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

Paying for Our Passion – Amanda Bridgeman

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 wonderful Amanda Bridgeman, and get to help her celebrate a very special day–the launch of her new book, Aurora:Centralis! Amanda is the middle of a whirlwind book tour, and you can find out more here.

I’ve only been a writer for about seven years now. The first four years consisted of me just sitting with my laptop and writing a bunch of novels with no thought past just getting them out of my head and onto the page. The last three years, however, after I made the decision to try and get published, have been a busier. And with that increase in workload, choices have had to be made.

My first book was published in May 2012 and this week marks the release for my fourth book, just under three years later. With each book released, the busier I became. It wasn’t just a matter of getting the next book ready for submission or editing it for publication, but there’s the marketing and promotion that comes along with it too (and if you’re not going to market your book, then why bother getting published in the first place, I say). I’ve always been a believer that you should ride the wave while it’s there, because if you don’t, you may never catch another one. So I have held on tight to this Aurora wave and run with it!

Aurora_centralis_FAA lot of the writers have children to contend with aside from everything else in their lives. I don’t. I’m single with no children, and some might think, ‘well hey, you’ve got all the time in the world, right?’. The answer is actually, no, I don’t. Granted, I probably do technically have more time than those with kids, but I still struggle to find the time to juggle all the balls of life, just like anyone else. I don’t have a partner to support me through this journey, nor halve the bills or chores around the house. I am it, so if something needs to be done, then I have to do it, and if I have a bad day, then I alone have to deal with it.

I work a busy day job where I manage several staff and am PA to the Regional Manager. Some days I come home and I’m just knackered, sometimes physically, but usually mentally. And you kind of need mental energy to write . . . When I first started writing, I was so inspired, I’d come home from a day at work and crack out the laptop and start writing at 6pm, then keep going until 11pm or so, then go to bed. But I found that sometimes I couldn’t switch my brain off from thinking about various plotlines. I would lie awake staring at the ceiling, or watching the clock tick over. Four or five hours later the alarm would go off, and I’d get up and head back into the day job. That may sound like plenty of sleep to some, but it wasn’t enough for me to balance working two jobs – the day job and the writing job.

After a while this schedule wore me down. I realised that I was going into the day job tired every day, and that just wasn’t fair on my employer. Especially when it was that job that was paying my mortgage (I have no one to lean on to pay the bills, remember!). I had to reassess what I was doing and learn to take better care of myself. I started limiting myself to 2-3 hours of writing/editing after work and force myself (yes, force myself) to relax by either watching TV or reading for at least an hour every night before I went to bed. My body thanked me. And I’m pretty sure the day job thanked me too. Some days I still come home tired and have to give up a night of working on the books, because I’ve learned to listen to my body and give it a rest when it needs to. It still sucks like hell when I give up a night of writing, because I know I have to wait another 24 hours until I’ll get the chance again, but working 12-15 hour days, day in and day out (weekends too), isn’t good for anyone. Trust me.

AuroraCentralis BTFBAlong with the busy day job, and working nights and weekends on the books, I also spend my 4 weeks annual leave a year travelling to various conventions and basically using them as ‘working holidays’. Sure, I enjoy doing it, but they still can be pretty full-on and physically/mentally taxing. And if I’m not using my holidays to travel to conventions, then I’m using the time to edit or write and meet deadlines. It is my choice to do this, of course, and I do it because I am passionate about my books. Regardless, if I want go to conventions and promote my books and meet my readers, I have no choice but to use my annual leave, and the days run out pretty fast. I sometimes actually fantasize about using my annual leave for, you know, a real holiday. Like lying on a beach somewhere and doing absolutely nothing…

As a writer, aside from writing, editing, and promoting, you also need to keep your finger on the pulse of popular culture. That means you need to find the time to be reading, watching TV and watching films. Sounds great, right? Except it’s not quite the same as a ‘normal’ person just deciding to watch movie or read a book on a whim. Although I love it, I do feel obligated to check out the latest films and TV shows and books, because, well, it would be kind of irresponsible of me not to. And so, in what little ‘free’ time I have, I need to schedule in time for checking out all these films/shows/books. Luckily I enjoy most of what I read and watch, but sometimes I do feel as though I don’t really get to do it at my own leisure.

01Picture1Aside from exhaustion, writing can affect the social side of your life too. Luckily, pretty much all of my friends are married with kids, so their time is limited as well. My books, at the moment, are my kids, so between us, finding time to catch-up is rare. So in the ‘precious’ writing/editing/promotion/pop-culture time I have on nights and weekends, I also need to slot in the occasional catch up with friends and family. And I’ve mentioned that I’m single, right? Try finding time for dating!

When I first came out of my writing closet I was surprised by how supportive people seemed. Although, when I look back now, I think they saw it only as a hobby. I think that they were polite about me pursing this as a ‘real’ thing, as a profession, thinking it would go no further than just me ‘playing around’. But they underestimated my drive. With each book that was published, bit by bit the attitudes changed. I could see it, I could sense it. Although they had been supportive, I don’t think they ever really took it seriously. But a few chart toppings and an Aurealis nomination later, I now sense a stronger acceptance of what I’m doing. The realisation has sunk in, I think, that, yes, this writing thing is actually real. I am in this with the whole of my heart and soul; I’m serious and passionate about my writing. Despite how tiring or demanding it can be, I don’t see writing as a time-suck in my life. It has singularly given me more satisfaction than anything else I can think of.

_MG_0298_CompressedSo like any other writer, yes, I’m pretty damn busy. I’ve sacrificed leisure/relaxing time, sacrificed a busier social/dating life, have spent my spare cash and annual leave on travelling to conventions and marketing my books instead of a new wardrobe or exotic holiday or dining in fancy restaurants, and I’ve fought to prove how serious I am about writing, despite the polite doubt that surrounded me. But that’s life. We all have choices to make, and I have made mine. I am happy with my choices, and the real trick to happiness is not to spend any time considering what others might think about them. No matter how hard that is to do. Your life is your own, so live it your way. Time is too precious not to.

 About Amanda

Born and raised in the seaside/country town of Geraldton, Western Australia, I hail from fishing and farming stock. The youngest of four children, my three brothers raised me on a diet of Rocky, Rambo, Muhammad Ali and AC/DC. Naturally, I grew up somewhat of a tomboy, preferring to watch action/sci-fi films over the standard rom-com, and liking my music rock hard. But that said, I can swoon with the best of them and I’m really not a fan of bugs.

I lived in ‘Gero’ for 17 years, before moving to Perth (WA) to pursue my dreams and study film & television/creative writing at Murdoch University (BA Communication Studies). Perth has been my home ever since, aside from a nineteen month stint in London (England).

I am a writer and a film buff. I love most genres, but am particularly fond of the spec-fic realm. I like action, epic adventures, and strong characters that draw you in and make you want to follow them on their wild, roller coaster rides.

My debut novel Aurora:Darwin was published with Momentum in May 2013, and the sequel Aurora: Pegasus was released in December 2013. Book three in the Aurora series – Aurora: Meridian–was released worldwide on September 11, 2014.

More sci-fi books (both in and out of the Aurora series) are in the works, so stay tuned!

More review goodness…

A busy week at work this week, so this is just a brief update on some lovely reviews I found while wandering the interwebs.

Cold Comfort and Other Tales continues to get a great reception, with a lovely review over at Earl Grey Editing:

Cold Comfort and Other Tales is a short collection that will suck you in and spit you out again before you know it. Perfect for commutes or dipping into when you don’t have a lot of time.

Insert Title Here launches this Easter at Swancon, but there is already a review up and it is a great one. The whole anthology gets an excellent write up, with my story, “Her Face Like Lightning” the recipient of some very generous praise:

The dialogue in this is sharp and witty, starting to remind me slightly of Scott Lynch’s work. We see the beauty and brutality of Heaven, we see a diverse cast with an intensely developed backstory for a short story, and wow, what an ending.

This is easily one of my favourite pieces in this anthology.

I’ll take being compared to Scott Lynch (one of my favourite writers) any day of the week–I just wish I had his luxurious head of hair, too!

You can follow the links for the full reviews. It is always amazing to me that people are reading my work, let alone liking it, so these sort of reviews are definitely a big boost!

Insert Title Here

Paying for Our Passion – Zena Shapter

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 indefatigable Zena Shapter.

Every writer sacrifices for their art—whether that’s with time, money, health or relationships. We just do it in different ways, at different points in our life.

In the beginning, I used to pursue my passion by fitting writing in around full-time employment. I wrote at lunchtimes on park benches, whether it was cold and windy or sunny and sweaty. I’d write when commuting each day, on the train from London to Reading, then on the ferry from Manly to Sydney. I’d write in the evenings, on weekends, and on holidays. With my trusty palm pilot in hand, I’d balance its flimsy keyboard on my lap, then disappear into my world until I had to be back in the office. I used to love my palm pilot because laptops were bulky and heavy back then, whereas my palm pilot fitted inside a handbag. Nice.

The only problem was when I had to transfer my day’s writing gems onto my iMac at home and the transfer didn’t complete—losing whatever I’d written that day. Eek! I’d scramble for my keyboard and jam everything I could still remember into it, leaving my fiancé to cook the dinner or clean up. He’d understand, and having an understanding partner is key to making this writing gig work. Still, I could never get enough time.

So when the kids came along and I had even less time, he helped again. With two kids under two, I had three goals each day—to eat something, go to the toilet, and have a shower. Most days I’d manage only two of those three things. It was a magical and wonderful time, growing two humans from nothing. It was also hard work, lonely, day-in day-out drudgery. For a time there, I lost myself to the stress of it all…

I had to get out and write!

So once a week, every Saturday, my now-hubbie would look after the kids so I could write in my local library. That day was like heaven to me. Peaceful. Just my fingers tapping on a keyboard…

As the kids got older, I’d write when they were having their day-naps too, if I could get their naps to overlap! Other mums would read magazines when their kids slept, or watch television, just kick back and relax. Whereas I was frantic, trying to get as many words down before the kids woke up—and they always woke up too soon.

Shapter Kids RulesWhen they started school it was like a fresh start for all of us—well, once my youngest started at school anyway… I would finally have more time. I would, wouldn’t I? There was no point going back to full-time paid employment because of the costs of childcare, which for a couple with no family to help out go a little like this:

Before school care: $15 per child per day, $30 for two, every day for 40 weeks = $6,000

After school carer to taxi children to after-school activities, help with homework & make dinner: $100 for four hours, every day for 40 weeks = $20,000

Vacation care: $70 per child per day, $140 for two, for 60 days a year = $8,400

Total = $34,400

A basic full-time Sydney copywriter salary (including super) = $60,000

Net income after tax = $44,521.49

Net profit after childcare = $10,121.49

Although a set-up like this suits a lot of people, for us and what we wanted for our family, the $10,000pa wasn’t worth it. Instead, we decided I’d earn as much as I could between school hours, then be there for the kids as their mum, personal fan club and confidant. It works! When the kids are sick, I’m here. If they need Mummy up at school for some reason, I go. I’m there to help them with their homework, cook meals from scratch every day, and get them ready for bed. I go to their concerts, sports carnivals, teacher-parent meetings, Futsal games and swimming lessons. While I’m working during the day, I can also do laundry and admin.

I can also write.

No, I can’t write everyday, however much I’d like, because money must come first. Kids are expensive! Once the kids were at school I looked at what skills I could offer and started a writing, editing and social media consultancy. I edit, copywrite, ghostwrite, proofread, mentor, consult, format and layout print books, create EPUBs, design websites, set up social media profiles, tweet, post and blog for clients, and heaps more. I don’t advertise, but people find me through word-of-mouth and online. I offer solid advice and always work harder and longer than I should because I’m a perfectionist. Luckily that’s what keeps my clients coming back. Value for money!

Zena Shapter LaptopI also teach, which means I work a lot of weekends. Last weekend I worked all day Saturday and a bit of Sunday, this weekend I’m doing the same.

Yet for some reason, and even though this setup works for us, it bothers other people because I work from home and get to choose my own hours.

You don’t work.

It’s not work.

Oh, you’re working? Doing what? I thought you worked from home…

I thought perhaps you could do [insert errand/task] (because you don’t work)?

What are you doing today?

I get it all the time. Even yesterday at the bus stop when I was playing handball with my kids while waiting for the school bus, and I mentioned how hard the ball actually was on my soft little hand (how do kids do that all day?!), one of the other parents said: it’s because you don’t work.

Ouch.

Should I perhaps work in a field and harden up my hands?

It might actually be worth it if it would ease others’ judgements. Judgement is perhaps the biggest cost I pay for pursuing my passion and I have lost friendships over it.

Before I was a copywriter and editor, I was a solicitor, and every six minutes I had to look at what I was doing and ensure it was billable somehow. I made a great lawyer because I was efficient, and anyone who has ever worked with me knows I still work the same way, irrespective of my location, because of the type of person I am. The fact that I work at home shouldn’t matter, yet it does—to the point that parents take issue if I perchance whinge about my day from time to time.

At first I found their reactions isolating, and I didn’t feel as if I were a complete person anymore. As far as my family was concerned, I was always working. My kids have a rule now that during school holidays I’m not allowed to work after they go to sleep, because they know I otherwise would, and my health would suffer in the form of strange skipped heartbeats or night-grinding my teeth. Did I say kids were expensive?!

Yet my work still doesn’t seem to be valued by others because it’s not full-time or outside of the house.

Now-a-days, I try to surround myself with mothers who do as I do, earning what we can between school hours, at night and at weekends. They understand the challenges of this lifestyle—it isn’t for everyone. You have to be focussed, self-disciplined, and able to go for days on end without really speaking to anyone outside your immediate family.

DitmarSometimes I regret not working in full-time employment, not because it would bring in more money (because now that I have regular clients and teaching gigs it most definitely wouldn’t), but because my work as a mother is so undervalued by society. I wish we could put a monetary value on a mother’s care—and just say that every mother who works from home automatically earns the equivalent of $50,000pa—just to get other people off my back and stop them judging.

But I’ve also learnt that it doesn’t really matter what other people think. I have the lifestyle I do because it’s cost effective for my family and the benefits are priceless. Plus, I’m happy, and that’s the best kind of gift you can give your children. Miserable is the worse kind of parent you can be. So I write when I can around my ‘work’, and if that bothers anyone else – so be it. It’s the price I’ll pay.

Zena Shapter is a Ditmar award-winning author who loves putting characters inside the most perfect storm of their lives, then watching how they get out. She likes close-to-reality books of the unexplained and travels in search of story inspiration, visiting almost 50 countries to date. She’s won ten national fiction competitions and has been published in anthologies such as Award-Winning Australian Writing and magazines such as Midnight Echo. Read her through the links on her website at www.zenashapter.com and follow her on social media as ‘@ZenaShapter’. She also blogs, and is the founder and leader of the award-winning Northern Beaches Writers’ Group, based in Sydney.

Backcountry Novelisation Coming Soon (very soon!)

I’ll be the first to admit that patience is not one of my strong suits, and as a writer that can be a bit of a problem at times (hence why I am writing this a 4am instead of waiting until I’ve had at least one coffee). For a while know I have been sitting–no..squirming–on a piece of news that I have so wanted to share, and now I can!

A few months ago I was given the opportunity to work on the novelisation of the movie, Backcountry, a tense and atmospheric Canadian survival thriller. Directed by Adam MacDonald, it really is an excellent movie–receiving rave reviews at various film festivals–and will get a theatrical release on March 20th.

The novelisation will also be released on March 20th as an ebook from HarperCollins Canada. To say I am thrilled would be an understatement! It is already available for preorder, and the link above has links to all the major ebook retailers.

Over the next few weeks I will talk a bit about the process of writing a novelisation, but right now I just wanted to share this wonderful news with you all, and thank all the people who were involved with making it happen–especially the editorial efforts of Robert Simpson, Stephanie Alouche and Deanna McFadden.  And that cover–wow!

About the Book

Now a major motion picture based on a true story.

A romantic camping trip takes a deadly turn when Jenn and Alex become lost in the remote Canadian wilderness. With no map or cellphone, and running low on food and water, the couple unknowingly stumble into a predatory black bear’s territory—where being lost suddenly becomes the least of their worries.

And when they are eventually cornered by the terrifying animal, Jenn is faced with a horrifying choice—stay with Alex and defend herself as best she can or try to survive on her own.

Backcountry is the haunting story of a woman who finds the courage to survive in the face of almost certain death.

Praise for the movie Backcountry

“A must-see. Does for the woods what Jaws did for the ocean.” Matt Boiselle, Dread Central

9backcountry_

Guest Post – Emilie Collyer

I’m very excited to welcome fellow Clan Destine Press author, Emilie Collyer, to my blog to help celebrate the launch of her latest release, Autopsy of a Comedian!

Crossing Over

It’s a real pleasure to be guest contributor on David’s blog – thanks David for the invitation :-)

I came to spec fiction writing via a somewhat circuitous route and would define myself in that sometimes murky but always exciting realm of crossover.

To begin with, I’m a crossover when it comes to form. I started my writing life mostly as a playwright (having come from an acting background), which then stemmed into poetry and fiction. While I loved to scribble stories as a child (that always ended with the phrase: And that is the end of the story) and was a voracious reader, it took me a while to find my fiction voice.

My plays mostly have an element of magic realism, surrealism or fabulism–which makes a lot of sense to me as theatre is a place of make believe. It really is like getting to play with (human sized!) dolls and have them to act out a story, an adventure, a puzzle, a crime, for an audience to enter and get absorbed in.

As a later-comer to writing fiction I wrote a number of short stories that were fine, but seemed to lack bite, that something special, a unique stamp to make them leap off the page.

A Clean JobI fell into fabulist writing by accident when I saw an exhibition of work by an artist who places tiny models of people around the city where he lives. This inspired a story in me about a woman who wants to join the tiny people and has to figure out how she can do it.

The story came quickly, it was published quickly and I had a huge light bulb moment of: Aha! This is the kind of fiction I want to write.

It all clicked.

The thing that excites me most as a writer and a reader is being able to explore questions I don’t know the answer to.

I have continued to write plays and fiction that are speculative, experimenting with science fiction, the supernatural and dystopic worlds because I also find that these genres allow me to delve best into issues about identity, belonging, power, injustice and ethics.

I was lucky enough to win the Cross Genre category in the Scarlet Stiletto Crime Writing Awards in 2012 with my story A Clean Job and the same award in 2013 for Service with a smile. I was then even luckier that Lindy Cameron of Clan Destine Press offered to publish a small e-collection of my stories. A Clean Job and other stories came out in December 2013 and my new collection Autopsy of a Comedian is being launched on Friday 13th March 2015.

Autopsy of a Comedian resizedHere’s another crossover area I’m fascinated by: online versus real world. We all dwell in both spaces, crossing between one and the other every day. I’m flexing the boundaries of this crossover space by having an e-launch (online only) of my book, which is happening today – Friday 13th March.

I’ll be posting snippets of audio and text throughout the day and inviting others to join online and download the book if they like what they hear and read.

I have made some incredible contacts (dare I call them friends) via social media and the online world, especially in the writing community. In particular, I’ve found spec fiction writers of all genres and outlooks to be so generous with their time, links, offers and connections. Like David.

I suspect that those of us who love this world of speculative ideas and stories come to it with what is still maybe a pretty child like view of things – open to possibility, magic, terror, the unknown, the wonder-full and the things that go bump in the night.

What is it about speculative fiction that makes you excited, as a writer or a reader, and keeps you coming back for more?

If you’d like to check out the virtual launch today, you can join the Facebook event here: https://www.facebook.com/events/1544971379125101/

Or on my blog here: http://www.betweenthecracks.net/journal/

You can buy Autopsy of a Comedian and other stories here: http://clandestinepress.com.au/ebook/autopsy-comedian

You can buy A Clean Job and other stories here:

http://clandestinepress.com.au/ebook/clean-job

EmilieCollyerEmilie Collyer writes fiction, plays and poetry, much of it award winning. Her short stories have appeared most recently in Allegory (USA), Cosmic Vegetable (USA); Scarlet Stiletto: short stories 2013 (AUS); Thirteen Stories (AUS). Emilie writes extensively for theatre. Her sci-fi play, The Good Girl, won the Best Emerging Writer Award at the 2013 Melbourne Fringe Festival; and Dream Home was shortlisted for the 2013 Patrick White Award and is being produced in May 2015. Emilie lives in Melbourne. You can check out more of her writing here.