HOLDEN’S HEROES: September 2019 – Interview with Rebecca Freeman

G’day crew,

This month on my author interview series Holden’s Heroes, I chat with the latest writer friend I’ve cornered and blackmailed invited to share their craft: author, editor and doctoral student Rebecca Freeman. I’ll be asking her the tough, intelligent questions, like how does she manage to do so much with a cat sitting obstinately in front of her keyboard.

Let’s dive in and find out more!


Holden’s Heroes ~ September 2019

REBECCA FREEMAN

Holden: Rebecca Freeman, welcome to my house! Don’t mind the cans of diet coke all over the patio – that’s just the fallout from when Lana Pecherczyk came to visit. I’m not supposed to mention this, but she also stayed for a cheeky gin. What a wild child. 

Rebecca: Oh please. I live with an Adam, our four children, dog, cats and chooks. This is nothing. I’ll just move the nail polish and tin of supplement and sit myself down here on this milk crate.

H: Classic me, painting my nails punk style while making my protein shake, ha! Anyway, Bec, welcome to trashville, population me and my husband. Now let’s start with the most exciting news first: your brand new novella Alt-Ctrl is a dystopian story and it’s hitting our shelves on Monday, 30 September! Tell me, what’s it all about?

R: OMG I KNOW. I can’t quite believe it. September 30th seemed like such a long time away when I was discussing it with my publisher and now it’s nearly here! So Alt-Ctrl is set in Australia in the near future, and centres around a young woman, Finn. She lives in an enclosed City, which is one of the few safe places to live since the climate collapsed. Outside the City are the Badlands, and Finn has grown up hearing all kinds of stories about the people who eke out a living there, suffering from radiation poisoning and starvation. But as it turns out, the stories weren’t true, and there might be more to fear from within the City than there is without.

H: It’s such a great premise and flips the classic dystopian setup around. Where did the idea to write something dystopian come from? The cli-fi aspect seems to be relevant currently, what with the way the world is going and the recent global climate strike. What inspired you to write this novella?

R: Well, weirdly, the story itself was inspired by losing access to a blogging platform I used and it made me think about how connected we are to the online community, and how it can feel like you’re completely cut off if that drops away.

H: This would actually have such an impact – so many creative careers would be poleaxed without access to blogs and social media! Including my own probably *sad cough*. What about the plot?

R: The plot came to me in a dream! It was one of those times when you wake up from a dream and write it down and the next morning it actually makes sense, unlike most of the time when you wake up the next morning and see that you’ve written ‘Sliced oranges’ or something equally confounding.

H: So many writers I know have done this, and it’s usually even less coherent than ‘sliced oranges’. 

R: I later wrote a short story called ‘And then it rained’ which was published in an anthology of Asian-Pacific Speculative Fiction (called Amok). And the characters really stayed with me, and so I started writing a story which featured them, and that turned into Alt-Ctrl. But cli-fi in general, I love it so much, because I think it’s an example of how incredibly powerful fiction can be in affecting change in subtle ways, you know, without being too preachy. We change our minds because of stories, and now more than ever we need a shift in perspective, a way of finding new solutions. From what I read about how your writing impacts people’s lives, I imagine you can probably understand that too.

H: Yes, I totally get it, and that’s something that drives me in terms of opening up new conversations without preaching – letting the art do the talking. I’m sure your novella will do the same as it’s so pertinent to what we’re facing globally at the moment. I love the boldness of the cover of Alt-Ctrl. I remember from our chats a few months ago that this wasn’t the original title. Can you talk about your process in choosing the right fit for the novella’s title, and why you chose this one?

R: Thanks, I love it too! But ugh, don’t talk to me about titles. I haaaaate titles. Hate them! If it were up to me, I’d call them ‘Story A’, ‘Story B’… haha. But I guess that’s not very interesting. You’re right though. Alt-Ctrl was Collapse the whole time I was writing it, and then at the end, I sat down and brainstormed with my publisher and Adam and we came up with this, and then I thought, ‘Yes, that’s it.’

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Rebecca Freeman’s new novella Alt+Ctrl, available Monday 30 September

H: The title immediately tells us we’re dealing with spec fic, I reckon – nice work. Now, you’ve also had some other wins recently, with your novella pitch to the Drowned Earth competition shortlisted. How did it feel to get that recognition of the quality of your work, and what’s happening with that project currently?

R: That was so great! As you know, both Mike [author Michael Trant] and I were shortlisted for this competition which was fantastic – it’s awesome to share that sort of thing with your friends. It also sparked a new story and to be considered for the shortlist, I had to write a synopsis and the introduction, so now I have the beginning of the story. I’d love to get back to it, and I’ve got a notebook with a few thousand words in it, but obviously there are only so many hours in the day!

H: And from where I’m sitting, I’m pretty sure you are using literally every one of those hours already! You’re incredibly busy and productive, as you’re also completing your PhD through Curtin University. What’s your thesis on?

R: Yeah, so I’m doing a creative PhD, which means I need to produce a creative project and then a short thesis of about 30,000 words.

H: *hears distant screaming of people wondering how 30,000 could be short*

R: I’m writing a steampunk novel as my creative project and both that and the thesis are focusing on how steampunk explores colonisation, and how it portrays nature and technology. The setting of the novel is here in Albany in the late 1800s but it’s obviously quite a different place. I’m really enjoying playing with an alternative world and weaving in some of the real-world problems and conflicts during that time. Even the research is interesting. Did you know that we had a massive depression in the 1890s?

H: Somehow, yes, I did. I can’t remember most of high school but I do remember that we had an economic depression in the 1890s. Go figure.

R: And did you know that in 1893 the Australian Federal Bank failed?! So incredible.

H: I didn’t know about that! I guess knowing the fine details makes you such a great editor, which is my brilliant segue to my next question, because you also work as a freelance editor! How does that experience differ from the creative writing process and is it difficult to switch between the two?

R: It actually balances out really well. When editing, I’m in a different mindset, I think. It’s more methodical, more critical. You can’t approach writing in that way – at least not when you’re doing the first or second drafts – or you’ll get totally bogged down in the details. But it always surprises me how I still need to draw on creativity when I edit, because I have to phrase my feedback in a way which is helpful and constructive. I’m glad I get to do both, though. I think being an editor helps my writing, and that could be simply due to the fact that it requires lots of reading, and that’s always good for writers to do.

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Bec’s study at home in Albany – that bookshelf alone makes me weep with envy!

H: I think Laurie Steed told me something about that once – and if he didn’t, he totally could have, because he’s also both an editor and a writer, and his writing is exceptionally well constructed. Now, being an editor, you must see a lot of rough-looking drafts from writers before you work your magic on them. What are some of the most common mistakes you see and what can writers do to improve their work?

R: Most of the time writers have done a great job with the manuscripts they send me, and I’ve been so amazed at the incredible stories I get to read. Occasionally I’ll get something which really is a draft, and I have actually sent some back to the writer, to tell them that their story is not ready to edit yet. So I guess my advice would be to not be in too much of a hurry. When you finish a draft, let it rest for a bit. Leave it at least a few weeks before you go back to it and read it again – and that time can really give you some perspective.

H: Totes agree on letting manuscripts rest! Speaking of rest (someone is going to scream at me for this segues soon) but – when and how do you rest, because as if being a writer, editor and doctoral student wasn’t enough, you’re also raising a family of four. Now, I can barely take care of myself, so forgive the cliché question, but how on earth do you manage your time?

R: Oh, I just leave a massive bowl of fruit in the kitchen and leave them to it! Haha, just kidding! (Well, sort of. They do eat a lot of fruit.) But having lots to do is fun for me. I generally thrive on it. I mean, there are days – like today, in fact – when I’ve barely had time to eat, but those are few and far between. Most of the time it’s about managing my time well while the kids are away at school or asleep. That’s why getting up early is really good for me. Now that they’re all starting to sleep in, I can get a good chunk of work done in the mornings. As for everything else, I recommend menu planning and a large diary to write everything down!

H: I’m taking notes that I 100% know I will not follow, because my career is so tightly managed that my personal/home life is a tyre fire and I don’t see that changing haha. Sidebar to anything writery, I grew up in a family of six kids and loved it because there were always people around and plenty of noise. Do you find that’s a great environment to write in, or do you prefer to quarantine some quiet time and space for yourself to get work done?

R: I need the quiet. I do love being in a household full of people – on weekends we often have extra kids coming and going, and it gives me a sense of contentment that our kids like being at home and that their friends like visiting them here. When I grew up it was often just me and my parents as my siblings were a lot older, so having a busy house is different from my childhood, but not in a bad way. Still, when we moved here a few years ago, we worked out that we could convert the enclosed verandah into a study for me, and recently we put up bookshelves and most importantly a LOCKABLE DOOR. Since I work at home, there have definitely been some BBC-Dad moments.

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The beach in Rebecca’s home town of Albany, Western Australia

H: That is one of my favourite memes ever, and I love that you’ve been able to live that moment yourself haha – hopefully while not on live TV though! I have major envy looking at your beautiful home study. Now, you live in the rugged and beautiful town of Albany, on Western Australia’s southern coast. What is your experience of being a writer in a regional town, and do you feel there are some services and opportunities you miss out on being in a more isolated location than the metro area?

R: I adore living here. I grew up on a farm near a tiny town only a few hours drive from here, so moving down here was like coming home. And sure, there are some things I know I miss out on, like writers’ festivals and events. It’s very different meeting people in person and going to talks or conventions, that kind of thing, and it can be frustrating that we don’t get that as much in regional or remote communities, although of course I understand why. Saying that, I’ve found a vibrant writing and arts community here, and I belong to two writers’ groups. The library is also outstanding in its support of local artists and writers, and I’m working with some other local people to bring a writers’ festival to Albany in 2020.

H: Agree with Albany Library being amazing – they’re bringing me down to Albany in November for an author talk and I can’t wait – I’ve never visited. Great news about the potential for an Albany writers festival in 2020 – go you. Does this mean you’ll have to put some other projects on hold to make that happen, or will you still be writing new stuff? 

R: I’m trying very hard to focus on one thing at a time but as you can imagine, I’m not doing very well with that. Now that Alt-Ctrl is finished, I’m probably going to try and focus on my PhD. But I have a magic realism novel which I’ve written about 20K of, and a cosy crime series which I’m plotting out, and then there’s that Drowned Earth novella idea I mentioned earlier … well, you know how it is. I have a very long ‘to-write’ list!

H: To-write lists are both exciting and stressful as hell. Speaking of hell, it’s sometimes hellish to get up at 5am, and yet we both aim to do this by being in the #5amwritersclub (best segue ever). I feel like you’re one of the most committed in terms of checking in with the rest of us each morning and trying to make us accountable. 

R: Aw, thank you! It’s probably less about commitment and more about procrastination! But I think since I work at home and also with the isolation of living in the country, it’s really helpful to have that online accountability. I have deadlines for work and but when it comes to writing, I need to say to someone, ‘I have to do 1000 words by tonight’ or ‘I have to finish this chapter by the end of the week’, and it motivates me to do it because I’ve told other people.

H: What made you join the club, and what made you stay?

R: When Lana [Pecherczyk] started posting the hashtag and suggested getting up early to write, I thought it was something which would help me carve out the time. And as for what made me stay, well, it’s everything: the camaraderie, the support, the laughs, the friendship. It’s such a cool group and I’m honestly blessed to be part of it.

H: Agree. It’s great finding fellow writers to hang with, celebrate with, commiserate with. Is that the advice you would give to new writers who are just starting out?

R: Yes. Find your people. They can be online or in person, it doesn’t matter! I think we consider writing to be a very solitary activity and it’s true that you have to get the words down on your own. I reckon any art needs to be created in solitude, because that gives you opportunity to reflect, but as artists we also need to live in the world, you know? So find those people in the world who will support you, who’ll give you feedback. You know, to celebrate the wins and lift you up from the rejections. It’s kind of lonely, otherwise!

H: Great note to finish on. Rebecca Freeman, thanks for coming over to my place – it was awesome to get to know you better. Care for a drink or two? What’s your poison?

R: I had a great time, thanks for inviting me! I’m not a drinker, as you know, but I brought some lemon balm and peppermint from my garden. Thought I’d make us all a pot of herbal tea.

H: Ah, music to my ears! I love lemon and I totally dig peppermint tea. I’ll chuck the billy on.

R: Oh, and can I tempt you with some homemade brownies? It’s cheat day, right?

H: I’m going to have a little cry at the prospect of tomorrow’s carb bloat, and then eat a brownie anyway, because if there’s a brownie involved, it’s always cheat day.


~ Social Media Links ~

I hope you enjoyed this interview with the wonderful Rebecca Freeman. She’s a solid friend to have, and a big supporter of others on her social media, so here’s where you can give her a like and a follow:

Twitter: https://twitter.com/path_ethic

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/bec.lloyd.freeman

Website: https://www.rebeccafreeman.com.au/ 

You can find Rebecca’s first novella Alt-Ctrl here. 

rebecca freeman alt ctrl


I’m about to set off on the book tour in support of my own novel, Invisible Boys, which is released on 1 October (four days away) but Holden’s Heroes will return soon with another interview with a local WA author – stay tuned. Until then, thanks for visiting! 😉

Holden

HOLDEN’S HEROES: AUGUST 2019 – INTERVIEW WITH LANA PECHERCZYK

G’day crew,

So pumped to share the latest chapter in my author interview series, Holden’s Heroes.

This series focuses on fellow writers from my #5amwritersclub, and this month I’m stoked to be chatting to the woman who started all the #5amwritersclub craziness here in Perth. This month’s reluctant blackmailee technically consenting participant is my friend Lana Pecherczyk – an author whose work spans multiple genres, but almost always involves sexy heroes, thrilling action and kickass heroines. Lana also describes herself as a big fan of ‘pro-caffeinating’.

Let’s dive in and find out more!


Holden’s Heroes ~ August 2019

LANA PECHERCZYK

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Author Lana Pecherczyk

Holden: Lana Pechercyzk, welcome to my house! Don’t mind the cans of pre-mix whisky and cola all over the patio – that’s just me failing to clean up after Alicia Tuckerman came to visit. Anyway, welcome to my crib. 

Lana: Thanks for having me here, Holden. And I don’t mind a bit of mess. In my opinion, it’s a sign of a creative person. Well, at least that’s what I tell my husband!

H: I’m going to start claiming this, too – although my husband is also a creative, so we’re just screwed. Now, tell me about your writing: you write both urban fantasy and paranormal romance. What is it that attracts you to these genres, both as a reader and as a writer?

L: The action, the magic, the romance. Basically, it’s those three things that you’ll find in most of my work. I’ve always been a huge fan of the paranormal, and if I have to pick a movie to watch, it’s always got to have heart pounding action and suspense. When I grew up, firstly, I didn’t have a TV for many years, so I lived through the character’s lives in books. As I got older, we had a TV, but I had to share it with five other kids. In the end, I preferred the adventures in my books.

H: I’m hearing you about the growing up with lots of other kids around – why compromise when you can have the book world all to yourself, right? Speaking of, your own book world is impressive: you’re incredibly prolific as an author – seeing how many books you’ve already published is absolutely staggering and also makes me want to weep with envy as a fellow author. What’s your secret?

L: Well, I wasn’t always a prolific writer. It took me three years to write my first book, and I redrafted it eleven times. With every book, I get faster and better. The secret is to keep going. Don’t look back. As Nora Roberts said, “You can fix anything but a blank page.” So keep writing.

H: Maybe a more pragmatic question for me to ask should be what’s your process that enables you to achieve such a great rate of output?

L: Don’t freak out and don’t read your reviews. After the first novel, I freaked out. I thought it would fly off the shelves. I thought everyone would LOVE IT! Of course, it dribbled off the shelves. I took it hard and spent the next two years not writing anything!

Then I met some amazing authors at RWA (Romance Writers of Australia) and learned that’s just the writing business. Most authors in Australia make a poor income. If I wanted to actually make more money, I had to push myself. Treat the writing as a business, and turn up Monday to Friday, nine to five. I block my writing in a schedule (I don’t always keep it, but I try) and I put that schedule up on the wall where I’ll see it daily. I also have some great friends who push me and encourage me. I think you’re familiar with the #5amwritersclub on Twitter, Holden 😉

H: I am indeed – in fact, we’re both part of the club, though let’s face it, we don’t always wake up on time. What made you join the club, and what made you stay?

L: I’m not sure if you’re aware of this, but I think I was one of the first in Perth to use the hashtag (in relation to our little group).

H: I was aware you were one of the early adopters, but I didn’t know you were the one to blame for all the early starts I’ve inflicted upon myself this past 18 months, ha!

L: I was on one of my writing binges (deadline looming) and was a bit lonely that time of morning. I got up early to beat my kids before they wake for the day, used the hashtag (when I should have been writing) and Louise Allan was up and noticed. She joined in and then we found more Perthites, and more. Don’t you just love social media?

H: I remember you all ganging up on me and saying I had to join you. I have to be honest – I really didn’t want to. I felt like waking up at 5am would be hideous. But when I saw how many of you there were I was like “these could be my people”. And the desire to find my tribe was stronger than the desire to sleep in. I don’t regret this at all, now, even if I struggle to check in all the time. 

L: I must admit, that lately I’ve been drowning a bit in other jobs and responsibilities, so getting to the group isn’t always easy, but that’s the great thing about the friendly group of writers… you can just drop in any time, and everyone is very welcoming. Find your tribe! And if you can’t, jump onto someone else’s. Another great hashtag on Twitter is #amwriting.

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Lana Pecherczyk’s new release, Wrath

H: Finding your tribe needs to be one of the things we tell other writers more often, I reckon! Okay, let’s talk about your Paranormal Romance series, The Deadly Seven. You’ve released three books in this series already, as well as a novella. What was the inspiration for this book series, and what can readers expect next?

L: This is the first series I’ve gone, you know what? I actually LOVE superheroes, and I LOVE romance! I wish there was story behind Lois Lane and Clark Kent. You watch the movies, and you see the pivotal influence the love interest has on these heroes, but we never really give credence to it. That’s what I wanted to do. And I amplified it tenfold in The Deadly Seven

The inspiration for the type of heroes came from the words “deadly sin” and I just thought one day, wouldn’t it be funny if they were actually deadly? Then that sparked the entire series plot around genetically modified heroes who are created to defeat deadly sin in the crime drenched cities.

Usually I get my ideas from songs, believe it or not, so this was a bit different.

H: I really love your inspiration about them being *actually* deadly – what a cool concept. I think there’s a perception that Paranormal Romance refers solely to Twilight and vampire stories of that ilk. Have you come up against pre-conceived notions of your genre previously and how do you tackle this? 

L: I have a bad habit of writing between the genres. I don’t stick solely to one, and it’s hard to market my work. But I swear I’m getting better at this with each series. I think you get these sort of confusing comments from readers when you haven’t marketed your book in the correct genre, and you haven’t managed expectations. It’s important to let readers know in the blurb, and with your cover, what story they’ll be reading. I’m very clear that my new series is a superhero romance, so that I don’t get any hardcore superhero fans reading it and complaining that there’s kissing scenes in there. Lol.

H: I’m thinking of that moment in The Princess Bride. Is this a kissing book?

L: If you do get some strange comments, then I think it’s important to take a look at your branding, and work out whether you were throwing out a mixed message. If you’re clear, then, my advice is to ignore it. Sometimes haters just gonna hate.

H: Agree. The other main genre you write in is you also write Urban Fantasy, with your The Game of Gods What’s the best part about writing fun, action-driven stories like these and how does it differ from your romance novels? Less kissing? 

L: Okay, so both my series have crazy amounts of action in them. The difference with the romance ones is that they spend a little more time on the relationship. When I write and read these scenes, I feel as though I’m in the thick of the action. My brain fires better! If only I could have that amount of clarity all day.

I actually find fight scenes and love scenes don’t differ too much. When you drill down to the basic core reasons for these scenes, you find the best fight and love scenes both get your heart racing, both should only be in the story if they move the plot forward, and both have crazy amounts of tension, and both start with characters wanting two very different things. It’s just a different kind of battle *winky winky*.

H: Battle … now there’s a new euphemism for me to use for it, haha. You also have another book out called Robin Lockslay, which is described as a fun, gender-bending twist on the evergreen Robin Hood story. I’ve noticed the enormous popularity of fairytale retellings over this past decade. What’s the appeal of revisiting these very old stories and giving them a modern twist? 

L: This was so much fun to write and I will get back to it. I’ve been getting rapped over the knuckles by a writer friend who’s helping me stay on one genre track. Fairytale retellings are not only a familiar story for the reader, but familiar for the writer. You’ve got a guideline to follow, and creating characters and plots completely from scratch isn’t needed. The story comes easier.

H: There’s also that concept of having an pre-prepared audience: if people like that particular fairytale, they’re more likely to pick it up, right? 

L: Readers like to relive their favourite characters over and over. I think that’s the beauty of retellings. You get to do it all again, but a little bit different.

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#5amwritersclub selfie, November 2018, at the West Coast Fiction Festival. L-R: Alicia Tuckerman, Lana Pecherczyk, Holden Sheppard, Michael Trant. 

H: You’ve been incredibly prolific and are having a lot of success as an indie author. What’s it like being an indie author and how do you manage your time between creative practice and admin and marketing duties?

L: Aw thanks. I wish I was super successful money wise, but I think I’m on the right track. As long as I keep consistently putting out work, I’ll build a loyal readership. With managing my time, I’ve learned by trial and error. Always learn! Never believe you know everything. The writer that does that will be the writer to fail.

I’ve learned about my own process. I know that if I stop, get distracted, or don’t have a deadline … I just find other things to fill my time. So, I block in my writing first. Then I limit myself to only a certain amount of freelance or book cover design hours a day. Getting out of the house, and away from the internet and design computer has been the best tip I’ve received to keep my writing on track. I like to go to a cafe, sit in the same booth, put my headphones in and listen to the same piano music of pop songs, and then write. When I don’t get out of the house and go to writing “work”, I inevitably get distracted.

H: Distraction is the devil! But some distractions – like socialising with other writers – can be beneficial. You’ve previously been involved with the Romance Writers’ Association of Australia in a committee role, and recently went to their annual conference in Melbourne. Tell me, what is the importance of writing organisations like the RWA and how has being involved helped you? 

L: RWA helped me find my tribe. Writing is a solitary gig. It’s lonely and also one of the industries where you really need that feedback from peers – even if it’s a friendly bit of encouragement. And writers love to talk about writing. I don’t know about you, but I find that my non-writer friends (and family) quickly became fatigued with all my writing talk when I first started.

H: Oh man, yes, this exactly. I used to talk about my writing to my non-writer mates and family and a small few of them would listen, but most would look at me like, ‘Shut up. I don’t care.’ And it’s true. They really, really don’t care and most of them don’t get why we want or need to talk about it. And yet we listen to them talk about their jobs, but hey, that’s a bitter tangent for another day, haha. 

L: But your writer friends will listen to you drivel on and on FOREVER! It’s amazing.

H: Agree. Tribe stuff again. 

L: When I first joined RWA, I didn’t know anyone (naturally) so I put up my hand to volunteer. It’s the best way to network, be helpful and to learn from the best. I highly recommend it. You only need to write romantic elements to become a member. You don’t have to write full on romance. The organisation is open to many people.

Plus, if you meet a group of friends, it’s a business meeting and you can claim it on tax. True story. (Insert witty reference to consulting your accountant for official advice here!)

H: Consult your accountant for accurate tax advice, please, readers! So, Lana, we’ve so far talked about your writing, but you also work as an illustrator and design your own book covers. I love your covers,  not just because they feature hot guys, but because the artwork is really damn cool. Did you study drawing or is this something you’ve nurtured yourself? Do you do commissions, or just prefer to draw for yourself?

L: The hot guys really make it! Would you believe I still get embarrassed when I create them? I can’t believe I write romance sometimes! Lol.

Here’s a story for you. When I studied Fine Art and Fashion Design (these are just a few of the subjects I studied when I should have been writing), and I had a nude life drawing class, I would leave the butts for last. They had to be perfect every time! My teacher would always give me stick for it, and I never even knew I was doing that until he pointed it out in front of the whole class. “Lana, why do you save the butts for last?”

H: You have no idea how happy I am that we’ve ended up talking about butts, Lana. This is totally on-brand for me.

L: Anyway… that’s enough about butts. Yes, I studied art. I never believed I was good enough to write. That little voice inside me said I had to be a fantastic literaty (see? I don’t even know the right word there), but eventually I gave it a shot, and I discovered a huge factor in successful writing – it’s not always about the words, but the feelings.

H: Totally agree – I’m personally drawn to writing that evokes emotions effectively rather than writing that is technically beautiful and literary but doesn’t move me. Speaking of being moved by things, your bio paraphrases the English theme song of Sailor Moon, which is just awesome. Are you a big fan of Sailor Moon and has this or other anime influenced your writing?

L: Sailor Moon is my boo! She got me through the tough times of my mother and grandfather passing away when I was younger. She fights for love and justice. As a young girl growing up, I think it was important to see a good female role model. She was the kick-ass savior, not the man (Tuxedo Mask), although he does make a gratuitous appearance every episode to give her a little bit of supportive encouragement. Lol. As you can see, big Sailor Moon fan. I also loved many of the old school anime.

H: I feel you and my husband would get along well – he’s a big Sailor Moon fan. I used to dig it too, back in the day. Now, the first time we met in real life was at the West Coast Fiction Festival in November last year. What do you enjoy about days like that when you get to meet readers face to face and sign their books?

L: I love chatting to people, readers and writers. These events are great for meeting both. There’s nothing like talking to a reader who loves your book. It gives you a real boost, and sometimes, just one letter or email, can give you the fuel to write for weeks. I think these events are just as much about the readers as the writers. And I loved meeting you! You have such energy, I’m sure you’ll be the life of your book signings this year!

H: You’re too kind. *bounces off the walls* I can’t wait to have people read my book and actually tell me what they enjoyed. How about you – what’s your favourite thing that someone has said about one of your books?

L: Ooh, that’s a tough one. I love it when they say they couldn’t sleep because they had to stay up and read to find out what happened next, and next, and next! I also love it when they fall in love with my heroes. That means I’ve done my job to make them realistic and full of depth. To be honest, I love it when any reader contacts me. I’m lucky that I haven’t had the dreaded author hate mail yet, so fingers crossed I stay away from that.

H: Long may your inbox remain hater-free. So what are you working on next?

L: I’m currently working on my fourth book in my Deadly Seven series. It’s called Sloth and focuses on one of the two female heroes of the group. Being so heavily dominated by men, she’s dealing with a lot of self-pressure to perform at their level. I love to layer in real topics through my books, so it’s not all smash, grabs and stabs. And of course, being affected by the sin of sloth is another battle she has to win. I have eight books in this series planned, all about 70-80K words. Hopefully I’ll get the rest out next year.

Image-4
Lego version of Sailor Moon and Tuxedo Mask. 

H: I am seriously so impressed with how quickly you can write! 

L: I’m also polishing a romantic comedy called Hate Expectations. It’s something I wrote a few years back when I was confused over what genre to target. Rather than letting it sit in the drawer, I’m going to get it ready to see the world. That’s the beauty of indie publishing!

H: Yes, it really is. Trad publishing is far more glacial – even once a manuscript is accepted for publication, it can be 12-24 months before it hits the shelves. Indie publishing gives you more control in that respect. Okay, we’re down to my final question: what advice would you give to new writers who are just starting on their journey? 

L: Don’t read your reviews. I think I mentioned this before, but if you’re the kind of person who is affected by reviews, don’t read them. It’s an irrational thing for me. I know sometimes the review is wonderful, I still have trouble distancing myself from my story. I can’t explain it, but I know that I get massive imposter syndrome, and self doubt. So, for me, the easiest thing is to just stay away from that section of Amazon and Goodreads.

H: I’ve heard this from so many authors – to stay away from Goodreads – but I don’t think anyone has managed to do it successfully yet. Not entirely, anyway. 

L: The second thing is: the minute you finish one book, write the next book. Don’t stop to market it. Do the marketing while you’re writing the next book. The longer you wait between books, the harder it is to get back into it.

Thirdly, hire an editor. If you’re just starting out, hire an editor to whip that first manuscript into shape. Every time I think I’ve written the best book, my editor will come up with ten ways to make it better (often more!) You learn better when you hae an editor, and unless you’re JK Rowling, you can always learn to be better. (Her name is Ann Harth, and she’s currently open to new business. Look her up!)

H: Solid advice – all authors need our editors to not just save our arses from rogue typos, but also craft our narratives into more compelling stories. Lana Pecherczyk, thanks for coming over to my place – it was awesome to get to know you better. Care for a drink or two? 

L: Oooh, don’t mind if I do.

H: What’s your poison?

L: I’ll have the Diet Coke, thanks. And maybe a gin on the quiet, but not Coke and gin together. That’s gross.

H: I’ll keep your cheeky gin quiet. It’s just between you and me, and all the people on the Internet reading this, haha. ^_^ 

L: Thanks for having me, Holden. I love your work and enthusiasm. I think you’ll do amazing things with that attitude and I wish you all the best.

H: Ah, cheers bud. Means a lot and I’m really touched. Thanks for agreeing to the chat!

L: Next time you can come to my place. Just watch the land mines from the dog, and lost Lego from the kids. Peace out!

H: Floor lego! My old nemesis! 


~ Social Media Links ~

I hope you enjoyed this interview with the lovely Lana Pecherczyk. She’s a force to be reckoned with in the world of Aussie paranormal romance, and she’s great to interact with on the socials, so here’s where you can give her a like and a follow:

Instagram: instagram.com/lana_p_author

Twitter: twitter.com/lana_p_author

Facebook: facebook.com/lanapecherczykauthor/

Email: subscribe.lanapecherczyk.com (get a free book)

Website: http://lanapecherczyk.com/

Purchase Lana Pecherczyk’s latest release here (Book 3 WRATH releasing 3rd September)


Holden’s Heroes will return in September with another interview with a local WA author from my #5amwritersclub – stay tuned. Until then, thanks for visiting! 😉

Holden

Speaking in Someone Else’s Voice

I’ve been thinking about voice a lot lately – specifically, the way the voices of the characters in my current project are developing.

As part of Camp NaNoWriMo, I’ve officially started my third novel. This novel is a standalone – not a part of a series or linked to any other project I’ve written – which means it’s a fresh start for me. New plot, new settings and most importantly, new characters.

As I started delving into this novel, I realised that my process of creating characters has changed dramatically since my first book.

When I wrote my YA fantasy novel (we are calling him Swordy McSwordface at present, just for shiggles), I was planning to make it the first in a series. With that series in mind, I wanted to get all my ducks in a row for continuity and thus set up this amazing, fully-thought-out universe.

When I say I wanted this, I think what I actually mean is that I felt I had to do it.

When I was growing up, I was so impressed with how J.K. Rowling had reams and reams of backstory on her characters (enough to create a whole website like Pottermore). It was amazing to see how, in interviews, someone would question the origins of some random goblin from Gringotts or one of Sirius Black’s relatives and she would just be able to rattle off their history and motivations and Hogwarts House and even their wand size (oh my).

rowling

As a reader, these interviews were exciting ways to learn more about the wizarding world I’d fallen in love with.

But as a writer, they had an unintended negative consequence.

When I heard that Rowling had all this extraordinary backstory on her characters, I figured this was the way a true writer creates their characters; that they have to know every single thing about them, because they invented them. That seemed to make sense to me.

Moreover, the impression I took away from this was that if I wanted to be a good writer with well-rounded characters, it was essential to have mapped their entire existence as a human being.

And consequently, if I didn’t do this, I would be a bad writer. Or an amateur writer. Or a lazy writer.

So, I thought I needed to know all the fine details. Hair colour and style, of course, but also my characters’ addictions and crutches, their weaknesses, their scars, physical or emotional. Who were they friends with in primary school? Why weren’t they friends anymore? Why do they wear that particular T-shirt? Why do they drink that brand of beer? What colour is their piss in the morning? (Okay, kidding on that one, but you get my point.)

With the exception of the pee example (usually clear, though radioactive yellow after a multivitamin), these are all things you’d probably want to learn about the characters in a book you’re reading. It gives you a better sense of who they are and why they behave the way they do; it also makes them more real.

So with this in mind, when I wrote my first novel, I first set about creating these extraordinarily long documents of character bios. I spent hour after boring hour agonising over the origins of nicknames, the hobbies, the favourite school subjects, until finally I had what I needed: a full dossier on all my main characters.

Now I’d like to tell you how many times I actually referred to that dossier.

It was zero.

Actually, that may not be 100% true, because I seemed to constantly forget basic stuff like eye colour and hair colour/style, so for purely physical stuff I did glance at the beginnings of the dossier at times, for continuity.

But after writing them, I never again referred to those dossiers for input on what to make my characters say or do. I didn’t consult them for guidance when I was stuck in a particular scene, or when a character had to make a particular decision. So much of those documents was never viewed again.

stephen king

The reason for this is that my character dossier, for all its statistics and descriptions, actually didn’t tell me anything about my characters as people.

My character bios were like swirling double-helix strands of Deoxyribonucleic Acid: they contained everything that made my characters who they were, and yet, I could have analysed them for a decade and still I would not have known how my character felt, or thought, or sounded, because I had never heard them speak.

This was a profound realisation. When I created characters in bios and dossiers, they were really just blueprints – a network of pins upon which I would hang the nerves and synapses of a real human. But the bio itself did not bring the character to life: it created a lifeless, faceless mannequin that had no autonomy, no presence and no voice.

When I wrote Invisible Boys, I didn’t spend hours and days on constructing meticulous character bios. I did have a bunch of brief character notes in one word document that I drew from, but what happened with that story was that the characters revealed themselves to me, rather than me creating them.

This probably sounds disingenuous. I’m not cray-cray (well, no more than usual): I do understand that ultimately it was my fingers spidering over the keyboard that brought these characters into existence.

But I do also feel that I didn’t grow these characters in a clinical way, like embyros grown in a petri dish. Rather, it feels like I talked to them. I asked them to tell me who they were, and so they did.

My characters told me, and showed me, how they felt. They spoke to me in their own voices, and I was the scribe, and I recorded that snapshot of their lives for them.

It felt like they already existed, and I was just doing the hard work of asking them the right questions and getting them to reveal more and more about themselves. In hindsight, this reminds me of Michelangelo’s famous quote about freeing his statues from the stone:

“The sculpture is already complete within the marble block, before I start my work. It is already there, I just have to chisel away the superfluous material.” – Michelangelo

I imagine a lot of writers can relate to that quote – probably not just with character creation, but when it comes to editing a draft, too.

And writing characters like this felt natural and organic. Sometimes they did what they were supposed to do, but other times my characters kind of went rogue and did stuff I didn’t fully expect. And that was pretty damn awesome to be a part of.

So now that I am starting my third novel, I have made a conscious choice to not make any complex character dossiers. Instead, I’ve done up one-page bios on each of the five main characters, just to give me a factual reference point for stuff like what they look like, how many family members they have, etc. – mostly for continuity. But I’ve forbidden myself to write more than a page on each character.

I don’t want to tell them who they are and what they want.

I want them to tell me, in their words and their voice, who they are, and what their life is like, and how that feels for them.

characters off track

I don’t know if most writers work like this, or actually, if any work like this, but this is what feels right for me.

It does mean that, should someone one day quiz me in an interview about the full family tree of one of my characters, I may not be able to fully answer.

But at the same time, my gut response to that question is that I am not super interested in knowing everything about my characters. In fact, I would feel weirdly invasive telling a whole room of people what a particular character would do in a given situation. Unlike Rowling, I don’t think I’d have an answer prepared. I would probably have to write it as a scene and see what my character wanted to do.

I know I’m speaking about my characters like they are real entities with their own minds, as opposed to being figments of my imagination. But the reality is that I do see them as real, even while knowing they are fictional.

I see them as real because they are all, ultimately, fragments of my own self, expressed in different ways. Or as F. Scott Fitzgerald put it:

Writers aren’t people exactly. Or, if they’re any good, they’re a whole lot of people trying so hard to be one person. – F. Scott Fitzgerald.

Ultimately, that is what makes an authentic character for me: that they are a fragment of me each filtered in a slightly different way – like white light diffusing in a prism – and that they speak for themselves, rather than me speaking for them.

I don’t know if my process with character will change or evolve in the future. I’m certainly not dissing Rowling’s way, because frankly I’m still impressed and slightly envious of her control of character and world (not to mention for her success and wealth, but that’s a song for another day).

Ultimately, there’s no one way to do character, and every writer will have their preferred approach.

I’m just glad to have found mine.

Holden

What Self-Sabotage Really Looks Like

If I don’t write, I get sick.

I don’t mean physically sick in the guts. Although, that said, some of the overblown metaphors I’ve spun over the years have caused several readers to experience symptoms including head-spinning and projectile vomiting. (Exorcisms were needed.)

And I don’t mean the manflu that my partner accuses me of having every time a head cold knocks me for six and renders me a curled-up foetus watching old episodes of Pokemon and begging for cups of black tea. (“Please, baby, I’m too sick to boil the kettle …”)

The kind of sickness I’m talking about is more like a soul sickness.

A soul disease, maybe.

All I know is that when I spend too much time away from writing, everything goes to shit for me in terms of my mental and emotional wellbeing.

When I’m actively writing – whether it’s my blog or my creative work – there is an aliveness to my entire being – mentally, emotionally and physically.

Mentally, I’m stimulated as I reflect on my own experience and try to create meaning out of it (the blog) or dream up fictional characters and worlds and experiences (fiction).

Emotionally, I feel a certain level of satisfaction and catharsis at writing about certain topics. The actual act of writing itself is also deeply satisfying. Well, okay, sometimes the writing is frustrating enough to make you want to rip each individual hair follicle out of your scalp. But the point is, when a writer writes, we are in the process of flow, and we are doing the precise thing we were put on this giant blue marble for, and it makes us happy.

American poet Robert Hass probably said it best when he said, “It’s hell writing and it’s hell not writing. The only tolerable state is having just written.” Of course, to get to the state of having just written, you need to slog it out and actually fucking write something. So we’re back to where we started.

quote-it-s-hell-writing-and-it-s-hell-not-writing-the-only-tolerable-state-is-having-just-robert-hass-71-84-52

And when everything is in alignment mentally and emotionally, things work out physically, too: I eat well, I hit the gym the right number of times per week, I sleep enough, and my energy levels are high.

But when I don’t write, this all goes to hell.

And it comes as a bit of a surprise to me that I haven’t been writing this month at all. It’s only today, sitting at my laptop and forcing myself to do something, that I realise what happened.

This little mini-crisis started, essentially, because I am the kind of writer who likes to keep on top of the numbers. I have a number of writer friends who determinedly don’t want to know how their books are selling, but I can already tell I’m not going to be one of them. Ever since I was a kid, I’ve been a bit obsessed with rankings and charts and classifications and numbers. Even now, the moment I get into a new band, the first thing I do isn’t listen to the rest of their back catalogue: I find their discography online and study it with the intensity of Hercule Poirot. I need to know which singles belong to which album, which ones were certified gold, which ones flopped and in which territories. Only then will I explore further.

Yes, I am a geek of the absolute grandest kind.

And this geekiness translates to how I approach my writing career. I like to check in relatively regularly with my sales and downloads graphs on Amazon and Smashwords. While my short stories A MAN and THE BLACK FLOWER are not big sellers, THE SCROLL OF ISIDOR does occasionally have sales spikes, and when it had some particularly big ones last year, I was also interested to follow its chart positions on iBooks and Barnes & Noble.

I also keep track of my blog hits, and unfortunately, this is what began my unravelling during the entire month of June.

It started at the very end of May. I was looking at my blog stats for the month, and comparing them to previous months, to see how things are tracking. To my delight, things had actually been going really well: my blog hits had increased, month-on-month, since December 2017 – and some of the increases were pretty significant.

The graph looked like this:

Blog Stats Graph - Holden
Blog Hits: Because I’m a geek.

So, from January through April, I was pretty chuffed, because my reach was growing. In fact, I got ahead of myself and I was all like, “hey, maybe I am not a total sphincter of a human being!”

This is bad for a number of reasons, not least because my self-worth really shouldn’t have any correlation to how many people are reading my blog.

Anyway, it was the month of May that ruined me.

Because, as you can see in the graph above, although April and May look roughly the same, May actually fell short of April’s peak by roughly 20 hits.

Your mentally-balanced, well-adjusted author – if he exists – would be like, “Gee, that’s swell! I guess this little blog is doing A-OK.” (For some reason, my mythical well-adjusted author talks in the same voice Eddie Murphy uses when he is parodying white people from the 1950s.)

But I am not your mentally-balanced, well-adjusted author.

The fact that May fell just short of April was just not good enough. I had failed to continue to grow my blog. This meant not only was the blog a giant pile of steaming failure, but I was, too. The old hydra of perfectionism reared its multiple heads.

And so I self-sabotaged. Without fully realising I was doing it, I kept putting off doing my next blog post, which I had been writing weekly until that point. And suddenly two weeks, then three, then four had passed – and my brain would not let me even entertain the thought of blogging.

Around the same time, in early June, I received a rejection for a short story I’d submitted to a prestigious journal. Now, being rejected is absolutely not a new experience for me, but this one stung me more than usual for two reasons. Firstly, I thought that particular story might have been a perfect fit for that particular publication, and it wasn’t. Secondly, I was already in a vulnerable, self-doubty kind of space, so it just layered on top of that.

The outcome? Not only did I continue my blogging hiatus, but I now stopped writing fiction with my 5am Writers’ Club as well. I was nearing the end of a new short story titled CRUMBS, and I just left it hanging mid-sentence. And interestingly, I stopped on the 12th of June – the same day I got the rejection. So I stopped writing at all, and I stopped getting up at 5am to work.

And, like I said at the start, I got sick in the soul.

I was no longer writing in any form, and this persisted for three weeks. I was completely self-sabotaging my career as both a blogger and a fiction writer. It was the classic “if I don’t write anything at all, then there won’t be any way to be told that I’m not good enough”.

I’m not good enough. It’s a sentence almost every writer has said to themselves at least once, if not at least once a day.

This is paralysing for a writer, and it ultimately comes down to self-doubt: a perceived failure of my blog to continue to grow, combined with a rejection of my fiction, had me back to square one in the confidence stakes.

On top of this was the weighty gravity of expectation. I had recently had some positive feedback about my blog from multiple readers, and it seemed to be doing well. The resultant expectation I placed on myself was twofold: one, that I had to continue to grow without a single dip in monthly hits, and two, that every single blog post had to be fucking amazing and insightful.

The writing paralysis continued until this week. I attended the Penguin Teen Showcase on Wednesday night, which took place in Perth for the first time ever. During the Q & A panel at the end, authors Dianne Wolfer, Fleur Ferris and Emily Gale spoke about how long it takes them to write a first draft of a novel. Later, on Twitter, I was chatting to some authors about how I have written both of my first drafts in about 3 months each. When someone expressed surprise at how quick that was, my answer was simple:

quality tweet

It was only when I looked back on that Tweet today that I realised what has been missing from my writing practice: permission. That is, permission to write total horseshit. Giving yourself permission to write freely is extraordinarily liberating for a writer because it dampens the little spot-fires of self-doubt.

And frankly, giving myself permission to write badly is what made me become a serious writer in the first place. I spent all of 2013 – the entire year – paralysed with fear at the thought of starting my first novel because I was worried it – and consequently, I – wouldn’t be good enough.

When I gave myself permission to write whatever I wanted, with no expectation of quality, I churned out a whole novel, and then a second one, and then a regular blog and a whole litter of short stories.

So, now that I’m aware of what’s happened – and why I’ve been so frozen this past month – it’s time to make a change.

I’m giving myself permission again. Permission to write freely, in both blog form and fiction form. Maybe my blog will tank and become wildly unpopular, like the latest Sharknado sequel. Maybe my fiction will become utter drivel, like literally anything with the word Sharknado in the title.

But perception and reception are ultimately beyond my control.

What I can control is what I write, and how often I write. I can’t control whether or not people will like my stories, or whether people will enjoy every single blog post I put up, but I can control whether or not I do these things at all. And the reality is, I do them because I love doing them, not because of the feedback – positive or negative – that I receive.

So, it’s time for me to cowboy up and get on with it.

I’m committing to writing a regular blog again, so stay tuned for regular updates again.

I’m also committing to a regular writing practice again. And I’m kind of excited, because I’m about to dive into writing my third novel. So this is probably the right time to loosen the burden of expectations from my shoulders, and just write freely, and fast.

I have to remind myself that I am only human and I can only do my best.

And my best is good enough.

Holden

Letting Go: There is No ‘One Chance’

If there’s one thing I’m really bad at, it’s letting go.

I tend to tackle a difficult situation head on and go with the Hulk Smash, bull terrier kind of approach first. I try to call this my ‘assertive’ approach and I can usually avoid going anywhere near ‘aggressive’, even when I maybe kinda want to smash someone’s skull in, just a teeny bit (it would be for their own good, I swear …).

If and when that fails, I will possibly fall silent and let my failure to resolve an issue through direct action fester and haunt me for the rest of my days.

But I very rarely shrug my shoulders and go, “Well, ya know what? It didn’t work. Life goes on. Let’s see what’s on TV.”

I think letting go is actually an important life skill, and it’s something I need to work on more. I don’t have the solution to this yet, although I suspect it isn’t found by listening to that goddamn song from Frozen. (Sorry, parents … I bet you only just got that shit outta your head a few months ago. I recommend listening to Rebecca Black’s Friday to distract yourself … trust me …)

idina-menzel-let-it-go-58169dfd5f9b581c0b6e46ef
No! NOOOOOOOOO! Get away from me, wickedly talented Adele Dazeem!

The reason I bring this up is that I had to force myself to let go of something recently, and it’s still got me thinking about why it was so hard to do.

I’m not talking about something particularly deep or meaningful here: I find that stuff nigh on impossible to let go of, despite my best efforts.

This was actually something writing-related. There was a call for submissions from a particular publication, and what they were seeking seemed like a golden opportunity for an emerging YA author like myself.

In fact, I was so convinced that it was going to be the right fit for me, I kept the damn thing in my calendar until super close to the deadline, when I finally forced myself to give up on it.

I had to give up and let it go, because I actually didn’t have anything written that matched the criteria they were looking for.

Most people would probably go, “Oh well. I’ll try next time.”

samuel-beckett-playwright-go-on-failing-go-on-only-next-time-try-to
Beckett knows what’s up.

Not me. I was so doggedly determined that I would find a way to churn out a suitable piece of writing that I self-flagellated for weeks. There had to be a way, I told myself. I wanted to wring the creative juices out of my squishy grey brain. Come on! Produce something amazing, brain! Don’t you know this might be the only chance you ever get?!

And there it was. Suddenly, I understood why I drive myself so hard with these kinds of things.

Don’t you know this might be the only chance you ever get?!

This is what I’m scared of as a writer. This is why it’s hard to let go of opportunities; this is why I have a word document stacked with calls for submissions I want to submit to and simply never will; this is why every internet browser on my phone or laptop has 34293235 tabs open, because I’m trying to remember every call for submissions I’ve ever seen.

I’m scared the opportunity I pass up will be ‘the one’. The one opportunity that somehow makes everything change. The one that puts me on the map, gets me more noticed, makes a publisher slide her wheely office chair over to her shiny desk phone, dial my agent’s number and go, ‘Heyyyy, how would Holden like a ten-book deal for a million billion trillion bucks?’

*cough* Publishers: I am totally open to this and if you think it would be a neat idea to invest a million bucks in me just to see what happens (could be a fun experiment, right?), I am sure my agent would love to hear from you. *cough*

Ultimately, I’m scared of passing up an opportunity because there is a pervasive myth, with a kernel of truth to it, that floats around all creative people like a cruel mist. The myth is of the discovery of the artist. The big break. The thing that made everything change overnight.

We’ve all heard the stories of actors and musicians who got their big break in the most unlikely of ways. Writing is a little different – sometimes extremely different – but some of those “big break” stories still echo through our collective consciousness.

Matthew Reilly’s chance encounter with a Pan Macmillan publisher which took him from self-published nobody to multi-million selling blockbuster author.

Stephen King throwing the draft of Carrie in the bin, only to have his wife fish it out and convince him to keep going: it became his first published novel and made him the biggest author on the planet.

And don’t even get me started on J.K. Rowling and Bloomsbury.

Contest-cover-2
Matthew Reilly: from self-published nobody to multi-millionaire bestseller.

The point is, most of us know that finding long-term success as an author depends on two things: talent and luck. The fear is that even the most eloquent, brilliant author in history might languish in eternal obscurity if he never jags the right editor at the right publishing house who would have championed his work. So what hope do the rest of us have?

But I’ve decided it’s not healthy to fixate on every opportunity as being so desperately make-or-break.

Firstly, because if I get off my neurotic writer hamster wheel for two seconds, I realise it’s not realistic. None of these submissions are going to be career make-or-break moments.

Secondly, it simply isn’t true that there is only one chance to get this right.

We know about the big breaks of Matthew Reilly and Stephen King and J.K. Rowling, but it’s false to assume that their careers would never have happened if those exact moments of luck hadn’t happened.

In fact, I’m quite certain they would have had amazing careers nonetheless, because, as with all writers, writing is in their blood. If Contest hadn’t been picked up by a publisher, Matthew Reilly would have kept writing: in fact, he was already working on his second novel. Likewise, Stephen King would have written something different. J.K. Rowling would have kept querying Harry Potter to other publishers, or started work a lot earlier on The Casual Vacancy, perhaps.

And because writing is in their blood, they would have kept writing, and kept querying, and kept trying until they finally did get their big break. The success equation is not just talent plus luck. It is talent plus luck … plus resilience.

Almost every published author has a similar tale: a barrage of rejections, twists and turns until, finally, against all odds, they got their first book published. And then the whole cycle probably repeated again for book number two. It’s not an easy career for any of us, published or otherwise.

The point is this: there is no “one chance”, taken or missed, that determines our fate. It is our willingness to be dogged, and resilient, and continue to pursue our dreams in the face of rejection and naysayers, that increases the odds of our success exponentially.

We are more than one story, one call for submissions, one novel, one series, or one lead character. We are writers. We have whole universes nesting in the starry recesses of our subconscious minds. The possibilities are endless, and our entire careers and fates do not rest on one single missed opportunity or failed idea.

So, I was a big boy and I let go of that particular call for submissions. That particular opportunity wasn’t the path the universe has in store for me. So be it. And guess what? The deadline passed, and I was alive after it had. Bully for me.

Moving forward, I’m going to make a conscious effort to get less wound-up about individual opportunities. What has buoyed me this far in my career will get me through the rest of it – and that isn’t any single chance encounter: it is resilience.

Holden

He Shoots, He … Well, He Tried

A week ago, I set a whole bunch of what I thought were quite achievable goals, and I promised that I would check back in to say how I travelled.

I’m doing this because making a goal without actually reporting back on the outcome, whether good or bad, feels incomplete. And, especially if I didn’t do well, it would be all too easy to just never bring this up again.

But I’m not doing this either to beat myself up or to clap myself on the back, really. I’m doing it to keep myself accountable, and also to find out if the goals I set for myself are actually realistic or not.

So – how did I do?

1. Get up on time for the #5amwritersclub (four times)

I actually managed to hit this goal! I had to use my Saturday morning in order to do it, but I got there, and I’m pretty chuffed. Waking up early is hard and to be honest it’s rare that I’m out of bed bang on 5am, but getting up for work and knowing I’ve already done my writing hours for the day is a very good feeling: it means I can start the day in a happy haze, almost like a post-coital afterglow. As Robert Hass said, “It’s hell writing and it’s hell not writing. The only tolerable state is having just written.” This is very true.

2. Hit the Gym (four times)

My aim was to hit the gym four times, which is the new routine my trainer has set for me. The plan was to go on Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday and Sunday.

I manged to get to the gym three out of four times, which is not too bad and I’m not too bothered by missing the mark. Interestingly, I got there on Saturday instead of Friday, which has made me rethink how I’ll do this next time. Friday is one of my busiest days of the week with professional work and teaching at uni, so it makes absolutely no sense to try scheduling a workout in there, too.

Next week, I’m going to try for Tuesday, Wednesday, Saturday and Sunday. Thursday and Friday – my two most hectic days where I have a 1.5 hour commute each way to boot – will be kept sacrosanct, so when I get home I can just collapse. And Monday will be enshrined as my writing day, kept separate from every other commitment behind one of those thick velvet ropes.

3. Stick to my Meal Plan Perfectly (for seven days)

This is a big, fat, red-text fail. I already knew it would be hard not to snack while marking, and I held it together relatively well until Thursday, when the wheels fell off and I ended up spending $18 on creating the largest custom-made party mix known to mankind (and eating the entire thing in two days). In fact, in stark contrast to my goal, this week was probably the worst my diet has been for some time.

party mix extreme
My preciousssss!

On the upside, my meals were all still in line with my diet plan, and I still got in all my protein shakes and egg whites and all the plain meat and vegetables I’m supposed to consume. It’s just that my snacks got in the way, especially from Thursday to Saturday. Still, I live and learn. Not giving in to temporary setbacks and failure is how I’ve gotten anything I have in life: persistence is key, and eventually things fall into place.

4. Sleep a LOT

Yeah, look, I did sleep a lot, and I don’t really have anything exciting to say about it, other than I did what I set out to do. It takes some real goddamn skill to lay very still and do nothing for seven hours.

5. Don’t Burn Out Again

I didn’t burn out last week. The signs are starting to mount that I’m getting close to a burnout, though, so I need to start taking steps now to take proper care of myself.

6. Write a Blog Post

Bam! I nailed this. I think I wrote three blog posts in the space of a week: one about failure, one about new goals, and one which was a review of Louise Allan’s debut novel, The Sisters’ Song (which was remarkably successful compared to other reviews I’ve done ages ago, so maybe I need to do more of these!).

7. LIVE, DAMN YOU, LIVE!

I’m starting to realise that Holden is becoming a dull boy, and that’s really shitty, but I hardly did any living this past week. I set myself the goal of having the whole weekend to live and enjoy, and the reality was I ended up marking and editing and submitting short stories off to journals.

For whatever reason, my personality is so flawed that I find it difficult to find ways to have fun. I didn’t used to be like this, but the more I try to juggle everything at once (working several jobs, volunteering, writing, writer admin, gym) the more my fun time gets squeezed out of my schedule, like the last gasp of minty toothpaste from a rolled-up tube.

I really, really need to stop and take some time soon not just to rest, but to actively have fun.

On balance, despite fucking some of these goals up beyond all recognition, I reckon I did okay this past week. Most importantly, I’m keen to keep trying, and trying, until I get it right, which is, I reckon, the answer to most things in life.

Onwards and upwards.

Holden

 

 

You Lose. Continue?

When the wheels fall off my life, I like to use it as a chance to reassess what I’m doing.

And this last couple of weeks, the wheels did kinda fall off. I’m talking action-movie style, tyres spinning off into burning alleyways while the metal underbelly of the cab churned against bitumen, rose-gold sparks spraying into the air until I crashed into a truck and burst into flames.

I did it again, didn’t I? I over-inflated an innocent metaphor and killed the poor bastard. Well, fuck it. As a writer, I reserve the right to make a mountain out of sawdust.

Anyway, the whole life unravelling thing pissed me off all the more because I’d made a great start to April. In terms of writing productivity, I was more productive than at any time in my career, with the probable exception of my NaNoWriMo efforts. It’s all thanks to my involvement in the Perth troupe (band? auxiliary? battalion?) of the #5amwritersclub. A bunch of us from across WA check in with each other on Twitter at 5am, churn out some writing and by 7am or so, we’re done. We keep each other accountable, get work done, and foster friendships by communicating solely through monosyllabic grunts, GIFs and references to how much we hate being awake at 5am.

everything is awesome
The official theme song to the #5amwritersclub.

Although I was initially kind of coerced into it, joining the club is one of the best decisions I’ve made for my writing career. Since joining in March, I’ve already used my early starts to complete three short story drafts: one called SECURITY, about a security guard (defo need a better title); one called MOONLIGHT (which has a title I love); and one based on my career as a banker, which I am not going to name yet for a couple of reasons.

Not only does developing a regular, early-morning writing practice boost my productivity, it also helps me start each day with a sense of achievement. I can get ready for work in the knowledge that I’ve already done my creative writing for the day, and I don’t need to stress about fitting it in when I get home all exhausted from my hellish day that nobody could possibly understand  fairly cushy university job.

But because writing in the #5amwritersclub makes my day, and my week, so much brighter, it wields the power of a double-edged sword – much like the kind Mickey Rourke tried to kill me with. (Sorry, I’m a hardcore 30 Rock fan and can’t write the words “double-edged sword” without making that reference.)

double edged sword
Gets me every time.

The point is – if I make it to the #5amwritersclub, I’m all pumped for the day. If I miss it, I’m back in Hulk Smash mode.

And so for the past couple of weeks, when I was staying up too late and overtired from work and marking papers, I began to struggle to wake up at 5am at all. Even 6am became impossible. I faltered. I was waking up more tired than when I went to bed, and I barely appeared at the morning roll call. And then last week I pretty much threw it in entirely and gave up.

Then it flowed on to everything: my eating (my meals were fine, but I snacked a lot while marking … helloooo Lindt dark chocolate), my exercise schedule (I only did two and a half workouts instead of four), my sleep (don’t have to be up at 5am? browse the Internet until you pass out!) and my overall wellbeing (I became overwhelmed and overstimulated by even the slightest things).

I even went to write a blog post about how I was failing at everything, and then I couldn’t even make the time for that. It sat there for days with nothing but a vague title that I later deleted.

Yes, I literally failed at writing about how I was failing.

I pushed all my writing tasks and the things I wanted to do back further and further, until they were looming over my weekend, and then I got sick. I left work on Friday with a sore throat, checked in the mirror to see lumps of pus the size of Ukraine on my tonsils, and called it a week. I flopped on the couch after work, and when I woke up I was dizzy and exhausted.

tired af
Failure can be so exhausting.

I spent most of Saturday in bed, steamrollered, and that was the point at which I stopped trying to make my week less of a failure. You know what? It just was. The whole week sucked. I sucked. Everything sucked.

Oddly, once I just accepted that, it became a lot easier for me to bear.

I have such a resistance to failure. Maybe it’s my own overachiever personality, or maybe the way society generally encourages us not to associate with failure (because who wants to be a loser?), but I really resist accepting when I’m beat.

But I think, sometimes, it’s okay to acknowledge that your week, or month, didn’t go the way you planned. You didn’t get everything done that you wanted to get done. Goals and deadlines went unmet. Perfection was not attained.

You failed.

And I’m learning that failure does not kill you; resisting it does.

And treating a one-off failure as a permanent state of being can paralyse you.

So, I’m going to try to view my failed week in the same way I view my successful weeks. That is, having a whole week of failure as a writer, just like having a whole week of success, is:

  • temporary
  • part of the process
  • normal
  • acceptable
  • survivable
  • not a permanent state of being
  • does not mean next week will necessarily be the same
  • not indicative of my value as an author
  • not indicative of my value as a homo sapien

In the fighting video game Tekken (or at least, in the 90s era Tekken 2), losing a fight resulted in the game announcing in a sinister, almost mocking voice:

“YOU LOSE.”

But it was never GAME OVER immediately. The game always gave you a choice to continue. You could go on fighting, maybe learn from your defeat, modify your technique and come back again with a win, or you could give up and choose game over. The choice always remained with the player.

michelle tekken
Come on, Michelle! GET UP! Ganryu won’t uppercut himself.

Having a shitty week is a gift in a way, because it gives me a choice: I could accept my bad week as game over, or I could spam the X button to continue the game and try again.

And the vigour with which I hit that X button tells me everything I need to know about myself. That I don’t need to worry about failures and setbacks, as long as I get back up, brush myself off and try one more time to defeat Kazuya.

So, I spent Sunday night reassessing, and making new goals for the week ahead, and here I am at #5amwritersclub, writing a new blog post. That’s one goal down.

It’s a new day, and a new week lies ahead, spread out like a dewy valley, untrammelled by either my boots or my neurosis. Anything can happen if I make it happen.

So, I’m back in the saddle and ready to get some shit done, but I think failure deserves three cheers for getting me back here.

Holden