May the 4th book be with you

gahsafdsgElm Stone Saga fans, the moment has finally arrived!!!! The fourth book in The Elm Stone Saga, ‘Haunted’, is here. Here’s a little interview I did with the fabulous author, Shayla Morgansen herself.

What inspired The Elm Stone Saga?

Two things. One, the then-impending completion of the Harry Potter series, which I was finding difficult to replace. Two, a baby names book I bought to help me find names for my Sims. I found Aristea and Renatus in there, along with almost the entire cast, and started imagining them as characters. That’s why all the weird names!

What authors inspire you, and why?

So many, where do I start? JK Rowling is my hero because of her tenacity and the impact she had on reading and literacy. Laini Taylor and Catherynne M Valente make me want to write better, every time I read a single gorgeously crafted line of theirs… their story worlds are so beautiful and every word is a delight. And Jodi McAlister, because she manages to strike a balance between academic life and writing fantasy novels!

What was the first thing that drew you into the fantasy world?

sdgasgg.jpgI always watched and read fantasy and science fiction. My childhood movies were Star Wars, Independence Day, Stargate, The Labyrinth… Plus The Swan Princess and a big helping of Disney… That’s why I’m so well-adjusted. For books, especially long magical series that drew me totally in, it would have to be The Chronicles of Narnia.

What book is your most anticipated read for the rest of this year?

Other than the forty-something unread books sitting on my bookshelf already? Wayward Son by Rainbow Rowell.

What was your favourite read of 2018?

Well, that’s too hard. Either Ink and Bone by Rachel Caine or Valentine by Jodi McAlister. Or Illuminae. Or Geekerella. I don’t know. I’m a picky reader – if it doesn’t have magic, spaceships or police, I’m out – so I love nearly everything that makes it onto my very exclusive list!

How did you decide on the cover of your books?

Painfully, or so my cover artists would say. I’m picky with everything. I knew I didn’t want to have people on them and I wanted a symbol. My amazing artist friends who developed the covers helped me to think about what symbol matched the content of each book.

agfagasgIf your book series was to be a movie, who would you cast? Personally I think the actor who played Victor Aldertree on Shadowhunters would be perfect for Qasim.

I remember you saying that! Maybe Theo James as Renatus? Though I think the books are better suited to a series than to film.

What do you want readers to take away from reading The Elm Stone Saga?

Enjoyment? There isn’t really any deliberate moral or message to the series – more of an exploration of my own into the different ethical perspectives. Is an action inherently right or wrong? Is its rightness determined by its outcome? Or is something more or less right if it affects people you love? These are questions my characters struggle with and I think we all can relate, so I hope readers get a moment of escape when they’re reading about fictional people dealing with these worries in fictional settings.

What advice do you have for aspiring authors?

Take yourself seriously, or no one else will – but not so seriously that you forget that this is supposed to be fun. Language should be a delight. If you don’t love writing, your approach needs a look-over.

Finally, can you tease use about any upcoming projects you have on the horizon?

agf.jpgI always have too much going on! Aside from my non-fiction works coming out over the next year, my massive unfinished fanfiction and the research arising from my ongoing study, I do have a new fiction series I’ve started working on. Think The X-Files­ meets Grimm – supernatural police procedural. But it’s a while off, and I’m committed to completing The Elm Stone Saga for now.

~J.J. Fryer

You can find out more about Shayla Morgansen at her website, on The Elm Stone Saga’s Facebook page, or by following her on Instagram. All four books in The Elm Stone Saga are available from our store.

You can follow JJ Fryer on Twitter and Instagram. His debut novel Inner Reflection is available from our store.

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What does your Character Represent?

When you answer this question, you hesitate. What does this character represent? Why am I writing this character this way? I will have to confess that coming up with a theme of your character is tricky, but I believe a well-developed character grows when they have a theme.

Examples can include:

ich.jpgIchigo Kurosaki from Bleach – his theme was to protect. He wanted to protect a mountain load of people after his mother died protecting him. It is an important note of him throughout the series, his downfall, however was the ending when his character was literally trashed to the point of no return.

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Emma Swan from Once Upon a Time – as one of my favourite characters, I couldn’t not include her. Her theme is about being the saviour, the product of True Love (A.K.A the daughter of Snow White and Prince Charming). She starts off as a lost girl, an orphan who believed that no one could love her. As the seasons go on, she finds her parents, reunites with her son that she sent away and the love of her life. This allows her to grow into her theme, which falls into hope. Hope that could grant the happy endings.

A theme of a character can tell us so much about them. It could range from anything – from their name, unique marks, personality traits and even their thoughts. We can see their problems and their complications through the story, especially following with the ‘show don’t tell’ rule. It brings out their relationship with other characters that we probably wouldn’t see for others.

By showing us the representation, this can also help the reader identify with the characters. I believe that many people feel inspired when the main character is played by someone who the audience can connect to. It was the reason why Wonder Woman became a massive success; it most likely helped a lot of young girls find the strength to do the right thing.

When creating a theme for your character, my advice would be for you to look at your character truly. Learn about them. Just because you created by them it doesn’t mean you know them. They have different experiences than you and me – unless, the story is about yourself then that’s a different conversation.

I would love to see all writers to create a theme of their characters, to help support someone for when they need a helping hand.

~ Annalise

Annalise is the author of the Sacred Stone books

Visit Annalise’s bio here

Hemmingway Was Wrong About a Few Things

Hemingway On SafariIt is customary to hold the great authors up as the sources of all wisdom in our craft and we can’t have a conversation about the greats and the wisdom they bestowed on us without bringing up Ernest Hemmingway. So, despite my status as a mere mortal I would like to raise a few objections to some of the facts that we now take for granted because a genius said them.

Keep in mind I’m not saying he was wrong, but I would argue that his advice was only right for people like him. He was a genius with a pen, but we are not all Hemmingway. The good, even great writers of our age are all very different people so what worked for him won’t necessarily work for us.

First of all, the first draft of everything isn’t shit. That’s so incredibly unfair and dismissive of one of the most beautiful things a writer can make. Yes, the first draft is often rough and messy but it’s full of great things. It’s full of half formed ideas, fledgling characters and silly throwaways that you put in just because they made you smile. Maybe those things will be built on in later drafts and maybe they’ll be removed completely but they are beautiful in their imperfections.

I cannot urge you strongly enough to treasure your first draft. You don’t need to overedit it, examine it or make it perfect but as you write it appreciate how wonderfully flawed it is. Your first draft might be the truest expression of who you are as a writer, with all of who you fear you are and all you hope to be included.

Supernatural-Authors-Montage1This isn’t just about Hemmingway either, it’s about all the greats. A lot of great writers gave a lot of very good advice but not all of it applies to you. People give advice based on what’s worked for them in the past and maybe it helped Hemmingway to believe his first draft was going to be garbage no matter what he did but that doesn’t mean that’ll help you. You can take advice from Stephen King, Shakespeare, Terry Pratchett, all of the above or none of them but the idea of idolising great writers until everything they say is unquestionable gospel is harmful to you as a writer.

Unless I’m wrong in which case feel free to ignore me too.

I’m not saying you need to trust yourself only, just pick and choose the advice that’s right for you. My first draft is my precious baby and building on it is an act of nurturing and love that I couldn’t hope to do if I really believed it was shit.

Oh, and don’t write drunk, even Hemmingway rarely actually did that according to his family. He drank after he was finished for the day or during particularly foul cases of writer’s block.

Struggling with the Cursed Writer’s Block?

Believe it or not, but everyone has it at some stage of their writing career. Especially to me – sometimes things get in the way of life when I can’t focus on anything in my story writing, then I go check for cute animal pictures as a distraction. Let me tell you a few things that helped me through the stages of writer’s block.

First of all – Your path

Now I’m a writer who has to have a plan for their story. If not, then it ends up dead before it began. If you’re like me who needs to have this path set out for them then I strongly recommend for you to stop and read over your work. One of the major things about my block is because something is missing in the story or I could perhaps extend a part for another character that I forgot to include three chapters ago. So if your path is going in the direction of destruction and you don’t like it – cut it out and do it again. I know this is a painful process, but there’s still a chance you can reuse the deleted part for a future scene.

Inspiration 

Have you ever been in a place or heard a song that simply spoke to you? You could be inside a nice bar and an idea starts to merge in your head. Commonly, many writers get inspiration from their dreams. Ideas are born through inspiration and by watching or listening to the world around us, we can get bring life to an idea that has been dormant for so long. Most of my scenes are brought on by music, so perhaps if you’re struggling even with the music you have currently then you look up for something refreshing. I work best with instrumental music, as sometimes I’m listening too deeply with the words and I may accidentally write the lyrics instead of my intended part. So, my advice for inspiration is to go outside to take a break from your writing in order to get a better feel of new ideas.

Looking from a Different Point of View

Sometimes, even I admit that this is a little challenging. When I offer my work to read, there are plenty of people who care about me who are willing to sell their arm to do so in a heartbeat. The problem lies within your bond with other readers however. If the story isn’t good and readers are just saying that it is then it’s tough to be able to work from it. Yet if there’s honesty and it’s bad, then the critique can embarrass you and shy you away from the chance. I won’t deny it – it is hard to give your work to someone and get feedback, but my advice would be for you to ask the reader of what they think needs to happen. It is however, completely up to you whether you take their advice of the story as you have the final say.

Writing Small Projects

I know that not many people are a fan of changing topic so suddenly… which is why I included it as a small project. A perfect example would be a possible snippet of your story that has nothing to do with the main plot (A.K.A – fanfiction involving your characters). While I rely on this from time to time, this isn’t my most used tactic. I often do alternate scenarios or side stories of the characters I never use. It is a skill that I often enjoy and sometimes it brings me back to my story which is something that we all need sometimes.

~ Annalise

Annalise is the author of the Sacred Stone books

Visit Annalise’s bio here

My 10 Step Novel Writing Process

In my opinion the most important thing for an author is to have a consistent project process. This process is likely to be different between each author. This month I thought I might share my process.

Step 1: Idea Formation

Before you can start writing a story of any kind, you need to at least have an idea for what you’re writing. Formulating the ideas after first having them and working out if the ideas are viable enough to turn into a story. I often find that my ideas come from dreams. I then spend time the next day going over the ideas and stretching them until they become something more. Once I have worked out if they might work as story ideas then I move onto the next step.

Step 2: Research

After formulating my ideas into a novel/series idea I begin researching the topic and start building the scene for it. If the project is set in a specific time period, this means I need to research the time period, the way people dressed, the way they talked and the various social statuses involved with the time period. Through this research characters can be made and worlds created.

1_rdhhfkls-0l0xuzighwyzgStep 3: Storyboarding

After researching, I start storyboarding my ideas. Formulating a basic storyline for the novel at the very least. I am not much of a planner so I usually only start with a story premise and a few milestones. Everything else I leave up to in-the-moment creativity.

Step 4: 1st Draft – The Skeleton

This is the very first basic draft of the story. I do my best to make sure the general story gets down onto the paper. It doesn’t need to have fantastic character and story development as it is only me shovelling sand into the sandpit. I aim to have this draft at approximately 80,000 words which is more than what I expect my novel’s final word count to be. The word count is likely to fluctuate as the writing process continues.

Step 5: 2nd Draft – Major Storyline Rework

I usually leave the project for a few months before returning for this step. For the 2nd draft I completely rewrite the story, this time with the original draft on the same screen. Using the original draft I rework the entire novel and restructure the storyline to a point where the major plot points are better developed.

157195302Step 6: 3rd Draft – Minor Storyline Rework

Again I leave a bit of time between these two steps. Maybe a month though as we are only focusing on the minor points of the story and making sure the characters are well developed. This process usually takes three times reading through the entire novel to ensure everything is as it should be for the story to either tie up the loose ends and be over or to be tied up enough to be over but also loose enough to continue into the sequel. After this step is finally complete, congratulations you have a finished manuscript… But wait… you still have to edit it.

Step 7: 4th Draft – My Edit

Leaving the manuscript for a while is the best way to ensure you come at it with a somewhat fresh perspective. A fresh perspective is fairly important as otherwise it is difficult to spot grammatical mistakes. I am awful at spotting mistakes in my own work. But going over it yourself first is a good idea, that way you have at least tried to find the more obvious mistakes. Besides there are other people who are more than capable of editing your manuscript for you.

download (4)Step 8: 5th Draft – Editor’s Edit

So, you’ve now written your manuscript and have gone over it with editing in mind. Now it’s time to hand it over to a professional editor. I was lucky enough that I had already found Ouroborus Books by this point with The Stray so I was able to get Sabrina to edit my book as part of my publishing costs. But if you haven’t found your publisher yet this can be a bit more difficult. Have a look around your local area and even online for editors of your genre. You can expect to pay several hundred dollars for an 80,000 word manuscript. But it is worth the money if you plan to self-publish. It might not get rid of all the errors, but it will definitely get an objective point of view and the editor will do their best to make sure your story is the best it can be.

Step 9: Final Draft

Usually after you get your manuscript back from the editor, it will be a marked-up version. This means they have gone through and made all kinds of notes, whether using the Microsoft Office Suite or pen to paper. It is now your job to go through the mark-up and make the changes. Most them will just be an instant yes to change. Others however may ask you to rephrase things or explain something better, more information. Either way, if you have any questions, follow up with your editor and they should be more than happy to explain their intentions. For this I recommend having an editor that uses track changes in Microsoft Word, otherwise the pen and paper mark-up is such a gruelling process and not one I look forward to.

Step 10: Prepare for Publication

After the entire editing process is done, it’s time to prepare your manuscript for publishing. If you have a publisher, they will complete this process for you. However, if you are self-publishing this can include cover design, manuscript formatting for different platforms, design choices, promotional items and events. Social media advertising. Pretty much everything you can think of that will help you sell your book. You want to be in everybody’s faces, but not to the point where your notifications get turned off.

~Amanda

Amanda is the author of the White Wolf Trilogy

Visit Amanda’s bio here

Not All Who Wander Are Lost

I’ve just gotten back from a magical three weeks in Europe on the cusp of winter, and as soon as I finish this blog post and all my photos finish downloading off my phone, I’m switching off all other applications and opening my book draft. Sorry in advance for the short post.

I want to talk a little about the ways, both positive and negative, that travelling affects and influences my writing practices. While there are uncountable ways in which seeing the world opens my eyes to new experiences, other ways of doing things, exotic places and unexpected points of view for me to explore in my stories, it is also a simple fact that three weeks wandering the world is three weeks not working directly on the book. Some writers can write anywhere. They use beautiful notebooks, curl up in cafes and parks in stunning cities and let their pens flow. As much as I romanticise this idea and collect notebooks for this exact purpose, it doesn’t happen, because in flow-state I write too long, too fast and too intensively for my hand to keep up with my mind. I need a PC. I need a desk and my own space. I need my music and my drafting documents, which are on my PC, which is on my desk, in my own space.

47688195_2047288622031528_5060002057767878656_nSo a holiday from my life is also a holiday from my hobby. I think in a couple of ways this is a good thing. In one respect, I can’t feel guilty about wasting time not working on my book, because I physically can’t work on it. It’s out of my hands. All I can do is be in the moment of where I am, enjoying my holiday all the more, and spend my dull times – in transit or in lines, so many lines… – with my stories in my imagination, where I can’t write through my ideas but have to let them ruminate and reshape. This gives me more time to consider alternatives and how this could impact the storyline and my characters before I get home to write it down.

As mentioned above, a big way in which travelling affects my writing is indirectly through me. Travel changes a person. You see other ways of living, you see poverty, you see extravagant wealth, you see beauty in art and horror in battle-scarred churches. You fall in love with languages you’d not heard before and feel desperately vulnerable in cities where you thought you’d feel safe. You learn about historic poor choices and how these have echoed through time and been commemorated in monuments and rituals. You wonder how the world could ever have let these things happen and realise they’re not so different from what goes on today. Travel shows you patterns of human experience, similarities and difference all at once, and as a result you grow. It comes through in your writing as you mature and increasingly desire to explore these complicated elements of humanity. In my Elm Stone Saga, readers will have noticed the shift of focus from schoolgirl concerns in the first book to more political and ethical matters as the series progresses. This isn’t something I set out to do; just the natural process of a maturing author using my story world as a medium to explore the issues I’m exposed to in my own experience.

Travel also provides new settings. I fell hard for Prague the first time I visited the Czech Republic three years ago, and it found its way into the final scene of Unbidden. Years earlier, the first city I visited outside of Australia and New Zealand was Paris, and though I was sick and jetlagged and sixteen, I was enamoured of the tall narrow apartment we stayed in, with its tiny retrofitted one-person elevator and antique iron staircase railing and the uneven flooring and the narrow, cobbled street it was on. When I started writing Chosen just a couple of months later, it was this picture that came to mind when writing Emmanuelle’s Parisian home. Her scenes were later cut out or trimmed to make way for Aristea and Renatus’s storyline, but it was the place that provided the authentic details to that flash of inspiration.

The human brain is incredible but flawed, and it can’t keep all the data it processes in its repositories. It has to cull, and specifics of place and experience are lost. How the buildings don’t quite line up, all built at different times with no standardisation, and the bicycle chained up out front has a twisted front wheel from being run over and still isn’t claimed after three days. How the rain drips through the hop on/hop off bus’s canvas roof for so long that a wave pool is generated at your feet by the movement of the vehicle and the headphone jack sparks a little so you opt to go without audio guide this time. How the wintry sun reflects off distant snow-capped hills or how the first view of Rome from the Palatine Hill took your breath away.

Because I can’t not write at all, and because I have all those notebooks I can’t write my stories in, I keep a travel journal for all those little details of place and experience. What I saw, heard, smelt, felt; my impressions, my associations, what I expected and what I learned. I keep the habit of diary-writing while I’m away to help organise my thoughts but also to give myself something to read later that isn’t Wikipedia or TripAdvisor. It’s hard to flesh out a place you’ve never visited – a challenge I accidentally gave myself when I first cast all my original Elm Stone settings. In future I want the descriptions to come from my own experience, to mirror what I saw and knew there, and I have several times pulled my journal off the shelf (it lives next to my home copy of Unbidden) to revisit my words from Prague. You can’t get that personal research from staying at home and working on the book, unfortunately, so while three weeks wandering the world is three weeks not working directly on the book, it is certainly not three weeks lost.

~ Shayla

Shayla is the author of the Elm Stone Saga

Visit Shayla’s bio here

Creation Evolution

Often people want to know how I get my ideas for books, or how I put them together with a few rough ideas. For this blog, I’ll tell you how my latest book came together.

I was listening to a true crime podcast and they were investigating a crime that happened 30 years prior. They hired cadaver dogs to search a forest in order to smell for human remains. On the way home I was thinking about the person who trains the dogs and if you were a serial killer, would you want those bodies to be found? I knew from other podcasts that sometimes the killers return to the bodies. If this person and their dog kept finding your bodies, would you be angry? I then thought, what if this person receives a letter in the mail, no stamp, no return address and it just says: “Stop finding my bodies.”

This was the initial start of a book idea.

In my last book I had created a detective I called Merlin Drake. He wasn’t a nice guy, but I liked his character. I thought I could explore his background more and make him a main character. I liked the fact that in the TV show Mr Mercedes, you got to know who the killer was in the first episode, rather than have to guess and it be revealed at the end. So, I figured I would introduce the killer very early on. Although this isn’t enough to write a book, there was a lot there to work with. I researched cadaver dogs and I wanted the trainer to be a woman who no longer did it, but still had the dogs. I skipped chapter one, and just left the heading, and moved to chapter two and introduced the dog trainer. I named her Bernadette Lawson, and her dog’s name was Breeze. Bernadette, or Ernie, lives out on her own and has a troubled past like Merlin.

So, what now? I figured she would say no to helping with her dog, as she had retired, but she likes helping others and giving families closure, so she agrees. I’ve written gore before, but I mostly write young adult fiction, so this would be a chance to really stretch my writing legs. I planned on bringing the reader in a few chapters with characters and introduce the small town; then, I would write a very graphic, detailed chapter that would make your stomach turn, then back to the nice chapters. I wanted to lure the reader in, then when they could barely stand it, bring them back.

A lot of the initial writing will start if I have a good name for the book. So, I was at the Ekka this year when we went and watched the wood choppers. I really like the book name ‘The Silence of the Lambs’ and the meaning behind it, so I was looking for a name similar. After the woodchopping competition the announcer said something about the last generation of woodchoppers, and I remember thinking ‘The Last of the Woodchoppers.’ It’s a book name that’s interesting and not really related to anything until you read the book. I tried to keep it in my memory bank all day until I got home. Then I was lying in bed trying to remember it. I woke up mumbling ‘woodcutters,’ and went back to sleep. In the morning I woke thinking, what was the name again? Last of the Woodcutters? So that became the name of the book. I made the town have an old wood mill and that would be the place of the first murder.

I got excited about writing the serial killer. Mostly because I’d never done it and as a writer, it was something that would be challenging and fun (in a weird way). It wasn’t the book I intended to write next, but the chapters just started flowing out. I looked at all the side characters that had to be there to move the story along, for example other police officers, and thought I could examine those more. The Sheriff, who didn’t have a huge role, suddenly became very interesting. His father, I had decided, used to work at the mill and has a few secrets that he has kept his whole life.

I normally think of how a book will end and make that the flag I am heading for. For this one, without giving too much away, I thought of it straight away. Then, as the book started to take shape, I thought of an epilogue that may open it up for a sequel. I had been reading an address somewhere and misread it as ‘The Letterbox Fields.’ I thought that would be a perfect name for the second book. It’s now about 25,000 words. I have the next five chapters planned out and I’m aiming to have it done by early next year. If this all sounds weird, it probably is. The more you write, the more that muscle expands and opens up, allowing ideas to form and connect. Scary place.

~Mitchell

Mitchell is the author of Skellington Key, Heather Cassidy and the Magnificent Mr Harlow, and the Everdark Realms Trilogy

Visit Mitchell’s bio here