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Archive for the ‘the writing process’ Category

 

Worried womanI’ve spent the first three months of this year finishing off the 1st draft of the sequel to the cat book. (See right.) I’m now at around 80,000 words, and I’m embroiled — no other word for it — in arranging the scenes in chronological order. You see, I write novels out of order, just picking one scene from the story line as the mood takes me. I don’t do this with short stories, which I plan out in advance, but I do it with novels, god help me. Now I’m the proud possessor of around 80,000+ words, roughly 85 scenes — all out of order.

To get a book out of this is no mean feat. When I saw the extent of the problem, plus the fact that I still had three critical scenes to write, I thought of lying down on the railway tracks.

Railway tracks

But the train doesn’t run in these parts anymore.

How to proceed from here? My method was to buy a packet of catalogue cards, write the name of each scene plus a brief description on a catalogue card, and then sort the cards into piles representing the main characters. I then sort each character pile into their journey arcs. After that, I shuffle the cards until they’re in what I hope is the right order for the novel, interpolating the main character cards as I go. This takes time. Quite a bit of it, in fact. When that’s done, I take the printout of the novel and put the printed out scenes into the order I obtained via the catalogue cards. Then I read the printout to see if it flows, where bridges need to be added, etc.

It’s madly time consuming, and I’m only at the catalogue card stage at present; I have a fair way to go yet. Unfortunately, it’s the kind of thing that can’t be hurried. Glitches in the plot will always appear at this point, and it takes time to work through them, for something to occur to me that will solve the problem.

Writing a novel out of order is a mug’s game; I don’t recommend it to anyone. But that’s my way with novels; I just take them on, one bite at a time, until eventually they’re done.

So here I am with my catalogue cards wrapped around with a rubber band. I get up in the morning, put on my dressing gown, feed the cat, make a cup of tea, and shuffle the catalogue cards.

Worried woman in dressing gown

I predict it will be a while yet before I have a properly organised printout that I can use to arrange the scenes in the right order in the computer version.

As the late Bob Ellis used to say, “So it goes.”

PS If you’re wanting to catch up on any of my short stories, the easiest way to do it is to go to http://www.amazon.com/Danielle-de-Valera/e/B00H286LXI  There’s a list there of all of them.

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The Cyborg(1)

 

Just as in every short story collection there’s usually one that causes the writer a great deal of difficulty, I imagine there’s also one the writer likes above all the others. This is certainly the case with me. “The Cyborg’s Story”, originally published as “Roses” is definitely my favourite short story—of the ones I’ve written, that is. My favourite short story ever is “Catman”, by Harlan Ellison, a wonderful story, which incidentally has nothing really to do with cats.

Published in the Australian sci-fi/fantasy magazine Aurealis in 1999, “Cyborg” tells the story of Michael 64, a winged cyborg security expert hired by Thurston, the human Director-General of Genetic Engineering, to guard Azuria 27, a famous winged cyborg dancer, whom Thurston has operated on so that she can pass for human. Such a procedure is illegal in 2175, the year in which the story is set. Azuria is secretly in love with a man called Elliott. She thinks she is making the change for love, but Thurston has much bigger plans; he is a man who believes that humans are merely a link in the evolutionary chain towards cyborgs. Michael, who starts out in the story as a hardened security expert addicted to Blue Monday, an off-world drug imported illegally at exorbitant cost, ends up in love with Azuria and saddled with the problem of whether or not to out Thurston and his plan for cyborg supremacy.

I had a heck of a time getting this story published in Aurealis in 1999. Dirk Strasser, the editor, had a strict 6,000 word policy for submissions, and the story was 7,000 or thereabouts. He wouldn’t budge as a matter of principle, although he liked it. I sweated some more and managed to get it down to where it is now: 6,350 words. Beyond that, I couldn’t go; I was right down on the bones of the story. Desperate, I sent it back to Dirk, with 6,000 words printed on the title page, and he accepted it. Whether he knew it was really longer, I’ll never know, but honour had been satisfied and the story then called “Roses” saw the light of day. It’s the only sci-fi story I ever wrote. Or ever will.

It’s a very soft story, a mix of love story and mystery. Perhaps that’s why I like it so much. I get bored very quickly with most genre writing, demanding as it does a devotion to straight line narrative, and often lacking any sense of something bigger, particularly in the area of characters and their relationships.

Anyway, here is is, my favourite of them all: “The Cyborg’s Story” aka “Roses”. Only one more to go and I will be able to start working on the collection. “Cyborg” is available for 99c at:

Smashwords:   https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/524901

and Amazon:   http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00UE3NKHI

I hope you like it as much as I do,

Dani

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 Transferance

When the children were in high school, I found myself with a bit of time on my hands. I lived in a small country town, jobs were hard to get, so I decided to try to make some some money writing short stories. I was working in the dark. Although I’d written a novel and had a few articles published in newspapers, I didn’t write short stories; I’d always thought of myself as a long distance writer. Still, as they say (or used to say), Needs must when the devil drives. I tried the Women’s Weekly first, but I had no luck. I didn’t understand at that stage that you need to study the publication you’re aiming for to get a feel for both the style and the kind of content the editor likes.

With no luck there and the need for money still pressing, I turned my attention to the men’s magazines. Here I was lucky: my partner Gianni Cosatto bought a Penthouse every month. Strictly for the articles, you understand. For a year I clawed my way past crotches and garter belts every month and studied the particular likes of the then editor, Phil Abraham. He was publishing one story per issue, good quality stuff of around 5,000 words by such Australian luminaries as Susan Geason, Peter Corris, Roger Raftery, etc. After trying a few different stories on Phil, I finally struck it lucky with “Transference”, a 4,500 word story about a man who becomes obsessed with his wife after she leaves him, goes to a therapist for help and ends up becoming obsessed with the therapist.

It was my first ever published story, and a monument to the technique of studying the publication you’re aiming for. The money was considerable for those days, and caused us much excitement. We went straight out and bought a VCR and mainlined movies all through that summer. My mother, who lived with us, was still alive in those days, so she was able to enjoy the largesse—a fact that, even today, gives me pleasure.

Well, there you have it. There’s nothing dubious or smutty in “Transference”; Phil Abraham wasn’t that kind of editor. It’s light with a heavier undertone. It should make good holiday reading, and is available at:

https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/497498

http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00QUDR8OC

The beautiful image that forms the cover is by ejimac. You can see more of his stunning work at:

http://www.deviantart.com/browse/all/digitalart/fractals/?q=ejimac

Best wishes to you all for Christmas and the coming year,

Dani

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Real Thing-final(1)

One day in 1989, when I was struggling with the first draft of “Transference” (eventually published in Penthouse), my good friend and ex, Gianni Cosatto, strode into my house and plonked three handwritten foolscap pages down on the kitchen table.

“There you are,” he said. “I’ve written the first scene of a story for you.”

I picked up the pages and scanned them. The scene was written from the 1st person point of view. It seemed to concern a man who’s sent to a planet called Gerar to check the authenticity of a coin found there. As he sits in Reception, still shocked from the hyperspace, this gorgeous chick with long red hair comes out of an internal door and is rude to him. I gathered that rudeness was a turn-on for this hero, who immediately decides to fall in love with her. End of scene.

“What else happens?”I asked Gianni. “I mean, What’s the story?”

“Dunno,” said Gianni, “I just wrote the first scene. You’re the writer.”

“Well, thanks,” I told him. “I’ll have a crack at it later.” I might as well have said: I’ll bury it later. I had no intention of having a crack at it. I pleaded busyness whenever Gianni enquired about it in the years that followed.

One rainy day in the twenty-first century, long after Gianni had died, I found the story in a drawer and decided to try to finish it. Seductresses with long red hair didn’t interest me, so I made it a gay story. But it never really worked. Sci fi mags I submitted it to were put off by the gay relationship; mags that might’ve been interested in the relationship were put off by the sci-fi angle. I was stuck with it. One day, I realised that the the idea of finding a coin on Gerar or anywhere else, for that matter, was so preposterous a plot I might as well set the story in Australia. I chose Maralinga, with its interesting history of British A-bomb explosions in the late 1950s and early ‘60s.

So here it is. I’ve recently worked it over yet again to fit the Charles Lawson thread in the short story collection I’m building, tentatively entitled North Coast Stories. It’s 5,885 words long and available for 99 cents at:

http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00OQAB7UW

https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/485382

Whatever misgivings I might still entertain about the story’s far-fetched plot, I’m immensely happy with the cover, which author C S McClellan created from a recent photograph of Maralinga country by Baz Landy.

For those who are interested, below is a recap of where we’re up to now in the North Coast Stories collection:

  1. Busting God

http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00J8ZIE8S

https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/416303

  1. Remains to be Seen

http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00LNDWRM2

FREE at https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/454352

  1. Stella by Starlight

http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00MTVVG96

https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/467119

  1. Star’s Story

FREE at: https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/479505

  1. The Real Thing

http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00OQAB7UW

https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/485382

 

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Star-goldceleveniafinal

 

Star’s Story—the genesis

Sometime around 2004, when I was on the Aged Pension and a more assured income, I had a little time to experiment. I wanted to see if I could get into Meanjin, the foremost literary journal in Australia. I had something of a knack for styles. If I could get hold of enough back copies of a magazine, say ten, I could usually nail down the style their story editor liked. I’d done it with Penthouse and the Women’s Weekly—why not Meanjin? Unfortunately, I could only afford to buy one copy; the pension doesn’t pay that well, and business wasn’t booming at that point in time.

I had always found the stories in Meanjin rather mystifying, and downright inaccessible at times, so I constructed a rather post-modern story with flashbacks and time jumps that weren’t always sequential. Should be inaccessible enough, I told myself. I ended up with a piece of around 3,000 words, which I called “No Through Road”.

I didn’t send it off to Meanjin straightaway, ah no. In my experience, the best way to pick up a little lucre was through competitions. I chose two which had well established writers as judges (one was Frank Moorhouse) and a first prize of $1,000AU. Even getting shortlisted in one those would help to get a more sympathetic reading from the editor of Meanjin.

I was lucky, though I never hit the jackpot. “Road” was shortlisted in the prestigious My Brother Jack short story competition in 2004 and in the equally prestigious Hal Porter in 2006. Right, I thought, now for Meanjin. So I sent the story off – in those days, you still sent manuscripts through the post –  and waited. And waited. Eventually I got a lovely rejection letter from the ed, saying that although the piece had almost made it, they had decided not to take it up.

Well, it wasn’t bad for a first time, and I’d only had one copy to study; I’d do better next time, I thought. Then the internet hit us, and I began to consider publishing on the web. I saw in it a way to obtain print copies of all my work to safeguard when I was gone. Better than leaving the manuscripts to moulder in the tin trunk, I figured. I live in the sub-tropics, it’s very humid, I was worried about how long they’d last. Maybe I could be discovered posthumously and the grandchildren would make a fortune. So probably goes the thinking of millions of indie writers.

To return to the point: I changed the title of the story from “No Through Road” to “Star’s Story” to make it easier for anyone following these stories on the web as they come out. Publishing serially like this, I think you need to remind readers of where you’re up to in the collection. Which I’ll publish next year. I also changed the point of view from 1st person to 3rd; the thing seemed just too confronting in 1st.

Because it’s only 3,000 words long, it’s FREE in three formats at Smashwords. (Amazon won’t let writers sell their stuff for free unless they join Amazon’s KDP Select, and then only for 5 days out of every 90.) I’d love some feedback on the cover, love it or hate it. I could also do with a couple of reviews of this story as it’s unlikely to garner anything favourable from the general population, it being so literary and post-modern, hem hem. The link is: https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/479505

Below is a recap of where we’re up to now in the collection:

  1. Busting God

http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00J8ZIE8S

https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/416303

  1. Remains to be Seen

http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00LNDWRM2

FREE at https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/454352

  1. Stella by Starlight

http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00MTVVG9C

https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/467119

  1. Star’s Story

FREE at: https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/479505

Only another seven stories to go.

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super moon in starry sky on sea

 

Nine years ago or thereabouts, the Australian Women’s Weekly ran a short story competition with a first prize of $5,000 and guaranteed publication in this most circulated of Australian women’s newspapers. Being a writer and thus financially on the rocks (I figure I’ve made about $8 a week from my writing over the last 20 years, and that’s a high-end estimate), I decided to enter. I didn’t expect to win, but I thought there’d probably be a short list and the stories on that would be offered publication. And the Women’s Weekly pays, baby, pays.

So I sat down and sweated out a story of 5,000 words and sent it off. Months passed. Eventually the result was announced, but Danny Margaret had scored zero, zilch, and there didn’t appear to be a short list. Well, I thought, so much for that, and I put the story away in the proverbial bottom drawer.

Five years went by. One day (I must’ve had nothing better to do, perhaps it was the wet season) I pulled the story out and reread it. It’s not bad, I thought. Very Women’s Weekly – what a shame it didn’t get anywhere … Then I remembered Australian writer Marele Day saying once in a writing workshop that magazines were always looking for Christmas stories. They were drowning in the other kind, she said; but they were always short of Christmas stories. Hmm, I thought.

At the time my finances were in worse-than-usual disarray. Publication in the WW would sort all that out. O-kay. There was just one hitch: My story wasn’t a Christmas story. To solve this problem, I had the main character’s daughter refer to Christmas in an already-existing phone conversation and I had two people the main character passes on her way to the beach wish her a Merry Christmas. That’s all I did.

By now, my CV had filled out, and I had a little more confidence than I’d had in earlier years. I approached the editor of the Women’s Weekly by email, gave her my CV and a 3-line synopsis of the story and asked if she’d be interested in reading my “Christmas story”. Next thing I know I’m being offered publication in their 2010 Christmas edition.

The moral of this monologue is: If you put a short story in a competition and it doesn’t get anywhere, that doesn’t mean anything. What matters is being published. Craig McGregor told me this way back in 1979, but I didn’t take any notice. Besides, being a single parent, I needed the money that comps could provide.

Now here is “Stella by Starlight” minus the Merry Christmases. I’ve also made one other change, transforming the main character from female to male, to fit the story into the collection I’m publishing next year. Everything else, though, is the same, and the theme and moral of the story are unchanged.

Sales points for “Stella” are below. I hope you enjoy it. I wish I could provide a direct sales link to Apple, but I’m digitally disadvantaged.

http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00MTVVG9C

https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/467119

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