Archive for May, 2012

Interview with Peter Cooper

I’m partway through an amazing book by Australian author, Peter Cooper. Five chapters into The Ghost of Ping-Ling I find myself hooked on this riveting adventure set in a rich fantasy world. I thought I’d catch up with Peter and see what makes him tick and how this wonderful novel came about…

 

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What did you mostly read, growing up?

I wasn’t a “wide” reader when I was growing up. My main staples were Tolkien and the Willard Price adventure series. I also read and enjoyed Nicholas Fisk’s Startstormers series and the Mad Scientist Adventure Club books, both of which are not very widely known today but were/are brilliant books.

 

What single book (or series of books) had the “profoundest” effect on you?

Definitely the Hobbit. It was the first fantasy I ever read and it changed my life forever. Up to that point I don’t remember another book so totally drawing me into its world. It was also the first book to give me a love for fantasy maps. I can remember opening that book as a 12 year old and seeing that map and thinking “wow, I want to go there”. And Tolkien took me there, and I never left.

 

What do you feel was your breakthrough moment as a writer?

Interesting question. I think I’d have to say (and this is an unsponsored comment) it was when I first signed up to Online Writers Workshop and opened up my writing to a wide range of people of various backgrounds and levels of experience. It was terrifying when I did it, but it pushed me to a point where I don’t think I could have gone otherwise.Some of those people are still my crit-partners, though we’re not on OWW anymore, and several are now published authors.

 

What’s your family think about your writing obsession (is it ok to include that word?)?

It is an obsession. There is no other word to describe it! My wife has been very supportive and encouraging all the way along, though she’s not a fantasy fan by any means. My five year old twin sons are huge fans, to the extent that their whole reception class knows Daddy is an author and have seen the books and are probably completely bored with hearing about it all by now. I hope in a few years they’ll all buy the series.

 

Tell us about your current trilogy (…it’s a trilogy, isn’t it??). And about its genesis.

It was originally going to be 5 books, but my publisher told me a little while ago that I should seriously think about making it 3. I was reluctant, especially this late in the piece, but in the end I went with it, so now it’s a trilogy. The book actually started as a satirical take on Lord of the Rings, but over the following 7 or 8 years it slowly transformed into something that was less satirical and less Lord of the Rings. Eventually it morphed into its modern form, an Asian inspired fantasy. I think part of the reason I set it in an Asian world is that I adored the TV series Monkey when I was growing up, and I felt there was so much Chinese and Japanese mythology to draw on, rather than the usual European fare.

 

Monkey? That show rocked. Peter, you’ve had quite a few short stories published. What do you enjoy writing more, shorts or novels?

I think I enjoy both just as much. I’m probably more of a “natural” novel writer than short-story writer (perhaps because I have a tendency to waffle?) so writing short-stories is even more of a challenge for me. Because of that I’ve worked really hard to get better, and after many thousands of words of pure tosh I’ve started to see some publishing success. I think that’s probably one thing I do like more about short-stories — you don’t have to work at something for quite so long before you can send it out into the world.

 

How did you manage to write and be published, all while holding down a real job?

With great difficulty. Finding time to write is a huge challenge for me, and inevitably it happens late at night when I’m not in my best mindset. The frustrating thing for me is that during the day, while I’m toiling away as a software engineer, my writing brain is fully engaged, but I can’t do anything about it. Still, I’ve managed to write 2 and a half novels that way so I think in the end it all just works out. I’m hoping it will continue to work out for book 3. Somehow I feel even more pressed for time now than I did last year.

 

When is the 3rd book out? 

Book 3 is due out May next year, provided I can meet the mid-November timeline. That’s not a given because I’m behind in where I should be with the drafts, but I’ll be giving it my best shot.

 

Do you see that work/write balance working in the next few years? Is there anything you’ll change?

Possibly as my children get a bit older there’ll be more evening time to write, but I suspect there may be even less. What I am hoping is that I can streamline the process a bit more, perhaps by not writing detailed manuscripts at early stages when the story flow hasn’t been settled, I’ve been burned wasting time like that a few times now.

 

Peter, it’s been a pleasure talking to you. Thanks for giving us insights into the world of the writer. We wish you godspeed with your next novel and all the best for the future of your family and career.

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Peter’s books The Ghost of Ping-Ling and The Mapmakers Apprentice can be ordered at your local bookstore. His website is http://www.cacklingscribe.blogspot.com/.

 

When You’re Stuck

Many of us writer-types know that awful feeling of stuckness, where no matter how long we stare at the page, no ideas flow onto it. This feeling also arises when our plot runs smack-bang into a dead-end and we can’t see the way forward.

 

One of the most helpful exercises I’ve been taught to overcome this stuckness is called “100 Lines” (or something like that). The idea is that you bullet point a list of ideas/jottings/rantings on the topic whereof you are stuck, hoping to shake something loose. 99 times out of 100, it’s worked for me…

 

So how does that work? Some examples, you ask? Sure, I say.

 

EXAMPLE 1: The writer discovers that the murderer in her story really has no credible motive – but there needs to be a murder in that part of town, on that date, using that weapon and leaving these clues. So the writer asks herself the question, “Why would Fred the Murderer kill Jenny the Victim?” and starts jotting up to a hundred lines off the top of her head:

  1. Because Fred mistakenly believes he is a werewolf
  2. Because Fred is actually the alter ego of the main protagonist
  3. Because Fred and Jenny were business partners

 

The writer keeps jotting, but runs out of ideas at #26. She goes to make a cup of chai latte and returns to her desk to scan the list, discovering that idea #3 has some merit. She does some more journalling around the two characters being business partners and eventually hits upon the perfect motive and backstory for the murder. Problem solved.

 

EXAMPLE 2: The writer has written 3 chapters of beautiful prose, introducing a rich Arthurian world with stunningly interesting characters. Now it’s time for the story to take off and he realises … there is no story. There’s no battle the protagonist (Sir Roger) needs to fight. In fact there’s nothing really for the characters to do except eat, drink, be merry and sleep. Not the stuff of which a bestseller is made. So: Writer’s Block.

 

He takes up a piece of paper and pen. He asks himself the questions: “What problem can my hero have? What danger can interrupt his peaceful existence? What event can destroy the status quo forever?” And he starts jotting (anything that comes into his head goes on the page).

  1. King Arthur can have a psychotic break and slaughter his entire round table, except for Sir Roger who was in the toilet at the time
  2. Sir Roger’s real father arrives to reclaim him and carry him away to the sugar-gilded land of the golden-winged fairies
  3. Sir Roger’s father dies in a horrible weaving accident and on his deathbed announces that Roger is not his son, but is a boy he adopted on a journey through Palestine
  4. A Jabberwocky can emerge from the cave and eat Roger’s pet salamander, prompting a quest for vengeance
  5. A rift in space time opens, dumping a dozen Marines from the 22nd Century in Roger’s woods
  6. Roger’s wife is caught “liaising” with King Arthur’s son…

 

“Aha!” cries the author at #6. “This could be interesting.” He grabs a fresh page and brainstorms around the idea of Roger’s wife caught in a tryst with the local King’s son. (Roger kills the Prince in a fit of pique. The King puts a contract out on Roger. Roger has to take shelter in the forest. Roger is taken in by bandits, the very people he used to despise…) [Actually, I like this; I might write it myself!]

 

And the writer is off and running. The drought is broken. The game is afoot.

 

I might say here that this process also works for the non-fiction writer; I’ve used it for articles and even blogposts (in the old days of my parenting writing).

 

So. If you’re writing and you’re stuck, try this. Try it often. You can also use it first thing in the day (or late at night -whenever you begin writing) to get the juices flowing. The key is to actually write (with pencil, pen or keyboard), rather than just sit there trying to engage the gears in your head without any physical action.

 

I’d love you to share your breakthroughs with us here too.

 

So. Go write!! Now!!!

 

Review: The Long Way Home

Like many of my favourite reads over the years, I discovered PD Blake’s The Long Way Home by accident. And I’m so glad I did. Armed with my new Kindle, I waded into the kind of book that took me back to the adventures I’d lapped up as a teenager.

 

Blake’s epic fantasy reads like sword and sorcery, in the sense that it’s full of close-in camera views and beautifully executed character arcs. But the overall story is told through multiple strands which begin to combine about 60% of the way through. These strands are each facinating and fun. And none less than the central strand of Alwyn and his dwarven possessor Thorgrim Ironarm. Ironarm is one of those characters who isn’t laboured and doesn’t need to be, expertly drawn and fun to read about. Each time a hint of danger was in the air, I got my hopes up that Ironarm would reappear to swing that axe and laugh maniacally.

 

Apart from the occasional punctuation error (which seems a common feature of eBooks), The Long Way Home is a flawless novel, one of the few I’d award 5 stars out of 5. His richly drawn characters made me smile and his world building was fresh. If you liked the Wheel of Time novels, you’ll like this more! It’s available on Smashwords in pretty much any format you desire.

Looking forward to the next in the series.

 

ACCEPTANCE: The Most Beautiful Word in a Writer’s World

 

Only a writer can know what it means to send out a story to a “market” (ie., magazine or anthology), to wait and wait and wait for months for an answer, to open their emails one day and see a reply from an editor, to hesitate before opening the reply because “it could be an acceptance, but what if it’s not, what if they hated it, but then again, it could be, OH JUST OPEN IT!” The emotional rollercoaster of letting other people prescribe value on your work is fearful and fun at the same time. But in the end, you just want someone to publish the stuff.

 

How happy I was to open an email last week and find that a story had been accepted by Andromeda Spaceways Inflight Magazine! The story Illegal (cowritten with my buddy Kevin Ikenberry) will appear soon in ASIM’s hallowed pages and I’ll let you all know when it’s available.

 

And I’ll talk more about collaborations with other writers soon. But for now, I’m just basking in the warmth that is acceptance.

 

I Need Your Ideas

 

Okay. This is a dangerous thing to do.

 

I have this story. It’s unfinished. It has sat – unfinished – on my various computers for four years. Occasionally I open it and think, ‘There’s potential here”. And then I stare at it for twenty minutes wondering variously “What happens next?” or “How does this end? Where’s it heading?”

 

And then I come up blank, close the document and turn to something else.

 

So. I’d like to know what you think. Can you see an ending to this short tale which makes it worth telling? I don’t want you to write it for me; just make a suggestion or two. Or not. See how you feel at the end.

 

The story so far …

 

 

Lifeboat

By Pete Aldin

“I never knew my father,” David said quietly. He wasn’t really sure why he was talking. Maybe to take his mind off the thick warm air or the hopelessness of their situation.

 

And why the hell was he bringing up his father? Why now?

 

Bernard peered at him through the gloom and looked away. A few seconds passed, keeping time with the flicking of the green atmosphere status light. Then the older man said, as if confessing, “I never really knew my kids.”

 

David reached around to massage his own lower back through his jumpsuit. “I mean, I vaguely remember him. But he left us when I was four.”

 

Bernard’s eyes had glazed over. “I guess, I got busy. Away on ships for months at a time. Not really there, even when I was there. You know?”

 

“Why would he do that? I’ve never understood it.”

 

“My wife, Dianne. Geez I miss her. She was always there for them. A fixture, rock-solid and stable.”

 

“My Mom, she was crazy as hell. All the time. Mad as a cut snake, actually. Mad like in angry and mad like in crazy. Maybe that’s why he left. Maybe she was that way because he left.”

 

David shifted his stiff legs, knocking against Bernard’s unintentionally. It was hard not to in the confined space of the lifeboat. Their eyes met and they looked away, suddenly embarrassed. Bernard pulled his feet closer to himself, holding them there for a full minute, then let them stretch as far as they could to rest against the opposite bulkhead beneath David’s seat.

 

David leaned down and rubbed at his calves. How long they could take it, cramped up like this, he didn’t know. He didn’t want to think about it. He didn’t want to think about whether or not anyone had received the ship’s distress message. He didn’t want to think about whether they were alone out here, no other survivors, just the two of them in an iron cylinder, waiting to die.

 

But he was, he was thinking about it.

 

He sucked in another lungful of warm moist air and blew it out hard. “So. What did you do on the ship anyway?”

 

Bernard sighed. “Engineering. I’m a tinkerer. Making sure things ran properly. Good money. Respectable job. Made the time go quickly.”

 

“Is that important? Making time go quickly, I mean?” David had always found it bizarre, the human compulsion to rush through life where there was nothing at the other end but death. His gaze took in Bernard’s pot belly, his greying temples and receding hairline, the capilaries visible on his nose. Presumably Bernard had once been as young as him; why would a man want to age fast?

 

“Sure,” Bernard grunted. “Why not? It’s not like I enjoyed the work.”

 

“Then why do it at all?”

 

“Gotta do something. Job is everything. When people ask me what I do, I can answer them.”

 

David snorted and looked away.

 

There was nothing to look at. He closed his eyes, feeling guilty for his mocking snort. The older man was pleasant, a nice guy. Even if he was stupid.

 

“And you, young David? What did you do? I’m guessing kitchen from the looks of your uniform. You a chef?”

 

He snorted again. “Just a kitchenhand. I was working my passage across to Centauri.”

 

“And what were you going to do when you got there? Had a job lined up, did you?”

 

“No.” He thought for a while. “I guess I was going to see what happened.”