S R Silcox - Author

Blog updated every Sunday - more often than not.

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Introducing The Girls of Summer series

So, remember those sweet romances we read as teenagers in the 1980s an 1990s? The ones with lesbian main characters who fell for other girls and had fun adventures and happily-ever-after endings? No? Me neither.

I do, however, remember those sweet teen romances from Silhouette First Love, Dolly Fiction, Sweet Valley High… The list goes on. I remember hiding in the stacks in the library at high school reading those books, never checking them out lest they appear on my borrowing record. Though I loved sci-fi and fantasy (Day of the Triffids and The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy are still two of my all-time favourite books), when I hit 14 or 15, I started being very interested in the way relationships worked. Because I was a voracious reader, the way I discovered those things was mostly via fiction.

I’ll go into my personal story in a future post, but as I read those short romance books, I quickly learned that it wasn’t the female main characters I identified with the most. It was the male characters that the girls lusted after. I wanted to be those boys that the girls chased after, had fun adventures with and fell in love with by the end of the book.

I didn’t know what that meant at the time, but I knew it meant I was different.

I’m not sure whether reading a book with a girl who fell in love with another girl and nothing bad happened and they got to be together in the end would have made me realise back then that I was lesbian, but who knows?

What I do know is that we’re in an exciting time in the publishing industry, when there are more and more books with diverse main characters making their way into the world. A good number of them, however, deal with the ‘bad’ side of being different – the bullying, homophopbia, unhappy endings, coming out etc. While those stories are needed and valid, we also need stories where sexuality isn’t the main plot point.

I think we need more happy endings, more sweet romances, more girls-who-love-girls and that’s okay stories.

And that’s why I’ve been working on a series of sweet teen romances that will feature lesbian main characters, whose problems are just like any other teen, and whose sexuality is not a major plot point.

I touched on the series in this post back in August last year, but since then, I’ve refined the series idea and decided on a direction for it.

The books in The Girls of Summer series, beginning with Crush, are intended to be short and fun reads. Lighthearted sweet teen romances where the girl might struggle to get the girl sometimes, but she’ll never be dealing with bullying or homophobia as the major plot point.

Though they will be linked by taking place in summer (my favourite season of the year), they will be stand-alones that can be read in any order.

And most importantly, the girl will get the girl in the end.

 

Wattpad Edition

Wattpad Edition

Crush is due for release on the 1st May 2015. You can get it for free before it’s released to the general public by signing up to the mailing list here. You can read the first five chapters and synopsis here.

 

 

 

I’ve gone visiting

I’m visiting author and photographer Laurie Salzler over at her blog this weekend. You can check out what cheeky questions she asked me by clicking through the link here.  While you’re there, you should check out the photos of her dogs. So cute!

You can check out her books on amazon here. And I have it on good authority that her latest book “In the Stillness of Dawn” will be out very soon. You can read about that one here – can’t wait.

Pop over and say hi!

On ‘Saving Francesca’ by Melina Marchetta and the Aussie voice

After finishing a massive rewrite of a manuscript, I wanted to crawl up in a hole and not do too much at all. The experience of having to more than double the word count of a finished story, while exhilarating when I was done, was also exhausting. I felt like I was out of words. And a writer needs words in order to be able to fashion them into coherent sentences. Which I couldn’t even do while talking out loud for awhile.

During the couple of months I was outlining and rewriting and throwing wads of crap ideas in the bin, I neglected my reading. That was a conscious decision for two reasons. The first is because when I read, I like to be able to devote hours and hours to a book without having my own unfinished work churning in the back of my mind interrupting my reading flow. The second is because I can’t focus on both reading fiction and writing fiction at the same time, and I didn’t want my choices of reading material to sneak into the re-planning of the novel I was working on.

So I neglected my reading.

My reward after finishing that manuscript was to spend a voucher I got for Christmas on books. Real paper books, rather than ebooks, which was also a conscious decision. I love ebooks. I love the immediacy of buying them and having them appear on my kindle to devour instantly, but there’s still something for me about holding a paper book in my hand and turning each page as I read. I also love having those books on my shelves in my study/office, and being able to look at them and try to remember if I liked them, or what they were about. There’s something tangible there, and when I’m recommending a book to friends or my niece, if I can see one on my shelf, it’s easier to remember than looking through my kindle. And it’s easier to pick a book off the shelf and just give it away, which I love to do.

2015-01-10 10.22.48

The books I bought as a reward for finishing my manuscript: Tomorrow, When the Ware Began, Eleanor & Park, Paper Towns and Saving Francesca.

Anyway, I wanted to try a mix of books  and read for both research and enjoyment, and I made a long list of the ones I wanted to read from a few online recommendations lists and then whittled it down to these four. I deliberately made sure to have two Aussie books on there, because I’ve been reading a lot of American authors lately, and while that’s perfectly fine, my own works have very Australian characters in them and I wanted to see how other authors dealt with our unique Aussie language and settings. I haven’t read a lot of Aussie books since I was at high school, which is something I am now in the process of rectifying.

I read Paper Towns first, because I hadn’t read anything by John Green (I know. A YA author not having read John Green. Shock! Horror!) and he’s on everyone’s lips right now. Paper Towns had been recommended to me by a teacher I met awhile ago as the John Green book I should read first, and I loved it. Having watched John and Hank Green on youtube, I could hear John’s voice telling me the story of Q and his quest to solve the mystery of the disappearing Margo Roth Spiegelman. I read it in three sittings, and that was only because I had other stuff to do in between (like spend time with my wife, eating and sleeping). I’ve seen The Fault in Our Stars, but not yet read the book, and I’m looking forward to reading Looking for Alaska.

Today, though, I finished Saving Francesca, by Melina Marchetta, who is a popular YA author here in Australia. I have to say that in the beginning, the book frustrated the hell out of me, and though I’m still not entirely sure why that is, I have a theory. I almost made the decision to just put it down and go onto the next one. I’m one of those people who hates not finishing a book though, so I put it down for a couple of weeks and came back to it when I had more time to focus on reading without interruption. I finished it over the course of three days. I loved the book, and while the story seemed simple enough – teenager in her second last year of high school, navigating her way through an all-boy school that has just started accepting girls, a depressed mother and everything that comes with it – it was the characters who enthralled me the most. By the end I, along with Frankie, the viewpoint character, was surprised at how she’d ended up with so many good friends after resisting so early on. We definitely have a very unique way of writing coming-of-age stories here in Australia.

Saving Francesca is definitely a book I’ll be rereading in the future, and it’ll be one I’ll be giving to my niece to read.

And after thinking on it this morning, I realised that the reason I struggled with the book in the beginning is because I’ve not been reading enough Australian books, and I’ve grown unaccustomed to our unique voice. It was almost like I’d been overseas for a long time and came home to our laconic Australian accent and cringed at it. Which, incidentally, actually happened to me a few years ago when I was in Europe for two months with my wife.

I think that’s also why I’ve struggled with voice in my own writing as well lately, and I’m determined to fix that by trying to focus on more Australian books and authors than I have in the past.

My next read will be Tomorrow, When the War Began, by John Marsden which has been on my radar for a long time.

If you have any recommendations on Australian authors and books I should read, particularly in the YA genre, let me know and I’d be happy to add them to my To Be Read list.

 

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!

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.

 

 

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.

 

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.

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.

“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.

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.

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