Tag Archives: Writing craft

Meet Lee Battersby…

I have been featuring fantastic female fantasy authors (see disclaimer) but this has morphed into interesting people in the speculative fiction world. Today I’ve invited the talented Lee Battersby to drop by.

Look out for the give-away at the end of the post.

Q: You’ve had over 70 short stories published, won the Aurealis Award, Australian Shadows Award (twice) and won an International Writers of the Future competition. Prime books published a collection of your short stories called Through Soft Air. Do you think the discipline of writing short fiction, helped hone your skill for novel writing?

I think my short story writing experience helped when it came to building scenes and establishing coherent lines of narrative, but I found the shift from writing the short to long form a bit dislocating in many ways. I’d probably become too entrenched in the short form way of thinking, and had to leave a lot of shorthand habits behind. It’s still a bit of a wrench to write long establishing scenes, for example, and I still absolutely hate writing long descriptions of landscape or setting—short story thinking demands I get to the bloody point now, dammit! One thing I do enjoy when writing novels is the opportunity to write increasingly complex streams of dialogue: I like the narrative cut and thrust of spoken wordplay, and the way you can reveal and hide information simultaneously. In short stories you use dialogue to reveal the narrative a little more quickly. In novels, you can be a bit richer.

I’ve written in a myriad of forms over the years: stage plays, TV scripts, stand-up comedy, poetry… each form comes with its own rules and ways to break them, and I think the more forms you work in, the better you’re able to adapt to new disciplines. The important thing is not to become hide-bound by one form. I’ve produced the best short stories of my career over the last couple of years, without a great deal of market impact, so I’m making the transition to novels at the right time. I could have done so a couple of years ago and been a bit further along in my career plans, perhaps, but the Angry Robot Open Door success came along at exactly the necessary moment.

Q: You wrote a post for the ROR blog where you described the rollercoaster of submitting to the Angry Robot Open Submission Month. (994 manuscripts). And now your book The Corpse Rat King has been published. (Mega congratulations!)  If you could go back and give yourself some advice when you submitted that manuscript, what would it be?

Not a single thing: the novel got through the process, it was picked up, I gots me an agent. I think it pretty much ticked all the boxes!

I was fortunate in that I submitted as a reasonably experienced author, so I knew not to hang about waiting for something to happen. I was already writing another novel—I had 52k of it under my belt before the contract was signed—and was working on a bunch of other stuff while I waited. So I was quite happy with the way the whole submission process panned out: I’d been a bit moribund beforehand but it revitalised me, and got me thinking of my career in different terms, which has been refreshing.

Q: The sequel to The Corpse Rat King, Marching Dead, is due out in 2013. Has it been a very different process writing a sequel, while editing the first book? And do you have an idea for a third book in the series?

It has been different, in that I’m working to a deadline, as well as not being in the position where I can make up characters and locations from scratch. In a sense I’m much less free than I was in writing the first volume. Characters are established, distances are established, locations and levels of technology are all established. I can’t just make stuff up as I go along, so if I’ve cocked something up in creating the first book then I have to work with it and make it acceptable. That said, of course, I’m able to allow my characters to grow to a much greater extent, so it’s a lot of fun answering questions that may have arisen in volume one. And there are a few revelations along the way, too: the advantage of not working to a plan is that I can be surprised by something that pops up unbidden in the first draft and then, by the time the final draft is finished, make it look like I intended that to happen all along .

I do have a story arc worked out for the 3rd book, just in case the first two do well and Angry Robot decide to commission a third. I know the beginning, and the end point, and the Great Big Decision ™ Marius will have to make in order to reach it. Any more than that will generally work itself out in the writing. But it would be fair to say that any shit my heroes managed to pour all over themselves in the first two books would be nothing when compared to volume three!

Q: You have tutored at Clarion South and you have an article on the Australian Horror Writers Association web site Industry Advice. The industry is changing so fast. Once it was the kiss of death to self-publish, now many authors are self-publishing their back lists. Do you find yourself scrambling to keep up?

I’m not a big fan of self-publishing new pieces: to my old-fashioned way of thinking it still carries the whiff of work not good enough to attract a more traditional publisher. However, I can understand why an author who has the time and energy to do so would want to release older pieces directly to the public without any intermediary: the work has already undergone a process of third-party quality control, the dialogue between author and reader can be made more immediate, and the cash flows more directly to the writer.

I readily acknowledge that I’m a little bit behind the times in my thinking: I still adhere to a traditional publishing model for my work, and I’m comfortable with that. I see a number of authors putting their own work out via electronic self-publishing, and it seems to me a very labour intensive way to go about your business. But when it comes to the marketplace, authors have to understand that they are small business owners, and as a small business owner, you have to decide the best way to market your product and how much time you’re willing to spend in developing the means of production. My instinct has always been that I’m too time-poor to be an effective electronic self-pubber, so I’ve steered away from it: I’m not passionate about that process, I’m not an adherent of the delivery system (I don’t own an e-reader, I don’t plan to own one, etc.), and for me, what time I do have is better utilised in other ways. That’s no comment on those who do choose to go down that track, just a fairly honest assessment of where my own strengths and weaknesses lie.

Ultimately, the best delivery medium, and the way you promote and market yourself as an author, is decided by the overall goals you have for your career. Self-publishing doesn’t attract me because it doesn’t fit in with my strengths and it doesn’t align with the direction I want my career to take. I keep in touch with the discussions, because I think every writer should be at least passingly familiar with the trends and evolutions of their business environment. But my limited experience shows me two levels of work being pushed—electronic reprints of paper books, which any sensible author should be pursuing as a negotiable clause in their contracts anyway, and original e-only works: the literary equivalent of a straight-to-video release, with the accompanying wild variations in quality. And I’m not sure I’ve discovered an efficient-enough means of separating the wheat from the chaff to make jumping into that second category a time-effective way to spend my writing career.

There may come a time when I look at self-publishing my story backlist, but truth be told I’d be just as comfortable with a small press publisher swooping in and offering to do all the hard business stuff for me in return for a cut of the proceeds, or paying me a flat fee as per the traditional business model. That might mean a cut in my potential in-hand profit, but I make a good living so money’s not that much of an issue, and at the end of the day I like real, hold-‘em-in-your-hand dead tree books, so it’s a compromise I’m happy to make.

Q: Your wife is talented writer, Lyn Battersby. With two creative people, who happen to be creative in the same medium in the same house, do you find this is a blessing or a curse? Do you read each other’s work and give feedback? Or do you find you can’t bear to do this? Have you considered collaborating? (eg. Written by L & L Battersby).

Lyn and Lee (courtesy Cat Sparks)

Lyn and I have collaborated on one story: a post-alien invasion tale called ‘C’ that, for a number of reasons, never really satisfied either of us so never saw the light of day. We’re both gearing up to work more as full-time novelists now, so the chances of collaboration on a fiction project aren’t high. Lyn writes much more elegant and subtle prose than I do, and her subject matter tends to be far more intimate, so I think there’s probably a clash in approach that doesn’t benefit our respective strengths. Once she gets the recognition her work deserves she’s going to become far too rich and famous to suffer having me riding her coat-tails, anyway…

But it’s definitely more a blessing than a curse to be married to someone with the same career goals and aspirations, simply because of the level of understanding. One of us can call ‘writing night’ at any time and there’s no argument, and when we talk it’s in the same language. We did read each other’s work a lot more when we were less experienced, mainly, I think, as a form of reinforcement that what we were doing made sense to someone else. Now we’re fairly confident in our own abilities we tend to read each other for pleasure, and Lyn doesn’t read my long work—she wants to wait for it to come out in proper novel format. But we’re always on hand to offer instant advice or an opinion, and as we generally can’t stop talking about current projects we usually have a pretty good idea what each other is working on, where we’re at with it, where it’s going, how rich it’s going to make us… just normal, everyday, married person conversations .

Q: I was prompted to start this series of interviews because there seems to be a perception in the US and the UK that fantasy is a bit of a boy’s club. Do you think there’s a difference in the way males and females write fantasy?

It’s a gross generalization to split a literary genre along gender lines, but I think you could argue that there are differences in the way males and females perceive fantasy, inasmuch as we seem to fantasize for different reasons. We’re a fairly small outpost in Australia, and I think it’s probably a bit easier to do a head-count than in the larger markets, so we’ve got a pretty good idea of our gender mix, which is increasingly healthy if not yet equitable. It helps to have good, strong publishers who understand the need for variation in theme and approach: in particular, Twelfth Planet Press and Fablecroft Publishing are two houses that are helmed by smart, high-quality editor/publishers who strive to promote a more literate, intelligent type of fantasy, which is the sort of environment where subtler forms of writing can thrive.

I think the male/female style argument is a somewhat simplistic one, and I’d like to think that as an industry we might have become a little more sophisticated than that, at least here in Australia, because I can see the Australian SF small press working hard to provide opportunities based on idea and theme rather than gender alignment, but as I said, it’s easier to look at the demographic in its entirety here, and also easy to view things from the perspective of a white middle-class male with few barriers to his career. My wife, who writes beautifully subtle and elegant works that often don’t pass through the quick-read filter, might gently intimate that I’m talking shit.

Q: Following on from that, does the gender of the writer change your expectations when you pick up their book?

Not a bit. I’m utterly disinterested in the gender of the author when I pick up a book. Gender is just a description of where your dangly bits dangle from. It’s not an expression of sexual orientation, political affiliation, socio-economic outlook, or any of the umpty million psychological, societal and environmental factors that an author brings to their work. It may inform some of those factors, but what’s more interesting, from a creative point of view, is your overall worldview: the set of experiences that you, as a writer, translate into fiction. Gender is by no means the deciding, or even major, element in the translation of that mindset.

As a reader, and as simplistic as it sounds, all I want is to read a good book. That’s it. I don’t care if the author is an ancient Sumerian rabbit god with a lisp, as long as the story they tell moves me, involves me, and just maybe, leaves me looking at the world through a different lens. I’m old enough to have grown up whilst it was still relatively easy to find Leigh Brackett, CL Moore, Julian May and the likes on a shelf. And whilst it was—and remains—a blight on the industry that a significant percentage of writers feel they have to conceal their gender in order to find an audience, from the perspective of my young reader-self it meant that, as I grew up, I paid attention to the name on the cover rather than the identity of the author behind them. I’ve no doubt that gender plays a part in the publishing business, which would lead me down a very different rant indeed, but once a book actually reaches the bookshelf, the gender of the author becomes a non-issue for me.

Ultimately, if the gender of the author is the sole reason you pick up a book—or worse, the reason you don’t—then you may be missing the fucking point a wee bit. Is my experience of, say, a George Eliot novel lessened because I might learn that Oor George was a woman? Could I be that simplistic a creature? And if I am, what the fuck do I do if someone hands me a Caitlin Kiernan book, or a Poppy Brite?

A book is a doorway to a shared experience, and if you’re lucky, an experience that you not only haven’t had before but could not conceive of having. If reading that book leads you to seek out information about the author, and if learning about their lives enriches your reading experience, then fantastic. But the book itself is the gift. The story within is the sole point of contact through which we, as readers, have the right to critique and analyse the author’s motive. Anything else, unless directly communicated by the author, is conjecture. To take the immortal Trillian entirely out of context: anything you still can’t cope with is, therefore, your own problem.

As an author, though, as an author: that’s a different bucket of cows. The truth is, at least within our beloved little genre, that SF remains the province of a largely masculine way of thinking, and what’s worse; it’s a masculine way of thinking that even Tony Abbott might occasionally find old-fashioned and bigoted. It is undeniably a struggle to pass a truly feminine, or transgendered, worldview through the gatekeepers of most magazines and publishers. From an editing point of view—particularly in the magazine field—we’re set up for the quick fix. It’s easier to filter for a muscular, action-driven narrative that responds well to a first reading than it is to reward a subtle, emotionally-shaded, character-driven narrative that needs two or three readings to fully unfold. To split such stories directly down that divide as typically male or female is, of course, a gross simplification in itself, but as Westerners we create a societal culture that demands women define themselves as emotional beings, and then create a genre infrastructure that makes it difficult to sell emotionally subtle stories. Is it any wonder that female authors who have the greatest success writing Spec-style novels have a tendency to either do it outside the genre or loudly disassociate themselves from it?

Of course, all comments can be filtered through my happy life as a fat, middle-class white man, and disregarded as necessary.

Q: And here’s the fun question. If you could book a trip on a time machine, where and when would you go, and why?

I’m having a hard time not hearing Kryten right now: “If I could go anywhere, absolutely anywhere at all in time, I think I’d probably choose to go back to a week last Tuesday… I did all the laundry, and then we watched TV. Wow, we won’t see the like of THOSE sorts of days again.”  🙂

Dinosaurs. It’s got to be dinosaurs. Because, well… dinosaurs!

 

Giveaway Question:  “If you could go anywhere after you die, where would it be?”

 

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Filed under Australian Writers, Book Giveaway, creativity, Dark Urban Fantasy, Fantasy books, Gender Issues, Publishing Industry, Tips for Developing Artists

James Maxey talks about his Inspiration for writing ‘Hush’…

Late in June, I placed the seventh novel bearing my name onto the bookcase in my living room. A few days later, a reporter from my local newspaper came by, took a photo of me standing in front of the bookcase, and asked a question that I should be a lot better at answering by now.  What inspired you?

The novel in question is Hush, the second book in my Dragon Apocalypse series from Solaris Books. I was tempted to explain my inspiration on most crass level, explaining that I wrote it to make money! I signed a contract with Solaris to write them three novels in exchange for some dough. I like to keep keep my promises.

But, there are lots of ways to make money. And, a nearly infinite number of possible books to write. So why Hush?

My second inspiration for Hush was to write a book unlike anything else I’d ever tackled before. This was a tough goal. As the second book of a series, Hush featured the same protagonist, the same narrator, and the same fictional universe as Greatshadow. The first book built up to a big fight with a dragon; the second book builds to a big fight with a couple of dragons.

Knowing that I was constrained by these structural similarities, I decided to keep things fresh by writing way, way outside my comfort zone. For Hush, I decided that reality was a crutch for those who can’t handle fantasy and decided that, if I were going to write in a fantasy universe, I’d write in a world defined by myth rather than bland and neutral laws of physics. In our world, the sun is a giant ball of gas that appears to cross our sky because our planet spins. In the world of Hush, the sun is a big-ass dragon living inside a giant, glowing pearl that sails across the blue waters of the Great Sea Above. At night, when the dragon rests, the dark sea begins to freeze. The stars are merely ice floes drifting in the currents of the ocean overhead.

The sun-dragon, Glorious, makes his journey across the heavens on a regular schedule because he’s something of an obsessive-compulsive. He was born into a world where the sun was an untamed thing that would drift across the sky at random intervals. There was no such thing as time. Glorious looked at the chaotic world that surrounded him, a world lacking predictable patterns of night and day and seasons, and thought that it would much easier to organize his thoughts if the movements of the sun could be made to follow a schedule. So, he flew from the material world to the Great Sea Above where he took up residence inside the pearl, steering it onto a predictable path and pace to satisfy his longing for order. In doing so, he accidentally created human civilization, since the ape-like creatures that once hunted and gathered in the timeless world discovered that, in a world with set day lengths and predictable seasons, it was easier to grow food than to hunt for it.

Alas, one dragon who wasn’t happy about Glorious flying off to live in the sky was Hush, who was deeply in love. Her affection for Glorious was unrequited, however, and when he abandoned the world her heart shattered. Bitter cold filled the void where her heart had once been, and she became the primal dragon of cold. Each year, she grows angry with Glorious as he warms the earth to the point that nearly all ice begins to melt. In her wrath, she begins to chase the sun as he crosses the sky, leading to shorter and colder days, weakening Glorious to the point that, in the northern realms, he disappears from the sky completely. With her wrath abated for the moment, Hush returns to her abode to rest, allowing Glorious to timidly return to sky, regaining his strength until it’s once again summer, and Hush’s hatred once more drives her to pursue him.

I was inspired to create this myth by the very roots of fantasy, the various mythologies—Greek, Norse, Egyptian, Asian—that form the foundations of our shared literature and also much of our shared morality. From our modern perspective, the material world may be understandable, but it’s under no obligation to make sense or have meaning. There’s not a lot of moral knowledge to be gained from knowing that the sun and stars are distant balls of hot gas. The idea that the heavens were the abode of gods, and that we might learn from their stories, now seems quaint. But, these myths continue to resonate on an emotional level. There’s something deeply satisfying about looking at a night sky and thinking of it as a canvas for sagas of love and betrayal, cowardice and courage. I’m hoping to capture a bit of this mythic grandeur in my tale of dueling dragons and the humans swept up in their battles.

Why do myths have such a hold on my imagination? Remember that bookcase I was standing in front of? If my novels were the only books it held, the shelves would be pretty empty. Instead, they’re packed, with Poe and Pratchett, Bullfinch and Burroughs, Sagan and Segar. While the middle shelves are full of hardcovers, the highest shelf I’ve reserved for old, dusty paperbacks, many rescued from my grandfather’s porch. He was a voracious reader who fed his appetites by scouring thrift stores and yard sales and buying paperbacks for pennies. His collection spilled out of his house and onto his porch, where I would spend much of my childhood digging among these yellowed pages looking for science fiction and fantasy novels.

It was the beginning of a lifelong love of words. It’s fun to see my books in bookstores, but some of my best experiences as an author have come when I discover used copies of my books in second hand stores. I remember the first time I found a copy of Bitterwood for sale in a thrift store, with a broken spine and dog-eared pages, waiting for some cheap but voracious reader to pick it up for a couple of quarters. There’s nothing wrong with loving books as objects, collecting hard covers still in their original jackets for prominent display in your living room, a monument to a work of literature that was important to you. But, for me, the most beautiful books have torn covers and browning paper, worn from having been read and reread by multiple readers. The pages may be half way to dust, but the words lived for a moment, at least, in someone’s memory.

And ultimately, that’s my inspiration for writing books. Seeing them in bookstores is fine. But, I still dream that, one day, some bookish kid might be digging through a stack of dusty paperbacks on his grandfather’s porch and find a book of mine, and bring the words inside to life once more.

 

James is giving away a copy of Hush.

What is your favourite Greek Myth

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Filed under Book Giveaway, creativity, Nourish the Writer, Tips for Developing Writers

Just had to share this…

My son sent me this and I just had to share it:

I don’t know who produced it- looks like a college for creative students, the writing is too small – but I’d like to thank them.

The same could be said of writing…

It starts with a love of books,

soon they’re spending time at the library and bookstores searching for favourite authors to get their fix.

Before you know it, a simple love of books turns into…

scribbling poetry when no one’s looking and…

then their first short story. Some skip this stage and go straight to…

books. The worst genre is Fantasy. Writers have been known to create whole series of books set in secondary worlds.

Completely divorced from reality, these poor writers say their characters take over and refuse to do what they’re told!

Very sad. You have been warned.

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Filed under Australian Artists, Australian Writers, creativity, Fun Stuff, Genre, Nourish the Writer, Obscure and Interesting, Writing craft

Gold Coast Literati Event

If you live in South East Queensland and you love books and writing, the Gold Coast Literati Event will be held the weekend of the 24, 25th of May, 2012.

For more information see here.

Who is is for? Readers of all genres (spec Fic and mystery among them).

Who will be there? Myself, Marianne de Pierres, Trent Jamieson, Louise Cusack, Kylie Chan, Queenie Chan and many more.

What will be happening? Workshops, panels, talks and general celebration of books and writing!

So rock up, have some fun and say Hi!

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Filed under Australian Artists, Australian Writers, Comics/Graphic Novels, Conferences and Conventions, Conventions, creativity, Dark Urban Fantasy, Fantasy books, Female Fantasy Authors, Fun Stuff, Nourish the Writer, Paranormal_Crime, Readers, The Writing Fraternity, Thrillers and Crime, Thrillers and Mysteries, Tips for Developing Artists, Tips for Developing Writers, Workshop/s, Writing craft

Meet Gaie Sebold…

I have been featuring fantastic female fantasy authors (see disclaimer) but this has morphed into interesting people in the speculative fiction world. Today I’ve invited the talented Gaie Sebold to drop by. (Further disclaimer, Gaie is published by Solaris, my publisher and, as it turns out, we share the same agent).

Watch out for the give-away question at the end of the interview.

Q: You write poetry and have won awards in this area. I once ran a workshop where a woman who wrote poetry could not stop herself from writing in rhyming metre. She set out to write a short children’s story and when she got up to read it to us, realised it rolled off the tongue like a poem. Do you find yourself dreaming in rhyme or blank verse?

A: That’s a very interesting thought! I seldom write poetry at the moment, but when I was writing and reading a great deal of it, I certainly had more ideas come to me as poetry or song lyrics (sadly, since I utterly lack any musical ability, the song lyrics never became actual songs).  I don’t remember ever dreaming in poetry, but I think that absorbing a lot of it did affect my writing style, and still does.  One thing writing in very strict poetic forms did was help me to précis.  There’s nothing like attempting a sonnet, or, heaven help us, a haiku, to try and get everything you want to say in a tight space.  This may sound odd coming from someone who tends to write novels at about 150,000 words – but without it, they’d be longer, believe me.  It’s also left me with a strong belief in the power of the exactly right word in the right place.

Q: I belong to a writing group called ROR who have saved my sanity over the years. I see you belong to a group called The T Party. How did you get involved and what advice would you give a writer who was just starting out and wanted to find or start a support group?

A: I was looking for a writing group when I first moved to London.  I set one up with a friend, but that was largely a poetry rather than a fiction group.  I found T Party Writers (we usually write the name that way these days, to distinguish ourselves from, ahem, certain political affiliations) in a local library list of writing groups, because  the internet barely existed back then. I discovered a group of people who were all interested in writing genre of one sort or another, who were mainly focussed on professional publication, and with whom I got along very well.

I would advise a writer who is starting out to look at what they want from a group.  If you write genre, find a genre-focussed group; whether it’s SF/F, literary, or romance; taking a paranormal romance story to a group only to have people go ‘But why does it have to have elves in it?’ is depressing and unhelpful.

If you’re underconfident and just looking for support, there are cheerleading groups, who do less critiquing and more encouragement.   Though it may get you writing and submitting more, which is good, I don’t think it does you many favours in the long term.  If you’re aiming for professional publication, look for a group that will push you; one that contains some people who are already professionally published, and who are orientated towards that.  T Party Writers have a reputation for being pretty tough; which they are.  But the purpose is to get people better, to give them the best possible chance of publication.  If you’re not ready for tough critique from your writing group, you’re not ready for the crapload of rejections that anyone who is serious about submitting their work for professional publication is going to get.  And once your work is out there there will be bad reviews, too.  You need to grow a thick skin, and take good advice even if it sounds harsh, and a good crit group will help you do that.  Also, learning to critique other people’s work can really help open your eyes to the flaws in your own, and what you can do to improve.

If you are thinking of starting your own group, the same rules apply; what do you want to get out of it, and what are you prepared to offer other people?  How many meetings, how often, where, IRL or online, guidelines for joining, submitting and critiquing…all these things need working out.  Guidelines for dealing with any problems that may arise are also a good idea.

Q: You are also involved in the Plot Medics, a pair of writers who offer workshops. Here’s their writing philosophy. In Australia we have state Writers Centres which offer a range of workshops and support for writers from those just starting out to the multi-published. I gather there isn’t this level of support in the UK. What led you into the field of writing?

I ran some writing exercises with a friend on a writers’ group weekend, and we both realised we enjoyed the mentoring side.  There are so many things about writing I wish I’d known earlier, that I think people can benefit from knowing.  I am a somewhat obsessive collector of books on writing, and there is a huge amount of useful information out there, but sometimes people react better to direct interaction, tasks and games, than to just reading these books on their own.  The joy of running workshops is seeing people light up when something suddenly makes sense, or they realise how much they can achieve in a really short space of time, or they get an idea and are scribbling madly away at something that really excites them.

There are some excellent workshops and classes in the UK, such as those run by City Lit, and of course the Arvon Foundation; but we felt we could do something with one-off workshops that could help people target one particular aspect of writing where they were having difficulty.  And they’re huge fun to do.  Exhausting, but fun.  If I didn’t have the day job I’d like to spend a lot more time doing them.

Q: You write short fiction which, if it is anything like your novel, crosses genres. Your stories have appeared in several anthologies including Under the Rose and End of an Aeon. Three stories, Wet Work, A touch of Crystal and Eaten Cold, received honourable mentions in Year’s Best Fantasy and Horror. As you are also a poet, would you say a story/idea has a natural length and medium? Do you sometimes start out writing a poem that turns into a story?

A: I would certainly say that stories and ideas have a natural length.  Poems are good for talking about a single idea or theme, in a very crystallised way.  In a short story you have more space to explore an idea, and fewer restrictions than in a poem, but you still have to focus.  You have to know what your central idea is, the essential thing you want to say, and in the best stories, I think everything else that’s there relates in some way to the central theme.  In a novel, obviously, there are still central ideas and themes, but you can have more than one and explore them in greater depth.  So yes, stories have a natural length. I’ve read books that felt like a short story stretched out thin, and stories (some in my critique group) where I’ve said, “This is a novel, you do know that, don’t you?”  I’ve had it said to me, too; and one short story ended up being expanded into the novel that got me agented.  I’ve also been told that a novel idea I’m working on is probably a trilogy.  Gulp.  (Because I really need another huge project to add to my To Do list…)

I have written poems that suggested they had stories there, but as yet, none has ever turned into one.  Sadly they don’t really work as poems, either, so they languish on my hard drive waiting for me to have time or inclination to do something with them.

Q: Your first novel, Babylon Steel, has just been released. First of all, congratulations! Looking at the blurb:

‘Babylon Steel, ex-sword-for-hire, ex… other things, runs the best brothel in Scalentine; city of many portals, two moons, and a wide variety of races, were-creatures, and religions, not to mention the occasional insane warlock.
She’s not having a good week.  The Vessels of Purity are protesting against brothels, women in the trade are being attacked, it’s tax time, and there’s not enough money to pay the bill.  So when the mysterious Darask Fain offers her a job finding a missing girl, Babylon decides to take it.  But the missing girl is not what she seems, and neither is Darask Fain. In the meantime twomoon is approaching, and more than just a few night’s takings are at risk when Babylon’s hidden past reaches out to grab her by the throat.’

It appears to be a mix of SF and Dark Urban Fantasy and the cover reminds me a little of the Three Musketeers. If you had to sum the genre up in a couple of words, how would you describe it?

A: A couple of words? Tricky.  High Noir? Sword and Sauciness?

Q: Solaris have bought the sequel to Babylon Steel. Can you give a quick glimpse of what it’s about?

A: It’s taking Babylon away from Scalentine to another plane, to fulfil a promise she made in the previous book.  She’ll be trying to stop a civil war, prevent an assassination, stay out of jail and keep her business from descending into bankruptcy.  She’s a busy girl.

Q: In a review of Babylon Steel on SFX, the reviewer said: ‘Sebold has a flair for storytelling. Her world is a cross-planes affair whose main setting is an interdimensional crossroads. It might be all sparkly wish-fulfilment on the surface, but it has a believable seaminess, while its tough lead has plenty of good reasons to be the way she is’ He also added: ‘Fun and fast, you’ll enjoy this if you appreciate the better end of female-friendly fantasy.’ That’s a great wrap, Gaie. Would you describe your book as being oriented for female readers? Does it worry you that a male reader might not pick it up?

A: I was, obviously, pleased with the review, but that phrase about ‘female friendly fantasy’ did give me pause.  Yes, I do hope the book is female friendly, in that Babylon is a tough, confident female lead I hope women can like and identify with.  But from the responses I’ve had, men like her too (actually she’s been described as ‘blokish’.  This was intended as a compliment.) I know there is a truism that women will read books with both female and male leads, whereas men won’t read books with a female lead; I hope most male fantasy readers aren’t that narrow minded.  Certainly the ones I know aren’t.

Q: I was prompted to start this series of interviews because there seems to be a perception in the US and the UK that fantasy is a bit of a boy’s club. Do you think there’s a difference in the way males and females write fantasy?

A: I find that perception terribly frustrating. I know loads of women who read and write fantasy; who play fantasy computer games, who do fantasy LARP, (Live Action Role Play).  And it’s not all twinkly vampires and sexy werewolves, either.  There’s a huge amount of gritty, intelligent, grown-up fantasy written and read by women.  The same goes for SF.

As to a difference in the way the genders write fantasy; hmm, let’s step carefully into this minefield, shall we?  I think if there is a difference it’s not confined to fantasy.  Yet, increasingly, as women feel freer to write about whatever subjects, in whatever genres, they choose, I’m not really sure there is a difference.  It would be possible to suggest that more women write more character-focussed fiction, and more men write more plot-focussed fiction; but one can find so many examples where the opposite is true.  I do think that sometimes we can end up writing to fulfil societal expectations of what women should talk about, what men should talk about, what people of a particular race or social strata should talk about.  This, sadly, creates unnecessary limitations for the writer and reduces the possibilities available to the reader.  The more people break out of that, whatever the genre, the better.

Q: Following on from that, does the gender of the writer change your expectations when you pick up their book?

A: I can honestly say, not so far as I am aware.  If I’m browsing, I look at the covers;  if I don’t recognise the name of the author, I will read the blurb and the first few pages.  Whether the book grabs me or not has nothing to do with the gender of the name on the cover.  I’ll clock it once I know whether or not I like their writing, not otherwise.

Q: And here’s the fun question. If you could book a trip on a time machine, where and when would you go, and why?

A: Oh, that’s a tough one!  I would love to visit Ancient Egypt (I’m actually going to Egypt for the first time later this year, I can’t wait).  It was a fascinating society, highly stable for an extraordinarily long time largely due to its geographical location, with the corollary that it was also deeply conservative, with a positively train-spottery obsession with this massively detailed idea of the afterlife.  Yet they had, at some periods, some surprisingly modern attitudes in terms of women owning property and having some autonomy.  To visit them and get a perspective on their extraordinary obsession with the afterlife, and then to spend some time in Victorian England which was also deeply conservative in some ways, and a time of high-speed, intense change in others, and which had its own highly complex and varied attitudes to death, mourning and the afterlife – that would be interesting.

I’d also like to explore the early European Celtic societies, the Norse, the Babylonians…oh, there are so many places/times I’d like to go.

But I’d probably want to be disguised as a man a lot of the time just so I could access those areas of society denied to women; and I would definitely want to take antibiotics, anaesthetic, reliable contraception and various other life-saving anachronisms (such as my own personal dentist).  And be a lot better at fighting than I am in real life.

 

Give-away Question:

Q: Someone says to you: “I’ve found a gateway to Faerie.  We’re leaving in ten minutes, you coming?”

Would you go, and what would you pack?

 

Follow Gaie on Twitter: @GaieSebold or follow Babylon @Babylon_Steel

Follow Gaie on GoodReads.

Find Gaie on Facebook

See Gaie’s Blog.

Gaie also has a blog with writer Dave Gullen on writing and gardening.

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Filed under Book Giveaway, creativity, Dark Urban Fantasy, Fantasy books, Female Fantasy Authors, Fun Stuff, Gender Issues, Genre, Poetry

ROR … Recovering

Here I am, back from the 2012 ROR (See here for more info on the ROR writers group). This year we went to Steeles Island. Lovely spot, great premises.

Here's the view up the estury

The view up the estuary

This was an intense week. We read 5 manuscripts beforehand and wrote reports then spent a morning, or an afternoon, on each ms. It reminded me why I love writing – sitting around, getting excited with my fellow writers about plotting, foreshadowing, characterisation, blending back story and of course … talking about the industry.

The room where it all happened.

I had a bit of a problem with the room. The ceiling was at an angle, the chimney fireplace ran at two different angles and then there were the horizontals and the verticals… the angle of one of the chimney sides was at war with all the other angles in the room. It got so I couldn’t look in that direction. The others thought this was hilarious, but it really bothered me. Confession … writers can be a little neurotic. (I can’t find a photo of the wall in question that shows the ceiling and the chimney. You will have to take my word for it).

You can see the energy level from this pic of Tansy and Richard

The guys did a brilliant job of critiquing all the manuscripts. I’m not allowed to say much about the books because we don’t want to jinx them.

Margo being insightful

(Marianne and Trent couldn’t make this ROR due to work commitments and where they were up to in their current manuscripts).

Maxine attended virtually by skype and this worked surprisingly well. Her book is on its second draft and it was really interesting to see how she had incorporated the feedback from the last ROR. (Come on Maxine – get that book finished. I’m dying to read the ending!). Richard put in his usual quirky polished manuscript.

Dirk provided us with amazing cooking while giving excellent insights into our books. Somehow he managed to pull enough of a manuscript together despite life getting in the way, for us to get swept away by his project. Tansy has a follow up to her highly successful novella bubbling in the writing pot. Margo brought a new project along that was in a raw state deliberately to sound us out. This was really interesting and we had a terrific time brain storming.  The guys were great with my book. They helped me realise the difference between book one of a new trilogy and book four of a series. Obvious once you say it, but really hard to see when you are neck deep in manuscript.

That's me enjoying the brilliant banter of the RORees

On the Thursday evening we drove into Hobart for the launch of Tansy’s Reign of Beasts and Margo’s Sea Hearts. (More on the launch). This was held at the Hobart Bookshop in Salamanca Square. Waves to Chris and Janet!  (Here’s Margo being interviewed about Sea Hearts. The original novella won a World Best Fantasy Award). Book one of Tansy’s Creature Court trilogy won the Aurealis Award for fantasy.

There was a terrific turn out for the launch. I want to thank some of the ROR blog followers and the Twitter Team for turning up to wave the flag.

This is me kissing my DH at the launch

And while all this was going on I spent every spare moment chained to my lap top madly working on the rewrites for Solaris. Serious Brain Overload!!!

So, to help me and everyone else calm down, here are some photos from Steeles Island.

The steps down to the beach in the early morning light

Tansy's partner and their youngest on the tidal sands

Sunshine on sea a Wild Tassie Beach

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Filed under Australian Writers, creativity, Fantasy books, Female Fantasy Authors, Fun Stuff, Nourish the Writer, Specialist Bookshops, The Writing Fraternity, Writing Groups

Meet Felicity Pulman …

I have been featuring fantastic female fantasy authors (see disclaimer) but this has morphed into interesting people in the speculative fiction world. Today I’ve invited the talented Felicity Pulman to drop by.

Watch out for the give-away question at the end of the interview.

Something’s gone wrong with my blog’s ability to embed videos. Here’s the link to Felciity’s great new promo for the Janna Mystery Series.

 

Q: We ran into each other at SheKilda, the women’s crime writers conference, but you write across a number of genres and ages. Your first novel (to appear under your own name) Ghost Boy was set in two timelines, the present and the past set, in part, around the small pox outbreak in 1881 when travellers were quarantined on arriving in Australia. There is a special Ghost Boy tour for school children at the Quarantine Station. It must be a real thrill to make a connection with children and bring the past to life like this. Have you been on the Ghost Boy tour and do you get a lot of emails from school children?

A: Yes and yes to both questions.  I found it very moving to watch my novel come to life up at the Quarantine Station. It’s a wonderful place to visit, very atmospheric.  It gives students a real feel for what life was like back in those times and of course they’re always sure they’re going to see a ghost!  (The guides themselves are quite sure the place is haunted!)

Q: In your Shalott Trilogy, which was inspired by Tennyson’s The Lady of Shallot a group of five Australian teenagers try to rewrite the legend and save the Lady of Shalott. Have you always been fascinated by the King Arthur legends? Have you been to the UK to see Tintagel Castle?

A: I wrote the Shalott trilogy because I was being bugged by the questions: why was the lady trapped in the tower, why was there a curse on her, plus the questions that followed on from that: what if it’s possible to go back in time and change history (or a legend);  what if you’re also rewriting your destiny at the same time? I didn’t know much about anything at first so it was a HUGE learning curve. I began to acquire a library of Arthuriana old and new, plus books on magic, on life in medieval time, and so on. And I went on my first research trip, following the ‘Arthurian trail’ through England, Wales, Brittany and France.  Tintagel was only one of the marvellous places I visited; other sites included Merlin’s ‘cave’ and Merlin’s ‘tomb’, Glastonbury and the Isle of Avalon, the ‘home’ of the Lady of the Lake, plus South Cadbury Castle, Caerleon and Winchester, all of which have been variously named as Arthur’s seat of power, sometimes called Camelot.

Q: Your current series The Janna Mysteries are set in England in the 1140s during the King Stephen/Queen Matilda civil war. This series contains a number of mysteries which the main character, Janna, has to solve. I think I’m seeing a theme here. You have a BA in Communication and an MA in Children’s Literature. Were you ever tempted to do further study in the area of history? (See Felicity’s Tips on Writing Historical Fiction).

A: Actually I’m a late convert to history; I found it so boring when I was at school, probably because my teacher didn’t teach it as the continuing soap opera it really is!  Those who marry – or murder for a crown, those who drive themselves to acts of great courage or bastardry for the sake of love, rivalry, power or wealth. Those idealists who dream of a brave new world, sometimes at a price too terrible to bear … the history I study is the history that informs my books. If I wasn’t so busy writing I’d love to go back to uni and immerse myself in the middle ages – or ancient Greece – or Egypt – or …? So difficult to know where to start!

Q: You wrote two of the Guinevere Jones books, based on the hit TV series. Was it hard to immerse yourself in the series and the back-story, then write creatively about characters you didn’t invent?

A:  Sophie Masson and I wrote the four books based on the series, working from notes, scripts and recorded episodes that were sent to us.  Writing the GJ books was a very different experience from anything else I’ve written.  The books also had to be written very fast so there really wasn’t a great deal of time for angst over characters and back story, we pretty much had to work with what we were given. So there wasn’t a lot of scope for imaginative input; it was more a recording of other people’s lives.  One of the things I need to do is walk the place I’m writing about, but this wasn’t possible as GJ was filmed on set in Melbourne (I live in Sydney) so I found that a real challenge – where do the characters go and what do they do once they go ‘off screen’?

Q: In an interview on Need to Read This, when talking about your new  book you say: ‘Most recently, I went to Norfolk Island. Hearts in Chains is a time-slip romance going back to the mid-19th century and the time of the brutal second penal settlement. I visited the museums, the ruins of the gaol, the houses along Military Road (now called Quality Row) and also Government House (and I am deeply grateful to the administrator and his wife for allowing me free access and even finding for me a hidey-hole for Alice to hide her diary!)  I think it’s essential for me, as an author, to walk in my characters’ footsteps, to experience the landscape and identify what he/she might have seen – wildlife, trees, flowers, buildings (or their ruins), weather and the light, etc.’ (Felicity has a whole page dedicated to research on her web site. See here). I envy you the chance to do this. Where will you be going to next to research?

A:  I loved writing the Shalott trilogy so much, and became so immersed in Arthurian legend that I’m thinking of revisiting that time and place, with hopefully the chance to explore the Arthurian trail once more.

Q: You write books with a strong historical base. In the past females had many restrictions on what they could do from the inability to own property to the choice of who they married. Do you ever worry that young readers could have trouble identifying with a female character whose life choices are limited?

A: Society might change but human nature doesn’t, so my belief is that readers identify with and feel sympathy for Janna’s predicament, left alone in a hostile world with only her skills and her courage to save her; her life constantly under threat from everything from wolves and wild boar in the forest to an assassin on a mission to silence her – quite apart from having to find such basic necessities as food and shelter to keep herself alive. And then there are the three young men in her life – who will she choose?  Readers are certainly VERY interested in that question!

Q: I’ve been interviewing quite a few authors and discovered many of them combine similar genres, mystery, fantasy and history. Why do you think these genres blend so well?

A: Good question! It’s not something I’ve considered before, but I think in my case I enjoy reading and writing all these different genres, and if you can combine them, so much the better! I particularly enjoy time-slip stories, combining history with fantasy although of course they can also encompass the future (like my favourite author Connie Willis, for example.)  Plus a mystery to solve or some sort of quest to fulfil is usually at the heart of every story, especially a fantasy.

Q: You go by the nick-name Flick. Did you have an annoying older brother who teased you and the name stuck? How did this come about?

A: I actually had an annoying older sister who called me ‘Fwiz’, which became the family nickname, while I was Fuzz (pronounced Fooz) to everyone else.  My family still call me that but anyone else does so at their peril!  I became Flick when I went to uni (in my late teens) and was christened thus by a girl in my res who subsequently became my best friend and who had known a Felicity/Flick at school.  Infinitely better than Fwiz, so I don’t mind that the name has stuck. ‘Felicity’ is far too formal.

Q: I understand you are cooking up a new project to write about. Can you share it with us?

A: It’s still in the cooking stage but, as I said earlier, it will be centred on King Arthur and Camelot, exploring in more detail some of the issues I found so fascinating while writing the Shalott trilogy – but this novel will be for adults.

Q: I was prompted to start this series of interviews because there seems to be a perception in the US and the UK that fantasy is a bit of a boy’s club. Do you think there’s a difference in the way males and females write fantasy?

A: I don’t read ‘high fantasy’ at all, so this is not a question I can answer, except to say there do seem to be any number of wonderful women fantasy writers around so I’m surprised by your observation. Perhaps female fantasy writers need to establish a Sisters in Fantasy, the equivalent of the international Sisters in Crime movement?

Q: Following on from that, does the gender of the writer change your expectations when you pick up their book?

A:  Perhaps subliminally, not consciously.  If I find an author I like I’ll keep going, in which case I know what to expect.  With a new writer, I’ll go with the blurb and whether it sounds like an interesting story rather than defining it by gender.

Q: And here’s the fun question. If you could book a trip on a time machine, where and when would you go, and why?

 A: Fun??  That’s a very difficult question with so many people and places to choose from!  Backwards?  Forwards?  Decisions, decisions…and the temptation to try to change the course of history while you’re at it!  I might opt for Jerusalem at the time of Christ. I always wondered how I’d have reacted to the Messiah if I’d been around then. I’m sure it would be a very interesting time and place to visit.

Give-away Question:  Following on from the question above:  if you could meet anyone past or present, who would it be … and why?

Felicity’s Blog

Follow Felicity on Facebook

Network with Felicity on Linked-in

Catch up with Felicity on GoodReads

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Filed under Australian Writers, Book Giveaway, Children's Books, Collaboration, creativity, Fantasy books, Female Fantasy Authors, Gender Issues, Historical Books, Movies & TV Shows, Thrillers and Crime, Thrillers and Mysteries, Tips for Developing Writers

Meet Alan Baxter …

I have been running a series of  interviews with female fantasy writers to redress a perception I came across – that fantasy was a bit of a boy’s club. It really isn’t like that here in Australia. We have many wonderful fantasy writers who just happen to be female.

Today I’m interviewing dark fantasy author, Alan Baxter. I thought I’d ask him the same questions I’ve asked the female writers about fantasy writing and gender, to get his perspective as a male writer.

Look out for the give-away at the end of the post.

Q: I see you live on the South Coast of NSW. Does that mean south of Sydney? This area there, in fact the whole coast, is very beautiful. Do you find that, as a creative person, you’re influenced by your surroundings?

Yes, south of Sydney by about an hour and a half. It’s dairy country, wide open, rolling hills. We’re in a valley with the escarpment at our backs and a five minute drive to the beach. Best of all worlds and absolutely beautiful.

I am very much influenced by my surroundings, but I still tend to write a lot of urban-based stuff. The city is an incredible muse for me, a living entity with everything that goes along with that. But living in the country gives me the headspace and peace conducive to writing. I lived in the city for years and loved it, but I’m a country boy at heart. Even if the city does still inform a lot of my work.

Q: You write Dark Fantasy books , what used to be called horror. RealmShift and MageSign look like they follow the one character. Is this an ongoing series like Jim Butcher and Simon R Green’s work?

I question the distinction you made there. I write horror too, but dark fantasy and horror are different things. A lot of what’s generally referred to as horror is better classified as dark fantasy in my mind. Other examples would be a lot of Stephen King’s work (Dark Tower, for example), a lot of Clive Barker’s stuff (like Weaveworld). While these people are often thought of as horror writers, and they are, they also work in dark fantasy. There’s a difference between two for me. My publisher actually refers to my novels as dark fantasy thrillers, which is the best description in my opinion.

RealmShift and MageSign follow the main character of Isiah and are a duology. While each can be read alone, MageSign follows directly from the events in RealmShift. But I don’t know if there will ever be more Isiah books. A couple of Isiah short stories have been published here and there, but I’d need a really solid idea to write another Isiah novel. Never say never, but it’s not happening any time soon.

In the meantime, I’m working on a new series, a trilogy in the same world as the Isiah books, with entirely new characters. But Isiah does make a brief cameo in the first one.

Q: There’s a particularly British sensibility about Simon R Green’s Nightside books. You are British-Australian. Would you say your book reflected this hybrid sensibility?

Definitely. I’m pretty well travelled and will get away to walk the Earth at the drop of a hat. It’s only money that prevents me from living a life constantly on the road. With RealmShift I was very deliberate about not identifying the opening city. The book moves on and the characters go to places like Guatemala, but the initial part of the book is in “the city”. It could be Sydney, London, New York – I wanted it to be everyone’s city.

MageSign is different. It’s very much an international book, but Sydney and the NSW outback play a major part and the whole book heads to those places. But it starts in Britain and I draw a lot on my experience of different countries to flesh out my stories as much as possible. I’m very keen on a sense of place being prevalent in my work, whether that place is actually identifiable or not.

Q: As well as books you are also a short story writer. I notice you have a story in Keith Stevenson’s new anthology Anywhere but Earth. I take it this is a science fiction story. Are you an SF fan from way back? Did you grow up in a house filled with books or did you discover Asimov (for instance) in a second-hand book shop?

I’ve been a fan of everything fantasy and science fiction since I was a kid. But I didn’t grow up with it – my parents were keen readers, but definitely not genre fiction. They always encouraged reading, pushed me to improve, and I fell in love with it instantly, but I found genre fiction myself somehow. From a very young age I devoured things like Lord Of The Rings and Earthsea. I graduated to sci fi and horror and never looked back.

Q: You have also written a serialised story about bounty hunter called Ghost, Ghost of the Black: A ‘Verse full of Scum’. What prompted you to follow in the footsteps of the greats like Charles Dickens and write a serial? Was it hard to keep up the pace?

I wanted to generate some more interest in my website and promote my other work, so I used the old marketing ploy: Give some stuff away and hope people come back to buy more. I really liked the idea of writing a serial and posting a new episode every week. Apart from the increased site traffic, it appealed to my love of the old series like Flash Gordon and Rocketman that I loved as a kid.

But I cheated. Ghost Of The Black is a roughly 30,000 word novella, which I serialised, but I wrote it all in advance. So keeping the pace wasn’t an issue. I had the whole thing ready to go and started posting a new ep every week throughout 2008. I would tweak and edit a bit each week, but it was largely a done deal. I’m not sure I’ll do it again though!

I’d like to write more stuff with Ghost and his exploits. Hopefully I’ll get around to that some day, but I won’t serialise it again. Maybe I’ll self-publish his further exploits as ebooks to accompany the existing ebook I released once the serial was finished.

Q: I see you work as a martial arts instructor and personal trainer – you disprove the sedentary writer stereotype. Your martial art is Kung Fu. I’d studied each of these martial arts for five years: Tae Kwon Do, Aikido and Iaido, the art of the Samurai sword. Plus I dabbled in Ju Jitsu. What drew you to Kung Fu?

Monkey and Hong Kong Phooey. If you don’t know those things, you must check them out. I started in Judo as a kid of about 11 or so. Then I tried Karate when my Judo teacher moved away, but I didn’t like it. What I did like was Monkey fighting off demons with his magic staff, and Hong Kong Phooey with his Hong Kong Book Of Kung Fu. So I went out seeking a Kung Fu school and found my physical and spiritual home. I’ve done it ever since.

I’ve studied a variety of Kung Fu styles to one extent or another, but for the last 15 years or so I’ve studied and taught Choy Lee Fut Kung Fu.

Q. You recently presented at the Emerging Writers Festival in Brisbane, a crowdfunded event. How did that come about and what was your part in it?

The EWF is a great initiative putting on events all over the country for writers. It’s obstensibly for emerging writers, but it’s really of great value to all writers. The Brisbane event was all about digital writing – writing for online markets, promoting yourself and your work online and all the opportunities and pitfalls around those activities. I was invited up to present as part of the panel on using the online environment to promote your work, to get work and to work for you. I blogged about it quite extensively here.

Q: I was prompted to start this series of interviews because there seems to be a perception in the US and the UK that fantasy is a bit of a boy’s club. Do you think there’s a difference in the way males and females write fantasy?

Yes and no. Some people write in a very gender specific style, and I know I’ll cop some shit for saying that, but it’s true. Some female writers, for example, have a style that’s extremely feminine and targeted mainly at female writers. Some males have the same things going on for the men. Of course, that doesn’t mean the other gender can’t read and enjoy those things, but there is a definite difference.

But other writers are completely gender-neutral in their style, to my mind. Whether they’re male or female is irrelevant to their writing and their readers and they’re just telling good stories. The vast majority of writers fall into this category, I think.

Q: Following on from that, does the gender of the writer change your expectations when you pick up their book?

Not in the least. If the book appeals – the blurb grabbed me, the cover interests me, friends have recommended it or whatever – then gender is irrelevant. And if it’s a style of book I don’t enjoy it’s rarely, if ever, a gender-based decision. Some things work for people and some don’t – no writer can appeal to everyone all the time.

Some of my favourite writers working in genre fiction at the moment are female, in fact, and I agree with you that whatever the perception globally about SF being a boys’ club, that’s definitely not the case here in Australia. We have a plethora of talented female writers. A look at recent publications in SF in Australia would probably lean heavily to a female predominance, in fact.

Q: And here’s the fun question. If you could book a trip on a time machine, where and when would you go, and why?

This is a tough one. So many possibilities. The answer that sprang immediately to mind is that I would go far into the future where time machines are ubiquitous, buy one and carry on exploring. But that’s like wishing for more wishes.

If I had just one time jump, much as it would be fantastic to go back and see ancient civilizations and all that, I would have to go forward. Jump a thousand years into the future, maybe, just to see what humanity has done with itself.

The dark fiction writer in me sees my arrival in a barren, wasted landscape, destroyed by the folly of man, where I would instantly die, poisoned by the toxic atmosphere of a world we’ve destroyed. But the optimist in me sees vast cities, interstellar craft exploring the galaxy and wonders of science that would seem like magic to us now. That’s something I would love to see. Still, I suppose I can just wait instead.

Giveaway Question: 

A copy of RealmShift to whoever can best capture the difference between horror and dark fantasy in a single sentence!

Catch up with Alan on Facebook

Catch up with Alan on Goodreads – http://www.goodreads.com/author/show/917335.Alan_Baxter

Catch up with Alan on Google+.

Follow Alan on Twitter. @AlanBaxter

Alan’s Blog.

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Filed under Australian Writers, Book Giveaway, creativity, Dark Urban Fantasy, Fantasy books, Gender Issues, The Writing Fraternity, Thrillers and Crime

Meet Anita Bell …

As the next of my series featuring fantastic female fantasy authors (see disclaimer) I’ve invited the talented powerhouse Anita Bell  to drop by.

Watch out for the give-away question at the end of the interview.

Q: First of all, major congratulations on Diamond Eyes winning the 2011 Hemming Award for Excellence in Science Fiction and Fantasy Themes. Since this is award is not necessarily awarded every year, winning must have come as a wonderful and welcome surprise. Did you consciously set out to explore the themes of race, gender, sexuality, class and disability in the book?

Actually, Diamond Eyes is a story about freedom and independence. But since my main character is a young woman who is blind, sexually inexperienced, and misdiagnosed by nursing staff who all treat her as crazy as well as handicapped, all those other themes grew organically in a way that also resonated strongly and unanimously with the judging panel.

Sad but true; while working for ten years in a mental health facility, I saw young men and women routinely castrated or medicated to suppress their sexual development, often without their knowledge or consent (due to the fact they’d been declared unfit to make such decisions on their own). So this part of Mira’s story is inspired by a young handicapped couple I met, who’d both been disabled through a contagious disease, but eventually regained their independence through modern medications and therapies – and when it came time that they’d recovered enough to have healthy children, it was too late. They’d both been “cared for” in their best interests.

Q: Following on from that, we were part of the QUT Cohort doing a Masters while writing a book. You produced Diamond Eyes. What was the research question you were exploring with this book?

Funny story: It started out as;

How can I crack the big markets overseas and for movies?

But since that was too big a question for a masters and required too many non-existent definitions about degrees of cracking, and how big is big etc, my lecturer dis-engorged the “choke” from my throat and encouraged me to narrow my focus to the more definitive;

How can a novel manuscript be ‘re-visioned’ to create a more satisfying draft.

(Where satisfying is defined by a self-assessed improvement that results in a commercial reward that had previously been unattainable.)

So the dissertation I wrote is called: Revisioning a “Novel Concept”: Beyond vision and revision to advanced editing strategies.

But since a lot of the research is drawn from the film industry, and from mega-best-selling works from overseas, and since a lot of the advanced editing strategies are topics that are never normally discussed in most writing workshops, it might as well be called;

Tips on how to crack the big markets overseas and for movies.

Sound familiar? Hehe.

David Meshow the theme for Diamond Eyes.

Q: You have a wonderful book trailer (LOL, my husband did it). The music is by David Meshow. Recently, we were on a panel together where you walked us through the process of finding the musician, approaching him and what has happened since. I’m sure people would find this fascinating, as it’s an example of cross-pollination between creative people.

Wow, yes! We’ve chalked up more views than a lot of big budget Hollywood movies and over 300 Youtube Awards in 17 countries, including;

#1 Most Discussed, worldwide in Feb & March

#2 Top Favourited, worldwide in Feb & March

#2 Top Rated, worldwide in Feb and March

Normally, I thrive in silence while I’m writing and editing, but at all moments in between I refill my creative energies by filling my home, my car – even my saddlebags with music.

Three of my characters love music, and play instruments, so I spent a lot of time on youtube looking for talented amateurs with the same kind of interests. People who could not only play, but play so well, they make it look easy by playing with a relaxed sense of humour. I also looked for people who could play with their eyes closed and invent their own tunes on a wide range of instruments, and that’s how I came across David Meshow – who can do all of that, and resembles Mira’s bodyguard in looks and personality. Best of all, he taught me out how to play electrical instruments outside, around a campfire – so I could make a scene work properly in the sequel Hindsight.

Then after being inspired for so long by David’s music, and his advice during my research stages, I wrote to ask permission to use one of his original instrumental pieces for the book trailer during the launch, because that piece has brilliant moments of violin and xylophone along with all the other instruments that gave it a unique offbeat quality which also dramatically suits the chase scenes at the end of Diamond Eyes, the novel.

But when I mentioned the novel and what it was about, he was so inspired by the unique concept behind Mira’s eyes that he offered to write a piece to suit her specifically.

And that’s what the Original Theme to Diamond Eyes is. Close your eyes, and you can image yourself blind. Open them again and imagine the world around you isn’t today. It looks how things did a century ago, even though you can still feel all the invisible *real* things around you – so if the three story building you’re in wasn’t there back then, well, now you’re standing in mid-air, looking down on the world. Living in two worlds at once. That’s the core idea, and David’s really nailed it with the official theme song. He’s got millions of fans now, but they all seem to agree. Diamond Eyes is the best yet, and I have to agree. But then, I’m biased! Hehe.

Q: I understand there are two more books in the Diamond Eyes series, Leopard Dreaming and Hindsight.  When is the last book of the trilogy due out? And what will you do after this?

Interesting question, because it’s not a traditional trilogy. Diamond Eyes is a stand-alone story set in an asylum, Serenity, which is on a sub-tropical island in Queensland.

Then the duet of sequels; Hindsight (just launched) and Leopard Dreaming (June 2012), are both set on the mainland, during a brand new stage of her life. They’re also much faster paced than Diamond Eyes.

If you liken them to movies in the film industry, then Diamond Eyes would be the pilot, and the next two would be the mini series. So you don’t necessarily need to read Diamond Eyes to enjoy Hindsight, but you’ll definitely need to read Hindsight before taking on Leopard Dreaming in the new year.

 

Q: In a post on the ROR site you say … ‘SF is not dead – from my perspective it’s morphing/maturing beyond the “pure” genre of science fiction into speculative fiction (the new meaning for SF[1][1]), in a way which offers room for a natural blend of genres which must also complement each other uniquely for each story. Effectively, this permits a wider scope for wider technologies and invites more possibilities and opportunities to cross-dress our genres.’ You go on to say …’ In our own fast-changing world, which is already rife with “fantastic” opportunities and “tomorrow technologies” is it any wonder that such elements are so readily accepted in the environment of a wider story – often even expected – by a market that can still shy away from health food if we label it health food? To many people, it seems that science fiction sounds more like “homework” while fantasy sounds like a “holiday”, and yet how many wouldn’t go anywhere on holiday without their mobile phone, ipod or laptop?’  I love this quote. How near future is the Diamond Eyes series? Would people feel at home in this world?

It’s tomorrow fiction, akin to James Bond, but nowadays, most genres need to be tomorrow fiction to some degree during the writing stages anyway, or else the technology can date the story too quickly and make it seem old fashioned too soon.

e.g.

So I’m constantly inventing new technologies based on my best guesses from existing products and research, and very often those “fantastic” new gizmos are hitting the market by the time the book is.

Off the top of my head, technologies that I invented for my stories in the last ten years, only to have them invented for real by the time the books launched, include;

  • Electronic pens, which convert any sketches into a text file or digital image.
  • Night Owls, a form of high tech night vision goggles which can also see through buildings using sound waves akin to mobile phone transmissions. Now also used in airports for full body scans.
  • NOR:STAN, the National Orbital Reconnaissance: See Through Anything Network. Same principle as nights owls, but also incorporating technology from the mining industry as a larger scale satellite system to help find lost bushwalkers, people trapped in burning buildings, and even terrorists in underground bunkers.

Even Mira’s Hue-dunnits – her electronic sunglasses which can change colour – are now in development as a fashion accessory to suit any wardrobe.

Q: You write in many genres under a number of pen-names, including a set of best-selling non-fiction titles, award winning adventures for children and even wickedly funny romance for women. You’ve always been a writer of exciting stories. What was the first thing you wrote seriously to submit?

A cosy crime story, called Budgie Soup, which was published in 5 countries, including the USA’s prestigious Murderous Intent Mystery Magazine, and won the Penguin Award, as part of the Scarlet Stiletto Awards, way back last millennium, in 1999.

Q: You say if you hadn’t been a writer you’d be …’ A cartoonist, vet or research scientist. And as it turns out, writing allows me to do bits of each!’ I can relate to research scientist. I think writers have to have enquiring minds. But cartoonist and vet? Why these two? Are you good at drawing and can you ‘talk to animals’?

Hehe… something like that.

To be a vet, we need to be astute at understanding body language – which works for characters as much as for animals. Pets can’t tell us where they’re hurting, and often characters can’t either. How we treat animals also helps to define us, not only as individuals, but also as a society.

Same goes with cartooning. It’s a social science that’s heavily dependent on observation of the human condition, as individuals, and in society, and how we perceive ourselves through the lens of humour also helps to define us.

To be a vet, we need great compassion, but humour is more often a dark art that can throw masks over fury, injustice and tragedy.

Q: You seem very comfortable writing a fast paced action thriller and moving across genres. A good book is a good book, no matter what the genre. Do you have any advice for writers to help them improve the pacing of their books?

Short sentences. Listen to men speaking, and compare to women on the same subject. Guys rarely use more than 8 words in a sentence at a time unless they’re explaining something, while women rarely use more than 12.

In action scenes, guys tend to get serious with only 2 to 6 words at a time, while women often clip down to 8 or less.

If you think that’s an exaggeration, watch all your favourite movies with the sound muted and subtitles on – and take notice how clipped conversations can get as the images speed up. Or take a ride on a train or bus with your ipod switched off so you’re listening to other people around you.

Q: You had a friend who attempted suicide when you were younger. You said …  ‘From the time we were both 10, we both had to ‘be mum,’ looking after our other brothers and sisters before and after school, and I had to manage my parents’ farm as well when they went away on business. On top of this we went to a high school where extreme pressure existed to be the best we could be. Students came from all over the world because of their high standards and we had to compete against them, too. My friend passed the breaking point.’ Are you tempted to write something that would reach out to teens who feel overwhelmed?

Yes, but not for a while. I can’t write really dark material unless I’m detached from tragedy myself and that’s definitely not this year. Otherwise, writing dark material only tends to take me down further, and once those chemicals in the brain start triggering the downward spiral, it’s a hard cycle to break free from again. And I’d never write that sort of thing without an uplifting ending, because it was soul-destroying misery-lit with downers for endings that drove my friend over the edge all those years ago. Don’t get me wrong, I love a good book that leaves me weepy, but if they’re not tears of hope, love or joy – if they leave me feeling empty and emotionally wretched – I’d never go anywhere near it. If I want to be depressed, I’ll read a newspaper.

Q: I was prompted to start this series of interviews because there seems to be a perception in the US and the UK that fantasy is a bit of a boy’s club. Do you think there’s a difference in the way males and females write fantasy?

Historically yes. Absolutely. But I’d like to think the last 10 years has become a bit more like this:

 

There’s been plenty of times when I’ve been told by readers that I must have had some of my stories written by my husband. Apparently, I’m not supposed to know how to field strip a Styr or Glock and put it back together again without it blowing up in my face. Or how to turn a gum tree into a signal tower, use scorpions and black light to navigate an underground tunnel, or the horns of the moon to tell north from south in either hemisphere.

At the other end of the scale, I know a subset of male writers who can really get inside a woman’s head well enough to write convincing female characters – but a lot more who can’t.

Q: Following on from that, does the gender of the writer change your expectations when you pick up their book?

Depends on the name they choose to put on the front cover, especially if it’s very feminine or hyper-masculine.

e.g.  Stephan King was always going to rule the page once he nailed his genre, and Karen Slaughter was never going to write little kiddies faerie tales.

Then there’s androgynous names, like AA Bell, Sonny Whitelaw, JR Ward etc, where the writing style is far more likely to appeal to both genres. Or at least try to, more often than not.

Q: And here’s the fun question. If you could book a trip on a time machine, where and when would you go, and why?

Ah, but if I told you, I’d create a paradox and a full set of alternative futures in another dimension. Just thinking about it is enough to split the future in two; one in which I do, and one in which I don’t.

Cool timing; there’s a new scientific theory (evolved from string theory, which in turn evolved from studies of nuclear explosions) that our present and past have already been shaped by our future in all its permutations in all dimensions. And that many things about Fate seem inevitable, because they’ve already been tampered with by those who’ve already travelled.

So assuming I’m one of them, and have already made the trip – or “will have going to have made it” at some time in the future (or alternate time line) – you can rest assured that all my friends will have nice things happen to them, while all those who’ve been nasty should be grateful I don’t hold grudges… much.

<insert evil laughter>

Give-away Question:

It’s said that everyone has something they’re naturally or uncannily good at – so good, you might call it a super power. Mira’s gift is seeing the past, her stalker can hear the future, while my own superpowers are merely green lights in heavy traffic and finding the perfect parking space when I most need it. (touch wood!)

So what’s your super power?

 

Catch up with Anita on Facebook

on GoodReads: www.goodreads.com/aabell

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Meet Kim Falconer …

As the next of my series featuring fantastic female fantasy authors (see disclaimer) I’ve invited the talented Kim Falconer to drop by.

Watch out for the give-away question at the end of the interview.

Thank you, Rowena, for inviting me here to chat. What a wonderful idea, fantastic female fantasy authors!

Q: In a post on Nicole Murphy’s blog, you talk about having a dream and realising your potential. Your dream was to be published. You list a series of questions starting with – Why do I want to be published? That culminated in the realisation that you wanted to ‘be of value’. This was a dream exercise from Jeanette Maw, the @goodvibecoach. Do you use exercises like this in your everyday life to understand what is motivating you?

Absolutely! I live by the old Delphi motto, (recently cited by the Oracle in The Matrix) Know Thyself. These are the two magic words for living an authentic life.

We always have a choice to either live by our ‘default’ – the cultural conditioning, expectations and assumptions – or to take time to really know our genuine core values (which may be wildly different than our cultures). Like writing a character in a book, when we know the motivation, we know what’s driving the action and when we know what’s driving the action, we know the destiny. At that point we can ask, is this what I want? If not, we can change course. We all have the power to be who we are and it begins always with know thyself.

Q: Your first trilogy, Quantum Enchantment, you splice DNA and travel between parallel worlds. It seems to be a mix of SF and fantasy. And your second trilogy, Quantum Encryption, picks up the threads again. With such complex story lines and time lines do you have a huge flow chart to keep track of everyone?

Much of my creation process takes place in my head but I do keep a little booklet for each series with pertinent data like my character’s sun signs and other relevant astrology, their histories (which may not appear in the book itself) and places, familiars, memories, dreams, appearance, and, most importantly, time lines. When you write time unfolding in both directions, it pays to keep a close watch on it or things can get away!

I ran into a bit of trouble in Arrows of Time, book #2 in the Quantum Enchantment series. For starters I found the English language lacked the words to express the meaning of symmetrical time (time flowing in both directions simultaneously). In a way Arrows was my answer to the hard problem of time at the ‘quantum’ level. It does go both ways and this books shows us what that might be like to live out.

You could say there was a flow chart for Arrows. For twelve months a whole sliding glass door next to my study was covered in it. Wild!

Q: In an interview on The Fringe you say: ‘People don’t realise writing is as challenging and complex as brain surgery. You have to work on the cadavers first, learn all the anatomy and physiology and bio-chem of prose and storytelling before you cut a live one! It takes practice. I mean, nonfiction is objective, intellectual but fiction asks for more. It asks for your whole heart.’ Writing from the heart, do you find yourself exploring similar themes in your books?

The themes in my books are multilayered. There is an adventure component which simply invites the reader to immerse and come along for the ride. There is also an intention to expand my readers’ consciousness through the experiences and conflicts they encounter. Some of the philosophies are heady, I am told. But the true essence of the books is the heart. Everything from the heart. I came from a nonfiction and academic publishing background and the whole enchantment for me in writing novels is to get out of my head and into my heart!

Q: You have your own astrology page, Falcon Astrology. You say astrology has always been a part of your life as your father used to ‘use horoscopes in conjunction with financial adventure and business management’. Your interest in astrology has taken a different path. You say you are interested in ‘ancient wisdom, mythology with mystical traditions, art and poetry’ and are ‘ever seeking the hidden worlds of the inner self’. I read somewhere that the constant connection to the internet (people in offices dipping into social networks on and off all day, people constantly using their phones to keep up with social networks), has led people away from connecting with their inner-selves. They live on the surface, never delving deep. This person recommended turning off all electrical devices for a weekend, every now and then, just to take the time to be in the present. Do you do this?

This is a good question. I don’t think superficiality and the internet are synonymous. I’m actually doing the Deepak Chopra Centre’s 21 day meditation challenge, and that of course, is online. It’s amazing. The meditations are wonderful and just knowing you are participating with hundreds of thousands of other mediators makes is quite a powerful collective exercise.

People will be connected or disconnected regardless of whether they have the internet or not. It’s a tool. It only matters how we use it.

For me, I’ve researched and written 7 books in four years and that’s pretty much an everyday dedication – me, a quiet room, my word processor, the internet. I do take time out daily to meditate, run on the beach, walk in nature, work on my rooftop garden  and be with friends, familiars and family. It’s all about creating balance, at least in my case (I can be a real workaholic!)

Q: In an interview on Beauty and Lace, while talking about growing up in the 60s and 70s you said: ‘I had to outgrow my cultural conditioning and adopt less biased beliefs to feel fully empowered. Having my son at age 29 was a huge turning point. When you have the creative force of Mother Earth flowing through you, it’s hard to feel like an underdog. Seriously enlightening transformation!

Currently being female brings to mind the Strength card in the deck of Tarot. Do you know the one? A woman is depicted with a lion, Ishtar’s beast. It’s an image of power and seduction, wisdom and instinct. I think that sums things up nicely.

Being a woman has also given me quite an edge writing these last six books. There are issues of gender that ring all the more true because they are written from direct experience.’ I notice you have strong female characters in ‘Journey by Night’. Was this something you set out to explore or did it just evolve as you wrote the book?

Journey by Night is the sixth and final book in the series and tells the story of Kreshkali and Nell, characters introduced in the very first book. Because of the incredible fortitude and strength of these two women already established, telling their story involved showing how they go that way, how they became the people readers know them to be. Already I have reports of a lot of tears and ah ha moments as some of those reasons behind their quirks, strengths, fears and magical inclinations are revealed. Very satisfying to read and write.

Did I plan them to be strong from the beginning? You bet!

I don’t know many women who really enjoy reading about victims that never find the wherewithal to beat their odds, at least, I don’t! My women are heroic, both vulnerable and hardened, smart and streetwise, loving and imaginative. . . you know. Women!

Q: The list of all the things you’ve studied is fascinating. ‘Alternative health, Jungian Psychology, art history, quantum physics theory, metaphysical philosophy, self-sufficiency farming, marine biology, veterinary nursing, dressage, animal husbandry, SCUBA diving, and nursing mothers counseling. I hold diplomas in herbal medicine, nutrition, vet nursing, farrier science, literature and am a board certified lactation consultant. I’ve also studied yoga, music (banjo, mandolin, guitar), mythology, tarot and of course, astrology’. You’ve been studying Iaido for seven years. I did five years Iaido. I loved it for the beauty of the movements and the philosophy behind it. Have you done other martial arts? (I also love yoga!).

I love that you found Iaido relaxing. I can see how, once the incredible awkwardness of the samurai sword is a little under control, it can be that way. But I had true warrior woman sensei and she was anything but relaxing! Having said that, my worlds, she was good and what I learned went well beyond the mechanics of the practice. Like you said, the philosophy and the heart of the sword –  so empowering and beautiful. I’ve done Aikido, Hop Kido, yoga, chi kung and archery. All very beautiful and centring disciplines. It’s the sword work that has supported my writing the most. I took it up so I could write authentic fight scenes!

Q: That’s a cool ‘time portal’ on the front page of your web page. Do you have a background in graphic design? (Reading on I discovered your son is an artist).

KimFalconer.com is a collaboration with my son. He’s the animator and graphic artist. I am the coder. I learned all the html/CSS in a  socio-technology degree through Open University Australia (another point for the internet – the course was offered at Curtin University on the other side of the continent!) I love web design. Having such a fabulous artist is a wonderful bonus!

John Waterhouse - The Siren

Q: John Waterhouse Painting, The Siren inspired your new trilogy Amassia.  It’s co-written with your cover artist/animator son, Aaron Briggs. (I love the Pre-Raphaelite artists and Waterhouse’s The Lady of Shalott is one of my all time favourites). I’ve discovered there are visual writers and aural writers. Aural writers like to play specific music while they write to get into the right frame of mind for each book. I’m guessing you are a visual writer?

Visual yes, but it’s more than that.

I’m really transcribing. The story plays out in front of my eyes. It’s like watching a film only I am fully immersed in all five senses. My only hope is that I can type fast enough to keep up with the action and the dialog!

I like silence and quietude. The more isolated I am, the more the inner world comes alive!

Q: I was prompted to start this series of interviews because there seems to be a perception in the US and the UK that fantasy is a bit of a boy’s club. Do you think there’s a difference in the way males and females write fantasy?

 

I would probably have to read a few thousand more books to answer that with any authority but with my experience, I can give you a firm, yes and no. Yes when we think of stories with first person protagonists like Charlaine Harris’ Sookie Stakchouse. A guy could write her (think of the men writing romance under pen names) but Charlaine’s perspective is very much a product of her society and very biased female. Just the way sookie stops to put on makeup (between vampire and were attacks), shave her legs and think about her sex life rings ‘female’. I don’t see Jim Butcher writing a woman that way. His Dresden, on the other hand, is American male. We see inside a man’s head, and it’s brilliant. (Same with China Mieville) In the case of these authors, you can feel the female vs. male style in the writing.

Then there are authors like David Eddings and Fiona McIntosh. They have both written fabulous fantasy tales and though there is a strong feeling of gender in the characters, you could swap author names and not know the difference in terms of being written by male or female.

As in any genre, the author brings themselves to the work and that means every book will be different, a unique expression which adds to the whole of the field.

Q: Following on from that, does the gender of the writer change your expectations when you pick up their book?

Ah, not until I begin to read. As I said above, sometimes the gender of the author seems relevant and sometimes not so much so. It depend a lot on the tense it’s written (first person and male by a male author gives us some hints right ways – we are in a guy’s head!). Stories that are more epic where the politics of the worlds drive the plot, the focus is off the characters, to some degree, and more on the stakes. With new authors, and familiar, I like to leave my expectations behind and let them surprise me.

Q: And here’s the fun question. If you could book a trip on a time machine, where and when would you go, and why?

That’s easy. I would go back to 575 BCE to ancient Mesopotamia and stand in front of the Ishtar Gate of Babylon. To walk into that city under the Ishtar Lions and visit the hanging gardens would be a trip of a thousand life times!

 Give-away Question:

If you were a young witch (male or female) training at Treeon Temple and about to meet your familiar – a creature you would be bonded with for life, in constant communion with and able at times to ‘trade places’ with, what would that creature be?

 

Follow Kim on Twitter:  @KimFalconer

Catch up with Kim on Facebook.

See Kim’s Daily Astro Flash here.

Subscribe to Kim’s New Moon News Letter.

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Filed under Australian Writers, Book Giveaway, Characterisation, creativity, Fantasy books, Female Fantasy Authors, Gender Issues, Inspiring Art, Nourish the Writer, SF Books, Writing craft