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

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 Tierney

How to Start Writing

I’m going to start with what is, in my opinion, one of the most important quotes about writing.

“The worst thing you ever wrote is better than the best thing you never wrote.”

It’s a fact of life that the hardest part of being a writer isn’t planning, it isn’t even writers block or finishing. The hardest part is the starts: you have to start every stage, and gather up that motivation over and over and over.

This makes ‘how to start writing’ one of the questions I get asked pretty often.

Now I’m not talking about how to write words, that’s a matter of sitting down and pumping words out. This is about how to start on a project. That novel you’ve got in you.

So here’s what you need to get started.

Put Judgement Away

This is one of those things that’s both that simple and that hard. Judging yourself is the enemy of every writer, from the first timer to the seasoned professional. Some people can make a career of writing and still never get over it with each and every new story. The problem is that judgement is a vital tool, it’s how we ensure that we do our best work, but the fact is that the start of a story isn’t the time or place for it. This is the time and place where you get things done.

Start your work free of judgement, free of the fear that you aren’t good enough, because even if you aren’t right now you will be by the time the job is done. You can always come back and fix those problems in editing. There are several stages of rewriting and fixing where judgement can enter a little more into your process but in the early days you need to open yourself up to new ideas, not to lock them away.

The Right Amount of Preparation.

The right amount of preparation for a story is a question that’s hard to answer and mostly depends on the kind of person and writer you are. Some of us like to write out our outlines, characters and motivations, where others just throw their characters into the situation and let the story unfold as it may.

Chances are if you’re having trouble getting started and you currently have a document full of ideas and details then you’re the first type. If you’re the second type you’re ready now, I hereby give you permission to stop worrying and just do the thing. It’ll be fine.

For those of us who need to prepare, the trick is having enough preparation to get the work done, but recognise that there’s a limit to how much prep you can do before the work begins and you can always prepare more as you go. Go forth from a position of strength, not paranoia.

The best rule of thumb I can give is that if you can say that you know the plot, characters and setting pretty well that’s well enough for you to begin.

The Perfect First Sentence/Paragraph/Chapter

Does Not Exist.

It’s as simple as that. You cannot write the greatest first part of all time, and agonising over making something perfect before you move on means you’ll never move on. Settle for good, even settle for ok for now. There are several more stages where you can fix what’s wrong.

Get Excited!

You’re doing something awesome and remembering that is vital to the starting process. You’re doing something awesome and so often the start of writing seem like a chore. It’s important to remember that this is something you want to do. This is a good, exciting thing! So talk to your friends about it, think about or even work on the fun parts. Imagine the sense of accomplishment you’re going to get when the job’s done.

Writing is a labour of love, so remember to love it!

Go Back to Step 1

Yep. I’m sorry to say it but once you’ve done this and written the story you have to go all the way back and start a rewrite, then to plot edit, then to detail edit, each time with a little more room to get it right.

Don’t worry, after every start you get to enjoy the fun parts. It’s a good process with a satisfying ending and room to grow your craft and work. Every time you need to start you can come back here. Do your prep, stop judging yourself, get excited and go for it!

 

For those who’ve started all right but are having trouble getting to the end check out ‘The Fine Art of Finishing’ on the Ouroboros blog.

~Robert

Emily David’s Interview Notebook – 3 October 2018

Emily David’s Interview Notebook – 3 October 2018

PRE-INTERVIEW NOTES:

Full name: Zac Hall

Age: 16

Appearance: Black unkempt hair. Light brown eyes. Lightly tanned skin.

Book:  The White Wolf Trilogy – The Stray

 

First impressions: Overall, Zac seems somewhat curious and nervous as to why I have requested to interview him but at the same time, he acts oblivious to the fact that he has a book written about him. Maybe he does not know? Oooh, plot twist!

Things to remember about the book: Woof woof a.k.a man’s best friend.

Note to self: Try not to make many werewolf jokes 😛

 

INTERVIEW TRANSCRIPT:

EMILY: So Zac, how would you describe yourself?

ZAC: I don’t usually get the chance to introduce myself, being from a small town, everybody already knows me. And I’m usually with my father if I meet anyone new so he introduces me.

EMILY: Well, you are doing quite well so far. You seem very polite. Do you have any allergies, diseases, or any other physical weaknesses?

ZAC: I had a peanut allergy when I was little but I grew out of it. I still kind of avoid them though, just in case.

EMILY: *Note to self: check if Zac carries any silver. Are werewolves allergic to silver??*

EMILY: Are you right- or left-handed?

ZAC: Right handed though I sometimes practice with my left hand so that I could use it if needed.

EMILY: *Note to self: hmmm… I wonder if he is a werewolf?*

EMILY: You have a unique voice but for our readers, how would you describe your voice?

ZAC: My voice is deep but sometimes squeaks in response to human puberty.

EMILY: What do you currently have in your pockets?

ZAC: Wallet, keys and phone. Was I supposed to have anything else?

EMILY: *Note to self: Zac’s keys might be silver? Maybe he isn’t a werewolf?*

EMILY: What is your favourite and least favourite climate?

ZAC: I always liked spring best. My town always looks so pretty with the trees and forests so full of life.

EMILY: Do you have any quirks, strange mannerisms, annoying habits, or other defining characteristics?

ZAC: I’m often told that I run my hands through my hair when I’m nervous. I also always arrive late to important things.

EMILY: *Note to self: Zac’s hair currently looks unruly.*

EMILY: Who is your role model? Do you aspire to be like anyone?

ZAC: I don’t really have a role model but I do want to be drafted for a college soccer team when I graduate. Hopefully I can play through college and then be picked up by a team after that.

EMILY: What sound or noise do you love?

ZAC: I always loved the purring of content cats. It’s so soothing, when Dylan’s cat sits next to me and purrs.

EMILY: *Note to self: don’t make howling noises, resist the urge.*

EMILY: What sound or noise do you hate?

ZAC: I absolutely hate the sound of Styrofoam rubbing on something. Like pulling it out of a cardboard box and it makes that squeaking noise.

EMILY: What is your spirit animal? And why this animal?

ZAC: I thought it would be like a border collie, they’re always so happy and ready for anything.

EMILY: What is the most embarrassing thing ever to happen to you?

ZAC: I think it was that one time I slipped over on my way out of the showers in the locker room after gym. My towel fell off and the whole class laughed at me.

Is that all your questions? Because I really need to get back home.

EMILY: Yeah, that’s it, Zac. Thank you for your time.

 

POST INTERVIEW NOTES:

Overall, Zac really has no idea he has a book written about him and I am still not sure if he is a werewolf or not. This remains a mystery.

 

~~~~

 

This has been a fictional interaction between Emily David, a journalist intern who writes for Mystic magazine from the upcoming novella by Antonia Bryan and Zac Hall from The White Wolf Trilogy – The Stray by Amanda Geisler.

To find out more about Zac Hall, get your hands on a copy of The Stray today!

 

~Antonia

 

 

 

 

The Calling

I hate when books annoy me.

I don’t know if it happens to other writers, I’m sure it does, but books have a way of annoying the shit out of me. It’s like a cat meowing at you constantly until you feed it. I got asked recently how I write books. They didn’t understand how it comes out of your brain, through your fingers and into a full book. I didn’t really have an answer. It just does. It might be years of training, looking at the screen, plotting out points and chapters, and now it finally flows, or it might be something else. When I write, it’s like watching a movie that I’m in control of. Each second the character walks through the spooky, abandoned building, I’m right behind them, where the camera would be. I can picture what I’m writing, so I just describe what I see.

Where it gets a little weird is when something surprises even myself. I’ve often said, ‘wow, I didn’t see that coming.’ I don’t start a book unless I have vague idea of the ending. The beginning’s the easy part; the middle is hard, but important, and the end is scary. Scary, because finishing a book means the end of all those characters that you love and hate, the years of turmoil and sludging through the hard wall of writing, and then it finally comes to an end.

I used to plot in my head what the upcoming chapter was going to be about, and when I got time to write, I would think of a good opening line and then write until the chapter was complete. With the novella I’m currently writing, I’m trying to put words down every day. There isn’t really any time to pre-plot a lot of it, so I just wing it. That can be equally enthralling and nerve-wracking. There is a chapter where I wanted my main character to meet another character, who will appear later and be of significant help. I just needed to introduce him first. So, I thought, why not meet at a cemetery? I made her ‘stumble’ upon the graveyard, let her walk around reading some of the tombstones, then they meet, and he scares her, then they get talking and it’s all fine. There was something about this kid that I knew I wanted to keep from the reader until the last chapter or so. All this chapter really was, was getting the two to meet. I could have set it anywhere; the shops, a car yard, at school, at the mall, on the street… you get the picture. A cemetery gives it a good scene. How many conversations have you had with a stranger in a graveyard? Not many (I hope). So, it puts the reader somewhere different, then you can let the reader go on this introduction between the two. What are they gonna say? Are they gonna get along? Are we gonna see him again? These questions make the writing easier, as you have a lot of ground to cover in, hopefully, not many pages. It’s also a set up for later, so you know you’re going into the chapter hiding something up your sleeve that you will reveal, and it will hopefully pay off. Where do you start? Okay, what brings Main Character to the graveyard? She’s exploring the new house. Okay, good. Why is the kid there? He’s bored at home and can see it from his window. Okay, plausible. What’s the point of him coming back later in the book? He wants to see her again… done to death, something else… he wants to save her from something but doesn’t, that’s sorta useless then. Maybe he has some information that she needs to defeat something and comes in at the last minute to supply said information and helps save the ‘moment’. Okay, done. Everything else should flow from there.

Hey, whoa, you scared me half to death.’

‘Sorry, I just saw you walking and thought I’d come over and say hi.’

‘Do you often hang around in graveyards by yourself?’

‘I was gonna ask you the same questions.’

Mix dialogue with scenery description. What I do is add something at the end of each line, for example: ‘Do you know witches used to live in this area?’ he said, picking up a piece of broken tombstone and examining it. You shouldn’t use it every time, just now and again. ‘What time do you want to go?’ she asked, fitting the whole piece of cake in her mouth. Now you should have the plan for the chapter, what you want to accomplish, some tricks to writing and a general aim to your story. Once these things are done solid, you can’t help but want to get back to the keyboard. I often think of chapters while on the train and can’t wait to write them. They will generally remind me throughout the day, or week that they are there waiting. Over time this muscle becomes stronger and writing becomes easier and you become better. When the books call, I hope you answer.

Mitchell

Death of a Scene

When I opened up my laptop, my word document was gone.

‘Okay,’ I thought. ‘Don’t panic.’ I went into Word and could see my novel I’ve been working on for about 4 years. Beside it, it said ‘recovered’. Recovered? Recovered from what? Was there a power surge? I went all the way down to the bottom of the text, where I had been working, and began to read.

There was about 10,000 words missing…

Not one part of me thought, ‘That’s okay, I can write it again and this time I’ll write it better!’ Nope. My only thought was bailing on the whole book. 20,000 words shy of the 80,000 target and I was giving up. I just could not fathom rewriting 10,000 words. What I lay down on the page, normally stays. I’ll fix up grammar and spelling, but I won’t re-write whole chunks. No way. I’ve done that before, when I was learning to write. I’m not doing it now. And not with this book.

I sat blankly looking at it. I was remembering all the great pages I had written. Should I re-write them now? Quickly, to fix this issue? I remember most things that were written, just not detail. I was about to quickly scramble and write the 10,000 words so I wouldn’t give up. Not long ago I had written a great death scene. It was perfect. The mood was just right. I was very proud of it. I cut it from where it was, to move it, and must have got distracted and never pasted it anywhere. The next day, I couldn’t find it. I knew the computer had shut down and said something about ‘large text still on the clipboard’ or something, but I ignored it.

I re-wrote the death scene, and it just wasn’t the same. I knew most of the details, but when I went to write it, it lost some of its initial glory. I was crestfallen. It’s still in my mind, like a tack, waiting for me to re-write it (again) and try to inject some of the mood it had the first time around. It does feel like killing the same person twice though (sorry character you had to go through that again). I’ve often gone back and read chapters that have been published and thought ‘My god, what was I thinking, that’s horrible…’ but it also works the other way around too. I’ve read paragraphs and thought, ‘Okay, that’s pretty good’. I literally impressed myself.

Minutes ago, I resigned to the fact that this weekend writing session will be the full re-write. Just get it down, go over it on second draft and make it work. I sighed so loudly my neighbours heard it. Then I thought… I’ll check to see if I have a saved copy elsewhere. It was a long shot, but worth looking into. I found an older version, saved for backup. If that was the only copy I had, I would definitely have given up. From the bottom of my screen I saw the title of my book. The date last opened was last weekend. I thought I had already opened it. As I double clicked it, I began watching the page counter rise. Expecting it to stop around the 70,000-word count mark, but it didn’t. It kept going.

It stopped at 77,000. I scrolled down and could see the entire story was there. No re-writes required.

Please, back up your work.

Mitchell

What If Your Characters Are Smarter Than You?

To anyone who doesn’t write this is going to sound profoundly strange, but I’ve loved to write my whole life and sometimes I need to write characters who have powerful intellects, master schemers and magnificent bastards. The problem with that is, I am none of those things. I am not a master strategist, I don’t have a history of warfare or science and I have never had the need to plot to destroy someone’s life but I’m pretty sure I couldn’t do it.

Pretty sure. Don’t test me, but still.

Yet somehow, I still have to write all of those things and make them convincing, I have to figure out the plans and plots that are going to unravel. So, here’s my advice on writing brilliant characters despite maybe only being semi brilliant yourself.

Research Research Research

Try not to be wrong. Being wrong will undermine your character’s ability to seem intelligent. I’m not saying you need to be a genius at whatever subject you’re working on but not making obvious mistakes would help. I’ve been dragged out of some of the better stories of my life because a character who’s supposed to be a master got some obvious thing wrong. You don’t need to be an expert, just know your stuff. If you’re writing a master strategist, at least get familiar with some of the classic manoeuvres. If you’re writing a brilliant scientist know something about the field so you don’t end up with a ‘hacking scene’ that involves two people typing on the same keyboard.

Yes, that actually happened.

No, I didn’t ever take those characters seriously again. Shame too, I liked them.

Manage How the World Makes Them Right

This is a bit of a challenge for some writers, including myself. See, you’d think it’d be easy, you can just make their decisions the correct ones, can’t you? Well yes and no. The problem with making your character right, is that you have to make them believably right and to do that you have to determine why they’re right. Is it because they realised something about other characters no one else did? Because they planned for this exact situation? Because they have a secret no one else knows? Have they just read more books or do they have sharper instincts?

The worst thing they can be is right just because they’re a genius. The question is what does that genius mean? What does the fact they’re brilliant mean they can figure out before anyone else? You can make their leaps of logic correct, but there needs to be a clear reason why they made them.

Don’t Make Everything Go Right.

One of the best quotes I heard form a character who I actually believed as a master strategist was ‘being a good strategist doesn’t mean having master plan, it means having a bunch of plans, and fall-back plans, and contingencies. We try things, sometimes they even work.’ One of the most believably intelligent things you can have a character do is respond well when things go wrong. Yes, it’s much easier for your character to have a master plan from the start where everything goes right, but to your smarter readers that’s going to come off as contrived. It can be so much cooler for a reader to watch your character react like a genius than act like one.

Deal With Their Frustrations

This is the part that’s going to seem weird to some people, but characters have a level of autonomy in your head, and yes, sometimes the smarter ones are going to get upset with you. If they planned some master manoeuvre that you just couldn’t figure out they’re going to get annoyed with you, which is going to seem a little strange as the process continues. This might hurt your brain a little in the early stages, but it’s something you’re just going to have to deal with. Like every other annoying little issue remember that this is something you can go back and fix later, so quiet the voices in your head and keep working. Like everything else, you can fix it in editing.

It’s a surreal experience the first time you realise you might not be clever enough to properly write a character that you thought up, but if you know your stuff and are willing to put in the effort, you’ll have them about their dastardly or benevolent brilliance soon enough.

~ Robert