Category Archives: writing

Heroes, Muses & Perfect Strangers

It took me about a week to realise that the subject header of my last blog post was a Perfect Strangers reference. I could have gone with something highbrow and literary. But no. I went with Balki and Coosin Larry.

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But that wasn’t the important part. The important part was that Paladero: The City of Night Neverending was out and available to buy/borrow/definitely not steal. And it even continues to be so!

Reviews are just starting to come through now. Waiting for feedback on a book is always a tricky time for any writer. You don’t dare trust the good reviews, you feel exposed by the bad ones. Either way, you try not to let them sway you too much.

That said, the review that’s probably meant the most to me so far has come from Tina Healy of Gender Diversity Australia (or GenDA for short). Keen-eyed readers will note that Tina is thanked in the book’s acknowledgements after she very generously went to the effort of reviewing the unpublished manuscript to ensure that the depiction of transgender characters was handled sensitively.

In asking her to do this, I provided her with a comprehensive listing of all the relevant sections of the manuscript to use as a shortcut. But she went the extra mile of reading the whole thing to ensure she had a full understanding of the story, and then went the extra extra mile of providing the following review:

For trans people, being trans is a major influence in our lives, but not the whole story. Most of us just want to live our lives in the shade of gender with which we identify. Steven Lochran is a master storyteller. He has written a gripping fantasy story which includes a transgender character, with an amazing insight and feel for the lived experience of trans and gender diverse people. His exploration of the impact families have on the lives of trans people touched so many memories for me. I know they will resonate with others in my community.

It’s great to see stories being written where gender diversity is a part of the context of the story, rather than the focus. Thanks so much for the opportunity to review “Paladero Book 2”. I recommend it.

Now to be perfectly honest, as proud as I am of that review, I was hesitant in posting it. The last thing I want is for anyone to think I’m trying to pat myself on the back. But Tina went to the effort of reading the book and writing this critique, and I thought it was only right that I share it.

Because it was Tina who was one of the main inspirations behind the book and its inclusion of a transgender storyline. She and I met when she was first starting to publicly transition, and I found her openness and courage inspirational. At the same time, I remember reading articles and seeing news reports about transgender kids taking their own first steps in transitioning, and it led me to think about where those kids could find representation in fiction. After all, as fellow Hardie Grant Egmont author Melissa Keil wrote in an article for The Guardian:

Everyone deserves to see themselves as a hero – to see their life, their reality, in all its complexity, reflected in their books. For young people, at a time in their lives that can be isolating, and fraught with questions of body image, sexuality and identity, this representation can be vital.

Thankfully, the issue of representation – while still far from perfect – has seen some improvement over the last few years. Traditionally speaking, however, transgender characters (let alone transgender heroes) have been few and far between.

In 2013, when I was first outlining what would become Paladero, the major examples that immediately sprang to my mind were Viola from Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night and Mulan, both of whom were forced to present as male rather than personally identifying that way. I also thought of Grant Morrison’s version of DC Comic’s Shining Knight character, who was originally conceived in the Mulan mold as a girl masquerading as a boy to fit into a patriarchal society, and only later evolved under writer Paul Cornell into being a true transgender character.

My idea was to have a character who identified as transgender from the start, and that I would use the inspiration I found from talking with Tina as a guide in achieving that. The challenge was to present this character in a pseudo-medieval setting without any of the modern terminology we have to discuss these issues in a sensitive fashion. It was here that I relied on the insights of sensitivity readers, with Sally Goldner of Transgender Victoria very generously helping with The Riders of Thunder Realm. But I was keen to get Tina’s insights, given the role she’d played in setting me on this path.

Unfortunately I had lost touch with Tina in the intervening period. But I didn’t need to worry about that for too long, as she had gone on to become an active campaigner in the LGBTIQ community, which enabled me to reach out to her. And she was just as kind and generous as I remembered her being, happily agreeing to read the manuscript and offer her insights.

So for all this – from the initial inspiration she provided through to the feedback and encouragement – I wanted to take the opportunity to publicly thank Tina, to highlight the fantastic work she’s been doing, and to let those readers out there struggling with their own issues of identity and acceptance: you are not alone. There are places you can go, people you can talk to, and a thousand unending chances that tomorrow will be better. You can be the hero that you’re looking for.

Now, having gotten quite serious there, I think it’s only fair that I leave you with the thing that’s been whirling around in my head ever since writing the intro to this post…

 

Because if I have to suffer with this, then so do you.

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Paladero Book 2 is out, and so we do the dance of joy!

It’s here! After months of waiting, it’s finally here!

Captain America: Civil War is available to stream on Netflix Australia! Yaaaaay!

Oh. And also.

PALADERO: THE CITY OF NIGHT NEVERENDING! (Or ‘Paladero Book 2’ for all you googlers out there).

This requires many gifs of celebration!

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Ugh. I think I have motion sickness now. Sorry about that.

But yes, the book is out, free, escaped its author’s clutches to be purchased, borrowed, and most of all read. I hope very much that you like it.

And to celebrate, Goodreads is hosting a competition to win your very own copy. This will be open to Australian and New Zealand readers through the month of February. I wish you good fortune, and may the odds be ever in your favour.

I’ll be back to post more about the book very soon, but in the meantime I’ll be working on the manuscript for Book 3. After all, there’s no rest for the wicked … or even the wishy-washy!

Happy reading.

7 Tips for Aspiring Authors

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I recently had the opportunity to teach a workshop at Writers Victoria on Young Adult Fantasy. I’ve been a member of both WV and, before that, the Queensland Writer’s Centre from when I was first trying to get published over ten years ago. So to say the prospect was both daunting and thrilling is a bit of an understatement.

I needn’t have been so daunted, however, as everyone who attended turned out to be bright and eager and articulate and engaged, and together we discussed all things YA Fantasy, as well as the challenges of working on a manuscript and trying to get it published.

More than anything, it took me back to when I was working on my first (unpublished) manuscript, toiling away with what felt like a dim hope that somehow, someday, it might end up as an actual book. I remember feeling very confused at the time, and frustrated, and uncertain.

I’m often asked what advice I have for aspiring authors, and it was no different with the workshop. And in thinking it over, I came up with the advice that I know I could have used when I was starting out. So with that in mind, these are my 7 tips for aspiring authors. Why 7? Because I had to stop myself somewhere, otherwise I’d still be going.

 

1. Think three-dimensionally.

We read a book from beginning to end, so naturally we think we have to write a book from beginning to end. Not so. If you’ve gotten to a point in your manuscript that you’re stuck on but you have an idea of what happens later on in the story, then jump to writing that part of the story. Come back later and fill in the blanks. Nobody will know the difference in the finished product. You’re not a bricklayer. You’re a time traveller. Don’t be afraid to jump around.

 

2. Work on more than one project at a time.

When you’re writing your first manuscript, you naturally want to put everything you have into it. All your time, all your imagination, all your passion. And that’s as it should be. If you’re going to sit down and write tens of thousands of words, those words need to be on something that you care deeply about.

The problem comes when you start re-drafting, and re-drafting, and re-drafting. You want this manuscript to be perfect. You want it to have the best possible chance of finding an agent, landing a deal, becoming a bestseller. Your entire worth as a writer and aspiring author becomes laser-focused on this one book.

But nobody wants to become an author so they can publish just the one novel. Unless you’re Harper Lee. Or JD Salinger. And I’m going to stop listing counter-examples now because it’s not helping me make my point.

Most writers want to go on keep writing books. So my advice is this. Write your manuscript. Re-draft it. Make it the strongest piece of writing that you can. But while you’re doing that, permit your imagination to wander. Think of what you might like to write next. Jot down notes. Write a fragment here, a line there.

In other words, start developing the idea. Filmmakers often develop multiple projects simultaneously, and end up going ahead with the one that gets the most amount of momentum and interest behind it.

And the reason for doing this as a writer is two-fold; firstly, it means you don’t live or die on the fortunes of one manuscript. More importantly, it means that if you end up getting a meeting with a publisher or an agent and they inevitably ask if you’re working on anything else, you can say that you are and then pitch them that project at the same time.

 

3. Nothing comes out as perfectly as the way you imagined it.

Before the story moves onto the page it first lives in our heads as a sequence of images, possibly tied together by a few select words and phrases. The work comes in trying to connect the dots and transmit all those images, thoughts, and feelings into the heads of our readers.

We are very rarely happy with how we accomplish this. We can be satisfied, we can feel that we’ve more or less done it, but it’s never the same as how we first envisioned it. It might be better, it might be worse, but mostly it’s just different.

And I think one of the major reasons we keep writing is because we keep striving for that moment where we reach into our skulls, pluck out the ideas exactly as we imagined them, and plop them down in front of everyone as if we’ve just pulled a rabbit from our hats.

But if you’re having trouble with that, don’t get frustrated. Don’t give up. You’re just experiencing the same anxieties as every other writer, from beginners starting out through to Booker winners working on their latest masterpiece.

 

4. Know what your book is about and where it sits in the market.

I was once talking to a friend about the book they were writing and I asked them what it was about. They couldn’t say. Now to be fair, “What is your book about?” is a deceptively tricky question, especially when you’re in the midst of writing it and still discovering that for yourself. But it’s a question you’re eventually going to have to answer, and that you’re going to have to answer confidently.

If this is a question that baffles you, my suggestion would be to think of it this way; if you worked in a bookstore and you were trying to recommend this great new novel, how would you do it? What other books would you compare it to, what would you identify as the “hook” of the story that would capture a reader’s imagination?

And if that’s too tricky, I’d suggest breaking it down further. Still imagining yourself as a bookseller, pretend that a customer comes in raving about your book. What do you imagine they’d pick out as its distinguishing characteristics? What other books would you in turn recommend to them?

When a publisher is considering picking up a new manuscript, they look at how it fits with what’s currently popular and what they think is missing from the market. If you can identify those elements in your work, you’re already one step ahead of all the other manuscripts that are stacked up on the publisher’s desk.

 

5. Take all advice with a grain of salt.

When we’re starting as writers, we naturally seek out the advice of those who’ve gone before us. Many authors will provide you with long list of “Dos” and “Do nots”. But those “rules” are the ones that worked for them. Pick and choose the advice that works for you. Try different methods. Don’t worry if you’re doing something “wrong”. Writing is an art form. There are no rules in art. But that said, try to avoid using too many adverbs. And don’t mix your metaphors. And eat all your vegetables, they’re good for you.

 

6. There is no straight line to publication.

No author can tell you the secret of how they got published in a way that can be perfectly replicated. Just as every story is different, so is every path to publication. You might get an agent on your first try or it might not happen until your second, or your third. It might not happen at all, and you may never even need an agent in the first place. You may know someone in publishing who can help you, you may live in the back of nowhere with no contacts and no place to start. There are no qualifications you need, there are no tests to be taken, there is no secret door to pass through. All you can really do is…

 

7. Just keep writing.

Don’t get bogged down in research. Don’t focus on one element of your story at the expense of all the others. Don’t draft and re-draft and polish and tweak and hyperventilate and rinse and repeat. Write. Keep writing. Finish writing, and start writing something else. Send your writing out into the world, and celebrate or console yourself as need be. And then go back and keep writing.

The only time it’s guaranteed that you won’t succeed is when you stop trying.