What Kind of Writer Do You Want to Be?

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Hi, all. This is another chapter for my writing book for children. Any feedback is much appreciated.

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Saying you want to be a writer is a bit like saying you want to be an athlete. There are lots of different kinds of sports. And there are lots of different kinds of writing. Most kids start out by writing fiction (such as stories about aliens or adventures or animals) and non-fiction (such as essays about what you did over the summer). But by the time you’re all grown up, you’ll realise that there are a lot more – sometimes very specific – options for the kind of writer you might want to be.

Here are a few that you will have heard of and maybe a few that you’ve never even thought about. Continue reading

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The Thirty Books That Spark My Joy

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Anyone who doesn’t live under a rock will have heard of Marie Kondo, the tidying expert. She helps people to declutter their homes and their lives and when it comes to books, she lives by the following motto: “I now keep my collection of books to about thirty volumes at any one time.”

As happens frequently on the internet, this statement went through a huge round of Chinese (or perhaps that should be Japanese, in light of her nationality) whispers and suddenly everyone was saying that Marie Kondo was telling people to throw away most, if not all, of their books.

She wasn’t saying that. Her general advice is that the items you do keep should spark your joy. And if books spark your joy, then feel free to have as many of them as you want.

Books spark my joy. I have thousands. I have an entire room just for my books. I could have bought a cheaper house if books didn’t spark my joy so much. Still, I thought it would be an interesting exercise to find the thirty books that really spark my joy. Continue reading

Controversy in Writing

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Without having any real evidence to back up the theory, I have always thought that writers could be divided up into two categories: those who court controversy and those who avoid it. (I later realised there was a third category – writers who are controversial without realising it – and you can read a bit about that here.)

I also figured out a long time ago that getting involved in any type of controversy tends to leave me upset in greater proportion to any change I may be able to effect in advocating for one side or another. So I generally try to stay quiet unless I feel very strongly. And even then, I moderate myself and think long and hard about how to phrase what I want to say in order to avoid reactions from trolls and people who never change their mind about anything even in the face of overwhelmingly logical arguments. After all, the vitriol of stupid people can be vicious and my greatest ambition is an easy life.

Besides, how much controversy is there in writing really? Continue reading

How Much Lived Experience Do You Need to Create Diverse Characters?

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“There’s a quote from Julius Caesar at the start of Area 7. I made it up. It says fiction on the back. A lot of the books – I stopped it in Scarecrow for the sake of pace – have the prologue at the start. Advantage Press doesn’t exist. W.M. Lawry & Co. He was a cricket guy. There are gags in there if you look closely enough. But it says fiction on the back.”

Matthew Reilly in Literati: Australian Contemporary Literary Figures Discuss Fear, Frustrations and Fame by James Phelan

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Truth in fiction seems to be a big debate topic these days, at least some truths. Nobody seems to mind when Matthew Reilly makes things up in his books or when George Lucas writes about an epic resistance and the religion at the heart of it a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away. But when a writer wants to explore a real race or a real culture or a real disability that they have no lived experience of in a piece of fiction, it seems to be more and more of a problem. Verisimilitude, or the ring of truth, apparently isn’t good enough anymore. Some writers of those races or cultures or with those disabilities don’t want you to read a piece of fiction informed by imagination and (hopefully) a decent chunk of research. They instead want you to read their piece of writing about the same topic (whether fictional or not) so that you can read “the truth” or at least a piece of writing informed by their truth. Continue reading

Co-opting Real-life People to Be Characters in Your Fiction

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While many authors love the freedom that creating a brand new and completely fictional character offers, others want to tell stories that involve people who exist or have existed in real life. It can be a powerful motivation for readers to want to read it but it can also be a minefield if it’s done badly. Here are a few things to think about to help you get it right.

Prepare to Do a Lot of Research
If you’re choosing to use a real-life person as a character, then you’ll have to know them inside and out, as much as is possible at least. And that means research. A lot of it. An awful lot of it to get the details right. Continue reading

The Continuing Controversy of Same-Sex Relationships in Fiction

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I have a theory that there are two types of writers: those who court controversy and those who avoid it. Controversy can mean many things these days but I was a little surprised to realise that same-sex relationships in fiction are still classified this way. And it has forced me to rethink the number of categories writers can be separated into and add a third: those who are controversial without realising it.

When KK Ness released her debut novel, Messenger, Book 1 in The Shifter War series, I was one of the first in line to read it. I’d followed with anticipation her writing journey through her blog ever since she did me the favour of reading a draft of one of my yet-to-be-published novels and offering some very useful advice. It was even more appreciated since we’d never met before and still haven’t to this day.

You can read my 4-star review of Messenger here. For the purposes of this discussion, this extract was my comment on the way the book had been categorised on Amazon:

“I was a little concerned when I was buying it that its main classifications seemed to be ‘gay fiction’, ‘gay & lesbian fiction’ and ‘lesbian, gay, bisexual & transgender fiction’ when the blurb clearly described a story that easily falls into the fantasy genre. Maybe my concern was because so much fiction classified in that way turns out to be erotic fiction. But it’s only because the main character and his love interest are both male. In fact, it was so subtle that I wondered if the ‘gay fiction’ classification might put off some conservative readers when it really shouldn’t. More a marketing consideration than anything to do with the story itself.” Continue reading

The Moral of the Story

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In the wake of the mass shooting in Las Vegas, the deadliest in US history, I was listening to a segment on the radio about research into gun owners in Australia. Rather than reinforcing the idea that weapons were more likely in rural areas where they are necessarily used for farming and predator control purposes, it found that a small number of urban gun enthusiasts and sports shooters were amassing huge arsenals. One owner had 283 guns. All legal, of course, otherwise the researchers would never have known about them.

There are plenty of illegal guns in Australia as well, estimated at about 10,000, but the strict gun control laws in this country mean that gun ownership is seen as unusual, abnormal even. We don’t have the gun culture that the US has, I suspect partly because of the different ways in which the countries established their independence from their shared colonial master.

The reason this segment on the radio resonated with me is because the main character in my debut novel is a small weapons engineer, a gun designer with a large arsenal of her own, although primarily comprised of historically significant pieces worth a lot of money. In the as-yet incomplete sequel, the novel begins with the opening night of an exhibition of her collection at the Museum of the Confederacy in Richmond, Virginia. Continue reading