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Posts Tagged ‘Writing Groups’

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.

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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 »

Aspiring Writer’s Checklist

Posted by Rowena Cory Daniells on July 3, 2010

So you’ve decided you want to be published.

1. Take your writing seriously (not too seriously).

Give yourself permission to buy that book on plotting, attend that workshop and go to festivals and conventions.

Invest in yourself and your future as a writer.

2. Research and learn.

Join your state writers center. Join a specialist writers group like VISION. Buy the books that are shortlisted for awards. Keep up with what is being published, who is publishing it and how the genres are developing.

3. Learn to love the Internet.

There is so much useful information out there. Find agent blogs and follow them. eg.

Call my Agent.

Agent Kristin

Writer Beware

4. Conversely, limit the amount of time you spend on the internet.

Social networking aside,  the web is too tempting to research. You can go from one fascinating site to another and lose the precious couple of hours you have put aside to write.

5. Set aside a writing place that is yours alone.

Preferably with a door that you can close. Make this spot a haven where you feel welcome.

6. Make time to write.

Set aside a particular time each day for your writing time.  Set realistic goals eg. a minimum of 4 pages a day.  If you have trouble getting into a story after time away from it, go back a few pages and re-read it. You’ll catch yourself editing and before you know it, you’ll be writing a new scene.

7. Get organised.

Set goals. Short term (this week), medium term (this month), long term (this year) and Dream Goals (Where I’d like to be in five years).

Find competitions and markets,  and set yourself the goal of entering that competition, or sending something off to that market.

8. Keep track of submissions.

There are high tech programs but it is just as easy to make up a grid and drop in the title, date, Mag name and results.

9. Learn to love rejection.

(Don’t laugh)  Unless you fluke onto a sale right away, you’ll get rejections. There are standard rejections that tell you nothing and there are the kind that tell you, you are getting close. eg. Not quite what I’m looking for, or, bought something about sparkling vampires only last week.

10. Learn from rejection.

Whenever a story or book gets rejected with a personal comment take the time to get over the disappointment then take a look at the rejection. What can you learn from it? Can your story/book be re-written?

11. Send your work out.

Keep submitting. Your stories won’t sell sitting on your hard drive.

12. Back up all your work.

Back up your work in more than two places. I’ve had two computers die on me and just the other day my USB died. Burn to CD and date it, or buy an external hard drive and back up to that every month.

What if your house burned down? Save to somewhere external as well. (Writers are notoriously paranoid for good reason).

13. Have a career plan.

But be prepared to adapt. Talk to  published writers. How did they get published? What have they learnt since? Listening to others can prevent you making mistakes. Attend panels at festivals on the publishing industry. Listen and learn.

14. Do you need a pseudonym?

If you are going to write across several genres you might choose to write under different names. At writers festivals, would you feel comfortable answering to a name that isn’t yours? Can you use your initials, or your mother’s maiden name?

15. Enter Competitions and attend Pitching Opportunities

With many publishers only accepting agented submissions, the best way to get past the gate keepers is to enter and win or place in competitions. Alternatively,  there are opportunities for you to pitch your book to agents and editors. (See here for pitching info and here for competition info this one contains useful industry links).

Be ready for these opportunities by …

16. Get your manuscript professionally appraised by a reputable assessor

Ask around, find someone who knows your genre. Tell them to be frank. You really need fresh eyes to go over you ms before you send it out. Your writing buddies will have seen it during the process of writing so they will be too close. A good manuscript appraiser can tell you if your middle is sagging, if you are doing info dumps or if your first chapter is all back-story.

17. Do you need a web presence before you sell?

This is debatable. How much time are you going to spend on a blog, when you could be writing? The easiest way is to join a shared blog with like minded writers. This eases the load on each individual and you bring a shared perspective to the blog.

18. Be ready to promote your book.

Before you sell you can be making lists of blog review sites. Make a list of promotional ideas. Do you need a book trailer? Do you need bookmarks? Can you run workshops or talk on panels? Public speaking can be a horrifying thought for the introverted writer type.

19. Don’t forget to WRITE!

If you do sell a book, be prepared with other books and ideas for series. The publishers aren’t buying a book in isolation. They are buying ‘an author’ who they can build.

20.  Believe in yourself.

Few writers are overnight successes. Few writers have a smooth path. Even after publication there are dry spells. If you give up before you are published you will never be published.

Remember what they said on Galaxy Quest – Never give up. Never surrender!

Now take a look at your writing life, where are you falling down?

I’m struggling to make enough time to edit the book I’m trying to finish for ROR.

Posted in Creativity, Publishing Industry, Writing Craft, Writing Groups | Tagged: , , | 7 Comments »

Writing Groups, where would we be without them?

Posted by Rowena Cory Daniells on June 19, 2010

Stuck in our garrets writing away, not sure if what we write is any good. Even with the internet, which has been a lifesaver for writers, we still need that face to face time.

I can’t begin to express my gratitude to the writers I’ve met over the last 15 years who have offered me a ‘hand up’. More than that, I’ve made such wonderful friends.

For starters there is this web site and the ROR group.

For information on how to start your own peer critiquing group based on ROR, see here. And for our tips on critiquing see here.

But you may not want to plunge in by starting your own group. There are Writers Centres in every state and these are a good place to start. I went to many QLD Writer Centre workshops when I first started out and really enjoyed them.

And there are quite a few writing groups already established. I’ve been trawling the internet looking for writing groups. If I have missed yours, let me know and I’ll amend this post. (With thanks to everyone who emailed me with the names of writing groups).

These are specifically Speculative Fiction writing groups dedicated to helping their members polish their craft and achieve publication. In no particular order.

ACT – The Canberra Science Fiction Guild.(est?)

The CSFG helps science fiction, fantasy and horror writers and illustrators develop their craft through critiquing, and sharing news and experiences. They have produced six anthologies which have been open to writers throughout Australia. (I couldn’t see a ‘history’ page so I’m not sure when they were established).

Queensland – Vision Writers Group (est 1996 – on Father’s day to be exact. Marianne and I abandoned our husbands to the children and ran away to the QWC to attend the first meeting because we were desperate for a Spec Fic writing group).

They say: VISION was formed to give science fiction, fantasy and horror writers in Queensland a chance to meet their peers, have their work critiqued and critique the work of others. We’re about writing, critiquing, sharing experiences and expanding the opportunities for speculative fiction writers in Queensland and Australia. And that’s what we do.

The group is centred on our monthly meetings and the Discussion List but there are lots of other things we do that you can become involved in, if you like. Our aim is to foster a literature-based speculative fiction community that produces good stories and good writers.

There is the Vision discussion list for those who can’t get along to the meetings.

South Australia – Ad Astra (est 2006)

They say: We are a group of dedicated and supportive writers of speculative fiction who meet regularly to critique work submitted by members, and to discuss industry news, information, problems, and specified topics. (limited to 12 members).

Also South Australia – Blackwood Writers Group (est 1996) and Blackwood Writers Group NE Branch (est 2005).

They don’t have a ‘mission statement’ on their web sites, but they seem pretty serious about the craft of writing.

Victoria – SuperNOVA (est 1999)

They say: We have around 20 members who meet regularly (although usually not all at once) to talk about SF writing-such as aspects of structure, expression, inspiration, publishing markets and conventions. Whereas the atmosphere is informal, SuperNOVA’s intent is serious, with most members striving to make writing their day-time job (as opposed to part-time addiction). If nothing else, SuperNOVA provides a social forum for SF writers, freeing us periodically from the otherwise solitary struggle of storytelling.

Tasmania -(Let me know if there is a writing group in Tassie)

Tansy tells me the ‘Invisible College’ is pretty much defunct, but they do haved a regular Hobart writing group. Only it more a meeting-to-write-in-company, than a critique group.

Western Australia – I know there is a strong contingent of writers and fans in WA. (Please let me know if there are any Spec Fic writing groups).

Update. Satima tells me the Stromatolights no longer exist as a writing group, although it still has a mailing list with a little traffic.  (If anyone has the address let me know. I couldn’t find it).

AND There is an active group (which was mentored for a while by Dave Lucket) at the Katherine Susannah Prichard Writers Centre. It has run a biennial mini-con since 2006. This is the link. (Thanks to Carol for bringing it to my attention).

Egoboo WA is a bunch of writers who are working together to crit, learn, and inspire each other. We all live in Perth, Western Australia, and found we have heaps in common.

New South Wales – Infinitas Bookshop Writers Group (est?)

They say they meet to foster:

  • greater understanding of our writing’s strengths and weaknesses;
  • donation of suggestions for improvements to particular stories; and
  • free exchange of information and experience relevant to writers.

As a secondary objective the group provides a social forum for writers to converse with others who share an interest in, and understanding of the issues of, speculative fiction writing.

Edwina thinks there might also be a writing group in Western Sydney so if you know about it, let me know.

Chris tells me there is the Thorbys Writing Group. Most of the members have attended Clarion South and the group was originally started from one of Terry Dowling’s Workshops. For more details see Chris’s comment below.

Northern Territory – If you know of a Spec Fic writing group, please let me know.

Australian Groups – now we are getting into groups with a different aim from just developing their writing craft.

The Australian SF Foundation (est 1976).

The Australian Science Fiction Foundation (affectionately known as the Foundation) was formally established in 1976, partially to carry on the work of Aussiecon, the first Australian World Science Fiction Convention.

Its main purpose is to sponsor and encourage the creation and appreciation of science fiction in Australia. The Foundation does that through the sponsorship and administration of writing workshops and short story competitions, seed loans to national conventions, and the publication of its newsletter, The Instrumentality. The Foundation has, since its inception, been a resource centre for everyone involved in Science Fiction in Australia.

Aurealis Awards (est 1995)

The Aurealis Awards were established by Chimaera Publications, the publishers of Aurealis magazine, to recognise the achievements of Australian science fiction, fantasy and horror writers.

A lot of people have worked very hard over the years to keep these awards going. A complete list of award winners is available for download on this page.

Clarion South (est 2003)

Clarion is an intensive six week workshop for writers preparing for a professional career in speculative fiction. Clarion has been described as “boot camp” for speculative fiction writers.

In 2002, a new organisation was established in Queensland, Australia to bring the Clarion experience to the southern hemisphere. The first two Clarion South workshops were held in 2004 and 2005, before it became biennial, with subsequent workshops hosted in 2007 and 2009.

Anyone can apply to attend Clarion South (they must be accepted). It is a great experience. See here for FAQs.

Australian Horror Writers Association (est. 2003, incorporated 2005)

(This group is incorporated in Victoria, but its focus is Australia wide so I have listed under Australian groups). They say:

AHWA aims to become the first point of reference for writers and fans of the dark side of literature in Australia. AHWA aims to spread the acceptance and improve the understanding of what horror is in literature to a wider audience, and in doing so gain a greater readership for established and new writers alike.

AHWA aims to offer new writers:

  • Mentor Programs
  • Critique services
  • Competitions
  • Informative tips by authors, agents and editors on how to get published

There will also be:

  • Genre news on the Australian scene
  • Links to horror-related and writing resources
  • Regular articles on writing and the horror genre
  • An active presence at Australian speculative fiction conventions
  • A continued online community for discussions of the horror genre

To reach these goals we welcome all suggestions, comments and ideas. For further information, please contact AHWA

The ‘nascent’ Australian Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers Association (on facebook)

They say:

This association has not been established yet. This will be a not for profit entity with an annual membership fee similar to the standard set by the AHWA.

The point of this page at the moment is to gauge the interest and support of the community and to encourage ideas and debate about what should be included.

Mission:
What we will do when we set this association up:
* Support and promote Australian science fiction and fantasy writers
* Assist writers of any level of skill or any number of publications in their activities
* Having a place online for people anywhere in the country to be involved in the community and establish new relationships
* Create a new place on the internet for all members to promote their works
Australian web sites which foster the genre by offering reviews, information on markets etc.

ASIF – Australian Spec Fic in FocusASIF is a voluntary group run by booklovers who love reading speculative fiction.

InkspillersMagazines, Anthologies, competitions, editors, publishers, awards, conventions, resources, foriegn resources.

SpecusphereThe Specusphere is an independent website created by people who want to explore the speculative world as a creative industry.

WORLD SF CONVENTION Aussiecon 4The 68th World Science Fiction Convention will be held 2-6 September 2010 at the Melbourne Convention and Exhibition Centre.  Our Guests of Honour are Hugo-winning author Kim Stanley Robinson, award-winning Melbourne artist Shaun Tan, and dedicated fan Robin Johnson.  Melbourne has also hosted Worldcons in 1975, 1985, and 1999.

The annual Worldcon brings together science fiction and fantasy professionals and fans from around the world.  All forms of SF&F are represented – film, television, comics, costuming, gaming, and especially literature.  Programming includes panel discussions, lectures, science demonstrations, films, readings, and autographing.

For information in what is happening in the Australian scene see the Australian Science Fiction Bullsheet. (You can subscribe to this for free).

For a list of Australian Spec Fic writers see here. (Feel free to contact Specusphere with updates).

For a list of writing groups across Australia see here. (This list is not complete).

For a list of Specialty Bookshops see Eric Lindsay’s list here. (This list may not be complete).

I am just about ‘listed out’ now.  I started compiling this because I had to write an article on fantasy – The Power of Fantasy. And I could not find a definitive list of Australian fantasy writers, let alone speculative fiction writers. So I began making lists.

(Please note all care has been taken to find and include writing groups from small local groups to associations which foster the genre. If I have missed a group, please let me know and I will amend the post).

Posted in Australian Spec Fic Scene, Publishing Industry, Writing Groups, Writing Opportunities | Tagged: , , , , , | 16 Comments »

Some useful industry links for Spec Fic Writers

Posted by Rowena Cory Daniells on January 29, 2010

Cover and blurb for the first book of my new fantasy series, King Rolen’s Kin. Cover art by Clint Langley. Kudos to Clint for making the character look suitably brooding and menacing. Clint is working on book two right now. Can’t wait to see the cover!

Meanwhile, I had an email today from a writer who has been mentored by the lovely Louise Cusack. Bernadette, (Hi there!), was asking about the Speculative Fiction writing scene in Australia. So I thought I’d post some useful links here, where it is easy for people to find them.

Aurealis Awards

It’s a good idea to keep up with what is winning awards and being shortlisted.

Locus

This is full of professional industry news.

ASIF

Lots of info on Australian Speculative Fiction.

Australian Horror Writers Association

Amazingly, this is for writers of horror.

Australian Spec Fic News

Again, slanted towards Aussie genre writer. When anthologies open for submissions you can hear about it here.

World SF Convention, Melbourne 2010

Australia hasn’t had a World SF Con since 1999, before that it was 1985, and 1975. Don’t miss this one.

Australian Writers and Market Place

You can subscribe online to this and keep up with the markets, for short stories and books. Agents, manuscript appraisers, festivals and more.

Ralan

This site has info on all sorts of international markets with response times.

Predators and Editors

If you want to know if an agent, publisher, manuscript appraiser etc are legitimate, this is the site for you.

Who is going to the World SF Con in Melbourne in September? I’ve already paid my membership.

Posted in Genre Writing, Publishing Industry | Tagged: , , , | 14 Comments »