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Posts Tagged ‘Maxine McArthur’

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.

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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 »

Meet Maxine McArthur

Posted by Rowena Cory Daniells on December 21, 2010

I met Maxine McArthur at World Con in 1999. In those heady days Random House was developing a genre line which published Tansy, Maxine and myself. (Random House discontinued the line, orphaning all three of us). Maxine’s first book Time Future won the second George Turner Prize. It was one of those rare experiences (for me at that point) where I met the author before I read their book. And as I read it, I could hear Maxine’s ‘voice’ clear as day. Up until that point I didn’t have a clear idea what the term ‘authorial voice’ meant.

Q: You won the second George Turner Prize with your first book, which was launched at World Con. This was your introduction to SF fandom and the publishing industry and it must have been like jumping into the deep end of the pool. Not long after this Random House discontinued their genre line. If you could go back and give that Maxine McArthur some advice, based on what you know now, what would you tell her?

Let’s see…well, first, definitely don’t give up that day job. Or should I qualify this—don’t give up the day job unless you are willing to put in a great deal of hard work to consolidate publication, which is only the first step towards a career. Successful writers don’t just write books, they spend a lot of time and energy networking, publicising themselves and their work, coordinating marketing initiatives, and often branching out into other fields such as games or scriptwriting. I didn’t realise this when I had my first book published and didn’t do the hard yards.

Second, make sure to at least consider a sequel when you write a novel—I tied myself into knots with book two (Time Past), because I didn’t do this. Third, never write about time travel again! (whoops, broke that one already) And fourth and most important, write what you want to write—don’t commit yourself to a project because it is the ‘in’ thing, or someone wants you to do it, or because you think it will look great on your CV.

Q: You left Australia right out of high school and went to study in Japan, where you met your husband and had two boys. After 16 years, in 1996 you returned to Australia and wrote Time Future, which is set on a space station and (among other things) it told how Commander Halley, the overworked engineer struggled to keep the peace between the different alien races. How much did those years in Japan influence your ability to write about living with a different culture?

I think it’s very difficult to pinpoint influences in our own writing. All I can say is that Time Future would have been a very different book if I hadn’t lived in Japan. I must add that I had a much easier time there than Halley does on the station!

When writing Less Than Human, of course, I consciously used memories and observations from my life in Japan, which I hope “gives an air of verisimilitude to an otherwise unconvincing narrative”.

Q: The sequel to Time Future, Time Past was published in 2002 by Warner. Was it hard to take the second book in a series to a different publisher? Do you still have more stories about Commander Halley bubbling around in the back of your mind?

It was a little disappointing, as I’m one of those people who like continuity, but I was very happy with Warner as it turned out. They were wonderful with the book, especially the editing.

Oh yes, I have another novel set in the Time Future universe half finished, hopefully to be completed next year. Part of it is written from another character’s point of view, unlike the previous novels which are kind of a Halley immersion experience. I hope the different POV is as interesting for the reader as it was for me.

Q: In 2002 you were awarded an Asialink Literacy Residency. Please tell us a little about this residency.  What process did you go through to win it, how long did it last and was it wonderful to escape from your family and be just a writer, rather than all the other things you must be as a University employee and mother?

For three months I was almost the only resident at a very comfortable and modern ‘Arts Village’ in Yamaguchi prefecture, which is a fairly rural part of Japan. The sojourn made me realise how little I really knew Japan, even after living there for 16 years. It was the kind of place where fairy tales and mythology seems perfectly natural—like the countryside in Miyazaki’s “Totoro”.  Most of the scenery and the spirit of place in the YA fantasy you mention below came from the notes I took in Yamaguchi. A wonderful coincidence was that Gillian Rubenstein was staying in a nearby village, writing her stupendous fantasy series, and we had some great times together.

I actually found it rather lonely apart from Gillian. I don’t think I would do well as a hermit-type writer. There seems to be a limit as to how many hours per day (probably no more than three or four) I can effectively spend writing—after that, my brain shuts down. This perhaps comes from having to fit writing into every little crevice of time you can find, normally. (You will relate to this, Rowena!) Families and day jobs tend to occupy large chunks of time, but fortunately novels are flexible enough to fit into the leftover space.

Q: The book you were working on while in Japan was a YA fantasy, set in medieval Japan. This is one I read at a ROR and I’ve been looking out for it ever since. What stage are you at with this book and can you tell us a little about it?

Certainly. Here’s part of the ‘blurb’:

The spirits of the dead will possess all places and times. The line between the worlds will disappear. We will be doomed to live with the dead until they consume us.

In order to prevent the fox’s prophecy coming true, the young shaman, Hatsu, must stop a powerful angry ghost seeking revenge on the living. Her only help is the young warrior’s assistant, Sada, whose troop burned Hatsu’s village and whose strange new religion threatens her own. The only way Hatsu can return from the Long Bridge in the land of the dead is for Sada to abandon his honour; the only way Hatsu can finally help the angry ghost and save them all, is to accept Sada’s beliefs.

This book is proving to be a bit of a problem child, as a couple of publishers gave me some feedback which suggests it needs rewriting to make it more ‘accessible’. Which I’m working on, except that my current project is occupying most of my mind at present. That’s the trouble with working full time and trying to write as well—you have to prioritise ruthlessly.

Q: Another manuscript that we read at ROR was the first draft of the book that was published as Less than Human, which went on to win the Aurealis SF Award in 2004. This is a near future book that, among other things, plays with ASIMOV’s first law of robotics. Are you tempted to write any more near future books which explore the interface between technology and humanity?

Not in the next year or so! It is a difficult space to write in, also, as ‘near future’ so rapidly becomes ‘yesterday’, and technological change so quickly makes our speculations into stale news. I am interested in the biological sciences at the moment, and the implications of research in some of those fields on our near-future lives. But I haven’t found a novel in there yet.

Q: Before I was published, I thought that once I had a book accepted my next book would automatically be accepted and I’ve be on the road to a thriving writing career. I discovered, as we all do, that the publishing industry is a harsh mistress. After the winning the George Turner Prize and an Aurealis Award, you’ve spent some years between major contracts. How have you sustained your creativity and drive during these years?

I wouldn’t say that I did sustain my creativity and drive, actually. Having friends to talk to about what I was doing was the single most important thing that kept me writing. I just kept pootling along, and paying the mortgage, but the writing was awfully slow (and sometimes just awful).

I think now that I was missing enthusiasm. For the past year I have been working on a project that has pulled me along like a tin can tied to the back of a sled dog team, and I have realised that the ‘fire’ that drove me during the writing of Time Future had been missing for quite a while.

I’ve also come to the conclusion that I’m not a ‘professional’ writer, because unless it’s fun, I can’t get the words right. The process is much easier and guilt-free now I’ve accepted that.

Which leads to my advice below…

Q: Leading on from that, what advice would you give today’s aspiring writer?

Write what you love, what inspires you, what makes you want to keep going. If you’re like me, that is the only way you will keep going. If you’re not like me and you’ve got the stuff to be a dedicated, hardworking professional, you’ll enjoy the slog a lot more by writing what you love.

Q: At the most recent ROR I had the pleasure of reading your current manuscript, could you bring us up to date with where you are on this project?

Having received much encouraging and pertinent feedback at ROR, I have gone back and rewritten parts of the manuscript, and have just arrived at the exciting point where I need to write a completely new last third. This is my Christmas holiday homework.

I do love the way an unfinished manuscript is full of potential, you can see so much in it. Of course, when it’s done it never quite approaches those amazing rainbow colours it had in your mind, but the anticipation is fun while it lasts.

Q: When Marianne and I approached you back in 2001 to see if you’d like to join ROR, you agreed and have been part of the group ever since. You also belong to the Canberra SF Guild.  Did you find belonging to ROR and the Canberra SF Guild have helped you in developing or directing your writing? And if so, in what ways?

As I mentioned above, being able to receive feedback from a group of such talented and like-minded writers at ROR is a great honour and always constructive. How do I count the ways? Aside from the crucial friendship and peer support, I think the most important aspect of critiquing novels is getting a new perspective. The ROR members consistently make me look at what I’ve written from new angles. For example, at the recent ROR, Richard Harland correctly pointed out that the chapters as written contained an uneasy mix of different levels of genre (serious history vs light-hearted adventure). Thinking about this, I decided to make the concept of ‘levels of reality’ a central theme in the rewritten work—that is, use the disjuncture to my advantage. (Thank you, Richard!)

Although I have been disgracefully inactive lately, the CSFG gave me so many wonderful friends and was a pivotal influence in my participation in specfic fandom and writing, mainly because we had such fun! I am in the middle of a short story to submit to the CSFG’s next anthology, which I would love to be part of. It is a dynamic and supportive group, and I’m sure we will continue to contribute to Aussie specfic in big ways.

Q: At ROR we always do our realistic goals and our dream goals. So what are your realistic goals  and what are your dream goals?

Realistic goal—get my blogsite up and running, and my website revamped before the end of the holidays!

Dream goal—write multiple books in a new series…actually, that’s not quite right, as I will write the books anyway. How about: Sell multiple books in a new series. J

Thank you, Rowena, for asking such good questions!

To win a copy of ‘Baggage’ an anthology about what people bought to Australia with them, enter the give-away.

Give-away Question:  “If you had to travel back in time, which year and where would you choose? And why?”

The competition will stay open until next Tuesday, when Maxine will choose the answer that most appeals to her.

Posted in Australian Spec Fic Scene, Book Giveaway, Creativity, Editing and Revision, Genre Writing, Nourish the Writer, Publishers, Publishing Industry, Research, Writing Craft, Writing Groups | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , | 16 Comments »

Finding your Character’s Voice

Posted by Rowena Cory Daniells on October 26, 2010

This is a Sunday Craft post that’s turning up on a Wednesday. The VISION list has been discussing how writers find their character’s voice, so I thought I’d ask the RORees for their insights.

Richard Harland:

How do I find a character’s voice? Well, basically, by not looking for it. I’d never try to envisage a character’s voice as something that could exist all by itself – I mean, turns of phrase, speech patterns in a vacuum?  I only start to discover how a character speaks when I try them out interacting with someone else. Then it becomes a question of how they try to influence others, bounce off others, show a particular face to the world … and that’s what produces their individual voice. Character determines interaction with others determines way of speaking to others determines typical turns of phrase and speech patterns. That’s the sequence that works for me.

I’m talking about a voice within a third person narrative, of course. It’s different in a first person narrative when the character is the narrator. I’ve just had huge struggles over a story called “Bad Thoughts and the Mechanism” for an international anthology called Ghosts by Gaslight, and my struggles were 90% over getting the right voice for the narrator. It had to be a 19th century voice, therefore formal and proper, but at the same time intense and emotional. A difficult balancing act – and I began the story the story five times over before getting it right. Maybe that’s my only advice for a first person narrator’s voice – keep on experimenting, however long it takes, because if you haven’t got the voice, you haven’t got anything.

For Richard’s Writing Tips see here.

 

 

 

 

Tansy Rayner Roberts

I’m just coming to the end of a trilogy that’s more complex than anything else I’ve ever written, largely because of voice.  I have several POV characters, most third person and a few first person, and it’s hard work to keep them all feeling like they have a distinct voice.

My personal ideal is that you should be able to tell whose eyes the scene is being shown through even if they’re not named (though of course I do always name them, I’m not that mean!).  My main trick for capturing voice is vocabulary – I like to have a few key words that are specific to a particular character, something they use more that others don’t.  I also like to use phrasing that links back to their past or their interests – so my dressmaker sees the world in craft metaphors, the performer from a small fishing town uses theatrical comparison and sea shanty style insults, my aristocrat has a higher sense of entitlement and impatience and a complete tomcat sensibility which means he wants to have sex with everyone he meets…

There is no perfect way, but I do like to have a few things to cling to with each character that makes me feel as if I am in their head, and telling this part of the story through their voice.  Swearing is a great key to each character – some characters swear more than others, some more creatively, some prissily, some boldly, and some not at all.  Though as with anything you can overdo that kind of difference – you don’t want to end up as a parody of your own techniques!  I hope I get the balance right.

Having said all that I am REALLY looking forward to my next book which will only have one POV character, first person, and one single voice to capture.  Oh, the luxury!

Maxine McArthur:

Sometimes a character’s voice is there from the beginning. Halley was like that. I did a little tweaking in the middle of writing Time Future because the plot changed greatly, but basically from the moment I wrote the prologue—which stayed pretty much the same without rewriting—she was ‘there’. In my head. Which was a bit scary.

Tacs (a character in my present project) is like that, too. I’ve never had to struggle to wonder what he’s going to say or do. With these characters, the right words tend to come out easily.

Sometimes a character’s voice develops as I write—the more I get to know them, the easier it is to express their thoughts. You have to court them. Murdoch was like this, and also Ishihara in Less Than Human. It’s an enjoyable process, this getting to know a character. It may involve quite a bit of rewriting, but that’s part of the fun. The words don’t come out as easily with these characters—yesterday I spent a good 15 minutes (I was also boiling an egg at the time, that’s how I know) finding the right two lines of description from a certain character’s point of view.

I think that ‘finding’ a character’s voice is a cumulative process, not a point of ‘aha!’ discovery. The more time you spend getting it right in the beginning (like my 15 minutes), the easier the words come as the story progresses. It’s as though the character’s voice wears a path in your subconscious, and when you step onto that path, like a record needle placed in the groove, you can’t go wrong. This is another reason I spend a bit of time each writing session re-reading previous passages—it helps set the needle in the right groove.

Trent Jamieson: (Warning, Trent was overcome by an attack of Whimsy!)

The Tournée Method

For this method you need at least six or seven jars, with their lids as well. Make sure you remove their labels, and wash the jars and their lids thoroughly, and I mean thoroughly they must be as clean as possible.

You will also need a very sharp knife, and I mean Very sharp, the sort of blade that will cut you if you if you look at it from the wrong angle. Yes, that sharp. A tournée or a bird’s beak knife as they are commonly known is best, though you may need it professionally sharpened. Most supermarkets sell them, but if you cannot find one there, try a shop that supplies kitchen items to chefs.

With your tournée knife, and your jars, (careful, don’t break them, the jars must be whole, the lid making a perfect seal) walk to the nearest bus stop or train station.

As you probably know, the four winds of the world gather there, there’s nothing they delight in more than blowing open people’s umbrellas, or mixing rubbish, dirt and air in whirling bursts to scatter over commuters’ finest work outfits. More importantly the four winds contain all the voices of the world.

Sit at the stop (or station), switch off your Ipod and listen. Listen in the most profound way you can, above the sound of approaching buses (or trains). Strain your ears. Listen to the voices of the world. You’ll find if they’re fast or slow or angry. You’ll know if they hate or they love. If they speak in long slow sentences or rush as rapid as racehorse, a real thoroughbred. You’ll know if they are educated or not, if they like to swear or sweeten their words.

Listen. Concentrate.

Now, when you have found what you are looking for, be quick, and be subtle. Open a jar, slip out your knife, and (careful not cut yourself of or others) slice the voice from the wind. You don’t need it all, just a sliver.

Fill each jar with a different voice, some will be heavy some will be light, when you have enough take them home and set the jars on your desk, or wherever it is that you work. Do not shake the jars! That would be cruel.

Each voice should last you at least six months, possibly twelve, enough time to get a novel written, enough time to know what that voice is saying, what it’s thinking. By the end you should be able to close your eyes and hear that voice even when it isn’t there.

At that stage you should be able to empty the jars, rinse, clean, then repeat as required.

Don’t you just love, Trent?

But what’s he’s saying is true. All the voices in the world are out there. You just need to listen. I catch a lot of trains. Commuter trains tend to be serious business, but trains at off peak times are real microcosm of the world. I listen and sometimes people talk to me. I must have a friendly face because people tell me the most amazing things.

So there you are, some insights on how writers find their characters’ voices.

Posted in Characterisation, Creativity, Nourish the Writer, Writing Craft | Tagged: , , , , | 14 Comments »

A round up of what the RORees are up to …

Posted by Rowena Cory Daniells on October 12, 2010


For no particular reason, Trent’s going first.

Trent has just handed in book three of his trilogy and is madly doing the edits on book one. And while we’re talking about Trent, here’s a review of his latest book, Death Most Definite.  He offers Career Advice for the New Writer here.

Marianne has started her Cowpunk series and her anthology Glitter Rose is now available.  She now has the cover for the first book of her YA series, which has its own web site here. Check out the writing advice here.


Tansy has been working on the third book of her trilogy . Turns out book two has been renamed The Shattered City. For a sneak preview of book two see here.

Richard is polishing book two, Liberator. Having read it a ROR I can say it is worthy sequel to Worldshaker. And this is where you can access Richard’s 145 pages of writing tips.

Maxine is working on a fascinating story that involves time travel and the first world war. We read her book at the recent ROR and I found the scenes in the Sopwith Camel gripping. She’s about to set up a new blog with info on the new book, so I’ll add a link when I get it.


Margo is up to her ears in revisions for a novel about selkies, due out at the end of 2011 in Australia and in Spring 2012 in the US and the UK.  She’s also putting together a fourth collection of short stories, called Yellowcake, which brings together stories published in all sorts of places in the last four years.   It’s coming out in Australia in March 2011.  She’s also writing a whole new batch of fresh short stories, which will come out in various anthologies in the next twelve months.  And she will be teaching at Clarion West in July of 2011. For more info, see here.

Dirk has been writing a Libretto, based around Bedlam, the Queen of the Faeries and Lord Byron, which promises to be a show stopper!


And I’ve been working on the new trilogy, The Outcast Chronicles , for Solaris.  I’ve blogged about how the clean up process became the rewrite process when I discovered I’d ended the book in the wrong place.

I might do something about setting goals for the next ROR Sunday Writing Craft post. Feel free to make suggestions for topics.

 

Posted in Australian Spec Fic Scene, Genre Writing, Writing Craft | Tagged: , , , , , , , , | 7 Comments »