Book News: The Eternal Machine

The trailer is here…

Thumbnail images adapted from images by: 
Jessicahyde (Adobe), frenta (Adobe) & Atelier Sommerland (Adobe)

After nearly 14 years of writing, rewriting, sending out, waiting for rejections, rewriting, sending out, waiting for more rejections, rewriting, sending out, waiting, rewriting, sending out, waiting, forever and ever…

I finally opted to self-publish.

That was over a year ago, and I realised that if this book was to end up being anything worth finding its way into the world I needed to put it through a professional editing process.

Three times: structural, line edit, and copy edit.

Thanks to these two fabulous Aussie editors Pete Kempshall and Amanda J Spedding that process was most enjoyable, especially now everything has been polished up to a standard I am super excited to promote.

Why has it taken me so long to do this? Why did I get so many rejections? Why am I self-publishing? I’ll blog about that later.

Meanwhile, my debut novel, The Eternal Machine, is a steampunk, fantasy/science fictional alternative reality set in an Australian city where magic and science are equally valid disciplines. It is now available for pre-order worldwide at Amazon, including US, Australia & UK. Currently only the ebook is being offered, but there will also be a paperback as soon as I’ve finished my layouts and the cover is ready.

Here’s the blurb

A woman with the strength to rebel.
A shapeshifter who wears the souls of the dead.
Together, they face a lethal enemy.

Em helped create it. Now she must craft its defeat.

In a city owned by industrialists, Em sells her magic to make ends meet. The extraction procedure is brutal and potentially deadly. Desperate for change, she joins an underground resistance movement to weaponize her magic and stop the abuse of workers.

Meanwhile, a mysterious voice wakes Ruk from a decades-long slumber and compels him to become human. He wants to break free but is torn between his shapeshifter instincts and the needs of the soul that sustains him.

On streets haunted by outcasts and predatory automatons, a new danger emerges – an ever-growing corruption of magic and science. Em and Ruk must put aside their differences and pursue it – each for their own reasons.

What they discover will forever change their lives.

Or end them…

Story in Aurealis #145

I’m super pleased to announce my SF/Dark Fantasy short story, “She who Played for Morrocks” is now available here at Smashwords for AUD$2.99.

The story is about two different species of human who both value music and each acknowledges the other’s sentience. Their attempts to respect each other are muddied by preconceptions, misunderstandings and instinct.

And what a beautiful cover for this issue, by Atelier Sommerland.

Hello Again

It appears I haven’t blogged for 18 months, which is not all that good, but not all that bad either. When I’m not blogging, I’m writing. Now I’ve finally finished my novel — the one that took 13 years to write — it’s time to think about self-publishing it. Yep, I’m going down that road, because I want to and I can. Hopefully it won’t take 13 years.

Meanwhile, I’ve written three new short stories. One will appear soon in the very long-standing Australian magazine, Aurealis, (more details when available). The other two stories are in need of a couple more drafts. Next job is to renovate this website, a little bit each day, to be released all polished up in a month or two.

Writing comes first. Blogging whenever.

Meanwhile winter in WA is well and truly here and the Australian native forest I’ve been planting in my back yard is doing very well. Here is a lovely little grevillea flowering right now. Ignore the tiny black spots on the petals. That could be dirt, or it could be bugs. That’s another job: to go check.


Surely, It’s Not the End of November Already??

Well, I’m not sure how the almost-end of 2019 arrived so quickly, but I suspect it had a lot to do with the way I immersed myself in my novel this year and finally got it to a standard I’m happy with.

Thanks to my editor, Pete Kempshall I knuckled down to some serious restructuring, fixed a few plot holes and inconsistencies, and ironed out more clunkiness than I’d known possible. Then off the manuscript went to some beta readers who gave me the best feedback. A couple were friends, and one was a guy I’ve yet to meet; and I was astounded by comments like, “I couldn’t put it down,” and “It gave me sleep deprivation for a couple of nights.” Here’s to hoping that agents and publishers feel the same.

It’s a long waiting game, this publishing business. In the meantime I’m starting a new novel, and polishing up a couple of short stories to send out before the year’s end. Perhaps I’ll make it my pre-new year’s resolution to blog more. It seems to be the thing to do when you’re trying to sell a novel. So here goes: back to regular blogging.

Oh, another of my new year’s resolutions for 2020 will be to give this website a facelift.

And Another Year Over…

I’ll never be a prolific blogger, but my plan has always been to keep in touch now and then. I didn’t publish any fiction in the past twelve months, but my hard drive has been filling up with work that isn’t yet ready to submit.

This time last year, I threw myself into yet another major edit of my Fantasy/Steampunk novel with the plan to have it published by 2019. I gave myself three months to get the edits done. They took eight. Then I sent it to a professional editor friend who gave me a face-to-face critique along with a stash of notes. I hoped to need only a line edit (I had, after all spent years editing it myself), but it needed a few more structural edits. Nothing major fortunately, but a few things that needed some time to think about.

That’s the trouble with self-editing. I’m so close to my writing, something that needs fixing can stare me in the face and I won’t see it. Editors are gold. Just saying.

I’ve also got an epic fantasy novel on the boil. Opening chapters for Draft One are done. I’m keen to get started on this again as soon as the previous novel reaches the line edit stage.

Last year was also the year of reading and convening for the Australian Aurealis Award’s Anthologies and Collections panel. I can’t say any more about that until the Awards Ceremony on the 4th of May, but it’s been a fabulous experience, and I’ve learned a lot and enjoyed every moment.

This year, however, I’m planning to take a break from judging. My to-read pile is getting taller and the novel really is my preferred form. Here’s a taste of what’s waiting for me:

Washington Black by Esi Edougyan
Red Moon by Kim Stanley Robinson
The Riders by Tim Winton
House of Sighs by Aaron Dries
The Cup of Jamshid by Andrew Old
Into the Sounds by Lee Murray
Moonfall by Donna Maree Hanson

Plus there’s more staring down from the top of my bookshelf.

My favourite reads for last year that weren’t connected to Aurealis judging:

The Second Cure by Margaret Morgan
Ecopunk edited by Liz Grzyb & Cat Sparks
The Silver Well by Kate Forsyth & Kim Wilkins
Science Fiction and the Moral Imagination: Visions, Minds, Ethics by Russell Blackford.

Ramping Up Dialogue

Blogging the Editing Day #9

Chapter 7. Scene 2. Hero #1 acts passive when Hero #2 starts telling  lies. Time to have a word with my character…

Me: Hey girl, I know you’ve been through a rough patch but, seriously, are you just going to hang onto Hero #2’s every word and let them get away with saying all that?

Hero #1: Well you wrote it, what else was I supposed to do?

Me: Yeah, sorry. I was too focussed on the scene’s destination and neglected the most important part: The Journey.

Hero #1: Yep, that’s how it feels from this end. But do you know what? Hero #2 can still end up in the same place if you let me tell them what I really think.

Me: You reckon?

Hero #1: Of course. They may be acting like an asshat, but that doesn’t mean they ARE one. After all, they’re going through a rough patch too.

Me: So what do you propose?

Hero #1: Get some sparks flying, physical and metaphorical.

Me: Oooooh, yes please.

Hero #1: Okay, take the bit where they start gaslighting me. I know they don’t see it that way, and dire circumstances have pushed them into clutching at straws, but gaslighting is gaslighting. I need to be more assertive and dish out a satisfying reaction. Check out your writerly toolkit. There’s a perfect reductio ad absurdum just begging to be used. I may well be angry and assertive, but I like to be funny too. Even if it does sound a bit sarcastic. But Hero #2 deserves it. The reader will agree.

Me: That’s sounding better already.

Hero #1: You’re welcome.

Pacing, Dialogue, Emotion, Info Dump & Symbolism

Blogging the Editing Day #8

The biggest problem with Chapter 6 began with its pacing. Having followed on from a few intense scenes, this chapter needed time to build on characterisation and fill in a couple of plot holes before they grew into chasms. As my characters stopped to catch their breath, I realised it was the perfect opportunity for the reader to see them being themselves. After all, too much fast action can end up being as boring as too much slow.

Unfortunately Chapter 6 was both slow and boring for a number of reasons.

  1. The dialogue was wooden and unnatural.
  2. Too much info dump via dialogue.
  3. Too much description of setting told through the eyes of the writer instead of the POV character.
  4. Important stuff happened, and although emotion was shown through body language and introspection, it was not enough. Opportunities for irony, character-centric reactions and symbolism were mostly ignored.

Here’s a snippet of what I started with. First draft material with little sense of character:

Em had spent the entire week searching for him, wishing they’d not fought, afraid she’d not see him again, admonishing herself for not listening to him when he’d begged her to. It wasn’t until she knocked on his bare wooden door only to have it opened by a stranger, that she realised it was time to face the truth.

“Everyone’s moving out,” the woman said. “No one likes the new laws. Did you know you can’t even get a stamp on your work card unless you work overtime? Who’s going to look after my dead sister’s kids while I’m working? If I can’t pay the gas bill, we’ll freeze to death by winter.”

Em blinked back tears. That was it then, Forley was gone.

Yeah, conveniently contrived info dump. Meandering and wooden dialogue. Bland, clunky description for the sake of description. Furthermore, I’ve told my readers that Em is feeling regret, but I doubt they’re convinced.

To fix this, I had to figure out ways to deliver information by weaving it into the drama, while at the same time keeping the dialogue natural. I also needed to remind myself to not give out too much info dump at once. In this particular scene, it would be best to let things unfold naturally as it would in real life so the reader can experience it along with the character and feel their emotion without being told.

At first I stared at my computer screen, wondering how to start. Then I realised my mistake. I was thinking too much about plot and not enough about character. I took a step back and reminded myself of my hero’s inner and outer conflicts, motivations, temperament and backstory. I thought about what information needed to be given, then imagined my hero receiving it.

In the end I decided that after all that had happened in previous scenes — and all that would happen next — the only  piece of info dump required at this point was the fact that a small number of people were leaving town because they didn’t like the new laws. Next I needed to embed it in drama, which in this case, was Em receiving evidence that her fiancé had bailed.

Here’s what I ended up with, though it’s still in need of yet another edit and polish:

Yesterday, she’d called into Forley’s tenement for the fifth day in a row, only to find his room newly occupied by five skinny children and a dilapidated aunt. Everything Forley had owned — his clothes, bedding, utensils and furniture — was gone.

“Not our doing,” the aunt said. “The landlord told us the last tenant had shot through. Defaulted on his rent.”

“Blame Grimsby,” chimed in a neighbour wearing boots that looked decidedly like Forley’s. “He turfed out your suitor’s chattels and sold them off. Dirt cheap.”

“Did Forley tell you where he went?”

The neighbour shook his head. “He wouldn’t be the first to disappear. Not since the new laws. I wouldn’t put it past him to have found somewhere better.”

Em stared at his boots. Definitely Forley’s. The leather was already scuffed, but what did she expect? Like everything at The Edge they’d be overworked, worn out and discarded. 

“Those boots,” she said at last. “Make sure you look after them.”

This time, there is no blinking back tears because that was set up and dealt with in a different scene. Now she’s past denial, past crying and moving on to acceptance. The boots are a symbol of Forley and his reason for leaving. My aim is for the reader to feel Em’s current emotions without me having to tell them in stereotypical ways.

Oh Those Ambiguities…

Blogging The Editing Day #7

Usually I love ambiguity. A morally ambiguous character can challenge preconceived ideas. Ambiguous dialogue can show that the speaker is either dissembling or being awkwardly polite. Ambiguous settings are right at home in speculative fiction, while ambiguous endings mirror the bitter-sweetness of life. In humour, intentional ambiguity (pun) can be anything from clever to cringeworthy. If it sneaks in unintentionally, it can be delightfully serendipitous.

Or just plain wrong…

My ambiguous moment in Chapter Six managed to evade capture for an entire afternoon. I’d just finished rewriting a scene and was feeling chuffed about how well it eliminated a small plot hole.

A family member, also known as Beta Listener #1 (BL#1) just happened to ask how I was going.

Me: Have you got time to let me read out a half page? I’ve been staring at it for too long and need to know how it sounds.

BL#1: Yeah sure, go for it.

Me: [reading] blah blah blah … she’d called into the tenement for the fifth day in a row, only to find his room occupied by four skinny children and a dilapidated aunt—

BL#1: Wait wait wait! Four skinny?

Me: What?

BL#1: FOREskinny

Me: [winces, frantically deletes, rewrites] Five skinny children …

The Joys of Rewriting.

Blogging the Editing Day #6

Chapter Five was my favourite chapter from the start. I would happily rewrite my entire novel to make it work. Fortunately I don’t need to because I already did it three years ago. Back then, it was the absolute standout chapter, but when read in context with all that followed, it felt like it didn’t belong. I made a weak attempt at forcing it to fit; but in the end, each of my little patches were obviously just patches. If I couldn’t fool myself into believing they belonged, then how could I fool my reader?

At the time, I already knew about William Faulkner’s wise words: “Kill your darlings”. Easy when you say it quickly. Not so easy when you’re unsure of which darling to kill.

After a week of contemplation and angst, I realised that the problem was not with Chapter Five. It was, in fact, with Chapters Six to Thirty. In contrast, One to Four, needed a minor rewrite. Five shone. The rest were highly polished waffle, written several years before, when I’d yet to learn the difference between a first draft and a second.

Thus began what was rapidly becoming a habit. Another major rewrite.

Yep, I’d completely rewritten this novel more than once. This was attempt Number Three. Now it’s behind me, I can happily say, I have no regrets. My novel ended up with a narrower focus which gave me room enough to explore its major themes in a believable manner. Chapter Five is no longer just fun and edgy, but now foreshadows later events, develops character, progresses plot, reinforces world-building and ends with an unpredictable logical twist.

It’s still my favourite chapter. Better still, it fits.

The rewriting process turned out to be a bonus, allowing me to identify which sub-plots were working, which characters were necessary, and which weren’t. As a result, a few more darlings were sent to the gallows. C’est la vie.

Internal Inconsistency, Layering and Situational Irony

Blogging The Editing Day #5

In the end, Chapter Four needed more de-clunking than anticipated. Being an early chapter, I also had to make sure the fantastical elements had been set up well enough for the current happenings to make sense.

The next step had me wondering if my changes had created internal inconsistencies. I had the big picture sorted, but what about the little ones? For example, did rearranging the order of those paragraphs lead to a character stubbing out her cigar before she lit it? Did my hero’s strange behaviour still make sense, or had I unwittingly deleted her motivations?

All seemed fine, until it occurred to me that while I’d been focussing on plot, character and world-building, I’d neglected a perfect opportunity to ramp up the scene’s emotion with a touch of situational irony. Not only would it look cool, but it would also help the reader feel my hero’s outrage and disappointment.

Fortunately, it didn’t take much to fit it in. It was as if my subconscious had set it up from the start, but the part of me that’s supposed to be awake took a few months longer to figure it out.

This is something that happens a lot when I’m editing. There are so many things that need to be fixed: character, plot, sub-plots, dialogue, setting, world-building. Unless you’ve been writing for many years, it’s not going to happen in one go. An important touch such as irony can sneak up on you like an afterthought.

In contrast, when reading a well-written book, it feels as if those elements were sorted from the start. Now I wonder how many had been added over time, in much the same way as layers are added to a painting.