Saturday, February 28, 2009



We've all fallen so quiet - must be that desperate rush to get MSS read in time for the retreat.

I flew back from Melbourne three days ago, and I'll be flying up to Brisbane in a week. I always wanted to be a jetsetter! I hope everyone has the necessary cooking utensils for Dirk to do the cooking. I'm salivating already.

The Melbourne trip was great - being taken round bookshops by the Allen & Unwin reps and talking to bookbuyers who'd mostly read their reading copies of WORLDSHAKER already. A & U reps have a very special relationship with bookshops and bookbuyers - in fact, I'm beginning to realise more and more that they're a very special publishing house altogether! And I can honestly say that the reports on WORLDSHAKER were glowing - I mean, really glowing.

I'm still floating on a cloud - also because of a few other developments that came up in Melbourne. But my lips are sealed. Well, actually, my lips aren't very sealed at all, but I've got better control over my typing fingers.

It's warm and humid as I sit here typing this, but nothing like Queensland will be. I'll probably turn into jelly - a bloated sort of jelly, with all the delicious food.


Cooking Gear

I could email this. I'm not gonna, because it's fun to do it in public.

Okay, folks - by now you're all getting geared up and ready for our tete-a-tete in sunny Queensland. Everybody's packing their toothbrushes, their jim-jams, and lotsa copies of various manuscripts. Knives are being sharpened... and speaking of knives, herewith is the Tale of the Cook.

I had a good time cooking at the last ROR in Taswegia, and I expect to enjoy myself this time around as well. Of course, prices have risen fairly dramatically since then, so I don't suppose I'll be able to replicate the Miracle of Loaves, Fishes, Wine and Pizza quite so effectively -- but with a bit of help from the audience, I reckon we'll come through okay.

Marianne, Rowena, Trent -- you lot are proper Briz dwelling Queenslanders. That means bringing a few extra bits of cooking gear won't terrify the Air Transport Security Mob, the way it would if, say Max or myself were to start lugging chef's knives in our carry-on. Therefore I feel it falls to you three to help stock the kitchen with usefuls. I'm very much hoping for the following items:

1) A stock-pot. About ten litres size minimum. If you provide me with this, I will make Chinese-style stock, and treat you to the best won-ton soup, the finest chicken-and-sweet-corn soup, and a truly excellent risotto. Stock is just one of those things you really must have if you're going to cook properly, and commercially available stock does NOT cut it.

2) A whisk. Please?

3) Anybody got one of those whizzer-on-a-stick Bamix kinda things? Blenders are great, but I don't think we need to get that carried away. But if you can get me a Bamixy stick-whizzer thing, I'll make you a roast capsicum dip, a mediterranean chickpea spread, a salmon/basil/feta spread that you'd kill for, and maybe even a serious chocolate mousse. If you're good.

4) A wok would be pretty cool. Aside from stir fries and nasi goreng, a wok allows you to make beautiful, thin, lacy, perfect French crepes.

5) A stone, for sharpening. The place will have knives. They all have knives. But the knives will be grotesquely blunt. I don't mind putting an edge back on the knives, but I need a stone to do it with.

6) Does anyone have a cleaver? I love cleavers. You can throw away half your knives if you've got a good cleaver. Find me a good cleaver, I promise you the most melt-in-your-mouth delectable Chinese-style barbecue pork ribs you've ever encountered.

7) I admit I'd like a zester. Pathetic, isn't it? And yet... a hint of blood orange in a rich, dark chocolate mousse...

Offhand, I think that's about it. The rest of the kitchen requirements are pretty pedestrian. If they aren't in place already, I can probably improvise.

While I'm here: I recall that none of you has any serious food allergies or horripilations. But not everyone has the same broad-ranging tastes. Why don't y'all nominate a few favourite dishes? I'm not saying for sure I'm gonna produce them - but you never know. I'm always looking for new recipes to mess with...

Saturday, February 21, 2009

exciting times, desperate times


Back again! Only a couple of weeks until I fly up to Brisbane for the ROR retreat. Not that the retreat is in Brisbane, but in a HIGHLY SECRET location - I don't even dare to think about it in case the paparazzi find out. I'll be up a couple of days in advance, visiting Michelle and Greg, Chris and Rebecca, along with new granddaughter.

That'll be my second interstate plane flight, because this coming week I'm off to Melbourne. Firstly. to talk with a film director who's interested in making a movie of Worldshaker (shush!), also to be introduced around Melbourne bookshops by the Allen & Unwin sales reps, and lastly to talk about sequel possibilities with my publisher at A & U.

I should be looking forward to it - I have been looking forward to it - but last night my printer went on the blink. I've spent half the day trying to sort it out with the Clean Heads command, the Deep Clean Heads command, and a million other commands and tests besides. Nothing works. So my plans for Monday are all thrown out - I'll have to rush around looking for a new colour printer, so that I can print out (and laminate) various bits of stuff I need for Melbourne.

Inspiration? Who has time for inspiration? Ah, if only I could hear the sweet music of a printer click-clicking out a perfectly printed page, I could maybe feel inspired.

Meanwhile, I've been reading the mss for the ROR retreat - Marianne's, Trent's, Rowena's and Tansy's. Just a couple left to go. What a talented lot they all are!


Friday, February 20, 2009

Can't Stop The Signal

They're adding a node to the International Space Station. The naming rights are up for grabs. NASA is asking for suggestions. Surprisingly, "Serenity" is an option.

Come on, Browncoats. You know what we have to do.

Thursday, February 19, 2009


Alphonse Mucha

Trent did a post about the kind of music he listens to while he writes and it made me realise I prefer quiet (not that I get it with 6 kids and a husband who shares the computer room with me). What inspires me is images.

Ever since I discovered the art of Mucha I've loved it. This is one of his more confronting pieces to promote the actress Sarah Bernhardt.

When I write a book or a novella I unconsciously select visuals to go with it. I'd read books on artists in my spare time, and research say, Constantinople including the art and architecture. When I caught myself adjusting my computer desk-top to tie in with the manuscript I was currently writing I finally made the conncection.

Now I actively search out visuals to enrich my mental head-space, while I write. I hunt up art, clothing, architecture and factual details, often drawn from wildly disparate areas. As I write, I create a folder ( imaginatively) called research and drop everything to do with the new book in there.

When I immerse myself in art I find it surfaces in my dreams. These become richly stylised and include back story, and characters with motivation. I wake up feeling as if I've been on a holiday to an exotic place that only exists in my imagination. Who wouldn't write fantasy?

I wonder if musicans dream in music, or comic book artists in line-work?

Cheers, Rowena

Too Merchandise or Not

I'm always interested to see what the more entrepreneurial writers are up to. So when Kevin J. Anderson and Rebecca Moesta's new Terra Incognita project dropped into my myspace page I checked it out. K and R are releasing a CD (they wrote the lyrics) to coincide with Kevin's new Orbit series 'Terra Incognita'. The CD is a professional cut, using established musicians. Good luck to them all. I hope it works out.

I then had a browse through the Anderzone online shop, which made me wonder ... do writers ever make any money from these kinds of set-ups, or is it simply another publicity strategy? Many writers now use Cafe Press. I've held off setting something like that up, that despite numerous requests for Parrish t-shirts etc.

I'd be interested to hear what people think of author 'shops'. I've always thought you needed to be Neil-Gaiman-popular to make something like that worthwhile.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

the music in me

Things are gearing up for ROR. I'm back teaching at QUT in a couple of weeks, and I have a short story workshop that I'm teaching this Saturday – I'm printing out my notes as I type this. And then I'm reading ROR manuscripts in my spare time, as well as great works of literature for a course I'm teaching (if you haven't read Seamus Heaney's translation of Beowulf, you really should, it's quite something). Which is to say, that I'm a bit busy.

I'm also starting the first draft of a new book.

Now, I'm not getting a lot of time to focus on the book at this stage, but in first draft mode most of what I'm doing is getting the ideas down, and seeing if I can work out how the book wants to pace itself, which, with this one, is fast. I don't have a lot of time to get into the right mindset, and I want to get this draft onto the page, so I've created a neat trigger to get me right into the story.


With most stories I write there's usually something of playlist to them. The last one -- of which this new book is the sequel -- was weighted to Americana with a bit of Punk, reflecting the protagonist's taste in music.

This one is leaning towards Grunge, particularly the Afghan Whig's excellent album Gentlemen. It's going into darker spaces, and Greg Dulli's nasty but very ernest posturing is perfect.

For me music is an instant and visceral entry point into the story. Which is never more important than in the first draft. The moment I start playing certain tracks, I'm there and in the story.

You should give it a go.

Think about music that is thematically linked to what you're writing, or who you are writing about. You might be surprised what you come up with. One story of mine, Tar Baby, was written to Moby's God Moving Over the Face of Waters I played that bit of music over and over again. Every time I hear it now, all I think of is my character Harmony facing the TAR on the edge of a crumbling cliff, then tumbling down, down, down into its depths. My neighbours probably have a different reaction.

These days I'm not quite so obssessive. The playlist or album kicks in, and usually runs through once, and then the music has done its work, and all the noise I'm making is the scratching of pen on paper, or the tap-tap-tapping of keyboard, which are, ultimately, the sounds you want to hear.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Tansy Muses on Writing Time - also Writing, Time

So I made my deadline, for those of you hanging out to know! I had the manuscript for French Vanilla done a little after 6pm on Saturday February 14th. My Valentine's gift was my honey agreeing to take our 4 year old on an adventure so I could work... (note to self, request this EVERY year)

It was rather nice to receive an email back from my editor within 24 hours - she just peeked at the manuscript to check out a question I had for her about formatting, and had read 156 pages before she knew what she was doing! You can't really ask for a better response than that...

Now that I've had some reassurance that the book is actually quite good (all together now - PHEW) I've been having some thoughts about writing, and speed.

This is the fastest full length book I've ever written, in pure chronological terms. The previous contenders were Three Janes (also last year), which comes in at about 6 months, and Liquid Gold back in 1998, which I completed in 5 months. French Vanilla was written in about 6 weeks (that's two weeks plus Nanowrimo) last year, and had four very solid weeks of editing this year, which brings it in at 2.5 months, for a novel just shy of 70,000 words.

Now the first important thing is that none of those numbers mean anything. When I was writing Liquid Gold, from what I recall, I was in my final semester of my BA, and had one uni-free day per week in which I could write. I also had weekends, but those were for uni work and my social life. I did not have a child. (VERY IMPORTANT DETAIL) I did not write all day of that one day a week in which I could write. I suspect from what I know/remember of my writing habits, then and now, that I put in between 2-3 hours at the computer. With possibly one other writing stint over the weekend, or in an evening.

Three Janes was dragged out of me painfully, every step of the way. It was one of those dreadful books in which every page produced is WORK, without a single one of those magical frenzy days in which the writing is just going marvellously. It was also the first original, starting-from-scratch book I had written in years, since before I halted my writing to finish my PhD, since before I had my baby, who was three and in daycare 3 days a week when I was writing Three Janes. It was far shorter than either of the other books (Liquid Gold came in at about 80K, Three Janes at around 50). I worked on it in fits and starts, half hour blocks in between other things. And I glared at it a lot when I wasn't technically working on it. It owned my soul. The first several months I think I only managed about 10,000 words, and then gradually picked up the pace as I added different plots and other good things. The whole thing stuttered along, taking up far more stress-time than writing-time until my beloved Swedish Writing Fairy read it, tore it to pieces and organised the broken fragments for me to mend, all within the space of 24 hours.

See what I mean about time meaning nothing, when it comes to writing?

French Vanilla was written fast, insanely fast. Everything I've heard about Nanowrimo is along the lines of - well sure, it's fun, but you'll never get a publishable book that way. 50,000 words in a month. It sounds too fast. It sounds completely wrong. But I know writers who work that way regularly - who draft their first book in a month or two months, and polish it later. I've never been one of those writers.

The guidelines of Nanowrimo mean you write approx. 1700 words a day. Every day. For a month. Now for me, that's somewhere between an hour and a half and three hours' work, depending on how on form I am. The trick is the every day part. That's hard. Especially with only 3 days daycare a week - that's 3 official 'work days' and 5 days of juggling child or child and honey to work around. I still wasn't one of those writers who sits at the computer and writes from 9 to 5 (thank GOODNESS I write fast when I write, or that would kill me), but I was hitting pretty much my maximum capacity. Sometimes I would write the day's alotment in two or three instalments - sometimes more. I utilised first thing in the morning AND last thing at night.

apart from starting with a bonus 15,000 words or so (two weeks work), I followed the Nano guidelines fairly strictly. There were many elements that contributed to my success in producing a publishable book in this time period:
a) fear - I'd left it too late to hit my deadline any other way (technically I still had two and a half months after Nano to work on it, and I cuddled those to me, but I knew I had to use those mostly for burnout and editing).
b) social pressure - I had a brilliant team of in person Nano buddies and another of online ones, and we worked to allow each other time and energy, feeding off each other's wordcounts to get the job done. Best support network ever. The fact that most of the friends I talk to regularly were participating meant that all my usual social energies got channelled into work.
c) quality control - this was where I broke the Nano guidelines (and learned the error of my ways) because I was so concerned about the "just produce words, don't worry about quality" aspect of Nano. That didn't work for me at all, I had to produce a book that worked and could be turned into something really good within 10 weeks of the end of the first draft. So I had this plan to ensure quality control through shame by sending regular twice-weekly chapter updates to three of my closest and most trusted people. However, this was a BAD idea. Any hint that they had read the chapters, any word of feedback, sent me into a tailspin. I couldn't cope with the pressure. It was hard enough figuring out how to make the book work myself at super speed without letting other people into my brain. So I cut them off.

The most interesting thing about the "speed" of Nanowrimo is not that I was writing all day every day (because I wasn't) but not having as much time to breathe between writing sessions. Back when I composed a novel in five months by writing once a week, I had a whole week in between sessions to think about what I'd done, gear up for the next one, or solve any problems that had turned up. With French Vanilla I had to solve the problems NOW. That actually helped with fluid and speedy writing, because it meant procrastination was not my friend. It's easy to put off writing a scene if you're dumping the workload on next week's Tansy. Not so easy when it's 11 o clock at night and you know you'll have to deal with it again as soon as you wake up...

I alotted myself six weeks of editing (and one month, December, of collapsey goodness and real life catch up). Sadly I discovered that the 1st of January is not actually that conducive to getting work started, and I didn't start the editing until one month before my deadline. That dividing fairly sharply into two weeks of working on the big papery manuscript, and two weeks flat out of entering said edits into the computer (the pace only slowed down when said edits contained things like 'write good' or 'make better' without specific suggestions on how to do that. Talk about being mean to my (immediate) future self!

So yes, considering the frenetic pace of this book, and the sheer "impossibility" of producing something marvellous under those writing conditions, I received my editor's comment on how readable it was with one huge sigh of relief. Because you just never know.

Some time ago, the very wise Justine Larbalestier commented about the perceptions people have of the "speed" of writers, and how the question 'how long did it take you to write XXX?' has no meaning at all. One writer might take a year to write a first draft of a novel, another might take two months. We would assume the two month writer had produced a rawer draft that requires more editing, but what if the one year writer only has one free day a week to work, has a family and kids to juggle, or (even more common) works a full time job with lunch breaks and evenings their only writing time, while the two month writer has no commitments and far more available time? Books can not be measured in months, or years. Working hours might be more relevant but as with most craftspeople, few writers log the number of hours they actually work, because once you work out what your hourly pay scale is, you have to spend several hours sobbing in the bathroom, and we have far too much to do!

The really interesting/depressing thing is that there is absolutely no correlation between the time it takes to write a book, the effort it takes to write it, and the quality of the end product. There is no maths here. I know for a fact after my Year of Drafting Three Novels that a month's slog can produce the same amount of words as one fun, enjoyable week, and while I suspect the fun week will produce better writing (sadly the easiest writing is usually the best in my experience) there is actually no way to know from the process which will be the most effective, successful or just plain good piece of work.

All a writer can do is sit in the chair and produce the words, and hope that the end result will be worth their time.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

lucky break time


Wasn't it just last week I was saying I had a new car, so I was expecting another turning point in my life? Well, since then, I've had some great news that definitely points to an upward career curve! I received an email from David G. Hartwell, saying he wanted to publish "A Guided Tour in the Kingdom of the Dead" in Tor's ninth anthology of YEARS BEST FANTASY. Yay!

"A Guided Tour ..." is a story with a long, long history. I always thought it had legs, but in the first version, it was more of a travelogue and didn't appeal to magazine editors at the time. I put it aside and thought about revisions, but didn't get around to doing anything for many years. Then, when Jack (Dann) put out the word for stories for the second 'Dreaming' anthology, I went back and gave the story a whole new centre and a stronger narrative. I had that excellent feeling, yes, I've finally unearthed the story it was always meant to be! Jack was pleased with it too, so it came out in DREAMING AGAIN towards the end of last year - and now it's had extra recognition from America.

It's the lucky break I needed, because although I've had nearly half my stories published in the US, I'd never cracked any of the top level magazines. The way things work is that success builds on success - as I say in my writing tips, and every published author already knows. It makes all the difference when a magazine editor reads a story expecting to like it rather than expecting to reject it. Now my cover letter can kick off mentioning a story published in YEARS BEST FANTASY #9, and every American editor knows I'm worth taking seriously!

In fact, YEARS BEST FANTASY must be about THE top-ranking fantasy anthology, now that Ellen Datlow/Kelly Link/Gavin Grant 'Years Best Fantasy & Horror' has dropped out for 2008-9. The word is, it'll be coming back the following year, but from a smaller publisher (Wildside). Bad news ... and there's other bad news too: REALMS OF FANTASY, long-standing top-ranking U.S. fantasy outlet, is ceasing publication for good. Particularly hard on a couple of Australian authors who had stories accepted - how unlucky is that?

Maybe it's because there are so many stories easily accessible on the net - print magazines are doing it tough. Especially fantasy. It's odd that, for novel-length fiction, fantasy is absolutely the way to go, but you stand a better chance with SF or horror for magazine publication.

Here's some good news - TENDER MORSELS, by our very own RORee, Margo Lanagan, was an honour book in the American Library Association's yearly awards. That's in the YA category, because Tender Morsels is marketed as YA in the U.S., but as adult in Australia. (Our marketing is more sensible!) Congratulations, Margo!


Thursday, February 12, 2009

World Building -- more than a list of attributes

I'll be doing a World Building Workshop at the National Romance Writers' Conference in August this year. You might ask what romance authors need world building for, but one of the hottest sub genres is Paranormal Romance -- Vampires and Werewolves in down-town Brisbane/Melbourne/LA. Also a favourite with readers are fantasy-romance and futuristic romance.

If you google world building you'll find lots of useful tips with lists of all the things you need to consider from climate, to society structure. But, for me, the most important thing is how the world/society your character lives in, shapes the person they are and their life choices. So I'll be concentrating on this aspect of world building when I run the workshop.

To me, the one thing every writer needs in insatiable curiosity about the world and its people, especially, if they are going to write the kind of books that require world building. You only have to look at our own world and observe the disparity in beliefs and life styles, to realise even the society of one medium sized city is not homogenised. So taking a one-size-fits-all approach to world building is not going to give you enough textural depth to create a rich believable world.

People do some strange things for some very strange reasons. If your loved one was dying, would you refuse them life-saving medication? You would, if it went against your religious beliefs. As long as your character is doing something for a noble reason, they can do outrageous things and the reader will forgive them. Now it seems we are veering into charcterisation. But that's the thing about writing, so much of it is interconnected. If you don't create a rich world for your character, they aren't going to have enough depth to make the reader care. And if the reader doesn't care passionately, you've lost them.

So the best thing you can do as a writer is read about our world, read history, read about societies. In New Guinea there are about 7 million people, speaking over 1000 languages. Villages can be within a day's walk of each other and share completely different beliefs and social structure. There is literally a feast of information out there.

But where do you start? This is what I'll be covering in my World Building Workshop at the Romance Conference.

Cheers, Rowena.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Clarion South

So it's the day of the Aurealis Awards. I'm already nervous enough because I'm shortlisted for three stories; I don't expect to win anything; I've friends and family coming to the ceremony; and I don't want them to be disappointed. I'm waiting to order a coffee at my local coffee shop, sweating because it's a stinker of a day, and the phone rings. It's Rob Hoge, one of the convenors of Clarion South.

There's a bit of small talk, not a lot, but a bit, and then Rob says, Kelly and Gavin can't make it to Clarion South, we want you to teach week five. The blood runs from my face. The first thought that comes to mind is I can't possibly, I just can't. The second, why not?

I give a tentative yes.

Rob says, great. But you can't tell anyone just yet. Most of the students are going to the Aurealis
Awards that night. I can't say anything, not until it's announced the following day.

Yeah, well, I better win something now.


The week before I taught at Clarion South was one of utter panic. Doubt, panic, doubt. I wondered what they could possibly learn from me, and what I might be able to bring to Clarion. Ultimately the only answer I could provide was me.

Now, whether that was enough, well, I don't know.

I knew I was going in on a low week: week five traditionally is. And I knew that week six with the amazing Jeff Vandermeer was going to be incredible. All I had to do was get them there. Keep them enthused, and show them that even a rather aimless, slacker like me can stay around, and can keep writing merely by keeping writing. I read their stories and tried my hardest to get at the core of what they were writing, to point out when they were taking the path of least resistance, and to get them to ask why. Why this word, this phrase, this image, this character, this story?

And it was a hell of a lot of fun. A brighter, more enthusiastic or generous* bunch of students I have yet to meet. Every story was (with work, and god, what story doesn't need work?) on a path to somewhere, and every writer prepared to challenge themselves. But more than that, in all of them, I could see a joy in what they were doing. You can write, and you can work, and you can refine. But if there's no joy there, in the work itself, then you've shackled yourself to one of the most unrewarding activities of all. No problems with this group.

And I must have done something right.

Monday morning, week six, a certain Mr Vandermeer walked into the crit room and found himself face to face with seventeen sock puppet wielding Clarionites. Bring it on! That kind of energy, that kind of challenging fun is a joy to teach, and a joy to be around.

Check out the Clarion South webpage. Look down the list of names on the honor roll for 2009, when it's posted, some you'll recognize, others you won't, but all of them you'll see again.

Oh, and I did win an Aurealis Award, funny thing was I pretty much forgot about it until yesterday.

Looks good next to the first one (just saying).

*Don't let me get started on the food. I felt completely spoilt: Angela Slatter's chocolate fondue was utterly divine.

Monday, February 9, 2009

Tansy is Mired in Edits

I have a big stack of papery things on my work table which is gradually getting eroded (which is to say it is turning into a puddle of papery things around my ankles) as I work through my edits for French Vanilla, a chick lit crime novel due at Pulp Fiction Press On February 14.

I should perhaps note at this point that the people at Pulp Fiction Press are lovely and almost certainly would extend a deadline to me, should I ask for it. However, I DO NOT WANT. I have a year's worth of writing deadlines ahead of me, and stretching this one out now would put everything else off balance.

It doesn't help that, you know, having a baby in August, I have a few months less of the year than I though. Even I wouldn't try to write the third book of a trilogy in the first two months of my second child's life...



So my plan for this month is to finish edits of French Vanilla, write 3,000 words of book discussion notes on Peter Pan, read and critique several manuscripts for our ROR weekend in March, and write 15 thousand words of Book Two of Fantasy Trilogy.

What are you looking at? It's doable. Seriously.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Tools Of The Trade

Hey. How many of you reading this actually learned to type on a typewriter? And for those of you who answered yes to the last, how many actually used a manual, rather than an electric?

Scary, innit?

See, once upon a time a writer’s tools were universal, and simple. Sure, you could argue the relative merits of different typewriters. Or you could even do a Fred Forsythe, and compose in longhand on pads of yellow legal-size paper. And I guess you could even get precious about what sort of pens you liked. But nowadays, in the era of ubiquitous computers — who really gives a toss about the hardware any more? It’s all about the software, the computer programmes designed to help you write and create.

And what a world of stuff there is. A while ago, I went online looking for some software to help me lay out film-script material, because the movie-script format is very specialized and very rigid. I figured somebody might have written a programme that could set it up for you, get your dialogue properly centred, use the right fonts to indicate SFX and scene changes and actions and all...

... and holy crap, there must have been more than a dozen different programmes designed to do just that. Amazing.

Why amazing? Because frankly, none of this software will help you write better. That’s down to you, and only you. But good software can do one thing: it can get out of the way of the creative process, and be easy to use, and reliable.

In the process of composing something big, I use three or four different pieces of software. I’m going to introduce you to them one by one, with a quick explanation of what they do, and why I use them.

Planning and Notes:

I know some people like to make complicated diagrams and pictures and flowcharts to help them organize a novel. Me? I can’t go there. Doesn’t work for me. I know roughly where I need the characters to go, and I point them in that direction, and then kind of follow them through, nudging them as they go. I’ve got an unusual memory, so I neither need nor want all the diagrams and flowcharts.

Nevertheless, novels are complicated. And if you’re doing anything historical, there’s a lot of research. Plus there’s usually dozens of characters, often with minor roles to play, and all sorts of other things to remember. That’s where Zulupad comes in.

Zulupad is brilliant. It’s a simple little programme, completely free, downloadable from the ‘Net. Open it up, you get a page-space for writing. So you start writing notes. The neat bit is this: you can highlight any word you want, and it will instantly become a hyperlink. Not only that, but Zulupad will immediately create a new page for it, so you can add notes for it too. And from that point on, wherever you are in your Zulupad document, if you type that word again it will appear as a hyperlink connected to that page.

For me, Zulupad is just the best planning tool of all time. It reflects my own mental structure — links to links to links to links. It allows me to add casual thoughts and ideas, and hook them straight in to any part of the narrative I want. And it all comes back to the main “Index” page, nice and simple. Oh, and for taking notes on a big topic? Best. Software. Evar.


I hate big, slow, complicated word processors. I hate the fact that as your file gets bigger, it gets slower to load. I hate the fact that if you break it into smaller files, you have to try to remember a bunch of stupid file names, and be able to recall them from whatever obscure directory Bill Gates has consigned them too. And so when I found Yeah Write, back in 1997, I was completely sold.

Yeah Write, from Wordplace, isn’t quite free. You can use a limited shareware version for free, and it’s pretty good — but the software is so brilliantly cool that I have always been more than happy to pay the thirty or so Australian dollars it costs to buy it. I’m using my copy to create this very document.

The brilliance of Yeah Write is in its simplicity, and in its visual metaphor. Download it, set it up, you get a screen with what looks like a filing cabinet down the right-hand side. There’s drawers in the cabinet. You can add more as you need them, rename them as you will. If you open a drawer by clicking on it, you’ll find inside a bunch of “hanging document folders”, just like a real filing cabinet, with name-tabs at the top of each. Again, you can add more, or remove ‘em or rename ‘em. And if you open any of those folders by clicking, you’ll see a list of text documents in each — exactly as you would in a real file folder in a real filing cabinet.

The metaphor is perfect, and seamless. It’s so easy to set up a hanging file-folder, and then create new documents in it. Write a novel? Easy: each new chapter is another new document hanging in the folder, clearly labelled. And the folder is also labelled, and it hangs in your drawer which you’ve named ‘novels’ or ‘drafts’, or whatever. You never lose it. You never have to click through countless directories for it. It’s just right there, where you need it, when you need it.

There are a bunch more clever features to Yeah Write. It's small -- about 1.5mb. It’s robust as hell. It can export to rtf. It can import all kinds of different filetypes, and if it can’t read ‘em, it will pull the text out and do its best to arrange it sensibly. (Yes. I’ve used Yeah Write many a time to open bizarre attachments from idiots who think their proprietary software is universal. It may not be pretty, but it works.) And another thing: every time you hit ‘return’, it automatically saves your document. Oh, and it will set up a backup folder for you, and routinely back-up all your work from the entire filing cabinet into several different back-up files, located wherever you like on your machine. That little feature has saved my ass more than once.

What it’s not is a WYSIWYG word processor. It’s print output is fairly primitive, and you don’t get all the shiny bells and whistles that you might want for a full-on presentation manuscript. For that, you need something else.


Well, you could buy Microsoft Office, sure. That would work. Or you could just download Open Office, which has very much the same functionality, is broadly cross-compatible in file-types and output, produces perfectly lovely WYSIWYG word documents with all the shinies and the bells and the whistles — and doesn't actually cost a cent.

That’s the deal-maker for me, right there. So I draft my stuff in Yeah Write, and then I load it all into an Open Office word document and prettify it and polish it, and then print it off. Oh... naturally, Open Office is a fully featured office suite with everything you'd expect. Word processing, check. Spreadsheets, drawing, visual presentations, databases... all of the above. And very free. If you're using anything else, you've got more money than sense.


That’s it, folks. For me, that’s the tools of the trade. Well, that and a bottle of Jameson, of course. Bottoms up!

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Not Writing, Driving


I've just got hold of my new car - a shiny white Hyundai Getz. Yay! So great to have a car with air conditioning and all the other little mod cons that everyone's been taking for granted all these years, while I was still driving my Mazda 323, over twenty years old. Ohmigod, power steering! Ohmigod, electrically operated windows! It's a miracle!

I knew about Getzes because I've driven them as hired cars - now I'll finally get to learn what all the controls are REALLY for. It's scary how much of the engine and inner workings are computer controlled - seems no ordinary human mortal could ever dare fiddle with any of it.

I made a tiny boo-boo, leaving my eTag device stuck to the Mazda windscreen when I traded it in. I was thinking, how totally dumb of me, until I rang up the car sales place and they said I was the third that morning. Anyway, all sorted now.

Funny, how cars have been turning points in my life. I'd never learned to drive till I came to Australia - my family never owned a car in England. So getting my first car (a second-hand VW) and then my driving licence was like a huge achievement. I felt I'd really made it! Freedom to go wherever I liked whenever!

Then - well, there were a few bombs in between - but my next important car was the Mazda. My first ever new car - and so glorious to be able to drive around without that nagging dread it might break down at any moment! I bought it when I landed my lectureship at Wollongong Uni - which was soon after I'd moved in with Aileen, and also when I had a first (academic) book moving towards publication. A very positive turning point!

So now I'm thinking this new new car is another turning-point - it has to be! I just pampered it with new car seat covers. The first alphabetical part of its numberplate is AY, which is the short form for Aileen; and the last alphabetical part of its numberplate is WS, which is my abbreviation for WORLDSHAKER. The omens are unmistakable!

Meanwhile, I'm doing the index for the 145 Pages Writing Tips website and going round bookshops being introduced by Allen & Unwin representatives (I'm more and more impressed by Allen & Unwin all the time). I've just finished marking the essays from my Children's and YA Fantasy uni course, and I have only two books left to read for the Book of the Year in the NSW Premiers Literary Award. (I was one of 3 judges on the YA panel).

So all of those tasks are almost wrapped up. Yippee! Soon I'll have time to enjoy driving my new car!


Return To New Ceres

Anybody who got a kick out of Angel Rising will be pleased to hear that my far-future swashbuckling cynic and Byron impersonator-hero George Gordon will be returning in a short story in the upcoming New Ceres Nights anthology from Twelfth Planet Press. Better still*, not only does he appear in my own contribution 'Debutante', but he gets at least a walk-on speaking role in The Piece of Ice in Miss Windermere's Heart, by the redoubtable Angela Slatter.

Actually, the roll call of writers who made the cut for this one includes a list of many of my favourite of the current crop of Aussie SF folk, and I'm really looking forward to reading the thing. New Ceres is a fun setting to work with. I had a ball with Angel Rising -- the story took off on its own, leaving me to chase the details. I didn't actually expect the revelation at the ending at all, right up until it occurred to me. So to speak.

Anyway, Debutante is the story of how George Gordon got the job of Proctor-In-Chief to New Ceres.** Writing it made me feel quite good, because it sort of completed the arc of character for the guy. Of course, being me it was all out of order.

The first George Gordon story I wrote was She Walks In Beauty, for New Ceres Online (I think it's still available as a PDF, by the way.) At that point, Gordon has already been doing the job for a very long time, and has really begun to lose his way, but he doesn't see any real alternatives for himself. Then I did Angel Rising, in which an artificial intelligence of sorts shows Gordon how to recover his own sense of humanity, and marks the end of his official tenure as Proctor-In-Chief. So naturally, the third story had to be the beginning, right?

Yeah, okay. I like doing things the hard way.

*From my viewpoint, anyhow. It's HUUGE fun watching someone else reinterpret a character you've created. And a tip o' the tricorn to Tansy RR, whose Lady Governor appears as the eponymous deb of the upcoming story... and another tip to Tansy for joining the roll in New Ceres Nights herself.

** That doesn't count as a spoiler, does it? I sort of figured it as more of a teaser, really. I'm not very good at this stuff.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

The Joy of Writing

Days like yesterday, are days that remind me why I'm a writer. I'm polishing the draft of book two of King Rolen's Kin for Solaris at the moment, and there was a bridging scene I needed to write to make sense of the last quater of the book. When I came to this point originally, it just wasn't working and nothing I did made it fall into place. Pushing through, wasn't an option.

This time I came to the problem scene and kept right on writing. All the niggly little plot threads fell into place, in a brand new scene, which was better than my old planned scene. All day, as I hung out washing, drove kids around and did shopping etc the scene was bubbling away in the back of my mind. I couldn't wait to get back to the computer. There was this wonderful sense of excitment and achievement.

Nothing can take that away. Whether you are writing a book that has already been accepted or writing on spec, the private joy of creating is just between you and the keyboard.

Back to work!

Cheers, R.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

ROR writers raring to go!

Mt Tibrogargen, Glass House Mountains, Queensland.

I just booked the house at Montville, in the Glass House Mountains, where we'll be having our ROR Retreat this year.

Not only will we have wonderful views and no interruptions from family and work, but Dirk will be doing the cooking. So we'll be having a feast for the senses in every way. Because in between, eating and drinking and enjoying the ambiance, we'll be critiquing a total of 7 manuscripts.

It will be intense, with a lot of preparation beforehand, reading and writing reports. I must be a real writing nerd because there is nothing I enjoy more than analysing a good book in depth, while trying to make it even better.

Roll on ROR 2009!

Cheers, Rowena