An interview with Maer Wilson – author of The Thulukan Chronicles

Today I have Maer Wilson over for a chat. She’s found publication with Crescent Moon Press for her new novel, Relics, the first book in The Thalukan Chronicles.

Q. Where did the inspiration for your book come from?Head and shoulders photo of Maer Wilson

Thank you so very much for having me on today, Chris.

This book actually grew out of the main characters, Thulu and La Fi.

I used to play World of Warcraft and made up the names Thulu and La Fi as nicknames for some friends whose names were similar.

Before I could tell them, the characters started clamouring in my head that these were their names.

I had a really good idea who they were pretty fast, so decided to see what came of it.

Q. Is this a stand-alone book or part of a series?

Relics is Book 1 of The Thulukan Chronicles.

Q. Can you talk about your experience of getting your book published?

I did the almost obligatory stint of trying to get an agent, but as I learned more about the publishing industry and saw how things were going, I quickly realised that traditional publishing wasn’t for me.

Years between contract and publication just wasn’t going to cut it.

So, I chose several small presses, with Crescent Moon Press being my first choice.

When I got that first email from them asking for my full manuscript, I was thrilled.

When the contract offer came in a few weeks later, I was over the moon.

It was the best thing that ever happened to me and I’m very lucky I found them.

Q. Did you have your own personal ’darkest hour’ in the process of getting your novels written and published (for example, a moment you thought it would never happen), and how did you get through it to achieve success?

Surprisingly enough, there was a time just a few weeks before my contract offer.

I’d become convinced my book was awful.

I’d already chosen my small presses and had been working on my rewriting my query again when this happened.

So, I sent several queries to my top picks all at once, figuring to get all my rejections over with quickly.

Within two hours I had the first request for the full manuscript in, which was from Crescent Moon.

A few days later I received my second request. I figured maybe my book didn’t suck after all. 🙂

Q. Which character other than your MC is your favourite? Why?

Hmmm…I vacillate between Jones and Reo because I adore them both.

So today, I’ll pick Jones.

I love how enigmatic he is and can’t wait to see what else he’s going to bring to the series.

He has so many layers that aren’t discovered yet in Relics, but I think he is my most fascinating.

He’s also my biggest challenge to write since he’s over 8000 years old.

Q. Who are your favourite authors?

George R. R. Martin, J.K. Rowling, Anne McCaffrey, Isaac Asimov, to name only a very few.

Q. Can you share a bit about your next project?

I’m working on Book 2 of The Thulukan Chronicles, Portals.

I have one more read-through and revision to do before submission.

Q. What advice would you give to a budding writer about developing their craft, the business of writing, and the career of a writer?

Relics cover image of a sword before a vortex.To develop their craft, they need to read as much as they can, especially in their genre.

They also need to write as much as they can. The two go hand in hand, I think.

On the business of writing, they need to take their time and thoroughly polish the manuscript.

I think too often the excitement of actually finishing gets the better of some folks and they send off a manuscript that should have had more beta readers and more revising.

As for their career, once someone decides they are serious about writing they need to establish their presence online.

They should start a website or blog, build up their social media and join writing groups.

And they should always be polite and remember to keep their PR face on at all times.

That’s a lesson I brought with me from my years onstage, but I think it applies to authors as well.

Chris, thanks once again for having me over.

About Maer: After a successful career being other people, and later teaching others the many tricks of that trade, Maer Wilson has decided to be herself for a while. Turns out she’s a writer. She’s always loved stories, especially fantasy, mystery and sci fi. She has a dragon-themed room in her home, but sadly no dragons in the back yard. When she’s not writing, Maer plays online video games, teaches college and reads. She lives in the high desert of Southern Nevada with her two dogs, a chihuahua and a poodle. You can visit her website at You can find Relics on Amazon.

You might also like Maer’s previous guest post: Maer Wilson – Methods to My Madness.

The Next Big Thing

Close up of Justin Woolley
Justin Woolley

Fellow writer and (don’t tell him I said so) bloody nice guy Justin Woolley has tagged me in The Next Big Thing.

The Next Big Thing is a series of questions a writer answers about their work in progress and then tags more writers who do the same, giving you an endless chain of new and established writers to discover.

Check out Justin’s Next Big Thing.

1. What is the working title of your next book?

I didn’t know this was going to be so hard! I’m not sure what to talk about.

The book I’ve just started writing is called Lost in Darkness (a standalone). It’s about a blind blademaster who must save her father from the country’s ruling Warlord.

Welcome to Earth is a (half written) star-crossed lovers urban fantasy story which began life as a pilot episode for a television series. It’s also something of a prequel to the epic fantasy I’m currently shopping around.

Epicentre (the first of a trilogy) is about a reluctant mermaid who accidently starts a supernatural war with a succubus. The first draft is complete.

Prophecy of Power: Quarry is an epic fantasy in all the right ways. I recently pitched it to Literary Agent Ginger Clark at Curtis Brown (US), who asked for the first fifty pages (yay me!). It’s about a headstrong princess who is being hunted by assassins.

2. Where did the idea come from for the book?

Prophecy of Power book coverI’ll talk about Prophecy of Power: Quarry, as it’s ready to go.

The initial idea was for a group of people who each have a special ‘power’ to come together and take on the bad guy who’d conquered everything. (Tragic, I know.)

Fortunately I learned a few things and the story evolved into a young girl’s struggle to survive in a very dangerous world. It’s the first of a four book series.

3. What genre does your book fall under?

Epic fantasy. The tropes are all there, but hopefully I’ve avoided the clichés and brought something fresh to it all.

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

Most of the characters are young, or look young (immortality does that to you), so it would require casting ‘fresh young talent’. It’s probably a bit pointless picking today’s young actors as they’d be too old by the time the realities of developing a movie came into play.

If I could turn back the clock and make people youthful again, I’d probably go with:

  • Milla Jovovich (if you can imagine her with curly red hair) as sixteen-year old Caroline (she can be both kickarse and vulnerable at the same time)
  • Shiri Appleby (from Roswell) as fifteen-year old Kirsty (she projects a gentle, caring nature)
  • Hugh Jackman as Elias (at his rugged, fighting best)
  • Ian McKellan as Allyn (he has a certain presence and authority)
  • Chris Hemsworth as Dobbin (he can do easy-going, while at the same time he’s not to be messed with). Oddly enough, he’s probably the only one at about the right age – maybe even a little too young.

5. What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?

A headstrong princess is forced into an unwanted destiny when assassins try to prevent her from ever fulfilling it.

6. Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?

I want to go with traditional publishing as it lends a certain amount of credibility to your work. You can still achieve the same thing with self-publishing, but it takes longer.

There’s also all the services a publishing house brings to a novel (such as editing, cover art, marketing, and the less obvious ‘behind the scenes’ administrative stuff).

Time is also a factor. I don’t want to have to become an expert in self-publishing – I’d rather spend my time writing, not working through all the technical details of e-books and print-on-demand and chasing up royalties etc.

Essentially, building an author platform is hard enough with a big publisher behind you. I’ve got no desire to go it alone.

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

I started writing it when I was sixteen, realised I didn’t have a clue about what I was doing, and so went to university at the age of 21 to learn.

Around that time I also got side-tracked (dating, work, partying), and it wasn’t until I was married and my first child coming along that I realised I’d better get a move on.

Although I finished the first draft before D-Day, I put writing big projects aside for a while after that (you think you’re prepared for children, but you never really are).

I got ‘back on track’ a few years ago, partially due to my father’s unexpected death. Although it was a complete shock, it was also something of a wake-up call.

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

Very tough question.

Maybe Eye of the World by Robert Jordan or Magician by Raymond E Feist, as they both feature a main character coming into their power. Otherwise, there’s similarities to Dune’s Paul Atreides who gets manipulated into greatness.

You could also include any story with a main character who’s been given gifts they don’t want.

Having said that, it’s not really ‘like’ any of them. I can’t think of a bang-on example, which is probably a good thing.

9. Who or what inspired you to write this book?

To a sixteen-year-old it seemed like a pretty simple thing to write a Number 1 International Bestseller, sell a million copies and never have to get a ‘real’ job.

The reality is a little different, unfortunately. I guess everyone would be doing it otherwise.

10. What else about the book might pique the reader’s interest?

I got a bit jaded with epic fantasies a while back – same story, over and over, so I’ve tried to bring something fresh to this book.

It’s a very intimate story, despite being grounded in the epic realm.

There’s supernatural creatures, magic, gritty action and bloodshed, as well as ‘quiet’ character moments and even the beginnings of a love triangle. Something for everyone, hopefully.

With luck it will appeal to readers as much as it does to me.

Okay, now for my tags!

  • Duncan LayDuncan lay with an apple on his head and an arrow through the apple.
    Duncan is the author of the Australian best-selling fantasy trilogy The Dragon Sword Histories, which he followed up with another bestseller, Bridge Of Swords – book one of Empire Of Bones. He’s also a fantastic bloke!
  • Phill BerrieCartoon image of Phill Berrie
    Phill is a good mate of mine and fellow Canberra Speculative Fiction Guild (CSFG) member. He’s recently had some success with his writing too, but you’ll need to visit his site to find out about it.
  • J. Michael MelicanJosh Melican
    I met Josh at GenreCon 2012 after ‘bumping’ into him on Twitter. We instantly hit it off. We both pitched our novels to Literary Agent Ginger Clark, and with luck we’ll get signed and tour our masterpieces together!
  • David DuftyHead and shoulders shot of David Dufty
    David is another of my good mates and CSFG member. He’s had both critical and popular success as the author of How to Build an Android: The True Story of Philip K. Dick’s Robotic Resurrection, and now has a new Next Big Thing.

Meet Ian McHugh – Award-Winning Speculative Fiction Writer

Profile image of Ian McHugh deep in thought.
Ian McHugh

Ian generously moderated the CSFG novel critique group this year, offering invaluable advice to each participant. Here’s what he had to say about the experience and his writing.

Q: You began running the CSFG Novel Critique Group this year. As you have your own novel in development, how are you applying this experience to your work?

I think the big lessons I’ve taken from this year’s crit circle are (1) the importance of giving the novel good structural bones and (2) the importance of fully developing characters, including their motivations, pressure points, relationships and mannerisms.

While plotting hasn’t been a weakness of any of this year’s manuscripts in terms of plot holes or internal inconsistency, the need for plots to build tension and offer some surprises has been a recurrent theme.

Going hand-in-hand with this is the need for major characters to be both active and instrumental in confronting the problems of the plot, and for a sufficient level of sadism towards one’s characters – you have to hurt them because you love them.

Q: Your critiques suggest your core strength as a writer comes from your intuitive understanding of character. How does this affect the way you offer feedback, particularly in regard to conceptual-based (ideas/plot driven) stories?

Funny you should say that. I like to think that in my short stories I generally create distinctive characters who drive the story, although I wouldn’t go so far as to call it my core strength.

In my first novel, I’ve found that I’ve struggled a bit to sustain that distinctiveness and roundedness across a larger cast of characters and staying with them for so much longer.

I’ve also tended to let my created world, in wanting it to be a character itself, overwhelm the human characters at times.

So I think, rather, that my focus on characters in critiques reflects the focus of my own struggles, rather than my strengths.

Q:Your credentials as a short story writer are well-established after winning the Writers of the Future Contest. What are/were your greatest challenges in writing a novel compared with a short story, and what would you do differently next time?

Sustaining the story for so much longer and over a broader canvas. Next time I’ll write – am writing – a shorter, simpler novel.

Q: Character is story, but story needs structure. How do you approach the structural needs of a novel-length story?

Haphazardly, at the first attempt, and with a rising sense of panic.

I’ve got a lot of value out of the structural stuff we’ve done in the CSFG novel writing group this year, for both long and short form stories – particularly understanding structural archetypes and having planning tools to map character wants/needs/actions/suffering to the story’s plot.

I think a couple of other factors are really important too: (1) knowing how much you can chew before you bite, and (2) having confidence in what you know about your story.

I didn’t do either of these first time through.

Q: Do you intend to run the novel critique group next year, and do you intend to submit your own novel? If so, what would you be looking to get out of it?

I think I’ll run it if I have a novel ready to submit for it – or at least am far enough progressed that I can finish the manuscript to a deadline next year.

If I put in a novel, then I’ll be hoping for some signposts to a better second draft.

I think the novel critiquing group is a really valuable part of what CSFG offers to its members so I think keeping that going is an end in itself. I was happy to support that this year without putting up a novel of my own.

That said, if I don’t have a novel ready next year, I’ll pass the baton and focus on my own writing.

Q: If you could give any advice to an aspiring novelist, what would it be?

I’d offer one piece of advice that I did follow and one that I failed to.

The first is: learn the art of storytelling by writing short stories first. Ray Bradbury said this, and I thoroughly agree.

I think short stories give a writer enormous scope to experiment with and learn how to handle different characters, worlds, plots and styles.

Stephen Dedman once said to me that you can learn 12 times as much if you write 12 short stories in a year as if you write one novel, and I think he’s right.

I think that even if a writer’s first novel is a success and easy to write, the next one or the one after that may not be.

If you’ve given yourself the best possible grounding in short stories first, you’ll have more tools available to write yourself out of trouble. (And also, you can use short stories as world-building and character-building tools for a novel idea, while at the same time creating a marketable product that will hopefully give you some sort of record of publication to mention to publishers once the novel is written.)

The second thing, that I failed to abide by, is: don’t underestimate how big a leap it is from short stories to novels.

While you’ll learn a lot from short stories, there’s still more to learn in taking the step up to writing novels. Learning what it is before you leap in can save a lot of heartache.

Ian McHugh is a 2006 graduate of the Clarion West writers’ workshop. His first success as a speculative fiction writer was winning the short story contest at the 2004 Australian national SF convention. Since then he has sold stories to professional and semi-pro magazines, webzines and anthologies in Australia and internationally. His stories have won grand prize in the Writers of the Future contest, been shortlisted four times at Australia’s Aurealis Awards (winning Best Fantasy Short Story in 2010) and appeared in the Locus annual Recommended Reading List. Links to most of Ian’s past publications can be found (free) on his website. His first short story collection, tentatively titled Angel Dust, will be published by Ticonderoga Publications in 2014.

Check out the Difinitive Rules of Magic which were ‘created’ at the Novel Writing Group in which Ian plays a huge part, or read some interviews from of the other Novel Critique Group members.

David Beveridge – On Getting and Giving Good Crit

Q. What was the most & least valuable pieces of advice you took away from your critique?

Most valuable advice: the feedback itself. Least valuable: there’s never enough of it; and without denigrating any of the critiques not everyone is a fan of my genre.

Writing is a lonely occupation and one where it is all too easy to become persuaded of one’s own brilliance (unfortunately too often) or seized by doubts (not often enough, or at least not in a rational way: paranoid schizophrenia being all too present). More seriously, the input confirmed some of my own doubts and has given me a lot to chew on. Particularly in regard to characterisation; and the treatment of both antagonist and protagonists (Note to self: the child Lara to become Cloda’s twin and be fleshed out so that she provides a contrast with Cloda’s darker nature – but she’ll still be killed off).

More broadly it reinforced some of my own directions / doubts. (Note: some noted the use of US spellings, this is deliberate. Given the relative size of US vs Oz markets.)

Q. What changes, if any, do you plan to make to your novel following the feedback you received?

First priority: ponder and tease out the central theme; and implicit in that is the need to flesh out the main characters, especially the protagonists. They’re not going to be any less bloody-minded but need more colour.

Second, restructure Alia’s Gift to give the sub-plots more substance, especially the contrast between ‘Time Past’ (currently called Interludes) and ‘Time Present’ (main story). As presented they are ‘back’ and ‘main’ stories. They need to be better balanced, both contributing to the end-game for Alia’s Gift; noting that this is part of a larger series as well as a stand-alone novel.

I felt the group was uncomfortable with the lack of a single primary POV character to carry the story.  That doesn’t suit me. (And this isn’t just Alia’s story). Rather than focusing on say Alia, Cloda or Isla, I favour the braided multi-plot / multiple character approach of Peter F. Hamilton’s Night’s Dawn and Void trilogies. Primaries can change as the story proceeds. This will require an expansion and clarification of the Interludes into interwoven and indeed parallel (and relevant) ‘Time Past’ strands.

Third, simplify the language: but not too much. For example: ‘Asaz could become ‘the Assassins’ but the use of Gaelic (Slainte etc) is a differentiator I don’t want to lose. Likewise the similarities as well as differences from ours built into this universe. (One critter noted the use of the term ‘Machiavellian’. The Prince’s Florence is also part of this parallel universe).

Q. Having both given and received novel critiques, what do you wish you’d known when the group started compared with what you know now?

It might be useful to have critters post some brief summary of their relative experience, interests and expectations in advance of a first meeting. I know that one should be able to crit outside one’s own reading preferences. But occasionally a lack of familiarity in the particular genre can grate (but the flipside of course is that differing perspectives can have a value all of their own).

Q. What advice would you give to anyone considering joining a similar group?

Join one as soon as you have a reasonably coherent work for critique; but even if you don’t the experience of critting someone else’s work is also very useful. And when on the receiving end be prepared to give careful consideration to what’s said, even when it may be quite unpalatable. You can expect input ranging from sound and measured advice through to quite gratuitous and occasionally smart-arse commentary; but it’s all grist for the mill. Suck it in and move on.

Q: What are your future plans both for the novel you submitted and other novels ‘in the works’?

Keep going or Age quod agis as the Latin tag has it! First priority will be the manifest problems in ‘Gift’ but I also need to fill in the outline of the grand story; and of course the character templates.

Q: This is your third trip through the novel critique group with Alia’s Gift, so it’s clear you see value in the process. In what format do you prefer to receive feedback (ie, verbal, written report, in-line critique etc) and why?

All of the above. Verbal is good but needs to be complemented by good round-the-table discussion. It’s best backed up by written reports which allow time for reflection (it’s really quite difficult to note-take and retain several verbal crits – I tend to jot key points for amplification / rebuttal). Best is a combination of verbal, backed up by written notes and revision-marked text. I see all these formats as a valuable ‘set’ of which I should say this final interview is a fresh and useful part.

Q: What early advice did you listen to that you believe improved your story, and what advice would you reconsider taking if you could go back in time with the experience you have now?

I think writers tend to reflect (and be limited by) their personal experience and reading preference.  In my case this has involved academic (Honours / Masters and an abortive PhD attempt) and work-experience (engineer planning, military strategy and policy papers, later on Cabinet submissions and Ministerial briefing). Combined with a preference for multi-plot tech-oriented scifi (Peter F Hamilton, David Weber et al), this takes me down the track of grand (sometimes grandiose) space opera with a delight for world-building. It also makes me too prone to omniscient narration rather than character exposition.

The first crit exposed too much tendency to info dump and more focus on the global picture than individual characters. This was much ramped back in the second run but not by enough. The third has reconfirmed a tendency to inject back- at the expense of the main story. It has made me more aware of my strengths as well as manifest weaknesses. The trick now is too make use of it; noting that it’s after all my story, written to suit me. Getting published will require compromise between what I like and what some agent, editor or publicist can sell.

Finally let me record my thanks for your inputs and appreciation of your time. You are all talented writers.

Cat on a toilet with a mess of toilet paper.David brings varied life experience to his writing (not all of which is helpful). Now living in the genteel semi-poverty of self-funded retirement, he was born in Scotland, lived in India, Germany, England and Cymru before settling in Australia; and has worked as a Merchant Navy purser, Army combat engineer and APS policy wonk. 

He shares life with a long-suffering wife (what do you mean you don’t expect to get published this year? And can we talk about the garden! House needs painting!) and an (often) malevolent black cat with unionist proclivities (Listen up! Cats got rights!! This is my bloody chair!  Feed me now or else!) 

Read more interviews…

Alexa Shaw – On Getting and Giving Good Crit

Photo of Alexa ShawQ. What did you hope to get out of your critique session?

As this is my first novel, I guess my initial reaction is to be reaffirmed in my own belief that I can write a half decent story.

Once that bit of self aggrandizement was past, what I wanted most was for people to be honest about how my story made them feel, where it should have made them feel, and where it could be improved.

Suggestions on how to improve it were also warmly welcomed.

Q: What were your plans prior to the critique – jump straight into the editing, or write something new and come back to the first book when you’ve allowed the feedback to distill?

I guess like all other aspiring professional writers I’d like my first novel to be picked up by a publisher or agent.

However, I’ve started an urban fantasy and want to keep running with that until I finish the first draft.

I guess that means I’ll let the feedback percolate a bit before jumping back into the tween novel.

Q. Asking for criticism can be tough, inspiring, soul-crushing and insightful, all at the same time. What did you take away from this experience that will be the most valuable to your novel?

Receiving the comments from the group really emphasised to me that the reading experience is a personal journey that is different for everyone – as evidenced by the wide range of, often opposing, comments.

But perhaps the most important insight I received from the experience was that characters are everything.

This is something I was already aware that I needed to work on, but its importance was made more evident by the feedback.

Q. When you begin working on the story again, how do you plan to tackle it and what changes would you make, if any?

While I was writing the story, I was aware, but not willing to acknowledge I guess, that the character I’d set up as the protagonist was somewhat  lacking. And that a secondary character was doing the doing of things. This was confirmed by the feedback.

The major change I will make will be to bring the secondary character in a lot earlier into the story and build her relationship with the current protagonist, then rearrange/rewrite the plot points to fit the new dynamics. (I also liked the ‘magic scabbard’ idea.)

Q. What advice would you give to an aspiring writer who was thinking of putting their own novel through a critique group?

Writing is an intensely personal activity.

Everything that ends up on the page (focussing on speculative fiction here) is a distillation of the ID of the writer – which in itself is a scary thing to contemplate.

It can be tough when people don’t automatically love what you write.

However, don’t take it personally. If the person or group critiquing your work is even semi-professional, any comments will be made with a view to helping the writer, not attacking them.

Growing up, Alexa Shaw cut her speculative fiction teeth on the likes of Asimov, Simak and Niven. She then discovered David Eddings and a new love affair was in the making – fantasy stories. More recent influences on her writing include fabulous authors such as Sherri Tepper, CJ Cherryh and Marion Zimmer Bradley, to name a few. An abiding love of science led her to undertake a PhD in that field, and she looks forwards to continuing to blend science and fantasy in her writing. Alexa lives with her family in Canberra, ACT.

Follow Alexa on twitter: 

Robin Shortt – On Getting and Giving Good Crit

Q. On joining the novel critique group, what did you hope to get out of it – both personally and professionally?

A. The ‘professional’ side of things is a bit abstract right now – I’ve hardly sold anything, certainly not a novel, and writing is more of a hobby than anything else.

I was pretty happy with how this novel had turned out, though, and I was hoping the crit group could give me an idea whether it was worth submitting to agents/publishers, and let me know which bits didn’t work and how I could improve it.

On a personal level, I just got a kick out of having people, whose own work I’d read and respected, read my stuff.

Reading their own works-in-progress was always going to be interesting. And of course, as with 2011, it was a fun group just to hang out with.

Q. ‘Helpful’ feedback can often hurt the ego, no matter how well intended. What feedback did you expect, how did it differ from the reality, and how did you feel about it afterward?

A. I’d skimmed through the novel a couple of times in the month between sending it to the crit group and the critique itself, and I’d seen quite a few weaknesses people might pick up on.

A lot of them (eg passivity of the main character, sloppy ending) did come up in the critique, but there were a few surprises.

For example, a couple of secondary characters I thought were a bit flat ended up being quite popular.

On the other hand, a lot of the group felt that another set of secondary characters I quite liked  were unnecessary to the story (which, in fairness, they were, but I liked them anyway).

Winds of Change Cover Image.
Winds of Change Cover Image.

Ego-bruising wasn’t really an issue – everyone was really nice during the critique, and I agreed with almost all the suggestions I received. They really did make the novel better, so I had no problem taking them on board.

There were a few suggested changes I disagreed with, but more often than not I made them anyway. After all, I’d written the novel for an audience of one (me) and the whole point of submitting it to the crit group was to broaden its potential appeal to the point where someone might consider publishing it. And that was always going to mean making changes I wasn’t 100 per cent keen on.

Q. Having experienced conflicting feedback, how do you work out what would be best for your book and how to apply it during the rewrite? Can you give us an example?

A. Fortunately there wasn’t much conflicting feedback, and during the crit session what conflicts there were were mostly ironed out and a consensus reached – which is what makes a crit session so awesome, a lot better than just having people send you their critiques individually.

ASIM issue 51 cover image.
ASIM issue 51 cover image.

As for the conflicting critiques that remained – if it was a choice between people liking what I had already and others proposing something new, I usually just went with what I had already (with a couple of tweaks) because I am really, really lazy.

In the case of the secondary characters from before, who some people liked and others thought were unnecessary, I’ve tried to split the difference by keeping them in there but giving them more stuff to do that influenced the plot.

Q. What do you think you’ll take from this experience and apply to the next novel you write?

A. The crit group was massively helpful for planning the next book I write. Mainly because it convinced me once and for all that all of that eight-point arc/Hero’s Journey stuff is popular because it really, actually works.

Quite a few of the criticisms were the result of me half-assedly bolting an arc on as an afterthought instead of building the story around it from the get-go, which I’ll be sure to do for the next book.

Q. If someone was anticipating their first novel being critqued and uncertain of what to expect, what would you say to them to help them make it a positive experience?

A. I think the important thing is to remember you’re not there to bask in praise and have an awesome time.

You’re there to make your novel better, and that means fixing what doesn’t work, and you only find out what doesn’t work by people telling you your novel (or part of it anyway) sucks.

That’s never any fun, but it’s necessary to get something out of the group. Besides, I don’t think heaps of praise ever made anyone write better (cf Lucas, George).

The other thing I would say is that (a bit paradoxically) it’s a lot easier to take criticism if you’re going in with a novel you really like.

If you’ve written something YOU would want to read, then the critique is just a matter of figuring out what to change so the size of your potential audience is greater than one.

But if you’ve written something purely to make money from, and you’re not happy with it as a novel, then when people lay into it you don’t even have ‘well I liked it’ to fall back on and the whole thing is pretty excruciating.

That’s what happened with the first novel I put in front of a crit group. I was a lot happier with this one so taking comments on board was much easier.

Robin Shortt lives in Canberra. His stories “Bonsai and “Babel” appeared in ASIM 51 and the CSFG anthology Winds of Change respectively.

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Robert Phillips – On Getting and Giving Good Crit

Robert Phillips was the first member of the CSFG Novel Critique Group to put his novel up for review this year.

Afterward, I asked Bob to comment on his experience, both in receivng critques and what it means for his novel, and about critiquing the next couple of novels thrown to the lions.

This is what he had to say…

Hi Chris

The main thing that impressed me about getting my book critted is the volume of comments I received, both verbally and in written form (over 20 pages).

It has given me plenty to digest. However, I have decided to set 2088 aside until later in the year, while I get on with other projects.

The main thing that struck me, as a result of the crits, is that my main character is somewhat dated.

When I created him over 20 years ago, he was probably born about 1970, and went into suspended animated circa 2000.

Clearly, I’m going to have to advance his timelines by about 20 years, which means refashioning the character to some extent.

Of the 2½ fantasy novels that I’ve reviewed so far, the main things that strike me is that they’re all well written, but the authors seem to have a mania for inflicting grievous bodily harm on their heroes/heroines.

Does this mean the authors secretly hate their main characters and would like to destroy them?


Part 7 of: A Conversation with Nicole Murphy, author of the Dream of Asarlai Trilogy.

Nicole Murphy – Photo by Cat Sparks
How do you go about promoting your work, what has worked best so far, and what would you have done differently if you’d known what you know now?

Ah, promotion. The bugbear of every writer. Everytime you get published authors together, the topic of promotion inevitably comes up and with it the question – does it even work? 

We all know the only thing that really sells books is Word of Mouth – buzz, people talking about it, people being excited. The question – how to make that happen? Does doing blogs, interviews like this, work? Does advertising? What about giveaways of the books? Reviews? 

A couple of things that people agree do work to get your name out:
  • giveaways (because if folks love the book, they will tell others or go buy your future books)
  • targeted advertising (find the websites or magazines that are the focus of your genre and only advertise there)
  • being available for all interview and blog writing requests
  • being on social media
  • attending conventions.
Things that people disagree on:
  • blog tours (some folks say they see a definite spike, others say it’s too much work for too little return)
  • book trailers (you can find mine on youtube: trailer 1, trailer 2, trailer 3).
Things that people agree DON’T work – book tours.

But with all these things, no one’s sure if any of it actually means book sales. The only thing that does: when booksellers love your books they will hand sell, so you visit bookstores, talk to booksellers.

For Rogue Gadda, I’ve decided to do a blog tour. Not too big – I’m visiting about a dozen blogs around the place, blogging on different things. The thinking behind this is the old advertising maxim – the more people see your name, the more it becomes memorable and recognisable. So then hopefully next time they’re in a bookstore, they’ll see my books, remember me, think I sounded pretty cool and buy.

I’m also hosting a series of guest posts on my blog. I’ve called on some of my writing friends to give their thoughts on a topic and I’ll post them over a couple of weeks in early July. This not only makes it easy for me to have content on my blog when I’m busy writing blogs for others, but also I hope they might direct some traffic and potential readers my way.

I do the trailers because I enjoy doing them. I do all this promotional stuff not necessarily because I think it will work, but because it gives me a sense of some control over the fate of my books when in reality, I have none.

The other issue I’ve got is that my books are available electronically overseas. I want people to know that, because those sales help me. So I’m having to try not to keep my promotion to Australia but to spread it far and wide.

Generally, I try to do something promotional every day. It might not see the light of day for several days, or weeks, but I do something. I write in the morning, then do promotional stuff in the afternoon. It’s the only way to find the time to do everything.

I’m lucky – I’m not working at anything but this. Most writers have day jobs and find it hard enough to make time to write, let alone find EXTRA time to do promotion. But with so many books being released nowadays, you’ve got to work hard to make yourself heard.

So my advice:
  • start building up a community now
  • work out what social media works for you (Facebook, Twitter, Goodreads, LinkedIn, blogging) and start doing it now
  • attend conventions, writers groups and get yourself known (because the community is INCREDIBLY supportive)
  • write, submit and promote every publication you make. 
  • and the moment you sign a big contract, plan how you’re going to promote.
Speaking of promotion – Saturday July 2 is the launch of my third book, Rogue Gadda. It’s taking place at PJ O’Reilly’s Pub in Civic, starting at 6pm. If you want to come, RSVP to me on

Part 6 of: A Conversation with Nicole Murphy, author of the Dream of Asarlai Trilogy.

Nicole Murphy – Photo by Cat Spartks
What advice would you give to a budding writer about developing their craft, the business of publishing, and how they’re interrelated when it comes to creating a career as a writer? 

I hope you’re all comfortable, because boy could I go on about this for ages!

When you’re a newbie, you’re so focused on the publishing dream – getting good enough that you can sell a novel, seeing it on a shelf with your name on it.

It is, my friends, a wonderful thing.

But you cannot see the joys inherent in being a newbie. For example – you can write anything you want. There are NO expectations of you, your voice is still developing so you can just fling yourself at any story idea that comes along.

This is DEFINITELY not the case early in your published career. Sure, once you become ‘a name’ you can write what you want, but up until then, both your publishers and your reading public are going to have certain expectations of you.

I’ve had a few ideas for novels, but the one I ended up developing to pitch to the publishers for my next contract is a sequel to the first trilogy.


Because the Nicole Murphy name is coming to mean something and right now, that something is light urban fantasy romance. If I deliver an epic fantasy or dystopian horror, then it’s going to be a hard sell for publisher and reader alike. Like starting all over again.

So I say to all you newbies – enjoy this moment. Try anything that comes to mind. Don’t get caught up in what you think you will sell.

It’s tempting to look at what’s coming out at the moment, eg steampunk, and decide you’ll write that too cause that’s what the publishers want. No, that’s what the publishers wanted when they bought it two-three years ago and they didn’t want it cause they knew it was part of a trend – they wanted it cause it was a damn good story.

Also, you’re going to be writing in that genre for some time as you establish your career, so make sure it’s something you enjoy writing.

Challenge yourself. You never stop learning. NEVER.

I recommend that you:

  • Attend courses. 
  • Find critique groups (be they face to face or online). 
  • Read writers you admire and then study how they did it. 
  • Submit. 
  • Take your rejections on the chin (they come, even when you’ve scored a big contract – I get new bruises every month) and keep submitting.
  • Educate yourself on the industry. 
My friends, this is one HELL of a time to be involved in the publication industry. Not since Guttenberg’s printing press have we seen a shake-up of these proportions. And the thing is – NO ONE KNOWS WHAT THE FINAL PICTURE WILL BE. No one. Anyone says they know – THEY ARE WRONG.

So educate yourself. Subscribe to industry publications. Attend conferences. Follow publishers, authors and agents blogs (a fabulous one is Kristine Kathryn Rusch

It’s changing so quickly. I only signed my first contract two years ago and I can tell you, my next contract (should I get one) is going to be REALLY different.

Over in the States, writer friends are now reporting ebook sales running at the same rate as print sales. Publishing companies are establishing global brands as the growth of electronic publishing crashes the old territorial rights that were once the mainstay of print publishing.

You know, it’s easy to look at all this and panic. Really, really easy. But at the end of the day, remember this – there’s no deadline on your dream. It doesn’t matter if you don’t achieve it this year, or next year, or the year after.

What matters is that you don’t give up cause if you do – then you’ll NEVER get published.

Part 5 of: A Conversation with Nicole Murphy, author of the Dream of Asarlai Trilogy.

Nicole Murphy – Photo by Cat Sparks
Like many other successful authors, you’ve began giving workshops on your craft. Do you see this as a natural part of a writers life, or do you have personal reasons to share your knowledge and experience?

Teaching workshops isn’t for everyone. 
For me, it’s about: 
    • getting some value from that teaching degree 🙂
    • diversifying my income streams. 

      You don’t get a lot of money from publishing, not at the beginning of the career (and a lot of authors don’t make enough money to make a career at all) and so you need to consider other things to do. 
      For me, teaching workshops is one issue. I get a lot from them – I love helping folks, and I’ve gained some good friends from workshops so all in all, it’s a win 🙂

      Part 4 of: A Conversation with Nicole Murphy, author of the Dream of Asarlai Trilogy.

      Nicole Murphy – Photo by Cat Sparks
      You edited the anthology The Outcast: An Anthology of Exiles and Strangers. Can you tell us about the experience and if you would jump into an editing role again if the opportunity came up?

      I would love to edit again – I’ve got plans, but it just requires time and money. But I will definitely edit again.

      Working on The Outcast was fabulous. 

      I really do get as much joy from other people’s achievements as I do from my own, and it was fabulous to get the opportunity to work with other people to help them polish their stories.

      Some of those stories went through a lot of work – Rowena Cory Daniells and I passed her story back and forth several times in order to nail the ending and it really did work. Others, such as Kaaron Warren’s award nominated ‘Woman Train’ didn’t require any touch-up at all. I will never forget the moment I first read that story – it was EVERYTHING that I wanted for the anthology. I was so pleased that other people loved it as well.

      I was really pleased with the anthology. One of the things I loved most was that every time someone posted a review or listed their favourite stories, it was a different list. I loved that I seemed to have found something for everyone. And I loved that it was gender balanced, and that there was a range of cultures represented and that it got to look at lots of different ideas of the term ‘outcast’. It’s not a perfect anthology – I doubt anyone’s first book of ANYTHING is perfect – but I’m still proud to stand up and say it’s mine.

      Working on The Outcast coincided with me editing my one and only edition of Andromeda Spaceways as well – Issue 25. The fun with that one was getting the second Red Priest story from Dirk Flinthart – I’d worked on the first story as an assistant editor with Edwina Harvey and was so happy to publish the second. 

      The entire experience really did help me in my own writing – learning to break story down and work on it. 

      Even if you don’t want to edit, I’d really recommend getting into critiquing other people’s work. It trains your brain to consider things objectively and so you’re then better able to edit your own work.

      Part 3 of: A Conversation with Nicole Murphy, author of the Dream of Asarlai Trilogy.

      Nicole Murphy – Photo by Cat Sparks

      Did you have your own personal ‘darkest hour’ in the process of getting your novels written and published (for example, a moment you thought it would never happen), and how did you get through it to achieve success?

      Oh boy, did I 🙂 It started around 2005/2006 – I’d not sold any short stories for a while, the novels were get knockbacks and I had started to get into editing, which I loved. I also moved from part-time to full-time journalism. 
      All these things said to me that maybe writing fiction wasn’t what I was meant to do. Journalism was relatively fun and easy. Editing was fun and I loved working with writers and helping them get their best work across. Maybe this was where my energies lay.

      But the dream of having my own book wouldn’t go away. I’d first decided I wanted to be a writer when I was 11 years old and despite the years of not really trying, it was a part of me. The move back to writing actually started when Cat Sparks posted a blog on regrets, mulling over it all as she worked her way into a new decade alive. 
      It fired me up – I was a year and a half away from turning 40, and I thought I’d hate to reach that milestone and have regrets. So I made a list of things I wanted to do before I turned 40 and started working on it. 
      With the idea of no regrets on my mind, I had a sudden realisation that I needed to re-focus on my dream of being a published novellist. I had a vision of myself on my deathbed and I just knew that I’d be devastated if I got to that point and thought ‘Maybe if I’d tried harder…’ 

      The rest is described in my answer to the previous question. I look back on that time now and I don’t regret it. I learned a lot from my time editing and being a journalist (and editing is something I hope to get back to) and it made me the writer I am today. 

      The important thing is to recognise what you dream is, and then do what you can to make it happen. Recognise that it might not – my aim was just to give it all I had, so that at the end I couldn’t blame myself for not being published. 
      So give it all you got, and know that that in itself is an incredible achievement.

      Part 2 of: A Conversation with Nicole Murphy, author of the Dream of Asarlai Trilogy.

      Nicole Murphy – Photo by Cat Sparks

      Breaking in – can you talk about your experience of breaking into the publishing industry and how you sold the Dream of Asarlai trilogy to HarperCollins? 

      At the end of 2007, I came to a realisation that if I was ever going to live a happy life, then I needed to give my dream of being published everything I had. 

      So I re-arranged my life, went to work part-time at a local supermarket and picked the project I was going to work on. 

      I chose my fantasy romance novel because it not only was one I enjoyed working on, but it was also the one I considered most commercially viable out of all my projects.

      I started working on it in earnest in February 2008 and by November, it was ready for submission. For reasons that to this day I don’t understand, I decided to submit myself and not get an agent. I targeted three markets – America, Australia and electronic (note – nowadays you’d be fighting an up hill battle to get a major publisher to sign you if you’ve sold erights elsewhere – take note). 

      America I submitted to Baen (which you can do without needing and agent, but it takes a long time for them to get back) and then I forgot about it. Electronically, I chose three or four romance-based epublishers (romance has REALLY embraced electronic publishing, more than speculative fiction) and started subbing there.

      In Australia, I started with Allen and Unwin, who were running the Friday Pitch. Every Friday, you could submit a completed manuscript and it would be considered. I didn’t think I’d get picked up by them (A&U are known for a more literary style than I write) but I wanted to get my first rejection out of the way quickly. It was a good rejection – not for us but one of the better manuscripts we’ve seen.

      That encouraged me to keep going. Next was Orbit – I knew they were chasing Australian authors for the global imprint. The response I got from them was not for us – but they’d passed it to their romance department as well. They too passed on it but still I was encouraged – books don’t get passed around a publisher unless the first editor sees something in it. Orbit’s thought – too much romance for them.

      At the same time, I got my second electronic rejection and it said – too much fantasy. I was confused – which was right? In the end, I decided to back my own thoughts and I submitted a query to Stephanie Smith at HarperVoyager.

      Stephanie said she’d see the manuscript, so I sent it to her. By now it was May, 2009. I saw Stephanie at the Natcon in Adelaide in June and she told me that she had it, but it would probably take her a while to read it. So I went on with other things and didn’t pay no mind to what was happening with my novel.

      A month later, Stephanie emailed me saying she loved the book. That was a Friday. I spent the weekend doing up the trilogy synopsis (I’d only sent her the first book synopsis with the query) and sent that to her. Thursday, she contacted me saying they would take it to acquisitions and checking on possible publication dates. Friday, she called to talk me through the whole process. The following Tuesday, HarperCollins decided to buy the trilogy.

      It happened RIDICULOUSLY quickly. Honestly, it doesn’t normally happen this fast. There’s lots of people out there that can tell you they waited months, even years from when the manuscript was submitted until it was purchased. Six weeks doesn’t happen.

      The publishing happened fast too. That was all July 2009. Secret Ones (the first book) came out July 2010, Power Unbound in January 2011 and Rogue Gadda hits the shelves July 1. Fast, fast, fast. 

      Part 1 of: A Conversation with Nicole Murphy, author of the Dream of Asarlai Trilogy.

      Nicole Murphy – Photo by Cat Sparks

      You have a new book coming out – Rogue Gadda, the third book in the Dream of Asarlai trilogy. Can you talk about the moment you realised you had a full-blown trilogy on your hands?

      Originally, it was written as a series because the focus was on the romance.

      In the romance genre, it’s quite common to see series with the same world, and recurring characters but a new couple to focus on in each book. No continuing storyline.

      The moment I developed the world, and saw how interesting it was, I knew I wanted to write more than one book.

      Then I put the first book (called Love in Control, later to become Secret Ones) through the CSFG novel crit group, and I’m pretty sure it was Gillian Polack who suggested an overarching storyline to bring the three of them together.

      The idea really struck me, and so I developed Asarlai and her simple but bold plan to announce the gadda to humanity so they could take their rightful place as rulers of planet earth.

      It meant a whole lotta rewriting and adjusting to the storyline, but by the third book it knit together really naturally and ended up making it all mega-fun.

      The Dream of Asarlai trilogy: Asarlai believes the secret existence of the gadda is holding them back, and she’s stolen the Forbidden Texts to change that. It’s up to the six guardians of the gadda to stop her.

      Book one, Secret Ones: Maggie Shaunessy revels in being a trouble-maker, while Lucas Valeroso is determined to put his bad past behind him. When they meet and sparks fly, both have to reconcile their past in order to move forward in new roles they never dreamed they would have.

      Book two, Power Unbound: Ione Gorton’s happy being a rare gadda with no power, while Stephen O’Malley is obsessed with becoming one of the most powerful gadda ever. However, Asarlai’s plans are ramping up and both of them find their lives irrevocably changed thanks to Asarlai’s actions. Can they help each other through it?

      Book three, Rogue Gadda: Hampton Rourke is struggling with the responsibilities of being Sabhamir, the protector of the gadda. When he meets Charlotte Haraldson, who hates everything and everyone gadda, he has to find a way to make her his in order to find Asarlai and end her dastardly plans once and for all.

      About Nicole:

      Nicole Murphy has been a primary school teacher, bookstore owner, journalist and checkout chick.

      She grew up reading Tolkien, Lewis and Le Guin; spent her twenties discovering Quick, Lindsey and Deveraux, and lives her love of science fiction and fantasy through her involvement with the Conflux science fiction conventions.

      Her urban fantasy trilogy, Dream of Asarlai, is published in Australia/NZ by HarperVoyager. She lives with her husband in Queanbeyan, NSW.

      To find more information about Nicole and her books, visit her website or blog.

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