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Here’s some of my photo inspiration for the Shallow Sea book that I’m rewriting.

Originally I had three first person VPs, but my ROR colleagues felt they weren’t differentiated enough. The reason I’d used first person was because I had invented a person called a Twisted, who was small and genderless. I wanted to tell one of the narrative threads from this Twisted’s VP. This meant I had the problem of finding a non-gender specific pronoun, or writing those scenes from first person.

Inventing a non-gender specific pronoun is a very SF thing to do and I’ve read several short stories and books where the author has done this. I’ve never found it very successful, because every time I come across the invented word it throws me out of the story. This doesn’t happen with invented nouns, but for some reason the invented pronoun jarrs, at least it does for me.

So I’ve compromised and left the Twisted scenes in first person, while rewriting the other two narrative threads in deep third person. Note, I’ve said ‘deep’ third person. I want to immerse the reader in the character and their struggles so they will identify and empathise with them. Even though I’ve gone from first person to deep third person, it’s surprising how many subtle changes this makes to the narrative.

I think it is working really well. I know I’ve come across other books where some of the narratives threads are first person and some are third person. I found once I was immersed in the story it didn’t worry me.

How do others feel about it?

>There is always an exception

>Jetlagged and zomboid I’m back from the US and Lunacon. Cons are a poor excercise in marketing and a great one in networking. I’ve been clearing my inbox and following – on one of the lists I am part of – the ardent efforts of some sensible writers to persuade an ardent young man that, really, publishing isn’t interested in another novelization of a rpg, with a sort of write by numbers set of ‘powers’. Trust me on this: it’s probably the least likely thing to please an agent or publisher.



I happen to be an admirer of Australian writer Chris McMahon’s work. I was sitting in the audience at Lunacon when he sat on a panel with a couple of editors and an experienced author, when someone asked where he got his ideas from. I watched how the jaws fell open (mine too) when he said ‘it started as an RPG’.

I’ve read that book. It’s really, really good. I would never have guessed that source in a 1000 years. It’s complex, deep, well motivated.

Someone on the panel summed it up when they said that because one extremely skilled writer could do it, it wasn’t going to work for most.

But there is always an exception. And a new look and good writing can make the oldest trope in the book seem new and exciting.

>Storming Hell

The short story is supposed to be a dead art form but somehow it staggers on in SF & F.

I have always been a keen fan of reading short stories. I also enjoy writing them. It is a different skill to writing a novel. You learn to be concise and well planned. You don’t have room for a single wasted word.

I am rather chuffed to find that one of my shorts is the cover story for the April ‘Jim Baen’s Universe’ magazine (see pic).

I have also just sold a story to Black Library based on the universe of Warhammer 40,000AD. It is called Last Man Standing and is going well.

More later,


>But how do I start writing? — part two

>By Jennifer Stevenson

Okay, say you’re one of those people so unlike me that you are painfully humble. You think nobody listens to you now, so why should they read what you write? You think you have no contribution to make to anything, not even the world of trashy entertainment, where I myself am struggling to make a buck.

Right now, I will give you an exercise that will show you how unique you are. How your voice is a marketable force. Why someone will want to read whatever you write, whatever you choose to say. You will need to find at least two other friends who will try it with you. Four is better.

Are you ready?

Finding your voice: fan mail from the future

In this exercise, you will learn at least five things about your writing that make it unique, that mark your voice as one in a million, that will point you toward where you will make a success of your writing. You will get some fan mail in advance. You will read the back of your twelfth paperback, where they print all the five-star reviews.

This exercise may take two sessions to complete.

Session one you can manage alone. Or your writer friends can help. This takes long enough to pile up about a two-inch-high pile of clippings.

1) Find a pile of old magazines, preferably a mixture. Your library sells them for two bits per issue. Pick up a Vogue, a Road and Track, a National Geographic, a TIME, an Entertainment Weekly, a Tiger Beat, and a Fly Fishing Quarterly.

2) Cut out a big pile of pictures. Be picky. Take only the ones that appeal to you.

Session two requires three to five writers. This takes about two hours.

3) Sit in a circle in front of your pile of magazine pictures. Everyone choose two pictures. Push the rest of the pictures aside when you have chosen your two.

4) Someone use a stopwatch to time this. Everyone look at their own first picture. Start the stopwatch for two minutes. Write for two minutes about the picture in front of you. There are no rules. Your snippet doesn’t have to be first person or third. It doesn’t even have to be about the picture. Just have the picture in front of you while you write. It is okay to suck. At the end of two minutes, do this again for your second picture.

5) Now that you’ve written about each of your choices, pass your pictures to the person on your left and take the pictures from the person on your right. Rinse. Repeat.

6) When everyone has written a two-minute snippet about their own and everyone else’s pictures, one by one, each of you read all of your snippets aloud, one after the other. Listeners jot down two or three things about what they are hearing. When the reader has finished, everyone reads aloud their comments. Tell the writer what you felt when you listened. Tell them what you noticed. Tell them what you were guessing about the rest of the story, even though there is no “rest of the story.” Examples of comments:
“Your stuff makes me laugh.”
“All your pieces are in first person — I did this, I saw that.”
“There’s lots of description. I can really see and feel things.”
“I hear lots of emotion in your writing. I’m right there with the character.”
“Wow, nonstop action!”
“I notice there’s always a conversation, even if the picture has no people in it.”
“I can tell this is going to be a mystery!”
“They’re going to fall in love, aren’t they?”
“She’s going to kill him with that fork, isn’t she?”

Notice that every one of these comments is positive. If you don’t like what you hear, find something positive to say, or don’t comment at all.

7) While you are listening to your friends read their work aloud, notice this: You all wrote about exactly the same pictures. Yet what you each wrote is very different. The combination of what you care about, how you feel, what you want to say, and how you chose to say it, all mixed together to make a unique voice. Nobody, listening to those snippets, would ever guess they were all written about the same set of pictures.

8) As you listen to your friends comment on your work, write it all down. This is exactly what you will be reading in your fan mail, ten years from now, after your eighth novel is published. This is how the Kansas City Star will review your books.

Because this is the core of your voice.

Your voice doesn’t change over time. It just gets more intense. Your voice is who you are. If you can find your own voice and love it and feed it and let it run free to say what it says best, you will sell like crazy.

Yeah, it wouldn’t hurt if you knew some grammar. But grammar can be taught.

Your voice is not taught, it is you. Learn what it is, respect it, nurture it, experiment until you figure out what sort of story it wants to tell.

And then put the seat of your pants to the seat of the chair.

-Jennifer Stevenson
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>Just a quick note to say Sarah is on vacation, recovering from kidnapping Dave Freer. She’ll return next week with all the news.

>World Building

>I have to run a workshop for the Australian National Romance Conference on World Building for paranormal, fantasy and futuristic writers. The thing about World Building is that if you do it really well, people don’t notice it. The World Building goes on behind the scenes and motivates the characters.

So I’ve decided rather than create a shopping list of attributes for created societies, I’ll work from the other direction (which is what I do anyway). When I write I start out with the person and their problem and the world evolves from there. This may sound really crazy and cause all kinds of problems, such as how can I be consistent? But I’ve always been fascinated by the way societies evolve and the pressures this places on people. So I’ve done a lot of reading and I trust myself to wing it.

If you stop and look at a lot of the things we do and why, they seem very arbitrary. As long as the created society has an internal logic, even where it is inconsistent, people will accept this. After all, why would you withhold education from half the population, then complain that they are stupid and can’t be trusted with the vote?

Besides, I think creating a story with character, plot and world building will be a better hands-on way to explore the craft of World Building. I’m hoping the problems that arise as we come up with stories, will cause discussion and clarify points. And I’ll have my back up list of questions in case I need them!


>For those who might be wondering where Dave is today, he was kidnapped after his Guest of Honor duties at Lunacon were over. The culprits? A family by the name of Hoyt — Specifically, MGC’s own Sarah A. Hoyt and her family. They do promise to return him in time for his next post. Until then, they are enjoying having Dave not only on the same continent but in the same city with them.