• 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!

     

     

What’s in a Name?

Francois Rabelais in the 16th Century cautioned against reading too much into a title. (A book’s) ‘title is usually received with mocking laughter and jokes. But it’s wrong to be so superficial when you’re weighing men’s work in the balance.’ Good advice, but now day titles sell books. It pays to consider them carefully.

The purpose of the title is to attract, intrigue and compel. It’s the headline, the very first sentence and its job is to hook the reader. It wants to sound good—to roll off the tongue—but not be overly predictable or clichéd. A good title can have double meanings, though it’s best to be careful there. For example, Mouse Work’s 1995 title, ‘Cooking with Pooh’ is questionable. Catchy can work, like Big Boom’s ‘If You Want Closure in Your Relationship, Start with Your Legs’ but that’s not quite the style speculative fiction readers are after.

Who wouldn't want to cook with ... er ... Pooh?

Who wouldn't want to cook with ... er ... Pooh?

Titles have to fit on the book cover. I’m not sure how Crown got ‘Charlatan: America’s Most Dangerous Huckster, the Man Who Pursued Him, and the Age of Flimflam‘ squeezed together with the author, Pope Brock, and a billygoat (I’m serious) but they did. Short titles can be preferable. George Orwell first called his masterpiece The Last Man in Europe until changing it to 1984. Good move.

Apparently there are rules to follow for selecting titles. Some writers ignore them, to their great success: Rule one—don’t use a proper name in the title. (Harry Potter?) Rule two—don’t use words like Bane, Barbarian, Bard, Battle, Book, Chaos, Crown, Crystal. ( Jennifer Fallon’s bestselling The Chaos Crystal?) Rule three—don’t use adjective-noun titles. (Sara Douglass’ bestselling Twisted Citadel?) Rule four—don’t use needless complexity. (Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? (The bestselling SF by Philip K. Dick!)

Rules aside, there is a website where you can put your title to the test. This program generates the odds a title has of becoming a bestseller. If it’s accurate, my book #4 is going to sell a zillion copies! However The Da Vinci Code shows only a l4.6% chance, so maybe take it with a grain of salt. I didn’t use it in any case, only because I didn’t know about it!

My first two books were named organically, like pets. Book #1, The Spell of Rosette was just ‘Rosette’ for years. She got ‘The Spell’ as the story matured. Book #2, Arrows of Time was named for the narrative structure. It’s based on the theoretical notion that time is fully symmetrical—arrows going both ways and around in circles! I named Strange Attractors before I wrote a word of it. I had to write something in the proposal and the quantum theory concept of ‘strange attractors’—a pattern that appeared chaotic until seen from the right perspective—intrigued me. I didn’t know then how literal it would become!

Has anyone a good ‘title story’ to tell? Is there one that particularly compelled or repulsed? I’d love to hear about it. Comments welcome!

arrows of timeKim Falconer is the author of The Spell of Rosette, Quantum Enchantment Book 1. She lives in Byron Bay in Australia with two black cats. As well as writing, she runs Falcon Astrology, The second book in the Quantum Enchantment series, Arrows in Time, is out now.

Fallon Friday: The Reason they call it a “slush” pile

Once upon a time, during dinner with some very clever industry insiders, we got to talking about how hard it is to find “publishable” new material, and the quality of work coming off the slush pile. And yes, there was alcohol involved.

Now I’ve seen a few slush piles, and they are scary places indeed. My agent has closed hers off, she’s so over it, and an editor was telling me she was appalled by how many people can bang off a 100,000 word MS and send it in, often without even reading it through before they print it out! As a writer who re-writes endlessly, I find this almost incomprehensible, but apparently there’s a whole sub-species of humans out there who believe that if you own a computer and you can write that many words, then you ought to be published, even if you don’t know how to use the spell checker.

The moral of this story, of course, is that is you’re not having any luck getting published, then maybe it isn’t because all editors are ignorant corporate bastards who don’t know a good story from a donut. It might be because you haven’t submitted something they consider “publishable”.

Spare a thought then, for the editors at Clarkesworld  Magazine. They’ve gone so far as to post a list in their Submission Guidlines of stories they’re not going to publish, no matter what, (they call it “a hard sell” but they really mean “we’ll publish this when Hell freezes over”) and it’s as funny as it is scary…

“Though no particular setting, theme, or plot is anathema to us, the following are likely hard sells:

  • stories in which a milquetoast civilian government is depicted as the sole obstacle to either catching some depraved criminal or to an uncomplicated military victory
  • stories in which the words “thou” or “thine” appear
  • talking cats
  • talking swords
  • stories where the climax is dependent on the spilling of intestines
  • stories where FTL travel is as easy as is it on television shows or movies
  • time travel too
  • stories that depend on some vestigial belief in Judeo-Christian mythology in order to be frightening (i.e., Cain and Abel are vampires, the End Times are a’ comin’, Communion wine turns to Christ’s literal blood and it’s HIV positive, Satan’s gonna getcha, etc.)
  • stories about rapist-murderer-cannibals
  • stories about young kids playing in some field and discovering ANYTHING. (a body, an alien craft, Excalibur, ANYTHING).
  • stories about the stuff we all read in Scientific American three months ago
  • stories where the Republicans, or Democrats, or Libertarians, or the Spartacist League, etc. take over the world and either save or ruin it
  • your AD&D game
  • “funny” stories that depend on, or even include, puns
  • sexy vampires, wanton werewolves, or lusty pirates
  • stories where the protagonist is either widely despised or widely admired simply because he or she is just so smart and/or strange
  • stories that take place within an artsy-fartsy bohemia as written by an author who has clearly never experienced one
  • your trunk stories ”

If you think that list is terrifying, check out the even longer list over at Strange Horizons, the online speculative fiction magazine. They have a whole page dedicated to Stories we’ve seen too often.

You really have to wonder what sort of tales have come off the slush pile at these magazines to prompt lists like that. Clearly, they have a sense of humour at Clarkesworld, but then, in my experience, for an editor, it’s an essential job requirement and the only thing keeping them sane*:)

*Assuming they are sane to start with, of course, which is debatable, given they’re working as, well, editors…LOL

Delve further into Jennifer Fallon’s mind at her blog. Jennifer Fallon is the author of thirteen fantasy novels published by Voyager, including most recently The Chaos Crystal, published in December 2008. She’s currently at work on her next series.

Fallon Friday: Top 10 Reasons Not to Microwave the Cat

I’m bored. I’m stuck in Adelaide. Daytime TV sucks and I can’t hear myself think because of the race cars whizzing around the track 50 metres away

I’m pretty sure my head will soon explode.
Behold, the inevitable and frightening result of Fallon being bored…

Top 10 Reasons Not to Microwave the Cat

1. It’s messy
2. You’ll probably get arrested
3. It’ll undoubtedly void your warranty
4. Fur is really hard to get out of those filters on the roof of the oven
5. Despite popular belief, cat really isn’t the other, other white meat
6. Unless you tranquilize it first, your cat is likely express his displeasure at being stuffed in a microwave oven by opening a running wound from your eyebrow to your navel, as you’re shoving him inside
7. Pussy might get dizzy on the turntable (actually this one is hilarious and will probably appear on my Top 10 Reasons You Should Microwave The Cat list)
8. It’s really hard to find a good red that goes with Tabby
9. It can be awkward explaining to the kids why Mr Tickles isn’t coming home anymore
10. It just wrong… I mean everyone knows you steam small furry animals…

Contrary to this post, Jennifer Fallon does in fact love animals, I promise. Her daughter is a vet and she has 4 animals, all of which are rescue animals and one of which was a little kitten with 2 broken legs that was so malnourished it’s bones were folding under their own weight. Kitten now all better and spoiled rotten. Oh yes, and she’s also a very famous and bestselling author of at thirteen novels published by Voyager (on the side, when not bored). Thankfully, if you have a Jennifer Fallon at hand, you’ll never even have to consider the above list, as you won’t be bored. Visit Jennifer on Twitter.

Fallon Friday: Fallon’s Six Rules of Characterisation

There really is no secret to good characterisation, there is just sticking to the rules.

Rules? What rule?

Well, I’m glad you asked. I have 6 of them, so here they are:

Fallon’s Six Rules of Characterisation

1. Have some idea what your character looks like.

This is not to say you need a detailed description of every single character in your book. But you do need to know if he’s black, white, brindle or covered in purple polka dots. Are they tall, short, fat or skinny? A person’s physical appearance affects how they see the world and how the world perceives them. A short fat person is unlikely to be performing athletic feats of heroism without it impacting on them somehow (breathless, more prone to injury…?). People who perceive themselves as plain can sometimes resent those considered “beautiful”. Short people can resent others being tall. Tall people (particularly women) are often self-conscious about their height. These are all hang-ups that come with physical appearance and will add depth to you characters.

I play a game sometimes, called: “If this was a movie my dream cast would be…” in which I “cast” the major characters if the book like it was a movie. This gives me an idea of who I see the character as being most physically like. I may never describe them the same way in the book (although perceptive readers will find George Clooney and Brak have a great deal in common…hehehe), but in my head, I know, and that’s what really counts.

2. Know your character’s past.

Despite being largely formed by a genetic makeup, we are still creatures of our environment. If you don’t know what that environment is, then how will you know what has made your character the way they are? People are moulded by their past, either by being pulled down by it, or by rising above it. If your characters have no past, however, you have nothing to work with.

3. Know your character.

This may seem like I’m repeating myself but this is quite different to the other rules. Knowing a character means not having to think about what they’d do, because it’s self-evident. And it’s not always easy to find them. When I was writing The Immortal Prince, I was really struggling to get a grip on Arkady, until I wrote the line: “The Duchess of Lebec knew how to amputate a finger”. (It’s several chapters in… can’t remember exactly where.) At that point, she suddenly blossomed into life and I’ve never had to wonder, from them on, what she would do in any given situation.

4. When writing from a character’s particular point of view, write in their voice.

If you were writing a chapter from the point of view of a child, you probably wouldn’t write…

“Pandora cautiously lifted the lid on the valuable antique rosewood chest with it’s intricately inlaid mother-of-pearl and gilt decoupage design (which would have fetched a fortune at Christies), and gasped as all the deadly plagues of the world were unleashed upon humanity.”

Design features and consequences come from an adult’s perspective. The child would see a pretty box. You’d probably do something more like this…
“Pandora cautiously lifted the lid on the pretty box with its shiny flowers that seemed pressed into the polished wood by magic and gasped as something dreadful burst out of the box.”

The latter is a child’s perspective, and if you write your characters using language they wouldn’t use in dialogue, then it doesn’t gel. It is for this reason that I despise “head-hopping” so much. Only a very few, very-skilled practitioners (and I do not claim to be one of them) can do this and maintain characterisation without confusing the reader.

5. Evil is merely a matter of perspective.

There is a saying – one man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter, and there was never a truer word spoken. Good people might think they’re good. But bad people, more often than not, think they’re good, too. This is the fatal mistake many would-be writers make writing their “bad guys”. They make them bad for no apparent reason. Or have them rejoice in their “badness”, and people following them (whole populations often) with no apparent goal in sight, other than world domination, just because they can. Being an Evil Overlord just because you like the idea of being an Evil Overlord only works if you’re Mike Myers and planning to clone a Mini-Me.
In my experience, all the complete assholes I’ve ever met think they’re doing the world a favour by merely breathing. And they’d be shocked, in most cases, to realise that people thought they were anything other wonderful human beings.

6. Give your characters shades of grey.

My agent brokered a stunningly fantastic advance for one of her (literary) writers last year, and the last I heard, they were into seven figures. (Yes, that’s over a million dollars.) The reason? It’s because, as one enthusiastic publisher gushed, “the characters have so many shades of grey”.

To give you an example of what I mean, let me paraphrase the story of The Good Samaritan for a moment.

• A good character without shading would stop and help the wounded man lying on the road, for no other reason than he is good and it’s the right thing to do.
• An evil character without shading would not stop to help the wounded man lying on the road, for no other reason than he is evil and it’s the wrong thing to do, although he may stop and spare the poor dying mugging victim a muwahahaha for dramatic effect, before moving on to other random acts of violence and mayhem.
• A fully realised character will see the wounded man, turn away because he doesn’t want to get involved, be swamped with guilt a few steps further on and go back to aid him, resent the poor victim for causing him trouble, even while giving him the shirt off his back, which he then has to explain to his wife when he gets home that night.

It’s not the best example, granted, but you get the idea. Heroes are often accidental. In fact, there’s an argument that only a fearful man can be a hero. If you’re not afraid of anything, what is there to overcome? Courage is doing something in spite of your fears, not blazing ahead fearlessly because you’re too stupid to know the danger.

Jennifer Fallon is the author of four fantasy series, the most recent being the Tide Lords quartet. The Chaos Crystal, book four of the Tide Lords series, came out this month and is available across all good Australian book shops.

Fallon Friday — The question of magic

Truth be told, I’m not a fan of magic. It gets you into all sorts of trouble when you’re writing, particularly of you can’t answer the following questions:

  • Is there magic?
  • How does it work (wands, spells, farting …)
  • What are the rules?
  • What are the consequences of using it? (Exhaustion, opposite and equal reaction, uncontrollable need for sex …etc)
  • How many people can wield the magic?
  • How do they screen for magic users?
  • Are they reviled or revered?
  • Are they natural or do they need to be taught?
  • Is there a dark side?
  • Is the magic unlimited or will it run out eventually?
  • What are its limitations?

You see, the problem with magic is that it’s, well, magic.

If you can light a candle using magic, why would you use a match? If everyone can light a candle with magic, chances are, matches haven’t been invented.

Your magic system needs to have limitations, ethical, physical or moral. There has to be a reason why your hero doesn’t just turn the Evil Bad Dude into a frog, the moment he starts getting a bit snippy.

If your characters can wield magic, it will affect everything they do, and often how they do it. It must have consequences, and there have to be times when they’re going to have trouble with it, otherwise, you don’t have a story.

Above all, once you’ve made your magic rules, stick to them. You can’t have your magic-wielding hero wreaking havoc all through the first half of your story, only to have him unable to do a damned thing later on when he’s captured by the aforementioned Evil Bad Dude, because he can’t use magic on Thursdays. We need to know, pretty much from the outset, that Thursdays are a problem for our boy.

If your reader ends up tossing your book across the room with “that’s silly, he could have just snapped his fingers and killed the guy ‘cause it’s Tuesday”, you have a serious problem.

There’s a reason Superman is vulnerable to Kryptonite, you know. Think about it.

Jennifer Fallon may not be a fan of magic, but she has plenty of fans spellbound with her latest series, The Tide Lords quartet. The final book in the quartet, The Chaos Crystal, came out last month. You can read more from her at her website and blog.



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Voyager Book Club Chat transcript now up

The Chaos Crystal
On Tuesday 16 December we held our most successful Voyager Book Club yet, with Jennifer Fallon and a host of fans talking about The Chaos Crystal, the fourth and final (for now … ) book in the Tide Lords series. Some people lurked and listened, but lots of others threw questions at their fave author and were rewarded by lots of discussion.

Click here to read the transcript from the chat.

It’s slightly edited to take out some off topic bits and pieces but all the good stuff about the book is there! Jennifer Fallon is keen to do another chat, probably in February, so leave a message on the blog if you’d like to take part.

Fallon Friday: 10 Pitfalls Waiting to Trap Potential Fantasy Writers

Not having any idea of how big a whole world is. Think for a moment about how big planet Earth is. Now, pick a hero, send him on a quest. Oh, and while you’re at it, take away all but one continent, two or three countries, all languages but one, give Earth a temperate climate all over said lonely continent, with maybe some snowy regions a few days from the one of the only three cities you have left, and populate the entire animal kingdom with only horses, dogs, the odd cow and no insects. And when you get your MS back with “thanks, but no thanks” scrawled across it, take a moment to wonder what the editor meant when they said your world building lacked “depth”?

Trying to imitate someone else’s plot. This is a double-edged sword. You can be totally unoriginal and make bucket-loads, provided you can present an old idea in a new way. It takes talent, however, to do this, so be very careful before you try it.

Trying to be too original. There’s innovation… and there’s being so far off the rails nobody but you and the three friends you were sharing the bong with when you thought up your epic storyline get what you mean. Be original, by all means, but do it sensibly.

Forgetting epic fantasy needs more than one plot. Big epic trilogies tend to need big epic plots with multiple characters and intersecting plot lines. By all means, have a major thread running through your story, but you’d better be a cross between Shakespeare and Elmore Lenard if you think you can squeeze a three book deal out of a publisher for a story about two people alone on a raft looking for the magic talisman that’s going to save the world at the end of book 3.

Forgetting pack/transport animals need to eat, drink, and rest occasionally. Trust me, even if you manage to get this past an editor, you will not get it past the various animal experts out there that populate the world of fantasy readers. They will know. And they will scoff at your ignorance. Loudly. On their blogs. And to everyone they meet.

Assuming everything you see in the movies is true. I had a young writer assure me once that you could knock a person unconscious by simply tapping them on the head because that’s what they do in movies. Let me assure you this is not the case. I know this because I once (accidentally, of course) dropped a 15lb bowling ball on my ex’s head from about 6′ off the ground and it didn’t even crack his skull, let alone knock him out. Nor do people ride at a gallop for miles with a bullet wound in their leg, win a fist fight after being shot in the shoulder, or solve complex mathematical problems in their head, ten minutes after being brought back from the dead. Physical violence has consequences. And not just bad guys die from it.

Thinking that because fantasy is all you read, you’ll be able to write it, too. I was asked once, at a con, what was the best thing a fantasy writer can read to help them write better fantasy. My answer was: a newspaper. Sad, but true, kiddies. How can you write a convincing imaginary world, if you have no idea what makes the one you live in work? Without exception, all the successful fantasy writers I have ever met are grounded, practical people capable of holding a conversation just as easily about politics, religion or current affairs as they are about magic. In fact, most of them prefer to discuss politics, religion or current affairs (except Trudi Canavan who prefers to talk about knitting). And not a single one of them believes in magic. But damn, they can write about it well.

Breaking your own rules. In its own way, magic is a force like any other. It has certain rules and you have to stick to them, even if you’re the one making up the rules. If your magic is lunar, then you’d better not have anyone working it by day. If you’ve said it’s impossible to make pigs fly in chapter 1, you’d better not have your enemies launch an airborne pig attack in chapter 57. Make up your own magic rules, by all means, but don’t go changing them half way through the story because you’d discovered flying porkers would be handy, after all.

Stereotyping. JK Rowling has made poo-loads of money writing what is, essentially, a story about a kid in boarding school. What separates her bank account from the wannabe’s is that she found a way to make her hero different. Isn’t her first chapter of Book 1 titled “The Boy who Lived”? Enid Blyton never thought that one up. Fantasy with a drop-dead gorgeous virgin princess who needs rescuing from an evil sorcerer by a handsome goat-herder (who is really a lost prince) and his amusing sidekick will get you nowhere. It’s not that you can’t use the plot, but you’d be better off with the amusing princess and her drop-dead gorgeous sidekick rescuing the evil sorcerer from the psychotic goat-herder… you get the idea? It’s not the plot, it’s the woefully written characters that’ll kill your epic every single time…

Overwriting. There is absolutely no need to ever use the words “very”, “really” or “suddenly” in your narrative (you can use them sparingly in dialogue if you promise to be careful). Nor should you need to qualify your dialogue with adverbs. In fact, try not to use anything other than “said”. And watch out for redundant writing. Things like ‘the end result” or “hesitating for a moment”. And read every single sentence with the word “that” in it. And then read it again leaving out the “that”. You will be amazed.

Jennifer Fallon shares her tips on writing every Friday and she is -not- a potential fantasy writer, having thirteen fantasy novels published with Voyager! Her latest book is The Chaos Crystal and it’s available across Australia, right now!