Paying for Our Passion – Jane Routley

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 I am delighted to welcome Jane Routley, someone who has seen all the ups and downs of the writing journey. Not only has she refused to let any setbacks stop her, but she has continued to provide support and encouragement to everyone around her. I was thrilled to see the  rerelease of her trilogy and encourage you to check it out–along with her other great work..

Do you really expect to get paid? A survey of Professional artists in Australia came out in 2010 and I remember it because I was interviewed for it. In it they discovered that the mean or average earnings of writers and other artists from their creative work was around $18,000 a year.

Reading this report squashed my last remaining dreams of sitting in my leather padded study, spending the day dreaming of the next fine lunch with my agent/editor/publisher and the next overseas book tour. I also found it kind of comforting, because it meant my earnings weren’t so very terrible. They were merely average. Even though I’ve had four books published in America and Australia, I’ve only ever been over this average a couple of times. Most of the time I’ve earned a lot less. Which means that most of my writing life, I’ve had to and expect to continue to have to have another means of support.

At five when I discovered a passion for telling stories, my parents told me firmly that I would never make a living doing that. I had to be sensible, get a proper job and then maybe write as a hobby. I accepted this and I got a librarianship qualification. I became a skilled wrangler of the Dewy Decimal System, otherwise known as a cataloguer. And I worked hard to find the space and time for writing and forced myself to send things away. I won a competition and had some things published in small journals.

Working in libraries with sensible professional people like me made me aware that I wanted more than to spend my life putting the numbers on the backs of books even if it did pay for a mortgage. I wanted more time to write but did I have the right to make such foolish choice? Writing was a hobby and you don’t give more time to your hobby unless you can make money doing it.

Fire AngelsIn the nineties I got lucky. My very supportive husband achieved his dream of going overseas to work as an IT contractor, and he took me. For the first couple of years under German law, I wasn’t supposed to have a job. I was able to write full time which enabled me to put in the kind of hours everyone needs to put in to learn any skill. It was lonely and I was still full of doubt but hey I was living in Europe and being a writer. I met the wonderful NZ SF writer, Cherry Wilder, who was living nearby and who mentored me through my first novel. When it was finished, she introduced me to her agent. By the time I was legally able to apply for work, I had sold a novel and was expecting an advance any day. (Never hold your breath for advances. They are a loooong time coming.) My earnings were never very big but my husband was happy for me not to go looking for outside work and I felt that I had the right not to because I was going to become a successful novelist.

The nineties were a great time for me. I wrote four novels, I lived in Europe, I had a publisher, I was a writer. I never had book tour or lunch in Bloomsbury but I did have a couple of lunches in New York and I took myself to some killer SF conventions.

But things changed horribly around the beginning of the noughties. Publishers everywhere started shedding their mid-list authors – those who sold books but weren’t best sellers. Knowing that this might be going to happen, didn’t make it easier to spend the four years writing and rewriting the last book I wrote for them, the sequel that they passed over and I couldn’t sell anywhere else.

The IT work dried up and we returned to Australia to live. We’d been getting homesick anyway and were glad to be home, but alas, it was time for me to get back to the real world and back to earning a living. The fact that my skill with the Dewy Decimal System was in demand was a mixed blessing. I had lots of casual jobs because I still wanted to make time to write, but most of those casual jobs were full time. I made good money but I didn’t have much time to write. And after a while the ugly spectre of tendonitis which has dogged me all my life started to rear its ugly head.

Most writers have trouble with their backs and hands just as most ballerinas have trouble with their feet. Times spent at physios and gyms (doing exercise, yuk) keeping your muscles flexible is just another price you pay for your writing passion. I’d first got tendonitis very early in my librarianship career. At the time it seemed like a disaster. For a couple of months I was stuck at home unable to either work or write—worried that I might be a neurotic malingerer.

TrilogyWhen it came back in later in my career it was actually a piece of luck in disguise. At a time when circumstances in the publishing industry were telling me to go back to full time work and got back to writing as a hobby, the choice was suddenly made very stark. My body wouldn’t let me do data entry as a cataloguer all day and come home and write all evening or on the weekend. I couldn’t be a writer and a librarian.

By then thanks to savings from the glory days of Europe and an inheritance we had managed to pay off our house so we felt confident of always having a roof over our heads. My husband decided to go part-time to pursue his interests and I started looking around for some kind of part-time work that would not involve data entry. In this day and age it’s not easy. Almost all white collar jobs no matter how humble now involve some kind of data entry.

Eventually I stumbled on an ad for Railway station Attendants in the local paper. I’ve always liked trains. They’re a kind of cut price promise of travel and wider worlds. It was the best career choice I’ve ever made. If you’ve read the Station Stories I’ve been posting regularly on my blog you will know that I love my job.

Basically I stand around at a railway station, giving directions, helping people use the ticket machines, manning any barriers and listening to complaints. The information aspect makes it a very, very distant poor relation to being a librarian. It’s often boring (but boredom is a factor in most waged jobs) my feet hurt and I’m outside for four to six hours at a stretch.

TTS3When I first started work at the railways in the most humble job you can get there, various mothers of friends and friends of my mother said, “You poor thing. What about your degree? What about your career?”

Yet I love it. For someone who’s a devoted people watcher and sticky-beak, customer service in a busy place is heaven. There are always interesting people doing odd things and people who want to chat. Occasionally there are also dramas, brawls, meltdowns, arrests and lunatics. People are often happy to tell an interested stranger quite intimate things about their triumphs disasters and cancer operation. After a morning spent struggling with my demons at the writing desk, standing round all afternoon waiting to be asked a question is so relaxing. And due to the unionised nature of our work force, my blue collar job is actually much more secure than any of wildly restructured white collar jobs I ever had.

My partner’s other ambition was to take early retirement and he’d spent enough time helping me live my dreams to deserve some time for his. So now we are both part-time workers. That affluent middle class lifestyle which I’d expected to live when I grew up seems to have escaped me. There are no overseas trips, or regular restaurant meals or weekend mini-breaks.

Every year when I go to do my tax the accountant still asks me why I don’t write a Mills and Boon you know, something that makes money. (Gee I hate that. Every time I come home questioning my path and am grumpy all week.) Sometimes as I stare out the window wondering what we are going to do if the car dies and when we’re going to be able to afford a new oven, I feel certain I’ve made the wrong decision.

A while ago when I was feeling depressed, I set myself the goal of working part-time till I was fifty and if I hadn’t sold another book by then going full time in something and trying to make some real cash for overseas travel etc, which I still love. That goal is well past now, but I’m still working part-time. Novel sales are small although I did get a grant to blog about Flinders Street Station one year. I have been offered the chance of promotion, of more hours and indoor work sitting down. I even tried it once. It had more of the things I hate about my job and less time for writing. In the end I went back onto the platform.JaneRoutley

Perhaps it’s too late to change. Just writing this article makes me realize how much I love my life style and how happy it makes me. If I have time off I don’t plan to go away. I plan to do some writing. If I don’t get time to write anything for a couple of days I become depressed and grumpy. If I go back to full time work so that I can have a big superannuation payout and retire to the Gold Coast I will really feel like I’m wasting my life. We’ll find a way to replace the car when it does die. There’s always public transport.

It’s taken till I was fifty to come to grips with the fact that I should spend my life in a satisfying way rather than a sensible one. I’m as hooked on writing as a junkie is hooked on heroin. As so many songs say,” How can it be wrong when it feels so right?”

So now there’s nothing left to do but to find a way of paying for that passion.

Jane Routley lives in Melbourne and is writer of the Dion Chronicles triology and The Three Sisters, all of which are now out on ebook with Clan Destine Press. Her short stories have appeared in a number of anthologies. She has won the Aurealis award for Best novel twice. If you’re like to know about her adventures on the station platform read about it at www.janeroutley.com.au

Galactic Chat 65 – Tsana Dolichva

I loved chatting to Tsana about necroastronomy and bad science in books – and of course the wonderful anthology, Defying Doomsday. There is still time to back it and make a huge difference!

In this week’s chat, David talks with Tsana Dolichva about her work as an Astrophysicist, providing scientific advice for authors and her role in the upcoming crowd funded anthology Defying Doomsday. They also chat about reviewing in small communities and the Australian Women Writers Challenge.

You can find the various links for Defying Doomsday below:
Links:
Pozible Campaign: http://pozi.be/defyingdoomsday
Website: http://defyingdoomsday.twelfthplanetpress.com/
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/DefyingDoomsday
Twitter: https://twitter.com/DefyingDoomsday
Tumblr: http://defyingdoomsday.tumblr.com/

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

Galactic Chat 64 – Amanda Pillar

In this episode of Galactic Chat I get to talk to one of my favourite Aussie Spec Fic people – Amanda Pillar! I have been lucky enough to be on some panels with Amanda, and can testify to how much you can learn from listening to her. Enjoy!

In this week’s chat, David talks with Amanda Pillar about her work as an editor on such projects as Ishtar, her day job as an Archaeologist and her debut novel Graced, from Momentum Publishing.

You can source Amanda’s novel from links at the Momentum website here.

Credits:
Interviewer: David McDonald
Guest: Amanda Pillar
Music & Intro: Tansy Rayner Roberts
Post-prod.: Sean Wright

Feedback:
Twitter: @galactichat
Email: galactichat at gmail dot com

Paying for Our Passion – Greg Chapman

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 we are featuring Greg Chapman: double threat. Not just a talented writer, but an award winning illustrator, too?! Makes me rather jealous. 😛

I don’t actually write what I want to write for a living.

I write in my spare time.

Writing and drawing is a part of me—if I don’t write or draw I feel like I’ve wasted the day.

Sadly my creative streak doesn’t pay the bills, so in order to feed myself and my children and pay the mortgage etc and my book-and-DVD-hoarding habit, I have to work full-time—like many other writers and artists. My wife also works full-time so, while we’re financially stable, I am time poor when it comes to being an artist and writer.

The irony is, my day job involves writing.

I work at a university, writing up media releases about student and staff achievements. I also use my design skills to create digital marketing. It’s a stable job that pays the bills, but I’d rather be at home writing stories and drawing.

Witch Trials

Before I worked at the university I was a newspaper journalist for about 8 years. A couple of highlights included covering the tilt-train derailment near Bundaberg in 2004 and the Dr Jayant Patel scandal the following year. I didn’t do much fiction writing in those years. My family was still very young and being a journalist was very busy work.

Over time though the allure of covering accidents, murderers and child abuse in the courts wore off and I realised I had to do something that lessened the cynicism that was taking over my life. So I went over to the “dark-side” of public relations and corporate communications and returned back home to Rockhampton in 2008. The decision was a good one and I was able to dabble in fiction and drawing again. 2009 became a clean slate and I quickly joined the Australian Horror Writers Association and had my first novella published in 2011. The first graphic novel I illustrated came out in 2012 and won a Bram Stoker Award the following year.

I’ve never been career-minded person and I guess that’s been my downfall. If I’d taken my writing more seriously 15 years ago, then maybe I’d be more successful and not rushed getting my first novellas published years later. But then maybe I wouldn’t have gotten married and been the father to two beautiful daughters. :)

vaudeville-and-other-nightmares-cover

I see my working life and creative life as like an alter ego. I want to be Batman, writing novel after novel after novel, but instead I have to be Bruce Wayne.

At best I get to work on art projects in the evenings for 1-2 hours and writing during lunch breaks (except for the occasions I say screw it and sneak in a few hundred words while at work- shhh!)

I’ve always been a daydreamer and sometimes it gets in the way of my responsibilities. I’m still a big kid and I guess I always will be, much to my wife’s dismay.

Society hasn’t been constructed for the creative person. Instead of being an apostle to the imagination, we are slaves to industry. So I fear that I will always only be a dabbler. I’m still writing and drawing and being published—kicking goals as a dearly departed friend used to say. Really, I shouldn’t complain, but I just wish I could be doing it as a career and not as a “hobby”.

One day …. maybe, I’ll be Batman.

chapman

Greg Chapman is an emerging horror author and artist from Australia. 

After joining the Australian Horror Writers Association in 2009, Greg Chapman was selected for its mentor program under the tutelage of author Brett McBean.

Since then he has had short stories published in The Absent Willow Review, Trembles, Eclecticism, Bete Noire, Morpheus Tales, Midnight Echo, and the anthologies Sex, Drugs and Horror, Frightmares and A Killer Among Demons.

Greg is the author of four novellas, “Torment”, “The Noctuary” (Damnation Books, 2011), “Vaudeville” (Dark Prints Press, 2012) and “The Last Night of October” (Bad Moon Books, 2013).

His debut collection, “Vaudeville and Other Nightmares”, was published by Black Beacon Books in September, 2014.

He is also a horror artist and his first graphic novel “Witch Hunts: A Graphic History of the Burning Times”, written by Bram Stoker Award® winning authors Rocky Wood and Lisa Morton, was published by McFarland & Company in 2012.

“Witch Hunts” won the Superior Achievement in a Graphic Novel category at the Bram Stoker Awards® on June 15, 2013.

He also illustrated the comic series Allure of the Ancients for Midnight Echo Magazine.

Greg will illustrate a one-shot comic, “Bullet Ballerina”, written by Tom Piccirilli, for SST Publications in the United Kingdom. It is expected to be released in the first half of 2015.

 
VAUDEVILLE AND OTHER NIGHTMARES (Available Now!)

Illustrator on:

The Bram Stoker Award® WINNING WITCH HUNTS: A GRAPHIC HISTORY OF THE BURNING TIMES – McFarland & Company

 

Paying for Our Passion – Joanne Anderton

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 we are featuring Jo Anderton; award winning writer. marvellous crafter of short stories, and all round awesome person!

Here’s my life. On the weekdays I get up at 6-6:30 and write 1000 words while I eat breakfast. Then I go to work. I try to stick to my 8 hour day, but sometimes I’m there longer, just depends on how busy I am and what deadlines are looming. When I get home I squeeze in exercise, another 1000 words, dinner, and spending time with my husband. Often, I get to bed late as a result. On the weekends I balance writing time with social time. Sometimes I’m a bit of a hermit. Usually towards the end of a draft.

suited-144dpiI’m not complaining. I really enjoy my job. I get to play with books all day, and am surrounded by lovely, passionate people. It’s challenging and fascinating. One day I’m researching the new Guillermo Del Toro movie, the next I’m looking at sales stats for business titles or paleo recipes. Also, did I mention I get to play with books?

Do I wish I could write more? Oh, absolutely. But I have weekends, and I usually spend my annual leave on writing retreats or writing weeks at home. And while 2000 words a day is nowhere near the amount I wish I could produce, I know that the turtle wins the race. 2000 words a day, every day, adds up. And it doesn’t burn me out, either. That’s important.

I am not sponsored. But I am lucky.

the-bone-chime-song-and-other-storiesI work full time, I have always worked, and I have always written around these working hours. There have even been a few periods in recent history when I was the sole breadwinner in our family. Maybe these periods have given me a renewed appreciation for a good, stable job. One with people who understand my writing. Hell, my work colleagues have come to my book launches! They even made robot-related snack food. Can you get more supportive than that?

I’m lucky because I have this support, and because my family have helped me get into such a financially stable position in the first place. I am keenly aware that not everyone has these benefits.

While I used to resent working a day job, and felt like every hour not spent writing was a waste, I don’t feel that way any more.

Jo Anderton photoI work hard at my job and at my writing, and I believe I can do both well. There are moments when I almost crack, when I wish I could just stay home with my words and dream of all the things I think I could produce if only I had the time. But life is a balance, and there is a right time for everything. One day, I hope to move writing to the front burner and pull back on the day job hours. Even if I got to a point where I could quit work altogether (ha!) I don’t think I’d do it. Not any more. The outside world and the realities of a day job can be grounding. Of course, as I said, I know I’m lucky. A day job you hate can crush your soul. A day job you enjoy is a blessing.

Anyway, the time for such decisions is not now. And that’s really okay. I will continue to write around my day job, and work my arse off, and hopefully do them both well!

Joanne Anderton cooks up speculative fiction stories for adults, young adults…and pretty much anyone who likes their worlds a little different. She sprinkles a touch of science fiction to spice up her fantasy, and thinks horror adds flavour to just about everything. She’s quite addicted to anime and manga (which is all her husband’s fault, and a little movie named Akira) and these are strong influences in her writing.

Her adult science fiction/fantasy novels have been published by Angry Robot Books and Fablecroft Publishing. Debris was shortlisted for the Aurealis Award for best fantasy novel, and the Ditmar award for best novel. Its sequel Suited was shortlisted for the Aurealis Award for best science fiction novel, and the Ditmar award for best novel. Book three, Guardian, was published in 2014. Her short story collection, The Bone Chime Song and Other Stories won the Aurealis Award for best collection, and the Australian Shadows Award for best collected work.

You can find her online at http://joanneanderton.com/

Guest Post – D.K. Mok

In today’s featured guest post, I have the great pleasure of welcoming D.K. Mok to my blog. D.K. is one of the ascending stars of Aussie spec fic, with a number of critically acclaimed short stories to her name as well as some wonderful novels. I’ve been lucky enough to see my name next to D.K.’s in a couple of anthologies, and on the recent WSFA Small Press Award shortlist, so I feel a bit of a link with her. When I heard about her new book I figured it was the perfect time to invite her to pop by Ebon Shores, and she has written a great post that reflects a lot of what I am trying to do here – to help promote others the way I have been helped.

D.K.’s new book  is called Hunt for Valamon and I have included some links if you want to check out what I am sure will be an excellent read: Paperback copies are available from Amazon, Barnes & Noble and The Book Depository. The ebook is available on Kindle and Nook.

We Are An Ocean: Bibliodiversity and Community

I recently had the good fortune to attend a talk by pioneering oceanographer Sylvia Earle at the Sydney Opera House. She spoke passionately about biodiversity and climate change, and the desperate need for education, understanding and kindness. When asked about her own trailblazing career, her response again touched on the importance of support and cooperation.

As I left the auditorium, my head swimming with complicated ecosystems and the struggle for resources, I found myself thinking about competition and cooperation, and how these forces interacted within creative communities. I’ve been lucky enough to know wonderful graphic designers, zinesters and sugar artists, but it was my experience of the speculative fiction community that I found myself contemplating.

For most of my life, writing has been a fairly solitary pursuit, and I envisioned most authors to be starving romantics in draughty garrets, or cackling eccentrics holed up in cluttered basements. However, when my stories started getting published, I began to meet other authors, editors, bloggers and readers. I waded cautiously into the world of social media, I joined writing groups and attended conventions. I felt a little like the creature from Shaun Tan’s The Lost Thing, stepping through the cryptic doors and discovering a bustling world full of odd and wonderful things, most of them saying “Welcome! Welcome!”

I’m aware that publishing is a highly competitive field, and writers are often competing for readers, publishers, budgets, and spots on a TOC. However, I’ve been fortunate in that my experience within the speculative fiction community has largely been of writers helping other writers. This, I believe, is key to shaping the kind of literary landscape we want to inhabit.
Insert Title HereLast year, I was invited to participate in the Australian Speculative Fiction Snapshot for the first time. This massive project featured interviews with one hundred and eighty-nine Australian writers, editors, artists and bloggers, and I was awed by the diversity of voices, interests and intents. It was also around this time that I came across a delightful word I hadn’t encountered before: bibliodiversity.

I come from a background in biology, so when I first heard the term bibliodiversity it conjured images of stately coffee-table books marching across the savannah, and horror novels stretched beside the long grass. I envisioned herds of fantasy books milling around the waterhole, their pages flicking away swarms of handmade zines.

I soon learned that the word “bibliodiversity” was originally coined to express the importance of independent publishers, although it has also come to refer to the need for diverse authors, characters and stories. There’s a growing awareness that diversity is not only desirable, but crucial, to the prosperity of the industry.

Hunt for Valamon CoverIn a sense, the literary landscape is an ecosystem. And much as a thriving ocean has everything from curious squid to amiable whale sharks, the writing community is enriched by its varied population, from poetic horror to subversive sci-fi, haunting folktales to quirky fantasy. It’s this environment of bibliodiversity that supports an innovative, vibrant and resilient community.

Which brings me back to the ideas of competition and cooperation. There’s nothing wrong with a healthy and respectful degree of competition, but the value of cooperation and support can’t be overstated. Writing can be a solitary road, and chasing one’s dreams can be a bruising endeavour. Sometimes, a word of encouragement, a little kindness, can make a lasting impact, and give courage to a voice that might otherwise be lost.

Writers who help other writers cultivate a flourishing ecosystem, because we are a community. We are an ocean. And by giving someone else a place to stand, you firm the ground beneath everyone’s feet.

DK Mok is a fantasy and science fiction author whose novels include Hunt for Valamon and The Other Tree, published by Spence City. DK’s short story ‘Morning Star’ (One Small Step, FableCroft Publishing) was shortlisted for an Aurealis Award and a Washington Science Fiction Association Small Press Award.

DK graduated from UNSW with a degree in Psychology, pursuing her interest in both social justice and scientist humour. DK lives in Sydney, Australia, and her favourite fossil deposit is the Burgess Shale.

Website: www.dkmok.com
Twitter: @dk_mok

Paying for Our Passion – Deborah Kalin

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 we feature the incredibly talented Deborah Kalin, whose latest release, Cherry Crow Children, is another amazing collection in the wonderful Twelve Planets series.

Life haggles with us all, and we all must negotiate multiple and ever-changing treaties with the people who surround us. In my case it’s a partner, a toddler, a cat, parents and siblings, in-laws, friends, and a dayjob. Nothing too out of the ordinary there.

Before motherhood, I’d tried a range of lifestyles: first came studying (more than) full-time for two degrees simultaneously; then working full-time, which, after my study load, I found to be marvellously rich in free time in comparison; then I deliberately found a part-time job in order to prioritise my writing. That was a bit of a golden period, as I had sufficient free time to write a lot and even attempt some semblance of a social life as well. But all my friends were working full-time and had incomes to match, while my income wasn’t enough to allow me any financial independence, let alone freedom; their careers were progressing while mine first stagnated, then deteriorated. It could never last.

These days, I spend 3 days in the office and 4 days dancing to the whims of my tiny overlord, aka my two year old daughter. Writing time is snatched of a night, during her (unreliable and ever-shrinking) daily nap, and my workday lunchtimes. It’s utterly ludicrous.

And this is good in comparison to the last two years, which I spent at home with my daughter. During those years, I all but lost my writing to motherhood.

Babies are born; mothers are made–and childbirth is the gentle part of that making.

I thought I was prepared for the transition. There would be sacrifices–no comedy festival outings or movies or live music for a while; my writing dates would need to be curtailed; sleep, precious sleep, would be lost forever. But I was sure I would find a way to sidestep or surmount the obstacles of child-rearing because that’s what people do. They adapt. They keep going.

What I didn’t realise was that, through a combination of practicalities and leftover traditions, society has but one place for new mothers: out of sight.

Cherry Crow ChildrenI found myself cut off and shut out from the world I’d known, the world of routines and social interaction and contributing to corporate productivity. At first I tried to maintain some glancing form of contact, as if I could pretend I was still part of what I’d left behind—but I never had anything to contribute to conversations beyond a blank look or, worse, a muttered apology as I turned to deal with my child’s latest interruption. Basic necessities such as haircuts or dental appointments became logistical impossibilities. All my time vanished in caring for a person whose needs were simple, but uncommunicated, and endless, and of no great interest to the world at large. I woke and slept and ate on somebody else’s schedule, a schedule which aligned with … well, nothing and no one. Suddenly, my times of need veered wildly out of sync with my friends’ availability. The whole of it was isolating in the extreme.

All I wanted to do was write my way through it, even if just a hundred words a day, even fifty. Always before I’d been able to retreat to writing, to create worlds through which to focus and filter this one, to purge from my head the myriad perspectives and viewpoints I can see in every happenstance that I might at least start the day unhaunted. But motherhood took my alone time, and my sleep. That in turn took from me my thinking time, and so it also took my writing time. The one session a week I could wrangle was inevitably a panicked affair, the words I hadn’t yet scraped out of my brain already paralysingly overdue. I lost count of the number of times I wept because I wanted to write but must instead try to snatch at sleep, only to rise, thirty minutes later, unslept and unproductive, and face the whole cycle all over again.

When I told the maternal health nurses about my frustrations, about my growing desperation and my rapidly declining mental health because I couldn’t write, they would make cooing noises about how nice it is to have a hobby, and they’d give me a commiserating smile and say some things just had to wait.

I have never felt so erased, nor so unheard, as at those moments.

And in the end, despite trying everything else available, their “solution” (dismissive and unsupportive as it was) proved the only tactic which worked for me: I waited. I waited for my daughter to grow old enough to spend more than half an hour, then more than an hour, then a glorious two hours, away from me. I waited until she was old enough to let me not accompany her on her walks with her father. I waited until she was old enough to attend childcare. I waited until she slept through the night (in her way), until I could sleep again and so reclaim some of my own physical and mental health.

Deborah KalinGradually, so slowly, the words came back to me. More than two years after she arrived to define my life, I’m beginning to feel the slightest bit like my old self. As I write this, she is currently out for a bushwalk with her father and grandmother, while I sit at the hotel, three days after I dragged her across the continent to launch my latest book.

Before becoming a mother, finding time to write was a simple, if difficult, matter of balancing logistics: money enough to pay the rent against time enough to write. Now I have her, if I’m not with her I miss her and I don’t want to miss out on her. Now, choosing to write means neglecting her, and choosing her means neglecting my writing, and it pretty much always feels as if there’s no right choice, they’re both wrong.

But somehow, with a lot of guilt on my part and a lot of acceptance and trust on hers, we’re starting to make it work.

Deborah Kalin is an Australian author based in Melbourne. A student of Clarion South 2005, she is the author of the Binding books (Shadow Queen and Shadow Bound, published by Allen and Unwin), and her short fiction has appeared in Postscripts Magazine and ASIM and twice been nominated for an Aurealis Award. An original voice of Australian fiction, her work has been described as “striking, infuriating, endlessly surprising and wonderfully disturbing” (Aurealis).

Her latest book, Cherry Crow Children, a collection of long short stories for those who like their fiction with hidden edges, is now available from Twelfth Planet Press.

Defying Doomsday – Holly Kench on writing disabled characters

It’s my pleasure to welcome Holly Kench to my blog today. Holly is one of my fave spec fic people, and the Defying Doomsday anthology looks like it will not only be an incredible read (as you would imagine from a Twelfth Planet Press book!), but a very important book. I have already backed it, and I would encourage you to think about it, too.

As an author, it can be a little intimidating trying to write characters who have different experiences and lives to you, but in this excellent post Holly gives us some very handy hints–lessons that I think have applications beyond the remit of this anthology, and helpful for writing any character that is different in anyway to ourselves, whether through gender, orientation, creed or race.

Thanks, Holly!

Tips for Writing Disabled Characters

Apocalypse fiction rarely includes characters with disability, chronic illness and other impairments. When these characters do appear, they usually die early on, or are secondary characters undeveloped into anything more than a burden to the protagonist. Defying Doomsday will be an anthology showing that disabled characters have far more interesting stories to tell in post-apocalyptic/dystopian fiction.

Defying Doomsday will be edited by Tsana Dolichva and Holly Kench, and published by Twelfth Planet Press in mid 2016. Defying Doomsday is currently crowdfunding via Pozible. To support the project visit: http://pozi.be/defyingdoomsday

When writing, stepping outside your comfort zone can be pretty intimidating and I think, for most people, writing disabled* characters seems to fit in the “out of my comfort zone” category.  So I’m here to give a few tips on how to tackle disabled characters in your writing.

  1.      Avoid stereotypes and clichés

A lot of disabled characters currently available to us fit into problematic stereotypes and clichés. Because they are so ubiquitous in our culture, it’s easy to fall into the trap of writing stereotyped characters. Stereotypes are never helpful in general, and they are certainly never interesting in stories, but when it comes to disabled characters, stereotypes can be, arguably, even more damaging than usual, since the views they perpetuate can be so negative and harmful. Some of these stereotypes include (but are not limited to) general disability clichés such as: the disabled character is a burden or inspiration, and the character’s impairment is something that needs to be fixed; and impairment specific clichés such as: albino characters are evil, and blind characters can use echolocation.

A good way to avoid stereotypes is to ask yourself why you are portraying your character in a certain way. Is it because you associate a certain character trait or storyline with disability? Or is it just part of the development of your story and characterisation? For example, while “evil disabled character” is a common cliché, it’s still possible to have a disabled character who is ‘evil’ without it becoming a stereotype. The question is, does the character have a reason for behaving badly? Or was the character written as disabled to seem more frightening?

  1.      Do your research

Try not to make assumptions about life with disability, especially if those assumptions are based on common things you’ve seen in the media or other works of fiction. Do research to find out how your character’s life might be affected by disability. Research the medical realities of your character’s impairment/s, but also realise that disability is about external factors, and research how life might be made difficult for your character by different situations and expectations.

There are a couple of good ways to do your research. Of course talking to a person who has experienced disability is one possibility. It’s great to get information based on real life experiences from disabled people. But remember that people with disability don’t exist to be your human encyclopaedia. It’s not their responsibility to educate you. Always ask politely and understand if this isn’t something they want to talk about. If they are happy to discuss the topic, listen and trust their experiences, even (especially) if they aren’t what you expect. Also remember that everyone is different, so one person’s experience of disability, or even a particular impairment, will not necessarily be the same as the next.

So what if you can’t talk to someone? Use the internet. In fact, it’s probably a good idea to do some research on the internet as well, anyway. There are a multitude of sites available that talk about different types of impairments, from the medical realities, to the day to day implications, as well as sites that talk more broadly about life with disability. There are also quite a few pieces available about how to write disabled characters. My strongest recommendation is to especially read sites and pieces which are written by disabled people, rather than sites that talk about disabled people and their experiences from an outside perspective.

  1.      Make sure your character has depth

While you want to make sure you research the ways disability affects your character’s life, you also need to remember that there is more to any person’s life than disability, and the same should be the case for your character. Just as you want to avoid stereotypes, you want to make sure your character is multidimensional. Interesting characters have identities informed by a range of experiences, their own histories and all those little intangible factors that make people whole and fascinating. This is the same for disabled characters. Disabled people aren’t synonymous with disability. They have identities, personalities and experiences beyond how they are affected by their impairments or how the world treats them because of those impairments. Of course, disability is going to affect your characterisation, because it’s an important part of your character’s history and experience, but it’s not everything. Disabled people have full lives and complex identities, so try to ensure your disabled characters have full characterisations.

  1. Give it a try. You have nothing to lose

The last point to remember is not to be afraid to try to write disabled characters. Disabled people are just like anyone else–complex, interesting, deserving of a place in your storytelling. Stepping outside your comfort zone is good. It’s good for you, your writing, and the genre. But, if you think about it, writing disabled characters might not be as far outside your comfort zone as you think, anyway. After all, disabled people are just people. Disabled characters are just characters, but they might have a story that hasn’t been told just yet.

CDefying Doomsday

Tsana Dolichva and I are currently editing an anthology of apocalyptic and post-apocalyptic stories, featuring disabled, chronically ill, mentally ill and/or neurodiverse protagonists. We are currently holding a crowdfunding campaign through Pozible to fund the anthology. To support the campaign or to preorder a copy of Defying Doomsday, visit: http://pozi.be/defyingdoomsday. Your support is greatly appreciated!

We will also be holding an open submissions period once the campaign is over, so keep an eye out for more information and submission guidelines on our website. You can also follow us on Twitter and Facebook.

*For the sake of ease, I’m just using the word disabled, but everything I’ve talked about counts for people who identify as disabled, chronically ill, neuro-diverse, mentally-ill etc; and the characters that might represent these identities.

Guest Post: Gwen Hernandez on Scrivener

Back when I had just started to take my writing seriously, I started using a program called Scrivener to assist in helping me get a bit more organised (something I desperately needed!). At one point, I blogged a list of software I found useful, and mentioned Scrivener. Gwen was kind enough to pop by my blog and comment and we have been chatting ever since.

Gwen has built a reputation as one of the foremost experts on Scrivener, if not the foremost (she wrote the official Scrivener for Dummies!), but she is a very talented and successful author, too. To mark the release of her latest book, Blind Ambition, I asked Gwen if she wanted to do a guest post. Instead of just an ad for her book, Gwen has given us great starter’s guide to what I consider one of the best tools available to a writer (I couldn’t have written Backcountry without it–which I will cover in a  post of my own).

If you check out her blog you will find a whole lot more great advice for writers, which she make available for free. If you find this post helpful, or the others on her blog–or even just want a great read!–I’d encourage you to check out Blind Ambition and support Gwen’s writing.

Getting started with Scrivener

Are you fascinated by other authors’ writing processes? I am. I goggle at those who write ferociously detailed 80-page outlines, and empathize with those who start with the seed of an idea, or snippet of dialog, and tiptoe into the unknown. When crafting fiction, I’m somewhere in between.

I write in Scrivener—a word processor on steroids that lets you store your manuscript and all supporting materials (e.g. research, notes, pictures, web pages) in one place—which is flexible enough to accommodate any writer’s method.

Here’s a quick breakdown of my approach for writing my latest romantic suspense, Blind Ambition, and the Scrivener tools I used to support it.

GwenHernandez_BlindAmbition_800pxPre-writing

Even though I tend toward the pantser/seat-of-the-pants-writer end of the spectrum, I’ve learned that there are certain things I must figure out before I get too far into my story. The goals, motivation, and conflict for the hero, heroine, and antagonist. Internal and external conflict for the main characters. The basic turning points, and some idea of what type of final showdown I want to have. Much of it will change, but I need something to write toward so I don’t get stuck.

For all of these elements, I create documents within my Scrivener project, which I add to and revise frequently (and then eventually forget about once I’m into the story enough).

Here are some other things I set up for my project before I start writing (these can all be saved into a project template to use for future projects of the same type).

– A Productivity document where I track my daily word count (if any) along with notes on what I worked on in the story (e.g. edits through a certain scene, brainstorming). I use Scrivener’s Project Targets feature to count the words I’ve added, and track my progress toward the overall manuscript word count goal.

– A Backstory folder where I keep scenes that will never go into the final manuscript.

– An Unused Scenes folder to store deleted scenes—or parts of scenes—that I might want to mine for content later on.

– Four Part folders in which to organize my scenes. This keeps me within the three-act, four-part structure I use, without forcing me to consider chapter organization yet.

– I change the Label field to POV (point of view). When I create a new scene document, I can apply the correct character tag to it. With the colors turned on in the Binder (Scrivener’s table of contents for a project), I can quickly see which—and how many—scenes are in each characters’ point of view.

– Usually, I modify the Status field to help me track the day of the week in which a scene takes place. For Blind Ambition, which had a short start-to-finish timeline, I just put the day/time right into the title of each scene document instead.

unnamedWriting

Writing on the computer can be distracting. To get into a single-tasking mindset, I use Scrivener’s full screen (PC)/composition (Mac) mode. Full screen/composition mode hides everything but the document you’re working on (though it provides access to meta-data), and allows you to change the background color, or add a background image to customize the experience. My book mostly took place on a fictional Caribbean island, so I used a jungle image from St. Lucia to stay in the “mood” of the setting.

Research gets stored right inside my project, and links for websites or documents that I don’t want to import go into Scrivener’s References section. I use the project notes section to keep a quick-view list of characters, locations, and companies, along with their vital statistics.

When I can’t think of the perfect witty response for my character, I need to research when the sun sets on July 12th in the Caribbean, or I can’t think of how to get my hero out of a jam, I leave a note to myself right where I need it in the text, using either annotations or comments. That way I can keep writing beyond that point without fear that I’ll forget to go back and fix it.

backgroundEditing

The first thing I do before letting my completed (yay!) manuscript sit for a few days or weeks (but who has the patience/time for that??) is address the annotations I left for myself during the drafting phase.

For my first-pass read through, I compile (export) my manuscript to an EPUB file and go through it on my iPad. A book looks different in book format than on a computer screen and I catch a lot of little errors.

I take notes in iBooks and refer to them when I’m ready to make changes. Before I start revisions, I change either the Label or Status field to keep track of what I’ve done for each scene. The Label field is handy because of the color coding capability, so if you need a quick visual for which scene needs your attention next, I’d go that route. I create a value for each stage of edits to apply to a document when I’ve completed that stage.

AnnotationAfter my first pass, I compile the manuscript to a Word document. When it comes back from a beta reader or editor with corrections and comments, I open the Word document on one screen and make changes in Scrivener on the other. If you don’t have two monitors, you could use one large monitor, or view the document on an iPad or tablet loaded with the Word app.

To keep from losing my original version of a scene, I take a snapshot before making any changes. This lets me roll back to the original, or copy and paste good material from an older version if I later change my mind about my edits.

Production

Once the final manuscript is done, I use Scrivener to create EPUB and MOBI files for online retailers, as well as the PDF version of my book for CreateSpace (currently only the Mac version supports alternating margins and headers/footers, i.e. facing pages).

In this phase, annotations are helpful for marking parts of the book that I think would work for marketing excerpts. And I create a file to store different-length versions of my book’s description/back cover copy.

Scrivener for DummiesAs you can see, Scrivener is more than a virtual notebook for storing everything you need to write your manuscript. It’s like a project manager for getting the book done. And, if you have a laptop, it’s fully portable.

That’s the super-condensed version of how I used Scrivener to write Blind Ambition. I’d be happy to answer any questions about my process or Scrivener. Thanks to David for inviting me to his blog!

Gwen Hernandez was a manufacturing engineer and programmer before she turned to writing romantic suspense. She’s also the author of Scrivener For Dummies and teaches Scrivener to writers all over the world. She loves to travel, read, jog, practice Kung Fu, and explore the Boston area where she currently lives with her Air Force husband, two teenage boys, and a lazy golden retriever.

Gwen

Paying for Our Passion – Maureen Flynn

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 we feature an intensely powerful and personal piece from Maureen Flynn. Thank you for sharing this with us, Maureen, I feel privileged to host it here.

According to Carers Australia there are 2.7 million unpaid carers in Australia with more than 770,000 carers primary carers. There are 300,000 carers under the age of 24. On average carers spend approximately 40 hours per week providing care. I used to be afraid and embarrassed to tell people that I have been a carer all of my life. My family didn’t discuss how our situation was different to other families to anyone but immediate friends, family and providers of necessary support. I managed OK. I had ample time to write around university and my Mum was primary carer for my brother, who has autism, so I felt pretty normal most of the time. Sometimes things got tough because Mum would get sick and I’d end up living with family friends, sometimes for months at a time, or I’d be looking after my brother at home, but for the most part I coped. From the beginning my solace was my words: from the years spent in hospital with my brother making picture books for his doctor to diaries and later poetry, I always found the time to write. Writing was a compulsion and an addiction I couldn’t shake.

Then, when I was 22, the day before my final university exam, my Mum was hit head-on by a car. She was taken to hospital and released with severe bruising, but seemed fine. A mere week later I had to call an ambulance while a neighbour helped my Mum slide to the ground on our cement driveway. She couldn’t feel anything on one side. I held her hand in emergency and prayed for the doctors to hurry up and do something, anything, to make her better. In the months that followed, my life was turned upside down. Suddenly my Mum, the stalwart lynchpin of the family, needed spinal surgery. At the same time, her chronic illness flared up thanks to the stress caused by the accident. At 22 I found myself primary carer for my Mum and brother. I didn’t write much that year. I spent a lot of time crying as time and time again I watched my Mum suffer in agonizing pain. The rest of the time I was trying to finish my Honours thesis without dropping out of university.

my-hearts-choir-singsThese were black days indeed, so black that only my closest friends know the full extent of how bad things got. Aside from friendships of steel, one thing got me through the grief and the fear and the frustration. That thing was small cracks of time stolen to write my YA fantasy novel and some short stories (including a short story I have found too painful to return to, though it was cathartic at the time, titled ‘My mother was made of glass’) and my discovery of the Australian speculative fiction scene. I started attending writers festivals, the Aurealis Awards and book launches. Writing ceased to be mere compulsion and became something far more vital: a lifeline even as the hours spent on writing and writing activities caused me crippling guilt as they took my attention away from Mum.

Fast forward to 2015: my Mum is still chronically ill and physically disabled. She has been in hospital for the last eight months straight with a short stint out over Christmas. I spend quite a lot of my time in hospital. I edited My Heart’s Choir Sings on the floor of emergency when my Mum had shingles as we waited for the pain killers. I sorted them into order as minutes passed into hours. I spend a lot of time writing in notebooks on public transport. Sometimes, no, a lot of the time, I wish I had the space and time to write more than what I can currently. I work a full time job around the caring role. Sometimes I can’t write because I feel guilty spending the time on writing or I don’t have the right headspace because it’s been a hard day and all I can think about is how much I want to do normal things with my Mum like go to the movies or go shopping and how much I used to take that stuff for granted. There’s not always space for writing and imagination alongside such thoughts. Sometimes at writers events I can scarcely concentrate for how much my mind is worrying about what’s going on at home and always, always, only just kept at bay is a guilt that smothers  coupled with horrible negative self talk.

Why bother writing? You aren’t good enough. You don’t belong with these people. You’re an imposter who thinks she can be great. Even if you are good enough writing won’t make you money anyway and you need money. You should be at home. Why are you having fun? Why are you allowed to try to make your dreams reality when so many others have had their dreams taken away?

Last week my brother’s service provider spoke to me about managing my brother’s supports. I couldn’t’ stop apologising because in the past few months we have been prioritising my mother over my brother’s supports and I haven’t been putting much effort into working with his provider to meet his goals.  She said to me, ‘stop. Stop apologizing. You don’t ever apologise to me. I don’t know how you do it. It’s a wonder you aren’t lying flat on your back next to your mother by now.” And as she said it, it clicked. I have survived because of good friends and family and paid support of course, but as many young carers can tell you, it often isn’t quite enough. I’ve stayed sane because I have something that only I can control, a selfish past time that’s all about me. That selfish past time is my writing. No one can replicate it or take it from me unless I let them. No one can do the writing job for me. And even if I never get published and stay the amateur forever, that’s a very important realisation indeed…

MaureenIt was incredibly hard for me to write this post, but I felt that I needed to write it: for myself and for my family, but also for all of the other young carers out there feeling like they don’t have the right to dream or to take time out for themselves. If you are a young carer and a writer, I have an important message for you: it’s OK to feel guilty, it’s OK to feel inadequate, it’s OK to feel like you are writing in the cracks of your day and barred from a ‘room of one’s own.’ And as I thought about this post more, I realised something else… it’s not just carers who experience these emotions, but other writers too: mothers caring for their children, people writing and living on the poverty line, writers juggling tough full time jobs and writing, writers struggling to find their place in a rapidly changing publishing world. You are not alone or unique or special to worry and feel guilty and afraid and frustrated because you are a writer trying to write as well as a young carer, but you do have pressures most people your age never have to face. You can’t change that.

Take it from me; what you can change is how much you allow yourself to do things just for you. How much you are able to utilise the writing passion and make it your time out. No one can ever take that passion away from you or from me. Here’s my mantra and my challenge: young carers have important stories to tell. So give yourself permission. Dare to dream big. Be passionate. Write when you can. Be brave. Get wild. No one cares like you do. No one writes like you either. It’s time the rest of the world heard your story.

Maureen works for a small national peak working across disability, aged care, mental health and carer support federal reform. In her spare time, she writes young adult speculative fiction novels and short stories, verse poetry and she has just ventured into writing a crime novel. Currently, she is looking for a home for her YA fantasy manuscript and is working on a crime novel and a verse novel about ‘the historical Merlin.’ Maureen reviews speculative fiction novels at her wordpress blog, InkAshlings. Never one for saying no to a challenge, she also reviews genre books, films and TV shows and has interviewed authors for her blog. Her self published verse novella, My Heart’s Choir Sings is available from Amazon and Smashwords. You can follow Maureen at her website, on Goodreads or Twitter