Category Archives: Novel

Writers, Retreats, and Insane Asylums

It’s been just over a week since I returned from a Writer’s Retreat held at Mayday Hills Lunatic Asylum at Beechworth. Yep, you read right – a writer’s retreat held at an old insane asylum. It was as awesome as it sounds. Five days sequestered with other writers in a hauntingly (and quite possibly haunted) beautiful asylum is the stuff of inspiration. And personing. I did a whole lot of personing.

What made this doubly excellent was the other writers in attendance, all but one of whom were very close friends, so it was a catch-up of epic proportions. This also meant that we were all comfortable throwing around ideas and points of view, and engaging in general shenanigans. But we were there to write, to have that uninterrupted time some of us seldom get when at home. And it was glorious.

Writing is often a solitary endeavour where you live in your created worlds among created people. But put a bunch of writers together, and it’s a whirlwind of book discussions, plot summaries, story ideas, and why synopsis writing is the tenth circle of Hell. There’s joy in this cacophony; the rise and fall of voices, the quirks and strange paths conversations take that would make no sense to non-writerly folk but which feeds the soul and the muse of those who bleed ink. They will tell you why your story necessitates the killing of a character (beloved or otherwise) then offer a plethora of options on how to do so that would land them on any federal watchlist.

Just being among fellow scribes is enough to invigorate, enough to drown out that writer-imposteritis but we were also fortunate enough to have the wonderful pocket-rocket Kylie Chan providing workshops all through Saturday, which were fantastic, but always there was time to write. There’s not a lot better than sitting in a nicely heated room listening to the clack of keys in the silence as worlds and people are created – individual galaxies within a shared universe. It’s kinda cool.

But when we weren’t writing, there were historical tours of the asylum, and one very late night there was also a paranormal investigation. As much as I would have liked to go on the paranormal investigation, when it’s -4˚ outside… well, I’m staying where the heat is. Those that took up the challenge had a great time despite the sub-zero temps.

We ate, slept and created together… wait, let me rephrase. Look, we bunked down in the same room, wore pretty much all the clothes we’d brought with us when it was time to venture outside – hell, I even wore my slippers out to dinner because damn it was cold. We took the piss out of each other, we laughed, and we revelled in our own and each other’s weirdness.

And the location was everything. The asylum has a melancholic beauty about it.  The history is both shocking and sad, with desolate and worn-down buildings that hold memories that are like scars. For my mind, pain and suffering has a tendency to linger, to echo long after people are gone, and I don’t doubt there is fear and horror etched into some of the walls, the cells of the asylum.

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Too soon the time was over, and I had to take a tiny plane home, but those five days were like manna from heaven. I came away with so much more than just a honed story premise and structural architecture (and glow-in-the-dark skeletal gloves), but a renewed vigour for writing. I can’t wait to go again next year. And I can’t thank all the people involved enough, but let me try.

To Geoff and Dawn for organising and running the reatreat – you two work immensely hard not only on Asylum Ghost Tours but Cohesion Press as well. You two rock. (Special shout out to Mandy and Leah for all they did over the five days as well.)

Now I’m going to list the writers at the retreat – they are an amazing bunch and you really should be reading their work. They’re incredible and diverse storytellers, and there should be something in here for everyone.

Kylie Chan

Devin Madson

Marty Young

Andrew McKiernan

David Schembri

Fiona Shearer.

And for all those writers out there, find a retreat, a place that evokes inspiration and puts you around others who not only share your passion to create, but will encourage and badger you to do so.

Deadlines vs Goals vs Real-life

Deadline: (n) the time by which something must be finished or submitted; the latest time for finishing something.

Goal: (n) the result of achievement toward which effort is directed; aim; end.

Real-life: (interjection) the little demon that laughs maniacally at the deadlines and goals you set.

Deadlines. I work to them all the time. Sometimes I impose them on authors, sometimes authors impose them on me, and other times it is publishers dropping those deadlines – all of which is good. Deadlines give us that extra kick up the bum to get shit done, especially if those deadlines are given by others.

I work well to external deadlines – my business and reputation depend on it. And I love my work, so while sometimes it can be stressful when I have a lot of different projects on my plate, I tend to thrive under the pressure.

Goals. I set myself two (which stepped to three) this year with regard to writing and reading – two things I don’t get anywhere near enough time to do as I’d like. I’d finished the first draft of my novel in February this year as part of my Black Friday Wager; of which there’s about 10-15% I’ll keep, build upon. It set my characters and their motivations firmly in my mind, and levered the world in greater detail, but man did it need a serious rewrite… or greater focus.

So that was one goal met, which transitioned to my next goal: the second draft of the novel, which was to be completed by November 13, 2015 (yes, a Black Friday Wager). I did not meet this goal. Oh, I started and restarted and restarted the novel eleventy-hundred times, but could not get the starting point right.

imagination

Work and real-life had a part to play in me not meeting this goal. I’m not just a writer and editor; I’m a mother, wife, sister, daughter, aunt, friend, keeper of pets. I have bills to pay, groceries to buy, meals to cook, and a seemingly interminable amount of clothes to wash. I have homework to help with (you suck, high school math!), the kids’ sporting events (and training) to cheer at, and all the while remember that I must leave the house wearing pants.  I don’t begrudge any of that – it’s my life and I wouldn’t change it (okay, maybe the bit about wearing pants in the outside world, but… oh the joys of working from home!).

Often, something’s gotta give, and that something tends to be writing time (made easier, of course, when you’re sitting on your eleventy-hundred-and-first draft of draft two of your novel).  I did write three short stories this year, all of which made short-listings but no actual publication. But that’s okay – stories were written, and they’ll be tweaked and sent back out in the world. It’s the creating that’s the goal; publication is that cherry atop a cake. And one of the big cherries this year was the publication of my comic, The Road to Golgotha, launched at Melbourne ComicCon, so not a bad year on the publishing front at all.

The Road to Golgotha

What I didn’t skimp on this year (as I had done previous years), was reading time. As an editor, I do a lot of reading, and by the end of the day, my eyes can sometimes be pretty shot. So reading for pleasure doesn’t feel like pleasure at all. Last year, I read 14 books – not too many when you’re looking at just the number, but at least one a month, isn’t bad considering. This year, I set myself a goal of 20 books. I hit that goal last week with Greig Beck’s The Dark Lands (The Valkeryn Chronicles #2), which was brilliant, and one of those stories you wish didn’t have an end (review to come).

I surpassed that goal last night, finishing book two in a James A Moore trilogy. Yes, there were times I read into the wee hours of the morn, sacrificing sleep (and the next day’s sanity) to read just one more chapter…okay, just one more chapter…one more… but that’s more testament to the book(s) I was reading than my quest to meet my goal. I’ve chosen well the books I’ve read this year, and the authors who’ve penned them.

So I met two of my three goals, and yes, there was some angst and frustration around not meeting the goal of the second draft, but not anywhere near as much I’d have doled out a couple of years back. You see, I’ve learned to be kinder to myself, to understand that sometimes life has different ideas to the ones you set yourself, and that’s okay too. With age comes wisdom perhaps.

My life is good. No, actually, my life is great. I have an amazing family, two of the coolest kids on the planet, a kick-arse job, and the want and desire to wreak havoc in created worlds. And I get to read with impunity.

The point of this post (yes, there is one, you miscreants!), is that no matter the personal goals and/or deadlines you set, don’t beat yourself up if you don’t meet them – real-life always has your back.

Deadline: a date for things that may or may not get done (depending on who sets said deadline), but hey, we’re all huma– ooh, look, a kitty! 

Goal: something you wish to achieve but doesn’t hold your self-worth if not met  (may also be cake).

Real-life: fucking awesome.

 

The Long and Short Of It

I write. Have done for as long as I can remember, but this last year the second draft of my novel (or as it likes to taunt: double-dare you to finish me, mofo!), has monopolised my time. Novel writing has had a steep learning curve – sometimes I joyfully get it, other times I despair. Ah, the rollercoaster life of a writer – amazing highs and some really shit-house lows.

Of late, I’ve been in that dead zone between highs and lows: the ‘Meh’ State, as I like to call it. While I’m still running on the high of my comic release, a writer needs to keep moving forward, and… enter the Meh State.

Neh

It’s taken a while for me to figure out why there’s been an itch the novel couldn’t scratch, but after a week in the country at my dad’s farm, it became apparent – short stories. So focussed I’ve been on getting through this next draft of the novel that I’ve neglected one of my favourite writing mediums.

I returned to fiction writing (from journalism) about seven years ago, and it was with short stories I decided to lay my hat. There was method to my choice: mastering short-story writing would enable me to write a lot tighter, which in turn would assist with my ability to write a lot more story into a novel.

Writing long is a very different beast to writing short, but there’s intrinsic value in learning the art of short-story writing. Creating a complete story within a limited word count means every word has to fight for its right to be in the story – a skill that transfers extremely well to novel writing. It’s a skill I have; one of my shortest pieces (under 3,000 words) won the Australian Shadows Award in 2011. And I’ve been applying it to the novel… and here is also where I think I’m coming undone. It’s the focus on making every word count – especially in this second draft – that is taking me longer to get this draft done than I’d like. There’s a need to shift gears, to see the bigger picture.

Help me

But that’s not the only thing that’s pushed me into the Meh State. I’ve missed writing short stories. A lot. Honing in on a moment in time, a sliver of someone’s life, is a whole lot of fun (yes, horror is a helluva lot of fun to write – murder and mayhem and monsters, oh my!); there’s no need to create a world on the same scale as the novel, but more drip-feed the world/culture into the story – just enough for set the reader in that world.

And let’s not forget the gratification side of things. Writing a short is far quicker than writing a novel (duh), and there’s also a much quicker response time for a short story, be it accepted or rejected. You know what’s happening with it far sooner than you would with a novel. It’s that high of having a story out in the world, fighting for its right to be in an anthology that I’ve missed, the feeling of being actually working (regardless of how stupid that sounds).

Balance. That’s what I was missing. I’d forgone the love of writing in the short form to pursue the lure of writing in the long. As of today, I have two short stories out in the world at the moment, both written within the last few weeks, and I’m currently working on another for an anthology that deadlines at the end of this month. I’m pumped. Not just to finish this short, but to also get back to the novel. Going back to writing short stories has reignited my desire to finish the novel.

As with anything, having such a singular focus can drain the joy from things you love. That was my mistake.

And that’s the long and short of it.

 

NOVELS AND ELEVENTY-FIRSTS

There’s a count-down calendar on this page. See it? Over there on your right… scroll down a little… a little more… Bingo! TWELVE DAYS TO GO! Ahem. ‘pologies. Didn’t mean to yell.

This is my second round at ‘The Black Friday Wager’ and my second attempt to finish the first draft of my novel. Well, to be completely honest it’s really more like draft eleven of the first draft of my first novel. ← That makes a weird kind of sense, trust me.

‘The Black Friday Wager’ is the brainhild of Elizabeth Wayne and Marty Young. Now, when I say ‘brainchild’ I mean a lovechild born from a sarcasm-riddled back and forth between the two on Facebook (it was a short pregnancy and a relatively pain-free labour – so not like actual births with the swearing and the pain and the blood… Hmm, now I think about it….)

BFW 2

The idea behind the BFW is a support network with incentives. We all have goals we’d like to achieve be it with writing, exercise or quitting the smokes… you get the idea. What the BFW allows those in the group to do is set a goal they’d like to achieve by the next Black Friday in the calendar year then another group member takes them up on said goal and a wager is set (decided upon by the two wagees).

I didn’t hit my goal last time ‘round, which cost me a bottle of scotch (happily delivered), but I’m very close to hitting my goal of finishing this eleventy-first draft of my novel. With twelve days to go, I just passed the 60,000-word mark, and I know I’m on the home stretch, which holds both relief and excitement.

Relief because this is the longest piece I’ve ever written, and there were times when I lost faith in myself as a writer and believed it was just something I could not do. I raged and swore, hated and kicked, and there were quiet moments of despair. Writing a novel is hard; writing a first draft of your first novel can be soul-destroying at times but here’s where the BFW group kick in. Beyond anything else they’re a support network, even those with whom you have a wager want you to succeed as much as you want to succeed. They’re your cheer squad, your sounding-boards, your oracles and your pickers-up when you’re down. I could not have come this far without them and I’ll be forever thankful.

And excitement because I can see where this novel is going; I know where the characters are going (not anywhere good, ohh no, not anywhere good at all), I know what they’re doing and what they hope to achieve despite all the crap I’m going to be throwing their way. And it’s a lot of crap. Apocalyptic worlds are never a fun place to be… for them. For me, I’m finally starting to enjoy myself, enjoy the process, and that’s something that’s been seriously lacking.

It’s been more stressful than I thought it would be, but that’s due to the unwarranted pressures I put on myself. I’m my own worst critic, and being an editor that tends to double the self-recriminations. It may not be right but it’s honest.

Is the draft good? Some of it, yes. But not all. Hell, some of it’s pure shite and I’ll admit that a lot of it will probably go in the rewrite, but it has created a greater focus for the story and a much better understanding of the characters and the world they inhabit. And that is all kinds of good.

BFW

So, with Friday the 13th closing in fast, my wager with the ever-wonderful and crazy-smart Elizabeth Wayne looks like being a success. And I don’t mean just the success of having a completed draft with ‘End’ sitting at the bottom of the page, or the fact that I’ll receive two illustrations from one of my favourite artists – Jeannie Lynn Paske – but the success of understanding that I can write long pieces, that I can be kind to myself – I should – and that maybe the short-story form isn’t the only place I can lay my hat.

ELEVENTY-FIRST, IT’S TIME TO END YOU!

2015? We Need to Talk…

Aah, 2015, how’d you arrive so quickly? Well you’re here now, so let’s get one thing straight, I have some damn high expectations forthcoming, so if you could not rush through this year as you did the last, that’d be great. Not that 2014 sucked by any stretch of the imagination, but I’ve set goals (note: that’s goals not resolutions) that I will reach, and strict regulations on my family/work/writing time management.

2014 was very business-oriented, with most of my time taken up with editing – don’t get me wrong, I love what I do; working with other authors… there’s not a lot that beats that!. This year, however, I will be much stricter with my working hours and my ‘no working weekends’ policy.  Still, business is good, and the authors I worked with last year were most inspiring. Writers rock!

I also had the pleasure of being a co-editor on the SNAFU series with Geoff Brown, the owner and editor in chief of Cohesion Press. SNAFU: An Anthology of Military Horror, and SNAFU: Heroes have both been released to strong sales, but more importantly, kick-arse reviews. SNAFU: Wolves at the Door, will be released this month, and as with the other SNAFU anthos, there are some truly amazing stories within, both from established writers such as James A Moore, and some new writers you definitely need to keep an eye on.

SNAFU Wolves

As for last year’s reading (I’m talking for pleasure, here, not work), I kicked 2013’s arse. Twelve novels and two short story collections, which I plan to beat this year as well. I’ve a review coming for the last collection I read, and am already well into the first novel for this year.

Writing wise… well, this had to take a bit of back-seat. I finished the script for for my comic, ‘The Road’, and the uber-talented Monty Borror has finished the art – I can’t begin to put into words how Monty has captured my vision for the comic, only to say that I am extraordinarily humbled as well as mind-blown by the man’s work. Lettering will begin soon, and the comic will be launched at Melbourne ComicCon in June through Cohesion Comics. (Watch out Melbourne, here I come! Ahem…)

road page 29

I wrote one short story last year, which was short-listed for a pro-paying market (that’s a win for me), but most of my writing was taken up with the first draft of my novel. Things there are progressing a lot slower than I’d like, but I have plan, and six weeks to get it done. And get it done I will. Then it’s rewrite time! I’ve also set a short story goal of four for the year, all to be subbed to pro markets. (See 2015? Goal-motivated  – don’t be screwing with me and start messing with time.)

So 2015, I’m taking no prisoners and you’d better be on board. Don’t make me get all stabby with you.

Ramblings of a Serial Killer

I’ve killed off short stories in the hundreds; stuffed their rotting carcasses into dark nooks with nary a backward glance. I’ve hacked and slashed words with the impunity of a serial killer, and razed worlds like an unforgiving god. Cast them into the abyss and never looked back. Easy.

But the novel, aah, what a different beast it is! It fights dirty. The two main characters—Wren and Cy—make me pay for the wrongs I’ve done them: taking them on needless journeys; giving them pointless back-stories; creating traits that downright didn’t suit. They mocked my attempts to reason with them – they knew best. But I’m stubborn, and as they traded conspiratorial whispers at the back of mind, poking and nudging me toward the right path, I ploughed on.

Each time I gutted a draft, they sighed with relief; each time I severed a chapter or two or six, they goaded me to be harsher (they can be mean). And after the murder and evisceration of four drafts, I’m finally at a place where Cy is happy to move forward; Wren, reluctantly so.

blood spatter

“You had to work for it,” Cy told me, “it was the only way you were going to get us right.” His smile, as always, is never fully realised. “Experience is a brutal teacher.”

Wren snorted and gave us both the finger; her trust issues run deep.

With time in the Black Friday Wager very quickly winding down, I made the decision (although it was blindingly obvious) that I wasn’t going to win the bet with my mate Marty Young (read his stuff – it rocks!) to get this first draft finished. It’s a bitch; I don’t like losing bets, but it’s been far from a waste.

When I break it down all autopsy-like, I’ve written a total of 149,496 words; two in-depth character sheets (four pages each—longhand); chapter summary/outline (six pages—longhand), and one page filled with a stream of curse words (possibly my best work). The two words I’ve failed to write, however, are: The End. But that’s okay, I know where Cy and Wren have come from, I know where they’ve been and where they’re going. They don’t quite know all that’s in store, but if they’ve taught me anything, it’s that they won’t make it easy.

Novel writing is new to me, and the learning curve has been incredibly steep, and at times seemingly insurmountable. I hated and loved it in equal measure; I raged and cursed, floundered and despaired, but the stubbornness that drives me forward (and drives my husband to incoherency) meant I could butcher my drafts then pick through the remains and rebuild.

bloody pen

Not all of those 149,496 words were crap. There’s some great stuff in there, bits and pieces that I’ll use in later chapters; other sections I’ll rework to fit this new incarnation; parts that are quintessentially Cy and Wren.

Don’t get me wrong, this killing spree hasn’t been easy – at the time, each slaughter of the next draft has felt like a massive failure on my part. But one of my writing pals, Devin Madson, (read her work – she paints with words), told me I was lucky I could see it wasn’t working and could cut my losses and begin again; that I didn’t drag it out and waste both time and words. In my head that makes sense, in my heart, it’s like a dagger.

It wasn’t just my characters and their voices that had me struggle with my novel; work cut into my writing time, but I don’t begrudge that. I love being an editor; I love helping others with their work, their stories and their characters – it’s why I chose to get my qualifications so I could provide the best advice and expertise I could to those who love to write as I do.

As an editor, I’m trained to see where others’ novels require work: pacing, clarity, cohesion et al. This doesn’t, however, transfer to my own work – like I tell my clients: you can’t have objectivity with your babies. It’s insane to think you can.

And when the time comes, when I finally type: The End, (then do at least two rewrites – I’m a perfectionist, sue me), I will engage beta readers, then rewrite…and rewrite, and possibly rewrite again, before finally passing it on to an editor – someone who has the objectivity I no longer have.

It’s taken six months for me to fully comprehend the scale and heartache involved with writing a novel, but it’s been six months well spent. Do I wish I’d been able to get this “first” draft done? Hell yes. Do I wish I could have typed: The End? No doubt! Do I wish it was Marty buying me books instead of me buying him scotch? Yes (but I love Marty, so it ain’t all that bad). But the big question is: have I grown as a writer? And the answer to that is a big fat YES. And that, I reckon, is worth more than a bottle of scotch.

gone-writing

Death of a Novel

After a lingering illness of insentience and lassitude, we regret to inform you of the death of Novel Draft Two. It slipped into the Black with relief and without fanfare. May it never see the light of day again.

The “deadline” for the draft of my first novel is approaching at what seems to be warp speed (I can’t actually confirm that with like… math and stuff, ‘cause, well… it’s math), but I guarantee it’s true.

Last December I chucked my first draft in at 52,000 words (no, that’s not a typo) and started again, pumped and ready to go. Five days ago draft number two bit the dust at 26,000 (yep, that’s 78,000 words in total – novel length), and started again. I’m nothing if not consistent.

The problem with the story wasn’t the fact that I was leaning more to the side of ‘pantsing’ than ‘plotting’, but that the story had no soul. It wasn’t my characters or the world they lived in, it was the way I was imparting my characters’ story. I was bored, and if I’m bored with the storytelling, then so will any potential reader.

I won’t lie; it’s been a struggle. I’ve been plagued with self-doubt, petty jealousies, and outright apathy – dark moments that made me want to give it all away. Not just the novel, but writing as a whole. It’s a terrible place to be, and while it usually only lasts a few days, it feels like an eternity when you’re living it, and it feels like there’s no way out.

Storytelling isn’t easy; it’s more than just sitting down and spewing out words. Not everyone can do it. On my good days, I like to think I can do it well. Well enough to keep at it. Perseverance, stubbornness, quintessence, call it what you will. Writing is an intrinsic part of me – the good, the bad and the ugly.

So where does that leave me? Two thousand words into the third draft and with two main characters who have a story they want to tell before they’re lost to history. A story of gods and monsters, survival and betrayal, hope and hopelessness in a savage, unforgiving world. I like them, warts and all, but they don’t care that I do; they are who they are and they make no apologies for it.

Here’s a little taste by way of introduction:

If Wren knew one thing, it was the world was dying and she wasn’t one for being long in it. She’d defied enemy and gods alike, and sooner or later, one would stake their claim and into the Black she’d go.

Crouched in the shadow of the Kanaku Ranges, she slit the wood rat from tiny cock to tiny throat, scooping out its innards and plopping them into the pan. They sizzled, stinging her nostrils and watering her mouth. The rat’s blood sautéed the offal quickly and her gut grumbled with impatience. She chose the heart. It tasted like metal. Metal and dirt. Still, food was food. She’d seen others eat much worse.

And debut number two:

The aroma of roasting deer teased Cy’s tongue as he busied himself with the defences along the north ridge, but it was the tournament that weighed heavily on his mind. The first rounds would have begun. Candidates would be sweating in their armour, the women demure behind intricately-bejewelled veils. Seven women; the last of breeding age left in the Ranges.

Cy punched the log into place, taking pleasure in the radiating pain. No girls born in over a decade—and she’d been a sickly child, strange of face and mind—and three more women lost in childbirth this past year. They had a legion of soldiers in the making, but no wives to mourn them. His name should have been called; the deal had been struck. But here he was fucking about with wood when he should have been earning his legacy. He would leave tomorrow, past the sanctuary of the mountains in search of a womb.

I feel a lot more confident with this incarnation, I can see their stories much more clearly, and both Wren and Cy seem comfortable in their new skins (I think Wren may have smiled, but she swears it was a grimace).

So enough dilly-dallying for now, it’s time to get these two moving – they have paths they’re itching to take and they don’t suffer malingerers.

Right then, where’s my coffee…