Guest post: Writing Historicals by Anne Barwell

Thanks for hosting me today, Jamie.

I write across a range of genres, but I keep returning to historicals. So what is it about the genre that appeals to me?

I enjoy reading, writing, and exploring time periods that aren’t my own. I particularly like stories set in the first half of the 20th century. Either characters are fighting or have fought in WWI, or know or lost someone who had, and if a story is set during the 1940s or 50s, ditto for WWII. There is not much time between the first and second world wars so many who fought in the second felt the impact of the first.

I also love reading about Scotland in the 18th century. I blame the latter on Doctor Who, as one of his companions came from that era. My current WIP—which I’m co-writing with Lou Sylvre— is called The Harp and the Sea, and in set on Skye in 1745 during the second Jacobite uprising. As with the early to mid 20th century, that time in Scottish history fascinates me because it’s an era greatly impacted by war.

Wars bring out the best and worst in people. People often find themselves in situations for which they are ill equipped. Training only goes so far, and sadly a lot of people who were set into battle in those wars were very young. War is full of horror, and I make sure I never forget that when I’m writing something set in or referring to a battlefield as I want to honour the sacrifices of those brave men and women. So many of them rose to the occasion and risked—and often lost—their lives fighting for what they believed in and to protect those they loved.

Writing stories set in those time periods brings with it a set of challenges. Although it’s not always possible to get all off the little day-to-day details right, I always try to be as historically accurate as I can be. Research can be like a trail of breadcrumbs—I’ll begin by looking for information about one thing and find a whole lot of other really interesting facts along the way.

Getting the feel of a time period right is a bit of a juggling act as it’s not just the events, but also the technology, clothing, and language that need to accurate. For example, the first recorded instance of the word “okay” wasn’t until the 1830s so although one could argue it still might have been in use before then, I wouldn’t write one of our Scots lads in the 18th Century using it.

I also saw a movie a couple of years ago set during WWI which had its hero going off to war in 1914 with a few sniffles so the heroine pulls out a handy box of pills and tells him to take some as the influenza bug is a nasty one. *facepalms* Er, no. That particular strain of The Spanish Flu hit in 1918 toward the end of the war and killed more people than the war had done because antibiotics hadn’t been invented yet!

Researching geography can also be a challenge as all the helpful guidebooks show locations in present day. I had a scene I wanted to write in my first WWII book—Shadowboxing—and needed a park in Berlin as a location. I found one that was in the exact place I needed, but further research showed that in 1943, it was actually a railway station. One of the other challenges in writing something set during wartime is to make sure that the buildings your heroes take shelter in was still standing at the time in which the story is set.

It’s also often more of a challenge to get characters out of trouble as they can’t use modern technology like mobile phones etc.

On the flip side, history can work in a writer’s favour too. I needed to get my characters out of a tight spot and, after researching the location and time frame, shifted my story back a month and let an Allied bombing raid solve the problem for me.

So far I have a three book series set in WWII called Echoes Rising, a novella called On Wings of Song set during WWI, and am co-writing our Scots lads in 1745. I’m also looking forward to exploring the 1920s and 50s with future projects, and learning more about those time periods too.

—-

Shadowboxing
Echoes Rising: Book One

Berlin, 1943. An encounter with an old friend leaves German physicist Dr. Kristopher Lehrer with doubts about his work. But when he confronts his superior, everything goes horribly wrong. Suddenly Kristopher and Michel, a member of the Resistance, are on the run, hunted for treason and a murder they did not commit. If they’re caught, Kristopher’s knowledge could be used to build a terrible weapon that could win the war.

For the team sent by the Allies—led by Captain Bryant, Sergeant Lowe, and Dr. Zhou—a simple mission escalates into a deadly game against the Gestapo, with Dr. Lehrer as the ultimate prize. But in enemy territory, surviving and completing their mission will test their strengths and loyalties and prove more complex than they ever imagined.

NB The series continues with Winter Duet, and concludes with Comes a Horseman.

On Wings of Song

Six years after meeting British soldier Aiden Foster during the Christmas Truce of 1914, Jochen Weber still finds himself thinking about Aiden, their shared conversation about literature, and Aiden’s beautiful singing voice. A visit to London gives Jochen the opportunity to search for Aiden, but he’s shocked at what he finds.

The uniform button Jochen gave him is the only thing Aiden has left of the past he’s lost. The war and its aftermath ripped everything away from him, including his family and his music. When Jochen reappears in his life, Aiden enjoys their growing friendship but knows he has nothing to offer. Not anymore.

—-

Anne Barwell lives in Wellington, New Zealand. She shares her home with two cats who are convinced that the house is run to suit them; this is an ongoing “discussion,” and to date it appears as though the cats may be winning.

In 2008 she completed her conjoint BA in English Literature and Music/Bachelor of Teaching. She has worked as a music teacher, a primary school teacher, and now works in a library. She is a member of the Upper Hutt Science Fiction Club and plays violin for Hutt Valley Orchestra.

She is an avid reader across a wide range of genres and a watcher of far too many TV series and movies, although it can be argued that there is no such thing as “too many.” These, of course, are best enjoyed with a decent cup of tea and further the continuing argument that the concept of “spare time” is really just a myth. She also hosts other authors, reviews for the GLBTQ Historical Site “Our Story” and Top2Bottom Reviews, and writes monthly blog posts for Love Bytes. She is the co-founder of the New Zealand Rainbow Romance writers, and a member of RWNZ.

Anne’s books have received honorable mentions five times, reached the finals four times—one of which was for best gay book—and been a runner up in the Rainbow Awards. She has also been nominated twice in the Goodreads M/M Romance Reader’s Choice Awards—once for Best Fantasy and once for Best Historical.

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Guest post: Ideas – The Beauty, Carnage, and Mayhem by Leigh Hunt

When Jamie asked me to write a wee guest post, I jumped at the chance. Why? Because that particular day I was brainstorming. The ideas were flowing like I was a unicorn farting magical glitter, and I just couldn’t stop them coming. It was glorious. I was on a creative high.

You see, I’m one of those people who have these huge, enormous ideas. I have zero problems generating the carnage, I just have a problem finding the time to write them. And when new shiny ideas hit me, there is nothing I like more than to immediately start exploring them. So I do. Even if I’m in the middle of something else – because if I leave them, I might lose them.

So the other day, while I was painting my loo room, I was listening to music. The lyrics starting fuelling my mind with creative strands, and the next thing I knew, I was standing there with a paintbrush drying in my hands, looking vacantly at my loo. Dreaming of a world not yet created. (Don’t judge me – at least I wasn’t USING the loo!)

I finished painting as quickly as I could, jotted some of the key themes down in my trusty notebook, and promptly forgot about it. The next day I was driving to work and the same song came on, and there I was again – thrown right back into this imaginary world. I don’t even remember the drive to work, because my mind was so busy living in this shiny unwritten place. It’s damn dangerous when I go into this mode while driving. (I’m pretty sure whatever excuse I gave to law enforcement would result in a straight jacket and padded room.)

I arrived at work, and boom. Out the trusty notebook, along with some post-it notes, and I started writing the ideas down. It was like throwing a deck of cards down, and picking them up in some semblance of order.

Meanwhile, a little voice inside of me was saying, ‘FFS woman, you’re in the midst of writing one of the greatest damn dystopian series you’ve ever come up with, and now you have ANOTHER one?’

Yep. My inner bitch was trying to tamp me down – squish the idea into nothingness so that I can focus on my current series. She’s quite ghastly once she gets her rant on. But then I started talking to my editor. And she was encouraging this shiny new idea, which forced me to manage that inner bitch, and get this sorted.

So, the idea of the world is now written. It’s just notes at this stage, and I’m letting it percolate for the next twelve months. I know the key characters. I know the world. I know what darkness resides in it. I know the situation. I know that I want to write this four book series.

But I also know that it still needs time.

Over the years of writing, I’ve discovered that I should not just jump at the new ideas. In order for me to find their depth, I need to let them rest, and develop like a photo in a dark room. Those ideas need love and nurture and thought. They need threads woven in, personalities introduced, and the story arc extrapolated.

Also, if I give in to my inner magpie and always write the shiny new things, I know that I will never finish writing anything of beautiful consequence… and isn’t that every writer’s goal?

It’s easy to chase ideas down rabbit holes in the midst of the creative chaos, but those ideas need time. If we let ideas percolate, it means that they get the space and attention they deserve, and will therefore be better for the reader. Hopefully.

Leigh K. Hunt is a reader, writer, mother, and designer from New Zealand. She has a weird obsession with books like Alice in Wonderland, Peter Pan, Pride & Prejudice, and adores Thrillers and Dystopian novels. To say that she lives in her own dreamy wonderland is an understatement.

Leigh has written a number of thrillers surrounding an assassination team, but has now turned her focus on producing a new thrilling dystopian trilogy. When she’s supposedly adulting, Leigh works full time, is a mother to a gorgeous but very lively five-year-old, and thinks she’s a DIY queen – with dreams of turning her cookie cutter 80s house into something that resembles French farmhouse.

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Guest post: Self Publishing 101 by Joanne Dannon

I self published my debut novel in late 2015 without much understanding of how self publishing works. Sure there is lots of information on formatting and uploading your book to the online retail channels but the other important stuff, on branding, marketing etc…is harder to find.

I’ve written a number of articles on self publishing and the one piece of advice I re-iterate is, learn how to self publish before you chose to self publish.

There is so much wrong information and poor advice readily available on social media and the Internet. As writers, we spend so much time learning our craft. We read “how-to” books, we write, we join a writers’ group, we go to conferences, we learn. We master the art of writing a good book. And then what?

Your book maybe picked up by a reputable publisher, hooray! They will edit and format your book, give it a cover and sell it through their channels! Brilliant!

But for other writers, this road of publication may not be the right one for them. This is what happened for me. I had spent 9 years learning my craft but for a number of reasons, I chose to go down the self published route.

Are you a hobby writer or a career writer?

There is no right or wrong answer on whether you are a hobbyist or not. But it’s good to know, for yourself, and so you know where to direct your focus on.

If you are a hobby writer and just want to see your books in print, then this information may not be relevant for you. Hobby writers love writing, love creating their stories and seeing them published. But don’t want to focus on the business side of writing.

This post is aimed at the writers who are business focused and want to make a career out of their writing.

But I’ve heard self publishing is easy?

Yes and no. It’s not hard to upload your book to the online stores but it’s very hard to sell your books to people who don’t know you, develop your brand and earn a living from your writing.

Self publishing 101

Before you can be published, you must be able to write well. You must have spent the time learning how to create a good story with believable characters and a compelling story line.

While you learn to write, you can think about your brand and who you are. What genre do you write? What are you hobbies? What do you like to do?

Using me as an example. I’m a contemporary romance writer and read (predominantly) contemporary romance. I love romance movies, reading, being with family, going out with friends, cooking and eating.

My brand revolves around these things. I post pics of myself out and about, some of the foods I make, my books and things I like. I don’t talk about the craft of writing because the people I’m sharing with are readers, not writers.

It’s important to focus on one genre to start with. That’s not to say that at a later stage you branch out and write different genres but when you’re a new writer, you should stick to the genre you most prefer.

You should get a website, a blog and be on social media every day. Even if you don’t post everyday, you should be liking and commenting on other authors’ posts. Be social.

I keep my personal life separate from my work life. I don’t talk about politics or issues that may cause division. Why? Because my readers are from different walks of life and all have their own opinions. I don’t want to upset some of my readers because of my views.

This issue is heavily debated by authors, and still a contentious issue.

My opinion, keep your views to yourself and focus on your writing and building your brand.

What do I talk about?

Just because you’re not yet published doesn’t mean you don’t have things to talk about. You can talk about the latest inspiration for your book, or a fab book you recently read, or movie you watch. Where possible, link it back to writing and what you write.

This will be one of the building blocks for defining who you are as a writer.

Do I need a mailing list?

Again, another hotly debated issue. I say yes, although when I first started I didn’t see the value in it.

Newsletters/emails to your readers is the best way you can connect to your readers. Forget Facebook and social media, you want to be able to communicate directly with readers.

It takes time to learn how to create and send a newsletter out. And I recommend you do this early on as it will give you practice on using the mailing system (eg MailChimp).

But I’ve only got friends and family on my list?

You’ll find most writers start out with under a hundred subscribers, who are mainly your family, friends and fellow writers.

But these are the people who love you and want you to succeed. So use them to practice with and get into the habit of sending out a monthly newsletter. It doesn’t have to be long but it should be friendly and a way for your readers to learn about you.

How do I get more subscribers?

There are many ways, some good and some not-so-good. There are plenty of people and companies that will promise you so much! Beware!!

Group promotions are good but getting a large list of subscribers who may/may not realise they’re joining your mailing list will be a headache. Mailing companies like MailChimp are very strict when it comes to spam.

I participated in a promotion and received a list of 1000 subscribers who had been genuinely acquired. However, after uploading the list to MailChimp and contacting these subscribers with a welcome email, I was forced to delete them all. Despite my proof of the promotion, upfront terms and conditions, MailChimp made me delete all the names and email addresses. It was awful.

The best way is to give away a free book in exchange for an email address. I was horrified when I first learnt of this. A book? A whole book that’s been professionally edited with a cover? The answer is yes, and here’s why.

Why should a reader buy your book? There are plenty of great books on Amazon (millions), why pick yours? You’re an unknown author, why read yours?

Giving away a copy of your writing gives readers an opportunity to discover you, read your writing and see if they like you.

Some readers will take the free book and leave. Don’t worry about them. You’re looking for genuine readers who will love your books and become super fans.

You don’t have to write a massive book, a novella is fine. But it must be professionally edited with a quality cover. This is your “business card”, it tells readers who you are.

Editing is expensive.

Yes, it is. But if you expect a reader to pay for your book then you need to give them quality.

Do not publish an unedited book. This will haunt you. Some readers can be mean. You publish a poorly edited book and you will have those bad reviews attached to your book, forever! Don’t do it.

If you can’t afford editing, then you can’t afford to self publish. That’s the brutal honesty. Self publishing is expensive.

You need quality editing, a professional cover and your book formatted. Don’t sell yourself out because it looks like the easier option.

Should I self publish?

Only you can answer this. Apart from the cost, I spent between $400 and $800 USD per book, to publish, you need to dedicate time and effort in building your brand, marketing and advertising your books.

As a side note, many traditionally published authors also do this. But as a self published author, you have to do everything yourself.

If you’re a go-getter, detailed focussed and able to multi-task, then this may be the path for you.

KU or wide?

There are pros and cons for both options. Do you put all your “eggs in one basket” and go with the Amazon option of Kindle Unlimited (KU)? Or go wide with all the online stores?

I started wide as I was advised this was the best option. In hindsight, I wish I’d been exclusive to Amazon. Why? Because I write romance, most of my readers are in the US and most read via KU.

What’s so good about KU? Romance readers can read a ton of books for $10 per month. It’s also a good way for readers to try you out. They can read your book for “free” and see if they like you.

Many authors don’t agree with Amazon’s pricing structure of page reads but for me, I’ve made money from thousands of page reads.

My advice to new writers is to take or at least consider the KU option. There are lots of options available to you (like free days), to promote your book and get new readers.

Remembering, there are heaps of good books and authors out there. It’s not easy getting your name and book out to readers.

There are many authors who love iBooks and they are popular in Australia. Look at authors in your genre and see what and how they sell their books.

Final words of advice

There are plenty of companies that offer to promote you and your books, for a price. Be very mindful of them. Some deliver, many do not.

I’ve seen some of my author friends spend thousands of dollars for little return.

Before joining group promotions and PR companies, do your research. Ask around. There are plenty of fantastic Facebook groups where authors share their knowledge and help each other out. Ask.

You will make mistakes. I’ve made many. But I go back, fix them and move on. This career is not for the faint-hearted. You have to be disciplined and focused to be a career self published author.

Courses I would recommend are by Marie Force, Joanna Penn, Mark Dawson and Nick Stephenson. There are other reputable ones, but these I know are good.

Wishing you all the very best. I love being a self published author, it seriously is my dream job.

Happy writing, Joanne x

~~~

Multi published, award-winning Australian author, Joanne Dannon, writes to give her readers the experience she loves to savor–indulging in a sigh-worthy-happily-ever-after, being swept away from the everyday by diving into a delicious romance novel.

Joanne is a happily married mother of two heroes-in-training who loves spending time with friends and family. She can be found on Facebook and her website chatting about reading, writing, cooking, vintage-inspired dresses and all things romantic.

Find her here:

joannedannon.com
facebook.com/joannedannonwrites
instagram.com/joannedannon_writes/
goodreads.com/author/show/14156702.Joanne_Dannon
youtube.com/channel/UC3E1Pb5cymxz8ecxJCEIlnw
pinterest.com.au/joannedannon/

Her latest romance launches in time for Valentine’s Day, details below:

Falling for the Best Man

When the love of his life is his brother’s bride-to-be…

It was love at first sight when app developer Jonah Randall met Kaylah, but he’s crushed when he discovers she’s already dating his brother. When he’s asked to be the best man at their wedding, should he speak up, or forever hold his peace?

Lifestyle hacker Kaylah Westwood’s engagement brings her a step closer to the kind of life she’s dreamed of, full of love and family. Her fiancé is a good guy. It’s a shame it’s his brother who’s the one who makes her pulse rate skittle.

Jonah would never betray the brother who’s always been there for him. With just two days to go before the wedding, can he let the woman he loves marry his brother? But when Jonah confesses his feelings to Kaylah, a mind-blowing kiss has her rethinking her commitment. She thought she’d fallen for the right man. But is he the best man for her?

Exclusive to Amazon, Kindle Unlimited readers can read for free.

Guest post: Reverse Planning… or Turning Problems into Questions by Andi Buchanan

I’ve never been a planner. I start with good intentions, with complex spreadsheets or specialist software, with colour coding schemes and books on story structure. I go into the first draft with a clear picture of what I want to write… and three chapters in it all falls apart.

I’ve just finished the first draft of a space opera novel, which I’m calling Shattered Stars for now, until I can think of a better title. I pushed myself a bit further with the planning this time; I downloaded the free trial of Scapple and it helped a lot. I knew the names and main features of the alien races, and I knew the main event or topic of each section of the book and who the main players were. It helped a lot.

The novel is still a mess. I’ve come to terms with the fact I’m not a planner. I don’t plan in detail and nor do I write careful slow drafts; I wrote the first 50 000 words of this novel as part of NaNoWriMo in November and the rest in December. Maybe in the future I’ll be able to plan more effectively, but that’s not going to happen just because I will it to be so. I need to write that first draft to understand my characters, to figure out what happens and how it all fits together. And the process is inevitably going to be tangled.

So this time, rather than wishing I could plan better, I’ve started thinking about how I can most effectively use this first draft to ensure the best possible second draft. To accept that there are going to be major problems with the first draft, but not carry them through into subsequent drafts.

Here’s the situation now: my timelines are a disaster: I don’t know how old my protagonist is – and I haven’t worked out if her orphan granddaughter could even have been born or if she’s too young for it all to make sense. At least one of my alien races changes its name midway through, and although I have the physical features of each race mostly worked out, I have no idea how to distinguish between individuals – are they different sizes or different colours – and is that colour of their skin or their hair… or their scales or feathers? What are the possible variations? I only worked out who the main antagonist was about 3/4 of the way through, so I need to ensure their behaviour is consistent without giving everything away. There’s a section I think might reinforce stereotypes about a group of people in a way I definitely don’t want to perpetuate.

And that’s about two percent of it.

The problem with planning at the start was that I didn’t know enough to ask the questions I needed to. But now I have the baseline. And I’ve started making a list of questions like this:
How old is my protagonist?
What were the names and professions of her children?
What’s a timeline of the significant events that happened in the five years before the story opens?
What type of cuisine does my protagonist check out every time she arrives on a new space station?
How did my secondary character obtain his false identity?
What developmental stages would the grandchild have hit at this point?
Is Earth habitable yet? How many people live there and what are their motivations for doing so?

I collected about forty of these questions before beginning a read through, and they’ve increased a lot as I work my way through chapter by chapter. Some only need one word answers, others need thought and research. I’ve also created a corresponding spreadsheet for each sentient species that collects data like physical appearance, what they breathe, system(s) of government, how culturally homogeneous they are, and so on. And I’m finding I can answer these questions in a way I could never fill in character sheets from scratch. Then it felt like I was picking random details; now I both have the background to base this information on, and know that this information is relevant to the story I’m telling.

I’ve added something else as well. While I was finishing the first draft, I was struggling a bit with why to care about the novel – I think that always happens at some point in a first draft, but I was feeling it particularly strongly this time. In a whine to my critique group, I managed to not only rubber duck the main problem, but to work out a possible solution. There are lots of things about it I find interesting or fun to write. But compared to other longer works I’ve written, there’s little that I truly care about, or find particularly meaningful to me. It touched on them, because I don’t think you can write a creative work of this length without something of your interests or your values coming through.

So I’ve added two more questions:
What is unique, interesting, or unusual about this novel?
and
Why is this novel important to me?

And in doing so I’ve realised that I do care about this novel, but that in constructing plot twists and alien species, I hadn’t focused enough on those aspects. That’s fine, for a first draft, but now I’m keeping the answers to these questions on hand as I move towards the second draft.
Maybe this will bridge the planning/pantsing gap. I hope so. It’s working for me thus far. Maybe it won’t be the solution I’ve hoped though, and I think that’s ok too. I’ve learned that as my writing evolves, changes, improves but not in a steady upwards curve but with ups and downs along the way, so does my writing process. This is just part of that.

—-

Andi C. Buchanan is a writer, editor, and part-time space lobster based near Wellington, Aotearoa New Zealand. Their work is published or forthcoming in Apex, Kaleidotrope, Glittership, and more. Andi also edits Capricious magazine, creates websites as part of DragonByte and likes cheese, dinosaurs, and good disability representation in SFF. Their website is at http://andicbuchanan.org/.

Links:
This Other World (novella): https://www.amazon.com/This-Other-World-C-Buchanan-ebook/dp/B01J1B0B3Y
Capricious: Gender Diverse Pronouns special issue: http://www.capricioussf.org/issue-9-gender-diverse-pronouns/

Guest post: Point of view and language by Naomi Aoki

As a Romance Writer, my preferred method of crafting stories is to write them in third-person limited/dual point of view. I like being able to convey both sides of the story as a relationship between the two main characters develops. Occasionally one of the secondary characters will get a word in and give their opinion on proceedings, but there needs to be a darn good reason for them doing so – or they are just too damn noisy.

In saying that, my characters can get rather vocal while I’m drafting, shouting out their wishes and desires until I write it down, sometimes it’s even contrary to how I thought the story should go… but it is their story to tell… and I’m getting side-tracked.

But, in my current WIP, my preferred method of storytelling is not the one I’m using. Instead it’s being written in third-person/single point of view, for two reasons.

Firstly, I like to challenge myself to try different ways of writing something, because if you aren’t learning through making mistakes, your writing won’t improve – can’t.
Secondly, it’s the only way this story could be told, effectively. It’s definitely a challenge and throwing up questions about how I handle all sorts of issues within the story narrative that might not have been thought of if I’d continued with a dual point of view.

So why? And how is it challenging?

The why is easy, or at least for me – and other writers may have chosen to stick with dual point of view or even switched to first-person narrative – with the story being a historical romance set between two people of vastly different cultures and around an often over looked conflict. I suppose being bookended by the Boer War and World War I, it is easily done, but it is also interesting in that during the short duration of The Boxer Rebellion in 1900, nations who would soon be fighting against each other, fought alongside each other on Chinese soil… then again European Nations, probably not that surprising and I’m getting side-tracked again. I didn’t think I could do the Chinese side of the story justice if I tried to write it in dual point of view, and so made the decision to write the story from the point of view of the British character.

And the how… well let’s just say it would be rude to assume everyone in the world spoke English or had universal translators at hand. So, the challenge was how to show the reactions, the beliefs and the cultural situation of the Chinese character without doing just that and to also show the developing relationship between the two main characters.

I mean, he could remain silent, the British character being constantly confused or through the wishy-washy- hand-wavy ways of giving a small insight into what is happening with their interactions. Again, I didn’t want to do that. It felt like I would be either trying to white-wash the whole thing or come across very dismissive of the Chinese character.
Instead I chose to incorporate the Chinese Language – Mandarin – into the story, whenever he couldn’t express something with the limited English he did know. I never thought when I decided to learn Chinese four years ago that I would be using it to write love scenes… but I have and I think the story is richer for it.

What it has meant is that I now have a draft manuscript littered with Chinese sentences I need to double check the grammar for or hunt out better ways of expressing it; sentences in brackets waiting to be translated and ones which I’ve put into it, but forgot to put the English translation beside it and I can’t remember exactly how I wanted to word it in English. Whoops. Sometimes I end up spending hours translating from one language to the other… minutes that flow past quick because it’s a lot of fun doing it or at least to me it is.

Naomi Aoki would love to runaway to Japan or China and live there for a few years… but she can’t. Instead she goes there in her books, hoping to drag the reader into a world they’ve never been to before. Historical. Contemporary. Time offers no constraint to the stories she writes, happily dabbling in both so long as there is a happy ending.
Find her on Twitter and Pinterest

Guest post: Never Say Never by Darusha Wehm

Ten years ago I wrote the book that would become Self Made, the first in the Andersson Dexter cyberpunk detective series. Ten years is a long time as a writer. Ten years is also a long time when you’re writing about near future technology*. Things change. I change. It’s the way of things.

After Self Made, I wrote two more books in that series, the third of which was published in 2012. That’s five years ago. Not as long as ten, but still a lifetime as a writer. In those five years, I’ve had readers ask when the next book will be out. I’d always answered, “I don’t have any plans for another one, but never say never.”

It’s not that I was tired of those characters, or the subgenre, or the story. It was more like I thought I’d gone everywhere that I wanted to in that world. I thought the interesting part of their story was done, and we all just needed to carry on.

But the last year has been… interesting. I was in between projects and feeling at a loose end as a writer, and also thinking a lot about the toll that resistance and protest can take on people. At some point in there I remembered that trying to make a lasting change on the world was where I’d left those characters in the Dex series. And maybe the work they were embarking on was more interesting that I’d really thought.

Reader, I wrote that next book.

I was right to say never say never. The world had changed; I had changed, and come to a place as a writer and human where I did want to go back and revisit those old, familiar faces. I enjoyed coming to that world with new skills and ideas, new understanding about those characters and new understanding about myself.

I’ve always said of my old work that if I wrote it now I’d do it differently, but that I have no desire to go back and change it. And one of the joys of returning to this old series was being able to write that work and those people the way I do it now, without losing what made the older books what they are.

* I’m honoured to have had the unique experience of trading copies of my books (in which I describe characters with implanted chips in their hands that do things like unlock their apartments) in exchange for receiving a chip implanted in my own hand just like the ones I wrote about.

Darusha writes speculative fiction and poetry as M. Darusha Wehm and mainstream work as Darusha Wehm, and is the author of ten published novels, several poems and many short stories. Originally from Canada, Darusha currently lives in Wellington, New Zealand after spending the past several years sailing around the Pacific.

Previously Reciprocity by Lee Murray

Guest Post – Reciprocity by Lee Murray

Imagine a writer, hunched and shrunken at their desk, toiling alone in the semi-darkness, the ground around their feet littered with balled up yellow legal paper. It’s not so hard to conjure because, at its core, writing is a solitary business. Words on a page. Pages into chapters. Eventually, our industrious scribe has the first draft of a short story, or a series of poems, or even a full-length book. They emerge, sallow and blinking, into the light.

“I’ve finished my manuscript!!”
“Really? That’s so great. Go you!”
“I’m going to fire it off to Big-Five & Co Publishers, right now.”
We try not to cringe. “Um sorry, no, it’s not publishable yet.”
They frown. “Of course, it is. I spent all of November on it. I got an excellence in [insert high school writing course] and I’ve done all this hard work!”
“You’re absolutely sure there are no plot holes, character inconsistencies, and you haven’t tied everything up with an unsatisfying act of god ending?”
“Not that I can see. And anyway, it won’t matter if I decide to self-publish, will it?”

Since of late their only sustenance has been a diet of coffee and Tim Tams and the state of their fingernails suggests a severe lack of Vitamin D, we ignore the implication that self-published works don’t matter, and say gently, “Even if the traditional route isn’t for you, your name will be on the cover. Surely, you’ll want to be able to stand behind the work? You’ll want it to be the very best it can be?”
Their face falls, shoulders slump, and they nod. “Well, what am I supposed to do then? I spent all my holidays working on this. It’s not like I can afford thousands of dollars for editing.”
We try not to splutter, because commissioning editors have lives too, and slush piles that have been waiting so long they have melted into lakes. So when an editor comes across work with structural issues, a surfeit of exclamation marks, annoying TAB indents, space bar-spacebar-spacebar-spacebar, it’s hardly surprising that they might bypass those works in favour of titles with less onerous editing requirements.”

Of course, it’s possible our determined writer has a story which is destined to be bigger than Hobbits. Possible, but unlikely. These days, if writers want their work to stand out in the squizillions of titles out there, they can’t afford not to get it edited. Still, living in self-inflicted solitude for the last [month/year/decade], our writer is a fragile creature – in fact, they look set to burst into tears at any minute, so we must tread carefully.

“Maybe you could join a writing community?” we suggest.
Our would-be writer fiddles with a paperclip. “Ugh, people!” they wail.
“Do you want to improve your writing or not?”
Quiet mumbling.
“Look, it doesn’t have to be a major professional group, although there are some fantastic societies out there, all running amazing programmes for their members. Informative, educational, current. There’s the HWA, SpecFicNZ, AHWA…”
The writer rolls their eyes.
“Okay, so start small with a writing buddy, or a few local writers who meet over coffee, or sign up to an online writers’ network. People who are writing in your genre—”
“But I’m not ready for anyone to read my writing yet!”
We smile.
“Sure, you could decide to join to get your work critiqued or mentored. You might tap into the group’s knowledge of markets and publishers and what that weird ‘option’ clause is all about. You could also meet at the bar on a Friday evening and moan about the lack of funding opportunities for [insert your genre here]. All excellent reasons for joining a group, but there’s something else. Another reason for joining…”
Our imaginary writer taps their foot. They’ve been sequestered for some time, and their patience is wearing thin.
“Because you’ll be able to reciprocate,” we say.
“What?”
“Look, lots of writers join groups in order to get their work critiqued, but they forget the other side of the equation. Reciprocating in kind. Because reading, and critiquing other work in your genre is one of the quickest ways to improve your skills.”
Our writer’s forehead wrinkles dubiously.
“Think about it,” we say, warming to our theme, “if you can recognise a gaping plot hole, a character inconsistency, a weird POV switch, tense and tension issues, adverbs ad nauseum, or a lame ending that wouldn’t convince a six-year-old in someone else’s writing, and if you can suggest fixes for those issues, then you’ll have gained valuable techniques for polishing your own work.”
Our writer’s eyes grow wide. “I get to read other people’s work before anyone else has seen it?”
“Yes, and you—”
“Point out all the flaws? Pick it to pieces?”
“Well, that’s not exactly—”
“And mark it up with red pen?”
:You’re missing the point: at the end of it, you’ll have a whole heap of skills you can apply to editing your own manuscript, and, if you’ve taken care not to stomp all over someone’s else’s baby – being sure to commend, recommend and trying not to offend ‒ then there’s a chance you’ll come out of it with a bunch of supportive like-minded writer colleagues, who’ll be just as invested in your book as you are, and can help you to promote it on release day.”
Our writer giggles. They haven’t slept in a while. “That sounds like a good idea.”
“So, you’ll join a writers’ group?”
“Yes, but later; I’m due for another Tim Tam.” Then they disappear in a puff of blue smoke.

Well, of course they did: they were imaginary.

Lee Murray is a multi-award-winning writer and editor of fantasy, science fiction, and horror (Sir Julius Vogel, Australian Shadows). Her recent works include the Taine McKenna military thriller series, and Hounds of the Underworld (Raw Dog Screaming Press) a supernatural crime-noir co-written with Dan Rabarts. She lives with her family in New Zealand, where she conjures up stories from an office overlooking a cow paddock.

Hounds of the Underworld: https://www.amazon.com/Hounds-Underworld-Path-Dan-Rabarts/dp/1935738968