• 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!

     

     

Writing the Timestalker series

People always ask me what it’s like writing the Timestalker series. It follows the adventures of a time travelling detective, Kannon Dupree, who solves exotic mysteries set in different times and places. And as the latest book in the series, Coyote, has just come out, I know I’ll need to hone my answer to that question.

But to complicate matters, each book has had its own special challenges. In the first one, Gladiatrix, Kannon journeys to Rome in 8AD and investigates the mysterious rituals performed by an Egyptian Isis-worshipping cult, which in the twenty-first century has become so powerful that it’s challenging Christianity for dominance.

That was a lot of work. I had to set up the foundation for a new series which used time travel, create an alternate present, plus do research on ancient Rome as well as mystical Egyptian cults. Then put it all together in an adventure story.

The next book, Hoodwink, is set in the golden years of Hollywood. After the body of a movie director is found covered in a Mayan occult tattoo and cemented into the floor of his own film set, Kannon Dupree is hired to discover who murdered him. Whilst on the set of Gone With The Wind she stumbles onto a mystery that stretches back to the Civil War.

My research load doubled in Hoodwink. It ranged from 1939 Hollywood, through to the Mayan civilisation via the American Civil War. And, as every good writer knows, you only ever put a fraction of the research you do into your book.

In the latest book, Coyote, Kannon is hired to find the missing diary of a Wild West hero. The chase takes her through the middle of an Indian War, via a mysterious convent of nuns banished to die in the desert and into an ancient pueblo city on a cursed mesa sacred to Coyote, the trickster god.

The photo of me frowning outside the town of Coyote in New Mexico, was taken when I was trying to work out where the hell to locate one of the only truly fictional places in the book – Big Sun Canyon. America’s Southwest is a patchwork of sites sacred to the local Native American nations. (The photo of mesas is from one of these sites – Monument Valley) So I had to work out how to respect their beliefs and still write an adventure story that roamed across their territory. (I’m smiling in the other photo because I’ve just worked out what to do.)

Looking at the series as a whole – all the Timestalker books are basically adventure stories where complex mysteries are solved. It takes a huge amount of planning to tell an exciting story and at the same time unveil clues along the way. Add time travel to that mystery setup and there’s another equally intricate layer of planning. You can’t turn the reader off by making them question why the mystery wasn’t solved in one quick visit to the past rather than a journey that takes around 150,000 words.

So I do the all the planning and research and then I let my imagination take over… You’ve got to love speculative fiction. It’s as exciting to write, as it is to read.

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Jo Spurrier on research

Let me say first of all that I love research. It’s just as well, really, because this book needed a great deal of it. A project like Winter Be My Shield is a bit like an iceberg — only about 10% of the research actually makes it into the story. The rest is a huge groaning mass of background information bobbing about in the writer’s head, threatening to spill over whenever an unsuspecting conversationalist ventures too close to the subject of the moment.

Once I realised my characters needed to live somewhere extreme, I knew I had my work cut out for me. I’ve never lived anywhere cold enough to snow, and most travel has taken me to places that are arid and hot, rather than cold and wet.

    I started by hunting down books about winter camping and read them obsessively, until I was dreaming about tramping through the snow beside an open lead of ink-black water. I sought out memoirs from the Canadian fur trade, trawled for books written by folk who ran away to the wilderness and read the story of a nineteen-year-old college student who spent seven months in a tent over winter to babysit millions of salmon eggs. I hunted for information about native peoples in boreal forests around the world, their folklore and their way of life, and learned of the sound that breath makes when moisture freezes in the air. I read about the horse snowshoes that have been used in northern Europe for at least 700 years, which could have saved Scott’s Antarctic expedition and which were used by the rescue party who found the bodies of Scott and his men. I devoured the tales of men tasked with protecting Russia’s remaining wild tigers, and what happens when one of their charges become a man-eater, stalking them through the heart of Mother Taiga. One of the phrases my characters use, no-one’s dead until they’re warm and dead, is a mainstay of cold-climate search and rescue, where the cold draws a fine line between preservation and destruction.

Television was useful, too — anything mentioning Siberia, Canada or Alaska would have me glued to the screen. Just be warned, these methods are likely to result in shouting at Bear Grylls when he’s slogging through thigh-deep snow past trees that would give him perfectly good make-shift snowshoes, and demanding to know how he’s going to catch anything with snares covered with scent from his bare hands. On YouTube I watched videos of frazil ice and frozen rivers breaking up in the spring, and, when Eyjafjallajokull blew her top, I heard the sound a lava flow makes (for the record, it sounds like glass being crushed beneath a giant roller.)

Writing these books has been a labour of love, and it is truly love, for though the world of Winter Be My Shield is harsh and unforgiving, it’s sunk so deeply into me that part of me will never leave it — I think I’ll always have a little bit of ice and some scraps of fur around my bones. So come with me, here where the air is so cold that it bites and the falling snow muffles all sound; and seek out a tiny, warm tent full of the scent of wood-smoke and spruce, with a fire crackling in the stove and a kettle simmering on the hob. It’s a dangerous place, but it’s worth it. I promise.

Go for the Unrealistic: Five Tips for Emerging Writers

Learning to fly by Silesti ( http://silesti.deviantart.com/ )

It’s unrealistic to bend a piece of metal and fly people over the ocean in it but fortunately the Wright brothers didn’t think so. – Will Smith

A lot of advice for emerging writers centres on ‘being realistic, like you can’t get an agent if you haven’t published, you can’t get a major publisher without an agent, writing is very hard work, only write what you know, what $$$, rejection du jour, it’s tricky for Australian authors to publish their works overseas, keep your day job  . . .  and many more. Such advice is enough to sink an emerging writer into a bout of depression! Is the advice realistic? Probably. Do you let that guide you? No!

I highly recommend these five unrealistic steps to landing the publishing deal of your dreams.

Step #1 Forget about being realistic. Stop thinking about the practical advice and the ‘cold hard facts’ and develop your craft. If you have a dream, something you are enthusiastic about, develop the skills to deliver it. All the storytelling talent in the world won’t fly if you don’t have the skills to communicate your vision. Develop them!

Step #2 Think in terms of component parts. You don’t set out to write a 500,000 word, three book series. You don’t even set out to write a single novel. You get up in the morning and you write five hundred words. You do that for a time and get some confidence and maybe after a while you find yourself writing a thousand words a day. Then two thousand. In a year, you have a solid manuscript. In ten years, you have more than you dreamed possible.

 Step #3 Say you can do it. He who says he can and he who says he can’t are both correct. Confucius. Think about that for a while.

 Step #4 Know your motivations. There is no ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ motivation for your artistry. It might be that you want to prove something to the world. You might want to feel of value. You might be obsessed with telling a story that will touch people’s hearts. Whatever your motivation is, know it. Know thyself. The awareness of what drives you is your touchstone. Use it.

 Step #5 Decide, devote, deliver. Just decide that you will do it, that you will achieve your dream. Devote your whole heart to it, and allow for compassion for others and the planet to be part of that devotion. Deliver what you promise to yourself and to others—your daily word count, your article deadline, your publisher’s request.

Bonus tip. Remind yourself to go for the unrealistic. I mean, what if we’d listened to any of this ‘realistic’ advice?

 Everything that can be invented has been invented.  Charles H. Duell, an official at the US patent office, 1899

 The singer (Mick Jagger) will have to go; the BBC won’t like him. -First Rolling Stones manager Eric Easton to his partner after watching them perform.

 I’m sorry, Mr Kipling, but you just don’t know how to use the English language. The San Francisco Examiner, rejecting a submission by Rudyard Kipling in 1889

 You better get secretarial work or get married. -Emmeline Snively, director of the Blue Book Modelling Modelling Agency, advising would-be model Marilyn Monroe in 1944.

 With over fifteen types of foreign cars already on sale here, the Japanese auto industry isn’t likely to carve out a big share of the market for itself. Business Week, August 2, 1968.

 There will never be a bigger plane built. – A Boeing engineer, after the first flight of the 247, a twin engine plane that holds ten people.

 If anything remains more or less unchanged, it will be the role of women. David Riesman, conservative American social scientist, 1967. (Of boy!)

The Beginning of the End

With Journey by Night in bookstores this month, I’m starting to get emails and posts from readers who have already finished the book. They’re sending a lot of support and enthusiasm, which is wonderful. They’re also all asking the same question, each and every one. It comes phrased in a few different ways but all are saying, ‘It’s not the end, is it?’

 The answer is yes and no. Journey by Night is the last book I’ll write in the worlds of Earth and Gaela, at least for the next five years. I have two new series planed: The first one is well under way and the second I’ll write straight after. Both are envisioned as trilogies and set in very different worlds/premises. However, Journey by Night is not the whole story and it looks like the ‘missing chapters’ will be released soon. I can’t tell you how happy this makes me!

 What missing chapters? A year ago, when I first submitted book #3 in the Quantum Encryption series, the manuscript was over the word count. I knew there were sections that needed shortening but I hadn’t thought it would be the first six chapters. They were the bedrock of the story, to me, the life and times of Kreshkali and Nell growing up in the underground. The deleted chapters take place on Earth and answer questions about the origins of these two powerful witches—their intentions and what drives them. I felt more than a little attached.

 But I also trust my publisher completely and was open to her idea. She wanted me to try starting with chapter seven—one of the most intense and dark scenes in the book—and feather in important elements from the early chapters as memory. It took me a few days to get my head around the rewrite but once I did, I went to work and a month later I resubmitted the MS. Bingo. My publisher was happy and my editor (who never saw the original version) was thrilled.

 Meanwhile, those first six chapters sat in a bottom drawer and that didn’t feel right. I find it hard enough to leave a series and say goodbye to characters I’ve been ‘with’ for the past six or seven year but to know those early chapters would never be read hit hard. In the back of my mind I pondered ways this part of the story could be told. Fortunately, my publisher was pondering as well. After tossing around a few ideas, we came up with a great plan.

 ‘Kreshkali and Nell – the early years’(under a much better title) is going to be turned into an ebook with plans for an audio download as well. Both will be either free or at the most the price of a lollipop. So for those who have devoured the series and are mourning its end, there is a thirty-some-thousand word novella on the way!

If anyone has a brilliant idea for a title, please feel free to comment. The elements in this story are 24th century post-apocalyptic earth where the only currency is drinking water. Two girls grow up in the underground, learn magic in secret and stay alive any way they can. I wanted to call it ‘Childhood’s End’ but we know Arthur C. Clarke grabbed that one years ago. Suggestions welcome. Thanks!

Show Don’t Tell: Let the bodies do the talking

One thing I learned growing up in California was how to read body language. I was shy and not big on self expression so conversations were usually short and lacking in point. Out of shear self-defence, I learned to read what was really going on and to use my body to portray what words could not. I’ve got over the shyness eventually, but my body language radar has stayed, thank goodness. I use it every day in my writing.

 There are a lot of things to keep in mind when writing epic fantasy—world building, action, suspense, characterisation. Another key component is dialog and I am always looking for ways to ‘show not tell’ when it comes to my characters’ conversations. It’s tricky because they are actually telling when they speak. One way to ease back on the exposition in dialog is to use body language along with the words. Here is an example of what I mean.

 This is a short excerpt from Journey by Night, my most recent release. It’s a conversation between Kreshkali at age five and her Auntie Bess. First consider it with the body language and actions removed. Do we really know what’s going on?

 ‘What about Nell?’

‘Who?’

‘Nell   . . . we can’t leave her behind,’ Kali said.

 ‘Fine. You can bring your teddy . . .

Next here it is as written in the text.

Tears welled in Kali’s eyes. ‘What about Nell?’

‘Who?’

‘Nell,’ Kali said and pointed to her friend.

Auntie Bess knitted her brows.

‘We can’t leave her behind,’ Kali said.

Auntie Bess clicked her tongue. ‘Fine. You can bring your teddy . . .

Here the body language shows us how the characters are feeling without resorting to exposition.  We are never told what Kali or Bess feel but we’ve got a good idea. Below is the same conversation again with different body language. Keep in mind the actual dialog hasn’t changed one word. 

 Kali smiled, her hands going out to her sides as she twirled. ‘What about Nell?’

‘Who?’

‘Nell,’ Kali stopped to point at her friend.

Auntie Bess tapped her chin.

‘We can’t leave her behind,’ Kali said.

Auntie Bess gave the child a hug. ‘Fine. You can bring your teddy . . .

 There are plenty of actions that show readers what’s going on without having to literally spell it out: Rub the back of your neck and look down? Lying! Point a finger and shout? Threatening! Cross arms and take a step back? Defensive! Fiddling with small objects and avoiding eye contact? Nervous as hell!

 But not all body language is universal. For example holding hands or looping arms with a person of the same sex in public in our culture is likely to be interpreted as a gay/lesbian relationship. In Japan, it’s a common behaviour between friends (two women or two men). I’m sure when books are translated for foreign publication, the body language has to be assessed for meaning as much as the words themselves.

 How about you? Is there a particular kind of body language you spot a mile away and think, I know what’s really going on? Share it if you do. I’d love to add to my repertoire.

Writing Villains that Rock

Once upon a time, villains were bad to the core. They did bad things for evil gain and that was all there was to it—soulless, unaccountable, wicked.

 This is no longer the case.

A contemporary villain, like the shape-shifting Daos (pictured left) from Quantum Encryption, is fully fleshed out and has all the ingredients that makes a good hero—they are on a journey, they have strong motivations, much is at stake, much is risked, the choices are hard, they believe in their cause and they are believable to the reader. In this way, the villain is just like the hero/heroine only they have contrary goals/moral/cultural conditioning. The writer these differences and uses them to challenge, test and block our hero. This only rings true if the villain is authentically formed and fully actualized. These villains come in many forms.

The Shadow Villain. Like Gollum in LOTR, this character represents the ‘dark side’ of the hero/heroine. He is a nemesis but a personal one. The readers ‘gets’ where he’s coming from—boating accident leads to finding a ring that haunt him for the rest of his life. This kind of villain can be a key player in the story, elucidating the history, world building and nature of an ‘evil’ object (the power of the one ring). In the end, this shadow villain may guide the hero through the darkness and like Gollum, succeed in the quest, even unintentionally, where the hero could not. The chance for redemption is always present. We are saddened by their demise.


The Betrayal Villain
. Like Cyper in the Matrix or Darth Vader in Star Wars, this type of villain was once on our hero/heroine’s side. As betrayer he creates the opportunity to do bad things AND tell the ‘other side’ of the story. The reader gets to hate this one particularly because it feels like they had a choice and made the wrong one—to go against our hero. The chance for redemption is present up until the end. If they make the ‘wrong’ choice, we cheer their demise. Standing ovation.

Super villain. Like Sauron in LOTR, the Dark Side of the Force in Star Wars, or the Machine Mind in the Matrix, the super villain is all powerful. There is an impersonal quality to them, like a force of nature. We do not ‘know’ them unless they have a representative with a growth arc or history (Darth Vader, Agent Smith). Only through these individuals is the super villain accessible in a personal way. As a force of nature, the super villain is the obstacle for the hero/heroine and one that is usually woven into the world building.

The Anti-Hero. Like Battlestar Galactica’s Number Six and Patrick Süskind’s Jean-Baptiste Grenouille from Perfume, these are serious ‘villains’ but the story is told from their POV. Sometimes they do ‘bad’ things (terrible things) but only to ‘bad’ ( like Dexter). In this case we love that justice is served. They may also be bad, or mad, and do terrible things for no good reason at all, but we are riveted to their story because it’s so interesting. The anti-hero is a way to tell the villains side of the tale while suspending judgment. The concept of the anti-hero is discussed more on Writing Excuses, a great resource. Also see my notes from a recent hero/villain workshop.

Who is a favourite villain on your bookshelf right now? In film? I’d love to hear about them. Comments welcome.

Kim is the author of the Quantum  Enchantment and the Quantum Encryption series. Her new book ‘Journey by Night‘ is out September 1, 2011. Read more about her books at KimFalconer.com

Pass the accelerator, please.

Is time moving faster — or are we?

How many times have you found yourself saying: “I don’t have enough time?”

 As a yoga teacher I’m in the habit of encouraging students to breathe deeply, slow down and create space. This, however, appears to be at odds with an increasingly accelerated lifestyle; a curious jumblebag of emotional expectations of how/who/what we should spend our time on set to the relentless beat of escalating technological change — curiously labelled as “time savers”.

 Even the frequency between technological waves is decreasing so they’re breaking over us more often dumping gadgets, gizmos and widgets, all impatient to be the “—est”, the next Gee Whiz, while we push harder on our own personal accelerators to catch up, perpetuating the cycle.   

 So, how much change can we cope with?

 Imagine being whisked fifty years into the future. Not only that but what if technology had continued to escalate so that while only fifty years may have passed on the sundial, new wave tech had continued to advance exponentially so that the equivalent of hundreds of developmental years had elapsed?

 This is the challenge I set for my protagonist in the second book of the Helix Prophecy, The Emerald Tablets, where Callum discovers that time has become an even more valuable commodity.

The Emerald Tablets    In The Emerald Tablets time can be traded, transferred from one body to another, bent and manipulated. Time becomes a magical extensor of pleasure, for those with the capacity to pay, so that multiple lifetimes, lifestyles and choices can all be pursued.

   Like most “what if…?” questions that authors ask the projected outcome is firmly rooted in today’s experience.

  Can we possibly break this cycle and begin to maximise our enjoyment? For despite all the technology and myths surrounding time scarcity many of us use an inordinate proportion of it trudging through the mud of an unchangeable past, or projecting worry into a possible future instead of being fully aware of the only space that is actually alive for us— the right now. What if we could be fully present through all of our senses for the next second and the next? What if we could be totally aware of what each breath feels like as it flows through us and in doing so allow space to arise?
Perhaps then we may realise that it is our choice how hard our foot is pressing down on the accelerator. Now — that would be magic.

Paul Garrety is the author of The Seventh Wave  and the just released follow up The Emerald Tablets.