• 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!



Karen Miller: Judging a book by its cover!

One of the most exciting things about having my books coming out in other editions is seeing the different covers that have been dreamed up by the various art and design departments. Don’t get me wrong — the folk at Voyager put out some truly gorgeous covers, using really wonderful artists and combining their talents with folk given the exacting task of designing the entire package. It’s just — there’s something alchemical about the cover design process and the alchemy changes from edition to edition.

I live with my stories in my head. I’m not an artist. I paint with words, not oils or watercolours. Even so, I have a kind of vague notion of how things look. Then to see a true artist’s rendering of my imaginary worlds and their characters — that’s truly mind-blowing. What’s even more intriguing is the shifts in tone and style from market to market. For reasons I don’t quite understand — even though I’ve been in the book trade myself — different cultures respond to different kinds of cover design and artwork. And that can lead to some quite startling interpretations of the text! So can the in-house differences between publishers. Add the author to the mix, who often has quite distinct ideas as to how the characters and the world should be depicted, and sometimes the journey to a finished cover can get a bit exciting.

I’m very lucky in that my opinion is usually sought when it comes to cover design. And while I’m never shy about expressing that opinion, I’ve learned that often the author needs to shut up and let the professional cover designers do their job. Looking at the covers shown here, I’ll think you’d agree I’ve got very little to moan about.

So let’s hear it for the art and design departments of the world’s publishers. They’re the unsung heroes of the book trade, believe me!

Karen Miller is the author of the Kingmaker/Kingbreaker duology, the Riven Kingdom trilogy and the upcoming Fisherman’s Children series, the first book of which is The Prodigal Mage. Visit Karen’s LiveJournal to see the Australian cover of The Prodigal Mage.

And further good news! Kingmaker/Kingbreaker is also published or to be published in Hungary (Ulpius-Ház), Russia (AST Publishers), Poland (Arrakis), France (Fleuve Noir imprint of Univers Poche). Innocent Mage has been sold into Denmark (Forlaget Tellerup) and due to the length once translated is to be published in THREE volumes (just book one!). The Godspeaker trilogy has been or will be published in the UK (Orbit), France (Fleuve Noir), Germany (Panhaligon), Poland (Arrakis) and The Netherlands (Luitingh-Sijthoff).

Specusphere interview with Kim Falconer

specusphere jan 09

The latest edition of the Specusphere is out! And it includes a great interview with Voyager author Kim Falconer, by Astrid Cooper. Astrid also has her thoughts on the book after the interview.

There’s also reviews of Karen Miller’s Hammer of God and for Victory of Eagles by Naomi Novik (continuing the Temeraire series).

The Specusphere team have also put out a call to arms for volunteers. If you love speculative fiction and have a bit of time to spare, contact them for more details.

On Writing: Finding the Moments by Karen Miller

If you read my blog on a regular basis, you know I have a fondness for televised drama. Most particularly I love watching it on dvd – not only because you’re not constantly interrupted by ads, but because often you get really nifty extras like writer/director commentaries. And these can provide the most fantastic insights into the writing process.
You might think that writing straight narrative for a novel, and a script for performance/filming, don’t have anything in common … but you’d be mistaken. Certainly there are major differences, but the aspects they do share are pretty crucial to successful storytelling no matter the chosen medium.
Recently I got the 5th season of NCIS on dvd. And one particular episode of that season, Requiem, deals with an important element of backstory for one Jethro Leroy Gibbs: namely, the murder of his young daughter. That event is in the past, but he’s forced to confront it in the present when a friend of his dead daughter comes to him for help.
The commentary on this episode is provided by star Mark Harmon and executive producer Shane Brennan – an Aussie, as it happens! And there was one comment by Brennan that really stood out for me. Actually, it leapt out and smacked me across the face – in a good way.
Brennan says that when you ask someone to tell you what happened in a book or a movie or a TV show, they won’t usually tell you the plot … they’ll tell you the moments. In other words, what they recall is specific incidents in the story that have made a profound impact on them. And, he says, as a writer that is what he strives to do: he strives to find the moments, the memorable sequences, the emotionally impactful incidents in a story and write towards them. In other words, to construct the entire narrative so that those important moments drive the story and the characters and provide the emotional impact that you’re looking for.
When I heard him say that, a chandelier’s worth of light bulbs went off in my head.
Almost without exception, the things I remember most about a book or a film or a TV drama that I love are those moments: Doctor Who, season 3, ‘42’, where the Doctor admits to Martha that he’s scared; Stargate SG-1, season 2, ‘A Matter of Time’, when Jack finally confronts Frank Cromwell and shows us he’s more than a few smart-arse comebacks; ‘Pawn in Frankincense’ by Dorothy Dunnett, when Francis chooses which child will die in a human chess game … I could fill pages with my favourite moments in drama.
See, Shane Brennan’s comment crystalised something crucial to my understanding of my own writing processes: that when I’m working on a new story, if I don’t have at least some of those moments in my head, if I haven’t found some of them before I begin writing, then I can’t begin writing. That until I’ve found them, I’m just not emotionally engaged in the story, and if I’m not emotionally engaged then I’m not ready.
Because it seems to me that if it’s those moments that engage me as a member of a story’s audience, then those are the things I should be focusing on as a story’s creator. Especially since the first draft is me telling myself the story (in the words of the wonderful Terry Pratchett) – which means it’s vital that I keep myself entertained. That I write with emotional passion, that I plunge my heart and soul into the story. Because if I’m not feeling anything, how can I expect a reader to feel anything?
There is, of course, a hitch with this approach. It’s bloody exhausting. If you’re writing drama, and if you’re writing to the moments, then you are most likely putting your characters through the wringer. That means you’re also putting yourself through the wringer, because for a reader to feel, a writer must also feel and capture those feelings on the page, in words.
Which would explain why writing a tough scene can make you feel as though you’ve been chewed up and spat out.
Apart from creating a memorable emotional experience for the reader, the other thing that writing to the moments does is give your narrative pace and drive. If you know where you’re heading, story-wise, your writing has purpose and energy. Now that’s not to say you have to know every moment of the whole story. If you’re my kind of writer, a loose outliner and discover-the-story-as-you-go type, it’s not possible to know every moment. Part of your process will be the discovery of those moments as you discover the details of the story and its characters.
But I believe you do need to know a few to get the ball rolling. Me, I always know the end moment before I start writing – I know where I’m heading. And I usually know a couple of significant ones along the way. Sometimes the story idea will come to me as an isolated scene – the first two Kingmaker, Kingbreaker books, for example, started with the moment of Gar presiding over Asher’s execution. Once I had that in my head, I had to then work backwards to find out how we’d reached that defining event, and then forwards to find out how the story ended.
But it all started with a moment. And as the story unfolded within me, I found more and more moments to write towards – significant emotional beats and events that kept me engaged with the story, and gave me somewhere to head for in the narrative.
So, without realising it, I’ve already been doing what Shane Brennan was talking about. Which is lucky for me! But the thing is, now I understand what I’m doing. And now I understand that when a story is bogged down, when I’m stuck, or when I can’t get started … the chances are good that I’ve not being paying sufficient attention to the moments. The minute I rectify that mistake, the story flow returns and so do the words.
But here’s another thing: moments are very personal. What you as an audience member – and by extension, a writer – will respond to emotionally isn’t necessarily the same as what I’ll respond to, or your friends will respond to. Of course, if a writer manages to capture something universally affecting then a great many people will respond the same way and lo! A hit is born.
Trouble is, it’s hard – if not impossible – to predict which stories will resonate with a large audience. I mean, how many agents and editors didn’t get Harry Potter? And yet those books resonate on a scale that’s almost unimaginable. But Rowling wasn’t thinking about that, she was telling a story that resonated with her. And that’s the key.
As writers, we can’t control how our work is received. All we can do is write the most honest, the most emotionally resonant story of which we are capable – a story that engages us – and keep our fingers crossed that what engages us will engage a lot of other people as well. That’s it. That’s our job. The rest is a crap shoot.
But if we take Shane Brennan’s advice, and always keep the moments in our mind, always look for the moments to illuminate as we tell our stories, then I truly believe we won’t stray too far from the track.

Karen Miller will be at Conflux this Friday and over the long weekend. So hie thee down to Canberra if you can. Karen’s latest book, Hammer of God, is available in all good bookshops, as is her latest book written as K E Mills, The Accidental Sorcerer. But wait, there’s more! You can read this post in Karen’s blog as well as catching on what she’s been up to – visit http://www.karenmiller.net/.

When a new book launches … a Voyager blog post by Karen Miller

Karen's latest bookSo it’s June now, which means that Publication Day is upon us.

Hammer of God, the third book in my first ever trilogy – Godspeaker – is out on the shelves. That knocking sound you hear is my knees, gentle readers …

You might think it gets easier, the more books you finish and have published. And perhaps it does, insofar as the more books you write, the more you start to believe you can actually do this! But that clutching sensation in the pit of the belly, that thrill of adrenaline through the blood, that wobbly, light-headed feeling that strikes when P-Day approaches … that, it would seem, never goes away.

And to be honest, though it’s hardly comfortable, I’m not entirely certain that I want it to. Because if there ever comes a time when I don’t get all tizzy about a new book being published, if ever I start taking the miracle for granted, well, that’s the time I’m surely asking for a swift kick up the posterior.

Being published is such a privilege, and an honour. Sometimes the responsibility feels overwhelming, because it’s not just the author on the line when a book comes out. Everyone who’s championed that book along the way, the agents and editors and copy-editors and publicity folk and everyone in-house who contributes to its creation, all these wonderful people have a stake in the success of the books they’ve worked on, and if that book doesn’t do well in the world, they feel the sting just as keenly as does the author.

Someone once said, ‘Art is never finished, only abandoned.’ – and I have to say I heartily agree with the sentiment. One reason I rarely go back and read a book once it’s been published is because I’m terrified I’ll discover all the ways I got it wrong, and those mistakes will paralyse me as I attempt to write the next book. Of course, I do try to learn from my mistakes. Each book I write is a valiant attempt to do a better job than I did previously … but there’s nothing more demoralising than realising you’ve not done something as well as you might have, knowing there’s not a snowball’s hope in Hades that you can go back and fix it.

Writing is a peculiar occupation, so very solitary. But then, so is reading – unless you’re involved in a reading aloud session with a book club, or friends. Sometimes it feels like I’m whispering into an enormous void … and as I whisper I imagine a host of ghostly readers out there, somewhere on the fringes, straining to hear me.

Allow me to thank you in advance, those readers who’ve heard my solitary whispering and placed fragile faith in my words.

As the P-Day nerves stutter me to near-incoherence, know that this author is so pleased she’s not alone.

Karen Miller