Category Archives: Writing

Guest Post: Amanda Pillar on Editing and Writing

I was very excited to hear that Amanda was releasing a novel. As well as being one of the best editors going around, she is a very talented writer and her novel sounds fascinating! Amanda has also been very generous in sharing her editing experience with writers and helping them improve their stories–you can read some excellent advice here and I’d highly recommend following Amanda on Twitter where she often talks about writing–and I am delighted to welcome her here today to share some thoughts on being a writer and an editor.

I’d like to thank the wonderful David McDonald for asking me to guest post. I have been really enjoying the ‘Paying for Our Passion’ blog series lately, so I thought I would post something slightly related to the theme: on the sometimes conflicting goals of being an editor and a writer.

Recently, my debut novel, Graced, was released by Momentum. It’s available as an ebook, and I hope people will love it as much as I do! I guess that is the difficulty of every writer’s life – we dedicate ourselves to creating something we love, only to throw it out into the world and wait to discover if anyone else actually likes it.

But in addition to being a writer, I’m also an editor. Originally, I started as a writer in this crazy industry, trying to find markets and learning my craft (which I am still doing). After publishing one of my first stories (I think it was the third?) I was asked to provide a crit by my then-editor, Mark Deniz. I sent his story back with my thoughts and comments, and he asked if I was interested in co-editing an anthology he was thinking of calling Voices.

And so began my anthology career: Voices was the first, and the eighth, Bloodlines, is currently ‘under construction’. The early days of my career was an interesting time, as I was also completing my undergraduate degree, and one of my majors was English and creative writing. While it didn’t really help my writing at all, it did help me approach stories with a critical eye. I like to think that this tactic has aided me in encouraging authors to bring out the best in their stories.

Graced-Ebook-High-Res1I have to admit, it’s difficult to find time to write and edit simultaneously. I often say I need to wear different ‘hats’ when doing both. Both writing and editing are time-consuming. I will often read a story that I’m to edit twice before I sink my teeth into its contents. Then I will edit a story until both I and the author think it’s perfect. This may take one or 10 rounds of edits; each story is truly unique.

While writing helps my editing, in understanding the processes behind the craft, editing has certainly helped my writing more. Certain traits I notice in the stories I edit—like repetition, strange use of capitalisation, tautologies, whether physical actions make sense, etc—make me review my writing more critically. It is difficult for me to stop reviewing everything I write as I write it, and just get the words on the paper. The first draft for me is the hardest, so I have to constantly push myself to just keep writing, rather than editing as I go.

On the upside, however, I love to be edited. I’ve experienced both sides of the proverbial coin. I know every writer has had that gut-reaction to a strong edit at least once—they think what now?—but I can really recommend the following advice: set it aside and come back to it in a few days. I know when I edit someone’s work, I don’t expect people to take every comment and suggestion on board, but I expect the author to think about them. And so I try and do the same. After all, an editor just wants your work to be the best it can.

Amanda_small-1Saying that, there is a difference in editing and re-writing. If you feel someone wants to rewrite your story to fit their ideal, rather than yours, you don’t have to take those ideas on board. Don’t just agree to a re-write to get your story published for the sake of it; make sure you’re happy with it.

I know every author approaches how they write differently; the only advice I can really provide is to do what works best for you. If that is to edit as you go, then do that. If it is to ‘purge’ yourself then come back and edit later, do that. The only really important part is to just write.

Amanda Pillar is an award-winning editor and author who lives in Victoria, Australia, with her husband and two cats, Saxon and Lilith.

Amanda has had numerous short stories published and has co-edited the fiction anthologies Voices (2008), Grants Pass (2009), The Phantom Queen Awakes (2010), Scenes from the Second Storey (2010), Ishtar (2011) and Damnation and Dames (2012). Her first solo anthology, Bloodstones (2012), was published by Ticonderoga Publications. Amanda is currently working on the sequel, Bloodlines, due for publication in 2015.

Amanda’s first novel, Graced, was published by Momentum in 2015.

In her day job, she works as an archaeologist.

Expiration Date Anthology

I’ve been sitting on this one for a while, but I am delighted to reveal that a story of mine, “To Dance, Perchance to Die”, will be appearing in a new anthology from EDGE Science Fiction and Fantasy Publishing–“Expiration Date”.

ExpirationDate-A-270px-100dpi-C12From the press release (follow the link for more information):

(Calgary) EDGE Science Fiction and Fantasy Publishing is pleased to announce the featured authors of the new anthology “Expiration Date” edited by Nancy Kilpatrick. The new anthology from EDGE focuses on the what-ifs of the “end-dates” that surround us, and how they impact our lives and our world, and ourselves.

“Modern lives seem littered with expiration dates” says anthology editor Nancy Kilpatrick. “Packaging tells us when our food will go bad; when we can expect appliances to cease functioning; when contracts for the internet finish! But as annoying as these small expiration dates are, they fade to nothing compared to the larger events: when a species goes extinct; when a body of water evaporates, or dies because the PH balance alters; when giant icebergs break apart and glaciers melt forever, threatening the ecosystem of this planet.”

Kilpatrick reminds us “From the micro to the macro in terms of expirations, we are faced with the one termination with which we are all too familiar— the up-close-and-personal end of life for each of us and for the ones we love. It’s the personal that terrifies us most because it feels the most real.”

Expiration Date features 25 original pieces of short fiction by some of the world’s top Dark Fiction writers. The anthology includes works by:

Kelley Armstrong, Daniel Sernine (translation by Sheryl Curtis), Elaine Pascale, J. M. Frey, Steve Vernon, Ken Goldman, David McDonald, Lois H. Gresh, R. B. Payne, Mary E. Choo, Steve Rasnic Tem and Melanie Tem, Morgan Dambergs, Patricia Flewwelling, Christine Steendam, Ryan McFadden, Tobin Elliott, Silvia Moreno-Garcia, George Wilhite, Paul Kane, Rebecca Bradley, Sèphera Girón, Amy Grech, Kathryn Ptacek, Judith & Garfield Reeves-Stevens, Nancy Holder and Erin Underwood

Their stories span a range of emotions. Some will make you laugh, other will make you cry. They are grim and hopeful, sad and joyous, horrifying and comforting. Each has its own personality and will touch you in its own way.

It’s wonderful to see my name amongst such a fine list of writers, and I am looking forward to being able to reveal the full TOC very soon.

Paying for Our Passion – Laura E. Goodin

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. Our next guest is one of my favourite people, Laura E. Goodin.

I’ve run the gamut: living alone and writing while working full time and going to grad school at night; living alone and writing while on the dole; living with my husband and being the one earning more money, less money, no money. I’ve had demanding professional jobs, and demanding menial jobs, and menial jobs that didn’t even begin to interest me. I’ve run my own business while doing my Ph.D. and trying to scavenge writing time. I’ve been at home with a baby; I’ve been a working mom with a working husband and a child with a demanding schedule; I’ve been an empty-nester.

Through all of that, I’ve found that my success (as measured by publications, performances, and participation at cons) correlates almost not at all with my life circumstances. The only time in my life where the writing nearly stalled completely was while I was working in a highly demanding more-than-full-time job where I had to jump to a pager at all hours of the day and night for years. And even then, I held onto my writing dream by my fingernails (one story I wrote during those years eventually got published on the BBC4 web site, which still makes me very happy).

That said, some situations have been easier than others. I had one blissful year where I wrote full-time, supported by my husband, and our kid was old enough not to need 24-hour care, before I had to go back to work. My productivity soared. In contrast, at times when I have a lot of editing work (that’s my small business), I find that it dries up the word juju quite alarmingly. When I was in the throes of my Ph.D., not much else got written. The supply of words may or may not be limited but the supply of my ability to process and produce them is.

At the moment, I’m still running the editing business, and I’m commuting between Melbourne and Sydney two days a week to teach at a tertiary institution. The teaching money helps when the editing isn’t coming in, and – oddly – teaching doesn’t deplete my word juju the way editing does. The editing hasn’t, in fact, been coming in recently, and I’m finding that writing consistently is far less of a problem. Moreover, my husband, who is more steadily employed at the moment, is paying the majority of the bills, which takes a lot of the pressure off.

Several factors have consistently forced their way into my writing equation:

  • Job: the number of hours and amount of word juju, focus, and energy it requires
  • Family: the number of hours and the intensity of interaction required and desired
  • Extracurricular activities (I’m prone to these, and it has probably slowed my writing career down quite a bit, but it’s given me a lot more to write about, and is good for my soul)
  • Degree to which I’m either enthusiastic or discouraged about my writing at any given time

Balancing these – minimizing, maximizing, mitigating – is a moment-to-moment thing. I’ve long since given up on grand announcements (“THIS is the year my writing career really takes off!”), and I’ve begun to recognize that the bouts of black certainty that I completely suck and always will are, in fact, temporary. After eight years of writing seriously, during which all those factors have oscillated wildly, I’m noticing the peaks and troughs are flattening, and my energy is going less into climbing and falling than into just going forward. Some of that is the onset of middle age (which for the most part I’m relishing, by the way), and some is the slow accretion of data that yes, I am a writer. If I haven’t given it over by now, I’m not going to.

11015735_10205190972787882_1039060405_nAmerican-born writer Laura E. Goodin has been writing professionally for over 30 years. Her stories have appeared in numerous publications, including Michael Moorcock’s New Worlds, Andromeda Spaceways Inflight Magazine, Adbusters, Wet Ink, The Lifted Brow, and Daily Science Fiction, among others, and in several anthologies. Her plays and libretti have been performed on three continents, and her poetry has been performed internationally, both as spoken word and as texts for new musical compositions. She attended the 2007 Clarion South workshop, and has a Ph.D. in creative writing from the University of Western Australia.

You can find out more by visiting her website.

Paying for Our Passion – Tehani Wessely

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. Our next guest is the wonderful Tehani Wessely.

I’m an editor/publisher rather than an author, but in small press, I guess the same pressures apply. The income is rarely sufficient to support one person (let alone a family) – for me, if each project pays for itself it’s a win, but that’s not always the case. Even if it were, you can’t live on for-the-love, right? Anyway, I happen to love my day job – I’m a full-time teacher librarian (well, Head of Information Services) at an independent boys’ school, working 8am to 5pm most days. It is another facet of who I am, and I’m very lucky that I get to do what I love at work, which helps pay for my other passion!

What’s interesting is that having a day job doesn’t necessarily change my publishing output. I basically had a year off when the youngest was born (I did some online university tutoring and marking, but nothing like full-time) but I think I achieved just as much in the past year with full-time work and an interstate move as I did in that year off. For me, it’s kind of like that story of the jar full of rocks/pebbles/sand – if you put the sand in first, the rocks won’t fit, but when you have the rocks in, the sand fills the gaps. I think publishing is my sand – it’s what I do to fill in the gaps, and while I bemoan the fact I don’t have enough time to do everything I want to do to create and market books, I don’t necessarily know if I would achieve much more even with that time. That said, looking back it’s possible a lot of projects got STARTED during that year off which then have taken 12 to 18 months to come to fruition, so maybe that’s the kicker – when you have the time, the creativity has more opportunity to flow freely, even if it’s not an immediate payoff.

In terms of what juggling day job and publishing looks like for me, I have four children from 2 to 12, and a husband who works away half the time and, while he doesn’t always “get” why I publish, fully supports me. This usually means time rather than money, but then, every dollar I’ve put into the press could have been going towards the family holiday or mortgage I suppose. It’s more about the ability to be able to go to things like conventions, to sell books, network with authors and so on though – without his support, I wouldn’t be able to do that as easily.

LogoSometimes I get a bit stressed about whether or not I can actually maintain the financial commitment or time necessary to make the projects happen, but so far, we’ve always managed it. That said, I did make a choice late last year to pull back on some of the projects I’d been considering, due to both financial and time pressure. It was a really tough decision, and they were hard emails to write, because I think if you aren’t trying new things and looking at new opportunities, it’s really hard for a small press to gain traction. But if I can’t make the best effort at the projects I’m doing, they aren’t going to be worth it anyway – publishing has such a long lead time and an even longer follow through, if you don’t want projects to sink without a trace, and I think that’s what I’m trying to find the balance with at the moment. The editing and book production isn’t really the problem. I think I could continue to load or even increase it, if that’s ALL I needed to do. But it’s not. It’s the rest of the publishing process that takes the longest time. And that’s where most of my guilt comes from – taking time away from my family to make these books. I can only hope that my kids see me following a passion and working hard to achieve my goals, and take some of that away for their own lives, not just all the time Mummy spends at the computer rather than playing with them… Yeah, a bit of guilt.

In terms of the sacrifices I make in order to do what I do, although the money is a part of it, I think it’s definitely the time that is the biggest sacrifice. But you know what? If I wasn’t making books, I’d almost certainly be doing something else with that time, and it’s not a guarantee that something would be hanging out with the kids, I’m afraid! It might be something less deadline-specific, I suppose. Maybe it would be exercise…

CLOH cover smallI have been working with small press publishing since 2001 – my first child was born in 2002. I’ve lived in five different states in that time, worked full- and part-time, sometimes with contract work on top. Every time I’ve had a hiatus from a paid job, I’ve upped the ante in publishing – FableCroft was started two months after my third baby was born. The problem is, when I’m not working and have more time to give to publishing, I don’t have an income from my day job. And when I’m working and have perhaps a bit of extra money, naturally I don’t have as much TIME to invest in projects. Maybe I could be a better mother – I’m not sure. If I’m happy and fulfilled, I think I’m a better person which lets me be a better mum, but maybe that’s what I WANT to think because I don’t want to give it up? It’s a balancing act and I don’t think there are any easy answers.

What would be the ideal? I’m not sure there is one. I genuinely love my day job, and at this stage, wouldn’t want to give that up. I am well paid in my role, more so than I would be in most roles even in the mainstream publishing industry, so I can’t see us being in a position for me NOT to have a day job any time soon. However, one day, maybe, I think I would love to be able to either focus entirely on FableCroft or, should an opportunity arise, perhaps take on a position in a large publishing house. You never really know what the future will bring – for now, everything I do is another string in my bow to a potential future prospects. And we’ll see where life takes us!

10847783_10204716753775216_7468526947719541367_n (1)Tehani Wessely was a founding member of Andromeda Spaceways Inflight Magazine in 2001. Now firmly entrenched in Australian speculative fiction and independent press, she operates FableCroft Publishing, has edited for Twelfth Planet Press (among other duties), judged for the Aurealis Awards (for which she is the current judging co-ordinator), CBCA Book of the Year and the WA Premier’s Book Awards, reads far more in one genre than is healthy, and writes reviews, non-fiction and interviews. In her spare moments, she works as a Teacher Librarian and enjoys spending time with her husband and four children.

Before FableCroft, Tehani was the editor of ASIM #4, #16, #27, #31 and #37, three Best Of ASIM e-anthologies, co-editor of ASIM #36, the Twelfth Planet Press anthology New Ceres Nights and other projects. In 2014, Tehani received the Aurealis Award for Best Anthology for One Small Step (tie) and The Bone Chime Song and other stories by Joanne Anderton received Best Collection the same year. Many stories and works she has published have been shortlisted for (and won) multiple awards including Ditmars, Aurealis Awards, WSFA Small Press Awards, Tin Ducks, Chronos Awards, Australian Shadows Awards and Sir Julius Vogel Awards, and have been honorably mentioned and collected in multiple Year’s Best and other reprint anthologies.

In 2015, Tehani will publish Cranky Ladies of History (co-edited by Tansy Rayner Roberts and crowdfunded on Pozible), Insert Title Here (an unthemed speculative fiction anthology), Havenstar by Glenda Larke (ebook reprint), Focus 2014: highlights of Australian short fiction (ebook Best Of) and probably other projects. She also has a Doctor Who essay appearing in the collection Companion Piece from Mad Norwegian Press.

2015 Ditmar Ballot Announced

The 2015 Ditmar Awards Ballot has been released and, as always, I am surprised and delighted to see my name alongside some of my writing role models. I was very fortunate to have been included in some wonderful projects last year and to be nominated for awards on top of having so much fun seems almost cheating.

It’s always a bit surreal to look at the awards ballot and realise how many of the names on there are not only people I know, but people I am lucky enough to call friends. Of course, that makes voting hard at times!

I was saying on Facebook that when you look at this list and see the amazing talent on display, then think about the works that didn’t get nominated, you get a sense of the depth of the Aussie spec fic scene. You could create another couple of strong ballots without straining yourself, and that is a very healthy thing. That’s not in any way a criticism of the existing ballot–only so many things can get on there–but just an observation of how much great stuff is being done every year by Australians.

I have attached the details of how to vote below. Regardless of who you vote for, I do think it is important that everyone eligible to vote does so, because the more people engaged with the awards, the more validity they have.

Good luck to all the nominees, and whether you win or not, congratulations on your well deserved recognition!

Anyone who is a member of Swancon 40 (including supporting members) and anyone was who a member of Continuum 10 last year (who was eligible to vote in the 2014 Award) can vote in this year’s award. I strongly recommend that anyone who is eligible to vote exercises that right, as the more people voting, the better the views of readers are represented in the winners. You don’t have to vote in every category. Voting has opened, and will remain open until one minute before midnight AWST (ie. 11.59pm GMT+8) on Sunday, 22nd of March, 2015.

If possible, please vote online at:

http://ditmars.sf.org.au/2015

The online voting system provides a passworded facility to adjust your vote at any time before the close of voting.

Alternatively, votes will be accepted via email to:

ditmars@sf.org.au

An official ballot paper, including postal address information, will be made available shortly, and may be downloaded as a PDF format file from:

http://ditmars.sf.org.au/2015/2015_Ditmar_ballot.pdf

The 2015 ballot is as follows:

Best Novel
———————————————————-
* The Lascar’s Dagger, Glenda Larke (Hachette)
* Bound (Alex Caine 1), Alan Baxter (Voyager)
* Clariel, Garth Nix (HarperCollins)
* Thief’s Magic (Millennium’s Rule 1), Trudi Canavan (Hachette Australia)
* The Godless (Children 1), Ben Peek (Tor UK)

Best Novella or Novelette
———————————————————-
* “The Ghost of Hephaestus”, Charlotte Nash, in Phantazein (FableCroft
Publishing)
* “The Legend Trap”, Sean Williams, in Kaleidoscope (Twelfth Planet Press)
* “The Darkness in Clara”, Alan Baxter, in SQ Mag 14 (IFWG Publishing Australia)
* “St Dymphna’s School for Poison Girls”, Angela Slatter, in Review of Australian Fiction, Volume 9, Issue 3 (Review of Australian Fiction)
* “The Female Factory”, Lisa L. Hannett and Angela Slatter, in The Female Factory (Twelfth Planet Press)
* “Escapement”, Stephanie Gunn, in Kisses by Clockwork (Ticonderoga Publications)

Best Short Story
———————————————————-
* “Bahamut”, Thoraiya Dyer, in Phantazein (FableCroft Publishing)
* “Vanilla”, Dirk Flinthart, in Kaleidoscope (Twelfth Planet Press)
* “Cookie Cutter Superhero”, Tansy Rayner Roberts, in Kaleidoscope (Twelfth Planet Press)
* “The Seventh Relic”, Cat Sparks, in Phantazein (FableCroft Publishing)
* “Signature”, Faith Mudge, in Kaleidoscope (Twelfth Planet Press)

Best Collected Work
———————————————————-
* Kaleidoscope, edited by Alisa Krasnostein and Julia Rios (Twelfth Planet Press)
* The Year’s Best Australian Fantasy and Horror 2013, edited by Liz Grzyb and Talie Helene (Ticonderoga Publications)
* Phantazein, edited by Tehani Wessely (FableCroft Publishing)

Best Artwork
———————————————————-
* Illustrations, Kathleen Jennings, in Black-Winged Angels (Ticonderoga Publications)
* Cover art, Kathleen Jennings, of Phantazein (FableCroft Publishing)
* Illustrations, Kathleen Jennings, in The Bitterwood Bible and Other Recountings (Tartarus Press)

Best Fan Writer
———————————————————-
* Tansy Rayner Roberts, for body of work
* Tsana Dolichva, for body of work
* Bruce Gillespie, for body of work
* Katharine Stubbs, for body of work
* Alexandra Pierce for body of work
* Grant Watson, for body of work
* Sean Wright, for body of work

Best Fan Artist
———————————————————-
* Nalini Haynes, for body of work, including “Interstellar Park Ranger Bond, Jaime Bond”, “Gabba and Slave Lay-off: Star Wars explains Australian politics”, “The Driver”, and “Unmasked” in Dark Matter Zine
* Kathleen Jennings, for body of work, including Fakecon art and Illustration Friday series
* Nick Stathopoulos, for movie poster of It Grows!

Best Fan Publication in Any Medium
———————————————————-
* Snapshot 2014, Tsana Dolichva, Nick Evans, Stephanie Gunn, Kathryn Linge, Elanor Matton-Johnson, David McDonald, Helen Merrick, Jason Nahrung, Ben Payne, Alex Pierce, Tansy Rayner Roberts, Helen Stubbs, Katharine Stubbs, Tehani Wessely, and Sean Wright
* It Grows!, Nick Stathopoulos
* Galactic Suburbia, Alisa Krasnostein, Alexandra Pierce, Tansy Rayner Roberts, and Andrew Finch
* The Writer and the Critic, Kirstyn McDermott and Ian Mond
* Galactic Chat, Sean Wright, Helen Stubbs, David McDonald, Alexandra Pierce, Sarah Parker, and Mark Webb

Best New Talent
———————————————————-
* Helen Stubbs
* Shauna O’Meara
* Michelle Goldsmith

William Atheling Jr Award for Criticism or Review
———————————————————-
* Reviews in The Angriest, Grant Watson
* The Eddings Reread series, Tehani Wessely, Jo Anderton, and Alexandra Pierce, in A Conversational Life
* Reviews in Adventures of a Bookonaut, Sean Wright
* “Does Sex Make Science Fiction Soft?”, in Uncanny Magazine 1, Tansy Rayner Roberts
* Reviews in FictionMachine, Grant Watson
* The Reviewing New Who series, David McDonald, Tansy Rayner Roberts, and Tehani Wessely

Paying for Our Passion – Alan Baxter

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. First cab off the rank (and what a great post to kick off with!) is Alan Baxter.

Writing and Making a Living

For me, it’s been a long journey and it’s far from over. More years ago than I care to remember, I decided to take this writing gig seriously. I’ve always written stories, but I wanted to be a professional writer. At the time, I was working nine to five and, as I’m a martial artist and martial arts instructor, training six to nine, five nights a week, and weekends. My days were pretty full. I had no time to write. But I wanted to be a writer. So I made time.

My first novel was written in my lunch hours, Monday to Friday. I took food to work and every lunch break I would make a sandwich, go back to my desk, and work on the novel for about an hour. I wrote a whole book that way, and most of a second one. I also started working on mastering the art of short fiction, mostly in note books whenever I found time, as I had no home computer back then. I carried my novels around on a 3.5” floppy disc!

BoundAlong the way, I decided I needed to turn my life around. I hated the nine to five office drudgery – I was all about Kung Fu and fitness and writing. Then an opportunity came up – I was offered a redundancy. This coincided with another bit of luck – my father gave me a couple of grand as he’d had this big share dividend through his work and wanted to share it. Very decent of him! So I accepted the redundancy (which didn’t subsequently happen for nearly a year), and, before that salaried work actually came to an end, I used the money from my dad to put myself through night school and got my qualifications as a Personal Trainer. I was already fairly highly qualified as a martial arts instructor. Night school meant sacrificing some training time in the short term and I had to study a lot on weekends, but by the time my day job ended, I’d got my full Cert IV certification and I had a few grand of that redundancy payout in the bank to see me through building up a new business. I was taking a hell of a risk, but knew if it all turned to shit, I could fall back on office work again.

So I kept training, and teaching, and I built up a Personal Training business, and I wrote whenever I could. As the PT business began to pay for itself (thankfully just before the redundancy ran out!) it meant I was able to structure my time better. And this is what a large part of the decision had originally been based on – making time to write. I saw PT clients in the mornings and lunchtimes, I taught Kung Fu and saw clients in the evenings, and I had large chunks of time between clients and classes (mid-morning, mid-afternoon) to be a writer. It was tight living – still is! – but I made it work for me. I work my butt off at everything I do (as does my wife) and it just about keeps us going.

alan-2011-500x500-bwWhen my parents died, I got some inheritance, and that allowed us to move from the city to the country. I would much rather still have a family, but it meant we were able to pursue our dreams and lifestyle here. If that hadn’t happened, we’d probably still be doing the same thing in the city. So now I run my own Kung Fu Academy, a small school in a small town. If I concentrated on it 100%, I could make it bigger and make more money. But I want to be a writer, so I concentrate half my time on the Academy and being a PT, and the other half on writing. We never have enough money (my wife is my assistant instructor and a damn fine artist – www.halinka.com.au ) but we’re doing what we love. There is always the temptation to jack it all in and get a “proper job” – we’d have a better, regular income, but we’d be miserable.

We have a one year old son now, so we take turns looking after him. When we’re not teaching or training clients, we write and paint. Nowadays, we each have half the writing and painting time we used to, because we take turns looking after our boy, but we still have the same priorities: we run a martial arts school, we practice our arts and we look after our son. There’s a lot of sacrifice that goes into that lifestyle, but we’re making our lives what we want them to be.

Without the help from my parents along the way, things might be very different. Or not, I have no way of knowing – I would still have made those same decisions around the redundancy. But I certainly recognise that they helped me get to where I am now, and I’m very grateful for it. I’ve also worked my ass off along the way and will continue to do so. And until one or both of us makes it big, we’ll always be sacrificing luxuries for our arts – martial, visual and literary – but we’re okay with that.

Alan Baxter is a British-Australian author who writes dark fantasy, horror and sci-fi, rides a motorcycle and loves his dog. He also teaches Kung Fu. He lives among dairy paddocks on the beautiful south coast of NSW, Australia, with his wife, son, dog and cat. Read extracts from his novels, a novella and short stories at his website – www.warriorscribe.com – or find him on Twitter @AlanBaxter and Facebook, and feel free to tell him what you think. About anything.

He is the author of the dark urban fantasy thrillers, Bound, Obsidian and Abduction (The Alex Caine Series, HarperVoyager), and the dark urban fantasy duology, RealmShift and MageSign (The Balance 1 and 2, Gryphonwood Press). He co-authored the short horror novel, Dark Rite, with David Wood. Alan also writes short fiction with around 60 stories published in a variety of journals and anthologies in Australia, the US, the UK and France. His short fiction has appeared in The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, Beneath Ceaseless Skies, Daily Science Fiction, Postscripts, and Midnight Echo, among many others, and more than twenty anthologies, including the Year’s Best Australian Fantasy & Horror (2010 and 2012). Alan also writes narrative arcs and dialogue for videogames and wrote the popular writer’s resource, Write The Fight Right, a short ebook about writing convincing fight scenes. He has twice been a finalist in the Ditmar Awards.

Alan is represented by literary agent, Alex Adsett, of Alex Adsett Publishing Services.

As well as fiction, Alan is a freelance writer penning reviews, feature articles and opinion. He’s a contributing editor and co-founder (with Andrew McKiernan and Felicity Dowker) at Thirteen O’Clock – Australian Dark Fiction News & Reviews, and co-hosts AuthorCast with David Wood, a thriller and genre fiction podcast. He’s a member of the Australian Horror Writers Association, International Thriller Writers, The Canberra Speculative Fiction Guild, Australian Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers Association and a full Active Member of the Horror Writers’ Association.

Alan is an International Master of Choy Lee Fut Kung Fu and runs the Illawarra Kung Fu Academy.

Paying for our Passion – A new guest post series

Quite often, an article will come out and make the rounds of my writerly social circles, popping up seemingly everywhere, and exciting much comment and discussion. When it simultaneously gets posted all over the place and by a range of people or sites, it’s a good indication that it has touched a nerve or tapped into a subject that is of concern to a lot of people.

Recently, the provocatively titled “Sponsored” by my husband: Why it’s a problem that writers never talk about where their money comes from” seemed to be everywhere, and have everyone talking. From the article:

Here’s my life. My husband and I get up each morning at 7 o’clock and he showers while I make coffee. By the time he’s dressed I’m already sitting at my desk writing. He kisses me goodbye then leaves for the job where he makes good money, draws excellent benefits and gets many perks, such as travel, catered lunches and full reimbursement for the gym where I attend yoga midday. His career has allowed me to work only sporadically, as a consultant, in a field I enjoy.

All that disclosure is crass, I know. I’m sorry. Because in this world where women will sit around discussing the various topiary shapes of their bikini waxes, the conversation about money (or privilege) is the one we never have. Why? I think it’s the Marie Antoinette syndrome: Those with privilege and luck don’t want the riffraff knowing the details. After all, if “those people” understood the differences in our lives, they might revolt. Or, God forbid, not see us as somehow more special, talented and/or deserving than them.

……

In my opinion, we do an enormous “let them eat cake” disservice to our community when we obfuscate the circumstances that help us write, publish and in some way succeed. I can’t claim the wealth of the first author (not even close); nor do I have the connections of the second. I don’t have their fame either. But I do have a huge advantage over the writer who is living paycheck to paycheck, or lonely and isolated, or dealing with a medical condition, or working a full-time job.

Thinking back to when I was first starting out (not that I claim to be to much further up the ladder or anything) I remember having some major illusions about the whole writing thing. I assumed that most of the established writers I knew wrote full time and were able to support themselves in doing so through the books and stories they sold.  I have to admit this created some false expectations of what I could expect, and a degree of pressure in my own mind about making money out of writing.

I think that many writers first starting out have similar ideas. We might look at the J.K. Rowlings of the world and assume that with our first book we can quit our day job and write full time. The setting up of false expectations can be very damaging when you don’t immediately take off. Juggling your creative time with a full time job can be draining at the best of times, how much more so when you feel like the time put into writing is being wasted because it isn’t immediately a huge success? And, what about people who have to juggle being a parent or a full time carer as well? People with a chronic illness? How do they cope?

Because this is a personal issue, we often keep it to ourselves. Worse, sometimes we don’t talk about it because we think everyone else is living the rockstar writer lifestyle and we are the only ones struggling to find that balance–and we don’t want to look like a failure. I thought this was a subject worth exploring, and hopefully seeing how others deal with these challenges might a) help new writers realise they aren’t alone b) give us all ideas that might help.

So, I asked  a range of writers and editors if they would be willing to share their experiences, and open up about how they balance writing with more mundane but essential things like paying the bills, or making sure they are spending time with their family. I hope that it helps other authors and editors out there see that they aren’t alone, and helps them set realistic expectations. This is where the title comes from–how do we pay for our passion for writing, whether in money, time or the things we have to give up?

If you want to contribute a piece to this please feel free to contact me – I am after a range of experiences so you don’t need to have been around for years (though more experienced writers are definitely welcome, too).

I am really looking forward to reading these posts, and hearing your thoughts.

Review Love for Cold Comfort and Other Tales

Cold Comfort and Other Tales has been live now for a bit over a month, and there are a few reviews out there already. I was pretty nervous about how it would be received, but I have been delighted with the feedback so far. Writing is so full of rejections that it is always a major boost when people not only read your stories (which is still, at this point, a shock to me) but like them!

I am sure that the stories may not to be to some people’s taste, and that’s fine, but the good reviews are the sort of thing that makes this all worthwhile–knowing that someone has connected with your story. It’s definitely something to hold on to when you are slogging though edits (as I am doing at the moment), or when the next rejection arrives.

So, at that risk of boasting, here are some excerpts from a couple of the reviews floating around the interwebs. You can follow the link for the full review.

From Ventureadelaxre:

McDonald surely is one to keep an eye on – you only have to look at his list of achievements for confirmation. I can safely rate this collection five out of five with the knowledge it was deserved, as it has action, thoughtful commentary and excellent characters – I always love the character-driven pieces. And, as stated in my bit about his first short Cold Comfort, I’d love to see his work in a longer sense to see what he can do with more room and time. If he can achieve that much world building in so few pages, what else can he accomplish? No pressure, David.

From Stephanie Gunn:

This is a brilliant collection, and especially recommended if you haven’t read any of McDonald’s work before.  The stories are well described by the collection title Cold Comfort: these are not easy worlds, but McDonald manages to place hope even in the middle of despair.  Vanya discovers that her world isn’t as lost as she thought, Nick and his sentient ship will find a way through, and even in the depths of dystopia, people still speak out.

Highly recommended.

And, I think this is my first international review, so this was doubly exciting. From The Little Red Reviewer:

Beginnings are important.

Like a first impression, an author has one sentence, one chance to make in initial impression on the reader. We’ve all come across lackluster openings, openings that didn’t inspire, or confused, or simply made you scratch your head. Maybe you kept reading, maybe not.

For me, the ideal opening sentence is a perfect balance between nowhere near enough information, and just enough to draw me in. Not unlike that first floral nose of a glass of wine – you get the aroma, a suggestion of what’s to come, but little to no information about the mouthfeel or finish you’re about to experience. You take a sip because that first scent was intriguing. The titular story of Cold Comfort and Other Tales has just the kind of opening I dream of: perfectly balanced yet minimal information with just the barest hints of the entire worldbuilding of the story:

A big thanks to the reviewers for such kind words and–most importantly–taking the time to read my stories!

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Obligatory Ditmar Post for 2015

I feel like I have been a bit self promotional lately, with the FFANZ stuff, the ebook release and trying to boost the signal of the Galactic Chat interviews I have been lucky enough to do. So, I am going to bury my own eligible works right at the bottom of the post.

Don’t feel you need to read down that far, the important message is: make sure you nominate and vote in the Ditmars! There are so many amazing people in the Aussie scene, and they are producing so much good work. The list of eligibles will blow your mind. So, if you have loved someone’s work last year, why not nominate them?

Nominations for the 2015 Australian SF (“Ditmar”) awards are now open and will remain open until one minute before midnight Perth time on Sunday, 1st of February, 2015 (ie. 11.59pm, GMT+8). Postal nominations must be postmarked no later than Friday, 30th of January, 2015.

The current rules, including Award categories can be found HERE.

You must include your name with any nomination. Nominations will be accepted only from natural persons active in fandom, or from full or supporting members of Swancon 40, the 2015 Australian National SF Convention. Where a nominator may not be known to the Ditmar subcommittee, the nominator should provide the name of someone known to the subcommittee who can vouch for the nominator’s eligibility. Convention attendance or membership of an SF club are among the criteria which qualify a person as “active in fandom”, but are not the only qualifying criteria. If in doubt, nominate and mention your qualifying criteria. If you received this email directly, you almost certainly qualify.

You may nominate as many times in as many Award categories as you like, although you may only nominate a particular person, work or achievement once. The Ditmar subcommittee, which is organised under the auspices the Standing Committee of the Natcon Business Meeting, will rule on situations where eligibility is unclear. A partial and unofficial eligibility list, to which everyone is encouraged to add, can be found HERE.

While online nominations are preferred, nominations can be made in a number of ways:

1. online, via this form.

2. via email to ditmars [@] sf.org.au; or

3. by post to:
Ditmars
6 Florence Road
NEDLANDS WA 6009
AUSTRALIA

I don’t have a huge amount of eligible work from 2014. I didn’t even enter my collection in the Aurealis Awards as it is only three stories, and I wouldn’t think it would be competitive with all the amazing anthologies and collected works we have seen over the past twelve months.

Something that I didn’t create, but was part of, and that I think was amazing (not through anything to do with me, but because of the creator) was Laura E. Goodin’s radio play, “Useless Questions”. I am not sure what category Laura would be eligible for that under, but I wanted to highlight it as something worth considering.

So. my list:

Best Short Story

  • “Our Land Abounds”, David McDonald, in Cold Comfort and Other Tales, Clan Destine Press.

Best Fan Publication in any Medium

  • “Galactic Chat”, Sean Wright, Helen Stubbs, David McDonald, Alexandra Pierce, Sarah Parker and Mark Webb.
  • “Snapshot 2014″, Tsana Dolichva, Nick Evans, Stephanie Gunn, Kathryn Linge, Elanor Matton-Johnson, David McDonald, Helen Merrick, Jason Nahrung, Ben Payne, Alex Pierce, Tansy Rayner Roberts, Helen Stubbs, Katharine Stubbs, Tehani Wessely, Sean Wright.

William Atheling Jr. Award for Criticism or Review

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Useless Questions Radio Play

Earlier this year at Conflux,  my good friend Laura E. Goodin asked me if I would be willing to help her out with a performance of her radio play, “Useless Questions”. I have done a bit of acting in the past, but this was something new and I was a little dubious!

But, I was so glad I agreed, as we had so much fun performing the play. It is very hard to write good humour (especially humorous science fiction), often times it falls flat or comes across as lame, but Laura got it spot on and the audience loved it. So much so that we did a repeat performance later in the con!

While we didn’t have any specialised equipment, Laura did make a recording, which you can find here. It’s not perfect, but hopefully it will give you a sense of how much fun we had. Enjoy!

From left to right: Cat Sparks, Nichole Murphy, Laura E. Goodin, David McDonald, Stephen Ormsby and Satima Flavell

From left to right: Cat Sparks, Nichole Murphy, Laura E. Goodin, David McDonald, Stephen Ormsby and Satima Flavell