Category Archives: Music and Writers

Typing in the Rhythm Section

Narrelle Harris tells us about her love of writing to music.

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I like listening to music when I write. Not all the time, of course. Sometimes you need the sounds of silence so that the difficult words have somewhere to line up and make their own rhythm.  But generally, and especially during first drafts, I like building up a soundtrack to the world I’m building.

I have eclectic tastes in music: my collection contains classical, light opera and new age albums right next to alternative rock, pop punk, folk punk and the occasional heavy metal band. I like to discover new bands and new styles, though not everything is to my taste. I’m open to persuasion, though. I’m always chasing after the corollary to Sturgeons Law.

(Sturgeon’s Law being that 95% of everything is crap: the corollary therefore being that the other 5% is worth looking out for. One day I’ll find the 5% of yodelling that works for me.)

Music has been a long love of mine. I learned piano as a child, played the recorder at school and on and off over the years I’ve attempted songwriting. I co-created a Blake’s 7 filktape back in the 80s (writing lyrics mainly, though also one piece of music, and I even sang on one track.)  I’m better at lyrics than melodies, though, and sadly my vocal range is limited and kind of nasal – but the call of music is always near.

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In fact, for me, music and writing are never far apart. My crime novellas, Fly by Night and Sacrifice, are about two musicians. I’ve written lyrics for some of my stories, and music is often referenced in my books. It seems perfectly natural to me to develop a soundtrack for each book I write.

By ‘soundtrack’ I don’t mean ‘playlist’. I’ve compiled a playlist or two to accompany books I’m working on, but often once I’ve done so, I don’t listen to it. I tend to pick songs that reflect aspects of the plot or

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character development, but then I find that in the writing, things move and change; they subtly change or veer off, and songs I might have liked while I was working on the first draft of chapter five are no longer right by the time I’m at chapter 25. By the second or third rewrite they may not be relevant at all. Worse, the song might be subconsciously pushing me in a particular direction which lacks subtlety or that truthfulness which is so important and getting to the heart of the character or their story.

I suppose a playlist focuses too much on the lyrics, which can be detrimental. Soundtracks are more about the general rhythm and atmosphere of the aural landscape that contributes to the mood and setting.

So playlists don’t usually work for me – but I do definitely have soundtracks that go with my writing. When I wrote Fly By Night and Sacrifice, I spent a lot of time listening to REM and About Six Feet (my brother in law’s band – he allowed me to use the lyrics to some of the songs in the book). When I wrote Witch Honour and Witch Faith, Loreena McKennitt, Clannad and Enya got a lot of air time.

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The Opposite of Life had a more eclectic soundtrack of alternative rock, but by the time I got to Walking Shadows, I was steeped in pop punk and the likes of Fall Out Boy, though more recently the soundscape WS-Rough-front-207x300consisted of Shinedown,, The Matches and Florence and the Machine.

The artists listed for each book are of course not the only ones I listen to while working. My choices can be fairly wide-ranging and include quirky lounge music (like The Real Tuesday Weld), show tunes from Cole Porter as well as music selected for its ambience.

It’s not completely random, though. The choice of the right bands, the right kinds of songs, the right mood and tempo, can be important in getting my head into the right space.  I work full time in day jobs to pay the bills, with only ten or so hours a week to write, so choosing the right background sound can act like a mnemonic  trigger (or Pavlovian response) and switch my brain from corporate-writer-mode to creative-writer-mode faster than I can sometimes achieve on my own after a day in the office.

Sometimes it’s too much. If I have a tricky scene, or something

intense, I need silence. Then the music goes off and it’s just me and the tyranny of the blank page. Often, though, the aural queue helps slot me into the imagined world I’m writing, unlocks the imagined people, and off I can go.

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I may not have pursued music through the piano (and a short lived attempt at the guitar, abandoned when I broke both bones in my forearm a month later); I may only attempt to write songs in a haphazard fashion; I may be half-hearted and fickle about the use of playlists; but music is an essential part of how I write and the worlds I create.

And I’m open to suggestions. Does anyone have any bands to recommend? After all, I do have a new book to write.

What’s your favourite vampire-related song and why?

Catch up with Narrelle on GoodReads.

Catch up with Narrelle on Twitter  @daggyvamp

Narrelle’s Web Page.

 

www.narrellemharris.com

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Filed under Australian Writers, creativity, Dark Urban Fantasy, Fantasy books, Female Fantasy Authors, Fun Stuff, Music and Writers, Nourish the Writer, Thrillers and Crime, Thrillers and Mysteries

Here it is, the trailer for The Price of Fame

Thanks to my long suffering DH and Jason and Nat Collins who did the music!

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jgBHQ3MMPrk&feature=youtu.be]

Copies of The Price of Fame should be arriving next week. I promise, first thing I’ll do is send out the prize copies to the competition winners who’ve been waiting so patiently.

Am planning on interviewing Daryl about the proces of creating trailers, creativity and art.

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Filed under Australian Artists, Australian Writers, Book trailers, Indy Press, Music and Writers, Paranormal_Crime, Resonance, Thrillers and Crime, Thrillers and Mysteries

Meet Rob Kaay…

I have been featuring fantastic female fantasy authors (see disclaimer) but this has morphed into interesting people in the speculative fiction world. Today I’ve invited the talented Rob Kaay to drop by.

Look out for the give-away at the end of the post.

Q: You’ve worked as a professional musician. (Rob was signed with Columbia records in his twenties and was based in New York and Melbourne. He had an epiphany when he turned thirty, returned to Perth and started working on Silverbirch his dark urban fantasy novel). Rather than approach a traditional publisher, you went straight to self publishing. I know many traditionally published writers are re-releasing their backlists by self publishing. What was your reasoning behind taking the self publishing route?

A: As soon as I finished my first draft of Silverbirch, I sent out twenty query letters, with the first three chapters attached, to some of the biggest publishing companies and agents in the world.  I aimed high.  One of the bigger firms got back to me with an interest to see more of the novel once I had completed the second draft.  It gave me great motivation to work on the book some more.  The only problem was, once I completed the second draft, I could see the possibility of the company liking the book and maybe picking it up.  A scenario flashed before my eyes that resembled what had happened to my band in the music industry, our music being picked up by a major label.  A system controlling how, when and why my work was released.  That whole situation; where a massive corporation was in total control of my artistic expression, left a sour taste in my mouth and caused me to want to work solo from that point forward.  I was reluctant to hop on that merry-go-round again, so I didn’t bother sending the second draft.  I released Silverbirch; A Tear in the Fabric of the Night Sky myself and plan on doing that with all my music and books in the future.

With the upcoming sequel, Silverbirch; Fall of the Epicenter, I am currently editing the third draft and have no plans on showing publishers or agents.  I don’t care how many copies I sell, I have written the sequel exclusively for those people who have found and enjoyed the first book.

Q: While you were on the road touring your wrote two journals about this experience. (See here). About one of them you say ‘this is what it’s really like being in a band’. Are these journals the sort of thing you don’t want your mother to read?

Actually, they’re both about what it’s really like being in a band.  I didn’t write the journals about one specific band though.  I created characters based on a number of different people in a number of bands I’ve been in and/or supported.  The character of Robkaay however is heavily based around myself.

I deliberately wrote the books in a journal type format to give kids who are thinking of dedicating their life to being in a touring rock band an up close and personal spectrum of exactly what is involved.  From what it’s really like to take drugs, sleep with groupies and be drunk for weeks on end.  In reality, it’s a lot different than how cool it sounds.  There are dark moments when my character talks from inside a depression and can’t believe he has sacrificed a beautiful relationship for the sake of a small piece of delusional unattainable fame.

As for the second part of your question . . . normally, if you’re in a rock band and you write about what it’s really like, you don’t want your mother to read it.  However, in my case, my mum was the editor!  Every few chapters she would ring me and ask, “Is this a character you are writing or did this really happen?!”

Q: From doing these author interviews I know that about 75% of writers are aural – they play music while they write, some even go so far as to make up lay lists of certain types of music to get them into the zone for a particular book. (The other 25% are visual and make up folders of photos). As a musician you have a soundtrack that goes with Silverbirch (available here). Is this because the music and the story are so intertwined that you can’t imagine producing one without producing the other?

While writing Silverbirch, sometimes I listen to my own instrumental music, but mostly I listen to other bands.  I listen to lots of Trent Reznor’s instrumental stuff like Ghosts I-IV, the Fight Club soundtrack, Moby’s free instrumental music, instrumental Crosses . . . anything really, as long as it’s cool and dark . . . just as long as there are no vocals.  Vocals distract me. (Rob is giving away a free EP to accompany Silverbirch).

Q: Regarding your premise for Silverbirch you said: ‘I’ve always been interested in what causes people to do crazy things when they’re not in control of themselves, like when they’re drunk, on drugs, angry or sleep deprived. Obviously in a touring rock band, I saw a lot of people doing crazy things they couldn’t remember, so I decided to create a race of people called Silvers who were influencing our decisions. That’s pretty much how Silverbirch; A Tear in the Fabric of the Night Sky was born.’ Did you research psychology to help you with the building of the Silvers’ society?

Nope.  I’m just writing fantastical ideas as I see them in my mind.

Q: You are working on a sequel to Silverbirch. ‘I specifically went travelling last year to the Lake District and London in England and Jordan in the Middle-East and Egypt and visited the Mayan Ruins in Mexico to write the sequel. I learned as much as I could about what the Egyptians and Mayans believed and wrote most of the next Silverbirch on the road.’ What do you look for when you travel like this? Are you going to specific places to set story elements, or are you looking for the feel of the place?

With Egypt, Jordan and Mexico, I wanted to learn more about ancient civilizations and marvel at what they accomplished and wonder at how.  Some of the things these ancient civilizations knew and could build between 3000 and 6000 years ago blows your mind.  Especially when you’re there, seeing how they made everything happen without mechanical engineering or steel.  How the hell did they pile 4-tonne slabs of stone on top of each other to form the Pyramids of Giza, fifty stories high, without steel cranes?  It’s still a mystery.  Also, what happened to the ancient Egyptians as a race of people and what is the true meaning behind their hieroglyphics?

When I travel to places with as much history as this, I like to immerse myself in the environment and allow my imagination to ask me all sorts of questions that most people would deem as weird.  It helps to unlock story ideas and pathways in my wild imagination.

With other places, like London and Grasmere in England . . . I talked my girlfriend into specifically visiting London because I wanted to write about Nudge storming the BBC Studios.  With Grasmere, I heard they had an abundance of silver birch trees.  The BBC Studios and the town of Grasmere have become key locations in the next book.  I find that I can’t write about a place properly and make it believable unless I’ve physically been there.

Q: The art for Silverbirch is particularly nice. Are you also an artist, or did you hire a freelancer to produce this artwork?

I know, I like to do everything I on my own!  But no, I am super crap at drawing.  If you asked me to draw you a stick figure of a man with shoes on, I’m sure it would come off looking more like a twisted tree with roots sunk in two ugly pots.

Ken Taylor from Melbourne illustrated the ‘young Nudge holding the mushroom‘ graphic for A Tear in the Fabric of the Night Sky.  Dan Mumford from London illustrated the ‘female reptilian from Venus‘ graphic for the upcoming novel, Fall of the Epicenter.

Q: With your background in music, do you plan to do more cross-platform releases or ‘enhanced’ e-books in future?

As a musician and author, I am seriously looking to explore greater ways to tell a story in the future.  For now, other than releasing my stories in written form, I am also creating podcasts, writing most of the music myself.

Q: I was prompted to start this series of interviews because there seems to be a perception in the US and the UK that fantasy is a bit of a boy’s club. Do you think there’s a difference in the way males and females write fantasy?

 I don’t think there is a difference just because a male or female writer has written something.  I think the difference comes from how different we all are as general Humans in the way we see the world.  How different we are all individually brought up in various environments with vast belief systems.  Everyone has something to say, regardless of gender.  If it’s interesting enough, lots of people will want to read the writing.

Q: Following on from that, does the gender of the writer change your expectations when you pick up their book?

Not at all.

Q: And here’s the fun question. If you could book a trip on a time machine, where and when would you go, and why?

First up I would dial in the year 3000 B.C. to Egypt.  I want to see how they built the pyramids!  Second, I would dial in 3000.  I want to see how technology advances in the future.  I want to know what will become of the people of Earth and whether Humans are still the dominant species!

Giveaway Question: If you could go back stage and mingle with any band in the last 60 years, which band would it be and why?

(Rob is offering a paperback edition of Silverbirch; A Tear in the Fabric of the Night Sky and two signed limited edition bookmarks and stickers to a randomly selected winner!)

Catch up with Rob on Shelfari

Catch up with Rob on Goodreads

Catch up with Rob on Linkedin

Catch up with Rob on Facebook

Follow Rob on Twitter @robkaay

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Filed under Australian Artists, Australian Writers, Book Giveaway, Comics/Graphic Novels, creativity, Fantasy books, Indy Press, Music and Writers, Promoting your Book, Publishing Industry, Writers Working Across Mediums

Meet James Maxey…

I have been featuring fantastic female fantasy authors (see disclaimer) but this has morphed into interesting people in the speculative fiction world. Today I’ve invited the talented James Maxey to drop by. (Further disclaimer, James and I are both published by Solaris).

Look out for the give-away at the end of the post.

Q: Your series is called Dragon Age and the books are called Bitterwood, Dragonseed and Dragonforce. Your new series is called Dragon Apocalypse and the first book is GreatShadow- who is a ‘primal dragon of fire, an elemental evil whose malign intelligence spies upon mankind through every candle flame, waiting to devour any careless victim he can claim’. Can we take it from this that you really like dragons? 

The first thing you should know is that dragons are constantly stalking me in my bedroom. (See the photos of the shadow dragons I’ve attached. I swear these are not photoshopped.) Since they have yet to devour me, I assume they’re instead whispering subliminal messages in my ears filling me with urges to write about them.

As an author, I’m fascinated with dragons for their mythic impact. I think humans are hardwired to be on the lookout for dragons. If you think about it, we evolved from small monkey-like creatures who had strong evolutionary pressure to watch out for big snakes, big cats, and big birds. Blend these animals together, and you get a dragon. Dragons provide a path into the deep and primal instincts of readers. The small mammals inside us feel compelled to keep their eyes fixed on these ultra-predators.

Q: In an interview on Shimmer you said:  ‘My books feature dragons as the oppressive rulers of humanity, and Burke is a rebel who hates dragons.  Anza is his only child, and, while he might have wanted a son, he’s decided to turn his daughter into a dragon-killing machine.  After I decided that Anza had been trained since she could walk to be a fighter, I wrote a battle scene where she kills someone in complete silence.  It was then that the character revealed to me that she never talked; she’d been mute since birth.  I had to go back and rewrite all the scenes where she spoke, which was a pain, but completely worth the effort.  With a lot of my best characters, I don’t so much design them as discover them.’ From this I take it you are not a plotter so much as a pantser? (Pantsers write by the seat of their pants. ie. they let the story take them where it and the characters want to go).

I normally go into a book with some sort of broad outline, but outlining only helps me think about the big plot points and the most obvious character motivations. So, in Greatshadow, when I’m thinking on the outline level, Infidel’s motivation for wanting to slay the dragon Greatshadow is so that she can steal his treasure and have enough wealth to retire from her life as a mercenary and live the rest of her days in peace. That sort of straight-forward, big picture motivation is all I need to start writing. But, if I only wrote down the big picture stuff, I’d have a book about 20 pages long. So, I’ve got to fill in each scene with detail and dialogue, and the more the characters talk, the more they evolve, and I’m able to start drilling down deeper and deeper into what really, really motivates them. To the degree that I’m a pantser, it’s because I’m willing to toss out my outlined plot points and let the characters go where they want to go as my knowledge of them increases. Sometimes I wind up back exactly where the plot required them to be (for instance, Infidel still has a climatic scene where it all comes down to her facing off against the dragon). But, other times, my plot does a 180 turn as the character rejects my master plans and tells me what they really want to do, and I wing it and charge blindly into terra incognita.

Q: Do you think that writers are in a unique position to explore and process the major experiences of their life through their writing?

Hmm. I don’t know about unique. Certainly an actor or musician or artist would have similar opportunities to channel their emotion into their chosen careers. But, an accountant or a mall security guard… maybe not so much.

I process a lot of pain through my writing. Greatshadow is dedicated to my best friend Greg Hungerford, who passed away two years ago. The novel is narrated by a ghost named Stagger, who is sort of a wastrel poet intellectual who looks back on his too-short life with a mix of fondness, cynicism, and black humor. Anyone who knew Greg will probably recognize a bit of him in Stagger. But, my writing isn’t informed only by loss. Greatshadow is also a love story; Stagger is secretly in love with his best friend, a butt-kicking female mercenary named Infidel. They spend almost all their time together, but Stagger is so addicted to her friendship he’s terrified of telling her of his romantic feelings, worried he’ll drive her away. As I was writing this, I happened to have a female friend who I spent a great deal of time with. Her name was Cheryl, and we liked to get together and go for hikes, but early on we’d decided that we weren’t dating and were just friends. This opened up a whole new level of conversation between us, as I wasn’t trying to impress her, so I was a bit less guarded. The more time I spent with her, the more I realized she was perfect for me, only now I was stuck. I enjoyed spending time with her so much that I was terrified that if I told her I loved her, she’d skedaddle. So, we were “just friends” for about three years. As I was writing Greatshadow with its “friends in love” plot, I kept thinking, “What if Cheryl reads this and thinks it’s about her?” Which eventually forced me to ask, “Is this about her?” Suddenly the book sounded very much like a secret message to tell myself that I really needed to man up and tell her how I felt. I did , learned she felt the same way, and we were married on 11-11-11.

Q: On a completely different note your book Nobody Gets the Girl is a superhero story. This looks like a heap of fun. Were you the sort of little boy who crept away to read comic books in a cubbyhouse?

What do you mean, little boy? I still sneak away to read comic books. I’m a hard core superhero junkie. I’ve followed up Nobody with a novel from the villain’s perspective called Burn Baby Burn. And, the not so secret secret about Greatshadow is that it’s a superhero novel as well. All the main characters have superpowers. Infidel is super strong and invulnerable, Lord Tower flies and wears indestructible armor made of prayer, the Truthspeaker can edit reality with his words, and Menagerie can shapeshift into any of the animals that are shown in his head-to-toe tattoos. The book is kind of X-men meets Tolkien, supermen verus dragons. It’s an unapologetic orgy of geekiness.

 Q: You seem to be very keen on music (See Favourite Albums I discovered in 2011). Are you also a musician?

I wish! Alas, somehow my fingers are capable of banging out a hundred words a minute on a QWERTY keyboard, yet completely unable to master five strings on a guitar. My voice has a vocal range of three notes, which only takes me so far when I’m singing. But, my tastes in music are strongly related to my literary urges. I’m drawn toward singer songwriters who confess all, like the Mountain Goats, and to dazzling, daring lyrical juggling acts like the Decemberists. Melody is important, but for good lyrics I’ll devour any musical style or genre.

Q: I notice you have several books up on Smashwords. Are you experimenting with self publishing? What have you learned from this?

With the exception of Burn Baby Burn, all my e-books are traditionally published books where I’d either never sold the e-rights or else they’d reverted back to me. Self-publishing e-books is a headache. All the major e-book outlets have completely different format requirement for listing your work, and you don’t really appreciate such subtle elements of cover art as the font choice until you’ve had to design your own covers.

However, the rewards are definitely worth it. Amazon has completely upended the whole career path for authors by offering 70% royalties on self-published e-books paid monthly. I’ve published four novels through traditional publishers, with three more under contract, and for the most part these have earned me more money than e-books… so far. But, traditional publishing usually only brings you two paychecks a year, and you’re in the dark on sales all the time. When you self publish an ebook, you get most sales data in real time. I not only know how many books I’ve sold this month, I can tell you how many I’ve sold this hour. I know when and how much I’ll get paid for each book sold, and usually get paid about a week early. It’s pretty amazing, and I think that any author with a back catalogue of existing books is foolish if they don’t self-publish it.

The big question is whether or not it makes sense to pursue self-publishing and ignore the more traditional path. Right now, I’m not quite willing to make that leap. I still get a thrill out of walking into a bookstore and seeing my books on the shelf. And, while ebook royalties are wonderful, the reality is that ebooks reach a smaller pool of readers right now than traditional books. So, if you want to be read widely and get broad bookstore distribution, selling your work to a traditional publisher is currently the best path to that end. But, this is changing rapidly. Getting your books into bookstores might not be as valuable ten years from now, since there might not be very many bookstores left. Readers who insist on paper books will probably persist for decades, but they will increasingly become like audiophiles who insist on only listening to music on LPs when everyone around them is streaming songs through their phones.

Q: I was prompted to start this series of interviews because there seems to be a perception in the US and the UK that fantasy is a bit of a boy’s club. Do you think there’s a difference in the way males and females write fantasy?

I assume you are talking about epic fantasy? Because I would argue that the fantasy shelves of most bookstores are dominated by female writers, mostly writing urban fantasy. At most conventions I go to, the mix of male to female writers seems to be pretty well balanced. As for a difference in the writing, I don’t think I can point to any difference in male and female writing that isn’t completely masked by the variations between individual authors. I don’t think an average reader could read one of Gail Z. Martin’s novels and one of my books and come away thinking they were written by the same writer. But, the same is true of me and any male fantasy author as well.

Q: Following on from that, does the gender of the writer change your expectations when you pick up their book?

Not really. I suppose that there might be certain sub-genres where I might make an assumption on the likely gender of the writer; i.e., if I was told a book was military science fiction, I might assume the writer was male, and if I was told the book was a bodice-ripper romance, I might guess that the writer was female. But, for the most part, the gender of the author is just not a factor at all when I’m deciding what book to read next.

Q: And here’s the fun question. If you could book a trip on a time machine, where and when would you go, and why?

How is this fun? If genuinely presented with this choice, it would torment me. Should I spend time with loved ones I’ve lost? Should I go back to my younger self and offer advice on what stocks to buy? Could I settle some big question once and for all, like whether Shakespeare wrote his own plays or if there really was a historical Jesus? Should I go to the Library in Alexandria before it burns and scoop us as many scrolls as humanly possible? What did dinosaurs really look like? What was Gobekli Tepe really used for? Could I come back with a dodo? A Tasmanian tiger? A snap shot of Cleopatra? Could I find out where the %#@$! Genghis Khan was buried?

I would forever be haunted by the ghosts of the choices I didn’t make.

Take this burden away from me. I do not have the strength to bear it.

Giveaway Question: 

Which superpower would you rather have: Flight, invisibility, mind-reading, or regeneration? And, as a follow up, which of these powers do you think science is likely to bring to you via a wearable device in the next twenty years?

I’ll award a copy of Greatshadow to the most interesting answer.

 

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Meet Keri Arthur…

As the next of my series featuring fantastic female fantasy authors (see disclaimer) I’ve invited the prolific and talented Keri Arthur to drop by.

Watch out for the give-away question at the end of the interview.

Q: Between 2001 and 2011 you released more than two books a year (23 in total). I’m guessing you had a backlog of books that you’d written. Or are you going to put us all to shame and say you’ve written 23 books in 10 to 12 years?

Well, if you want to get technical (and include the two I’ve written this year) its 27 books, 1 novella, and three short stories for anthologies.

I didn’t really have a backlog of already written books when I signed the contract for Dancing with the Devil. I had completed five books by then, but three of those will never see the light of day. Great ideas, but horrible writing.  So yes, I’ve basically written 25 books in ten years.

Q: You have four series that were originally published with Imajin.  Spook Squad series, the Ripple Creek Werewolf series, the Damask Circle series ( which has a release date of 2001) and the Nikki and Michael series. Which was your first series? I’m asking because I like to read author’s books in chronological order of when they were written to see how they develop as a writer. When you look back at these books are you tempted to edit them? I see Bantam are going to release these books. Will you be given a chance to go over them? (Lots of questions, sorry, but all related).

Dancing with the Devil, the first of the Nikki and Michael books, was the first book I had accepted and published, so that’s the series to start with–although I alternated between that series and the Circle books when I was writing them. The Ripple Creek series was next, then finally the Spook Squad series.

All the books will be re-edited before Bantam release them in mass market format. I’ve just completed the edits on Beneath a Rising Moon, the first of the Ripple Creek books which is being re-released in May next year. I was actually surprised how well it held up considering how much I think I’ve grown as a writer since these books were first published.

Q: I see you are one of the guests of Conflux in 2012. Have you been to other SF conventions? Will you know many of the writers and the fans?

I’ve been going to Conflux for a few years now, but tend to stick more to the romance conferences, as that’s the market Bantam have been aiming the Riley Jenson series at (even though they’re dark urban fantasy rather than romance). After the open friendliness of all the Romance conferences, it was a little intimidating going to an SF convention like Conflux, as I very much felt like an outsider.  Thankfully, it is getting better now that I’m becoming a little more known in the SF community.

Q: You blog on a group blog called Deadline Dames, (how the Deadline Dames met, LOL), with Devon Monk, Jackie Kessler, Jenna Black, Karen Mahoney, Lilith Saintcrow, Rachel Vincent, Rinda Elliot and Toni Andrews. I belong to a writing group called ROR and find the support of fellow authors invaluable. We critique each other’s books once every year or so, but I gather you and the other dames share the blog to spread the good word about your books. Would you recommend a shared blog to other writers thinking of blogging, but overwhelmed by the pressure?

I’d definitely recommend it, because the dames have been a huge source of both inspiration and support over the years (as has my crit group). It’s good to be a part of a close knit group of writers who totally understand what you’re going through at any given point in your career. It’s also brilliant to a have a ‘safe’ place—somewhere where you can let off steam and know with complete certainty it will go no further.

However, it can sometimes get overwhelming, especially if you also have your own blog (as I do) as well as twitter, facebook, google+ and whatever else they decide to come up with in the future. Getting the word out there about your books is all well and good, but in the end, it’s the books that count.

Q: When we were talking at Supanova you mentioned you’re renovating. My sympathies, we’re just reaching the end of more than 12 months of renovating. I find having well ordered surroundings helps me to think clearly. Messy room equals messy mind for me. Hopefully, your renovations will be smoother than mine. Are you the kind of person who is heavily influenced by their surroundings? I know some authors collect ‘play lists’ for each book they write, while others collect a resonance file of images. Which are you?

I write by music, and it’s always the same music–Eco Zen 2. It’s gotten to the stage where I put that cd on, and my muse instantly gets to work. I can have the TV going, the daughter in the next room playing shoot-em ups, the neighbour mowing, and none of it matters as long as the music is going.

Mind you, I’m not sure the same will be said when the builders start pulling down the house around us. Especially if they’re well built builders.

Q: In an interview on EUSA Today Books you said the idea for book one, Destiny Kills, of Myth and Magic series came to you while watching The Bourne Identity. You said:

‘Seriously. I know the two have nothing in common, but I was sitting there, watching the beginning, thinking, Why is it always a guy? Why can’t it be a woman? And then I got to thinking what I’d do with that sort of start. Which is how we ended up with a heroine washed up on a beach with no memory of how she got there or why there was a dead man beside her. How dragons got into the equation I have no idea — other than the fact I have a very twisted, very imaginative muse.’

 Dragons, Keri? Are you a fan of Anne McCaffrey’s Dragon Riders of Pern books? Or have you taken a totally different slant on dragons?

 I love the Pern books–well, all of Anne McCaffrey’s. I’m not so keen on the later ones she did with her son. My dragons are different–they’re dragon shifters not actual dragons, and there’s both fire breathing dragons and sea dragons in my mythology. The books are also urban fantasy rather than fantasy.

Q: Your Riley Jensen series is set in Melbourne. Was there any resistance to the Australian setting when you pitched the idea to the publishers?

We were totally expecting resistance, and I had in fact began researching places in America that I could use instead of Melbourne. But it never came up with any of the three publishers who were bidding for the book. Of course, the Melbourne I use is very Americanised, so that might have made the setting less of a problem.

 

 

US Cover

Q: With your Dark Angels series (as with all the others) I notice there are US and UK covers. The US ones look more sensual, while the UK covers play up the strength of the female character and the threat. Would say that that this is the difference between the two readerships? And how much input do you get in your covers?

 

I have no input on the covers–although if I have occasionally asked for some minor changes. The US covers aim for the huge romance market, whereas the UK/Australian covers tend to go more for the fantasy market. I don’t think there’s any difference in the readerships, I just think the covers are a result of marketing people targeting their markets differently.

UK cover

Q: I see you watch a lot of TV series. I must admit I like to get the whole series of something like Deadwood and have an orgy of TV watching. I like to be able to watch the narrative arc for the series, plus the development of the characters. I find I can’t switch off my internal editor unless the show is really gripping. Do you have any specific TV series that you watch, that are guaranteed to switch off your internal editor?

God, how much time have you got? TV has become my escape–more so than books these days. I’m also a whole lot less critical of TV shows and movies than I am of books–a show has to be really, really bad before my internal editor starts getting snarky. I love shows like Deadwood, Justified, Supernatural, Haven, Torchwood, Primeval, Being Human, NCIS, NCIS LA, Castle, Blood on the Wire.….the list goes on. And on.  lol

Q: I was prompted to start this series of interviews because there seems to be a perception in the US and the UK that fantasy is a bit of a boy’s club. Do you think there’s a difference in the way males and females write fantasy?

I think female fantasy writers approach a novel on a more emotional level than most male writers. Or at least, that’s how it used to be (and it was one of the things that drove me to write fantasy in the first place). These days, with writers like Jim Butcher, it has improved somewhat, and there’s not such a noticeable difference in emotional depth.

Q: Following on from that, does the gender of the writer change your expectations when you pick up their book?

Not really, because when I pick up a book all I’m expecting is to be entertained. If they succeed in doing that, I’m a happy reader. Hell, I read–and love–Matthew Reilly, and his books could very definitely be described as boys own adventure books for grown-ups, but they’re fantastically entertaining.

 

Q: And here’s the fun question. If you could book a trip on a time machine, where and when would you go, and why?

Weirdly, I’d love to go back to Jane Austin’s era, just to see if men like Mr Darcy really did exist. I wouldn’t want to stay there though–couldn’t stand not having a shower every day, let alone no internet access!

 

Keri has a signed copy of Darkness Unbound to give-away (or a copy of one of her books to complete your set, subject to availability). Give-away Question:

If paranormal creatures existed and humans were lowest on the pecking order, which kind of paranormal creature would you like to be?

 

Keri’s blog

Follow Keri on Twitter: @kezarthur

Catch up with Keri on GoodReads

See Keri Arthur quote on GoodReads

See Keri Arthur’s official fan page on Facebook

Keri’s extras

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Filed under Australian Writers, Book Giveaway, Covers, creativity, Dark Urban Fantasy, Fantasy books, Female Fantasy Authors, Gender Issues, Movies & TV Shows, Music and Writers, Paranormal_Crime, Story Arc

Meet Isobelle Carmody…

As the next of my series featuring fantastic female fantasy authors (see disclaimer) I’ve invited the talented and incredibly popular (non-stop queues at Supanova)  Isobelle Carmody to drop by.

Q: Where to begin, Isobelle? You have four fantasy series, numerous stand alone novels, collections, short stories and picture books. You’ve been writing since you were fourteen, published since you were (19?). Your whole life seems to have revolved around writing. Not to disparage your writing achievements, but do you ever look back and think I wish I’d done veterinary science, or become an archaeologist?

No, but I wish I had worked harder at school and learned to be something else as well. A doctor or something really practical so I could sometimes do something decisively about the things that trouble me in the world. I envy Ian Irvine his marine science back and Nick Earls his ability to heal. But in truth, I am pretty happy with what I have done with my life, because I do think writing matters. It certainly mattered to me – It built me – my mind and my imagination.  It saved me…

Q: You live part of your time in Prague and part in a small township near Apollo Bay on the Great Ocean Road. I’ve never been to Prague, but I do know the Great Ocean Road. My husband’s family come from Warrnambool. This stretch of coast, known as the shipwreck coast, is stark and beautiful. Do you find the isolation and beauty help you to focus and write?

Absolutely. Both are essential, and for me beauty is often found in starkness. I have always found really desolate places visually appealing – sandy deserts, arctic , industrial wastelands. I suspect I am attracted them because there is less or no sign of humanity- no people or shops or signs. I remember looking at a film if  beautiful. Somehow I am very attracted to wastelands- dumpsites, nuclear drop zones like Chernobyl, end of the world scenarios with a touch of dystopia. The coast along the Great Ocean Road is beauty in its wild and savage and dangerous mode. And Prague is like a fairy tale with its cobbled twisty streets and buildings.

Q: You are married to a Jazz musician from Czechoslovakia and spend half the year in Prague. (I really enjoyed the photos you posted on twitter of the snow and ice at Christmas time. We were enduring humidity and floods in Brisbane and those pictures helped me get through summer). I guess your daughter is bi-lingual. Do you find that the insight gained from living in Europe, in a society very different from Australia, has helped you create different worlds?

It is lovely here in Winter. There is a very black and white and grey poetry about the city, cloaked in snow. Not that we are having much snow this year- it is very, very mild so far. I prove what an Australian I am by wishing for it to snow when every local hopes it won’t! In some ways I think I have always felt myself to be a stranger in a strange land. I was one of those kids who was a total outsider. At least, I thought myself so, but the reality was more that I felt so out of place that I probably ensured it. I mean, to some extent we are how we see ourselves. So I felt I did not fit in and I guess a lot of my writing comes from that feeling of not fitting in. Because when you don’t fit in, the world feels alien and so it is not such a big step to create another world for characters, who, like me, often feel they don’t fit in. But they are searching pretty much always for a place they can feel ok. For me, Prague is one of those places. Because here I am truly an alien, a stranger and after all these years, I guess in a weird way THAT is what feels comfortable to me. I think it is always good for writers not to be totally comfortable with their surroundings- at least some of the time.

Q: I wasn’t aware that you were also an artist. Does this mean that you are a visual person? I’ve interviewed a lot of writers and most seem to be aural. They will make up ‘play lists’ of music for certain books to help them get in the mood. I have a background as an illustrator, so I tend to collect images to create a resonance file. Do you collect music or images when you write?

I don’t collect music but I collect images. I always have in mind the next illustrated thing I am going to do- right now it is The Cloud Road and I know there will be clouds and mountains and maybe some kind of monkey or monkey-ish thing and cats and desert so those are the images that I am collecting. I cut pictures out of National Geographics and I take photos of things that would fit- I am also always looking for new patterns or techniques of drawing- I don’t use colour except for the front cover- I really love black and white pen and ink drawings so that is what I collect as a form, too. I listen to book tapes as much as to music when I draw, and sometimes to nothing when I am so absorbed that I just don’t notice the music stops. But it can’t be something I adore, like Nina Simone. It is too intense for me to be able to draw. It has to be something I like a lot but maybe have listened to a lot as well so it does not demand too much attention…

Q: In an interview on TLC Books you talked about fantasy as a genre. You describe fantasy as ‘conscious dreaming’. You say write fantasy:

‘…not  in order to escape vacuously, as is often the perception, but in order to think about things that matter to me. Like what it means to have free will and yet to co exist with others who also have free will that might infringe upon mine; about why some people are cruel and why some are courageous; about how it is that someone grows up to be Mother Teresa while someone else become Hitler; it is about what makes a person able to sacrifice themselves for others; about what is required of me if I want to be a friend to someone; about what the difference is between a human who is cruel and the cruelty of a cat to a mouse it has caught; about how important powerful people can make decision that a child can see will cause great harm, as if they and their children were going to be exempt from the consequences.’

To me the fantasy genre, like the science fiction genre, gives authors a chance to hold a distorted mirror up to society (sometimes distortion can help us see things more clearly).  The writer can use these genres prompt the reader to think about things that seem normal in everyday life. Terry Pratchett does this with his books by pointing out how ridiculous certain things are. From the sounds of your comment you are interested in ‘good and evil’ and the choices that we make as human beings. Is this a recurring theme in your books?

I want to say yes, but somehow talking about themes always feels as if I am planning them, like using them as the bones on which to hang my story. For me the themes usually rise out of a question I am wanting to think about- something that bothers me or has come to my attention and stuck like a burr, and finally I take it into the arena of writing, to see what I can work out. It is absolutely not ever for me, about wanting readers to think or think about anything. It is always an inward journey for me. I am not criticizing writers who set out to say something to their audience. I think a lot of good and great literature comes about by people wanting to flesh out a theme, wanting to make a point, wanting to make a statement to the world. But that is just not how it is for me. I am more self-centred as a writer. It is all about what I am thinking about and trying to figure it out. I dislike unfairness and injustice, but all too often, when I start looking into an issue, I can see mostly, how the person in the wrong has got into that position. I guess it is trying to navigate the greys.  And the reason I write fantasy is because the tools that work best for me, produce work that fits into that category.  Externally, I can see how what I write can be seen as making a statement, but the reality is that I am only trying to figure things out for myself. Then it gets published and it has this whole other life as whatever it becomes when people take it into their minds and imaginations.

Q: In the same interview you were asked ‘what is the most difficult thing about being a writer?’ and I had to smile because it is the same thing that gives me trouble. You said:

Odd as it sounds, sometimes the sitting and typing for hours. I get really sore elbows and back. I get physically bored. You are supposed to get up and move around every twenty minutes or something but I am so engrossed that I never do. Then I pay for it.’

Sometimes I wish I could do my ‘conscious dreaming’ straight into the computer. Do you do yoga or something to counteract the problems caused by spending so long at the computer?

Yeah my back and neck are killing me right now and my editor just emailed me this exercise to ease a back problem she said is so common to editors it is actually called editor’s back!

Q: In an interview on Kids Book Review you say you were ‘a bossy older sister’. This made me laugh as I was an older sister, who bossed all the local children organising concerts and long involved games. We’re the same age, when we grew up kids roamed the neighbourhood and were a lot more independent. My children have had a very different childhood and I’m guessing your daughter is in the same position. Do you think being the eldest of your family shaped the person you are today? And do you think growing up in the 60s and 70s, when children were more autonomous, gives you an advantage?

Well we, my brothers and sisters and I, were anything but autonomous. We lived this hermetically sealed life inside our house. We didn’t go to neighbors houses or mess in the street. The people I bossed were exclusively my own brothers and sisters. My daughter, on the other hand, has been catching trams, crossing busy city streets and heading off to the city with her friends since she was 11. So in a funny way she is freer than I was. She actually dreads coming back there to the ‘car culture’ where she will be forced by distances to rely on us driving her places. She hates when we visit that she is not able to be independent.

Q: You write for children, young adults and adults. In the same interview you talk about child characters in books and how a book may contain a child character but not necessarily be a children’s book.

One rule of thumb I once heard which seemed true to me was that children’s books have children in them who grow, but they do not grow up. If a child grows up that is an adult book.’

You mention To Kill a Mockingbird as an example. Another book I read which explored adult concepts through a child’s viewpoint was A High Wind in Jamaica, (book and movie). I found this book excellent for re-creating the world-view of a child and the same for the movie. Why do you think it is that child point of view characters in adult books can be so powerful?

I think we all tend to have vivid memories of childhood and adolescence when we forget what we did in all of last year. I think child characters that are well written waking that slumbering child that once was, and allows the reader to become that vulnerable, open, thin-skinned person again for a little, and it is a very strange and wonderful business to be taken back to that younger more pristine self.

Q: When we were at Supanova recently  you launched the last book in the Obernewtyn series, The Sending. Coming back to this world and these characters must be like visiting old friends. At the same time you have matured as a person and a writer. George Lucas is notorious for going back and tweaking his Star Wars movies. With the movie, Blade Runner, Ridley Scott has said Deckard isn’t a replicant, then that he is – which completely changes the dynamic between him and Rachel (a replicant). Are you ever tempted to revisit the original books of the Obernewtyn series and tweak them?

I did reedit them with the American publisher Random House. In a way it is a nightmarish thing to contemplate, but in the case of the first book, I was quite happy to be able to tidy a couple of the mistakes made by my younger self. But as a rule, I am not in favor of it. I think it takes a saint to do it well- Nadia Wheatley went back and rewrote The House that as Eureka because some new information had come to light, historically speaking, and she wanted to correct her work. But of course she is an historian as well as a writer and a real perfectionist as well as a true idealist. But my stories are all about internal worlds, really. The inside turned so that it is outside. The invisible made visible. The intangible made tangible.

Q: I notice in the Penguin Presents interview (see below) there are original artworks on the walls of your home on the Great Ocean Road. They look like you commissioned them. Who painted them? Is one of your brothers or sisters an artist? Did you paint them? They are really lovely!

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FsKZow5ZBSE]

The paintings are mostly by Anne Spudvilas, who is a fine artist as well as a children’s book Illustrator. In fact I knew her as a fine artist first and brought work from her in that incarnation. She did her first ever work as an illustrator for Penguin for the cover of The Gathering. She also did the wonderful picture of my daughter and I. I love her work. I love how she uses green in flesh. I also have some wonderful aquatints by Rachel Litherland who is the daughter of the British poet Jacquie Litherland – in fact I first saw her work in one of her mothers’ poetry collections. I also have a few by Jiri Novak, who is also a fine artist as well as an illustrator.

Q: You mention that your husband is a jazz saxophonist. My daughter is a jazz vocalist and has studied at the QLD conservatorium. I’ve heard that jazz musicians require a different type of mind from classical musicians because jazz is more free form. It’s a bit like writing a book, you have to trust your instincts. Do you find even though your husband is a musician and you are a writer, that the creative source in both of you is similar?

He is a writer, too. By that I mean he writes poetry – he is known as a cubist poet – and he is a very well known poetry critic here. He actually won the FX Chalda prize for criticism last year. His medal looks a lot like my Book of the year Medal. But he makes a living as a Jazz pianist. He loves modern jazz but spent a lot of years doing traditional jazz as well. I always think of his as a musician with the mind of a writer, if that makes any sense. His writing is High Art and mine is story telling. But it is lovely to have someone enjoy words as much as I do.

Q: I was prompted to start this series of interviews because there seems to be a perception in the US and the UK that fantasy is a bit of a boy’s club. Do you think there’s a difference in the way males and females write fantasy?

Hmm I am not sure. I was tempted to say yes but I don’t really know. I like Charles de Lint and Guy Gavriel Kay and I love the late David Gemmell’s writing- they are all very different, and I love Sheri Tepper and Robin Hobb … and they are different too. No. Maybe what I think is that there is a difference between male and female writers of bad fantasy which tends to rely too heavily on stereotypes, and therefore is itself more likely to fall into being stereotypical.

Q: Following on from that, does the gender of the writer change your expectations when you pick up their book?

No. Either I like the character and get into the book, or I don’t. A great writer can make even the most peculiar character a door you want to enter- look at China Mieville in Perdido St station! A female character with a female bottom half and the head of an ant, who makes art with spit, and you really like her.

Q: And here’s the fun question. If you could book a trip on a time machine, where and when would you go, and why?

I’d go back and talk to my dad and my brother, who died ten years apart on the same road in car accidents. I’d like to tell them what happened to us all, and talk over things. I’d like to say sorry to my brother, whom I was quarrelling with when he died… I’d also like to talk to Martin Luthor King and Sapho.

 

Follow Isobelle on Twitter ISOBELLE CARMODY @FIRECATz

Listen to Isobelle talk about her love of writing and what it’s like to live between Australia and Prague.

Listen to an interview with Isobelle by Louise Maher.

Catch up with Isobelle on GoodReads

Catch up with Isobelle on Facebook

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Filed under Australian Writers, Children's Books, Conferences and Conventions, Conventions, Covers, creativity, Dark Urban Fantasy, Fantasy books, Female Fantasy Authors, Gender Issues, Genre, Music and Writers, Nourish the Writer, Readers, Resonance, The Writing Fraternity, Young Adult Books

Meet Chuck Wendig …

I have been running a series of  interviews with female fantasy writers to redress a perception I came across – that fantasy was a bit of a boy’s club. It really isn’t like that here in Australia. We have many wonderful fantasy writers who just happen to be female.

Today I’m interviewing Chuck Wendig because of his amazing ability to come up with 25 things about all aspects of writing, (for instance 25 Things you should know about Self Publishing) and also I thought I’d ask him the same questions I’ve asked the female writers about fantasy writing and gender, to get his perspective as a male writer.

Q: Your ‘Vampire Zombieland’ novel, Double Dead will be released in November 2011. That makes it sound like it is being unleashed on the world and we had all better look out. Having supplied a cover quote, I can say it promises to be a rollercoaster of a read. Did you find that this style of story came naturally to you? As I read it felt like it just poured out of you.

It did come naturally to me. The vampire Coburn is damaged goods, and I find it terribly entertaining to write broken people. Plus, there exists a powerful and obscene joy in writing about vampires and zombies – especially any time you can bring something fresh to it. I’m glad it went down easy.

Q: You’ve signed a two book deal with Angry Robot for Blackbirds and Mockingbird. Are these books very different from Double Dead? What’s the premise?

My initial – and, as it turns out, incorrect – response is that they’re pretty different.

Miriam Black, the protagonist of BLACKBIRDS and MOCKINGBIRD is a girl whose fate and the fates those around her seem woefully carved in stone: she can touch others and see how and when they’re going to die, and by the start of the first novel any attempts to sway death and change the course of fate for these people has only earned her misery. So she subsists as something of a vulture: she steals from the dead.

Of course, then it clicks: in a way, I’m writing about a vampire. A human vampire, one who’s very much alive and with a singular power that differs from the cabinet of horrors most vampires possess, but even still – she is a creature of death, marked by it, and she feeds off of it.

And, in a way, both of these novels ask—for Coburn the vampire and for Miriam the psychic—can they change who they are? Or are they really just monsters all the way to the marrow?

Q: They used to say being good at playing Pool was a sign of a misspent youth. You’ve written RPG games and contributed to over 85 game books. You developed the entire Hunter:The Vigil game line for White Wolf Studios. Is this a sign of a misspent youth? (For an interview on Chuck’s work in the medium see here).

Gosh, I hope it wasn’t misspent, since game writing is how I’ve been making a living writing! And, I’ll add: I seriously believe that all writers would do well to play games. Not just video games or board games, but actual pen-and-paper polyhedral dice role-playing games. Really gets your head around storytelling for an audience.

Q: The Chuck Wendig persona who writes for the Terrible Minds blog is profane, in-your-face, sharply insightful and funny. You have a real flair for humour. Often comedians say their humour springs from a dark, dark place. Is there a dark, dark place deep inside Chuck Wendig?

Thank you! It’s worth noting that the persona is pretty much the reality, though perhaps with the volume knob turned up a bit. Ask my wife – who I am on the blog is the guy she gets every day. (And woe, woe for her.)

As for, is there a deep and dark place inside me? Dang, I dunno. I wouldn’t say any deeper or darker than you’d find in other people. Sure, I hollow out the corpses of government workers and use them as bob-sleds, and I get sexual pleasure from watching owls eat mice, but that’s normal. Right?

Q: Other than the fact that you live on the west coast are married and have a small son, there is very little information about your live available on the net. Is this a philosophical stance you have taken?

I live on the East Coast, actually! Pennsylvania.

As for information about my life – I don’t think it’s all that scarce. I’m pretty bold and forthright about my existence across social media. Twitter, Flickr, Facebook. I don’t keep much of it a secret. I talked at length about when my dog died, about my father, about the trials and tribulations of being a penmonkey parent. About how I got drunk that one time and was found in a New Jersey rest area with an Ambien-dosed llama.

I’m fairly open.

Q: I was prompted to start this series of interviews because there seems to be a perception in the US and the UK that fantasy is a bit of a boy’s club. Do you think there’s a difference in the way males and females write fantasy?

Oh, jeez. I don’t actually read much fantasy. Though I will say that one of my favorite fantasy writers is a woman: Robin Hobb. I don’t know that it has anything to do with her, ahem, femaleness, but her characterization (particularly across both the Fitz-Chivalry series) is deft and elegant.

Q: Following on from that, does the gender of the writer change your expectations when you pick up their book?

I don’t expect that it does. When I read ZOO CITY by Lauren Beukes I wasn’t expecting anything because of her being a woman.

Q: And here’s the fun question. If you could book a trip on a time machine, where and when would you go, and why?

Nebulous answer: the future. Let’s go with 100 years. Just to see how it all ends up. The past is interesting but ultimately, it’s done – it is what it is and where we are now is a result of that. The future, though, that’s where it gets interesting.

 

Catch up with Chuck on Google+.

Follow Chuck on Twitter. @ChuckWendig

Chuck Wendig’s Blog.

For a complete list of Chuck’s work across the mediums, see here.

For Totally Free Shit from Chuck see here.

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Filed under creativity, Fantasy books, Fun Stuff, Gender Issues, Movies & TV Shows, Music and Writers, Publishing Industry, Tips for Developing Writers

Meet Anita Bell …

As the next of my series featuring fantastic female fantasy authors (see disclaimer) I’ve invited the talented powerhouse Anita Bell  to drop by.

Watch out for the give-away question at the end of the interview.

Q: First of all, major congratulations on Diamond Eyes winning the 2011 Hemming Award for Excellence in Science Fiction and Fantasy Themes. Since this is award is not necessarily awarded every year, winning must have come as a wonderful and welcome surprise. Did you consciously set out to explore the themes of race, gender, sexuality, class and disability in the book?

Actually, Diamond Eyes is a story about freedom and independence. But since my main character is a young woman who is blind, sexually inexperienced, and misdiagnosed by nursing staff who all treat her as crazy as well as handicapped, all those other themes grew organically in a way that also resonated strongly and unanimously with the judging panel.

Sad but true; while working for ten years in a mental health facility, I saw young men and women routinely castrated or medicated to suppress their sexual development, often without their knowledge or consent (due to the fact they’d been declared unfit to make such decisions on their own). So this part of Mira’s story is inspired by a young handicapped couple I met, who’d both been disabled through a contagious disease, but eventually regained their independence through modern medications and therapies – and when it came time that they’d recovered enough to have healthy children, it was too late. They’d both been “cared for” in their best interests.

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LkbKh4hGmSU]

Q: Following on from that, we were part of the QUT Cohort doing a Masters while writing a book. You produced Diamond Eyes. What was the research question you were exploring with this book?

Funny story: It started out as;

How can I crack the big markets overseas and for movies?

But since that was too big a question for a masters and required too many non-existent definitions about degrees of cracking, and how big is big etc, my lecturer dis-engorged the “choke” from my throat and encouraged me to narrow my focus to the more definitive;

How can a novel manuscript be ‘re-visioned’ to create a more satisfying draft.

(Where satisfying is defined by a self-assessed improvement that results in a commercial reward that had previously been unattainable.)

So the dissertation I wrote is called: Revisioning a “Novel Concept”: Beyond vision and revision to advanced editing strategies.

But since a lot of the research is drawn from the film industry, and from mega-best-selling works from overseas, and since a lot of the advanced editing strategies are topics that are never normally discussed in most writing workshops, it might as well be called;

Tips on how to crack the big markets overseas and for movies.

Sound familiar? Hehe.

David Meshow the theme for Diamond Eyes.

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qERvjhq7tCg&feature=player_embedded]

Q: You have a wonderful book trailer (LOL, my husband did it). The music is by David Meshow. Recently, we were on a panel together where you walked us through the process of finding the musician, approaching him and what has happened since. I’m sure people would find this fascinating, as it’s an example of cross-pollination between creative people.

Wow, yes! We’ve chalked up more views than a lot of big budget Hollywood movies and over 300 Youtube Awards in 17 countries, including;

#1 Most Discussed, worldwide in Feb & March

#2 Top Favourited, worldwide in Feb & March

#2 Top Rated, worldwide in Feb and March

Normally, I thrive in silence while I’m writing and editing, but at all moments in between I refill my creative energies by filling my home, my car – even my saddlebags with music.

Three of my characters love music, and play instruments, so I spent a lot of time on youtube looking for talented amateurs with the same kind of interests. People who could not only play, but play so well, they make it look easy by playing with a relaxed sense of humour. I also looked for people who could play with their eyes closed and invent their own tunes on a wide range of instruments, and that’s how I came across David Meshow – who can do all of that, and resembles Mira’s bodyguard in looks and personality. Best of all, he taught me out how to play electrical instruments outside, around a campfire – so I could make a scene work properly in the sequel Hindsight.

Then after being inspired for so long by David’s music, and his advice during my research stages, I wrote to ask permission to use one of his original instrumental pieces for the book trailer during the launch, because that piece has brilliant moments of violin and xylophone along with all the other instruments that gave it a unique offbeat quality which also dramatically suits the chase scenes at the end of Diamond Eyes, the novel.

But when I mentioned the novel and what it was about, he was so inspired by the unique concept behind Mira’s eyes that he offered to write a piece to suit her specifically.

And that’s what the Original Theme to Diamond Eyes is. Close your eyes, and you can image yourself blind. Open them again and imagine the world around you isn’t today. It looks how things did a century ago, even though you can still feel all the invisible *real* things around you – so if the three story building you’re in wasn’t there back then, well, now you’re standing in mid-air, looking down on the world. Living in two worlds at once. That’s the core idea, and David’s really nailed it with the official theme song. He’s got millions of fans now, but they all seem to agree. Diamond Eyes is the best yet, and I have to agree. But then, I’m biased! Hehe.

Q: I understand there are two more books in the Diamond Eyes series, Leopard Dreaming and Hindsight.  When is the last book of the trilogy due out? And what will you do after this?

Interesting question, because it’s not a traditional trilogy. Diamond Eyes is a stand-alone story set in an asylum, Serenity, which is on a sub-tropical island in Queensland.

Then the duet of sequels; Hindsight (just launched) and Leopard Dreaming (June 2012), are both set on the mainland, during a brand new stage of her life. They’re also much faster paced than Diamond Eyes.

If you liken them to movies in the film industry, then Diamond Eyes would be the pilot, and the next two would be the mini series. So you don’t necessarily need to read Diamond Eyes to enjoy Hindsight, but you’ll definitely need to read Hindsight before taking on Leopard Dreaming in the new year.

 

Q: In a post on the ROR site you say … ‘SF is not dead – from my perspective it’s morphing/maturing beyond the “pure” genre of science fiction into speculative fiction (the new meaning for SF[1][1]), in a way which offers room for a natural blend of genres which must also complement each other uniquely for each story. Effectively, this permits a wider scope for wider technologies and invites more possibilities and opportunities to cross-dress our genres.’ You go on to say …’ In our own fast-changing world, which is already rife with “fantastic” opportunities and “tomorrow technologies” is it any wonder that such elements are so readily accepted in the environment of a wider story – often even expected – by a market that can still shy away from health food if we label it health food? To many people, it seems that science fiction sounds more like “homework” while fantasy sounds like a “holiday”, and yet how many wouldn’t go anywhere on holiday without their mobile phone, ipod or laptop?’  I love this quote. How near future is the Diamond Eyes series? Would people feel at home in this world?

It’s tomorrow fiction, akin to James Bond, but nowadays, most genres need to be tomorrow fiction to some degree during the writing stages anyway, or else the technology can date the story too quickly and make it seem old fashioned too soon.

e.g.

So I’m constantly inventing new technologies based on my best guesses from existing products and research, and very often those “fantastic” new gizmos are hitting the market by the time the book is.

Off the top of my head, technologies that I invented for my stories in the last ten years, only to have them invented for real by the time the books launched, include;

  • Electronic pens, which convert any sketches into a text file or digital image.
  • Night Owls, a form of high tech night vision goggles which can also see through buildings using sound waves akin to mobile phone transmissions. Now also used in airports for full body scans.
  • NOR:STAN, the National Orbital Reconnaissance: See Through Anything Network. Same principle as nights owls, but also incorporating technology from the mining industry as a larger scale satellite system to help find lost bushwalkers, people trapped in burning buildings, and even terrorists in underground bunkers.

Even Mira’s Hue-dunnits – her electronic sunglasses which can change colour – are now in development as a fashion accessory to suit any wardrobe.

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eAXBTXnVHns]

Q: You write in many genres under a number of pen-names, including a set of best-selling non-fiction titles, award winning adventures for children and even wickedly funny romance for women. You’ve always been a writer of exciting stories. What was the first thing you wrote seriously to submit?

A cosy crime story, called Budgie Soup, which was published in 5 countries, including the USA’s prestigious Murderous Intent Mystery Magazine, and won the Penguin Award, as part of the Scarlet Stiletto Awards, way back last millennium, in 1999.

Q: You say if you hadn’t been a writer you’d be …’ A cartoonist, vet or research scientist. And as it turns out, writing allows me to do bits of each!’ I can relate to research scientist. I think writers have to have enquiring minds. But cartoonist and vet? Why these two? Are you good at drawing and can you ‘talk to animals’?

Hehe… something like that.

To be a vet, we need to be astute at understanding body language – which works for characters as much as for animals. Pets can’t tell us where they’re hurting, and often characters can’t either. How we treat animals also helps to define us, not only as individuals, but also as a society.

Same goes with cartooning. It’s a social science that’s heavily dependent on observation of the human condition, as individuals, and in society, and how we perceive ourselves through the lens of humour also helps to define us.

To be a vet, we need great compassion, but humour is more often a dark art that can throw masks over fury, injustice and tragedy.

Q: You seem very comfortable writing a fast paced action thriller and moving across genres. A good book is a good book, no matter what the genre. Do you have any advice for writers to help them improve the pacing of their books?

Short sentences. Listen to men speaking, and compare to women on the same subject. Guys rarely use more than 8 words in a sentence at a time unless they’re explaining something, while women rarely use more than 12.

In action scenes, guys tend to get serious with only 2 to 6 words at a time, while women often clip down to 8 or less.

If you think that’s an exaggeration, watch all your favourite movies with the sound muted and subtitles on – and take notice how clipped conversations can get as the images speed up. Or take a ride on a train or bus with your ipod switched off so you’re listening to other people around you.

Q: You had a friend who attempted suicide when you were younger. You said …  ‘From the time we were both 10, we both had to ‘be mum,’ looking after our other brothers and sisters before and after school, and I had to manage my parents’ farm as well when they went away on business. On top of this we went to a high school where extreme pressure existed to be the best we could be. Students came from all over the world because of their high standards and we had to compete against them, too. My friend passed the breaking point.’ Are you tempted to write something that would reach out to teens who feel overwhelmed?

Yes, but not for a while. I can’t write really dark material unless I’m detached from tragedy myself and that’s definitely not this year. Otherwise, writing dark material only tends to take me down further, and once those chemicals in the brain start triggering the downward spiral, it’s a hard cycle to break free from again. And I’d never write that sort of thing without an uplifting ending, because it was soul-destroying misery-lit with downers for endings that drove my friend over the edge all those years ago. Don’t get me wrong, I love a good book that leaves me weepy, but if they’re not tears of hope, love or joy – if they leave me feeling empty and emotionally wretched – I’d never go anywhere near it. If I want to be depressed, I’ll read a newspaper.

Q: I was prompted to start this series of interviews because there seems to be a perception in the US and the UK that fantasy is a bit of a boy’s club. Do you think there’s a difference in the way males and females write fantasy?

Historically yes. Absolutely. But I’d like to think the last 10 years has become a bit more like this:

 

There’s been plenty of times when I’ve been told by readers that I must have had some of my stories written by my husband. Apparently, I’m not supposed to know how to field strip a Styr or Glock and put it back together again without it blowing up in my face. Or how to turn a gum tree into a signal tower, use scorpions and black light to navigate an underground tunnel, or the horns of the moon to tell north from south in either hemisphere.

At the other end of the scale, I know a subset of male writers who can really get inside a woman’s head well enough to write convincing female characters – but a lot more who can’t.

Q: Following on from that, does the gender of the writer change your expectations when you pick up their book?

Depends on the name they choose to put on the front cover, especially if it’s very feminine or hyper-masculine.

e.g.  Stephan King was always going to rule the page once he nailed his genre, and Karen Slaughter was never going to write little kiddies faerie tales.

Then there’s androgynous names, like AA Bell, Sonny Whitelaw, JR Ward etc, where the writing style is far more likely to appeal to both genres. Or at least try to, more often than not.

Q: And here’s the fun question. If you could book a trip on a time machine, where and when would you go, and why?

Ah, but if I told you, I’d create a paradox and a full set of alternative futures in another dimension. Just thinking about it is enough to split the future in two; one in which I do, and one in which I don’t.

Cool timing; there’s a new scientific theory (evolved from string theory, which in turn evolved from studies of nuclear explosions) that our present and past have already been shaped by our future in all its permutations in all dimensions. And that many things about Fate seem inevitable, because they’ve already been tampered with by those who’ve already travelled.

So assuming I’m one of them, and have already made the trip – or “will have going to have made it” at some time in the future (or alternate time line) – you can rest assured that all my friends will have nice things happen to them, while all those who’ve been nasty should be grateful I don’t hold grudges… much.

<insert evil laughter>

Give-away Question:

It’s said that everyone has something they’re naturally or uncannily good at – so good, you might call it a super power. Mira’s gift is seeing the past, her stalker can hear the future, while my own superpowers are merely green lights in heavy traffic and finding the perfect parking space when I most need it. (touch wood!)

So what’s your super power?

 

Catch up with Anita on Facebook

on GoodReads: www.goodreads.com/aabell

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Meet Simon Higgins …

Today I’m interviewing Simon Higgins because he’s a fellow Iaido practitioner as well as a great writer, also I thought I’d ask him about fantasy writing and gender, to get his perspective as a male writer.

Look out for the give-away at the end of the post.

 

Q: You have a series of Young Adult novels set in Japan called the Moonshadow series. I like the covers, very manga.  Are you a big fan of Manga? Do you get much say in what appears on your covers?

I do like Manga very much, and find it fascinating that most people don’t realize how old it actually is. Apparently, Manga first evolved from experimental perspective sketches that woodblock artists in Japan tinkered with during the Edo period, which in turn slowly evolved into a unique ‘pop-culture’ form of stylized drawing. Now of course, Manga has several main schools (multiple ‘dojos’ have evolved, which seems to happen with all things Japanese) and numerous sub and fusion styles. Working in conjunction with Random House Australia, I chose Ari Gibson of The People’s Republic of Animation as the cover artist for the Moonshadow books…Ari’s Manga is unique: strong, with classic lines, but still quite individual – I love it, and it’s pretty much the way I picture the characters in the series when I’m writing. The various foreign editions including the US version published by Little, Brown (the Twilight people) conjure up very different visions of the heroes. I should probably mention also that the Moonshadow series is actually pitched at the ‘middle school’ market, just a shade younger than the traditional ‘young adult’  category (not that everybody agrees on the age range those pigeon-holes actually encompass, of course)…

 

Q: The American Library Association described your Moonshadow books as  ‘good old-fashioned adventure set in medieval Japan…exhilarating opening sequence…nonstop action…the pacing is so intense…the language is modern, but the setting, clothing, tactics and tools are well placed in their time period’. In Tomodachi, you had an English boy stranded in sixteenth century Japan.  With the Moonshadow series do you use a European character to ground the audience in medieval Japan or do you plunge straight in?

The Moonshadow books feature pretty much an all Asian cast, as in this series I am dealing with a unique historical phenomenon, rather than an outsider’s eye on a specialized, complex warrior culture, as in Tomodachi. The Moonshadow series actually arose from an inspiring historical fact that I stumbled on while researching in Japan: that at one stage, Tokugawa Ieyasu, in order to keep his grip on the Shogunate, employed the spies of Clan Iga, many of whom (and this is the cool part) started their dangerous careers while they were still children.

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Z8nFiWmQDh4&feature=player_embedded]

Q: I see you competed in the Iaido World Titles in Kyoto Japan and came in fifth in 2008. Not bad for a ‘gaijin’. (For more info on the samurai sword see Simon’s page on his Kyoto Adventures). I remember the pair of us sitting in the bar at a national SF convention talking martial arts all evening. I think it takes a particular type of mind to appreciate Bushido. I know you do a lot of school talks. Do you find the kids respond well? Do you think they go away with some insight into the philosophy behind the martial arts?

It certainly seems that way to me; I often see evidence of students really getting where I am coming from in terms of my own martial arts paradigm: that we train to perfect technique and therefore ultimately ourselves, not to grow skilled at actually killing; that the more one trains, the gentler one tends to become; that violence does not equal strength any more than mercy equals weakness; and that as the Japanese have always maintained, the sharpest swords rarely leave their scabbards (for they rarely need to). If there is any one message I am constantly hoping to transmit to young readers it’s this: adopting a challenging code and choosing to follow an exacting path doesn’t make you old-fashioned, quaint or weak. It does the opposite; it’s empowering. It’s a secret for enjoying and making strong progress through the landscape of life.

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zKaLRklCzxA&feature=player_embedded]

Q: You worked as police officer, prosecutor and a licensed private investigator  on murder cases. You have written thrillers such as The Stalking Zone as well as near future thrillers like Under no Flag, Thunderfish, Beyond the Shaking Time.  Was this a bit like bringing your work home with you?

Not really, because the three crime thrillers I wrote, Doctor Id, Cybercage and The Stalking Zone, sat more at the fantastic end of the law enforcement story genre, though much of the gritty psychology of those tales was true to the environment that inspired them. My (young vigilante) heroes were allowed to have wins, to get results, though they had to really suffer along the way, so I suppose that in the end, the stories were in fact very positive though harrowing. Thunderfish, Under No Flag, and In the Jaws of the Sea, explored the idea that people labelled criminals under one perspective might actually be not only good guys from another viewpoint, but in fact the most useful humans in that particular equation. I found it ironic that numerous imaginary elements of the Thunderfish trilogy kept coming true in one form or another, such as the battles in Antarctic waters between whalers and the Sea Shepherd activists, or the discovery of a fissure in the earth’s crust, deep in the Atlantic.

 

Q: I see way back in 1975 you were part of a heavy metal band. It’s amazing how many writers have a musical background. Do you still practice music?

I still play guitar and sing, and have consistently written songs for most of my life. Music is very much a part of my family’s culture, as my wife and daughter are both songwriters and my son is a professional musician. If you love soul, funk or acid jazz, you can check out his sounds here

Q: I was prompted to start this series of interviews because there seems to be a perception in the US and the UK that fantasy is a bit of a boy’s club. Do you think there’s a difference in the way males and females write fantasy?

Perhaps (as a generalization) but I also think that most of us could cite ripping action-rich fantasy novels penned by women and satisfyingly emotional and cerebral fantasy tales written by men; and I do find it a little funny that there is a perception of fantasy in some quarters as being male-oriented, after personally having heard publishers joke about pink, hazy covers (replete with flying horses) stretched around a solid high-quest fantasy book ‘that we can count on girls to buy’.

I reckon that one of the peculiarities of writing culture has always been that while most story tellers obsess over how to tell a timeless, boundary-breaking, universal tale, publishers are meanwhile apparently obliged to obsess over how to categorize, brand and anchor the field of interest in that story, in other words, to narrow and define its scope, so as to better sell it. The clash of these two unrelenting focuses can produce some interesting cross-perceptions about who writes or reads what exactly (and for who) while I guess the truth is that out here in the real world, we simply end up with a great deal of diversity.

 

Q: Following on from that, does the gender of the writer change your expectations when you pick up their book?

Not in my case, as a lifetime of reading has convinced me that a skilful, gifted storyteller can channel a thousand people whose skin they will never occupy; I’ve read the work of female writers whose male voice, drives and perceptions felt utterly real, and vice versa. So a good writer can always pleasantly surprise us, not only with their imaginings, but with all kinds of truths they can own and convey which transcend their culture, gender or generation. Of course I realize that many people are swayed, unduly perhaps, by unspoken notions of ‘gender suitability’. That old ‘men can’t write good romance, women don’t do bloodshed well’ viewpoint. I think it’s so often wrong, it’s worth dismissing entirely.

Q: And here’s the fun question. If you could book a trip on a time machine, where and when would you go, and why?

Like the traveler in HG Wells’ groundbreaking novel, though the past fascinates me, if only one trip was possible, I would opt to see the distant future (or yes, that current, possible future the machine could take me to, based on things as they now stand).  So I’d visit my own locale, here in Australia, say, two hundred years from now. Why? Part of me just has to know: do we finally grow up as a species? Or does it turn out that our damned gadgets wound up destroying us because they kept evolving while their creators remained inherently paranoid and primitive? Hey! That’s a question that spec fic seems to keep asking!

Giveaway Question: 

When you are forced to suffer through some ‘oh no, not this again!’ cliché in a book or movie, what sassy, mocking or witty twist-outcome might you assign to it? Example: Vader wheezes ‘I-am-your-father!’ and Luke (at least in your rewrite) retorts, ‘The hell you are. I had DNA done. So I know it was a wookie.’ So yeah…pick your most nauseating cliché and…strike back!

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Doing anything Saturday 27th, August, 2011?

Once a year, the good folk down at the Logan North Library run a Speculative Fiction month. On Saturday 27th of August some friends and I will be on a panel talking about writing.

So if you are in the neighbourhood, drop by and say Hi!

(Logan North Library, Brisbane, Queensland, Australia)

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