Sylvie #MarchMonologue

March is the month of monologues. I’m using monologues as character development for the six characters of my birthpunk novellas. Here we see Sylvie, a young midwife, who wants to escape the world she no longer fits, alone in a darker, starker, more dangerous landscape.

One. Two. No…it can’t be. But yes…there it is: the second heart beat. How easy it would be to miss it behind its sibling.

Keep a straight face. Hold it close and work out what twins mean here where all the talk is of a chosen child. A child. Just one.

If you want one, you, glaring down at me, which one do you want? And what will you do with the other? I have never lost a baby. I don’t plan to. Not out here where there is nothing but death pressing in through every crack and crevice. Death might be your handmaiden but it is not mine.

The girl’s fingers are hot, wrapped around my cold ones. Always so cold, especially under Daniel’s hand in the back of the car. His hand jerking away from mine. Rejection, betrayal or survival? Or my will to push him away.

Doesn’t matter now. You’re far away Daniel. So far it doesn’t beg thinking about. I close my fingers around this girl who needs me. I squeeze hard enough to assert my presence, my belief in her ability to birth twins, but not too hard. I’m only here to support, not to control…not like the woman around us. Those who hold us against our will.

I’m so awfully afraid. But you are afraid too. Terrified.

What have I done?

I can’t…

The crone looks at me.

A piercing glance and the hairs on my neck bristle like a cliché. Everything is wrong about this. About her.  About the girl. This room and me in it.

Where is Sophie? Is she safe?

If only my beeper worked. I’d be able to let her know I’m still here. I promised her I would be there. And I will. I will Sophie. You believed in me. And I believe in you. I don’t go back on my word. I know you are scared. I’m scared too. If only the beeper worked. I could ask for help.

The crone looks at me, her gaze penetrating me like a rusty metal blade. Violent and deadly.

The pinnard is heavy in my hand. Not as heavy as the sentence I let go as I struggle to work out what to do. The words catch in a choking cough as though I’m not meant to say anything. They bounce off the crumbling walls of the room.

The crone nods. Oh my Goddess, she nods. And I have time.

The cold, sharp air… ahh, after the closed, stinking interior of the birthing room it’s a relief. Colder than the water I’ve just asked to bathe under. Colder than the glare Marcus, the man could as easily undo me as save me, gives me when I tell him what I want.

Are you for me, or against me? Tell me?

Your back is the only answer I get because, I can’t ask. The black cotton sticks in weird contours that defy anatomy.

One foot after another, after another, in the dusty tracks, leading me away from that building.

Lead me anywhere, away form there, deeper into the Dead Zone. It makes no sense, but I trust you. I shouldn’t, but I do. Keep me safe please, Marcus. Please.

I need to get back to Sophie. I gave a promise and I will do anything to keep it.

PS: Happy 500th post here at 1000 Pieces of Blue Sky!

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The Next Big Thing: ELYORA

The front cover that accompanied Dan's beta reading copy.

The front cover that accompanied Dan’s beta reading copy.

Jo Anderton tagged me last week on The Next Big Thing meme. So without further ado…

What is the working title of your next book?

My upcoming novella is called ELYORA. It is the name it was first born as a short story under and will go to print as.

Where did the idea come from for the novella?

It began with a dream in August last year while we were on holidays in the Bunya Mountains. The dream included a woman called Eylora, a very weird house and a malevolent river. I twisted the woman’s name, and christened the town, central to the novella, Elyora.

What genre does your book fall under?

It’s definitely horror, with a smattering of mystery and erotica thrown in for good measure.

What actors would you choose to play the part of your characters in a movie rendition?

I’d be asking my readers this once the novella is released. I’m not a visual person. I have no idea.

Having said that, I did vaguely model the character of Benny on Angus Stone, the musician. It’d be a nice touch of irony to have Angus play Benny in a film adaptation!

And speaking of movies, it is my plan to write a screenplay for ELYORA next year.

What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?

Revenge is timeless.

To find her missing band members and make it out of Elyora, Jo must remember who she is and how she came to be there, before they are all sung down to the river.

Will your novella be self-published or represented by an agency?

ELYORA is set for electronic publication in a few short weeks via The Review of Australian Fiction. The novella will be one part of the special Rabbit Hole edition and will be a free download. No reason not to download and enjoy it!

I’m still debating as to whether I submit it elsewhere for print publication or self publish the paperback.

How long did it take you to write the first draft of the manuscript?

The first draft of ELYORA was never completed. Pressed by a tight deadline, I began the second draft revisions without an ending, in a hope that I’d have worked out how the narrative played out by the time I reached there on the second pass over.

That said, the first 5000 words were disgorged in less than three hours when I came home from holidays. Then it sat. And sat. I took it from 5000 to 19000 words across the Saturday afternoon and Sunday of The Rabbit Hole, then added another 5,000 words to bring me to the point where I wasn’t sure what happened next.

What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?

I’m not sure I can compare it. I’m only a recent convert to the horror genre, and I read mainly short stories. Reading Kirstyn McDermott’s Madigan Mine definitely had an influence on the way in which I rewrote Jo’s internal dialogue, though we deal with the issue of possession in very different ways.

My beta reader Dan Powell said the original draft had a creeping unease reminiscent of Susan Hill’s The Woman in Black, but as I have yet to read it, I wouldn’t be presumptuous enough to compare ELYORA to it (especially as Dan tells me the set up is vastly different to mine).

My partner, Dave, maintains it all sounds like The Cars That Ate Paris, from what I’ve told him of it. Again, I haven’t seen the movie, so I can’t say. They’re both horror, have cars and based in small country towns!

Who or what inspired you to write this book?

As I said earlier, it was intended to be a short story but at 5,000 words I knew it was never going to be contained to even a long short story. When it was announced on the Saturday of The Rabbit Hole (June) that Review of Australian Fiction were interested in looking at any stories or novellas that came out of the three-day event in June I threw everything else aside and launched back into the world of Elyora.

New layers of ideas grew and melded to the existing narrative on each successive revision (of which there were far too many for the nutty deadlines I’ve been working under).

For example, I specified Ethan’s wife nationality as German on the 3rd rewrite, when I finally came across a folk tale and a monster that fit with the scenario I’d created. That in turned influenced what I named her (Eleanor). The German nationality also became a boon for the underlying premise of the story: ‘just what monster are you creating today’.

I have to give a tip of the hat to the 20-odd people who constituted The Elyora Brains Trust on Facebook. The Brains Trust gave the story Hal’s tattoo (and the accompanying story), the dashboard ornaments, the German terms of endearment and a bunch of encouragement at a time when I was flailing. My Dad helped me out with information on cars, clocks, fuel pumps and petroleum companies. My friend Susan gave me Fauna Bate as a band name when we were talking about it at school one afternoon. Last but not least, another friend, Kerryn, sent me a text message after a movie night we’d all had together saying: what if XYZ happened in your story… and gave me the ending I’d been looking for (but it meant a major rearrangement of the timeline).

What else about the novella might pique the reader’s interest?

ELYORA is set just off the New England Highway—between Armidale and Glenn Innes in New South Wales (the same road we take several times a year to visit my in-laws). If you’re travelling that way this Christmas period, or you know that road well, I dare you to look for the turn off to Elyora! You might want to think twice about taking it though.

UPDATE: ELYORA was released on the 21st December and is available now at Bookish–for free!

My blog feels like the place memes come to die. The idea is to tag five further people, but I am tagging just one (a combination to the age of the meme, the mess the last month has been for me–contributing to a lack of organisation and the time of year!)

Over to you S.G. Larner!

Crowd-Sourcing Fictional Details

(or how the peanut gallery became the brains trust)

When I sat down to complete ELYORA in June I was faced with a dilemma. The way the story concluded in the second draft required the retro-fitting of some specific details earlier on. I was so focused on getting the novella tidied up for submission (shoe-string timeline, looming deadline and all that), I didn’t have days at my disposal to brew up “the right” deets.

So I threw it open to my Facebook friends to furnish me with all manner of objects, imaginings and etchings.

A DETAILED DATE WITH FACEBOOK

My first foray into crowd-sourcing details for ELYORA was a call for dashboard adornments of Fauna Bate’s ancient Tarago. I gave a quick background of the characters and the situation and then threw it open to anyone on my friend list to offer up a suggestion.

The post got more than 50 comments. Many of the friends commenting weren’t just offering up ideas, but interacting and building on the suggestions of others. It was like a mini community mobilising…all for the benefit of my novella.

A few days later, I opened up suggestions for what Hal had tattooed on his arm. Building on the earlier post and the general bonhomie it had generated, this also garnered more comments than I could have hoped for and all manner of crazy ink ideas (and associated story lines).

FROM PEANUT GALLERY TO BRAINS TRUST

My Facebook friends–a brilliant blending of old and new RL friends from home and across the globe, writing and publishing associates, online acquaintances and friends-of-friends–threw up the most vibrant (and bizarre) cornucopia of ideas. Such was the feast it was hard to pick just three items for the Tarago and choosing the tattoo was even harder. They offered up a plethora of suggestions that blew my mind.

The richness of diversity was testament to the rich diversity of my friends on Facebook. I ended up dubbing them “The Elyora Brains Trust”, a name they all loved.

The dashboard ended up adorned with a perfectly kitsch bobble-head Jesus (my high school friend Marion provided me with a picture in the comments), a KISS snow dome (an intensive search finally uncovered a photo of one for sale on eBay) and hanging from the rear vision mirror, a VeeDub badge. All these items generated stories of their own when they were inserted into the existing narrative, adding new layers and complexities at the micro level and very much honing the personae of the character of Benny.

Hal ended up with a kenji tattoo that said ‘hero’–hotly denied by Benny, who claimed it actually said ‘yak poo’ (just as it was suggested by a friend). Honestly, I could never have thought this stuff up.

KNOW WHAT YOU WANT

It worked so well because I knew exactly what I wanted.

  • The parameters were clear.
  • The instructions were clear.
  • I did my best to succinctly provide the background to situate the details.
  • I answered any additional questions people had.
  • I participated in a way that recognised individual contributions and facilitated additional discussion.
  • It was fun, simple and required little time to participate
  • It was an invitation to be part of something.

At the end, when I let people know what I had chosen for inclusion, I thanked people for their contribution, time and insights. When the novella is tidied up and finished I’ll ensure they all get a chance to at least see the parts they helped shape.

NO DENYING THE EDGE

ELYORA got an edge, in fact, it came alive in a quirky and three dimensional fashion, thanks to a bunch of people who had as much fun suggesting (if the comments were anything to go by) as I had in watching them come in (and later weaving them into the narrative).

For me as a writer, it felt a little less lonely pummeling words into submission, especially on a super tight timeline to completion. It provided an extensive database of ideas to plunder. And it was also an accidental way to grow interest and a small fan base for a piece of work.

With ELYORA sitting with my editor Lesley (and for all intents purposes “done” when it comes to facts and specific details), I’d like to think of The Elyora Brains Trust in hibernation, awaiting new opportunities to populate my next work of fiction with the weird and wonderful.

ELYORA Accepted For Publication

The  cover created for the eBook  version sent to Dan.

The hard yards are paying off with writing this year.

The first weekend in June I busted out 21,000 words across a weekend for The Rabbit Hole. I know lots of people poo-poo events such as it (and NaNoWriMo) as “novelty events” with no discernible benefit, but I beg to differ.

Last night I got word my novella, Elyora, written during The Rabbit Hole, will be published in Review of Australian Fiction‘s special December Edition Down the Rabbit Hole.

I’m ecstatic.It’s the first longer piece I’ve attempted and completed as an adult. It’s also the first at the novella length and my debut outing writing horror. And well, there’s the great honour of being considered publishable by RAF.

When indie-rock band, Fauna Bate, break down on their way to Brisbane they seek help in Elyora, a derelict town scrubbed off the map by the Government and populated by locals suffering a disturbing kind of amnesia. When the schism between band members widens and the repeating history of the town encroaches, Jo must remember who she is and find her fellow band members before they are all sung down to the river. ELYORA BLURB

There’s still much work to be done. While the story in itself is tight, the writing in place is appalling. Not even 40+ hours slaving over it in the week leading up to the deadline, could iron out all the bad writing, spelling and grammatical mistakes. A two month break from it will put me in good stead to review and rework it. I’m itching to get back among Elyora’s characters and landscape. I’m also looking forward to sitting on the author side of author-editor relationship. It will be a welcomed sea change to the last five years.

Many thanks to the folk on Facebook who became the Elyora Brains Trust in late July, providing me with rich details I could never have dreamed up in a million years; to Susan who named the band and sparked what became the brains trust; Adam who cheered from the sidelines; Dan who made it the best work possible; my Dad who provided details and dates for cars, petrol bowsers and clocks; my oldest mate Ty who joined the party with a volley of insightful questions; John Banbury on Flickr who provided me with up close photos of petrol bowsers; Laura and Alan, who offered an Evil Plan B should the original publishing options not work my way; and my Mr Ds who allowed me to slink off into my cave for a week.

More proof in this day an age that an author benefits from not existing as an island.

As this goes live, the younger Mr D is wandering around the house after the older Mr D giving him a break down of  ELYORA (told him it’s about what happens when you bully and ostracize people) ie. the watered down, appropriate for an eight-year-old version, but still mentions the body in the garage. I need to get him on the PR bandwagon.

Kill Your Darlings, Then Cry A River

Bruegel’s “Death”

We’re all well acquainted with the saying “Kill your darlings,” the mantra to never be precious about what we write. What does it mean when taken literally? What does it mean for those of us who are unlikely to ever take another human life in our every day existence, to kill on a page (and not just the expendables or the baddies). How does it affect us to be both creators and destroyers of the characters central to our narratives?

Killing In the Name Of

I’ve killed characters before. I don’t know my career body count; I think there is possibly something a little psychotic about knowing how many people you have killed (though it’s a fun tally to keep during NaNoWriMo, especially if Paul Anderson happens to be one of your writing partners!). I’ve never been especially enamoured with death, but it does have a habit of popping up in my stories (I think it’s a given when you write dark fiction): a teenage boy dead from an overdose in “Cocaine, My Sweet Heart”, a reclusive monk with his throat sliced open in an episode of Captain Juan, a woman dying after she contracted death from her best friend’s boyfriend in “I Saw Him Standing There” and the entire world in “Scarecrow Man”.

A bit like birth, death is sacred. As such I never use it to satisfy my impotent rage at the outside world. I also never use death as a means to propel a stale plot forward (one of the charges levelled against writers who kill characters on a regular basis). I never use death as an easy way out, though perhaps I use it as an easy way into a story.

But what if you really care about the character in the cross hairs? It is one thing to kill a character you find reprehensible, and another to kill a character who has a good heart, someone you are attached to, care deeply about.

Another One Bites the Dust

The novella I just finished pretty much ends with all the major characters dead, or with their life hanging in the balance, along with an entire township’s female population decimated by a weidergänger. It didn’t bother me as much as it should have. It creeped me out, especially writing certain scenes long after the rest of my household had gone to sleep, but it didn’t make me cry. I thought it would. My theory: the emotional investment was token at best because of the short time I spent with the characters in the lead up to the submission deadline.

That wasn’t the case in 2009 when I started the second half of a science fantasy novel with the knowledge the eon’s old sage Baji would die. It was a pivotal plot point. He felt his time coming to pass, but I struggled to be as zen about it? I knew (unlike the deaths in my novella) it would be a peaceful, but I my fingers refused to type his passing.

I wrote like he wasn’t going to die (good for a NaNo word count, crap for a story arc, pacing, tension). It was my denial (if you want to map it against Elizabeth Kübler-Ross’s theory on grief). Then I got angry, and when I did Baji beat the crap out of his apprentice and almost killed him, in turn almost killing the story. I sent Baji to bargain with the Melissae for his life (which of course did no good, and was pointless because Baji was resolved to his death – it was just me who wasn’t!), and finally I fell in a big deep hole of not wanting to write (what Kübler-Ross would define as the depression phase).

In the end Baji died because I scheduled it on the calendar: Baji dies. I shit you not. That what I wrote in my diary. With tears in my eye, I assembled the Melissae and the apprentice and let Baji go. I’d never felt so tapped out, so drained, so utterly full of remorse. As soon as he was gone, I wanted him back. I felt gutted. Like the worst human ever.

Live or Let Die

On the 6th of next month I will have been writing Ella-Louise for eight months. This is the first time I have spent so much time in the headspace of a character. Her words, actions, feeling and thoughts (along with Jude’s) have an impact on me (and the songs my iPod appears to select on random play). They also have a massive impact on the small but dedicated group of readers who follow the serial.

Adam and I plan nothing ahead (other than what we individually stew and then sit on and later see what fits with the organic arc of the narrative). It is a collaboration where no actual collaboration exists – rather a shared space to meet in with our characters with a strict no spoilers policy. At some point though, it will end… the letters will stop being written, and a death of sorts will occur.

The idea of letting Ella-Louise go makes me nauseous, even though I know it will happen, probably around January next year. I think that, in tandem with the intense emotional atmosphere the project has created, has spurred me to wonder about her ending: what if it was less about writing the final chapter in a book and more about allocating a cemetery plot?

Could I actually do it–could I kill Ella-Louise or Jude or both of them? Could I let Adam do it? Would Adam let me? What would be the emotional fall out of it–it’s one thing to kill off your own characters, but what about characters two authors have invested in? And what would our readers do to us if we did?

Last Good-Bye

Matthew Reilly suffered a barrage of borderline hate mail and was accosted by unhappy fans at book signings when he killed off a favourite character in the fourth book of the Scarecrow series. Alan Baxter killed off a central character in MageSign and said the response wasn’t exactly positive either. It makes me wonder, are readers more forgiving of authors such as Audrey Niffenegger (the Time Traveller’s Wife) and Markus Zusak (The Book Thief) who foreshadow the deaths of the characters readers are poised to become emotionally invested in?

It takes a certain kind of guts to kill off a character you’ve breathed life into, especially if they are central to your story, and makes me wonder if in side stepping death, we’re sparing the reader the pain and anguish, or ourselves?

What has been your experience of death, dying and killing on your page?

This article first appeared on the Write Anything site 16th August 2012

Come In, Have A Seat… No Really, Please

Inclusion as a staff writer at the Write Anything in 2012 was dependent (in part) on committing to and being publicly accountable for a year long writing project. The philosophy behind Paul’s decision was simple: it ensured all contributors were actively engaged in writing.

At the start of the year the actual idea of committing to writing was pretty horrific. I’d just been spat out the other side of another bout of depression and, for all intents and purposes, my creative space was shattered, my confidence at all time low and my belief in accomplishing anything… pretty much zero.

I had one burning desire though: to fall back in love with writing. To experience the kind of intense character interaction that compelled me to write. To get lost in the timelessness afforded by the actual physical act of writing.

Knowing that, I chose two projects: the first to write the letters that would become Post Marked: Pipers Reachwith Adam Byatt (something fun, requiring me to turn up at the page once a fortnight, doing something I had always enjoyed) and the second, to complete my birthpunk novella.

Today the second, of three, project updates is live at Write Anything.

Written in conversational style (because I just couldn’t bring myself to write a report card on myself!) I offer up virtual cake and tea, while I chat about Elyora, Byrthed and Pipers Reach, including some tasty morsels not seen elsewhere (and well if you are a Write Anything subscriber – you would have got me accidentally letting too much go about Pipers Reach in your email this morning).

Everything this year has been about forward progression and I’m looking forward to the final three months of the year, and seeing the pay off for all the energy put into these projects.

What are you currently working on?

When Does the Stupid Crazy Busy End?

Last weekend was my first weekend off in two weeks, so you could say I was well and truly ready for a long one. On top of working 13 days straight, I’d been putting in between 10 and 14 hours a day getting Deck the Halls, Best of Friday Flash 2 and Tiny Dancer ready to send to the printer and doing the Rabbit Hole.

As I lay in bed Monday, enjoying a day of peace and respite it occurred to me: when does the stupid crazy busy end?

Every week I’ve said this will be the last one. And then there is another one. If I’m honest each week could be stupid, crazy busy if I wanted it to be. There’s always something and I have a penchant for busyness.

But that’s not what I want.

I’m yearning for the quiet of writing and the pleasure and pain of simply losing myself to the page. Of not stressing about deadlines bearing down on me, or wrangling 60+ writers to make the deadline. Don’t get me wrong, the writers I work with are amazing, but it’s a lot of administration and paperwork, and it’s extra work I’d prefer to skip at the end of a project.

So when does the stupid crazy busy end?

Yesterday I said THIS is where, because at some point I have to establish new boundaries… and well yesterday was my line in the sand.

From now on, the morning is given over to writing.

At 1pm I’ll flip hats and get back to what I need to do: work to complete until all my current projects are finished or what I need to learn to further the reach of what eP when the projects are done and dusted.

Yesterday I spent the morning catching up on non-fiction writing and I went to bed rather than stay up and force my way to the end of a deadline. As it turned out, it was the sensible thing to do because several pieces of information I was waiting on, arrived while I slept.

Deck the Halls is almost done; my millstone will be released sooner rather than later now. The other projects are in varying stages of finalisation and will fit with this shift of focus. The energy required on my novel has ramped up and I start scriptwriting bootcamp today. Transition has begun.

It’s scary and it’s exciting and I’m glad I’m easing out, rather than rushing in.