Anthology: Published!

There has been a good reason for my absence from the internet. I’ve been working diligently on the Speculative Realms anthology and I’m proud to announce that it is now published.

Speculative Realms: Where there’s a will, there’s a way

A collection of fantasy, science fiction and horror stories
Edited by Sasha Beattie

Purchase now from Speculative Realms

Honestly, this project was hard work and I couldn’t have done it without the faithful help of a number of online friends – especially Sasha Beattie, the editor, and Heather Anderson, the artist.

And now that it’s finished, I must admit that I have had a change of heart regarding self publishing. It certainly isn’t for everyone, and I will continue to say that my novel length manuscripts will continue to be submitted through traditional publishers as a first option, but I no longer feel dead against self publishers. Self publishing has a stigma attached to it and I am finally removing the barriers that have always held me back from purchasing self published books.

Let’s face it, there are a lot of rubbish books on the market – and not all of them have been self published. If I purchase a book and don’t like the content I will not buy something written by that author again – that is the same if it is self published or not. And I have discovered that because advances are paid to authors prior to publication, from traditional publishers, and the fact that the publisher is not recouping that advance due to lack of sales, new writers are not being given a chance. The publishers are not willing to take a risk on unknown writers. I also know there are a lot of talented writers out there who haven’t been discovered yet. From frustration, those authors might turn to self publishing. They deserve a break. If something looks professional on the outside, you can presume that it is professional on the inside too. If it doesn’t look professional, then stay away from it.

Yes, this project has taught me a lot and I expect to learn a lot more in the coming months too.

Anthology Update

Before I go any further, I must mention the anthology I founded in early 2007. Unlike the other anthologies I’ve organised, this one did not die a natural death. In fact, I’m presently waiting for the first proof copy of the published book to arrive on my doorstep.

I learned from the other anthologies that short story collections are not favoured by publishing companies, unless stories by successful authors are included. I had no such luck in that department, so while editors were kind and encouraging, they quickly rejected every submission I made. It was for this reason that this latest project saw me going down a different path. I decided to try self publishing. Before you raise your eyebrows and tut, please hear me out.

My views on self publishing are quite simple. Do not do it with novel length manuscripts! Short stories, however, are a different matter altogether. Speculative Realms was born from that thought and…let’s make one thing quite clear…this is self publishing for me, but not for any of the other contributors. Approximately 130 manuscripts were rejected. No one, but me, makes decisions. Yes, I’ve asked other people’s opinions/advice along the way and I had a reading panel that helped me find the right stories, but I’m the one who made the final decisions in most areas of the project. The other contributors didn’t have a say in anything, so it wouldn’t be fair to say they self published. In fact, it would be totally wrong to suggest it.

Everyone associated with this project has put in a lot of time and effort to produce top quality stories. It’s been a good 15 months from the beginning to now and it’s not over yet. This has been an experience to remember, I will say that. It has been very stressful yet it has been so exciting too. Shortly, I will be moving into the marketing phase of the project. I have no idea what to expect, but I don’t expect it to be easy.

The Speculative Realms collection will be available for purchase in September 2008. I hope you will support fellow writers and buy a copy when the time comes.

Mage Mustering

In January 2006 I wrote a story for a competition in an Australian magazine. It didn’t win and now I’ve been rewriting the story for use in the upcoming Anthology publication.

The story has been completely revamped. I used the characters and the setting, but the plot took a lot of “bashing” and eventually changed altogether. The end result is a stronger plot, better characters and a world with a magical system. Yes, Mage Mustering (which was once called Guards’ Mustering) is the short story which caused my recent dilemma.

At the beginning of this week I set a personal goal: The story will be finished and edited by the end of this weekend.

Yesterday, being a public holiday due to the Apec meeting in Sydney, allowed me to turn my mind to writing in an aggressive way. I went to bed at my normal workday time on Thursday night, instead of staying up late as I usually do when I don’t have to worry about arriving at work with bleary eye sight. I set my alarm for 7.30am with the intention of sitting at the computer, all day if necessary, and getting the battle scene written.

By the time I had made a cup of tea – I honestly wouldn’t consider sitting at the computer without a cuppa, not first thing in the morning – and settled down to write it was 7.40am. I had a lot of trouble getting started and fought off the urge to play a game of pinball first. In the end, I bribed myself with the allowance of a well earned rest (with the promise of breakfast) after half an hour of writing. I thought that was fair.

I opened the file and forced myself to read the battle scene through from the beginning (yes, I made a few editing changes as I went) and then I started typing. Ten minutes later, or so I thought, my stomach grumbled and I looked at the clock and discovered that I had been typing for two hours – it was 9.45am – and the scene was finished.

Now that is what writing should always be like. It’s proof that I was so engrossed in what I was doing that I didn’t even know how much time had passed. I love it when that happens and wish it happened more often.

I have since gone through the entire story twice. I will edit it again this afternoon, but I think I can safely say Mage Mustering is done! 😀

Finding the REAL Problem

Last week I wrote about My Writing Future and a few days later I gave a Dilemma Update, and now I’m going to write about finding out what the real problem was.

For as long as I can remember I have always NOT enjoyed writing conflict/battle scenes. I tend to skip over the top of them when I read published novels, because I’m not interested in this part of the story. I suppose I want to skip over them when I’m writing too. However, I have written smaller – contained – fight scenes that don’t go on forever. I don’t particularly like them, but I manage. Where I have a problem is the conflict scenes that are on a much larger scale. You know the ones I mean – the Lord of the Rings or Magician type battles.

That narrowed things down for me a bit. It has nothing to do with genre, or what I had for breakfast, or my doubts about my writing…it has something to do with the actual battles in my stories. But what?

Then a friend asked me what magic my antagonist and protagonist could do. And then I was asked to describe that magic from a non-magical person’s point of view.

Excellent questions if he had asked someone who knew the answer. But he didn’t ask someone else, he asked me and he was referring to my story, which is something I should know ALL about. Right? Wrong!

Now we’re getting to the real problem. I don’t know anything…and I mean anything…about my world’s magical system. Is it any wonder I sit in front of the computer and play Minesweep or Pinball instead of writing? How can a writer weave their magic when they don’t know anything about magic? I’ve been writing long enough to know that it can’t be done. “Write what you know” means that if you haven’t done it personally, then research it until you can convince people you have. I’m a planner by nature, yet I completely pushed the details of this important scene to one side in the hope that it would write itself. And believe me…I waited for that to happen.

A simple question lead me to doing what I should have done before I started writing the short story…I researched magic. I built a magical system, I created attack and defence spells and I feel as if I can now tackle the scene because of it. In fact, the scene is three quarters written.

Here are some of the websites I visited in order to get me started in magic spells, systems, types, and how to put it all together. I hope you learn from them as much as I did.

The Rules of Matrin’s Magic by Holly Lisle – I think she’s talking about magic in one of her books, but it’s a good read for anyone wanting to use magic in their own story.

Tolkien, Fantasy and Magic by David Grubbs – This is talking about magic in the Tolkien series, but, again, it’s worth a read.

Spells of Dungeons & Dragons – Even though this one is written about Dungeons & Dragons, it will give you ideas about type of spells that your world might have.

Dilemma Update and Thanks

The following is the reply I posted on my message board and writers’ email group. I’m posted it here too, for the same reason I posted A Writing Future? a few days ago – this is an important part of my writing journey and it needs documenting.

First off, I’d like to thank everyone for taking my dilemma seriously and offering advice. I truly do appreciate your time and suggestions. I’ve read all the suggestions/thoughts and I have put a lot of thought into what’s stopping me from writing.

I was asked privately how I would feel if I was faced with the prospect of never writing fantasy again. Admittedly, the question shocked me, but it also helped me put things in perspective.

If I were told that I could never write again, I’d be devastated. I know I would be defiant and I’d write anyway…in secret if I had to. I love writing. I want to write. And I will continue to write. So writing is not the issue.

If I were told that I could never write fantasy again, I’d be upset and probably a little angry. Given time, I would get used to the idea and I know I would find another genre to write in. Not writing fantasy would not end my world and I think, for a while, I believed that writing and fantasy came hand in hand. I couldn’t do one without the other. That is not the case, however, and I think I can see that now.

I have many unfinished projects. All of them have stopped where the major conflict starts. All of them only need a few chapters written in order to see those manuscripts finished (some of them only need a few pages written). All of them are not written in the fantasy genre, although a majority of them are. I understand now that fantasy isn’t my problem, writing conflict is.

I admit that I have a fear of failure and a fear of success. I believe the fear of success used to be the dominant one and that’s why I wanted to use a pen name. My thoughts were that if anything published by me was not well received I could hide behind the pen name and no one need know it was me (especially family and friends). At this time I also need to admit that I kept my writing a secret from the people closest to me. However, I believe that has since reverted to a fear of failure, because everyone now knows I’m writing. As a result, I guess that makes it impossible to hide, so now I fear failure.

Reading this, I wouldn’t be offended if you saw signs of “empty nest syndrome” – a reluctance to finish the project and let all those strangers see my work; or, not wanting to let go of something precious. It’s strange, but I know I can brush this aside without a moments thought. I want these projects finished and out there. How can I be published if they are sitting in a box in a spare room? I’d be pushing my fear of failure to the extreme by having empty nest syndrome too. No, it’s just not me.

My problem is a lack of confidence when I’m writing a conflict scene and maybe a lack of imagination too…if I’m totally honest. As a reader I often skip over the top of these scenes because I find them boring. As a writer I can’t skip over them and that annoys me. However, all stories have conflict of some sort. It doesn’t have to be a huge epic battle scene to put the brakes on, even a two paragraph push and shove gives me the shudders (although I find verbal battles are less stressful). I don’t like confrontation in real life and I guess I don’t want to face them in my stories either. Old habits and all that…

I’ve isolated the germ, now I have to find a cure. Unless I decide to write non-fiction, I’m going to have to face this hurdle in order to move on with my writing. Many of you have made worthwhile suggestions, so what am I going to do to help myself?

The one consistent suggestion was “practice”. On the positive side, I have a lot of work to practice on, but if I think in those terms I’m going to push my brain into overload as it’s too much too soon.

Someone suggested a ghost writer for these scenes. I drooled at the suggestion. Wouldn’t it be heaven to write all the good stuff and leave the conflict/battle to someone else? Yes! The person who suggested this also said that I probably would find that I’d have to edit the scene to make it fit in with my style and perhaps I’d learn from that experience. Maybe after three or four projects I’d feel more capable of writing the scenes myself. Whilst a part of me loves this idea, an equal part of me hates it too. Should the story be published, I would feel as if I’d cheated. I think I’d be embarrassed by the fact that I didn’t write the entire story myself.

Maybe I need a coach instead. A coach would guide me through the scene. I guess they would ask relevant questions to get me going and then coax me into writing a paragraph or two. They would go over the crud I’d write and suggest something stronger, better. Maybe it would build up from there. Maybe those questions that got me started would form a template for future conflict scenes. And maybe the coach would help me with a couple of my projects until I got the hang of it. I don’t really know how it would fall together, but the list of questions to help me get started is something I would definitely like to pursue.

One of you has already provided a list of questions. They are:

1) Whose POV will you be watching the scene through?
2) What is the outcome of the fight? Do several people die? Are some of the goodies/baddies badly injured/killed?
3) Are the goodies going to win?
4) What weapons are involved? Will your POV character have one already? Find one during the fight? Or manage to take the baddy’s?
5) Is there magic? Does the POV character have magic? Does another character have magic and so the POV may only see flashes of light or thunderous sounds?
6) Does it finish with action or dialogue?

Do you have anything else that you think should be included?

In conclusion, I know an extra effort from me is required. If I let a thing like this make me back away from writing, then I have no right in calling myself a writer in the first place. I want to learn how to write these scenes and I humbly request your help. I’m open to how that help is given.

In addition: I had many writing friends step forward and offer me help. The response was amazing and I’m grateful to everyone. One of those people is currently helping me through this scene. I’ve already learned a lot about myself as a writer, but that will be explained in another post…on another day.

A Writing Future?

This is a modified version of a post I wrote and submitted to two writing communities, where I asked for help. I never intended to include in here, but as I’m at a important crossroads in my writing, I feel it should be documented on my own website.

I have a dilemma and wish to ask your advice/opinions.

I read fantasy novels (young adult and adult). I rarely read other genres, but I am trying to force myself to in order to broaden my horizons.

I write fantasy – young adult and adult in the past, but more recently my target audience has been children (8 to 12 year olds).

Now for my dilemma: Lately, over the last couple of months, I’ve been feeling as if I’m actually writing in the wrong genre. I love fantasy. I love reading it. But that doesn’t mean I’m good at writing it. I hate fight scenes; always have. I’m not imaginative enough for the insertion of magic into my work and often avoid it. I feel pressured because of this and often find I don’t write because my stories should have these elements in them.

That made me start thinking that I’m writing in the wrong genre, but, many years ago I started writing a romance (not the Mills and Boon type, more general romance). The first ten chapters flew onto the page with no effort on my part, but as soon as I reached the part where the major conflict came into play…I stopped writing. I knew exactly what had to happen. I knew exactly how the story would end. But I stopped writing. So maybe it’s nothing to do with genre. I have several other unfinished manuscript because of this too; all of them have stopped where the conflict begins.

Now, I’m rewriting a fantasy short story. I know exactly what happens from beginning to end. I’ve even written the closing scene, with is where the planning actually started. The story was built on the ending. I have written the beginning, but now I’m at the climax and I’ve stopped writing. For heavens sake, I have probably two or three pages to write and the story is finished, but I simply don’t want to write it. I feel as if I can’t write it. I feel as if this is going to make me stop writing. I’m serious.

Someone suggested that I have “empty nest syndrome”, but I disagree with that. I want my stories to be finished. I crave for it. I just don’t like conflict scenes…and I often skip over them when I read books too. I don’t like them and I don’t want to write them. But all stories have them!

I’ve been borrowing and buying writing books and reading them through (partially, anyway). I’ve been writing posts that are meant to inspire (me more so than visitors to the site). I used to see the scenes in my mind, but I simply couldn’t write them. Now my mind gets to that section and skips over the top of it leaving me with a vague impression. I know I’m not interested in that section of the story. I keep telling myself just write the damn thing in point form if I have to and build on it later, but I can’t do it. I had intended to make it a public goal, but I can’t even force myself to do that. I spent all day (on and off) Sunday writing. I don’t have writer’s block. I just don’t want to write the scene. I really want to use a swear word about now. I feel so angry with myself.

Writers write; everyone else just talks about it. I wrote that on this blog. It was meant to be a guilt trip aimed at me, but even that didn’t work. I’m “everyone else” and that is not good enough.

The whole thing is starting to upset me. I love writing. I hate writing the major conflict. This is the section that most writers can’t wait to get to and love to write the most. Why am I shunning it? What can I do to get over this? Am I writing the wrong genre? Is there a place to learn to write these scenes and feel comfortable doing so? If I don’t do something soon, I think I’ll back away from writing altogether…or maybe just go back to writing excessively long manuscripts just for me. At least there was no pressure then.

Russian Roulette or Author Guidelines

The last month has seen me increasingly busy over at Speculative Realm (which has now moved to its own website). The submissions are pouring in, which is great, but I’m seeing a pattern with the submissions which concerns me…yet also gives me (as a writer) hope.

I’m noticing that quite a few of the authors who have submitted have not read the guidelines. It’s frustrating for me and the other staff, as we are wasting time on stories that don’t even fit the theme. It doesn’t matter how great the story is, it has to be rejected because it’s not what we are looking for. The guidelines are not that long and would take only a few minutes to read, yet the author can’t be bothered and submits anyway. No wonder so many rejections are being sent out (I’ve calculated it to be 95%).

Not all rejections have been for that reason, of course, but I’d have to say at least 50% of them have been and that’s way too many. Every website that offers writing tips will clearly state “read the guidelines”. This is important and I would have thought it was common sense to do so. Obviously, I’m wrong.

Honestly, to ignore the guidelines is like playing Russian roulette. You are taking a huge chance with your manuscript; not to mention the time you are wasting while the manuscript is tied up with a publisher that may not even want that type of story. Editors receive so many submissions that they can be ridiculously horrid in the way they sift through the pile. For example, they can think to themselves “I don’t like green, so all manuscripts bound in anything remotely green will be rejected instantly” or “all emailed submissions received on an odd numbered day will be rejected”. You should be doing all you can to improve your chances.

I have received submissions with no cover letter too – not even a “here’s my submission”. Two submissions have been blank emails with an attachment. I feel that’s not professional and actually thought about rejecting both on the spot…but didn’t. However, I really do feel that sending in a submission like this is not good enough and will reject future submissions for that reason alone.

As a writer I have visited many published authors’ websites and have been told over and over again, that if you want to stand out from the crowd then you must treat your submission like you would treat any business transaction. Being naïve, I assumed everyone did this already, so how would that make my submission stand out from the rest of the slush pile. Now I know that a high percentage of submissions are done unprofessionally and that my manuscript would shine next to them. That gives me hope.

If you write and you want to be published, then take this one piece of advice and remember it always. Read the submission guidelines and give the editor what they want. The editor might be fussy, but that doesn’t matter. Do what they want. They will see that you’ve taken the time to read their guidelines and that might convince them to take the time to read your manuscript.

The End of a Project

In the publishing industry there are definitely ups and downs. Whilst I have been enjoying the “up” of a recent important submission, today I am saddened by a “down” and must announce the end of the 2005 Anthology project.

This project was the second time I co-ordinated an anthology on the message board. At the time, the first collection of stories were hot off the press and I spent many hours searching for a publisher while the second collection of stories were going through an exhausting procedure of editing and rewrites.

The first collection of stories didn’t find publication. However, many editors were attracted by the concept and “thought” about ways of making such an anthology work. But they never managed to get past the thinking and as the industry is not open to anthologies written by unknown writers, the anthology failed to find a publisher. Now, I can understand the reasoning behind this, even if at the time I couldn’t. It all comes down to sales and money. Readers will buy an anthology when they recognise names, but they avoid a book filled with unknowns. It’s a pity, but it’s the printing industry.

Unfortunately, the first group of anthology stories were returned to their owners at the beginning of the year and now the second set of stories follow suit. I do wish all the writers the best of luck finding a publishing on their own. In fact, I feel certain that if the writers do submit, they will be successful…eventually.

I can’t speak for the other writers, but I learned a lot from participating in the anthologies. This experience can only move me further along the road to publication.

In 2007, I am co-ordinating another anthology, but this one is different to the others. In the past, the writers had a say in all decision making. This year, they don’t. This year, the stories will be published. Visit Speculative Realm for more details.