Blog Archives

Of Cowboy-Knights and Long Delays

I try to avoid writing “Where I’ve been and why I haven’t been blogging” posts as I feel they’d be woefully repetitive at this point. To describe my blogging as “sporadic” these days would be more than generous. But! There’s a very good reason for that…

Without having made much fanfare about it – self-sabotaging modest as I am – I signed a four-book deal with Hardie Grant Egmont at the end of last year. Retrospective huzzah!

Since then, I’ve been buried in a cycle of writing, editing, proofreading, writing some more, editing some more, procrastinating, writing, sneaking off to watch Youtube, writing, editing…oh, and also working full-time and trying to maintain some semblance of a life. After all, dem bills don’t pay themselves, and that lawn don’t keep itself mowed.

God. Mowing the lawn. Is that really the most exciting example of living life that I could come up with? Heavens to Murgatroyd.

Anyway.

What’s the new series about, you might ask? And even if you didn’t ask and don’t care, I’m going to tell you anyway. That’s just the kind of guy I am.

It’s a Middle-Grade Fantasy series called Paladero, with the first book subtitled The Riders of Thunder Realm. The next natural question is ‘What the h-e-double-hockey-sticks is a pala-whateveryousaid?’

“Paladero” is a term I came up with all the way back in the hazy days of 2007. First I took the word paladin (another term for ‘knight’), and then I took the word vaquero (the Spanish term for ‘cowboy’) and I smooshed ‘em together and came up with ‘paladero’.

Which is exactly what these characters are; they’re cowboy-knights. Or cowperson-knights, to be more specific.

Cowperson-knights who ride dinosaurs, to be even more specific than that.

Awwwww yeah.

This is an idea I’ve been working on for nearly a decade now in one form or another, and it’s so tantalisingly close to being out there in the world yet still so far away. The tentative release date for The Riders of Thunder Realm is currently July 2016, though this may shift depending on how I go with that whole writing-editing-watchingYouTube-writing-editing-working-living thing.

One way or another, I’ll make sure to update you as things progress. As it stands right now, I’ve seen some early cover designs that look so immensely exciting that I can’t wait to share them, but unfortunately I have to demonstrate some of that “patience” stuff your parents always warned you about. Blah.

But! Again! In the meantime I’ll be hosting another Writers Victoria workshop. This time it’ll be taking place over two days, which means we can get into even more detail about the writing and publishing process. It’s YA for Beginners, it’s Saturday 24 October to Sunday 25 October, it’s going to be awesome, and you can find more details on the WV website.

And even if I’m not blogging, you can still find me online. I have links all over this page to my Twitter, Instagram and Tumblr accounts. Please check ‘em out, give ‘em a follow, and stroke my fragile artiste ego. Tis much appreciated.

Til next time.

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.

Making It Up As I Go Along

Last year, I was asked if I’d be interested in being a guest blogger for Writing Teen Novels. I was flattered to be asked and of course said yes. The aim was to write 12 posts that would run once a month through 2014.

The first has just been posted.

If you’re interested in writing, and writing for young people in particular, I highly recommend checking out the blog. It’s packed full of insightful commentary from published authors, all hoping to share their expertise. And me too, making it up as I go along…which, really, is the definition of storytelling, isn’t it?

Hopefully this will go a little way towards explaining why I’ve been so quiet with the blog lately. The other explanation is this…

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This won’t make any sense now, but with some luck it should with time. Hopefully I’m not jinxing myself by talking about it too soon.

I’m planning on writing up both a playlist for War Zone and another entry in the Making of a Superhero series of posts. With some luck that’ll happen before another New Year’s Eve rolls around. But in the meantime, make sure to keep an eye on Writing Teen Novels and please feel welcome to leave some feedback. I’d love to answer any questions anyone might have.

…or at least make up an answer.

Learning As We Go: New Adult & The Digital Revolution

I’ve been thinking about the difference between New Adult and Young Adult fiction this week. For a few years now I’ve been kicking around a story idea that, when I first heard about this blossoming genre called “New Adult”, seemed to fit the idea like a….can I say “glove” and not have my writer’s licence revoked for dabbling in blatant clichés? Yes? Okay. It fit like a glove.

Or at least I thought it did. The longer the New Adult genre has had to gestate, the more it’s been reduced to “Young Adult with sex scenes”. Worse, booksellers seem to be struggling to work out where to shelve New Adult titles, which can’t be placed with the kids books but get lost in the General Fiction section.

The suggestion would be to create a separate sub-section on the Young Adult shelves marked New Adult, but this creates extra work for the store for a genre that hasn’t yet proven that it has a dedicated market and warrants the effort.

It’s a shame, because I think there’s a great deal of potential for New Adult. As buzzwordy and marketing-driven as that term sounds at first, I think it correctly captures the mindset of the high school graduate/first year undergrad who’s out there looking for stories to read that reflect all the pressures and challenges they’re facing as they make that transition into adulthood.

But perhaps I’m being too Old World in my thinking about this. Shelving isn’t as much of an issue for e-books, and if the readership for a title is from the Millenial generation, who’s to say a bricks-and-mortar store would be their first destination in searching out a New Adult book?

As with everything in the Digital Revolution, we’re learning as we go. My sincere hope would be that this genre is used for more than Romance + Naughty Bits and actually takes advantage of its potential for looser boundaries and richer thematic material.

Not that I’m opposed to Romance + Naughty Bits. In fact, I may go copyright that as a book title right now…

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In case you haven’t checked the Events page in a while (and really, why would you?), I’ll be at Eltham Library on October 20 (aka THIS Sunday) with George Ivanoff. We’ll be discussing Vanguard Prime: War Zone, taking questions from the audience, and then leading a workshop on Where Ideas Come From, which will cover genre, story structure, and creating characters. Bookings can be made through Eltham Bookshop. I’ll be bringing lollies with me, so expect plenty of sugary bribes to be made from the front of the room.

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Listening: Champagne Supernova by Oasis

Reading: Gamers’ Quest by George Ivanoff, The Tournament by Matthew Reilly

Watching: ER Season 3, Adventure Time

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EDITED TO ADD: I meant to mention that I’m actually using my Tumblr account now. I continue on in my cluelessness, however, by basically running it like it’s a Pinterest account, but if you’re curious to see what material I’m drawing on for my writing, then check it out; http://stevenlochran.tumblr.com/

Speaking as an Author

A lot of people think that the life of an author involves nothing but writing. If only that were true!

Setting aside the fact that most authors don’t make enough money from their writing to do it full time (and thus have to hold down another job in addition to their writing career) there are a lot of other components that go into being a professional writer that often go overlooked. And public speaking would have to be the big daddy of them all.

Before I was published, I’d heard of writers being provided with media training by their publishers and thought I may experience something similar. As it turned out, I was more or less thrown in the deep end and had to learn along the way. Thankfully, I’d attended enough author events to have an idea of what was expected of me, but it’s one thing being an audience member and something completely different to actually be the focus of attention.

In high school, I’d been a bit of a drama nerd, acting in a few plays and even writing one (it was our Year 12 production and it was terrible…but hey, I was 16! Or 17. I think. It gets harder to remember as you get older).

I was really thankful that I had that background to draw on when heading out on the promotional trail. I used my experience on the stage to help channel my stage fright, to project my voice, and to keep the audience’s attention.

That doesn’t mean I didn’t have a lot to learn…and still do!  As with many things in life, you only learn through doing, and you only get better through experience. As it stands now, I still get nervous before an event, and think of all the things I should have said afterwards.

But as it turns out, the in-between part? Where you’re actually onstage, interacting with the audience? It can be a lot of fun.

So if you’re looking to be a professional author, there are a few things you’ll have to make peace with now. Unless you’re very lucky, your contract won’t be of the “Rich and Famous” variety. They reserve that for high-profile non-fiction writers (aka celebrities), self-published authors with phenomenal sales numbers to back them up, and vunderkind [vunderkinds?].

The rest of us will be published almost anonymously, and you’ll have to fight to get people’s attention. In doing that, you should say ‘Yes’ to every opportunity you’re offered to go out into the world and talk about your book. And you’re going to have to work out for yourself how to do that in a way that’s both entertaining and informative.

The first step in developing those skills (short of attending a public-speaking course) is to go see other authors and pick what works best. Discard the rest.

It may not be what you imagined the life of a writer to be, but I promise you that it’s essential. And along the way, you may even have fun. 

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I’ve been meaning to write a new post for some time now, and while my usual excuse has to do with ‘Life’, this time it has to do with writing. Unexpectedly, I’m about a quarter of a way into writing a new book that I hadn’t planned to tackle at this stage. I’m still very much in that honeymoon period, where the ideas are rushing out of you and the whole endeavour is proving strangely enjoyable (I say strangely because I still vividly remember the painful process of getting both War Zone and Wild Card out into the world). Fingers crossed that the words continue to stream out of me and this becomes a story I can share with you all before too long.

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The Goodreads competition for War Zone has now closed – congratulations to those who won and thanks to everybody who entered! In case you haven’t seen it yet, the first review has gone up on Goodreads, though be warned that it contains some mild spoilers. If you don’t want to know one of the main mysteries of the book, I suggest waiting until after you’ve read it yourself before checking it out.

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Listening: Theme from Shaft by Isaac Hayes.

Watching: ER Season 2.

Reading: Railsea by China Mieville.