2014 – A relatively shitty writing year that turned out not so bad

It’s that time of the year when we all take stock of the 365 days that have passed, and think about the next 365. This year, my second full year of being a full-time writer, hasn’t gone to plan. But when does anything ever go exactly to plan? I’ve been reading writing and author blogs over the past week and how those authors have had relatively successful years and have moved ahead in their careers in leaps and bounds. Well, this isn’t one of those blogs. I’ve actually had a shitty writing year and it’s kinda my fault.

I started out the year not knowing where I was headed, which slowed my productivity down a lot. I self-published Sunday Fish, a short story, back in May, and then spent a month going over my business and writing plans and resetting some goals, even though I had no real idea what I wanted to be writing.

On a whim, and after a little encouragement from a good friend of mine, I submitted a short story to an anthology call – on the very last day they were due no less. This turned out to be the turning point of my career, and I finally found my direction after floundering for so long.

The anthology, First Time for Everything, published by Harmony Ink Press, accepted that short story manuscript, and for the first time ever, I found my work in print.

That little YA short story, Summer Crush, inspired me to go back to where I started my writing journey. Back to my uni days when I started writing fiction for fun and to break the monotony of studying for a business degree. I was writing from the heart back then – writing things I wanted to read and writing for fun. While the stories were basic and the main characters fantasy versions of me, reading over my notes (the stories themselves are on some long-ago lost floppy disks) made me realise that I was taking my writing way too seriously.

Because of that anthology, I’ve rediscovered my love for YA and my love for writing fun, light and (hopefully) entertaining stories with lesbian main characters. After spending the first half of the year struggling for ideas, I have a lot of them calling out for attention. I’m working on one at the moment, which I submitted to Harmony Ink Press as a novella but am currently trying to expand into a fully-fledged novel, and I have a possible 3-book series that I want to get stuck into next. After that, I have a couple of new ideas that have popped up over the last six months, so I have plenty of things to keep me busy.

I also learned that I work better with a basic outline. My current project has grown from a 21,000 word novella, to a 33,000 word novella, and hopefully will grow to a 45,000 word novel thanks to taking time before I started to write a basic story and chapter outline. I also re-outlined at each new editing stage, which allowed me to see where I could add chapters and scenes without changing the basic story structure too much. Apparently, I’m also an “adder” rather than a “cutter”. I write sparse, and then have to add detail, which is fine, but I need to get better at that otherwise it will take me way too long to get my books finished before I get sick of them.

I’ve also learned that while I can write a book quite fast if I have an outline, it takes a lot longer than I anticipated to edit one to get it to a high enough standard to submit to a publisher or self-publish.

I’ve also changed focus to being traditionally published with certain projects, which is a business decision more than an ego one (though having a print book to hold that was made by someone else and being accepted by a publisher is a big ego boost!)

So what’s ahead for 2015?

A lot of hard work is what’s ahead. First off the rank is my current project, which I’ll get back to the publisher by the end of February – watch this space for news on that one. As soon as that one’s been shipped off, I’ll be working on an outline for the 3-book series as well as two other books that have been marinating in my head drive for what seems like ages.

What would I like to have achieved by this time next year?

At least 3 more books out, of whatever lengths they end up being, though I have no idea whether any of them will be self-published or traditionally published. My main goal for 2015 is to concentrate on the lesbian YA work and get those stories finished.

That’s it from me for 2014 – see you on the flip-side in 2015. Happy New Year!

Posted in About Me, LGBT+ YA, Writing Tagged with: , , ,

My favourite Christmas books

One of my favourite things to do this time of year (apart from having a quiet beer in front of the TV while watching the cricket) is to revisit some of my favourite books. There’s nothing quite like cracking open the cover of an old favourite to make me feel all warm and fuzzy inside.
And since Christmas is the time for giving and sharing, I thought I’d share with you some of the books I’ll be reading again this year. Not all of them are related to Christmas, but they’re all on my list of favourite books. (Links to the amazon store in the titles).

A Christmas Carol – Charles Dickens
Okay, I’ll probably be watching whatever version of this comes on TV this year, but I do love this Charles Dickens classic about Scrooge and the ghosts and Tiny Tim. It’s Dickens at his finest and a true Christmas classic. And I do have a paperback copy of the book on my shelf just waiting to be read.

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory – Roald Dahl
I love the humour of Roald Dahl and grew up sneaking his books out of the library when I was a kid. I’m lucky enough to have a niece who finds his humour funny as well, so she’ll be getting this one and a few others in her stocking this year, so we can read them over Christmas and laugh at the absurdity of Dahl’s stories.

Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone – JK Rowling
I discovered Harry Potter after they became the huge phenomenon they are now and thought they’d be perfect for one of my nephews. As is my usual practice, I try to read the books I buy for the children in my life, and I fell in love with this series myself. I was one of those mad people who stayed up all night to read the last three books from start to finish on the day they were released.
There’s something about this series that has stuck with me, and this first book is my favourite of all of them. I think it’s because of the wonder Harry experiences in his first year at Hogwarts that reminds me of the wonder children feel when they experience Christmas as they get older and know what it’s about. And you can’t go past Harry’s first Christmas at Hogwarts, which I think is one of the most amazing and coolest parts of the book (and the movie).

Four Fires – Bryce Courtenay
Every Christmas, if you’re a booklover in Australia, you were almost guaranteed to get at least one copy of Bryce Courtenay’s latest book, because that’s when his hardbacks were traditionally released. Unfortunately, he passed away in 2012, just before his final book was released. Four Fires, for me, was one of the greatest books he ever wrote. The line that stuck with me out of the whole huge 800 page tome was “Don’t leave the spoon in the sink, Mole.” (And you’ll just have to read it to find out what it means!)

Hogfather – Terry Pratchett
Terry Pratchett is another author with an absurdly insane sense of humour. I haven’t yet read all of his Discworld books, but out of the ones I’ve read, this is my favourite. What could be more ridiculous than Death impersonating the Hogfather on Hogswatch? And the movie that was made based on the book isn’t half-bad either.

Well, that’s it from me until the New Year. Have a wonderful Christmas, and feel free to let me know what your favourite books for Christmas are in the comments.

 

 

Posted in About Me, Book Recommendations Tagged with: ,

A Christmas Special

Three Wishes - Low res (2)

(If you’re a subscriber to my newsletter, you’ll already know this).

In the spirit of Christmas, I’ve discounted my Christmas-themed novella, Three Wishes, down to 99c for the entire month of December. If you haven’t got yourself a copy yet, now’s the time to get one cheap.

It’s for sale at all the usual online stores, but some of them (B&N, Apple etc) may be a bit slow on the price adjustment as I distribute to those stores via Smashwords.

It’s on sale at the following stores now:

Amazon
Kobo
Smashwords

I’ll be sending out an email next week to subscribers with my favourite Christmas reads, as well as some other recommendations, so if you haven’t already, be sure to sign up on the Newsletter page.

 

Posted in News Tagged with: , , , ,

Five things I learned from the publication of the First Time for Everything Anthology

I posted pre-order links to the First Time for Everything anthology a few weeks before it was released. I also posted buy links to facebook for the ebook and paperback versions when it released in September, but it wasn’t until I posted photos of me opening the box of author copy paperbacks I received that I got any type of response.

Me with my shiny new paperback copy of the First Time for Everything anthology

Me with my shiny new paperback copy of the First Time for Everything anthology

I think that’s because most people “get” paper books and once they saw me holding it, it became as real for them as it was for me to have a story published. Apart from realising that paper still means “real book” to some people, here are five other things I learned from the publishing experience.

  1. Don’t discourage anyone from supporting you, even if you don’t think your book is to their taste. Friends and family will be excited for you (at least in the beginning) so if they want to buy your book, don’t discourage them.
  2. On the other hand, sometimes, people don’t give a shit. Yes, it’s exciting to publish a book, but not everyone will care. Don’t fret if people don’t share the same enthusiasm as you do and share your news (and links to your book) with everyone they know like you’d hoped.
  3. Take the compliments on board, and then get back to writing. It’s great to get praise for something you’ve laboured over for what seems like months (or sometimes years). The biggest compliment anyone can give you is to buy your next book and they can’t do that if you’re still fawning over the last one.
  4. Share links to your work often (but don’t spam). People miss them on facebook and twitter and tumblr because of the churn of the timeline and other people’s posts. Give a direct link so people can buy in the easiest way possible.
  5. Non-writers are fascinated by writers. Yes, it can get annoying answering the same questions over and over again (“So, do you write, like, Twilight/50 Shades/Game of Thrones/[insert hot new release here]?”) but at least they’re trying to relate to you. Have patience and answer their questions – they wouldn’t ask if they weren’t interested. Plus, you never know when you might gain a new fan.

Bonus:

Take some time to bask in the glory of what you have produced. I know I said get straight back into it and write the next book, but you should take a few days to ride the rollercoaster of emotions that comes with writing and publishing. Not everyone gets to experience the feeling of seeing other people read their words, so enjoy it for a little while and then get back into it.

With all of that said, my time for basking is over so I’m off to write the next one.

Posted in News, Writing Tagged with: , , , , , ,

On writing short

It’s taken me a long time to get into a sort of groove with my writing. I’ve learned to plot just enough to keep me going on the story without getting stale or losing my way (thanks largely to the “Beats” chapters in Write. Publish. Repeat by Sean Platt and Johnny B Truant – highly recommended for writers everywhere).

Apart from the plotting side of things, it was always hard for me to work out a word count to aim for. Years ago when I first started writing, I’d done my research into manuscript lengths accepted by various publishers, depending on the genre etc. The general rule of thumb back then, as I think it still is now, is that for a new writer, a length of around 75,000 words is a good length to aim for.

75,000 words is a daunting number, especially when you’re just starting out.

The advent of the kindle and KDP have disproved the theory that word counts matter largely, I guess, because digital books don’t have an actual size. Unlike paper books, which we can hold and weigh in our hands and compare to the one beside it for perceived value ($ per page I suppose), digital books don’t seem to get that same treatment.

It’s true that some reviewers have given books fewer stars in reviews because the story wasn’t long enough compared to the price paid (sometimes as little as 99c!), but for the most part, I think those reviewers were just unsatisfied with the endings.

I digress.

A lot of new advice I’ve been reading lately, when newer writers ask about lengths for manuscripts, has been “write to the story’s natural length.” I think the “natural length” theory also applies to writers.

For example, in my first (and only) attempt at completing Nanowrimo, I topped out at around 25,000 words.

Before I started the book I just finished, I gave myself a target of 15,000 words and ended up at just over 21,000 words. It’s yet to be edited, so that word count will change, though probably not markedly.

During the course of writing that book, and plotting out others I’m working on, I’ve realised that novellas between 15,000 words and 35,000 words seem to be my sweet spot. I think the reason for that is that I tend to be a “sparse” writer – just enough detail on characters and scenes to set the reader up, but I leave most of the description to the reader’s imagination. Whether readers will like that or not remains to be seen, but the fact remains that I write better short.

If I don’t give myself a smaller target to hit, I tend to waffle on (as can be seen by some of my earlier blog posts). It’s also a great motivator seeing the word counter tick closer to the target and then surpassing it with plenty more to write when I have smaller limits.

Shorter books seem to be doing well on kindle now too, though it does depend on the genre I think. Hugh Howey’s Wool started with a 12,000 word novella which turned into a 3-book series of novellas, and there are very few people who complained about the length. Incidentally, he also serialised his books, preferring to publish each part as it was finished, rather than wait until he’d completed the entire books.

Romance novellas are going great guns as well, with authors able to churn out more books more quickly in series that fans devour, because they’re shorter reads.

So, whether my books stay around that 25,000 word length or not, only time will tell. For the moment though, that’s what I’m concentrating on, because the best thing about aiming for a 25,000 word book as opposed to a 75,000 word book is that I get them finished sooner.

And nothing motivates me to continue on to the next book like finishing the last one.

Posted in Self-Publishing, Writing Tagged with: , , , , , , ,

“First Time for Everything” Anthology Release Day is here!

It’s release day for the “First Time for Everything” YA anthology! Woohoo!

I’ve enjoyed the last few months of working with Harmony Ink Press on moulding my short story “Summer Crush” into it’s much prettier self and can’t wait for you to read it.

You can get it direct from Harmony Ink here.

The Amazon link is here.

And if you like the anthology, please remember to leave a review on whichever site you purchased it from.

And I’d love to hear what you think of “Summer Crush”, so feel free to comment here or email me, tweet me or ask me anything on tumblr.

Posted in LGBT+ YA Tagged with: , , ,

On bad things happening to lesbian characters because they’re lesbians

An interesting thing happened to me last week. I’d finished the first draft of a novella I’d been working on in a new series I’m developing and, as I often do with my finished stories, read it to my wife to see what she thought.

She’s not a big reader, but I love seeing her reactions when I read the stories out loud to her. If I can make her laugh and cry and react in all the right places, I know I’ve done my job.

So, there I was, reading my story out loud, and she was crying and laughing out loud and reacting fantastically – even in places I didn’t realise were emotional. It was great. I also found a LOT of things I need to change in the story (which is why all great writing advice blogs say you should read our stories out loud).

Afterwards though, when we were discussing the story, my wife said to me, “I was waiting for the main character or someone else to die.” I asked why and she said because that’s “what always seems to happen in stories with lesbian characters”.

Now, I’ve read those types of stories so I know that for a long time, those stories were in fact the norm. And we accepted them, because hey, they had main characters we lesbians could relate to. I’ve also read some more recently published stories (not nearly enough, but that’s another blog), where the characters do end up with a happy ending.

But it made me really think about our expectations when we start reading a story, and that maybe my stories can go a little of the way to changing those perceptions and expectations.

Apart from the “lesbians don’t end up happy” stereotype, the other thing she said was that she loved how the main character’s sexual orientation didn’t matter at all to those who know her.

And that’s the thing. To those of us other than heterosexual, we don’t think about our sexuality every day. I can only speak for myself, but my sexuality only comes up whenever anyone else has a problem with it, or is curious about it. It’s one part of who I am that doesn’t (and shouldn’t) affect my day-to-day life.

Which is exactly how I want to portray the characters in my stories. I write the characters as they see themselves, not as others see them. It’s important to me that the characters in this series have bigger problems than their sexuality. I want readers to know that reading about a character they can identify with (with regards to their sexuality) doesn’t mean they have to read an angsty, coming of age story, where the main character is bullied for their sexuality, or bad things happen to them because of their sexuality.

Yes, those things happen in real life, and yes that’s a tragedy.

But reading a book with a lesbian main character and expecting an unhappy ending – that’s also a tragedy.

I’ll go into the series in greater detail in a future post, but the one major thing I want to achieve with the stories in this series is for teen readers to have a light, enjoyable read, where the main character gets the girl in the end. Yes, they’ll have to work for it, but no, it’s not going to be a tragic ending.

The other thing my wife said to me, and the comment that affected me most I think, was that if she’d read a story like mine when she was in high school when she was struggling immensely with her sexuality, it may have gone some way to helping her realise that girls like her can have happy endings.

That one comment was a light bulb moment for me, because one of the other most often-quoted pieces of writing advice is to pick a person, real or imagined, who is your ideal reader, and write for them. Up until this point, I had a vague notion of who I was writing my stories for.

Now I know exactly who I’m writing for – my wife’s 16 year old self. And I would love to think that if that 16 year old redheaded teenager got to read stories like the ones I want to write, then I may have turned her into a reader. But what I hope the most is that 16 year old teenage version of my wife who reads my sweet contemporary romance novellas feels even just a little more comfortable in her own skin.

Posted in LGBT+ YA, Writing Tagged with: , , ,

Pre-order the “First Time for Everything” Anthology here!

FirstTimeForEverythingHARMONYLGThe “First Time for Everything” anthology, which features my short story “Summer Crush”, is being released in just under a month. You can pre-order your ebook here or the paperback here.

From the Dreamspinner website:

“There’s nothing like the first time. Whether it’s a first crush, first date, first kiss, or finding tolerance and approval for the first time, for gay, lesbian, bi, and trans teens—or those still exploring and discovering their sexuality and identity—these important firsts can shape the rests of their lives. Gathering the courage to come out to their families, admit their feelings to a friend, or go to school presenting as the people they really are can be a struggle. But with the support of their allies and their own inner strength, the brave young people in these stories take the first steps toward happiness and living on their own terms. From sweet stories of newly discovered love, humorous accounts of awkward dinners and dances, to fights for acceptance and even survival, the teens in this anthology must face new challenges and rise to meet them. These are the first times they’ll never forget.”

Midnight in the Maze by J. Leigh Bailey
A Warrior from a Different Tribe by S.A. Garcia
His World by Eric Gober
Just Right by John Goode
It’s In Their Kiss by Kevay Gray
It’s Not Our Fault by Charli Green
Courting Billy Roth by Nick Hasse
Dressed to Swim by Renee Hirsch
Beautiful by Ella Lyons
First Date by Nicole McCormick
Step by Step by Emily Moreton
Kissing Scars by Jo Ramsey
Dear Cody by Eric Renner
Dating My Best Friend by Caitlin Ricci
Summer Crush by SR Silcox (That’s me!)
When Wolverine Met Taylor by Andrea Speed
Me and My Friend by Emery C. Walters
Kiss and Makeup by Allison Wonderland

The blurb for my short story, Summer Crush:

“The onset of the Australian summer means the last days of high school for Jess and her best friend Ben. It’s also Jess’s last chance to have her first kiss before school ends. Though Jess is a proud lesbian, she’s afraid to confess her longtime crush to her childhood friend, Ellie Preston, especially now that Ellie’s dating Zac. At the last class bonfire on the beach, Jess must tell Ellie how she feels or lose the opportunity forever.”

The anthology is out on September 4th 2014.

 

 

Posted in LGBT+ YA, Writing Tagged with: , , , ,

Why you should review your writing plans regularly

Accountants everywhere are celebrating the new tax year, and since I still have accounting in my blood, I used the new year as an excuse to review and revise my business and writing plans. Business plans (and writing plans) should be organic documents. They should change and grow as your business does, so a six-monthly revision is a good way to see how you’re travelling with regards to the business side of things, as well as the writing side.

The business part of my plan didn’t need too much tinkering, since the main goal for the next few years is to write as much as I can and publish as much as I can. I changed a few minor things, such as pricing strategies and marketing schedules, but apart from that, everything business is the same as it was at the start of the year.

The big changes to the plan were made on the writing side. I started off this year wanting to get an adult near-future crime series started (Division 10), re-focus my urban fantasy story (Eli Crane), and look into other genres that I’m interested in.

What I actually did was re-purposed two stories and got them published or gave them away for free through the newsletter (The Break Up and the still untitled Division 10 short story). I also had a short story selected for inclusion into a YA anthology by an emerging publisher that specialises in publishing LGBT YA stories. I’ll post about that when it gets closer to release time, because it’s an exciting story that warrants a post of its own.

I also published a short story, Sunday -fish, that I had earmarked for a competition, but just couldn’t bring myself to enter.

I didn’t track my words, which was something I wanted to do, and until I reviewed my achievements for the first half of the year, I was a little disappointed with what I had managed to accomplish.

That’s another reason to review your business/writing plans regularly – to help you realise that you’ve achieved a lot more than you first thought. I’ve dragged my feet on a lot of projects, partly because of struggling with a few personal issues, but also because I’ve been riddled with self-doubt. The absolute best thing that came from the publication of Sunday – fish and the acceptance of my YA short story (and the process that has followed with the publisher) has really given me a shot in the arm.

The biggest change to the writing plan is that I’ve changed my focus for the next half-year. I blogged about it here, but briefly, I wanted to see if I could take advantage of the publication of the anthology, and to do that, I needed to have some stories out in the YA genre.

After reading a series of posts and tweets about the lack of diversity in YA fiction, it made me realise that my decision was timely. Knowing that readers are asking for fiction that includes characters that represent them (diverse characters including disability, sexuality and culture) makes me extremely happy that I’ve made the decision to change direction, at least for now.

Moving forward, I now have a To Do List for the next two months to keep me on track, that will get updated at the end of August for the following two months.

I feel great having a firm direction to travel in, after feeling a little disorientated for the last few months. And in another six months, I’ll be doing it all over again.

 

Posted in Self-Publishing, Writing Tagged with: , , , , ,

Diversity in YA and what I’m doing to change it

In sport, particularly when playing finals, we have a saying:

“Leave nothing in the tank”

In other words, play your absolute best today. Leave nothing for tomorrow. Today, it counts. In writing terms, it would be “Do your best work now.” Don’t wait for tomorrow or next week or next year to work on projects that are close to your heart.

I think it’s entirely appropriate for the way I’m feeling about my writing at this point in time. Why? Because I’ve just completed my half-yearly review of my business plan and writing goals and, among other things, I’ve decided to ditch some projects I’ve been working on (for now), and bring forward some other projects I was going to get to “at some point in the future.”

I’ll write more about my business and writing plan update in another post, but today I wanted to explain why I’ve changed direction so dramatically.

A few months ago, I had a short story accepted for inclusion in an LGBT+ YA anthology from Harmony Ink Press that’s slated for release in September. (Again, more on this next month).

Since then, I’ve read posts and tweets and articles on various blogs around the place about the lack of diversity in YA fiction. Not just with regards to sexuality, but with regards to other cultures, disabilities and other “differences” people have to deal with that are under-represented in the YA fiction currently being published.

This one in particular really made me question my priorities.

It made me revisit the reasons I started writing in the first place, back when I was at uni and was writing as a way to clear my mind from marketing and accounting and law. The reason I started writing was because there was a serious lack of stories with characters I could relate to. And being before the internet, there was no real way of finding any books that may have existed.

Hell, I didn’t even realise I was gay at that point. I just knew I was different – I knew that what my friends said they felt about their boyfriends, I didn’t feel about mine. I also didn’t know anyone who was gay or lesbian, and those words (gay and lesbian) were words that were whispered by adults, out of earshot of children and teenagers.

Back to my short story for a moment – before I submitted it, I did a bit of googling to see what I could find out about the publisher. That was more a business decision at the time, because I wanted to make sure it lined up with my long-term goals as a writer.

What I discovered is that Harmony Ink’s philosophy lined up with my own initial reasons for writing – to write the stories I wish were around when I was a teenager.

It’s a pretty simple concept really, and in my haste to get stories out, I’d actually forgotten why I write in the first place.

So what do I wish I’d read way back then, when I was struggling to put a name to how I was feeling?

I wish I’d read stories where the girl got the girl in the end. I wanted stories that when I’d turned the last page and read the last word, made me feel good about myself. Stories that gave me a sense of hope that I could fall for someone who would fall for me too.

Here’s the thing though – I used to write those stories. I used to write about girls like me, whose friends didn’t think she was strange for liking other girls.

When I started to take my writing seriously though, I stopped writing those stories. Why? Because I knew, deep down, that if I wanted to get published, I wouldn’t get there by writing about girls who like other girls.

Books like that are getting published now, yes, but not  often enough. And they’re certainly not being publicised enough or given a chance to reach their audience. An audience which is obviously hungry for those books.

Publishing is changing though, and publishers like Harmony Ink Press, who specialise in LGBT+ YA fiction are leading the charge. But a big influence on my decision to go back to writing those YA stories is the advent of self-publishing, and the ability to reach readers more directly.

There are a lot of new ways for authors to write and publish more diverse books, and for readers to find them.

It’s an exciting time.

And from now on, I’m leaving nothing in the tank. I’m not letting these stories languish in the back of my mind to get to “some time in the future.”

Because the stories I want to write aren’t needed tomorrow, or next week or next year – they’re needed now, yesterday, today.

The girls I’ve been waiting so long to write about are shy, strong, tough, sensitive, flawed, and lesbian. And finally, after waiting all these years, they’re coming out to play.

 

Posted in Gay Stuff, Self-Publishing, Writing Tagged with: , , , , , , ,
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