I went to this session at RWA in Melbourne. It blew me away. I had wanted to share this earlier but was a bit slack. Here it is and thank you Ainslie Paton, Kate Cuthbert and Escape Publishing.

Originally posted on The Escapades:

Kate Cuthbert and Ainslie Paton gave a workshop on blurb and synopsis writing at the Romance Writers of Australia conference in late August. The synopsis run-down is available here

First, and foremost, blurb writing is very different from story writing, and in order to write an effective blurb, you will need to switch hats.

change hats

The cover is designed to catch the reader’s eye: all gloss and very little substance. The blurb is where you hint at the emotional punch.

The blurb is sales copy and a very different beast from writing your manuscript. So where do you start?

All you need (as in pretty much any situation) is a little Game of Thrones…

Imagine the landscape is your manuscript. In order to write your blurb, you need to hop into a helicopter and rise above, outside. You need to be able to see your manuscript as a whole, and not all…

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The stars have aligned and I think I have the capacity to a novel in a month. I’m not writing reports at work. My RSI is stablising and I have a sit stand arrangement at home as well as dictation software. No excuses. Of course right now I’d rather be napping after a day out showing some people around.

I’ve decided to try Scrivener this time. I think it will work better in the writing fresh than trying to retro fit which drove me a bit barmy.

I’m going to be working on a novel I outlined in New Orleans in May 2014. It’s an SF romance novel, tentatively titled Cold Soldier. The outline is brief so I’m half pantsing it.

I thought I’d write this blog post while Scrivener was doing an update. Good luck to other NaNoWriMo writers. My NaNoWriMo novel from 2013 is published. I bombed last year. Work was too intense and I didn’t want to risk RSI. But this time it should be fine.

Reach out to other buddies and write away.

Source: Hallowe’en Mini-Series: When I Fell in Love with Witches

Gillian Polack is the author of many things fiction and non-fiction. She’s also a medieval historian, food history guru and a science fiction PHD, her second! I’m probably not doing her justice.

Anyway, I have Gillian here on my blog today to talk about her fab new book (Co-authored with Katrin Kania): The Middle Ages Unlocked- A guide to life in medieval England, 1050-1300.

Gillian and KatrinThis book is a fab resource for writers who want to write about medieval societies and for lovers of history.

How did you come up with the concept for the book?

I didn’t come up with the concept: my friends did. A group of people on a now-defunct email list said “We so need a book that tells us about the Middle Ages in an easy-to-read way that’s properly researched and can be used by writers.”  The friends were from the UK and US and Canada and Australia. Some of them were writers. Some of them were tired of writers not quite understanding things. They got me involved…

How did you two authors find each other?

In a pub! Seriously, we were introduced to each other by Shana Worthen at the big Medieval Congress in Leeds in 2011. It was an international conference, but it was one for Medievalists, and it always has at least one pub. For the record, I was drinking a rather nice English cider. Shana knew about the Beast and I asked her if she wanted to see it. I whipped out my trusty netbook and Katrin read over her shoulder and somehow ended up being drawn into being co-author! Since then, I have taken to carrying all my work with me, everywhere, just in case I meet someone who needs to share it.

Did it take a long time to develop the scope of the book?

It took years and years. Because writers and the general public said “We need this book” I had a good general concept about what kind of topic would be covered and that the approach needed to be easy to read but go into as much depth as was possible in a general work. We (the various people involved at different stages) played with several approaches and a wide range of subjects. Tamara Mazzei still has a timeline she developed for an earlier iteration, for instance, and I still have a list of plants and their uses. A couple of writer friends tested beta versions for their fiction and I could tell how effective different elements were by how they wrote and what further questions they need to ask. By the time Katrin came on board the topics were mostly settled but it covered both France and England. It focussed on England quite late, because it was a better fit for British publishers, but we refined approaches to the bitter end. The Middle Ages Unlocked wasn’t easy, but it was most definitely worth the effort, as I’ve already seen it being read and used by those same people who asked for it, all those years ago.

How long did it take from the concept to completion?

About fifteen years, all up. I’m still surprised when I see it in bookshops, because it’s had the longest development and most work of any of my books. Given how prone I am to research, this is worrying.

At 384 pages it looks to be quite an undertaking! Did you have to  leave stuff out?

We left out more than we put in.  Several times the amount that went in, in fact. The perfect version (from my point of view) would have been enormous. We followed our publisher’s guidelines, however, for those guidelines were there with much good reason behind them, and we wrote the best possible work that was actually publishable.

How did you go about finding a publisher?

We approached publishers that we had contacts with and that were a really good fit for our project. One of them suggested Amberley, for they felt that Amberley was an even better fit than they were: if ever I meet that editor I will buy her a drink, for she was both generous and correct.

I  notice a lot of writers gave you cover quotes. Do you see the book as a resource for writers only? Did all that bad fantasy drive you to spend years of your life developing this book?

It was first designed for writers, but it’s grown to be a volume that’s for the general public. And bad fantasy had nothing to do with it! I’ve taught history to writers for two decades and so it was quite natural for writers to say to me “Why don’t you pull together a book that presents this to a wider audience?” This means the demand came from writers who wanted more, not writers who were lazy about their world-building. I find this very reassuring.

Initial S: The Lord Appearing to David in the Water; Bute Master (Franco-Flemish, active about 1260 - 1290); Northeastern (illuminated)  France Paris (written)  France; illumination about 1270 - 1280; written about 135 - 1375; Tempera colors, gold, and iron gall ink on parchment; Leaf: 17 x 11.9 cm (6 11/16 x 4 11/16 in.); Ms. 46, fol. 92

Initial S: The Lord Appearing to David in the Water; Bute Master (Franco-Flemish, active about 1260 – 1290); Northeastern (illuminated) France Paris (written) France; illumination about 1270 – 1280; written about 135 – 1375; Tempera colors, gold, and iron gall ink on parchment; Leaf: 17 x 11.9 cm (6 11/16 x 4 11/16 in.); Ms. 46, fol. 92

What was the favourite thing you did in this book?

I was really happy to pull together what was known about dance. I’d been meaning to do this for myself and the book gave me an excuse.

What was the hardest section for you? (I noticed at the Q&A you said there were areas where you had a lot of research and some was more general)

The hardest section as the one that dealt with all the bad things in society. It could have had a lot more detail, but neither Katrin nor I could deal with any more detail about people being hurt!
I guess there are things we will never know about the past.  How does that you make you feel as a historian?

Perfectly normal. Historians are always aware we can’t know everything: it’s part of the job description.  History is an interpretative discipline, not one where absolute knowledge is possible.

Do you have other historical projects in the pipe line or is it fiction for you from now on?

I’m nearly finished a book specifically about how writers use history in their fiction. it will be published next year. And I’m starting work on a novel set in the seventeenth century. I’ve already sifted through hundreds of primary sources (over 800) to sort out how I will  deal with various aspects, but the real work on it will hopefully take place next year. I’m also doing work on other peoples’ writing: there’s an article by me in the next issue of Foundation, for example.

Where can people buy the book?

In Australia, ask your local bookshop to get it in: since it’s only just been released here, most shops don’t know about it yet. Online, almost every shop stocks it. In the UK, try Blackwell’s or ask your local bookshop to get The Middle Ages Unlocked in. In the US, either online shops or wait until October, for it won’t be released in the US until then. If you can’t wait, online shops in the UK will sell it to you.

Easiest way is to buy from Book Depository Link here.

Gillian book cover
Thank you for visiting the blog today, Gillian. Mazel Tov!

Thank you for having me!

In between

I’m in between interviews so nothing new to post for you guys today.

My RSI appears to be on the improve, but no writing as such. But I’m reading and thinking up heaps of ideas. I’m going to go mad because I can’t write them all down.

A lovely review spotted on Facebook, but it originates on WordPress so I’ll link it here. I met AJ at Supanova so it’s great to see she got to reading Shatterwing. Review blog post here.

I also had a spot on the Galaxy Express with a bunch of other SF romance writers. I’m hoping to interview Heather Massey later on in August. Here is a link to that spot here.

I’m going to be signing books at RWA in Melbourne. I’ll be there as me and Dani Kristoff so do come along and say hi if you are around. After that Conflux in Canberra is fast approaching and I haven’t organised myself at all for that. Darn!

Meanwhile on the home front, I have randomly bought a new car and we’ve had the deck commenced and new sliding doors put in upstairs. Now we have bright open rooms and even more amazing views. We are still processing it all. I’ve organised new blinds (panel glides) and I’ll be chasing the builder for the railings and the roof etc, because it should be done by now. Below is a shot from my office which shows part of the aspect.

deck in progress

I also baby sat the grandchildren and I’m feeling a little knackered. I also made a most excellent Raspberry and White Chocolate Cheesecake. I think a soak in the tub is in order and then a good book. Cheers.

I’m so happy to be able to bring this interview to you. I met CS Pacat at Supanova. We were on a panel together on our early lives as writers and I was fascinated with her story and I thought you would be too. Hers was a non-traditional story and she has had amazing success. Read on!cat

Thank you so much for agreeing to be interviewed on my blog today. I think your publication story is fascinating so I wanted to share it with others.

When did you first think about being a writer and what did you do?

As long as I can remember, I wanted to write books. I took creative writing classes, but if I’m being honest, they weren’t especially helpful, particularly when it came to teaching fundamental skills like plotting or character creation. I wouldn’t necessarily recommend them for anything other than a place to meet other artists and form a support community, and a way to begin taking yourself seriously as a writer, “I commit to writing”. (A friend once described it brilliantly: In a cooking class, you are taught how to make a soufflé during the lesson. In a creative writing class you’re usually asked to make a soufflé at home without a recipe, then bring it in to class, and then everyone critiques the soufflé. But at no point does anyone ever actually teach you how to make a soufflé.)

What inspired you to write fanfic and when do you start writing original fiction?

I wrote fan fiction throughout my teens and into my early twenties, and I have an enormous respect for fandom as an artistic space. I think what drives the fanfiction writer is a desire to reclaim a text, to explore its themes, in a sense to make it your own. This can be powerful and important, particularly when those reclamations involve queering a heteronormative text, or the insertion of fantasies that until recently have not been given much expression in mainstream works, such as the power fantasies of teen girls. It’s a way of offering alternate narratives and diversifying what can sometimes feel like a narrative monoculture.

I started to write original fiction because I wanted to tell my own stories and to be able to craft the kinds of characters that I love. Captive Prince was my first complete original novel, but I did have a few false starts with original fiction before that, learning the skills that were different to fan fiction.

What made you publish for free on the web and then self-publish?

When I started to write Captive Prince there was nothing that was really like it in the mainstream commercial space. But I knew that online there was a vast community of readers and writers who were reading and creating online in part because they were seeking something that they weren’t finding on commercial bookshelves. It was also an incredibly accessible space with no barrier to entry, and so I started to write Captive Prince, and as I wrote, I posted each chapter to my fiction blog.

Captive Prince ran as a free web serial for several years before I decided to self publish the story. I did it mostly in response to requests from readers for a paperback copy of the books. It was really the support and enthusiasm of the online readership that gave me the confidence to take that step.

What did self-publishing feel like?

Equal parts rewarding and terrifying. There is a very steep learning curve, because as a self-publisher, if you want to produce a high quality book, you essentially have to teach yourself all of the skills, from typesetting to art direction to project management. You have to hire cover artists, editors and proofreaders, while learning how to use InDesign and create layouts for paperbacks, produce ebooks, and so on.

It felt scary to do at the time, but it was also incredibly empowering, because you’re learning everything you need to know about publishing, and it opens up new avenues and gives you control over your own writing.

Did big sales happen all at once or was it gradual? How much of that was due to your previous following from the web?

My online readers were incredibly enthusiastic and supportive, they wanted to buy the self published release, even having already read the free version. As a result of that, Captive Prince shot to the top of Amazon lists within a day or two of being released. It then took a few weeks for the generated word of mouth to spread and create buzz in places like Goodreads, and from there another week or two before the Captive Prince started to garner attention and reviews from mainstream review sites like Dear Author and USA Today. So, in a sense it happened in two “waves”, the first from my online readers, and a second when the book hit the mainstream market. Now that Captive Prince is being published by Penguin, it’s reaching a new audience again.

It must have been amazing to be contacted by an agent wanting to sell your work to a major publisher. Can you tell us a bit about that?

It was incredible, amazing, unbelievable. I was approached by a New York agent basically saying, “I’d like to represent you. I think we can sell your book to a big six publisher in New York.” I didn’t think it was possible but signed with her in the spirit of pure optimism. We ended up with two offers, the most robust of which was from Penguin. Now Captive Prince is being published in multiple countries and translated into multiple languages – it’s been an incredible year.

From your point of view, what are the advantages of self-publishing?

Having been through both processes, self publishing and commercial publishing, I remain a huge advocate for self publishing. I think it offers writers a way to produce a book that wholly represents their best vision of their work. You don’t have to rush or make artistic compromises due to deadlines. You can hire the designers and editors that you most want to work with, devote as much attention to your book as it needs. There are also financial advantages, in that your royalty percentage is much higher. Realistically, a commercial publisher will always be making commercial decisions, which are not always the best decisions for a book artistically.

Conversely, what are the advantages of having a major publisher behind you?

The biggest advantage of a major publisher is legitimacy. Although the perception is changing, there is still a stigma attached to self publishing. A major publisher opens so many doors, and dramatically expands the possibilities for a book, from getting it stocked in major bookstores, to garnering attention from mainstream press.

The other advantage is of course access to world class editorial, and the support of a team. I’ve worked with so many inspiring, talented people at Penguin. Allowing them to support the book frees you as the writer to just spend your time writing, which is a incredible privilege.

Do you have any advice for aspiring writers?

I have two pieces of advice. The first is that to write a book, you have to transform yourself into the person who can write that book. So I’d say figure out what is preventing you from writing, whether it is time, procrastination, or problems with plotting, or coming up with ideas, then dedicate time to solving those problems, making the changes that you need to make.

The second piece of advice is to persevere. Writing a book is difficult and there will be a long period of time where you can’t do it, your writing isn’t working, and the book just isn’t a book yet. Everyone goes through this. And everyone I know who has persevered through this stage has emerged with a manuscript, then gone on to publish it. So hang in there: it will happen.

Damen is a warrior hero to his people, and the rightful heir to the throne of Akielos. But when his half brother seizes power, Damen is captured, stripped of his identity, and sent to serve the prince of an enemy nation as a pleasure slave.

Beautiful, manipulative, and deadly, his new master, Prince Laurent, epitomizes the worst of the court at Vere. But in the lethal political web of the Veretian court, nothing is as it seems, and when Damen finds himself caught up in a play for the throne, he must work together with Laurent to survive and save his country.

For Damen, there is just one rule: never, ever reveal his true identity. Because the one man Damen needs is the one man who has more reason to hate him than anyone else…

CS Pacat - book cover - Captive Prince

You can find out more about CS Pacat on her website http://www.cspacat.com

It’s taken me a while to finish this post. It was rather emotional for me writing about the loss of a friend. I hope you forgive me if it makes you feel sad.

A few weeks ago I went to the funeral of a good friend, Sonia Iris Urquijo, who passed away from insidious disease called Scleroderma. I wasn’t there are Sonia towards the end and that makes me feel sad. Distance separated once I moved to Canberra. I’ve been here 20 years. It is only in more recent times that I’ve gone less to Sydney and had less opportunity to see Sonia.

Sonia is someone I shared my 30s with and I had a fabulous time in my 30s. We met through the school through our children and through a mutual friend, Lynn. We headed off on Friday and Saturday nights to sleazy Latin American nightclub/restaurants to dance and check out the sights. We just hit it off. She said she liked my salt-and-pepper.

Sonia and me, Watson's Bay Sydney

Sonia and me, Watson’s Bay Sydney

Note: Sonia didn’t like being photographed.

Sonia was from Uruguay and culturally she was very different to me. She said I had ‘silly English morals’ because I wouldn’t give my phone number out to men who were five years younger than me matter how good looking and persuasive they were. Or when out in the dating game at nightclubs I would tell people straight up how old I was and that I was divorced with three children. I liked to sort the men from the boys with ‘no surprises’ but she was appalled. Sonia never told anyone anything. I was open and she was closed. Opposite but attracted to each other. She did share things with me. I’m so glad she did.

My first time visiting the snow with Sonia and  Clemente

My first time visiting the snow with Sonia and Clemente

Sonia you are a part of me, a part of my life that I will take forever forward. I will treasure always those snippets of your life that you shared with me. How much you missed your mother but because you had a fear of flying you couldn’t return to Uruguay to see her. How you regretted in your young teenage years making her get rid of her boyfriend after your father died and how much you loved your father and missed him.

Sonia and me on a Sydney Ferry (1992)

Sonia and me on a Sydney Ferry (1992)

Note. Sonia liked to hide her face.

You shared with me the story of your courtship and your wedding night. Of your life as a teenager in Uruguay. The journey on the aeroplane with your young son Alejandro and how your husband did his best to distract you in keeping calm. You didn’t know until then that you had a fear of flying. You shared with me also those early years as a migrant in Australia in a hostel, learning the language and the culture and how much you relied on your husband.

You told me of that awful night in a head-on collision on Parramatta Road and how your beautiful face was destroyed. You told me how difficult it was being in a different hospital from your husband but how fortunate it was that the first doctor on the scene was an eye specialist and he sent you to an eye hospital and saved your sight.

I remember wanting to cry when you told me how after the accident you stayed indoors to 12 months and you didn’t tell your mother back in Uruguay what had happened to you, you couldn’t bear to. You told me how your mother figured out that something was wrong and the day you opened up the front door and there she was. She came all the way knowing in her heart you were in trouble. You shared with me how your mother supported you and made you look in the mirror and see that you were still beautiful and that you had a fantastic figure. It was with her help and support you managed to go out again into the world.

I came to know you well after that time and I always loved your vibrancy, your shining eyes and your laugh and the coffee you used to make with International Roast and sugar which you made into a smooth paste and filled the mugs with hot milk. My taste buds have changed but we thought it was delicious.

I remember coming around to your place after school and seeing you put underpants on your head as you cooked dinner for your daughters. Your daughters was so ashamed and we laughed at their horror. I asked you why you had underpants on your head and you told me it was to keep the smell of food from your freshly coiffed hair. Then asked you why you are cooking dinner at 4 PM in the afternoon and you told me that it was the best time to feed your daughters straight after school because they were hungry and they ate. I thought it was rather ingenious and it seemed to work for you.

I remember watching you eat lentils. Your version of lentils made my eyes boggle. You cooked lentils in what I consider the normal Spanish way, but you added a can of kidney beans and then peas then served yourself a large bowl. When I commented that I was glad I wasn’t there to be there in the morning you look at the quizzically. When I explained what I meant about gas and you laughed.

Sonia, you introduced me to ballroom dancing. I was never as good as you, but I remember us practicing at your place, or going to class together. You were the leader then, going out and showing off your hot figure and your Latin moves.

Sonia, Alfred and me at a dinner dance

Sonia, Alfred and me at a dinner dance

Note: Sonia showed her face in photos more often once she started dancing.

I remember too when you were alone after your husband left you. How hard it was to adjust from being dependent on someone else and transitioning to be in control of your life. Those midnight conversations we had. The time you needed a new bed and how hard it was to decide to buy and us laughing about what the worse thing could happen–that you would get a bad sleep. That was the first of many decisions you made about your life then. I was glad I was there for you.

In 1996 you were there for me when I fostered James. I stayed with you and we bathed him and cuddled him. A large chubby baby of 4 months of age. You formed a bond with him. We visited with you many times over the years. Hard to believe he is 19 now.

While we didn’t always keep in touch, we were able to see each other and pick up where we left off. You always welcomed me back into your life when I visited you.

I’m sorry you suffered so much Sonia and that you chose to be silent about it. I’m glad you had Alfred to care for you and that you had your children and grandchildren who you loved. I am glad I came to say goodbye. I cried for the loss of you and the loved ones you leave behind. Thank you for being in my life. Thank you for the part of me that I owe to you.

If you want to know more about Scleroderma, here is a link to the Wikipeia article. The disease attacked her blood vessels and heart and lungs.


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