Category Archives: guest post

Writing short stories vs novels by Amanda Pillar

Graced Ebook High ResThis week, Amanda Pillar is my guest! Amanda’s new novel, Graced, has just been released, but she’s  written mainly short stories until now.  Today she talks about the difference between the two.

I began writing back to front. Rather than tackle the shorter and more attainable short story, I started with a novel. I spent hours tapping away at my 386 computer, painstakingly crafting a derivative and unimaginative first person fantasy that thankfully never saw the light of day. In fact, it was several (short) novels later that I wrote my first short story.

Looking back, I’ve been writing short stories for longer than I initially realised. Whenever we had creative writing at high school, I’d use my 500 word essay to write about vampires or witches or something magical, much to the annoyance of my year 10 teacher, who wanted me to write something else. But I persisted. In fact, one of my high school essays became one of the first short stories I ever had published.

It was at this point that I realised I needed to put the novels aside and work on my short fiction. I’d gone about getting published the wrong way; at least that’s what I thought at the time. I’d shopped my second novel around to publishers (agents, what were they?) and had received good feedback, but I was missing something. What, they couldn’t say, and I didn’t know. So I decided to refine my craft.

Writing short stories taught me that they were hard. In a novel, the reader is a bit more forgiving if you take a few pages to flesh out the character; in a short story, you have a couple of paragraphs. And yet, my novel writing had taught me how to develop a character, how to learn all their ins and outs. So this helped. I approached short stories with fully formed characters.

Short stories also taught me that the first sentence is paramount; the hook really is vital. Just as important as the following paragraphs. Every word in a short story has to count. Superfluous words are the enemy; there’s more lenience in novels for that kind of thing. That’s where your adverbs and ‘filter’ words really hurt.

And then I tried to write flash fiction. If anything, that is even more difficult. 1,000 words or less to make a reader 1) care about your character, 2) develop a plot and 3) have a conclusion. 1,000 may sound like a lot, but when you start out writing novels, 1,000 words is nothing. It’s often less than most opening chapters!

I then began editing as well. This helped my writing more than some might realise. It’s easy to pick out the errors in other people’s work, but it also made me realise some of the very common issues I kept noting I was guilty of, too. And so I began to look at each short story of my own more critically.

Then I went back to writing novels.

The hardest transition between the two is for me is pacing. And yet writing short stories means that every chapter I write in novel hopefully begins in a punchy way and ends with a conclusion of some sort, whether it be cliff-hanger or resolution. Every word in my novels now counts in a way it didn’t previously.

So for me, I think my roundabout way of going from novel writing to short stories and back again has taught me more about character development, plotting and word use than I may have achieved going from short stories to novels, but then, I’ll never really know. I just know that I love writing both.

About Graced:

City Guard Elle Brown has one goal in life: to protect her kid sister, Emmie. Falling in love – and with a werewolf at that – was never part of the deal.

Life, however, doesn’t always go to plan, and when Elle meets Clay, everything she thought about her world is thrown into turmoil. Everything, that is, but protecting Emmie, who is Graced with teal-colored eyes and an unknown power that could change their very existence. But being different is dangerous in their home city of Pinton, and it’s Elle’s very own differences that capture the attention of the Honorable Dante Kipling, a vampire with a bone-deep fascination for a special type of human.

Dante is convinced that humans with eye colors other than brown are unique, but he has no proof. The answers may exist in the enigmatic hazel eyes of Elle Brown, and he’s determined to uncover their secrets no matter the cost…or the lives lost.

Buy Graced:

About Amanda:

Amanda_small-1Amanda Pillar is an award-winning editor and author who lives in Victoria, Australia, with her husband and two cats, Saxon and Lilith. Amanda has had numerous short stories published and is working on her eighth fiction anthology. Graced is her first novel. By day, she works as an archaeologist travelling around Australia.

Narrelle M Harris is a Melbourne-based writer. Find out more about her books, smartphone apps, public speaking and other activities at www.narrellemharris.com.

The Peacemaker Playlist – guest post by Marianne de Pierres

Peacemaker Tour Banner

A lot of writers listen to a particular set of songs while writing a specific book. It helps to set the mood while writing and can sometimes influence a little of what’s going on.

With Marianne de Pierres’ new book Peacemaker out soon, I asked her to share the playlist she listened to while writing.

The soundtracks that authors compile while writing novels are often quite revealing: better, at times, than an interview. Thanks to Spotify, you can now hear PEACEMAKER soundtrack in all its quaint glory. My dad would approve!

Gunfighter-Ballads-Robbins-CD Big Iron – Marty Robins

 Wild, Wild West – The Escape Club

 Riders on the Storm – The Doors

 Timber – Pitbull/Kesha

 Rawhide – Frankie Laine

Alvin_harlan county line Prairie Fire – Marty Robbins

 Harlan County Line – Dane Alvin

 Bad Things – Jace Everett

 Saving Grace – Everlast

 They Call the Wind Mariah – Paint Your Wagon

Timber Pitbull Kesha The Gospel of No Name City – Paint Your Wagon

 There’s a Coach Coming In – Paint Your Wagon

 Counting Stars – OneRepublic

 Royals – Lorde

 Sitting on the Dock of the Bay – Otis Redding

Do you listen to music when you write? What playlists have you got for your books?

Narrelle M Harris is a Melbourne-based writer. Find out more about her books, smartphone apps, public speaking and other activities at www.narrellemharris.com.

Night Terrace’s Adventurous Woman by Ben McKenzie

Night-Terrace-house-and-logo-1024x830Recently, I’ve been very excited by a new Kickstarter project –  the SF comedy radio serial Night Terrace (made by the creators of the Splendid Chaps podcasts)about Anastasia Black (Jackie Woodburne of Neighbours fame) a retired world-saving adventurer who finds her quiet life irritatingly interrupted when her house starts inexplicably travelling through space and time. Stuck with her (or indeed the other way around) is Eddie Jones (Ben McKenzie), who was trying to sell her something at the time.

Of course, the show needs funding first!

The makers of the Night Terrace radio series knew from the start that they wanted their lead character to be an adventuring woman.  Ben McKenzie – actor, writer and co-producer of the series – writes about why.

Read on! (or skip straight to pledging support for Night Terrace at Kickstarter.)

Night Terrace’s Adventurous Woman

When we started to work out Night Terrace, the Chaps wanted to make a show that was unique but Doctor Who-esque: a versatile travelling narrative based around a central hero, more “smarts and adventure” than “violence and action”. We all thought it would be great to have a female Doctor, and we’re among those were a little disappointed that Twelve is still a man (though we are quite excited about Peter Capaldi). But why wait for the BBC to get with the times? “Female protagonist” was one of the first things to go on the list of ingredients that eventually became Night Terrace.

But why does it feel so important to have a female character who’s Doctorish?

For starters, the Doctor is a character with unprecedented freedom. He travels wherever and whenever he likes. He does what’s right where he can, but not out of obligation (unlike Starfleet Captains, for example, who are bound by duty and their jobs). On the whole he’s never been tied down with responsibilities of family and he needs no further motivation than being intrigued or enjoying himself. Even his love life allows him to wander. His relationship with River Song, whatever else it might be, is clearly at both of their convenience.

Other male characters have similar freedom, like Hercules or MacGuyver, but female genre heroes always have to justify their status as adventurers.

Xena is trying to atone for past wrongs; Buffy has been chosen by fate (and is trying to live a normal life alongside her role as Slayer); Helen Magnus was initiated into the family business by her father; Lara Croft had a traumatic experience in her youth which leads her to seek out danger. A woman who travels and has adventures “just because” bucks the idea that unless she has some kind of excuse, she ought to be settling down and having children.

It’s fair to say that our character, Anastasia Black, isn’t entirely free – her adventures are forced upon her, and initially at least she resents them. But she’s been an adventurer a long time before Night Terrace begins. And despite the interruption to her retirement, she starts to realise that without the red tape of her old job she might actually enjoy saving civilisations and exploring new worlds. Though she’s still learned to be a bit cynical, at her age.

Speaking of age: the Doctor is also old. Sometimes he looks young, but certainly among the Chaps we feel it’s best when a young actor captures that feeling of an old man on the inside. He’s presumably hundreds of years old when he begins his journey – he’s already a grandfather – and yet there’s rarely a sense that he’s too old to cope with adventuring.

Of course the Doctor is a special case, being a nearly immortal Time Lord, but male human adventurers are allowed to be older too. Sean Connery, Harrison Ford, Bruce Willis, Patrick Stewart, Liam Neeson and Ian McKellan didn’t stop at 40. It’s only very recently that older women have been allowed adventures: Helen Mirren in RED, Judi Dench as 007’s boss M, or Amanda Redman in New Tricks. Like them, Anastasia is of retirement age, but she’s not slowing down or stopping until she wants to.

But perhaps most importantly, the Doctor is a brain-hero at least as much as a fists-hero (or so we like to think of him, despite all evidence to the contrary). Such heroes are fairly thin on the ground, but among female characters they seem even less likely. Xena, Buffy, Lara Croft and the others are all arse-kickers; even Captain Janeway is a fairly ruthless starship captain by Starfleet standards, more Kirk than Picard, and most of the time she has people to do the science for her (though it’s worth noting both B’Lanna Torres and 7 of 9 are sciencey and can kick arse when required).

Helen Magnus of Sanctuary is probably the only counter-example, and indeed she has some other Doctorish qualities as well.

So we’ve put all these traits into Anastasia. She’s a trained scientist with decades of field experience studying unusual phenomena. If the Third Doctor had never shown up and Liz Shaw had stayed with UNIT for thirty years, she might have ended up like Anastasia: brilliant, capable, knowledgable, and sick of working for The Man. She’s a real pleasure to write for, she’ll be played by the brilliant Jackie Woodburne and I can’t wait for all of you to meet her.

– Ben McKenzie

WHAT IS NIGHT TERRACE?

Night Terrace is a new audio comedy from the minds behind ABC1′s Outland, ABC2′s Bazura Project and the hit podcast Splendid Chaps. It follows the adventures of Anastasia Black (played by Neighbours veteran Jackie Woodburne), who used to save the world for the government but now just wants a quiet life in retirement. So when her house inexplicably starts travelling in time and space she’s understandably miffed. She’s also not exactly thrilled about Eddie Jones, who happened to be on her doorstep at the time and is now her unlikely fellow traveller. University hasn’t prepared Eddie to cope with other worlds or time paradoxes, but he still thinks they’re a step up from selling electricity plans door-to-door.

Together Anastasia and Eddie will face alien invasions, hideous monsters, and a shadowy figure known only as “Sue”. All the while hoping the house will eventually take them home…

The team are crowdfunding the first series of Night Terrace right now. Jane Badler, chanteuse and actress (the original Diana of the original V!) is also slated for a role if the show is funded. They’re getting close to their target – and you can help them reach their funding goal at Kickstarter. I have a Key to the Terrace, but if you’re really keen you can be listed as a producer!

Who are your favourite female lead characters in TV, film or books?  Feel free to leave a comment!

Narrelle M Harris is a Melbourne-based writer. Find out more about her books, smartphone apps, public speaking and other activities at www.narrellemharris.com.

The Potency of Vampires

9E2A6655Today’s guest blog is by Kevin Powe. Kevin is an international voice actor based in Melbourne, Australia. He’s been the voice of Judge Dredd, a farm of singing animals, a daemonic e-sports announcer and much more. He is currently developing an animated series. He loves great stories in all forms, and things that go bump in the night, in every sense of the word. You can find Kevin being most active over at his Facebook page. Come say hi!

I remember my first real experience with the potency of vampires. I’d had glimpses before; shadowy figures flickering at the edge of my awareness; cheerful Peter Pan-like monsters lurking in collapsed hotels, but it was only hunting this sickness back to its origin, Van Helsing style, and reading Bram Stoker’s Dracula that really drove it home.

I’ve always loved the implied morality tale in vampires being trouble brought upon yourself, literally by invitation into your home. But it was in that amazing, horrifying scene with Dracula at the foot of Jonathan and Lucy’s bed that I saw them as the ultimate transgressor; a predator faster, stronger and more mysterious than any of its hunters, and so erotically charged.

Reading back over the scene to refresh my memory while writing this post, I was surprised to see the eroticism in the imagery; that terrible inversion of breastfeeding as an invasion of Lucy’s body in such a private place, rather than in any magnetism inherent in Dracula himself. Unf. So many layers.

Vampires have been bestial and unthinking for us, regal and reclusive, erotic and irresistible, have stood in for our fear of AIDS, fear of death, of stagnation, of our own free will unchecked, our looming energy crisis.  They’ve even been creepy, relatively gormless eternal companions who love baseball.

It’s such a fertile ground for variation, for telling different stories. After picking up a copy of our lovely host Narrelle Harris’ The Opposite of Life finally, I’m really looking forward to tucking into it for exactly that reason. And doubly so for evoking the feeling of Melbourne so strongly. Fiction that slips an awareness of setting and a love of a place you know has a special place in my heart.

If you dig clever, well-crafted writing – and I’m guessing you do, given your perusing of this blog, I would also highly recommend Strange Loves: Vampire Boyfriends by the wonderfabulous Miellyn Fitzwater Barrows. It’s a Gamebook Adventure by Tin Man Games. Gamebook Adventures are a modern update of the old Choose Your Own Adventure or Fighting Fantasy books you might remember from the 80s, where you are an active participant in the story you’re reading, able to make choices that alter the direction the story takes. It’s part story, part game, and you can play/read them on most iOS and Android devices, as well as your computer.

Vampire Boyfriends takes a sly tilt at some of the bigger, crazier vampire stories around, and gives you license to steer your life toward some pretty wild destinations, like becoming a vampire hunter, best-selling novelist, or a vampire yourself. And you get Miellyn’s fantastic writing along the way.

Speaking of which: if you’re of a writerly persuasion (and there’s a strong chance again given that you are given that you’re here) Miellyn is on the cusp of launching Tonic Industries with Hilary Heskett Shapiro, her writing partner (in crime).

Tonic is a story consulting business focusing on helping develop ideas or evolve existing content. It’s not out there yet, but you can keep an eye on Miellyn’s doings over at Gorgeous Robot. I’d highly recommend it as both Miellyn and Hilary are two people who really know their game, and Miellyn is one of the most generous people I know with her wisdom. When preparing for the GenreCon 2013 panel I was on with Narrelle last year, Miellyn sent me some wonderfully comprehensive writing advice that was a huge help to a narrative novice like me!

So, why are vampires on the brain for me currently, when zombies are the monster du jour? * **

Because I’m privileged enough to be given a chance to play in another author’s take on vampires, as I’m currently finishing up an audiobook of Karen Fainges’ Destiny Sets, which has its own unique take on the relationship between vampire and prey. You can find Karen over here. It’s not the first time I’ve had a chance to play in the broader world of vampires, either. My first audiobook was The Keeper back in 2011, which is a wonderful love story that dealt with themes of morality, immortality and companionship in a touching way. (It’s worth warning that the story has some religious elements, which did offend some surprised listeners)

Once you’ve dealt with the challenge of delivering both sides of a fairly descriptive sex scene in an audiobook, it’s difficult to get stumped going forward.

While I love the wild variation of vampires, to me they’re at their most potent as mysterious, sensual predators. Outsiders who are able to move undetected amongst us for a time. A lot like the drifter gunslinger archetype, which I also have a huge soft spot for.

What are vampires when they’re at their best (worst) for you?

FOOTNOTES

* Check out this episode of the GeeksOn podcast for an interesting class-based deconstruction of monster mythology by David Brin

** Du Jour means seatbelts.

Narrelle M Harris is a Melbourne-based writer. Find out more about her books, smartphone apps, public speaking and other activities at www.narrellemharris.com.