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Archive for June, 2011

Nicole Murphy – what I’ve learnt since my trilogy sale

Posted by Rowena Cory Daniells on June 25, 2011

Or … The joy of being a newbie writer.


July 1 marks the official release date of Rogue Gadda, the third and last book in the Dream of Asarlai series. It hasn’t even been two years since I got the email from the HarperVoyager publisher, Stephanie Smith, that began ‘Dear Nicole, I love your book…’

What a rollercoaster of a couple of years. I’ve written the other two books, edited and copyedited and proofed all three books and spent I don’t know how many hours promoting it all.

For the first thirteen months after I sold, pretty much every waking hour was given over to the Dream of Asarlai. If I wasn’t writing, I was thinking. If I wasn’t editing, I was planning promotion.

Then in August 2010, I delivered the manuscript for Rogue Gadda to the publisher and I found myself in the unique position of not knowing what I should be writing. No more deadlines. I still had work to do, based on editorial feedback, but the creative process was done.

It was at this point that I realised one of the great mistakes we make when we’re starting out on this mad journey to publication. We’re so focussed on the end result, on the dream, that we forget the joys of the present.

There ARE benefits to being an unpublished author. Sounds weird, I know, but it’s true.

For example as an unpublished author, you can write anything you want. Any genre. Any style. Any voice. Experiment. Go mad. Let the muse take you to far off lands.

Once you’ve had that first novel sale, however, you suddenly have this thing called a career, and career comes with restrictions. Publishers have expectations. They’ve signed you to contracts, established marketing plans. They’ve started to brand you, and they need that brand to continue.

Readers have expectations. They’ve invested time and money in you and now that they love your work, they want more.

So suddenly, you’re having to make decisions. Sure, that fabulous rolling epic fantasy looks GREAT, but perhaps you’re better off sticking with the urban fantasy genre you first published in. Or you want to write some short stories in your world but oops – the contract says the publisher owns the world and you can’t. Or you have a fabulous idea for a YA book but damn it – no point writing THAT until you know you’ve got more than one book, so you can establish a career as a YA writer…

Then as an unpublished author, you don’t have to worry about promoting yourself. You don’t have to spend money on creating bookmarks and posters for events. You don’t have to attend conventions to meet with folks. You don’t have to spend hours each week writing blog posts or contacting review sites or interacting with readers (and don’t think signing with a major publisher saves you from all this – IT DOESN’T!)

Then there’s the fact that as an unpublished author, you can sit back and watch the current upheavals in the publishing industry with interest but without feeling that every bookstore that closes is going to ruin your career. This might be contentious but honestly – if you don’t have to chase a major publishing contract right now, I’d suggest you don’t bother. Sit tight for a year or two, perfect your craft and wait for the dust to settle.

Does any of this mean that I’d give back my contract, or that I’m not trying for another one? Absolutely not. Being a contracted author is hard, hard work but it’s also the most fun I’ve ever had. I love my books. I love my world. I love that other people love my books and my world.

But there are days that I pine for the time when I didn’t have a contract, when I didn’t have a career to nurture and I could just write what I wanted.

Great days, my friends. Great days.

Giveaway question – if you could write anything, what would it be?

Nicole’s favourite response will win a copy of Rogue Gadda.

Rogue Gadda cookie

Connor handed it over carefully, making sure he didn’t touch her. The slightest contact of skin on skin would be enough to have his power draining into her and disappearing forever.

Posted in Australian Spec Fic Scene, Book Giveaway, Creativity, Editing and Revision, Editors, Nourish the Writer, Plotting, Promoting your Book, Publishers, Publishing Industry, Writing Craft | Tagged: , , , , , , | 28 Comments »

Paul Mannering: How did I get here?

Posted by Rowena Cory Daniells on June 11, 2011

For the first time ever, Angry Robot opened its doors to independent submissions. New Zealand based Paul Mannering – along with thousands of other hopeful writers – submitted the first five chapters of his SF/Zombie-horror manuscript Tankbread.

A long-time member of Vision, Paul has since been asked to submit the whole MS.

Today he talks about the journey up to this point.


As a writer I always thought that the worst thing in the world was a rejection letter from an editor. Now I realise that the rejections are nothing. It’s the responses that give you a reason to hope that will kill you inside.

In the first weekend of June I got a response from Angry Robot Books requesting the full manuscript for my novel Tankbread because they liked what they had read of my submitted sample. Less than 48 hours later I won a SFFANZ Sir Julius Vogel Award for Brokensea’s third season of Doctor Who audio dramas.

My immediate reaction to this second Cool Things That Sometimes Happen To Writers was to find perspective in the wisdom of Douglas Adams: “No one likes a smart arse”.

These days it feels like the chances of being published by a real international publishing house are on par with dying in a plane crash. And then being eaten by a Uruguayan rugby team. So I’m not planning any book-tour destinations yet.

As David Byrne and Talking Heads once asked, “How did I get here?”

Tankbread came to me in as a complete concept one day while walking home from work. I saw the opening scene, and heard the opening lines in my head. The post-apocalyptic diner. The cooked dog on a plate. The Asian across the table tearing chunks out of the girl’s neck.

From there I fleshed out the first act. The story progressed slowly as I took breaks to write other things, short stories and audio dramas.

The Sir Julius Vogel award winning 3rd season of BrokenSea’s Doctor Who was written in a frenzy of creativity and stress after the main script writer for our previous two seasons quit after delaying us for months. We had very little time to put something together and I work best under pressure.

The first three chapters of Tankbread were written in two drafts. I hate re-writing anything. My best ideas come to me in the first rush of discovery. The rest is editing.

I finished the story in February 2011, during the dark weeks following the Christchurch earthquake when we were off work and felt like we were living in our own localised apocalypse.

From initial concept to completion took four years.

Early on I posted the first chapter, pre-edits and re-writes to a couple of writing lists for critique. It got plenty of feedback and it was all good advice. Vision Writers members suggested it fell a little flat after the opening scene. So I kept working on it, adding a new scene that helped expand the universe of the story. The story took me on its own journey. What I ended up with was a character driven post-zombie-apocalypse story with lots of pulp-horror adventure. Of all the critique groups I’ve worked with over the years, Vision and Writing and Publishing (both Yahoo groups) have provided the most consistent critiques.

Once I finished the first draft I started seriously editing it. I got other people to read it and I put it down for a month and then came back to it and edited again. This process fixed all kinds of errors. Then near the end of March the sample went off to Angry Robot. I edited it again while they were considering the first 15,000 words.

Stories reach a point where they are good enough. From here I’ll re-write and make changes only based on editorial feedback.

As David Byrne and Talking Heads once asked, ‘How did I get here?’

  1. Write every day write a shopping list, a to-do list, a poem, an email, a blog, a short story a chapter a character bio. Write on a PC or Mac, a tablet, a napkin, in the sand. Write in ink, pencil, crayon, blood, condensation. Write in tongues, write non-fiction, write porn, write revenge, lust, passion, action, descriptive passages, dialogue. Write screenplays, radio-scripts, first person, third person, second person, write under a pseudonym. Write at a desk, in your car, upside down, in bed. Write in your head if you have to.


  1. There is no such thing as writers block. If you have no idea where your current project is going – go back to the point where you knew where it was going and start writing from there. If that doesn’t work for you – see point 1.


  1. Love Rejection but Don’t Luuurve Rejection. Rejection is part of writing. Every writer get’s rejected. Usually by incompetent morons who couldn’t edit a tombstone inscription! At least that’s our immediate and emotional reaction. We hate rejection. If you learn to accept rejection, you lose a lot of the fear that comes with not writing and submitting to markets. When rejection comes with good advice – treasure it. Remember the editor is rejecting the work – not you as a person. The flip side to that is that your mum, partner or writing group are probably praising you, not your writing. Blanket praise should be regarded with suspicion.


  1. Read critically. Read everything. Read it for the usual reasons you read things (to be entertained, informed, aroused, incensed, or just because there’s nothing on the telly). When you come to a bit in a book you really enjoy – read it critically. Why does that passage or line or dialogue strike you? On the flip-side of that – when you read something that sucks – think about how it could have been written better. A lot of crap does get published, and it sells. It’s not about writing Shakespeare or Theroux. It is about writing something good enough to achieve the purpose it is intended before. Mostly (and no writer will ever admit this) the purpose is to make the writer very rich and smug at cocktail parties.


These simple approaches to writing are what got me to where I am today. Always learning, always practising and always having fun with exploring new ideas and enjoying other people’s great stories.


Catch up with Paul here.



Posted in Australian Spec Fic Scene, Awards, Characterisation, Collaborating, Editing and Revision, Fantasy Genre, Genre TV Shows, Movie/TV Adaptations, Nourish the Writer, Publishers, Publishing Industry, Visiting Writer, Writing Craft, Writing Groups | Tagged: , , , , | 6 Comments »

On a French Roll!

Posted by richardharland on June 6, 2011

Another award in France! Yippee! Hot on the heels of the Tam-Tam, this time it’s the Prix Lucioles, decided by a jury of eight readers! I don’t know any more than that yet.

Meanwhile, the Tam-Tam Je Bouquine has been formally conferred, and my French publisher, Sophie Giraud of Hélium was there to accept it. Here’s the webpage –

That probably won’t be very readable, but in the bottom panel, the jury members say things like:
Pauline, 12: “Amazing, lots of suspense, we go into another universe and then forget to go to school!”
Valérie, 15: “An unforgettable kiss!” [that’s Col and Riff in Chapter 12]
Paul, (7th grade): “Beautiful story, beautiful writing … we are immediately hooked!”
Michael, 13: “[I voted for Worldshaker] because I do not like science-fiction, but I loved this novel, half science-fiction, half adventure, with a love story stuck in the middle!”
Louise, 13: “Worldshaker moved me because these two characters should never have met one another. And Col is really brave to confront his family to defend other people’s freedom. Amazing also to settle a whole world on a boat! I can’t wait to read the sequel.”

Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment »

Tam Tam award

Posted by richardharland on June 5, 2011

Yay! WORLDSHAKER has been out a year in France, and it’s just picked up a very important award – THE most important award for YA fiction, according to the Allen & Unwin agent in Paris. The Tam Tam award is voted on by a jury of young readers, and they picked Worldshaker! Formidable!

Here’s the link –

Posted in Uncategorized | 9 Comments »

Story Structure

Posted by Rowena Cory Daniells on June 4, 2011

I was having an email discussion with a few friends during the week about how writers try to second-guess themselves and how this can lead to  writers’ block, and Karen Miller gave me permission to quote her. She said don’t try and second-guess your readers …

‘ ‘… write the book, the way it wants to be written. And some people will love it, and some people will hate it, and some people will dismiss it for being girly (or genre, or not serious enough), and some people will embrace it because it speaks to them in a way no one else ever has, or ever can. It might succeed wildly, or it might sink without a trace. You can’t control that. All you can do is tell this story as searingly as you can.’

And everybody cheered Karen. Because we writers have little control over what happens to our books once they are sent out. All we can do is concentrate on writing the best book we can, the one that speaks to us and hope that it connects with readers.

But say you have a project/story in mind and you’re having trouble getting started. Maybe what you are looking for is structure to hang the story on. Then Tansy Rayner Roberts recommended this post ‘Linear Vs Patterned: A brief Discussion of Structure by Jennifer Cruise, writer of many bestsellers. It is an interesting post because she compares what we take to be the standard story telling structure, linear – starts at the beginning, has a goal in mind, comes to a climax and then it ends (male) – with patterned story telling – the repetition of events with details that change so that the changes become significant and are a revelation (female) .

She also says: ‘it implies that men tell stories one way and women another and that’s clearly wrong. Scott Frank (writer) and Steven Soderburg (director) did a masterful job of telling a patterned story (‘Out of Sight’ movie), and women writers have been telling razor-sharp linear stories.’

Since we are all familiar with the linear story, it’s the one drummed into us from primary school onwards, remember – a story has a beginning a middle and an end, class – I’m going to look at patterned stories. Cruises uses a wonderful analogy and I couldn’t have said it better so I’m going to quote her.  She says:

‘… (is constructed of) scene sequences that form complete stories, and then juxtapose them with other pieces to make a pattern so that at the end, the pattern is the meaning of the story. Think of the scene sequences as quilt blocks, beautiful on their own, and the story as the finished quilt in which the blocks disappear when it’s finished to form a patterned whole. The blocks are beautiful, but it’s the quilt as a whole that’s the finished design.’  (Hence the beautiful abstract patterned quilt!).

I’m a big Firefly fan. If you’ve watched all of the Firefly episodes half a dozen times you’ll see that each one tells a linear story. Even in ‘Out of Gas’ which is told through flashback, the story is linear as we are led back to the beginning through a series of connecting flashbacks. But there is an over-arcing patterned story evolving in this series. Unfortunately for us, the networks cancelled the series and we will never see the whole pattern. Joss Whedon has said he thinks about the characters from Firefly every day and you’ll noticed that even in the follow up movie, Serenity, he added more pieces of the pattern. (Let’s hope that one day he will get the chance to make another series).

I’ve just handed in the first three books of my new series The Outcast Chronicles and there was something bugging me about the trilogy. Even though I have created an up-beat ending for this trilogy (don’t get me started on the number of emails I’ve had from readers wanting a book four of King Rolen’s Kin), I felt that something wasn’t quite right about the trilogy story arc. It’s exciting, the characters are interesting and they each face challenges that extend them. But now that I’ve read Jennifer Cruise’s post on Linear Vs Patterned story telling I realise I’m telling a patterned story, while trying to impose a linear structure on it.  With this in mind, I can review the trilogy and see if there are ways I can make the overall pattern of ‘the quilt’ easier to see.

So there you are, linear story telling Vs patterned story telling. Take a look at your books and the books and movie you love. Which are linear and which use patterned story telling?

(Just like to add here a big thank you to all the wonderful writers I’ve come across who’ve shared their knowledge and helped me grow as a writer over the years).



Posted in Creativity, Editing and Revision, Story Structure, Writing Craft | Tagged: , , , , | 9 Comments »