Five questions, a writing exercise, and a picture

Today’s wonderful image is from WallUp Wallpaper Images

Today I had the pleasure of speaking to some creative writing students at Victoria University, in the western suburns of my hometown Melbourne.

Being trapped in the spotlight in a room full of other writers felt a bit daunting, so instead of just reading from my book and then expecting discussion, I structured my given hour around reading, writing, questioning and visualising fiction.

In this post, I’ll look at the questions I prepared and the answers we discussed. These are the five questions I am most often asked since The Pale was published:

  1. Where do you get your ideas?
  2. What made you want to write about this?
  3. How did you go from a short story to an 80,000 word novel?
  4. How did you find a publisher?
  5. How do you sell books?

My ideas come from the real world and from dreams. (I find my dream stories have had better success in finding publication – but that topic is for another post!) In the case of The Pale, in 2014 I had a dream that I was locked inside a wire compound and that there was a crying baby on the ground outside the gate. Nobody would let me go out to pick up the baby, and eventually it was left to my old German Shepherd dog, 15-y-o Dinny, who arrived suddenly at the baby’s side and rescued it.

The morning after the dream, I wrote the first draft of Man/Machine/Dog, which was published in Overland 215, Winter 2014.

What made me want to write about this dream was the refugee crisis, in particular Australia’s response, which I continue to find deeply distressing. (More information at the Refugee Council of Australia.)

From short story to novel took me almost a year and I did this mostly by writing backstory for all the characters. I created a writing exercise around this for the students which I will outline in a later post.

Finding a publisher was a pitted path. After the story was published, a start-up sci-fi publisher asked about the novel (which I had not written!). The first draft, which I sent to them, was seriously under-done and rightly rejected. Many revisions later, after learning more about the industry by attending workshops at Writers Victoria, I searched for a publisher willing to accept unsolicited submissions electronically (who wants to pay postage on a novel-sized project?). I sent a much re-worked version to Odyssey Books and was thrilled to be accepted for publication. I have some tips for organising and surviving your submissions – but that too is for a later post.

Selling books is quite hard. There is so much excellent competition out there, and marketing is not a core skill for me. It took me quite some time to grow a writerly skin which allowed me to submit my writing (poor shivering creature!) to publishers, and I am aiming now to grow a marketing persona. There are a number of associated activities that authors can undertake to help sell their books, and I will outline some of these in a later post. I can’t do everything, but I can always do something to help my book get into the hands of readers.

Speaking of which (shameless plug alert), if you’re in the market for a gripping read in dystopian sci-fi, you can buy The Pale here, or at the usual places, like Booktopia or Amazon.

 

there’s some cool world-building here

I received my feedback from the 2017 Book Pipeline competition, in which the judges consider an extract of your novel (or your graphic novel/script/non-fiction book/book proposal) for its potential to be made into a film or TV series. For a fee, of course, but that is the usual course when you decide to put your work in front of judges for any purpose. You can see the shortlisted works here, and the finalists will be announced in a couple of weeks. My book The Pale is not shortlisted, but the exercise wasn’t a complete washout.

Book Pipeline’s extra incentive to pay an entry fee is that even if your work is not shortlisted (and therefore can’t win), you still get a paragraph of feedback.

So here is what they say: kind of yeah, no, yeah, but no.

That’s alright as I can cherry-pick the good bits (like our politicians do with ‘facts’), such as “there’s some cool world-building here”, and “classical in its approach”, and “familiar” elements “similar to Mad Max: Fury Road” (for the cyber-punk-ish bits) “and The Hunger Games” (for the competing factions aspects). I thought when I submitted that the biggest problem might be rendering the canini – my GM dogs with thumbs, enormous brains, and advanced language skills – onto film, but they didn’t get a mention.

Dystopian spaces are “incredibly saturated”, which I guess means that these folk watch the news :-). The Pale is considered just a little too classical, and too familiar, for movie purposes, but actually I think maybe that’s not a bad thing for books. Generally if readers like a book, they want to read another one that’s similar.

Anyway, it’s been an interesting and instructive process, and I now feel that I can legitimately compare The Pale to the Mad Max franchise (of which, guiltily I admit, I have never seen any), and to The Hunger Games trilogy (well, I have read the first book, but haven’t seen the movies). And “cool world-building” may well be a quote I can use for marketing.

Now, what can I pitch for the 2018 round, starting March 15th?

A name, a name

I’m looking for a book title that’s searchable and succinct, catchy and attractive.

I realise that I didn’t do enough research when naming the first novel in my story sequence. While I checked that there were no other books called ‘The Pale’, I didn’t perform an Amazon, Goodreads, Booktopia, etc., search. Now I find that searching for The Pale brings up every book that has ‘pale’ in the title: The Pale Horseman, The Pale Rider, and so on.

So I’m being a bit more cautious about naming Pale #2.

Its current working title is ‘Broad Plain Darkening’. I like it, and a search brings up no books, but a line in a long, long poem about Napoleon – The Napolead: In Twelve Books, by Thomas Hedges Genin, published in 1833. The line (above) looks very appropriate for my purpose.

Any other ideas for a title gratefully considered!

 

To market to market, to tell a fat tale

I have just heard that my wonderful fellow authors from the Odyssey stable (garret? mansion?) had a great success at the Ferny Creek Market yesterday. With a mystical theme, they still managed to sell all five copies of The Pale that I sent to the table. Wow, just, WOW!

I guess sci-fi with talking dogs was just within the net of interest for Faery and Angel followers. They too love their dogs I guess.

Meanwhile, I was engaged in an interesting conversation with my mum. She says such fascinating things these days. Indeed, I have plans for a new book, all about the amazing ideas that come to the surface of her reality, which is often in an alternarive universe from where I am living.

Yesterday she introduced me to a new resident at her care home. Although she never addresses me by name, she does introduce me as ‘This is my daughter Clare’, so she definitely knows who I am! Anyway, she then proceeded to tell me the history of the new man at the afternoon tea table.

‘They found Jack in the street, you know, and he wanted to buy the place so they let him in. He lives here now but he works at the local newsagent on Mondays. He’s going to bring me a copy of The Age because I still haven’t seen the article they wrote about my cooking.’

See, it’s absolute gold, isn’t it? Such a rich world. She can cram in more nuggets of intrigue in one go than I can smash into a chapter.

Hmm, I wonder where I get my love of telling stories?

Five tips for tackling a scary task

Halloween is over, but there are many scary tasks in store for the newbie fiction author. Today was another milestone day.

For the first time, I walked into a bookstore and said, ‘Hi, I’m a local author, and I’d like to ask if you’d consider stocking my book.’

EEEEEEK!!!!!

But I really did it. Not once, but twice. And then I added a trip into a strange libary as a bonus, suggesting that they too might like to have my *divine* work on their shelves.

Now that my pulse rate has slowed somewhat, I can share some ideas for this task:

  1. Be prepared. I kind of was. I prepared a one-page ‘Introduction to The Pale‘, on which I listed its freshly-developed tag (‘dystopian sci-fi with talking dogs!’), the link to purchase, RRP, a teaser re the characters (‘Meet the canini…’), and a short bio with contact details.
  2. Have a book to show them. I *LOVE* the cover that Michelle organised for me (thanks to Elijah Toten), and it really goes down well with prospective buyers/readers.
  3. Be prepared to give up a hard copy. Yikes! One bookshop – a very nice bookshop – said they’d love to look into it and could they have a review copy right now – so I had to say ‘Yes, of course!’ and watch the precious paper disappear behind the counter.
  4. Live your local writing scene. It helps that I sometimes go inside these bookstores, as they are in shopping strips near where I meet friends for coffee. When I made my claim to be a local author, they came back at me with other names and a degree of excitement. Lucky for me I know a couple of these people from work (at uni), so I was able to join the booksellers’ enthusiasm. But being aware of similar titles to yours, or of other local writers, seemed to ease the conversation.
  5. Populate your website. The bookstore that didn’t ask for a hard copy wanted to know if Odyssey had published a sample chapter online? I said, adlibbing quickly, not yet, but that there is a sample section about to be published on my own website.

Both bookstores said they have heard of Odyssey and would look to order after checking out the book. Fingers crossed!

The image is from Lilliput Lyrics, a children’s book published in 1899, courtesy of the free images provided by the British Library on Flickr

Image taken from page 180 of 'Lilliput Lyrics ... Edited by R. Brimley Johnson. Illustrated by Chas. Robinson'