Well, that was fun... Just got to spend an hour or so chatting with the very down-to-earth and fun Mercedes Lackey & Larry Dixon - authors extraordinaire. Hosted by the redoubtable Diane Morrison and joined by Stephanie Barr and Sarah Burman.
Hosted by the Science Fiction/Fantasy Writers Association (of America) on their YouTube channel, we talked about various aspects of what makes a story Fantasy and whether the genre divides are real, are useful or are just imposed on us by marketing forces. We also diverged into various other sidetracks, as happens when you get a bunch of authors together.
And we managed not to swear! Although we did agree to get it all out offscreen before the session started, so it's probably a good thing the camera's weren't recording at that point.
Suffice to say Larry and Mercedes were lovely and had some excellent ideas about what fantasy is and means to readers. Sarah and Stephanie and Diane also gave great insights. Hopefully this will keep you amused and or informed for a little while.
I used to write effortlessly, daily, with a slightly manic grin on my face and a bubble of excitement in my chest; with confidence about how GOOD the story was.
Then I published the 80AD Series. And that went nuts with hundreds of thousands of downloads and people of all ages emailing me from all over the world to say how much they enjoyed the series.
Weirdly, (or not, if you know me) that made me think: 'I should know how to write better, so I can re-edit/rewrite and do those stories justice. They aren't good enough as they are.'
So I learned stuff. Much stuff. How to structure a story correctly, character arcs, themes, plotting vs pantsing. Not all the things, but many of them. I'm sure I still have much to learn.
Now it's a horrible catch-22. Yep, undoubtedly my writing is clearer, more precise and evocative. I've been shortlisted for awards and had people who know more than me nod wisely and say nice things.
But writing is no longer the effortless joy it was a few years ago. Now I agonise over every damned word and fret over whether characters are put through the wringer enough, or whether the ending is foreshadowed properly, or too overtly. And, as a horrible side-effect, I can't watch a movie without a small part of my brain breaking down the story structure and predicting what will come next, or pointing out plot holes. During the movie. Not afterwards.
And there's the inevitable 'what do my peers think' creeping paralysis. I never had peers before. I was solitary, writing for my own enjoyment and throwing it up online to see if anyone else liked it. Now I've made some fabulous friends in the Australian writing scene. They're lovely people. Talented, interesting, smart, well-read. And I'm terrified to put my writing in front of them because it's never going to be as good as theirs.
The worst part is: there's no going back to the good old days of ignorance.
Which is also the best part.
So how do I move forward? How do I regain the fresh confidence in my work and still employ all the knowledge?
I have no idea. I probably need to find a middle ground between paralysing lack of self-belief and ignorant over-confidence.
Aiki Flinthart is the author of the highly successful YA Portal fantasy series, 80AD. Her latest release, Shadows Wake, is due out on the 25th March. Pre-order here: Shadows Wake.
We're all human (although there are probably a few who would prefer to be shape-shifters, vampires, aliens, or elves.) With our human-ness comes emotions. With messy emotions come Reactions and Responses.
As authors, it's important to get into a character's head and understand their emotions - so we can create characters that readers can related to and bond with. But it's also important to understand the difference between Reactions and the two types of Responses. The late, great Terry Pratchett used to call them First thoughts, Second thoughts and Third thoughts.
A large percentage of the world lives immersed in their First thoughts, reacting to every event like human pingpong balls. Someone cut me off in traffic? Anger. Frustration. School shooting? Guilt. Fear. Concern. Anger. Winning first prize? Pride, joy, excitement.
We all have Reactions and trying to suppress them is like deliberately hitting your own hand with a hammer - painful, counterproductive, and quite stupid.
The trick is: what you DO with your reactions.
Second thoughts are your choices made as a result of your Reactions. They're your Responses to the event. They're what you do to improve how you feel immediately after something happens. Cut off in traffic: Anger. Frustration = flip the bird, yell, sideswipe, accident. School shooting: Guilt, fear, anger = thoughts and prayers (wtf?), inaction, protests, lobbying, othering of those who disagree with you. (Or, if you're writing a story, your character's response might be to go on the warpath for revenge). Winning first prize: Pride, joy, excitement = go call your mum, get drunk with your mates, post a selfie on Instagram.
But dig deeper, into Third Thoughts. This is where you start to use the bloody enormous brain. to recognise your Reaction, and let it go. Then you recognise what your normal Response would be to the situation and see it as a reflection of who you are NOW as a person. Then you decide what sort of person you would LIKE TO BE, and Respond as you imagine they would.
Cut off in traffic? Reaction: Anger. Frustration. First Response: desire to yell and flip the bird. Considered/Compassionate Response: Perhaps that poor bugger is really late for a make-or-break meeting. Open some space up and wave him in. What have you lost, really, but about 2 seconds of time sitting in traffic.
So it's a three stage growth process. First, recognise if you're stuck in your Reaction loop - feeling the reactions and never separating or letting them go; just wallowing. Then recognise whether your Responses are stupid, selfish, or counterproductive. And see what that reveals about who you are NOW. Then work out what Responses are more appropriate for the person you WANT to be.
And yes, sometimes the considered/compassionate response DOES mean standing up for what's right. It does not mean you're a doormat.
If you're an author, work out where each of your characters sit on the continuum of Reaction and Responses. That will help determine what their choices will be when you throw them in the deep end and pile obstacles in front of them.
And who knows, you might even work out where you sit on that continuum as well.
Aiki Flinthart Feb 2018
Because even warriors get to take breaks while on their great quests, I'm actually taking a short holiday from work.
And doing some writing - in between renovating our house.
And, because it's December, and heating up your house by baking pies in the middle of summer is the done thing, I'm also making pies. My son is helping me contribute to global warming. We now have 7 pies in the fridge. There were 8, but one seems to have mysteriously vanished, along with a tub of icecream.
Now I'm sharing the love, so you too can make your airconditioner die of overwork as it tries to cool down a house being heated by both sun and oven. (Clearly I'm talking to fellow southern hemisphere dwellers, here).
Anyway... my grandmother's sweet pumpkin pie recipe.
Makes 2 deep pies
16 tablespoons unsalted butter (colloquially known as a f*cktonne of butter)
4 tablespoons castor sugar
4 tablespoons vanilla
(mix these three together with a fork until smooth)
4 cups of self-raising flour
(mix this through the butter mixture. resulting pastry should stick to itself, but not stick to your fingers too much. If it does, add some more flour)
Press this mix into two pie tins
Put back into the fridge to chill
Cut up lots of pumpkin and cook (I use the microwave) until soft. Allow to cool
Zazz with a hand-held stick blender or similar until pureed
Into a bowl...
8 eggs, lightly beaten
6 cups of pumpkin puree
2 cups brown sugar (less if you're trying to reduce sugar)
1 teaspoon salt
4 teaspoons ground cinnamon
2 teaspoons ground ginger
2 teaspoons ground nutmeg
1 teaspoon ground cloves
6 cups Carnation evaporated milk (this comes in tins in the longlife milk aisle)
Mix above ingredients in order then use the hand-blender to give one final mix.
Preheat oven to 220deg
Pour mix into the two pie bases
Sprinkle nutmeg on top
Bake for 15min on 220deg
Reduce to 190deg for another 45min or so.
Eat either warm or cooled with cream/icecream
#warriorwomanwords #writerfighters #writerslife
When your character's in trouble, what's her go-to weapon? Is she better with cutting words, or with actual sharp-edged weapons? Does she carry one? If not, can she turn anything into a weapon?
Hair swords are a thing with me. No, not swords made of hair (creepy), actual pointy things that hold your hair up. Of course I could use a pen, or a chopstick - but where's the fun in that?
I now have around 7 different styles - from a pair handmade by my son out of old drill bits, to a katana, to this gladius replica I picked up in Italy (she says casually).
They make for good conversation pieces. They're not concealed weapons. Not concealed at all, officer. Look, see? Right there sticking up like an alien antenna. I'll let you in on a secret. Most aren't even sharp - pointy, yes, sharp, no.
However that doesn't stop them being useful. They make good letter openers, for instance (honest, officer). Of course, the point is (pun intended) almost anything handy can be used as a weapon by your character. (Some may debate the usefulness of cooked pasta, but it would, at least, serve as a distraction while she hit the badguy with something more lethal. And don't underestimate the pain-generating ability of a really hot pasta sauce in the eyes.)
Use your scene location description to add key details (sauce bubbling on the stove; the rich aroma of tomato pasta sauce). Then use that casually-mentioned detail as a weapon in the subsequent fight scene. Think outside the standard weapons array. (Jackie Chan movies are good at that.) Have fun with it. If you character is a think-on-her-feet kinda girl, use whatever's to hand and it will add either realism or comedy (or both) to your scene.
Having recently been interviewed by the awesome Greg Alldredge, I thought I'd turn the tables on him and ask him his own questions. Possibly I'm just lazy, but it's equally possible that I'm plain evil. Mwah hahahahah! (Cue thunder and lightning)
Greg lives and works in China, teaching theatre when he's not writing amazing stories.
Here's where you can find his work and annoy him
@G.Alldredge on FaceBook
@MrAlldredge on Twitter
greg.alldredge on Instagram
Before we start, Greg, any last words?
I never thought I'd have to answer my own questions!
Question 1: Tell me something about your book, not on your back cover.
In each one of my books, there is a little bit on me. Not so much in the voice of the characters but the way I feel or think, it is up to you to decide which part is me. Of course, this might change depending on my frame of mind while I am writing.
Question 2: Tell me something, not in your Bio.
My wife and I met when I was 18ish, we have been together for over three decades. That is something I am proud of.
Question 3: Tell me something about your process.
I’m supposed to have a process? I need to name my characters before I start. It grounds me to the story. I don’t outline per say, I name my chapters before I start and I add the main plot points that must happen in that chapter. However, I don’t always stick to the plan, and I often must add chapters as I go. I kind of write by the seat of my pants. I normally have the people in the story set, and the ending, there have been times the beginning, and the middle has changed on me during the writing.
Question 4: Inspiration comes from many different places. Describe your favorite working area.
We live in China. In our house, we have a sectional. I lay on it and write. I sit at the kitchen table to edit. I have found I love writing at one of the many places we have had the opportunity to travel to. Vung Tau Vietnam was a productive place for me.
Question 5: Many feel new experiences are important to writers. Where do you travel to find new motivation?
I love to travel. The places I travel often end up in my stories. Even if I don’t use the specific location, I use feelings, thoughts sensations I experience in the locations. In three weeks we are visiting the Mediterranean. I can’t wait for the new experiences waiting for me. This trip will take us to 26 countries visited.
Question 6: Many writers remember things from their past, if you don’t mind, describe your first date.
I will use the first date wife my wife. We met by a fluke, I am not sure you would call it a cute meet, she thought I was an ass. I was dancing with several female friends. She had come with a mutual friend, she left the dancehall with me… and other friends. She still tells everyone I was an ass when we first met, I was just having a good time.
Question 7: Describe something that most excites your imagination while you are doing it.
Listening to the correct music. I have five or six older bands I listen to depending on what I am writing. Something about the tempo or the sound really can get me going on a roll. I can crank out some words listening to Pink Floyd or the Moody Blues.
Question 8: What do you find yourself thinking about most days?
When not teaching, I think too much about books. Stories I have simmering waiting to come out. The good thing is once I sit down to write I normally have the story figured out in my head so I can crank out some words once I start.
Question 9: I have heard it told, writers, write about what they fear. What are you afraid of?
Funny thing I fear sharp objects, even though I am used to working with the most lethal cutting tools and knives, and I practice Stage Combat, but those weapons are blunt... I seem to have more cutting in my books or tearing. I don’t write a lot of gore into my books, but the cutting scenes give me the willies.
Question 10: Finished this sentence any way you want to. “And they all…”
Discovered they were more alike than different, eventually learning to live with one another. That is it much more fun to love thy neighbor that to constantly fight with them.
Thank you for your time. I hope you have a great end of the year! Any final thoughts?
I am a little light-headed after that.
Do check out Greg and follow him here
@G.Alldredge on FaceBook
@MrAlldredge on Twitter
greg.alldredge on Instagram
2017 has been a big year. Attended three conventions - at which I gave three well-attended workshops - spent a LOT of time editing various novels; edited a 100000 word short story anthology, finished writing the first draft of a new novel, wrote several short stories, got short-listed in the Writers of the Future competition, listened to a lot of writing-craft podcasts. Realised I still know nothing!
But 2018 is shaping up to be HUGE. Will be releasing IRON, the first in the Kalima Trilogy, come hell or high water. Also releasing all three of the Shadows trilogy. Cover release in January. 80AD book 1 is part of an amazing book bundle "On the Horizon" which will come out in May. (I have a fabulous artist working on new covers for 80AD).
Of course there's no guarantees anything will be a 'success' in the traditional, 'rolling-in-money' kind of way. But, to be honest, I'm just happy if a few people like my stories and enjoy my workshops and I get to connect with some like-minded souls in this isolating world we live in today.
See you on the other side of the New Year!
So you can probably tell - I've been working on updating my website. Saving money by doing it myself. AARRRGGHH! I can see why we pay people to do this stuff. Software is FRUSTRATING when you aren't familiar with it. Still, I've started and I'm one of those bloody-minded idiots who finishes things they start. Bear with me. It's going to take awhile to get all the links right and set up the store properly. In the mean time, pretend you're hearing muzak while you wait...dum dum de dum dum...
So having gone to the conference back in October, I spontaneously decided to pitch IRON to a publisher who was there. And they agree do publish, much to my astonishment. They're also interested in 80AD, which is equally amazing.
But I'm now ambiguous. Do I want the thrill of being 'traditionally' published and the simplification of all the 'stuff' that goes with that? eg: someone else doing the tricky bits, the distribution, the editing etc. Or do I want to have more control and try to do it all myself (retaining more of the income as well)?
I'm honestly not sure. So I figured, while I'm waiting for the slow wheels of traditional publishing to turn, I'll try out the messier side of self-publishing with different title..
Thus my first venture into printed self-published books begins. CreateSpace and Ingram Spark here I come.
Wish me luck
I've been learning. A lot. About writing and how to improve mine. There's still a LONG way to go, I know. I am far, far from being expert or even particularly good.
So that led me to wonder: when does one actually feel comfortable calling oneself a 'writer'?
Writing was just a hobby before. Something I'd always loved.
I sent 80AD in to half a dozen publishers, unsolicited, and got no responses. Probably because I didn't know how to format or what to write on the query letter. But who knows. Maybe it's awful and they all hated it.
So I e-published. And was astonished at the response. Over 300000 downloads of the whole series and it was in I-books top 100 for over a year.
that's pretty cool, I think. Not really having anything to compare it to, I don't know for sure.
They are up for free, because a) I had no confidence and b) I wanted to get them to an audience that had no credit cards - kids.
So does that make me a writer?
I recently went to a writers conference. It was excellent - full of interesting people, fascinating insight, excellent 'how to' tips and tricks. Worthwhile. But...
(Now here's where I have to apologise if I offend anyone who attended, because I really did love it and very much liked everyone I met.)
Being a newb at these conferences, I found it uncomfortable to meet new people and had to force myself to strike up conversations. Luckily, everyone was kind and polite. I was also (being insecure) watching reactions, perfectly aware that I did so in order to try and see where I stood in the hierarchy.
Because, as I discovered, there is a hierarchy. A 'Published author' means printed, paper copies done by a recognised publishing house, and is accorded much respect. E-books on their own are not as highly acclaimed though I suspect that may change over the next decade, though. Free books do not thrill writers, unless they're a lost leader to a chargeable series. (I totally understand as good, free writing sets unfair expectations in the minds of readers)
Writers who are earning a living from their craft also get higher cred than those who aren't - which is perfectly fair, really. They've worked freaking hard and ought to be respected for that.
What does all this mean? It means that writers are human. Often better-read, more self-aware and usually pretty damned intelligent, they are still subject to the ancient genetics of tribal/primate-troupe mentality. We still want to know who's the alpha and where we fit in. We still judge people, only it's on what they've written, what they've earned from it and how it's published.
I love learning from these amazing people, but I don't want to get caught up in the 'published-or-not' thinking. I just want to write. I don't want to spend hours scouring websites for story competitions to enter, or publishing houses to send manuscripts to. I don't want to angst over whether my story is deemed good enough by an editor I've never even met. I don't want to be judged by other writers based on whether I have a book in paper or in e-format.
So by the end of the conference, when asked the question 'so what do you write', I would answer 'nothing significant. I'm just learning'. Not through false modesty, because I am quite proud of what I've done and what I'm learning. It was because I really don't want to be compared to anyone else out there, inevitable though that is.
Do I care? Of course. Anyone who's on social media and says they don't care about what others think is... well, possibly unaware of the irony.
I'd rather not care, though.
I just want to write.
Getting published would just be a nice bonus.
I live in Australia - which tells you I have a sense of humour. We're a self-deprecating people, we Aussies. My aim is to, one day, vanish in a blinding flash of enlightenment. In the mean time, I'm doing my best to learn as many