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Paula Weston asks: Why aren’t YA books as respected as ‘adult’ books?

Posted by Rowena Cory Daniells on June 2, 2012

Today we have Brisbane based author, Paula Weston, whose debut YA fantasy Shadows has just been released from Text Publishing. Paula is going to talk about her passion, writing for Young Adults.

She raises the question why are YA (and children’s books) less respected than adult novels.

Watch out for the give-away question at the end.

 

‘Young adult is a point of view, not a reading age.’

I don’t know who said it (or in what context) but I love that sentence. Not just because it justifies the amount of time I spend reading (and enjoying) young adult stories of all genres, but because it’s true.

To suggest – as a Times magazine columnist recently did – that adults should only read adult books and leave everything else to teenagers, is remarkably narrow minded. His justification? Because ‘books are one of our few chances to learn’. In other words, there is nothing of value in young adult stories.

In that case, why do we let our teenagers read them?

The idea that a young adult novel is somehow less well written, less intelligent, less engaging and less capable of moving a reader, is insulting to writers and readers alike. Sure, there are varying degrees of quality among young adult books, but that can said of novels in any section of a book store or library.

Yet young adult novels come under stronger criticism. And when you combine the words ‘paranormal’ and ‘young adult’, you’re almost guaranteed to be immediately dismissed as lightweight in many circles. (And yes, I know spec writers – adult and young adult alike – have faced this sort of discrimination for years.)

Like many writers whose books end up in the YA section, I didn’t set out to specifically write a young adult novel.

I’d had an idea bouncing around for a while for a paranormal story but I kept pushing it aside because I was working on a fantasy series. My agent (Lyn Tranter of Australian Literary Management) came very close to scoring a publishing deal on the latter, and when it fell through, I went through my usual round of self doubt, frustration and yes, a teeny bit of self pity. (At that point I’d written five full-length manuscripts, with my first rejection slip dated 1995.)

Once I dusted myself off, I knew I needed a break from the pressure I’d put myself under to land a publishing deal. I just wanted to write something for fun, and that increasingly insistent idea in the back of my mind was the perfect outlet.

So I started on a story just for me, not worrying about anyone would think. I wrote a few scenes, which became a few chapters, and suddenly I had half a novel. Characters had never come so easily and I’d never enjoyed writing so much. I sat down and fleshed out the plot in greater detail and realised I had a story that would take more than one book to tell (four in fact). My agent loved the idea, and those early chapters, and I suddenly had an exciting new project on my hands.

I chose the age of my characters based on what would work best from a narrative perspective and what I needed for plotting (Gaby, my narrative character is 19…or so she thinks.)

When the wonderful folk at Text Publishing offered me that long-awaited contract, they felt the Rephaim series was young adult. The team there really knows what its doing in the YA market, and I was more than happy with that call. My only concern was that my series not be marketed to children or younger teens, given the amount of violence and profanity it features.

I’m an eclectic reader – from literary to paranormal and everything in between – and I’ve consistently found some of my favourite writers on young adult shelves (Aussies Melina Marchetta and Markus Zusak, and US writer Maggie Stiefvater). Some of the best books I’ve read in the last 12 months have been YA (and written by Aussies), including Vikki Wakefield’s All I Ever Wanted, Leanne Hall’s This Is Shyness and Jane Higgins’ The Bridge (okay, Jane’s from New Zealand, but you get the picture).

And if you don’t think YA spec fic stories can’t be complex and rich with analogy and metaphor, check out Marianne de Pierre’s Night Creatures series or Veronica Roth’s Divergent series.

Certainly, some YA stories can have a lighter touch, particularly when it comes to dealing with sexual issues (compare the YA and adult paranormal novels of writers like Richelle Mead, Lilith Saintcrow and Kelly Armstrong), but others push the boundaries more than adult fiction.

I agree there are boundaries that should be respected when the primary target is teens. But more and more, young adult novels are crossing over to wider markets. Harry Potter – still referred to in some quarters as ‘children’s fiction’ – sparked that fire, and it shows no sign of burning out any time soon.

Absolutely, teens should own the YA section of book stores. But the rest of us shouldn’t have to feel like we’ve left our brains at the door when we want to read great stories that just happen to wear the YA label.

Paula has a copy of Shadows for one lucky commenter. Give-away question:  When you were growing up what YA novel (or writer) made a big impression on you?

Shadows: Book 1 of the Rephaim series (Text Publishing) is out 2 July

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Posted in Australian Spec Fic Scene, Book Launches, Characterisation, Fantasy Genre, Genre Writing, Publishing Industry, Readers and Genre, Visiting Writer, Writing Craft, Writing for children, Writing for Young Adults | Tagged: , , , , , , , | 20 Comments »

Flappers With Swords: Tansy’s Blog Tour

Posted by tansyrr on May 28, 2012

I recently embarked upon a boutique blog tour, to celebrate the international Kindle release of my Creature Court Trilogy. I had great fun talking about history, women, and some of the crunchier (and occasionally, sillier issues I came across while writing the Creature Court series, and fantasy fiction in general. I thought I’d put the links up here as well.

If any new readers discovered me and my Kindlicious editions of the Creature Court books in recent weeks, do let me know! These things make authors very happy.

Much gratitude to everyone who has written a review for the Creature Court books on Goodreads or Amazon, and an extra special multitude of thanks to the many awesome bloggers who let me borrow their space & their readership to help get word of my books out there. You all rock!
Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in Australian Spec Fic Scene, Authors and Public Speaking, Book Launches, e-books, Genre Writing, Promoting your Book, Research, World Buildng, Writing Craft | Tagged: , , | 1 Comment »

Margo Reveals What it’s like inside a ROR Crit Week!

Posted by Rowena Cory Daniells on February 6, 2012

From Margo …

A Deepening ROR—a wRiters On the Rise workshop, from the inside

That's where we were circled in red

First there’s a bit of foreplay. Someone pipes up online: “When’s the next ROR?” Someone at the other end of the country: “I’ll have a novel draft ready by about January; how’s everyone else set?” And all the ROR-ettes speak up one by one, with their first or later drafts that are in synch, or the obligations or health issues or financial limitations or lacks of work-in-progress that’ll keep them away this time.

ROR meets roughly every 18 months to 2 years; I haven’t been able to get to the last couple of retreats but when this one was mooted, I decided that I had a chance, if I went hell for leather during November-December, of getting a super-rough first draft of my colonial NSW fantasy written for ROR’s perusal for the end of January workshop.

Tansy and Andrew scoped out Steele’s Island Accommodation; we discussed timing and settled on the weekdays 30 Jan-3 Feb, because the place is booked out with weddings most weekends.

All went quiet for a while. I dealt with Sea Hearts copyedits and proofs, wrote stories for Twelfth Planet Press, judged the Australian/Vogel’s Award, wound up my time on the Literature Board talked at the Brisbane Writers Festival, launched two other writers’ books, day-jobbed 3 days a week and, by the looks of the calendar, dined with a lot of different people. Clearly I didn’t scratch myself; there wouldn’t have been time.

On 1 November I started writing the draft of Formidable Energies. I registered with Nanowrimo, because I wanted some company, and besides, they have this neat graph that you can use to track your progress against the ideal path towards the 50K words. I like a neat graph, and I’d never make one for myself. Generally I’m not wordcount obsessive; this time, though, I definitely had to achieve a book’s worth.

It was lonely, exhilarating, hilarious, keeping up the pace, papering over the chasms in my research, blithely charging on, jumping in and out of the story, going from jam scene to jam scene and ignoring any bread-and-butter bits, but trying to keep it coherent enough for my ROR friends to be able to see what I was getting at, the nature of this beast.

I didn’t have the know-how, about Celtic gods, about Irish language, customs, culture and history—and only a 20-year-old history degree to help me with the convict ships, penal law and early colonial Sydney. I researched as I went just so I could picture enough setting in which to tell the tale. Perhaps this research was the most fun. I prowled around the State Library, requesting old travel books on Ireland and copying useful pages onto the iPad. I learned so much during that month—but most of all I learned what huge gaps existed in my knowledge, and the enormous job I might have on my hands if I ever went at the research properly.

And I knuckled down and wrote. Here’s my completed Nanowrimo graph, to give you the bare bones of the story of my month:

I was happy with that. I booked my ticket to Hobart. I wrote on for another 2 weeks into December, and managed a draft of 45K, which took the story from (what I imagined was the) beginning to (one possible) end. Manuscripts began to fly between email boxes. I did what pulling-together of the draft I could, wrote some explanatory/apologetic notes to cover the worst breaks, trailings-off and confused bits, took a deep breath and sent it off to my ROR-mates.

There was a flurry of communication as we sorted out accommodation moneys. Then came silence as we read each other’s drafts; that’s a lonely stage too, that one, keeping your opinions to yourself, addressing comments to an unresponsive screen, worrying that you haven’t quite captured what you felt about this character or that piece of plot logic, or that you haven’t phrased it helpfully. Weeks, it takes, reading five novels and assembling meaningful critiques.

Departure date loomed. I anguished a bit more over my reports, then saved them, printed them out for good measure and started packing.

The view up the estuary

Steele’s Island Accommodation: the perfect place for a writers’ workshop. Huge spaces for meeting and lounging in, more rooms and beds than we could fill, even with half our families along. Outside, a river-beach to stride along to the sea, a wooded hill across the water, waves and mountains in the distance, weather pouring across the sky. Only a few distant holidaymakers reminded us that there was a world beyond ROR. And the landscape showed that this was once an extremely popular place to feast on oysters. We kept to that tradition, at least.

Steeles Island Midden

But aak!, Formidable Energies was scheduled for the first critique session in the morning, and I hadn’t thought about it for six weeks—how would anyone’s comments make sense to me? So after the welcome dinner, deep into the first night and early in the morning I went over it again, reacquainting myself with its wild ambitions, its flights of fancy, its longueurs and its pathological avoidance of any form of action on the part of its main character.

Then on the Tuesday morning, all those weeks of solitary work suddenly blossomed into community, and made perfect sense. My story, which had seemed so stale and stuck, sketchy and hopeless, suddenly loosened, lightened and took flight on contact with the possibilities brought to it by my colleagues. From feeling as if I couldn’t progress without wearing amounts of research and tedious clunky plot-making, I went in the space of 2 hours to being excited about the many, many ways this story could go, the means by which I could get my main man moving, the significance I could bring to the powers plaguing him, both in Ireland and the new land. I saw the way forward; I saw several ways forward. I couldn’t wait to get back to the ms. and try out these ideas.

Just as good, if not so directly personally affecting, were the rest of the critique sessions. I would come out of the 2 x 2-hour sessions almost unable to think straight, I’d absorbed so much as I listened to Rowena, Richard, Dirk, Tansy and Maxine’s encounters with the same manuscripts. They’d responded so differently – or they’d felt the same, but phrased their response so differently, or come up with some completely ingenious solution. It was thoroughly absorbing to watch other RORers’ novels fly apart under each critiquer’s hands and then be brought back together in new ways.

Thank you so much, ROR-ettes, for the time and thought that went into your reports. Thanks for the privilege of reading and considering your works in progress. Thanks Tansy and Andrew for finding Steele’s Island, Dirk for the wonderful food, Daryl and David for radiating calmness, Steven for tourist-ing on our behalf, and Raeli and Mima for providing an understorey of questions, songs, sand-sweeping, fruit-eating and general play.

Posted in Australian Spec Fic Scene, Authors and Public Speaking, Book Launches, Dialogue, Editing and Revision, Genre Writing, Nourish the Writer, Plotting, Point of View, Research, Story Structure, World Buildng, Writing Craft, Writing Groups | Tagged: , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

Raring to ROR…

Posted by Rowena Cory Daniells on January 18, 2012

As some of you might know our ROR writing group gets together every 12 – 18 months to critique our books in progress.

Back in 2001 at the first ROR we read Margo Lanagan’s Black Juice anthology and wept over Singing my Sister Down, which went on to win a World Fantasy Award. That was also the year we read Maxine Mc Arthur’s Less than Human, which went on to win the Aurealis Award for SF in 2004.

Since then there have been many RORs, and critiqued many books. Some of these books have been shelved or are still waiting to be completed and others  have been published, some of have won awards or been shortlisted for awards. (This reminds me I must update our success page. There’s been more sales since then. My bad).

For those of you who are interested, I’ve blogged about how to set up your own ROR group and how we critique. There are eight of us, but due to life, family and deadlines we don’t get to every ROR. (I’ve done them all so far, but I’m a bit of a ROR groupie. I even maintain this site in my spare time. All very sad, really).

Our next ROR is coming up in a couple of weeks. Having a deadline to get a book written for is a great motivator. We’re all madly reading each other’s WIPs (Works-in-progress), writing reports and planning to run away and be full time writers for a week!

There will be one book launch and possibly two, stay tuned!

From the Steele's Island web page. Link below.

This time we’re going to Tassie to Steele’s Island. Looks perfect for a bunch of nerdy writers!

So I’d like to raise a glass of cyber champagne to:

My writing friends, ROR ten years* on and still going strong!

* We couldn’t squeeze in a ROR last year in 2011, which would have been exactly 10 years, so this 2012 ROR is our official 10 year birthday bash.

Posted in Australian Spec Fic Scene, Awards, Book Launches, Creativity, Editing and Revision, Genre Writing, Nourish the Writer, Plotting, Writing Craft, Writing goals, Writing Groups | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

Sean the Blogonaut on Writers, Reviewing and Websites

Posted by Rowena Cory Daniells on December 11, 2011

Rowena has very kindly invited me to discuss how reviewers find an author via their web presence, what they look for on author web sites and finally, what they look for in a book.

Who is Sean and why should I listen to him?

Good question.  I am a teacher, a book blogger, interviewer and a reviewer.  I have been focussing on speculative fiction for the past year but I have had a life long interest in reading and authors. I review for traditional publishers, small press and conduct audio interviews for Galactic Chat. Now I’m wary of self proclaimed experts so I won’t pretend to be one.  I can only let you know how I get to know of authors and their works.

Getting noticed

Cory Doctorow is fond of quoting Tim O’Reilly, “the big problem [for Authors] isn’t piracy, it’s obscurity”.  I think it’s always been an issue for authors.  It’s just been compounded with the ease of self publishing.

So what follows are some tips for getting someone like me to notice you as a writer and become an honest advocate of your work. I say advocate here because I don’ see myself fitting into that role of an academic, critical reviewer (which isn’t to say I won’t offer constructive criticism).  I like finding good talent and letting likeminded people know about it.

Traditional publishers generally do a good job of getting you reviewed, or setting up interviews etcetera. In my experience though, social media and the use of the blogging/internet community is something they are just starting to come to grips with, often trying to seize it as a marketing opportunity, which runs against the grain of the egalitarian book blogging community.  In my opinion social media outreach and community engagement with your readers is probably best done by the author. So without further ado here are my information conduits:

Podcasts – Book people talking about the books they love.  I owe most of my recent purchases to listening to shows like The Coode Street Podcast, Galactic Suburbia and The Writer and The Critic. If there’s not a podcast that services your genre, consider starting one.  If you can, get a mention or even a guest appearance on podcasts by engaging in some of the activities below.

Twitter – is probably my best source of information on what authors are doing and saying.  A note here though, Twitter is a social media platform – engage with people. Don’t market your book at them (or do so with subtlety).  These are people not customers (yet).

Websites and Blogs – have a web presence, a free blog or a self hosted site with an RSS feed.  Have a place where you can talk about your book, yourself and your interests. If I like hanging out discussing things on your blog, I’ll tell others and I’ll link to your blog when you have news.

Goodreads– Get on Goodreads at least as a reader but preferably as an author as well.  I have other readers who I respect and who I know have similar tastes to me.  I’m informed of what books they are reading and what they think about these books.  Make it easy for us to find you there.

None of these are a guarantee and I have missed out some avenues that I don’t use.  The point though is to generate multiple pathways to your work, for you to grow a network honestly and organically.

Combine this approach with the works and networks of others and you have a web of mutually supportive connections that will nourish you.

Excellent examples of this approach are the ROR blog, and the various web incarnations of Marianne de Pierres. Watch how authors like Rowena, Marianne and publishers like Alisa Krasnostein contribute to a “rising tide that floats all boats”.

It’s not all work either.  I promote my writing on twitter (it’s my biggest source of site visits) but I also spend time just conversing with people socially.  All of the above activities require some effort but they also provide something in return.

But, “protect the work”.  No good having a web presence without work to promote.

What you can do to help?

Everyone is busy.  I know you have just spent the better part of two years getting a book to print, not to mention the carcases of other works abandoned on the journey, but here some things you can do to make it easy for people to sing your praises.

  1. Have a Press Kit, a page including a bio and jpegs of you and your works that bloggers can use in their posts.
  1. Collect links to interviews written and audio on your blog/website in one central location. When I research an author for an interview I listen and read all the other interviews they have done so that I don’t end up going over old ground.  I want to ask the author engaging questions that make the experience a new one for them as well as the listener.
  1. Social media buttons, Twitter, Facebook, and Google + make it easy for people to keep track of your pronouncements.  I don’t use browser bookmarks any more, I ‘m hooked up to RSS feeds & social media updates.
  1. Use commenting systems that allow users to be notified of new comments – anything that contributes to a community building up around your blog (my recommendation is Intense Debate).

So now that I have noticed you?  What do I look for in a book?

Book reviewers, whether we are semi professional bloggers or newspaper columnists are grizzled veterans.  We have seen it all before and we can be a hard crowd to please.  The craft side of the equation is up to you, it’s something you develop only by doing, but here are some things that I look out for when reading.

Characters: You get me interested and caring about the characters and the premise of you novel/story almost doesn’t matter.  Stephen King did this for me in 11.22.63. I couldn’t have cared less about the plan to save President Kennedy, I wanted the guy and the girl to get together and live happily ever after.  As a reviewer I’m looking for “real” characters, whether they are orbiting Titan or defending Helms Deep. I want drama and tension and a little romance.

Originality or a new angle: reading lots of work within a genre really opens your eyes to how crowded with ideas it is. So to get yourself noticed, you have to come up with a fresh angle or something original. Trent Jamieson’s Death Works series is a good example of a fresh take on a number of horror/fantasy staples.  You have a world that blends mythology, both Classical and Christian, an Australian location, demon possessed zombies, the Grim Reaper and a garnish of self deprecating Aussie humour.

Pacing: for genre fiction you need the novel to be well paced.  This can be a steady rhythm or a white knuckle ride. You don’t want to give the reader a chance to put it down because, let’s face it, you are competing against visual mediums and other less taxing forms of entertainment.

An example of excellent pacing in a fantasy setting is Rowena’s King Rolen’s Kin; I’ve mentioned a couple of times that she should try her hand at a techno-thriller.  A well paced novel helps the words disappear, immerses us in the story, page count ceases to matter. If you can make me as a reviewer forget that there’s another 300 pages to go I will be eternally thankful.

Emotional engagement:  I have a rule that I generally only give five stars to books that get under my skin to the point where I have an emotional experience.  To some extent this last point arises out of a combination of those above.  Without well developed, believable characters you can’t form an emotional tie, and a book that languishes in the minutiae of a relationship never moving forward will bore the reader.

I read and reviewed Quentin Jardine’s The Loner early this year, presented as a faux biography – the pacing was steady, and the characters interesting and real.  It was outside my reading preferences, a tale of a sportsman turned journalist.  In the last 30 pages though, it gutted me emotionally, I felt physically ill due to empathy with the main character.  Jardine had made those characters so believable and real that I experienced physical symptoms.

It’s rare to get all of these, or all of them in equal measure.  And there’s some I am probably missing.  But that’s not necessary for entertainment.  And truth be told, reviewers aren’t all cut from the same cloth so even a couple of these will get your work talked about.

If you can make a book blogger or a reviewer a fan, then you have a genuine and honest promoter of your work.  You may have noticed that I have mentioned writers associated with ROR, it’s not some cosy little in group referencing.  I sing their praises when I blog and when I teach because they stick in my head.

It’s fairly easy to tell when someone is promoting for the sake of getting a reward.  You want honest advocates of your work and if you can manage to do that you have an honest and organic support team at your disposal that you don’t have to pay.

I have given you some insight into my approach to reviewing and book blogging. Hopefully you can take something away from it.   Perhaps, in the spirit of community you’d like to discus your own experiences and opinions in the comments.

For instance what has been your experience with reviewers? Do you have some you trust to recommend books? Has your book been reviewed in such a way that left you gnashing your teeth?

Follow Sean on Twitter: @SeandBlogonaut

See the Austral-Asian Spec Fic. Daily

(Look out for the article next week on this site and how useful it is for writers).

Posted in Australian Spec Fic Scene, Characterisation, Creativity, Editing and Revision, Genre Writing, Plotting, Promoting your Book, Reviews, Writing Craft | Tagged: , , , , | 12 Comments »

Part Two of Ian Irvine’s 41 ways to Keep Readers Reading

Posted by Rowena Cory Daniells on December 3, 2011

41 WAYS TO CREATE AND HEIGHTEN SUSPENSE IN FICTION

PART TWO – PLOT AND STRUCTURE

The first part of this article dealt with suspense from the viewpoint of characters and their problems. This part looks at ways to create suspense using plot and structural elements.

C. PLOT

Plot is made up of the hero’s successive actions get what he wants (i.e. to solve the story problem) and the opponent’s corresponding actions to stop him. To build suspense to an explosive pitch at the climax of the story, each new action by the hero needs to be blocked by his opponent, and either fails or leads to an even bigger problem – until the climactic scene where the story problem is finally resolved one way or another.

19.  Make the story problem clear. A surprising number of manuscripts fail to set out either:

  • What the hero’s real problem or goal is;
  • Or the nature of the obstacle or antagonist that’s trying to stop him achieving this goal;
  • Or only do so many pages into the story.

The real story doesn’t begin until the hero formulates a goal and takes action to get it (see Cleaver, Immediate Fiction). Until this happens there can be little suspense or story interest, so make the hero’s goal clear as early as possible.

20.  Put the hero at a disadvantage. Examples:

  • At the beginning, the hero may not know how to solve her problem; or may not understand what the real problem is (e.g., she’s mistaken about her real enemy);
  • She lacks the skills to solve her problem (e.g. needs magic but doesn’t have any; has a gift for magic but doesn’t know how to use it);
  • She has critical personality flaws, e.g. her obsession with gaining justice for her murdered mother blinds her to vital friendships; his violent past leaves him paralysed with guilt; his racism leads him to refuse the aid of the one person who can help him;
  • She’s handicapped physically, mentally, emotionally or socially.

21.  Increase the pressure in unpredictable ways (for details, see the references, especially Lyon):

  • Test the hero’s abilities to breaking point. Take away her friends and supporters, undermine her assets and any options she’s relying on, block her escape routes, cut the deadline in half, devalue her strongest beliefs or the things she most cares about. Anything that can go wrong, should go wrong – not just for her, but for everyone;
  • Give her more simultaneous problems than anyone can handle, so she makes damaging mistakes. Distract her with an unexpected sexual attraction. Have disagreements escalate out of control. Give her an impossible dilemma that will trouble her for ages.;
  • Thwart her at every turn. If she’s relying on aid, information or some object or talisman, have it fail to appear, or be stolen, lost or destroyed when it’s almost within her grasp. If she has a vital talent or skill, rob her of the ability to use it when she needs it most;
  • Arouse suspicion about some of her friends or allies, or use dramatic irony (see (23), below) to make readers suspect them even if the hero does not. Have a trusted ally betray her, desert her or go over to the enemy;
  • Foreshadow her fate or peril, to the audience and other characters even if not to herself. Use mysterious documents or eerie settings or symbols to create uneasiness, or show that things are not as they seem;
  • Have the hero lose contact with her mentor; injure the hero; use forces of nature (weather, fire, flood, difficult terrain) to block her;
  • Plant red herrings. Have the hero jump to false conclusions that lead her in the wrong direction or to make disastrous mistakes, or to fall into a trap. Have failures caused by misunderstandings or poor communication;
  • Set the action within some greater conflict (cultural renaissance, political drama, social upheaval, war, religious persecution) or tailor social institutions to make everything more difficult (paranoid government, martial law, police state, secret society);
  • Create an emotional time bomb (something vitally important to the hero) then, at some critical time, have it destroyed or lost;
  • Lull the hero (and readers) into a false sense of security by having things go too well for a scene or two, then create a disaster;
  • Show the hero thinking over past events and seeing something she missed that’s worrying or ominous. Or, when it’s too late, coming to a dreadful realisation.

22Create conflict with everyone and everything.

  • With the opponent – see (4) above;
  • With family, friends and allies – see (10) above;
  • With people the hero meets on the way – they may be hostile, unreliable, treacherous, incompetent or give false or incorrect information;
  • With the setting (see 25) below, including landscape, weather, culture, politics, bureaucracy, religion;
  • Inner conflict – see (22) below.

23.  Create inner conflicts and dilemmas.

  • Give the hero impossible challenges or agonising choices that test his courage, skill & moral fibre;
  • Force a good man to make invidious choices, e.g. between informing on his corrupt mother or betraying his country;
  • A girl sees two friends in danger and can only save one. How does she decide whom to save and whom to let die?
  • Make the hero choose between strongly held ideals (duty/honour, family/justice). Force a pacifist to fight. Require a reformed drunk to drink.

24.  Use dramatic irony (i.e., your readers know something vital that the characters aren’t aware of):

  • The heroine is enjoying a glass of wine by the fire, unaware that the killer is looking in through the window. She’s not anxious, but readers are on the edge of their seats;
  • The hero doesn’t realise that he’s got things disastrously wrong, but it’s obvious to the reader (and perhaps to other characters, too);
  • Write some scenes from the villain’s viewpoint so readers can worry about the trap closing on the unsuspecting hero;
  • A character bears vital or troubling news but events conspire to delay (or prevent) its delivery to those who need to know.

25.  Use the unknown to create anxiety.

  • Set a scene where some terrible disaster or tragedy once occurred. The place need not necessarily be dangerous, but fear of the unknown or the past will make it seem so;
  • Arouse fear of some danger the character has to face – this could be a real-life danger (fighting a monster, swimming a flooded river) or an uncanny one (spending the night in a ghost-ridden graveyard);
  • Or an everyday ordeal (a daunting interview; meeting the girlfriend’s parents; sitting a difficult exam).

26Put your hero in a perilous place. Analyse your scene settings and work out how you can change them to heighten tension:

  • Move the scene to a dangerous or unpredictable place. Instead of a park, use a derelict factory, a minefield or a sinking ship;
  • Make an everyday place seem dangerous, e.g. the hero must race across a rugged landscape in a fog;
  • Change the scene from day to night, good weather to bad, peace to riot or war, or put the hero in the middle of a plague epidemic.

27.  Create mysteries. As noted above, mysteries and puzzles create suspense both because the hero has to work them out and because the reader wants to know the answer.

  • How did the disaster occur?
  • How did a good man (or company, or nation) take this fatal step into crime, addiction, insanity or war?
  • Is this document true, or a despicable lie?
  • What do these clues mean?
  • Why is this device or talisman here and how is it used?

28.  Design puzzles. These can either be intellectual or physical:

  • Intellectual – riddles, conundrums, paradoxes, illusions etc;
  • Physical – how do I get in or out? Locked room mysteries. Puzzles requiring dexterity.

29.  Leave issues and crises unresolved (especially at chapter or scene endings) and tension will rise because readers long for the resolution. Uncertainty and anticipation are interlinked and create suspense:

  • Uncertainty can be heightened with unexpected twists, sudden reversals and shocking disasters;
  • Foster anticipation by having the characters set out their goals, then by using omens, portents and foreshadowing to arouse unease about the goals being met;
  • Within scenes, heighten reader anticipation by using distractions and interruptions to delay longed-for meetings, confrontations, resolution of an important event, delivery of vital news etc.

30Use reversals. Reversals of the expected are used to break expectations, clichés and repetition.

  • Lead your readers in a particular direction in order to create expectations about the outcome, then throw in a reversal that breaks the expectation. This heightens readers’ anticipation, and thus suspense, because they have no idea what’s going to happen now.
  • Scour your story for clichéd character types, plot elements, emotions, dialogue, action and reactions, then use reversals where appropriate to break the cliché.
  • Do the same where you find repetition of character types, plot elements, emotions, dialogue, action and reactions.

31.  Secrets. The existence of a secret creates suspense because readers want to know the answer:

  • Rarely, a big secret can form the suspense backbone for a whole novel, such as: Who was the traitor? What happened to the money? The secret has to be developed throughout the story by drip-feeding clues that heighten the secret rather than revealing it;
  • Smaller secrets can be used to heighten suspense within scenes, e.g. the Hogwarts letter withheld from Harry Potter in the first book of the series, and the mysterious event (the Triwizard Tournament) which people keep alluding to early in the fourth book.

32Use subtext (see Lyon for details). Subtext is ‘everything hidden from the awareness or observation of non-viewpoint characters’. Subtext based on rising tension will create suspense. Some sources are:

  • The hero’s physical state, feelings and emotions: e.g., tears forming, sexual attraction or lust, concealed hatred, a need to throw up;
  • Hidden agendas, i.e. the character’s private thoughts, intentions and plans;
  • In the natural environment: a red glow over the forest, the ground shaking, the call of a wild beast;
  • In the built environment: a patch of oil on the stair, a pram on the edge of the railway platform;
  • Other characters’ behaviour or body language: man sharpening a dagger, child playing near a cliff edge.

33.  Turn a dramatic event into a question. Beware of having the event completely answer a question or resolve a problem, as this undercuts suspense. Instead, have the event raise more questions, which draws out the suspense:

  • For small events, draw out the answer over a few sentences or paragraphs. E.g., policeman knocks on the door late at night. Instead of revealing upfront that the man’s wife is dead, draw out the mystery about how the crash occurred and what’s happened to her;
  • For major events, the resolution can be drawn out over pages or even chapters;
  • Scour the story for questions that deflate suspense because they’re answered too soon, and draw out the answer.

34.  Make it worse.

  • There’s no problem so bad that you can’t make it worse, and you should take every opportunity to do so. But why would you want to?
  • Because character is revealed not in good times but in adversity. The worse you can make it for the hero, the more his true character will be revealed by what he does, the more the reader will worry about him and the greater the suspense.

D.    STRUCTURE

Readers read to identify with the characters and live their stories, suffering the ordeals the characters go through, worrying about them and dreading that they’ll fail to achieve their goals, yet hoping and praying that they’ll succeed. At the end, readers want to see the characters resolve their problems, and long for that tidal wave of relief when all the dramatic tension and suspense built up through the story is finally released. To build suspense, the novel needs careful structuring to:

a)      Clearly present the hero and his goal to the reader in the beginning;

b)      Portray the hero’s increasingly difficult struggle to defeat the adversary and achieve the goal;

c)      End scenes and chapters in ways that create reader uncertainty and anticipation (see (28) above; and

d)      Show how the hero achieves his goal (or not) at the climax, then satisfyingly release all the built-up tension.

35.  Structure the beginning to create suspense (see Brown for details):

  • Create a hero who is both sympathetic and interesting (see (1) and (2) above);
  • Set out the story problem (i.e. the hero’s goal) clearly, and why he must pursue this goal;
  • Reveal the obstacle (the adversary or force that’s trying to prevent the hero from achieving his goal);
  • Twist both the characters and the goal to break stereotypes, freshen the story and surprise the reader.

36Tailor the hero’s actions to heighten suspense: In each scene, the hero faces some problem related to her goal. The actions she takes to solve the problem should either:

  • Partially succeed, though worryingly (she finds a clue to the murder, but following it will lead her into greater danger);
  • Succeed but lead to a bigger problem (he kills the giant spider but now another hundred are hunting him); or
  • Fail and make the problem worse (she breaks into the enemy’s fortress to steal the documents, but they’re not there and now she’s trapped).

37.  Vary the hero’s fortunes to maintain and heighten suspense throughout the story.

  • If every scene runs at fever pitch and ends disastrously, the law of diminishing returns sets in – the reader becomes desensitised to the drama, and suspense dies;
  • Instead, alternate tense action or drama scenes with calmer ones, and end a few scenes with the hero succeeding, and with moments of peace, happiness or hope. Variety in endings maintains suspense because the reader knows the success is only temporary; the opponent will never give up trying to defeat the hero;
  • To heighten suspense, make the hero’s failures progressively worse, and his dark moments bleaker, towards the climax.

38.  Sequence the antagonist’s reactions to progressively heighten the hero’s troubles.

  • Look at each scene from the antagonist’s point of view and ask how he can make things worse for the hero. What action will cause the hero the most trouble, and what’s the worst time it can occur?
  • To heighten suspense, make these troubles progressively worse towards the climax, until it seems impossible that the hero can win.

39.  Heighten critical scenes. Identify the key events in the story (those moments of intense drama that are also turning points) because they need to be carefully set up and treated differently (see Lyon). Key events can be positive (love scenes, celebrations at war’s end, the award of prizes or honours) or crises (murders, defeat in battle, guilty verdicts, terrible realisations). Build suspense by:

  • Foreshadowing the coming event to raise worrying questions and create reader anticipation. This can be done via characters thinking about or debating the possibility (e.g. of war), and making plans and preparations for the worst, as well as by omens, foretellings, signs and symbols;
  • Writing a small scene or moment which hints at the coming critical scene (a burning house hints at the violence and ruin of war); a shouting match foreshadows the murder to come;
  • Then a reversal – a moment that’s the opposite of the coming critical scene. E.g., in a trial, the overconfident defence lawyer has a lavish lunch with friends before returning to hear a shattering guilty verdict; immediately before the joyous wedding, the couple have a furious argument; the soldier relaxes with his family before going to bloody war. This contrast makes the critical scene far more powerful;
  • In the critical scene, use all the dramatic techniques at your disposal to raise the scene to a higher peak of suspense than anything that has gone before;
  • Afterwards, make sure the hero emotes about all that has happened, reviews how the event has made his problems worse, and reformulates his plans.

40.  Climax, Resolution and Endings.

  • Vary your scene endings to maximise suspense. Some scenes should end at moments of high drama, many with unanswered questions, several with shocking twists, a few with emotional completion, and some with no more than a wry observation or pithy phrase.
  • The climax of the story, where the greatest obstacle is overcome and the hero’s story problem is finally resolved one way or another, is the biggest of all the critical scenes and must coincide with the highest point of tension and suspense.
  • If the greatest tension occurs in a scene before the climax, the ending of the story will be anticlimactic and the reader will feel let down.
  • If the story’s resolution is weak, contrived, over too quickly or in any other way fails to match the build-up of suspense to the climax, readers will be bitterly disappointed;
  • In most novels, all the key questions will be answered by the end, and the resolution provides a sense of completion plus the blissful release from suspense that readers are waiting for. Some stories may end with a dilemma, however – the main story has been resolved but there’s still a question raised in the reader’s mind about what choice the hero will make.
  • Stories which are part of a series should resolve most of the story questions at the end, but the overarching series question (e.g. will Harry Potter defeat Lord Voldemort) remains and creates ongoing suspense until the series ends.

41.  In editing.

  • Review the story scene by scene, rate each scene out of 10 for its level of suspense, then plot the sequence of suspense ratings. Ideally the graph should be a zigzagging line rising progressively to the climax of the story, then falling away in the resolution.
  • Does the story have flat periods with little suspense? Insufficient breaks from high suspense? The highest suspense occurring before the climax? Suspenseful moments that are too quickly resolved? Critical scenes where the suspense is too low, too brief or too similar to other scenes? A powerful climax ruined by a weak resolution? Work out how to fix these problems.
  • Common scene problems that lower suspense include: lack of a clear goal for the scene; stakes too low; lack of an obstacle or weak obstacle; too little conflict; too much thought or talk and not enough action; too much action and not enough thought, emotion or reflection; no twist or disaster at the end (see Lyon for a detailed analysis).
  • Analyse your characters (see (2) above). Can you modify or change certain character traits to vary the kinds of suspense in the story, and to heighten it in key scenes?

 

REFERENCES

Bell, James Scott (2004). Plot and Structure. Writer’s Digest. Probably the best book on the topic of plot and structure.

Bell, James Scott (2008). Revision and Self-Editing. Writer’s Digest. Also a great book; a wealth of practical info and examples.

John D Brown (2011). Key Conditions for Reader Suspense (27-part article).  An excellent series of articles.

Cleaver, Jerry (2002). Immediate Fiction. St Martin’s Griffin. No one has ever explained the craft of storytelling more clearly or simply.

Kress, Nancy (2005). Characters, Emotion and Viewpoint. Writer’s Digest. Excellent book on these topics.

Lukeman, Noah (2002). The Plot Thickens. St Martin’s Griffin, New York. Terrific chapters on characterisation, suspense and conflict, a lot of stuff I’ve never thought of before.

Lyon, Elizabeth (2008). Manuscript Makeover, Revision Techniques no Fiction Writer can Afford to Ignore. Perigee Trade. In my view, the best book on revision and self-editing.

Maass, Donald (2009). The Fire in Fiction. Writer’s Digest. He identifies the problems his agency sees over and over again in manuscripts and tells you how to fix them. A fantastic book.

Truby, John (2007). The Anatomy of Story – 22 Steps to Becoming a Master Storyteller. Faber and Faber. A fascinating and insightful book.

Vorhaus, John (1994). The Comic Toolbox. Silman James Press. Not just the best book on comic writing, but better than all the others put together.

About me: I’m an Australian marine scientist. I’ve written 27 novels, including the internationally bestselling Three Worlds fantasy sequence, an eco-thriller trilogy about catastrophic climate change, Human Rites, and 12 books for children, most recently the Grim and Grimmer humorous adventure fantasy series.

My next epic fantasy novel is Vengeance, Book 1 of The Tainted Realm, to be published by Orbit Books in Australia in November 2011, and in the US and UK in April 2012.

For more on my books, including covers, blurbs, reviews and the first chapters of all of my novels and my 2 novellas, see my site.

To say Hi or get a quick answer to your questions, please pop over to my Facebook page.

For more on writing and publishing, see my blog

Posted in Characterisation, Creativity, Editing and Revision, Genre Writing, Nourish the Writer, Plotting, Point of View, Research, Story Structure, World Buildng, Writing Craft | Tagged: , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

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.

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 »

YA Books for Girls, where does that leave Boys?

Posted by Rowena Cory Daniells on September 10, 2011

Lara Morgan, author of the Rosie Black Chronciles is visiting ROR.

 

 

Take it away, Lara.

These days it seems that whenever you look in the YA section of bookshops the titles that smack you in the eye first are those dark covers with brooding images, aimed squarely at the teenage girl. Heroines with powers, heroines in danger, heroines with quirky side kicks – it’s all about girl power in the market. Or so it seems.  Blogs, newspapers, earnest people over coffee, are all talking about how there aren’t any books for boys in YA anymore. That the market has been overrun by books for girls, about girls, with girly themes, and that the implication then is this is all wrong and something should be done for the poor hard done by teen boys.

I, for one, am wondering if the teen boys in this question actually care. Has anyone asked them or are we all just speaking for them? And is the great female take-over really happening?

I’m not convinced. Actually after a century, or more, of books for YA being dominated by male characters, saving the girls, written by male authors, part of me is cheering just a little bit. A recent study of young adult novels released between 1900 and 2000 showed that males were the central characters in 57% of books published per year while only 31% of the central characters were female.

 

So, really, it’s only in the last eleven years that girls have started to become the more dominant lead characters in YA fiction. And I’m not going to be sorry about that. A part of me wants to say (hands on hips), well isn’t it about time we girls got to dominate something? Men have more of just about everything on this planet. More power, more money, more rights.  Is the fact that girls hold a bigger place in YA really such a tragedy?

I know some may say that is not a very PC view to hold, but I’m finding it hard to be repentant. It’s not that I don’t care about boys reading – I passionately believe all kids should read – but I don’t think there being a glut of books with female protagonists out there is what’s stopping them. Contrary to the hysteria, there are plenty of books with male protagonists, if that’s what you want.  I think boys not reading is caused by a range of issues and it’s certainly not a new thing, nor the result of more girls in fiction. Boys were reading less when I was in school and that certainly was before 2000.

I don’t have any answers, but what I do believe is, at the moment, girls read more than boys and I think girls are encouraged to gravitate more towards the inner life than the outer, but I’m not convinced that boys won’t read books featuring female protagonists. I think we train them not to and it’s such an ingrained habit that we don’t even know we’re doing it. I think part of the problem is that adults just don’t offer boys books about girls, probably with the greatest of intentions. The reasoning being; we need to encourage him to read so let’s give him a story about spies or pirates not that one about a girl who rides dragons. And even those of us who want everyone to read everything do it.

I write YA with a female protagonist and it is marketed for girls, though when I was writing it I didn’t think about who the reader would be, just what the story was. Now I have been delightfully surprised when people have told me their son read it and loved it, because I didn’t think boys would.  That fact I am surprised a boy read it shows I am also guilty of putting that boy in a ‘he won’t read that’ box.  You see how this mindset is everywhere?

So what do we do? Well we work on changing our own attitudes and try to pass that change on. Yes girls read more than boys, yes at the moment there are a lot of books out there with female protagonists but is that really such a terrible thing? For a long time girls have been reading about boys saving the world, about boys saving them and boys have been reading them as well and absorbing the message that they always have to be the hero, the strong one. Maybe it’s time to show a different point of view, maybe boys will be relieved they can be the side kick for a change with the wit instead of the sword. Give both sexes some credit and let’s see where this takes us.

 

 

 

Lara is giving away a copyof the Genesis and the question is:

What’s your favourite YA book with a female lead character, that you’ve read recently or as a child, and why?

 

 

 

 

Posted in Australian Spec Fic Scene, Book Giveaway, Gender Divive in Writing, Genre Writing, Visiting Writer, Writing for Young Adults | Tagged: , , , , , , | 32 Comments »

Indy Press Opens to Spec Fic Novels

Posted by Rowena Cory Daniells on September 8, 2011

Twelfth Planet Press will be accepting speculative fiction manuscripts

for the month of January 2012.

Alisa Krasnostein (interviewed here) nominated for a World Fantasy Award for her work with Twelfth Planet Press, has decided to branch into novels. She says:

‘Twelfth Planet Press is looking to develop a new line of dynamic, original genre novels. Twelfth Planet Press novels will push boundaries to question, inspire, engage and challenge. We are specifically looking to acquire material outside that which is typically considered by mainstream publishers.

We are looking for science fiction, fantasy, horror and crime. We will consider borderline literary, new weird, steampunk, space opera, hard science fiction, soft science fiction, urban fantasy, cyberpunk, military science fiction, young adult, paranormal romance and everything in between.’

For information on what to submit and how see here. Best of luck with this venture, Alisa.

Posted in Australian Spec Fic Scene, Editors, Genre Writing, Indy Press, Publishers, Publishing Industry, Writing Opportunities | Tagged: , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Congratulations Alisa Krasnostien and Twelfth Planet Press!

Posted by Rowena Cory Daniells on September 7, 2011

This post is also cross-posted to my blog.

Alisa Krasnostein is an environmental engineer by day, and runs indie publishing house Twelfth Planet Press by night. She is also Executive Editor at the review website Aussie Specfic in Focus! and part of the Galactic Suburbia Podcast Team. In her spare time she is a critic, reader, reviewer, runner, environmentalist, knitter, quilter and puppy lover.

Q: First let me say mega congratulations on being a finalist in the World Fantasy Awards (courtesy LOCUS) in the Special Award Non-Professional section for your work with Twelfth Planet Press.  I imagine you’ve been popping champagne ever since you found out. Did you have any inkling this was coming?

Thank you! My nomination was totally unexpected and took me completely by surprise.  I’m very excited because I was already planning on attending World Fantasy Con in San Diego.

 

Q: I was involved in Indy Press in the late 70s early 80s so I know how much work and money goes into this. If you’d had any idea that you’d be ‘working longer hours on the press than my day job and I still don’t have enough time in the week to get to everything that needs to be done.’  – (See full interview on Bibliophile Stalker) – would you have jumped in with as much enthusiasm?

Interesting question. I’m not afraid of hard work. I definitely lean towards the workaholic. I think also, being an engineer has trained me to get absorbed and focused on the task at hand. And the amount of time I work and the amount of work I create for myself is definitely self-inflicted. And I hear I can dial it back at any point in time if I want! I love indie press more now that when I first jumped in and I respect and appreciate the people who contribute to the scene even more so now that I know how much work and dedication and talent goes into everything that gets published. And I also believe that we are limited only by the passion, time, commitment and hard work that we put in. So. No pressure. And no regrets.

Q: And following on from that, if you could go back and give yourself advice about starting Twelfth Planet Press, what would that advice be?

The number one thing I regret is not taking my business more seriously from the start. My advice would be to set up my small press as a small business from the beginning and not rely on a box of receipts or a papertrail for forensic auditing later. I set the financial and business side up several years in and that was most definitely one of the most painful things to sort out. There’s so much more to writing and editing and publishing than the creative side and I would advise myself, and anyone jumping in (both at the publishing and the writing ends), to get a basic handle on accounting, legalese to read and understand contracts and basic business advice (like if you need an ABN and how to structure your business – will you be a sole trader or a company and what does that mean anyway?) .

Q: You did a post for Hoyden About Town on The Invisibility of Women in Science Fiction. It’s obviously a subject you feel strongly about.  Is Twelfth Planet Press seeking to address this issue with affirmative action?

Not in any formal or mandated way. Overall, I don’t have a gender imbalance issue at Twelfth Planet Press – I buy what I like and the best stories that are submitted to me. And funnily enough, that gender breakdown is different to the general norm (though that’s not true of my novella series).

The Twelve Planets – twelve four-story original collections by twelve different Australian female writers – is a project that came from a place of realising, at the time of idea conception, how few female Australian writers had been collected. That’s changed during the time of project development. But the Twelve Planets remains a project that will release over two years close to 50 new short stories written by women. And that’s something that I’m really proud to be doing.

Q: Twelfth Planet Press has had some remarkable wins for a new, small Indy Press. There were six finalistings in the Aurealis Awards this year. Two finalistings on the Australian Shadows Award. And Tansy Rayner Roberts’ novella Siren Beat won the WSFA Small Press Award for 2010. This novella was part of a series of back-to-back novellas that Twelfth Planet Press released.  It’s notoriously hard, from a writer’s point of view, to sell a novella to a publisher. Why did TPP start producing BtB novellas?

Thanks, I was particularly pleased with our Aurealis Awards shortlistings this year coming after seven shortlistings last year. It feels like validation for some of the choices that I’ve made particularly in terms of the direction I’ve taken. And the win from the WSFA was just unbelievably exciting. I’m so proud of the work that Tansy Rayner Roberts is producing at the moment.

I really wanted to have a product to sell at a particular price point, around the $10 to $15 mark. That was really the place that I started at for the novella doubles. I personally love the novella length, especially for science fiction and I loved the idea of paying homage to the Ace Doubles. I especially loved the idea of pairing two totally unrelated works and throwing them into a package like many of the Ace Doubles did. From a gambling sense, if you love one and not so much the other, that’s not a bad deal for $12. And from a publisher’s point of view I like the idea of perhaps enticing readers to find new or unknown to them writers or be exposed to a new genre by buying a double for one of the stories and getting the other one as a bonus. If I make the pairs right!

Q: An editor once said to me, I can’t tell you want I want, but I’ll know when I see it. This is incredibly frustrating to a writer. Can you tell us what you want?

Only that I’ll know when I see it. Sorry! But yeah, we look for what we aren’t expecting, what is outside of what everyone else is writing, that breaks new ground and feels fresh, that stands out from the pack. What I want is the project that stands out cause it’s not like all the other books on the shelf. I specifically look firstly for really solid writing – writing that is unpretentious and doesn’t get in the way of the story. And then I want to be emotionally or intellectually moved or changed by the work. I look for stories that demand my attention and then hold it. I look for stories that tell me something I didn’t know before – about myself, or about society or humanity. I look for a rewarding reading experience. So. Not much.

I’m very busy and I deliberately choose to read submissions when I’m in a bad mood and whilst doing something else. I want what I’m reading to demand attention, to demand I put everything down and just read it to the end.

Q:  A finalist placing in the World Fantasy Awards has to raise the profile of Twelfth Planet Press. Where would you like to see TPP in five years time?

I’d like to see us with wider distribution in brick and mortar bookshops all over the place (long live the bookshop!) and being in a position to pay pro rates for writing, art, design and layout. I’d like to see us pushing genre boundaries and continuing to publish top quality fiction by writers at the top of our field that inspires, engages and entertains.

Q: On a personal note, where would you like to see yourself being career-wise in five years time?

I’d like to be working full time for Twelfth Planet Press.

 

Follow Alisa on Twitter  @Krasnostein

Hear the podcasts on Galactic Suburbia

Hear the TPP Podcasts.

Catch up with Alisa on Linked in

Catch up on FaceBook

Drop by the ASIF Website.

Posted in Australian Spec Fic Scene, Awards, Editors, Fantasy Genre, Genre Writing, Indy Press, Publishers, Publishing Industry, Writing Craft | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »