Zoë Writes

An Australian author living in Norway

Category: News

Life After Djerassi

It’s been almost a week since I left the soft, rolling hills of northern California and returned to a fresh sprinkling of damp snow in a Norway finally graced with an acceptable number of daylight hours. I should feel relaxed, inspired, happy, and ready to tackle all the problems I found ways to solve while I was away. And I did find solutions…but I found something else, too, something I never expected. And it has broken me, just a little bit.

Now, before I get all soul-barey, let me preface by saying I’m not an outwardly emotional person. And living for eight years in a country filled with stoics has only taught me to further fortify the walls I build around myself. But in the course of seven short days, like water seeping through cracks I didn’t even know were there, the spirit of artistic peace and freedom that takes hold at Djerassi crept into me and changed me forever.

Djerassi Artists' Residence

Melodramatic? Maybe. True? Definitely. I’ve read it’s normal to feel a sense of loss after a retreat, but the usual residency period is four times as long as the one from which I’ve just returned. The difference, perhaps, is in the company of the people I spent that week with—people I will never forget. These eleven women, all writers of middle grade and young adult fiction, were strangers to me at the beginning of the week—all I knew of them was in their writing, and that might even have been enough; it was strong, beautiful, intimidating, inspiring…I already admired their talent. Then I met the women themselves. Individually, they were friendly, funny, quirky…all good things, but as a group, they formed that soft, secure place so rare in a brand new critique group; amongst these women, I felt immediately confident there would be no moment of attack, no nasty revelation that the writing I feared was terrible was, indeed, terrible. Yet, there was no dishonesty, no saccharin platitudes, only honest, thoughtful critique that came from a place of genuine enthusiasm for the work and what it took to produce it. This is rare and valuable to a writer at the best of times, but when these people are writing in your own genre, and are at various points along the same journey, the immediate kinship makes them nothing short of family.

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YA Workshop at Djerassi

A few months ago I saw a tweet from acclaimed YA author, Nova Ren Suma, announcing that she would be running a YA writing workshop at the Djerassi Resident Artists’ Retreat in California next February. I replied to her tweet asking if something walking the line between YA and NA (New Adult) would be okay, and she responded with interest, and encouraged me to apply. So I did. Only eleven places were available, and I was informed on applying that there were many more applicants than places available. I put thoughts of it aside, and focused on other things until about a week ago, when I got an email telling me I’d been accepted into the program!

So next February I will be trekking all the way from frosty Norway to the ranch, which lies about an hour south of San Francisco, for a week of workshopping my first draft NaNoWriMo novel, and spending peaceful days on a secluded property purpose-built for encouraging the creative juices to flow. Now that I’ve  been informed someone will meet me at the airport and I won’t have to rent a car and drive all the way to Bear Gulch Road alone, I’ve stopped quaking with fear and allowed myself to get excited. Yes, I know, I’m a wuss. Side note: I also hear the on-site chef is amazing!

I have looked at various residency programs around the US, Australia and Europe, and have yearned to apply and win one, but with a three-year-old daughter in my life, it hasn’t so far been a viable option to spend one to three months away from her should I be accepted. But this opportunity was the perfect compromise, offering a week of isolation to work uninterrupted, be inspired by the beautiful location, recharge my creative batteries at the end of another cold, dark Norwegian winter, as well as make the most of the opportunity to workshop with a seasoned YA author and a focused group of other writers.

One day, when my daughter can cope with my absence for longer, I’ll begin applying for the regular-length residencies, but for now, this is the best opportunity I could imagine, and I couldn’t be more excited.

Popping the NaNo cherry

November is my least favourite month of the year, at least in Norway. It’s cold, dark, depressing, and oh so very far away from next summer. Some years I travel back to Australia, other years we try to go somewhere, anywhere, even if it’s just to London or somewhere else in Europe, to take a break from the oppressive dullness that is November in the north. This year, however, we have no possibility of escape, and must struggle through on wits alone. So what do I do? Why, I set myself a goal that will either boost me high on the shoulders of success and send me on toward Christmas with the sound of my own fanfare trumpeting in my ears, or it will smother me under the weight of my own over-ambition.

Yes, I’m finally doing it: this year I’ve taken up the NaNoWriMo challenge, and will attempt to write the first draft of the final Eidolon Cycle book in November. That’s an entire first draft in one single month. Considering the first two books took six or so months each, and the current one is almost halfway done after almost a year, that’s no small gauntlet to toss at my own feet. But I didn’t quit my day job to make life easier for myself, and I’m all for pushing my (writing) limits.

So, besides editing a novel, a novella, trying to write my own third book, submission reading, and a ton of ebook formatting, typesetting and proofreading work, the remains of October will be spent plotting, planning, writing character sketches, and plastering my office walls with sticky enough notes to make a serial killer envious, all in an attempt to prepare for the real work ahead.

The final book, Primrose, is completely different again from the first three, and will attempt to view the entire eidolon world through the eyes of an outsider, not privy to its secrets. Set in the 1980s this time, the research (and reminiscence) will be fun to say the least, but it’s a whole new level of difficult to write about a world that the main character doesn’t see, hear, or understand. But, as I said, pushing the writing limits is what keeps me inspired.

If you’re attempting NaNo yourself, and want to be buddies, find my profile page here: http://nanowrimo.org/participants/zoe-harris

Wish me luck! And if you don’t hear from me in November, it’s not because I don’t love you, it’s because I’m busy wondering what the hell I’ve gotten myself into. If you don’t hear from me in December, send out a search party…

Writing Postmasters

A little while back I was interviewed by Audrey Camp and Lacy Mayberry of The Postmasters Podcast; the interview will go live on the 1st of September. We talked about everything from my inspiration for Amaranth, to how I got my agent, to how I juggle motherhood, a fledgling publishing imprint and this writing life.

Though the Postmasters Podcast only started up in July, there are already three episodes to listen to before mine; I’ve listened to each one so far, and I really recommend it to writers at any experience level. Audrey and Lacy are witty, informative and ask relevant and pertinent questions of their guests – the idea of listening to myself makes me cringe, but when I listened to the preview even I had to admit they made me sound interesting!

I hope you’ll all tune in to Postmasters on the 1st of September, and if you like what you hear, subscribe and listen to the previous episodes as well. You won’t regret it.

Learn more about Postmasters on their website, and Like them on Facebook, or follow them on Twitter.

To boldly go

For some time now, I have been working closely with a small press in the UK with a view to eventually launching my own dark fiction imprint, Tenebris Books. Unfortunately, things didn’t go to plan and my imprint slipped further and further into the background, never quite receiving the focus and attention it needed to get off the ground. But now, the founder of Kristell Ink, Sammy Smith, and I have decided to break away and start our own independent publishing house – Grimbold Books – under which Kristell Ink and Tenebris Books will operate as equals.

Grimbold Books Logo

With our focus set on the genres that we love, Science Fiction, Fantasy and Dark Fiction, we will be able to give our authors the attention and support they need to achieve their writing and publishing goals. And at the same time, we aim to strengthen the relationships we have with bloggers, reviewers and readers to make sure our books are on the right radars.

Since announcing the change, Tenebris Books has already received several exciting new submissions, and we hope to make some announcements about our plans for the rest of 2013 and start planning our 2014 catalogue. Dark Fiction is hot right now, especially fairy tale-based stories, which is exactly what I love, as my regular readers already know.

If you’re interested in what’s in store for Grimbold and Tenebris, head over to the Grimbold Books website where you’ll find information about where we’ve been and where we’re going. You can also follow @GrimboldBooks on Twitter, or Like the Facebook page at www.facebook.com/GrimboldBooks

The Next Big Thing

I was recently tagged in a game of “blog tag” by author Nola Sarina, who writes paranormal, fantasy and science fiction. The idea is to answer a series of questions about my current work in progress, so here goes:

What is the working title of your book?

Sweet Alyssum; it is part of ‘The Eidolon Cycle‘ series.

What genre does your book fall under?

If I’m to use acknowledged literary genres, Sweet Alyssum and the series it is part of is New Adult Paranormal Fiction. However, as I’ve said before, this series is something of a genre-buster. I believe it has wider appeal as far as age is concerned, and the paranormal element, while important, is not the most important part; rather it is a backdrop for what are essentially stories about individual young women facing very human challenges and conflicts.

Give a brief synopsis of your story.

Nicky Bailey witnessed her parents kill each other when she was only seven years old. Now, eleven years later, the imaginary friends she invented to help her through her trauma have reemerged and are insisting they are real. And dead. Nicky has never believed herself to be normal, but now she thinks she’s having a complete mental breakdown. It’s only when she finds an old photograph of one of these eidolons, as they call themselves, in a history book – a man who died in the 1920s – she has no choice but to accept their story, and her own family’s history.

When the eidolons tell her that she and what’s left of her family are in danger of attack from a woman Nicky only truly remembers from her nightmares, she must decide whether to stand strong and face her deepest fears, or run. But she soon discovers that her childhood home, her mother’s last words, and an old book of fairy tales may hold the secret to her strange visions, and maybe the key to her family’s survival.

Where did the idea come from for the book?

Originally, this was to be a sequel to Amaranth. But when I began to explore the life of Nicky Bailey, who was eight years old in Amaranth, there was so much more going on that had nothing to do with Eva Hamilton (Amaranth’s protagonist). So I decided to write it as a standalone story which would incorporate elements and characters from the eidolon world, but would serve to enrich the cycle, rather than be part of the same storyline.

Part of the story is based on plans I originally had for Amaranth, but had to leave out as the book took on a life of its own, and the rest is inspired by Nicky herself. She’s a wonderful character to write, and I hope she is as lovable in her own story as she was as a small child in Amaranth.

Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?

Many writers build imaginary Hollywood casts from their characters, but this has never been something I’ve been very willing to do. The characters are so clear in my mind, putting someone else’s face, voice or mannerisms to them is almost impossible. I suppose I could see Nicky as a young Sandra Bullock, and Bridget, her therapist, something like a cross between Diane Weist and Julie Andrews. As for Andrew… perhaps Chris Hemsworth? Though that might have more to do with Joss Whedon’s cheeky writing for him in The Avengers than anything.

Tag!

To continue with the game, I’m tagging Sammy H.K Smith, Paige DanielsChelsea Ranger, Gisèle Le Chevallier and Audrey Camp. Over to you, ladies!

Strange Tales from the Scriptorian Vaults

I’ve been published! My story, Grace of Women, appears in Strange Tales from the Scriptorian Vaults, newly published on Kindle and other ebook readers by Kristell Ink. The book begins when newly appointed Sergeant Crystal Lewis is sent to the parallel world, Earth 267, where she and her team discover a London different to those their agency has investigated before. Steam powered ships fill the sky, metal creatures scurry through the streets, and The Great Library is now nothing more than a burnt-out shell. Crystal’s investigations discover the records of the Scriptorians: elite explorers, scientists and chroniclers, chosen for their wordsmith abilities, their tenacious belief in uncovering the truth, their passion for the bizarre and baffling.

The stories that follow are those Sergeant Lewis discovers, the stories of the Scriptorians themselves.

Strange Tales from the Scriptorian Vaults is available now on Kindle from Amazon.com and Amazon.co.uk and in epub and other formats from Smashwords. Print versions are soon to follow.

All profits from sales of the book go to First Story, a UK based charity which promotes literacy and creativity to young people by holding workshops, which are often run by renowned authors.

Sweet, complete

Last week I finished the first draft of my second novel, Sweet Alyssum. It was quite an exciting achievement, not least because I had been aiming to get to this point by the end of October and actually reached by goal two weeks ahead of schedule. On my final day of writing, I wrote 9500 words earning a lot of self-congratulation, followed by a painful bout of tendonitis. But it was so satisfying to be done, especially since the series is now two thirds complete (unless I decide to go for that fourth book that’s been niggling around in my head lately, insisting that it should exist).

Sweet Alyssum is the second book I have written for my series The Eidolon Cycle, but it is not the second book in the series. Why? Because there is no second book. There is no first book and no last book. The Eidolon Cycle is a non-sequential series telling the individual stories of three different young women whose lives are inexorably intertwined, even though each book is set in a different time period.

My hope for the series is that readers will be able to start with whichever of the books appeals to them most. From that point, each additional book enriches the others until the reader eventually has the whole picture. Additionally, readers will get a different experience of the world and its characters depending on the order in which the books are read. Loyalties may arise for some readers where others are firmly opposed to certain characters, depending on how much they know about each of them before their story arcs are complete.

I will now let the draft rest for a couple of weeks before rolling up my sleeves and getting down to tightening and polishing it up before sending it to my agent. In the meantime I’m working on two short stories for the Oslo International Writers’ Group anthology, and I will then begin work on the third, and perhaps final, Eidolon book, aiming to have it complete by April 2013.

As a little good news aside, I won the Bookkus Water, Danger, Humour short story competition last week. My story was chosen as the winner by voters visiting the site, who scored the stories out of ten on a star-rating chart. Overall, my story, Rocks in his Socks, scored an average of 9 out of 10. I couldn’t be happier with the result, and am looking forward to seeing the result in print early in 2013.

Playing both sides

I read a great post on Rachelle Gardner’s blog by Aimee L. Salter about indie authors versus the traditionally published. Actually it is essentially about writers versus other writers, but it got me thinking.

Recently, two big things happened for me in the publishing industry: the first, as you may know, was that I signed with an agent who has just sent my first book out to publishers for consideration. The second is that I started up an indie publishing imprint, called Tenebris Books, under Holland House Books.

Aimee’s post reminded me of something I’ve thought about a few times since these events occurred – I’m playing both sides of the fence. Although I agree with Aimee in that I don’t think there should be such a divide between indie published-authors and traditionally published authors, I wonder whether those who see the divide as an Us vs Them situation would think my decision to start this imprint is somewhat hypocritical. After all, the authors I hope to publish would be on the opposite side of the writing fence to me, as I currently seek a legacy publisher for my own work.

However, I don’t think any author who seeks or has a traditional publishing contract has any right to put themselves above an indie published author. The choice to go independent is no longer a sign of a writer who has given up and is now slumming it. There are many legitimate reasons why someone might go independent, not least because they hope to make a career and a living out of writing, and independent royalties are often much higher than traditional ones. It might also be for for more individual attention from their editor, or for more say in content, cover art, marketing strategy or any number of decisions often taken out of the writer’s hands by a legacy publisher. And it’s a mistake to assume that independent publishers take on any old manuscript thrown their way; I know of books which have been rejected by independent publishers only to go on to success with agents and traditional publishers.

For my own part, what I am looking for with my imprint is something that may not find a home with a mainstream publishing house, and I may have the opportunity to give a home to books that might not find a place anywhere else. That doesn’t mean I’m planning to fill my catalogue with rejects, it means I’m seeking something that is not so much outside the box, but more that it has little bits of paper in many different boxes. I researched long and hard to see if I could find a name for what I’m looking for, and the closest thing I found was Weird Fiction, which hasn’t existed as an acknowledged literary genre since early last century. And why do I want this? Because I want to read it, and know others who do, too. All those people who watch and love films like Pan’s Labyrinth, Coraline, The Others, The Orphanage and love classic folk and fairy tales, they read books too, they just might not know where to find them. I want to help.

On the other side of the literary fence, which is simply a different shade of green, I’m hoping to land a publishing contract that will send my book(s) on a journey around the world. I’m starting out in the US, but Amaranth is actually not set in any specific country; the entire Eidolon Cycle is set in the fictitious city of Lennox, which could be anywhere that has big cities, a coastline, and where it snows in winter. I wanted to write something that any reader could feel close to, like it might be happening right where they live, or somewhere they once visited. Like Springfield on The Simpsons, only on an international scale. Part of why I wanted a traditional publisher is the international reach; they can get my book into hands that might not have found it without them. I won’t pretend there isn’t a little bit of validation involved, if I’m honest, but really the best and most important validation comes when people are reading and enjoying what you’ve written, no matter who got the book from writer to shelf.

Brought to you by…

I am very pleased and excited to announce that Amaranth and I are now represented by Michelle Johnson of The Corvisiero Agency. Michelle is a published author, professional editor and is now working under Marisa Corvisiero who launched her own agency earlier this year. They’re a great team and I’m really looking forward to working with them.

The next part of the journey is likely to be slow and, at times, painful, but I’ve been so motivated by Michelle’s enthusiasm for and confidence in Amaranth’s potential, that I’m feeling positive about the road ahead. Of course it helps that I’m busy working on the next book in the series, Sweet Alyssum, and have mapped out the plot for the third and final book, Bella Donna.

As we progress, I will post news and developments here and on my Facebook Page.

For those authors who are on the hunt for an agent, you have my sympathy and good wishes; it’s not an easy process and there were times I almost gave up. Indeed, I had a plan to publish under a small, indie imprint by the end of the year if I found no success in the big leagues. However, persistence pays (as well as having a strong product to sell and a very strong query letter). By the time I signed with Michelle, I had submitted over 50 queries in both the UK and United States and received something like four requests for the full or partial manuscript.

It’s a tough time in the industry and you do need to have a thick skin to get through the process unscathed. I read that something like 3% of all queried books are taken up by agents, and still only half or less than those go on to get a publishing contract, then of that tiny percentage, many will sell less than 100 copies. Sobering statistics for the aspiring author. But, as most writers will tell you, very few people are in this line of work for money. Most of us do it for the joy of writing – and I’m definitely one of those.

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