Category Archives: On writing

Talking about writing

Genrecon – we’re here in body, at least

Life has been somewhat hectic lately. We weren’t sure if we’d get up to Brisbane for this weekend, but in the end we decided to come—admittedly, later than we planned—but here we are at GenreCon.

We chose a different hotel this time, as we didn’t plan on doing anything except go to the conference.  This one is as close as we can get to State Library of Queensland without camping out at the library itself.

It’s an older hotel, a cheaper one, and it has this vibe that makes it feel like a motel in a country town.  Part of that is because the road (bridge, actually) outside is so busy. Part of it is the old High Surf motel sign across the way. It isn’t actually a motel, it’s a sculpture for Brisbane’s Gallery of Modern Art (GOMA), but it took a while to work that out.

Nevertheless, all combined, it feels like one of those old towns, back before the freeways bypassed them, where there was a motel on either side of the highway.

With the continual traffic, it feels like one too.

GenreCon highlights, day one?

Claire Coleman, in the plenary session, “The Art and Business of Genre”, talking about editing.

“No one ever finishes editing, they just take it off you.”

Nalini Singh, same session, talking about squirrels as a way to stay engaged and enjoying writing, even when you’re writing to a deadline.

“Give yourself time after your writing day to write the squirrels.  Don’t focus only on what you have to do … you have to keep them secret.”

All in all, an enjoyable day of panels.

Don’t let your age put you off trying to publish your novel

At Conflux a few weeks back, at the ‘Starting Writing Later in Life’ panel, an older member of the audience asked something along the lines of, “You talk about how long it takes to write a book. What’s the point in someone my age starting now? I’ve likely only got one good book in me before I run out of time.”

I’ve thought about that question a lot, since. I can’t remember what was said at the time, but here’s what I think.

Don’t put off your dream because you think you’re too old.

While you may find some dreams harder to do as you get older, if you have the determination, you can do almost anything. Sure, it becomes more difficult. Yuichiro Miura was 80 years old when he climbed Mt Everest, and he probably did it harder than someone half, or even a quarter of his age, but he still did it.

True, too, most people wouldn’t bother.

But we’re not talking hard, physical exercise here, we’re talking writing a novel, which older people can do as well as younger people.

“Sure,” you may say. “But we’re not talking about writing a single novel. We know we can do that. We’re talking about making a writing career out of it.”

And it’s true, some of us might die or become incapacitated before we got any further than the first book. But we don’t have to get old to do that.

Would I go through the hassle of writing a book and having it published if I knew I was only going to have time to publish one book?

Most definitely.

There’s something magical about having that first book published. It’s an experience worth having.

Sure, we’d all like to have it again and again, but don’t stop just because you think there might be only time to do it once.

Believe me, it’s worth it, even just for that once.

Getting the writing habit

Maybe it’s the caffeine, but something helps

I don’t know why it is, but I do my most productive writing on the train on the morning commute, and in coffee shops.

Food courts and McDonald’s restaurants are my offices-away-home.

I have stopped doing my most creative writing at home.

When it comes to editing, however, the opposite applies.  I do that best at my desk, with the full size keyboard and two monitors, where I can easily switch between my notes and the work-in-progress.

In an ideal world, one would be able to write anywhere, any time.  And sometimes I can. When I’m on a writing roll the only thing that stops me are work deadlines.

(Work deadlines are a real writing strangler.  As in—I really don’t want to get off this train because I’ve already done 500 words on my commute, and I know if I could keep writing I would rack up another 500 in the same amount of time, but I have to go to work. So why don’t I sneak into this café for a quick coffee and do some more writing—But the guilt sets in. How do I explain being so late? And I now have to work the extra time at the end of the day.  (Lucky my hours are flexible.)  Oh, coffee is finished and I’ve only done 50 more words.  Sigh.  I should have gone straight to work.)

Part of the reason I can write so well on the commute and in cafes is because I’ve trained myself to do it. Years of pulling out the laptop as soon as I sit down on the train, or immediately after I’ve ordered coffee. My brain knows these are the signals to start writing.

The subconscious writer

Back when I was a newbie writer, before I officially partnered up with Sherylyn and we started writing together, I’d foist my stories on anyone who’d read them.  Friends and family had novels thrust into their hands as soon as they said, “That sounds interesting.”

Back then they were paper copies too, and printers only printed on one side of the paper, so potential readers left holding a ream of paper that they didn’t really want to read, trying to look enthusiastic about something they weren’t.

And of course, you’re the writer, so you expect them to be as enthusiastic as you are. To go home and read it immediately.  And then come back to you the next day and tell you how wonderful it was.

Of course, they never did.

I was handing out first drafts. Raw, unedited fiction.

“Every first draft is perfect because all the first draft has to do is exist. It’s perfect in its existence. The only way it could be imperfect would be to NOT exist.” Jane Smiley

Even back then, some of my ideas were good. But my characters, oh my goodness. They were awful.

As Sherylyn used to say, “I can’t stand Scott (or whoever this novel’s hero was).  He’s a wimp. He’s full of himself.  He’s unpleasant. I don’t like him, I don’t want to read about him.”

She said it book after book.

She was the only one who gave me honest feedback. Other readers, when they did read my stories, said things like, “It was okay.”

After I teamed up with Sherylyn, the characters improved a lot.

I do wonder what it says about me as a person, though, when I write (wrote) such awful people.

I won’t read books by other authors whose characters are a turn-off, no matter how great the book is. So why do I write them?

For example, I have a lot of sympathy for Jordan Rossi, even though if I met him in real life I wouldn’t stand him.  Luckily for those of you reading the book, Sherylyn wasn’t as enamoured, and made us cut a lot of his scenes.  Nor, later on, were Caitlin and Anne—agent and editor, respectively—who made us take out even more Rossi.

Thank goodness for the drafting process.

“The first draft is just you telling yourself the story.” Terry Pratchett

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Renovating a kitchen is a lot like writing a novel

Our kitchen will not be like this. Our kitchen is tiny. We don’t have the room to to put anything in the middle of the kitchen.

As you can see from the title, we’re in the middle of renovating our kitchen.  We’re also in the middle of writing a novel.  The process has similarities.

What a great idea

You go in with nothing but your imagination.  You have this great idea, and because nothing is real yet, you know this is going to be the best book/kitchen ever.

The reality of the synopsis

Because we’re writing to contract now, the synopsis comes before the book.  It sells the book.

Likewise, the design sells the kitchen.

Even so, what’s on the page is only an outline of what’s to come.

Signing the contract

We’ve agreed to this. It’s real. Have we done the right thing?

Day one

The first chapter.  It’s basic. It’s rough, but it’s done.  The novel shows promise.

Day one of a kitchen renovation is demolition. The bones of the kitchen look old and grotty, but it’s going to look better.  You know it will.

The first draft

The cabinets go in. It looks … ordinary. Not much different from what you had before. You wonder if you did the right thing.

The first draft of your novel is rough. It’s the bare outline.  It’s a mess in places. You wonder how you’ll be able to pull it together.

Subsequent drafts

In the kitchen the doors of the cabinets go on. The stove goes in. The sink.  A plumber arrives and you have a sink and a working dishwasher. An electrician arrives and you have lights that work. A plasterer comes and adds architraves. A painter comes.

It’s starting to show promise.

Each draft of the novel improves it. You submit your novel.  Your editor and agent get help you to improve it.

The wow factor

The novel is edited. It gets a cover. It turns into a book.  Wow.

Our kitchen hasn’t got its wow factor yet, but we already know it will be the splashback.  (Either that or it will be an epic fail.)

It’s like a book. We won’t know the end product until we get there.

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What we’re reading this week

castinshadow_michellesagaraThis week went so fast I forgot to write a blog.

So this blog is a teeny bit late, but it’s not even a full day. Let’s call it fashionably late.

Work has been busy.  Writing has been busy.  And right in the middle of it one of our readers posted a reply to an earlier blog and mentioned the Elantra series by Michelle Sagara. (Thank you, Paula. Appreciate the recommendation.)

There are twelve books in the series.  I binge read the first three.

There’s a saying, often seen on t-shirts at science fiction conventions, that reads, “Do not meddle in the affairs of dragons, for you are crunchy and good with ketchup.”
(Marlene, from the Bookpushers, in E and Marlene’s review of Cast in Flight, book 12 of Michelle Sagara’s Chronicles of Elantra)

There’s something about binge reading.  Me, I can only do it so long before I get tired of the story. I read the first three books and started on the fourth. And for some reason the protagonist, Kaylin, was really annoying me. I have no idea why. I think it was just the long read, because I certainly liked the books enough to buy them.

I only bought book four because I adore Severn and I wanted to know what happens to him.

I took a few days’ break, and only went back to the books because the tram I was waiting for took forever to come. I’m reading them much more slowly now, but I’m enjoying them again.  I’ve just purchased book six.

Binge reading indeed.

Incidentally, Severn—one of the secondary characters—is a book maker for me.  I have no idea why characters appeal to readers like that, but he’s one of mine. It doesn’t matter what Sagara does to Kaylin; it’s what she does with Severn that will determine whether I continue to read the series.

It’s magic when you get characters like that.


beckychambers_longwaytosmallangryplanetSherylyn is currently reading Becky Chambers’ The Long Way To A Small, Angry Planet (now there’s a title to love).

I read this months ago.  We discuss it occasionally. It’s funny, but the things I remember about the book aren’t the things I liked best about it when reading it.

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Measuring time in space

Twenty four hours isn't a logical time period in space. What would we use instead?
Twenty four hours isn’t a logical time period in space. What would we use instead?

Yesterday was a beautiful spring day here in Melbourne, Australia.  After a week of heavy rain leading to one of the wettest Septembers on record, the day was glorious. The sun was out, the clouds were white(ish) and there were flowers in every garden.

It’s spring. The weather is getting warmer, the days are getting longer.  And it’s light outside when we leave for work.  Not yet light when we leave work for home, but that will come.  We’ll finally be able to see our garden—which we only see on the weekends in daylight right now.  (Thank you, Helen, for making it look so immaculate.)

Like I say, the days are getting longer.

Longer days in summer happen because of the way the Earth tilts toward the sun.  The day itself is the time it takes for the Earth to rotate on its axis.  A year is the time it takes the Earth to orbit the sun.

Each planet has its own day and year. It may or may not tilt (although tilt is good if you want seasons).

In a spaceship, days, seasons and years are less relevant. When you’re travelling around the galaxy, you don’t care how long the local day or year is.  When you move on, the next world will have a different day and year.

So how do you keep time in space?

Human beings have a diurnal rhythm of around twenty-four hours.  That’s basically because we are used to Earth’s twenty-four rotation, with its period of light and dark. We tend to wake up in the day, and sleep at night.

In the book we’re currently writing, we use twenty-four hours.  It’s an easy time period for readers to imagine.  We imagine that ships would have a ‘day’ period of around fourteen hours where the lights were daylight brightness, and a night period of eight hours, where the lights are low.

But is it really a logical period to use?

Probably not.

Years won’t make any sense because each world will have its own year.  You’re more likely to have a centralised date, based on multiples of some lesser time periods, and that will be the standard across the whole galaxy.

Think Star Trek star dates.

But what are the lesser multiples that will make up the years?

One thing is likely. Given the human numbering system, it will probably be some variation on a multiple of ten.

Probably the best date system I have ever come across is Vernor Vinge’s seconds, kiloseconds and megaseconds, from his Zones of Thought books. A second is a second. A kilosecond is a thousand seconds.  Given there are 3,600 seconds in an hour, this comes out to roughly a quarter of an hour.

Thus a megasecond is 11 days, 13 hours, 46 minutes and 40 seconds, which is roughly of the order of a week. A kilosecond is 16 minutes, 40 seconds, or the length of a short break. A gigasecond 31.7 years, so typical human lifespans are 2 to 3 gigaseconds.

Wikipedia Second

Vernor Vinge's Zones of Thought series.
Vernor Vinge’s Zones of Thought series.

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Author, I can’t take it any more

 

KillingOffCharactersDear Author

I love your books.  You are a great writer, and you have a book coming out soon. It’s part of a series I love.

Except … I’m not going to read it.

I know. I know.  But you kill off too many of my favourite characters.

You even admit that you do it to wring emotion out of your readers.

But I’m over it. The last three books of yours I haven’t enjoyed. Instead of reading the story, I’ve been waiting for someone to die. Last book, I read the end first, to find out who you killed off this time. If the two characters you killed had been favourites of mine, I wouldn’t have read the book.

I know people die in real life, but books aren’t real life, and I read to escape, not get dragged through the emotional wringer every single time.

I know we’ve killed characters in our own books. But mostly we kill them early, and you don’t get to love them for a hundred thousand words—or in your case, over several hundred thousand words—before we bump them off.

Besides, I don’t mind the occasional death. Well, I do, but I accept that’s fictional life. And I cry buckets when it happens. But you create big books with ensemble casts, who I grow to love over the series (those who survive the first couple of books, anyway). Then you kill them off, one (or more) in each book.  If you didn’t keep adding new people, you’d have run out of characters by now.

So I wish you all the best for the new release. But I’ll be over here in the other corner, reading a book that takes me away from the crazy world we live in for a while. Something that makes me feel better after I’ve finished. Not worse.

Regards

 

p.s. Did you know there’s a WikiHow article on getting over the death of a fictional character?

Working hard on Confluence edits

Well, Sherylyn is, anyway.
Well, Sherylyn is, anyway.

Our editor sent back further edits for Confluence.  They’re due  on Monday.

Around this time in the editing process Sherylyn does most of the work.  I get to relax (mostly), and every so often follow along to see what the edits are and whether I agree with them.

“Yes, yes, yes, yes. Sure. That sounds good.  Hmmm. Not sure about this one. I’m going to change it. Are you okay with this change?  Yes, yes, yes, yes.”

The book is off to the copy editor on Monday.

We’re far enough removed from Confluence now to see some things we’d like to improve, but we don’t have the time.  I think every writer does that, can’t let the story go.  What is the definition of done?

This final tidy up has cleaned the book up nicely, though.  It’s good.

Last night over dinner we had a long chat about what we learned writing these three books, what we’d do again, and what we’d do differently next time.

I might put it into a blog one day.

Cover reveal – Confluence

Our editor sent us the cover for Confluence a few days ago, but we haven’t been able to reveal it until now.

Look!

The cover for Confluence. Linesman book three. The book is coming in November.
The cover for Confluence. Linesman book three. The book is coming in November.

Isn’t it awesome.

The artist is Bruce Jensen, who did the first two covers. What a trifecta.

LinesmanTrifecta