Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Editing: the DOs and DON'Ts

Posted on behalf of Lynne Jamneck. The ROR team would like to take the chance to congratulate Lynne. Gwyneth Jones's story 'The Voyage out' which appeared in Lynne's anthology, Periphery: Erotic Lesbian Futures, has been selected to appear in Gardner Dozois' 26th Year's Best SF.

Lynne talks about anthology editing.

The next thing that you're going to want to remember is that you're going to read a lot. Though I had specific authors who were contributing, I also sent out an open call, because there's nothing quite like the potential for discovering a gem of a story from someone unpublished. But the opposite is also true. The likelihood of reading a lot of bad stuff is, well, very likely. And for heaven sakes, when it comes to emailing writers to tell them that they're stories have unfortunately not made the final cut, be gentle. Don't be snotty and don't be mean. Be encouraging where you can. But be honest, too.

Once you have your stories, the editing process starts; working with your final contributors to make their stories the best they can be. There is a fine line here, and I think I'm lucky in the sense that I'm a writer myself. I thought "how would I like an editor to approach me, to ask me about potentially changing an aspect of my story?" And really, the only reason you would ask any author to do that is because a) something does not make logical sense, or b) a small change can potentially illuminate something deeper relating to character, motive or the general impact of the story.

Because my background is mostly in the creative side of things, I chose to leave the mailing out of contracts and payments to contributors to the publisher, who was happy to do so after I had supplied them with up to date details of contributors' contact details.

Rowena, here. What experiences have you had working with editors? I discovered one of my short children's books had been extended by one extra page without being consulted. What was disappointing was that the added text completely missed the point of the original text. It was just plain bad and it had my name on it.

Horror stories, anyone? Or have you been inspired by a great editor?

Monday, June 29, 2009

Drop by Post

The 26th Year's Best SF, edited by Garnder Dozois.

Honorable Mentions for RORees:

Rowena Cory Daniells. Purgatory (Dreaming Again)
Richard Harland, A Guided Tour in the Kingdom of the Dead (Dreaming Again)
Margo Lanagan, The Fifth Star in the Southern Cross (Dreaming Again)
Margo Lanagan, An Honest Day's Work (The Starry Rift)
Margo Lanagan, Night of the Firstlings (Eclipse Two)


Sunday, June 28, 2009

The Highlights and Pitfalls of Anthology Editing

(Posted on Lynne Jamneck's behalf)

Where to begin? I know—thank you Marianne de Pierres for asking me to blog about something that, at least from my experience, no-one seems to know if there is a right or wrong way of going about doing. I've heard horror stories from other editors about their experiences compiling anthologies and I must admit, I'm not nearly an expert on the subject. So all I can talk about is my own experience as it played out when I put together Periphery—Erotic Lesbian Futures for Lethe Press.

Selecting A Theme

First of all, I think your experience is going to be much more satisfying from the start if what you are aiming to compile speaks to you personally. One of the reasons I enjoyed putting Periphery together was because I was aiming to create the kind of anthology I had been looking for in bookstores for years, without ever finding it. What was that you ask? It's hard to explain in a few sentences but the gist of it was that I wanted to read SF stories, written from a queer perspective where the eroticism functionally contributed to the overall story; was, in fact, essential to it. So I had two perspectives that I wanted to blend effectively, and I count myself extremely fortunate to have received the wonderful stories I did from the range of contributors included in the final collection.

Because I had such a specific idea of what I wanted, I also had specific authors in mind that I wanted to approach. Some of them I had spoken to before, or worked with before whilst others were authors whose work I admired. The great thing about most SF authors is that if you send them a nice email and ask whether they'd be potentially interested in contributing to your project, the likelihood of you getting a nice, timely email back in return is almost guaranteed. Whether they will be able to contribute depends on various factors, but I'd say the most important is payment, and whether they have time available.

Most publishers will advance (once your proposal has been accepted) an amount either before or after publication to pay contributors, depending on contractual agreements. Needless to say, the bigger the payment, the better the chances of having high-profile authors involved, though this isn't always the case. It's not because writers are greedy, it's simply because writing is what they do for a living. They need compensation for the time they commit to projects.

What unforgettable short stories or anthologies have you read? Why were they unforgettable?

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Madly, Without Measuring (Tansy's Writing Process)

I think my writing process is somewhere between Rowena's tidy linear progression and Trent's addictive scrambling in the dark.

Generally speaking, I do start at the beginning of a novel, keep writing until I get to the end and then stop. I've written with different techniques over the years and have realised that doing too much in the way of note-writing and plotting ahead of time is very bad for me. Having said that, I usually have an end point - a final scene or moment - and do my best to fall gracefully towards it.

I don't write that scene down, though, as Trent does. (I did this once and promptly stopped writing the book) I rely too much on the twists and turns my brain comes up with as I write to dare guess things like the mental state my characters might be in at the end of a book.

With Power and Majesty, book one of the Creature Court (which I sent off the final version of to the publisher about ten minutes ago) I had that scene in my head for years. I knew exactly how the first book would end, and it would blow readers out of the water! During my enforced exile from that novel (as I finished my thesis and had a baby) one of the toughest things I had to come to terms with was that the amazing scene that had dragged me through so much writing so far would not in fact fall at the end of book one. Too much had to happen. In the end that scene fell in the middle of book 2 (I wrote it for real a couple of months ago) and I hope it will have similar stunning effect on readers (though it may make fewer of them wish to kill me than if it had been the end point of a book).

The big difference to how I write now, as opposed to how I wrote before motherhood, is that I have learned to draft more 'lightly' than before. I used to be the kind of dense (as in thickly spread prose, not dumbarse) writer whose book would be at least in third-fourth draft stage by the time I came to the end of it. But that kind of writing requires uninterrupted space, quiet, and an attention span. All things that flew out the window when I gave birth.

Now I write faster, more furiously. I lay down drafts without worrying too much about the details, and then come back and put in the hard yards on the Make Writing Good aspects. Oddly I find that the end result of this is still more time-efficient than my old style - though I've written quite a lot between then and now, and it could just be that I'm a faster writer than I used to be.

Indeed, I've learned that anything to push the pace along is good for me. When I am in Writing Mode I need a daily quota to hit. Nanowrimo's 1667 or so daily count is a bit of a push, but I found earlier this year that 500 or 1000 was perfectly doable. I am an obsessive, compulsive person and if I don't tap into this side of me, I don't get any writing done at all. (I've just come out of a 2-3 month stint of Editing and am so looking forward to getting back to daily wordcounts)

As for the rest of it - well, when I first saw Rowena's references to scene notes, glossary of terms etc, I laughed, because I now have all these things for P&M - but only constructed them over the last month or two, in self defence, after working on the book on and off for over five years. I knew I needed the glossary this year when I started writing Book 2 and realised I didn't remember half the names of my minor characters. Likewise I needed to sort out a timeline for my backstory once and for all - as I learned upon the discovery that I had at least three versions of several relationships floating around in my "notes."

My Swedish writing fairy has been begging me for a copy of my Fasti (the festival calendar I use for Power and Majesty) for ages, so I finally sent it to her, in an excel doc full of various notes, plans, etc. She declared that my worldbuilding could fill a book. I got mildly hysterical and said 'it's not worldbuilding, it's self-defence!' Actually, the calendar, based on the Roman Fasti, is the only piece of worldbuilding I set up for myself *before* writing, and thank goodness for that.

So yes. I have actually come up with a similar process to Rowena's, but instead of setting myself up properly from the start, I hurl myself haphazardly into my novel-to-be, only producing supporting material and organised notes when the many problems caused by not having such things stack up so high that I can't see daylight.

In short, I write like I sew, madly and without measuring! Anyone who has ever seen one of my quilts is currently nodding sagely and saying 'that explains a lot.'

There is more to say here on the inspiration side of my writing process - words, music and images, but I might come back to that next week. Right now, there is celebrating to be done. One book down, two to go!

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Trent, Orbit and Death Works

Our own Trent Jamieson announces his exciting three book sale to Orbit.

Writing Process

Inspiration for King Rolen's Kin, my new fantasy series.

Havock 21 asked about the writing process. I'm a real control freak, I must be the exact opposite of Trent!

I've just delivered King Rolen's Kin books 1,2, & 3 to my agent. If you could see me now, I'd be doing the Happy Dance.

This has been a long time coming. Back in 1998 I wrote a fantasy novella. Not much call for novellas of 90 pages, so I put it aside. Came back to it in 2002 and it grew into a book. That one book grew into three books and the first 3 chapters were what I submitted to my agent, John Jarrold, when I approached him to see if he would take me on, in 2005. (Only book one was polished, the rest was about 600 pages of story arc).

Unlike Trent, who writes a bit here and a bit there. I sit down and write from beginning to end. If I jam up, it is because something isn't working earlier on and I go back to the beginning and do a rewrite. By then I know the world and the characters so much better, so I do what I call 'layering'. I add layers of characterisation and back story with each rewrite.

But it gets very complex with over 1700 pages of story. So I keep scene notes for each chapter as I write. That way if I decide a character had to have a certain prop with him 7 days ago before he was kidnapped, I can make sure he had it on him, without wandering around pages of manuscript trying to find the exact scene.

I also keep a 'terminology' file. Like all fantasy writers, I create my world and people it with societies, inventing words along the way. I have to remember how to spell those words and what they mean. So I need a terminology file.

Then because I have multiple points of view and the narrative takes place over so many days/weeks during the course story I keep a 'timeline' file so I know how many days have passed and where each person is at a particular time and how old they were when things happened in the backstory, (only important things that affect them now).

I also keep a file of images that have inspired me. For King Rolen's Kin I did some research into Russia. Thirty years ago there was a National Geographic cover of a Russian peasant boy. I can still see it clearly in my mind's eye. I needed a look for the people, and a look for the way they built their homes and strongholds. I wanted it to be a little different from your average medieval fantasy. So King Rolen's stronghold has towers and domes. Inside it is ornately decorated like St Petersburg.

When I'm writing the world I create seems more real to me that the world where politicians wrangle over Utegate.

Was that the kind of writing process you were wondering about, Havock21?

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

North and South - Trent's last lame post on his lack of an actual "process"

I’m now at the "bit past beginning stage"* of writing a novel: part two of series that I hope to be able to talk about in more detail soon.

For me writing a novel is a rather non-linear process. I write scenes, certain dramatic (well, I hope they are) moments, and then I fill in from there. For instance, I’ve already written the final and first scenes of this book – what I currently think are the final and first scenes.

It’s in the filling-in that the real discoveries are made. Those beginning and ending scenes form the north and south that the compass of my mind follows. They’re the bits that bear the most weight in this whole storytelling endeavour, even if I ultimately throw them away.

I don’t plan, much. But if I have these scenes down the rest comes to me – I won’t say easily, because it’s never easy, and from book to book the difficult parts are never the same.

Of course, when I say I don’t plan much, I still write copious notes. Most of which I never look at again, I figure the good stuff sticks, the bad stuff is better off sitting forgotten on the pages of a notebook, or scrawled in an index card. It gets a lot of the crap away from the manuscript itself.

Every time I’ve tried to work away from this “method” I come back to it with a tangled mess.

Still, I reckon I’d never recommend this way of writing to anyone. So much of it is an addictive scrambling in the dark, a shuffling from a clear beginning to a clear ending with a terrifying abyss of uncertainty in between. I suppose you have to be a writer - and a certain type of one at that - to love it.

In the darkness to the dreadful tap, tap, tapping of a keyboard, I feel at home. Even when I’m hating it, I feel at home.

How crazy is that?

(Promise to write about the do's and don'ts of a book launch next, having worked as a bookseller at quite a few, I have a list!)

*Somewhere between the navel gazing and the finger's bleeding stage

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Really, can we NOT sneer at fantasy?

I read the Guardian online obsessively (my life these days is pretty much divided into things I do obsessively and things I don't do at all) and I've noticed occasional coverage of fantasy and science fiction in their book pages. Recently they had a great article about Martina Cole, discussing the double standard of the literary world and how they tend to sneer at crime authors, even (especially) those as successful as she is. Spotting an article entitled Let's Stop Sneering at Fantasy Readers I clicked on it with interest. Spotting speculative references in mainstream news coverage is always awesome!

Only, I discovered as I read on with a quiet kind of horror, the article was about as pro-fantasy as those 'hey isn't it cool women can do anything these days as long as they look hot in heels' articles are pro-feminist.

Possibly the subtitle of the piece, They might be the zit-ridden little brothers of science fiction geeks, but fantasy readers still deserve our respect should have tipped me off.

The worst part is that I'm pretty sure the writer was trying to be positive. The article seems to be trying to present fantasy as something worthwhile and interesting, but sadly it gets bogged down in its own mythology, spending far too much time regurgitating worthless (and old-fashioned) cliches about mainstream culture's perception of fantasy readers and fantasy books, so that its message becomes entirely lost.

Surely the writer didn't need to spend such a large proportion of the article's opening three paragraphs drilling in the idea that "everyone thinks" fantasy readers are "the people Red Dwarf fans sneer at for being too nerdy," and that fantasy itself is "the genre of eternal greasy adolescence."

Finally, having thoroughly introduced fantasy to his readers (who if they didn't think fantasy was for unsocialised geeks before, most certainly do NOW), the author of the article comes up with the idea that fantasy, being such a "new" genre (a mere 50 years old) might be worth taking a bit more seriously - now that some famous people who wrote in the genre have passed on.

Yes, I boggled too.

For every positive bit of reporting - such as about the David Gemmell Legend Award for fantasy - the article's writer cannot help but add another sneer. He approves of Joe Abercrombie being shortlisted because that suggests fantasy readers might (shock!) have a sense of humour about themselves, but suggests that the appearance of assassins, elves etc. means that the publishers are lacking in imagination (and links to an article written by someone who has actually read the relevant books, not just their titles).

Finally, after surfing a sea of snide put-downs, I came to the final paragraph, in which the writer finally came up with one unqualified positive quality of the genre - its openness to translated works, particularly from countries such as Poland, from where the winner of the inaugural Gemmel hails. Ah, translated works, a concept that book people can understand without getting elf cooties all over them.

Really, is it too much to ask that the mainstream media report on our genre without wrinkling their nose in distaste the entire time? Didn't their mothers teach them that if they can't discuss a subject without making a face like they are sucking a lemon, it might be better not to say anything at all?

Sunday, June 21, 2009

male and female protagonists


Followng on from Dave's post - I don't see anything odd about males writing stories with female protagonists, or females writing stories with male protagonists. People who think otherwise might have an ideological take on the issue, but I mostly blame the notion that fiction-writing is a form of autobiography. As a fantasy writer, I aim to create interesting characters, not convey comprehensive pictures of detailed everyday life. It's true, there are some aspects of life as a woman that I couldn't handle very well - but there's so much left. Fictional characters are only a selection from anybody's full life anyway, aren't they?

If a male author can't write female protagonists and a female can't write male, the logic of the argument ends up with no author allowed to write any character outside their own personal experience - ultimately, your only protagonist is yourself. That's not how I write. I mean, I use bits of myself in different characters, but only ever bits. I don't want to create characters who are just duplicate Richard Harlands. How boring! How self-obsessed! I like to start with OTHER people, and then try to recreate them from inside.


Reverse Sexism

Dave Luckett's eminently readable, award winning YA Tenabran trilogy.

Dave's books have been shortlisted for four Aurealis Awards, he won an Aurealis Best Fantasy novel, A Dark Winter. His books have been shortlisted twice for the Western Australia Premier's Books Award and he won with Rihanna and the Wild Magic, plus his short story won a Tin Duck (WA SF award).

Today Dave talks about male writers and female characters ...

I had a female protagonist in five of my published books, and it surprised me that I was sometimes praised simply for having one, as if it mattered, and then because I had those characters think for themselves and consciously reflect on their positions, as if that were a little odd. I don't understand what's odd about it.

I used female protagonists only and solely because that's what the story needed. I suppose it's possible that other writers might use female (or male) protagonists for some other reason. I couldn't say, but that would seem odd to me.

On the other hand, I have heard it said that it is presumptuous of male writers to attempt a female protagonist, though I must admit, not vice-versa. Perhaps so.

What do you think?

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Writing for Children and YA.

Have you ever wondered what goes on in a children's book editor's mind? Why do they reject books? Well here is where you can find out. This is the anonymous blog of a children's book editor listing the 8 rules of rejection.

Felicity Bloomfield interviews our very own Richard Harland, here, about his new YA book Worldshaker and writing in general.

And here is where Richard talks about 'Getting Published' -- he covers everything from how the industry works, to luck and timing, who does what, agents, contracts and royalties, the dreaded cover etc. All useful insider information!

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Internet comes to Writers' Rescue!

Before the internet writers lived in lonely attics, typing away, rarely hearing from each other or publishers. Now, with the internet, there is a plethora of useful sites. Here are just two of them.

Ever wondered how to write a Book Proposal? Find it here, straight from the horses mouth, at Rants and Ramblings of a Literary Agent.

Literary Agent Nathan Bransford, has blogged about a wide range of useful things from basic manuscript formatting, through the writing process, revising, genres and classification and staying sane during the writing and publishing process. You'll find him here.

And that's without mentioning all the wonderful groups, writers can belong to.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

You Want What? Where Does An Award-Winning Story Come From? Ouch!

The Australian SF community patted me on the back at the National Convention in Adelaide last weekend. I shared a ‘Ditmar’ award for the Year’s Best Short Story, for my piece entitled ‘This Is Not My Story’ which came out in ASIM #37, edited by Tehani Wessely. (Even better, I shared the award with Margo Lanagan for her story ‘The Goosle’. Can’t think of anybody I’d rather share an award with, and to be honest, I’m happier to share it than win it on my own. Why? I don’t really know. I guess I’ve never been good at taking compliments, and it’s easier for me to accept being on a shared bill. And I really like Margo and her stories are amazing!)

Awards are a nice thing. Like most writers, I write because it’s an inescapable part of my identity. I’m a storyteller, and I’m stuck with it, so I might as well make the best of it. I don’t set out to win awards or top best-seller lists (though that’s a nice thing too!) but naturally, I know that telling a story is only the beginning. It’s nothing without an audience. And every reading of the story is a new version. Every reader recreates the piece for herself. In other words, you can put your heart and soul into the piece and get back a great big ‘meh’... and sometimes you can see a piece of puff that you created for a laugh take on a life of its own.

It’s confronting. You always hope that what you do will be enjoyed, but you have to face the fact that ultimately, even recognising the importance of the audience, you’re doing it for yourself for reasons that even you may never really understand.

That’s where the awards are good. Reviews are useful and interesting, but limited in their value because reviewers have an agenda of their own, naturally enough. Feedback from friends and fans and others is cool, but your personal range of contacts is always limited too. So an award that arises from a community or from a jury or something similar is — not exactly a validation, but definitely a source of comfort. Something, at least, of what you’ve been doing is providing a kind of value to a measurable, sizable segment of the readership out there. It feels good to know that.

The moment the others on this blog heard I’d picked up the Ditmar, I got ‘nudged’ to write something about how a Ditmar-winning story comes to happen. Frankly, I suspect it’s because the others have long ago picked up Ditmars and Aurealis Awards and George Turner Awards and World Fantasy Awards and all kinds of other shiny shelf-trinkets, whereas I’m a relative newcomer. Whatever the reason... I’ll pretend I’ve got some kind of insight, shall I? But remember what I said earlier: every reading is a new creation of the story. Your Mileage May Vary.

Raymond Chandler once observed that the better you get at the craft of writing, the less you find you have to actually say. For me, a story doesn’t work unless it says something meaningful, at least to me. Even out-and-out comedies like the Hitch-hiker’s Guide series; read them carefully and they’re meditations on the absurdity of human existence in the face of a large and ludicrously hostile universe. The stories I love have strong ideas buried in them, and I can’t actually write a story unless it’s wrapped around some kind of thought that has importance to me. The Red Priest stories, for example, were born out of the death of a good friend. He died a long way away from me; a slow death of cancer and it hurt and frustrated me that there was nothing in all the world I could possibly do to help. Out of this came ‘The Red Priest’s Vigil’, in which the Red Priest watches over the body of an old friend and drives off the demon that comes to take his soul. I will never, ever be able to do something like that for my dead friend — but I would try, without hesitation, if it was needed. That’s what I think of friendship, right there: that you should be there when you’re really needed, no matter what the cost, and that’s where the story started, and how the Red Priest came into being. (I know. 'Vigil' was published after 'The Red Priest's Homecoming'. I write 'em. I don't publish 'em.)

The story that took this year’s Ditmar is about something very different. It occurred to me that a great many of the writers I admire in SF have written stories about the loss of childhood magic; that sad, curious passage from a world of infinite possibility into the drab, predictable realms of adulthood. What interested me most about that idea was the fact that SF writers in particular, and artists and storytellers in general, are the people who have made that transition least effectively. Particularly inside SF, writers can do what they do because they still have that sense of wonder, that desire to explore what-if?, that underlying need to imagine and play which is the best and the brightest part of childhood. You can see that in dozens of great stories. Harlan Ellison’s Jeffty Is Five is one of them. The Faery Handbag by Kelly Link is another. Peter Pan is still another.

They’re all brilliant stories, and the theme has been worked hundreds of times by authors with far greater skill than mine. But... I have children of my own. And I see them playing the way I used to, and I can no longer fully enter that world, and that hurts. I can do better than most, I admit. My wife envies that, but I can’t tell her how it’s done, and that hurts too.

Knowing those stories, and seeing the kind of 'go-between’ role that I play, I decided the story should become a layered piece. If I’d tried to write a simple “loss-of-magic" story, I doubt I’d ever have come close to the kind of brilliance that Ellison and Link and the others managed. But by mixing the childhood story with my adult responses, and by accepting my adult (and lesser) role as a go-between rather than as a true inhabitant of the kingdom of magic, and by bringing all those ideas into the piece, I think I incorporated a degree of complexity and thoughtfulness that gave the piece its own qualities without losing sight of the original theme.

At least... I hope so. And I’m assuming there was a reason people liked the story.

So that’s how it works for me, when it works. There’s a thing I can feel. Something I want to say. Sometimes I don’t even know what it is until the first draft is complete, and I can read it and think about it. But once I’ve worked out the heart of the story, I just keep paring away until all that’s left is the minimum I need to make the idea clear enough to support the emotional tone. Or something like that anyway.

This Is Not My Story’ is meant to be sad, wistful, a little bit proud, but still a little embarrassed, because that’s how I feel about what I do, and where it comes from, and what it may mean to others. When I go back and read it again, I still get that same feeling from it, so I guess I got it mostly right, at least for me.

And I suppose, since I got to share a Ditmar with Margo, there are other people who think I got it right too.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Female protagonists

Currently I'm reading a lot of CE Murphy. These two books are part of her 'Inheritors' series and I've read her urban fantasy with the Old Races, the Negotiator series. All good reads, vivid characters, pacy dialogue, lots of action.

With this 'Inheritors' series Murphy tells the story from several points of view, but the main protagonist is a woman, Belinda. For once, she isn't a man in drag. She's feminine while she seduces men and assassinates people for her queen (who is actually her mother). She is also quite ruthless.

Do male readers have trouble identifying with a female protagonist? Does it worry them, if she breaks the mold and enjoys manipulating opponents using sex? Does it worry them if she is morally ambiguous?

How far will you let a character go, before you stop identifying with them?