Part two of an interview with Tansy Rayner Roberts

In part two of my interview with Tansy Rayner Roberts, Tansy explains how she promotes herself as a writer.

The cover for Ink Black Magic, Book 3 in the Mocklore Chronicles trilogy.

The cover for Ink Black Magic,
Book 3 of Tansy’s Mocklore Chronicles trilogy.

Did you plan the promotional websites or have they evolved as a result of the projects you’ve been involved with?
They’ve absolutely evolved. I’ve been blogging for at least a decade, but made the shift from Livejournal to a proper blog with my own URL round about the time that the Creature Court books were first published with HarperVoyager. When a new social media platform comes along I will usually have a play with it, and set something up, but I am wary of over-stretching myself. My blog remains as the central online place to find me, and I tie everything back to it as much as possible. Livia Day [Tansy’s nom-de-plume for crime fiction] is a bit neglected on the social media side – I find it too straining to pretend to be another person – but I have a basic site for her if people go hunting for the name and books.

You’re often busy on Twitter. Did you make a decision to avoid Facebook?
I don’t avoid Facebook at all! I’m more active on there now than I have ever been. I still love Twitter best – but I used to just mirror tweets on Facebook for years before a friend told me kindly to stop, because it’s really obvious.

Part of me has regretted those early sales, before I was entirely ‘cooked’ as an author.

I generally use Facebook to keep an eye on actual people I know, and don’t get to catch up with as often as I’d like. Twitter is something I enjoy for conversations across the international community. I put links to every blog post on both platforms, and convey news about my books etc. but otherwise I don’t really use them for promotion as such – I don’t think social media works that way. I prefer to use it for communication and fun and that instant ‘I don’t have a water cooler because I work from home’ chat that livens up the day. The good thing about that attitude is that I never convince myself that hanging out on Twitter for an hour is the same as doing an hour of work.

Do you give talks about your writing and books? Do you have a particular approach to public speaking or do you ‘wing it’?
I love to talk. I don’t do enough of things like school visits – I really should, but I’m constantly snowed under, so it’s not something I actively seek out. I often go to conventions though, and will speak at writers festivals when I’m asked. I was recently invited to the Beaconsfield Festival of Golden Words and loved it – I got to talk to a classroom of kids about writing, and then I got to be on panels as both Tansy and Livia!

My process is to figure out what’s wanted – if they want a formal speech, I will prepare something. But I know from experience that I am excellent at winging it, and so I will rely on that rather a lot. If there’s someone to ask questions, like at a panel, then I know that I don’t need much pre-planning at all. It helps to know that, because I get terribly nervous before presenting, and the earlier I start thinking about what I’m actually going to say, the earlier I get nervous. So I often terrify people by refusing to think about public appearances AT ALL until the very last minute. It almost always turns out wonderfully!

Tell me about your involvement with the crowdfunded Cranky Ladies of History project. Do you believe it is necessary to fund small press publications in this way nowadays?
I don’t think it’s necessary as such – though there is more of a strain on small presses than ever before, because a lot of the niche work of quality that used to come their way is now being self-published by authors. But crowdfunding can be an excellent business model for small presses and solo authors alike – it’s a brilliant way to create buzz around a project, and to check that it’s viable before you go to the presses. Not just having the money up front to print a book, which is fabulous, but also having your readers committed.

It’s heartbreaking at times – I have a lot of friends who are small publishers – to see them sink so much time and money and unpaid effort into a work that they think will have a solid audience, only for it not to find that audience.

Cranky Ladies of History was crowdfunded for one simple reason – Tehani [Wessely from Fablecroft] and I wanted to make the book, and we wanted to be able to pay pro rates to authors. Small presses can often get very good writers to work for them for a smaller amount of money because they have other things to offer – great editing, personal involvement in book decisions, and most importantly, a modern, flexible and collaborative approach to digital publishing, something that many of the larger publishers are seriously falling behind on.

So Tehani was always planning to print the book herself, and cover those basic publishing costs that she always does. The crowdfunding allowed us to test the idea to see if it had legs (people loved it! The title of the book created half the buzz) and also to raise the funds to pay authors what they are worth. It meant we could approach some seriously big name authors to take part, but also means that the newer writers who take part will be paid substantially as well.

My blog remains as the central online place to find me, and I tie everything back to it as much as possible.

Many of the authors helped out with the campaign – and even authors who didn’t have time to write a pitch or story for us volunteered to spread the word. Others wrote blog posts for our Cranky Ladies of History blog tour, which celebrated Women’s History Month. It was a mad, glorious festival of retweeting, and we were so excited to make not only the target goal, but our stretch goals, so the book will be illustrated now and have more stories in it than originally planned.

If you could travel back in time to the moment before you sent off your first manuscript, what advice would you give yourself?
That’s a tricky one! Part of me has regretted those early sales, before I was entirely ‘cooked’ as an author. A debut is a terrible thing to waste, and I do feel at times that mine was a bit soggy. I had my expectations rather horrible dashed within a year or two – coping with your first novel rejection after being published feels much worse than working up to an acceptance slowly! But without that first sale, I wouldn’t have learned half the lessons about writing and publishing that I did, and I wouldn’t have had the opportunity to earn an income as a creative writing teacher for so many years.

I think sometimes, these days, authors are in such a hurry to be published, and because they can do it themselves, they hurl themselves into the fray. And I wince, because I see authors who start getting published later in their lives who seem to do a better job than I did of turning one or two sales into a proper steady career. It’s a tiny bit painful to have your juvenilia out there, published as a real book, when you know you can do better now. But I guess most of us feel that way about books we wrote 15 years ago?

My path to and from publication may have some bumps (and dips!) in it, but it’s mine, and I don’t think I’d do anything differently. I would tell my younger self to go ahead, post the manuscript, publish and be damned! (But also to write more books before having kids. Trust me on this.)

Tansy, thank you!


Tansy Rayner Roberts

Tansy Rayner Roberts

Tansy Rayner Roberts is a fantasy author who lives with her partner and two daughters in Hobart, Tasmania. Mind-bogglingly prolific, Tansy has edited Andromeda Spaceways, co-edited AustrAlien Absurdities and promoted (and will co-edit) the Cranky Ladies of History project for Fablecroft. Tansy is one of the three voices of the Hugo-nominated Galactic Suburbia podcast. She also writes crime fiction as Livia Day.
Tansy has won Aurealis, Ditmar and Washington Small Press Short Fiction awards. She won the Hugo award for Best Fan Writer in 2013.

Tansy’s blog: Stitching words, one thread at a time.
Website for Tansy’s nom-de-plume: Livia Day.
Tansy’s Creature Court trilogy.
The Galactic Suburbia podcast.
To promote the Livia Day series.
The Cranky Ladies of History project on Fablecroft, on Pozible and on Pinterest.

You can also find Tansy on Twitter as @liviadaysleuth and @tansyrr.


Interview with Tasmanian fantasy author, Tansy Rayner Roberts

Tansy Rayner Roberts is a prolific fantasy author. In the following interview, she talks about her writing career.

Photo of fantasy author, Tansy Rayner Roberts

Fantasy author,
Tansy Rayner Roberts

Tansy, can you tell me how you first came to be published?
I always feel a bit guilty about telling this story, because my path to publication is no help to anyone! I entered the George Turner Prize (which no longer exists) for an unpublished SF/F novel, and I won! Splashdance Silver was bought by Transworld in 1998 when I was just nineteen years old, and published a few months later. It was at a time when there was a very set idea in Australia about what fantasy fiction was like, and my book was very different – it was a comedy about pirates and explosive magic.

How have you developed your writing craft?
Absolutely through practice. I spent most of my teens writing novel after novel, and reading voraciously. Formal study was never much use to me because the creative writing teachers I had access to were not sympathetic at all to genre. I actually learned a lot from teaching, as well – through a stroke of luck I fell into work as a creative writing teacher at night school through my twenties, and developed several regular courses, mostly for beginner writers. There was often one or at most two writers in each class who were there because I was a fantasy writer, and I did my best to give them more genre-specific support than I ever found myself.

I actually only quit teaching back when I had a trilogy deal with HarperVoyager and realised that to get the books finished and to make them good, I needed to not be thinking about the beginner end of writing for a while – I had to push myself beyond the basics.

The most useful professional development I did over the last decade and a half or so was as part of the ROR group – a collection of SF and fantasy writers who wanted to work on our skills collaboratively, because there are so few development options available to you once you’ve sold your first novel, but still so much learning to do. Every year and a half or so, we would exchange manuscripts and then all go away together for a long weekend to exchange critiques. It was an amazing experience, though sadly we struggle to find time for those getaways any more – mostly for good reasons like publisher deadlines!

How has being a parent influenced your writing?
That’s so hard to answer! Being a parent is who I am now – nine years and counting – I hardly remember who that person was, before my first daughter came along. Most of the everyday effects of being a parent vs not a parent that I actually think about do involve time management, and all that practical stuff. But all life experiences inform my writing, and I think I’m a more interesting person in my thirties than I was when I was younger – my kids and partner and parenting experience are all part of that.

You wear many hats as a writer. You’re also an editor and have reviewed an impressive list of titles. You write in the speculative fiction and crime genres (as Livia Day), for children, and publish through different publishing houses. Was this a deliberate decision or something that comes naturally to you?

I’ve never been able to settle to just one kind of writing or work – on the one hand, I might have a more effective “author brand” (ugh) if I did. But today’s publishing industry is so scattered, it’s hard to limit yourself to one kind of opportunity. I got involved with small press publishing and editing at a time when I had been dropped as a writer from my previous publisher – and I was burned out on writing novels. That gave me amazing experience that I could feed into other writing work, and also introduced me to some wonderful people in the SF community. Reading and reviewing helped me to keep a foot in that community even when my professional side was elsewhere – studying, or working.

As for publishing across multiple houses – if you’re not a bestseller, you can’t afford not to keep moving, spreading your work across different platforms. If one publisher doesn’t like a particular book, maybe the next one will. I’m lucky at the moment to have two wonderful indie presses publishing my work – Twelfth Planet Press has published a lot of my short fiction, and now the Livia Day novels. Many of the awards I have won have been down to the work Twelfth Planet Press has published.

Meanwhile, Tehani of Fablecroft has reprinted my old Mocklore novels including my debut Splashdance Silver, and recently launched the long-unpublished third Mocklore Chronicle, Ink Black Magic. She is going to publish some collections of my essays later this year, and we collaborated together on crowdfunding the Cranky Ladies of History anthology. I rarely have time for editing these days, but a great project can occasionally lure me back…

Cover for Livia Day's A Trifle Dead

A Trifle Dead, published under Tansy’s nom-de-plume, Livia Day.

Can you tell me about using Hobart, Tasmania as a setting for your crime novels?
I live and breathe Hobart! I’ve lived here all my life. I was always a bit hesitant about writing my own city when I was younger – it seemed much more intimidating than making up a world from scratch. But I’m hooked now. My first Hobart-set longer work was the novella ‘Siren Beat’ which had a kraken invade the Derwent River. Mostly I use it for the ‘real world’ work like Livia Day’s novels – and I have occasionally paced a few streets, though I am also lazy and use Google Earth when I need a refresher on a particular area. For the second novel, Drowned Vanilla, I invented a town just south of Cygnet [also in Tasmania], because my mother lives in that area and I didn’t want to offend anyone by making the population of a real town too nasty!

Your work is published with a number of houses: Fablecroft, Twelfth Planet Press and Harper Voyager, as well as writing for children with ABC Books. Is there any particular reason for this?
Different projects, different publishers. It’s very rare for an author to stick with a single publisher for their whole career – unless you’re making millions, and even then, there are often reasons to change! Publishing houses have different priorities and modes, and of course it’s all about what a commissioning editor will buy. I’ve been lucky to work with some of the very best in recent years, whether that’s Stephanie Smith at HarperVoyager (now sadly retired!) or Alisa and Tehani with their boutique presses.

Do you have an agent?
Not currently. I have had at various stages of my career. The last one and I parted company amicably after the Voyager trilogy – we weren’t a good fit for each other. I am aiming for an American agent now, because getting my work out of Australia has been the biggest challenge – but it’s a tough time. The last book I wrote was the one I was hoping would be my breakout, but it’s only swum in circles and is still unpublished. I’m resting it right now and working on a new novel that I will shop around agents in the hope of finding the right person. It’s a tricky business, matching agent to author.

In a few days I’ll post part two of this interview, where Tansy talks about how she promotes herself as a writer.

Learning styles & writing

A sheet of blank paper, paints and pens

How do you like to work?

During an otherwise dull class I recently attended, I made an odd discovery. As a student, one of my tasks was to take the VARK test. After answering 16 questions about how you like to learn, you receive a score identifying your learning preferences.

Turns out, my preferred learning style isn’t particularly well suited for being a writer. My Read/Write score was low (2), while my Visual score was high at 8, followed by Kinesthetic learning at 4.

Hmm. My opportunistic brain wondered if I could use this information to help me with my writing.

In the last few weeks, I’ve been experimenting with strategies preferred by non-Read/Write types. In the process, I’ve found writing to be much more pleasurable and stimulating. The techniques have been an especially good way way to get started on writing for the day.

Drawing on the VARK information about learning styles, here are my tips to draw on your preferred learning style for writing.

Use coloured pencils, textas, highlighters or crayons to take notes.
Draw mindmaps to outline your story.
Use coloured sticky notes on a board or table to keep track of plots.
Use diagrams to detail character relationships.
Create family trees for your characters.
Use paintings for inspiration.

Use direct experience as research. For example, if your character loves football, attend a footy match. If your character is a wine buff, visit a winery.
Immerse yourself in your character’s world. Visit the house she grew up in. Walk the streets she walks. Immediately afterwards, write about these settings.
Use meditation to regulate your body before or after writing.
Use awareness of your emotions and physicality to describe how a character feels. When you feel angry, take note of how you feel physically and write about it.
Write a monologue in your character’s voice and act it out.

Read your story aloud and record it as a way of revising.
Do research by listening to dialogue on the bus or train.
If you’re stuck on plot, talk about your story to a friend.
As a way of setting the scene, listen to music before writing.

Use dictionaries, thesauri, quotations and sentence fragments as sources of inspiration for your work.
Cherry-pick the vocabulary from a story by one of your favourite authors. Use these words as the basis for a new story.

Have you taken the VARK test? (It’s free!) Were the results surprising?

Do you use any non-Read/Write strategies to enhance your writing ‘learning’?

Small, sensory pleasures

A garden path

Losing yourself in a garden is one of life’s sensory pleasures

One of my favourite writers is the Japanese author, Haruki Murakami. What I most enjoy about his stories are his evocations of the small, sensory pleasures of life.

I wanted to share some of my own everyday sensory experiences. Thinking about them helps me slip into a creative mode of thinking. I’ve also found them useful as a starting point for story mindmaps.

Here then is my short list of small, sensory pleasures. Feel free to share your own in the comments section. I’d also be interested in hearing how you use sensory experiences in your writing.

The plop of a letter falling on other letters in the mailbox
Cutting flowers from the garden and arranging them in jam jars
Spreading icing on a cake
Spreading thick paint on a smooth surface
Shaping potter’s clay
Hand-feeding a horse
A warm hug
Walking barefoot on white sand
Spotting a bird of prey flying high on an air current
The scent of flowers – native orchids are my favourite, with native boronia not far behind
The smell of salt and seaweed wafting off the marshes
Maple syrup dripping onto freshly-cooked pancakes – both the smell and sensation
The smell of freshly-ground coffee
A child giving a shy ‘hello’

My public accountability experiment

Currently I’m working on a story for a speculative fiction anthology, and it’s not going well. Despite having (in my opinion), a great premise and great title – I’m finding it difficult to finish the story. It’s getting harder to find time to work on it, and when I do, I feel stuck or disenchanted with what I’ve written.

As part of my procrastination, I’ve been reading a book that delves into why we do things that aren’t in our best interests. Written by science writer, David DiSalvo, the book is titled What makes your brain happy and why you should do the opposite. In one chapter, he explains motivation and how public accountability, ie making a public commitment, can motivate you to achieve your goal. It’s often used by weight-loss companies as a strategy to help people lose weight. The idea is, you make a public announcement, maybe via a notice on a noticeboard or in front of a group. The motivation to reach the goal comes from the embarrassment you’ll feel if you don’t reach the goal.

I admit embarrassment is not a pleasant source of motivation. But after getting halfway through DiSalvo’s book I’ve come to realise what’s best for me isn’t always pleasant. However according to DiSalvo, research revealed great results for those who made a public commitment – even for people who are not easily influenced by the opinions of others.

In the past, making a public commitment hasn’t worked that well for me. I’ve attempted NaNoWriMo twice. The first time, work swallowed all my free time, meaning I barely managed 10,000 words. The second time I wrote 30,000 words – well short of the requisite 50,000. I think what happens is I believe writing 50,000 words in a month is unachievable. Either that or I’m not particularly influenced by what others think of me and my writing capabilities.

This goal, though, is different to the NaNoWriMo goal. The word count (2,000-12,000) is achievable, I’m comfortable with the story’s structure and I’ve got a reasonable draft ready to be revised. I really want to send my short story off in time to be considered for the anthology, so I’ve decided to try public accountability as a motivator.

Here then, is my public commitment:

My speculative fiction short story is to be completed, proofread, formatted, tinkered with and finalised. On Wednesday the 26th of February, 2014, I will email the story off to the publisher.

Will my story be accepted for publication? After the 26th of February, it’s up to the editor. For me though, this time round, it’s all about the deadline.

What motivates you to meet your writing goals?
Have you shared your goals with your writing group or participated in NaNoWriMo?
Did being publicly accountable work for you?

Click here if you want to find out more about DiSalvo’s book.

Travel blogging – from the beginning

In this guest post, Carly Ledbetter explains how she got started as a travel blogger and copywriter.

Before I left the US to study abroad in London, one of my professors gave me a simple request, ‘Write a blog’.

Carly Ledbetter, embarrassed in London.

Now this is embarrassing!

My first thought was quite the opposite – no way was I going to write a blog. Who would want to read my writing? I’m boring and won’t have anything to talk about! Even though I’ve been writing since I was very little (probably around 5th grade), I’d only ever shared travel journals with family or close friends. Having my writing out in the open, on the Internet of all places, was not only daunting, but potentially very embarrassing!

Just to spite my professor, I ended up going to Barnes and Noble to buy a notebook. On the plane ride to London I began to scribble away, but by about Day 3 I was itching to try my hand at travel blogging. I’d read my flatmate’s blogs, and I figured that I could give it a try. I wrote my first post, named it something inappropriate (Bonking Norah), and then emailed the link to my family. Being family, they praised my work and encouraged me to share it with other people. I figured it wouldn’t hurt to try, so I started sharing my posts on Facebook.

I never took my laptop when I travelled because I stayed in hostels and was too cheap to pay for a storage locker.

Within ten minutes of posting it, Bonking Norah took off. Friends started commenting on the blog, sharing posts, and messaging me their concerns about my well-being (I have a knack for getting into trouble). In a few short days I would go from being too embarrassed to post to tracking page views on Google Analytics. I was so excited that people were reading my writing that I almost started doing crazy things just so more people would read it.

Carly Ledbetter and her friend dressed in Union Jack T-shirts for Jubilee Weekend in London.

Carly and her friend were very serious about Jubilee Weekend in London.

Along with the joys that normally accompany writing and telling stories, there were also a few difficulties. For one thing, my embarrassing moments on the trip were out there for everyone to read, and I had to be okay with that. I also never took my laptop when I travelled because I stayed in hostels and was too cheap to pay for a storage locker that still might get broken into. That meant keeping notes in my phone, or writing down things the old-fashioned way (which I actually prefer). At one point during the summer, my computer stopped working because of the amount of pictures and videos that I’d loaded, so I’m still uploading old posts from nearly a year ago. Despite these difficulties, I was still able to attract thousands of views and entertain a lot of people.

But the reason behind the success of my blog was not necessarily because of my writing style or my lack of grammatical knowledge – Bonking Norah was successful because I had great adventures and then wrote about them. Ryan Holiday, a successful, young American writer, wrote an amazing article called So You Want to Be a Writer? That’s Mistake #1 about not just becoming a good writer, but ‘do[ing] interesting things’. It’s an important article that I not only totally agree with, but I think every single budding writer needs to read. Even though I’m still updating my blog a year later (which makes it less timely or relevant) it’s okay because people are still interested in the things I did. My adventures were not only fun, but they also landed me a job.

Blogging about my experience in London literally changed my entire career path during the summer before my senior year of college. I went to London for a legal internship, but found that the moment I looked forward to the most was writing my blog before I went to bed. When I returned to the States, I knew that I wanted to forgo law school (at least for the time being) and try my hand at being a writer. The change in careers paid off, and I’m now employed writing for GetDirectTV. If you go to the website, you can actually see the copy I’ve created for Internet customers. Writing for my day job just makes it all the more fun to come home and write for awesome blogs like this one.

Bonking Norah was successful because I had great adventures and then wrote about them.

The professor that encouraged me to write the blog while I was in the UK emailed me during the height of my blogging that summer. She loved that I’d taken her advice to heart, but had one piece of advice left for me, ‘Learn to use a semi-colon properly’. When travel-blogging, one can only focus on so much. But focus on the adventures, and the rest should follow. Happy writing to you!

Carly Ledbetter with some new friends in Galway, after a Mumford & Sons concert.

Carly with new friends in Galway, after a Mumford & Sons concert.

Carly Ledbetter is a copywriter for GetDirectTV by day, and a struggling creative writer by night. She is a recent graduate of Elon University where she played volleyball and annoyed a lot of professors. You can read about more of her adventures by checking out her Bonking Norah blog. (Carly didn’t understand that ‘bonking’ was slang for something dirty, and hopefully you don’t either.)

A writer’s inspiration

In this guest post, Tasmanian author Heather Kinnane explains what inspires her to write.

A beautiful creek near Heather Kinnane's home in Deloraine in the Meander Valley Tasmania.

One of the beautiful settings near Heather’s home.

The inspiration for my stories comes from all around me. The tagline of my website introduces me as a writer of ‘steamy stories of all genres’, and while this is technically true, fantasy has always been my favourite genre to read and write. Fairies and magic and hidden doorways to other realms – all of these spark my imagination in ways that other settings simply can’t. It’s no surprise really, that my first major publication is a fantasy story involving the Fae!

Where better to find inspiration for such stories, than the surrounds of my home in the Meander Valley, in Tasmania’s north. It’s a centre of creativity here, being the home of Australia’s premier arts and craft event, the Tasmanian Craft Fair. I’m sure the creative energy of the place has helped me with my writing!

The scenery here is breathtaking, and I’m lucky enough to have a pretty amazing view from my home. The Great Western Tiers looms up in the distance, an impressive backdrop to the low hills and paddocks of cows and sheep. This great mountain range is ever-changing with the light and the seasons. As I write this, it’s covered with a generous dumping of snow, and looks absolutely stunning! (Sitting inside by the wood fire means I have the delightful view, without the chill!)

A waterfall near Heather Kinnane's home in Deloraine, Tasmania.

Natural settings inspire Heather to write and keep writing.

The Tasmanian wilderness is a short drive away. Whenever I can, I escape to the bush to recharge my batteries and find some more fodder for my stories. The bright green of the moss covered trees, and the myriad of colours of the lichen and fungi to be found sprouting amongst the fallen leaf-litter and emerging from the decaying plant matter littering the forest floor all add to the experience … along with the mysterious tunnels and entrance-ways caused by fallen trees and rotting branches.

A little closer to home, the Meander River meanders (hehe!) through the township of Deloraine, and when I need my bush ‘fix’ but can’t get there, I take the walking track around the river, sometimes going through the caravan park to explore the Wild Wood reserve beyond.

Fairies and magic and hidden doorways to other realms – all of these spark my imagination in ways other settings simply can’t.

All of the above helps spark my imagination and increases the flow of inspiration. And usually, once I’ve had that initial spark, the rest of the story flows easily; as long I as I write every day, and just keep on writing – even when the story seems to be stuck.

This is the point where I draw on my second source of inspiration – other people’s achievements. They don’t have to be fellow writers either. Any news story of someone who has worked hard and achieved their dream is enough to get me focused. Inspirational and motivational quotes also help get me back into gear. Of course the best motivation of all is that from the other members of my writing group, whose achievements and encouragement are great inspiration to reach the point where I write those two critical words: ‘The End’.

Heather’s debut novel, A Faery Dream, will be published by Steam eReads later this month. You can read more about her on her author page at Steam eReads, or click here to visit her website.

Photos for this article courtesy Heather Kinnane.