Guest post – Donna Hanson: Why grim dark?

IMG_0916Today’s post is brought to you by fellow Australian writer Donna Hanson.

Thank you Patty for hosting me on your blog today to talk about my new dark, epic fantasy series, Dragon Wine.

A reviewer I respect called Shatterwing, the first in the Dragon Wine series, grim dark. I knew the Dragon Wine series was dark but I hadn’t actually thought about it as being grim dark. I know that’s a new buzz word. Apparently it originated with Warhammer 40 K and yes, I read some of the fiction from the Black Library and it is pretty grim. The character though can give a lift to such a dismal setting.

Some would say George RR Martins Game of Thrones is grim dark, and it’s pretty gritty and unrelenting so that probably qualifies. There’s Joe Abercrombie’s The Blade Itself, which was dark, gritty and well yeah grim. Richard Morgan’s the Steel Remains is dark and gritty but I’m not convinced it’s grim.

Another novel, which I haven’t read yet is The Prince of Thorns, by Mark Lawrence, which is rumoured to be grim dark.

So grim could mean that a story is dark, nasty, gritty and with little optimism or hope. I think my Dragon Wine series certainly skirts the border of grim, but there is always a tiny thread of hope. It’s nasty and gritty for sure, but there are some people fighting for good. There is some hope that humans will recover some of their goodness, provided their world doesn’t cease to exist. Cough!

We’ve seen more and more grit in our fiction, including movies. I use James Bond for an example. The Daniel Craig versions are very dark, gritty and pull no punches. It’s a realism that is imbued in the story that both draws and repels.

Is there room for realism then in fantasy? Certainly, Shatterwing is not for the reader who wants to escape into a lovely world filled with unicorns and elves and nice fairy witches. I make no excuses for the darkness in the story. It’s the story that I wrote that maybe reflects some of the horrible things going on in the world. The things that shock me. That make me despair for the future.

My theme for the series is: How low and humankind go and what is it that is worth saving? Not a bright, shining topic is it? But deep down, I do have hope as much as I despair. I want people to stop killing each other. I have hope we can get to that point where we all live in peace.

Here is the blurb for Shatterwing. I’d love to see what you guys think of the story and whether you think it’s dark or grim dark.

Dragon wine could save them. Or bring about their destruction.

Since the moon shattered, the once peaceful and plentiful world has become a desolate wasteland. Factions fight for ownership of the remaining resources as pieces of the broken moon rain down, bringing chaos, destruction and death.

The most precious of these resources is dragon wine a life-giving drink made from the essence of dragons. But the making of the wine is perilous and so is undertaken by prisoners. Perhaps even more dangerous than the wine production is the Inspector, the sadistic ruler of the prison vineyard who plans to use the precious drink to rule the world.

There are only two people that stand in his way. Brill, a young royal rebel who seeks to bring about revolution, and Salinda, the prison’s best vintner and possessor of a powerful and ancient gift that she is only beginning to understand. To stop the Inspector, Salinda must learn to harness her power so that she and Brill can escape, and stop the dragon wine from falling into the wrong hands.

You can find Donna on her blog






Guest post – Donna Hanson: Why grim dark? was originally published on Must Use Bigger Elephants


Guest blog: Brian Kittrell: Don’t Go Broke in Self-Publishing: 10 Ways to Protect Yourself in the Digital Revolution

My guest post today is a must-read, don’t-get-scammed post for all beginning self-publishers. I am deeply indebted to Brian for writing this awesome article. Brian, of course, is a self-publisher way more successful than me, so he knows what he’s talking about. For information on Brian and his books, please go to his website Late Nite Books.

Digital and print-on-demand publishing has created a new world of opportunities for the intrepid self-published writer, but all around this new industry, another group of people are eager to benefit: scammers, con artists, and others wanting to make a quick buck from the many uninformed authors taking to the online stage. How are authors being scammed and how does a writer, new to the whole idea of self-publishing, survive in such a hostile environment?

Publishing Service Providers

It seems like every day there are new service providers–editors, proofreaders, cover designers, formatters, and ebook programmers–hanging out a shingle. How is an author to know who is good or bad?

Tip #1: Vet, vet, and vet some more.

Always, and I mean always, vet your service providers. Don’t take the testimonials on their website as the only referral. Talk to people you know about the provider. If you have a more experienced author friend, have them take a look at the service provider, too. Memorize the Preditors and Editors link and check all service providers against it. Look at their gallery or portfolio from past work. Demand to see one if you can’t find one.

As a general rule, the best service providers will be people you don’t know who will render judgement and advice based upon the manuscript, not you as a person. Friends and family have a way of being supportive even when they know the book isn’t good or needs lots of work.


Tip #2: Know the normal rates.

Knowing the normal industry accepted rates will help you weed out those who aren’t serious and those who are overpricing. Strong editing (as of the time of this writing) can often be found for around a penny a word. Some charge fractions of a penny less or more per word. If a provider is charging considerably more or less for the job than what you’ve usually been quoted, it could be a sign of danger.

The only exception to this rule is if the service provider is very new and does not have an established base of clients. However, you should be very guarded about dealing with inexperienced service providers; treat your books like your own children and make sure they have the best.


Tip #3: Demand a sample of work.

Professional editors and proofreaders will provide a sample edit or sample proof of your work. This usually consists of several pages for a full-length manuscript. The idea here is to demonstrate the editor’s skill, to see if you think, based upon the edit, if the editor or proofreader will be a good fit for your style and voice, and to get an idea of how things will work during the process if you decide to hire them.

With artists, review their portfolios and galleries and discuss the intricate details of the project. Do NOT ask them to produce a sample cover for you to think about; asking an artist to render even a very basic drawing for free is in bad taste. Artwork, even sketching a concept, takes considerable time and effort, and their portfolios should be sufficient to judge if their style meets with your project or not.


Tip #4: Prefer Flat-Fee Deals to Royalty Share Agreements.

Whenever possible, pay flat fees for service providers instead of royalty share agreements. Don’t tie yourself to your service providers wherever you can get away from doing so. Think of it like this: if your book goes on to sell $1,000,000, is the cover you got from your designer worth $100,000? Most likely not. Additionally, what if you sell 100,000 copies of your book and a big publisher takes an interest in it? Would you be willing to give your proofreader 5% of your income for the rest of eternity? Do you have a contract which stipulates that a buyout by a major publisher voids the royalty share agreement?

Think forward on this kind of thing. Flat fees are best because you pay once and you’re free to go whatever route you like.


Common Scams and Cons

Outside of the flourishing field of publishing services, you may come up against a scam designed to deprive you of your hard-earned lucre. Here are some common ones and some tips about what you should do when facing a suspicious situation.

Tip #5: Avoid Gifting Scams

With my books, I give away lots of copies in hopes of garnering reviews and a little buzz. If my book is good enough, those who receive review copies may post up written reviews or give recommendations to their friends about my book. It’s a great practice for the author to get unbiased commentary while giving readers a brand new book at no cost.

In favor of explicitly describing the attempt I received, I have imported a post I made on into this article to relay a recent experience with a giveaway:

just got done with a giveaway through LibraryThing for ARCs. I do this with all of my new releases so that I have a chance of picking up a couple of reviews and maybe moving some books. Anyway, I have a very specific format for my giveaways which has been honed over a long period of time. I send this email (included in its entirety because, well, someone may find this thread while searching on ways to send out emails to winners):

“You are receiving this email because you entered into the Members Giveaway/Early Reviewer program through LibraryThing (, and you were selected to receive a giveaway/review copy of the title described below. Please do not reply to this email. Instead, direct any responses to or

Congratulations, and thank you for entering!

You may get your free copy of (BOOK) with the following steps:

1. Visit OF URL)
2. Click “Add to Cart” button.
3. Click “Checkout”.
4. Scroll down the page to Discount Code and enter: (CODE)
5. This will reduce the price of the book to $0.00 / free.
6. Download the book in PDF, ePub, and/or Mobi format.

You will also receive an email with links to download the books so you can save this information for the future. If you do not receive that email, please check your Spam folder.

This download link is active forever; you can re-download the book if you lose it. If you would like to read on multiple devices, you may download one, two, or all three formats. My books are not burdened by DRM technology. All I ask is that you do not redistribute them.

If you have any problems with the process, advise me and I will correct the problem as quickly as possible.

Thank you very much!

– Brian Kittrell, Late Nite Books

Please be advised: If you received this email in error, please disregard it. No further action is necessary on your part. Receipt of this email and/or signing up in the LibraryThing Giveaway/Early Reviewers program does not automatically add you to any Late Nite Books email list or program. I value your privacy as much as my own, and I do not share your information with other third parties. Coupon code is valid from (START_DATE) until (END_DATE). Please visit the Late Nite Books store and secure your copy prior to (END_DATE).”

Some write back and say Thank you or I’ll get to it right away! One person had some extreme trouble with the store, so I sent the file to them directly. But I receive the following email aside from the rest:

“Hi, I am happy to have won a copy – Your book sounds very interesting!
Is there anyway you could be so kind to send that to me as an Kindle Gift from Amazon?
I keep everything on Amazons Kindle activity webpage so I can store, organize, manage, take notes and higlights to help with my reviews using different Apps to help remember more of what I read.
For this the ebook must be purchased from for it to be added into my Kindle library page.

Thank You,

Don’t do it. I repeat, DON’T DO IT.

If you need reasons why you shouldn’t:
#1 Nondescript. Feels like a form mail that could apply to any book. Couldn’t even be bothered to talk about the book in the giveaway; probably sends hundreds of these out per week.
#2 Reader asks for you to spend money on the review copy after you’ve given a very easy way to get the book for free. You may have even attached the book to the email you sent out.
#3 Kindle activity webpage… I’m not sure if I’ve ever seen that before. My Kindle (as I’m sure most are) is equipped with highlighting, taking notes, and organizing books no matter if I side load them or get them from the Amazon website.
#4 Apps to help someone remember what they read? As preposterous as this sounds, I’m sure Apps can be used regardless of where a book came from.
#5 Yes, a book must be a valid purchase from to appear on’s library page. That, I cannot argue with. However, what do I care? The presence or absence of my book on the library page does not prevent it from being read, downloaded, or transferred to your device. ~50 people so far had no problem using the directions I sent, and the one that did have problems just asked for the ePub to be attached to an email. No problem.

Here’s the scam, from the scammer’s point of view:
– Convince author to gift ebook to me.
– Redeem the gift into a gift card instead of getting the book.
– If I really want to ream an author, I’ll send the convincing email from one address, wait for the gift, redeem it, then tell the author that the gift needs to be sent to my “Kindle email” so I can get the book. Two for the price of one.
– Further, the scam can be extended to a third email address. The chances are lower on the second gifted copy and even less so on the third, but it’s worth a shot.

Now, repeat this process with the dozens of books from independent authors having a giveaway ending each day.

Let’s say 3 authors fall for the first level of this scam each day from the same con. Let’s say that the books are $2.99 to gift. That’s about $9.

$9 * 300 days (because even cons take breaks) = $2,700 per year in Amazon gift cards.

What to do if you get a suspicious email?

Contact the service hosting the giveaway immediately. I sent an email to Jeremy at LibraryThing, and he told me that the subject who sent this email is “nearly a serial offender,” that they’ve gotten a few reports about them already. I leave the handling of the issue to LibraryThing because, on my end, it’s handled. The person won’t be scamming me.

What can I do to mitigate my risk?

Before you do your giveaway, establish ground rules that you will not break, such as the delivery method. I chose my own website. Smashwords coupons are a good choice, too. Do whatever you want, but gifting via Amazon is going to burn a hole in your pocket for very little–if any–reward. The gift redemption scam has been going on for a while now, and more and more people are getting keen to it. The method is explored on various shady forums, chat rooms, and so forth.

If you’re suspicious of any other potential scam, ask about it on KBoards. Chances are that another writer has heard about a scam (or, in the most unfortunate circumstance, was a victim of the scam). Look before you leap.


Tip #6: Literary Award Scams

You may have already fallen victim to such a scam or you may have seen these going around. The idea is that authors enter the contest for a literary award and pay a fee to apply. The winner is announced later and usually gets a shiny seal of approval and a letter or something. Always perform deep research on any contest you’re planning on entering. See how often the contest has been held and how long the organization has been running it. Do deep research on the organization. Search Google for the names of the people involved, the name of the organization, the name of the award, and any other identifying details you can locate (such as the mailing address; some fly-by-night operations change their names but keep the same mailing address, for instance). Search Google for all of these things.

Literary award programs have become a dime a dozen. The most respectable ones usually have no entry fees, too.

If a literary award contest seems shady, skip it. Awards do so little for your publicity that spending large sums of money on them is pointless.


Tip #7: Avoid Reading Fees

Avoid anything with a reading fee attached. If money flows out of your wallet, you had better be guaranteed to get something in return for it other than a form rejection letter. If an agent, editor, proofreader, or other service provider demands some kind of payment just to talk to you, run away as fast as your hooves will carry you. Consultations are free. Editors and proofreaders should provide a small sample of work (on YOUR manuscript) at no cost. Agents don’t deserve free money for looking your way, and neither do publishers.


Tip #8: Beware the Referral Monster

Lots of scams involve referring authors to third party services, deals, or opportunities which aim to plunder your vault and leave you high and dry. If you submit to a publisher or agent, that party advises you to seek editing or proofreading help, and then they refer you to someone they know, it’s probably a referral program. That party is usually getting a cut of the proceeds for referring you in the first place. So, you’re automatically paying a bit above cost plus a little profit to the service provider. Sometimes this is ten or fifteen percent. Sometimes this is considerably more.

If an agent or publisher sees promise in your work, they should secure the services of an editor (on their staff or otherwise) after the contract has been signed.


Tip #9: Scammy Publishers

Which brings me to my next point: scammy publishers. A publisher is a company or individual who makes it his/her/its job to publish books. This process starts where the author’s original manuscript ends, and the work continues all the way to the distribution of the final book. In this process, there are many steps:

– Editing
– Proofreading
– Cover design
– Formatting (interior and/or ebook)
– Distribution (to retailers)
– Promotion, publicity, and advertising
– Accounting
– Paying the author due royalties

A publisher should not ask you to handle any of the above yourself, with the exception of promotion/publicity. (You will be asked to do whatever promotion or publicity you can to help sell your book.) If a publisher asks you to cover any of the above costs up front, you’re not dealing with a professional outfit.

Watch out in your contracts, too. Sometimes some or all of these services may be put against royalties which means that your sales will pay for some/all of these services before you get paid. These deals are not necessarily scammy, but you should take great care in studying the contract to make sure you know exactly what you’re getting yourself into.

In simpler language, you should not be paying anything upfront to a publisher to publish your book. That’s… you know… the point of having a publisher in the first place. If any of your production and ongoing promotional activities are charged against royalties, that should be clear from the start and you must understand the implications before you sign on the dotted line.


Tip #10: Step Right Up! Hurry, hurry, hurry!

In regular life, we see this kind of scam all the time: act fast! It won’t last long! Hurry, hurry, hurry!

My advice to you: take as much time as you need. Time-limited offers are designed to inspire impulse buying, and doing things on an impulse will not yield the kind of results you want for your books, your writing career, or your legacy. Take as much time as you need to decide. Ask opinions from the people you trust and respect. If the timer runs out, it wasn’t meant to be.


And Much More…

The idea of this article was to give you a primer, to help you protect yourself against common schemes and to save yourself some money down the line. It won’t protect you against everything out there or what will eventually come; for that, you need a skeptical, cynical eye cast upon every “offer” and “opportunity.” Your survival depends upon your ability to smell a scam, and I can tell you that you’ll run into them on an almost daily basis. If it doesn’t smell right, you shouldn’t bite. If it’s too good to be true, it is too good to be true.

Guest post: Michael Coorlim: Self-publishing saved my life

There has been a bit of discussion about self-publishing. First, there was this post by an unknown writer who called himself a self-publishing failure. In my opinion, the post was more about trying to be witty and funny than about the reality of self-publishing. The author showed a distinct lack of knowledge about self-publishing, and didn’t appear to have made much of an effort to sell his book. Also: only one book? For only six months? Very few people can make it work in such a short period.

Hugh Howey responded to that article with this post. This was a much more balanced view of how self-publishing has liberated many mid-list writers. The self-publishing story is not about Hugh (sorry Hugh, you’re a nice fellow), and it’s not about Amanda Hocking or E.L. James. The story is about the thousands and thousands of small-time writers who make a few hundred dollars a month which allows them to pay some bills, or, as in Michael Coorlim’s case, has returned to him his dignity and purpose in life.

Read Michael’s story:

Self-publishing saved my life.

Back in December 2011 I was in a bad place. I hadn’t had a full-time job since 2008, getting by on temping and freelance copywriting, only there hadn’t been much work coming my way. I was broke, couch surfing, and hadn’t had even the promise of real work in months.

You know how they say that you should treat a job hunt like a job? Yeah, that works for a while, but after the first few years you get discouraged. Then depressed.

So I found myself with little more than a laptop, an impending sense of doom, and copious amounts of free-time.

Scissorman ThumbI always considered myself a writer

Now, I’ve always been a storyteller. Even when I was just a little shaver, even before I could read, I was filling up spiral notebooks with stickman comic books and giving them to my grandparents. As soon as I learned to read I became a literary addict, binging on as many books as I could get my grubby little hands on. In class I’d ignore whatever the teachers were blathering on about and read something hidden under the lip of my desk. When assigned reading I’d get through it in the first day. I still binge; I think I got through the last Harry Potter book in a single sitting.

I don’t read as much anymore. And by 2011, I wasn’t writing much, either. Life skimming the poverty line has this way of wearing away at your most interesting edges. I still thought of myself as “a writer”, but truth was I hadn’t written anything substantial in years.

Never tried to get published, either. Oh, I thought about it. Researched it. Bought Writer’s Digest guides, read How To’s on the business by Stephen King and Ray Bradbury and Orson Scott Card. Never did so much as send a query, though. Maybe it was a fear of success. Or a fear of failure. It seems an alien mindset to me, now, but all I know is that it was some d*mn unprofessional attitude or another that held me back, kept me working [crap] jobs to make other people rich.

If I was smart, I woulda started self-publishing in 2009, but that’s the lethargy that comes with depression.

cogsmenT Might as well write somethin’

So I found myself in late 2011 with a lot of free time, impending doom, and not a lot else. I can’t say exactly what spurred me to start writing again, but it’s a good thing; I was rapidly burning through my social circle’s hospitality, and was faced with an upcoming Chicago winter.

I wrote a short psychological thriller about the end of the word and sent it off to some magazine. A milestone. My first ever submission anywhere.

It was rejected. I had expected that. What I hadn’t expected was that my rejection was a personal one, calling it an “Almost”.

Spirits lifted, I thought about sending it off to the next market on my list, when I remembered that self-publishing thing. Why not, right?

I spent some time researching it, then sent the story off to Amazon, Smashwords, and Barnes & Noble. I hastened and wrote a few other stories, publishing four that first month.

I made $10. And I was doing everything wrong.

My covers were terrible, my titles were vague and uninformative, my pricing was 99 cents. I could write, but I had no clue about the business of writing.

Gotta learn the trade

I did some more research, wrote some more stories, and put some thought into branding. Month two? $250.

That was $250 more than I’d earned in a long time.

As time went by, I kept writing, kept researching, kept honing my skills with covers and blurbs and titles. I stopped wasting so much time on twitter and facebook trying to promote myself, and instead focused on producing content. I’ve got the website, but that’s about all the active marketing I bother with, beyond sending out a twitter announcement and mailing list email when I publish something new.

By June 2012 I was making a thousand dollars a month.

That may not sound like a lot as someone’s sole source of income, but it was a hell of a lot to me, and it’s entirely through my efforts. Sure, Amazon and BN and Kobo and iTunes get their cut, but I’m not working for anyone else. Nobody else is making as much offa my word-sweat as I am.

And that’s incredibly liberating.

Where I’m At

So I’ve been plateaued at around a thousand a month since then and I can’t seem to climb any higher for whatever reason, but I’m doing something that I love. That’s it. That’s the job. Eventually I’ll break this wall I keep hitting and start making more. Some story will take off, or my mailing list will grow to the point where I have more consistent sales, or I’ll just have an inventory where the individual sales trickles add up to more.

I can write. My reviews tell me that. And I’m learning to publish.

The only way to fail at writing is to give up, and a lot of people who try self-publishing do. They publish a story or two and don’t see instant results, get discouraged, and quit. It’s a long game, and you have to have realistic expectations, but as long as you don’t stop you’re making progress. I’m proof of that, and I hope that my story inspires other authors to keep on.


Though a prolific writer Michael Coorlim had found the prospect and process of traditional publication daunting, often preparing query letters and researching markets only to never get around to submitting any of his work. It wasn’t until he reached his thirties that he took the steps to write professionally, and by then the self-publishing revolution had already begun.

He currently lives in the city of Chicago with his girlfriend and their cat, living his life-long dream of supporting himself as an author of fast-paced character-driven fiction about authentic people in fantastic situations.

Michael’s blog
mailing list for new release announcements
Michael’s books

Guest post: Dalya Moon – Remember who you were

Dalya Moon is a fellow writer of fantasy whom I met at the kindleboards, where her posts about the trials of being a no-name self-published writer are refreshingly honest. She also keeps interesting records of her sales (much better than mine! I should not be allowed in the same room as an Excel spreadsheet). In this post, she addresses that all-important gap between expectations, hope and reality.

I quit writing at least once a week. So do many of the writers and self-publishers I know.

It wasn’t like this in the beginning. There’s the initial rush: someone read your book! They liked it! This seems like enough for you, and in the beginning it is.

But then, you hear the success stories. Your friends and peers get amazing deals and top the best-seller charts. You start putting out more books, faster. Now it’s not just about having a person read your book, but about a hundred or a thousand. Some of your friends sell a thousand books a day. Why not you?

And this is where the real problems begin.

Amazon is this big piggy bank full of coins, and you’re circling it with your ball-peen hammer. Other people are standing under rivulets of coins, telling you that all you need to do is write quality books and work hard and it’ll happen for you, too!

You bang on the piggy bank. Nothing comes out. You toil, all day and night, for months, years. You read blogs, analyze numbers, talk to other hammerers on message boards, comparing notes. You make charts. The charts tell you nothing.
You have low sales, and on top of that, you get critical reviews. You pay cash for advertisements that do absolutely nothing. Perhaps a few of your mates are unkind and diss your work behind your back. You get hurt feelings, and then you feel ashamed of having hurt feelings. It’s just a book! It’s just eight or nine books! Why are you being so petty?
You have a few bad days, and then you have a very bad day.

And you think that your very bad day is about the writing. It’s Amazon’s fault. Algorithms. Wrong genre. Cover confusion. Epub formatting. Blame Smashwords!

But maybe your bad day isn’t about writing at all.

Not everything’s about writing.

What were you like before you wrote and published books? On what did you blame your bad days?

Try to pick up some new life activities to give you a variety of things to be annoyed about. Take up yoga. Or pick up the empty food containers around your desk.

Remember that before you became a writer and a self-publisher, you were someone.

* * *

Dalya Moon is a self-publishing author –

Guest post: Bryan Thomas Schmidt: Can There Be Space Opera Without The Science?

First of all, sincere apologies to Bryan. I agreed to do this guest post as a part of his blog tour, but then forgot about it as my trip to Canberra was postponed by two weeks. I had only internet connection on my phone (I swear the likelihood of a hotel offering free wifi is inversely related to the pricof said hotel, and also the chance of finding a cafe with free wifi is inversely related to the proximity of a large by of government workers on six-figure salaries). Long story short: I went there to get away from the internet and I didn’t think it would matter. But I was wrong. So here is the post, two days late.

Can There Be Space Opera Without The Science?

This is an ironic  thin g to post about on a scientist’s blog, I realize, but it’s an interesting topic I’ve heard authors speaking about lately and perhaps it would good to address in light of my own space opera series, The Saga Of Davi Rhii, which has now grown to two novels with a third pending. Daniel Abraham talked about the Hugo-nominated novel Leviathan Wakes which he cowrote with Ty Franck as James S.A. Corey and said they really focused more on emotion and sentiment than nifty science or tech in writing that. I tend to be the same way. But there are some considerations which one should make if you desire to write something appealing to fans of both.

For example, in the case of certain tropes like laser guns and FTL drives. FTL are not generally considered to be possible at present, and laser guns in space are not generally considered less effective weapons than standard projectile weapons would be, yet both consistent tropes in much of science fiction. They sound cool and are very effective story aids, but as far as the science, both fall short shrift. So those are things which likely won’t alienate your science fan audience.

But other things do matter more.

For example, in the Davi Rhii books, I posit a solar system with twin suns, one slightly larger, around which the planets rotate, and a second sun which is further out and mostly exerts gravitational influence on their rotations and seasons. When I first drafted this novel,  such a thing was considered absurd, but then NASA scientists discovered, last year, an actual solar system with two suns. That was an unexpected gift to the science of my novels, but I also took the time to consider how the presence of two suns would work. The planets in my system have double summers, one shorter, when they are closest to the twin sun than their master sun, and the one nearest the main sun being longer. Gravitational effects from the second sun on each planet vary but things like longer daylight and earthquakes,  tidal waves and other unusual weather patterns are just part of life. Those are all things that tend to be affected by gravitational fields and might well exist under such circumstances. So it’s not exact science  but is believable, at least potentially.

Another example is the use of partial terraforming on some of the planets to make them habitable for humans. In a couple of cases, planets furthest out are enclosed in domes where humans can coexist with native species. In one case, the humans wear breathing apparatus and are able to go out on the planet’s surface. In  the other, life only exists inside the dome. In other cases, terraforming was halted when native life was discovered and yet has played a role in transforming portions of those planets where humans and aliens live together.

I also gave consideration to the types of geographies, etc. of the planets as well as their relative size to one another based on their location in the system and distances from the suns. There are a couple of Earth-like planets toward the middle with two ice planets far out and rockier planets between. Nearer to the sun are a water planet and even a couple which are uninhabitable, like our own mercury and Venus, for example. Again, this is not perfect science but its suggestive from known science which allows readers to view it as plausible on the surface and lends a science feel, despite not being in depth enough to hold up to larger scrutiny.

In addition, I had a friend help me calculate actual travel distances between planets so that we could use accurate FTL and regular speed times for vehicles moving between them.

The purpose of this is to include elements of real science where possible while also lending hints of science to the novel where in depth science doesn’t exist. It just makes the story more palatable i.e. believable for people who think about scientific considerations in reading science fiction. It also is really important at stimulating one’s own process as an author in world-building. If like me, you’re not a scientist, it’s helpful to look at the world you’re creating in terms of where science would exist and/or be required and where it matters to your story. It prompts you to ask questions about such concerns in writing and even directs your creative process to some degree in ways you might not have considered in brainstorming.

What type of consideration to science do you give when writing? Do you like stories to be solely hard science fiction or a good mix? What are the issues you’ve encountered? I’d love to hear your thoughts in comments.

In Bryan’s second novel, The Returning, new challenges arise as Davi Rhii’s rival Bordox and his uncle, Xalivar, seek revenge for his actions in The Worker Prince, putting his life and those of his friends and family in constant danger. Meanwhile, politics as usual has the Borali Alliance split apart over questions of citizenship and freedom for the former slaves. Someone’s even killing them off. Davi’s involvement in the investigation turns his life upside down, including his relationship with his fiancée, Tela. The answers are not easy with his whole world at stake.

Bryan Thomas Schmidt is the author of the space opera novels The Worker Prince, a Barnes & Noble Book Clubs Year’s Best SF Releases of 2011 Honorable Mention, and The Returning, the collection The North Star Serial, Part 1, and several short stories featured  in anthologies and magazines.  He edited the anthology Space Battles: Full Throttle Space Tales #6 for Flying Pen Press, headlined by Mike Resnick. As a freelance editor, he’s edited a novels and nonfiction.  He’s also the host of Science Fiction and Fantasy Writer’s Chat every Wednesday at 9 pm EST on Twitter under the hashtag #sffwrtcht. A frequent contributor to Adventures In SF PublishingGrasping For The Wind and SFSignal, he can be found online as @BryanThomasS on Twitter or via his website. Bryan is an affiliate member of the SFWA.

Five questions for Brad Torgersen, Nebula and Hugo nominee

Even before I met Brad at the Writers of the Future workshop last year, I knew we would get along really well. He had a hard-working, no bullshit attitude that suits me well. At the workshop, we spent late nights in the foyer, in the company of Laurie Tom, Greg Benford, Mike Resnick and Kevin Anderson. Brad, of course was a veteran of the workshop from the previous year. After receiving his award, his first sale was to Analog (hmmm, I do hope that there is a pattern there), and went on to sell five more times to them, as well as Intergalactic Medicine Show. Here are five questions for him. Of course the next time I do this, the main question will be: when is the novel coming out?

One of my interests is military SF. And often SF has a military component, because many writers see it as a natural extension of the armed forces that they will represent humanity in space. You’ve spent more than ten years in the Army. How often does this influence your writing and how would you describe these influences?

My decade in the United States Army Reserve — as a lower enlisted man, as a Sergeant, and now as a Chief Warrant Officer — influences me tremendously. I was an avid reader of military science fiction before I joined in 2002, but my perspective has shifted such that now I have something of an “insider” view. Especially when it comes to the maddening bureaucracy. My all-time most favorite military science fiction series is the STEN series by Chris Bunch and Allan Cole. Bunch (1943-2005) had been a U.S. Army Airborne Ranger in the Vietnam war, so there is a lot of his experience in that series, and especially in their co-written, Pulitzer-nominated Vietnam war novel, “A Reckoning For Kings.” I didn’t realize how truly authentic these books were until I myself joined, and though I am not a high-speed supertroop like Bunch was in his day, I’ve seen enough of the sprawling, crazy-making beast that is the United States Army to realize that Bunch & Cole were spot-on with their portrayals. Which is not to say there isn’t pride and even a bit of glory to service. I’m very happy with my decision to join. But I am also happy that I get to be a civilian much of the year, because if I had to deal with Army life every day of every week of every year, for 20 years solid, I’d go nuts. It’s a difficult, contradictory job often populated with difficult, contradictory people. I never really grasped this intuitively until I was part of the military. So when I write military-focused fiction, I find that this new understanding “leaks” into the story quite often. As does my respect for the many amazing men and women I’ve met over the years who have managed to do amazing and often heroic things, despite all the bullshit. That too often goes into my stories. The organization has lots of warts. Big, ugly ones. But the individuals… some of them have been finest, most dedicated and terrific people I’ve ever had the pleasure of knowing.

What do science fiction writers forever get wrong about life in the armed forces. What do you consider being some of the best science fictional representations of army life?

Well, I already touted Bunch and Cole as guys who definitely “got it right” in my estimation. So if anyone wants homework, I will always recommend anything and everything Bunch and Cole did. Orbit books is currently putting out STEN omnibus collections of the series. Look for them at Amazon UK, and for Kindle and Nook too, I think. What do SF writers get wrong? Lots of things. One of the biggest problems I often see is the heroic Private or lowly Corporal who jumps into the officer ranks due to a single, particularly brave action. This just doesn’t happen in my experience. Lower enlisted personnel who do brave and heroic deeds get medals, not promotions per se. Medals help a whole bunch when it comes time to hit the promotion board, but jumping from, say, Private First Class to 2nd Lieutenant involves a lot more than just being a hero in battle. There is a heap of schooling that has to happen — both civilian and military — as well as a rigorous selection process that weeds out people who can’t meet certain standards. In my own experience, I had to progress to Non-Commissioned Officer (NCO) status before I could submit myself for consideration as a Warrant Officer Candidate, and then once I was selected I had to actually pass through the bowels of the Warrant Officer Candidate School. I don’t see this changing in the future. In fact, I think it will become even more so, especially in highly technological societies where future warfare will be conducted using very-advanced weaponry, tactics, etc. Our officer leadership is going to have to be highly adept, flexible, motivated, and capable. Not everyone who takes a bullet for a buddy or who runs across a field of fire to save a wounded troop is cut out to be a Platoon Leader, Company Commander, or a Brigade staffer. I could talk about more mistakes, but that would take pages and pages and pages. (grin) I think the best thing anyone who is writing military SF and who doesn’t have military experience can do, is find and talk to military members and veterans. Get them to tell stories. You will learn more talking to an actual veteran for one hour than reading any dozen books.

You have been nominated for both the Nebula and Hugo Awards as well as the Campbell Award. First of all, congratulations. Secondly, the nominations were on the back of the strength of your story Ray of Light in Analog. What do you think makes people like this story so much?

Thank you for the congrats. It was a heap of fun being on the Nebula ballot, and I look forward to spending the summer (northern hemisphere) on the Hugo and Campbell ballot. Based on reader responses, I’d guess that “Ray of Light” got a lot of attention because it was a) a post-apocalypse story that didn’t use any of the usual post-apocalypse tropes (zombies, global warming, nuclear war) and b) it focused on the predicament of a small family. Specifically, a father and his daughter. When I looked at telling this story — I got the conceit from a science article discussing new geologic evidence suggesting that the Earth’s surface had completely frozen over at least once or twice in the distant past — I decided it would be easiest and have much more emotional oomph if I considered it from the day-to-day viewpoint of someone just trying to survive and cope with virtually impossible circumstances. The story hints at broader implications, but it is essentially about two people. It’s also not a “downer” story in that while I put the characters through hell, I don’t strand them there. I think a lot of modern SF tries too hard to be edgy and literary by having sad, depressing endings; or ambigious endings, or sometimes no ending at all. This is not what I like to read, so this is not what I write. Amazingly, it worked very well for enough readers that they voted it onto the ballots.

Patty’s comment: the reason why I liked the story so much was for the doubly whammy of its emotional content. A father worried about a teenage daughter is something a lot of parents can relate to, and the hope of Earth recovering from disaster is also something that touches people inside. You know, it’s Earth. It’s kind of important.

Cheeky question: Supposing I would like to be nominated next year. What would you recommend?

I didn’t deliberately set out to make the awards ballots, so I can’t say for sure if I have a formula or strategy that will work. I do think it’s likely that having had previously-published material in a major science fiction market like Analog helped to boost my profile with the readership. My first Analog story, “Outbound,” won the readers’ choice award. I think reader response like that is what encouraged editor Stan Schmidt to boost me onto the cover of the December 2011 issue, once I gave him a story with emotional resonance similar to that of “Outbound.” And of course, making the cover of the english language’s oldest and most widely-read science fiction magazine does wonders for a writer’s “footprint” in the marketplace. So between writing a solid story that scored with readers, on top of having a growing history with a significant publication, I think these two things put me over the top with the Nebula and the Hugo. Especially since I had peers and mentors tell me in confidence that they were giving the story their nod of approval. That especially came as a welcome surprise, because it meant people I trusted to know their stuff — ergo, skills! — thought the story not just competent, not just good, but better-than-good. And I was very touched and gratified by their support. Still am, win or lose. I am necessarily proud of “Ray of Light” as a result. And as the story goes into foreign print, in addition to being available electronically from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, etc, I hope it keeps winning readers.

You have been to some amazing workshops. Can you elaborate a bit about them and why they were instrumental to your success?

It was 1992 when I first got it into my head that I wanted to be a professional science fiction writer. It wasn’t until 2009 that I finally won the L. Ron Hubbard Writers of the Future Contest — birthplace of careers. I think workshops were instrumental in this, because I literally didn’t do my first professional workshop until June of 2009. The thing about doing pro workshops taught by pros is that they usually blow away a lot of myths, peeling back the tinfoil on the realities of what it’s like to be a professional fiction writer. I was fortunate in that the first pro workshop I did was by Kristine Kathryn Rusch, who has won Hugo awards for editing and writing, and her Husband Dean Wesley smith, who is also an editor and a writer. They could speak to both sides of the publishing fence. Not long after that, I got to go to Los Angeles and do Writers of the Future — with its dozen-plus array of renown and bestselling judges, who spend much of the Contest week lecturing and being available to the winners. Then I did the Superstars Writing Seminar, which featured many of the same big-name authors — Kevin J. Anderson, Rebecca Moesta, Eric Flint, Brandon Sanderson — and I’ve also done Dave Wolverton’s Million Dollar novel outlines class. In addition to still more workshops with Kris Rusch and Dean Smith — out of which I’ve sold virtually everything I wrote in class. Each and every one of these experiences taught me enormously important lessons about the business, and/or the craft. Which I think it’s important to undersand the difference between. Experienced aspiring and/or newly-published writers who are at a base-line competency with craft, can benefit a lot from exposure to business information. Fledgling aspiring writers who haven’t written much at all, or who may have never written anything, period, may not benefit from a business workshop as much as they could from a craft workshop, such as Orson Scott Card’s famous Boot Camp. And yes, these all cost money. Well, all but Writers of the Future, which is free to winners. But like any other worthwhile investment, it takes money to make money. I wish I’d done these sorts of workshops much sooner than I did. Maybe my career would be just that much further along than it is now?

This is a very good story. Take take my word for it, see it for yourself. You can read your own copy of Ray of Light on Amazon and B & N

Guest post: Nicole Murphy – The Canberra SF/F/H Writing scene

I realised recently that for all the sneering at our national capital, Canberra actually has a pretty awesome SFF writing scene. One of the people instrumental in this group is Nicole Murphy, so I’ve asked her to tell the rest of us what goes on in the national capital, and of course to pimp the events she’s helping to organise.

People who are used to thinking of Canberra only in terms of politics may well be surprised to hear that Canberra has a thriving community of science fiction, fantasy and horror writers.

We’re doing pretty well too. Some of the more notable writers include:

• Jack Heath – author of bestselling action novels for children
• Daniel O’Malley – author of The Rook, one of this years most talked about debuts
• K.T Taylor – her Griffin books have sold internationally
• Maxine McArthur – Aurealis and George Turner award winning author of science fiction
• Kaaron Warren – award winning author of horror and dark fantasy – her most recent achievement was a nomination for a Bram Stoker award.
• Matthew Farrer – Matthew is a superstar in the Warhammer 40k universe.
• Ian McHugh – overall winner of Writers of the Future
• Tracey O’Hara – internationally published author of urban fantasy
• Gillian Polack – Ditmar award winner writer of the fantastical
• Simon Petrie – Sir Julius Vogel award winner for best newcomer

Canberra’s long had a history of connection with science fiction. Acclaimed US writer Cordwainer Smith lived and studied here in the 1960s. Aussie SF royalty Garth Nix and Simon Brown both lived in Canberra for a number of years. The Canberra Science Fiction Society has been running since 1971. I can’t say too much about them since I’m not involved, but they’ve just started up a blog here:

For me and a lot of writers, the Canberra SFFH writing has two main outlets – the Conflux science fiction conventions and the Canberra Speculative Fiction Guild.

The Conflux conventions started in 2004, based on the Canberra Science Fiction Conventions held the two years beforehand. The conventions are generally organised by writers and so there is a definite thrust toward supporting and encouraging writers at the conventions. There are international and national writer guests, editors and multiple workshops that educate and inform. You can find out more at the websites for the two upcoming Conflux conventions – Conflux 8 (2012) and Conflux 9 (2013 Natcon).

The Canberra Speculative Fiction Guild (CSFG) began at Aussiecon 3 in 1999, when a group of Canberrans met each other and realised they should take the special feeling of the convention and use it to create a force for writing in Canberra.

Since then, the group has published seven themed anthologies, one special anthology (Gastronomicon – stories and recipes) and a single-author collection (Kaaron Warren’s The Grinding House). There will be a new themed anthology announced any day now. These anthologies are open to non CSFG members as well, but all the editing, proofing, typesetting and so on is done by CSFG members and helps create a great skill set.

The CSFG has four different meetings every month. The main meeting is the general meeting, held on the third Wednesday. We share news, help each other out, and do activities aimed at improving our writing such as story generation, reading aloud and informational nights such as science talks.

The first Wednesday of the month is the short story crit group, which has been running since 2003. Half a dozen people put up a short story, and then all gather at someone’s house and crit it. There’s a range of experience and genres and you get excellent feedback.

The first Tuesday of the month is the novel writing group. This started last year. The members meet up and talk their writing, share things they’ve learnt, and encourage each other to finish the novel.

The final meeting, on the second Wednesday of the month, is the novel crit group. It’s running this year for the third time. Everyone puts up a novel – we read one a month and critique it. Your work gets a thorough going over and while it can be confronting, it helps a lot.

I put Secret Ones through the novel crit group when it was first held in 2007. It was through that group that ideas such as the overaching storyline of Asarlai that held the entire trilogy together were developed.

Both Conflux and the CSFG have been important parts of my development as a writer. It wonderful to have these opportunities to work with other writers, both more experienced and less, and learn from all of them.

You won’t meet all the writers I’ve mentioned at the groups, but over time you will. And the rest that I’ve not mentioned (including myself) are wonderful, warm people who are supportive and encouraging.

So if you find that you’re going to be moving to Canberra, do so with enthusiasm – you’ll find a fabulous group of people. And if you don’t move – come to Conflux so you can catch up with us all.


Nicole Murphy has been a primary school teacher, bookstore owner, journalist and checkout chick. She grew up reading Tolkien, Lewis and Le Guin; spent her twenties discovering Quick, Lindsey and Deveraux and lives her love of science fiction and fantasy through her involvement with the Conflux science fiction conventions. Her urban fantasy trilogy Dream of Asarlai is published in Australia/NZ by HarperVoyager. She’s just commenced a new venture, In fabula-divinos ( which is aimed at mentoring up-and-coming writers. She’s recently self-published her fantasy romance novella ‘The Right Connection’, available here She lives with her husband in Queanbeyan, NSW (which is right across the border from Canberra). Visit her website

Guest post: Doctor Why by Simon Forward

Today, I give the floor to Doctor Who author Simon A Forward. I confessed to him that I have never watched Doctor Who, and asked him to write a post about why I should.

Doctor Why
Simon A. Forward

So you’ve never seen Doctor Who.

Maybe you’ve been living on another planet. Maybe you just don’t care for all that silly science fiction stuff. Maybe you’d heard it was just a kids’ show? Maybe you thought it was some boring medical drama dealing chiefly in amnesia. Whatever the case, what on earth could possibly tempt you into giving the show a whirl?

What’s it about?

Well, as a writer you should be able to encapsulate your story in a single sentence. Alas, I fear this might be challenging in the case of Doctor Who, what with it having been in existence for so long, with a long and rich (sometimes passably coherent) history behind it. Perhaps our best bet would be to start with that well-known acronym, TARDIS:
Time And Relatively Dangerous Improbable Situations.

Okay, it’s not the best of tag-lines, I’ll grant you, but if you happen to tune in for any random episode, the above is about all I can tell you in terms of what to expect. It’s the nature of the beast. It defies summing up or pigeon-holing. It’s the most varied, unpredictable creation on TV and the only thing you can be a hundred percent sure of is that its central hero, the Doctor, will – barring the occasional hiatus – be back. Like Bond or the Terminator. Except minus the misogyny and alcoholism or the tendency to pack big guns and drive into police stations.

To be fair, time travel is pretty much the limit of his common ground with the Terminator, but like James Bond he does love his gadgets and every so often he returns with a different face, so even if you don’t like the current one, just stick around – there’ll be another one along any year now. He also has a bevy of women falling in love with him, although that’s a fairly recent development and probably connected in some way to the fact that he’s growing progressively younger with each regeneration. Like Benjamin Button, I suppose, but in place of some clever CGI they have different actors play the role because, you know, it’s cheaper and, well, it’s complicated. All you really need to know is that he started out old and wrinkly and at his current rate of rejuvenation there will in all likelihood come a time when fancying him will be altogether too strange and probably illegal. So, if you’re the sort of viewer who likes a bit of eye candy in your dramatic leads, well, by all accounts you’ve missed the really handsome one but, even if incumbent Doctor, Matt Smith, can’t hold a candle to his predecessor, now is a good time to get on board.

On a similar note, hetero male viewers should also be aware that the Doctor never goes anywhere without a sexy female companion. Well, there were a few exceptions and if you want examples, just say the words Bonnie Langford to a Doctor Who fan. But our focus is on reasons to watch and the current companion is Amy Pond, played by the very lovely Karen Gillan (Google her). News is she’s going to be leaving soon (no, I’m not crying, honest, I just have something in my eye), so again now is the time to look in on the series.

And if you don’t like science fiction, don’t worry. Science doesn’t come anywhere near this show. Sure, the Doctor’s a bit of a technophile, but his gadgets are more of the sort you might knock together as part of some Blue Peter project, using washing-up-liquid bottles and sticky-back plastic. And his preferred ‘weapon’ is a special kind of magic wand which, owing to clever application of the term ‘sonic’, foxes us into the belief that actual physics is involved. And if you do like science fiction, well, you get to laugh at the wildly speculative nature of it all, superior in the knowledge that your adventure yarn would be better researched. Although it’s probably worth bearing in mind that the engineers who design rollercoasters probably have nowhere near as much fun as those who sit back and enjoy the ride.

Anyway, together the Doctor and companion(s) travel together on whirlwind adventures. Anywhere and everywhen. You never know from one week to the next whether they’ll be on an alien world, in some historical setting or in Cardiff. No other show offers that level of excitement.

What’s more, they do all this in the TARDIS.

Think about that. Even if you haven’t watched the show, there’s a good chance you’ve encountered that word. The series mythology has spilled over into the English language and ‘like a TARDIS’ is a valid simile for anything with a significantly roomy interior. Most other shows can only boast a ship of some kind. Star Trek goes and names its principal mode of transportation after another ship and, let’s face it, ‘Enterprise’ was already in the dictionary long before Gene Roddenberry had his vision. But Doctor Who makes up a word. Creative genius.

It’s a magical word at that. It could so easily have been BOITOTOSLABATAITAS (AMOEBA). Bigger On The Inside Than On The Outside Shaped Like A Box And Travels Anyhwhere In Time And Space (Although Mostly On Earth, Budgets Allowing). I guess sooner or later that could have been shortened to Boite and that wouldn’t have been so bad.

Because that, ultimately, is what Doctor Who is. A box. A Box Of Delights. And every time you dip into it – like Forrest Gump’s box of chocolates – you never know what you’re going to get.

Simon A Forward is the author of several Doctor Who books and audio dramas as well as novelisations for the BBC’s Merlin series. He writes original works of SF and Fantasy for kids, YA and adult readers while also running his own Evil organisation.
Author website:
Evil website:
Twitter: @prefect4d

Guest post: Obsidian Moon, Obsidian Eye by J. Damask

Today, I give the floor to Joyce Chng, writing as J. Damask, whose novel Wolf At The Door was featured in another post last year. Her books stand out because of the authentic South-East Asian setting. Joyce lives in Singapore. Obsidian Moon, Obsidian Eye is a sequel to her first novel, which, a little birdie tells me, is on the recommended reading list for the Nebula Awards.

Before I begin, I would like to thank Patty for giving me the great opportunity to share my world with you. You might remember my previous post on the urban fantasy world set in Singapore. For this blog post, I am going to talk about it as Jan Xu – the main character who is also wolf – deals with more complications coming her way.

Obsidian Moon, Obsidian Eye begins with Jan juggling her duties as pack leader, mother and daughter of the Xu clan. She has a baby son and she is pleased with the peace and stability in her life. Her sister Marianne is now warded in a mental institution, still recovering from the hideous transformation which devastated her life and mind.

Yet, as things go, life isn’t going to be smooth going for this wolf. Enter the drakes (Western dragons) and vampires (jiang shi). They have plans in mind and Jan soon finds her life unraveling. All animal clans are also in jeopardy and Jan is forced to rally all of them to unite against the threat posed by the drakes and vampires.

Writing the Lang is such a joy for me. I love the worldbuilding that goes into Jan Xu’s physical and cultural landscape. Part of it stems from being Chinese, something which I am very familiar with. I like to see a character whom I can relate to. Likewise, I like the multi-cultural landscape in Singapore and also the tensions many races and groups straddle and have to deal with. The Lang are at odds with the vampires and the drakes. The foreign drakes bring with them aggression and unbridled desire to rule.

What happens when one is between worlds: both drake and Lung?

What happens when your friends leave, one by one?

Check out Obsidian Moon, Obsidian Eye to find out more.

Get the book from the publisher

Get Obsidian Moon, Obsidian Eye on Amazon

Get Wolf At the Door on Amazon

Blurb: The world turns and the dragon catches its own tail. Jan Xu, now alpha and leader of the Xu clan, faces more challenges when a past misadventure rears its head and threatens to tear her life apart. Added to this is a revelation about her role in her pack, which can make or break her, or potentially help her defeat an old foe, if she managed to hold onto her sanity. Desperate to protect her family as her world turns obsidian, Jan is thrust in the midst of conflict between vampire, wolf, dragon and Singapore’s Myriad. What can one do when the past won’t let go?

@jolantru – where I tweet as myself. 🙂

Five questions for Claire Corbett, author of When We Have Wings

Claire is a local author, whom I first met at Conflux, when we shared a panel about science in fiction. The reason that she was on the panel was that her novel, When We Have Wings, deals with how much modification human bodies would need to fly. Here are five questions for her. Enjoy!

You recently sold your novel WHEN WE HAVE WINGS to Allen & Unwin. When did you first hear of their interest and what did you do first when you heard that you made the sale? Tell us a bit about that incredible euphoria.

My agent ringing me on a Sunday to tell me how excited she was about the book was the real start of it. Till then I wasn’t sure I even had an agent. When she loved the book I was pretty sure it would be sold. Still, there was more work to do, then she pitched it; we didn’t hear anything for a few weeks, then I got the phone call. Hard to say exactly what I did then. There would have been champagne (OK sparkling wine) that night. The main thing was that I was thrilled it was Allen & Unwin. They are perfect for me and completely grasped the unusual nature of the book, that it didn’t neatly fit genre boundaries.
There was incredible euphoria there but it took time to sink in. It was more that each milestone on the way to publication was exciting (and nerve-wracking, as with the structural edit) and the book became more and more real: cover design, book trailer, poster and finally the arrival of the physical book. Having the book become real to other people was a wonderful process and new to me. How much longer will new authors be able to look forward to the arrival of a printed book they can hold in their hands?

The euphoria continues when your agent rings to tell you you’re going to be published in other countries – I have three international deals so far: Spain, the Netherlands and Portugal, all of them impressive publishing houses. I saw a cover rough for the Dutch edition the other day; it was very different to my Australian cover but I loved it.

In the process from writing the novel to publication, what did you find the hardest?

Three things: getting the right agent to read my book and take me on; the ongoing discipline of improving my writing, especially as I took on the distinct challenge of writing SF and crime in a literary way; and just the sheer persistence and hard work it took to get published, far beyond anything I’d imagined.

You studied film at UTS. How does working in film relate to writing a book?

The challenges of storytelling in film are more similar to those of novel-writing than some screenwriters or novelists care to admit. Mainstream feature films are all about narrative structure and character. I worked in the cutting room on features so seeing the way in which scenes were played around with, trimmed, or even deleted altogether taught me a lot about the importance of dealing with structure in a flexible, creative way. I had to do a lot of re-thinking structure through various drafts of When We Have Wings because there are complexities in the plot.

Also when cutting films you can lose a character or clarify and strengthen one in a short scene, just a few seconds of screen time. Watching Jane Campion work was an education; she was always asking ‘what does the film need?’ I don’t believe she was ego-driven regarding her work and I learned from that discipline: what does the book need, not just what do I want to say?

You have worked as a speech writer/policy adviser. What is the most unexpected thing you learned from working with politicians?

The single most unexpected, and frightening, thing I learned was that governments are just made up of people, mostly trying to do their best but without magic answers. I learned that many public servants are honourable and hard-working. Some are dreadful but you get that everywhere.

The last remnants of childish fury about how ‘they’ should fix everything fell away. I’ll never forget an elderly woman writing to the Premier complaining that a child had visited her and broken a doll the old lady loved. Could the Premier replace the doll for her please? She’d included a photo so he’d get the right one. I don’t think we sent her a doll but that letter made me wonder what people think government is for.

Standing between us and chaos are some ordinary – and some extraordinary – people! We don’t value good government as much as we should; if we all looked hard at a failed state or two, maybe we’d comprehend what we have and be determined to make it better.

Two other things: I learned how to smash writers’ block because we had to produce large volumes of work to strict deadlines, so that was priceless. The other aspect was broader and deeper, which is that policy work was an extraordinary education in how society functions. All organisational politics is much the same, from a big corporation to a government department to a small non-profit – people are people.

I love having that confidence; I know how government agencies work, I know the difficulties politicians face. It’s fantastic for writing novels, which demand a bit of a broad canvas. It doesn’t matter if your committee or government is in Ancient Rome or on Alpha Centauri – the realities of political self-interest, conspiracy and compromise will be much the same. It’s why Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar is still so relevant. The conspirators to kill Caesar could be the mafia or they could be any number of contemporary politicians and there’s no easy right or wrong, good or bad when it comes to any of the characters in that play.

Is there anything you’d like to say to your newbie-writer self years ago?

Work a hell of a lot harder and faster! Read about Hemingway’s early years and write so much more. Unfortunately I can’t do anything about that now.

About the book:

When We Have Wings

In a dystopian near-future, genetic engineering, radical surgery and a regime of drugs can give you something humans have always dreamed about: the ability to fly. If you have the money, you can join this self-created elite: the winged.

These fliers are not only given wings; they have their own architecture, fashion, religion and politics, and build floating towers in the sky. Those who live outside The City in the rural slums of RaRA-land can only look up at this new species of human in wonder and despair.

Except for one remarkable girl, Peri, who is prepared to sacrifice everything to get her own wings. When she kidnaps a rich family’s child, the investigation threatens to undermine the glittering world of fliers and reveal its ruthless secrets.

“This book is mischievous with scientific meddling in a way that echoes Margaret Atwood’s dystopian fiction Oryx and Crake. Corbett creates a world where cars have artificial intelligence ….plants glow at night.. spliced with jellyfish genes and… lions are shrunk to the size of a cat….Corbett’s prose has the clarity, luminosity and beauty of a well-cut diamond…. this flight of fancy deserves to soar.”
– Thuy On. The Weekend Australian

“This is what makes When We have Wings unsettling–the realisation that this is a metaphor for today’s world….Humanity is still the force that matters and endures.”
Mary Philip – The Daily Telegraph

“..a thoroughly convincing, immaculately researched account…. this wonderful new author unerringly explores the social consequences and the strains between fliers and non-fliers.”

Crisetta MacLeod, AurealisExpress

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