The Joy of Fanfiction

This year, like most years, I’m giving Nanowrimo a go. Not a very enthusiastic go, I’m afraid. I’ve become hooked on Draconius Go*, for a start, and I’m generally experiencing an apathy towards completing my stories. Lacking in motivation to write a story that “matters”, so to speak (as if any stories really matter to anyone except the writer), I picked up a story I’d begun last year, in a last-ditch effort to attain my 2016 NaNo goal.

Yes, I turned to Fanfiction.

I’m not new to the genre (if you can call it that) of Fanfiction. I started with it, back in 2000 with ElfQuest and Pokemon (although you could argue even before that, when I wrote a “Fantasy epic” inspired by my favourite song). I chose ElfQuest because they were semi-feral elves that rode wolves -so different from Tolkien’s statuesque and noble forest dwellers. Pokemon because, animals with magic powers! I also dabbled in a little Xanth (more in a “what if?” situation, as in “what if a feral, REAL, elf found its way into Xanth” but my motivation of introducing my ElfQuest OC to the Xanthian pun-world quickly dwindled) and wrote a song-fic inspired by “The Golden Compass”. These can be read on my Fanfiction.net page. Warning: They’re raw, lacking almost completely in editing and indubitably contain numerous grammatical errors.

Why is Fanfiction so alluring?

Well, most writers are also readers, or at the very least, enjoy some form of pop culture. Whether it be movies, television, books, cartoons, or even music, there’s generally something that speaks to us, inspires us. Characters that we wish were real people, worlds that we wished we could explore. Stories that we wished we could read. Sometimes the author takes the story in a manner you might not like, ie: kills off or abandons your favourite character, or totally skips over something you would’ve really enjoyed learning more about. As a reader and a writer, you can CHANGE THIS!

Writing in a Fandom universe means that your world comes fully created, no shuffling around trying to define a magic system, or decide how the weather system works, or how the cities and forests are laid out. It’s pre-made. Not only that, but you already have an established fan-base, since people who enjoy a particular fandom may seek further reading.

Original Characters or Canon?

Canon characters are those created  by the original author or franchise: Harry, Ron and Hermoine for example. They do require a bit of delicate handling, and some authors may take offense at their “children” falling into the hands of amateurs, so if you want to write fandom and share it with the wider world, it might pay to check and see if your favourite author appreciates it. Some authors have outright refused to let stories written in their fandom be uploaded to fanfiction.net. George RR Martin, for example, considers it copyright infringement. If writing with Original Characters, try and keep them as true to their intended personalities as possible.

Original Characters (OC) also come with risks, specifically when they come across as author-inserts and immediately catch the heart and soul of a beloved Canon character, in an effort of wish fulfillment. OCs must be as well developed as any Canon characters you may choose to incorporate. They must have flaws, and they must face challenges. If they’re perfect, and all the other characters love them, then you might have a problem.

When reading Fanfiction, I tend to be okay with either – as long as it’s well written and the Canon characters seem true to their author’s original voice.

Some of my favourite fanfiction stories are the James Potter series by G Norman Lippert (staring Harry and Ginny’s children, not Harry’s dad), although their American flavour did wear on me after a while. His stories are well written, very professionally marketed, listed on Goodreads and, most importantly, FREE. Because, even if your stories are accepted (if not endorsed) by the author, you cannot make money from them:

  • unless you change them dramatically so that they are no longer recognised as Fanfiction, ala Fifty Shades of Gray and, allegedly, The Mortal Instruments..
  • unless the author has actually asked you to write in her world – the Cassandra Clare spin off short story books, featuring Magnus Bane and Simon’s training in Shadowhunter Academy really do feel like glorified Fanfiction.
  • unless it is based on a story that is out of copyright (or a folk/fairy tale). This is why you see a fair amount of stories from Hook’s PoV, or with similar plot structures to Shakespearian plays and Austen/Bronte novels. Fairy tale retellings could also be considered Fanfiction.

Another excellent Harry Potter Fanfiction is “Better be Slytherin!” which answers a question I’m sure you’ve all been curious about.

Fanfiction also gives you the ability to dabble in crossing characters between your favourite fandom (what if Buffy met Edward?). You can also take minor characters and make them the star of their own story. Fans might get a bit miffed if you start killing off Canon characters (in my “Pookamon” (anthro Pokemon) Fanfiction, I evolved Meowth before killing him off. It didn’t go down particularly well), but overall, it’s the chance to take liberties and have some fun!

Fanfiction I wish existed (and would write if I had the time or ability):

  • Twilight as a psychological thriller.
  • The Battle of Hogwarts: how Ginny, Luna and Neville held Hogwarts against the anarchy and chaos that ensured in book seven.
  • A predator/prey changeling relationship in the Psy Changeling universe.

And if you want to read an excellent story with an original character that is in no way beloved, beautiful and brilliant at everything she does, and like a good dark romance, I strongly recommend FANGIRL_15 by Aimee Roseland. It’s not technically Fanfiction, although one might argue that the brothers do bear a striking resemblance to those in another series, but the main character is a massive fangirl (as the name suggests) who finds herself sucked into the world of the stories she loves – but finds not only is it darker, more frightening and overwhelming in reality, but also that they don’t trust her very much. It’s an amazing book, that even on the second reading almost had me weeping for the main characters. However, the ending is a bit weird.

Another fun Fanfiction inspired book is Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell, in which the main character writes Fanfiction (slash Fanfiction) around a series of books that bears some similarity to a certain boy-wizard. The story was so successful, and the fans so clamorous, that Rowell actually went on to write the Simon Snow story that the protagonist was penning!

 

* it’s like Pokemon Go, but with more realistic monsters (even though they have ridiculous names and no natural history), quests, duels with opposing team mates and treasure hunts. Yeh, it’s pretty addictive. I’ll post more about it later, promise.

 

Celebrating Lemurs!

October the 27th is World Lemur Day. A day to celebrate the most endangered clade of mammals on the planet.

Did you know:

  • Lemurs are found exclusively on the island of Madagascar (and some tiny offshore islands)
  • There are over 100 different species of lemur, ranging in size from the dwarf mouse lemur (30 g)  to the indri  (up to 9.5 kg).
  • Of those species, a shocking 90% are endangered, many critically.
  • Lemurs are prosimians, which translates as “before monkey” and are descended from a common ancestor. It is believed this ancestor was carried over to Madagascar on debris, and evolved to fill a variety of different niches.
  • The aye-aye, possibly one of the strangest mammals in the world, was described as having “… the ears of a bat, the tail of a fox, the teeth of a beaver, the fur of a microwaved cat and the hands of a witch…” (from John Cleese’s “In the Wild”). Its middle finger is not actually elongated, but very, very thin, allowing it to probe into crevices to extract delicious bugs and grubs.
  • Most lemur species are vegetarian, with the eastern sifaka species requiring such a diverse array of foliage that they rarely survive (and have not yet flourished) in captivity.
  • The west coast of Madagascar is much drier, and the lemur species found there tend to somewhat more adaptable with their diet.
  • John Cleese loves lemurs – and has a species of avahi (woolly lemur) named after him: Avahi cleesei
  • The lemur “poster boy”, the ring-tailed lemur, is one of the more generalised species. It thrives in zoos, and spends more time on the ground than other species. However, wild populations have suffered a massive decline in recent years.
  • The black lemurs  have been filmed biting millipedes, which causes them to secrete a chemical that not only acts as a natural insecticide, but is also a narcotic.
  • Sclater’s black lemur is the only non-human primate with blue eyes.
  • The bamboo lemur regularly consumes high qualities of cyanide.

Here are some pictures of lemurs that I have drawn over the years:

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NaNoWriMo Success Stories

It’s that time of the year again: November. The time of year when Christmas paraphenalia is appearing in stores, the days are getting longer, the weather is settling into drier patterns… and the time of year when authors all over the world will be putting fingers to keyboards, or pens to paper, and scribbling out as many words as they can in a month, all with the same goal: 50,000 words in 30 days.

Yes, it’s NaNoWriMo time again, National Novel Writing Month for the uninitiated.

I consider myself a NaNoWriMo veteran, I’ve participated in it more years than not since the earthquakes in 2010. My completion rate is pretty high (albeit that I’ve rehashed the same story so many times it’s starting to get tedious) and I’ve reaped various rewards from a free proof copy, to free copies of my published book (back when Createspace used to contribute to the rewards), a hardback version of Fellowship of the Ringtails (courtesy of Lulu, and possibly the only hardback copy in existence), and last year I purchased Scrivener.

But whilst I’ve had marginal success, selling maybe a couple of dozen copies of 2010’s Aroha’s Grand Adventure and even fewer of Fellowship of the Ringtails (the sequel is my never-ending Work-in-Progress), there are some authors that have gone on not only to finish their 50k manuscripts, but to polish them to the point where they were published – and became strong sellers.

Here’s a selection of some of my favourites:

The Night CircusThe Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Enter the lyrical and haunting world of the Night Circus. It will draw you in, entrance you and whisk you away to a different time and place. With its evocative language, and gently flowing plot, it reminded me rather of “Jonathan Strange” and some of Neil Gaiman’s work. The descriptions are lush and vivid, the characters entrancing. It haunted me long after the final page. However, there is a blemish to every jewel and in this one it was the constantly shifting time periods – each chapter would jump back or forward some years, which left me feeling a little disorientated. It was to good purpose though, to aid the ebb and flow of the tale.

FangirlFangirl by Rainbow Rowell
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I really enjoy this kind of book – it has characters I can relate to and situations I can identify with (even though they are now lost in my distant past). This book hooked me with its candid writing, appealing prose, witty dialogue and interludes to a fiction within a fiction.

Fanfiction has become a really big thing currently, and has had quite a bit of prevalence in the media – the taking of other people’s characters and worlds and creating your own stories, and different directions, is a real art. Rowell explores this in her novel, where introvert Cath must cope with going to college, meeting boys, her manic father, a twin sister who is seeking distance and the responsiblities and so-forth of her future life.

I also loved the fact that Levi is not your typical sexy hunk – his personality was a true delight and I enjoyed the descriptions of his gangly nature, receeding hairline and the smile that lit up the room. I rather wish I could meet him.

Wool by Hugh Howey

A science fiction/dystopian novel, set in a post-apocalyptic world, where the human race is confined to giant silos, whilst the world outside has been reduced to ruin. The first book is divided into four parts, and was initially released independently and individually, to great acclaim, before Howey received a publishing contract and they were bound up into one book. There are several follow-ups to the series, but I have only read the first one.

Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen

Set in the 1930s, during the Great Depression, this is the tale of a young man who runs away to join the circus – literally. Here he befriends the elephant, Rosie, and falls in love with one of the equestrian stars. Beautifully written, deeply compelling, it became a bestseller and was turned into a movie, staring Robert Pattinson. An absolutely wonderful read, and one I highly recommend.

Cinder by Melissa Meyer

A unique and unusual re-telling of Cinderella. Cinder is a cyborg mechanic, living in a futuristic, high tech city of New Beijing, where androids, humans and cyborgs crowd the streets. When her life becomes entwined with Prince Kai, she becomes caught up in an intergalactic  struggle. I listened to it on audio book and found it somewhat strange, but definitely different and very entertaining.

View more of my Goodreads reviews

 

Wish Upon a Southern Star Book Launch

The Southern Cross shines high above a fairy tale wood. Come step inside. Drink dew from the leaves with tiny Tommelise. Eat egg sandwiches with a toothy young troll. Escape with Rapunzel. Trick Rumpelstiltskin. Shiver in the snow. Climb the beanstalk. Pray to the Piper. Be a cat. In and out of the wood, whether in this world or another, these stories will take you to new places. Explore how far you can go in this anthology of twenty-one fairy tale retellings by New Zealand and Australian authors. 

When: Saturday 2nd September, 2-4 pm
Where: South Library, 66 Colombo Street, Cashmere

Who: Meet 17 of the contributing authors, including:
Mahoney Adair, Stacey Campbell, Shelley Chappell, Hannah Davison, Graham Davidson, Simon Fogarty, MAria Hansen, S.M. Harris, K.S. Liggett, Sara Litchfield, John Lowe, Virginia Lowe, Megan Norris, Kate O’NEil, J.L. O’Rourke, Leigh Roswen and ME, Angela Oliver.

My short story, Kissa the Cat, is included in the collection, which will also be available for purchase on the day.

We authors will also be selling our books or other merchandise, therefore bringing cold, hard cash is recommended (or paper, paper money is fine!).

International Cat Day: Cats I have met

Tuesday 8th August is, apparently, International cat day. Obviously, here in New Zealand, we are in the future and thus it is the 9th August, but how can I overlook an (albeit belated) opportunity to show off some of my beloved feline friends.

Comet masquerading as a scarf. (With my younger brother)

Growing up we often had cats, our first was Copernicus, a ginger boy. He used to play with our rabbits, but was re-homed when we moved the length of the country, to live up in Golden Bay. Due to the nature of cameras back in the 80s, I haven’t any photos of him.

Our second cat was Comet, a white boy with patches of ginger. A great big softie, Comet allowed my brother to wear him like a scarf and enjoyed roaming the countryside. He used to sleep in the garage, and one morning I came out to find him covered in blood. He was rushed to the vet, but it was a minor injury: he’d cut his tongue, probably while licking out a tin can or something. He was remarkedly patient when we got him home, and had to wash him. Once again we moved, this time to the city, and once again we re-homed our cat – but Comet was a country cat and may not have survived urban living.

Titus was the third cat in our family, but the first that I chose myself. He was a pet shop kitten, tiny and with an apricot-tinge to his fur. Mischevious from the start, he constantly got into places he wasn’t supposed to and was all too frequently confined to the laundry. This, and the fact that he was probably under the now-requisite 8 weeks when he was taken from his mother and put into the pet shop, gave him all sorts of not-entirely-great habits. Once adult, he roamed far and wide, would disappear for days, which led me to roaming the streets calling his name and hoping not to find a forlorn ginger body. He would jump in the neighbour’s window and sleep on her bed. Once he came home carrying a sausage. However, I was soon to become a university student and had little time for my often-absent feline friend, and after he successfully extracted, and presumably killed, four birds from our aviary, we re-homed him to a more rural setting, and he went to live in Kaiapoi.

Cherub was our fourth cat, but she grew up as Titus’s “sister”. She was Mum’s choice, an exotic persian from breeders down in Geraldine. She was born on Boxing Day. Whereas Titus was a wanderer and a rogue, Cherub was the sweetest and most affectionate kitty you can imagine. She loved to snuggle – stretching out across your neck as you were asleep, her whiskers tickling your cheek and her fishy breath wheezing in your ear. As an exotic she had a few health problems: runny eyes, snuffling breathing and later in life, required most of her teeth removed. She lived to the ripe old age of 15 – quite elderly for an exotic – until eventually succumbing to diabetes. It was a sad, sad day when we took her, all skin and bones, with no energy left except a purr, to the vet for her final visit.

After leaving home and going “flatting”, we never took on the responsibility of owning a cat – instead I lived vicariously through my friends’ cats, and by befriending those that belonged to the neighbours. Here is a selection of some of the cats that I have met:

Ralph was a super-friendly, fluffy ginger boy, who craved attention and would often hang out around our driveway when his owners (over the fence) were at work. A couple of times he even wandered into our house, confident as they come.

Jabari lived further up our drive, he liked to follow us and demand pats, and one one occasion came leaping over the fence while I was checking the mail and quite startled me.

When we moved into our own house, it was much harder to say goodbye to these boys. They even tried to come with us, investigating our moving vehicles and wandering through our almost-empty house. Jabari apparently befriended another neighbour’s cat (Shani, big black-furred boy) and used to hang out in his house!

And, of course, soon after we moved into our own house, there was Lucky. A self-assured calico cat who did her darndest to move in with us, sneaking in when we had the door open, sleeping on our furniture and seeking out our company. She even ‘courted’ us with gardening gloves and socks, leaving them on our doorstep. I spoke with one of her owners, and he seemed more-or-less okay with her hanging out with us, but we probably pushed it further than we should have, and allowed her more-or-less free reign of our house. However, we never fed her, and I felt that she used our house as her sanctuary, for she shared her owners with other cats, and did not appear to get along (as proven by one hissing match in our lounge one day when big ‘Red’, her son, ventured inside, she won). Her owners tolerated this shared ownership for almost a year, until we were eventually asked to stop encouraging her. I cried, and deleted all photos of her from my Facebook account, and we never let her in the house again. Since then, she has behaved both aggressively and aloofly towards me, and last I heard of her, she had moved further down the street and tried to adopt another new home. I hope she’s okay – I’ve not seen her for months, although her sons still hang out in our garden, eyeballing the starlings, and my goldfish, and catching Lucie’s eye.

Her two sons are Kanad – shy and skittish, he’s only allowed me to touch him twice – and Red, slightly more confident, with the second best tail 🙂

After Lucky stopped being our friend, we decided it was time we adopted our own feline friend, and we went via Cat Rescue. Lolly was the second cat we met with, and the first kitten. She was an adorably fuzzy little black scrap, with a tiny whip of a tail and big, bright eyes. Fairly cautious, she approached us with a gentle delicacy. We couldn’t resist her, and brought her home. She was approximately 12 weeks old, neutered, chipped and weighing in at around 1.9 grams.

We renamed her Lucifurr Seraphina (Lucie for short), and let her out in our downstairs bathroom, which we’d turned into a cat room. She immediately found a hole we’d completely overlooked, and proceeded to scrunch her little furry self into it. It took a fair amount of persuasion to extract her, but I was afraid her collar might become hooked on something inside it, and she might be hurt. After we’d managed to extract her and cover it over, she huddled in the little “cave” we’d created and stared out at us with her big golden-green eyes. I was worried she wouldn’t adjust to her new home, but I needn’t have, within three days she was strolling boldly into the lounge and within a few weeks owned the house (but not without finding several more hidey-holes we’d overlooked). Since those early days, Lucie has grown… and grown. Her tail turned from a tiny scrap into a mighty plume (“best tail”), a plume that curls forwards and occasionally brushes her between the ears. After she got large enough we were no longer afraid of squishing her, she was allowed into our bedroom at night – but she prefers to sleep under the bed than to share with the two of us (unless it’s particularly cold). She follows us around, enjoying being in our company, and has a certain obsession with cardboard rings. She plays ‘fetch’, makes amazing leaps, and can open most of the doors in our house (unless we close them firmly).  Lucie is definitely Top Cat in our house!

 

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.