Tuesday, December 4, 2012

The Next Big Thing

Ballarat Town Hall... It no longer exists in my Next Big Thing: a young adult novel set eight generations in the future

I’ve been off the blog for far too long (and by the way off the blog isn’t anything like being off the grog) but I’m back on it again because Patrick O’Duffy invited me to contribute to an online writers’ roundabout called the Next Big Thing. Each writer answers ten questions about their current book and then tags five other writers.

Patrick is the author of a terrific ebook called The Obituarist and he is currently writing a novel called Raven’s Blood. Raven’s Blood is a young adult fantasy and I really liked the sound of it so I hope he hurries up and finishes it.

Thanks to Patrick, I’m enjoying envisaging my new book as the Next Big Thing. Imagining success is something all writers have got to be good at. It sustains us over the years it takes to write each book and keeps us busy writing.

1) What is the working title of your next book?
The working title of my new book is The Half-Life Girl. I usually change my working titles and character names several times during the drafting and redrafting process. It helps me to come to terms with the essence of the characters and the book’s overall narrative. This book has already had two working titles. The original working title was Long Sweet Song. I’m about ready to create another as The Half-Life Girl doesn’t really do it for me anymore.

2) Where did the idea come from for the book?
I had been thinking about the way professional boundaries drift over time. I’d also been thinking about the diversity – across cultures and times – of the age at which a working life begins: anything from early childhood to post-university or even later. Those thoughts combined into an idea for a young adult novel set eight generations in the future, at a time when there is no school because everyone undertakes on-the-job training within family businesses.

I looked backwards to look forwards and was inspired by those times when disciplines that now seem incompatible, such as astrology and astronomy and barbering and surgery, were compatible. It seems likely to me that those sorts of professional shifts will continue and that the future will contain some odd professions. I knew I wanted to write a police procedural crime novel but imagined different kinds of law enforcement officers: midwife coroners and detecting psychologists.

In The Half-Life Girl, my protagonist is called Fortune Sweet Song. He lives and works in a medical law enforcement family. His mother is a midwife coroner and his father is a detecting psychologist. In the first chapter, sixteen-year-old Fortune begins his apprenticeship in the family business by examining the body of a teenage girl found lying, presumed dead, in Armstrong Street in Ballarat.

 
Ballarat's Central Square has also disappeared and has been replaced by a shop called Shimmerama on Sturt
This is the location where Fortune finds the body of the teenage girl

3) What genre does your book fall under?
The Half-Life Girl is a cross genre, murder mystery, science-fiction novel for young adults.

4) What actors would you choose to play the part of your characters in a movie rendition?
The Sweet Songs have Chinese, Indian and Anglo-Saxon heritage. I’m not really sure which actor should play Fortune, but he’d have to have an ethnically mixed background. The supporting character Cara Wungalu is an Indigenous Australia. I can imagine her being played by Miranda Tapsell. I’ve been watching in Redfern Now on the ABC and I really enjoyed Miranda’s work in the episode called Joy Ride.

5) What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?
A boy who is planning to amputate his gifted hands ends up investigating a death, solving a murder, finding a profession, making a friend and accepting his genetic inheritance.

6) Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?
I’m not sure that I can answer that question at this stage. I’ve had fifteen books published in my writing career. All bar my latest book, an epic fantasy novel called The Light Heart of Stone, have been published traditionally. I’ve really enjoyed self-publishing but it takes lots of work and time: time that could otherwise be spent writing.

7) How long did it take you to write the first draft of the manuscript?I’m still writing the first draft. I began writing in January and have written about 60,000 words. I’ve thrown out about 40,000 of those words so I’m still some way from completing the draft. I expect I’ll have the first draft finished by March 2013, which is when I plan to begin writing volume II in my new epic fantasy series.

8) What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?
Ender’s Game without the military theme (is that even possible?). Harry Potter without the magic (well, that’s probably not possible). The common element is that The Half-Life Girl is a story about a boy who is shouldering an adult responsibility, much as Ender and Harry had to do in their stories.

Looking back on my answer, I feel I need to say a word about my protagonist being male. I wanted Fortune to be male because I wanted him to experience the emergence of his upgraded, gifted hands as something akin to menstruation. Fortune’s hands give him certain powers, but they weep, bleed, ache and have to be managed. Sound familiar?

9) Who or what inspired you to write this book?
I attended a fiction master class with Steve Carroll at Writers Victoria in January this year. It was really inspiring and got me started on The Half-Life Girl.

10) What else about the book might pique the reader's interest?
Readers will probably enjoy reading about the technological differences in this future Australia, which is familiar but different. I hope they will also enjoy reading about the challenges faced by the characters.

What particularly interests me about technology and change – and I hope the readers will agree – is that new technologies often present real difficulties for people entrenched in old technology (think about publishing in the digital age). While that abstract thought might not grab young adult readers, the story of Fortune’s family’s business – the Long Sweet Song Gifted Hand Clinic – probably will. The Clinic has relied on the physical upgrades possessed by family members to make a living. A new forensic technology has emerged and the Sweet Songs look as though they’ll be out on the street, facing a hostile world, in the not-too-distant future.

For the next, Next Big Thing (posting Wednesday 12 December) please visit:

Amra Pajalic
Julie Mac
Pete Aldin
Sue Isle
Gillian Polack

Monday, July 16, 2012

Representing Local People


Moorabool Shire Council - Civic Hub
"Fearless" by Anuradha Patel and Velislav Georgiev

On 10 July, Moorabool Shire Council held a community and candidate information session to encourage and inform anyone considering standing for local government on 27 October this year.

Being a local councillor isn’t always a popular and highly sought after elected position. In Moorabool, the workload is estimated to be about 20 hours a week. In return each councillor receives an allowance of approximately $25,000 per year plus some provision for childcare, a phone and computer – with the Mayor being paid significantly more in recognition of the additional demands of that role.

On the ground, the workload of individual councillors is often much greater. The hours are taxing and hostility from aggrieved community members can be a considerable problem.

Moorabool Shire is currently represented by 7 councillors, elected within a 4-ward system that divides the electorate into Central Moorabool, East Moorabool, West Moorabool and Woodlands.

Only a handful of community members attended the Shire’s candidate information session, with the majority originating in East Moorabool Ward, which includes Bacchus Marsh and surrounds. East Moorabool will have at least two women contesting this election: Margaret Wohlers-Scarff and Tonia Dudzik.

Sadly, there appeared to be no new candidates for West Moorabool and Woodlands at the information session and only one new candidate for Central Moorabool Ward: Ballan resident Brian Meadows.


Central Moorabool


Moorabool Shire Council - Ballan Office

This post focuses on the Central Moorabool Ward. The next post will cover the new and incumbent candidates in the East Moorabool Ward.

In Central Moorabool, Brian Meadows, a retired systems engineer, says he intends to run on a “back to basics and first things first” platform, which he interprets as safe roads and pavements, “keeping rates as low as they can be” and encouraging small business.
 
He doesn’t yet have a position on Ballan’s social housing problems or on the preferred direction for the rapid increase in residential development in Ballan. Nor, when interviewed, did he talk about the more remote parts of the Ward or the Shire as a broader entity. It will be interesting to hear more about his position on these issues as his platform develops.

 
One of Many New Buildings on New Housing Estates - Hogans Road Ballan

Meadows believes that money shouldn’t be wasted and nominated the chessboard paving outside the Ballan Mechanics’ Institute as an example of waste. He looks to business and other private patrons to support the arts.

 
 Mechanics' Institute Before the Streetworks
  
 Mechanics' Institute After the Streetworks 
"Moorabool Earth Totem" by Peter Blizzard
(chessboard paving between the sculpture in the foreground and benches behind)

Mr Meadows was not familiar with the specifics of Council’s existing policies and policy gaps, but said that he would be listening to the community to generate ideas and would be “available and accessible”. If elected, he plans to hold regular meetings where community members will be encouraged to come and chat.

Central Moorabool’s incumbent councillor, Philip Flack, says he is yet to decide whether he will stand for re-election.


Modern Local Government


Calls for a return to a focus on roads, pavements and rates are relatively common during local government elections, but they would seem to be at odds with the work of leading a contemporary shire or municipality.

Councils have a legislative mandate that obliges them to be concerned with society alongside their concern with dollar value and the provision of physical infrastructure for pedestrians and drivers.

The Act also requires Councils to undertaken social planning, provide a range of services, express community identity and they must have regard to social sustainability, quality of life issues, and equity in access to services.

Moorabool Shire Council operates within a Council Plan under the Local Government Act. The Plan places roads and footpaths and a reduction in reliance upon rates alongside other items. These other items include:
  • financial planning
  • advocating for better services and facilities
  • water access
  • children’s and family services
  • community facilities
  • telecommunications
  • community empowerment
  • governance
  • support for community projects
  • an early years development hub for Wallace
  • emergency management
  • local prosperity
  • local town planning
  • managing water and energy consumption, and
  • improving service delivery.

Moorabool Shire runs a budget of just under fifty million dollars and operates in a contemporary social and political environment. All of the 7 elected councillors need to be capable of addressing this broad mandate as intelligent, responsible but deeply open-minded decision makers. They represent a diverse urban and rural community and do so in a context where the majority of residents are young families – and young families have high service needs.

Room for More


There are no young people in our current councillor line-up and though the ages of our councillors are unknown, most are clearly over 50. There are no state-wide, age related statistics on local council members, but the relationship between the high workload borne by councillors and the relatively small financial reward means that standing for office is very difficult for anyone other than retirees.

We have no women in our current councillor line-up, although Moorabool has had some wonderful female councillors in the past. The same factors, high workload and low pay, deter women. The acrimony councillors often face from constituents is another major factor in women’s reluctance to run. It’s no surprise that at the State level, women make up less than 30% of Victorian councillors.

As the electoral office doesn’t open for candidate nominations until 20 September there is still plenty of time for new candidates to emerge. In the context of the candidatures of Margaret Wohlers-Scarff and Tonia Dudzik, the climate is building for diversity.

It would be wonderful to see some new candidates standing in the West Moorabool and Woodlands wards and more new candidates in Central Moorabool.

Key Dates


Campaign period - from now until voting closes
Nomination period - 20 September – noon 25 September
Ballot paper mail out - 9-11 October
Voting closes - 6pm 26 October

Friday, July 13, 2012

Help! My plot has come unstuck


 It's 200 years into the future. Fortune SweetSong looks out at this view and... 

And I stopped writing because I realised my plot was in trouble.

I commenced this writing year really well by starting a new science-fiction novel in Steven Carroll’s master class at Writers Victoria. I wrote every day for the first four months. It was great. But here I am, six months after that wonderful beginning, and my plot seems to have come unstuck.

The story that I thought I’d plotted out – so carefully, so confidently – doesn’t seemed to be as well conceived as I’d imagined. The ending doesn’t fit the cast of characters. Specifically, the ending would be very satisfying if you cared about one particular character. The problem is, that character is dead and even before he died he wasn't very interesting.

I could, should and will replot. The problem isn’t insurmountable but it has stopped me in my tracks and I have begun to wonder about my plotting method. Having written 12 teen romances that were driven by a combination of plot and an assumed adolescent voice, I felt I knew how to devise a novel plan.

The method I’ve always used involves an arc that relates to the genre, a story arc for the main character or characters and a chapter-by-chapter plan in which something interesting happens. In terms of writing teen romance a plan could look something like this:
1 Genre arc: The female protagonist ditches her existing boyfriend for someone more interesting.
2 Story arc for the main character: The female protagonist intends to become a jockey but ends up becoming a horse trainer.
3 Chapter action:
Chapter 1: Our hero goes to the sale yards to try and meet a famous trainer but ends up buying a horse to save it from the slaughter yards. She has a fight with her boyfriend.
Chapter 2: Our hero finds a farmer willing to agist her new horse and in return agrees to help with some fencing. There is a farm accident and our hero has to go to the neighbour for help. She meets the neighbour’s son…

SPOILER ALERT: this next example includes some plot outcomes from The Light Heart of Stone. You can skip to the following paragraph if you’ve yet to read the novel.

In terms of The Light Heart of Stone, my recent epic fantasy novel, the plan looked something like this:
1 Genre arc: The agricultural system in an alternate world is failing and the world needs to be saved.
2 Story arc for main character #1: A young girl named Fox loses her home and family and ends up dismantling the system that caused her that loss.
3 Story arc for main character #2: An old woman named Oria is given a second chance at life but finds that she must become a different person if she is to survive.
4 Chapters:
Chapter 1: Oria finds a perfectly preserved body in a coffin, touches it and loses consciousness.
Chapter 2: Fox is tested for talent and taken from her family…

SPOILER ALERT ENDS. You can continue reading safely.

When I realised the proposed ending for my new science-fiction novel no longer seemed to fit the story, I thought I could solve the problem by reading the book as though I was the reader rather than the writer. I thought I’d know what the ending should be by the time I reached the end of the 48,000 words I’d already written.

I read chapter 1 and everything felt dandy. Chapter 2 had some good material but soon I was in despair because my pages weren’t sticky. Stephen Wright talks about his eyes sliding over a page ‘without getting any adhesion’ and calls those bits of weak writing ‘white-outs’. All I could see in my manuscript were white-outs.

As my despair deepened I began to have second thoughts about key events in the story – never mind the ending!

I’ve had a few public speaking engagements over the last 10 days so I haven’t been able to write. I did a radio interview at Inner FM with Marie Ryan. I did an author talk at Collins Booksellers in Bacchus Marsh. I sat on a panel about creating fictional worlds at the Bayside Literary Festival and I sat on a panel about public art for the City of Darebin’s DIY Arts Seminar Series.

In a way I’m glad that I couldn’t get to my writing. I think I would have sunk deeper into despair if I’d had time to write. During the break I had these thoughts:

Well, white-outs are always going to be present in first drafts, particularly when your plot is unresolved and you haven’t finished drawing your characters – and both of those are true in my case.

A plot crisis? Big deal. It just means I need to rethink and re-plan.

How fortuitous that Pete Aldin told me about that new writing software. I can download the free trial, transfer my existing plot and text and – in the process – work out what’s wrong and how to fix it.


I'll let you know about the writing software if it ends up being useful.

Review News

I can't let this post go past without mentioning that The Light Heart of Stone has just received its first review. Sean Wright, who writes reviews, news and views on speculative fiction at Adventures of a Bookonaut, has said some very exciting things about the book.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Creating Worlds – part 2

I’m consumed with thoughts about world-building because I’m preparing for this Sunday’s panel discussion at the Bayside Literary Festival with Alison Goodman, Jesse Blackadder, Narrelle M Harris and Lindy Cameron.

I’ve been reflecting on my own writing process in relation to creating speculative fiction worlds. In my last blog entry I had a look at the factors that I need to have in place in order to make my speculative worlds go around. This post looks at the elements that are involved in creating believable worlds.

Attention to detail and accuracy… Festival director, Jessie Doring, associated both of these factors with the task of world creation in historical fiction. Instinctively, I want to them for speculative fiction too. Attention to detail is fairly easy to argue because we like the big and the small picture when we’re reading stories set in new worlds. The gritty stuff of sound and smell is important but so is the political system.

I recently read When We Have Wings by Claire Corbett. Her future world of fliers and non-fliers gives the reader both sorts of detail. Corbett gives you the ‘sharp forest scent’ on the wings of a flier and also provides a bigger picture that involves a complex and disturbing nexus between extremely realistically drawn political, socio-economic and religious forces.

Which is a nice segue into the subject of accuracy. Accuracy in a made up world? Really? Well, accuracy is called for – and I don’t just mean putting hard science into science-fiction. I think there are other areas where accuracy matters: internal coherence, non-speculative elements in imagined worlds and an attitude of truth-telling in your writing craft.

The world you create can’t be fuzzy or inconsistent and real world elements must be correctly rendered. Even the invented parts of your speculative world have to be correctly imagined, make sense, be precision-made and accurate. And – in craft terms – when you write about your new world, it should be so well envisioned that you are engaged in virtual truth-telling. Your world should be so real your writing should border on non-fiction.

I recently read a science fiction novel that opened with a scene in a public sculptor’s yard. The main character, a sculptor/architect, undertook a complex and dangerous bit of work during a surprise visit from the client who commissioned the artwork. I guess I’m the worst reader for this particular scene because Velislav Georgiev and I have been running a public sculpture business for a number of years and we’ve had clients drop into the studio. The scene didn’t feel accurate because clients get to see simple show-and-tell work and I wasn’t convinced that in the author’s imagined world this sort of truth had changed.

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Creating Worlds – part 1

I am busy preparing for a panel discussion at the Bayside Literary Festival. This year’s festival is The Art of Words and – being a speculative fiction writer – I’m involved in a panel about speculation and invention:

Creating Worlds: Real and imagined
Scotland 1561; Melbourne 2012; an almost-Chinese mediaeval kingdom; an alternate, undated universe. World-building is an integral part of historical and fantasy fiction. Attention to detail and accuracy are vital in the former; imagination and originality are the building blocks of the latter. Author and publisher Lindy Cameron interrogates historical novelist Jesse Blackadder, and fantasy and speculative fiction authors Alison Goodman, Narrelle M Harris and Tor Roxburgh to find out what makes their fictional worlds go round, what brings them to life, what makes them believable, and just how much reality goes into making something up.
2pm to 4pm
True South Brewery, $10
Food and drinks available for purchase

As part of my preparation, I’ve been revisiting the process I used to create the world in my new epic fantasy novel The Light Heart of Stone. For me, world building starts with people. I remember a panel I attended a few years ago at Conflux, Canberra’s science fiction and fantasy convention. Two writers, both men, were discussing the process of world building. One insisted that the only way to create a plausible world was to begin with the cosmological situation. It was that situation that would determine the length of the word’s day and the nature of the world’s atmosphere, which he saw as the starting points for world building. The other writer spoke about beginning worlds topographically and cartographically. I was impressed and intimidated in equal measure.

Systematic work like that always impresses, intimidates and revolts me. It appeals to that part of me that would like to analyse, categorise and order everything that exists and GET IT RIGHT: the part of me that can still imagine spending twenty years researching a single narrow subject for the pure joy of it. It repels me because I know I would never complete another book or anything else in life. It revolts me because it is so tight and prescriptive.

My world building is based on the idea that all worlds, including our own, are imagined worlds. That is, words are primarily mental: they are created by minds and exist in minds. I don’t dispute the existence of a physical world but I believe we construct more of that physical world than we realise.

So I build worlds with imagined peoples who relate to, perceive and sculpt the landscapes in which they live. I imagine a world by getting to know its people: who they are, what they believe, what they disbelieve, what sort of stories they tell, what’s tolerable for them and what they can’t cope with.

In the case of The Light Heart of Stone, I knew I wanted to write about a post-colonial, continental world and I decided to create two culturally distinct peoples. I set my story 1,000 years after colonisation because I was interested in the idea of post-colonial worlds as enduringly fragile societies.

I wanted to write about semi-nomadic indigenous people who have a custodial relationship to land. I invented a people and called them the Indidjinies because I liked the slippage from the word ‘indigenous’. I wanted to write about immigrant people with a proprietorial attitude towards talents, about people who see talents as exploitable resources. I gave these people a talent for companioning plants and animals and called them the Companionaris. Having given my immigrant people an effective monopoly, I wanted the indigenous people to have a balancing monopoly so I gave the Indidjinies title to the entire continent.

So, at the outset of my world building, I had two contrasting beliefs (custodial and proprietorial) and I had two powerful monopolies (in one case, ownership of land; in the other, control over the growth of plants and animals).

I asked myself: what happened in the beginning when the Companionaris arrived? What happened a few hundred years later? What happens when the novel opens 1,000 years post-colonisation? The answer became the novel.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Continuum – Melbourne’s Science Fiction Convention

I was lucky enough to be able to participate in Continuum 8 – Melbourne’s science fiction convention. I was at Continuum as a panellist, a reader, a fan and a learner.

Learning

I loved being in the audience for ‘The Crafty Middle Ages’. I got to listen to Canberra-based writer and academic Gillian Polack talking about day-to-day and special occasion crafts in France and England. I especially loved her show and tell items. My favourite was the pilgrimage badge (a kind of souvenir for pilgrims) that depicted a vulva riding a horse – yes, I did write the world ‘vulva’ and it was silver and it was riding a horse.

I also learned a great deal from ‘Book Blogs & Reviewing’, which featured Sue Bursztynski, George Ivanoff, Alexandra Pierce, Gillian Polack and Sean Wright.

My Inner Fan

I love space opera so I dropped in to listen to ‘The Forgotten Frontier?’ where m1k3y, Jonathan Strahan and Alexander Pierce talked about that genre. I came away with a reading list that now includes ‘The Mote in God’s Eye’ by Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle and ‘Leviathan Wakes’ by James Corey.

I also sat in the audience for ‘Relative Dimensions: The Limits of Doctor Who’. Who knew that anyone could know so much about the good Doctor? Amazing.

Good Reading

My two favourite authors Margo Lanagan and Kelly Link were at Continuum this year and I really enjoyed seeing the people behind the stories and (in Margo’s case) the person behind the novels. I also enjoyed listening to Alison Goodman being interviewed by Jason Nahrung. I didn’t make it to many of the readings, but I did get to hear the beginning of Jack Dann’s latest story (and it was great) and also got to listen to a snapshot from Gillian Polack’s time travel novel (which I can’t wait to read – if only I could remember the title).


Being a Panellist

Continuum 8 was my first gig as a panellist. I was nervous and overawed by my fellow and sister panellists’ depth and breadth of knowledge.

I felt I was on familiar ground with the panel on independent publishing and on the panel on crossing literary genres. Both situations are current for me as I’ve crossed from writing teen romance to writing speculative fiction and I’ve self-published a fantasy novel this year.

I really enjoyed being a panellist on ‘Backyard Speculation’ but realised there is a lot of Australian speculative fiction reading that I need to catch up on.

Being on the ‘Everyone Loves a Good Murder’ panel was a humbling and rewarding experience. I realised that being a murder mystery reader and writing novels with murders and mysteries is not the same thing as knowing the genre through and through.

I came away from the panel with new thoughts about the novel that I am currently writing, which is a young adult, science fiction murder mystery set in Ballarat. Is my murder compelling and tangible? Does my mystery reward the clever reader? Is my resolution going to be just or unjust, tragic or warm?

And then…

I’m reuniting with a couple of Continuum 8 panellists and meeting up with a few new writers at ‘The Art of Words’, the 2012 Bayside Literary Festival. I'm on the Creating Worlds: Real and Imagined panel - and looking forward to it.
The Art of Words needed a new profile photo - a new unfinished painting in the background

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Page Parlour & The Light Heart of Stone's Melbourne Launch

Page Parlour

The Emerging Writers’ Festival hosts an event called Page Parlour, which is a market place for small independent press and self-publishers. I wandered through Page Parlour in 2011 and this year I had a stall. It was a really fascinating experience and I went home with a hot-off-the-press comic by Matt Nicholls and Lee Taylor, a book of poems by Claire Jansen who has established the Tasmanian publishing house Fire Door Press, some quirky zines, a mook (which is a cross between a book and a magazine) and some other small, non-mainstream publications.

Last night I sat in bed and read a zine – a letter from someone called Luke about his experience of drawing a female model in a life drawing class. The letter was addressed to me as ‘Dear You’. It was quite intimate and I felt oddly connected to Luke even though I’d never met him and had instead found his letter inside a stapled paper bag labelled ‘You’, which was being given away by Sticky Institute, a Melbourne zine shop.

As for me, I sold quite a few books and had some great conversations with readers. Mostly we talked about libraries. I was encouraging those who seemed genuinely interested in reading The Light Heart of Stone, but weren’t able to buy it on the day, to ask their library to buy it for them. What could be better, really? Readers reading for free; me getting paid and benefitting annually from Australia’s public lending right scheme.

Launch Night

The Melbourne launch of The Light Heart of Stone is on tomorrow at The Wilde at 153 Gertrude Street in Fitzroy. Come along at 6:30 if you’re in the area. It’s free, we’re exhibiting some great art, poets Josh Buckle and Tory Wardlaw are performing and The Bon Scotts are playing live. Better still, you can sit down for a meal afterwards as The Wilde serves some great food.

Friday, June 1, 2012

Continuum

The Panellist's Life
Continuum 8, Australia’s National science fiction and fantasy convention commences on 8 June in Melbourne. I’m participating in these panels:
  • Backyard Speculation - Saturday 10:00
  • Independent Publishing And Speculative Fiction - Monday 11:00
  • Everyone Loves A Good Murder - Sunday 10:00
  • Crossing The Divide: Writing In Different Genres - Monday 14:00
  • Beyond Paranormal Romance In YA Speculative Fiction - Monday 15
and I’m doing a reading on Sunday at 5pm.

I wanted the preparation for the panels to be enjoyable so I set myself a task of reading as much of the other panellists’ writing as I could. I began with books and stories by my fellow panellists on “Independent Publishing and Speculative Fiction”. I read The Obituarist, which is a short novel by Patrick O’Duffy, Elemental, a story for young adults by Steven O’Connor and Jubilee, which is a story by Jack Dann.

Next I read for “Beyond Paranormal Romance in Young Adult Speculative Fiction”. Kelly Link is one of Continuum’s special guests and she is on this YA panel. I have already ready quite a bit of her amazing short fiction so instead I’ve focused on the other panellists’ writing. I’ve now read 10 Futures by Michael Pryor and Wolfborn by Sue Bursztynski.

Next on the list is When We Have Wings by Claire Corbett as I begin reading for "Backyard Speculation".

I’ve got to say, this is the sort of preparation I really enjoy. Can’t complain about reading lots of speculative fiction!

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Copy Copy Copy

Printed, Shipped, Cleared & Stocked!

The Light Heart of Stone on pallets

After the galleys were checked, the Hong Kong printing presses rolled and The Light Heart of Stone came into existence as a paperback on the Everbest production line. The books were then loaded onto pallets and Publiship brought them to Melbourne Port. I acted as my own import agent and cleared the books through customs and quarantine.

I was slightly stressed about dealing with customs and whether I’d get the paperwork right. I had been through the process before when I imported some icons from Bulgaria, but this was my book…! In the end, I appeared at Customs House one morning in March with my completed forms.

I had imagined a Dickensian building. I’d filled it with corpulent import agents who jostled each other to win places in front of stern customs officers. And I’d had the customs officers wearing dirty frock suits and imagined them sitting on high stools behind high desks, peering down at the sweaty applicants. It was nothing like that.
Customs House

The building was new, with lots of glass and a courteous customs officer at the door.

‘Would you like some help?’

‘Yes.’ I waved my papers. ‘I have stock to clear.’

‘Are you acting for yourself?’

I nodded.

‘Wonderful. Come over to my desk and let’s sort things out.’

He took my papers and sent me off for the day while he processed the forms. I returned five minutes before closing and encountered the quarantine officer who was the evil psychic shadow of the customs officer who’d helped me that morning.

He looked at my papers and rolled his eyes. ‘Tell me you’re not acting for yourself.’

‘I am.’

He sighed. ‘God I hate these do it yourself applications.’

I laughed, thinking he must be joking. He wasn’t.

He groaned and sighed again. He slowly turned over each page. ‘And I suppose you’ve got the TSR22-ss3353 form wrong like they always do…’

This time I kept silent.

‘Oh. Okay.’ He frowned at the form. ‘Well, I guess I can clear the stock.’

And away I went after paying the GST to a charming woman who loved fantasy novels and would have bought mine if it wasn’t still on the docks, waiting for customs and quarantine clearance.

With my paperwork in order, I just had to wait until Publiship organised for the stock to move from the docks to a warehouse in Essendon. All went smoothly and then the car broke down. I borrowed a ute (thanks Rodney Browne) and picked up the pallets and brought the stock into the studio in Ballan for warehousing. Finally – woo-hoo! – a large part of the stock was delivered to Dennis Jones and Associates who are distributing The Light Heart of Stone and making sure it’s readily available to anyone going in any bookstore in Australia.

 
The Light Heart of Stone in cartons

All exciting. All relatively easy project management-type work – never mind the nerves. In the meantime, I found myself doing something that is much harder for a writer who is working on her own book: I wrote my sales, marketing and publicity material.

Copy, Copy & More Copy

Earlier on in the self-publishing journey, I was baulking at writing the About the Author copy. Icky stuff. Those qualms felt quaint when set against the task of writing copy for the distributor’s brochure, the media release and for an advertisement in the Title Showcase section of Bookseller + Publisher. This April/May edition has a genre focus so I cracked open the budget, peered inside, and decided that a couple of hundred dollars was doable for a small advertisement.

It’s easy to think that you can prepare one lot of marketing copy and shift it about with a few rejigs to suit various marketing and publicity purposes. Same novel; same story. Right? At least, that’s how I imagined it would be. Not so.

I found I needed to write fresh material in each instance. Yes, the back cover blurb was my best effort at sales copy, but it was written for readers deciding which book to buy. It wasn’t written to support sales reps talking to booksellers. The back cover blurb needs to make a promise about what the reader will receive when they pay their money. The distributor needs copy that gives the bookseller a quick overview – what the book is about and why the self-published author can be trusted.

The media release was slightly easier. I have written lots of media releases for exhibitions and visual arts events so I had some idea about what to do. I also have a sweet friend at a wonderful publishing house (no names but you know who you are) who slipped me a couple of media releases. It helped. It gave me some idea about layout and industry norms. Here’s my press release for The Light Heart of Stone:

MEDIA RELEASE

The Light Heart of Stone
by Tor Roxburgh

Epic fantasy for adult readers
Curious Crow Books... rrp $29.95
Publication date: May 2012
Available for extract
Distributed by Dennis Jones & Associates
                           

   Finding herself in the middle of an accidental career as a pseudonymous teen romance author, Tor Roxburgh began to wonder what a feminist with a passion for speculative fiction was doing writing fast fiction about teenagers falling in and out of love. The result is The Light Heart of Stone, Roxburgh's first fantasy novel.
   The Light Heart of Stone is set in the world of the Stone Body, a continent on which plants and animals need human companions in order to thrive. In an arrangement where the world's indigenous people own the land and the newcomers control the talent for growing plants and breeding animals, trouble appears. Crops begin to fail, animals cease to breed and the desperate search for solutions exposes a theft, an atrocity and a thousand-year-old lie.
   The Light Heart of Stone is a fascinating novel that will enthral readers, especially lovers of epic fantasy. Roxburgh's exceptional storytelling skills bring the customs, passions, and dramas of this rich speculative world to life in a manner reminiscent of Robin Hobb's Live Ship Traders and Lian Hearn's Tales of the Otori.

About the Author
   Tor Roxburgh's fiction and non-fiction books have been published by William Heinemann Australia, Pan Macmillan, Pan UK, Australian Consolidated Press, Greenhouse Publications and The Federation Press. Writing as Linda Hollan, Gina Walsh and KD Miller, she is the author of 12 teenage romances.  Her non-fiction includes Taking Control, one of the first successful Australian titles about family violence, and The Book of Weeks, a tale of the complex story of the weeks of pregnancy. Most recently, she was senior writer and researcher on the National Inquiry into Youth Homelessness. 
   Tor lives in regional Victoria and runs a successful public art business and a gallery where she exhibits her paintings. She created Curious Crow Books to publish her speculative fiction.

For further information or to request a review copy or interview please contact:
Curious Crow Books
E    publisher@lightheartofstone.com
                                                                            
The advertisement copy for the genre focused edition of Bookseller + Publisher was the next challenge. It had to grab a bookseller’s attention within the 30-word limit. It seemed to me that this bit of copy had to vibrate and shouldn’t under- or oversell the novel. If there were no adjectives, the copy wouldn’t dance. If there were too many, it would look clownish on the dance floor.

Here’s my copy:

Epic fantasy at its wonderful best. A rich and tantalising world. Characters you wish you knew. Knowledge to be recovered. Talents to be explored. Disaster to be averted.

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Darling Little Dyelines

The digital proof for the cover of my new fantasy novel, the Light Heart of Stone, arrived from Hong Kong in the middle of January. It didn’t look so very different from the printouts Michele and I used when we were pouring over design options. That’s the point, though. The proof should look the same as the original design, apart from being printed on slightly higher quality glossy paper.

Cover proof and dyelines

The proof of the cover was wrapped around a parcel of dyelines and they were queer things: stapled sections of the interior of the novel, printed on thick, rough-edged paper. They looked really interesting – like chapbooks.

The dyelines with section numbers and marks on their spines  

I was so excited and nervous about receiving the cover proof and dyelines that I couldn’t remember what I was meant to do. I spent a few hours double checking my text books and googling “dyelines” in case there was some mysterious and arcane process that I didn’t know anything about. There wasn’t. It’s simple: the printer prints the cover and the contents and you check that they have reproduced exactly what you sent to them.


I also spent hours photographing the dyelines because I really liked them

All I had to do was check that everything from my final files had made it onto the proof and dyelines, accurately.

The cover was easy to check. The little chapbooks took much longer. I sat myself at a desk with a long ruler, a print out of the final typeset manuscript, and the chapbooks. I put the proofs and the final manuscript side-by-side worked my way down each page, line-by-line.

Proofing the dyelines

I was sad to have to send the dyelines back to Hong Kong. I would have loved to have kept them.

 
 Dyelines and cover proof