Writing advice and all that jazz…

impulseThe lovely team at HarperImpulse, HarperCollins’ newest romance imprint, asked me to provide my Top 5 tips for writing fantasy, which I happily provided. The 5 headlines were:

5. Create a believable world
4. Create conflict
3. Drive plot
2. Characters
1. Learn from the best!

(You can read the actual tips here: on.fb.me/16Veku8) But as several people commented, my writing advice can really apply to ALL aspects of fiction, not just fantasy. That’s very true! Writing a great genre story isn’t any different to writing a great modern or historical or literary story.

I always hesitate when giving writing advice, because really I’m still so new to the game. I think that the best way to learn is to learn from the best. That’s why I’m a big fan of the Reddit AMA’s (“Ask me anything”). I especially enjoyed Guy Gavriel Kay’s latest AMA, for the publication of River of Stars. If you scroll through the questions, you can find some great insight into Guy Kay’s writing process. This is usually far more useful to an aspiring author than any other writing advice. Even if his methods don’t work for you exactly, there is always so much to be gleaned from a master of the trade.

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SciFi Weekender!

I spent the past weekend in Pwllheli, North Wales at SciFi Weekender #SFW4. SFW4 is an annual science fiction and fantasy convention that attracts hundreds of genre fans from across the UK to remote holiday parks… where they get to mingle with authors, actors, artists and other such professional folk while dancing to a heady mix of Craig Charles and DJ Dark Knight (to name but a few).

I was there with my “editor hat” on, although I did have a stack of The Oathbreaker’s Shadow postcards to give away! Woohoo! I will likely do a more professional post over on the HarperVoyager blog tomorrow, but I wanted to give a little update over here too.

This was my first SF weekender, and my third con. It had a very different feel to Eastercon or Fantasycon – for one thing, the cosplay was incredible at SFW4! I’ve never been in an environment like that before and I absolutely loved it. I definitely felt like I had missed out by not dressing up, so next time I might do 😉 I didn’t get to do as much ‘fan’ stuff as I might have liked because I was really focused on the author panels and the trading zone, where HarperVoyager had a stall. As a result, I missed some of what people said were the highlights of the event – like the Just a Minute panel, the interviews and the films.

I did, however, get to experience that utterly freezing cold nights in a caravan that the weekend is so famous for! It seemed to be a bit luck of the draw whether you got a caravan with radiators or not – if you didn’t, you didn’t have heat! That was… interesting, to say the least. I might be Canadian, but I like to keep my subzero temperatures OUTSIDE, if possible.

The highlights, then, for me…

– My ‘Future of Publishing’ panel, which had been pretty much decimated by lack of participants showing up, but was then saved by a really fun chat with Amanda Rutter of Strange Chemistry and Sam Stone of Telos Moonrise.

– The cosplay at the Masquerade ball (fabulous)

– The ‘Voyager’ dinner – amazing having Peter V. Brett, James Smythe and Stacia Kane all around the same table… loads of fun.

– Handing out Voyager-themed tote bags (which went down a storm!) and chatting to folks who came up to our table

– The moment I moved from my freezing caravan to the warmth of James Smythe’s (he originally had the caravan all to himself, by the end of it there were four of us moved in!)

– Popping over to Anglesey to visit my aunt who lives in Beaumaris.

And now, for some pictures!!

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The “Here Come the Girls” panel

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James Smythe earning his keep by handing out some Voyager tote bags

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Me, Peter V. Brett and the publicity ladies feel the Force…

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The Voyager table

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We saw a bit of beautiful Wales too…

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Some sunshine sheep 🙂

Epic catch-up post!

I’ve been struggling to find time to blog recently, and now suddenly the holidays are upon us! It seems like this month has gone past in a blur, and although I got a ton of writing done in November, my December has been running a little dry on the creative front. I’m hoping that once I get away (to Hilton Head Island, South Carolina) for Christmas, I’ll be able to get back into the swing of things.

That being said, it’s been a pretty productive news month book-wise, so here’s a quick catch-up on everything that’s been going on!

1) My super agent switched to a super new agency!

Sadly, I am not a 'band coming soon' but it does make a cool author photo

Sadly, I am not a ‘band coming soon’ but it does make a cool author photo

I know a lot of people find this blog by googling my ace agent Juliet Mushens, so it’s probably a good thing for me to let you all know that she’s actually moved from PFD to The Agency Group. It’s a new-this-week move, so her submission guidelines aren’t quite up-to-date yet, but suffice to say she is still on the hunt for great new talent, especially epic fantasy for grown ups, YA, historical fiction, literary fiction and non-fiction. She basically runs the gamut though, so if you think she is the right fit, send query and first three chapters. (and check out her twitter @mushenska for more details)

2) News for The Oathbreaker’s Shadow!

Things have been progressing rapidly with The Oathbreaker’s Shadow, which is now confirmed as coming out in hardback in the UK in early June 2013. I’ve seen a proof cover and everything, so I really hope I get to share the cover with you all early in the new year! It’s kick-ass and I love it. I also know how many pages it’s going to be: 416pp! Silly details like that make this writer stupidly happy 🙂

3) I went to Eurodisney!

My big screen debut at Disney Studios, Paris

My big screen debut at Disney Studios, Paris

Yep, to take a bit of a break from life and writing, I went to Eurodisney with two of my great friends. It really put us all in a Christmas-y spirit, as we watched the tree lighting ceremony and the Christmas parades – lots of fun. It was freezing cold outside, but it didn’t detract from a really fun weekend. Also, I was plucked from the audience at the stunt car show to ‘drive’ one of the cars, which was awesome!

4) The Lucky 13s strike again!

I can’t believe 2013 is almost here, and it’s been an amazing year shared with the lovely writers over at The Lucky 13s. Today, we have a compilation of 68 first lines from the amazing collection of debuts – including The Oathbreaker’s Shadow.

The promise of fan fiction, Wattpad, Nanowrimo… oh, and RPGs

Today, I was doing my normal morning commute, picking up a stray copy of Metro left behind by a prior passenger. But unlike every other day, I was surprised to see my name in the paper! I’d done the interview a good few weeks back, and since I hate talking on the phone, the fact that I’d done it had sunk right to the farthest reaches of my memory.

Read the article here: “How Fan Fiction is Conquering the Internet and Shooting up the Charts”

((Of course, they got my name wrong, but that’s a hazard of having a name with multiple accepted spellings. So this came from “Amy McCullough, HarperFiction’s commissioning editor”. I should have known better than to not clarify the spelling after CityTV in Ottawa once interviewed my dad and said his name was ‘Angus Mugulack’. Note: not an accepted spelling.))

The topic of the interview is a hot one at the moment: the rise of Fan Fiction. Since I recently published Abigail Gibbs’ amazing book The Dark Heroine, the Metro wanted to talk to me about how fan fiction is becoming a bit of a publishing phenomenon – kicked off by Fifty Shades, followed swiftly by Gabriel’s Inferno, Loving the Band, and – of course – The Dark Heroine.

I don’t actually see The Dark Heroine as fan fiction. Yes, Abbie is very open about the fact that she was inspired by Twilight, but none of her character’s started out life as Edward and Bella in the way that Christian Grey and Ana Steele did. Instead, what first piqued my interested as an *editor* about Abbie’s book was the fact that she’d amassed this incredible following – 17 million hits and tens of thousands of fans – through her writing on Wattpad, over the course of three years. She was no flash in the pan; she instead did what I consider to be a very brave thing: she learned to write in front of an audience. She took in their feedback, absorbed it, and learned how to become a better storyteller. That is what I meant by saying that it’s almost a Dickensian way of publishing – by serializing her work, she was able to respond to her audience demand (although not be dictated by them) and adjust accordingly. Of course, then it helped that the book was great too, and that she’d put a lot of hard work in to editing the book since its draft stage on Wattpad, so it was a no-brainer for me! You can learn more about her editing process from this amazing guest blog by Abbie on the Huffington Post website.

Every writer needs to learn to write. And the best way to do that? Why, to just do it of course. Just as Neil Gaiman reminded the audience in the Cambridge Theatre of the old writing adage that you’ve got to write a million words before you write a good one, practice really is the only way to improve. Some authors end up with loads of ‘trunk novels’ that will never see the light of day. Some fill notepad after notepad with stream-of-consciousness writing. But fan fiction websites give that opportunity too. So do websites like Wattpad, and Movellas, and Authonomy. So do events like Nanowrimo. That’s why I never think any of those sites or events should be disparaged, because if people are writing, then good for them – that’s the way to achieve that dream, and to find a community of like-minded others in the meantime. (If you wrote your first novel and every word was perfect and you landed a deal straight away and no one has ever criticized your work then go away, we’re not talking to you :P)

That some of that writing ends up being developed and polished enough to be considered for publication is inevitable. And publishers would be silly to ignore someone that has arrived with a built-in audience – although there’s no guarantee that an audience used to getting something for free, will suddenly pay for it. But if the writing is of significant enough quality, they will – like in Abbie’s case.

In my case, I didn’t use fan fiction or Wattpad or even Nanowrimo to develop my writing. But I did write my million words. My method was *nerd alert* PbP roleplaying. Yep, all through high school I was writing page after page of horrendous purple prose on message boards scattered in dark corners of the internet. No, I won’t go into detail about what kind of RPGing it was. Still, it didn’t bear any relation to my novels except for the fact that I was writing every. single. day. Without fail – or else I wouldn’t be able to participate in the game. Simple as that. And let me tell you, some of the other players were about as brutal critics as you can get! Still, when I left RPGing, I felt almost bereft. I didn’t have my outlet any more. I realized that I’d grown to need to write as much as I needed to breathe. And so, instead, I turned to novels.

Whatever your outlet, whether it’s as private as a notebook or as public as a phone app, every word is getting you one step closer to your writing goal. Practice makes perfect. Or maybe, if you’re lucky, practice will make a book deal.

How to survive Frankfurt Book Fair

Frankfurt Book Fair occupies an almost mythic status in author’s minds, a magic place where books are pitched, bought and sold in far flung territories, where publishers and agents all gather in the same room (well, conference centre! or more likely, bar!), and where authors are discussed and books hyped to the extreme. I’ve been lucky enough to have been invited to FBF twice with HarperCollins and although my editor hat was firmly placed on my head throughout, I’ve had quite a few authors ask what the legendary FBF is like. Although it’s very much a trade fair (and really not fun for authors unless you’re doing a specific event or meeting a specific person), I’ve compiled a few top tips for surviving two days at the largest books and media fair in the world…

Can you guess the biggest book of the fair?

1) Wear comfortable shoes

Yes, FBF is a chance to break out my best business attire for the friends and foreign publishers I only get to see twice a year, but comfort over style is key at Frankfurt – especially if you’re constantly running between exhibition halls, as I was! No sky-high stilettos for me (not even medium-high)… flats or sensibly-heeled shoes all the way. Seriously, Frankfurt Book Fair is the size of 42 American football fields, so I even considered running shoes (but drew the line :)).

2) Look out for your friend’s books

In between meetings (or jogging between halls), take a look out for books by your friends! I can tell you, it’s better than coffee for giving you an adrenaline boost. For example, spotting Laure Eve’s book in huge poster-format as I entered was so exciting! And lots of Luckies books were cycling through the electronic display on the Harper stand, including Pretty Girl 13 by Liz Coley.

Laure Eve’s dreamy cover for Fearsome Dreamer @LaureEve

3) Check out the other halls

It’s pretty easy as an editor to just see the Agent’s Centre and the main UK/US publishers hall. But I’m glad I did a little tour of the rest of the fair… Otherwise I would have missed out on the wall of George R. R. Martin in the German hall, and the giant Hobbit book! It’s also amazing to see just how many publishers there are out there around the world, and to feel like you’re drowning in books – a wonderful (if a little terrifying) experience for an editor and writer.

4) Get local recommendations

Agent extraordinaire Juliet and I went for dinner at this amazing local Italian restaurant, where we got the ‘best table’ in the house despite no reservation (okay, it was the table underneath the bar!) and had about ten different waiters all of whom tried to recommend us different dishes and almost refused to let Juliet order her spaghetti bolognese (hint to Italian/German waiters: you can’t force recommendations on people with food allergies!)

5) Better yet, meet up with a local…

Meeting up with Lenore Appelhans (fellow Lucky 13 and author of Level 2) and her husband, Daniel, was the absolute highlight of my Frankfurt trip. We went to a cool little Persian all-you-can-eat buffet (how did they know that Persian food is my absolute favourite kind of food?) where they operate under a ‘pay what you think it’s worth’ philosophy. A unique little social experiment, and delicious grub at the same time. And it was nice to see a bit of Frankfurt beyond the convention centre (plus, Daniel enticed me to buy delicious German baked goods… drool.)

Amy meets Level 2 author Lenore Appelhans @lenoreva

I have also been so excited to read Level 2 that I went straight to her Facebook page and clicked ‘like’ to read the sampler, and now can’t wait to buy a copy! *Click: Pre-order*

And on an end note, it was great to see The Explorer by James Smythe featured on the HC stand – a truly brilliant near-future SF you’ll be hearing lots about soon. He’s right up there with Justin Bieber, as you can see from this pic!

Earth Girl and other links from around the blogosphere

I’m deep in the revisions cave at the moment (I’m aiming to have my edit back to my editor by the end of the month, but the end of the month is approaching far too rapidly for my liking!), so blogging has fallen a little bit off the radar. Yet I wanted to take to the blog to congratulate Liz de Jager, who has just become Juliet Mushens’ latest client! She’s done a great in-depth interview with Juliet on her blog, which offers some good insight into agenting life. Check out her blog here: http://www.lizdejager.co.uk/2012/08/interview-with-juliet-mushens/

Also, I forgot to mention that I was on The Lucky 13s blog the other day, chatting about publishing misconceptions.

And finally, yesterday was the publication date for Janet Edwards’ Earth Girl, which is a fantastic YA science fiction debut from a British author. I vividly remember the day when Earth Girl came in on submission, and I knew it was something special when I finished the manuscript (later on that same day) with a huge smile on my face. In fact, I loved it so much I even tweeted about it on the HarperVoyager twitter, which I was running at the time.

 

I can’t tell you what a pleasure it is to read YA fiction that is smart, funny and refreshingly original. Don’t look to Earth Girl to find a heroine pining wistfully after a crush, but do pick it up if you want to see a flawed, feisty heroine overcoming huge obstacles to achieve her dreams – oh yes, and maybe finding some romance along the way! Although for once it is with an actually swoon-worthy guy who stands side-by-side with our heroine, not up on a pedestal.

On that note, I’m interviewing Janet Edwards on The Lucky 13s blog, so head over there to find out a bit more about the book and the author!