, can we NOT sneer at fantasy?

Posted by Rowena Cory Daniells on June 23, 2009

I read the Guardian online obsessively (my life these days is pretty much divided into things I do obsessively and things I don’t do at all) and I’ve noticed occasional coverage of fantasy and science fiction in their book pages. Recently they had a great article about Martina Cole, discussing the double standard of the literary world and how they tend to sneer at crime authors, even (especially) those as successful as she is. Spotting an article entitled Let’s Stop Sneering at Fantasy Readers I clicked on it with interest. Spotting speculative references in mainstream news coverage is always awesome!

Only, I discovered as I read on with a quiet kind of horror, the article was about as pro-fantasy as those ‘hey isn’t it cool women can do anything these days as long as they look hot in heels’ articles are pro-feminist.

Possibly the subtitle of the piece, They might be the zit-ridden little brothers of science fiction geeks, but fantasy readers still deserve our respect should have tipped me off.

The worst part is that I’m pretty sure the writer was trying to be positive. The article seems to be trying to present fantasy as something worthwhile and interesting, but sadly it gets bogged down in its own mythology, spending far too much time regurgitating worthless (and old-fashioned) cliches about mainstream culture’s perception of fantasy readers and fantasy books, so that its message becomes entirely lost.

Surely the writer didn’t need to spend such a large proportion of the article’s opening three paragraphs drilling in the idea that “everyone thinks” fantasy readers are “the people Red Dwarf fans sneer at for being too nerdy,” and that fantasy itself is “the genre of eternal greasy adolescence.”

Finally, having thoroughly introduced fantasy to his readers (who if they didn’t think fantasy was for unsocialised geeks before, most certainly do NOW), the author of the article comes up with the idea that fantasy, being such a “new” genre (a mere 50 years old) might be worth taking a bit more seriously – now that some famous people who wrote in the genre have passed on.

Yes, I boggled too.

For every positive bit of reporting – such as about the David Gemmell Legend Award for fantasy – the article’s writer cannot help but add another sneer. He approves of Joe Abercrombie being shortlisted because that suggests fantasy readers might (shock!) have a sense of humour about themselves, but suggests that the appearance of assassins, elves etc. means that the publishers are lacking in imagination (and links to an article written by someone who has actually read the relevant books, not just their titles).

Finally, after surfing a sea of snide put-downs, I came to the final paragraph, in which the writer finally came up with one unqualified positive quality of the genre – its openness to translated works, particularly from countries such as Poland, from where the winner of the inaugural Gemmel hails. Ah, translated works, a concept that book people can understand without getting elf cooties all over them.

Really, is it too much to ask that the mainstream media report on our genre without wrinkling their nose in distaste the entire time? Didn’t their mothers teach them that if they can’t discuss a subject without making a face like they are sucking a lemon, it might be better not to say anything at all?

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male and female protagonists

Posted by Rowena Cory Daniells on June 22, 2009


Followng on from Dave’s post – I don’t see anything odd about males writing stories with female protagonists, or females writing stories with male protagonists. People who think otherwise might have an ideological take on the issue, but I mostly blame the notion that fiction-writing is a form of autobiography. As a fantasy writer, I aim to create interesting characters, not convey comprehensive pictures of detailed everyday life. It’s true, there are some aspects of life as a woman that I couldn’t handle very well – but there’s so much left. Fictional characters are only a selection from anybody’s full life anyway, aren’t they?

If a male author can’t write female protagonists and a female can’t write male, the logic of the argument ends up with no author allowed to write any character outside their own personal experience – ultimately, your only protagonist is yourself. That’s not how I write. I mean, I use bits of myself in different characters, but only ever bits. I don’t want to create characters who are just duplicate Richard Harlands. How boring! How self-obsessed! I like to start with OTHER people, and then try to recreate them from inside.


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Reverse Sexism

Posted by Rowena Cory Daniells on June 21, 2009

Dave Luckett’s eminently readable, award winning YA Tenabran trilogy.

Dave’s books have been shortlisted for four Aurealis Awards, he won an Aurealis Best Fantasy novel, A Dark Winter. His books have been shortlisted twice for the Western Australia Premier’s Books Award and he won with Rihanna and the Wild Magic, plus his short story won a Tin Duck (WA SF award).

Today Dave talks about male writers and female characters …

I had a female protagonist in five of my published books, and it surprised me that I was sometimes praised simply for having one, as if it mattered, and then because I had those characters think for themselves and consciously reflect on their positions, as if that were a little odd. I don’t understand what’s odd about it.

I used female protagonists only and solely because that’s what the story needed. I suppose it’s possible that other writers might use female (or male) protagonists for some other reason. I couldn’t say, but that would seem odd to me.

On the other hand, I have heard it said that it is presumptuous of male writers to attempt a female protagonist, though I must admit, not vice-versa. Perhaps so.

What do you think?

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Writing for Children and YA.

Posted by Rowena Cory Daniells on June 18, 2009

Have you ever wondered what goes on in a children’s book editor’s mind? Why do they reject books? Well here is where you can find out. This is the anonymous blog of a children’s book editor listing the 8 rules of rejection.

Felicity Bloomfield interviews our very own Richard Harland, here, about his new YA book Worldshaker and writing in general.

And here is where Richard talks about ‘Getting Published’ — he covers everything from how the industry works, to luck and timing, who does what, agents, contracts and royalties, the dreaded cover etc. All useful insider information!

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