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Archive for October, 2011

Calling Aspiring Writers …

Posted by Rowena Cory Daniells on October 31, 2011

The Varuna Publisher Fellowships is open for 2011.

What is Varuna?

It’s a beautiful house in the Blue Mountains which is run as a writers retreat. (For more see here).

What is a fellowship?

In their own words:

‘The Varuna Publisher Fellowships can provide a pathway to bring your work to the attention of a publisher.  It also allows you to work on your manuscript in the unique residential environment of Varuna. You can work on your manuscript, knowing that there’s a publisher who has chosen to read and consider the finished work for publication.

The Varuna Publisher Fellowships program offers 15 one-week residential fellowships during 2012.’

Five publishers are involved in this particular fellowship program. The applicants send 20 -50 pages of their manuscript with a pitch for the project. The publishers select writers based on this. The lucky writers will get a one week stay at Varuna where they can work in peace on their manuscript. There is a consultation with Varuna writing consultants during the residency and when their ms is finished a Varuna writing consultant will read the ms before it is sent to the publisher.

The closing date for applicants is Nov 30th.  For full details see here. The publishers are looking for a broad range of genres.

Wouldn’t it be wonderful to get away for a week and do nothing but write?

Posted in Creativity, Editing and Revision, Editors, Mentorships, Pitching, Publishers, Publishing Industry, Writing Craft, Writing Opportunities | Tagged: , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Alisa wins World Fantasy Award!

Posted by Rowena Cory Daniells on October 31, 2011

Alisa was interviewed here recently because we were really excited about her nomination for a World Fantasy Award. Well, the big news is SHE WON!

Here’s the Link. Scroll down to Non-Professional Award (meaning they edit for love, rather than being paid by a publishing house).

Special Award—Non-professional
Winner: Alisa Krasnostein, for Twelfth Planet Press

And here’s the winners’ speeches. Alisa comes on at about the 36 minute mark.

Right now Alisa is over at the World Fantasy Awards probably knocking back the chapagne! go Alisa!

Posted in Australian Spec Fic Scene, Awards, Editors, Fantasy Genre, Indy Press, Publishing Industry, Writing Craft | Tagged: , , , | 1 Comment »

The Inner Life of a Successful Writer

Posted by Rowena Cory Daniells on October 29, 2011

Chocolate and Coffee - also must haves for the writer!

Back in the late nineties after I had my first children’s book published I wrote up a Beginning Writer’s Checklist (here’s the updated version).

Recently, I came across this post The Common Traits of the Successful Writer by Bob Mayer, Part One and Part Two. He starts with:

‘It’s not normal to sit alone and write 100,000 words.  So let’s get that out of the way.  You aren’t normal.  You aren’t in the bell curve and you aren’t necessarily on the good side of the curve. ‘

I had to smile.

He says the publishing industry is changing faster than ever and he’s absolutely right. Once there was one way to get published – Write. Write short stories and books, develop your craft, attend workshops, develop your craft, make short story sales, enter competitions. Do all this while writing every day. Win or place in competitions. Develop your craft. Approach publishers with a CV of published short stories  and placings in competitions, get rejections.  Attend more workshops. Develop your craft. Keep writing. After about 10 years get that first publishing contract from a major publisher. And then you really start to learn, because as a writer you never stop learning.

Was it perfect? No. Good books were overlooked. (Some people lucked onto a book sale with their first book. Then they had to do all their development as a writer meeting deadlines in the public eye).

Now … People can self publish, release their books as e-books and Print on Demand. They don’t have to wait on recognition from major publishers. Of course this means a lot of books that are not ready for publication see the light of day. How do readers sift through these to find the gems? That’s a post topic for another day.

Back to the traits of a successful writer. This is an interesting quote from Bob Mayer:

‘Remember something about the art of writing: It is the only art form that is not sensual. You can see the colors and strokes that make a painting, feel a sculpture, and hear music.  The manner in which each individual piece in those fields impacts on the senses is different.  But every writer uses the same letters on a piece of paper.  You have twenty-six letters that combine to form words, which are the building blocks of your sentences and paragraphs.  Everyone has the same words, and when I write that word and you write it, that word goes into the senses of the reader in the same way.  It’s how we weave them together that impact the conscious and subconscious mind of the reader that makes all the difference in the world.

A book comes alive in the reader’s mind.  You use the sole medium of the printed word to get the story from your mind to the reader’s.  It is the wonder of writing to create something out of nothing.  Every book started with just an idea in someone’s head.  Isn’t that a fantastic concept?’

He’s right about writers all using the same 26 letters and the book going from the writer’s mind to the reader’s mind. But to me writing is deeply sensual. I create a Resonance file (See here and here). The file is packed with images, snatches of research, true stories and, while I don’t collect music, I know what music the characters would listen to. This file is a pale outer representation of the inner world of the story. In my mind the world of the story, it’s characters and society is richly sensual and packed with detail.

Mayer doesn’t actually list the common traits of successful writers because he’s plugging books on the topic. (The Writers Toolkit and the Warrior Writer – Both links were down).

Here’s my list of a successful writer’s traits:

1. A Passion to Write. This is the kind of passion that keeps you awake at night thinking about plots and characters. The kind of passion that drives you to sneak away from the family on Christmas Day to write because you just can’t keep away from the story. Which leads to …

2. Perseverance. The craft of writing is something you can read about in books, but often you have to ‘discover’ it as you write. The recognition of something only comes as you are doing it and you internalise the understanding. All of this springs from …

3. A Love of Reading. (This really means a love of story in all its forms). If you were the sort of kid who got lost in a book, if you are the sort of person who goes to see a movie and spends the next three days thinking about alternate endings, then you are a writer. The more you read, the more you internalise the craft of writing. And writing consists of …

4. A Love of Words for their own sake. I’ve always been fascinated by words, by the history that words contain and by the power of a single word, how it can change the meaning of a whole sentence. But words are just the building blocks for …

5. A Love of Story. Story is not plot. Story is a combination of plot (events that happen) and character (the people who react to these events or trigger them by their actions). Combine these two and you have something that comes to life in the reader’s head. Story. But just having a story is not enough. You need to hone that story with …

6. Persistence and Patience. (Writing is Rewriting) A successful writer needs the persistence to keep writing, but the patience to give your book time to sit while you mature as a writer. When you first finish a book you are too close to it to see the flaws. Time and distance is needed. Working on another project will help you hone your writing craft. Then, when you come back to the original draft of the first book, you’ll see ways to improve it. Published writers have editors who help them do this while meeting deadlines.

Do self published writers need all these traits? Of course they do. They need them more because they don’t have  a professional editor helping polish the story they love. Whether you self publish or are published by a major publisher you want your book to be the best it possibly can be. This means polishing the book and developing traits (strategies) to make you the best writer you can possibly be.

I haven’t mentioned writing groups here. I’ve done several posts on the importance of writing groups. ROR is an example of how a group supports the individual and furthers their craft. Here’s list of posts I’ve done on the topic:

Writing Groups where would we be Without Them?

ROR 101 (How we set up the group)

Critiquing 101


Do you belong to a writing group? Do you write every day? How do you motivate yourself?

Posted in Characterisation, Creativity, Editing and Revision, Editors, Nourish the Writer, Plotting, Publishing Industry, Writing Craft | Tagged: , , , , , | 5 Comments »

Revisting Old Ideas with Foz Meadows

Posted by Rowena Cory Daniells on October 24, 2011

Today we have Foz Meadows visiting: (here she is in ‘serious’ mode)

Original Inspiration:

I was ten years old when I first started writing stories for fun, and twelve when I decided I wanted to grow up to be an author. It was then the mid 90s, and although we weren’t yet online, we did have a family computer, with the result that even my earliest efforts at storytelling were typed. Whether printed in dot matrix or preserved on giant floppy disks, my stories survived the demise of that first machine, with the bulk of them being saved anew on its replacement. This pattern went on to repeat itself five more times as various computers were set aside, most recently in January this year; and while some files have undoubtedly been lost over the years, the end result is that now, fifteen years later, I still have access to just about everything I’ve ever written.

Reviewing Original Ideas:

Much of it is, as you might imagine, terrible. Even taking into account the age I was when I wrote them, many efforts are cringeworthy; others are derivative and unoriginal, while almost all are unfinished, even the short stories. But even in the worst cases, there’s something to be learned. The files are like an archaeological layer describing the sorts of stories I wanted to read as a tween and teen: the kind of details I thought were important, the type of main character I wanted – even the style of writing betrays my influences and interests. For the author I am now, it’s an invaluable resource: this particular record might only speak to my tastes, but it tells me something I’d otherwise have forgotten about my younger self, and the sort of things that mattered to her.

Very early on, fantasy and science fiction started to replace horse tales and family comedy as my main narrative themes. Lists of painstakingly sought-out names began to appear around age thirteen, with worldbuilding documents creeping in as I sketched out possible story settings. There’s a few abortive novel attempts, and some surprisingly detailed information about the geography, religion, history and horoscope systems used by various fictional societies. Almost all my characters were female, their ages adjusted year by year to reflect my own; but even as a teenager, none of my protagonists were ever interested in relationships. Instead, they just had adventures, and while I’m hardly averse to putting love in my stories now – and while I certainly didn’t object to reading about it at the time –  it’s an important reminder that, despite the huge market for YA romance that currently exists, it doesn’t have to define either the YA genre or the tastes of its readership.

Polishing the Gems to find the Facets:

     For years, there was one story I worked on more than any other: one I’ve taken to calling the Great Unpublished Epic, or GUE for short. It was my magnum opus, and in my second year of university – having penned the start of the very first version around age twelve – I finally finished a full draft. It was the first time I’d ever completed a whole manuscript, and though I ultimately set it aside in favour of what went on to become my first published novel, Solace & Grief, finishing it gave me confidence in the idea that I really could be an author. As Solace started to build up steam, I concentrated on forming new ideas, convinced that my first, faithful book had finally served its purpose.

Integrating those Facets in new Storylines:

In my new novel, The Key to Starveldt – the sequel to Solace & Grief – there’s a character called Liluye who first made an appearance in an early version of the GUE. Her current incarnation is wildly different from the original, but when I figured out that she belonged in Key, I felt indescribably excited. All of a sudden, I realised that those early stories weren’t just an insight into my younger self: they were my ideas, and now that I was an author, I could scavenge from them at will. Two characters in particular sat up and begged for new versions: a schoolgirl heroine who’d populated most of my teenage escapist daydreams – and the heroine of the GUE. Looking over my old files with an eye to salvage rather than archaeology was a very different experience. Yes, the same problems still existed, but that didn’t mean they were set in stone. For all her flaws and scattiness, my younger self certainly never lacked for imagination, and while I’ll still continue to create new ideas, there’s something wonderful about being able to draw inspiration from my own old thoughts.

Where are to from here?

And as for my two heroines? During the course of this year, I’ve started work on two new novels: one for each of them. There’s a massive number of differences between how they first appeared and who they are now, but having had ten years to mull it over, I’m confident this time that I can do them justice. So if you have some old ideas kicking around, why not give them another look? You might surprise yourself.


Foz Meadows is a bipedal mammal with delusions of immortality. Her first novel, Solace and Grief, is now available from Ford Street Publishing; the sequel, The Key to Starveldt, is due out in October 2011. She likes cheese, geekery, writing, webcomics and general weirdness. Dislikes include Hollywood rom-coms, liquorice and the Republican party. Foz currently lives in St Andrews, Scotland, with not enough books and her very own philosopher. Surprisingly, this is a good thing.


Twitter: @fozmeadows

Catch up with Foz on Facebook.

Catch up with Foz on GoodReads.



Posted in Australian Spec Fic Scene, Editing and Revision, Fantasy Genre, Writing Craft, Writing for children, Writing for Young Adults | Tagged: , , , | Leave a Comment »

Marianne’s Angel Arias is out!

Posted by Rowena Cory Daniells on October 18, 2011

Doing the Happy Dance for Marianne. Angel Arias, sequel to Burn Bright is out. Not only does this book have a superb cover, but a great clip with music by Yunyu and clip by my DH, Daryl. (R & D Studios)

Posted in Australian Spec Fic Scene, Book Launches, Book Trailers, Creativity, Musicians, Writing for Young Adults | Tagged: , , , | 3 Comments »

How do readers connect with a book (by a new author)?

Posted by Rowena Cory Daniells on October 14, 2011


My guess is that the greatest service we can do a book is to talk about it - on our blogs, to our friends, when we are on panels and to bookstore staff. Let people know the book is out there and it's good!

George Ivanoff did a post about  book trailers for ROR recently.  Nigel commented that his reading forum were discussing this and:

1) Most people didn’t even know book trailers existed

2) Those that did know they existed did not seek them out

3) Some book trailers were obviously more interesting to watch than others, but no one believed that this was likely to influence what books they ended up purchasing


I chimed in with the point that people under 20 reacted well to book trailers. Nigel agreed, but argued this didn’t mean that they went out and bought the book, as they were looking on the trailer more as a short movie.

So how do readers connect with a book (by a new author) before they make the decision to buy it?

The following is in no way scientific, but a guess:

  • 75% recommendations from friends (In this I include blog sites where readers follow a certain reviewer as that reviewer becomes the equivalent of a trusted friend – at least where books are concerned).
  • 10% from book staff. (Those little tags on shelves and Indy stores where they know the staff)
  • 5% from reading a blog post when the author does a guest post somewhere that arouses their interest, or reading their tweets and thinking they sound intriguing.
  • 5% from reviews (the old fashioned kind in newspapers)
  • 5% from picking up the book because the cover is interesting, reading the blub/front page and taking a chance on a new author

(It does add up to 100%, I checked. Some years ago I embarassed myself on a panel doing a quick breakdown of my reading genre habits but the total didn’t reach 100% and of course, someone in the audience pointed this out).

You’ll notice I haven’t included book trailers in this. That’s because the reader would have to seek them out on You Tube, which means they have to know about the book to find the trailer. The other way they would come across the book trailer is on a blog review site, or the writer’s own web site. So the reader is already engaging with the book/author at this point.

If a reader comes across the book trailer at this stage and, like the review or the author’s tweets, it appears in intriguing then the trailer would contribute towards the reader’s decision to buy that book.

As I said, this is all guesswork. What I’d like from you ‘gentle reader’ is your input on what influences you to take a punt on a new author’s book. Have I given too much credence to traditional reviews in newspapers? I must admit, I’ve bought only two books in my life, based on newspaper reviews and both were nonfiction.

Over to you…

Posted in Authors and Public Speaking, Book Launches, Book Trailers, Covers, Nourish the Writer, Promoting your Book | Tagged: , , , , | 55 Comments »

Launching the HOPE anthology

Posted by Rowena Cory Daniells on October 12, 2011

We’re here today to celebrate the launch of the Hope anthology last weekend. ( All of the contributions donated their stories. And all profits from the sale of the book will be donated to Beyondblue and The Anika Foundation).

I’m interviewing Karen Henderson who writes as Karen Lee Field. Karen has three fantasy books aimed at 9 -12 year olds.

Q: On your blog you say:

‘“Hope” is a project that is close to my heart. I have wanted to do something since I lost my son to suicide in 2006. In many ways, it gave me purpose, which in turn gave me hope. So the anthology is aptly named.’

As a parent of six, four of them boys, I was very happy to be involved in this project. I understand you had a good response from authors?

Yes, I was overwhelmed by the positive response, even from the authors who couldn’t fit Hope into their busy schedule. As many of them were also parents they felt it was important to raise suicide awareness and they sent me heartfelt messages encouraging me to keep going with the project. At this stage, I must sincerely thank the authors who contributed to this project because I couldn’t have come this far without them. They are an awesome bunch of people.

Q: When did the idea for this anthology first come to you?

As a writer, I started writing about what was happening to my family and how everything was affecting me emotionally, physically and mentally soon after my son’s death. It helped me put things into perspective and allowed me to let other things go. It was good therapy. When I came out of the darkest place a parent can be in, I started thinking about how I might be able to help other parents from going through the same thing. I tried writing a manuscript about my own experience but found emotionally I couldn’t stop myself from sobbing every time I sat at the keyboard. Eventually, I decided the next best thing was to ask other writers if they would help me by donating stories and adding ‘snippets’ of information on suicide between the stories, which would raise awareness.

Q: The Hope anthology contains stories, but it also contains snippets of information suicide so that parents and friends may be able to recognise the signs if someone they know needs help. Are the stories specifically aimed at young adults or could they be read by any age?

The stories are certainly not suitable for children. They are aimed at young adults and adults. All the stories fall within the speculative fiction genre. They are fictional and are written to the theme of ‘hope’, yet are down to earth and cover a wide range of issues.  The authors have done a brilliant job in showing that even in the direst of circumstances there is hope.

Q: You run an Indie publishing house, Kayelle Press. What inspired you to establish this publishing house and what do you hope to achieve with it?

I know how hard it is to find a way out of the enormous piles of manuscripts sent to large publishing houses each month. Over recent years I have attempted to find ways to help aspiring authors to build their publication list. I started Kayelle Press for two reasons: 1) because I have known for several years that Hope (although I didn’t know the name of the anthology at the time) was in the pipeline, and, 2) because I love helping people reach their goal, it gives me a buzz.

Kayelle Press will hopefully publish at least two anthologies a year to start with and I will consider all manuscripts submitted on its own merits, not on how long the writer’s bio is.

Q: Having published Hope, what advice would you give aspiring anthology editors?

It’s hard work and will take many, many hours of dedication to reach completion. Yet the rewards of seeing a simple idea grow into a published book is worth every second of the blood, sweat and tears (actually there isn’t usually any tears, but there might be plenty of times you want to pull your hair out instead).  My best advice is to keep communication channels open and stay true to yourself.

 Karen has kindly donated a copy of the HOPE anthology as a give-away.

The question is:  If you could go back and give your teenage self some advice, what would it be?

Copies of the Hope anthology can be purchased here.

Catch up with Karen on Twitter: @karenleefield

Catch up with Karen on GoodReads

Karen’s Blog

Posted in Book Giveaway, Book Launches, Creativity | Tagged: , , | 11 Comments »

How Writing Competitions can help you …

Posted by Rowena Cory Daniells on October 11, 2011

Today we’re going to hear from 2 members of the RWA Paranormal Romance e-group, who have been driving their writing craft and writing careers forward by entering writing competitions.

For anyone writing a book that contains characters who are motivated by love they should consider joining Romance Writers of Australia. The organisation is run by smart, supportive women who generously give of their time and expertise to help aspiring writers. The competitions run by RWAustralia and other Romance Writing organisations have been stepping stones for many authors on their path to publication.

(This post was reposted with the permission of the Dark Side Downunder blog)

Check out the Dark Side Downunder Blog

Bec Skrabl

The first year that I entered the contest circuit was in 2009 for the 2010 season. I’d joined RWA the previous year but had missed all the comps because I joined too late and to be honest, I was still feeling my way amongst the organization.

It was about the same time that Michelle (de Rooy) and I became critique partners. Up until then, nobody had ever seen my work. I’d written for myself since I was a child, but I had no idea if it was good or bad. Michelle and I worked on that piece (a historical romance) for a few months and then I decided I needed more eyes on it. I hit every contest on the RWAustralia list bar the High Five, just because I had no idea what I was doing. It was a fantastic experience. The Selling Synopsis forced me to actually write a synopsis for the first time, the STALI and Valerie Parv Award drilled into me the importance of making those first few chapters stand out (or try to) and the Emerald made me realize, really, the entire book needs to be of the same quality as those first manicured chapters.

Then the feedback started trickling in. I find it really hard to actually gauge the level of my own writing, so it was nice to see a lot of the judges enjoyed my writing and said it showed potential. I knew the book had a controversial hero and I was expecting a fair bit of harsh critique, so I was pleasantly surprised by how much people enjoyed it. Yes, there was also the criticism I’d expected. Some of it was incredibly constructive and some of it was simply ouch.

I think that MS finalled in most of its categories. It came second in the STALI, fourth in the Valerie Parv and maybe fourth in the Selling Synopsis. The placings ultimately, weren’t as important as all of the lessons I learned. For the purposes with which I had entered (feedback and to learn) I found the contest circuit more than valuable. It was like having a whole heap of mini critique partners.

The following year, using that synopsis and my newly found skills, I found an agent. That novel never sold, thankfully. I say this now, because my passion for historical romance had faded and I was more interested in pursuing my paranormal/fantasy roots. I parted ways with my agent (for other reasons) and took a good hard look at my career and where I wanted to go with it.

I started The Devil of Whitechapel (now renamed Kiss of Steel) in October last year. It wasn’t the first time I’d ever started a paranormal – there’s dozens of half-finished pieces floating around under the bed – but it was the first time I finished one. I knew that book was better than my first attempt instantly. It practically wrote itself, and using all of the lessons I’d learned in the first year of contest entering made it a much better book than the first. This time my reasons for entering the contest circuit were a bit different. I wanted to gauge how readers liked the story as it was Steampunk and slightly different in genre to what a lot of people were reading, and I also decided I wanted to get this work in front of an editor if possible.

I began with the Australian contests. This time I entered only the Emerald and the Valerie Parv Award, and also the New Zealand Clendon. I was a little bit naughty with the Emerald, as I was only about halfway through the MS when I entered. I tend to be a bit disorganised, so I’d completely forgotten the dates of the finalists announcements. When they came through I had 20,000 words to write in a week in order to make the second round.

Thankfully I wasn’t the only one, as a certain Ms. De Rooy will attest. We pounded out word after word together, fuelled by caffeine and lack of sleep and managed to make the deadline. I sent it off, and only realized two days later that one of the scenes I thought I’d finished ended mid-scene, mid-sentence, because it was a difficult one to write and I’d told myself I’d get back to it later.

I do not recommend this route. At least not without a caffeine drip.

I also started entering American contests for the first time. I spent a lot of time considering the final judges. If it finalled, I wanted it to be in front of editors at houses that might be interested in my work.

My favourite contests were the Valley Forge Sheila and the Georgia Romance Writers Maggie, and not only because I placed first. The contest organisers were very professional and they were also really nice and friendly. The Sheila also got me what I wanted. Leah Hultenschmidt from Sourcebooks was the final judge and requested a full of my work. Two days after I sent it, she rang to offer for it.

I’d decided after the RWA conference to pull out of the other few contests I was already in because I didn’t think it was fair now that I was going to be published, but the Maggies co-ordinator convinced me not to when I finalled. It was something I’d never thought about before. Some of these awards carry a great deal of weight with industry professionals and book buyers. And I think now I might have gotten a slap on the wrist from my agent and editor if I’d withdrawn.

The two years I spent on the contest circuit were very different in terms of what I was after, but both brought home some valuable lessons. I can understand why some people get disheartened by them, as I too have had some ‘interesting’ feedback. I made a conscious decision early on to view each manuscript as a product, so if the criticism could improve it I took it on board, if not then I deleted the feedback and didn’t think about it again. It’s hard because sometimes it stings, but then I have Michelle to grouch to if I need to.

I can see how much I’ve grown in my work since I began and I think a lot of that does stem from the feedback I’ve been given, as well as Michelle’s advice as my CP. It’s been an interesting journey, with a lot of ups and downs, but personally, I can honestly say that I wouldn’t have a publishing contract without the contests I’ve entered. I encourage everyone to enter; for feedback, to develop a tough skin (because we’re all going to need that), to learn or to try and get your work before an editor.

  Michelle de Rooy

I joined RWA a few years ago when my sister told me about a writing conference she was going to. Did I want to go, too?

Writing conference? They have those?

Yep. I was THAT green. I had tried to get the story haunting me since I was 16 years old written down for many years, but could never get past the first chapter or two. I didn’t know why. I read heaps, I knew what I wanted to say (kind of), but I didn’t know how. How to get it from whirling around on my head, onto that page with that damned blinking, mocking cursor.

I was gob-smacked, awed and just plain wanted to sit down and cry at being in the same place as so many people who thought like me. They had people in their heads bugging them to write their story, too. It was a revelation. Literally. If I had known an organization like this existed before, I would’ve joined years ago.

Then, I found my new addiction. I entered my first contest right after conference that year. I entered the first five pages of my unfinished manuscript, a romantic suspense. I am a huge fan of Anne Stuart, and while listening to her speak, as well as her workshop, I was fan-struck. I had a kernel of an idea, and one scene that jumped up in my head and grew the three days I was at conference.

I came second last.

But what an eye-opener. The judges in that contest were so encouraging, so darn wonderful with their ideas and suggestions, that I read and reread their comments, rewrote what chapters I had, and entered it into the RWNZ’s Strictly Single contest.

I came second. With a request from the judge for a full (manuscript) – an editor at Berkley.

Oh, hell. I had three chapters. The three I’d entered. I’d made up the synopsis, had no idea if it would actually end that way, but hey, it had to end somehow, right?


Right about now, I know there a several of you reading this and shaking your heads at me. And I know exactly who you all are! Yep, this is where it started.

Meanwhile, I’d entered a new manuscript – the one I had banging around in my head for all those years – in the Emerald Award, just after I’d entered the Strictly Single. Three chapters, no synopsis required. Great! Because I had no idea where it went! I knew the final scene, but nothing in between. I had just about finished manuscript the requested by the editor judge, when I found out I’d finaled in the Emerald. I’d only entered to get some feedback on characters and the world, to see if I was heading in the right direction with my vision for my story.

O. M. G. I had five working days to get the final draft in to the contest coordinator for the second round.

Five days. Five?

I sat down and thought for about a minute, called my boss, asked for the two days that I worked that week off, and made up my mind. I might not get it finished, but I was going to give it a damned good try.

I got it to the post office on the final day I could post-mark it. It was done. Not complete, but I’d written The End. It was the best I could do.

At the same time I was writing these two manuscripts, I had another story rapping on the inside of my head. In particular, one character. A very unassuming young Japanese guy who was telling me he was in love with an older woman. His best friend’s mother, in fact.

I wrote half the book while expanding the one in the Emerald. I entered it in a US contest. I didn’t final, but got some fabulous feedback that encouraged me I was onto something.

At that point, I’d only been a member of RWA for a short while. I was entering contests to see if I had any chance at all of achieving my dream, of being an author. One that people wanted to read. I needed feedback, confirmation that what I was writing was worthy.

And once I started, I couldn’t stop entering. I was learning so much, so fast, I felt like a sponge. Then I stalled. I couldn’t seem to apply it to my own work.

That was when I met Bec Skrabl through the CP scheme. I’d come to a standstill writing-wise and needed some one-on-one help, so I joined up and waited. Nothing. So I forgot about it until I had a request. Luckily for me, she turned out to be the best thing to happen to me at a point I really needed focus. She sees the things I can’t. After working on my manuscript with her, I again entered the Strictly Single, The Emerald, The RWA Golden Heart, then the RWNZ The Clendon, and the Valerie Parv Award. I finaled in all bar the Golden Heart.

By this point I was starting to look at who was the final judge. I wanted to get in front of them, to see what they thought of my books. My focus had changed. I wasn’t just entering to get feedback anymore, I had reached a point where my work was consistently of a higher standard, and I wanted to win. Something, anything!

I wanted that call – the one where an agent or editor judge says they want to see more, please. I entered more and more the next year (which was this contest season), not just focusing on Australian and New Zealand comps anymore, and was totally stoked when I started consistently finaling, even overseas. It validated the time I’d spent away from my husband, my kids. The lack of sleep. The worry that people would think it was utter crap and would she PLEASE stop writing! Yes, we all think that at some point!

During this period, I received some horrible feedback from an editor judge up until then I had admired, if from afar. She’d placed me second in a big contest, but basically told me that it was pointless to continue with this manuscript, that “the author should scrap the project and begin something new and fresh. It is too flawed to be fixed.” Yes, these were her words, not mine. I have it in black and white on a little piece of paper in my office. And that was not all she said. The only thing she’d liked was my voice. I had a “spark to my writing; that something,” and that was why she’d placed me second.

I was gutted. Totally eviscerated. I stopped writing for four months. To be honest, if I had only just started writing and entering contests, it could easily have made me give up right there and then, the feedback was so negative.

It took time, and some wonderful friends who believe in me (thanks Bec, Kylie and Nicky!) who kicked me up the rear and made me realize what the best answer to that heartbreaking paragraph really is – get published. The day I sign a contract is the day I’m going to light myself a little pyre. That contest feedback is going center stage.

That manuscript? This year it came third in The Clendon, second in The Emerald, won me the Reader’s Choice Award in the Clendon, fourth in the US The Emily, third in the US Fire and Ice, and second in the Strictly Single and finaled into the second round of the US The Molly. And I just missed out on finaling in the US Golden Heart by the teeniest percentage.

It also almost got me my dream agent. As Maxwell Smart would say, “Missed it by that much!”

It’s been ‘round!

Basically what I’m trying to say there is that no matter what point you are at, there will be times when you question why the hell you are doing this. And you will come across someone(s) who will make you feel so very terrible and question whether everything you write is utter crap only suitable for burning. Don’t. Stick with it and look what can happen.

Contests are fabulous, but be certain of what you want out of them. And remember that they are subjective. I have almost finaled in so many contests this year with both this and another of my manuscripts; ones that average and don’t drop the lowest score. I tend to polarize judges. They either love it, or hate it. Usually I get two who love it, and one who fudges my chances at finaling. *shrug* That’s how it works, unfortunately.

Look at why you are entering, and enter the contests which give you the best chance of getting in front of that dream editor/agent or mentor; the ones that are going to do the most to further your career and skill. Take what you can from feedback, but if it doesn’t sit well, or suit your vision for your story, don’t change it. Use what you can, discard the rest. It takes a while to sort through all of it, and even longer to stop smarting from the nasty comments you can receive, and believe me, I’ve had them all. It’s not all moonlight and roses, Romeo!

But don’t forget the most important part while doing all this – have fun doing it!

Oh, and my little Japanese friend who fell for his best friend’s mother? He made another lady fall in love with him, as well. He won me the Valerie Parv Award. J

Cheers, and best of luck with your own journeys!


BIO: Bec Skrabl

(Since writing this post, Bec has won the Paranormal section of the Maggies, run by the Georgia Romance Writers)

Bec lives in a small town in country Victoria and grew up with her nose in a book. A member of RWA, RWA (Australia) and RWNZ, she writes sexy, dark paranormals and steampunk romance. Her latest manuscript, The Devil Of Whitechapel, has won the 2011 Sheila and Winter Rose contests.

When not writing, reading, or poring over travel brochures, she loves spending time with her very own hero or daydreaming about new worlds.

BIO: Michelle de Rooy

I write science fiction and fantasy. I spend far too much time day dreaming about my heroes; whether elf, human or hot starship pilot. And dreaming of ways my heroine can bring them to their knees!

A member of RWA, RWA (Oz) and RWNZ, I am a place-getter in the Australian Emerald Award, the New Zealand Clendon Award in which I also won the Reader’s Choice Award, and the Strictly Single.

Living in rural Queensland is fantastic fuel for the imagination, my husband and children dragging me away to provide the ‘me’ time in the real world.

Posted in Australian Spec Fic Scene, Genre Writing, Good Dialogue, Publishing Industry, Query Letter and Synopsis, Writing Craft, Writing Groups, Writing Opportunities | Tagged: , , , , , , , | 6 Comments »

Write Under Pressure, Edit at Leisure… right?

Posted by tansyrr on October 9, 2011

La! You are done for the day. Have a cup of tea.

I finished writing a book last week, which should feel like a huge, milestone moment, except of course it’s not. I got to the end of the book, having written all the scenes I think should be in the book, and that’s a most excellent thing.

But it’s not finished, I know it’s not finished, and all the editing, tweaking and tidying I need to do to make it even pretend to be finished, is overwhelming me.

A lot of writers use word metrics to track their progress on a book. This is a lie. We know it’s a lie. We know that you can have a perfectly good, productive day on a book that leaves you with less words than you started with. And we know that you can write 3000 words that are going to need to be chopped out the following week.

But we keep using wordcount as a tracking system, because it can be tracked – it’s one of the few systems we can use to mark regular progress and that’s important, because without that momentum, it’s hard to get back regularly and get the damn thing finished.

Momentum is my friend. Lurching from Chapter 1 to Chapter 30, I need momentum desperately. It’s the only way (for me) to get through writing something as hefty as a novel. I’ve found that it takes me a few weeks of pretending I am the kind of writer who sits down and produces words every day, before something clicks and I actually am that writer.

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Dialogue – a powerful tool!

Posted by Rowena Cory Daniells on October 4, 2011

As writers we can’t get away from writing dialogue. My son is currently reading Dostoevsky and he showed me a passage he’d just read which was one paragraph that went on for pages. Of course that book was  written 150 years ago, but you only have to pick up a book from the nineteenth century to see how fiction writing has changed ‘gentle reader’. Along with that change in tone, comes the change in how much dialogue there is compared to narrative.

We expect to see lots of white space on the page. Because of movies and TV we readers expect to be part of fast paced conversations. We expect to get our story through conversation. I teach writing film treatment, script, storyboarding and animatic so I am always watching TV series and movies, analysing the structure of the story, characterisation, world building and pacing. I can’t help myself. I do it with books, too. It is the writer’s burden, to be unable to switch off the internal editor. In fact, if a movie or a book captures you to such an extent that you don’t notice the scaffolding, it’s a joy!

Dialogue needs to do many things. It needs to:

Drive the story forward.

That’s a simple one. We can all think of instances where the author uses dialogue to reveal information vital to the unfolding plot. A mystery will have the protagonist (usually first-person narrative) questioning people to unravel the mystery.

Impart back-story (without info dumping).

This one is a bit harder because you can’t have the protagonist saying something to another character that they both know. Yet, you may need to convey this specific information to the reader. You could have the two characters arguing – ‘No, it didn’t happen this way. You’ve got it wrong’. Or, you could do what I call The 13th Warrior Ploy – you introduce a protagonist who doesn’t know the back-story/society and another character has to explain what’s going on. We’ve all been in that position, starting a new job, needing to pick up information really quickly. This is handled really well in the movie The 13th Warrior, when Antonio Banderas plays an ambassador sent to the north who falls in with a group of Vikings.

Reveal character – through how the protagonist speaks, through what they say and via the reactions of the other characters to them.

Obviously there are dialogue quirks we associate with certain characters. They could be well educated and pedantic. They could have an accent – this needs to be handled well. Rather than trying to write phonetically,  use one or two words and try to capture the rhythm of their speech.

What the character says reveals their world view. Someone who grew up on the bottom rungs of society might have a chip on their shoulder and immediately assume that everyone else is out to trick them. How other people react to that person reveals their character. Much of dialogue is action and reaction. Action – needing to impart information. Reaction – reacting to an event or other dialogue.

Increase tension – through the obvious imparting of information (Flash we only have 12 hours to save the earth!), through mis-information (Sure, you can trust me), and through silences.

Silences may sound like a funny thing to include in dialogue but they are very powerful. In film a silence is really obvious and it creates a mystery or a sense of immanence, of information about to be imparted.

In a book it is less easy to create that tension of silence because we are living in the internal world of the character and their thoughts carry us along. So, if there is a silence, we often get the character’s thoughts as they anticipate what the other person is going to say or analyse what is going on. One author who did silences really well was Anne Rice in Interview with the Vampire. Towards the end I can remember feeling a rising tension because  the other character because wasn’t communicating. There was the sense of things left unsaid.

Coming back to mis-information or subtext. I like it when a conversation carries layers. There’s the obvious layer of what is being said and there’s the deeper layer. One line that springs to mind comes from a recent movie, Tamara Drewe. It was a romantic comedy, written by a woman and tells the story of three women of different ages. The eldest was a woman in her forties, played by Tamsin Greig. She is married to an author and runs a writer’s retreat. (I particularly liked the portrayal of authors – very amusing). Her husband is a philanderer, and a reasonably successful mystery writer.  She spends all her time running the hobby farm, catering to the visiting writers and acting as his secretary, while he gallivants off to festivals (and has affairs). You need all this back-story to get the layers to the dialogue. Early in the movie she discovers the chicken shed’s foundations are rotting and she gets really angry. She’s trying to fix it while muttering – ‘It’s all rotten underneath’. Sure, she’s talking about the shed, but she’s also talking about her marriage and her anger springs from that. It’s a really nice piece of characterisation.

Most importantly, dialogue should do more than one thing.

So take a look at dialogue in books you enjoy and in TV series and movies. How many levels is the dialogue working on? Can you think of a writer who does really good dialogue?

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