Tag Archives: Twelve Planets

Paying for Our Passion – Deborah Kalin

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday Writers: Amanda Rainey

I could do a whole post listing nice things about Amanda, as she is one of my favourite people in the Aussie spec fic scene. But for her sake, and yours, I will refrain and keep it short! Amanda is one of the smartest people I know, and one of the kindest and most genuine. It is fair to say that many of the good things that have happened to me since I came on the scene owe a lot to the fact that she took the time to make me so welcome when I went to my first con.

But, more relevantly to this series of guest posts, Amanda is also one of our foremost cover designers. Her work is instantly recognisable, and you’ve probably seen a great many of her covers, whether you realise it or not. Her work on the Twelve Planets is a classic example of her ability to create totally unique covers perfectly suited to the book inside, while maintaining a consistent style across the range that makes it obvious that they are part of a collection.Outside of the Twelve Planets she has produced some beautiful stand alone work, and I was thrilled to appear in an anthology that featured one of her designs,

If producing a cover that seizes your eye, and makes you want to pick up the book in front of you even before you know what it is about, is a measure of success in cover design then Amanda is right at the top of the game. So, I am delighted to have her here today as I can’t think of anyone more qualified to talk about the subject.

As a cover designer for small publishers, I have the privilege of working directly with editors and authors in designing the covers of their books, rather than through a series of middlemen. The process is always different with each author, and some experiences are more productive than others – not dissimilar to the editor/author relationship, I imagine.


I try to emphasise early to the writers I work with is that they know their book better than me – print deadlines being what they are, in many cases I don’t necessarily get time to even read the book thoroughly before starting work on the design. The main thing I want from my clients is a sense of the feel and atmosphere of a book – I think that’s often as important as talking about what’s actually in the book. For a lot of readers, the cover is the first (and perhaps only) bit of marketing material they will see for it – I try to make covers that do something to tell a reader why they should pick up a book for a closer look.

The cover isn’t an illustration of the story that people will read alongside it. Leave room for the possibility that an illustration that makes sense after you’ve read it may give an entirely different impression to a potential reader. You have only seconds to tell the reader what kind of book it is. Sometimes accuracy is over-rated – more important is giving a potential reader some sense of why they might like the book.


Big publishers have access to the best information about the market, and this can help them design covers that will appeal to all the right demographics and sell lots of books. It’s not a perfect science, but it gives your book a pretty good chance. Most small presses don’t have a market research budget so we have to rely on other information to base our decisions.

Small press at its best isn’t just a cheaper copy of what the mainstream publishers are doing, and the small press publishers I work with try pretty hard to play up their differences. I think it’s worth writers publishing in small press (or those self-publishers commissioning design work for something they’re releasing) be aware of that, and try to play to it too.


In many cases basing a style on what the bigger presses are doing can be a smart strategy – but you need to be skilled at interpreting how and why the style works, in order to figure out which bits speak to the reader, and to what extent they’re helping define reader expectations within genre. But if you can’t do that, then chances are you’ll end up with something so generic, you might as well buy one of those $20 ready-made covers from the net.

You may want to start by showing your designer some recent covers that you think will appeal to a similar target audience. Explain what you like about each one and why, but accept that at the end of the process your ideas won’t look the same. They may be the wrong fit for your book, perhaps they’re more clichéd that you realise, perhaps they appeal to the wrong people, or have the wrong tone. If they’re any good, your designer has probably spent more time analysing design trends than you have, because that’s their job and their passion. Leave room for the possibility that the cover you envisioned isn’t the best option for your book.


At the other extreme from those who want to copy something successful are the authors that want a cover that will blow people’s minds, because it’s soooo original! It’s true, the benefit of small and self-published press is that we can experiment a little more – there’s no point trying to look like the big sellers, because we will always lose. With faster turnaround and a smaller niche audience, small press can take risks that the bigger publishers can’t or won’t. But the best cultural works interact with and build on what went before and what’s happening now. Small press may be pushing the boundaries, but you want to make sure you’re still part of the conversation.

Lastly, and most importantly: a cover isn’t a work of art, it’s a guide to what’s inside. Your cover isn’t necessarily there to impress people, it’s there to spark their curiosity about what’s inside enough to get the chance to impress them with your book.


The trick to getting the most out of a designer is to understand the purpose of a cover, and focus on that. If you feel like the cover is wrong, you’re probably right, so say so. Don’t be scared to voice your opinions. The best results come from a great conversation about why something is or isn’t working. At the same time, accept that your proposed solution to the problem may be wrong, so be willing to let go of your ideas. Trust me, the designer has already rejected hundreds of her own ideas too.

Amanda is a graphic designer and PhD student. She designs for Twelfth Planet Press and FableCroft, and then gets to read the books for free. You can watch her avoid doing all of those things at twitter.com/vodkandlime