Posts by S.M.Johnston

I'm a writer of both the fictional and corporate communication persuasion. By day, I am a senior specialist in public relations and internal communications. Occasionally I’m a mascot wrangler, a merchandise purchaser, a social media strategist and an event coordinator. In my spare time I write weird fiction, blog, tweet and post on FB. I recently completed my first novel, 'SLEEPER', a YA Speculative Fiction, which I am currently querying. My short story, GROWTH, was published in the anthology THE BASICS OF LIFE. I was also the runner-up in the Australian Literary Review's YA short story competition with KARMA. I have also written a short story for THE LIFE AND TIMES OF CHESTER LEWIS anthology, which will be released in 2012. I primarily write for the YA market or short stories.

Genre Month: Fantasy

This month on Aussie Owned and Read, each of us are looking at a different genre, talking about why we think it’s awesome! I’m starting us off with Fantasy.

When I was a teen I read some fantasy, thanks to my mother. I was a fan of David Eddings’ Elenium series (I was so in love with Sparhawk) and the Keltiad series by Patricia Kennealy-Morrison (which is a bit of a Fantasy/Science Fiction mash-up).

When I went off to uni, I didn’t read as much, and when I did get back into reading I was so hooked on Science Fiction. But lately, Fantasy has been tugging at me with so many great titles coming out in recent years that push the boundaries of Fantasy. I love being transported to another world, whether it’s a constructed realm with its own rules and world-building, or a real-world setting with fantastical elements introduced.

One of the reasons I love Fantasy (and most genres under the Speculative Fiction Umbrella) is that the only limit is the author’s imagination. The author makes the rules, bends rules, and occasionally smashes them out of the park to create an amazing piece of literature.

Some of my recent favourite reads include:

  • The Name Of The Wind: It was a slow start, and I was honestly may have given up if my friend didn’t push me. But now I’ve devoured books 1 & 2, as well as The Slow Regard of Silent Things, which is one of the most beautiful stories I’ve ever read.
  • Throne of Glass: I loved the anti-hero aspect, I loved the twists, and I really enjoyed the world building.
  • The Grisha Trilogy and Six of Crows: Six of Crows took Fantasy to a whole new level with the infusion of more modern world aspects in a fantasy realm. And the Darkling is a bit swoon worthy.
  • Daughter of Smoke & Bone and Strange The Dreamer: Like Six of Crows, Strange the Dreamer took a different approach to fantasy, and had a more middle-eastern and mystical feel to the story. Daughter of Smoke and Bone series took what appeared to be an over-done genre on the surface, and turned it into something unique.
  • Raven Cycle and Scorpio Races:  I adored the lyrical writing in both of these stories, and the infusion of mythology into modern world settings was just magical.
  • Red Sister: This has gorgeous writing that slips between time periods, taking the reader on a magical journey.
  • Court of Fives: Beautiful otherworld fantasy with Roman Empire influences, and dealing with issues of colonisation that parallels the real world.

I’m sure there’s many more I could name, but these are some of my favourites. Add your recommendations in the comments!

Pink 1Sharon is a YA and NA author from sunny Queensland, who writes by beaches and fish tanks. She loves spending time with her family and watching her free range guinea pigs run around the back yard. Occasionally she has pink hair.

 

Knowledge for Pitch Wars Newbies

Pitch Wars can be a really stressful time for aspiring authors, especially if you trying to navigate your way through the hashtags: #PitchWars #AskMentor and a whole host of others that I can’t keep up with!

Here are some tips to help those of you who are trying to make sense of everything:

  1. Follow Brenda Drake on her blog,  Twitter and Facebook: Pitch Wars is Brenda’s brain-child and she will be releasing information first… including this all important post.
  2. Check out the #PitchWars and #AskMentor hashtag on Twitter, and interact with both mentors and other aspiring mentees.
  3. Have a real talk with yourself to determine if you’re manuscript is ready. Often, writers are impatient (I know I am), and let loose their MS before it’s too ready. ON the other hand, some writers polish their work too much.
  4. Play nice with others. This is a great community, and you could make life-long CPs and friends from the process.
  5. Don’t try to force a square peg into a round hole. Make sure your MS matches the types of novels accepted, and do your research when the mentor wish-list blog hop comes out. Don’t waste your entry on mentors who aren’t in your category or don’t want your genre.
  6. Don’t be afraid to ask questions, but make sure you’re question hasn’t already been answered in the mentor’s bio/wish-list. In other words, don’t twitter pitch the mentors. It gets awkward.
  7. If you want to sub to more mentors you can through a donation, which is used for administration costs not mentors. Find out more here.

If you have any additional questions you can hit me up on Twitter, or ask questions in the comments.

Stacey Nash and I are comentoring this year, and we look forward to seeing your YA entries.

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Sharon M. Johnston is a YA and NA author from sunny Queensland who occasionally has pink hair. She loves listening to audiobooks, and has a text to voice app so she can listen to Pitch Wars entries.

Villains Are Heroes of Their Own Story

Writing a good villain can be hard. Cookie cutter bad guys with no real good reason to behave that way other than ‘they’re evil’ is ripping the reader off.

I once heard that ‘Villains are the heroes of their own story’ and I definitely believe that’s a good rule to live by as a writer. Think about antagonists, whether one in a popular story or one in a story you’ve written. Can you write out a character arc for them from their perspective? As they are inevitably beaten by their ‘villain’ it would need to be a tragedy, but you should be able to see it.

So let’s have a look at Lord Voldemort. His story starts like many others, in fact, there are parallel’s to Harry Potter’s origin story.

Tom Riddle is in an orphanage when Dumbledore comes to tell him that he’s actually a wizard and invites him to Hogwarts. Tom knew he was special because he could seemingly ‘do things.’

Death becomes the problem he needs to solve, and he decides Hogwarts is the place where he can solve this. But he is thwarted by someone he thought would be his ally, Dumbledore.

So he finds the solution on his own. Horcruxes. And as everything is going right for him, a new problem develops. A prophecy of a child who will be his downfall. So he decides no more fun and games, he must take action and cut off the threat by eliminating his enemy. But when he tries, the spell backfires and leaves him as a shell of a man.

Abandoned by his once ‘friends’, he desperately survives anyway he can until finally one of his ‘friends’ returns and helps him intact his plan to be restored.

But every step of the way Harry Potter is there to thwart him. Even after he finally manages to defeat his original enemy, Dumbledore. And ultimately in the end he unable to over come his young enemy and is killed.

 

Of course there can be an element of creepiness because they are really a villain after all. But we should be able to see how they are a hero in their own mind.

Sharon is a YA and NA author from sunny Queensland. Her Open Heart Series is out now with City Owl Press. 

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Interviewing Kat Colmer

We’ve been interviewing each other here at AO&R so you can get to know us a bit better. The final instalment in this series, I get to interview Kat Calmer.

You write across a few categories, tell us a bit about what it’s like to shift between them.

I never set out to write across several categories. I simply wrote the stories that wanted to be written at the time. I’ve dipped my pen into middle grade, young adult, new adult and adult ink pots across both the contemporary and paranormal genres. The common thread running throughout all my writing, however, is a voice that leans towards humour and a desire to infuse an underlying message of hope even when touching on serious topics.
You have a MG story that’s close to home, what was it like to write something so personally inspired?

Change of Heart was inspired by my firstborn child’s emergency cardiac surgery. Now almost fifteen years old, my son was born with a heart condition requiring him to have open heart surgery at birth, followed by a second surgery at age ten. Stressful times, the first surgery in particular as it entailed a three-month emotional rollercoaster ride in paediatric intensive care.

Unlike the first surgery, the second was planned and therefore a little easier (just) for everyone involved to cope with. It was sitting by my son’s hospital bed, inhaling the unique scent of hospital bleach mixed with hand sanitizer, all the beeps and dings of medication pumps providing my daily soundtrack as they kept my child alive, that inspired me to write a middle grade tale of a cardiac kid. Writing something so personal was both difficult as well as cathartic. The story was published by the New South Wales School magazine ‘Touchdown’ in 2015, and I honestly think it was the emotion unlocked by the underlying experience that saw it picked up for print.
You got a book coming out with Entangled Teen soon(ish). *leans in close* Tell us more!

My YA paranormal romance is about eighteen-year-old ‘master of the meaningless hook-up’ Jonas Leander who discovers he is cursed to endure a test of true love or forever be alone. At first he figures it’s a revenge prank by a disgruntled ex (he’s got enough of them), but when an impulsive kiss between him and long-time friend, Cora, makes her the target of Old Testament demons hell-sent to prevent Jonas from finding true love, the curse becomes dangerously real.

Set against the backdrop of Sydney’s North Shore and Ku-ring-gai National Park, the novel is a fast-paced YA romp involving taekwondo, swinging sickle swords, some award winning kissing, and a Siamese fighting fish called Mr Miyagi. So if you like your YA romance with a touch of the supernatural, a sprinkle of snarky humour and a good dose of action, this novel might just be for you. The release date is August 2017!

What advice would you have for Aussie authors trying to make it with US publishers like Entangled?

For Aussies who might think a story with an Aussie flavour will be too parochial for a US publisher, DON’T! I almost didn’t submit to Entangled for this very reason. I’ve since learnt if the overall story has a wide-reaching appeal, an Australian setting isn’t going to stop it being picked up by a US publisher. And as with any publisher—Australian or otherwise—professionalism as well as a good story are key. Always follow submission guidelines and polish that query letter until it blinds you with its shine.
What are you working on at the moment?

In between edits for my debut, I’m working on the sequel to my YA paranormal. Book 2 is about Jonas’ friend, Leo. Already on the demon hit list because of something he’s done in book 1, things get worse for him when he causes Jonas to be kidnapped by the very hellhounds who are after him, and he agrees to help Beth (Jonas’ sister) plan and execute a rescue.

Rapid fire questions

Plotter or Panster?

Plantser, as in I like to know where I start and where I’m heading as well as the key turning points in between, but everything else is up for grabs.

Unicorns, Griffins or Phoenix?

Unicorns … but this type:

Bad Unicorn

Coffee or Tea?

Coffee. Definitely coffee. Preferably a Katachino. What’s that you ask? A cross between a long black and a cappuccino. I’m a long black fan at heart but love me a bit of chocolaty froth on my coffee. Best of both worlds!

Physical book, eBook or audio?

Physical and eBook depending on my reading environment. Love snuggling up on the couch with a paper book but dig the convenience of an eBook when standing in line somewhere or travelling. Not a fan of audio; I like to dictate my reading pace.

Notepad, typewriter or laptop?

Laptop at home and notepad when out and about. Unless I’m stuck, then I turn for the pen and paper. Something about the feel of a pen moving across the page helps unlock the words.

BioKat Colmer headshot

Kat Colmer is a Young and New Adult author and high-school teacher librarian who writes coming-of-age stories with humour and heart. She lives with her husband and two children in Sydney, Australia. She also sings (occasionally) and speaks German (almost fluently). Her hope is to one day read one of her novels in Deutsch.

Find her on the web|Facebook|Twitter|Instagram

 

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Sharon M. Johnston is a YA and NA author from the Sunny Queensland (except for when there’s weather events like Cyclone Debbie). She’s a Pitch Wars mentor and delivers the live Pitch Wars Road Show workshop at writerly events in Australia (and once in Las Vegas). Her Open Heart series is out now with City Owl Press.

When to engage a sensitivity reader

The publishing world is changing, I believe in large part, because advancements in technology is giving people more of a voice. And this is a good thing. One of the key things of note is the issue of representation in novels, and how poor representation is harmful.

For me, personally, I understand these concerns. I’ve been quite open about the fact I have Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. People associate this with obsessive cleaning, counting, and washing hands. I’m not a clean freak. I don’t have any set numbers. Though occasionally I use too much sanitiser. Also, a family member of mine has epilepsy, and I regularly see the misconceptions people have about the condition.

Misrepresentation can occur across many areas, including, but not limited to, culture, medical conditions, mental health, sexual orientation, and gender identity. Poor representation is harmful. It can perpetuate stereotypes and alienates readers in that group.

One of the ways that authors are attempting to address this is to engage a sensitivity reader. But when is the best time to do that?

I’d like to point out now that the use of a sensitivity reader should not be an author’s only tool when trying to ensure that they deal with issues of representation in an appropriate way. And it definitely shouldn’t be the first port of call. Research is important, especially during the plotting and early stages of drafting. Don’t rely on “what you know” as it’s likely what you know is tainted by stereotypes rather than reality. And research can include talking to people.

For example, one of my stories including a subplot involving a survivor of sexual assault. As I haven’t experienced what my character had, and something nagged at the back of my mind as I was doing my first round of revision. I asked for some advice from some author friends who had. My author friends were very supportive, and helped me with solutions to take away the problematic issues that arose from my ignorance. And I was grateful that I was made aware of the issue early.

Research should give you a good basis for starting your story. And if you’re like a lot of authors, you would only want early drafts to be viewed by trusted readers, so this is not the time for a sensitivity reader. But it’s probably a good idea to asks your readers to give you a heads up for any red flags for representation.

Once you have your story to a point where you’re comfortable with sharing it beyond your inner sanctum, this would be a good time to engage a sensitivity reader (in my opinion).

You don’t want your story before an agent with poor representation in it. And, if your agent misses it, you don’t want your story before an editor with poor representation in it. And if your editor misses it, you don’t want your story out with advance reader copies with poor representation in it. And in the unlikely event that it makes it past ARCs with poor representation, you don’t want your story on the shelf with poor representation in it. While an agent and an editor should be helping authors identify problematic issues in a story, it’s your name on the cover, and you should be taking whatever steps you need to in order to ensure that your novel is the best novel it can be.

And, in my opinion, you also don’t want a sensitivity reader to be giving you feedback at a point where you feel like your novel is basically complete as it could make you resistant to changes.

Which leads me into the next important point. If you engage a sensitivity reader, listen to them. Take onboard their feedback and incorporate it into your story. If you use a sensitivity reader, and you ignore their feedback, then you could be alienating your first reader. People who do sensitivity reads are doing it because they want good representation in novels. They aren’t out to wreck your story.

Now this is something else that is important to consider and understand. Everyone has different experiences, and having a sensitivity reader is not a get out of jail free card to stop people being offended by representation in your story. You still could have people saying your portrayal is unrealistic as what you’ve written doesn’t reflect their experiences. You may want to engage more than one reader, especially if your first reader highlights issues that are problematic.

 

Readers expect authors to do their homework and get things right. Even though you’re writing fiction, representation is important. If you were writing a novel about pilots, your reader would expect you to have researched pilots, planes and airports. If you’re writing a story about someone with a mental health condition like OCD, your reader would expect that you had researched OCD, the triggers, the treatments and the condition’s impact on people with OCD. This goes for cultural groups, sexual orientation, gender identity, medical conditions.

By no means am I perfect in this area. I am striving to do better with every novel I write. I hope that you do too.

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Sharon M. Johnston is a New Adult and Young Adult author from sunny Queensland. Her OCD has resulted in Sharon making way too many bead bookmarks, way too many cat t-shirts and way too many toys. It’s also result in her breaking down in tears, calling for support, messaging friends for help and withdrawing from family and friends. She gets annoyed with people who don’t have OCD think they do because they’re clean freaks. If your obsessions and compulsions don’t cause you pain, it’s probably not OCD.

How do you move on from a series?

Have you ever fallen so in love with a book series that you’ve just devoured it, and then suffer from post series withdrawal. Or, if the series isn’t finished yet, you’re getting a bit book hangry for the next book in the series?

I sure have. I end up feeling a bit lost and end up searching aimlessly through my purchased books, and often then through online book catalogues trying to find my next read, or putting call outs on social media for recommendations.

Currently I’m listening to The Wise Man’s Fear. I had the Kingkiller Chronicle recommended to my by a couple of friends at work, and then through Twitter as well. Even though it took me a little bit to get into the story, I’m pretty hooked now. I know i”m going to be pretty gutted when I get to the end and I’m going to have to wait who knows how long for the third book.

Because I primarily consume via audio books now, I’ve found myself listen to a series I adored, but not connecting with the narrator, and then not following through with the series. And when I find a narrator who sweeps me up in the story, like Will Patton who narrated The Raven Cycle. This adds a whole new complication to finding my next new read.

I get torn between wanting to listen to completed series so I can binge listen, and getting the latest release so I know what everyone else is referring to, and then have the agonising wait for the next instalment.

How do you move on from an amazing series? Do you give yourself time to recover? Or do you throw yourself into your next read?Sharon Johnston

Sharon M. Johnston is an author and PR professional from sunny Queensland. Her Open Heart series novels, DIVIDED and SHATTERED, are out now with City Owl Press. Sharon is a Pitch Wars mentor and a Pitch Madness host. She loves cats and unicorns, and her family.

How do you like your endings?

A piece of advice often given to writers is to make sure your book can work as a standalone story, even if you have sequels planned. And when a writer queries an agent, or a submission to a publisher, there’s an importance placed on stating the story has ‘series potential.’

While this advice is predominantly from a marketing/sales point of view (there’s no guarantee a publisher will give a multi-book deal, and if the book doesn’t sell well enough there may not be a sequel), I wonder about how readers feel about the topic.

In my Open Heart series, it’s quite obvious there’s more to the story, that there’s more in store for the characters. I wouldn’t classify the ending in DIVIDED (Book 1) as a cliffhanger ending personally, but it may be viewed that way by some. The main thread of the story is answered, with new revelations at the climax offering the series potential.

Other authors take a different tact. ACROSS THE UNIVERSE is one of my favourite YA stories, and it was originally intended to be a standalone novel. Beth Revis worked with her editor and her agent to move it into a series. Then Gayle Forman had IF I STAY that works completely as a standalone, followed by WHERE SHE WENT, set well after the events of the first novel. Other authors have companion novels where the stories are set in the same world, but with different characters. Then other authors focus on books that are truly stand alone.

With so many different way to approach novels from an authors perspective, how do you feel about this from a readers perspective. Do you like cliffhanger endings, or do you want your stories wrapped up at the end of the book? AND do you prefer to read a series or a stand alone novel?

~*~

Sharon Johnston

 

Sharon is a Young Adult and New Adult author from sunny Queensland. Her OCD has resulted in her making far too many bookmarks and pieces of jewellery (her husband is very surprised that the postman has reported her for the number of small packages arriving at the house). She’s a Pitch Wars mentor, and is available to run Pitch Wars Roadshow workshops at events. Her OPEN HEART series is out now with City Owl Press.