Paying for Our Passion – Cat Sparks

In this series of guest posts, I have asked a number of writers and editors to share the price they pay for pursuing their creative passion or what they sacrifice–whether that is money, time or lost opportunities. It might be how they pay the bills that writing doesn’t, or how they juggle working for a living or raising a family with the time it takes to write or edit. The people who have contributed have shared their personal stories in the hope it might help those new to the scene manage their expectations, or help others dealing with similar things realise they aren’t alone. You can read about the inspiration for this series here, and if you want to be part of it please let me know.

One of the first people I met when I became involved in the Aussie spec fic community was Cat Sparks, and ever since then she has not only been a great friend but a mentor who has encouraged and supported me as a writer. I could list all her achievements, but it would end up longer than this post–it is safe to say she is one of Australia’s leading writers, editors and designers. Welcome, Cat! 

David has had to nag me a great many times to get this post for his blog series. Thing is, I thought I’d written it already and that it had been published and, quite possibly, that I had spared a minute to glance over it. Turns out none of those things were true. Right now, I’m juggling way too many plates and everything’s a multicoloured blur.

For the past three years I’ve been engaged in a PhD on YA climate change fiction whilst simultaneously functioning as Cosmos Magazine’s fiction editor and wrestling with an Ausco-funded science fiction novel that never seemed to get finished, no matter how hard I tried. The ending was rewritten many times at my agent’s request. Finally it passed muster and now I’m waiting to see if she can sell it.

I guess you could say my writing career is going well at the moment, the main effect of which seems to be that finding time for actual writing is becoming problematic. As Tansy Rayner Roberts once pointed out, the reward for successful writing tends to generally be more work – which means, of course, more writing and writing related activities such as speaking opportunities: panels, workshops, festivals and the like.

The Bride PriceDon’t get me wrong – I am privileged and I know it. But I worked damn hard across many years to score my luck. Being a professional writer means other people want things from you: help, endorsements, participation, advice. You’re always paying it back or paying it forward.

I recall many years ago Sean Williams explaining that I ought to try to enjoy the pre-pro state I inhabited at the time. What he meant was that having no deadlines aside from the self imposed kind meant I could write whatever I wanted, write freely for enjoyment or experiment. Once I’d reached where I thought I wanted to be, the next rung up the achievement scale, everything would change and get much harder.

He was right because Sean is always right when it comes to the nitty gritty of the publishing landscape. I didn’t get it then, I was so hung up on making the grade, such as I saw it. That grade was everything to me and my passion to catch up with it has cost me plenty. Here are a few once treasured activities that have fallen by the wayside:

Dance: I was part of a group who learned and performed raqs sharqi – Egyptian folk dancing. It was fun and I particularly enjoyed mixing with women from walks of life far different from my own. But I gave it up because of the time and distraction factor.

Art: A fundamental element of my character and had been since I was a child, but art slipped through my fingers, piece by piece, once again, because of the time it took away from words. This sort of thing doesn’t happen to everyone, of course. Many of my colleagues are heavily into art and craft, but things did not work out that way for me.

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Friendships: I have lost some to this game for a variety of reasons. Sitting around on a sunny deck sipping wine and nibbling cheese with lovely people sucks up valuable storytelling real estate. I am blessed with many friends but some of them I just don’t see much of anymore.

The Home Beautiful: [insert hysterical laughter]. I blame the fact that our house is falling down around us on the fact that we both write. Yeah, that’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

I’m slow. I’m ponderous. I get sucked down infinite rabbit holes of reading and research. I polish everything I write to the nth degree. Long gone are the days when I could dash a story off across 48 hours.

My biggest support continues to come from my partner Rob. He has been the main breadwinner across the past fifteen years, although up until the grant, I always had a day job. In our house, writing is important. It gets to come first, before other things. I cannot imagine successfully co-inhabiting with the kind of guy who wanted to drag me off to boat shows or whatever on the weekends. Rob and I both dig genre. Our house is filled with pop culture crap. Nothing matches anything else, a fact that, fortunately, suits us both.

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Cat Sparks is a multi-award-winning author, editor and artist whose former employment has included: media monitor, political and archaeological photographer, graphic designer and manager of Agog! Press amongst other (much less interesting) things. She’s currently fiction editor of Australia’s Cosmos Magazine while simultaneously grappling with a PhD on YA climate change fiction. catsparks.net

Paying for Our Passion – Grant Stone

In this series of guest posts, I have asked a number of writers and editors to share the price they pay for pursuing their creative passion or what they sacrifice–whether that is money, time or lost opportunities. It might be how they pay the bills that writing doesn’t, or how they juggle working for a living or raising a family with the time it takes to write or edit. The people who have contributed have shared their personal stories in the hope it might help those new to the scene manage their expectations, or help others dealing with similar things realise they aren’t alone. You can read about the inspiration for this series here, and if you want to be part of it please let me know.

Today’s guest is New Zealander Grant Stone. I didn’t have the pleasure of meeting him on my visit over there earlier this year, but from all accounts that was my loss! Welcome, Grant!

Writing in the Margins

As long as I can remember I’ve wanted to do two things: write stories and write code.

I work full time as a software architect. It’s a fairly intense role where I’ve got to try and manage a lot of in-house projects while still keeping up with emerging technology trends. While the hours aren’t necessarily long, by the end of the day my brain’s mush. And I’ve got three kids. By the time they’ve all been taken to ballet and hockey and fed and bathed and had stories read and everything else, I don’t have a lot of energy left. There’s usually no space for writing on evenings or weekends.

I take a ferry to work. It’s a thirty-five minute trip each way. So that’s when I get most of my writing done, five days a week. It’s not ideal. Going to work on a boat may sound romantic, but it’s usually noisy and cramped. But armed with my trusty netbook, it’s extremely productive time. I wrote the first draft of a novel last year in nine months, all in thirty-five minute slices.

To try and make the most of my limited time, I try and avoid getting distracted by fresh new ideas before my current project is complete. This never works. My phone is full of fragments of stories that grow a sentence or word at a time, until they’re too big to ignore. My ‘in progress’ folder is a wasteland of stories that have been trapped there for years.

use-only-as-directed-edited-by-simon-petrie-and-edwina-harveyI think having such a small amount of time has affected my writing. While I don’t get a lot of ‘typing’ time, stories are always bubbling away in my subconscious. When I’m finally able to get to a keyboard the words spill out quickly enough. My first drafts are relatively clean. But given my time constraints I’m unlikely to attempt an epic fantasy any time soon. In my current situation I don’t think I’d ever be able to complete more than a novel a year. And I’m fine with that.

I’m extremely fortunate that I love my day job. I get to hang out with talented and creative people every day and work on exciting projects. I’ve good books in my blood, but I’ve got code too. If someone came to me with a million bucks so I could write full time, I don’t think I’d take it. Well, okay, I’d take the money. But I’m always going to be coding too.

I’m pretty good at stealing little pockets of time, writing in the margins of my life. It would be nice if those margins were just a little wider. But every week I get to write code and I get to write stories.

I’m living the dream.

grant_stoneGrant Stone’s stories have appeared in Strange Horizons, Shimmer, Andromeda Spaceways Inflight Magazine and have twice won the Sir Julius Vogel Award. His novella ‘The Last‘ Is available now from Paper Road Press.

http://grant-stone.com/
http://paperroadpress.co.nz/

nEvermore: Tales Of Horror, Mystery & The Macabre ToC Announced

I am very excited to be able to announce the ToC for nEvermore: Tales Of Horror, Mystery & The Macabre edited by Nancy Kilpatrick and Caro Soles, which will be released from Edge Science Fiction in October. It’s up for preorder at Amazon and the Edge Website.

I am absolutely thrilled to see my name alongside some of my writing heroes. It’s a little bittersweet, as this was (I think) Tanith Lee’s last anthology appearance–it’s an honour to be in it for that reason alone.

About the book:

nEvermore! Tales of Murder, Mystery and the Macabre is an homage to the great American writer, the incomparable Edgar Allan Poe, and a must-have for every fan of his work.

Compiled by multi-award winning editors, Nancy Kilpatrick and Caro Soles, nEvermore! Tales of Murder, Mystery and the Macabre presents a tantalizing selection of imaginative stories by New York Times bestselling and prize-winning authors.

Featuring works by: Margaret Atwood; Kelley Armstrong; Richard Christian Matheson; Tanith Lee; William F. Nolan (with Jason Brock & Sunni Brock); Nancy Holder; Christopher Rice; Chelsea Quinn Yarbro; Michael Jecks; Lisa Morton; J. Madison Davis; Barbara Fradkin, Colleen Anderson, Robert Bose, Jane Petersen Burfield, Rick Chiantaretto, Robert Lopresti, David McDonald, Loren Rhoads, Thomas S. Roche, and Carol Weekes & Michael Kelly.

This anthology consists of 21 original tales that blend supernatural and mystery elements in unique reimaginings of Edgar Allan Poe’s exquisite stories.

Here’s the table of contents:

  1. “A Rather Scholarly View of Edgar Allan Poe, Genre Crosser” by Uwe Sommerlad
  2. “The Gold Bug Conundrum” by Chelsea Quinn Yarbro
  3. “Street of the Dead House” by Robert Lopresti
  4. “Naomi” by Christopher Rice
  5. “Finding Ulalume” by Lisa Morton
  6. “Obsession With the Bloodstained” by Rick Chiantaretto
  7. “The Lighthouse” by Barbara Fradkin
  8. “The Masques of Amanda Llado” by Thomas S. Roche
  9. “Atargatis” by Robert Bose
  10. “The Ravens of Consequence” by Carol Weekes and Michael Kelly
  11. “Annabel Lee” by Nancy Holder
  12. “Dinner With Mamalou” by J. Madison Davis
  13. “The Deave Lane” by Michael Jecks
  14. “133” by Richard Christian Matheson
  15. “Afterlife” by William F. Nolan and Jason V. Brock and Sunni K. Brock
  16. “The Drowning City” by Loren Rhoads
  17. “The Orange Cat” by Kelley Armstrong
  18. “The Inheritance” by Jane Petersen Burfield
  19. “Sympathetic Impulses” by David McDonald
  20. “Asylum” by Colleen Anderson
  21. “The Return of Berenice” by Tanith Lee
  22. “The Eye of Heaven” by Margaret Atwood

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Galactic Chat 68 – featuring me!

Bit of a belated post, but I found out what it was like to be on the other side of the mic when Sean interviewed me for Galactic Chat! I really have no idea what I said–I was a bit nervous–but if you want to listen, follow the links below:

This week’s chat sees Sean interviewing fellow chatter and recent HarperCollins author David McDonald.  

They talk about David’s new film novelisation and  volunteering in the speculative fiction community.  Of particular interest will be some of the expectations on writers when writing for tie-in properties.

David also talks about the wonderful and enlightening responses he’s got to his Paying For Our Passion guest post series.

The Salon article David mentions can be found here.  If you are interested in his guest post series the initial post is here

You can find more on David McDonald here.

Credits:
Interviewer: Sean Wright
Guest: David McDonald
Music & Intro: Tansy Rayner Roberts
Post-prod.: Sean Wright
Feedback:
Twitter: @galactichat
Email: galactichat at gmail dot com

Paying for Our Passion – Narrelle M. Harris

In this series of guest posts, I have asked a number of writers and editors to share the price they pay for pursuing their creative passion or what they sacrifice–whether that is money, time or lost opportunities. It might be how they pay the bills that writing doesn’t, or how they juggle working for a living or raising a family with the time it takes to write or edit. The people who have contributed have shared their personal stories in the hope it might help those new to the scene manage their expectations, or help others dealing with similar things realise they aren’t alone. You can read about the inspiration for this series here, and if you want to be part of it please let me know.

Today’s guest is the splendid Narelle M. Harris, who I met at my first Conitnuum–after which she was kind enough to take the time to give me some excellent writing advice. Not only an extremely talented author, Narelle is also someone who possesses the best qualities of being a passionate fan and I have loved being on panels with her–especially Doctor Who ones!

  • describe your current situation (working full time/part time/stay at home etc)

I work as a freelance corporate writer, essentially part time, though I take on roles for a few weeks solid at a time if that’s the work that comes in.

I live with my husband, Tim Richards, and our cat Petra. We don’t have kids, and that’s given me a certain flexibility all my writing life.

  • how does this situation impact your writing?

Generally, it’s all good. Because it’s part time I still have plenty of time for writing, but actually, for most of my working and writing life, I worked full time and wrote novels by putting aside two evenings a week (minimum) and also writing sometimes on weekends, other nights, at lunchtimes etc.14121137

  • are there other people whose support allow you to write (financially, or even emotionally)?

My husband, Tim Richards, has been the cornerstone of my writing career. He has supported my financially when I’ve been between jobs, but mostly we’ve shared expenses. The primary support I’ve had from him is emotional and also in terms of organising. He knows how important my writing is to me, so he makes sure I’ve had the time to write even when I had full time jobs. He works with me to set aside the time I need, he provides encouragement and positive feedback, he buys me icecream when I have to recover from a rejection letter and he makes sure he plugs my work on social media etc when it gets published.

Even more materially, he looks out for opportunities for me. Alongside writing, I do public speaking at libraries etc, about writing and reading. (I often make more money in a year from the talks and workshops than I have from my books and short stories.) My recent few days spent at five libraries in the Wimmera region came about because he was contacted abuot his own talks, he was going to be overseas for them, so he passed my details on to the library organiser. We spoke, they took me on board and off I went.

Tim also helped to arrange transport for me with Great Southern Rail, so that I could catch the Overland to Horsham and blogged about it for him – so he both helped me make money and to save money.

Tim is fucking awesome.

  • What are some of the challenges your situation brings? (time/guilt/financial hardship)

Making sure I have enough freelance work to pay the bills while still having enough time to write my fiction and to do my talks/workshops which also bring money in for me. Luckily, we live fairly frugally and don’t have kids.

My biggest challenge is that I always want more time for fiction writing; it’s also quite stressful running my own freelance business now, looking for work and finding new clients, as not all clients provide regular periodic income.

  • What sacrifices do you have to make to write?

We’ve made choices about living more frugally, and so we have to plan expenditure carefully. So far it’s worked very well. Sometimes, if I’m approaching a deadline (for my freelance work or for a novel/short story) we have to negotiate time sometimes.

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  • If there have been other scenarios in the past, were they easier/harder, how were they different?

As metnioned previously, when I had to work full time, it was much more difficult. Tim and I always worked together to make sure I had time to write, but it was frustrating for me, especially when I was doing jobs that made me unhappy, but we had a mortgage to pay off as well as bills, and those couldn’t be left to one income.

  • What would you see as the ideal? Full time writing? A different job?

Now that the mortgage is paid off, we’re both much happier and the pressure is off. We both still need to work to pay bills, but we both have a lot more time. I feel like just now I’m in a perfect balance of freelance work and fiction. Obviously my ideal would be to make a living from my fiction (and the talks) but I’m much better off than many writers and have achieved a lot of success in both arenas, so I’m pretty content.

Narrelle M Harris

Narrelle M Harris is a Melbourne-based writer of crime, horror, fantasy, romance, erotica and non-fiction. Her books include Fly By Night (nominated for a Ned Kelly Award for First Crime Novel), fantasies Witch Honour and Witch Faith (both short-listed for the George Turner Prize) and vampire book, The Opposite of Life, set in Melbourne.

In March 2012, her short story collection, Showtime, became the fifth of the 12 Planets series (released by World Fantasy Award winning Twelfth Planet Press). Walking Shadows, the sequel to The Opposite of Life, was released by Clan Destine Press in June 2012, and was nominated for the Chronos Awards for SF and fantasy, and shortlisted for the Davitt Awards for crime writing.

In 2013, Narrelle also began writing erotic romance with Encounters (Clan Destine Press) and Escape Publishing. Six short stories have been published to date and her first full-length work, Ravenfall, has just been completed.

Currently, her fantasy novel Kitty and Cadaver is with an agent, and her pitch for a Holmes/Watson romance was accepted by Improbable Press, so she’s working on The Adventure of the Colonial Boy.

Find out more about Narrelle’s work at her her blog, www.mortalwords.com.au.

Paying for Our Passion – Lucy Sussex interviews Fergus Hume

In this series of guest posts, I have asked a number of writers and editors to share the price they pay for pursuing their creative passion or what they sacrifice–whether that is money, time or lost opportunities. It might be how they pay the bills that writing doesn’t, or how they juggle working for a living or raising a family with the time it takes to write or edit. The people who have contributed have shared their personal stories in the hope it might help those new to the scene manage their expectations, or help others dealing with similar things realise they aren’t alone. You can read about the inspiration for this series here, and if you want to be part of it please let me know.

This week’s post is a very special one. If Australia had a spec fic Hall of Fame, Lucy Sussex would be one of the first names listed (though she is another New Zealander we have appropriated for ourselves). Lucy has a glittering bibliography and a reputation as one of the best in the business. Added to that, it seems Lucy has another talent hitherto unrevealed–as a medium. Below you will find an interview with spirit of 19th Century author, Fergus Hume (the subject of Lucy’s latest book: Blockbuster: Fergus Hume and The Mystery of a Hansom Cab) where he tells us about his own struggles to get his work published and his foray in self publishing. It seems that paying for our passion is not a problem limited to the modern era!

How do you find a ghost? Well, take a punt on one of his haunts, which a man, in the afterlife, might find pleasing. So I find him, on a fine autumn day, lazing on a bench in the Fitzroy gardens. The shade of Fergus Hume is at first unremarkable, as he was in life: a small dark man in well-tailored tweeds, only the fruity moustache and the bowler hat in his hand indicating his nineteenth-century origins. Who would think he wrote the best-selling detective novel of the 1800s?

“Mr Hume, I presume?” Damn, it sounds like a musical hall routine, of the sort he wrote. All he wanted to be was a successful dramatist and he ended up a crime writer.

A courteous inclination of the head, and I sit down beside him, with my copy of The Mystery of a Hansom Cab. “I would ask you to sign, but…”

“My apologies. I do not go in for automatic writing. Conan Doyle is the spiritualist, you might try him.”

“Can I at least request a short interview with you?”

Again that inclination. He does not mind.

“It will appear in a series, Paying for Your Passion, with various writers.”

“Ah yes, you can say I did that.”  His voice was described as being like corduroy–soft, warm, and raspy from smoking.

“Did your father really insist you complete a law degree before taking up writing?”

A faint sigh behind the moustache. “He was a practical Scot, and a hard man. It made a successful Madhouse keeper, but was difficult in a parent.”

“It was said you had no enthusiasm for the law.”

“Not at all, but I worked diligently at it. I was ever a hard worker.”

“You never practiced the law?”

“Being a law clerk allowed me more time to write: poetry, light operas, plays. And to attend the theatre and make useful friends.”

“Networking, we call it.”

“An interesting neologism, suggestive of crochet.”

At this point an autumn leaf falls right through him.

“But you couldn’t get the theatre managers in Melbourne to put on your plays.”

“They said colonial brains didn’t pay.”

“We call it the cultural cringe.”

“Apt, that.”

“So you wrote a novel.”

A smile. “I asked the bookshops what was selling: detective novels by Gaboriau. So I bought a passel of them, read them all, and wrote The Mystery of a Hansom Cab. I plotted it first, over weeks, then sat down and wrote.  Then, the villain being insufficiently concealed, I rewrote.”

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“Then you couldn’t get the publishers to take it either.”

This time he grimaces.

“So you self-published. An edition of 5000–huge for the time. Is it true you got the money by playing the stockmarket?”

“It makes for a good story.” Neither confirming nor denying.

“And you delivered the books to shops in a hansom cab and then drove around the suburbs as an advertisment?”

“The things we do for our art!” But the memory is clearly pleasant.

“And then it sold out, and you had to hastily reprint.”

“All I wanted was to draw attention to myself as a writer!”

“It worked.”

“Beyond my wildest dreams.” Drily.

“Famously you sold the copyright to the English edition, because you didn’t believe a colonial book would succeed overseas.”

“I got fifty pounds for it, a good price. But had I known…”

“Indeed.”

“And you never had such a success again.”

“But I could write, which I loved, and made a living from it, and never had to return to the law, which frankly I hated.”

“140 novels. And you never made it as a playwright.”

“It was Karma.”

“In a previous life, you said, you were a French aristocrat, guillotined in the Revolution.”

A shudder. “I can recall the feel of the blade still. What we do in one life, affects the others, through birth after birth.”

“You paid for your passion.”

“Assuredly. But to be Fergus Hume was not such a bad life.”

“So in your later lives, were you reincarnated as a successful playwright? Or movie scriptwriter?”

That smile again, but wide. “Now that would  be telling. I think you have had entirely enough of my time. And I have a film to attend.”

“One of your own, that you wrote in your future life?'”

A very knowing laugh, before he dematerialises, leaving me alone on the park bench, and the sun darting behind a cloud.

I can only conclude I guessed right. Damn, who is he now?

lucy-screen

Lucy Sussex was born in New Zealand. She has abiding interests in women’s lives, Australiana, and crime fiction. She has also edited four anthologies, including She’s Fantastical (1995), shortlisted for the World Fantasy Award. Her award-winning fiction includes the novel, The Scarlet Rider (1996, reprint Ticonderoga 2015).  She has five short story collections; and has edited the work of Ellen Davitt and Mary Fortune. Her Women Writers and Detectives in the Nineteenth Century (2012) examines the mothers of the mystery genre. Her latest project is Blockbuster: Fergus Hume and The Mystery of a Hansom Cab (Text).

Paying for Our Passion – Nicole Murphy

In this series of guest posts, I have asked a number of writers and editors to share the price they pay for pursuing their creative passion or what they sacrifice–whether that is money, time or lost opportunities. It might be how they pay the bills that writing doesn’t, or how they juggle working for a living or raising a family with the time it takes to write or edit. The people who have contributed have shared their personal stories in the hope it might help those new to the scene manage their expectations, or help others dealing with similar things realise they aren’t alone. You can read about the inspiration for this series here, and if you want to be part of it please let me know.

Today’s guest is one of those people without whose efforts and generous contribution of their time the Aussie spec fic community would probably grind to a halt. Since I have been around, Nicole Murphy has not only made me feel personally very welcome, but has been involved in the organisation of many of the events I have attended and enjoyed the most. She also has an excellent straight face–I wouldn’t play poker with her!  When you realise all that is on top of being a very prolific and talented writer, it gives you an idea of the level of her achievements. Here you can see how hard she has worked to get to that point.

The things you do for your writing career…

The year was 2007. I was working through my ‘Operation No-Regrets’ project—a list of all the things I wished I’d done in my life. I was doing one per month, culminating in my 40th birthday, where I would have no regrets.

Projects like that tend to focus your thinking and bring thing you hadn’t realised to the forefront of your mind. So, I was lying in bed one night and I had this clear mental image. It was me, on my death bed. I’d never had a novel published and as I lay dying, I thought to myself, ‘Maybe if I’d tried harder…’

There’s a lot of reason to never have a novel published (note we’re talking traditional publishing—the rise of self-publishing has turned the ability to have your words out to public on its head). You might have terminal bad timing and always submit a book weeks after the publisher bought something similar. You could write a product so niche a publisher can’t sell enough to make it worthwhile. You could actually not be a good enough writer (a fear that never leaves you). But NO WAY was the reason going to be that I didn’t try hard enough. I swore that writing, and publication, was going to be the focus of my life. If I got to the end and it didn’t happen, it damn well wasn’t going to be because I didn’t give it my all.

protectingherheart

This left me in a dilemma. At the time I was working as a journalist, and I hadn’t written any fiction for some time. For me, the source of words for both jobs was the same, and journalism was running me dry. It just so happened that it was time for me to leave my current employer. I had a choice—continue either as a journalist (or even move into a communications roles in the government and make more money) or leave the industry all together and find a job that freed my mind and soul to focus on my writing (and take a pay cut in the process).

In February 2008 I left journalism and in March 2008 I started working at Aldi. An easy job that didn’t take up my words. A pay cut, true, but Hubby and I made it work.

The new job was just one part of the commitment. I also had to commit fully to my writing. For the next two years I had just one day off per year (Christmas Day). Every other day, I was at the supermarket or I was writing. When I worked the late shift, I wrote in the morning.

It worked. By November 2008 I had a novel I called ‘Love in Control’, the first book in an urban fantasy trilogy, ready for submitting. I bypassed getting an agent and submitted myself. In July 2009 I sold the trilogy to HarperVoyager and in July 2010, ‘Secret Ones’ (formerly ‘Love in Control’) was released. The other two books came out in 2011.

I had to leave Aldi in 2010 because of back injuries. Hubby decided he was doing well enough to support me so I wrote full time for two years, pumping out the words and doing all the promotion I could.

Forward to April 2012—Hubby had a stroke. My lovely writing full time life was over. I nevermade enough money to make writing lucrative, so I had to return to work.
COV_DreamOfAsarlaiI made an error. I forgot my vow that writing and publication were going to be the focus of my life. I think I was lulled into a false expectancy by how lovely my life had been. I write fast, you see. So full-time, I only needed the morning to achieve what I wanted. I had my afternoons free for whatever. Sometimes, I got bored and took on new projects. So I thought I’d have time to focus, and do a cool job.

When I went for jobs, I didn’t look for easy jobs like Aldi. Instead, I got a job as a conference organiser—acknowledged by many work experts as one of the most stressful jobs around.

I kept up my writing. I reset my goals and it now takes 10-11 weeks to draft a 110k novel, rather than seven weeks (faaaast writer). I get up early (and I hate getting out of bed) every morning to write as much as I can before I got to work. For a while, I kept up my promotional work too (generally by giving up at least one day of the weekend). Then, I started to rely on writing weekends or retreats (where I could write full time) to keep up with my deadlines.

Kept up I did—since 2013 I’ve had another six books published, bringing my total publications thus far to nine books (eight novels, one collection of novellas). But each became more rushed, the deadline harder to hit. And the promotional work less and less…

And so begins 2015, which is in the running for the worst year of my life for a variety of reasons. One is work, which has taken over my life. From mid-March to mid-May, I doubt I wrote more than ten thousand words. Thankfully I spoke to publishers I’m contracted with and as a result, I’m not as far behind on my deadlines as I would have been if I’d kept to my original 2015 deadline (I was supposed to write 240k in the year—now it’s just 130k). Nevertheless, in order to ensure the rest of the year works, I’m in the process of drafting an 80k novel in five weeks.

Alleluia annual leave and a writing weekend with friends.

While on my week of leave, I remembered that vow and realised how far I’d slipped from it. I had a book come out June 8. Best you don’t know that. Why? I’ve been too busy/exhausted to do any promotion.

So, once again, I face a choice. Stay in a job that I often love (although the stress is sometimes unbearable) with workmates I like, or go find an easier job that will free my mind and soul to focus on my writing.

I think you can all guess what the answer will be.

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Nicole Murphy is a cross-genre writer who also publishes under the name Elizabeth Dunk. She’s had nine books published: The Dream of Asarlai trilogy (urban fantasy), the Jorda trilogy (science fiction romance), two contemporary romances and a collection of paranormal erotica novellas. She has a further six books contracted to be published over the next three years. Her current day job is as a conference organiser, but she’s hoping to change that so she can re-focus on her dream of a career as a writer. She lives in Queanbeyan with her husband Tim (a champion croquet player) and their two budgies—Freddy and Casper.

Paying for Our Passion – Jean Gilbert

In this series of guest posts, I have asked a number of writers and editors to share the price they pay for pursuing their creative passion or what they sacrifice–whether that is money, time or lost opportunities. It might be how they pay the bills that writing doesn’t, or how they juggle working for a living or raising a family with the time it takes to write or edit. The people who have contributed have shared their personal stories in the hope it might help those new to the scene manage their expectations, or help others dealing with similar things realise they aren’t alone. You can read about the inspiration for this series here, and if you want to be part of it please let me know.

As I have previously mentioned, my trip to New Zealand resulted in me meeting a heap of new people, and they made me feel incredibly welcome. Not only were they extremely friendly, but there is a massive concentration of talented writers in NZ, and today another one of them joins us–Jean Gilbert! 

I have two jobs, one as a surgical assistant, the other, as a writer.  I spend around 20 hours or more a week on each.  Though I’d love to write full time as a career, I don’t make enough yet to give up my day job. I still need to bring in some money to help supplement the household income. It is hard being divided between to jobs.

I work for a Paediatric Dental specialist, both surgical and clinical. This is a mentally challenging job. There is no room for mistakes. Concentration must be complete at all times. So when I come home, and I have to write, it becomes a challenge because by this point, I am mentally exhausted. To compensate, I have to lie down and have a mental break (nap) so that I can start afresh.  Otherwise writing became a struggle, and led to frustration, and a sense of unworthy. On the days I don’t work, I do a lot better, and am more productive in my writing.

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For a while, I was drifting, writing when I felt inspired, instead of viewing it as a job.  It was when there were a lot of family issues, health and otherwise, and I used writing as a means of escape, a place where I was in control when my world was falling apart around me. As you can imagine, it took me longer to write my first novel.  That’s when I introduced a schedule, and made myself stick to it, which meant sometimes turning down fun things like socializing with friends and family, reading, movies, TV, even vacations, all sacrificed on the alter of producing a piece of work by a deadline. I missed out on summer this year to meet monthly word counts.

Was it worth it?

Yes.

A schedule may be painful, but it works. And when the family gets involved in the decision-making, everyone is happy. They can’t come back and say that they want you for this or that when you’re in the middle of writing. You just point to the schedule that they agreed upon. Of course, I try to be flexible when I can be. But a deadline is a deadline, even when it’s of my own making.

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At first, my family didn’t understand my passion.  They thought it was just a thing that would fade away. But now, they are very supportive, giving me the time I need to write, criticism when I ask for it, encouragement when I’m low, and money to support my works.  It wasn’t always this way, and for a time I struggle alone, not being able to share my joy and pain with anyone. But that has all changed, and for now, things are good.

As far as money is concerned, I haven’t made enough to pay for my writing yet. So, I have to use the family money to pay for things like editing, artwork, book covers, advertising, trips, etc. It adds up.  The cost is figured into the budget. Some things I have to pass on or postpone because the money isn’t there for it.

It is hard to get noticed without money to push your work out there.

I write, not for the money, but because of the love of the story. The story is what keeps me going, and if it brings other people pleasure, well, I couldn’t ask for anything more.

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Speculative writer Jean Gilbert moved from Virginia, U.S. to New Zealand in 2005, and has since called the Waikato Valley (the Shire) her home. Jean is a Core member of SpecFicNZ, and is also the coordinator for SpecFicNZ Central.  Jean’s latest science fiction novels are titled Shifters and Ardus from the Vault Agency Series published by Rogue House Publishing. You can find her short stories in Baby Teeth: Bite Size Tales of Terror published by Paper Road Press, and Pride in Contact Light Anthology.  Read more about Jean at www.jeangilbert.com, or visit her on Twitter and Facebook.

Paying for Our Passion – Leife Shallcross

In this series of guest posts, I have asked a number of writers and editors to share the price they pay for pursuing their creative passion or what they sacrifice–whether that is money, time or lost opportunities. It might be how they pay the bills that writing doesn’t, or how they juggle working for a living or raising a family with the time it takes to write or edit. The people who have contributed have shared their personal stories in the hope it might help those new to the scene manage their expectations, or help others dealing with similar things realise they aren’t alone. You can read about the inspiration for this series here, and if you want to be part of it please let me know.

I’ve been overwhelmed by the reception that this series has received–and all credit goes to the people who provided me with such wonderful and deeply honest posts–and the way people have signal boosted and supported it. One person who has given some great feedback and support is the very talented Leife Shallcross, so I am especially happy to have her here today.

I’ve always had a bit of a love affair with the written word. I read voraciously as a kid. I managed to wrangle my Arts degree so it was about 85 per cent English Literature subjects. And, as long as I can remember, I’ve always made up stories – sometimes even writing them down. But in 2011 I decided I was going to take my writing seriously (although I will admit I had no idea at the time what that actually even meant.) My kids were at a manageable age (7 and 9), no longer needing quite the level of hands-on parenting that they had done; I was still working part-time, and I’d finally worked out that writing twisty fairy tales wasn’t a phase I was ever going to grow out of. Plus I had finally produced a short story that I thought might be kind of OK.

I joined my local writers centre, did a few workshops, and started receiving their weekly newsletter. Reading this one day, I saw a submission call for an anthology being put together by a local group, a strange and arcane sounding organisation called the Canberra Speculative Fiction Guild. Heh.

I agonised. I obsessively checked my manuscript for errant apostrophes. I tried to work out what the best font to use was. Double spacing, or 1.5? How many returns between the title and the first paragraph? Who knew? I hit send.

It got accepted.

I got my first publication credit and made $30 out of that story, but more importantly, it was a catalyst for getting involved in an incredibly knowledgeable and generous community of writers who today are my most invaluable support as a writer. And that, boys and girls, was when I started learning about what it took to be a “real” writer.

I figured out pretty quickly that, for me, getting a level of discipline around my writing practice was going to be a struggle. And this is always going to be my Achilles Heel. Unless the muse is running hot, the temptation to just check FB, or just play one round of Plants vs Zombies is always going to be there. Like most of us, I’ve learned that there’s a better chance of my muse showing up if I make proper time for her, and then act like she’s there, even when she isn’t. So I decided to treat this writing thing like a second job; a small business I am trying to get off the ground (which, essentially, it is.)

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So what did I give up to do this? The obvious things: time with my family, TV, other creative hobbies. I still work not-quite-full-time, so a small chunk of income. But for me, the main thing has been sleep. This sacrifice has been both voluntary and involuntary. I am naturally a night owl. Until 2013 I mostly did my writing at night, after the kids were in bed, with a precious weekly Sunday morning session in bed with my laptop and a cup of tea. The consequence of my night time writing was twofold: firstly, it meant that unless I was really disciplined about it (ugh, there’s that discipline word again), I’d inevitably sit down at 11pm at night and be tired and uninspired and anxious about getting my wordage done and getting to bed at a time that didn’t threaten to derail my paid job and my relationship with my increasingly tired partner.

Secondly, it meant I regularly suffered from horrible insomnia. Every few weeks, and sometimes more often, I’d have a string of three or four or five nights where I’d get to bed and my brain would just buzz and I would not sleep. If the muse had arrived ready to party and a coherent story was fermenting, I’d pretty much have no choice but to get up again and write it out of my head, which meant not getting back into bed until 3 am at least. More often, however, my brain would just be on and racing, and I would toss and turn and eventually get up again and have to go and play something mind-numbing (mah-jong is good) and have a glass of red wine to turn it off again. If I was lucky I’d be back in bed by 2am, but this would mean that I was pretty wrecked for work the next day, and my writing session the next night. And, as anyone who has experienced it probably knows, paradoxically insomnia gets worse when you’re tired.

Then in 2013 a friend of mine put out a call for guinea pigs. She was studying creative coaching, and wanted some bods to practice on. I was trying to finish a novel draft by a set (and immoveable) date, so I put my hand up. It was incredibly useful, but the most valuable thing I got out of it was that she asked me when my most productive writing time was. Easy. That would be the Sunday morning session. The one where I wake up after a small sleep-in, and ensconce myself in solitude for a good couple of hours. “Why don’t you try changing your routine?” she asked. “Get up early. Write before work.” My reaction to this suggestion was horrified disbelief. Me and 5am only ever encountered each other under extreme duress, usually because I had to be on a plane for work. But. Professional. (And desperate.) So I gave it a go.

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It was a revelation. It opened the door to one of the most productive periods of my life. I am still not very  good at getting to bed at a reasonable hour. But, now, at 11pm I am usually dragging my relaxed and sleepy self to bed, instead of my anxious and sleepy self to my writing date. Now, I get up before 6am most work days. If the muse is on fire, we might even make it to the computer by 5am. It’s bloody cold in winter, but there is something lovely and even luxurious about that early part of the day when all the rest of my family are slumbering sweetly away and it is just me. I still need at least one other daytime/afternoon/early evening writing session during the week, but what is interesting is that having kick-started the day with writing, I find it much easier to slip back into writing mode at any point during the day. I’m even spending more of my lunchtimes at work writing. And the insomnia is almost gone. I still get it every now and then, but we are talking maybe three whole one-off nights over the last year, as opposed to three a month, minimum.

I get by on about 6-6 ½ hours sleep most nights, with a catch-up sleep in on the weekend. But this is better than the old insomniac days, and I have a pretty regular (I won’t say “disciplined”) daily writing routine that works weirdly well for me. There are definitely days when I get up, and nothing much happens. Or I don’t get up. I skip it. But these are generally the exception to the rule, and having a structured approach to my writing time means I have more confidence in my ability to make up a skipped session, or at least get back on track.

Don’t get me wrong, this is a long way from living the dream of full- or even half-time writing, but I’ve got a mortgage to pay and a family who I really love spending time with, and this is a good compromise that works well for me. And, writing wise I have never been more productive or more (deep breath: I’m gonna say it) disciplined.

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Leife Shallcross lives with her family at the bottom of Mount Ainslie in Canberra, in a house she painted turquoise. Her first published story, ‘The Tether of Time’, appeared in the Canberra Speculative Fiction Guild’s Winds of Change anthology, edited by Elizabeth Fitzgerald, in 2011. Her work has appeared in Aurealis and a number of other Australian and international anthologies. Her latest, ‘Wandering Star’ is in The End Has Come edited by John Joseph Adams and Hugh Howie. She is currently the President of the Canberra Speculative Fiction Guild. When writing is not consuming her spare time and energy, she plays the fiddle (badly). She can be found online at leifeshallcross.com and on Twitter @leioss.

Paying for Our Passion – Darian Smith

In this series of guest posts, I have asked a number of writers and editors to share the price they pay for pursuing their creative passion or what they sacrifice–whether that is money, time or lost opportunities. It might be how they pay the bills that writing doesn’t, or how they juggle working for a living or raising a family with the time it takes to write or edit. The people who have contributed have shared their personal stories in the hope it might help those new to the scene manage their expectations, or help others dealing with similar things realise they aren’t alone. You can read about the inspiration for this series here, and if you want to be part of it please let me know.

As I have previously mentioned, my rceent trip to New Zealnd gave me the change to meet a whole new group of awesome writers and fans. I also had a chance to do a reading with a bunch of other authors–including today’s guest, Darian Smith. I loved the excerpt he chose to share with us from his new novel, Currents of Change, which is available on Amazon.com (and burning up the bestseller lists, I hear!) and at selected bookstores. Take it away, Darian!

I must admit, I found this theme of “Paying for our Passion” a little daunting when I heard about it because, let’s be honest, it’s a passion that doesn’t pay and I prefer not to think about that! If you’re a person who gets jazzed about finance or brain surgery (I’ve seen Grey’s Anatomy, I know it happens) then you’re going to make a decent living out of your passion. For writers…not so much. And the irony is that even the little bit that you do make, people feel entitled to take from you (I’ve recently had my first experience of being pirated. Not pleasant but there you go). But whiney as that sounds, writing is my passion and I love doing it.

So yes, most of us pay in order to write—be that with finance, time, sacrifice, or mental health. I’d love to say I have a partner who earns heaps and lets me stay home to write but, for better or worse, I married a fellow writer— so we’re screwed! We’re gonna be card carrying members of Starving Artists R Us! But that’s okay.Darian Smith picSo in what ways do I actually pay for my passion?

Well the obvious answer is by having a day job. I work for the Muscular Dystrophy Association in a role that I love. I get to connect with people who are dealing with a variety of neuromuscular conditions and to provide support and information to help them on their journey. It’s a cause that’s very close to my heart given that my wife also has muscular dystrophy and I like to think of it as making a positive difference in the world—a “good karma” kind of job. I’ve also been fortunate enough to tie a couple of my writing projects to MDA for fundraising so it’s great to be able to unite two passions in that way.

Less obvious but something I think impacts every writer is mental health. With my background as a counsellor and family therapist, it’s something I’m very conscious of. Writing produces something very personal and then that work – bound up with my dreams and passion and soul—gets thrust out into the world for people to judge. It’s nerve wracking and there’s a certain amount of bravery involved when you don’t know what feedback you’ll get (if any). Most of the writers I know have mentioned struggles with depression at some time or another. That said, writing gives back in this area as well. Positive feedback is a huge high and often a story can help me process emotions and events from my “real” life. Many of my short stories have served me in this way and I’ll be putting out an anthology of these in a couple of months.

Currents of Change frontOverall, I guess that while I do pay for my passion in many ways, my passion does pay me too. Even if I’m a long way off the J K Rowlings of this world, I get enjoyment, a sense of achievement, and an opportunity to share part of myself with the world every time I do what I do. And that’s pretty cool. I don’t know if the finance guy or the brain surgeon could say they do any better in that regard. I’m glad to say I’m a writer.

Darian Smith writes mainly speculative fiction (fantasy) and lives in Auckland, New Zealand with his wife (who also writes) and their Siamese cat (who doesn’t).  His novel, Currents of Change, was recently number 1 on an Amazon bestseller list.  He is the winner of the SpecFicNZ/Steam Press manuscript competition and has been a finalist for the Sir Julius Vogel Awards several times.

By day, he works with people who have neuromuscular conditions such as muscular dystrophy or charcot marie tooth disease. He is also a qualified counsellor/family therapist and can be seen – by those very swift with the pause button – on television shows such as Legend of the Seeker and Spartacus.

For more information about Darian and his upcoming work, please check out his website at www.darian-smith.com.