Jennifer K. Oliver

Speculative Fiction Writer

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[Publication] Death Car Alley | Fantasy-Horror | 3,900 words

Back in 2012 I announced on my old blog my first story publication, a dark fantasy horror with a dash of tongue-in-cheek. I’m reposting this here because I’m still fond of my first venture into magazine submission and publishing. The story is set in a not-too-distant future where monsters have overrun the world, but people are still trying to live as normal lives as possible. Even the monsters have grown lazy, but feel a faint obligation to put in a little effort to hunt.

Title: Death Car Alley
Genre: Fantasy, Horror, Humour
Word Count: 3,900
Publication: Jersey Devil Press (Issue 27)

Evan stops dead as the shiny black Shogun 4×4 creeps around the corner up ahead like some giant prehistoric insect, liquid-metal smooth shell glistening.

A massive thank you to Yvonne Anisimowicz and Dabs Lyons for their superb beta reading and encouragement.

I designed a story cover for Death Car Alley in Adobe Photoshop. I’m happy with how this turned out, and it remains in my portfolio to this day!

Find the rest of my published fiction here.

Dragon Age: Dawn of the Seeker (Anime)

A gaming friend once gave me the Dragon Age: Dawn of the Seeker anime on DVD and I re-watched it last night. See the official trailer.

I’ve been in more of a Bethesda Softworks mood these past couple of years, though I do love Bioware games and got massively into the DA series years back with Dragon Age: Origins (OMG Alistair!) and then Awakening (OMG Nathaniel Howe!). Origins is still hard to top, even with current graphics and gaming hardware. (I’ll post about DA:O sometime soon.)

So, Dawn of the Seeker. The animation style is different, but I ended up enjoying the tangle of traditional animation and CGI. At times it has a comic book feel which works well during action scenes, and the overall dreamy style lends to the fantastical element of the franchise. There were things they could have tweaked to make it more immersive, however, like characters getting dirty and scraped as they trek around engaging in battle. The creators said they used a lot of negative space so you focused on the characters. As a designer I get the effectiveness of negative space… but I don’t know if it worked here. In the games there’s a lot of detail and the world has real depth. But OK, this is an anime and a completely different medium.

The story focuses on Cassandra Pentaghast, who we first meet interrogating Varric in Dragon Age II. I never warmed to her as much as to the others in Dragon Age: Inquisition. I do like her design in Dawn of the Seeker, where she’s a little younger and less war-scarred.

For me, the anime fell down slightly on story, with a handful of hackneyed moments that had me eye-rolling. There is also a fairly predictable character motivation: as a child one of Cassandra’s family members was cut down by a mage, and she’s grown up aloof and anti-mage. Cue having to work alongside a mage and find mutual understanding. I’m not saying this trope doesn’t work, but I feel that the betrayals within the Chantry would have been enough motivation for her to rethink what she stands for, without the “You killed my brother, prepare to die!” element.

I’ve always liked the way Bioware writes the political aspect of their series. Overall Cassandra was fun and there were weak glimmers of Alistair in Galyan. Definitely worth a watch for fans of the game series, particularly those who love backstory and lore.

Find the DVD on Amazon here.

Dadaism and Letting Go of Authorial Control

A few years ago my writing group experimented with Dadaism, a cultural movement that started during WWI. We attempted to let go of our authorial control and generate story ideas. First, a little about Dadaism, from Wikipedia:

Dada is the groundwork to abstract art and sound poetry, a starting point for performance art, a prelude to postmodernism, an influence on pop art, a celebration of anti-art to be later embraced for anarcho-political uses in the 1960s and the movement that lay the foundation for Surrealism.

Many Dadaists believed that the ‘reason’ and ‘logic’ of bourgeois capitalist society had led people into war. They expressed their rejection of that ideology in artistic expression that appeared to reject logic and embrace chaos and irrationality.

Our own Dada exercise focused less on politics and more on creativity. It’s easy to do at home or work: simply pick a magazine or book, and then chop out words and short sentences. Mix them up and reassemble them without thinking too hard about it. If you’re worried about destroying books you can scan or photocopy the pages too. One key thing and one of the things I found most difficult to start with is allowing word order to be totally random. I wanted to put certain words next to each other to form coherence, but this is not what Dadaism is about.

We used excerpts from Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein and Mikhail Bulgakov’s The Master and Margarita. I don’t know if I’d call it a poem as even that suggests some kind of order. Let’s just say it is what it is:

Patriarch’s Ponds. Associations, dressed in a Berlioz, an awe horn-rimmed glasses my utterance / And and with who called Massolit / broad-shouldered drag drink deep and by thee, O torments me. Hair, eternal my.

And these are my semi-Dada pieces, where I’d not quite let go of control and there was a little conscious placement:

The lips should utterance. One of you pseudonym of Homeless. And his conduct and vengeance

I must excited quickly dark-haired. Plump, bald. Destroy him by perish. The spirits their murderer. The poet feel, poet agony; this shall feel the dead over

Sharing our results was most of the fun. Some of them were hilarious, others a little eerie. All contained interesting concepts or prompts that could be expanded into longer pieces.

Graphic Design for Writers

My graphic design website has had an overhaul, with an updated portfolio and option to contact me using a contact form. Graphic design is a huge part of my life. It is my day job, an on-the-side freelance business, as well as something I do for pleasure. I prefer graphic design for writers and can create logos, infographics, as well as story and book covers. I’m going to share a few of my graphics here over the next few weeks, but if you are already interested check out my alter-ego J. Oliver Designs.

This first design was made for fun, simply because I a) love bunnies, b) love texture and vibrant colour, and c) wanted to try my hand at creating a mandala. I’m rather proud of the outcome. The texture used in the background was also custom-made by me for this design. It’s available to download as a texture on my Instagram. Eventually I plan to have a dedicated resources section on my other website for textures and vectors, so keep an eye out!

Run Rabbit Mandala | Adobe Illustrator CC

J. Oliver Designs

Run Rabbit Mandala by J. Oliver Designs

Developing Fictional Characters, Part II

I’d like to go into more depth on developing fictional characters, particularly character voice. I can only speak for the way I do it; some of these methods might not work for others.

Years ago when I was trying to strengthen my character voices, I watched, read, and listened to stories that had solid, distinctive characters. I took note of the rhythms and phrases those characters used—not only in their speech, but also in their internal monologues. There are subtle differences between “Please make me a cup of tea” and “So are you gonna make me some tea, or am I gonna have to do it myself?” The latter is wordier, yes, but the voice is more distinctive. Voice, be it dialogue or thoughts, doesn’t need to be spectacular in early drafts. But how characters talk and think should be considered during later drafts and editing.

Here’s a trick to see how distinctive characters are: take a scene or chapter where there’s interaction, and select only the dialogue. Paste the dialogue into a fresh document without any speech tags, names, or other identifying descriptions. Read through it, or have someone else read it, and check where the voices merge or sound too similar. Is there confusion as to who’s speaking? If yes, either try loosening up one of the voices or make it more formal. Give one of the characters a verbal tick (like the tendency to say ‘you know?’ at the end of some of their sentences), or a light accent (though use accent carefully) and then re-read it. Better? It should be.

Another way of tempting out voice is figuring out how your characters feel about what’s happening. This will inform their attitudes and moods, and consequently what they’re saying and how they say it. Have them react, let them feel, give them passion and the ability to speak up. Let them tell lies. We all do it. An angry character might speak faster in short, snappy sentences, and they might swear or exaggerate, whereas someone speaking calmly and formally might use longer, more complex sentences and have a precise thought process.

Listen to conversations on the street, in your workplace and at home. I’ve mined real people I know for turns of phrase and verbal ticks. But also remember to look for people who are more guarded, who speak neutrally and try to maintain status quo. You can have fun with a conflicting internal dialogue and thought.

I mentioned in the previous post shoving characters out of their comfort zones, and this also goes for shoving them at other characters. Bring in the type of person they despise, or someone they’re intimidated by, or someone they’re attracted to, and see how it changes what they say and how they speak. Character/character interaction drives plot and gives scenes energy. If everybody gets along all the time, dialogue can become lifeless. Even if your characters are friends, have them disagree regularly, or give them a rivalry that you can mine for little tensions.

Most importantly, you’ll only get to know your characters well by writing them. Outline and do questionnaires and mind-map them, too, but they have to act and react to really shine.

If you missed it, you can read the first part of this topic here: Developing Fictional Characters, Part I.

Developing Fictional Characters, Part I

Developing fictional characters can be tricky. A well-rounded character has both good and bad traits, much like we do. A character doesn’t have to be particularly likeable, either, but readers must be able to empathise with them in some way. This is what readers connect with (and how we keep them reading). They see a little of themselves or someone they know in a character. Yep, even in the bad guys.

When I’m trying to find a character’s unique voice, I always use their surroundings to influence how they would speak and act. I try to consider the time period, the social background, even the genre I’m writing. All these things will (and should!) affect voice. Saying that, I also think we often worry too much about finding a voice before we’ve even started, when all we really need to do is write and uncover it along the way. (Of course, it’s always nice if a character comes along with a strong voice already.)

And if they still refuse to cooperate, you can always throw them into random and difficult situations that take place outside your main story. Write some drabbles or flash pieces and toss your characters into a crisis. Dig up someone from their past and make them deal with it. As their actions and decisions take place, you should get to know them better. It will help you figure out what makes them tick.

Also, the naming process often does my head in and sucks up hours of time. Three great resources I’ve used in the past for finding names and name origins and meanings are Behind the NameBaby Names, and The Surname Database. Total nerd out when a character’s name has a hidden meaning!

Research is good, but ultimately I find the best way of developing my characters is to just write them. Write them in their own stories. Write them in side-stories. You can even shove them into other people’s stories.

I’m going to post a follow up to this post going into more depth on character voice. Watch out for Developing Fictional Characters, Part II soon.

Mind-Mapping For Fiction Writers

Today I’d like to talk about mind maps—what they are, how to use them, and where to get them—as a way of brainstorming, solving problems, keeping track of your events and timelines, and generating new ideas.

Sometimes stories are straightforward: you begin with your basic idea or outline, and then you sit down and write it from start to finish. But not all stories are that easy-going. Quite often you find they grow and become complex, unruly things, and before you know it you’re buried under a mountain of notes and plans, maps and research—and that’s before you’ve even tried to structure your plot or study your characters in depth.

This is where mind maps could come in handy.

I’m fairly new to mind maps, but so far I’ve found them helpful for keeping my novel timeline in order. They’re also an excellent “quick-reference” if you’re looking for a specific detail and you don’t have time to wade through page after page of notes.

What is a mind map? 

From Wikipedia – A diagram used to visually outline information.

How do I use a mind map? 

You start with a central theme or idea, usually placed at the centre of your map/page. This could be anything from a single word prompt to a phrase or topic, problem, character or concept. From there, you create sub-nodes and attach anything associated with the central theme. These sub-nodes grow outwards, generating more and more sub-themes and ideas, very much like a spider diagram. The best way to understand how a mind map works is to see one in action. Take a look at this hand-drawn mind map and this computer generated map (both images from Wikipedia).

How to make a mind map

You can create easy, free mind maps using paper and coloured pens or pencils (see example map above). But if hand-drawing isn’t your preference, there are also a number of programs available for the computer—some free and some paid.

Free Mind – Free Mind is a Java-based software that is free to download and use. They have a helpful website that provides instructions on installing and running the program. Works on PC and Mac.

Simple Mind – A simple, easy to use program. This is also a Mac app, but I’m linking to the desktop version as you can use it on a PC as well. You can only download a trial for free; you’ll need to buy the full version if you want to keep using it after 30 days.

Bubble.us – I’ve not tried this one, but it looks like it could be useful. You create your mind map directly in your browser. You can print it out, or download it to your computer when you’re done.

Mindomo – This is a paid program. The website states: Human thought is characterized by expansion in multiple directions.  As a mind map software, Mindomo is a perfect match to work the way your brain does reflecting your thoughts.

MindMeister – This mind-mapping tool allows you to share your mind maps with others and collaborate easily. There is a free trial, though it should be noted that you have to pay a monthly subscription for the full program.

There’s also a list of (rather pricey) paid mind map programs for Mac here, and a list of freeware programs for Mac here.

And there’s a list of free mind map programs for PC here.

[Fiction] Mundane | Light Sci-Fi | 430 Words

Title: Mundane
Genre: Light sci-fi
Words: 430
Author: Jennifer K. Oliver. Find more of my fiction here.

Mundane (pop. 1,112), Dorset, is a dense little market town hunkered in a cradle of rollercoaster hills and sparsely dotted woodland. Its only claim to fame, aside from its generous turn-out of livestock, is that it’s a well-documented UFO hotspot.

Old Norm runs the Wind Whistle Café on the A3-“Intergalactic Highway”-05. Out-of-towners constantly jibe and debunk him, so go right ahead if you want. He’s long in the tooth and he’s heard it all before. What’s with the limp, Norm—one anal probe too many? (Old Norm’s a veteran; took a bullet in ’51, and was one of the 2,674 wounded British to come out of Korea after the war, but he’s tired of relaying this, and nobody cares these days anyway.) Wouldn’t Starbucks be more up their alley? Why would aliens waste their time in Mundane when they could go for our natural resources or world leaders?

Any Mundane resident would tell you the aliens aren’t here to harvest our water or mine our oil or metal or politicians. They’re here for one thing only: Norm’s prized sausage rolls. As Norm himself would attest, they’re the best damn sausages rolls in sixty-eight galaxies.

Take Wednesday last: a spaceship hovering low over a nearby field (with extortionate parking charges, can you blame them?), four lanky figures sitting at the café window, their weird eyes blinking diagonally; their spindly fingers prodding paper food wrappers; their grey, lipless mouths slurping sausage bliss through a funnel of pastry. A more contented picture couldn’t be found—not in Dorset, not on Earth, not anywhere.

Weekenders from London chuckle and purchase their Little Green Men souvenir mugs and t-shirts and key rings, and they ask to try the sausage rolls—never able to resist a gimmick, they say. But over the course of lunch, their laughter turns nervous and their gazes dart to the window too often, and when they leave Mundane, they choose not to remark on the crop circles stretching out of town like gargantuan Spirograph designs, or the fact that Mundane’s livestock flourishes fatter, happier, more robust than any other in the country, possibly in the world. Perhaps they realise it unwise to look too closely at the piglets in the piggeries with their grey-hued skin and small, black eyes that blink diagonally.

That’s fine with Old Norm, though. It works for him. Because as Old Norm would say, it’s far easier taking the odd joke on the chin for the sake of his prized hog lot. It brings in the business from far and wide, after all.

To Outline A Story, Or Not to Outline A Story

Recently there has been few discussions about the benefits and pitfalls of outlining stories. More than a few authors have expressed a dislike for outlines, which is fair enough—our individual writing processes are different. But it made me look closely at which of my stories I outline, which I don’t, why I might or might not, and what my outlines actually look like.

Generally, anything over 1000 words will have some form of outline. Mine are usually hand-written in pencil in my notebook. I take a scene or a chapter, and summarise it. I’ll do this for all of the key scenes and chapters. Often they are not in order in my notebook–ordering takes place when I open a Scrivener document and start typing. But that is my broad outlining method. Pencil. Paper. Scenes (or chapters).

In theory, I love the idea of throwing caution to the wind and just writing off the cuff, seeing where the unfolding plot and characters take me. Some writers I know find outlining in detail can spoil the fun of writing because it eliminates the element of surprise and wonder, and ruins the discovery process. Not using an outline intrigues me and I’m sure it’s exhilarating, though it’s still too far on the side of disorganised and directionless for my taste.

As with most of these things, it depends greatly on the story and author. Often I’m struck with inspiration at inopportune times, like when driving at speed to work, or in the middle of a conversation with a friend. These are not the easiest of moments to grab my notebook. So I will make it my mission to write these ideas down as soon as possible because otherwise I’ll forget them. In this way, I absolutely have to outline and work out where these events are going to occur in the story.

As for flash fiction (anything under 1000 words), I rarely need to outline these as they are so small that the structure is usually pretty clear at the start. Flash fiction can explode onto the page without the need for pie charts and timelines and eight million summaries.

I have the utmost respect for writers who dive right into a new story without inflatable armbands and come up with something awesome.

So, fellow authors, do you always outline? If not, when do you choose to outline? Or are you a writer who tosses outlines to the wind and writes without a clear plan where you’re headed? Do you ever end up lost, and have you ever had to abandon stories when they lose their way?

Other Resources

Joshua Palmatier has a good article about this here.

K. M. Weiland also has a helpful article at Writer’s Digest: 7 Steps to Creating a Flexible Outline For Any Story.

My Micro-Fiction and Twitter Stories

I’m sharing the handful of micro-fiction I’ve had published across Twitter story venues. These are old now, but I’m still fond of them.

The Clockmaker’s Heart, at Nanoism, December 2012. Bittersweet and steampunky.

The Thinning, at 50-Word Stories, December 2012. Contemporary supernatural.

Robogrrrl@onefortyfiction, March 2012. Light-hearted sci-fi.

Morning Jaunt, at 5×5 Fiction Issue 4, January 2012. Stories in 25 words. Apocalypse fiction.

Patio@trapezemag, October 2011. Twitter fic. Tongue-in-cheek horror. Can also be found here.

Grey Matter@onefortyfiction, August 2011. Twitter fic. Contains zombies.

It sounds easy enough to write something interesting in 140 characters or less (these were all pre- the 280 character expansion), but it takes care and thought to pull it off and make a micro-story worth reading. Hopefully my little offerings aren’t too dire! This is an art form I would like to get back into some day, although it seems that many of the micro-fiction venues have closed to business now.

As a side note, I can’t believe it’s been six years since I’ve written any short-shorts. These days I’m far more focused on graphic design and longer fiction, though submissions have dwindled in the last few years due to increased day job hours and, as I said, lots of graphic design.

About Literary Agents

There are a few misconceptions about agents–what they are, what they do, whether they cost or not, and how it all works. I thought it would be good to briefly clarify a few points in case anyone is unsure.

The number one factor you should be mindful of when searching for an agent is this:

You should not pay agents to represent you / look at your work. If an agent asks you to pay them up front to read your manuscript or represent you, run away. As fast as you can.

The agent gets paid when you sell your book to a publisher. An agent will take a cut out of your royalties that the publisher pays you. Usually this is around 15% – 20% (it can vary, depending where in the world you are and who you sign with). Again, be extremely wary of agents that ask for payment up front. They could be frauds. If you’re not sure, there are a number of excellent websites that list known fraud agencies. Writer Beware is probably the best.

So what are agents and what do they do? Jane Friedman says it clearly and concisely on her website:

In today’s market, probably 80 percent of books that the New York publishing houses acquire are sold to them by agents. Agents are experts in the publishing industry. They have inside contacts with specific editors and know better than writers what editor or publisher would be most likely to buy a particular work. 

Most importantly, agents negotiate the best deal for you and ensure you are paid accurately and fairly. They run interference when necessary between you and the publisher.

Ask an agent who else they represent. Or you can research this yourself online. Agents unwilling to mention any of their authors by name or any recent sales could be dodgy.

Be wary of agents who refer you to an editing service you have to pay for. As sff.net says:

There is, however, a common scam where the agent recommends an editorial service. There’s a good chance the service is paying the agent a kickback to make that recommendation.

Also be watchful for vanity presses who expect you to pay them to publish you.

You do not necessarily need an agent. It depends on what publishing route you prefer to take, as well as the type of work you’re trying to sell. Not everybody wants an agent or a traditional publisher, and there are other options available, such as self-publishing and e-publishing.

When I Met Terry Pratchett

My poor 2012 Macbook Pro is struggling with my heavy-duty graphic design, so I have sorted through all my photos before I move to a new iMac. There are so many wonderful memories from years ago, I’d quite like to share some of them here to break up the writing chatter.

The first one is the day I met Terry Pratchett and the brief conversation we had.

It’s no secret that Good Omens is in my Top Three Books of All Time. The day I went to Terry’s signing I had my dogeared copy clutched in my hands. Most people in front of me passed him his newer books, but when I got to his table and gave him Good Omens, this is what happened:

Jen: “I wasn’t sure which of your books to have signed. But since Aziraphale is my favourite angel ever, it had to be this one.”

Terry: “Oh really? Even though he’s probably gay.”

Jen: “He makes me laugh, no matter how many times I read the book.”

Terry: “We [him and Neil Gaiman] had a conversation about it, and decided that angels were sexless and therefore could be whatever they wanted.”

Jen: “I wouldn’t love them any other way.”

(Please note: I don’t know the other people in the photo. If this is you and you are uncomfortable with this post, let me know and I will remove the photo.)

Was Aziraphale’s sexuality ever disputed? I figured him and Crowley were pretty much asexual. Aziraphale could be considered camp in his mannerisms, so I can see why Pratchett and Gaiman originally had the idea that he was gay.

I love this day in my past and I loved revisiting it recently. A number of years later I went to see Neil Gaiman during his The Ocean at the End of the Lane book tour, so I have had the pleasure of seeing both of these incredible authors in person. Now if only I can meet Stephen King!

Creative Writing Retreat Advice

A few years ago I went on a writing retreat, where I frolicked, wrote, and generally had a blast. I also took notes and filed those notes away. I just re-discovered them and thought I’d post them, in case anyone finds them useful. Most of this is common sense or tips you would pick up early in a writing career, but I do think we often forget this stuff when we get caught up in the chaos of the Writing Process.

01. Getting Started

Authors discussed their favourite times to write. Many people agreed that harnessing the unconscious, open mind was probably the freest form—writing first thing in the morning before your brain has had chance to become distracted with the day’s schedule/what’s going on around you, or writing at night, when the brain is too tired to hold on to all the stressful, stuffy matter of the day (this is my favourite time to write).

A few of the writers also mentioned how difficult they found it to prioritise writing over other activities, when writing was all they really wanted to do. We get paralysed by fears, nerves and paranoia, but these are obstacles we need to overcome if we’re to make progress. Don’t overthink writing, just write.

Conversely, if writing always feels like a chore or you’re genuinely not enjoying it at all, it might be worth digging deep and asking yourself “Why am I writing in the first place?”

There are two types of re-reads you can do after you’ve finished your story. First, read it back as a reader, purely for pleasure, ignoring the mistakes and problems. This can help you see the bigger picture. Then, read through as a writer, looking for technical issues but also looking for things that work particularly well. This can help you get your head around the details. Observe all that you can. Be objective to begin with. Make side-notes, if it helps. And remember to take little breaks when you start to grow weary.

02. Writing Combat

This workshop didn’t apply to me so much as far as my current stories are concerned as none of my characters are engaging in physical battle (mental battle is a different story!), but it was incredibly interesting and exciting because we got to play with real swords, bows, shields, and armour (I had no idea chain mail was so damn heavy).

I learned that swords were often dug up from graves in Germanic wars. Chain mail was hand riveted and more of a rich man’s game—poorer folk would either have to dig up dead bodies and take it, or steal it from the living.

The best advice I took from this workshop: when writing battles pay attention to all five senses, not just sight, touch and sound. The smells and tastes would be vivid, too.

03. World-Building

In anything based in an alternative reality, it’s good to set up rules and laws and boundaries before you begin writing, or at least early in the story. That way you don’t write yourself into so many ruts, or have to keep backtracking to change details and fix inconsistencies.

Study other cultures and their laws in real life, and take inspiration from them. Remember, countries have different levels of technology; not all countries are the same. This also goes for your fictional universe.

Figure out how magic and technology work—or don’t work—together early on, too. ( this is the one I’ve had problems with when writing steampunk fantasy.)

04. Keep Writing

Don’t be afraid to ask your characters questions. Get to know them like you would a friend (or co-worker). Questionnaires and quizzes can be insightful, if that method of character workshopping works for you (it doesn’t for everyone).

Ask yourself what your characters want. This gives them purpose, and gives you reason to propel them and the plot forwards. Once your character(s) have a goal, you can share that goal, which should help you to keep writing.

Meme: Seven Things About Me

This is a re-post of an old blog entry from 2011. All of it is still relevant (the past hasn’t changed) and I thought I’d share a few things about me in case anyone who has read my stories or seen me on social media is curious. Originally I was tagged by Helen Ginger at Straight From Hel to do the Seven Things About Yourself meme. Here are mine.

1. I have two tattoos. The first I got during the summer of 2000, and is of the Indian symbol for OM. I chose this because I spent a blissful three months in India and while there got a henna tattoo. Once I returned home I decided to have the henna version immortalised with a real one, a memory of my time travelling. My second tattoo I got a year later and is a small black and red dragon on my stomach, but alas, I do not have photos.

2. When I was thirteen I wrote a short story about a murderous demon dentist. This says a great deal about my feelings toward going to the dentist at the time. Those feelings haven’t changed much over the years–I still hate it and get that nervous wibbly feeling beforehand.

3. I spent my 20th birthday riding an elephant through a jungle in southern India. Best, and bumpiest, birthday ever.

4. An ex-boyfriend had a star named after me when we were together. I have a chart and certificate and everything; it’s something I just can’t throw out. If you’re wondering where the star can be found it’s 47m13s +19°34’43, in the Pisces constellation (apparently).

5. My first job when I was 15 was as a kennel maid at a boarding kennel and cattery. I basically got paid to walk, feed, groom, and snuggle dogs all day during school holidays and at weekends. It remains one of the best jobs I’ve ever had.

6. When I was but a wee young thing, I would remove a small drain cover outside my house and dangle my feet down the well. My parents have photos of me doing this. It signalled a lifelong love affair with water. Sadly, I also lost a wind-up toy fish originally intended for bath times, which wasn’t so great.

7. Possibly my favourite book of all time is The Talisman by Stephen King and Peter Straub. To me, it is unadulterated epic dark fantasy, unhindered by pasted-on romance and silly narrative devices. For this reason, I can forgive its sometimes long-winded descriptive passages. Jack Sawyer and Richard Sloat are two of my favourite coming-of-age characters, and their pure, bittersweet friendship moves me every time I read it. And lovely, loyal Wolf! Wolf! I was devastated by the sequel Black House (not even going to link to it). It was like reading a book from an entirely different fictionverse.

Feel free to take this meme and run with it on your own blog. Drop a link here too and I’ll check it out.

D Is For Disillusionment

Ever found an author, actor, musician, or artist’s website or blog and found that they are not as peachy-keen as you first thought and hoped?

This sense of disillusionment has happened a couple of times over the years. I remember hunting for a particular author whose books I loved as a teenager. I read their blog, and quickly noticed how regularly rude they were about their readers. The author isn’t writing as much nowadays, but it’s still bad form. Fans are still buying their books, which is the greatest praise. It shouldn’t matter whether or not a writer likes their old work. If the bacon is still coming in, the least an author can do is be quietly thankful and not insult the people who are spending money on their product.

I try not to let someone’s personal attitude get in the way of my enjoyment of their work. But sometimes it’s hard to look beyond their public conduct. This is why, when I discover someone new, I try not to dig too deep. The internet, social networking, and online marketing makes everyone incredibly accessible. But this can work against people, too.

We are entitled to our opinions, but how far do we take it? And how do we recognise when we’re not only damaging our reputations, but also unnecessarily hurting other people? It’s usually not until after the proverbial shit hits the fan, and by that time feelings are hurt, opinions are formed, and it’s hard to backtrack. It’s almost impossible to make people forget you’ve acted like an ass on the internet, because everything we say is copied and pasted, screen-captured, stored in caches, and caught on way-back machines and freeze-pages.

The lines between sharing our thoughts and airing dirty laundry are getting blurrier. I’m not saying we shouldn’t talk about our feelings, but bear in mind that sometimes a little mystery goes a long way. We don’t have to leap head first onto every bandwagon that comes along just because we want to be heard.

There are certain topics I’d never discuss at a dinner party, and those same topics will never be discussed here.

What If Your First Drafts Fall Short of the Mark?

A topic that’s caught my eye recently is whether an author should over-write or under-write the first draft of their story. A number of people find it much easier hacking unnecessary words, paragraphs and scenes from their first drafts, rather than trying to pad out existing scenes or add new ones later. I think this is down to personal preference as well as practise. What works for one person won’t work for the next.

I have a first draft of a YA sci-fi novel which I estimated to turn out 70-80k words. I usually aim for around 80-100k for finished YA stories, so that additional 10-20k words is my leeway during edits. However, the first draft of this particular novel is currently 58k words. A number of my chapters are sparse and I hurried them just to get my ideas down. This has never happened before, and immediately upon completing the draft, I panicked. It just seemed way too short. I needed to remind myself that early drafts can work as skeletons, giving you networks and boundaries (the bones), but the story does not end there. It will continue to grow its internal organs and flesh as I rewrite. Panic over. I think, with this particular novel, I was crashing through the first draft so I didn’t become distracted by the important plot milestones. Hopefully that’s a good thing, and it means I was more focused on the bigger picture rather than too tangled in the finer details.

I have writer friends whose first drafts have come out hundreds of thousands of words too long. Key plot and character development has become lost beneath all the worldbuilding and scene-setting. This is fine. They work hard to chip away the bits that readers don’t need to have spelled out. Most smart readers can fill in the gaps themselves, if you leave enough hints.

What about you? Do you spill every idea or thought onto the page then cut away the excess afterwards? Or do you start with a skeletal foundation and build up from there? I’m also interested to hear who’s tried it both ways, and which way has worked best for you.

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