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Archive for the ‘On Writing: General’ Category

Aidan Doyle is a Clarion South 2009 survivor. Quotes for which he will be remembered are: “Bears are my unicorns”, “The zombies didn’t work for me from a programming perspective”, and “Needs more monkeys”. He is a traveller, writer, computer programmer and is publishing new stories at a rate of knots and working on a novel. I suspect an army of super monkey slaves. 

His work has been published in Fantasy Magazine, Weird Tales, Strange Horizons, Borderlands, Aurealis … and more!

1. If I wasn’t a writer, I would be …
In my high school careers class we had to compile a list of five jobs we thought might be interesting. I chose: computer games programmer, writer, actor, board games designer and security guard. I worked for a few years as a computer games programmer before moving into web site programming.  I don’t know why I listed security guard –
perhaps I was envisioning a life of foiling supervillains rather than patrolling cold warehouses.

I’ve visited several countries where for the purposes of filling in immigration forms, I am most definitely not a writer.  In those cases I list my occupation as pixel-pushing monkey wrangler.

2. Does every story really need 32% more monkeys?
Scholars have long debated the percentage of monkeys needed to provide a rich and satisfying tale.  Personally I think that adding 20% more monkeys after the first draft is the secret to crafting a literary masterpiece.  This excludes cases where you have zero monkeys in the first draft (20% of zero is still zero).  But if you were serious about writing, why would you have a zero monkey draft in the first place?

3. You get to be invisible for one day – where do you go, what do you do?
When I lived in Japan, I visited a ninja master who was training an army of monkey assassins in the art of stealth.  But the monkeys ended up just using their power of invisibility to play pranks on each other.  I suspect I would behave in a similar way to the monkeys.

4. My Snoopy Dance sale was …
When I was 17, I sold an article to my favorite magazine at the time – Dragon, the American role-playing magazine.  That was my first sale.

5. Donuts or danishes?
Donuts.  Is there anything they can’t do?

His revolution is here, but will not be anthologised … merely blogged.

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Mondy (him on the left, tormenting Rob Shearman) has written Dr Who stories featuring the Dr and Bernice Summerfield for Big Finish Productions. He’s been Tuckerised in Kate Orman’s novel Blue Box.What else do you need to know? Is that not enough to elevate him to the position of demi-god in the Nerdverse? I thought so. He also has opinons. Lots of them. About everything. And he shares here. I say this not to mock, but to genuinely point you in his direction for his opinions are informed, intelligent and nicely articulated. So much so that he was nominated for a William Atheling Jnr award for criticism – and you don’t get that just for telling someone their ass looks big in those pants.

1. What was your first experience of Dr Who?
You know what really annoys me?  Doctor Who fans who can pinpoint that first time when they first saw the show or read their first Doctor Who novelisation.  I mean, I have this vague memory of being shit scared by the rubbery fake spiders in Planet of Spiders (which was being repeated on the ABC in 1977 when I was three years old) and I know Genesis of the Daleks frightened me to the point where I actually lived the cliché by hiding behind my parent’s couch, but there’s no way I could put a hand on my heart and say either of those events was my first Doctor Who experience.

That said, I do distinctly remember the first Target Doctor Who book I bought:  It was Nightmare of Eden (I was drawn to the novel by that crappy monster on the cover (a Mandrel) and the dour look on Tom Baker’s face).   But the cover that excited me the most when I was about seven years of age (and not longer after I bought Nightmare of Eden) was Death to the Daleks.  I mean just look at it – an explodey Dalek all the colours of the rainbow.  I mean, what seven year old kid wouldn’t be excited?! 

2. How did you end up writing Dr Who books for Big Finish?
Basically, it’s all Rob Shearman’s fault.  But then, what isn’t these days.  Anywho, on a visit to the UK in 2003, Rob introduced me to Ian Farrington one of the editors on the range of the Short Trips Doctor Who anthologies.  We get on so well that on that very night, between our fourth and fifth pint (and by Christ was I sloshed so it’s a miracle I remember what was said) he offered me the opportunity to write him a story for his new Doctor Who anthology.  The great thing was that it was more than just the chance to pitch.  He wanted a story, and he didn’t care if my first few ideas were non-starters.

In the end I wrote eight Doctor Who short stories (the first two with Danny Oz, who was lovely to work with).  I even wrote a glorious (but genuinely awful) bit of fanwank that featured both the 7th and 8th Doctors.  Writing that scene where the two Doctors bitch at each other was a moment pure of fangasm, even if I knew it had no artistic merit at all. 

Probably my favourite story out of the bunch was called Direct Action, where a time travelling film director is given the task of filming a less than famous advisor during the war at Gallipoli.   It not only gave me the chance to write for Tom Baker’s Doctor (my all time fave… yeah, I know… cliché) but it also gave me an excuse to actually research what the ANZACs faced at Gallipoli.  I think it’s the best thing I’ve ever written.

3. You get to be Dr Who for the day: who do you choose as your companion and where do you go in the whole of time and space?
Well, I’d like to go with my son and visit every single major Australian sporting event.  I mean, how cool would it be to sit in the crowd with Joshi, watching Don Bradman and the Invincibles beat the Poms for the Ashes in 1948.  Or being one of the 121,000 people at the MCG to watch the Carlton Football Club come from 44 points down at half time to trounce Collingwood in the 1970s AFL Grand Final.  And how awesome would it be to be standing shoulder to shoulder with Bob Hawke when Australia II won the America’s Cup!?!? 

Come on people, stop rolling your eyes.  Sport is GREAT!!!! 

4. If I didn’t write, I would …
Probably play more computer games. 

Actually, without getting all self confessional here, but the thing is I don’t have the desire to write that much fiction these days.  I get the odd idea from time to time, but mostly I’m interested in writing reviews (and the odd critical essay) on my LiveJournal (http://mondyboy.livejournal.com).  I was overjoyed when it was nominated for the William Atheling Jnr award for criticism.  And it was at that point that I realised that I really do like telling the world (or at least the 140 people that read my LJ) my opinions.

That said, I probably will get back to writing fiction one of these days.  It’s just not my focus anymore and I’m cool with that.

5. Donuts or danishes?
Everyone in my family has said Danish.  I think they’re all crazy.  The answer, of course, is Donut.  There’s nothing like a just out of the oven ponchka absolutely bursting with jam.  Especially when you squirt that jam everywhere!

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So, you write a first draft. Then you put it in the bottom drawer, let it cool its heels for a while, see. Make it nervous. The more time it spends alone, the more it starts to need some human interaction. The more time you leave it there, the more you think about it, get inside its head. The more time it spends alone, the more eager it will be to talk. Maybe you bring a friend along for the interrogation, play good cop-bad cop, see. Slap it around a little … Oh, wait.

Sorry, this isn’t the ‘write a cheesy cop drama script’ post, is it?

It’s the ‘questions to ask your first draft’ post.

Okey dokey.

As I said before being possessed by the spirit of James Cagney, when you’ve written a first draft you need to look over it with an editor’s eyes. It’s best not to steal actual editors’ eyes – they get upset and I won’t be doing that again – and it’s also something you need to develop for yourself. Again, do not attempt to steal then transplant actual editors’ eyes. One of the things you do can to assist in your own improvement as a writer is to make a list. Check it twice. A list of questions you need to ask when you’re revisiting the first draft. As always, this isn’t law (or indeed lore), just some advice based on my experiences, which others may find helpful. I long ago accepted that my function in life was to act as a warning to others.

1. Dialogue: Do all my characters sound the same? Do they all use the same quirks of speech, slang, rhythms, cadences? If I were to be locked in a dark room with all my characters, would I be able to distinguish them, one from the other, by their how they spoke or would they all sound like some polyglot-esperanto mishmash? This doesn’t mean giving one an outrageous accent, for accents also hold nasty pitfalls for the writer (newbie and experienced).

2. Characters: Are my characters stereotypes? Have I made them interesting? If they are not sympathetic, then at least are they engaging enough to keep a reader reading? Have I given each of them some little personality distinctions so that a reader doesn’t think the Clone Wars has come to my story?

3. Descriptions: Are they convincing? Are my descriptions of actions true to life? i.e. if you’re not sure about something you’ve described a character doing, then try to do it yourself. If you put your back out/chop off a finger doing it, then chances are you need to rethink what you’ve written. Also, your descriptions of physical surroundings – are they (a) believable, (b) accurate (if you’re writing about a real place, make sure you get things like the name of a capital city right, correct weather patterns, vegetation, flora, etc), and (c) sketched skilfully and not overdone.

4. Plot consistencies: Is your plot consistent? Does a character’s motivation suddenly and mysteriously change halfway through the story for no reason? Does the beginning of the story match the end? i.e. Does the story you set out to tell in your first paragraph relate to the end of the story you’ve told? Is everything that was promised paid off? Have you completely forgotten to finish a character’s arc? Are there holes through which one could drive a relatively large track? At the end of things, does your story make sense? Is there an internal logic which will be obvious to a reader, not make s/he scratch her/his head in confusion?

5. The textual stuff: This covers things like repetitions of words and phrases, i.e. those that are not intentional and carefully considered for reasons of rhyme and cadence and layering of your prose. Also, what are your crutch words, the ones you use over and over because you’re a lazy writer? Create a search and destroy list that you can check over time you write a story (please, no matter who you are, put “suddenly” at the top). Do you have something that happens in every one of your stories? Mine is having my characters eating bread and cheese. This reflects my obsession with bread and cheese, but I realise that in draft number two, I need to change the menu.

Sooooo, these are just the ones off-the top of my head. Add your own. These are also first principles kinds of things, the stuff we sometimes forget, but should be running like a background program all the time. A list beside the desk is a good reminder. Off you go – go all Hot Fuzz on that story’s ass.

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I’ve had a few of the same conversations in the past month and I generally, eventually, take that as a sign to ‘blog on the theme’. So, today’s theme is this one: authors usually don’t have boxes of books in their garage, waiting for you to come and ask them for a free copy*.

Here’s the thing: as an author the number of author copies of your book you get will depend entirely on your status, earning power and, sometimes, the clauses you’ve specified in your contract.

Relatives and close friends are particularly bad for this – and it’s really bad form especially if they’ve seen you go through the lean times when you were eating the cardboard remains of the cracker packet coz it was all that was left in the pantry and it kinda still smelled like the crackers. The assumption that authors all make big money and can suddenly start bathing in Moët is sadly off-base. After your first book, you might be able to afford some butter to spread on the cardboard, but there will be no jam for an while to come and certainly no caviar.

So, if an author offers you a free copy of their book, say “thank you” and be grateful. But, for the love of all that’s holy or otherwise, please don’t go sidling up and saying “Sooooo, how about a free copy of your book, grandma/uncle/distant cousin’s dog manicurist?”

It is bad form. It is cheap and nasty. It sucks.

Put your hand in your pocket and go buy a copy of the book so the impoverished author gets her/his miniscule royalty payment and can afford to buy real crackers. Support the writer and the publishing industry.

* Unless they have self-published and then they won’t be wanting to give you a copy for free, coz, y’know, it’s their bread and butter.

PS: I believe the photo is a Spencer Platt.

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Sophy Adani’s collection, The Last Outpost and Other Tales, will be published by Hadley Rille Books in 2011. Her short fiction has appeared in journals such as The Tangled Bank, Origins, Alternative Coordinates, Something Wicked, to name but a few. She has also edited Destination Futures with Eric T. Reynolds. Here she speaks about being a writer, themes, Frank Herbert and custard-filled donuts. 

1. I first knew I was a writer when …
. . . I got my third acceptance, although the very first one was the most memorable. Still, I had this thought at the back of my mind that one acceptance could be a fluke. Also, by then the rejections were piling up, and it took some effort to keep sending the stories out. That part was more difficult than writing; it still is.

But even before that, I’ve always been writing. Being a visual person, my creative outlet was painting at first, and every painting had a story attached to it. They all clamored in my head for years, decades, until one day I felt that my head would explode. And that’s when I started writing seriously.

2. I love/hate writing to a theme …
. . . love it when I can come up with a plot that has a positive resolution. Or at least there is a shred of hope in the end. I find the end-of-everything themes too depressing, especially when it’s the end of the Earth or Humanity or the universe. I love futuristic themes in which biology and astronomy influence the characters’ lives.

3. If I could be any other writer than myself, I would be …
. . . Frank Herbert comes to mind, even though I don’t try to emulate his style. I love world building, and his Dune series has that, carefully interwoven within the factions of galactic society, human nature, and human adaptation. The combination of his world building, character development, and plot took my breath away. I have read the series three times already and I’m sure I will read it again.

4. A story can always be improved by the addition of …
. . . wit or humor. And the proper placement of commas. World building. Emotional depth of characters. A program that would delete overused phrases and pedantic exposition.

5. Donuts or danishes?
. . . if it has to be one of these, I’d say donuts with custard filling, but I prefer custard filled puff pastry.

She blogs here.

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Marshall Payne has posted his query letter here.

It is well worth having a look at, as it’s what got him representation by the Donald Maass Literary Agency – well, that and the fact his writing rocks. So, go to his Super-Sekrit Clubhouse and learn something that may well help!

And how about the coffee-monkey? I love the coffee-monkey.

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Cat Sparks is an award-winning writer and editor, talented photographer and graphic designer, and owner of THREE cats – and author Robert Hood :-). She was one of the inaugural Clarion South grads in 2007, a Writers of the Future winner, and has a small but significant pyramid in her backyard built from her nine Ditmars and four Aurealis Awards.

1. I knew I was a writer when …
… glancing at my desk one day, not so very long ago, I saw that it was piled high with ruled, A4 note pads, each one dog eared, coffee ringed and filled with crappy handwriting. As well as these (and the inevitable laptop) were graphs and charts, plotting the peaks and troughs of my protagonist’s journey. Goodness! I thought. That’s all starting to look a bit serious.

2. The worst sentence I ever wrote was …
… most of them prior to 2001. Here’s a sample: ‘she said she saw mirrors in the sky but I saw only reflections’ Thankfully I grew out of my poetic phase. Today, most of my sentences contain explosions, car chases, knife fights or descriptions of people with really bad hair.

3. How many cats are essential to the production of an award-winning story? 
Well, as you know, you can never have too many. Unless you have too many in which case you’re probably a crazy cat lady. I tend to write at my best with three. Any more than that and the chair tips over.

4. If I wasn’t a writer I would …
… have time to read the whopping massive stack of books beside my reading chair. Also: renovate the house, weed the garden, visit my non-writing friends, travel to exotic countries, be wearing something a little more classy than daggy tracksuit pants, try my hand at hot air ballooning, parachuting, hang gliding and a bunch of other dangerous, aerodynamic addictions, and I would most definitely get a real job so as to earn enough money to finance all of the above.

5. Donuts or danishes?
I am appalled by the lard content of question five but I must confess to having a bit of a thing for those sugar coated donuts with the squishy red jam at the centre. Danishes would, of course, have been the more elegant response.

She can be found here.

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