Re-Imagined: The Yin & Yang Book

My brief for Chinese Whisperings: The Yin and Yang Book looked simple. Create a thief and have their stolen property confiscated in the demise of an airline. The difficulties came in writing a thief who appeared larger than life on the page (and no pressure, it was only the opening section of the book) but who really was nothing more than a sophisticated outline to enable the writers who came after me, Paul Servini and Emma Newman, to develop the thief into the character they wanted. If you like, adding colour, nuance and texture to her facsimile existence.

Keely/Medae

When I wrote Keely Jackson/Medae Newman I only knew two things about her – she would do anything to steal the painting and the set up for the crime had been a long one. That became the basis of her story. And it was a joy to see who she became in the end – not just through Paul and Emma’s eyes, but imagined also, in small and large ways, by Lily Mulholland, Dale Challener Roe, Rob Diaz, J.M Strother and Paul Anderson.

A Cast of Thousands

The other job I had, was to create a cast of minor character for the entire pool of writers to draw on. The majority of the characters the reader meets in the check-in line were in the original Prologue but were tweaked at the end to better identify the characters. I created not just those people in the line, but those on the bingo card. Important people from Medae’s life, who we never really get to know about (but I can see JJ as a young man, getting about the place in clouds of Jazz aftershave). As the anthology plays out, the reader sees into the worlds of the businessmen with their brief cases and slip on shoes, the woman with the oversized garment bag, the lady wearing Sunflowers perfume, the man with the Canadian flag on his back pack and sixteen other characters who zigzag in and out.

Rewind

If I had my time again and I wasn’t at the head of the cue: who would I choose?

I’ll let you in on a little secret – I almost got the chance to stand in the middle of the narrative and create a story, when we were on the verge of losing one of our writers. The character who most intrigued me, appears in “No Passengers Allowed” and “Kanyasulkam”: the woman with the baby on her hip and the other two boys, Josh and Henry, running amok. It was the line in Kanyasulkam which got me…“I might not look like her but I wouldn’t swap my kids and life for hers.”

When I read it, it immediately rang false – the type of thing you would say to a stranger (a glamorous stranger at that). I immediately saw her as a woman in an unhappy life (and I’m not just talking being stuck in an airport with three kids) She grew in my head to be a woman literally caught in purgatory – between a fantasy life she imagines will be better, but swamps her with guilt and a real life which consistently lets her down, but she feels compelled to stay in. A woman whose life is lost between five males: the two men vying or her attention and her three young sons.

How did she come to be caught in the turmoil? No, I’m not talking about the temptation of an affair. She’s in the chaos of the airport because she traded in the family holiday tickets, for one way tickets home to Australia on Pangaean, to leave her kids with her parents in Sydney and to go off and get head space, after he husband cancels his part in the family holiday to return to work to cover an emergency. I saw her answering her phone and having an argument with a man. A man who is begging her to stay, or to let him come with her. A man asking for a chance to be the man she needs. A man on his knees to her. A man, who it turns out, is not her husband.

I don’t know what happened to her and her kids. They’re still caught in the airport, their stories untold. I can tell you though, that woman reinvented herself and stepped into a sci-fi story, that hopefully one day you’ll get to read.

Tagged

I tag Jen Brubacher, Dan Powell, Claudia Osmond and Chris Chartrand our biggest supporters while  we created The Red Book. They saw something special in Chinese Whisperings (when we only saw a tangle of head aches) and read The Red Book imagining themselves in there.

So I ask you, our original supporters – given the complete cast of characters, who would you write if you had your time over again? And then give you the opportunity to tag another writer.

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First Do No Harm

I’ve co-authored five licensing agreements in the past two and a half years, including the two standard agreements which all Chinese Whisperings and Literary Mix Tapes agreements are built upon. I’ve also acted as a sounding board for one more and signed three as an author in my own right. The agreements we have in place at eP cover over 300,000 words, in 59 pieces of work, in five publications. And another 120,000 words and 143 pieces are licensed under gentlemen’s agreements for charity anthologies.

Every agreement is different – but at the crux of each, is a naming of publisher and author, a story and a set of dot points each party agrees on to bring a piece of work to publication. These dot points (or clauses) normally outline things such as the assigning of rights, the length of these rights, payment, the formats the work will be published in and details regarding the termination or renewal of the agreement. Agreements should also contain a glossary which clearly defines each term.

Yes – they’re relatively boring documents, many are near impossible to read (though Paul and I have worked hard to create licensing agreements in the plainest of English for eP). As an author, it is essential you read everything contained in any agreement sent to you and understand how this impacts you as an author and your work.

At eP we produce and distribute the agreements at the end of the anthology (we work a little different for single author projects negotiating the terms at the beginning but not actually asking the author to sign until the end.). This gives every author the opportunity to:

  • bring their work to final publishing state (where author and editor are both happy with the final product)
  • see their work as it will appear in print and
  • to read the entire anthology their piece will be a part of.

It’s all about transparency and ensuring when our authors sign on the dotted line, they do so with a smile on their face.

The interesting thing to note about our legal documents is we never call them contracts – they are agreements.

An agreement is a negotiated and usually legally enforceable understanding between two or more legally competent parties.

Although a binding contract can (and often does) result from an agreement, an agreement typically documents the give-and-take of a negotiated settlement and a contract specifies the minimum acceptable standard of performance.

Whenever we send out agreements, they are open for discussion. Moreover we actively encourage every author to ask questions of the agreement so they fully understand what they are legally binding themselves to when they sign. While most anthology authors sign with few queries, our single author agreements attract quite lively discussion around them – as the case should be. As I said, everyone should be wearing a smile when they affix their mark at the bottom.

So, why the sudden interest in sharing this.

Earlier on in the month I signed on the bottom of a licensing contract with several clauses which left a foul taste in my mouth. So why sign off on it… because it brings my time with this publisher and publication to a close. And thank God for that. Also because signing the contract removes the name I legally publish my work under from being associated with the publisher and publication… and well its give and take. I’m simply relieved the work will be unattributable to me.

The clause I took most offence to was this:

The Writers, Editors, Beta Readers and Publisher agree that they will not take any action that will harm the [work*].

It was a good thing I wasn’t sipping my tea when I read this. In essence this means the publisher believes there is a good possibility those involved will seek to harm the publication in question. To me, it is an admission from the publisher that a certain amount of ill will exists within the ranks.

In no agreement I have assisted in writing, nor any agreement I have ever signed, have I seen such a clause. Effectively this clause gags any associated writer, past or present, from commenting freely and honestly about their involvement with the publication, and by extension, any comment regarding the publisher who produces the publication. Of course you can comment, blog, tweet, generally talk unfettered if you want to say good things which promote the publication. Outside of that you have to shut up. By signing the agreement you are legally bound to do so.

My time on with this publication and publisher has been a roller coaster ride. I loved the initial creation process with my fellow writers and our editorial staff (including one hell of an amazing beta reader). We worked to the brief given to us and in my opinion, produced high quality work which met the guidelines.

The rot set in when it was taken to the next level of editorial invention.

I’m not precious about my writing. I’ve had the honour of working with two amazing editors on projects outside of eP in the last nine months – Russell B Farr (at Ticondergoa Publications) and Sasha Beattie (at Kayelle Press). For more than two years I’ve been working closely with a strong group of beta readers who regularly pull my work to pieces. I understand the editing/critiquing process is essential and I give myself over to it. My work is always better for it. To be precious about the editing of my own work would make me the worse kind of hypocrite.

What I am precious about is the process. As an editor and a publisher I adhere to the highest standards of practice. These principles are so important, Paul and I are in the process of formalising them into a protocol which will be named HITHER, to ensure all our associate editors conduct themselves at a comparable ethical standard.

At the very foundation of editing and publishing (from where I stand) there really is only one rule: the author and their story always come first. This is a difficult type rope to walk at time, when in your other hand, as you shuffle across the rope, you balance the aspects of the larger project (especially in the case of Chinese Whisperings anthologies).

At then end of the day, authors are the only true assets a publisher has – they are the ones who produce the stories you sell. Without them you have no business. Piss your authors off and they walk, taking not only their stories, and future stories, but their goodwill.

How do you put authors and their stories first? Four common sense guidelines:

  • transparency: authors are always able to easily see the edits and changes made to their work
  • partnerships: if authors are willing to meet you half way, so should you. You do this by encouraging authors to not just accept the changes you make to their work, but to also reject or modify any changes they feel are not in keeping with their work. Authors always have the right to say no. If you have created a project which inherently blocks this right – you’re working on the wrong type of project.
  • accessibility: everything always flows back to the author (in the case of eP this also includes the lion share of royalties). Authors should not have to hunt out the changes to their work to the point of exasperation.
  • continuity: if you recruit writers to perform a specific task, in a specific project, allow them to do that. Don’t change the goal posts, or the rules of engagement. The best thing you can do once you set it up, is step out of the way.

The unnamed publication I am talking about, at the higher end editing process, did none of this effectively. Edits and changes made were for all intents and purposes, invisible. There was no direct feed back from the editors regarding changes made. The common courtesy of having your edits emailed back to you never happened.

The impetus remained at all times with the author to seek out their work and try and discover what changes had been made (the platform on which the editing occurred did not allow for tracked changes). When reviewing the edits done on my work, I discovered whole sections of my work rewritten without my consent – and poorly. Months later I wrote to request my name be removed from these sections, stating I felt it was no longer representative of the original work turned in (original work given the okay by my editor!)

Other parts of my work were rejected outright because they ‘didn’t fit’ now. I understand in the bigger scheme of things, details need to be changed to fit in with the whole, but as I understood it, the work I produced with my fellow writers, did fit together, as the brief demanded. The best example of this: I had my final piece, congruent with the overarching premise of the story, rejected because it now didn’t fit. After four attempts at writing it ‘their’ way I gave up and admitted defeat.

When the work was set in its near to final state – we were given a list of where to find our work, but as the managing editor veered further and further away from the original concept, and sections of stories were taken out of their discrete narrative arcs and blended into other narratives (where they were never intended to be) it became increasingly difficult to locate sections of your work.

As for continuity well… it would be easiest to say, don’t get me started.

Throughout the final editing process, the feeling was, this is the way it is – like it or lump it. The Managing Editor’s word was final and any attempt to defend your work, or its rightful place was met with statements such as, “You’re obviously not cut out for this type of writing.”

If there is a second rule in editing and publishing, it is accepting your fallibility and the short comings of what you do. Never in a million years would I assume to tell an author involved in an eP projects that the fault lies with them – they’re obviously not cut out for it. The fault lies with me and perhaps my inability to articulate what I want. The fault lies with me because I haven’t checked my ego in at the door. Sometimes the juggling act between authors and business means not everyone is happy at the end and I’ve, at times, mismanaged the outcome. I’m willing to say I made a mistake though. I try my best and I ensure it is never personal, anything I say or write. I always try to find a way to bring a point of contention to place where both parties can be happy with the outcome.

Sometimes the fault lies inherently in the concept. Accepting your fallibility is recognising the short comings of your project as they occur and trouble shoot them to the best of your ability. It’s not about laying blame.

To minimise the chances of any project going off the rails, I ensure that:

  1. the idea or concept is simple, stays simple and consistent through the life of the project.
  2. an easy to follow set of guide lines are produced to safeguard the integrity or the concept/idea across multiple interpretations
  3. in addition to 1 & 2, the vision is malleable and has room for every author to pursue creative freedom.
  4. everyone is clear as to what the concept/idea is and their responsibilities within the project, and
  5. with this set up at the beginning, step out of the way and trust the authors to do what they do best – write stories.

In all honesty, had The Red Book turned out to be disaster, if  our idea of a multi-author interconnected work hadn’t transferred successfully in practise Paul and I would have stopped. There would not have been a second Chinese Whisperings. Sometimes it is best to cut your losses and move onto something else – as my Dad says, no point flogging a dead horse.

Paul and I are the first to admit we did so many things wrong with The Red Book, but we learnt from those pioneering mistakes and we moved on to adapt what we had learned and applied it to The Yin & Yang Book. We found ways to ensure the project kept to the timetable, we learned new ways as editors to bring out the absolute best in our authors and we learned the subtle art of interweaving. I grew as an editor to find it’s not just about word wrangling… being an editor also includes the hats of confidante, cheer squad, life coach, best friend and mortal enemy… possibly all in the space of a few lines in an email. It’s much more than just the words. eP projects support new talent, but they also nurture connection and community in a plethora of brand new, and expanding relationships.

Licensing agreements should never exist as restraints to delineate acceptable behaviour. Agreements exist for two simple reasons – to define the path to and the outcomes of, publication, and to identify the parties involved.

And for this reason, I’ve never needed to suggest to Paul we include a clause in any of our agreements which expressively forbid any of our authors from doing anything which may harm the project they are involved with. In fact, until yesterday, it was a clause I’d never even thought of. To do so would be an admission we can’t come to a logical and mutually amicable agreement when a problem arises with an author during the writing and editing process. But more so, it would be an admission we don’t know how to treat our authors with respect and dignity so they feel the need to go forth to say and do harmful things toward the publication they are included in, or worse still, believe that anyone would. It would be saying we don’t trust our writers to do the right thing.

But in the end, the real lesson is, first do no harm.

I ask, anyone reading this who knows the un-named project I refer to here, to please refrain from naming it in any comments made.

* original wording substituted for ‘work’ to avoid indentifying the publication or publisher.

Re-Imagined: The Red Book

The Red Book focuses on the lives of ten individuals (Miranda, Mitchell, Clint, Elizabeth, Robin,  Simon, Sam, Susie, David and Jake) living in (or originally from) the same Northern American University town.  They all began life as secondary characters created by another author (except Miranda – given someone had to start the chain) and as such, belong to a much larger cast of characters who exist in the periphery of the main narrative arcs, on the fringes of the lives of the ten main characters.

Each author had their reason for choosing the character they pulled from the side and put centre stage. You can read some of the reasons in the blog posts running at the Chinese Whisperings site this week.

What if I had my time again?  Looking at the ensemble of characters – who would I chose to follow? Detective McNally, the police officer investigating the attack of Dr Mitchell Slovosky in Jason Coggin’s Something Mean in the Dream Scene, or Ronnie – Sam’s girlfriend in Jasmine Gallant’s Not Myself. What about Caleb Jones, the dead cleaner in Emma Newman’s Heartache.

No. If I could, I’d take up the siren call of the malevolent entity we christened ‘The CW Fairy’.

We’re introduced to her in Something Mean in the Dream Scene (though she’s a ‘presence’ – never specifically referred to as a ‘she’ by Mitchell) and a version of her is recognised by McNally on the front cover of a book in Slovosky’s office. She appears in Annie Evett’s Kraepelin’s Child as a pissed of female entity which only Brandon can see and is perhaps the ghost of Miranda which Clint sees lingering by the fence in the back alley at the end of the story. She returns as the beligerent entity in Paul Anderson’s One in the Chamber, possessing Kate and badgering P.I. Jake into the darkest recesses of his mind.

What I realised about The CW Fairy, is she attaches herself to men who are on the run. If you think I’m nuts, she actually comes out and accuses Jake of running away!

“She said you’d turn away. Even if you felt her, you wouldn’t believe me, you’d run away. You always do.” (Page 109)

Mitchell, in a way, is escaping his feelings – running from something so deep in his past he doesn’t remember why he’s numb (and no, I don’t believe its just the sleep paralysis robbing of him of his ability to experience and express his true emotions), Jake from his secret past and it is any one’s guess what Brandon and Clint are running from, one in his quest to stay perpetually high and the other for notoriety through violence. We never see what McNally might be on the run from – but as a police officer you could probably take a pick from several dozen gruesome things.

As such I wonder if she is also lingering on the periphery of the stories of Sam (on the run from his past and specifically people smugglers), Robin (on the run from a crime he lied about and the man who covered his lie), Simon (who is briefly avoiding facing up to remembering what made him stop sleeping int he first place) and David who is literarally escaping his old life.

I’d love to look behind these men’s lives through the eyes of the CW fairy and find what is actually there – especially those characters we only catch glimpses of, like McNally.And why she choses one man over another!

I always thought The Red Book was about staying sane in insane places – but looking at it through other eyes, I see characters all trying to escape from something (male and femal). Perhaps that is one of the factors which defines staying sane when the rest of the world goes to shit. Just trying to get the hell out of Dodge.

But at the end of the day, I’m more fascinated with who the CW Fairy originally was. Created out of the aether, or someone trapped in this state… feeding from these men. I have no idea. She still taunts from the outer reaches of comprehension with brief insights and nothing more.

Enough from me though. I tag Dale Challener Roe, author of Not Myself and ask him, who on the sidelines interests him? Given the chance to write now, who would he write? You can read his response: If I Had To It To Do Over Again.

Mercurial

A few years ago I wrote a little story called MERCURIAL. It started off as a [fiction] Friday short, based on a prompt where the main character in the story had become obsessed with something. In my story the MC was self-obsessed.

That story ended up being the very first story penned for CHINESE WHISPERINGS: The Red Book. Writing it out to its natural conclusion set the word limit for the stories – 3500 words. It is a little odd reading MERCURIAL now. My writing has moved on quite a bit since then. But I still have a soft spot for it because of the place it has in CW history.

Today, we begin the roll out of stories and reflections at the official Chinese Whisperings site,  in the lead up to the books’ release on Tuesday 11th October. Here’s a little of MERCURIAL. You can read more about how it came to be here.

***

The alarm went off, sending an agonising wave of pulses through Miranda’s head. She gritted her teeth, fumbling for the snooze button. Seven minutes to decide how the day would progress.When did I finally fall asleep? Had the light been seeping in through the Venetian blinds? Or was that yesterday? The day before?

Easing back from the clock radio, she unclenched her jaw and rolled onto her side, remoulding to the body pillow. Miranda forced beyond the headache, to take stock of the rest of her body. Her arms and legs ached, no better or worse than yesterday, and her bowels felt weak. Nothing new there. She moved her hands with slow, meticulous strokes over her swollen abdomen which had once been washboard flat and hard from daily abuse at the gym, then examined her puffy fingers now devoid of the rings she loved so much. The effort exhausted her.

Pushing through the fog wooing her back into the release of sleep, she reached once more and wrapped her fingers around the small diary on the bedside table. Lying in a haphazard manner on her side and placing the diary on the elongated pillow, Miranda scribbled down the symptoms. There would be more as the day progressed.

Erratic mood swings.

Unusual sweating.

Cold feet.

There had been new additions in the last week—fevers and sore glands. Or had she just failed to notice them before?

This little book was her testament to the truth, not the rambling hallucinations of a hypochondriac. The notes in her shaky script were concrete facts. Even if she was the only one who believed it.

The alarm burst to life again. Miranda moaned, crawling back across the yawning divide, grabbing her mobile and turning the alarm off. Every fibre of her body screamed with the effort to drag her legs over the side of the bed and sit up. The room spun for a moment. She tried to focus on the list of ‘W’ numbers, until she came to work. It only took two rings to connect to the outside world.

“Good morning Eloise.” Her voice weak, rasped, devoid of the ray of sunshine she’d always believed rippled through it.

“Ringing in sick again, Miranda?”

“I’m not feeling so good.”

“Of course you’re not.” Eloise had once been her friend and the sarcasm cut Miranda deeper than the obvious lack of empathy.

She is sitting in my chair. Schmoozing with my boss. Imagining that my job is… her job!

“You will need to ring HR about applying for holidays. You’re all out of sick leave.”

Eloise’s been in my personnel file checking my sick leave?

“But my medical cert…” Her voice fell in on itself and the words were barely audible.

“Take it up with HR. Some of us around here have work to do,” and the line went dead.

It took a while for Miranda to register the strange sound as her own weeping. Every day she detached further from her somatic experience to cope. It didn’t surprise her she failed to recognise her own crying. Last night she’d been completely disorientated when her new neighbour appeared in the dead of night to ask if she was okay. She hadn’t even realised she was upset, much less loud enough to bring him to her front door.

Someone else’s pain. Someone else’s problem. Someone else’s world falling apart.

The doctors ruled out everything after a plethora of tests. She did not have the Epstein-Barr virus, ruling out Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, the most obvious diagnosis given her symptoms. She wasn’t suffering from an autoimmune disease or an obscure tropical virus, compliments of the trip to Thailand earlier in the year. According to the tests she was a healthy young woman—who just happened to be wasting away while the world moved on.

Bad patient! Bad Miranda! Bad girl! Bad. Bad. Bad.

The collective agreement on her physical symptoms—psychosomatic in origin. Abandonment and mother issues from childhood causing her to will herself into illness. Self-hatred manifesting as self-punishment creating an imagined illness.

Psychobabble. Bullshit. Talking out of their asses. Not even I hate myself that much.

Eighty Nine


Here we go on the next Literary Mix Tapes rollercoaster ride of speculative fiction goodness.

The cover is getting rave reviews and so it should. Blake Byrnes our newest cover artist (incidentally born the year the books revolves around) has done a stellar job under a demanding schedule. If that artwork doesn’t wow a future employer for Blake (who is a little over a month out of completing his uni degree) I don’t know what would.

So what is EIGHTY NINE all about. The blurb goes something like this:

1989: a cusp between decades.

The year the Berlin Wall came down and Voyager went up. Ted Bundy and Emperor Hirohito died. The birth of the first Bush administration and computer virus.

In San Francisco and Newcastle the ground shook, in Chernobyl it melted. Tiananmen Square shocked the world and Tank Man imprinted on the international consciousness. Communism and Thatcherism began their decline, Islamic fundamentalism its rise.

It was the year Batman burst onto the big screen, we went back to the future (again), Indiana Jones made it a trifecta at the box office and Michael Damian told us to rock on.

Based on a play list of 26 songs released in 1989, Eighty Nine re-imagines the social, political, cultural and personal experiences at the end of the decade which gave the world mullets, crimped hair, neon-coloured clothing, acid-wash denim, keytars, the walkman, Live Aid, the first compact disc and MTV.

Included in the author line up are the usual suspects, along with a raft of new authors debuting for LMT (you’ll see them in intalics):  Paul Anderson, Cath Barton, Tanya Bell, Jim Bronyaur, Adam Byatt, Jodi Cleghorn, Jason Coggins, Jonathan Crossfield, Rob Diaz II, Rebecca L Dobbie, J.M. Donellan, Laura Eno, Kaolin Imago Fire, Jo Hart, Susan May James, Maria Kelly, Stacey Larner, Monica Marier, Laura Meyer, Lily Mulholland, Emma Newman, Dale Challener Roe, Devin Watson, Icy Sedgwick, Benjamin Solah & Alison Wells.

You will be able to pre-order paperbacks shortly with a release scheduled for late October/early November. After a very long wait in seeing this anthology make publication, I’m impatient to finally get it in readers’ hands.

Excitement is…

…the long awaited arrival of a paperback proof.

In this case it is The Yin and Yang book – which we published as an eBook in October last year. I’m in love. After fears about the continuity of the cover, the spine blends beautifully with both the front and the back, and as our very first book on cream paper… it feels like a ‘real’ book. There are a few adjustments to be made on the inside, but looks like they are few and far between.

I’m ecstatic! Can’t wait to launch this book and get it into as many hands as possible.