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Archive for March, 2010

Dave Freer on moving home and Writing

Posted by Rowena Cory Daniells on March 21, 2010

Dave Freer has recently relocated to Australia. Originally from South Africa, he writes here about the transplanting of person and culture from a writers perspective.
Take it away, Dave …

It’s a long, long way from there to here… Kind of trite really. But reality often is, and where I am now both as a writer and in physical geography, is a long way from my origins. Once I was an Ichthyologist and lived in South Africa. Now I am a writer and pleased to be a very new Australian settler, living on a remote island in the Bass strait. ( http://flindersfreer.blogspot.com/ )

What do you mean, you thought they put boat-people on Christmas Island? I’ll have you know that somehow the Australian authorities decided I was a desirable migrant. I chose to go and live on Flinders Island. Really. Would I lie to you?

Heh, seriously, it’s a good place to write (well, there are a lot of distractions like a beautiful sea, which I have to catch our tea in) but it’s quiet and friendly, and comfortingly safe, far from the realities and restless ghosts of the lost dream. I came here to find peace in which to write… I’ve written (or co-authored as the principle writer with Eric Flint and Mercedes Lackey) some 12 sf/fantasy novels and a shed-full of shorts so far. They are quietly and subtly flavoured with the dust of Africa and it’s going to be interesting to see how a transplanted seedling writer does in a new and very different soil. Probably like African boxthorn – (you know, irrepressible and good for nothing) although at the moment it’s still unfamiliar soil and a different landscape, inwardly and outwardly.

That inner landscape — the hidden shared background that makes it possible to write something which carries a great deal more than just the words — and the private corners which writers reveal that we readers guiltily enjoy a voyeuristic peek at, is, for an outsider, a lot more tricky to navigate than for born-and-bred Australians. It’s also something that as an incomer I am aware of, that locals may not be: the undertones, the not-quite-spoken attitudes, the subtleties of meaning derived from understanding that background. Hell, even the pronunciation of innocent words can lead a poor foreigner into all sorts of trouble. I’m a rock-climber, and, once-upon-a-time, opened a whole lot of new climbing routes, mostly fingerlocking up vertical cracks. Did you know that South Africans pronounced route = root?

I leave the results of this slight difference to your fevered imagination, because it allowed me to sneak an example of how that shared linguistic landscape shapes things: “once-upon-a-time” told the Western English-speaking reader a great deal more than just the direct meaning of the words. It carries a history – baggage if you like. A simple direct translation into Zulu would not. Likewise that background allows words to carry many more things than just a simple meaning: mood, allusions, implications, sometimes back-history. Some of this is widespread among first language English speakers. I used a lot of this in PYRAMID SCHEME and PYRAMID POWER where I extensively used the common of classical Western mythology we have -even if only via Marvel comics. You all know the baggage of Loki or Thor.

Of course each country has its own. It is something I am working hard at learning here. “It’ll be the Eureka Stockade all over again” means something to most Australians, “It’ll be Blood River all over again” doesn’t. But it’s very important (to me as a writer anyway) to understand that inner landscape. One of my primary goals as a writer is remain accessible and easy to read. Unfortunately, I seem to blunder into writing about some fairly complex subjects. I could either fail at accessibility… or I could let the readers fill in the gaps by using that shared background. So it becomes very important to me know not just what ‘a squatter’ or ‘a bogan’ is but what implications there are in calling a character one. Knowing the baggage carried by a word and using that baggage can subtly make you a much more powerful and effective writer. It’s a difficulty I faced as a South African writing principally for an American market. It doesn’t help that I don’t live there, and that the culture — while sharing more than most of us are prepared to admit — has its own shared inner landscape. The reality for those of us who want sell to the international English-speaking market is that one has to at least get a handle on the crude geography of it. The US is the biggest market – and that market (just like anywhere else) is a complicated mixture of xenophilia and xenophobia.

I suppose you could say you just want their money and stuff their background and culture. We all love Americans, or Chinese or Poms or South Africans who do that, don’t we?

Rowena, here. Interesting points, Dave. I read ‘Brasyl’ which had a strong South American flavour. As readers, have you discovered writers who give their books exotic flavours? Middle East, India, South Africa? I loved the movie, ‘District 9’!

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Posted in Nourish the Writer, Writing Craft | Tagged: | 16 Comments »

KRK Covers!!!

Posted by Rowena Cory Daniells on March 17, 2010


This is it. I am so excited. The covers for books 2 and 3 have arrived.

First of all a BIG thank you is in order to the team at Solaris for selecting Clint Langley as the artist. I am so impressed with what he’s done!

I love the look of all three and I love the way they work as a design when you put the three together.

Would you pick up these books if you saw them on the shelf?

Posted in Covers | Tagged: , , , | 21 Comments »

What you can learn from TV series

Posted by Rowena Cory Daniells on March 17, 2010

A TV series has to grab the viewer and hook them into coming back for more, much like a fantasy book series.

I’m currently watching ‘Desperate Romantics’ and really enjoying it. This series is about the PreRaphaelite Brotherhood, set in 1860s. A period drama about a group of artists trying to be accepted by the Royal Academy could be rather stuffy, but this is a romp. Having lived as a bohemian artist in Melbourne I can really relate to it.

What I learnt from it as a writer? Don’t forget that historical figures were once passionate young people, struggling for recognition. Also, the social restrictions of the time make for great drama.

‘Breaking Bad’. Just finished watching series 2. Brilliant. A high school science teacher is diagnosed with lung cancer despite never having smoked. He doesn’t have health care, his wife falls pregnant by accident and their 15 year old son has cerebral palsy. So he decides the only way he can make enough money to leave something for his wife and children, is to go into the business of making Crystal Meth. This series raises a lot of moral and ethical issues.

What I leant from it as a writer? Heap the problems on your protagonist. A character can do terrible things and not lose the audience, if their motivation is strong enough. And also, black humour is a wonderful thing.

What TV shows have you been watching and what have you learnt from them?

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Heroes and Villains

Posted by Rowena Cory Daniells on March 12, 2010


LOL cat.

Sorry, I couldn’t resist. And it does have something to do with this post, which is about characterisation.

Over at Mad Genius Club they were talking about Evil Overlords. How can we understand them? How can we write them in a believable way. Hence Darth Kitty, here.

I came across an interesting article on Scientific Blogging (I know that is like admitting I read New Scientist for fun. Which I do). Andrea Kuszewkei blogged about the link between the sociopathic personality and the extreme altruistic personality. Addicted to being Good?

She says, ‘Personality has consistently shown to be extremely heritable. However, the same genetic material arranged and weighted in a slightly different way, may at times express as vastly different phenotypes: the “extremely good” and the “extremely bad” individual. How is this possible?’

A sociopath is willing to break rules. But then so is an extremely altruistic person. They are convinced they are right, or must do the right thing, even if it is against the rules.

As a writer I found this really interesting. I can see how tendencies pushed a little too far one way do become obsessions. Mal in Firefly said ‘A hero is some guy who got a lot of people killed.’ (That’s quoted off the top of my head). He was talking about war, but it does make you wonder. What convinces someone that they are right, so right that they can send other people to their deaths? Bonaparte marched into Russia with 500,000 men and between the fighting and cold he returned with 20,000. How could a normal person live with that?

As a writer of fantasy books I often create ‘hero’ characters. To help me with this, I researched great military leaders (Bonaparte included). Iwanted to understand why people followed them and I came to the conclusion that most people are followers.

My favourite hero would have to be Lois McMaster Bujold’s Miles Vorksigan. My favourite character in Terry Pratchett’s books would have to be Vimes. Neither of them are villains. Conversely, have you read any really believable villains or heroes?

Posted in Characterisation, Writing Craft | Tagged: , , , | 6 Comments »

Writing Craft

Posted by Rowena Cory Daniells on March 8, 2010

I’m currently in the middle of the edits on book two of King Rolen’s kin. And now my editor, Jonathan Oliver from Solaris, has posted 10 rules for writing.

I should be taking notes!

10 rules for writing according to Jon

Okay, so apparently the Guardian has been running a 10 rules for writing thingy, and David and Jenni thought it would be interesting/amusing/shocking/inspiring for me to give my take on these, seeing as I’m an editor and I’ve written one book and that. Anyway, this is going to be messy so bear with me:

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One step closer!

Posted by Rowena Cory Daniells on March 5, 2010


Here’s the cover of book one of the Chronicles of King Rolen’s Kin. My editor tells me the next cover will be delivered soon, maybe in a week. Clint Langley is the artists and I’m really looking forward to seeing what he does with the next book cover.

Meanwhile, my editor at Solaris has sent me book two ‘The Uncrowned King’ for editing. I would like nothing more than to immerse myself totally in the book, tidying up the little glitches that he has discovered, but life gets in the way.

!Whinge Warning!

This weekend I have to mark assignments for work (I’m an associate lecturer). I have to take child number 6 to the dentist. And I’m involved in organising a national workshop, for which there was a competition to enter. This is the weekend that I have to prepare the contact emails to the 51 entrants to let them know if they have been selected to be offered a place at the workshop.

I’d be flat out, without the editing of book two. Meanwhile, we’ve decided to sell our house, so I should be cleaning, sorting and throwing out, and painting the walls where the kids have scratched them, or stuck up posters and pulled off the paint, etc.

Why can’t I just run away from life and do nothing but write? Sigh.

Does life get in the way for you? How do you find time to write?

Posted in Artists, Covers, Publishers, Uncategorized | Tagged: , , , | 4 Comments »

Gender genie for writers …

Posted by Rowena Cory Daniells on March 3, 2010


I’ve done nothing but work and be sensible all day so now it is time for a coffee break and a bit of fun.

The Gender Genie is an interesting site.

‘Inspired by an article and a test in The New York Times Magazine, the Gender Genie uses a simplified version of an algorithm developed by Moshe Koppel, Bar-Ilan University in Israel, and Shlomo Argamon, Illinois Institute of Technology, to predict the gender of an author.’

You type in a paragraph of text and see if the program thinks you are male or female.
This is particularly useful for writers. We know if we are male or female but …

Say you are writing from the view point of a character. You are female and the character is male. Do you have the right tone for the character. Is his inner narrative coming across as male enough? This site will tell you.

I’ve done it several times with character pieces. A stuffy male academic was interpreted as female. But I think this was a good result because it meant the tone of his inner narrative was in character.

Writing in a different gender … do you wonder if you have it right?

Posted in Characterisation, Writing Craft | Tagged: , , | 2 Comments »