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Dangerous Research on The Burning Sea – Sean McMullen

Sean McMullenToday I am delighted to welcome Sean McMullen back to From Hook to Book to celebrate the launch of his latest fantasy novel The Burning Seathe first of six books in The Warlock’s Child series, co-authored by Paul Collins and published by Ford Street Publishing.

Fans will be thrilled to learn that they won’t have to wait long for the following five books in the series, one due to be released each month April through September.

Congratulations againSean, and thank you very much also for sharing some of your research methodology and tips below, as well as a few traps that I recognise all too well.

First a little background: Sean sold his first stories in the late 1980s and has become one of Australia’s top science fiction and fantasy authors. In the late 90s he established himself in the American market, and his work has been translated into Polish, French, Japanese and other languages.The settings for Sean’s work range from the Roman Empire, through Medieval Europe, to cities of the distant future. His work is a mixture of romance, invention and adventure, while populated by strange but dynamic characters. His novelette Eight Miles was runner-up in the 2011 Hugo Awards and his next novelette Ninety Thousand Horses won the Analog Readers’ Award in 2013.

Book 1 - BURNING SEA - front cover

There is no lower rank than cabin boy on the warship Invincible. But Dantar knows he is important, because anyone who threatens his life gets turned into a pile of ashes. His older sister Velza is a shapecasting warrior, in a world where only men fight. Until now. Together they must solve the mystery of broken magic and escape the dragon.

Now, over to Sean.

Dangerous Research

Just after World War Two the Soviets were developing an atomic bomb. Their spies stole a sample of enriched uranium from the Americans and analysed it. It was not as pure as the Soviets’ uranium, and a minister boasted about this to an abducted German scientist. He replied that the Americans had only refined their uranium enough to get an explosion. The more pure Soviet uranium would give exactly the same explosion. They had gone to a lot of extra trouble and expense for nothing.

Sound familiar? Have you ever begun some research that should have taken ten minutes then spent the entire day reading something interesting? When you are doing research you need to know when to stop.

There are three types of research. The first is just writing from your background. The second is learning all about a subject by reading lots and lots. The third is just checking details. Why is all this important? When Paul Collins asked me to collaborate on the series The Warlock’s Child, I had four months to add seventy thousand words to the existing file. This meant no time for spurious research.

Much of our series is set aboard ships. I have helped out on yachts, and an ancestor of mine served on the Bounty, so I knew a bit about life on sailing ships. This meant I could write nearly all the shipboard material without any extra research. Depend as much as you can on this sort of research. It’s already done.

I did quite a lot of the second type of research, because I needed to know how ships fought before they had cannons. This is getting the background right, and you can do it with textbooks. You need to do this before you start writing. Our series was a fantasy involving medieval warfare at sea, which I did not know much about. Why use textbooks, when writing fantasy? I once assessed an unpublished novel with a supposedly medieval setting that also had steam trains and machine guns, and where people said things like “Hey you guys, let’s get outa here!” in moments of stress. Even fantasy needs a convincing backdrop.

The third type of research is the most dangerous, and takes discipline. How long does a sailing ship take to travel a hundred miles? How far can an arrow fly? You can check facts like there on the internet, but you will be tempted to keep reading. Resist that temptation. Why learn enough to write a PhD on archery, when all you wanted to know in the first place was how far to stand from a castle wall to be out of bowshot?

If your name is Suzanna Clarke and you are taking ten years to write Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell, no problem, take all the time you like to do your research. I have to be careful how much research I let myself do, because my schedules are measured in months.

The Warlock’s Child series (readers 10+)

Coming Soon: 

Book 2 - Dragonfall Mountain - front cover      Book 3 - The Iron Claw - front cover

Book 4 - Trial by Dragons - front cover      Book 5 - VOYAGE TO MORTICAS - front cover

Book 6 - THE GUARDIANS - front cover

If you’d like to check out some of Sean’s other works, you can visit his website here and co-author Paul Collins here.

The Burning Sea is published by Ford Street Publishing: ISBN 9781925000924

 

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Paul Collins – Writing Across Genres

Today I’m excited to welcome award-winning author/publisher Paul Collins to share his experience writing across genres and celebrate the launch of not just one, but two new books.

Paul CollinsEMiPaul is best known for The Quentaris Chronicles, which he co-edits with Michael Pryor, The Jelindel Chronicles, The Earthborn Wars and The World of Grrym trilogy in collaboration with Danny Willis.

Paul has been short-listed for many awards and won the Aurealis, William Atheling and the inaugural Peter McNamara awards. He has had two Notable Books in the Children’s Book Council of Australia Awards.

Congratulations, Paul, on the recent release of both The Only Game in the Galaxy (book three in the The Maximus Black Files) and your first adult novel The Beckoning.

You have been published in an incredibly diverse range of genres from picture story book/chapter book/YA fantasy and science fiction through to adult thriller. A very impressive range. I’m curious to know how you cross genres so successfully both from the writing and promotional aspects.

It’s really a matter of encompassing cross-subsidisation. Writers are notoriously the worst paid workers around. Who else would work for a year and risk not being paid? Writers do this all the time. So early on I realised that if I were to make writing a full time career, I needed to work several jobs, and jobs that allowed me to write. Hence, I opened bookshops. These didn’t pay much, so I worked as a bouncer in hotels at nights. During the day, I’d write stories in my various shops. This worked for around twenty-five years until I started making more from my writing than both my security work and bookshops. I knew I had to edit anthologies, write chapter books and non-fiction titles for education publishers, and as an indulgence, ‘real’ books. I say ‘real’ meaning thicker, substantial books. But even though I’ve been published by most of the major publishers, I have to admit that these ‘real’ books aren’t in any way lucrative. I don’t want to sound like it’s a monetary thing, but if you’re serious about being a career author, you do need to look at what you make from it. I’ve never received writing grants.

ONLY GAME FRONT Newsletter

With two concurrent newly published titles, The Only Game in the Galaxy and The Beckoning, how are you splitting/sharing your promotional time and energy on such different projects and readerships?

This was tough in one sense as I’m primarily known as a writer for younger readers. But luckily for me most of my contacts were curious as to how I came to write an adult horror novel. Most wondered where I found the time. But this in itself proved a marketable story. I wrote it around 30 years ago – the counter of several bookshops as I mentioned. I typed it onto a computer in the 90s, saved it via various storage devices such as 3.5 floppies, CDs, zip drives, USB sticks. Suddenly I noticed on Buzz Words that Damnation Books was after horror books so figured what the heck, I’d submit it. So all the blogs I wrote and interviews I gave, I got to mention The Beckoning, although primarily people were interested in The Only Game in the Galaxy. So they both got equal billing. And it seems to have worked. Both titles made the Top 100 on various Amazon pages. The Beckoning actually made #7 on the psychic thriller page, just six spots behind Stephen King’s latest novel. It’s been in the Top 100 ever since it was published. The Only Game in the Galaxy is also in the Top 100 on the spies’ page.

The Beckoning is your first published adult novel. What (if any) differences or contrasts can you make between writing for young adult readers and writing for adult readers?

Not much, really. Simply because most kids books have, surprise, surprise, kids in them. The Beckoning also features a kid. But whereas a kid’s book would be told from the kid’s POV, an adults book focuses on an adult’s POV. So The Beckoning is told from Briony’s father’s POV.

The Beckoning _150dpi_eBook

The Beckoning was thirty years from first writing to publication. How much changed since that original version and in what ways did you need to alter it to suit a changed world and readership?

 Believe it or not, very little. A few things have changed, such as the cost of living, mobile phones and such, but generally the novel stood the test of time. I was tempted to ‘set’ the time period as mid eighties, but there was no need to. I did change some text to suit the US market, but that too was minimal. The Beckoning is a real time capsule to what I was writing back then. I was recently reminded that I also have another horror novel sitting in a box somewhere. Unfortunately this one was never converted to a computer, so I’d need to find time to type it again. And who knows, perhaps it’s best left in the box. I have to say I’m staggered by the reviews The Beckoning is getting. Over the thirty years it’s been rejected by many publishers. The closest it came to being published was reaching the long list of Lothian’s short-lived adult horror series.

Paul, you have said that there is nothing to like about Maximus Black as a character, breaking a taboo in publishing that says authors need to make their protagonist likeable if they expect readers to follow his/her journey. Yet readers have embraced Maximus. What do you think it is about him and his stories that appeals to readers amd keeps them reading?

Tough question! I can’t answer directly – you’d be better off asking readers that question. I thought perhaps readers would relate to Max’s nemesis, the irrepressible Anneke Longshadow. But so many reviewers have basically been behind Maximus Black. Maybe I’ve somehow reached down into his soul and exposed him in some inexplicable way that readers have picked up on? Dunno. I do know that I asked a good friend of mine to have a read of the first title, Mole Hunt, and he thoroughly detested Maximus. The book depressed him. And yet readers across the board disagree with this first reader – as you can imagine, I’m much relieved!

Will the reader see another side of Maximus Black in The Only Game in the Galaxy being the final book in the series?

Certainly. He does become more ‘human’ throughout the trilogy. I can sort of see how readers would ‘finally’ relate to him. But not from the beginning, which they did.

We hear a lot these days about “author branding”and how writers need to focus on one genre to build a “brand” for themselves, their books and their publisher. As the wearer of dual hats, as both author and as Publisher at Ford Street Publishing, how important to you think author “branding” is?

It obviously works for some people. But like I mentioned, I’ve had to write across the board – everything from picture books through to books for adults. I don’t see how I could brand myself with this work ethic. It simply wouldn’t work. Publishers expect you to remain loyal to them so as not to dilute their investment in you. But let’s be realistic: writing one book a year is not going to feed you, much less pay the bills. Only a small percentage of authors can make a living in Australia writing one book a year and sticking with a single publisher.

Do you have any advice for writers wanting to write across genres and readership ages?

Reading books across genres and readerships helps. See what the main publishers are publishing. Don’t be afraid to take risks: send your manuscripts out to as many publishers as it takes to get them published. And remember, we all get rejections. Be persistent. Take on board editorial tips for improvement if they’re offered. Subscribe to magazines such as PIO and Buzz Words. You only need to discover one market to which you sell a story or a novel, and you’ve more than made back your investment.

You have published a phenomenol 150+ books, Paul. Is there any advice that you wish you’d been given as a young, emerging writer or something in particular that you’ve learned that you’d like to share with the readers of this post?

Apart from the above, I wish I’d participated in some writing courses. I pretty much went it alone and made mistakes, but never had anyone to show me where I was going wrong. I think a mentor would’ve proven invaluable; would’ve certainly been a short-cut to getting novels published. Despite writing my first novels in the early eighties, it wasn’t until the mid nineties that I sold The Wizard’s Torment to HarperCollins. Not until then did I realise that I was on the right track.

Thank you for visiting From Hook to Book, Paul, and sharing your insights and experiences. Congratulations again on publication of both The Only Game in the Galaxy and The Beckoning. 

Paul’s latest titles are available at Amazon:

The Beckoning: Kindle and print: http://tinyurl.com/ny6urwy

The Only Game in the Galaxy at Amazon: http://tinyurl.com/mshxpsx

Print: http://tinyurl.com/lfubra6

The Only Game in the Galaxy

ONLY GAME FRONT NewsletterIn a galaxy of cutthroat companies, shadowy clans and 
a million agendas, spy agency RIM barely wields enough control to keep order. Maximus Black is RIM’s star cadet. But he has a problem. One of RIM’s best agents, Anneke Longshadow, knows there’s a mole in the organisation.

And Maximus has a lot to hide.

Ford Street Publishing   ISBN: 9781925000061

The Beckoning

The Beckoning _150dpi_eBookWhen evil intent is just the beginning…
Matt Brannigan is a lawyer living on the edge. His daughter, Briony is psychic and trouble shadows his family wherever they go.
Cult guru Brother Desmond knows that the power within Briony is the remaining key he needs to enter the next dimension. Once he controls this, he will have access to all that is presently denied him.
When Briony is indoctrinated into the Zarathustrans, Matt and psychic Clarissa Pike enter the cult’s headquarters under the cover of night to rescue her.
So begins Armageddon…

Damnation Books LLC   ASIN: B00F5I6ZWE

Paul Collins website

Ford Street PublishingFordStemail-sig

Guest Author Paul Collins – On Writing (and publishing) Mole Hunt

Today, I welcome award winning YA author, Paul Collins, as my first guest blogger here to tell us about the release of the first book in his latest series The Maximus Black Files – Mole Hunt. Together with Michael Pryor, Paul is the co-editor of the highly successful fantasy series, The Quentaris Chronicles; he has also contributed seven titles to the series as an author. Paul’s other works include The Jelindel Chronicles, The Earthborn Wars trilogy and The World of Grrym trilogy written in collaboration with Danny Willis.

Welcome and over to you, Paul.

Although I suspect the time of the anti-hero is nigh, I was a little worried about Maximus Black. He’s obviously a sociopath, and demonstrates this propensity by killing two people in the first chapter. But just today I started reading Scorpio Rising by Anthony Horowitz. His baddies make Maximus look like an apprentice sociopath. Scorpio agents manage to kill a truckload of people in the first hundred or so pages. So that’s one piece of doubt off my mind – perhaps killing in comic-book fashion in YA fiction isn’t so prohibited after all. Further doubt has been eroded by various reviews that are appearing. Bookseller and Publisher said it was “bitingly clever” (I don’t usually get quotes like that!) and a cross between The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, Dexter and Total Recall. Now if the book lives up to that description I suspect I’ll have an enthusiastic readership. One reviewer refers to it as being so fast-paced it would give Matthew Reilly a nosebleed, while another said she couldn’t put the book down (must be that magnetic cover!).

It’s a rather harrowing time, though, having a book appearing on the shelves. Will it sell? Will reviewers pan it? Are there plot holes? Typos? Does it all hang together? Myriad thoughts – mostly doubt in my case – rush through your mind when a book is launched.

Writing novels can be tortuous. Authors can spend a year plus writing something and there’s absolutely no guarantee that it will ever be published. So imagine working for someone for a year – maybe as a carpenter, plumber, whatever, and getting told after a year that your work isn’t up to standard and sorry, we’re not paying you.

More authors than not go through this scenario. Mole Hunt was submitted to most of Australia’s major publishers and some via an agent in the UK and the US. Many replied saying how good it was,
but . . .

Penguin UK praised it to the hilt saying if they didn’t already have Artemis Fowl, the young James Bond, etc, they’d be keen. Another prominent Australian publisher told me Mole Hunt reminded her of what she used to love in science fiction . . . but it wasn’t for her imprint, which was more contemporary literature. But of course, rejection is rejection.

After many such near misses, I decided it would be a Ford Street title. After all, I’ve been through the above scenario before. One example (and I have many!) is Dragonlinks. It was rejected by every publisher in Australia back in 1998/99 – a year or two before the big fantasy craze in Australia (ahead of my time as usual!). The publisher at Penguin left so I resubmitted it without telling her replacement that Penguin had already rejected it. It was finally accepted. That was 2001. It was published in 2002 and is still selling now.

(A tip for aspiring writers – persistence is the key word!)

But I digress. Why dystopian fiction? Well, I’ve written it in the past with The Earthborn Wars published by Tor in the US (The Earthborn, The Skyborn and The Hiveborn). Fifteen years before The Hunger Games, I also wrote a virtual reality dystopian novel with a remarkably similar plot called Cyberskin. People dying from a terminal illness can sign their lives over to a legal “snuff” movie company and get killed live for the audience (for payment, of course – a life insurance policy that goes to their grieving family). They’re pitted against a superior fighter who is an enhanced fighting machine.

So it’s a genre that I feel comfortable with. I think dystopian fiction also lends itself to fast-paced filmic action, which is usually attributed to my writing. Sometimes it’s best to stay with what we know and love. My own favourite authors are Ioin Colfer (Artemis Fowl) and Philip Reeve (Mortal Engines). I can just as easily see these books as films, as I can my own Mole Hunt.

Here’s a run down of the plot. I hope you enjoy the book.

Special Agent Maximus Black excels at everything he attempts. The problem is, most of what he attempts is highly illegal. Recruited by the Regis Imperium Mentatis when he was just fifteen, he is the youngest cadet ever to become a RIM agent. Of course, being a certified sociopath helps. He rises quickly through the ranks, doing whatever it takes to gain promotion. This includes murdering the doctor who has certified him, as well as a RIM colonel who Black deems to be more useful dead than alive. Now seventeen, he is a valuable member of a highly secret task force whose assignment is to unearth a traitorous mole. Unfortunately for RIM he is the mole, a delightful irony that never ceases to amuse him.

In the two years he has been with RIM he has only met his match once. Anneke Longshadow, another RIM agent, who nearly succeeded in exposing him. But nearly wasn’t enough. Now she is dead and he is very much alive to pursue his criminal activities.

Right now, Black has a new problem; one that will challenge him to the max. He has a lot of work to do and little time to do it but as with every facet of his life, he plans each step with meticulous precision.

Maximus needs to find three sets of lost coordinates to rediscover the power of the dreadnoughts – a powerful armada of unbeatable power, long since put into mothballs by the sentinels whose job it is to keep peace and harmony in the ever expanding universe.

Sadly for Black, complications arise. It seems Anneke Longshadow isn’t dead after all. Every bit his match, Anneke eludes the traps Black sets for her. Born on Normansk, a planet with 1.9 gravity, Anneke is more than capable of defending herself against Black’s hired help, the insectoid Envoy, and his professional mercenary and hitman, Kilroy.

Power-hungry, Black usurps the throne of Quesada, a powerful crime syndicate. His ultimate aim is to replace the Galaxy gate-keepers, RIM, with his own organisation. Matching him step by step, Anneke collects as her allies all those who Maximus has deposed in his march to becoming ruler of the universe.

Paul Collins
Melbourne June 2011
http://www.paulcollins.com.au
www.fordstreetpublishing.com

Coming Soon: Guest blogger – Paul Collins introducing “The Maximus Black Files – Mole Hunt”

To celebrate the release of his latest sci-fi YA novel, and new series, The Maximus Black Files – Mole Hunt, award winning author Paul Collins will be visiting me at From Hook to Book as my very first guest blogger.

As a taster, and because I’m too excited to wait, I asked Paul a few questions about his exciting new series and writing process.

Q: Mole Hunt has been reviewed as having a pace frantic enough to give Matthew Reilly nosebleeds. How do you go about achieving that type of pace and maintaining it over 365 pages? Does the pace change?

A: I grew up reading Marvel Group comics such as The Hulk, Captain America and Spiderman. So my work is often referred to as “visual” and fast-paced”. I suspect those who teach writing will say there are peaks and troughs, that writers should have arcs, etc. I’m not so sure. It’s all an instinctive process to me — obviously I’ve never studied writing. I think planning your writing must be hard. There are slower moments in Mole Hunt, but they’re few and far between!

Q: Can you give budding sci-fi writers your three top tips for creating an effective and memorable dystopian world? What sets Maximus Black’s world apart?

A: Dystopian fiction is by its very nature rather bleak. It doesn’t show a bright future. Think Bladerunner, for example. One can easily see poverty everywhere, and life not being worth more than a bottle of Earth water. I doubt there are three specific tips, but more a compilation of must-haves. One of the latter is surely to set the book in the future after some apocalyptic-style event, such as the collapse of order, or as in the case with my SF book, The Earthborn, after some major war that knocks out most technology. Roaming bands of bad guys are always good fodder for dystopian fiction.

Q:How many files, I mean, books can we look forward to in the series? And for avid readers, how soon can they get excited to buy the next one?

A: I wrote all three books over a four-year period. So I have the first drafts of books two and three in rough form. So book #2, Dyson’s Drop, should be out next year some time. I’m working on it now.

Q: I love the striking cover image. Is the glimpse of the galaxy beyond indicative of Maximus breaking out, moving beyond or that he’s heading out into the galaxy on his missions?

 A: It is. Although the main plot is Maximus looking for three sets of lost coordinates that are the key to an armada of dreadnoughts. Whoever has these will rule the universe. 

Q:You’ve worked in some very varied jobs, Paul, such as pub bouncer, and serving time in the commandos. I see you’re also a black belt in ju jitsu and tae kwon do. How have these influenced your plotlines and have you passed on any of your skills to Maximus Black?

A: My martial arts skills find their way into many of my books, notably specific characters. Maximus is like most major villains — he gets others to do the fighting. His main hitman with Kilroy, who has more skill than I ever had in martial arts — don’t all martial artists in films perform the impossible?! But he’s equally matched by Anneke Longshadow. Anneke also squares off against a slew of baddies. She’s based on my all-time favourite heroine, Modesty Blaise.

Now for a couple of quick writerly questions:

Q: From an author’s curiosity, have you planned out the entire series or is each a book stand alone?

A: With this series I did write the trilogy in one hit. When I wrote The Jelindel Chronicles, Penguin only wanted the first book to test the waters. It went really well, so they requested the second book, which I then had to write. So the four books were written as separate entities, but that’s not really the best way to do it, I don’t think.

Q:How do you physically plan/plot your books i.e. whiteboard, charts etc?

A: On many pages! Sometimes I write outlines for each chapter. Or I write a very long book and separate it into three books. This is what Danny Willis and I did with The World of Grrym (Allira’s Gift, Lords of Quibbitt and Morgassa’s Folly). This trilogy was originally one thick manuscript, but The Five Mile Press wanted it as a trilogy.

Thanks, Paul. I can’t wait until next week for visitors to meet you and Maximus Black too. Pop back then to read Paul’s exclusive post. 

The Maximus Black Files – Mole Hunt  Ford Street Publishing http://www.fordstreetpublishing.com

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