• Fiona McIntosh: Voyager Author of the Month

    Fiona McIntosh was born and raised in Sussex in the UK, but also spent early childhood years in West Africa. She left a PR career in London to travel and settled in Australia in 1980. She has since roamed the world working for her own travel publishing company, which she runs with her husband. She lives in Adelaide with her husband and twin sons. Her website is at www.fionamcintosh.com.

    Her latest book, The Scrivener's Tale, is a stand-alone and takes us back to the world of Morgravia from her very first series, The Quickening:


    About The Scrivener's Tale:

    In the bookshops and cafes of present-day Paris, ex-psychologist Gabe Figaret is trying to put his shattered life back together. When another doctor, Reynard, asks him to help with a delusional female patient, Gabe is reluctant... until he meets her. At first Gabe thinks the woman, Angelina, is merely terrified of Reynard, but he quickly discovers she is not quite what she seems.

    As his relationship with Angelina deepens, Gabe's life in Paris becomes increasingly unstable. He senses a presence watching and following every move he makes, and yet he finds Angelina increasingly irresistible.

    When Angelina tells Gabe he must kill her and flee to a place she calls Morgravia, he is horrified. But then Angelina shows him that the cathedral he has dreamt about since childhood is real and exists in Morgravia.

    A special 10th Anniversary edition of her first fantasy book, Myrren's Gift, will be released in December!

     

     

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Tracey O’Hara: Why I Write Urban Fantasy

Image of Dean and Sam from Supernatural

We read UF because it's fab but watch UF because ... see above!

With the rise of T.V. series like True Blood (based on the Charlaine Harris’ Southern Vampire series of books) The Vampire Diaries (based on the LJ Smith series) and Supernatural, more and more people are becoming aware of the Urban Fantasy genre. UF is not action adventure, fantasy, romance, horror, or a blood thirsty thriller. UF can often be a story with all of those elements. Well at least the ones I like can. While some say the Twilight Saga started the whole supernatural phenomenon – UF and paranormal romance were well and truly alive and kicking ass way before sparkly vampires came on the scene. Anne Rice, Laurel K Hamilton & LJ Smith are just a few of the authors who have been writing it for quite a while.

I grew up loving action/adventure stories. From the very first time my third grade teacher started reading Enid Blyton’s, The Magic Faraway Tree, I was hooked. And if my action adventure had monsters and supernatural creatures too, then the more the better. I can remember hating Scooby Doo cartoons because the Scooby Gang always uncovered the all too human bad guy behind the clever ruse who would then utter the inevitable line “I would have gotten away with it too if not for those darn meddling kids”. I always felt cheated. I really wanted the ghosts and monsters to be real and that one day, Scoobs and the gang would come up against something that simply wasn’t just some old meanie dressed up in a costume.Then I discovered fantasy, horror and eventually UF. Now, I’m not going to go into the origins of Urban Fantasy or get into the debate of what is and what isn’t considered UF. There are too many differing opinions on both topics. Back in 2005 I started writing a vampire book. I had no idea where it fit, I didn’t even know about genres back then. I’d watched horror movies, read Stephen King (over and over again) and I just had this story in my head that I had to get out. I started writing it as more of a romance, but it kept trying to get darker and I had to keep reining it in.

Then I picked Dead until Dark, the first book in Charlaine Harris’ Southern Vampire series. And I thought WOW – this is terrific. Scary, funny, serious and light all at the same time. This I liked. This I could connect with. Then I read Keri Arthur’s Ripple Creek werewolf books and was just hooked. While the latter is more paranormal romance, especially when compared with her Riley Jenson series, I found I really liked the relationship elements too. So I gave Mary Janice Davidson a go. While I started out liking the books, I came to realise I craved the dark and gritty more than light and humorous. I know, I’m a sick puppy.

So I started working on my story in earnest. Before then I didn’t really have much direction of where it was going or if what I was putting in there was going to work. But I realised I could have romantic elements and also have horror – in the same book.  I could have seriously dark component and light moments too. While I am now working on my third book, I’m still finding my way through the genre, still trying to work it all out. But one thing I do know for sure – I love playing in alternate worlds.

Tracey O’Hara grew up reading Stephen King, Raymond E. Feist, and J. R. R. Tolkien. As you can see above, her tastes also embrace other types of fantasy now. Tracey lives in Canberra but you can catch her and fellow Canberra UF author Nicole Murphy at the Australian Romance Readers Convention THIS SATURDAY!  It’s at the Swiss Grand Resort  and Spa at Bondi Beach and Tracey and Nicole will be doing the mass signing from 3:30 to 5:30 pm. Don’t be late, because they’re roadtripping back to Canberra that same day!

Image of Death's Sweet Embrace, an urban fantasy book by Tracey O'Hara

Romeo meets Juliet, supernatural style

 

A sneak peak of Death’s Sweet Embrace.

The excited babble of female voices floated down the hall toward Gideon. He turned and faced the wall, then pulled a mop from the cleaning cart and began running it over the already shiny floor, pretending to clean.

What are they doing here? 

The academy didn’t open for classes until this evening. The institution was still officially closed for the holidays.

As two girls neared, he tugged the brim of his cap down over his forehead, keeping his head low as he continued to mop. They walked by without even a glance in his direction, too lost in their own self-important chatter. Maintenance men were invisible, especially janitors, which suited him just fine.

The girls soon disappeared around the corner, talking and giggling, totally oblivious to his presence.

WELL DONE, MY CHILD.” Ealund’s translucent form floated across the floor, his ethereal beauty reflecting on the shiny black floor tiles.

With a quick glance to make sure the girls were gone, Gideon dumped the mop in the cart and pushed it toward his original direction. The incorporeal apparition glowed, his pellucid form surrounded by a silver-blue aura—and Gideon’s heart ached just looking upon such ethereal beauty. Ealund only showed himself to Gideon.

He was the image of angelic magnificence with waist-length gold hair floating around his head, pale flowing robes, and terrifyingly exquisite azure eyes—all that was missing were wings. And yet, Ealund’s presence of absolute and pure evil almost brought Gideon to his knees.

Apart from the girls, the hallways were deserted. He kept his head down and peered at the security camera in a corner just above a classroom door. They’d been set up everywhere around campus after the first murder several weeks ago, but he had the schematics and knew how to get around most of them.

HURRY, MY CHILD,” Ealund intoned.TIME GROWS SHORT.”

Death’s Sweet Embrace is published on 1 April, and if you see Tracey this Saturday at the ARRC you could get your hands on an early copy.

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Hard Heroes: Part II

 

Linda Hamilton plays hardcore hero Sarah Connor in Terminator II

 How do you manage to make your characters harder without being too hard? Part I

Along with goals and history, flaws are an essential ingredient in writing strong, engaging characters. As Stacia Kane, author of the Downside Ghost Series, says, I don’t like characters who are just naturally strong and brave and smart and wonderful. To me it’s the flaws–and what they do with them–that make a person strong, and that makes them human. And the stronger and braver and tougher they are to the outside world, the more their flaws and weaknesses matter.

 ‘The flaw’ can move the story forward and make characters believable. For example, Tryn Bistoria in my Quantum Encryption Series is a capable, smart, talented apprentice but ruthless in the lengths she’s go to keep her familiar a secret.  It’s the flaw that draws the reader in and keeps the pages turning—the chink in the armour counts.

Sometimes the flaw is meshed with the character’s strength. Duncan Lay points this out when referring to Martil in the Dragon Sword Histories: (His) strength is also his greatest weakness in that he is a warrior without peer, a warleader even but he hates and despises what he is forced to do to win battles, both individually and as a war captain. Often the ‘flaw’ is the thing the character will try to hide. It’s internalised and that can lead to even deeper issues.

But strength isn’t always physical, as Mary Victoria, author of the Chronicles of the Tree series, reminds us. Samiha is strong precisely because she’s weak. Her flaws and her humanity give her insight. Her lack of physical strength gives her moral power. . . Playing with the way the character handles power can be very revealing and it gives us a chance as writers to explore some of the deeper elements of human psychology.

Jennifer Fallon reminds us not to forget the external factors as well. She says, when characters are required to make hard decisions, slam every other door open to them, so their path, no matter how hard or awful, is the only logical one to follow, then your readers will accept it and forgive that character anything you want/need them to. I have a character in The Second Sons series, who murders his father and arranges for the murder of his mother, and everyone reads this series and says “poor baby”, because I left him with no other honourable alternative, so the act, far from making him unsympathetic, made him a hero.

Environment, history, goals, flaws, Satima Flavell, author and editor, sums it up. To be memorable, a character needs to be complex. We need to see flaws as well as virtues, and we need to see, over the course of the book or series, just what has caused those flaws and how the character deals with them. A certain degree of self-awareness and self-acceptance is usually found in truly memorable characters, no matter how troubled or apparently conscienceless they might be.

Sometimes that self-awareness can rise spontaneously, without the author planning it. Traci Harding’s Tory from The Ancient Future Series demonstrates this:  I think the attraction with Tory is that she the observer in all of us . . . She is not compelled by religion to do the right thing, but has an appreciation for different cultures and draws from the beliefs of all, and her own common sense, in her search for the answers to the greater mysterious in life . . . I’m not too sure if I took Tory on a great adventure or she took me, but I feel I have my Tory’s boots when I’m writing her character. She taught me so much and is still teaching me as she morphs herself into other characters and other tales.

Have a comment on the topic? We’d all love to hear from you. 

Special thanks to Traci Harding, Stacia Kane, Jennifer Fallon, Mary Victoria, Duncan Lay, K J Taylor, Tracey O’Hara, Satima Flavell and Nicole Murphy for your input and contributions to this discussion.

Hard Heroes: Part I

Samurai Champloo ‘Sunset Warriors’ by Starxade

Recently Tarran Jones ask how do you manage to make your characters harder without being too hard? I immediately thought of three things—truth, goals and flaws.

Truth: If you want a character to be edgy, capable, ingenious, impervious AND believable, you have to start with a grain of truth and that means knowing their history. A good question for the writer to ask is how did they become thus?  A strong or hard-edged character gets that way because of something—a combination of things usually—both in and out of their control. The reader needs to able to at least speculate on what that ‘something’ was. They need to know the why.

In my Quantum Enchantment series, Kreshkali is tough as titanium.  She’s completely engaged in her cause but seems for a long time to be disconnected when it comes to love, particularly when that love is in the shape of a young man named Teg. The reader knows why she has such thick skinshe’s been whoring for water since she was fifteen and it’s taken the shine off her romantic notions. Kreshkali’s history makes her actions believable, and that is the place to begin.

Sometimes the ‘hardness’ of a character is developmental. It plays out before the reader’s eyes. This is the case with KJ Taylor’s Arren. (he) doesn’t actually start out as a particularly strong character. He’s immature – a characteristic he never really loses – deeply insecure, and a bit too proud for his own good. But he is brave and resilient, enough to survive things that would have destroyed a lesser man. He becomes hardened by what happens to him. He survives, but loses his heart. I think that’s the real tragedy of his story, and it’s what always kept me fascinated by him.

Whether it’s back story or current events, the why of a character becomes their truth and that gives them soul.  Tracey O’Hara’s  Antoinette has a lot of edge—physical skill, strategic intelligence and street smarts, yet most of her life has been in the single minded pursuit of the enemy . . . she’s had little time to actually form relationships, making her rather emotionally naive and vulnerable . . . We think of single-minded focus as an attribute until we see what Antoinette had to sacrificed to achieve it. It’s almost as if her goals are the driving force that moves her, and the story, forward.

Goals: The character’s goals are the next ingredient in writing ultra strong personalities. Kreshkali’s trying to save Earth from a totalitarian regime and keep the magical lands of Gaela from becoming contaminated in the process. Antoinette is out for justice. Arren’s just trying to survive in a world that’s done him wrong. When Nicole Murphy wrote Maggie, she had this character’s goals firmly in mind.

I wanted to show a woman who was prepared to make her own choices and wear the consequences  … Maggie has little concern about what others think  . . .  she also doesn’t have a lot of respect for authority  …  she’ll do things just to ‘stick it to the man’, so to speak, rather than because it’s the right thing to do. Giving characters a history and making their goals clear shows the reader the why. No exposition is necessary because it’s implicit in everything they say or do.

Special thanks to K J Taylor, Tracey O’Hara and Nicole Murphy for their input and contributions to this topic.

What part does a character’s history and goals play for you as readers, writers and editors? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Part II explores the complexity of strengths, weaknesses and flaws with thoughts from Traci Harding, Stacia Kane, Kylie Chan, Mary Victoria, Duncan Lay and Satima Flavell.

Kim Falconer is the author of the Quantum Enchantment and Quantum Encryption trilogies, set in the worlds of Gaela and Earth. The first book in the Quantam Encryption, Path of the Stray, is out now and the sequel, Road to the Soul, will be out in March 2011. Kim is also an astrologer and runs Falcon Astrology. She is based in Byron Bay in Northern NSW, Australia

Be still my beating heart …

After centuries of secret conflict, humans and parahumans have reached an uneasy truce. But unspeakable evil now threatens the tenuous peace.

Teenaged shapeshifters are being slaughtered by a sadistic serial killer who rips their still-beating hearts from their paralyzed bodies. A task force forms to halt the madness, including the vampiric Aeternus Antoinette Petrescu, as well as Kitt Jordan and Raven Matokwe, members of enemy Animalian tribes . . . and forbidden lovers.

A centuries-old blood feud has divided their shapeshifting peoples, and if their passion is discovered it will doom them both. But past hostilities must be put aside, for the killer they seek is but the first sign of the all-consuming nightmare of The Dark Brethren.

Hugos, swords, readings and dreamers

Sunday morning we bumped into Peter V Brett looking slightly pale outside the dealers room on Level 2. He was preparing for his reading from The Great Bazaar and by all accounts did very well. We gave away some Voyager party bags with the v15 hardbacks inside to some lucky tweeters and passers-by, celebrating both our anniversary and hitting 1000 followers on Twitter! Duncan Lay wandered over on his way to his kaffeeklatsch and said he was enjoying himself and also preparing for a reading later that day. Haven’t heard yet how it was but I’m sure it was fantastic!
Then your correspondent went to a ton of panels: the artist’s paradox with GoH Shaun Tan, Cat Sparks and Nick Stathopoulos was especially interesting. Robert Silverberg’s panel with Peter Ball, Alan Baxter and Keith Stevenson also provided food for thought on the novella form – hard to sell? Hard to write? Growing in popularity? Increasing the number of small press publishers?
After a brief break for lunch it was time to see our own Stephanie Smith, Voyager Publisher, on the Dreaming Again panel led by Jack Dann, with Janeen Webb, Jason Nahrung, Angela Slatter, Richard Harland and Jenny Blackford. Jack was in fine form and asked if everyone else had turned up for a roast Jack panel! 🙂
Then it was a discussion on crowns and monarchies with interesting insights from a whole panel of Voyager authors! Duncan Lay, Jennifer Fallon, Glenda Larke, Fiona Mcintosh with guest appearance by Joel Shepherd, duked it out – and one good point they made is that by settling on a monarchy as your governing system, you can concentrate on telling the actual story.
After this it was off to rm 519 to listen to Mary Victoria read from Tymon’s Flight and -bonus- from Samiha’s Song. Mary read beautifully and had us all under her spell.
We had a lovely Voyager dinner with our authors and then a few of us headed to the Hugos, where Garth Nix was doing a fab job of MCing. We’re all thrilled that Peter Watts won a Hugo for his story in New Space Opera 2 and Peter’s speech thanking Jonathan Strahan, editor of the anthology, was nice. We also enjoyed George R R trying to run off with a Hugo he was presenting and Robert Silverberg’s quips about editors and wombats!
Finally, it was off for one final evening in the Hilton Bar accompanied by Peter V Brett to join Jennifer Fallon and Glenda Larke, Stephanie and HarperCollins account manager and fantasy fan extraordinaire Theresa Anns. Then bed!
Today we’re off to Mary V’s panel at 10 on Writing Strange Lands, and then dropping into Nicole Murphy’s reading, where she tells us she will not be reading from page 310!

Happy birthday Voyager!

Last night we celebrated Voyager’s fifteenth birthday with a purple party full of authors, booksellers and fans.
There were lots of amazing and well known faces and we captured most of them on video and camera (apologies to everyone we accosted with the video camera!). There was a special Voyager purple cocktail and a glorious chocolate cake with the winged Voyager motif on top.
The roving vid team got to meet and chat to … Kim Stanley Robinson, Jack Dann, Robert Silverberg, George R R Martin, Fiona Mcintosh, Glenda Larke, Tansy Rayner Roberts, Nicole Murphy, Tracey O’Hara, Peter V Brett, Kim Falconer, Katie Taylor, Jo Spurrier, Cory Doctorow, Mary Victoria, Janeen Webb, Garth Nix, and so many more – the stars of the speculative fiction world! It was wonderful to finally meet face to face authors with whom we’ve corresponded for years. We didn’t manage to capture Jennifer Fallon on vid but the con is sti young!
There were speeches from HC Australia CEO Michael Moynahan, Voyager publisher Stephanie Smith, her offsiders in the US and UK Diana Gill (for Eos) and Emma Coode. It was announced that Eos and Voyager will move towards forming a global imprint. Then Emma introduced George R R Martin, Voyager author from the beginning, who spoke and then got down to the business of cake cutting. And then it was party time, with some very suggestive Happy Birthday Mr President I mean Voyager singing from one upcoming author duo and at the very end a helium inspired rendition of Happy Birthday by Peter V Brett! Guests got a bag to take home which included one of our gorgeous 15th anniversary hardbacks (check previous posts to see how you can win the whole set).
It was both surreal and lovely to be among authors new and well known – the surreal aspect no less thanks to the giant balls of flame that were puffed outside the window by dragons masquerading as columns outside the Crown complex on the river. And as the measure of a party is how quickly people make an exit, I think this was a definite success!
So, once more with feeling: Happy birthday Voyager! Here’s to another fifteen years just as good!

PS the full set of photos and video should be up later this week: so prepare to spot yourself!

Catch up on last night’s chat at Fang Books

Kim Falconer was the guest of honour at the Fang Books chat last night – and what a wonderful chat it was!
Catch up on Kim’s notes here at her website

We had not one, not two, not three, but four Voyager authors there – Kim, of course, and Mary Victoria, Nicole Murphy and Tracey O’Hara (who was madly packing etc as she came to Sydney to do a signing at Galaxy today at 5pm). Plus there were editors, writers, booksellers (all of whom are readers!).

Thanks to Fang Books – Alison and Rosie – for organising the chat, and to everyone who came! The lucky winners of Path of the Stray and The Spell of Rosette will get their copies soon!