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: 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: 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: 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.
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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