Writing process

Money as a stereotype

Today I paid cash for a notebook to write in. It’s the first time in six months I have paid cash for anything.  Tap and go is a boon for me. I no longer have to worry about finding an ATM, or always having to check if I’ve been to a bank before I go out with friends for coffee. 

I think there will always be a place for cash, but I think we are heading toward a mainly cashless society.  I think it’s inevitable. For most people not having to carry cash makes things easier. Over the last week, for example, I purchased online one item in US dollars, and one in Euro online, not to mention spent lots of money in local stores in Australian dollars. All on the same card, without having to do anything except either hand the card over, or provide the card number.

That’s a lot simpler than it would have been a generation ago, where for local purchases I would have required cash, while overseas purchase would require a cheque or money order in the currency I purchased the item.

At the same time, it’s becoming more difficult to get cash when you need it. Even ATMs are less common than they used to be.

Here in the modern world we think we’re the first to come up with a cashless/credit society, but we’re not.  The Mesopotamians and Harappans (Indus civilisation), for example, used clay tablets as a form of credit.  One might say there’s nothing new under the sun.

Many science fiction writers use a credit system for money in their stories. We did, in both the Linesman and Stars Uncharted series.  We called them credits. Original, huh?

It wasn’t until we were working out the monetary system for the story we are currently writing—a fantasy—that that I realised just how much of a stereotype credits are.  I mean, we’ll go to the trouble of creating money for a fantasy world—sure we’ll often use gold and silver, but not just ‘gold’ and ‘silver’—but all we use in science fiction is ‘credits’.

“A thousand platinum bars,” Viggo said.

A thousand!  He moistened his lips with his tongue. “A thousand platinum?” …

“Bars,” Viggo said, as if he wouldn’t know the difference between bars and pieces.

S. K. Dunstall

Credits, for us, are a lazy way of writing.  In the fantasy above I know exactly how many pieces a loaf of bread costs (two), but I have no idea how much the equivalent costs in credit. Surely, there are some basic things you should know about your society, like how much it costs to buy food to live on.  And I do have an idea of this, sort of, but it doesn’t translate to the page. You, the reader, don’t even know if credits can be fractions of a whole (for example, 2.2 credits) or only integer (22 credits).  Or maybe they’re like Vietnamese dong. Last time I looked there were around 23,000 dong for one US dollar.

So, next time we create a science fiction world (outside of the Linesman or Stars Uncharted universes), we’ll know exactly what our money system is, and how it works. And we’ll try not to use credits.

Writing process

I have internet

I didn’t plan such a long blog silence, but I mucked up on the internet connections here and New Zealand, and refused to pay shipboard prices for more internet. Not only that, I forgot to download many of the books I planned to read onto my iPad.


I have internet back now, and it feels good. We’ll be back to our regular Sunday blogs soon.

Writing process

One month to go

Only one month to the day Stars Beyond is published.

We’re starting to get nervous.

For those of you who have book money to spend after Christmas, we can recommend a good book. Lots of fun, adventure in space. Great characters. Why not give it a try.

The book is out on 20 January.

Writing process


Flew into Sydney this morning to start our cruise. The sky was still hazy, but nowhere near as bad as it was a week ago.  Last week the harbour bridge was obscured with thick, black smoke.  This week you can see the bridge, even though the sky still looks smoggy.

As a result, the setting sun was a beautiful orange-yellow.  Photos never do it justice, but here’s what it looked like.

Sitting up so high on the ship, you can see how beautiful some of the older architecture in Sydney is.

Writing process

Walking to New Zealand

The view from a ship gym.

Next week it’s cruise time.

If you read this blog you’ll know that both Sherylyn and I enjoy cruising. There’s something about being on the water that is magic. Not having to cook or clean is nice, too.

I love New Zealand. We cruised there last year, and we’re going back mid-year to WorldCon. We weren’t planning on going there again at Christmas, we planned to cruise the Aegean, or reposition from Southampton or Seattle to Sydney.  

But the New Zealand cruise was cheap, and the time was good, and we’re both really looking forward to it.

Last trip we did everything Lord of the Rings. This year we‘re doing nature. Particularly nature of a volcanic origin, because here in Australia our land is geologically stable, relatively speaking, and has been for a long time. New Zealand, however, is on the Pacific Ring of Fire. Show me some geysers and hot springs, please.

Anyway, we picked out a tour that’s going to take us into the area we want. It has a three kilometre ‘moderate’ walk.

“I don’t think you realise how unfit I am,” I said to Sherlyn, who goes to Zumba twice a week.

“You’re not that bad,” she said. “We used to walk a lot.”

That was a long time ago now, and I haven’t done any real exercise for twelve months. Life right now is work, home, dinner, sleep, and get up the next day and do it all over again. I don’t even take the stairs at work any more as I have a dodgy knee.

Around the same time, my work had one of those get fit initiatives where you join a team and count the number of steps you do each day.

“I’m in,” I said. It was perfect timing to get fit for the cruise.

I struggled. Not because I had to walk—although that was hard—but because my dodgy knee decided to play up. It was agony.

It still is.

Sherylyn has ordered some walker’s sticks for me. If I take some weight off the knee it helps (it would help even more if I lost some weight) but I’m still not as fit or as fast as I’d like to be.

Hence I have decided to walk to New Zealand.

Not all the way, of course, because there’s so much to do on board, but those of you who have been on ships might know that two prime forward viewing areas of the ship are taken up by the beauty salon and the gym.

One thing I do enjoy on a ship is the treadmill. There’s the ocean in front of you, and not much else. It’s a perfect place to dream.

All I want by the end of it is to be able to walk three kilometres in reasonable time.

As for the knee, we’ll see how that is on the day.

Writing process

The Shreader

The Shreader crew.
I’m feeling bad because I didn’t write down the names of the people doing the Shreader, and I can only name three of them. From left to right–Kim Wilkins, author, Sue Wright, editor and publisher, and Justine Barker, agent. I can’t put a name to the the convenor, sorry, but he read the manuscripts. If anyone can identify him, let me know in the comments.

Another GenreCon has been and gone. It was a lot of fun, with some stand-out sessions.

The conference was two weeks after Sherylyn and I ran an editing session down here in Melbourne, and some sessions particularly made an impact because I was still thinking about the course.

The Shreader

One session I want to talk about is the Shreader, where ten brave souls submitted the first two pages of their manuscript to an author, an agent and an editor, and they decided whether they’d read more or pass (shred).

It takes courage to put yourself out in public like that, even when you’re a published author with an editor and an agent behind you. For newbies, who don’t even have that experience behind them, it can be a raw experience.  It’s one I’d recommend, however, if you think you can take it.

As newbie writers we put our work out there and want praise. What we need, however, is constructive feedback. We also need the ability to listen to that feedback, the thick skin that comes from experience of being critiqued. It allows us to dissociate ourselves from the work being considered—mostly, anyway.

The Shreader is a harsh way to get this feedback, but it’s real life, and if you can face something like the Shreader and get value out of it, you’re levelling up as a writer. Good on you.

My two cents

The writing was good in all samples, but only four made it past the shredder.

You got a hint of how different stories appeal to different people, with those on the stage who liked fantasy showing more interest in the fantasy offerings, and—I think it was the agent, who specialised in children’s and young adult fiction—showing more interest in a story that was likely to be young adult. I found this myself, as I listened. Whilst the samples were all well-written there was only that caught my interest enough to want to read more.

It’s like picking up books in a library. I borrow roughly one in ten of those I read the blurb on.

I would say that for me many of stories felt as if they started too early. They also contained a lot of backstory. One of the things we touched on in the course we ran two weeks earlier was infodumps, so I was still very aware of how much backstory slows down the narrative, particularly in the first few pages, where you’re trying to capture the reader’s attention.

Resonating with Theme

The other session was Rob Porteous’ Resonating with Theme.

In this session, Rob talked about his years of judging the Aurealis awards. I’m working from memory here, because I didn’t write it down, but Rob said that the stories he judged were mostly well written, and 80% of them started off with a great idea. However, few of them carried through on the promise of the story.

It came immediately after The Shreader, and the two sessions seemed to cover a theme. Not Rob’s theme, which was about putting a theme into your story, but a thread of how you can write well, and have great ideas but still not be quite there.

When it is there, however, that’s when the magic happens.

Writing process

A wasted Halloween opportunity

I went to see the ophthalmologist today, got another injection in my eye.  It sounds worse than it is. Modern medicine is wonderful.  Except for a few hours discomfort while the pupil dilation goes down (from the tests they run prior) and a slightly aching eyeball for a day, it’s quite painless, really.

The results, however, can be spectacular.  Sometimes the eye gets very, very, bloodshot. 

It’s not the injection that causes this, but that sometimes the needle breaks a blood vessel on the surface of the eye and it bleeds. Your eyeball is red for up to two weeks afterwards.

Other times you can’t even tell an injection has been done.

The thing is, I can’t see it.  Other people can. They’ll be talking to you, look you in the eye, and say things like, “Are you all right?” or “Oh my god, what happened to your eye?”

I’m going to have to change my appointments, however.

Here in Australia we never used to celebrate Halloween, but lately it’s become a thing, and some houses go all out.  I’m missing an opportunity .

Imagine if I get my eye done just before Halloween.  My eye is red.  Maybe I’ll put a patch over the other eye, then tie a torch to a magnifying glass, and hold it up to my face when I answer the door. Is that scary enough?

Writing process

Workshop completed

Yesterday we ran a workshop at Vic Writers on editing. 

Today I am sore.

Standing up for six hours is more than I’m used to. I’ve always had sympathies for anyone who worked in retail, and nurses, and people like that, but now I’m extending that sympathy to teachers, too.

How do they do it?

Physical limitations notwithstanding, the participants were a good bunch of writers. We hope they got something out of the day. We certainly got lots from them.

Writing process


Our October newsletter scraped it into October by a bat’s wing (had to use a Halloween reference here) on 31 October.  For we Australians it was 12:30am on All Hallows Eve.  Maybe we should have waited till later in the day, for there’s a mistake in it.

Three mistakes actually and they’re all the same.

The problem with a newsletter is that once you press send, it’s gone. It’s not like a blog, where you can go back in and make corrections.

We mentioned a book in there. Three times. And we got the name wrong every time.

Michael Mammay’s first book wasn’t Planetfall, it was Planetside.

We knew that.

Thanks to an eagle-eyed reader for pointing that out. For anyone else who’s interested in the book, it’s Planetside, no matter what our newsletter says.

Okay.  😊

p.s. It’s a good book, no matter what we called it.

Writing process

Our book covers

Today, I want to talk about book covers. 

There’s a lot written about how traditionally published authors don’t have control over their book covers. We have never disliked one of our covers, so we wouldn’t know but we are realistic enough to know that design of the cover is mostly out of our control, and that the designers who work on the covers do know what they’re doing.

We have generally been asked for input on our covers, and certainly asked if we like them.

As one editor I read once said, and I’m paraphrasing here, because I don’t remember the actual words or who said it, “What’s the point in putting out a book cover the author doesn’t like? If they don’t like it, they’ll bag the book.”

We love our all our covers, including the one for Stars Beyond, which is released in January next year.

Here’s a brief history of our input on book covers—possibly not accurate, as I’m writing from memory here, especially for the first two books, where all our records are archived.


Our editor asked us quite early if we had any thoughts about the cover.  At the time, every US sci-fi cover we looked at seemed to be orange or red, and always had people on the cover.

We were both, Sherylyn especially, convinced Linesman was more of a blue book than a red or yellow book, so we mentioned that we’d prefer a blue cover if we could get it.  We also said we didn’t necessarily want people on the cover.

If I recall, we were asked if we had any ideas for the cover, plus some key scenes that might make an interesting cover image.

One of the scenes we included was the briefing where Captain Helmo described the Eleven, not that they knew it was the Eleven at that time. A perfect sphere, the surface a deep blue-black (reflective, but that didn’t make it onto the cover).

We sent descriptions of the main characters, the various ships, and the first 50-100 pages of the story.  We also said it would be good if the artist could include something that represented the lines.

Here’s the result.

Release date: 30 June 2015

Bruce Jensen, the artist nailed it.


The first book sticks in your memory.  Second book, not so much.  It’s all a bit of a daze, and again we don’t have the records to back it up.  (We do, but they’re archived, and an effort to get out of archive.)

We think we sent the same sort of information.  The first 50-100 pages, descriptions of characters and of ships, plus some scenes we feel might have made

Here we have the Kari Wang, being attacked.  I say it’s the Kari Wang, for this one of the scenes we sent in. You might think it’s the Eleven.

Here’s the result.

Same artist, Bruce Jensen, and he nailed it again.


Now we’re starting to get into a time we still have records.

The publishers already had idea of what they wanted for Confluence to keep in with the other two books.  For example, putting at least one spaceship on the cover.

Anne asked for elements particularly important to the story, any scenes that might work for a cover picture, and any suggestions to the artist on as to backgrounds or what the spaceships should look like.

We sent three suggested scenes here.

  • A freighter attacking Confluence station
  • The Eleven against five enemy battle cruises
  • The battle where the Eleven arrives to help out when enemy ships are attacking a world.

Looks like Bruce chose number one.

They’re all amazing covers. We’re super happy with them.

Stars Uncharted

Onto the next series now.

Same process.  Anne asked for an outline, the first few chapters of the book, and ideas for cover art.

We thought this one was more character-based than the Linesman series, if that makes sense, because both books are all about the character, but this is about people, and body modding, and action.

We sent back keywords.  Space opera, character-based, action, spaceships, space stations, body modding.

In this one we were less concerned that they might put people on the cover, so we sent back a lot of information about the two point-of-view characters, Nika and Josune.  We also talked a lot about the genemod machines.  Given that DNA was important to the story, we wanted something relating to DNA.  We also talked about fights with people in business wear.

The three scenes we sent back were all fights.  The first on the Hassim, with Josune and Roystan against Benedict’s people. The second at the space station where the crew of Another Road are collecting a genemod machine (for the calibrator).  The third, the escape from Atalante station.

We rather expected people on the front of this novel—I mean, how many times can you buck the trend—but the trend seemed to have shifted away from people on the cover at all.

The cover was nothing like we expected, but we loved it anyway.

Artist on this one is John Harris.

Stars Beyond

Now we come to Stars Beyond.

This time, because of the rewrite, the editor didn’t ask for pages.  She had a chapter-by-chapter breakdown.  We gave a quick rundown of the story, and some image ideas.  These included the vortex, Alistair’s eyesight, and the ability to seen into ultraviolet or infrared, genetics and gene modding.

We also said we loved the cover of Stars Uncharted, and that it would have been perfect for Stars Beyond as well.

We can’t tell you much more, for the book isn’t out yet, be we think the artist, Fred Gambino, has done a beautiful job.

If you’re still interested in cover design

Chip Kidd talks about some of his book covers for Alfred A. Knopf and why he designed them the way he did in a 2012 TED talk called What do stories look like?  It’s worth a look.