Tag Archives: Paying for Our Passion

Paying for Our Passion – Pete Aldin

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

I’ve known Pete Aldin almost as long as I have been actively writing–I met him at one of the few first few conventions I went to, and ever since he has been a huge supporter of my writing career.. Pete is one of those guys who keeps quietly in the background, but doesn’t miss much. He is first to be there with congratulations, but also with an encouraging word just when people need it. He’s a very talented writer, but you’d never hear that from him–he would rather talk about the work of others than his own. It’s safe to say that the writing world–and the world in general–would be a better place if we had more blokes like Pete, and I am really happy to have him on board today.

Some blokes build a boat in their backyard. Some work on their handicap over 18 holes. Some tinker with cars. This gives them peace, and meaning, and a skillset that affirms them.

I write.

Ten years ago (almost to the day), I was turning 40 and I decided it was now or never. I’d had this dream since I was 13 years old to walk into a bookstore, look on a shelf, and see a book there with my name on the spine. And so at 40, I put legs on the dream (and fingers on the keyboard).

I started putting words on pages, meeting other writers, learning to critique and be critiqued, and so on and so on.

A passion was born. An obsession formed. An addiction slid its warm hooks into my soul.

We all pay for our passions, our addictions, our obsessions.

B is for Broken

I’ve paid in time lost with friends and family. I’ve paid in the usual author-trope of self-doubt and self-flagellation. I’ve paid in late nights.

I’ve also paid for it financially, hiring a writing coach in the early days, paying for books on writing, seminars on writing. The trickle of money that’s come from selling stories hasn’t reached anywhere close to the costs of writing them.

I am blessed to have a wife and kids who trust me. Who believe in what I do. Who’ve seen that this obsession actually staves off my other mental illnesses. They’ve backed me to work a four-day week for several years so that I can have one day to write.

And here’s the rub. That one day each week is a sacrifice. It’s holy (a word which means devoted, set apart). And I’ve been often irked when people find out I’m not working on that day and assume I’m “free.” (Lee Murray mentioned this in her own recent post on the subject).


“You’re not working this Wednesday, are you? We should catch up,” they say. “Hey Pete, you’re free this Monday; drive over to my work and we’ll have a coffee on my teabreak.” “Hey, Pete, you have Thursdays off. You can drive me to my medical appointment.”

When I try to tell them that I am working on that day, that I’m working on a novel draft, I get that awkward pause that comes when something simply does not compute. Stuttering eyelids. Twitching lips. A fading smile. Then, I suggest Saturday and invariably get the Oh-sorry-but-I-have-something-on responses. And, understanding soul that I am, I think “So it’s fine for me to lose time doing what’s important to me, but it’s not okay for you.”

Oh, sure, I forgive them, for they know not what they do. But I’m bloody well not taking anyone to the airport this coming writing day, lol.


I think this has been the biggest challenge for me: to protect that writing day and use it wisely. As much as I’d like to blame the intrusions of others into it, I am much more to blame for any time-wasting that might have happened. I am the Great Procrastinator, Doom Looper, New-Music-Hunter. It’s all to let my other job’s admin creep into my home office on a non-work day.

But I must protect that time and I must use it wisely.

To use this holy time for anything but writing is disrespectful above all to my wife who has encouraged my writing day and made her own sacrifices; I’d be better to take an extra day’s pay a week, climb the career ladder, save up for that holiday my wife deserves.

A Canadian author once told me that over his first decade, his writing cost him all his friends and at least one girlfriend. But it had been worth it in the end: he’d made new friends, he’d found the right partner, and people were reading his writing.

I’m grateful. That my wife lets me write. That I do have great friends, many of whom I have met through my writing. That people are reading my writing.

Art is important. And important things cost.

Pete Aldin

Pete Aldin has been writing stories since he was a kid. A few years ago, he finally decided to take himself seriously, and finishing some.

Pete lives in Melbourne, Australia, with his wife, two sons and their small yappy dog. His addictions include alcoholic ciders, Fallout 4 and the FIFA franchise on Xbox. He doesn’t like pina colada nor taking walks in the rain.

He can be found lurking in the shadows at www.petealdin.com .

Paying for Our Passion – Lee Murray

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.

When I was in the New Zealand I got to meet a whole new group of writers and fans, and realised how much our two countries have in common, and how we face many of the same struggles when it comes to distance from the big markets and smaller support networks. However, I realised that we also shared the same close knit community attitude of supporting and helping one another–the realisation we are all in this together and we need to do what we can to help one another.

I wassn’t lucky enough to meet Lee Murray in person, but it shows the generosity of New Zealanders that she was still willing to share her story with me–and my readers–for this blog series, and I am very grateful for her honesty and for this wonderful post.

A research scientist by training, I left paid employment to care for my children because my husband’s career in medical image software had us gallivanting all over the world—England, France, and the United States. All wonderful places with wonderful cheese, so I was happy to go there, but the children were small and needed stability, which meant having a parent at home. That parent was me.

I’ve always been a bit of a scribbler. I started writing during the children’s nap times and while waiting at karate lessons, when my daughter was at pre-school, and later at school. Raising children is rewarding but, ask anyone, by mid-afternoon, your brain is going to porridge. Okay, so there will be people who will tell you that my brain was already going porridge, but imagine what it might have been, had I not been writing.

Into The MistLater, when  we returned to New Zealand and the children were in school, I considered re-joining the workforce at least part-time, but we discovered our son’s developmental issues were related to Asperger’s and ADHD and as a result he needed my support with his learning. Around the same time, my dad began his slow decline into dementia and blindness, and, naturally, I wanted to maximise the time I spent with him.

Two good reasons not to go back into full-time work. And the third: I wanted to write. Staying at home allowed me to invest in my writing: to study, and to get stuck into actually finishing some manuscripts. Then, two years ago, my dad went into care, and with my son becoming more independent, I moved into the office on the porch and became a full-time writer. My day begins at 8:30am when my family has left for the day, and I work until my son comes home from school, and often again in the evening.

The DogBeing a stay-at-home writer is wonderful. I love it. I make coffee when I want, can work in my pyjamas, and my dog, Maxi, curls up at my feet while I write. But like everyone who works from home, the boundary between home and work is a difficult one to maintain. I have a tendency to spend too much time being my at-home self, or alternatively, to spend too much time working. It’s a delicate balance. And then, there are family and friends and their attitudes to my work:

“You work from home, so would you mind feeding my cat?”
“You work from home, so how about I pop in on Tuesday morning for coffee?”
“You work from home, so can you collect me from the airport?”
“Delivery? Send it to Lee’s. She’s bound to be home.”

I get a lot of interruptions. It’s hard to block out chunks of time to write. I’m exaggerating: I’m always willing to stop for coffee ‒ of course, I am ‒ but  I can’t deny that there’s a tension because people don’t perceive what I do as being a ‘real job’. They think it’s a hobby. A parlour game.

“It’s nice that you can call yourself a writer,” one of my running buddies said once.

I asked her what she meant. Turns out she thought saying you were a writer was a euphemism for being a stay-at-home mum. It was what you said when you didn’t want to admit you did nothing.

“But I am a writer,” I said.
“Oh yes, I know,” she said. “But not really.”

I don’t run with her anymore.

Earlier this year, when I accompanied my son to see a new specialist, the doctor asked me what my profession was.

“I’m a writer,” I said, and he wrote ‘housewife’ in his notes. (The thing about being a writer is that we work with words and that makes us very good at reading things upside down.)

And then there are the lovely people who accept that you are a real writer and therefore think your life must be lifted from an episode of Castle. Making up worlds. Killing off people you don’t like in your stories. Regular critique groups with James Patterson and Michael Connelly. Attending glittering launches. Going to interesting exotic places in the name of research. Going to seedy dangerous places in the name of research. Reading. You know, all the things that Richard Castle does.

These people know nothing of the isolation, the self-doubt, the rejections, the lack of interest in genre writers by our literary funders, the readers who moan about the cost of books, launches where no one turns up, and the pay cheques which tell us we are worthless. To put it in perspective, my daughter earned more in two months at her university holiday job than I did working full time as a writer-editor last year. Yes, that includes my mentoring fees, editing fees, story payments, everything. It’s grim. And in New Zealand, I’m probably doing better than most.

“But hey, you don’t do it for the money, right? You do it because you love it. Because you can’t help yourself. Writing, it’s like breathing for authors, isn’t it?”


If my plumber whistles while he works, does that mean I don’t have to pay him?

At the EdgeOf course, I’m one of the lucky ones. My husband sponsors my passion. David supports me entirely: both emotionally and financially.

Early on in my collaboration with Dan Rabarts, my co-editor of Baby Teeth: Bite Sized tales of Terror, we emailed each other about our respective time commitments and how we would fit our editing tasks in around our families and our other work. I told Dan that my husband supported my writing as long as I put out from time to time.

Dan replied, “Um, unfortunate typo there. I assume you mean, put out a book from time to time.”

No, I didn’t. I’m a kept woman. My husband supports my writing habit because he loves me. He doesn’t even read fiction, but he reads everything I write. He doesn’t blink when the Amazon account comes in and he sees how many books I’ve bought. He doesn’t flinch when I subscribe to another online mag. “I see you’ve supported another Kickstarter,” he’ll say. Yes, I’m lucky. People tell me all the time:

“You’re soooo lucky.”
“Some of us have to work for a living, you know!”
“I could write a novel if I didn’t have to go to work.”
“God, I wish I didn’t have to go to work.” (To clarify I do work, just from home—at writing.)

These kinds of comments—some from other writers—fill me with guilt. I am lucky. There is no doubt about it. My husband’s income means I don’t have to worry about how we’re going to pay the electricity bill or where we’re going to find the money for the second school jersey to replace the one my son has lost.

A quick segue here, because earlier this year I was the convenor of the New Zealand Society of Authors’ mentorship programme. We received 70 applications from hopefuls across the country, all vying for one of 12 mentorships with experienced writers that we had on offer. One of the criteria we were asked to assess, one which my fellow panel members agreed was the most difficult to determine, was an individual’s commitment to writing. When we looked at the applications, the vast majority were from graduate students embarking on their careers and with few family commitments, or from retirees finally able to commit to that novel. People with children and mortgages and jobs were thin on the ground. Obviously, we could only select from the people who applied, but it occurred to me that our selection criteria precluded busy working parents, people on low incomes, singles. And if that were the case, wouldn’t those voices also be excluded from our literary landscape?

Reminding me again just how lucky I am to be able to write.

Yes, it makes me feel guilty. And because I can do what others only dream of, I feel I should somehow be making it up to everyone. Because I’m so privileged, I should do what privileged people do and give something back to the community. I must do good works.

Qu’ils mangent de la brioche!

So I offer my editing and mentorship services at cut-down rates—and sometimes for free—because writers have no money. I take on projects that involve writing or editing, sometimes hours and hours of writing and editing, and I do the work for free. I judge competitions, give away critiques, give away books. I facilitate workshops and do presentations in schools. Again, for free. I buy my colleagues’ books and I review, and review, and review. And all these things take me away from my own writing, but that’s only fair because I have time to write.

Often I’ll be so busy contributing to those poor people who are not as lucky as me that I’ll reach the end of the day without writing a single word for myself. Which means that I’m being sponsored to write, and I’m not even writing!

And then there are the anthologies my husband and I have sponsored, are sponsoring. Seed money to cover print costs, guaranteed sums to cover author payments. Projects which would not have had a look in otherwise because New Zealand funders are not interested in speculative projects. In general, if it’s not mainstream, they don’t want to know.

MikaRecently, I applied for funding for an anthology involving six New Zealand literary heavyweights. The application was turned down. I contacted the funding representative and I asked him, among other things, whether it was because the project was speculative in genre.

“Oh no,” the representative said. “No, it isn’t that because we had a meeting six months ago and decided that all genres were eligible.”

And what about the past five years? What about all the other applications I’ve sent in? What about them?

I wasn’t brave enough to ask it out loud. Funders have power after all. I resent (oooh, good pun) the application based on his recommendations. It ran to 37,000 words. For a proposed book project of 42,000 words. But surely a book should have merit enough to pay for itself, I hear you say. Why should it need funding?

Well, that’s right, books should be self-funding, turn a profit even. But margins are so small. Everyone is squeezed. The cost of bringing print books to New Zealand is too high and the cost of printing them here is even higher. The buying market is tiny. New Zealanders don’t rate Kiwi stuff. New Zealanders don’t read fiction. New Zealanders prefer Netflix. Booksellers refuse to stock anything from Ingram or Createspace. Libraries are cutting costs. Schools won’t buy class sets. Publishers are risk averse. There are lots of reasons why books don’t make it here and often it has nothing to do with the quality.

One writer friend of popular mainstream YA fiction tells me she has attended school visits where the school has only one copy of the book—the teacher’s copy—and the teacher would photocopy the pages for the students. Right under the author’s nose. But she should be thrilled, right? Because a whole class of kids were reading her work, and at least the school had bought one copy.

It doesn’t just apply to me—this feeling of guilt. New Zealand writers, on the whole, feel they are privileged to be writing and that they shouldn’t complain. Writing is an exalted thing. Everyone wants to be a writer and those of us who are living that dream need to be grateful.

Perhaps the real problem is readers—not loyal readers who wait faithfully for the release of your next book—but the ones who prefer to pirate a copy rather than pay $2.99 for an e-book. We’re constantly consuming stories, but there is a resistance to paying creators a fair price for that content. It’s not just New Zealanders. Didn’t Ariana Huffington sell the Huff Post for squibillions? Okay, so maybe not that much. But as far as I know, none of the writers of that content saw a cent.

I hosted a Chinese writer in my home a few years ago—another guilt trip thing because I was the writer who didn’t go to work and who had the biggest house. Anyway, this young writer of several books was visiting New Zealand on a fully paid scholarship. Not only had her training been paid for by her government, as a Chinese writer she received a stipend to write and also royalties from her books. Of course, with the government as her employer there might have been some censorship involved, nevertheless all the New Zealand writers in the room swooned with envy.

LeeTime to get off my soapbox here. After all, I’m just that privileged cow whose indulgent husband funds her writing whimsies. I wish every creative had a sponsor as wonderful as mine. But failing that, I’d go for a place where writing is valued and its creators are paid a fair price for their work. That place exists somewhere. I’m sure it does. I read about it in a book.

Lee Murray is a five-winner of the New Zealand’s Sir Julius Vogel Award for science fiction and fantasy writing and an Australian Shadows Award for Best Edited Work (with Dan Rabarts) for the charity anthology Baby Teeth. In 2016, Lee’s short fiction has appeared in Starquake, SQMag, and Capricious, among others. Her novel Into the Mist was released this month from Cohesion Press, and the speculative anthology At the Edge (co-edited with Dan Rabarts) will be released in June. Visit Lee at her website www.leemurray.info

Paying for Our Passion – Monica Valentinelli

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.

Monica is one of the many wonderful people I have met through my membership in The International Association of Media Tie-In Writers, and I am delighted to welcome her to my blog today. I have felt incredibly privileged in that people have been willing to share so much of themselves, and be so honest with my readers and I, in this series and this post is no exception. So, when I decided to relaunch the series I knew that this would be a wonderful post to start back with.

I’d encourage you to visit Monica’s webpage to have a look at the amazing work she is doing, and for all you Firefly fans out there (and I know most of you are!), check out her book–shiny!

When David and I talked about the possibility of a guest post for his wonderful website, I didn’t expect to be writing about what debts I’ve paid to be a writer. Normally, when I answer interview questions, it’s about my process or the work itself to show a) there is a writer’s brain locked in my skull and b) maybe, just maybe, you’ll be interested in my work. I don’t talk about myself very often; believe me when I say this post is an exception rather than the rule. For me, however, I want you to know the word “debt” doesn’t just translate to finances. It’s also about making gut-wrenching decisions to pay for the ability to pursue my passion: writing.

Growing up, I cannot remember a time when I wasn’t an artist, in every sense of the word, lost in a psychedelic, frenzied dream. I was always a writer plus. I learned to read as a toddler, I began piano lessons in kindergarten, and I had a gift for language. While music was my primary focus for years, libraries were my sanctuary from bullies on all sides, and making art—all art—was my religion. (It still is.) This bit, right here, is why I’m telling you this: I never cared about the business aspect of selling my art as a child, because I didn’t need to. That was my safety net, because the freedom to create without worrying about failure, food, or homelessness, allowed me to make art whenever I wanted to. So, I wrote school plays, children’s books, essays, short stories, and novellas. Drew and painted, too, of course, but much of my brain was also dedicated to my music. My art leaked out of my fingertips and on to the page or the keyboard, because I always pushing, pushing, pushing to break free, to feel free, to simply…be.

Firefly dictionaryPressure, being what it is, usually means something has to give sooner or later, and I was suffocating from it. I cannot remember a time when I wasn’t “supposed” to be an adult and focus on my future to marry “well” and have lots of babies. I never was one to listen, however, but eventually I internalized that pressure and realized that being an artist wasn’t enough. At 16, I knew I had to learn how to make a living at it. I just didn’t know how. To that end, I could’ve applied to Juillard or tried living/working in Hollywood or New York—but I couldn’t afford any of that on my own. There was no chance, no way in hell, I could even scrape together enough money for the plane ticket. Financial and emotional support for my efforts was selective; this meant that I wound up in a constant state of anxiety, worried that there was something wrong with me because I was an artist and not a doctor or a scientist. I was a woman, and not a man. I was smart, too, but that only mattered provided I agreed to take the narrow path before me.

Caught between being an adult (making money) and remaining a child (making art), I gave up my idealism and focused on pragmatism. I all but abandoned music, not only because it carried too much baggage, but because I couldn’t see how I could make it work. In this “new, smart and capable” version of myself, I made some great choices and some really shitty ones. Thankfully, my college degree was paid for, but much of my experiences revolved around fighting for approval with little support. There were a few bright spots, though. Back then, I felt surrounded by worldviews that didn’t feel right to me, so I focused on multiculturism and secretly added several courses into my Bachelor’s program to that effect. This was the beginning of a journey I don’t think I’ll ever abandon and that, to me, was a great choice, because it opened me up to a world of literature I never knew existed. The shitty choices, then, originated from not knowing much about anything other than making art. I felt defined by my container, my body, and not by my creativity. And, when my normally-bright mental capabilities failed me, as I futilely attempted to push myself into the sciences, I felt I had somehow lost there, too.

Gods Memes and MonstersAnyway, after college I knew I didn’t want to go to grad school; I was burnt out by the time I graduated and I couldn’t afford it, either. Thus, I felt extremely naïve and unequipped to deal with the outside world. Instead of building the life that was expected of me, I took every job possible, believing that knowing marketing and sales and basic business practices would help me build a career as an entrepreneur, as a writer. I convinced myself if I just “knew enough”, I would figure out a way to make a living at it. Everybody else thought I was being random, but I felt I needed to focus on the basics, especially since I was secretly afraid that my self-worth was only about having babies—a thought that terrified me. How else was I supposed to earn enough money to pay rent if I didn’t find a real job? How could I keep writing if I didn’t have some other practical skills to fall back on?

I did focus on the real world. In fact, I gave up writing for a while, because I wound up lying to myself, claiming it was a luxury I could not afford. I had a normal, ups-and-downs, run-of-the-mill life, because I was desperate to fit in and “be normal” on my terms. Only, I hated those years, because that wasn’t me at all, but it was all I had. I opted to be near my support network, as emotionally and psychologically draining as it was, because it was either that or go it totally alone—and that scared the shit out of me. So, I wound up internalizing a twisted view of the world, which meant that artists fell into the category of “unapproved” and “frivolous” people unless they were successful classicists. Artistic works evolved into this sticky ectoplasm that only famous (male) artists had the right to capture and collect from the ether; only they are blessed for their greatness with fans, money, acclaim. And, if nobody else can achieve that “level”—a word I have now grown to hate with every cell in my body—that means their art must suck. Everybody else is either selling out, or they’re not worth spending time or money on. Right?

Dread Names Red ListEventually I hit bottom, and I blamed myself for not making the run-of-the-mill life work. I bounced from job to job in every industry imaginable, I was laid off multiple times, I was in near-fatal accidents, and I couch surfed. I felt powerless, unloved, and undervalued as a human being, and it almost killed me. I understood that having food on the table and a roof over my head was more than many people got—especially since my college had been paid for—but at what cost? My soul was ripped in half. I hate that word, too, “soul” because it sounds so cliché, but how else can I describe that pain? It felt as if every time I had the opportunity to be myself, I was punished for it. Every time I tried to be anything but myself, I was punished for that, too.

After surviving too many close calls and near misses, I was desperate for change. The alternative was not an option for me; I had seen too many lives taken unexpectedly, and I thought to myself, “If I died tomorrow, what would I regret the most?” The answer was immediate, and I still remember feeling stupid for thinking it at the time: “Not writing, not making art, not being true to myself.” So, I funneled all of my hope into the unknowable future, instead, and burned that old life to the ground. All the while, I prayed I was doing the right thing, hoping I wasn’t hurting anybody by choosing me. I wanted out, not because I desired an esoteric happiness, but because finally realized I was committing the greatest crime of all: I was betraying my true self by pretending to be something I wasn’t.

Upside Down CoverNow, about a decade and many life-altering moments later, I write full-time. It’s taken me a long time to get to this point, and some years have been better than others, but I can honestly say I am happy for the first time in my life. I know very little about the Kardashians of the world or who’s who in Hollywood, and I don’t understand the “people” side of the industry, either, with respect to awards-or-organizational drama, but I am writing. I never regained the stars in my eyes, mind you, but I do have a small but tight-knit supportive network of close friends and family. And, I have a partner who supports me for me, both financially and emotionally; he knows this business is incredibly unpredictable. Sometimes, he supports me. Sometimes, I support him.

While I’m not okay with all he’s done to ensure I can continue to write full-time, I make up for it in other ways because that is the nature of our relationship. We are partners. At the same time, I wouldn’t be writing full-time without him, because I couldn’t afford it. After all, making a living as a writer isn’t about “a” sale or “a” gig or “an” advance, it’s about the ability to earn income based on words written and sold on a consistent basis. Thus, if my partner wasn’t around, I couldn’t do what I do year after year, at least not right now. I’d have to make different choices, about what I wrote and how I sold it, and I’d have to get a day job to pay my bills. My goal right now, however, is to make a living plus, which means writing isn’t my hobby. This, for me, is not a calling, and it’s not “just” a job, either. It is my life, and it’s the only one I’ve got.

Monica-Headshot-300x254So, that’s my story. Those closest to me know I am both haunted and fiery to varying degrees at all times, and they know the debts I’ve paid—emotional, financial, social, even physical. They also understand why I am focused on writing, on filling up those blank pages, on getting that next gig, too. And, despite my best efforts to the contrary, that—writing—is all I have control over. Everything else, I’m simply making up as I go along.

Monica Valentinelli is a writer, editor, and game developer who lurks in the dark. She writes both original and media tie-in fiction and works on games and comics, too. To date, she has over seven dozen creative credits with more on the way. She is best known for her work related to the Firefly TV show by Joss Whedon. She was the lead writer and developer for the award-winning line of Firefly RPG books, and also wrote the Firefly: The Gorramn Shiniest Language Guide and Dictionary in the ‘Verse which was released from Titan Publishing in April 2016.

Published stories and games include “Tomorrow’s Precious Lambs” for Extreme Zombies, “The Dig” for the Lovecraft Zine, Dread Names, Red List for Vampire: the Masquerade, and Unknown Armies Third Edition. Monica also recently completed a successful Kickstarter campaign for a co-edited anthology titled Upside Down: Inverted Tropes in Storytelling from Apex Book Company. Her debut comic Man Zombie Standing was published in 2013 as part of the Unfashioned Creatures: A Frankenstein Anthology from Red Stylo Media. You can discover more of the author’s creative works through her fiction publications or her game publications.

Her non-fiction repertoire includes online articles, worldbuilding games, reference materials, and essays. She has written for sites including HowtoWrite Shop.com, Sony’s Crackle.com, SFWA.org, GeeksDreamGirl.com, and BookLifeNow.com. Her essays have appeared in books such as Family Games: The 100 Best, The Bones: Us and Our Dice, and For Exposure: The Life and Times of a Small Press Publisher.

Monica holds a B.A. in Creative Writing from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. She lives with two very spoiled cats nicknamed Lord Lardbottom and Captain Whinypants, an albino water frog named Al, and her fiance. In addition to writing and editing, she enjoys traveling, designing jewelry, cooking, taking photos, gaming, watching anime and martial arts movies, exploring old places, and hiking. She is represented by Jennie Goloboy from Red Sofa Literary.

For more about the author, read or listen to an interview with Monica Valentinelli or subscribe to her blog.

Paying for Our Passion – Donna Maree Hanson

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.

Donna Maree Hanson is one of those people who continuously put in to the community, and without whom many of the things we take for granted would not exist. As well as working tirelessly for the Aussie spec fic community, she is also a talented and successful writer who has overcome a number of obstacles to get to where she is–and so is the perfect person to cap off the year for the Paying for Our Passion series .

This is part of Donna’s blog tour celebrating her book Shatterwing being available FREE – check it out

What I gave up for writing.

This is a topic true to my heart. I don’t think I can count the dollars I gave up to write in the past. Right now I work full time and write in between. These days, I am an empty nester and my partner is also a writer. Between us we forego a tidy house most of the time in order to write. However, that’s not suffering really. Right now the demands on me are more physical. I have arthritis in the neck and thoracic spine. I’ve also had RSI in the right arm. It doesn’t help that I write in my day job for about half the year. I can’t write as much as I want to anymore. The 10,000 word days are fond memories. These days achieving 5000 words is a rarity and a cause for celebration.Headshot

For many years I worked part time, having a writing day once a week. I was more or less productive at this time. Often, though, my writing day was taken up with an aging mother, medical appointments, and teenager stress. My more productive time was on writer retreats—two weeks of blissful immersion in writing. These though are expensive, being smack in the middle of the school holidays and I can’t rely on them anymore to get a good project nutted out.

In my early days, I was obsessed with writing. I wanted to write all the time. I wanted to hone my skills, develop my craft and get lots of words under my belt so I could be published. It meant the world to me. I think that obsession damaged relationships with my then partner and also my children. I tried to balance that now, but then there are other things to come into play.


It wasn’t until I was published that I started working full time. I calculated that I had foregone more income than I’ll ever earn from writing and that insight coincided with my first publication. And since being published, I know I won’t be living off that money any time soon. I may have a number of publications now, but I’m flying below the radar in the number of readers and resulting dollars department. I’m lucky that I have some financial back up if I ever did decide to give up my day job.


Now faced with increasingly bad physical problems, I have to make even harder choices about my writing versus working full time. I have so many stories to write. I have a white board full of titles I know I’ll never ever write. I have to weigh up now whether I need to focus more on my writing than on earning money. I earn good money. I like earning good money. Worse, I like spending money. Working less means no more cons, or shopping trips or freedom to do what I want or travel where I want. It means taking a risk on myself and that writing is what I want to do. It’s scary–let me tell you.

AnimatedI can’t tell you what I’m going to decide. So now I write when I can, balance the physical pain with the demands of grandchildren, children and the desire to be with them and with friends and sometimes just vegging. Writing for me now is a privilege. Something I can’t take for granted. I have to make every word count, every minute I apply myself count. But I wouldn’t stop doing it. I love writing too much. I don’t know  how I lived before I started writing. I had stories in my head all my life. I need to be creating stories and characters and more. It’s what I need to do to feel like I’m living.

Donna Maree Hanson is a Canberra-based writer of fantasy, science fiction, horror, and under a pseudonym paranormal romance. Her dark fantasy series (which some reviewers have called ‘grim dark’), Dragon Wine, is published by Momentum Books (Pan Macmillan digital imprint).  Book  1: Shatterwing and Book 2: Skywatcher are out now in digital and print on demand. In April 2015, she was awarded the A. Bertram Chandler Award for “Outstanding Achievement in Australian Science Fiction” for her work in running science fiction conventions, publishing and broader SF community contribution. Donna also writes young adult science fiction, with Rayessa and the Space Pirates and Rae and Essa’s Space Adventures out with Escape Publishing. Under her pseudonym, Dani Kristoff, she writes paranormal romance and is published by Harper Impulse and Escape Publishing.

Dragon Wine Book 1:Shatterwing ebook is free during December and early January 2016.



Paying for Our Passion – T.R. Napper

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

Today’s guest is T.R. Napper, who has been blogging about this stuff for a while. His post on the economics of being a writer, (GEORGE R. R. MARTIN’S SISTER: THE ECONOMICS OF BEING A WRITER), went viral and is a must read (as is the rest of his blog). So, I was thrilled to have him come and contribute a piece for this series! 

The article David links to in his initial piece that heralds the start of this series, sponsored, needs mentioning at the outset. The author – Ann Bauer – makes the crucial point that her writing life is, in part, sponsored by a husband who works full time. She points out that there are a lot of authors out there who get to devote themselves to writing full time not via their earnings, but through the wealth they were born (or married) into. Sobering stuff.

In a sense I am sponsored. My wife works, I write; she pays the bills and puts food on the table, I write science fiction. How awesome is feminism?!

But it’s not quite that simple. We both worked in the Australian foreign aid program (AusAID), so were taking turns in overseas postings. I worked in Lao PDR from 2008 – 2011; my partner has a position in Viet Nam from 2013 – 2016. Writing aside, I was always going to to a break from paid full-time work – for the first time since I was 18 – in order to take care of our son, who was 16 months old when we moved to Viet Nam. Raising a child is still work, of course – and work that I love – but unpaid nonetheless.

Hear Me Roar

However, when AusAID was drawn and quartered by the Abbott government, I took a redundancy and the qualified degree of financial flexibility that comes with it. When we return to Australia I’ll have to go back to work (our second child is due), but we’ve organised our life in a way that it need not be full-time work. So perhaps you could say I was semi-sponsored.

My path to writing was different than most. While always a voracious reader, I never felt destined to be an author; didn’t attempt my first novel at twelve, any of those born-to-write tropes. My calling was aid work, and I did that for over a decade. My second calling, discovered a little over three years ago at the age of 37, is writing.

At the start I had to write during my son’s daily nap – getting words down during those two hours in the middle of the day when he was asleep was crucial. Now he goes to pre-school I have a bit more time each day, and am producing a reliable number of words each month. Something I’ll be able to continue when we move back to Australia.


The more I write and become part of the genre community, the more I learn about the challenges we face, big and small.

On the micro-level, in my opinion, the obstacles myself and other writers face are largely trivial.

It’s hard to get terribly moved at someone bemoaning a rejection, or at having to write on the weekend in addition to work, or some other first-world problem,  when you’ve dealt with starving ethnic minority children who’ve never seen the inside of a schoolroom. It’s hard to feel much sympathy at all when writing is such a satisfying, rewarding, and interesting profession (or hobby, or semi-profession).

The things required in a writing life: reading a lot of books; watching old movies (for research, of course); writing discipline; and letting the imagination run rampant and out onto the page, are all pretty straight-forward, positive items.


On the other hand, on the macro level, I’m increasingly worried at how egregiously undervalued books are in contemporary society.

Writers do pay for their passion with sweat and tears (and blood after one of those particularly nasty paper cuts), but readers are less willing to repay them for that work. Most readers take books for granted, and seem to think they should be cheap or even free. Consumers don’t blink an eye at a five dollar coffee, a ten dollar pint of artisan beer, or thirty dollar breakfast at their favourite café – but ask them to buy a book and they’ll cry poor or complain about the price.

The ability to earn a living from writing is diminishing every year. Every year the median earning for professional writers go down, advances shrink, and royalties peter off. This impoverishes the genre. It means the potential output of a writer is reduced as they spend their productive hours in a day job taken purely to pay the bills.

It also means that some are shut out of the profession.  In the case where someone is, say, working class, or a single mother, or otherwise not able to be ‘sponsored’ – writing dreams shatter  when run up against the hard reality of that next electricity bill.

GrimDark Magazine

So I’ll pay for my passion insofar as a writer earns next to nothing. When I return to Australia I’ll have to get back to work, support my wife, and make sure I take on my share of raising two very young children.

Writing will be tougher, as I’ll have less intellectual energy at the end of each day. I’ll write less than I could, because society undervalues books, because the market is so fragmented, because cutting through is harder than ever, and because, hell, I’m no Kim Stanley Robinson.

But to my mind, none of these things represent sacrifice. It’s just life. Being able to write is a privilege, and I feel lucky to be able to do it.


T.R. Napper is an aid worker, stay-at-home parent, and writer. He has spent the last decade living and working throughout South East Asia, and currently lives in Viet Nam.

T. R. Napper’s short fiction has appeared in Interzone (several issues), Grimdark Magazine, Ticonderoga’s Hear Me Roar anthology, and others. He has an upcoming story in Asimov’s, and is a Writers of the Future winner.  

Online he can be found here: www.nappertime.com and here on twitter: @DarklingEarth

Paying for Our Passion – Ian McHugh

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.

Ian McHugh is one of those guys who you can talk to and not get any hint from him of exactly how talented, and successful, a writer he is. He has consistently hit the big overseas markets which is no easy task for an Australian writer–however, that has not stopped him from continuing to give back to the local writing community, both as an editor and as someone always willing to pass on his knowledge.

For all those reasons, and more, I am delighted to welcome the best beard in Aussie spec fic to my blog today.

Landing Jam Side Up

In 2014, I had the chance to take a redundancy from the public service. For someone like me, just past forty and with a couple of decades service, a Commonwealth government redundancy is like winning the lotto: it means a fat lump sum in the bank and my super immediately converted into a pension that almost covers the rent on a three bedroom house in an inner-city suburb.

I could have looked for a new permanent job (or probably walked straight back into the public service as a contractor) and turned the lump sum into a house deposit. But, I’m a writer, and the redundancy opened up another opportunity that I couldn’t pass up: I chose to fund my writing habit instead.

So, to cover that last little bit of rent (and food and clothes and Lego and overpriced soy flat whites) I now work as a sessional university lecturer and tutor, which means I have casual contracts for a term or semester at a time. I also teach short evening courses in fiction writing and occasional one-day writing workshops in Canberra or elsewhere. I have my kids about half the time and the rest of the time they live with their mum. I live in Canberra, but my partner lives in Sydney, so I do a lot of commuting between the two.

Angel Dust

The upside of all this is that I have lots time to write. Ten hours of class contact is considered a full-time teaching load at university. While I was working in the public service, in a permanent, most-of-fulltime office job, I was doing well to produce four new short stories in a year. In 2015, I’ve written eight new short stories and 60-some thousand words of a novel, so somewhere in the vicinity of 100,000 new words in all.

That doesn’t mean I’m writing steadily or consistently. My work commitments and weekly routine change every three months (or less). I’m periodically completely derailed by marking assignments and exams, usually for a couple of weeks at a time. The constant chop and change is good, though, because it means the day-to-day never gets samey. The teaching is great, because I’m up and moving and talking to people, which is a perfect balance for the solitary seatedness of writing. I’m rubbish at getting started with writing, but once I do, writing in intensive bursts for a few days or a couple of weeks seems to suit me.

It helps, too, that my partner is also a writer and writing is something that we love to do together. It helps that we’re working at about the same level of “emerging” professionals, with some good short fiction sales under our belts and similar levels of recognition for those, and both plugging away at novels. It also helps that what we write overlaps in genre but diverges wildly from each other in style and content. It means we can usefully critique each other’s writing, and have space to admire what the other does. And it means that we understand the ups and downs that we both go through with our writing, and all the writerly paranoias, insecurities and eccentricities that go with it.

Never Never Land

That my kids’ mum isn’t a writer isn’t why that relationship failed, or why we weren’t able to give each other the emotional support we both needed, and she deserves to be acknowledged for giving me the time and space to write – like letting me go to Clarion West when our daughter was one, or go to Writers of the Future when she was eight months pregnant with our son. These are not small things. At the same time, I would find the stories I’d given her to read covered in dust under her side of the bed, given up on after a couple of pages and forgotten. Having a partner who shares your geekdom, especially when it’s an obsession that’s so personal and creative, is a special thing.

The downside of my current situation is insecurity. Overall, my income including the pension just about covers my budget (or would, if I stuck to my budget). I have money in the bank, but never have paid work guaranteed for more than 14 weeks at a time, and no paid work over summer. The margins are fine enough that selling a short story here and there makes an appreciable difference. (If you know anything about the likelihood and rewards of selling short stories, that’ll give you an idea of the fineness of the margins.)

But even insecurity has an upside. I once heard Jack Dann respond to a question about what motivated him to write, and he said, “Fear”. And he’s right, fear is a great motivator – for me, it’s fear of not making the most of this opportunity, which is probably only sustainable in the short term.

And, too, talking about ‘insecurity’, in my situation, isn’t the same as saying there’s any ‘hardship’. I certainly can’t talk about ‘sacrificing’ for my art. I mean, seriously: I’m working 10 hours (or less) a week to cover the rent on an inner city house and feed and clothe myself and two kids, with money left over for Lego and writerly tour-de-cafes. If my life up until last year was tumbling like a piece of dropped toast, and it kinda was – immediately before I got the redundancy, I was $10,000 in debt, with no assets, and looking at several tens of thousands of dollars more in legal fees to get a final arrangement for care of the kids -, well, it landed jam-side up.

If ‘insecurity’ ever does become ‘hardship’, I have family and friends I can fall back on – and before things ever get to that, if I have to, I can almost certainly just get a real job again. One day in the not too distant future I expect I’ll have to do exactly that, so it comes back to reminding myself that I won the lotto. My life right now is a once in a lifetime opportunity that I need to make the most of it. Right now, the only thing that would really make my situation better (other than getting my uni contracts more than a week before the start of semester) would be if I was making some real money from my writing. The only control I have over that is to keep writing and submitting. Luck is such a huge part of writing. When it falls your way, you’ve got to use it.


Ian McHugh’s first success as a speculative fiction writer was winning the short story contest at the 2004 Australian national SF convention. Since then he has sold stories to professional and semi-pro magazines, webzines and anthologies in Australia and internationally. His stories have won grand prize in the Writers of the Future contest and been shortlisted five times at Australia’s Aurealis Awards (winning Best Fantasy Short Story in 2010). He graduated from the Clarion West writers’ workshop in 2006. His debut collection of short stories, Angel Dust, was shortlisted for the Aurealis Award for Best Collection in 2015.

Paying for Our Passion – Sean Williams

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.

Sean Williams is one of those people who you can actually say needs no introduction–he is one of Australia’s most successful spec fic writers, carving out a massive career overseas and having played in some of the coolest franchises in the universe. He was also one of the writers who appeared on the “Paying for Our Passion” panel at Conflux. His honesty in sharing his own struggles, and his obvious empathy for others who are struggling, was a reminder of why I not only aspire to emulate his writing success–but also his character. 

I’ve had a fantastic career. That is an undeniable fact. To suggest otherwise would be disingenuous and self-serving. I’m exactly where I dreamed of being when I dropped out of university to become a writer twenty-five years ago. Everything I want now can be summed up by one four-letter word: more.

The universe, however, is telling me: less.


Being prolific has been my undoing. Nobody cranks out six million or so words without consequences, and for me those consequences begin and end with chronic pain, pain that never lets up, day or night. I don’t wake up screaming every morning, but there are times I feel ill to the point of vomiting and emotionally desperate for release. I’ve gone on and off various drugs and had one operation, to no effect. If there’s an end to this, I can’t see it.

It’s got so bad that I’ve considered giving up writing. But that begs the question: what else would I do? Every time I try to take time off, I end up squeezing in a short story because stories, like virtual particles, appear spontaneously in a vacuum and must be written. I’ve always said that I would write music again one day, but that still leaves me at a keyboard, situation unchanged. I’ve considered taking up a hobby, but not being a sporty person, I’ve yet to find one that relieves my hands or interests me much. Reading is great, but even more sedentary than standing at a desk. I’ve taken up Pilates and Tai Chi to get my body moving, but I can’t do them without making other parts of my body creak and twang like a rusty old piano.

Spirit Animals

In short, age sucks. And it’s just going to keep on sucking until we find a cure for it.

I’m not alone in this. Everyone experiences significant pain at some point in their life. Everyone finds ways to deal with it. Once upon a time I’d get together with my writer friends to bitch about money and the market, but now we exchange health tips and coping strategies. Usually we gripe in private because it seems churlish to say that the career of our dreams, which many other people dream of having, is even slightly tarnished. But I think there is value in being open about these things. Not to get sympathy, but to stand as a cautionary example.

Force Unleashed

Don’t ignore the twinges. Be active, even in small ways. Treat your occupational health and safety as seriously as you would expect any other employer. Invest in a robot body the second they become available. (Join the queue.)

However, there are positives as well as negatives.

Stories come from our lived experiences, so if we’re living in pain, then that pain will inevitably inform our creativity. After a bit of a crisis early this year, I’ve recently found myself overflowing with ideas inspired by my condition, ideas that speak back to it in ways that I find both cathartic and creatively fulfilling. My gut tells me that these might be the strongest stories I will ever write . . . but I still have to write them.

The act of writing may be a source of unspeakable pain some days, but on other it is a source of great succour. Focussing on the latter I hope will be the best medicine of all.

Picture credit: James Braund, http://www.jamesbraund.com/.

Picture credit: James Braund, http://www.jamesbraund.com

Sean Williams is an award-winning, #1 New York Times-bestselling author of over forty novels and one hundred stories, including some set in the Star Wars and Doctor Who universes. His latest is Twinmaker: Fall, the final book in his Twinmaker trilogy. He lives just up the road from the best chocolate factory in Australia with his family and a pet plastic fish.


Paying for Our Passion – Felicity Banks

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

Today, I am thrilled to welcome Felicity Banks to my blog. I haven’t had the pleasure of meeting her, but as a fellow Satalyte author it’s wonderful to have her here!

Hello. My name is Felicity Banks, and I’m a write-a-holic.

I’ve always thought it was particularly insufferable when people felt the need to say, “I write because I must!” What wankers. It doesn’t help at all that I am one of those people.

On several occasions I’ve made a concerted effort to stop writing, or even just pause for a bit. When I was travelling overseas as an aid worker; when I was starting my dream job as a teacher; when I first became a mother. I don’t usually make New Year’s resolutions, but one year I decided to go one year without writing a book. I failed.

So why try to quit something that others think is so wonderful? Because time.

Writing doesn’t cost much if you have a computer, an idea, and an internet connection. (Conferences and research can get expensive, but you don’t need me to tell you that.) But I spend around twenty hours a week writing (including the inevitable minutiae of social media, researching markets, formatting, etc), so where do those hours come from? Here are three typical days – a normal weekday, a daycare weekday, and a weekend.

Tall ShipNormal weekday:

6am. Woken by kids 6am. Question life choices as I get everyone ready.

7:30am. Work (it’s babysitting, so I often take my kids with me). Try not to think about why I spend an hour driving to do one hour of work.

9:30am. Home again; feed kids. Play with kids. Separate kids. Try to explain the difference between Superman and Jesus (again). Feed kids (again).

  1. Beg fate to let kid #2 (age 1) still have a nap. Put TV on for kid #1 (age 3) after threatening to lock her in her room.

If fate is kind, I get somewhere between 20 minutes and 2 glorious hours. I catch up on email and household complexities (what is the family doing for my husband’s great-grandmother’s upcoming birthday? What bills need paying? Has my employer forgotten to pay me this week? What can I give my non-materialistic non-book-loving non-DVD-obsessed father-in-law for his birthday tomorrow? Which drink bottles need new stickers for day care? How long have the kids been wearing the same clothes and will people assume I’ve washed them or not?) If that gets finished I write, or pass out… knowing all the while that I’ll be interrupted by screaming and/or the call “Mumeeeeeeeee!!! I neeeeeeed you!!”

2pm. Go to work for another two hours, with another hour and a half in the car (including picking up and dropping off various family members – my husband works very near my work, which is why the commute is worth it).

6pm. Arrive home with cranky, hungry kids. Feed kid #2 some unrecognisable swill I prepared earlier (probably by cooking something on Saturday and then sticking it in a blender with additional frozen vegies so he gets some kind of nutrition). Defrost leftovers for the rest of us.

7-9pm: Play with kids while sneaking chocolate for myself and begging fate to make them hurry up and get tired enough to go to sleep. If chocolate isn’t enough to keep me sweet-tempered, I leave them to my husband and hide in our room (listening to the kids scream periodically, and folding and unfolding the laptop as they wander in and out) either writing, reading, or just lying down in the dark wishing I didn’t have another migraine.

7:30-9pm: At least one kid is asleep and my husband is dealing with the other one. I can write at last! This is my moment!

9-10pm: My eyesight blurs and I lose the ability to read. Watch TV instead. If it’s live TV (and not ABC), chat to husband in ads. Because a healthy marriage is important and stuff.

10-12pm: Go to bed. Lie awake worrying about the next day and/or get a fabulous writing idea that I simply must write down at once.

Steam LouiseDaycare day:

The same, except that I have a miraculous space between 9:30 and 2:00pm. It’s often either maimed or completely destroyed by medical appointments, crucial errands, kids sent home sick, or household jobs (How long since I cleaned the bathroom? Where are all the socks?). But sometimes I just ignore all my responsibilities and write the whole time. Other times I’m too sick and I go to bed (furious to have lost my writing day).

Daycare costs around $100 per child per day, so those 5.5 hours cost $200. That is subsidised by the government to around $100. Since I have two daycare days a week, my writing costs me $200/week.

TentWeekend day: I usually spend an hour or two with the kids each day, an hour or two happily alone in the house while my husband takes the kids shopping, and the rest of the day writing on and off as kid#2 gleefully discovers my “hiding spot” and kid #1 cries hysterically because I refuse to move to a house with a balcony. On weekends, my husband is “primary parent”. If he gets two hours to himself during the day, he’s doing well. Weekend writing time doesn’t cost physical money, but that doesn’t mean it’s free.

I earn around $200/week from babysitting (after you remove petrol costs), which is my paid job (rather ironically, since I try so hard to get rid of my own children so I can do more writing). That adds up to a bit over $10,000 per year, or pretty much exactly what we spend on day care. Those fifteen babysitting hours a week are the equivalent of a full-time writer producing a successful book every year, so it’s more efficient than writing (even with all the driving) and it’s a job my body is mostly capable of doing.

My first novel, Stormhunter, will be released by Satalyte Press in 2016. As a small press, Satalyte doesn’t offer an advance. From memory, the usual royalty rate is 10% for print books and 70% for digital copies. There will probably be twenty copies printed (a number based on the demand for a new author at a publishing house that doesn’t have the same bookshop presence as, say, Harper Collins), and any other physical copies will be printed on a print-or-demand basis.

I’ve written fifteen novels altogether, averaging a book a year. One is self-published, and has earned less than $50. I’ve “retired” several as my skills grew enough to see they were fatally flawed. Some are really good, and they are sitting on the desks of publishers around Australia. Only five Australian publishers pay an advance. They’re also the ones with excellent distribution (meaning the book would actually be in most shops).

AttackI recently discovered interactive fiction, a digital (and therefore more flexible) form of Choose Your Own Adventure book. A company called choiceofgames.com (with whom I’m not associated or affiliated, although I like them) pays a $5000-$10,000 advance for established writers with an approved outline. I was surprised to find I really enjoyed writing books in an interactive form, and I’ve already had some minor success. So perhaps this is my niche at last.

I like my kids, I like my job, and I like my writing. But we’re only just scraping by. We don’t eat out; we don’t get takeaway; we don’t travel; we don’t buy new clothes; we don’t give good presents; we don’t buy good stuff for ourselves; we have one car; we check the bank balance several times a week to decide what we can afford this fortnight; we often put off buying things on our grocery list. If I was sane enough or healthy enough to do a better job supporting my family and/or looking after my kids, I would.

But maybe THIS time, with interactive fiction, I’ve found something that pays enough to excuse my writing habit. A bit. If I do REALLY well I could write 30 or 40 hours a week, putting the kids in more day care days and quitting babysitting. That would require a writing income of around $20,000/year, and it would need to be reasonably steady. It’s a beautiful, unlikely dream.

It’s strange how many people think they “should” write a book. Following your passion means telling your kids to go watch more TV while you do some writing. It means skipping parties because $50 is far too much to pay for a meal. It means giving crappy presents to people you care about, and carefully manipulating relatives to ameliorate your bills (“Can I have new shoes for Christmas?” “Shall we visit you for dinner?” “Can I borrow your new Garth Nix book?”). It puts serious pressure on any relationship, but especially a marriage. And when you have other issues – in my case, bad health – the weight of those writing hours pulls your whole life towards disaster.

If you have the right kind of support, the sheer joy of creation is worth it.

If not, then your choices become harder.

HatBefore I was married I made some hard choices. I remember one week I had to choose to buy either toilet paper or cat food, but couldn’t buy both. In 2001 I sold my car and lived on a grocery budget of $5/week for four months so I could write full-time (when winter started, I had to stop because I was too malnourished to go on). I went hungry often, and on more than one occasion walked until my feet bled. At one stage, I was developing scurvy. In the months before I married my husband I lived in a granny flat without a working oven or washing machine. That flat had major mould issues and the tap water wasn’t drinkable. The toilet leaked, and the roof was inhabited by a family of possums (the possums were cool, actually).

I was still writing, of course. Can’t stop. But the price is sometimes very high, and I’ve been painfully aware of that cost for my entire adult life.

My interactive steampunk novel, Attack of the Clockwork Army is set in Australia. You can choose to be male or female, gay or straight, an innocent or a liar. You can even choose to fight for the British, or not to fight at all.

The book is available as a Choose Your Own Adventure-style app for your device on Amazon, Apple, Android, and Chrome. You can also buy it directly from the publisher (an easy way to buy and read it on your computer).

The app stores list it as “free, with in-app purchases”. What this actually means is that the beginning is free, and then you pay $5 (once!) to read the rest.






Paying for Our Passion – Craig Cormick

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.

You have probably notice this blog hasn’t been very active of late. I was lucky enough to travel to the United States for–amongst other things–Worldcon, and it has been a struggle getting back in to the swing of real life! I had thought that the series had reached a natural end, but when I got back I went to Conflux where we had been asked to do a panel on the subject. Alongside Tehani and Maureen, who had done posts, it also featured Sean Williams and Craig Cormick.

Everyone had amazing things to say, which made my job as moderator so easy, and it was clear that people were still interested in reading about the topic. So, I rounded up some more contributors, including Craig and Sean, and this will be the first in a relaunch of the series.

First up is Craig who, as well as being a fascinating raconteur and talented writer, had some amazing insights that he shared on the panel. It’s a pleasure to kick off the next stage of the series with a great post from him.

Craig 1: So I have been mulling over all the ways I have had to pay for my passion to have a writing life. All the costs and all the sacrifices that I have made in life for writing – those late nights and early mornings and missed opportunities. Jobs I’ve passed up on. Parties I’ve never gone to and movies I’ve never seen. Even simple things that most of my family do that I’ve never done, like watching any of the Sopranos or Breaking Bad, or hanging out a lot… but then I thought, wait a minute, all those things were voluntary choices that I made in order to have a writing life.

Craig 2: Wait a minute, you’re not going to tell me it’s a good thing to miss all those things in life are you?

Craig 1: I’m just saying that they are decisions you make in life. And you shouldn’t consider things costs that you voluntarily gave up.

Craig 2: Then let me ask you about the things that you haven’t given up. Your day job and family and all those things that suck all your writing time away.

IMG_3281Craig 1: I think even my day job has helped my writing, it takes up a lot of my time, sure, but it has sent me all over the country, and all over the world, meeting all kinds of interesting people – which has given me great inspiration for stories and novels. Have a look at the list of books I’ve published – many of them have sprung from opportunities that arose from my work as a science communicator. Think about it: In Bed with Douglas Mawson – from my trip to Antarctica. The Shadow Master – from that conference in Florence. My Ned Kelly book – a wrote a lot of that when I worked at CSIRO.

Craig 2: But if you weren’t working you might be writing a lot more. There are so many other books you still want to write that are floating around in your head, but you just don’t have the time and opportunity to write them all down.

Craig 1: You think so? I’ve published over twenty-five books and over a hundred stories and have a shelf of awards and commendations – but I know there are other books that are going to get written and I know there are also some books that aren’t going to get written.

Craig 2: How can you call yourself a writer if you’re okay with that?

Craig 1: Well, sometimes I think how awesome it would be to live a life that was just writing 24-7. But when I’ve actually had that opportunity, like when I’ve had an Australia Council Grant or something – I found it a very lonely existence. I think a writer needs social interaction as well as the social isolation time to write. You also need your family to keep you balanced.

Craig 2: But don’t you resent the time they demand? Everybody wants your time. You have a wife and child with disabilities that you have to be a carer for, and you have three grown-up kids who all need time and support too.

craig website grabCraig 1: No. I wouldn’t trade it for quids. It’s a part of the balance in life that makes you a writer. Those things that are difficult in life, and there are quite a few in my life if I’m honest – for my life might look a lot of fun on the outside, but it’s not all laughs up close – well, those things sharpen your soul. They demand you examine them and question them, and many of those things that don’t have easy answers can only be addressed through creatively trying to understand them. They give you a reason to write.

Craig 2: But how many times have you thought about just taking off and living in a caravan down the coast, or a house up in the Blue Mountains and writing the thing you want to write?

Craig 1: Sure, there are times like that. Of course there are. But there are more times when I stand at the door of my son’s bedroom at night and watch him sleeping and think how blessed I am. My books are very important to me – they have been a lot of heart-ache and trouble and greatly rewarding too, but truthfully, my kids and my wife are more important to me. They have all caused me greater heart-ache and trouble but greater rewards too.

Craig 2: And greater interruption to your time to write!

Craig 1: Another choice I have made in life. Let me remind you of that quote I have hanging over my desk for the past 20 years, the German poet Rilke’s advice to a young poet

“… There is only one thing you should do. Go into yourself. Find out the reason that commands you to write; see whether it has spread its roots into the very depths of your heart; confess to yourself whether you would have to die if you were forbidden to write. This most of all: ask yourself in the most silent hour of your night: must I write? Dig into yourself for a deep answer. And if this answer rings out in assent, if you meet this solemn question with a strong, simple “I must”, then build your life in accordance with this necessity; your whole life, even into its humblest and most indifferent hour, must become a sign and witness to this impulse.”

Craig 2: Yeah, yeah, yeah. I know the quote well. But I think you haven’t done that. If you had you’d be living on your own in that caravan, or that house in the Blue Mountains, writing all those books and stories you have in you to write – even in your most indifferent hour.

Craig 1: You miss the point. A writing life isn’t just about having time to write. It’s also about having experiences in life to write about. How do you write honestly about love if you haven’t loved? How do you write honestly about loss if you haven’t lost something dear? How do you write about life and death and everything if you are not out there living it and experiencing it?

Craig 2: That’s the great writer’s cop-out, claiming that everything you do that is not writing is actually research for writing.

The Floating CityCraig 1: No. You can write every day all your life and never come close to writing that one heart-wrenching razor-sharp story that cuts open the reader as they read it. But you might spend years and years learning from life and then write that one perfect thing. That’s what I aim for as a writer. Every story has to be a little bit better. A little bit closer to the bone. A little deeper stab into the heart. I write a lot because I’ve ordered my life to enable to me to do so. But as I’ve gotten older I’m more prepared to let some stories just wither on the vine that I don’t think are going to improve on what I’ve already done. And it took me a long time to learn to accept that.

Craig 2: Well I don’t accept it. If you’re a writer you need to be writing. You need to be listening to the voices like me that disagree with your certainty. That question what you’re doing. That demand you come back to the keyboard and write.

Craig 1: And I appreciate that. If you don’t have a voice that questions everything you do you’ll start never knowing those questions.

Craig 2: So you’re saying I’m write?

Craig 1: I’m saying you have to listen to those questions, as you need to question everything you do before you know if it is good.

Craig 2: And what do you do then?

Craig 1: You learn to then ignore that nagging incessant doubting voice in your head.

Craig 2: Hey, you can’t ignore me! I’m a part of your psyche. I’m the little voice in the back of your head that makes you think doubt and then think deeper about everything you’re doing. You need me!

Craig 1: Sorry. Just one of those sacrifices you have to make in life…

Craig Cormick is a Canberra-based author. His most recent-books are The Shadow Master series with Angry Robot Books. He has published over 25 books and his writing awards include the ACT Book of the Year Award and a Queensland Premiers Literary Award. He has been chair of the ACT Writers Centre, has taught creative writing at University and community levels, has been a Writer in Residence at the University of Science in Malaysia and has been an Antarctic Arts Fellow, travelling to all three of Australia’s mainland bases in Antarctica. You can find more things about Craig on his website: www.craigcormick.comMugshot

Paying for Our Passion – Emilie Collyer

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

I am delighted to welcome back the multi talented Emilie Collyer, who was a guest on Ebon Shores earlier in the year. Not only a gifted writer (and a fellow Clan Destine Press author), Emilie is a successful and talented playwright. Welcome, Emilie!

The question of creativity and money is difficult and fascinating. I came to writing in a serious way in my early 20s, after a few years pursuing a career as an actor.

I wrote a piece for a cabaret show at drama school and had one of those epiphany moments: Oh this is what I need to be doing! Telling my own stories, not channelling someone else’s! Truth be told, I also didn’t quite have the personality for an acting career: shy with strangers, sensitive and also critical of how I saw the system working, who got ahead and who got left behind.

Writing, I figured, would be much more suited to me and, maybe, less painful.

Yes on the first front, no on the second – as I found equally as much rejection and uncertainty. But a deep sense that here was a task I could commit my whole life to and that would, I could already tell, sustain me in many ways for a life time.

I actually never really considered that I could earn a full time living as a writer. Coming from acting and theatre, where – as the saying goes – about 95% of actors are out of acting work at any given time, I just assumed that choosing a career in the creative arts meant a life of casual or part time other work to sustain the ups and downs and generally low income.

A Clean Job

This balance has proven itself in terms of my life / work / income split so far. Self-fulfilling prophecy? Perhaps. I do know a number of people now who make a full time living from their art. For some I can see it is a combination of hard work and good timing – landing that one great job or having something become commercially successful. For others I know that they have willed their situation into existence, by refusing to do anything else and making it work by sheer determination.

I currently work two days a week as a copywriter for an online marketing agency. So I technically make a living from writing. This has pros and cons. I love that I get to use my creative and language skills. But it can also be draining and saps some energy away from my own work.

In the past I’ve worked in administration, hospitality and a range of other capacities – always part time. Other income boosts me up now and then – a payment for a piece of writing, a commission for a new play, a grant. I’ve also taught creative writing and improvisation on and off for many years.

I’ve never worked a full time day job. The thought of it makes me feel a bit suffocated. Even though I know the steady income would make life much easier my sense is that I would get depressed without the 3-4 days each week I carve out to make my own – whether it’s writing, developing or producing a play, or collaborating with others on creative projects.

The commitment to writing has paid off in that I have had nearly 20 plays produced, many stories and poems published, including two e-books of short stories and have been fortunate to win a number of awards and other accolades for my work. But income from this has not yet been enough to replace the income from my part time work.

I would like to reach a point where I can sustain myself fully from my creative writing. This may or may not happen. I’ll keep working towards it but I’m also not too hung up about it. Many factors contribute to whether this happens or not and they aren’t all within my control.

Equally as important to me, in the grand scheme of things, is creative freedom. There is also a strong part of my creative drive that is about experimenting and pushing myself into unknown territories. I love it when my writing gets out in the world and hits a mark, gets a positive response from readers or audiences. But just as valuable are the many pieces that don’t quite make it, where I’m trying something and failing at it. I protect this part of the creative process very fiercely. And the fact that I earn (just) enough money to live off from a separate income and work stream actually allows me that level of risk taking.

Autopsy of a Comedian resized

My partner is also an artist, a performer and writer. So he doesn’t support me financially. We share the load, live modestly and enjoy the small spikes in income when they occasionally come along.

I don’t travel much or buy new things very often. Sometimes I worry about the future: very little superannuation, no savings and no benefits like annual leave or sick leave entitlements – what will this mean as I age?

I also don’t have a family to support. Not having children is a decision I came to via many routes and for many different reasons. My life as an artist was not the sole reason but it did contribute – knowing the kind of financial pressure that would place on me was a factor in the patchwork of that long, slow decision making process.

My life is far from perfect but on the whole I value the shape of it. I don’t take any income or any job for granted. I relish every creative opportunity I get. At times I even enjoy the challenge of living on wavering and unpredictable income. I see it as a healthy antidote to the overt messages of capitalism that tell us to only value the worth of our lives based on the worth of our belongings and our bank accounts.

Paying for my passion has definitely not been easy. But overall it is a price I have been willing to pay and one that brings rewards and benefits in sometimes unexpected ways.


Emilie Collyer is an award winning writer of plays, fiction and poetry. Recent publications include stories in Allegory (USA) and Cosmic Vegetable (USA). Her speculative fiction has won three prizes at the Scarlet Stiletto Awards (2012 & 2013) and she has two collections of short fiction published with Clan Destine Press. Her play The Good Girl (2013) won Best Emerging Writer at Melbourne Fringe & a Green Room nomination. Dream Home (shortlisted 2013 Patrick White Award) premiered at Darebin Arts Speakeasy in 2015. Read more about Emilie and her writing here: www.betweenthecracks.net