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Paying for Our Passion – Jean Gilbert

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

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

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

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


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

Was it worth it?


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

Shifter ebook cover

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

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

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

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


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

Paying for Our Passion – Leife Shallcross

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

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

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

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

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

It got accepted.

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

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


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

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

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


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

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

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



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

Paying for Our Passion – Darian Smith

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Signal Boost – Joyce Chng

 I realise that I spend a fair bit of time on my blog promoting writers from Australia, New Zealand and the United States, but I have been guilty of neglecting other parts of the world. So, I thought it would be nice to welcome someone who I have been following for a while on Twitter and always has something interesting to say, as well as spending a lot of her time signal boosting the work of others–Joyce Chng. She’s a very talented writer, and I’d encourage you to check out her work.

Oh, um, hello. I am Joyce Chng. I write science fiction, fantasy, YA and things in between. Oh yeah, I am Singaporean Chinese. I did study in Western Australia for seven years. Yeah, that’s all I want to say about me at the moment.


Okay, yeah, the things I write.  I write urban fantasy set in Singapore and it has Chinese werewolves who are more wolves than werewolves. Think wolves in human bodies. The main protagonist is a woman who is the daughter of the large Lang clan leaders. She is a mom with kids. I wanted an urban fantasy that reflected my own reality and in 2009, challenged myself to write one. The result was Wolf At The Door, a novel set in Singapore, about sibling rivalry, unity of the family and mothers who have to protect their kids.

Wolf At The Door, Obsidian Moon, Obsidian Eye, and Heart of Fire are now being published under Fox Spirit Books, an awesome British publisher.


I also write YA. My first attempt to write a YA one was a webserial titled The Basics of Flight, a steampunk tale with leofin pilots and a girl’s dream to be one. The steampunk tale was followed by Oysters, Pearls and Magic,  with magic and finding your own identity when you are different.  Then I went to write a trilogy set on a distant desert planet where the main character was of Han/Asian descent.  She too wanted to fly, this time, on one of the pterosaur-like aliens the humans had allied with on the planet.  In between, I wrote about a phoenix princess space opera YA and then, now a fantasy Qing China one where a human princess establishes a close friendship with a dragon princess.


Many of my stories are also published in anthologies like The Apex Book of World SF II, We See A Different Frontier, Cranky Ladies of History and YA’s Best Speculative Fiction 2013.

I guess I write because I love to write? I write because it is like breathing to me?

If you would like to find out more about my writing, you can check out A Wolf’s Tale (http://awolfstale.wordpress.com). There you can find out more about my books, along the side bar where I categorize them.

I also Twitter at @jolantru, if you like social media.




Paying for Our Passion – George Ivanoff

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 have waxed lyrical about the welcoming nature of the Aussie spec community on many an occasion, and one person who typifies that is today’s guest, George Ivanoff. Since I have met him, he couldn’t have done more to make me feel welcome and to help me out. Add that to being perhaps one of the best dressed authors around (with the coolest jacket you can imagine)–and one of the most talented–he’s one of my favourite people in the scene. Welcome, George!

Everybody, sing with me: “Money, Money, Money. Must be funny. In the author’s world.” Sorry…had to get that out of my system. My journey from unpaid writing to making a living from it, was a long and slow process—a process indebted to my wife and to my children.

When I started getting published, back in the 90s, writing was a hobby. I had a nine-to-five office job. I didn’t have children. I had plenty of spare time and I used it to write. Money was not the issue. Getting my writing into print was the goal. Most of what I wrote was unpaid.

In 1999 I had my first two books published—a YA short story collection called Life, Death and Detention and a non-fic book for the primary school education market called Real Sci-Fi. I got a small but reasonable advance for each of these books. Suddenly, I had dollar signs in my eyes. After years of writing for nothing, the allure of getting paid (and along with it, the notion of being more valued) took hold. I wasn’t planning on giving up my day job, but I decided that writing could provide me with some extra pocket money, perhaps even contribute to my income.
LDDcover_webThe short story collection didn’t do wonderfully well…but the educational book did. Real Sci-Fi led me to a string of other education market titles. These books, although often quite short, were also frequently research-heavy. I spent more time writing.

After being made redundant at work, I went to a contract position in web development. And after the contract was finished, I made the decision to go freelance in web development and project management. This decision came about partly because the opportunity presented itself in the form of a potential major client…but also partly because I wanted more time to write. I figured that if I was freelancing, I could devote more time to writing when needed. It worked. And I wrote more education books.

cover_definingpatternsWhen my first daughter was born in 2003, my wife and I decided to tag-team on parenting and work. After about of year of this, we realised there was a better solution.

By this stage I was doing less web development and more writing, which meant that my income had decreased. Meanwhile, as my wife shifted from a salaried position to her own graphic design business, her income increased. It made more financial sense for her to work full-time and for me to be the stay-at-home parent. This decision was helped along by that fact that I was the more naturally domestic of our partnership.

So, we decided that I’d become the full-time stay-at-home dad. I would stop freelancing in web development and spend all my spare time working on building a writing career, with the goal of eventually being a full-time writer.

Along the way we had another daughter.

GRcover_webFor a number of years I continued to write books for the education market. And I re-entered the trade market with Gamers’ Quest, a teen novel that eventually became a trilogy. I wrote when my kids napped. I wrote in between games of hide-and-seek at the park. I wrote in the evenings after they had gone to sleep and I wrote on weekends while my wife looked after them. And, when there were pressing deadlines, I wrote while they were baby-sat by the television (yes, I know…it’s award-winning parenting).

Slowly, over this time, my income increased. I solidified my reputation in the education market. I had lots of books in school libraries, which meant a decent annual ELR (Education Lending Rights) payment. And I started to build a reputation in the trade market with the Gamers novels and with stories in anthologies.

Fast forward to 2015. Both my daughters are now in school. I’m still not a completely full-time writer, as I do school drop-offs, pickups and lunches, as well as shopping and meal preparations…but I’m pretty close to it. I am now earning a living, albeit a modest one. And my income continues to slowly increase.

yc07_smLots of people think that now, because I have a successful series with a major publisher (You Choose with Random House), my writing income is secure. Let me shatter that illusion. The You Choose books certainly go a long way towards my income, but they are not the be all and end all. I still write for the education market. And I also get a reasonable portion of my income from speaking and running workshops at schools, libraries and literary festivals. With two kids and a mortgage it would be extremely difficult to survive on my income…if not for my wife and her higher income.

I used to earn a lot more money in freelance web development than I do now as a writer. But (and this is a really big BUT) I am now a much happier person.

George002_sm-213x300George Ivanoff is an author and stay-at-home dad residing in Melbourne. He has written over 80 books for kids and teens, including school readers, non-fiction books, chapter books, novelletes and novels. He is best known for the You Choose series and the Gamers trilogy. He has books on both the Victorian and NSW Premier’s Reading Challenge lists, and You Choose: The Treasure of Dead Man’s Cove has been shortlisted for a 2015 YABBA. George drinks too much coffee, eats too much chocolate and watches too much Doctor Who. Check out his website: georgeivanoff.com.au

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

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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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:


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.