Writing Excuses Master Class: Where do you get your ideas?

A while ago now, I obsessively listened to Writing Excuses, a podcast about writing (specifically genre) fiction hosted by Brandon Sanderson, Dan Wells, Howard Taylor and Mary Robinette Kowal, along with various special guests. I listened to so many of these, in fact, that I was listening rather than writing and so overwhelmed with information that I thought my head might burst.

Anyway, I started again today and thought it might be neat to actually work through Season 10’s “Master Class” exercises, and let me see where that lead me to. Here is the exercise from the first episode, entitled: seriously, where do you get your ideas?

Exercise #1: Write down five different story ideas in 150 words or less.
Generate these ideas from these five sources:

  1. From a piece of music (with or without lyrics)
    • A love story, tragic-comedy style, in which the protagonist accidentally kills a mugger, only to meet and fall in love with the mugger’s widow. As he becomes drawing deeper into the relationship, the web of lies thickens… he never can tell her what he’s done – but could it be that she already knows? And perhaps has more than passion on her mind?
      • (Song was “Never Can Tell” by Banshee Reel)
  2. From a piece of media (watch a movie)
    • A science fiction in which reincarnation is obtained by the transplanting of human brains into animal bodies, creating what is, essentially, a number of uplifted animals. There are two ways the story could go: the animals could revolt and destroy the humans, or the uplifted animals could be used to get a better understanding/improve the survive of their wild kin (ala. The Wild by Whitley Strieber)
      • (Not going to say what piece of media inspired this :))
  3. From observation (go for a walk!)
    • “They hunt in packs”: Groups of teenagers roam the urban malls and streets, communicating using loud, obnoxious vocalisations.
      • Not quite sure how the plot of that could go… Maybe the protagonist is a zoology-nerd, who is somehow dragged into this “gang”? Or perhaps, she is being hunted by them?
  4. From research you’ve done (reading science news, military history, etc)
    • 100 years in the future, and the elite of mankind have departed the Earth, destined for a new colony somewhere far off in space. They took the intellectuals, the inventors… but what happens to the people they left behind? A gritty survival story set in a devastated and abandoned Earth: pillaged of resources and ruled by anarchy.
      • Yeh… this has been done a dozen times – or more! – already. What’s a new, fresh take I can make on it?
  5. From an interview or conversation you’ve had
    • To come…

Ten Top Birds

Here are illustrations of ten beautiful species of bird. Not necessarily in order of preference (as that changes regularly). All illustrated by me, between 2011-2016.

(another favourite, Currawong is not included because I haven’t drawn him).

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What I’ve learned about creating anthologies

I have recently finished creating the second anthology for our local writing group. And it has been quite an experience, through which I’ve made more than a few mistakes and learned a lot. Here I will include some of the lessons I have learned that should help you, should you ever be masochistic enough to attempt to create one of your own.

Firstly:

Spectra-frontcoversml

Spectra, CWG 2016 anthology

  • Have a set deadline: The correct parameters for this are hard, one month may not be long enough, but six months generally leads to procrastination and a lack of contributions. I would recommend around 3-4 months, but be prepared to be flexible.
  • Have a set format and established guidelines. Things you will need to inform your potential contributors are:
    • word length: most anthologies ask for a maximum of 2,000-10,000 words, depending on the intended audience. If you are accepting poetry or flash fiction you probably won’t want to set a minimum length.
    • theme: be very specific, unless you are opting for a general theme. However, if your theme is too specific, then you may find no-one will contribute.
    • format: .doc or .rtf files are the most versatile.
    • speech marks: as you will want these to be consistent throughout your anthology, I recommend double-smart quotes, as they are the easiest to adjust with find and replace (trying to find-and-replace straight quotes or single-smart quotes is a complex and aggravating mission).
    • em/en-dashes: although it’s possible to find-and-replace these, it certainly saves time!
    • font: you may like to specify font in your guidelines, I use Century Schoolbook, but this is relatively easy to adjust during the compilation process.
    • language: UK spelling or US spelling. Be aware that NZ and Australian English tends to be a hybrid of the two and can allow inconsistencies.
  • Make it clear that you are seeking stand-alone stories, and the plot structure you expect (ie: inciting incident, rising action, climax, conclusion).
  • Unless you are publishing literally everyone who contributes, make it clear that not all pieces will necessarily be accepted.
  • insist that all pieces must be spell/grammar checked! (however, this doesn’t give you an excuse not to have further editing done: see below).

When receiving contributions:

  • Acknowledge immediately that you have received their submission. Offer them a date by which they will receive notification upon whether their story has been accepted.

Accept or deny? And how to notify the authors?

  • There are three levels to this:
    • Acceptance: the story fulfills all specifications, and is well-crafted and interesting, requiring minimal or “easy” edits.
    • Refusal: the story either fails to fulfill the specifications: it’s too long, too short, not on theme, poorly crafted, or not actually a story at all.
    • Acceptable, but needs revisions: Fulfills most of the specifications, but requires some work to be polished for publication. This is the hardest category to deal with.
  • When informing an author that their story has not been accepted: be polite, and keep the reasons for denying it brief: ie: “I’m sorry but your story was too long”, or “I’m sorry, but your story does not fit the theme.” You can also use, “I’m sorry, but your story has not been selected for this anthology.” Do not enter into further correspondence if they try and argue why you should have accepted their story. Remember, it is your anthology, your decision. DO NOT, no matter what, offer a critique unless the author specifically asks for it.
  • Minimal or easy edits are things like: changing idioms into something more era/theme-appropriate; fixing inconsistencies (like capitalising certain words sometimes, but not always), perhaps adding clarity to some of the vaguer details. These sort of edits shouldn’t take more than an hour or so.
  • Needs revisions: This one is the hardest category to decide, so if there is any doubt then it is better to outright deny the story. Revisions shouldn’t require re-writing more than 10% or less of the story (that’s 600 words of a 6000 word story). It may include re-writing the ending, or adding in more detail to the beginning. Only request revisions from authors that are fairly skilled at the craft: don’t, for example, try and teach an author a skill they have not already displayed (ie: how to show not tell). If your author is expected to re-write even 10% of their story, then you want to be able to accept it if they do that, otherwise you’ve wasted their time and your reputation.

Once you’ve collected your (possibly slightly revised) stories and notified all your writers:

reflections

Reflections, the CWG 2014 anthology.

  • Send out emails/contracts that specify copyright timeline (do your authors retain full reproduction rights, or does it become your exclusive property for 1 year, 5 year or more?) and other details, especially if payment is being offered.
  • Have all stories proof-read, by as many editors as you can convince or afford!
  • Decide what order they should appear in the book: when reading an anthology, a reader is likely to start at the beginning, so put your strongest story/stories first, but don’t have them growing steadily weaker or the reader will give up. I prefer to put short stories between the longer stories, and end with a relatively strong piece.
  • Collect biographies for the “accepted” authors (specify relative word length and insist that they are written in third person).
  • Start formatting, design your cover, etc.
  • Keep authors updated with the process, either by email or regular blog/twitter posts. Authors like to know that you’re working hard with their stories! Offer a tentative timeline, and stick to it as closely as you can. If you start to fall behind, keep them informed.

Some things to be aware of:

  • From initial deadline to actual publication date could take as long as six months, depending on how many proof copies you are required to order and whether you are printing offshore or locally.
  • If you are privately creating an anthology, contributors may either expect payment or that your proceeds will go to charity. Realistically, the amount of time and effort you put into creating the anthology is going to exceed any actual financial gain. Only offer paying for stories if you are going to be able to at least break even.
  • If you are creating an anthology for a specific group or cause, make sure there is information in said anthology about the group or cause.
  • Be wary of offering free copies to every selected author, especially if you have to post them. If you are printing through a site like Createspace and have US authors, it will work out far cheaper to have them sent direct to the author. Posting internationally from New Zealand is expensive. Avoid if at all possible.
  • Creating anthologies is extremely hard work and requires a lot of time and energy. It is not a task to be taking lightly.

Top Reading Picks for 2016

Last year, possibly due to my new-found addiction to Pokemon Go, or possibly my closer proximity to my workplace (thus reducing my reading-and-walking time down to approximately 10 minutes from 40 mins a day), I only managed to read 102 books in 2016, a distinct drop from the 160 of 2015. This year I aim to do better, without resorting to reading a lot of picture books!

Here are my Top Five Four* “Stand out” reads from the previous year – some ARE new, some will, however, be older titles that I have only just discovered.

kalanonKalanon’s Rising by Darian Smith
Darian Smith is a very talented writer, one whom I would – believe it or not – rate as highly as Brandon Sanderson and Peter V. Brett. His plots are engrossing, his settings highly developed and he has a real knack for immersing you fully into the world.”Kalanon’s Rising” is both a murder mystery and a powerful fantasy novel, and Smith displays a considerable amount of talent and imagination at penning both. There are red herrings, false leads, plenty of unexpected twists and illuminating discoveries. Plot holes are skillfully plugged, and tangled webs are woven. He doesn’t go light on the shock and brutality either. (Read More)
nevernightNevernight by Jay Kristoff
Intense. brutal. lyrical. beautiful.
Not for the faint of heart.
Loved it.
For fans of Laini Taylor and anyone who likes an evocative, richly detailed epic.
genestormGeneStorm: City in the Sky by Paul Kidd
A grand rollicking read, in the true spirit of Paul Kidd’s earlier works – rambunctious characters, a weird and quirky cast of mutant characters, over-the-top plot, non-stop action and explosions a plenty. This was a lot of fun to read.
I urge more people to read this series! Especially artists, as I would really, really love to see how others (including Kidd himself) interpret the stranger characters – Beau, the fox-pheasant, for example, is just begging to be drawn. And as for the floating plant guy…
Wickedly weird. I read it slowly, not because it was dull, but because I just wanted to enjoy the company of the characters for as long as possible.
magpiemurdersMagpie Murders by Anthony Horowitz
A highly enjoyable mornings read! This is two stories combined into one – we begin with Alan Conway’s last Atticus Pund mystery: Magpie Murders. A manuscript delivered to our narrator, an editor but, frustratingly, missing the final chapters. Whodunnit? Who knows! What could be more irritating in a quaint English murder mystery than not knowing the reveal? Well, our narrator, Susan Ryeland, will not rest until she’s found those missing chapters for, not only does she need to know, but the continual existence of her publishing house could well depend on it. What it unravels, however, is a modern mystery all of its own – when the author commits suicide. Or does he? (Read More)

View all my reviews

* Not only have I not read many books this past year, there have been few that have truly hooked me.

Obligatory New Year Post

lilbluepenguin

Little blue penguin by the beach

 

So, it comes to pass that 2016 is about to draw to a close. It has been a troubling year on the global scale: beloved celebrities have passed, as have prominent scientists and authors. Politics have been unsettling, as has the “revelation” that climate change may well lead the human race – and goodness knows how many other species – to extinction within the next decade. On a personal level, things have been rather more pleasing. We introduced a new, four-legged and furred, member to our family, and we have now owned our own house for a year. We traveled to Australia and explored Tasmania. My not-so-inner child was further delighted by the creation of Pokemon Go and the resurgence of popularity in Pokemon that ensured.

Whilst I did not achieve many of my writing goals for the year, I did complete my Animal Alphabet in April and successfully participated in NaNoWriMo. I have had two short stories accepted for publication in anthologies (that I am not the editor of) and one even paid me money! And I have taken on several formatting jobs for different authors. I also helped my lovely friend Matty Angel release her first book and realise one of her life’s goals, including helping her bank her first ever paycheque!

So, what do I strive to achieve in 2017?

Writing:
Work on “Tail of Two Scions” (and get the damned thing done!)
Write a short story a month for the year.
Participate in NaNoWriMo 2017

Art:
Get back into a pattern of drawing regularly.
Create that picture book that Matty is talking about.
Sell some art.

Reading:
Read over 100 books.

Travel:
Celebrate Midsummer Eve in Scandinavia
See Europe (countries yet to be determined)
Travel to anywhere in the world that is required to attend the Helloween “Pumpkins Unite” tour. (may wind up in 2018 depending on their schedule)

Social:
Attend at least one concert (The Darkness)

NaNoWriMo 2016: Day Thirty

NaNoWriMo_2016_WebBanner_Winner_Congrats Total Word Count: 5,010

# of stories written:

  • 1 x novella = abandoned (34k)
  • 1 x short story = completed (10k)
  • 1 x fanfic = begun but not completed (6k)

I really, really, really didn’t think I was going to make it this year. I gave up around the 23rd, thus forcing myself to indulge in a last minute spring of 4k+ or so a day. Funnily enough, before I began I made a list of all the stories I was going to attempt – and I attempted about half of it! So the rest can be kept in reserve for later.

My final 6k came from me picking up my Pokemon Fanfiction again. Entitled Kataryna’s Pokemon Jungle, I wrote them first as a fairly poorly edited serial some years ago and then gave up in 2004, ending on a real cliff hanger. My Poke-apocalypse begins some 13 years later when the character awakens (now aged approximately 30), emaciated and imprisoned, to find that the bad guy won, and along the way the apocalypse has, basically, happened. Not only that, but being unconscious (magically asleep) and in the clutches of her mortal enemy has lead to some other issues, specifically relating to the presence of a girl, approximately 11 years old… Needless to say, this is a fairly dark fanfiction, and probably should have trigger warnings for various reasons, not the least of which is PTSD in relation to earthquakes. Whether I will persist with it past the 6,000 words or so I’ve already written remains to be seen, but I will include an excerpt here. I would, at least, like to write at least as far as when she and Eva escape from the island, and become reunited with Kat’s boyfriend, Kameron (ps: I recycle names all the time) and experience the third – and probably most horrifying – revelation of them all:

That the apocalypse was partly their fault.

Shadeon, the Shadow Eevee (illustrated by Mistie?)

Shadeon, the Shadow Eevee (illustrated by Mistie?)

 

Here’s why Loki (not the Nordic god, but an ex Team Rocket member with megalomaniac tendencies) got up to when he’d finished draining the elemental power from the Seven Sisters (seven powerful Mew):

TRIGGER WARNING: Recounting of natural disasters: earthquakes, tsunami, volcanic eruptions etc, with multiple, incredible, casualties, including the destruction of named, real-world places. It might be Pokemon-themed, but this is pretty dark stuff!

Loki reached over for the remote and flicked a few buttons, then a few more. Ash and his friends and their colourful adventures disappeared, replaced with a grainy image that jerked and blurred every other second. “Would you wish for her to be exposed to this?”

It was difficult to focus, as buried amongst static as it was, but I could make out a city in ruin, smoke and fire billowing forth from the skeletal remains of the broken buildings, tumbled like a child’s playthings into a shimmering, rippling pool.

“That is Cerulean City,” he replied. “And that, I think you will realise, is what happens when a peaceful seaside city is struck by several earthquakes – magnitude 8.4 and 8.1 respectively – followed by a 12m tsunami wave.” He pointed. “Look.” Between the buildings, some distance from the ocean, lay the carcass of a wailord, its ribs exposed to the sky and being picked at by.. murkrow? Dark avian shapes that I could not quite discern as they blinked and blurred in and out of focus. “Seven kilometers inland,” Loki grinned, proud at his gruesome achievement. “Of the 240, 000 people that lived there, only 326 survived.”

I gaped at him. “You destroyed it?” He was lying. He had to be lying! I’d been to Cerulean City. It was beautiful, with its water parks and fountains. Now, almost everyone… dead. “Why?”

“Oh dear Kataryna,” Loki replied, running his fingers down my cheek, tracing trails of fiery heat. I slapped them away. “You’ve been away a long time. The world, well, it’s a wee bit different now, I think you’ll see.”

“But… why?” My shivering was now so bad that I had to struggle to get out the words. “Why destroy a city?”

“Why not?” Loki leaned back and crossed one foot across his thigh. This is not, I should point out, something that any respectful member of society should do whilst clad only in a towel. “Because I can? To make a point? All valid reasons, so take your pick.”

“None of those are valid.” I clenched my teeth to stop them chattering. Oh my god. Cerulean gone… Where else had Loki destroyed? Loki flicked the switch again. A mountain, or what had once been a mountain, now crumpled in on itself, slopes burning with bubbling magma.

“Alola,” he said. “A series of islands created by volcanoes, that brought land forth from the sea. And what the fire brings, the fire can take away. Population, prior, 1 million. Now, a mere 457. Ain’t population control grand?”

Another flick, and a new image appeared, this one mainly churning ocean studded with a few black rocks. “The Orange Islands. Gone!” He laughed. “I melted the ice caps, and threw in a tsunami for good measure. What fun. Now only the mountains remain above water.” He sighed. “Unfortunately, most of the islands were unoccupied.”

My heart, almost stilled from panic exhaustion, gave a frantic kick. There was one special island amongst the archipelago, an island of freed Pokemon, ex-captives unable to fully release their domesticity. They were watched over by one of the most legendary Pokemon of all, Mewtwo, and several of my friends – including the drained Mews – had been offered sanctuary there. What had become of them? The island had featured a tall mountain; I could only hope that they had sought sanctuary up its slopes.

Again and again the image flicked, and Loki repeated his tales of massive natural disasters, vast numbers of casualties. “Why?” I kept asking. “Why would you destroy everything?”

Finally, Loki ceased flicking and, with one hand, twisted my eyes to meet his. I fought to look away, but his grip was powerful, infused with the energy of almost all the Mews. “Because they wouldn’t take me seriously,” he said. “I offered them the choice: surrender to me, worship me, but they just laughed in my face.”

“Who did you offer?”

“All of them: presidents, prime ministers, even dictators. No-one would believe me. Not even when I sent earthquakes and tsunamis and blew up hurricanes to prove to them that I had the power! Oh, some of them fought back. Some president fired a nuke, but I brushed it away, and it destroyed most of Liechtenstein instead. Oops. That caused a bit of conflict, upped the political-ante, you might say. Then they were too busy bickering amongst themselves to pay attention to me.”

“If you’ve destroyed the world,” I said, my voice growing increasingly frantic, even as I sought for calm – I didn’t want to antagonise someone who could, literally, flatten cities. “Where the hell are we now?”

“Oh,” he said with a shrug, “Aotearoa.”

“Where?” I thought back to what felt like only a few weeks ago, when we’d been pouring through maps to try and track down the Mew sisters. “Isn’t that near Tasmania?”

“Correct,” he said, rather flippantly. “Tasmania’s gone. Ground zero, more-or-less. But Aotearoa, a forgotten, abandoned island in the South Pacific.”

“Isn’t it occupied? And two islands?”

“More than that actually,” Loki grinned, exposing his sharp canines. “Historically, in any case. Now? Not so much. Had a couple of advantages over the other islands – no wild Pokemon, for a start, just some ferals released by unscrupulous traders. And as for the occupied bit? Well, it is on the ring of fire.”

I gulped.

“Quite. Tore the southern island in half with an earthquake, erupted a couple of volcanoes in the north, and their government declared a national evacuation. Not sure what happened. Australia wouldn’t take them, they had enough problems of their own, what with all the fire storms and hurricanes. Probably still floating about in their cruise ships, but good luck to them with finding an inhabitable island in the South Pacific. Well, there’s always Antarctica. It’s warming up nicely now I’ve melted away the ice.” He stroked his chin. “Now where was I, before I digressed? Oh yes. Anyway, they abandoned their islands – or what was left of them – and I moved on in to raise my daughter in peace and relative harmony.”

 

 

NaNoWriMo 2016: Day Twenty-Eight

My absence from NaNoing has probably not been noted, especially given my previous post on the 20th. But things have changed in the life of LemurKat. For, you see, on Tuesday the 22, a new little “mews” entered my life. We’d been talking about adopting a furry wee companion for some time, now that we have owned our own house for just over a year, but had put it off due to the affections and interests of the neighbour’s calico, Lucky, who attempted to adopt us.

Hereby, I would like to introduce Lucifer Persephone* aka Lucie or Lols (short of Lolly, her fosterer’s name for her, because she’s so sweet).

Luci-spectra

Proof-reading a copy of the Christchurch Writers’ Guild’s second anthology, “Spectra”

Little Lucie is super-gentle and has the cutest quiet meow. Because she’s only little (about 10-12 weeks at a guess), she’s only allowed access to specific parts of the house, consequently I’m spending a lot of time in the lounge with her. Therefore, I’ve taken to working on my laptop. Since my “Love in Tirra-Inle” story wasn’t really going much of anywhere, and I was up-to-date with my editing and formatting for 2 of the 3 titles, I began writing again – it’s not yet too late to win NaNo for 2016 – although I am pushing it damned close.

Yesterday I wrote: 5,169 words on a short story

Today I finished that story, clocking in at 9,801 words.

Over the next two days, I have to write around 3,500 words per day. Unfortunately, I’m currently out of a story!

The not-quite 10k story is a fairy tale retelling of the Icelandic tale, Kissa the Cat. And is, of course, somewhat inspired by our new little furry friend. In my version, Kissa is, like Lucie, a fluffy black cat, but unlike Lucie, she has one – just one – white paw. Whilst I have taken some of the elements of the traditional tale, I have given it a modern-day setting, thrown in some elements traditionally found in fairy tales and twisted the original meanings. I hope it is true enough to the original (and not a crossover) to be accepted into Shelley Chappell’s anthology, Wish Upon a Southern Star. There are, however, a few darker implications.

If you wish to read my version of Kissa, please note that it is password locked. You will have to enter the name of my cat to access it (just her first name).

Lucie telling me to get back to writing immediately!

Lucie telling me to get back to writing immediately!

* name may be changed, not yet entirely settled.

NaNoWrimo 2016: Day twenty

I’m officially calling it quits, currently, for today/for now. The story has kind of burned out before it got anywhere, and I need to take a day of consideration before I either force myself further into it, or decide to write something different. If I go for the latter, I might just aim for a short story every day/two-three days.

Kataryna and Daniel have been characters beloved to me for a long time, and their romance has always been a thing of mystery. I think trying to write their “origin story” is somehow destroying the magic. I’ve got why it’s – if not technically forbidden, then at least strongly discouraged – but then the plot has pretty much fallen apart.

So it’s – currently – “goodbye” to Kataryna and Daniel, and onto the next thing. I feel bad, like I’ve failed them somehow, so to make it up to them, here is the “fabled” reunion scene from Reborne:

He stood before her, facing away, and her breath caught in her throat. She reached up, grabbing a tree branch to keep herself steady. His long dark hair cascaded down his back, the sunlight bringing out the brown hues from the black. She longed to run her fingers through it.

“Daniel…” she whispered, almost afraid to speak his name, lest it shatter the illusion.

He turned, and she thought she had never seen anyone so beautiful as her beloved, naked save for his kilt and the panflute that hung about his neck.

“Kat,” he whispered, somehow recognising her immediately, despite the change in her. “Kataryna?” Then he turned away again. “Nay, it canna be. Just another trick.”

She stepped up behind him and placed her hand on his shoulder, stroking her fingers through his silky fur. “No,” she whispered, “no trick. It really is me.” This close she could bask in the glory of his scent and her entire body ached – with eagerness, longing, sorrow. He turned at her touch and stared at her, his emerald eyes beyond fathoming.

“You’ve changed,” he whispered huskily, reluctantly reaching out to her as though afraid if he were to touch her she would evaporate. They were so close, so close and the desire to press her body against his was almost unbearable.

“Yes,” she replied simply and took his hand in hers, guiding it towards her, pressing it against her fur.

It seemed to be all the encouragement he needed and he took another step, engulfing her, wings and all, in his arms. She nestled into the familiar spot against his chest, his chin resting on his head and melted there. His arms about her were strong, and warm and she felt as close to perfectly happy as she had ever been.

Here was where she belonged and she could remain here forever.

(written in 2004)

illustration by Bonnie

illustration by Kate “Bonnie” Harper