Wish Upon a Southern Star Book Launch

The Southern Cross shines high above a fairy tale wood. Come step inside. Drink dew from the leaves with tiny Tommelise. Eat egg sandwiches with a toothy young troll. Escape with Rapunzel. Trick Rumpelstiltskin. Shiver in the snow. Climb the beanstalk. Pray to the Piper. Be a cat. In and out of the wood, whether in this world or another, these stories will take you to new places. Explore how far you can go in this anthology of twenty-one fairy tale retellings by New Zealand and Australian authors. 

When: Saturday 2nd September, 2-4 pm
Where: South Library, 66 Colombo Street, Cashmere

Who: Meet 17 of the contributing authors, including:
Mahoney Adair, Stacey Campbell, Shelley Chappell, Hannah Davison, Graham Davidson, Simon Fogarty, MAria Hansen, S.M. Harris, K.S. Liggett, Sara Litchfield, John Lowe, Virginia Lowe, Megan Norris, Kate O’NEil, J.L. O’Rourke, Leigh Roswen and ME, Angela Oliver.

My short story, Kissa the Cat, is included in the collection, which will also be available for purchase on the day.

We authors will also be selling our books or other merchandise, therefore bringing cold, hard cash is recommended (or paper, paper money is fine!).

International Cat Day: Cats I have met

Tuesday 8th August is, apparently, International cat day. Obviously, here in New Zealand, we are in the future and thus it is the 9th August, but how can I overlook an (albeit belated) opportunity to show off some of my beloved feline friends.

Comet masquerading as a scarf. (With my younger brother)

Growing up we often had cats, our first was Copernicus, a ginger boy. He used to play with our rabbits, but was re-homed when we moved the length of the country, to live up in Golden Bay. Due to the nature of cameras back in the 80s, I haven’t any photos of him.

Our second cat was Comet, a white boy with patches of ginger. A great big softie, Comet allowed my brother to wear him like a scarf and enjoyed roaming the countryside. He used to sleep in the garage, and one morning I came out to find him covered in blood. He was rushed to the vet, but it was a minor injury: he’d cut his tongue, probably while licking out a tin can or something. He was remarkedly patient when we got him home, and had to wash him. Once again we moved, this time to the city, and once again we re-homed our cat – but Comet was a country cat and may not have survived urban living.

Titus was the third cat in our family, but the first that I chose myself. He was a pet shop kitten, tiny and with an apricot-tinge to his fur. Mischevious from the start, he constantly got into places he wasn’t supposed to and was all too frequently confined to the laundry. This, and the fact that he was probably under the now-requisite 8 weeks when he was taken from his mother and put into the pet shop, gave him all sorts of not-entirely-great habits. Once adult, he roamed far and wide, would disappear for days, which led me to roaming the streets calling his name and hoping not to find a forlorn ginger body. He would jump in the neighbour’s window and sleep on her bed. Once he came home carrying a sausage. However, I was soon to become a university student and had little time for my often-absent feline friend, and after he successfully extracted, and presumably killed, four birds from our aviary, we re-homed him to a more rural setting, and he went to live in Kaiapoi.

Cherub was our fourth cat, but she grew up as Titus’s “sister”. She was Mum’s choice, an exotic persian from breeders down in Geraldine. She was born on Boxing Day. Whereas Titus was a wanderer and a rogue, Cherub was the sweetest and most affectionate kitty you can imagine. She loved to snuggle – stretching out across your neck as you were asleep, her whiskers tickling your cheek and her fishy breath wheezing in your ear. As an exotic she had a few health problems: runny eyes, snuffling breathing and later in life, required most of her teeth removed. She lived to the ripe old age of 15 – quite elderly for an exotic – until eventually succumbing to diabetes. It was a sad, sad day when we took her, all skin and bones, with no energy left except a purr, to the vet for her final visit.

After leaving home and going “flatting”, we never took on the responsibility of owning a cat – instead I lived vicariously through my friends’ cats, and by befriending those that belonged to the neighbours. Here is a selection of some of the cats that I have met:

Ralph was a super-friendly, fluffy ginger boy, who craved attention and would often hang out around our driveway when his owners (over the fence) were at work. A couple of times he even wandered into our house, confident as they come.

Jabari lived further up our drive, he liked to follow us and demand pats, and one one occasion came leaping over the fence while I was checking the mail and quite startled me.

When we moved into our own house, it was much harder to say goodbye to these boys. They even tried to come with us, investigating our moving vehicles and wandering through our almost-empty house. Jabari apparently befriended another neighbour’s cat (Shani, big black-furred boy) and used to hang out in his house!

And, of course, soon after we moved into our own house, there was Lucky. A self-assured calico cat who did her darndest to move in with us, sneaking in when we had the door open, sleeping on our furniture and seeking out our company. She even ‘courted’ us with gardening gloves and socks, leaving them on our doorstep. I spoke with one of her owners, and he seemed more-or-less okay with her hanging out with us, but we probably pushed it further than we should have, and allowed her more-or-less free reign of our house. However, we never fed her, and I felt that she used our house as her sanctuary, for she shared her owners with other cats, and did not appear to get along (as proven by one hissing match in our lounge one day when big ‘Red’, her son, ventured inside, she won). Her owners tolerated this shared ownership for almost a year, until we were eventually asked to stop encouraging her. I cried, and deleted all photos of her from my Facebook account, and we never let her in the house again. Since then, she has behaved both aggressively and aloofly towards me, and last I heard of her, she had moved further down the street and tried to adopt another new home. I hope she’s okay – I’ve not seen her for months, although her sons still hang out in our garden, eyeballing the starlings, and my goldfish, and catching Lucie’s eye.

Her two sons are Kanad – shy and skittish, he’s only allowed me to touch him twice – and Red, slightly more confident, with the second best tail 🙂

After Lucky stopped being our friend, we decided it was time we adopted our own feline friend, and we went via Cat Rescue. Lolly was the second cat we met with, and the first kitten. She was an adorably fuzzy little black scrap, with a tiny whip of a tail and big, bright eyes. Fairly cautious, she approached us with a gentle delicacy. We couldn’t resist her, and brought her home. She was approximately 12 weeks old, neutered, chipped and weighing in at around 1.9 grams.

We renamed her Lucifurr Seraphina (Lucie for short), and let her out in our downstairs bathroom, which we’d turned into a cat room. She immediately found a hole we’d completely overlooked, and proceeded to scrunch her little furry self into it. It took a fair amount of persuasion to extract her, but I was afraid her collar might become hooked on something inside it, and she might be hurt. After we’d managed to extract her and cover it over, she huddled in the little “cave” we’d created and stared out at us with her big golden-green eyes. I was worried she wouldn’t adjust to her new home, but I needn’t have, within three days she was strolling boldly into the lounge and within a few weeks owned the house (but not without finding several more hidey-holes we’d overlooked). Since those early days, Lucie has grown… and grown. Her tail turned from a tiny scrap into a mighty plume (“best tail”), a plume that curls forwards and occasionally brushes her between the ears. After she got large enough we were no longer afraid of squishing her, she was allowed into our bedroom at night – but she prefers to sleep under the bed than to share with the two of us (unless it’s particularly cold). She follows us around, enjoying being in our company, and has a certain obsession with cardboard rings. She plays ‘fetch’, makes amazing leaps, and can open most of the doors in our house (unless we close them firmly).  Lucie is definitely Top Cat in our house!

 

Writing Excuses Master Class: Where do you get your ideas?

A while ago now, I obsessively listened to Writing Excuses, a podcast about writing (specifically genre) fiction hosted by Brandon Sanderson, Dan Wells, Howard Taylor and Mary Robinette Kowal, along with various special guests. I listened to so many of these, in fact, that I was listening rather than writing and so overwhelmed with information that I thought my head might burst.

Anyway, I started again today and thought it might be neat to actually work through Season 10’s “Master Class” exercises, and let me see where that lead me to. Here is the exercise from the first episode, entitled: seriously, where do you get your ideas?

Exercise #1: Write down five different story ideas in 150 words or less.
Generate these ideas from these five sources:

  1. From a piece of music (with or without lyrics)
    • A love story, tragic-comedy style, in which the protagonist accidentally kills a mugger, only to meet and fall in love with the mugger’s widow. As he becomes drawing deeper into the relationship, the web of lies thickens… he never can tell her what he’s done – but could it be that she already knows? And perhaps has more than passion on her mind?
      • (Song was “Never Can Tell” by Banshee Reel)
  2. From a piece of media (watch a movie)
    • A science fiction in which reincarnation is obtained by the transplanting of human brains into animal bodies, creating what is, essentially, a number of uplifted animals. There are two ways the story could go: the animals could revolt and destroy the humans, or the uplifted animals could be used to get a better understanding/improve the survive of their wild kin (ala. The Wild by Whitley Strieber)
      • (Not going to say what piece of media inspired this :))
  3. From observation (go for a walk!)
    • “They hunt in packs”: Groups of teenagers roam the urban malls and streets, communicating using loud, obnoxious vocalisations.
      • Not quite sure how the plot of that could go… Maybe the protagonist is a zoology-nerd, who is somehow dragged into this “gang”? Or perhaps, she is being hunted by them?
  4. From research you’ve done (reading science news, military history, etc)
    • 100 years in the future, and the elite of mankind have departed the Earth, destined for a new colony somewhere far off in space. They took the intellectuals, the inventors… but what happens to the people they left behind? A gritty survival story set in a devastated and abandoned Earth: pillaged of resources and ruled by anarchy.
      • Yeh… this has been done a dozen times – or more! – already. What’s a new, fresh take I can make on it?
  5. From an interview or conversation you’ve had
    • To come…

Ten Top Birds

Here are illustrations of ten beautiful species of bird. Not necessarily in order of preference (as that changes regularly). All illustrated by me, between 2011-2016.

(another favourite, Currawong is not included because I haven’t drawn him).

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What I’ve learned about creating anthologies

I have recently finished creating the second anthology for our local writing group. And it has been quite an experience, through which I’ve made more than a few mistakes and learned a lot. Here I will include some of the lessons I have learned that should help you, should you ever be masochistic enough to attempt to create one of your own.

Firstly:

Spectra-frontcoversml

Spectra, CWG 2016 anthology

  • Have a set deadline: The correct parameters for this are hard, one month may not be long enough, but six months generally leads to procrastination and a lack of contributions. I would recommend around 3-4 months, but be prepared to be flexible.
  • Have a set format and established guidelines. Things you will need to inform your potential contributors are:
    • word length: most anthologies ask for a maximum of 2,000-10,000 words, depending on the intended audience. If you are accepting poetry or flash fiction you probably won’t want to set a minimum length.
    • theme: be very specific, unless you are opting for a general theme. However, if your theme is too specific, then you may find no-one will contribute.
    • format: .doc or .rtf files are the most versatile.
    • speech marks: as you will want these to be consistent throughout your anthology, I recommend double-smart quotes, as they are the easiest to adjust with find and replace (trying to find-and-replace straight quotes or single-smart quotes is a complex and aggravating mission).
    • em/en-dashes: although it’s possible to find-and-replace these, it certainly saves time!
    • font: you may like to specify font in your guidelines, I use Century Schoolbook, but this is relatively easy to adjust during the compilation process.
    • language: UK spelling or US spelling. Be aware that NZ and Australian English tends to be a hybrid of the two and can allow inconsistencies.
  • Make it clear that you are seeking stand-alone stories, and the plot structure you expect (ie: inciting incident, rising action, climax, conclusion).
  • Unless you are publishing literally everyone who contributes, make it clear that not all pieces will necessarily be accepted.
  • insist that all pieces must be spell/grammar checked! (however, this doesn’t give you an excuse not to have further editing done: see below).

When receiving contributions:

  • Acknowledge immediately that you have received their submission. Offer them a date by which they will receive notification upon whether their story has been accepted.

Accept or deny? And how to notify the authors?

  • There are three levels to this:
    • Acceptance: the story fulfills all specifications, and is well-crafted and interesting, requiring minimal or “easy” edits.
    • Refusal: the story either fails to fulfill the specifications: it’s too long, too short, not on theme, poorly crafted, or not actually a story at all.
    • Acceptable, but needs revisions: Fulfills most of the specifications, but requires some work to be polished for publication. This is the hardest category to deal with.
  • When informing an author that their story has not been accepted: be polite, and keep the reasons for denying it brief: ie: “I’m sorry but your story was too long”, or “I’m sorry, but your story does not fit the theme.” You can also use, “I’m sorry, but your story has not been selected for this anthology.” Do not enter into further correspondence if they try and argue why you should have accepted their story. Remember, it is your anthology, your decision. DO NOT, no matter what, offer a critique unless the author specifically asks for it.
  • Minimal or easy edits are things like: changing idioms into something more era/theme-appropriate; fixing inconsistencies (like capitalising certain words sometimes, but not always), perhaps adding clarity to some of the vaguer details. These sort of edits shouldn’t take more than an hour or so.
  • Needs revisions: This one is the hardest category to decide, so if there is any doubt then it is better to outright deny the story. Revisions shouldn’t require re-writing more than 10% or less of the story (that’s 600 words of a 6000 word story). It may include re-writing the ending, or adding in more detail to the beginning. Only request revisions from authors that are fairly skilled at the craft: don’t, for example, try and teach an author a skill they have not already displayed (ie: how to show not tell). If your author is expected to re-write even 10% of their story, then you want to be able to accept it if they do that, otherwise you’ve wasted their time and your reputation.

Once you’ve collected your (possibly slightly revised) stories and notified all your writers:

reflections

Reflections, the CWG 2014 anthology.

  • Send out emails/contracts that specify copyright timeline (do your authors retain full reproduction rights, or does it become your exclusive property for 1 year, 5 year or more?) and other details, especially if payment is being offered.
  • Have all stories proof-read, by as many editors as you can convince or afford!
  • Decide what order they should appear in the book: when reading an anthology, a reader is likely to start at the beginning, so put your strongest story/stories first, but don’t have them growing steadily weaker or the reader will give up. I prefer to put short stories between the longer stories, and end with a relatively strong piece.
  • Collect biographies for the “accepted” authors (specify relative word length and insist that they are written in third person).
  • Start formatting, design your cover, etc.
  • Keep authors updated with the process, either by email or regular blog/twitter posts. Authors like to know that you’re working hard with their stories! Offer a tentative timeline, and stick to it as closely as you can. If you start to fall behind, keep them informed.

Some things to be aware of:

  • From initial deadline to actual publication date could take as long as six months, depending on how many proof copies you are required to order and whether you are printing offshore or locally.
  • If you are privately creating an anthology, contributors may either expect payment or that your proceeds will go to charity. Realistically, the amount of time and effort you put into creating the anthology is going to exceed any actual financial gain. Only offer paying for stories if you are going to be able to at least break even.
  • If you are creating an anthology for a specific group or cause, make sure there is information in said anthology about the group or cause.
  • Be wary of offering free copies to every selected author, especially if you have to post them. If you are printing through a site like Createspace and have US authors, it will work out far cheaper to have them sent direct to the author. Posting internationally from New Zealand is expensive. Avoid if at all possible.
  • Creating anthologies is extremely hard work and requires a lot of time and energy. It is not a task to be taking lightly.

Top Reading Picks for 2016

Last year, possibly due to my new-found addiction to Pokemon Go, or possibly my closer proximity to my workplace (thus reducing my reading-and-walking time down to approximately 10 minutes from 40 mins a day), I only managed to read 102 books in 2016, a distinct drop from the 160 of 2015. This year I aim to do better, without resorting to reading a lot of picture books!

Here are my Top Five Four* “Stand out” reads from the previous year – some ARE new, some will, however, be older titles that I have only just discovered.

kalanonKalanon’s Rising by Darian Smith
Darian Smith is a very talented writer, one whom I would – believe it or not – rate as highly as Brandon Sanderson and Peter V. Brett. His plots are engrossing, his settings highly developed and he has a real knack for immersing you fully into the world.”Kalanon’s Rising” is both a murder mystery and a powerful fantasy novel, and Smith displays a considerable amount of talent and imagination at penning both. There are red herrings, false leads, plenty of unexpected twists and illuminating discoveries. Plot holes are skillfully plugged, and tangled webs are woven. He doesn’t go light on the shock and brutality either. (Read More)
nevernightNevernight by Jay Kristoff
Intense. brutal. lyrical. beautiful.
Not for the faint of heart.
Loved it.
For fans of Laini Taylor and anyone who likes an evocative, richly detailed epic.
genestormGeneStorm: City in the Sky by Paul Kidd
A grand rollicking read, in the true spirit of Paul Kidd’s earlier works – rambunctious characters, a weird and quirky cast of mutant characters, over-the-top plot, non-stop action and explosions a plenty. This was a lot of fun to read.
I urge more people to read this series! Especially artists, as I would really, really love to see how others (including Kidd himself) interpret the stranger characters – Beau, the fox-pheasant, for example, is just begging to be drawn. And as for the floating plant guy…
Wickedly weird. I read it slowly, not because it was dull, but because I just wanted to enjoy the company of the characters for as long as possible.
magpiemurdersMagpie Murders by Anthony Horowitz
A highly enjoyable mornings read! This is two stories combined into one – we begin with Alan Conway’s last Atticus Pund mystery: Magpie Murders. A manuscript delivered to our narrator, an editor but, frustratingly, missing the final chapters. Whodunnit? Who knows! What could be more irritating in a quaint English murder mystery than not knowing the reveal? Well, our narrator, Susan Ryeland, will not rest until she’s found those missing chapters for, not only does she need to know, but the continual existence of her publishing house could well depend on it. What it unravels, however, is a modern mystery all of its own – when the author commits suicide. Or does he? (Read More)

View all my reviews

* Not only have I not read many books this past year, there have been few that have truly hooked me.

Obligatory New Year Post

lilbluepenguin

Little blue penguin by the beach

 

So, it comes to pass that 2016 is about to draw to a close. It has been a troubling year on the global scale: beloved celebrities have passed, as have prominent scientists and authors. Politics have been unsettling, as has the “revelation” that climate change may well lead the human race – and goodness knows how many other species – to extinction within the next decade. On a personal level, things have been rather more pleasing. We introduced a new, four-legged and furred, member to our family, and we have now owned our own house for a year. We traveled to Australia and explored Tasmania. My not-so-inner child was further delighted by the creation of Pokemon Go and the resurgence of popularity in Pokemon that ensured.

Whilst I did not achieve many of my writing goals for the year, I did complete my Animal Alphabet in April and successfully participated in NaNoWriMo. I have had two short stories accepted for publication in anthologies (that I am not the editor of) and one even paid me money! And I have taken on several formatting jobs for different authors. I also helped my lovely friend Matty Angel release her first book and realise one of her life’s goals, including helping her bank her first ever paycheque!

So, what do I strive to achieve in 2017?

Writing:
Work on “Tail of Two Scions” (and get the damned thing done!)
Write a short story a month for the year.
Participate in NaNoWriMo 2017

Art:
Get back into a pattern of drawing regularly.
Create that picture book that Matty is talking about.
Sell some art.

Reading:
Read over 100 books.

Travel:
Celebrate Midsummer Eve in Scandinavia
See Europe (countries yet to be determined)
Travel to anywhere in the world that is required to attend the Helloween “Pumpkins Unite” tour. (may wind up in 2018 depending on their schedule)

Social:
Attend at least one concert (The Darkness)