Tag Archives: writing

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.

Whispers in the Void

A couple of months ago, Mark Lawrence launched this year’s Battle of the Bards competition ‒ write a flash fiction piece (300 words or fewer), for a chance to win signed books from some of the giants in the grimdark/fantasy genre.

My friend, Devin Madson, won that comp with her incredible piece ‒ Between Lanterns and Corpses. It’s a brilliant story, and I was so chuffed she’d won. You can read it here, along with the short-listed entries. For those familiar with Devin’s work, this story is set within her Vengeance trilogy universe, and this post explains the origin of the winning flash piece. You should be reading her work, she’s quite the storyteller!

I, too, gave the competition a whirl, but alas, no free books. While a ‘loss’ in the literal form, it was a win in the time-to-write column. Yes, it’s only 300 words (good words, I think), but it was more the act of creativity that soothed my soul ‒ that’s always a win.

The story I wrote has also brought into sharper focus one of the characters of my WiP, so I’ve gained another win (two ticks in the win column ‒ I’m on a roll!). Writing tight forces those essential traits, the… trueness of a character and lets the world see it.

So, if you’ve read this far, then perhaps you can read another three hundred words.

Whispers in the Void

Wren knew this wasn’t the last of the dead they would stitch beneath her skin. This night the soothsayer would be forged into the finest jewel, and Wren would carry that hateful woman for all time. Already the sickly-sweet scent of roasting flesh clogged her throat.

Anointed in oils, Wren had been left to commune with the souls she carried, but never had their voices been quiet. Never had they let her be. Silence, how she craved it. Nights undisturbed. Days, her thoughts her own. But the people had cut and carved and delivered their dead ‘til she was a shadow within a shell. Infested. Infected. The slow death of self.

Escape was all she had. And freedom meant retribution. With no Journeywoman to replace Wren, the clan’s spirits would be unprotected. Ripe for the Undergod’s pickings.

Beneath the Spirit House, blisters bloomed on her skin as she dragged herself past the furnace where the soothsayer sizzled and spat. May the Undergod never shit you out. Wren stifled a cry; lances of fire a thousand-fold speared through her, the spirit-gems enraged at being so near their creators. Life-eternal they’d been promised, yet prisoners they’d become in an unwilling crypt.

They blazed their fury, but freedom meant pain. They would soon understand.

At the slag pit’s egress, the light of day stung her weeping blisters, and glinted off the jagged spears of metal below. Thousands of spirits she’d been burdened to carry. She would carry no more.

The drop from her perch was steep, and the dead began to beg. Without her, they were just whispers in the void.

Freedom beckoned. Her life her own, however fleeting.

No longer the caged bird she had always been, Wren smiled as she pushed from the edge, and for a moment, she flew.

raven

Art by: Dimitarsizce

Tag, you’re it.

My absolute loathing of the dialogue tag ‘opined’ is no secret. (By all the gods, Baxter, if you start tagging me with that shit again, I will steal your dogs.) If you’re using ‘opined’, or another wankerish dialogue tag to push home to the reader some kind of pretentious point your character is making, then you need to take a look at your character’s dialogue because it should be pretty clear they’re voicing their opinion.

Dialogue tags serve a few purposes. For example, they identify the speaker, they break longer pieces of dialogue, and they can also be used to further enhance emotion. And yes, that third point should be used sparingly – if you can’t convey emotion through dialogue and action, then a dialogue tag telling the reader so, doesn’t really cut it.

Use ‘said’. Almost always use ‘said’. Of course there are going to be exceptions to this ‘rule’, but the beauty of ‘said’ is that it’s invisible. It ensures the emphasis is on the spoken word, on the emotions put forward within those words, and the honesty and/or sub-text behind it.

Dialogue is the voice of your characters, and I’m not just talking accents and inflections here, I’m talking a deeper sense of self. When a character speaks, they reveal a lot about not only themselves but the situation/scene they find themselves in (do not use ‘he/she revealed’, if the characters says it, trust me, it’s revealed). You don’t need a fancy-shmancy dialogue tag, it’s distracting, and removes focus from speech.

Sure, there are times when ‘said’ isn’t going to cut it, but choose words that impact the dialogue, eg. whispered, muttered, shouted, screamed. These dialogue tags up the ante, but use them sparingly or they’ll become repetitive. No, put down that Thesaurus – use ‘said’.

Opine

Same applies with ‘asked’. If there’s a question mark at the end of your dialogue, it’s safe to assume the reader understands a question is being posed – ‘asked’ becomes redundant (don’t use ‘posed’ either, that’s redundant as well).

Look, I understand there are a lot of ‘rules’ to writing and grammar and all that comes with storytelling, but as an editor and a reader, I’m telling you: let the dialogue do the work for you, and let the dialogue tag (if you need one) become invisible. It’s the characters’ voices we want to hear, not the way you tell us they spoke.

Show the reader through dialogue, through action. It falls in line with ‘show don’t tell’. You want the reader to know the character is angry? Don’t use: ‘he/she said angrily’, show us through the narrowing of eyes, the gritting of teeth, or punching a wall, for example. Then use ‘she/he said’. The emotion and/or sense the character is trying to put forward is far more visual, far more visceral, and the reader will be far more engaged than having a character opine at them (you use that, and I’ll cut you).

For a far more polite understanding of the above, check out Devin Madson’s vlog on this very subject: Almost Always Use Said, it has some wonderful insights as to why you shouldn’t fancy up your dialogue attributions.

So, the next time you’re writing dialogue, remember to make that attribution invisible so the voice of your character holds the power it should.

(Seriously, Baxter, I will steal your dogs.)

It’s a Win!

Two days on from the Australian Shadows Awards, I’m still riding the high of the win. Yep, that’s right, The Road to Golgotha, won the inaugural award for ‘written works in a graphic novel/comic’. Excuse me while I Snoopy dance. (Look away now if you’d like to keep your food down…)

The ‘Shadows’ are the premier horror awards put together by the Australian Horror Writers Association. Judged by those who know and are passionate about the genre makes a win even more sweet – getting the nod from those within the industry, within the genre you love, that your work is top notch.

The Road to Golgotha

The Road to Golgotha is two stories within the one tome: His Own Personal Golgotha penned by GN Braun, and my story The Road. So I get to share this win with my mate Geoff. Not only that, I had the pleasure of telling him we’d won (he was making coffee at the time; can’t fault him that), and then a good five minutes convincing him it was true.

This is my second Australian Shadows Award win, having won for the short story category in 2011. What makes this win so amazing is the amount of work and effort that went into writing the comic. It was a totally new medium for me and Geoff, a damn steep learning curve, and I’m not ashamed to say it almost broke me. But… challenge accepted. I was determined to write the best damn comic I could, to take the reader to a very dark place and stride along with Riley as she owned every decision she made for what she wanted. To be rewarded with the Shadows Award… yeah, that’s pretty damn sweet.

And the cherry on the icing of an amazingly cool cake was the words from the judges:

“The Road to Golgotha provides an immediate escape into visual horror with the first turn of the page. Like a modern-day Dante’s Inferno, here we have two tales of two very distinct, yet similarly tortured characters on quests through unknown regions of the human soul. Expertly illustrated by Monty Borror, The Road to Golgotha is a gorgeous comic that left the judges spellbound and wanting more.”

road page 28    Golgotha

And the judges were on-point giving Monty Borror the kudos he deserves. ‘Expertly illustrated’ is right – Monty brought Geoff and my visions of the comic to extraordinary life, often seeing more in our scripts than we did. I can’t thank him enough for making Riley and her road and monsters exquisitely horrifying. (I’ll be scattering pages from the comics through this post, beware!)

This was also the first win of the night for Cohesion Press, with The Road to Golgotha being the inaugural imprint of Cohesion Comics. There were more to come. Next up was Alan Baxter’s In Vaulted Halls Entombed, which won the Paul Haine’s Award for long fiction. Alan’s story appeared in SNAFU: Survival of the Fittest, put out through Cohesion. This is a brilliant story, and deserved of the win.

The last in Cohesion’s trifecta was in the edited works category, with Blurring the Line (edited by Marty Young), taking out the win. This anthology is a superb showcase of horror that blurs the lines between what’s real and what’s not. And in the words of the judges: “There are some exceptional tales in this collection, gripping, compelling and haunting stories, the kind that stay with you for a good while afterwards.”

The wonderful thing about Aussie (and Kiwi) horror is that you’re bound to know pretty much all those in the industry down under. So I was chuffed to pieces that the short story category win went to amazing writer and my mentor, Kaaron Warren. If you haven’t read her work, you should. You really should.

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The collected works category was taken out by one of my favourite people in the world, Robert Hood. His gargantuan tome, Peripheral Visions (an 800-page collection of ghost stories and amazing artwork), showcases not only his remarkable work over decades in the genre, but Australian horror at its best.

So two days on, I really am still riding the high of winning the award, and being among some of the best writers in horror today. Huzzah! So if you’re looking for a horror graphic novel that pushes you past the comfortable, and takes you on a wild ride of monsters and oh-so terrible places, then The Road to Golgotha is just what you’re looking for. Trust me, I know the writers.

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Check out the list of winners below, and if you haven’t read their work, get thee to a bookstore! Or e-store! Or library!

Best Written Works in a Comic/Graphic Novel: The Road to Golgotha – GN Braun & Amanda J Spedding (Cohesion Comics)

Best Edited Works: Blurring the Line – Marty Young, ed. (Cohesion Press)

Paul Haines Award for Long Fiction: In Vaulted Halls Entombed – Alan Baxter (SNAFU: Survival of the Fittest, Cohesion Press)

Best Collected Works: Peripheral Visions: The Collected Ghost Stories – Robert Hood (IFWG Publishing)

Best Short Story: Mine Intercom – Kaaron Warren (Review of Australian Fiction)

Best Novel: The Catacombs – Jeremy Bates

Rocky Wood Award for Non-Fiction and Criticism: The Literary Gothic by Marija Elektra Ridriguez

Oh, and the trophy we’ll be getting? Yeah, it rocks!

AusShadows-trophy

Here’s to Women

I’ve been noticeably absent from my blog – not through choice but rather time constraints – I thought it fitting to return to it today. Just past Women in Horror Month, and it being International Women’s Day, what better time?

I am a woman working in horror, I am a woman writing horror, I am a woman raising a young woman… I am woman.  There are some, though, who don’t approve of that fantastic mix of women and horror (I’m not linking to any of that shite), and refuse to read any horror stories penned by women.  Hell, there are those who won’t read anything written by a woman, and while this might surprise some, it doesn’t surprise me – not in this world we find ourselves in.

Elitism exists in the publishing world, and has long-since been an issue for women who love the horror genre – those who write, read, act, direct, edit, et al ­– have faced criticism, ridicule, anger, disdain for daring to venture into horror. We’ve been mocked, derided, ignored, threatened, doxed, we’ve been made to feel unwelcome, our passion for the genre belittled because we don’t swing that Y chromosome. Get out of our man-cave!

Fury Road

I’m here to tell you that Y chromosome means squat when it comes to writing horror; the X chromosome means squat, too. You see, writing horror isn’t about chromosomes, it isn’t about being a man or a woman or neither of the aforementioned. It’s about writing a good story, a great story. It’s about making good art.

Unfortunately, there are those who believe horror/dark fiction is the bastion of men, and that’s why Women in Horror Month was born; to break down those walls, those prejudices, the ignorance. Women can’t write horror because they don’t know it? We don’t understand fear? Terror? Subjugation? Do my ovaries automatically signal my inability to dissect, disembowel, decapitate, dismember a character? Can I not create a world only to destroy it with impunity? Look away, uterus, there’s gonna be blood…

I’m not the only one who sees the ridiculousness of this. I’m not the only one who sees the disparity of the perceived belief of a woman’s “place” within the horror genre; within any publishing medium. If you think women are fairly represented, then take a look at this video and tell me this is right.

There are women writing amazing horror, women are editing, acting in and directing kick-arse horror movies and programs. Don’t limit your reading and viewing; horror and dark fiction is the greatest genre you can indulge in – a wide variety of voices and styles only enriches us all. Find storytelling from women, people of colour, from diverse backgrounds, from those who identify as LGBTI, from those with disabilities, from all walks of life, culture, religion and the non-religious. Open your scope and take in the wonder of diversity.

So as I sit here writing and drinking coffee from my Wonder Woman mug, here’s a small list of women writers and editors you should be reading:

Lee Murray, Silvia Moreno-GarciaKaaron Warren, Rivqa RafaelChristine Morgan, Nalo HopkinsonKirsten Cross, Sophie Yorkston, Angela Slatter, Octavia E Butler, Joanne Anderton, Catriona Sparks,  Rose Blackthorn, Zena Shapter, Paula R Stiles, Maria Lewis.

The above list only scratches the surface of women writers making their mark, and I encourage you to source more – diversity of voice will open worlds that ignite your imagination and take you to places of wonder.

And really, we’re all welcome in this place of storytelling.

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Book Pimping: The Eschatologist by Greg Chapman

Happy 2016 all!

I’ve been meaning to write a post boring you all with my goals for the year, instead I’ve decided to use my first 2016 post to promote the work of another – something that benefits us all. I firmly believe that putting forward authors whose work you enjoy benefits us all. What better way than to give readers the opportunity to discover new worlds?

the eschatologist

With this in mind, I’d like to pimpity-pimp Aussie author Greg Chapman‘s new novella The Eschatologist,  put out through Voodoo Press. Here’s a little taste from the back-cover blurb:

David Brewer is trying to keep his family alive in a world torn asunder by a Biblical apocalypse. Yet there is salvation, in the guise of a stranger who offers survivors sanctuary. All they have to do is declare their faith in God’s final – and bloody – plan.

He had me at apocalypse.

For those not familiar with Greg’s work, not only is he a wonderful writer but a kick-arse illustrator, too (hogging the talent pool much?). He’s the artist behind the Bram Stoker award-winning graphic novel, Witch Hunts: A Graphic History of the Burning Times, penned by Lisa Morton and the late (great) Rocky Wood. 

So if you’re looking for something new to read, check out The Eschatologist, Oh, and take a look at the book trailer – it rocks!

 

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.