Monday, April 25, 2011

The Chicken Thief - Satima chats with author Fiona Leonard

Fiona, you've decided to self-publish The Chicken Thief, despite the fact that many people who've read and enjoyed it feel it's more than worthy of mainstream publication. Can you tell us why you've elected to go down this route?

My first motivation was related to timing. The traditional publication route would have meant that even with a dream run, this novel would not have hit the shelves for another 18 months to two years. One of the central themes of The Chicken Thief is the story of a southern African dictator desperately clinging to power at a time when his country is demanding economic and political change – not unlike events currently unfolding in Africa and the Middle East. In countries like Egypt we've been given such an incredible insight into the struggle for democracy and I think having that real world context brings an extra dimension to the reading of this novel.
Secondly, I wanted to prove that it could be done in order to encourage other authors to also give it a go. I'm currently based in Ghana, West Africa. For many authors here, the international market is a distant and daunting prospect. I wanted to show that authors can find readers world-wide regardless of where they live.
Finally, it's probably got a lot to do with impatience! I don't enjoy the process of pitching to publishing houses - especially not all the waiting in between! I write to be read. While I thoroughly enjoy the act of getting a story down of paper, what motivates me to keep writing is the point of connection between that story and another person. I have been blogging for several years now and one of the things I enjoy most about that is the response from readers – love that fact that people read what I write and are then inspired in the comments to tell their own stories. I got a great email the other day from a woman who has been reading the novel. She detailed which parts made her cry and when she laughed out loud. As a writer, that is a wonderful gift – to know that a reader has connected with what you've written.
There are many ways to self-publish these days, including outfits such as Smashwords; sites attached to conventional publishers such as Create Space and a wide range of "vanity publishers". What method of self-publishing have you selected for The Chicken Thief, and why?

I'm e-publishing straight to Kindle through Amazon for the very simple reason that I want to put it front and centre of one of the largest global book distribution methods. I want it to be easy to find, easy to buy and easy to give! The Amazon people have made it incredibly simple for authors to publish and I admire them for it.
Living in Ghana, I am painfully aware of the cost-impediments to shipping hard copy books around the world. I love the fact that my blog is read by people the world over and I want my novel to be equally as accessible. Besides, carrying a large inventory of stock when you're self-publishing is a huge risk. This way I can sell a million copies or ten and my outlay is still the same.
I'm also mindful of the environmental impact of publishing. In coming months I will be offering a print-on-demand hard copy edition of the novel which seems to be a good compromise that allows people to literally get their hands on a copy while also going some way towards minimising the environmental footprint.
Self publishing, especially in the realm of electronic publication, is gradually finding wider acceptance, perhaps largely because of the success of certain authors such as Joe Konrath and Amanda Hocking. Yet there remain huge problems in regard to publicity and distribution. What do you foresee as the future for authors who decide to go it alone?

I don't see it in terms of "problems". Independent publishing is no different from any small business. You develop a product, you hone it until it is the best it can be, you study the market, find your niche and promote your product. I think writers have been trained to believe that the only way to enter the market is with someone else leading the way, and that's no longer the case. The thing is though, that writers who go the independent publishing route now need to be entrepreneurs – we're story tellers and story sellers! We need to believe in our creations, take responsibility for quality control and be prepared to do the research and leg work to help take it to market.
We are incredibly lucky though. We're coming to the market at a time when there are phenomenal resources available online that provide how-to information on every stage of the process. Plus it's getting easier and easier to find the people you need to help turn you pile of printed pages into a published novel. The reality is that not every writer wants to be an entrepreneur, and that's fine. There will always be a 'publishing house' model in some form to support authors. But for those authors who enjoy the selling side, that option is now open to them.
Do you think there is a market, world-wide, for books set in Africa?

Definitely. In the past there seems to have been an assumption, particularly in the US, that readers don't want to read anything that isn't set in their own backyards. However, I think if you grow up in a country outside the UK or US — in countries where the local publishing industries are relatively small — you know that this just isn't true. And there are plenty of books that have shown they can be successful in foreign markets. I doubt many readers would have had the chance to read a book set in Sweden before The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo came along and yet millions of people seemed to cope with the experience!
As for Africa, the reading population has repeatedly demonstrated that they are willing to embrace African settings - Alexander McCall Smith showed that readers would embrace a detective story set in Botswana, Abraham Verghese opened doors to a hospital in Ethiopia and readers happily followed John Le Carre in search of corrupt pharmaceutical companies in Kenya. Then there are of course the many wonderful Africa writers, writing about Africa who have achieved incredible success both at home and abroad — Chimamanda Nogozi Adichie, Ben Okri, JM Coetzee, Chinua Achebe — to name but a few. A friend recently shared a list of the top 120 books about Africa by African authors and it's a distinguished list.
I think there is a market, world-wide, for well-written, well-told stories. Where they are set is of secondary concern.
What's it like, being a 39 year-old white, Australian woman trapped in the body of a 25 year-old black, African man? In writing The Chicken Thief, you had to see the world through a very different pair of eyes. How did that work for you and your character, Alois?

There is no way I can ever hope to understand what it's like being a 25 year old African male. I can read widely, research, watch movies, learn about experiences and context, but the best I can ever hope for is a rough approximation. What I do understand intimately is what it's like to be afraid, or to feel like you've let people down, or to be desperately in love with someone that you're sure will never be interested in you, or to have wild dreams that you hope will come true. My focus has been on making that dimension of Alois as real as possible and giving him a strong and authentic voice to convey those emotions.
Funnily enough, while many of the central characters are men, I still think of The Chicken Thief as a book about women. Alois very much defines himself in relation to the women around him. To him, the women in his life are a frustrating and confusing bunch that he struggles to understand. Their mutual admiration and loyalty, however, provide the foundations for his life.
It took you a few years, on and off, to bring Alois's story out. You really must love the character to have stuck with him for so long! How did you discover the "Alois within" and why are you so drawn to him?

I absolve Alois of all responsibility for the delays in finishing this novel! The fact that it's taken me six years to write was largely due to the fact that I've been afraid to admit that writing novels is the form of writing I love most. For the most part, I've tried to pretend that writing novels was  a hobby. Last year I finally accepted that it was the form of writing that I was most passionate about, and I created the opportunity to really devote myself to it. 
I always get a bit nervous talking about my characters because people eventually notice that I refer to them as I would to real people! I find creating a character is more a process of discovery than creation. I wish I could remember where the idea for Alois as a chicken thief came from. I can easily trace the origins of all the other characters and yet Alois seems to have just appeared! I've enjoyed watching Alois unfold and grow as a character. I relate very strongly to his desire for freedom, his desire not to conform, and his fears that following an unconventional path will result in him letting down everyone that he loves.
We at Egoboo wish Fiona Leonard the very best of luck with The Chicken Thief. If you'd like to purchase The Chicken Thief,look here. Amazon will let you read a sample on your Kindle for PC, so you can try before you buy!

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Interview with Glenda Larke

Glenda Larke is the author of nine books, Havenstar (written as Glenda Noramly), the Isles of Glory trilogy – The Aware, Gilfeather and The Tainted, the Mirage Makers trilogy – Heart of the Mirage, The Shadow of Tyr and Song of the Shiver Barrens and most recently The Watergivers trilogy of which the first two books, The Last Stormlord and Stormlord Rising are out. Stormlord's Exile, her tenth book and the final one in The Watergivers trilogy, is to be released later this year. She has been shortlisted for the Aurealis Awards several times and is a finalist in the Fantasy section of the 2010 Aurealis Awards with Stormlord Rising - results to be announced May 21

Egoboo WA caught up with Glenda in the build up to Swancon 2011 where she is an invited guest.

Welcome Glenda.

On your blog you describe yourself as exotic. You have certainly lived in a variety of places. What started you on your travels? Where have you lived?

I started on my travels aged about nine -- in the wash-house of our farm in Western Australia. That was where a stack of old National Geographics was kept – black and white ones, from the 1930s. (No, I’m not that old, just the magazines were.) I loved reading them and dreaming of getting to all those places.

I left Australia for the first time when I was at university, on a New Zealand hitchhiking holiday, paid for by working on Rottnest Island as a housemaid every vacation from the time I was fifteen. I’ve hated bed-making and ironing ever since, but that holiday was fantastic.

Since then, I’ve lived in Malaysia (including Borneo), Austria (Vienna), and Tunisia. So that’s four continents and an island altogether.

How have these moves impacted on your writing? Positively? Negatively?

I don’t think there has been a negative impact.

On the positive side: where can a fiction writer go wrong with travel? There are ideas to be had everywhere. The desert scenes in the Mirage Makers and the Watergiver trilogies came from my Australian travels outback, from the Sahara of Tunisia and Algeria, from flying over Iran.

Other inspiration for stories came from the millipedes of the tropical rainforest, bird stacks off the coast of Britain, Indian water painters, fish traps on mangrove mud flats, Asian street markets, Roman ruins…

Travel has certainly ensured that I can write anywhere – from airports to fishing boat decks or in a tent. Or, believe it or not, on a sun-lounge under a casuarina, overlooking the aquamarine waters of Krabi Bay, Thailand. Which is where I am right now, typing this answer.

You started out writing non-fiction articles so what was it that led you to write fantasy novels?

I actually started with fiction when I was about eight, and I’ve never stopped. My first published stuff, though, was non-fiction. I didn’t start with fantasy; my first novels were a mix of thriller, exotic destination and romance, rather like Mary Stewart novels. I changed to fantasy when I realise that anything I wrote set in the real world was going to freak out some of my husband’s relatives, who seemed unable to separate the writer from their writing. Of course, I loved fantasy as a genre, too!

You build intensely detailed and believable worlds. I remember an interview with Elizabeth Jolley who said her novel, The Well, started with a single image of a well and grew image by image until she had the idea of a story. What comes first when you are writing a novel – the setting or the story?

I always start with a single idea.

Havenstar started with a conversation about how convenient it would be if a map altered according to what was happening on the ground. This was in the days before the GPS. (Or, for that matter, J.K.Rowling. Do you think I could sue her for pinching my moving map idea?)

The Aware arose out of a comment someone made about how he was sick of fantasies because they were always set in the Middle Ages, with castles, horses and dark forests with wolves. So I thought I’d write a whole book set on a sand spit with nary a castle or a horse or a forest. The era was vaguely 1800 A.D., but still one reviewer called it medieval, so you can’t win.

After the idea, I commence building the world in my mind. I rarely write anything down at this stage. The progression to a story comes easily when I start having to answer questions like: What sort of person would be important/in trouble/a hero/a villain in this kind of world?

In the Havenstar world, the answer was a mapmaker would be of paramount importance. In the Watergiver trilogy, it was someone who can supply water. In The Aware it was the person who could see magic.

My next trilogy, just begun, has its origins in two ideas: What if you have a society which believes one in every set of twins is born evil? And: Trading in bird of paradise feathers made people rich in Europe a couple of hundred years ago. What if the birds had had a way to fight back?

What, for you, is the hardest part of writing a novel?

It varies from book to book, but there is always a stage where I am sure my writing is terrible and or boring. Sometimes I am right, and I have to re-write a large chunk, or re-arrange the way the story fits together. Sometimes I am panicking unnecessarily, or so my beta readers tell me. There’s no single or consistent problem. It can come at any stage of the story and the method of solving it varies. Sometimes I cut scenes, or I might add them. I might discard a character or include a new one.

At the micro level, for me the hardest thing in writing is to “get the hero out of the room”. Most writers will know what I mean. It doesn’t necessarily have anything to do with rooms or even with travel; it’s the problem of connecting two scenes so the transition makes sense without giving a lot of boring detail.

For example, if your protagonist has to dose his companion with a sleeping draught, where does he get the drug? It’s hard to make an explanation interesting when the method used has no impact on the story and is, in fact, utterly irrelevant. Yet if you don’t explain the “how”, then readers will ask in annoyance, “Hey, where did he get the drug from? He didn’t even have any money a moment ago, let along access to an apothecary!”

I hate getting the hero out of the room.

You write very strong female characters – two of my particular favourites are Blaze Halfbreed and Ryka Feldspar. So how do you develop these characters? What makes them memorable?

Well, I’ll leave it up to readers to decide whether the characters are memorable and why. Characters for me develop all by themselves as the story continues, moulded by events as they occur. I always have an idea of who they are at the beginning, but only rarely do they follow the path that I planned for them.

All I knew about Blaze at the start of The Aware was that she’d had an appalling life as a child and she’d survived by being strong. Only later did I discover that she had a soft centre, and a self-deprecating sense of humour. Ligea, in the Mirage Makers, was strong in a very masculine way, often ruthless, because she was raised by two very nasty men who used her as their weapon of choice in an international conflict. By the end of the trilogy, she’s a very different person.

Ryka was a challenge right from the beginning. I wanted a pregnant woman who is placed in a terrible position, yet who refuses to hate. Her relationship with Ravard was one of the most difficult things I’ve ever had to write, because it involved the interaction between the abused and her abuser. I wanted her to be the strong one, even though she was constantly in the position of the weaker. I hope I succeeded, without ever appearing to belittle the experience of women in such situations. How to end the story of Ryka, Kaneth and Ravard was a further challenge. I actually changed the ending several times before – I think – I got it right.

What was the first book that you remember reading that stuck in your memory?

There are three. One was a West Australian book by Katherine King, called Australian Holiday, which my mother read to me. I so loved that book, possibly because it was about things I knew – the Australian bush.

The second is one of the Milly Molly Mandy books. I can’t remember the exact title, but it was one of the first books I ever read by myself. However, it was mostly memorable because I was reading it on the (public) bus going to school when I was five and I missed the school bus stop. The school principal came looking for me by car… I remember that very clearly indeed!

The third was important because it was the last book my mother ever read to me: an unabridged version of Little Women printed in a tiny font. I was about seven, and once she’d read a chapter or two, I took the book from her because reading aloud was too slow, and I had to know what happened next. I’ve been a compulsive reader ever since.

With Stormlord's Exile, the final book in The Watergivers trilogy, coming out later this year in Australia what comes next?

I’ve started another trilogy, the first book of which is tentatively titled The Witchery of Spice. It’s about great trade routes and birds of paradise, set in an imaginary world equivalent to c.1600 A.D. of our history. Think Elizabethan-like buccaneers and Low Country burghers clashing as they venture into Far Eastern trade; think Western colonists confronting Eastern cultures in the spice islands of the tropics. Add in magic and mayhem, heroes and heroines from both hemispheres…and that’s just beginning.

Thank you, Glenda.

Monday, April 18, 2011

ABC Pool Fiction Podcast

This looks like an interesting opportunity: to create text and/or audio stories for the ABC Pool(as text online, podcast and radio). Stories of up to 5000 words can be uploaded as text pieces and reworked (or rework them yourself) into short audio pieces ready for podcasting. The project has a particular interest in flash fiction to a maximum of 100 words. Pieces can be in any genre, including fantasy and science fiction. Visit for further details!

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

ASIM pre-slush workshop redux � Must Use Bigger Elephants

Patty Jensen has been working her proverbial off recently with a series of posts about slushing for ASIM, using examples to highlight the biggest problems with each of the volunteer submission texts.

This is a fantastic way to see fifteen different story openings and the ways they worked or didn't work, and even chat with Patty further about the issues involved.

ASIM pre-slush workshop redux � Must Use Bigger Elephants

Patty's blog is also an excellent one to have bookedmarked for further reading. She also explores issues of Science in SF, researching, publishing, and short fiction. She also works tirelessly for ASIM.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Sarah Spotting at Swancon

Yay Swancon! A mere ten days away! Here's my current line up of activities at Swancon. Come along and see me in action!

Welcome To Your First Convention Panel
Thursday, 21 April
7:30 PM
Plaza 3
What to expect. Who to talk to. What to do.

Welcome to Your First Convention Lunch (ALL WELCOME!)
Friday and Saturday 
Lunchtime (12:30)
Plaza 3

Not if You Were the Last Short Story on the Earth
Friday, 22 April
9:30 AM
Mosman Bay

Safe Spaces
Friday, 22 April
7:30 PM
Plaza 2

Zombie Face Painting 
Sunday 24th, 10:30am
Kids Stream 

Surviving The Zombie Apocalypse
Sunday 24th 11:30am
Kids Stream

Perth Worldcon
Sunday, 24 April
2:00 PM
Mosman Bay

Monday, 25 April
9:30 AM
Mosman Bay

Alien Face Painting (Possibly)
Monday, 25th of April
10:30am - 11am
Kids Stream

Defining Fandom
Monday, 25 April
3:00 PM
Plaza 3

Hope to see every one there!

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Confessions of a Slush Reader: Why Should I Care? :: Shimmer

Slushing is one of the most bitched-about parts of the publishing industry. People hate it and yet they also seem to love it, since so many people do it!

If it weren't for the brave slush-keepers, we'd be forced to read more unproofed, unedited, and confusing stories, so I for one am pleased to have these people doing their jobs! Slushing is also one of the more illuminating roles in the publishing industry, where you can have a close up view of what is actually being sent into markets. You may not get paid, but you do learn a lot.

This article has some great pictures, and also has some sample texts to look at.

Confessions of a Slush Reader: Why Should I Care? :: Shimmer

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Swancon36 � Swancon Thirty Six | Natcon Fifty: Full program

Natcon Fifty/Swancon's programme is now live! Check out the link below to find out what's happening and when, and then come along to let the good times roll!

Thursday night is free! This includes the Professional Artshow, as well as my panel Welcome To Your First Convention, intoductions to the Guests of Honour, and a pile of taster panels to see what's on offer.

Swancon runs from Thursday 4pm until Monday 5pm across Easter, and I'm getting really very excited! Expect some posts from me in the next few days as I sort out my panels and get some work happening!

Swancon36 � Swancon Thirty Six | Natcon Fifty: Full program: "Swancon Thirty Six | Natcon Fifty Program"

Monday, April 4, 2011

Best Horror of the Year 4

Ellen Datlow has a call for submissions open for the fourth volume of the anthology series Best Horror of the Year (Night Shade Books), for short stories published (or to be published) during 2011. She is looking for stories that represent all branches of horror, including traditional/supernatural to borderline, high-tech SF horror, supernatural stories, psychological horror, dark thrillers etc. For more details see her blog at

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Guest Post By Tansy Rayner Roberts

Tansy Rayner Roberts has a brand new book out called The Shattered City! To celebrate the release of Book Two of her Creature Court series, she's doing a blog tour!

Fantasy With Frocks

Sarah asked: "What is your favourite style or outfit in the series, and why?"

I think this is my favourite question I've been asked so far!  I am a complete sucker for fantasy with frocks, and while making clothes is not my superpower, I always pay close attention to what my characters wear.

(the current book I'm working on features a heroine who is quite disinterested in clothes and to be honest I have no idea how to deal with that)

Velody, one of the main protagonists of Power and Majesty & The Shattered City, is a dressmaker, and so she sees clothes first, and people second.  At one point, in Power and Majesty, she notes the glamorous gear that the members of the Creature Court tend to wear, and laments that she should be dressing them, not  leading them!

I have many favourite outfits from this series!  Many of them belong to the first book (such as the rose petal  dress Velody makes for the Duchessa, and the frocks Velody and Delphine wear to the theatre, not to mention the leather trousers Ashiol steals from Velody, and the boots he "liberates" from Poet.  I also have some extreme favourites from Book Three, Reign of Beasts (to be released in Oct/Nov this year) including a red flapper frock, a frock made entirely of skysilver, a couple of the good old reliable brown sentinel cloaks being put to rather saucy use, some steampunky Edwardian fashions, and the chance - finally - to put the  Duchessa in breeches rather than a skirt.  But that's the future, and we're not there yet!

So let's talk about the fashions of Book Two: The Shattered City. First of all, and most obvious, I have to rave about the gown that's on the front cover.  I had to concede on the cover image of Book One, because honestly I do understand how hard it would be to depict Isangell's rose petal dress as I described it.  But the cover for Book Two more than made up for it - depicting a perfect image of Velody in the antique green ballgown she ends up wearing for an important section of the novel.

I have other favourites, though!  An embroidered waistcoat that causes nothing but trouble.  A collection of animal costumes to be worn by children.  A flame gown, Velody's latest creation for the Duchessa:

The silk was cool to the touch.  It was a magnificent gown:
flame-orange, trimmed with soft charcoal-black leaves of silk that
tumbled from the Duchessa's shoulders to her knees.  A perfect
festival dress for the chief day of sacrifice, the centrepiece of the
sacred games which would shortly be taking over the city.

But actually, my favourite outfit from Book Two is worn by the catty, wicked Livilla, usually seen in vampish ensembles while sucking on a cigarette holder...

It was Livilla, dressed in a long white morning dress as if she
was a daughter of the Great Families, all pearls and pale green 
accessories.  She wore gloves, and even her cosmetick was muted.  
They had been right, damn it.  Livilla was putting on a show.

She was alone, despite the table being set for three.  As Ashiol 
came down the grey stone steps, Livilla dropped a sugar cube 
into her own teacup with a tiny splash.  "You're here," she said, 
sounding pleased with herself.  "I knew you loved me really."

Okay, it doesn't sound all that impressive, but to my mind it's worth it for this later exchange...

Ashiol turned, surveying the city below.  Flamebolts had hold of
the librarion and were spreading to other buildings on the Octavian
hill.  Poet was right, Livilla was the only Lord in that part of the
  He soared to her, body glowing with animor.  "Livilla, what the
frig?"    She was dressed like a matrona again, in the same modest
gown she had worn to take tea with the Duchessa, a rope of pearls
hanging to her knees.  What kind of maniac danced the sky in beads?
"Ashiol darling, you can't expect me to catch flamebolts.  I have my
hair to think of."
  He growled under his breath.  "Put the fire out.  Move it!"
  "Who died and made you Power and Majesty?"
  Ashiol hesitated to go chimaera, just for a moment, unsure what he
might find when he reached for that shape.  Then, realising his
weakness, he threw himself into his chimaera form, black and powerful
and edged with claws.  And yes, wings, back where they belonged,
barely even hurting as he swiped out at Livilla.
    "Such a bully," she said, eyes flashing with animor, but turned
and arced her body over the river where it curved behind the
Balisquine.  She dipped down then soared up again like a swan, and a
trail of river water followed her in a fan-like tail.  Livilla dropped
down over the Octavia and the water exploded over the flames,
drenching the buildings in a haze of light and animor.
  Livilla had always been an artist in the sky, when she wanted to
be.    "Good enough, my king?" she asked archly when the flames were
    Ash returned to Lord form and kissed her once on the cheek.
"Where did you get that stupidly respectable dress?"
  "Stole it from a nun."
  "That explains a lot, really."


Tansy Rayner Roberts is the author of Power and Majesty (Creature Court Book One) and The Shattered City (Creature Court Book Two, April 2011) with Reign of Beasts (Creature Court Book Three, coming in
November 2011) hot on its tail. Her short story collection Love and Romanpunk will be published as part of the Twelfth Planet Press "Twelve Planets" series in May.

This post comes to you as part of Tansy's Mighty Slapdash Blog Tour, and comes with a cookie fragment of new release The Shattered City.