As part of the launch of ‘The Pillars of Sand’ at Galaxy Bookshop here in Sydney, I used photocomposition to create character art that was given away in sets to people who attended. I did 80 sets, and all of them were accounted for.
For those who’ve not seen them, I thought I’d post a gallery of the portraits here. They may not be exactly what readers see when they imagine the characters, but this is how I see them. I may do other characters who appear in The Obsidian Heart, and The Pillars of Sand. People who have these cards as a series were interested in seeing The Emissary, as well as some of the supporting cast. We’ll see how I go for time. Until then, please enjoy. If people want to do their own art and sent it through, I’d enjoy seeing how you pictured the characters.
As was pointed out by somebody on Goodreads, it’s been some time since I’ve updated my Blog; so here’s an update on where things are in my world of words.
The Echoes of Empire series is doing well, with predominantly great reviews. Of course there are those who’ve not connected with the series, and that’s to be expected; there’s no book that’s all things to all readers, and I did write a book that could be considered challenging, and not typical epic fantasy. However the positive reviews far outweigh the negative, and my readership seems to be growing as does word of mouth. I had the very great honour of being the first Australian (of which I’m aware, happy to be corrected) to be in the final five for the David Gemmell Morningstar Award for Best Debut/Newcomer for 2013, with the Garden of Stones also making the long list of the top 20 fantasy novels for the 2013 David Gemmel Legend Award. While I can’t be a contender for the debut again, knowing that there were enough people who rated my debut novel so highly was as flattering, as it was humbling.
More recently all three books in the Echoes of Empire series were part of the Kindle Daily Deal. Another humbling, and intensely gratifying, moment to see all three books in the Top 10 Best Sellers for Fantasy Adventure. It’s a huge genre and my work was in there with some incredible company. Of course George Martin’s new project had to be released in time to stay in the number one spot, but I was happy with the rankings.
Most recently I’ve been working on a new urban fantasy project. ‘Autumn Country’ is the first in what has been planned as a quadrilogy, but we’ll see what the appetite of publishers is like to see whether they want none, one, or all four of the books. The series is told from two points of view, and deals with the bizarre and dangerous world kept deliberately hidden from humanity, behind the machinations of the Great Illusion. There’s more strong and innovative world building, though the world of ‘Autumn Country’ is less fantastical in some of it’s elements than was Ia in the EoE. Below is a snippet from an early chapter:
“Through a shattered window Gallow surveyed the Escheresque ghetto of Pandemonium. Buildings were monochrome geometries in a suspension of dirt and light, where they leaned over twisting lanes. Titanic statues rose into the sky, their upper limits partially obscured by low clouds of dust but visible enough to hint at tentacled horrors. The Soul Wind undulated across the sky, sparking like lit iron filings, and it backlit the leather winged, serpentine shadows that circled in the gloom far overhead, and the smaller humanoid silhouettes wheeling much closer to the rooftops. The air vibrated with what sounded like the droning of metallic cicadas, but was not. He inhaled the scents of storms and desiccation.”
Barring incident I’m expecting to have the first draft down by the end of November, as I get into the spirit of NaNoWriMo in an effort to do 50K new words in the month, plus all the edits. I’m editing this book and sending it to proof readers in Acts: Act I, and Act IIa, have been edited and sent to readers. Readers have come back with some wonderful, positive responses and almost no changes at all; certainly nothing structural. I’m almost finished Act IIb, with then Act III to follow. Breaking the editing down into logical segments has helped tackle the story, and to ensure that I don’t need go completely off the rails. It also means that there’s not a long tail at the end of the book, so the finished product is a little closer at hand. Once the book is written and edited, I’ll be sending it to my agent and we’ll then discuss our next steps.
Once ‘Autumn Country’ is sent I’ll get back to writing the remainder of ‘Darkness in the Green’, the first in an epic fantasy trilogy set in Ia that is told concurrently with the EoE. I’ve also a couple of stand alone novels, a steampunk, some sci-fi . . . oh, and the next trilogy in the Echoes of Empire should the publisher and readers have an appetite for it.
Rjurik Davidson has released his debut novel, Unwrapped Sky, with both TOR US and TOR UK. The novel, like the author, is both perceptive and thoughtful, intelligent and with a conscience. The writing is lyrical and immersive, with care taken to create an innovative world once as strange as it is familiar.
Rju and I met at Clarion South 2005 where both Unwrapped Sky and my Echoes of Empire books had their birth in short stories written there. Rju is a genuinely nice guy, well read, well-travelled, and with a personality that can be irrepressible. We did this interview as a series of emails with me in Sydney, and Rju either in Finland, or Paris, depending upon what question was being asked at the time. A university lecturer and associate editor for Overland magazine, Rju is also an award winning author of screen plays, and short stories including The Library of Forgotten Books collection, and Nighttime in Caeli-Amur which is available here.
Q1: You’ve been an award winning writer of short stories, and have worked on film scripts. Writing long form fiction is a very different endeavour. Can you share with us what motivated you to write Unwrapped Sky, and how you found the process different to your previous work?
Writing a novel was one of my first ambitions, going back to my early teenage years. Back then I used to read omnivorously, anything I could get my hands on. You’d find me with absurdist plays, Tolstoy, Yeats’ poems and a massive fantasy book. I’m still like that, actually, though keeping up with the field means I read a lot more fantasy and SF than anything else. Somewhere in the back of my mind, as a teenager, I always thought of the novel as the pinnacle of things. And in some ways I still do, though it’s a purely subjective judgment.
The process – as you know – is considerably different to short work. The scale of a novel can be intimidating, and I seem to have a habit of writing complicated ones, with multiple characters and story lines. I want my novels to be rich and complex. I want readers to be able to return to them, if they want. When writing, this means there are all kinds of logistical/plot issues that need to be worked out. That can be complex, and I’m not the most patient guy. I like to jump in and create problems for myself later. And I do, believe me. I do. But when I feel overwhelmed, I spare a thought for George R. R. Martin. Five books in and he’s still going. Bring it home George! Bring it home!
Q2: You mentioned how you tend towards writing complex stories, and that you have a broad reading list. Unwrapped Sky veers away from a lot of standard fantasy tropes and delivers something quite different from most work in the genre. What was the pitch that got your agent interested in such an innovative project.
Well, the pitch was something like this: “There’s a publisher interested in my book and I’m looking for an agent. Would you like to see it?” So there wasn’t anything specific about my book in the actual pitch (my superlative agent, John Jarrold, liked the book so we went from there). In fact, I think a lot of publicity-type stuff, “pitching” and so on, is overstated. An intelligent editor (or reader) is going to know that a well-pitched book might be rubbish, and a poorly-pitched book might be brilliant. There isn’t much correlation between the two.
Still, marketing is a modern reality and we can’t just step out of the world so, if I were to pitch my book (and it’s sequels), I’d say that it’s the story of a revolution taking place in a strange, beautiful city, something like ancient Athens or Rome, and something like London in the 1890s or Turin in the 1920s. If you’re intelligent and interested in reading something different from the usual fare, you’ll like it.
Q3: I remember your two Caeli-Amur stories from when we were both at Clarion South 2005, and the seeds of the world we’re reading now. The world you’ve built is innovative and haunting, bubbles of disparate histories all floating together towards the surface into a unique whole. Trying something new can be risky. What was your process in building your world, and the people and races that inhabit it?
World-building is a process of combinations, of matching various things – often surprising things – together. In the case of Caeli-Amur, it was an industrial city with Ancient Greek mythology. When you do that, you have all these questions thrown out, like lines floating in the wind. You wrap those up one by one. Others you leave for a while and wrap them up later. For example, where does this world come from? What’s it’s history? Why are there only male minotaurs? Where do they come from? We’ll find out some of these answers in the next two books, The Stars Askew and The Black Sun. Though some questions are answered in Unwrapped Sky.
You were there when Caeli-Amur was first conceived, both in the story which later became Maximilian’s underwater section, then a few weeks later Kata’s opening section. So you saw a bit of its construction. Over time, it became weirder, more science-fictional. Partly that came because I was reading a bit about physics and realised how weird it was, how strange and magical – and so ‘thaumaturgy’ (magic) in the novel is a kind of weird science. It all happens over time as you work on it. It doesn’t happen right at the beginning. Writing is a process of discovery. In terms of the mythic creatures: I wanted to make the them creatures recognisable but also strange and unusual. I want my readers to be surprised at times, to not know what to expect when they meet a Siren, or an Augurer, or a Nymph. I think just writing about plain, obvious versions of them would have been a bit boring. I also have a lost golden age, but I didn’t want this to be some kind of conservative rural utopia – like in Tolkien – so I made it a more advanced civilisation, which had suffered a catastrophe. The cry for the golden age is also a desire to move forward in science and technology, into a lost future.
Q4: The concepts you cover in Unwrapped Sky are unlike what you’ll find in most fantasy novels. Seditionism, industry, ties to business, the rights of people to live the way they want . . . some of these are touched on in fantasy, but rarely with such a demonstration of social conscience. Tell us about your point of view characters, how they fit into your world, and how they fit into your story.
Well, we have three characters. There’s Boris, a former tram-worker who is moving up the echelons of House Technis. Initially he joined the House because his wife was sick, and when strikes begin at his former frameworks he is given the task of resolving it. One of his agents is Kata, a philosopher-assassin who is just struggling to survive. She grew up on the streets and that has made her hard. Then there’s Maximilian, a seditionist who wants to overthrow the cruel House system, but he’s also ambitious and egotistical.
The three characters are from three different ‘levels’ of society, then. Here the book works a bit like the old realist novels, where the characters are ‘typical’ of social forces. They come to embody groups, to some extent: the House bureaucrats, the oppositionists, the swaying masses in between. Though the House system is unjust, the seditionists are themselves compromised. They tend to reflect the cruelty of the system – as many revolutionary groups are forced to in the real world. A dictatorial system creates violent opposition, and even when right is on your side – think of the Resistance movements to the Nazis – a cruel system is going to be reflected in the opposition to it, to some degree. Still, I think it’s pretty clear, in the end, whose side we’re on (just as it’s pretty clear that we would be on the side of the World War Two Resistance movements).
Q5: What did you find the most challenging aspect of your journey in producing Unwrapped Sky?
The most challenging aspect was making the time to get the thing finished. Somehow I got myself into a position where I was working crappy jobs, mostly teaching at universities, which didn’t pay enough to buy the time to write. In order to buy that time, I’d work more, and so it went on. The university system is one of the most exploitative places in Australia, and sessional staff do the bulk of the teaching and essay marking. At one point, a friend of mine worked out she was earning something like $10-15 an hour. And of course that kind of work – highly skilled, totally undervalued – requires a lot of take-home work. You write lectures, prepare tutorials, mark assignments. Luckily I liked teaching and liked the students, so there was at least some reward, but it meant that one had to really fight for time to write.
Q6: You mentioned that you gone back and looked at Unwrapped Sky as the kind of book that you’d want to read, and that it was interesting. Was there any pressure to write something that was going to be commercially appealing, rather than personally satisfying?
I think there’s always pressure to write something commercially appealing. But first and foremost, I want to write original things, to make a contribution, if you like. That’s also what I want to read: something I’ve never read before, something which makes you think new ways, see the world slightly differently. I want to be surprised, delighted, shocked – things which don’t happen when you’re reading the ‘same old stuff’. I’m often surprised that in the writing world – this goes for genre as well as literary fiction – there’s so little discussion about having something to say. I don’t mean something to say in some crude didactic way, but in terms of writing about things that matter, presenting a perspective that’s of value.
So I want to write books which are original and have something to say. I also like to try to push the form, though this happens more in my short fiction, I think. Having said that, there’s always a sliding scale of commerciality, and you have to accept that the more avant-garde you get, the smaller readership you’re likely to enjoy. I think, for example, I could write action-fantasy, descending from Robert E. Howard, say, pretty well (I’ve done it before). I think it’d be quite commercially appealing. But if I did that, I’d still want it to be original. Otherwise, I wonder, why write it?
Q7: You’ve certainly created something original, with an innovative world and a story we don’t see often in the genre. What more can we expect to see in Caeli-Amur, and what other projects are you working on that people need to keep an eye out for?
The Stars Askew is due out in a year. It’s a sequel to Unwrapped Sky and starts a few weeks after the end of the first book. Things aren’t going well in Caeli-Amur. I won’t give away too much about it now, but if the tagline of the first is, ‘The Revolutions is Coming’, then the tagline of the second is ‘The Revolution is Broken’. It features more of the world surrounding Caeli-Amur, especially Varenis. There are more mythical creatures. I’m quite pleased with how it’s turned out. Otherwise, I’ve got an Australian steampunk novel, in which the inland sea still exists and the continent is still populated by megafauna. I’m happy with that too.
Q8: What’s the best way for readers to know more about your work, and what’s coming next?
Best way is to follow me on twitter @RjurikDavidson and check out my website and blog: rjurik.com.
Q9: What advice do you have to any aspiring writer, or writer starting their journey? You and I both know that the reality can be somewhat different to the expectation.
The clichés are all true: do it for the love of it; develop a thick skin; etc. But most important, I think, is to keep writing, even in the slow or hard patches and remember that you are the person who cares most about your work, so don’t rely on anyone else.
Q10: If you had the chance to do it all over again, is there anything you’d change? And if so, how would you change it?
That’s one of those impossible questions, I think. I mean, it I changes something, I wouldn’t be where I am. I wouldn’t be the person I am. I wouldn’t be writing the things I am. So I wouldn’t change anything. The future, however, is a different question. In the future, I’d make sure that books are flourishing and that people know about my own work. I’m make sure that people know about good work that’s ignored and forget average work which is popular. I might give myself slightly better contracts too, if I’m allowed to do that.
I met Suzanne Church at Clarion 2005, where for 6 weeks we shared the ground floor rooms of the university dormitory with three other writers. We’ve remained friends over the years, enjoying our fellow Clarion graduate’s many and varied successes. Today I’m happy to be joined by Suzanne as she talks about short fiction.
Suzanne Church juggles her time between throwing her characters to the lions and chillin’ like a villain with her two sons. She writes Science Fiction, Fantasy, and Horror because she enjoys them all and hates to play favorites. Her award-winning fiction has appeared in Clarkesworld, Cicada, and On Spec, and in several anthologies including Urban Green Man and When the Hero Comes Home 2. Her collection of short fiction, ELEMENTS is published by EDGE Science Fiction and Fantasy Publishing.
Short stories are odd fish in the ocean of fiction. Even though they’re perceived by land lubbers as guppies, they’re actually more like sharks. If you’re wondering why authors write short fiction or why readers search out these stories, then follow the shark.
After all, isn’t it wiser to follow a shark than swim in front of one?
Five Reasons Authors Write Short Fiction
1. To Improve Your Craft
Writing, like anything, improves with practice. Short stories take less time to complete than novels, so the more of them you write, the more you’ll practice beginnings, middles, and endings. Mastering beginnings will get you noticed in the slush pile and mastering endings will leave stronger impressions with readers.
2. To Build Your Brand – Quantity
Novels take a long time to write, edit, and publish. During that time, your readers will seek more of your work. If two or three of your short stories pop up in magazines, anthologies, and online, your readers will be satiated while awaiting your next novel masterpiece.
3. To Build Your Brand – Quality
Since each short story tends to explore one theme, style, or concept, having multiple short stories in print will expose your readers to a variety of your writing talents. You might capture the attention of horror readers who are gripped by your suspense and tension in one story and fantasy readers by your vivid descriptions of setting and character in another.
4. Great Movie Options
How many times have you seen a movie based on a book and been disappointed at the interpretation? Probably because they cut out huge chunks of the story or didn’t go deep enough into the characters’ arcs. Short fiction — novellas in particular — has historically been adapted into great movies. Three out of the four novellas in Stephen King’s Different Seasons have been successfully adapted into movies.
5. The Bottom Line
Publishing is a business and publishers are in it to make money. The more “unknown” an author, the less likely a publisher is to gamble on you. When you’re starting out, try to write stories under 4,000 words. The less space your story takes up in a magazine or anthology, the less of a risk the publisher will feel they’re taking by picking your story out of the slush.
Five Reasons Readers Seek Short Fiction
1. The Perfect Commute Length
Many people read during their commute to work. In larger cities the commute might last 45 minutes to an hour each way. That’s the amount of time it takes to read a short story. And if you’re low on reading material and can’t face another minute avoiding eye contact with the strangers on the train, you can quickly purchase a low-price e-book short story and download it to your phone/tablet. Your budget will thank you when the size of the file won’t chew up your cell plan’s entire data limit.
Podcast sites are great places for readers to find short fiction. Escape Pod, The Drabblecast, Clarkesworld, and Pseudopod are all speculative fiction podcast markets. The great thing about podcasts of short fiction is that they’re the perfect “task-length”. You can listen to a complete short story podcast in the time it takes to wash the dishes, pull a few weeds from the garden, workout at the gym, or walk the dog.
3. Exploring a Theme
Anthologies often explore a theme. For instance, Danse Macabre: Close Encounters with the Reaper edited by Nancy Kilpatrick contains stories where death is a character and Urban Green Man edited by Janice Blaine and Adria Laycraft explores the mythical Green Man’s presence in urban settings.
4. The Multi-Flavour Joy
Every reader has a finite amount of dedicated reading time. Reading short fiction magazines or anthologies provides a reader with the opportunity to try out new authors without committing too much time to the task. Plus, it’s cheaper to try 20+ new authors in one anthology than it is to buy 20 novels. (Ultimately, we authors want to hook you into ALSO buying those 20 novels.)
Magazines are convenient. You subscribe to one and then each issue shows up on a regular basis in your mailbox/email box. When the subscription nears the end, the publisher sends you a reminder to order again. The issues fit conveniently in your purse/pocket/tablet. Sometimes magazines are even lying conveniently on a table when you find yourself waiting in an office for an appointment.
So if you’re not sure whether to write short fiction, here’s a nudge to WRITE SOME! And if you haven’t read short fiction in a while, here’s another nudge to BUY SOME! You’ll feel more like a shark and less like a guppy.
Enjoy the power, but use it responsibly.
by Kate Danley
As part of the 47North Author Blog Swap I’m proud to have the charming, talented and vivacious Kate Danley drop by and have a chat about her process.
Although a writers’ playground is littered with dictionaries and words, sometimes sensory tools can help to keep projects focused.
I quit my job to write full-time in January 2013. It is funny how, when I had a day full of demands, it was easy to know when to schedule my writing. The only time I had free was 10PM-11PM? That must be writing hour! But when the whole day stretched before me, it was tough to figure out when to write, when to promote, when to run to the grocery store, and get to the gym. It is easy for the days to pass in a blur of Facebook updates and Netflix binges. Organizing my creativity became vital to my long-term success, especially when I was juggling several projects at once.
(This is my office. Please ignore the ugly wires. I might be organized, but I’m not THAT organized. And, yes, treadmill desks are amazing and I recommend them to everyone.)
I moved my creativity out of my head and hard-drive and onto my walls, putting my projects in places that I could not ignore them. It was actually something a fellow author shared with me many moons ago and it has turned into one of the most valuable motivational tools I have.
Every morning, I wake up and decide what my goals are. I put them on a white board (which also includes the trips to the dry cleaner and birthday presents that need to be shipped) and cross them off as I meet them.
I once heard a financial guru state that we should place less emphasis on tracking sales (which we have no control over) and more emphasis on tracking our hustle (how much time do we devote to writing, to promotion, to research, etc.). My monthly wall calendar is where I keep track of my long-term progression.
I note which projects I have decided to work on that day, and if I meet my goals, I get to color them in (I color code for each project). If I don’t meet my goals, I don’t, even if I’ve worked on the project. I only get rewarded if I see through the promise I made to myself that morning. It makes me set realistic goals which I can meet. The big circles are the deadlines I have set and met. Many of my daily goals are identified by deciding upon a deadline and working backwards to see what I need to do in order to meet a due date. I can tell at a glance which days I am slacking and which days I’m staying on task, and can start to look for patterns.
The next big motivational tool is a “book vision board”. Remember back in the day when The Secret was big and everyone was creating dream boards? I started doing that with each of my books. I cut out pictures that reminded me of my characters, artwork which felt inspirational, pictures of locations, etc. A picture is worth a thousand words, and with ten pictures, I only have to come up with 40k more to fill in! I have several of these boards hanging over my desk.
The final thing I do is a bit of a Pavlovian dog trick. I pick out a specific mug for each project.
There’s something about smelling and tasting the coffee, and feeling and seeing that specific mug in my hand which gives my brain the “Oh! We’re working on THIS project now” cue. It is better than a bell for making my Muse begin to salivate.
I hope this is valuable! I managed to complete nine major projects in 2013 and, due to contractual obligations, many of them I had to work on at the same time. When there are that many stories swirling around, elbowing their way to the front for my attention, creativity management becomes important. This has turned out to be the way I have been able to juggle them all. Please feel free to take what works and throw away the rest!
USA Today bestselling author Kate Danley began her writing career with The Woodcutter (published by 47North). It was honored with the Garcia Award for the Best Fiction Book of the Year, the 1st Place Fantasy Book in the Reader Views Literary Awards, and was the 1st place winner of the Sci-Fi/Fantasy category in the Next Generation Indie Book Awards. Her other titles include Queen Mab, the Maggie MacKay: Magical Tracker series (optioned for film and television), From the Indie Side, and the O’Hare House Mysteries.
Her plays have been produced in New York, Los Angeles, and DC Metro area. Her screenplay Fairy Blood won 1st Place in the Breckenridge Festival of Film Screenwriting Competition in the Action/Adventure Category. Her projects The Playhouse, Dog Days, Sock Zombie, SuperPout, and Sports Scents can be seen in festivals and on the internet. She has over 300+ film, television, and theatre credits to her name, and specializes in sketch, improv,
stand-up, and Shakespeare. She trained in on-camera puppetry with Mr. Snuffleupagus and played the head of a 20-foot dinosaur on an NBC pilot.
She lost on Hollywood Squares.
Official Website: http://www.katedanley.com
Mailing List: http://eepurl.com/vcch1