Guest post: On writing reverse harem, or, so where do all the limbs go? by Steff Green

In March I released my 19th novel – The Castle of Earth and Embers. It’s the first in a new 5-part series following Maeve, an Arizona girl who discovers she’s inherited an honest-to-goodness English castle, complete with turrets and ramparts and four gorgeous male tenants. As this is a paranormal romance, lots of magical shenanigans and a healthy dose of sexy times and metaphysical angst ensue before the whole thing wraps up with a happily-ever-after five books later.

You might think the main emotional story arc of The Castle of Earth and Embers would be some kind of love triangle. Which of the four guys would Maeve end up with? Corbin – the protector wallowing in guilt? Arthur – the warrior tired of fighting? Flynn – the trickster with an artist’s soul – or Rowan – the enigma whose scars run deep? Or what about Blake, the mysterious fifth guy who shows up at the end of the book?

Thanks to a rising sub-niche within romance called “reverse harem” and the hashtag #whychoose, I didn’t have to write a love triangle and force Maeve to choose. There was no need to create a convenient deux-ex-machina (or deux-ex-Maevina, as my editor joked) to conveniently get rid of the other suitors so Maeve only ended up with one.

In my series, Maeve ends up in a happily-ever-after with five guys – her harem. (I’ve written an article on my blog about reverse harem if you want more information.)

How is this possible? How does this not go against everything that romance as a genre is built on – the enduring love of one guy for one girl?

Luckily, romance is a genre that isn’t afraid to move with the times and tackle women’s sexuality in new and challenging ways. Romance writers embrace and challenge stereotypes, they celebrate multicultural and interracial romances, they tackle characters who work at the top of the corporate ladder, are stay-at-home parents, are divorced, are disabled, suffer from mental illness. They embrace LGBT with sub-genres dedicated to gay/lesbian romances. They celebrate female desire and female agency. Why should polyamory not be next on the list?

Polyamory and other non-monogamous relationships between consenting people are becoming more open, more normalised, and more celebrated. That’s awesome. If reverse harem books help women exploring and discovering their own sexuality to see themselves, or experience a common sexual fantasy within the safety of the pages of a book, then I’m proud to be a part of that.

Writing an exciting love story with six separate emotional arcs and at least five happily-ever-afters is quite an undertaking. When I outline a book, I use a very basic, pared-back version of Libble Hawker’s technique (as demonstrated in her book Take Off Your Pants). I started with my concept; American girl discovers she owns British castle. Goes to castle. Discovers at castle that she is actually a witch and she has to fight off the fae alongside her harem of male witches.

Then I thought about Maeve, my FMC. I’ve written a lot of arty characters, so this time I gave her a passion for physics and a desire to become an astronaut. I thought the idea of her empirical, scientific mind grappling with all this magic stuff would be quite fun to explore.

I was right. It is.

Next, I needed a reason for Maeve to inherit this castle and for her to decide to move there. I needed some serious emotional stakes, and I needed her to end up in a state of mind where a polyamorous relationship might occur to her whereas it would never have done so back home in Arizona. Enter a horrific accident that kills off her family and some other circumstances that throw Maeve headlong into her adventure.

Then I needed some guys. I needed five love interests who were each wonderful in their own way and who each carried around their own pain and baggage. I’m really proud of the guys I came up with. I feel like each of them on their own wouldn’t have been right for Maeve, but together, they’re this amazing group that strengthen and heal each other.

As I deepened the male characters emotional arcs, I realised that I didn’t just to tell a heterosexual love story. There should be something going on between some of the guys, as well. M/M relationship show up in some (but not all) reverse harem books and honestly they’re my favourite books in the genre. (F/f is much rarer, because of what the audience is looking for). As well as a fledgling MM relationship, there are the friendships between the guys that get tested and strengthened by the harem.

The whole plot hangs off key emotional moments for each of the characters. Grief, hope, love, secrets, self-discovery, mental illness, guilt, anger, silence, neglect – I’m exploring all of these and how they impact the group dynamic and one-on-one relationships. With so many characters, every scene packs a huge emotional punch.

Then there’s the sex. There’s lots of it – one-on-one, threesomes, foursomes, and moresomes. Big, happy piles of tangled limbs. And all the feelings and confusion and misunderstandings that go along with sex, but amplified five-fold with more partners. I’m lucky in that I know many people in polyamorous relationships, and I can ask questions and learn from their emotional journey to make sure my characters ring true and don’t promote unsafe practices or harmful stereotypes.

I am having SO MUCH FUN. I’m not sure I’m going to be able to go back to plain old monogamous, heterosexual couples after this. Reverse harem has ruined me as a romance writer, and I couldn’t be happier.

For some reverse harem recommendations, check out 10 reverse harem series you should read right now.

___

Steff Green is a USA Today and New York Times bestselling author of twenty dark fantasy (as S C Green) and paranormal romance books (as Steffanie Holmes). Her books feature clever, witty heroines, wild shifters, cunning witches and alpha males who get what they want. In 2017 Steff was the recipient of the Attitude Award for Artistic Achievement, to honour her accomplishments as a person who lives with a disability.

Before becoming a writer, Steffanie worked as an archaeologist and museum curator. She currently lives in a castle outside Auckland with her cantankerous drummer husband, a horde of cantankerous cats, and their medieval sword collection. Follow Steff’s adventures on her blog or instagram.

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Guest post: Gothic architecture, dark pubs, and mushy peas. Setting as a character in your story by Steff Green

Recently, I started reading an urban fantasy book set in London. I admit to being a bit of a Anglophile, and so the London setting attracted me to the book. But after a few chapters, I put it down, and haven’t picked it up again.

It wasn’t the fault of the main character – who was a totally kickass bisexual, down-on-her-luck wizard. The setting – or lack thereof – killed it for me.

If you’ve ever travelled to London, you know that the city has a life, a personality, all of its own. From the red double-decker buses and distinctive cabs to the ancient cobbled alleys and majestic gothic architecture mingled with the modern. From the scent of meat pies wafting out of corner shops to the reek of sweat on the overcrowded tubes. From Camden goths and the footballers’ wives of Chelsea to the myriad immigrant communities who call the city home … London lives and breathes its own distinctive Londonness.

This author captured none of it. The setting was so bland and shapeless it could have been any city in America, or none of them, since they all also have their own distinct characteristics. I don’t need pages of florid descriptions of Big Ben and mushy peas, but walking the character past a Tescos, or having her sit in an English pub with a G&T instead of a “dive bar” isn’t too much to ask.

One city is not like another. If you ever want to learn how a writer can envision a city and make it so utterly visceral that it feels familiar and foreign at the same time, read China Mieville. Read the Bas-Lag books, or The City and the City, and tell me that after a few strokes of his pen you can’t imagine walking the streets of El Qoma or New Crobuzon.

To me, the setting should be another character in the book – someone who allies with the main character, or throws up challenges in their way. Setting can move the plot forward or provide tension and conflict. Setting has its own quirks that must be navigated. It can be friend or enemy.

So how does a setting become another character in a book? Here are my tips:

Characters can be children of their settings.

Where you grew up has a way of shaping your personality, in the same was as who you grew up with. What if you grew up in a commune? Would you be a different person then if you grew up on the Manhattan East Side or Midwest US?

Create favourite “haunts”

It might be a hollowed-out tree where your heroine went to get away from her abusive father, or it could be a favourite pub where your hero shoots the breeze with his mates. These places create intimacy and camaraderie. They can become personifications for a character’s pain or flaws or motivations. They give your character a comfort zone around which you can seriously fuck them up.

And, when you threaten their favourite haunt as part of the story, you can create feelings as raw and visceral as if you threatened a character.

Setting reveals character

Every word in a book must serve one of two purposes: it must either move the story along, or deepen the reader’s understanding of character. Ideally, each word does both those things at the same time.

Descriptions of setting shouldn’t exist in a narrative just to show how beautifully you can evoke a sunset. Instead, they reveal details about the POV character and how they perceive the world. Then, you can shatter those perceptions throughout the novel, and reflect these changes in how they see their surroundings.

A person with a lot of education will describe things and notice things in a different way to someone who left school at fifteen.

At the moment, I’m writing a book about a girl who has grown up in semi-rural Arizona, and has come to live in a beautiful English castle. It’s wonderful because her rich and often humorous descriptions of her surroundings help the reader to understand how she feels about her change of fortune. A chair represents something very real and important in her life. If she’d grown up in the castle, she wouldn’t describe it in the same way because those experiences wouldn’t be new to her. A chair would just be a chair.

Do your research to add authentic touches.

As an ex-archaeologist, incorporating historical or architectural details into my stories makes me very happy. Many of these details can branch off to become new plot devices. A real secret tunnel under a fortress becomes the catalyst of a getaway plot. A ghost story from an historical pub becomes the focal point of a murder mystery. Mythological details about the realm of the fae inform a magical system. A few minutes of googling, or a fascinating book from the library, will give your books a beautiful depth.

Season plays an important role.

This is a mistake I’m often guilty of. I like to believe I write pretty damn evocative settings, but too often I forget to set a story at a particular time of year. It’s pelting down with rain one day, and sunny the next. The days don’t get shorter or longer. The yard might be littered with fall leaves but they’re not selling special fall drinks at the local cafe, etc. Pick a season (or a specific date, if possible) and start your story from there, paying attention to the weather patterns for the area.

Incorporate easter eggs

Easter eggs are fun things the reader can discover in your stories if they’re paying close attention. Clive Cussler always adds himself as a minor character into his books (almost like a Where’s Wally puzzle), and readers love to hunt him out. Stephen King is famous for linking characters and places through his books. Dan Brown hides elaborate ciphers in the covers of his books. And Mark Z Danielewski’s House of Leaves is basically one giant easter egg, as multifaceted as the house at the centre of the story A house that is very much a character – one that’s bigger on the inside than it is on the outside.

In my own books, I usually include cameos from other characters in each book, and I also make a lot of jokes about my favourite authors or books. I always love it when readers spot them!

(You can see some more amazing literary easter eggs here).

What can you do to improve the settings in your story? How can you create a place that feels real to your readers?

____

Steff Green is a USA Today and New York Times bestselling author of twenty dark fantasy (as S C Green) and paranormal romance books (as Steffanie Holmes). Her books feature clever, witty heroines, wild shifters, cunning witches and alpha males who get what they want. In 2017 Steff was the recipient of the Attitude Award for Artistic Achievement, to honour her accomplishments as a person who lives with a disability.

Before becoming a writer, Steffanie worked as an archaeologist and museum curator. She currently lives in a castle outside Auckland with her cantankerous drummer husband, a horde of cantankerous cats, and their medieval sword collection. Follow Steff’s adventures on her blog or instagram.

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: The Myriad Curse by Dan Rabarts

I remember a time, he said, trying to make himself sound older and wiser than he really was, when I’d sit down to write and have no idea where to start or how this fragment of time I had scratched out of the universe solely for the purpose of putting words on paper might best be put to use. A lot of this precious time was spent staring at the white, trying to dredge up ideas or characters or even just sentences, in an effort to feel this was something I could do. Then I wrote a novel, and put it in a drawer.

Along came children. Those precious hours I had scratched from the belly fat of Grandfather Time suddenly seemed a long way off, all that effort wasted on a doorstop. So I wrote another novel, or rather three more novels, and put them all in the drawer. It’s quite a big drawer.

Then I found my stride with short stories, and the first story I ever wrote had legs and gave me the kick in the pants I needed to write more. In there somewhere, I wrote another novel, but it was the shorts that kept me moving. That novel’s not in the drawer. Not yet.

Short stories were a lifeline. After all the effort of writing enough dark epic fantasy to sink a pirate ship, and really having no idea what to do with it or how to turn it into an Elixir of Fame and Fortune, in short fiction I had now found a medium I could do something with. Something people wanted to read.

When you find a barrel rolling off the sinking pirate ship, you grab hold, right? Save yourself, you filthy buccaneer.

Morning after morning, night after night, I sank into the couch and lost myself in fragments of lives and worlds, the hopes and fears and mysteries of places and people unseen, just long enough to touch on their world, leave it a little more bruised, a little more broken, like the fingers of a cruel god grazing the hearts of the innocent. Such power I held.

While adrift upon this dark and tempestuous sea I joined forces with another reaper of words, and together we harvested not just our own stories but also those of others, and from this grave union were born two anthologies and a novel, nay a series of novels, brought to life by a pair of characters who refused to be left in a drawer collecting dust.

It goes without saying that I owe where I am right now to Lee Murray, my fellow pirate, to whom I remain eternally grateful, but also to the stories that led me there.

And so I sit here, and I still face a white page. And while that has not changed, everything has changed. Instead of the vast Sea of WhatthefuckshouldIwrite, I now stare into the black, many-faceted spider eyes of the Myriad Curse, and twitch against her ropy bonds. This is utterly more terrifying than the emptiness of Not Having Any Good Ideas. It is the hell of having so many things started, so many stories in the mix, long and short and yet to define themselves, some contracted for delivery, some just taking up room in critical parts of the workings that they need to be vented so other things can breathe, that knowing which to even tackle next is the soul-killer. It robs the will to work on anything, because there are so many things clamouring for attention.

So I do nothing, unless someone is screaming for it. What used to be a spontaneous, creative burning of energy, a determination to scale some indefinable pinnacle, becomes a pressure to meet a deadline. This is not a problem until the moment you realise it’s what you’re doing and that yes of course it’s a fucking problem. What comes next for our dear victim, so afflicted by the curse of scraping against the sharp edges of almost being able to pretend they’re a real writer, with a real shot at success if they just keep at it?

Writer therapy, of course.

Wind back the clock, before The Path of Ra, before The Crooked Mile, before Crucible, before the drawer novels. Before the short films and the attempts at writing screenplays. Before these things, there was poetry that grew out of free writing. Words that were written for no-one but me. Words that fell out of me like cold black stones, wet with what drowned inside me, written while I sat on chittering trains, dark Wellington nights rolling by the rainswept windows. Poems written on coffee breaks, or in bedrooms late at night to the bitter swill of heartache, which I totally understood before I even turned twenty, I swear. If my short stories were fragments of other people’s pain, then my poems were raw splinters of my own. They existed for no other reason than to slake my need to get out what was in.

Late last year Lee and I delivered Teeth of the Wolf, the sequel to Hounds of the Underworld, to our publisher Raw Dog Screaming Press. I’d had a hell of a year, and with wrapping up the novel I was at the end of my creative energies going into the summer break. I had stories I could be working on. I had another novel I needed to complete edits on. But the thought of taking work away with me on holiday was too much. The Myriad Curse grinned down at me, venom gleaming on its fangs. What to do?

My family gift me with writing notebooks every year. I made sure I had one with me all the time while we were away. I would beat the Myriad Curse, even if just for a few weeks. I would wind back the clock. I set myself a simple enough challenge: Write every day. Something new. Complete nothing. Write free, for myself alone. Start a new story, but run out of time in the day? Leave it. Tomorrow, write free. Whatever comes. Poems, maybe, for sure, but there are no rules. Some days, a couple of lines, some days, three or four pages. Some of it meant nothing, some of it hurt, some of it was the sun and the rain of being far from the day job and surrounded by people who love me. It wasn’t the subconsciously sculpted meanderings of twenty years ago, and it wasn’t without its precious, jagged scars, but it did what it needed to.

It broke the Myriad Curse.

Reminded me, in the end, that they’re all just words, sentences, and that not everything we write needs to be finished. Literature is, well, littered with the ruins of our abandoned children, built on their bones. They are the wreckage driven before the storm, which some bastard pirate ship is surfing.

Free writing is the antivirus. Plagued by so many projects you can’t focus? Write more. Write nothing in as many words as you need to say it. Write up a storm. Because at the centre of every storm there’s an eye. That calm is where we find our peace, even when it’s screaming at us from all sides, staring us down with its glassy dead eyes and glittery fangs. The curse is the storm is the sea, and we can beat it by playing its own game against it. All order came out of chaos, so maybe sometimes we just need a little more chaos in our lives. Write free, write for you and you alone.

I remember a time, he said, when the white page was the enemy, the tyrant, the curse. That will never change. What defines us is how we face it down.

——

Dan Rabarts is an award-winning short fiction author and editor, recipient of New Zealand’s Sir Julius Vogel Award for Best New Talent in 2014. His science fiction, dark fantasy and horror short stories have been published in numerous venues around the world, including Beneath Ceaseless Skies, StarShipSofa and The Mammoth Book of Dieselpunk. Together with Lee Murray, he co-edited the anthologies Baby Teeth – Bite-sized Tales of Terror, winner of the 2014 SJV for Best Collected Work and the 2014 Australian Shadows Award for Best Edited Work, and At The Edge, a collection of Antipodean dark fiction, which won the SJV for Best Edited Work in 2017. His novella Tipuna Tapu won the Paul Haines Award for Long Fiction as part of the Australian Shadows Awards in 2017. Hounds of the Underworld, Book 1 of the crime/horror series The Path of Ra, co-written with Lee Murray and published by Raw Dog Screaming Press (2017), is his first novel. Find out more at dan.rabarts.com.

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/